Stop Chasing Success. Seek Significance.


“I cannot believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is, above all to matter, to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all.” —Leo Rosten

Financial success is a powerful motivator. And it controls the lives of many. It chooses occupations. It dictates how time, energy, and resources are spent. It influences relationships, schedules, and families. To some, it even becomes an all-consuming passion that leaves broken people and morality in its wake.

Unfortunately, it is not the greatest call we have on our lives. In fact, compared to significance, it fades quickly.

Consider the limitations of success:

  • Success ebbs and flows with the economy. As recent years have proven, financial success is always at the mercy of a national economy and increasingly, a world economy. When the economy takes a downturn (as it always does), so does net worth.
  • Success ends on the day you die. On the day you die, all wealth and possessions will be immediately transferred to someone else. And even if you get to pick where they go, the reality is that person is always someone other than you.
  • Success is never enough. Financial success will never satisfy the inmost desires of our soul. No matter the amount of financial success earned, it always leaves us wanting more.

On the other hand, compare the advantages of significance:

  • Significance always lasts. Significance will always outlast you. Even when you are no longer present, your significance will still be yours. And nothing can ever take that away from you.
  • Significance carries on. Significance keeps on giving. When you positively change the life of another human being…  and that person changes the life of another… who impacts the life of another… who influences another…
  • Significance satisfies our soul. While the thirst for success is never quenched, significance satisfies our deepest heart and soul. It allows us to lay our head on our pillow each night confident that we lived a valuable and fulfilling day.

Unfortunately, many people spend most of their lives chasing financial success. And while some achieve it more than others, almost all find it unfulfilling in the end. When they begin to shift their life focus to significance instead of success, they wonder why they wasted most of their life chasing something different.

Don’t waste any of your life. Seek significance today.

Here are just a few practical steps to get you started:

1. Realize life won’t last forever. Everyone knows that life will come to an end – but no one likes to think about it. That’s unfortunate. As soon as you start thinking about the end of your life, you begin to live differently in the present. You are never too young to start thinking about your legacy. How do you want people to remember you? And what do you really want to accomplish before you die? Make a list. Post it somewhere… because rarely will “drive a really nice car” ever appear.

2. Live a life worth copying. Live with character, integrity, and morality. Your life should look the same in private as it does in public. And while no one is perfect, just begin striving for a life of integrity. It will be noticed.

3. Focus on people. Not dollars. Begin to transfer your life’s focus from your banking account to the people around you. Rather than worrying about the next get-rich-quick scheme, spend that energy focusing on your child, your neighbor, or the disadvantaged in your community.

4. Start with one solitary person. Find one person who needs you today. Start there. Significance may be as inexpensive as one cup of coffee or as simple as one heartfelt question. If you are unsure where to start, try this, “No, how are you really doing?”

5. Find a career outside your job. Sometimes, our day job leads to significance. But if yours does not, find a “career of significance” outside of your job by volunteering in a local organization. Most likely, your gifts, talents, or expertise are desperately needed. Use your job to pay the bills, but use your “new career” to pay your soul.

6. Realize significance is not dependent upon success. Too many people fall into the trap of thinking, “Once I make it rich, I’ll become significant.” This is rarely the case. Choose significance today. Begin striving for it now. If, then, financial success comes your way in the future, your mind will be in a better place to truly use your new success for broader significance.

7. Reduce your expenses. Learn to live with less. Living with less frees up your life to invest into others. And living with reduced expenses allows you the freedom to not spend so much time at the office and more resources on others.

8. Read biographies of people who sought significance rather than success. If you prefer recent history, read about Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela. If you prefer older stories, give Mahatma Gandhi or Harriet Tubman a shot. Either way, their lives will inspire you to make more of yours.

Rarely do people look back on their lives and savor their professional achievements. Instead, they celebrate the impact they have had in the lives of others. Give yourself much to look back and celebrate. Stop chasing success. Start seeking significance.

Image: Roberto Trm

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

Follow on TwitterLike on Facebook


  1. says

    Love #5 – Use your job to pay the bills, but use your “new career” to pay your soul.

    I’ve been doing this in several area for some time now and its vitally important to me.

    The downside is it’s not always understood and it can easily pull you away from other commitments/areas of importance for your life. But find the balance — it’s well worth it.

