COMMENTARY 893.5: Moving From Success to Significance

I frequently address people who are highly successful. They’re at the top of their field and often have all the comforts that wealth can afford. Most seem to enjoy their success.

So, in a way, it surprises me how deeply many of them respond when I talk about the difference between success and significance. Invariably, I see knowing nods when I describe Alfred Nobel’s disillusionment when he read his obituary that was printed by mistake after his brother died. Although it was complimentary, describing him as a brilliant chemist who’d made his fortune inventing dynamite, he was struck by how hollow and inconsequential his accomplishments seemed as the summation of his life. Determined to leave a more worthy legacy, he established the Nobel Prizes to acknowledge great human achievements.

Mr. Nobel realized there’s a transitory quality to success but immortality in significance. A life devoted to attaining personal goals can be admirable and satisfying, but it can be enormously enriched when we use our talents and time to improve the lives of others.

In his book Living a Life That Matters, Harold Kushner wrote, “Our souls are not hungry for fame, comfort, wealth, or power. Our souls are hungry for meaning, for the sense that we have figured out how to live so that our lives matter, so that the world will be at least a little bit different for our having passed through it.”

If we realize this before it’s too late, we’re less likely to dishonor our families and our legacies with dishonesty or selfishness. Success isn’t enough.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 5

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  3. Wake up call to all the mid-life crisis-ers that bought a ticket to the greener side and passed up the what will matter layover. I choose significance and my fab four a million times over. Thanks for the cup of meaning-I’ll make sure to keep honoring my family!

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  5. It’s those who do not get notice that I admire most. The Nobel Prize is a wonderful acknowledgement of good deeds for all of mankind, but those who make a significant difference in the lives of others at the family, community, state, or national level just keep on “keeping on” despite never getting a “prize” for it. But then, like the Nobel winners, getting a prize is not why they work to make a significant difference in the first place. . .thankfully.

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