Are You Successful or Significant?

“You can be successful but not significant, but you cannot be significant without being successful.”  Poignant, isn’t it?  I’ve been thinking about that line ever since I read it.

So, are YOU feeling successful, significant or both?

The quote is from Darren Hardy, Editorial Director of SUCCESS magazine.  SUCCESS magazine was founded in the 1890’s as a method of teaching positive thinking and life skills; yet over time it became more about status and tangible measures of wealth.  Three years ago, SUCCESS made the decision to circle back on the path of being a personal-achievement magazine.

I love that, not only on a personal level but also because I know the magnitude of that decision from a business standpoint.  Having worked in the magazine industry for many years, I understand how the culture and the responsibility to both readers and advertisers weigh into the decision to refocus a brand.

Back to the quote.  Darren says that, “As a society, I think we often misunderstand the word success.  Our society celebrates those who obtain fame, wealth, power and celebrity no matter the means – ethical or not – and we call them successful.  Success is often equated to an achieved status, rather than to a measure of value or contribution.”

I love that too.

In this month’s editor’s letter, he asks whether his readers are living their life in pursuit of success or significance.  I don’t mean to get all philosophical on you but it’s such a thought-provoking question, isn’t it?

Perhaps it caught my attention because I am struggling with that concept lately.  When I was working in that magazine world I was completely fulfilled on levels of both significance and success.  I loved every minute of it.  Since leaving that life behind I have been seriously struggling internally with what (for me personally) defines both significance and success.

The definitions are different for everyone and I’d guess that they probably change depending on one’s place in life and the circumstances surrounding them.  At least for me that has been the case and I suspect that I am not the only one whose definitions have needed to be rewritten.  Have the definitions or success and significance changed over time for you?

Just thinking about my version of success and significance gives me knots in the pit of my stomach.  Not because they are unattainable but because I do feel far away from them at the moment.  It’s hard to go from having both to feeling neither successful nor significant.  It’s uncomfortable and something that I have to work out for myself, by myself.  I am not prone to pity parties nor am I my own personal cheerleader, so for now I am just going to acknowledge that I must work on it in order to be fulfilled again.

In the meantime, what about you?  Do you live in pursuit of success or significance?  What defines success and what defines significance for you?


  1. I worked for many years in the news business without ever feeling I’d achieved success or significance. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the time or its rewards. It’s just that after a time I felt the work was meaningless, that it had no impact on the world the way a teacher or a doctor or a public service worker did. It bothered me so much I left. Now, like you, I am in pursuit of both. The most success and significance I’ve felt in the last few years is through my literacy tutoring. When a child has a breakthrough in comprehension, I feel I’ve made a difference in the world.

    • Jessica @FoundtheMarbles says:

      It must be so fulfilling to see a child have that breakthrough. Thanks for sharing that! I hope you find that fulfillment that you too are seeking.

  2. What a fabulous post and you make some excellent points. I do think our society has a warped sense of success. I don’t think it has anything to do with money. For me success means finding your purpose in life and then staying in alignment with that.

  3. This is a great, thoughtful post. The success/significance conundrum is something that I struggle with all the time too. I like to think I’m seeking significance and not interested in perceived success .. i.e. status or status symbols.
    I’m trying really hard to succeed in staying true to my values and priorities. For me, there’s all the significance in the world in that.

  4. i think that if I am feeling significant. . .the reward is success. . .success can be measured in many different ways, and one of those is in goal achievement. we all know “they” say money can’t buy happiness. . .right?? lol


  5. Love this! I’ve never thought of it that way before because although I have my down days, for the most part I never looked at success as actions I took but rather as what happens from the actions I take. I look around me, in my personal life, I look for success and significance. I was in Corporate America and it was a meaningless success without significance.

  6. So – I will go out on a limb and say I want success with significance….I want it ALL! I want to be successful and at the same time – the significance that I am looking for is that I achieve success but without sacrificing my family. Is it possible? Don’t know yet. Rachel

  7. The work I am doing right now appears to be the most impact full work I have ever done in numbers of people it has helped. It also appears to be the most successful in popularity if you gauge the all the new projects and partnerships being formed. The irony is I am not making a penny. I quit my paying job to devote time to fostering an idea that seems destined to take off. So if you look at my finances, I don’t look that successful but it seems I may be blessed with the most important work that has ever come into my life.

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