Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Success vs. Significance

I was talking with a friend today who was sharing her frustrations with me. Despite the fact that she is doing very important work with youth, she feels like her life isn't amounting to much. She senses that she should be doing or accomplishing more. As I listened, I could relate to her feelings. I've gone through the same thing at stages in my life.

Of course, I can tell her that it's not true, that what she's doing does matter greatly; but when you're feeling the way she's feeling, sometimes it doesn't matter what people say -- you can't just change your feelings with the snap of a finger or an encouraging word. You want to see results!

But the book I've been reading has challenged my thinking on the matter. The author, Rich Stearns, who had achieved professional success by becoming the CEO of Lenox, the tableware company, left Lenox to become the President of World Vision. He talks about trading in success for significance. He had reached the pinnacle of his career and was more successful than many of us even dream of becoming -- and yet he turned his back on it because he saw an opportunity to become more significant, to make a difference in the lives of more people.

Oftentimes, I think we measure ourselves by our success instead of by our significance. When you are successful, you typically receive the attention of others. People notice you, often make a big deal out of you. Your abilities and accomplishments are confirmed by others -- even if those accomplishments aren't helping that many people. When you are significant, what you are doing matters. You are making a difference, but you might not get any recognition or credit for it. Perhaps no one knows about what you're doing or if they do, they don't say too much. I think success is more about me -- my goals and making a name for myself in my field. Significance is more about others -- about making what I do matter to others.

And so I've started asking myself the following question in relation to all that I do:
Are you working on becoming more successful or more significant?

As counter-cultural as it is, I want significance, not success, to be my goal -- and the measuring stick by which I evaluate my life.

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