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Success and Significance: Can We Have Them Both?

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Success and Significance: Can We Have Them Both?
Success and Significance: Can We Have Them Both?

Success and Significance. Many seek to achieve both in their lifetimes. However, they mean different things to different people. After all, what is seen as a successful life to someone, could be viewed as a wasted life by someone else. Our own definitions of success and significance can only be derived through our own aspirations, and constant self-reflection of our life experiences. 

Using key takeaways from my conversations with a few senior SC members, I try to uncover what success and significance mean to each of them and if there are some commonalities I can spot in their journeys. 


Success - The End Goal

Through the course of my interviews, I have found that success is mostly defined as the accomplishment of a purpose. The hallmarks of success vary – from more career orientated interpretations such as reaching the pinnacle of one’s career to more family orientated interpretations such as raising children who possess good core values. Regardless of its interpretation, success is not pursued as the means to an end, but the end in itself, and we pursue it due to the personal fulfilment we obtain from achieving those end goals. It is important to note that financial success is not everything, as the SC consultants unanimously emphasized that there are numerous other aspects of life in which success is measured and attained. Pursuing financial success alone would only lead to a lopsided life. 


Significance - The Journey

In contrast, an individual achieves significance by working towards goals which are greater than himself. Examples mentioned included activist and advocacy work towards climate change, poverty alleviation in less developed places, or becoming a mentor to a younger professional. Personal values and beliefs feature much more prominently in this space. The pursuit of significance is also more process orientated as compared to the pursuit of success, as we gain personal fulfilment not only from achieving the final goal, but also from working towards it in a way that is in line with our personal values.

As seen from their definitions, success and significance are not inversely related. However, the two can be conflicted at times. Pursuing career success at all costs, leaves the individual drained, exhausted, and tainted with reduced desire or bandwidth to pursue more meaningful activities that would greatly benefit the community, society, and the world at large. Mr Lennie Lim explains it well when he says, “In the corporate world, you are always looking for the next mountain to climb. Each time you choose to scale the mountain again, there is a cost to it. Is the cost greater than the benefit?” 


Is it possible then, to achieve both success and significance in our lives? The consultants at SC that I spoke with all assured me that attaining both are still very possible, even though the approach employed may differ amongst individuals. 

For instance, some consultants, like Mr Check Woei Foo, chose to pursue financial success first, before looking towards other venues to add meaning and significance to their lives. Others, like Mr Lee Guan Liu, were methodical and developed life plans through the Japanese concept of ‘ikigai’ to help them stay on track. Perhaps the most unique life plan was contributed by Mr David Ng, who designed his life plan with a “core -satellite investment portfolio” approach, with 80% of his time and effort dedicated towards achieving core goals in life such as financial success, while 20% went towards the pursuit of his passions. The proportions were then adjusted based on which phase of life he was in. 


Though the methods varied, the key takeaways are similar – achieving both success and significance is certainly possible but requires hard work and careful planning, calibration and recalibration of the life plan and approaches adopted. 


Towards that end, the consultants have some advice. Firstly, plan ahead and draft up a life plan. Take time off to think about what success and significance means, put in the checkpoints to assess and review, and milestones to track progress. To help define success and significance, Ms Edna Leong recommends volunteering: “Volunteering helps us to stay grounded and puts everything into perspective, which helps us to see what is important in life.” 


Secondly – perform frequent self-reflection. Many consultants emphasized the importance of self-reflection at regular intervals to ensure that one stays on track towards the double goals of success and significance. Re-define the definitions of success and significance and modify the original road map if necessary. 

Thirdly, find your passion. Ms Hwee Hoon Sim emphasized the importance of finding passion in whatever we do. She said “Passion is not simply about what you like or dislike. It is about putting on a different lens to see that you are able to learn, no matter which role you find yourself in and do it well.”  Ms Sim encourages everyone to take a close look at their jobs, identify the aspects that we enjoy and expand on those areas. However, if there is still a lack of passion after digging deeper, then perhaps, one should contemplate a change of career path to increase the probability of success.


Fourthly - adopt a mindset of lifelong learning. This was a point emphasized almost unanimously by the consultants. Due to the fast paced, knowledge-based world that we live in, what is relevant today will quickly become irrelevant or obsolete. Therefore, it is important that we stay open minded and keep on learning, no matter what biological or career stage we are at. Stay updated, plugged-in and ahead of the curve. Keep up to date with new developments. Think across geographical boundaries. Build an arsenal of diversified skill sets that could be leveraged effectively when the situation calls for it. The range of diversified skill sets we have built up, will place us in better stead for an uncertain and often volatile future. 

Lastly, a humble reminder from Ms Gracelyn Ho, who does not believe in hemming ourselves in with too much emphasis on success or significance. She firmly believes that all of us will always be ‘works-in- progress’ at any stage of our lives and that we will never know if we have arrived, armed with success, or have achieved significance until the day we bid our ‘adieu’– forever. This is certainly food for some deep and quiet thought.


If this article has sparked a drive towards success and significance in you, I invite you to journey with us at Singapore Consultancy. No matter what stage of life you are in, the consultants of SC with their diverse backgrounds and rich life experiences, will be able to aid to along your way. After all, we all share a common journey in life, and good company makes the way seem shorter. Reach out to us today.  


Posted by JOEL CHIA