Success is defined as the continuous journey toward the achievement of predetermined worthwhile goals. What is significance? Significance means you enhance the lives of others around you for generations. A kindergarten teacher imparts love of school, teaches and models first lessons of social behavior, introduces the concepts of discipline and schedules, and encourages curiosity. I would think a kindergarten teacher would live a very significant life. If you delight in a 6 year old saying excuse me, thank you, please and yes sir or yes ma’am, it’s because their kindergarten teacher was first rate. If someone mentored or guided you in some area of your life, and what they did influenced how you lived your life, that person was significant. But how do you know if you have done something significant?
Last week, I taught a student and she ended up crying at the end of the lesson. She had not ever received a compliment for a job well done, and considered herself below par on nearly every endeavor. However, she continued to do amazing things like design jewelry, do landscaping, influence her children and step children, learn guitar, and was an expert at herb gardening. When I complimented her on her progress on the guitar, she started to get teary eyed. She came back this week and was so excited about being back in an environment where she was not only getting an honest assessment of her abilities and her progress, she was also getting honest compliments on improvements. She was so pleased that she made me some jewelry! I enjoyed her change of attitude immensely! I feel that what I expressed to her last week had a significant impact on her. But I am not sure how big an impact it was.
I was in a speech class in college where for the demonstration speech, one of my classmates stood up and demonstrated that if you put butter on one slice of bread, and peanut butter on the other, the jelly doesn’t soak through and make the sandwich soggy. I have done that to this day, so that was a “significant” event. But it wasn’t important. A part of significance is that the influence should matter. It should be important. This is the problem I face as a teacher. I have taught 100’s of people but have no clue whether their time with me proved to be significant.
My children have all developed an odd sense of humor because of my influence. My oldest daughter was in a difficult class, but this professor had an odd sense of humor too. The last question on his test was this: “What is the average speed of an unladen swallow?” My daughter wrote, “African or European swallow?” She surprised her professor in that not only was she the only one to answer the question, she was the one person whom he thought would least likely know the answer. Is my kids’ sense of humor a reflection of significance then? I don’t know.
A really fine pastor I knew once confided that he wasn’t sure he’d lived a life of significance, and yet that was the center of his life. He was trying to influence people in a way that would make the difference as to where they’d spend the afterlife. He said, “I guess I’ll find out when I get to heaven and see some people I know.”
What does living a life of significance mean to you? Is significance a part of the goal you seek? Is it a by product of the life you live, or is the life you live a by product of your quest for significance?