Success vs. Significance

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Growing up in America we are conditioned to pursue happiness which really means success. That success has been the driving force of our wealth-seeking missions in this country. For some, success has defined who we are, it has placed value on souls and it has created some of our most hurtful stereotypes.

Imagine a man without a high school diploma trying to take care of his loving family of five, in the ghetto. Hollywood made a sitcom of it called “Good Times”. Once America was ready to see it, Hollywood produced a show about a successful Black family with the husband as a doctor and the wife as a lawyer and they called it “The Cosby Show”. And today we further celebrate the elevated position of the Black family as they further blend into mainstream American and abandon or struggle not to abandon who they are. Hollywood calls this show “Black-ish”.

Success has been the reward for many other shows (once mainstream America was ready to see it) for gays and lesbians, Hispanics, seniors and Asians. Success in television has led to major corporations (in real life) allowing minorities and women to advance to executive management. The sciences are also benefitting from this success as they are now accepting of studies done by minorities and research from other countries. Success has definitely changed America over the years. In many areas we can claim success.

Significance is a horse of a different color.

We have had great Americans of great significance which we are indebted to today. Innovators, scientists, entrepreneurs, political leaders and civil rights activists have all changed this world for the better. You can’t help but wonder what the world would be like if the emphasis was on being significant and not successful. Success is something you do for yourself. Significance is something you do for someone else.

So I’m reminded of the good Dr. Jonas Salk who in 1952 developed the first effective vaccine for polio — he could have decided to be successful with it, but instead he wanted to be significant with it. So despite having millions of dollars because of his vaccine, he settled for the thousands of dollars he already had and when asked who owns the patent for the vaccine he said the people own the patent.

Therefore, to change the world, you have to desire to be significant. You have to decide to elevate others over yourself. You have to be willing to do for others what they can’t do for themselves. You know, sort of like Jesus.

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