    • Michelle says

      This will be the greatest achievement on my ladder of significance, Jonathan. Kudos to you for finding your balance and making it work. <3

  2. says

    I will be printing and posting this in my office so I can focus on one suggestion at a time. Today, it’s #4 – find one person who needs you today. My mom is having a big surgery today, and while she always plays the strong one, I know she needs me and needs to really know that I am there for her.

    Thanks for the Monday morning inspiration!

  3. says

    Living for significance is the quickest way to get into position to die happy. I like that word, “significance;” it’s more precise than “meaningful,” and less epic than “legacy.”

  4. says

    Significance is definitely more important than success. But here’s the real secret to life: There’s nothing you have to do.

    Existing makes you significant, whether you’re a success or not. Helping someone else realize their significance, like number 4 suggests, is a nice bonus.


  5. says

    I especially like 6) ” Too many people fall into the trap of thinking, “Once I make it rich, I’ll become significant.”

    This is so true, I can literally see how it is drilled into our heads as children until we believe that we are of lesser worth because we don’t own a massive house full of junk and a big posh polluting car. There’s not much you can do about this except to break out of the mould yourself, take a more minimalist approach to life and try not to teach your kids the same thing.

    This is a great post Joshua, it’s definitely one I’ll save to read again!


  6. says

    What an amazing message! I’m going to post this on my Facebook page so others can enjoy and benefit from this MUST READ! How insightful. Thank you.

  7. says

    Loved this post. My husband only works 24 hrs a week and I work 7.5. He loves his job working with at risk youth and even though the pay isnt great we have made our lives fit the budget whilst raising 4 young children. For us its about what we can give to the world rather than what we can take.

  8. Shane says

    Great advice, but for those of who work in the helping your statement that “Rarely do people look back on their lives and savor their professional achievements.” does not apply becuase our professional achievements are about doing more for others.

  9. says

    This is, bar none, one of my favorite blog posts (and I read a LOT of blogs) of all time. I’m sitting here in amazement… and secretly wishing I’d written something so ridiculously good myself. Bravo!

  10. Antonio says

    I had the following experience just yesterday here at work:
    One of my co-workers decided to retire from the company after 18 years and while we were having a sort of going away party for him, he started talking about his life at work during the past 18 years and one of the things he mentioned was that he missed out on raising his 3 daughters because he was so busy working that he did not get himself involved with his girls and did not even know which grade or school there were going to.
    One of his girls got pregnant at 15 and he ended up raising his granddaughter, she is 7 now and he wants to retire to spend time with his granddaughter and be involved with her life and make up for missing out. I think this is a noble thing and I admire him for admitting to that.
    I have a sign on the door that leads from my garage to my house that reads:
    “The most important job that I will do today is behind this door”

    • says

      Hey Antonio, thanks for sharing this! I love the idea of the sign at your door. That’s a great reminder in a world filled with so many things that want to get a share of you.

    • TeachermomVA says

      I love the door sign. Leaving my full time position to be present with my boys and husband is so significant. Everyone has different passions! And they can change year to year! Passions in your 20s may be different once you have children. Motherhood is a passion :)

  11. says

    Hi Antonio, many thanks for sharing this post. I felt that many people never knew the importance of the process towards success. In fact, at all times our focus should be on the process and not the outcome.

    That’s why i felt many people couldn’t get back up again when they fail to hit their goals in life.

    Great post out there, really appreciate it alot!

    • ART says

      I work for a 100+ billion company and during this downturn on the economy they have broken record profits, but is never enough and they continue to seek and demand for more growth and profits.
      While the CEO and his minions pay themselves tens of “millions” of dollars on bonuses, the rest of us have gotten salary cuts and reductions in our overall compensation and benefits.
      To an extent this has been good for me, I have learned to live on less and have been able to make ends meet and put food on the table and continue to have a roof over my head. All of this has led me to believe we can live joyfully on less and leads me more interested day after day on adopting the minimalist lifestyle. I have two children and they have learned that “stuff” is not the only source of happiness.
      This whole economic downturn has also given me a lot think and ponder. I think we have been living a false life and a complete false sense of wealth. I live in an affluent area of the country where I see my neighbors and friends being caught up on always getting the latest cars, boats, toys and the 4000 sq feet houses and even bigger and I wonder why and also wonder how deep they are.
      I think the reason there are so many unhappy people out there is because their definition of happiness is totally distorted to think that happiness comes from the stuff the media shoves in front of their faces and the stuff their friends and neighbors have that they don’t have.

