Is it More Important to be Significant or Successful?


Most of us grew up being taught the importance of being successful. I also encouraged my children that they needed the right attitude, aptitude, abilities, and capabilities in order to be a success in anything they wanted to pursue. We are a country that is enamored and impressed with success and those who are successful. The yardstick of success is measured differently for each individual but universally most people associate success with power, prestige, possessions, and money. My husband says to gain intellectual weight you have to have the right food for thought. I recently had a tasty intellectual meal when I was having a conversation with a colleague and the subject of success came up. He shared that when he was growing up his father always stressed that it was more important to make your life significant than focusing on being successful. As I thought about his statement, I could not help but think about the difference between being successful or being significant and which one is most important to me.


I began to realize that many of the most successful people that I have known had little meaningful significance in my life. Yet the people who had the most significance in my life would not be deemed successful by the world’s standards of success. So, to understand the difference between the two I used my grandmother’s life, who was the most significant person in my life, to define what significant means. Success like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, whereas significance is a view of you that is held by others. My grandmother was significant because her focus in life was adding value to the lives of others, which in turn added value to her life. She would tell me “Wendy when you bring joy and happiness into the lives of others you cannot keep joy and happiness from your own life”. There is a Chinese proverb that says, "If you continually give, you will continually have." My grandmother lived her life this way, which is why she lived a significant life. Her legacy was not about what she acquired. It was about what she left behind. My grandmother’s life was a living example that showed me that success is what happens to you, but significance is what happens through you. Through her living a sermon of selflessness, I knew I could not live a life of significance without helping others. I think sometimes we take our eye off the ball, and we get caught up with the day-to-day obligations of life and fail to realize true success is when we focus on others and make a significant impact in their lives.


I am not minimizing the importance of making money and providing for our families, but equally important is the need to think about our life’s work and how we are making an impact on the world and on the lives of the people we are connected with. How are you using your time, talents, and treasures on being significant? I challenge you to identify three people who you know could use something from you that would make a difference in their lives and reach out to them and provide it with no expectations in return.


If success is what comes to us. Significance is what we give away to others.


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Visit www.WendyGladney.com and www.forgivingforliving.org to learn more. Wendy is a life strategist, coach, consultant, author, and speaker.