The Difference: Success and Significance

It was the summer of 2003, a few months before I started my first semester of college. I was an energetic but confused eighteen year old kid. I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I knew that being “successful” was definitely a part of it.

One night, I watched a movie called the Emperor’s Club. It is a story about a history teacher, Will Hundert, and his students at an elite prep school. On the first day of class, Hundert points up to a plaque on his wall, and asks his students to read it:

I am Shutruk-Nahunte [sic], King of Anshan and Susa, sovereign of the land of Elam. By the command of Inshushinak, I destroyed Sippar and took the stele of Niran-Sin and brought it back to Elam, where I erected it as an offering to my god, Inshushinak.

- Shutruk-Nahunte 1158 BC

Hundert then asks his class whether any of them have heard of Shutruk-Nahunte before. He is met with silence.

How is it that one of the most dominant kings in ancient history is virtually unknown? According to Mr. Hundert, this is because “great ambition and conquest, without contribution, is without significance.”

He then turns to his class and asks a simple question:

What will your contribution be?

Fast forward to 2006. I was at a technology conference featuring some of the smartest businesspeople in the world. The keynote panelist was John Doerr, a legendary investor who has made billions of dollars betting on companies like Google, Apple, and Amazon.

Doerr spent a good amount of time discussing his methods for being successful. But he shifted gears towards the end of his talk. Instead of simply focusing on success, he decided to emphasize the importance of significance.

“We live in a world that focuses on success. But while success is important, it means nothing without significance. Significance is the ability to make an impact beyond yourself, something for the greater good. Success makes a good investor, but significance is what makes a good person.”

My mind suddenly flashed back to the Emperor’s club. Sure, I had goals of being successful, but how was I going to become significant? How could I make a truly positive impact that will benefit others in a significant, meaningful way?

This realization is what drove me to pursue more entrepreneurial endeavors. I started my career at a bank, moving money from Point A to Point B. I was on track to being successful, but I wasn’t doing anything significant. As an entrepreneur, I’ve had my ups and downs, but I’m constantly striving to provide products and services that will help people…while simultaneously putting money in my pocket.

In fact, the idea of long-term significance was a big motivator for me to start blogging. Ultimately, my goal is to build a powerful platform for impacting, motivating, and connecting with the world.

Business should be a win-win, and that’s what the combination of success and significance is all about. Just remember that they aren’t always one and the same.

How do you plan to be successful…and significant? Please share in the comments

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