Success or significance

words: Dr Bill Webster, Grief Journey

I’ve been to a few funerals lately. Probably you can identify!

As I listen to eulogies, celebrating the person’s life, I am realising there are two kinds of tributes: first, grandiose inventories of success, achievement in business, acquisition in the material world or accomplishment in the pursuit of status.

Then there are the simpler ones about what the person has given more than what they have gained, listing gifts of those who spend themselves in a worthy cause, whether in world-changing or simply everyday service.

Increasingly I find myself asking: “What do I hope people will say at my eulogy? How am I going to be remembered?”

I find myself increasingly impressed and moved by people whose lives made a difference in their families, communities and the lives they touched, locally or nationally. And I am realising I would rather be remembered for these kinds of things than the size of my bank account, car or house, or even the accolades I was awarded.

Stephen Covey gives the illustration of a group of people making their way through a jungle. Every step is painstaking, hacking their way through obstacles and undergrowth. After many days, the leader suggests he climb up a tree and see where they are. He shouts down: “I have good news and bad news. The good news is we are making excellent progress. The bad news is we are in the wrong jungle!”

Could the same be said of you and me? We may be making excellent progress, but are we in the right jungle?

It is not always obvious what it means to be successful in life. The term can describe professional achievement at work or pre-eminence in academics or some other field that brings public recognition. Others speak of successfully raising children and grandchildren which, while sadly not always acknowledged, deserves to be regarded as especially important.

John Wooden defined success as: “The sense of satisfaction you get from the knowledge that you have done your best.” That great definition gets us away from delineating success as only the highest and the greatest. If success is defined as those who reach the pinnacle, or who make more money than everybody else, then virtually no one is successful.

But by Wooden’s definition, the person who studies and works hard for their B+ is more of a success that the intellectual who settles for an A- when they could have had an A+ with a little more effort.

Perhaps real success should be measured by an individuals’ ability to reach their own goals.

The secret of life is not accumulation, it is contribution. Making money and acquiring toys is all very well, but surely of greater significance is making a difference to my world. As the quote goes: “20 years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.”

To lead a purposeful life, we have to follow our passions. Many people have probably been guilty, at some point, of simply going through the motions of life, failing to experience the intense burn of passion. The real tragedy occurs when we begin to think that this is an acceptable way to live. Each of us has a purpose and meaning that will ultimately define the significance of our time on this earth.

Determining eventual significance depends on the ability to keep striving despite disappointment, rejection, even failure. I admire those who seem to overcome insurmountable difficulties simply by refusing to quit. Success should be measured not so much by the position one has reached in life as the obstacles overcome to get there.

Aim for success, but strive for significance.

Your significance will be determined by discovering how you have impacted those around you and made a difference in your world. Relationships and human interaction are the most valuable currency. No monetary gain can match the internal growth that can come from a single conversation or a lifetime of memories shared with another.

Every single morning, we have a chance to make the change and become the person we really want to be. You just have to decide to go ahead and do it.

Dr Bill Webster is the author of numerous books and resources for grieving people. He has some innovative resources which funeral directors and professionals can make available to their clients as part of an after-care programme. Check out Dr Bill’s resources at his website,

Linda D Jones, Executive Director of Resources
0333 8000 630

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