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July 30, 2010

Stop Chasing Success: Seek Significance.

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This is a guest post by Becoming Minimalist.

“I cannot believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is, above all to matter, to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all.” – Leo Rosten

Financial success is a powerful motivator. And it controls the lives of many. It chooses occupations. It dictates how time, energy, and resources are spent. It influences relationships, schedules, and families. To some, it even becomes an all-consuming passion that leaves broken people and morality in its wake.

Unfortunately, it is not the greatest call that we have on our lives. In fact, compared to significance, it fades pretty quickly.

Consider the limitations of success:

  • Success ebbs and flows with the economy. As recent years have proven, financial success is always at the mercy of a national economy and increasingly, a world economy. When the economy takes a downturn (as it always does), so does net worth.
  • Success ends on the day you die. On the day you die, all wealth and possessions will be immediately transferred to someone else. And even if you get to pick where they go, the reality is that person is always someone other than you.
  • Success is never enough. Financial success will never satisfy the inmost desires of our soul. No matter the amount of financial success earned, it always leaves us wanting more.

On the other hand, compare the advantages of significance:

  • Significance always lasts. Significance will always outlast you. Even when you are no longer present, your significance will still be yours. And nothing can ever take that away from you.
  • Significance carries on. Significance keeps on giving. When you positively change the life of another human being…  and that person changes the life of another… who impacts the life of another… who influences another…
  • Significance satisfies our soul. While the thirst for success is never quenched, significance satisfies our deepest heart and soul. It allows us to lay our head on our pillow each night confident that we lived a valuable and fulfilling day.

Unfortunately, many people spend most of their lives chasing financial success. And while some achieve it more than others, almost all find it unfulfilling in the end. When they begin to shift their life focus to significance instead of success, they wonder why they wasted most of their life chasing something different.

Don’t waste any of your life. Seek significance today.

Here are just a few practical steps to get you started:

  1. Realize that life won’t last forever. Everyone knows that life will come to an end – but no one likes to think about it. That’s unfortunate. As soon as you start thinking about the end of your life, you begin to live differently in the present. You are never too young to start thinking about your legacy. How do you want people to remember you? And what do you really want to accomplish before you die? Make a list. Post it somewhere… because rarely will “drive a really nice car” ever appear.
  2. Live a life worth copying. Live with character, integrity, and morality. Your life should look the same in private as it does in public. And while no one is perfect, just begin striving for a life of integrity. It will be noticed.
  3. Focus on people. Not dollars. Begin to transfer your life’s focus from your banking account to the people around you. Rather than worrying about the next get-rich-quick scheme, spend that energy focusing on your child, your neighbor, or the disadvantaged in your community.
  4. Start with one solitary person. Find one person who needs you today. Start there. Significance may be as inexpensive as one cup of coffee or as simple as one heartfelt question. If you are unsure where to start, try this, “No, how are you really doing?”
  5. Find a career outside your job. Sometimes, our day job leads to significance. But if yours does not, find a “career of significance” outside of your job by volunteering in a local organization. Most likely, your gifts, talents, or expertise are desperately needed. Use your job to pay the bills, but use your “new career” to pay your soul.
  6. Realize that significance is not dependent upon success. Too many people fall into the trap of thinking, “Once I make it rich, I’ll become significant.” This is rarely the case. Choose significance today. Begin striving for it now. If, then, financial success comes your way in the future, your mind will be in a better place to truly use your new success for broader significance.
  7. Reduce your expenses. Learn to live with less. Living with less frees up your life to invest into others. And living with reduced expenses allows you the freedom to not spend so much time at the office and more resources on others.
  8. Read biographies of people who sought significance rather than success. If you prefer recent history, read about Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela. If you prefer older stories, give Mohandas Gandhi or Harriet Tubman a shot. Either way, their lives will inspire you to make more of yours.

Rarely do people look back on their lives and savor their professional achievements. Instead, they celebrate the impact they have had in the lives of others. Give yourself much to look back and celebrate. Stop chasing success. Start seeking significance.

2 Comments on “Stop Chasing Success: Seek Significance.

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Raoul de Jongh and Sandy Goldberg, Michael Hodgson. Michael Hodgson said: Powerful & thought-provoking. I have to agree! RT @raouldejongh: Stop Chasing Success. Seek Significance. http://bit.ly/cWw2za […]

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Laverne Dee
July 31, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Great post on the distinction of success, which is appealing but fleeting, while significance is enduring. Harriet Tubman is a awesome. Driven by her need to free others from slavery, she lead a life of significance to those she freed, nursed, and raised.

It’s amazing how many different buildings, schools, museums, and even now a portion of a NY highway are named after her as we strive to keep her ideals alive.

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