Success and Meaning Are Not the Same

Every human being is searching for a deep sense of meaning, and yet we’re all chasing success. We’ve confused one for the other.” Donald Miller

Why am I here? For most of us, that one question is the most profound and difficult question we are called to answer. We begin to grapple with our life’s meaning from an early age when we’re asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Whether we answer doctor, firefighter or a mom, what’s fascinating is that even at an early age, we receive the message that our life’s purpose is somehow inextricably tied to what we do – or how we make a living. As we grow and choose our life’s work, if we are not successful – in other words make a lot of money – we feel that our life has no purpose. Rather than searching for an internal compass, we make money our sole source of validation that we’ve come to earth for a good reason. Imagine what it might look like if we asked our children instead “Who do you want to be when you grow up?” What if we taught our children to answer in terms of who you are when you’re stripped of possessions and things? After all, the things that give our life meaning really have nothing to do with the things we collect. What gives our life meaning are things like being loved, giving love, feeling happy or being satisfied in nature. When we’re chasing success, we feel like we’re chasing our purpose. Yet, when we reach success, it suddenly dawns on us that we can have success yet, no purpose. We discover that success and meaning are simply not the same. How then, do we find our meaning? When we stop confusing one for the other, we give ourselves freedom to discover what it is that gives our life meaning. Even if your life’s purpose is tied to your work, by releasing the external validation that we seek with success, we devote ourselves in a way that fulfills us and gives us what we were searching to accomplish by calling ourselves a success.

Weekly Path to Peace: Search for meaning, not success.

  • How much is your life’s purpose tied to being a success? Be honest. Do you feel less than others if you haven’t achieved material success? Do you believe that you haven’t fulfilled your life’s purpose unless you see some measure of financial success? This week, spend at least 10 minutes per day journaling about the ways you tie your life’s purpose to your financial success.
  • Answer this question: If money were not an issue, what would give my life meaning? How would you choose to live your life? If you are struggling with this question, ask yourself how would your life be different if you won the lottery or only had a couple of years left to live? Write out all the ways – including the simple ways – that your life has meaning. Begin each morning reading that list before you start your day.

As you begin this week, rate your level of happiness, self-esteem and self-confidence on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being not satisfied and 10 being very satisfied. Notice where you are Sunday evening after you do this week’s peace practice to see if there is a change.