Success or Signficance
I’ve been to a few funerals lately. Probably you can identify!
As I listen to eulogies, celebrating the person’s life, I am realizing that there are really two kinds of tributes. There are the grandiose inventories of success, achievement in business, acquisition in the material world, or accomplishment in the pursuit of status.
Then there are the simpler ones that talk about what the person has given more than what they have gained; that list the gifts of those who spend themselves in a worthy cause, whether in world changing or simply everyday service .
Increasingly I find myself asking: “What do I hope people will say at my eulogy? How am I going to be remembered?”
I find myself increasingly more impressed and moved by people whose lives made a difference in their families, communities and the lives of those they touched, whether locally or nationally. And I am realizing that I would rather be remembered for these kinds of things than for the size of my bank account, my car or my house, or even the accolades I was awarded.
Stephen Covey gives the illustration of a group of people making their way through a jungle. Every step is painstaking, hacking their way through obstacles and undergrowth. After many days, the leader suggests he climb up a tree and see where they are. He reaches the top and shouts down, “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that we are making excellent progress. The bad news is that we are in the wrong jungle!”
Could the same be said of you and me? We may be making excellent progress, but are we in the right jungle?
How do we define success? It is not always obvious what it means to be successful in life. The term can describe professional achievement at work or pre-eminence in academics or some other field that brings public recognition. Others speak of successfully raising children and grandchildren which, while sadly not always acknowledged, deserves to be regarded as especially important.
John Wooden once defined success as “The sense of satisfaction you get from the knowledge that you have done your best.” That great definition gets us away from delineating success as only the highest and the greatest. If success is defined as those who reach the pinnacle, or who make more money than everybody else, then by that standard, virtually no-one is successful.
But by Wooden’s definition, the person who studies and works hard for his B+ is more of a success that the intellectual who settles for an A- when they could have had an A+ with a little more effort.
Perhaps we should say that real success should be measured by the ability of individuals to reach their own goals and achieve their own purposes.
The secret of life is not accumulation, it is about contribution. Making money and acquiring toys is all very well, but surely of greater significance is what I am I doing that will make a difference to my world. As Mark Twain put it, “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you DIDN’T do than by the ones you DID do.”
To lead a purposeful life, we have to follow our passions. Many people have probably been guilty, at some point, of simply going through the motions of life, failing to experience the intense burn of passion. The real tragedy occurs when we begin to think that this is an acceptable way to live. Each and every one of us has a purpose and meaning that will ultimately define the significance of our time on this earth.
Determining eventual and significance depends on the ability to keep striving in the face of disappointment, rejection and even failure. I find myself admiring those people who seem to overcome insurmountable difficulties simply by refusing to quit and never giving up. Success should be measured not so much by the position one has reached in life, as much as by the obstacles they have overcome to get there.
Aim for success, but strive for significance.
Your significance will be determined by discovering how you have impacted those around you for good and made a difference in your world. Relationships and human interaction are the most valuable currency in the world. No monetary gain can match the internal growth that can occur from a single conversation or a lifetime of memories shared with another person.
Every single morning, we have a chance to make the change and to become the person you really want to be.
You just have to decide to go ahead and do it.