Taking The Leap From Success To Significance

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Issue: How do I define success?

The owner of the 75-employee manufacturing company was ready to turn management of the family business over to his son.  Three of us sat at a table in Mark’s office, when suddenly, the dad slammed the business plan on the floor and lashed out at his son, Mark.  “You’re an idiot!  I can’t believe what a loser of a son I have!  I didn’t build this business to have you destroy it!” Mark sat quietly in his chair, expressionless.  He walked out of the office, disgusted.  I was stunned.  I searched for something to say that would comfort Mark.  After an awkward pause, Mark said, “It’s nothing new.  He’s been like that his whole life.”

I followed Mark’s dad out of the room.  I looked him in the eye and asked, “Do you love your son?”  He paused for a moment, then answered, “Of course I love my son.  It’s just that I spent 35 years busting my butt to give him a better life.  I don’t want him to throw it all away.” Then he added, “I worked hard to be a success, and I don’t want to lose that.”

Mark’s father defined success by working long hours and making a lot of money.  While he loved his son, his pursuit of success had cost him dearly.  He had become a financial success and a personal failure:  a 70-year-old man with plenty of money but nothing to show for it.  As a father, he left money, but no legacy.  He left only pain and an emotionally abused son.

Solution: Expand your definition from making money to making a difference.

When I was working with Mark and his father, I read a wonderful book, Halftime: Changing Your Game Plan from Success to Significance, by Bob Buford.  The book provides tremendous insight into how we define success.  Bob likens a business career to a football game.  In the first half of our life, we pursue success.  We work hard, sacrifice, and expend energy to become financially successful.  In the second half, we focus on significance, giving our experience, time, talent, and energy toward making a difference in people’s lives and leaving a legacy. Bob Buford’s book crystallizes how important it is for us to take a hard look at how we define success.


How we define success is important in shaping our lives.  So, how should we define success? Success is generally defined in terms of achievement, fame, recognition, material possessions, and wealth.  In a word:  outcome.  Significance, on the other hand, while less tangible, concerns the process.  Significance is importance, meaning, essence, relevance, and value.  Success drives us by a desire for tangible things; significance guides us by a desire for something greater than just what is tangible.

Three characteristics lead successful people on their path to significance.

1. A Sense of Urgency

They have a sense of urgency.  Because this life is short, the preciousness of life continually challenges them to prioritize what is most important.  They live lives of daily significance, doing what they feel is most important every day.  This sense of urgency translates into passion for the moment.  You can sense their aliveness.

2. A Sense of the Whole of Life

They have a sense of the whole of life, rather than just the part of life we can see today. When we feel stuck or slowed down by pain, obstacles, or circumstances, we can remember that God has a bigger plan than what we are seeing in front of us.  We can take a step back and sense the bigger picture and the whole of life.  Then we can see our situation from a different perspective.

3. A Sense of Significance

They have a sense of significance.  Rather than being driven by ego, they are driven by a calling.  They believe they are here to make a difference in other people’s lives.  Everything they do is for something that is beyond just a tangible result.  They have a passion to unleash the potential energy lying dormant in churches today.  Their passion is to help meet needs in all aspects of the community.  They have passion to leave a legacy that affects thousands of others. While we may not all be asked to change the world, we can each affect one person in a meaningful way.  Others need us.  We can make a big difference in their lives right now.  And that alone makes our lives significant.

Extract from Larry Julian, God Is My CEO: Following God’s Principles in a Bottom-Line World, 28.

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