The Difference Between Success and Significance

Rick Kraft

AT a conference in Atlanta, I heard a mentor of mine, bestselling author John Maxwell, give a short talk on leadership that he packed full of tools and applications.

He started by asking, “What would I share with you if I had only one day together with you?”

He said there’s a difference between success and significance. Success is about you. You can be a success based upon what you accomplish for yourself. Significance is about others. You cannot live a life of significance without helping others. We need to strive to live a life of significance, not success. Success may come along also, but it shouldn’t be our first priority. Our first priority should be pouring ourselves into others.

Dr. Maxwell shared that, at age 22, his father told him three things he should start every day striving for: intentionally value people, believe in people and unconditionally love people. He quoted Zig Ziglar’s famous principle, “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

A book Dr. Maxwell was given when he was young impacted his life. The title of the book on its cover was “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” All the pages inside were blank. The friend who gave it to him told him that the book is about his life, and that what will be written on the pages will be determined by the choices made going forward.

Everyone has a story, but we don’t fill the pages of our story with acts and deeds of significance.  We choose what story is written on the pages of our life. Good intentions to write our story aren’t enough; action is critical. 

Dr. Maxwell shared his “Rule of Five.” If you want to cut a large tree down behind your house, pick up a sharpened ax and swing the blade five times into the tree. Put the ax down and go back inside. When you get up tomorrow go out back, swing it five times and then put it down. Repeat the next day and then the next day and so on. Eventually the tree
will fall.

If you have the right goal, the right tool, and are consistent, it’s just a matter of time before you accomplish what you set out to do. Dream big, then use the Rule of Five to accomplish the dream. 

I heard a story of Christopher Columbus when he discovered America. He kept a journal. Each day before going to sleep he would write the words, “Today we moved further west.” Enough consecutive days of moving west resulted in his goal of arriving at our continent.

Dr. Maxwell talked about the many areas of influence each of us has, including family, work, organizations and community service. We each have spheres of

As we influence others, he suggested we do five things every day. First, value people. We can seek to connect or to correct. If we connect, we will build bridges and relationships. If we correct, we will become judgmental and separate relationships.

Second, think of ways to add value to the lives of others every day. Ask yourself in the morning, “What am I going to do to add value to the lives of others today?” Think intentionally at the front end. If we do so, then we will “prepare.” If we’re reactive, then at the back end we may have to “repair.”

Third, look for ways to value people throughout your day. It is an “other-focused” state of mind.  We generally see things as we are, not how things really are. If we can get outside ourselves, we can better help meet the needs of others.

Fourth, after thinking and looking of ways to help others, we need to do things that add value to others. If everyone had a number on their forehead that indicated how their day was going, we would each have times where our number would peak at 10 and times when we dip down on a terrible day to one or maybe even zero. Regardless of the number on the forehead of the person we are interacting with, if we can add a number or two to them in our interaction with them, we have added value to him or her.

If you live your life adding value to the lives of others, you will also be adding value to the number on your own forehead.

Fifth, Dr. Maxwell says to encourage others to add value to others. We should live a life that adds value to others and then duplicate ourselves in others. If we can model for others and then reproduce who we are, we are raising the “tide” of this world.  It is multiplication, not addition.

My challenge to you today is to live a life of significance. To do so, you will need to give of yourself for the benefit of others. Significance is more important than success.

Focus on adding value to the lives of others and you will add value to your own life. Those who bring happiness into the lives of others cannot keep happiness from their own lives.

Then duplicate yourself in others who you influence so they can duplicate themselves in those they influence. Impact the world by multiplication, not

Just a thought …

Rick Kraft, a South Pasadena High School graduate, is a syndicated columnist, motivational speaker, published author and attorney. To submit comments, contributions or ideas, e-mail to