The Search For Significance
May 10, 2016
I once worked in a building with someone who loved to go out of his way to let everyone know what a good "friend" he was with all of the artists. I remember a time when a major musician celebrated the release of a new record by sending every PD and MD at the format a cookie basket. This programmer spent 30 minutes walking up and down the hallways offering cookies to fellow employees and making sure to tell them how the artist (who he only referred to by their first name, you know... to prove they were personal friends) had personally sent him all of these cookies that he possibly couldn't eat.
Of course, after accepting my co-worker's cookie offering, I logged onto Facebook to see that a dozen other radio people were posting pictures of the exact same cookie baskets that they got from the record label. Did the artist really come up with the list of programmers that he felt personally compelled to send a snack to? It's possible. But to hear my old colleague tell the story, you would have thought this celebrity was up in his kitchen until 3am personally baking a dozen snickerdoodles to send just to him.
At the time, I couldn't eye roll hard enough over listening to him go on about it. However, in hindsight, I see the story for what it was. He was trying to meet one of the 6 basic human needs that we all have. In this case, it was the need for significance. Every person has a need to feel important, unique, and special. We will all find a way to meet this need. Whether we do it through positive or negative means is what will determine our level of happiness. In his case, trying to build himself up to the office was a way to show his significance, albeit not in a positive way that would provide lasting joy.
But I have to throw the BS flag on myself as well. The fact that I was judging him over something that really didn't affect me was my way of trying to meet the same need. By telling myself a story that I was so much humbler, I was trying to convince myself that I was somehow a better, more grounded person. Judging others is a sure fire way to achieve a quick hit of temporary significance.
But the effect is only temporary.
We live in a society where we feel that our social status, material possessions, job title, and accomplishments will make us important to the world.
"If I were just #1 in the ratings, then I'd feel like I've made it."
Some of my radio clients have said this, only to achieve their goal and watch the joy quickly turn into anxiety. They immediately start feeling fearful about whether they can deliver at a high level for an extended period of time.
But if the only way you can feel significant is the be #1 at something, does it mean your life is less significant when you inevitably fall to #3? Eventually, there will be another person who is more successful, making more money, who has more notoriety and more social media followers than you. So while the desire to achieve more is not a bad thing, we need to know that the associated significance that we assign to our accomplishments will not provide us lasting joy.
As Mastin Kipp says, "Bring your worthiness to the world rather than try to consume worthiness from the world."
Think back on the people who have had the biggest impact in your life. Do you remember them for the salary that they earned? Do you remember them for the kind of car that they drove? Do you remember them for the titles that they had?
My guess is you probably remember them for something kind that they did for you. They gave you an opportunity when nobody else would. They believed in you when you didn't believe in yourself. They passed along an important piece of knowledge that in some way altered the trajectory of your life.
This person probably accomplished a lot in their career, but rather than use it to become significant, they used their knowledge and skills they acquired over the years to contribute to your growth.
And that's where real significance comes from. It's in using your unique talents and abilities to be in service of others. It comes from showing up in the world ready to contribute to the greater good.
So if you are a person who is a "significance addict" (and in the age of social media, we are all guilty to an extent), see if you can stop this week and notice when you feel like you are trying to prove yourself to the world. See if you can make a different choice to instead just be who you are. Who you are is enough. You don't even have to offer me a famous person's cookie basket in order to believe that.
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