Menanteau Serfontein – 4 March 2021
What is the difference between a life of “success” and a life of “significance”?
Is it possible for us to pursue “success” as well as “significance”?
Albert Einstein said “Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.”
Nelson Mandela said “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
Below are the Definitions of some of the terms that will be used in the article:
- Success is the accomplishment/achievement of an aim, a goal or purpose.
- Purpose is the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.
- Individualism is being independent and self-reliant.
- Extreme Individualism (The Extreme BIG ME) implies extreme self-love, self-admiration, self-praise, self-esteem, self-enhancement, narcissism, self-aggrandizement, and the concept of “the answers are within myself” (i.e. I don’t need God or anyone else), often coupled with extreme materialism/making money, status and material success. (This tendency often accompanies a disregard for sound morals, values, principles, the common good, serving and selflessness.)
- The Common Good refers to actions or things that are to the benefit of people in a community or society in general.
- Significance (in the context of this Article) applies where a higher purpose of intrinsic value and meaning is pursued that is beyond and much “bigger than yourself” and that is making a positive difference in the lives of one or more individuals, or for The Common Good, without expecting recognition or anything else in return.
Individualism can be good and beneficial in achieving success through meeting one’s self-imposed goals in say sport, business, science, academics, art, material possessions (wealth) or whatever else, especially when such success is balanced by living a life of significance (see definition). However, when the pursuit and achievement of success becomes so overriding that it gets “out of balance”, then it can be described as “Extreme Individualism” (The Extreme BIG ME that was dealt with in a previous Article) with all its pitfalls. In this case, the selfish needs, desires and goals of the individual become an end in itself at all costs, often to the detriment of others. Some of the typical examples of the consequences of this approach include fractured relationships and a disregard for sound morals, values, principles, The Common Good and a life of significance.
In his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen R. Covey states that “In more than 25 years of working in business, university, marriage and family settings, I have come in contact with many individuals who have achieved an incredible degree of outward success, but have found themselves struggling with an inner hunger, a deep need for personal congruency and effectiveness and for healthy, growing relationships with other people.”
Covey studied writings about what “success” means, spanning a period of more than 200 years, and summarised below is his description of how the definition of success has changed over the years.
During the first 150 years, the focus was on “Character Ethic”, i.e. things like integrity, humility, fidelity, temperament, courage, justice, patience, simplicity, modesty, etc. According to the Character Ethic, there are basic principles of effective living, and that people can only experience true success and happiness when they integrate these principles into their basic character. (You are encouraged to read the Article that was previously posted on the Website entitled “Character – What It Is and Why and How to Cultivate It”)
Soon after World War 1, the view of success shifted from Character Ethic to “Personality Ethic”. Success became a function of personality, public image, attitudes and behaviours, skills and techniques. There were two paths; the one was human and public relations techniques and the other was positive mental attitude. Some of the literature acknowledged character as an ingredient of success, but tended to compartmentalize it rather than recognise it as foundational.
Covey and his wife’s experiences with raising their son, coupled with his studies about perceptions and success, helped him to realise that there is a vital difference between Personality Ethic and Character Ethic. He found that elements of the Personality Ethic such as personal growth, communication skills and positive thinking are sometimes essential for success. However, these are secondary, not primary traits. Secondary traits alone have no permanent role in long-term relationships. Eventually, when there isn’t deep integrity and fundamental character strength, the challenges of life will cause true motives to surface and human relationship failure will replace short-term success. Covey says that in the final analysis, what we are, communicates far more eloquently than anything we say or do.
The challenge to all of us is to be aware of the realities and implications of pursuing success in whatever sphere of our lives in accordance with Extreme Individualism as apposed to Individualism that is balanced with significance and the common good. Let’s guard against “conquering the world and losing our soul“.
Luke 12:15 “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
Michael Josephson says “A person of character seeks true happiness in living a life of purpose and meaning, placing a higher value on significance than success.”
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