A few of my favorite success metaphors are:
- It’s a Mountain Summit
- It’s a Poison Chalice
- It’s a Meal worth Waiting For
Some great success idioms are:
- To be Riding High
- To be in a Win-Win Situation
- To have Hit the Jackpot
Below is the full list with explanations of each.
1. Success is a Beach in Mexico
This metaphor structure says that success is “…”. You can put whatever place you would envisage your successful vision of yourself right after that. So you might see yourself on a beach in Mexico, or on a chairlift on a Wednesday (because you don’t have to work anymore!) or even with a happy family, if that’s what your vision of a successful life really looks like.
2. Success is a Poison Chalice
To call something a poisoned chalice is to say that it seems like something lovely (a chalice being a drinking goblet) only to realize once you’ve got it that it’s going to hurt you.
For success, you might consider it to be a poison chalice because, once you’ve got it, you realize everyone wants you to give them money or advice. Or maybe you realize once you have it that you’ve got nothing to wake up in the morning and aspire toward, making your life somewhat boring.
3. Success is a Mountain Summit
Imagine climbing a mountain for hours and hours with that goal in your mind of reaching the summit and looking down on the world with glee.
Once you get there you will have all those feelings that you might also have in other successful endeavors in your life, whether that be in love, sporting, money, or any other pursuit that you really put your heart and soul into.
Another key analogy here is the number of small steps it takes (as well as the persistence) to climb a mountain. This might be similar to all the small metaphorical steps you’d take to achieve any other difficult and multi-faceted endeavor in your life.
Read Also: Mountain Metaphors and Idioms
4. The Ladder to Success
We often analogize success to being a ladder. Each step along the rung is another step toward the prize at the top. This is particularly evident in the corporate sphere where you have the ‘corporate ladder’ – each promotion is another step up that ladder until you become the CEO.
5. Success is a Unicorn
A unicorn is a mythical being. So to analogize it to success is to say that you’ll never be successful (or at least you feel like that is the case). You might also use this analogy to talk about the concept that someone is chasing something that they will never achieve. You could tell someone to “stop chasing the unicorn” because they’re wasting their time.
6. Success is a Meal worth Waiting For
You could also phrase this as someone being “hungry for success”. In other words, you’ve got a real desire to achieve it and you’re willing to go through pain (or perhaps mild discomfort) to achieve it. It will be all the sweeter once you achieve it because you’ll know it was something you have been wanting for so long. You might savor every bite.
Read More: Cooking and Food Metaphors
7. The Pyramid of Success
We often visualize things as pyramids to look at how only very few people actually reach that peak – the top of the pyramid. It helps us visualize that idea that not everyone can be rich or happy or famous. Only those who work the hardest (and perhaps are the luckiest) will get to the very top. The rest of us will languish together toward the bottom.
8. Success is the Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow
You can never get to the end of a rainbow. That’s because a rainbow is a visual trick – as you move, so too does the rainbow. So when we say that there’s a pot of gold at the end of it we’re making a joke that you’ll never actually get to find it!
So, someone could use this idiom about rainbows to say that success isn’t to be found where you’re looking. You might say this about someone who wants to be a famous singer, for example, but you really think that they’re never going to make it.
9. You’ve Come a Long Way
You might say to someone who has finished university or shown a lot of progress in sports: “Congratulations! You’ve come a long way!”
This doesn’t necessarily mean that the person has literally gone a long distance. It is used metaphorically to say that someone has made a lot of personal progress. They might look back at where they were at the beginning of the journey and smile with pride to see “how far they’ve come”.
10. Best Foot Forward
You might use this saying when talking about someone who has done a fantastic job at something. You can say “you really put your best foot forward today!” This might be said, for example, after a football game and the coach says it to his winning team.
11. Riding High / Riding a Wave
The idiom ‘riding high’ refers to surfing culture, where someone who manages to catch a wave rides it as far as they can. Once the wave catches them, they can cruise at the top of the wave and enjoy the thrill.
Similarly, if someone has had several wins in a row you might say they’re riding a wave or even being ‘carried on a wave of success’.
