Because we live in such a success-oriented world, when we are asked to choose between success or significance, it seems only natural to choose success.
Today, success is measured in material wealth, position, status and popularity. When young, we may dream of being rich and famous. That, we think, is the road to happiness. Wouldn’t it be nice never to worry about money? You bet! Wouldn’t it be great if adoring fans mobbed us and clamoured for our attention wherever we went? Sounds tempting!
How, then, do we explain the problem I encounter as I interact with executives and entrepreneurs who have achieved outstanding financial and career success, but who are actually deeply unhappy and living miserable lives?
When it comes to material wealth, they have it all – one of these people was described by a colleague as “being so wealthy that his grandchildren won’t have to work.” But, in the next breath, the colleague added that this person was very unhappy.
As one is confronted by story after story of people living unhappy lives in many of the mansions scattered around upmarket suburbs, it becomes clear that, contrary to popular belief, money can’t buy love (Jim Carrey will vouch for that) and it can’t buy happiness (maybe Britney Spears could say, “Amen” to that).
If we’re making a mistake chasing success, what then should we be doing? What is the point of all the hard work and sacrifice we put in every day?
It’s important to note that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being financially comfortable or wealthy. Some believe that it is a sin to be wealthy and that purity and goodness can only be achieved by living a life of poverty and deprivation. Rubbish!
While it may be more blessed to give than to receive, if you don’t have anything to give, there’s not much fun in giving. It’s admirable to work towards financial success, BUT … if that’s all you’re aiming at, you’re setting yourself up for a life of emptiness while you sit on your comfortable upmarket furniture and drive your luxury car.
Every human being craves to be significant. We all have a desire to make some impact on the world in which we live and on the people with whom we interact. When young, we may be less concerned about significance – we’re in success mode. But if we chase success at the cost of everything else, we find an emptiness growing inside ourselves that we just can‘t fill.
And because we don’t understand the “Law of Enough”, we end up chasing the ever-moving target of financial wealth that will torment us no matter how long and how hard we run after it. That’s because some people incorrectly believe that they need to become MORE financially successful to fill the emptiness. Understand this: money can buy comfort and convenience, but it can’t fill a heart. Only meaning can do that.
Significance is therefore achieved by helping others not as fortunate as yourself in several ways. If you’re able, you could make regular financial contributions to a worthy cause or give of your time to help such a cause. You could also donate your skills and expertise to assist in an area of need (helping with the selection and recruitment of suitable workers or doing books and managing finances).
Think about what you could do to achieve significance. The world needs your unique personality, talents, gifts and skills. Don’t limit them to the walls of your workplace. Don’t put a price on them when it comes to achieving significance. Aim for success, but also strive to be significant. You will achieve a far greater sense of fulfilment and will leave the world a better place.
Alan Hosking is the Publisher of HR Future magazine, www.hrfuture.net, @HRFuturemag. He is a recognised authority on leadership skills for the future and helps business leaders learn to lead with purpose and agility.