It seems appropriate that the Three of Wands has three main interpretations, all of which seem to stand alone but which ultimately relate to each other. The first of these is established strength; success after initial hardship and difficulty. Partnership and teamwork is the second theme, particularly leadership in creative environments. This card also deals with personal virtue and respect for oneself. It shows that, when the chips are down and your have no one to help you and, you can turn to yourself for support and you will never be let down.
The symbolism of the solitary man on the cliff, shown in most of the Rider- Waite variants, holds the key to all three of these meanings. Clearly he has a stable position; he holds the high ground, and he has three sturdy Wands to lean against. Indeed, even now he is leaning against one of them for support after his long journey up the mountain. The ships generally shown on the water are his own fleet, and a confirmation of the established strength. From here it is implied that a new action will lead to more success. If you are in a position of strength, secure that position and enjoy the success it will surely bring you.
The theme of partnership might not be so easily visible in the symbolism of the solitary man. But this man has clearly travelled a long distance to see the ocean, and now that he has made the journey himself he will likely go back and find others to travel with him next time. If further success in a creative affair is desired, it often becomes necessary to ask other people for assistance. There is no shame in asking for help, but there is shame in not asking because that is the sign of a coward. Sometimes this card will predict a romantic partnership, but only if the relationship has a solid foundation and the two people involved share ideas freely.
The last meaning is this card is the most powerful. The man has travelled this distance alone and, though he knows he will bring others with him in the future, no one can take away the fact that he made the journey himself. Your own virtue and accomplishments are also things that can never be taken away from you; they are always there to fall back upon in your time of need. Once you know what you have to offer the world, you can start putting those skills into practice. Never let failure set you back, learn from all of your mistakes and snatch victory from the jaws of every defeat.