Significance

My seven year old must’ve been having an existential crisis this morning as he asked me: “What is your full potential, daddy…I mean, what do you want to be when you grow up?” A little bit later on the ride to school he queried: “If you had to die to save all of the animals on the earth, would you prefer to die or live and let the animals die?”

As a proud father, I’d like to think that most seven year olds are not pondering such profound questions, but in my experience children this age regularly consider such matters, if you give them the time and space to do so. The quest for significance begins at a very early age; the trouble is that it is far too often smothered by more banal human interests.

My wife mentioned something she heard a television evangelist say while flicking through the channels the other evening. The fellow (whose name escapes me) was discussing what he termed the three “levels of life”: survival, success and significance. If I understood her account correctly, he was basically saying that many successful people do not feel significant, like their lives are purposeful or meaningful. He went on to say that you cannot be truly successful or genuinely happy without a clear sense of meaning and purpose. Amen to that!

I think it is clear to all that we are not here simply to scratch out a living or to have a statue carved in our likeness after we’re dead and gone. Even small children understand that they are here to do something meaningful, to add value to the lives of others and to make a difference in the world. Unfortunately, society does its level best to wring such aspirations out of the individual in the name of productivity and continuity. The process is at work in the family room, the classroom and the boardroom. It is a sad, but pervasive fact which frustrates the manifestation of truth and by consequence, reality.

What we need are people who stand squarely in the middle of their worlds, who assume unqualified responsibility for that which is under their care and who establish significance through every thought, word and deed. As for my son’s question, I don’t really know what I want to be when I grow up but I do know that I will do my level best to assume responsibility for that which is entrusted to me and assiduously avoid being consumed by the unreal, superficial concerns which have consumed the lives of so many through the ages.

“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.” – Viktor E Frankl

7 thoughts on “Significance

  • Wonderful post! With, I think, six billion plus people on the Earth; how can we define the success of a life by an occupation or dollar amount! If we each would feel responsible for our life as a promise we’ve already made, to fill each moment with our finest and highest feeling and thinking, I think all would change very quickly. What would be possible I don’t know, as our collective potential, I feel, has never had a moment to develop. I love your son’s questions and I remember well the feeling as a child of wanting to live a life that added to the whole. I still feel that way 🙂

  • This reminds me of something I read this weekend by Brene’ Brown, you had one of her TED talks in a post a while back. She was talking about authenticity and how we tend to think someone is authentic or not but being authentic is about making choices every day, its about showing up and being real, being honest, being our true selves in every moment.
    Here is the definition of authenticity that Brene’ Brown developed: “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re suppose to be and embracing who we are.”
    Being authentic is being responsible. Being authentic allows a clear sense of meaning and purpose to flow freely in and through us.
    Thanks Gregg for the daily posts!

  • The dream and desire of each of us, I am convinced, is to have a life that is meaningful, makes a contribution and difference to others, and as you put it so accurately is significant. And it is not all about what we can take but instead what we can provide. That is why a seemingly small gesture or small company can make such a significant difference in the world when they focus on contribution and providing value. I am not exactly certain when it happened (I saw it up close and personal while working at a bank in 1969) that businesses started focusing more on the bottom line coming to them rather than the bottom line extending from and being provided by them. But we must always remember that the purpose of any business is to provide value into the community, city, state, country etc. that they serve. Those who are employed by companies that genuinely focus on what they provide being of significance and priority in turn have lives that are much more significant for they participated in something that they are proud to have been a part of. On the other side of the coin, those who simply go through life having job after job working with companies that are profit oriented end up at the end of the day with a certain emptiness. We all have the privilege for our lives to count for something – clearly the choice is ours isn’t it!

  • I experienced the same question with my second son when he was about that age while we were driving. I remember vividly him asking “mom, what do you want to be when you grow up?”. I told him that I wasn’t sure yet and asked what he thought I ought to do. His response was “I think you should be a princess”. Score for Austin!

  • Staying alive is something we all have in common. Being successful according to the common definition (having money, possessions, etc.), is a relatively common occurrence. Finding the meaning of why we are here on this earth is unfortunately rarer than either, and it is something that should be just as common as staying alive. How we stand in the center of our world should be our main concern, and that will be different for each of us. We should endeavor to do it appropriately, and to always look to grow it where possible, and to find where that centering interacts with the purpose that our unique configuration lends us to find in our short time on this planet.

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