  12. Annie says

    Seek significance!!! Wow, PERFEKT!!! I just finished up a week volunteering for Habitat for Humanity in an Eastern European country.

    Our HFH team (all Americans living in Western Europe) got to meet several of the families for whom we were building/constructing a 12 family complex. The families have very little ‘physical’ possessions, but in their hearts, their souls, their eyes, they have the most amazing amount of love and caring and kindness to give to others. Those families are my heros. I went to their country to help build their homes. Never did I ever imagine that I would return home having been blessed that their lives touched me more than I can ever imagine mine did for them. I’m humbled and honored to have had this experience. I’ve tried seeking happiness, it doesn’t work. I’m a believer in seeking signficance in my minimalist approach to life!

  13. says

    “Success ends on the day you die.” That’s huge, Joshua. Talk about minimalism, your entire post could have been nothing but those words. Thanks a ton!

    • marius says

      success ends the day we die. (I accidentally realized this attending a funeral.) the whole this complex world has been bulled over our eyes to make us forget that fact and make us exploitable by fueling our desires to acquire assets.

  14. says

    Joshua’s posting reminded me of the following statement by William Barclay….”In any museum we will find quite ordinary things- clothes, a walking stick, a pen, pieces of furniture- which are only of value because they were possessed and used by some great person. It is the ownership which give them worth. It is so with the Christian. The Christian may be a very ordinary person, but he acquires a new value and dignity and greatness because he belongs to God. The greatness of the Christian lies in the fact that he is God’s.” In reviewing Joshua’s list of points above, it’s interesting to think about how the historical Jesus measured up. Clearly He led a life worth copying…

  15. says

    This is a very good reminder, Joshua. I like point #5. Our soul need to be feed too. Let’s celebrate life by being happy and making people around us happy. :)

    Nono Fara

  16. says

    Success to Significance. I address this very issue on my recent blog post ( I see so many very wealthy people, totally exhausted from life, wondering – Is this all there is? They are very “successful” but have not yet found significance. I hope articles like this find their way into the conscientiousness of more and more people. Great post — thank you.

    Dee Todd

  17. jude says

    I think my only quarrel is with the Rosten quote, which sees the goal of happiness and the goal of being useful as oppositional instead of interrelated. Sacrifice is not useful in the end- it perpetuates distance. Better to discover the joy of being useful and be only happier and happier as you give.

    Isn’t Annie happy with what she has done? Happiness is not self-indulgence or selfishness: happiness is the natural state of the human heart, it is what being present is all about. I know its semantics, but I don’t believe in altruism: I think people give to others and help others because it feels really good, because it centers them & makes them happy.

  18. says

    What u mention in your article is True.In today worlds the meaning of life is to chase of Materialistic and 5Cs . 1)credit card 2)condo 3) car 4)children 5) card for private member ? At the end you achief all but emptiness you get and sickness you get ? If i don’t go through this phrase and see it myself ,will i know what Significance means??? Nope .. is all i went through then i understand the meaning of Life. I hope everyone up there never too late to realise what is life ,before we reach our deathbed . Enjoy life with your love ones be content .

  19. says

    This post is by far one of your best post and one of the best I have read this year.
    Thanks for putting this up. I took this and some of the positives from Atlas Shrugged to form my motivation. :-)

  20. says

    Right on, Joshua. I saw this first hand with my Dad. As a lawyer, he had some influence – mostly over his clients, who were often getting into the same kind of trouble my Dad tried to get them out of within weeks or months. Mostly, as a lawyer, he had material success. When he lost his law practice and went back to school to teach, his influence sky-rocketed. There’s no funeral quite like a teacher’s funeral – row after row of kids who had turned their lives around because one teacher went to their basketball games, tutored them on Saturdays and bought the occasional baby shower gift.

  21. Tom says

    Some good points. However, one major disagreement. Our success doesn’t ebb and flow with the economy. We create our own success – in good times or bad. It’s up to us to take action and make things happen. There are successes in all types of economies.

