Are you aiming to be successful or significant? - Preparing you for the future of work.

Are you aiming to be successful or significant?

Because we live in such a success oriented world, when asked to choose between success or significance, it seems only natural to choose success.

Today, success is measured in terms of material wealth, position, status, popularity and such like criteria. When we’re young, we dream of being rich and famous. That, we think, is the road to happiness. Wouldn’t it be nice to never have to worry about money? You bet! Wouldn’t it be great if we had adoring fans mobbing us and clamouring for our attention wherever we go? Sounds tempting!

How, then, do we explain the problem I encounter as I interact with executives and entrepreneurs who have achieved outstanding financial and career success, but who are actually deeply unhappy and living wretched, miserable lives?

When it comes to material wealth, they have it all – one of these people was described by a colleague as “being so wealthy that his grandchildren won’t have to work.” But in the next breath, the colleague added that this person was very unhappy.

As one is confronted by story after story of people living sad and unhappy lives in many of the mansions scattered around upmarket suburbs, it becomes clear that, contrary to popular belief, money can’t buy love (Jennifer Anniston will vouch for that) and it can’t buy happiness (maybe Britney Spears could say, “Amen” to that).

If we’re making a mistake chasing success, what then should we be doing? What is the point of all the hard work and sacrifice we put in every day?

It’s important to note that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being financially comfortable or wealthy. There are some who believe that it is a sin to be wealthy and that purity and goodness can only be achieved by living a life of poverty and deprivation. Rubbish!

While it may be more blessed to give than to receive, if you don’t have anything to give, there’s not much fun in giving. It’s therefore admirable to work towards becoming financially successful, if at all possible, BUT ... if that’s all you’re aiming at. You’re setting yourself up for a life of emptiness while you sit on your comfortable upmarket furniture and drive your luxury car.

Every human being born on the planet craves to be significant. We all have a desire to make some impact on the world in which we live and on the people with whom we interact. When we are young, we are not too concerned about significance – we’re in success mode. But if we chase success at the cost of everything else, we find an emptiness growing inside ourselves that we just can‘t fill.

And because we don’t understand the “Law of Enough”, we end up chasing the ever moving target of financial wealth that will torment us no matter how long and how hard we run after it. That’s because some people incorrectly believe that they need to become MORE financially successful to fill the emptiness. Understand this: money can buy comfort and convenience, but it can’t fill a heart. Only meaning can do that.

Significance is therefore achieved by helping others not as fortunate as yourself in a number of ways. If you’re in a position to do so, you could possibly make regular financial contributions to a worthy cause or you may give of your time to help such a cause. You could also donate your skills and expertise to assist them in some area of need (helping with their selection and recruitment of suitable workers or doing their books and managing their finances).

I urge you to think about what you could do to achieve significance. The world needs your unique personality, talents, gifts and skills. Don’t limit them to the walls of your workplace. Don’t put a price on them when it comes to achieving significance. By all means aim for success, but also strive to be significant as well. You will achieve a far greater sense of fulfillment, and will leave the world a better place as a result.

Alan Hosking is the Publisher of HR Future magazine,, @HRFuturemag. He is a recognised authority on leadership skills for the future and helps business leaders learn to lead with purpose and agility.


  1. Join our newsletter to receive all the latest news in the HR space!
  2. Email(*)
    Invalid Input

Contact us

If you have a question or would like to get in touch with us, contact us on +27 11 888 8914 or

Business Hours

We are open:

  • Mon – Fri: 8:00 am – 4:30 pm
  • Saturday, Sunday and Public Holidays: closed