Success vs. Significance—and How it Plays Out at Home


How do you define success? Is it making your mark in the world? Being financially secure? Becoming the best at what you do? Being “somebody”?

Today we want to look at a concept we discuss in our book, Guard Your Heart—the difference between success and significance. Often times our idea of success involves what we do in this lifetime to gain recognition and honor. There’s nothing wrong with desiring to be successful, but when our drive to succeed overtakes our desire to love and serve our spouse and family, we begin to lose sight of what’s really important.

Let’s look at the ways our quest for success can turn ugly, especially in our most important relationships. The following signs are what we call “potholes on the road to success.” Do you recognize any of these traits?

Going for the Jugular
Competition can be healthy and beneficial. Employees compete at work for top salesperson or employee-of-the-month to increase business and profits. Our kids compete in sports and for good grades in school. But without the proper boundaries, competition can cross the line to unhealthy and harmful. We all know it’s easy to go too far or say too much in the heat of the moment. Do you often step over the line from fair play to winning at all costs? Do you view and treat your rival as the enemy? If competition turns you into someone you don’t want to be, it is likely affecting your relationships at home. Is the prize worth that steep a price?

High and Mighty
When success goes to our head, we are often tempted to believe we’re entitled to just a little bit more than the next person. Pride has a way of convincing us we deserve extra attention and special treatment. There is nothing wrong with being proud of our accomplishments when viewed in a healthy way, but just like competition, it’s easy to step over the line to a harmful view of success if we’re not careful. Do you expect “better” than what others get? Do you find yourself butting heads with others because they don’t see eye to eye with you? When you allow success to lead to pride, your relationships will suffer and you will eventually push your family and loved ones away.

Enough is Never Enough
You’ve worked hard to afford the perfect house for your family, but when a friend invites you over for dinner, your house suddenly looks pretty ordinary. You’re happy with the goals you’ve accomplished at work this year, but they pale in comparison to what others in your field have achieved. These exact scenarios may not ring true for you, but do you recognize the tendency to measure your success in life against that of others around you? You want more than you have—you want what they have. When you struggle with envy, enough is not good enough if someone else has more—but it’s difficult for you or your family to be at peace when you’re constantly struggling to have as much as others.

The Weight of Worry
Many times when we set out to accomplish a goal, we can become consumed by it. Things like eating healthier, spending more time at the gym or working toward a raise are great goals, but not if our lives eventually revolve around trying to achieve them. When we are all-consumed with the details of being successful, we allow worry to crowd out the benefit. Worrying can also take time away from our loved ones, or bring them down with us.

We’ve looked at how the quest for success in this life can lead to competition, pride, envy, and worry. Now we want to look at the concept of significance.  Here’s the difference: You can achieve a lot of success in life—a great job, plenty of money, obedient children—without achieving meaning and significance. And you can achieve significance—serving God, loving others and being there for your spouse and kids—without achieving success by the world’s definition. If your life is all about finding success in terms of financial security, making your mark, or attracting fame, you may leave your family in the dust. But if you devote yourself to a life of spiritual and eternal significance, your goal by its very nature will nurture your spouse and children. Achieving significance means pursuing the things that matter most and will far outlast your time here on earth.

We pray you will consider the difference between a life marked by success and one marked by significance for the sake of your spouse and family…and the legacy you leave behind.