Posts Tagged ‘success’

There are connotations about the word “success” that differ based on who hears it. Some hear it and think, “Admirable goal! Top of the game, target to shoot for, best, achievement, purpose, triumph!” Some hear it and think, “Forget it! Over-achiever, out of reach, lucky, brown-nose, snob, locked out, blocked!” And still others think, “It depends,” or, “I’ve made it!” or, “Success in what, exactly?” You’ve probably had a thought pop into your own head while reading this – take it out and examine it a moment.

Isn’t it true that the first images you think of when trying to define success are the superficial stereotypes: money, fame, fancy homes, important career? Erma Bombeck noted the same thing: “Don’t confuse fame with success. Madonna is one; Helen Keller is the other.”

So you go a little deeper, and you add things like good friends, happy family, good health, strong marriage. Bet even those things are only the outside appearance of success.

So you go even deeper: real happiness, a rich spiritual life, finding your soulmate. Many would think, “Ah, at last we have come to our true definition. After all, we can’t go any deeper.” But I don’t know if these are quite it. All wonderful evidences of success, yes; but not success itself.

Maybe the English language has failed us here. Or maybe the meaning has become diluted, muted and polluted. I know I want success, but I couldn’t convey it to those around me without risking their prejudiced ideas about what that means. Even in my own mind, I sometimes wondered if my efforts at success weren’t somehow self-aggrandizing.

Then someone used another word in the same context, a similar one in content and value, one that hasn’t yet been bleached of its richness:


Significance is the place where real, non-superficial success fetches up. Every single example of real success that I can think of boils down to becoming significant. Making a difference. Being someone or doing something that matters. What a goal! Who wouldn’t aspire to that? And isn’t that what I always meant in my heart when I described success to myself?

These words are not typically found together in the thesaurus; that is, they do not share an identical definition. But I think they point in a parallel direction, except that I don’t know of any negative cultural undertone attached to the word “significance”. The meanings of the two words are close enough that some historic quotes gain fresh new life when you take out “success” and use “significance”:

Some people [succeed/are significant] because they are destined to, but most people [succeed/are significant] because they are determined to. (Henry Ford)
Action is the foundational key to all [success/significance]. (Pablo Picasso)
One secret of [success/significance] in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes. (Benjamin Disraeli)

Significance seems more important, more noble than mere success.

One last note: if you are a lover of language, you might have already noticed that the verb form of success is “to succeed”, which indicates action. There is no popular action verb form for significance. To succeed is to do, and to be significant is to be (or become). If only the English language had a word for “to become significant”! “I will strive for becoming significant” is far too clunky and even changes the meaning a little.

But even without the help of the exactly correct words I have begun updating my mindset to accommodate this new outlook, and have incorporated it into the efforts I make to reach my own level of success significance. I may not always succeed attain significance, but I will have given it significant effort.

What does success mean to you? Do you have friends or family to whom success a dirty word? Share it in the comments below.