    Those who take action regardless of the economy and external factors control their own lives – and thus their pocketbooks!!

  22. scott odigie says

    Living for significance is just the only way to live! Millions have died without making any meaningful impact in there generation. The greatest killer of mankind is the ‘wrong attitude’ to life. Go and research about it. The so many deaths recorded; a larger percentage is tied to the negative mindsets of people.
    This is indeed a most profound idea.God bless you real good.

  23. Peace of Paradise says

    My heart yearns for this lifestyle. My life is so unfulfilled yet I have a decent job and all the things that come with it. I remember a time that I had less and was much happier. I long for those times again and promise myself to find my way back to that place. Thanks for this post and your blog. I found you by chance. With gratitude…

  24. Thomas says

    I really enjoyed reading this post, found it while preparing a sermon on the subject of significance. Reading through the comments I would like to add that true significance can only be found in Christ, by following him as his disciple and inheriting eternal life. What good is it to gain significance in this world when it still dies with you, when you do not get to live eternally with God?

  25. Heather says

    I just took a HUGE leap of faith and quit a corporate gig. I couldn’t muster the fake smile anymore. After 20 years, I am burnt out. I love the healthcare field but in administration, at my level, the politics suck. I don’t know what my next move is. I am keeping my heart and mind open. I spent the first 40 years doing what everyone expected of me, I going to spend the last 40 years doing what I love, even if I make a 1/3 of what I used to. :)

  26. sravanthi says

    Just loved its true ..that we forget the significance in life.. will post it to all and try to change my daily routine. ..

  27. Mary Cannette says

    I agree with most of this, and I am striving to de-clutter my life. However comma, I do not think that happiness is insignificant or unimportant in our lives and the lives of the people around us.

  28. nate says

    why is success being associated with greed?

    Being a good father is a success, being a good dancer, teacher, labourer can be a success depending on how you view it and your attitude.
    Being successful is doing the best you can in ‘all’ areas of your life, physical, emotional, spiritual etc, financial too.

    Isint being significant being successful?

    Peace all

  29. says

    Dear all
    That’s really awesome list of this work!.
    I’m very interested in the full text of this work!
    It would be nice If you can help me with that!
    What an amazing message! I’m going to post this on my Facebook page so others can enjoy and benefit from this MUST

    READ! How insightful. Thank you.

  30. kristinfrederick says

    Recently left a great job to care for grandson and help Mom. Its been such a rewarding change and your site and articles have been such a comfort for my process. The lifestyle/attitude has flowed throughout family. Soullly Beautiful!!!!

  31. says

    I woke this morning concerned about my future, in business and the economy it seems I’ve always been this way. I want to change the way I think. I want to change my focus of success.

  32. Jackie Scoggin says

    Wonderful post! I’m doing a self-inventory today and categorizing all the areas in my life where I can be significant.

  33. Brenda L. Smith-Lunam says

    I have rarely read an article which so completely mirrors my own thoughts. Thank for submitting this and may it impact on the lives of those who read it.

  34. says

    As the year progresses, I’m learning a little more about what is truly important. Faith, family, and finding out who I am. This morning I recieved some terrible news about a co-worker. Their success stopped today. I will continue to try to invest in what is really good.
    Thank you for reminding us of where our focus should be.

  35. says

    Our son is dead. Nothing like losing your child to make you realize what is really significant . Our lives are completely changed. We are trying to make many changes to honor Joshua . Your article is a great reminder of things you have learned in life but somehow get lost or ignored.

  36. Ellen Scott Grable says

    #3 Focus on people not dollars.

    That is a powerful statement that can literally change the course of life for yourself and everyone around you. I am inundated by people who want to take your business or finances to the next level.

    How about taking our spirits to the next level by buying the homeless guy a cup of coffee, checking in on the elderly neighbor and becoming an active part in the things going right in our communities. Growing organic food to share with others is a powerful act.

    We should earn to live not live to earn.

    • says

      Great article, opened my eyes a little wider, must say I agree and really live this way now, thanks so much, focus on people, leave a legacy

  37. K Matthew Victor says

    What a load of tripe!! Just be oneself forget the posturing to be seen to be anything by anyone. That is it. Any ¨difference¨ one makes is ultimately because of inner truth which others will either see, accept or not.

Sites That Link to this Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *