To Realize your Dreams, Focus on Significance, not Success
“The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success, but on significance.” – Oprah Winfrey
What if true fulfillment could be found not in what we achieve, but in the significance of what we do?
Often, when we think about setting goals for ourselves, we think about what we could have or do that would bring us great success. We dream of a promotion, being on TV, winning the lottery, going on exotic trips, and of the proverbial, shiny red corvette. All these things represent a form of success that we imagine being available for ourselves.
It seems reasonable that winning the lottery or getting a new car would increase our standard of living. After all, who couldn’t use more money or a better car? However once we’ve made it to one level of success, we rarely take a moment to appreciate it before moving on to the next. The material object we desire has been captured, and the chase is over.
It is instances like this where we have failed to make a true difference in our own lives. By focusing on objects of success, rather than objects of significance, we have created a continuous cycle of disappointment.
How is focusing on success different from focusing on significance?
We all have a slightly different idea of what success is, based on our own opinions of what it takes to have, be, and do ‘more’ or ‘better.’ In this sense, the things we feel successful about are measurable things in our life. Getting the promotion means we have succeeded in acquiring a measurable result. Winning the lottery is a measurable result, as is making it onto Jeopardy(tm), visiting Nepal, or owning a corvette.
We also have our own opinions of what is significant in our lives. Our families, friends, spiritual commitments, and health are just a few examples. Sometimes we sacrifice experiences and actions that would make a profound impact in what we would consider significant in our lives, because we are blinded by the more appealing, “successful” solution that will make us look really good.
If your dream is for your children to grow up to be healthy, have solid values, and be productive citizens, which would make a more significant impact in their lives? You getting a high-paying job where you travel a lot and aren’t home often, but have plenty of money to pay the bills, treat them to movies, and pay for their college tuition? Or would your dream more significantly be fulfilled by taking on a lower-paying job where you are home more, available to spend time with them creating memories, and allowing them to take on the responsibility of paying their way through school?
Neither of these options is “right” or “wrong”, but they will each have a very different results. Each year millions of parents make decisions just like this, and many opt to be financially successful, because they equate having money to being a good parent. They were brought up, perhaps not having a lot of money, and recognize opportunities that they can make available to their kids using money as a tool.
For another example, let’s say that since you started your marketing firm, your dream has been to help home-based businesses reach their market expansion dreams. Like all marketing and media firms, you are bombarded with opportunities to win awards and prestigious recognition for the work you do. The issue is that in order to win the awards and gain much desired exposure, you must alter the way you do business.
Will you continue to run your business in a way that significantly impacts the lives and futures of your clients? Or will you choose to chase the images of success that lie in awards and recognition? Is it possible to do both and still fulfill upon your mission?
If your dreams are a classroom, significance is the genuine learning experience, and success is a standardized test. While you are experiencing true learning and growth, you might learn what you need to ace the test, but when you teach only for the test, you miss out on a lot of wonderful experiences that aren’t related to the final exam.