Many people devote their entire lives to achieving material success, only to discover that their happiness and sense of purpose are lacking when that success arrives. The “success to significance” framing is well-intentioned, but it has been misapplied. The goal was to encourage people who have spent their lives accumulating resources — money, power, status, and accomplishment — to redeploy their time and talents in service of others. However, this implies that professional “success” and a happy, meaningful life are incompatible. In reality, there is no such thing as success without significance. If you have read anything regarding the topics of happiness and income, or the teachings of nearly every ancient religion or philosophy, you’ll discover at the end of their lives, very few people care as much about money, fame, or power as they think they will. Almost everyone laments a lack of meaningful relationships or a sense of purpose in their work and life.
A proper definition of success is oriented toward human flourishing — what the Greeks called eudaemonia — and proposes a richer definition of a successful life that is both prosperous and purposeful. I’ve spent my lifetime, working continuously to improve both my leadership skills and to push for a positive personal growth, particularly the topic of purpose. One of the key insights I’ve gained from all that study and observation, is the hollow nature of material success in the absence of meaning. Success without significance — which to me is purpose, service, and meaningful relationships — isn’t truly success and waiting until you’re in the later stages of your life to achieve true success is a total waste of time. It’s obivious that few people have actually given careful thought to the mainstream definition of success before pursuing it. We may be deliberate in choosing a job or career by considering what we are good at or the paths of those we admire, but over time that job may come to dominate other meaningful parts of our lives (we can all relate to the struggles of work-life balance), or we may lose sight of what makes that career purposeful in the first place. As a result, our default is frequently to pursue material progress without questioning why. Instead, it’s critical to properly reflect on how to live a life imbued not just with the superficial trappings of “success,” but with deep purpose and joy in everything we do. True flourishing includes some element of accomplishment, but also meaning, positive emotions, engagement, and relationships. Reflecting on this more profound definition of success forces us to take a fundamentally different path than that advocated in popular culture and doing it early — and frequently — allows us to design a life that is more consistently rich in meaning. As you begin to consider a more comprehensive vision for significant success, consider the following questions:
• What is the core purpose of my work and how does it make the world a better place, and how can I lean into it or craft my day-to-day work to emphasize it?
• Who are the most important people in my life, both inside and outside of work, and how can I strengthen and enrich them?
• Who am I serving at work and in my community, and what more can I do to serve others at work, at home, and in my community?
• How am I getting better every day? In my personal or professional life, how can I pursue meaningful craft?
Many people who wait until the second half of their lives to consider these questions discover that their ability to experience true success has been diminished by decades of following an empty path. While it is never too late to pursue a meaningful life, it is preferable to have done so from the start. That is very much possible in your life right now. It could entail changing your perspective on your work or investing in more meaningful positive relationships. You may choose to deepen your service to others or pursue new and meaningful avocations, or you may make a larger change, such as a change in profession, location, or lifestyle. Whatever it is, it will include you pausing right now to take a serious inventory of your current life and and seriously considering whether the path you’re on truly leads you to where you want to go. Don’t put off living a flourishing, more meaningful life until you’re at the top of your field or later in life. Instead, whether you’re 15, 25, or 55, start thinking about what will make your life meaningful, joyful, and fulfilled right now.
-Live The Dream Media President & Co-Founder Clint Peek