Identity & Purpose

The Difference Between Success and Significance & Why It Matters

3 Minute Read - By Brett Powell

Brett Powell

Photo by Kelli Piccini, Vancouver B.C.

Success is about making an impact here and now primarily by what you do and what you accomplish.

Significance is about creating a lasting legacy by who you are and the edifying presence you bring to others.

I have met many leaders who have accomplished amazing results. They have brought innovative products and services to market. They have made millions of dollars for stakeholders. They have become world-renown thought leaders and subject matter experts in ministry.

A few of them are incredible people of character that created a lasting legacy in their families, churches, organizations and communities. While pursuing success, they were just as committed to significance and that allowed them to leave a lasting legacy.

Here are a few thoughts about what it takes to live a life of significance.

An Examined Life. Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” You simply cannot become the best version of yourself without continually minding the gap between who you are today and who you can become tomorrow. Significance requires a commitment to self-examination and improvement.

There are no short cuts. You can’t delegate becoming a better person to anybody but the man in the mirror. The sad reality is that one can become successful without ever having to confront who you really are inside and bring about necessary changes. Again, there are no short cuts.

Yvon Chouinard, Founder of Patagonia, spoke in these words, “There are high-powered plastic surgeons and CEOs, and you know, they pay $80,000 and have Sherpas put the ladders in place and 8,000 feet of fixed ropes and you get to the camp and you don’t even have to lay out your sleeping bag. It’s already laid out with a chocolate mint on the top. The whole purpose of climbing something like Everest is to effect some sort of spiritual and physical gain. If you compromise the process, you’re [no different] when you start out [than] when you get back.”

Don’t Let Yourself Off the Hook. It is entirely possible to become highly successful and lack character. You can achieve impressive results while being selfish, inconsiderate, disloyal and demeaning. But you won’t become a person of significance with those character flaws.

The path to significance is the same path to holiness. It is a path of dependence on grace, commitment to prayer, frequenting the sacraments, increasing virtue and eliminating vice. In short, never let yourself off the hook.

If you are serious about pursuing a life of significance, your prayer will sound something like this, “Heavenly Father, peel away anything in me that is not like Jesus.” This is a life-long journey and struggle (deep sigh).

Make a Few Big Decisions and Stick to Them: Human beings are amazing creatures, endowed by God with the gift of choice. He allows us to make decisions. People that are pursuing a life of significance, make a few important decisions in life and stick to them. The impact is deep and wide because the decisions are lived out every single day.

The quality of our life depends entirely on our own choices, not on the choices of others or the circumstances you encounter. You are the captain of your own soul, one wise person said.

One of the most fundamental choices we make is this: motive. What is your motive? What is the primary desire animating all that you do? Jesus, who lived the most significant life of all, “Came to serve and not to be served.” A life of significance means a life of service.

Once you decide to serve, it remains your modus operandi no matter where you are or who you are with. So, you serve your [employees], you serve the members of your family and the guests at the soup kitchen because that’s the decision you made a long time ago.

Make a Sincere Gift of Self: You have a voice to contribute for the good of others and the benefit of humanity. The voice you have for the world is the idea God had in mind when He created you. Leading a life of significance means finding your voice and projecting it loud and clear. It is a tragedy of immense consequence when our unique contributions are never realized because they get lost in the thick of thin things.

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