12. To Bear Fruit
A tree that bears fruit is one that will give you tasty food that you could pick (and sell!).
But we use this idiom frequently in other situations to refer to anything that rewards you for your effort. Just like a farmer’s tending to his apple tree, you might be someone who works diligently on your business until you see success at the other end of all that hard work!
13. To Rise to the Occasion
Someone who rose to the occasion is a person who has performed well when they needed to. You would use this phrase after a performance (sporting, musical, or other) that is considered to have been a huge success.
14. It’s a Win-Win Situation
A win-win situation is a situation where everyone comes out successful! For example, if you sell a house and you’re really happy with how much you sold it for, but the buyer is really happy with the price they paid, you both walk away feeling like you won! You might say: “that house sale was a real win-win situation for everyone involved.”
15. You’re the Dog that Caught the Bus
Many dogs chase busses, but not many catch them. So if you’re the dog that caught the bus, you succeeded!
But this saying continues: “you’re the dog that caught the bus and you don’t know what to do with it!”
Imagine if a dog actually caught the bus it was chasing. What would it do? Bite it? Eat it? Unlikely. It would probably be confused and unsure about what the next step is.
So, you would usually use this saying to refer to someone who found success but is now bored and doesn’t know what to do with themselves.
Read More: A List of Dog Metaphors and Idioms
16. It Paid Off
To say something “paid off” can mean that you put took a risk and you were rewarded for it. You could say it literally, such as when you put money into a stock in the stock market and pulled the money out after the stocks gained value.
Another time you would use this phrase is when you put in a lot of effort and you got a reward from it. For example, you could say that all of your practicing for a music recital ‘paid off’ after getting great grades!
17. You’ve Hit the Jackpot
To “hit the jackpot” means to win a lottery. It refers to the idea that people all put money into a pot and then one person wins the pot!
But today, we use this idiom whenever we refer to someone having achieved something remarkable (often due to luck). For example, if someone starts up a business in a really profitable niche, you could say: “what a great business you have there – you’ve hit the jackpot!”
18. Getting off the Hamster Wheel
This idiom is often used when talking about someone who can quit their job because they’ve made enough money. You can say – you made so much money that you can get off the hamster wheel!
The ‘hamster wheel’ here is metaphorical for the routine of waking up, going to work, getting paid, spending the money on rent, and starting all over again. This isn’t something people really want – so to get off the hamster wheel means to have succeeded!
19. Kicked a Goal
While you might use this literally – when someone kicks a goal in soccer – you can also say this figuratively. If a man meets a really nice woman and they start dating, his friends might say: “you really kicked a goal with this one!” It refers to any situation where someone achieves something uncommon and obviously positive!
20. To Strike Gold
Back when people used to mine for gold along river banks, they would yell ‘Eureka’ when they found gold. Finding gold would often also be called “striking gold”.
Today, people don’t pan for gold along riverbanks. But they still use the saying “you’ve struck gold” whenever someone comes across good luck or success in their life. For example, you could say that you struck gold when you find a $20 note on the ground or if you were successful in a Poker tournament.
21. To Hit a Home Run
This baseball term refers to when someone hits a ball out of the field, meaning they can clear the bases and win points for their team.
But as an idiom, we’ll use this term to refer to a situation in which someone sees great success. They might have done really well in an exam, for example. Another way of saying this is to have “hit it out of the park”.
Read More: Baseball Metaphors and Idioms
The above success metaphors, similes, and idioms are surely not the only ones out there. But they’re a good entry point for thinking about different ways you can use figurative language to refer to the concept of being successful.
If none of the above metaphors, similes, or idioms are useful to you, you can always make up your own! To come up with a metaphor or simile, simply think of something that’s like success. Then, in a sentence, either say that success is that thing (a metaphor) or is like that thing (a simile).
I’m a Scorpio, I love the outdoors, and I’ve written articles in some major online publications like Medium and The Weekly. My favorite metaphor? Anything that’s got to do with baseball. I’m fascinated by the fact our language has baseball weaved all through it. Read more about me here.