Success vs. Significance

Most everyone wants to be successful.  It’s ingrained in the “American Dream”.  Much has been written on being successful. Bookstores and libraries are full of books on how to be successful. Internet articles abound on the issue. Late night infomercials tell us how we can be successful (for a small price of $29.95 plus handling).  success-or-significanceWe have success coaches that you can pay mega-bucks to in order for them to tell you how to be successful. All this is well and good. I want to be successful. I want you to be successful. I want my family and church to be successful.

The word success means to have a favorable result. Isn’t that what we all want…..a favorable result?

However, I believe there is something higher than success. It’s called significance. To be significant means to be important or to have consequence.  It also means to have or express meaning. 

Think about this statement: “You can be successful without being significant; but you will never be significant without being successful.” (~Michael Wilson)

This is a very true and powerful statement. Many people obtain success (a favorable result) but they may do it by unethical means. They may lie, steal, cheat or sleep their way to the top and they will be considered successful. But are they significant?  Some have obtained success with hard work and doing the right things in the right way.  They have obtained a favorable result but are they significant?

Does their life have meaning? Have they helped make a difference in someone’s life along the way? Are they good role models?  Have they developed a legacy, a path for those coming up behind them?

Think about this: many consider sports figures, actors and pop stars to be successful. They are successful in the fact that they have a favorable outcome (fame and lots of money). The question we need to ask is this:  can we look up to them as a positive role model? Are they someone that has meaning to us or to our kids? Sadly, for many, the answer would be no.  Yet, we continue to idolize them and consider them to be someone we want to emulate or at least trade lives with.  We see them as being successful, and they are, but have they left a significant (an important or meaningful) impact?

I propose to you that one can have great success but not be significant. Think about some of our most successful people in our society.  Think of one person that you believe is a very successful person.  Now, ask yourself, “Would our society be the same without them? Would your life be the same without knowing about this person?”

The person in mind might be very successful but have they left a significant, positive impact?

Now let’s look at your life.  Are you successful?  Are you significant?  Have you accomplished, or are you are accomplishing, the things in life that you want to accomplish?  Are you leaving a path for others to follow?  Are you chasing success no matter the cost?  Are you willing to be unknown and seemingly unsuccessful in order to be significant in the life, or lives, of another?

I want to be successful, but more importantly I want to be significant. I want to know that my life had meaning and that my influence has touched others.  I want to leave a legacy whereby others can follow the example that I have left.   I want to know that I made a difference in the lives of people.  I want people to say that they were better off because I was in their life.  That, to me, is significance.  I may never be successful in the areas that a lot of people have obtained success.  If I am significant to the lives of other people, then I have been successful.

“You can be successful without being significant, but you will never be significant without being successful.”  ~Michael Wilson

So, do you see yourself as successful, significant or both?

2 Comments On “Success vs. Significance”

  1. John

    Good article Michael. I like the ‘both’ idea but I get your drift and like it.

    • John, I do agree with the both idea that we should get both success and significance. I just think that if we go after being significant that success will follow. I can think of many people that are seemingly successful but have no significance. They have a lot of activity but no fruit to show for it. Thanks for the dialogue. Blessings my significant and successful friend.

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