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.

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  1. Kendahl says

    Don’t belittle financial success. Many worthwhile, rewarding activities cost money. One of my heroes is a man who worked very hard to build a successful business so that he could retire at age 50 and enjoy his passion which was racing sports cars. Had he been satisfied just to make a living, he could never have afforded racing. My wife and I are similar except that we are into horses and made our money by living below our means and investing the difference over a period of 30 years.

    • Mark S says

      You sound like a very successful, fulfilled, self satisfied person. What prompted you to read an article entitled “Stop Chasing Success. Seek Significance.”?

    • Jesse says

      Car racing does not sound like significance. The article says meaning, What are you as a person? What’s your purpose? What difference can you make? Not satisfaction.

      • chris says

        Some things have different meanings to different people. Sometimes, people find meaning in the things they do however insignificant it is for others. Respect :)

  2. Wani says

    They say life is too short and that becomes their battle for quality (of life) . It also becomes too short when they go for something and somehow it gets mismanaged or people keep rubbing each other the wrong way . And then “life is too short” becomes the excuse for not following through on something they had as a good idea. Life is actually the longest thing you are ever going to get. Its longer than your success in playing college football or your career in the military or even just learning to play the spanish guitar. If you didn’t step out of your routines every so often then who’s fault is it if you have so many medals , trophies or money at the end of your world? Signify to be significant now because in the end there’s nothing that lasts longer than what you fed your soul – well maybe your youtube videos. Hehehe .

  3. Sarah says

    I love this article. I do believe, however, if you choose a vocation chosen not for the financial rewards rather one that reflects your authentic self, you live a soul-fulfilled life.

  4. Justine says

    It took me to have a breakdown to truly appreciate life. I now work part time in a job I love (may I add for less money). Also I volunteer at a local school and have done for three years, this i really love and gives me a sense of true satisfaction.

    The rest of the time i focus on my family and activities as a family, that don’t necessarily cost a penny.

    I love reading all of your posts and find them enlightening. Thank you

    • Nancy Sager says

      I would like to comment on the high side of 70 years old. My husband and I recently reflected on the hundreds of young people we had as staff members in our 32 years of family restaurant ownership in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. We called them our “Homestead Kids”. Often we felt we were raising a large family. We never got rich financially Our customers were a part of our “family”. But we more than made up for financial gain in heartfelt pride in our kid’s accomplishments and love. I had occasion to feel this love when my husband of 51 years suddenly died in my arms in January. The presence of our “kids” and their families was overwhelming. I would not trade this for all the riches of the world! Thank you Joshua for this reminder.

      • Vijayalakshmi Chawla says

        The word ” significance ‘” is so apt …
        For when my life became significant for me
        It reflected in my words , actions , emotions
        And interpersonal relationships .
        Thanks to a friend who sent this link …
        I got to read your article .

  5. Angie says

    I wish life was this easy. Most people are too selfish to consider others nowadays you even have to be rich to be poor.Lucky I have a skill to fall back on

    • Sheri says

      My experience is that life becomes whatever you believe it will become. Of the billions of things available for you to see each day, your mind will filter out and receive just a few, based on what you believe to be true. If you believe that people are selfish, you will see only selfish people. If you believe people are generous and thoughtful…well, you will find them everywhere!

      The beautiful thing about a significant life is that it doesn’t have to cost anything. A smile, a kind word, a listening ear, a gentle heart; those are all things that we can send into the world for free, and that will have a massive ripple effect all around us.

      Imagine how the world would change if we would each just do one random kind and gentle thing every day?! Those individual acts, when all put together, would overwhelm the world! (Desmond Tutu)

  6. says

    Lovely and wise article, thank you! Meaning and signficance are subjective to to a large degree, but these values become universal when you can help your community in some way. Each individual has their own talents, and I agree that shifting the focus to good relationships and helping the community is a big step in the right direction. We need to widen our tunnel vision about money and jobs, so it’s not limited to simply making money and paying our bills, but opens onto a bigger long-term vision.

  7. Jane says

    So… What’s so bad about gaining financial success and passing it on to a different person when you die? If it ensures that my kids will have financial security after I die, then I’m all for financial success. And by all means, give it to them or to another person who needs it. I have no intention of taking it with me to my grave.

    Financial success is necessary to live. Especially in unstable economic weather. Especially in places with no decent public health care systems, housing systems, etc. In third world countries, you have to work to survive. Your government won’t help you should you find yourself sick or unemployed or homeless. You have to earn money and earn more money if you want to ensure that the people you love survive.

    How is that “insignificant”?

    A significant life costs money. Stop feeding people lies.

  8. Hope says

    This is interesting many people today are wasting away in the endless search for success without seeking relevance and significance only to discover latter in life that success does not count what counts is how significant you are in your life time

  9. Rita Bendlin (WORKS OF HEART) says

    See comments above. I say it already been said: BIBLE = Basic-Instructions-Before-Loving-Eternity. LOVE NEVER FAILS. Taking in KNOWLEDGE means EVERLASTING (or Eternity) (happy) LIFE see: John 17:3…..Amen!

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