Success To Significance

July 18, 2018

“No one stumbles upon significance. We have to be intentional about making our lives matter” – John C. Maxwell

What we do matters. For most of us building a purposeful and successful career is something that we all aspire to do. After all no one really aspires to be unsuccessful or to have a meaningless career. The reality is we invest way too much time and blood, sweat and tears for it to not provide a degree of reward, enjoyment and fulfilment. But are we missing out on true reward by focusing all of our efforts on being successful rather than creating significance?

As John Maxwell notes, no one stumbles upon significance. It requires intentional effort, time and planning. It takes time to explore and answer the ‘big’ questions that help us define what significance means for each of us. Questions such as: How do I create greater purpose and impact? What mark do I want to leave and where – in what communities? How do I build and maintain relevance and purpose in my career for the next 5, 10 or 15 years? Does my current role / company provide me with the right future opportunities to help me on this path? These big questions are hard questions to answer and as a result are often relegated to the too hard basket or for ‘later in the year’. After all nothing is actually broken, so for many there is no urgency to change or we tell ourselves that ‘we should just be grateful for our lot’. The danger is ‘later in the year’ can all too easily become next year or the year after.

In working with many senior executives, it is not uncommon to hear of highly successful career stories that have offered wonderful foundations – stability, security, challenge and reward. However at some point these pillars no longer seem to be the ultimate driver and questions start to be asked about creating greater value. Often our motivations change with career experience and what was once really important has slipped down the focus and priority ladder. This is not to say that success is not important – it is and it is a vital component of creating significance. Too often though when these questions arise there is a temptation to think I just need a new job, try a new company or perhaps try a new career. Fundamentally though what you need to ask yourself is ‘Do I want to switch jobs or companies; or do I want to switch to a life that matters through what I do?’

Author of Intentional Living, John Maxwell talks about the trap that many of us fall into when we focus on success: ‘If I do enough and have enough I will be fulfilled’. The challenge with this mindset is when we aren’t fulfilled we tend to question our capabilities, our value and ultimately ourselves. As Maxwell notes, success is great but significance is lasting. The added bonus is it also generates higher levels of energy, purpose and opportunity.

Creating lives and careers of significance require us to fundamentally switch our focus from what can do for ourselves to what can we do for others. This does not mean that we live a life denying what we want for the sake of pleasing others. Rather it is about drawing upon our innate knowledge, skills, strengths and motivations to contribute to the success of others.

Creating significant lives and careers takes time. It is a journey and much like climbing a ladder requires us step up the rungs to reach the top. The problem is too many of us stop before we reach the top rung. Maxwell talks about moving through the ladder of significance: survival (focus being on stability) to success (focus on ourselves) to significance (focus on others).
So how do we build career significance? I would encourage you to consider the following 5 tips:

1. Know your strengths, and stay with them: It is much easier to create a career of significance when we know what our strengths are. We are in a position to give freely and generously and operate with greater intuitiveness, insight and impact.

2. Identify demand: Know where your strengths are valued and required and place yourself in a position to generate demand for them.

3. Establish your plan: Be intentional about what you do, where you do it and with you do it.

4. Define your position: The ability to articulate your plans, intentions and direction not only provides you clarity but also allows your networks to actively and confidently support your path.

5. Connect: Let people know what your intentions are and most importantly why. When others can see the genuine motivation you have they are more inclined to support and contribute to your path.

As always I would love to hear your thoughts,