I continued with, “Success is all about you, your degrees, your accomplishments, the number of accolades on your wall, the size of your house, the look of your car, and the brand name on the clothes you wear. It’s a one-dimensional view that limits you rather than expands you and what you can achieve. Success is most often associated with material wealth; it means money, and a lot of it. And as I travel the world, I’ve noticed that for many successful people, there is never enough of it, no matter how much one has.”

I finished with something to uplift them. “Instead of focusing on living a successful life, I would like you to consider living a significant life. Significance is not about you, it’s about all that you do for everyone else. It’s a multidimensional way to see your life and a vastly expanded view of what you can achieve, because you have an abundance mentality. If you elevate significance, what’s interesting is you will find yourself to be quite successful in a much more meaningful and impactful way.”

From Success To Significance

In order to find out where you and the organization you work for are in pursuit of success or significance, we must first understand the difference between success and significance from a leadership and organizational level.

From an organizational standpoint, success is all about the organization. It tends to be based more on surface value accomplishments, such as how much money was made last year, how much money leaders get paid, and the material wealth that is displayed in the buildings. All of these things are important for brand building, but the key question to ask regarding significance is what is the bigger goal? If it is primarily about the success of the organization, you will be limited.

Conversely, a significant organization keeps broadening its reach and impact, focusing on increasing the difference it can make in new and amazing ways on a larger scale each year. As I said in my commencement speech, a focus on increasing your significance always increases your success, but in a much more impactful way!

I was with a CEO recently who is very sharp, accelerating the annual growth of his company by over 20% for many years. He was telling me about all of their financial successes, and he mentioned that it was difficult to maintain that level of growth, but he thought they could. He then asked me if I had any ideas on how he could not only maintain this great growth number but exceed it.

I responded by saying that he was good at growing a successful company, but to go to the next level, he would have to shift his focus from organizational success to global significance.

He understood it immediately, saying, “That was the missing element; my focus on success was actually holding us back in a way I didn’t realize. Tomorrow, I’m turning the company’s focus from success to significance.”

Selfish or Selfless

One prevailing difference often overlooked between success and significance is best itemized by uncovering whether you are acting in a selfless or selfish way. When you have a success mindset, you tend to be focused on what will benefit only you, often under the guise that once you either make a certain amount of money or have saved a certain amount of personal wealth, you can afford to help others or improve the world.

The problem with that assumption many of us make is that we never really know how to gauge when we’ve finally earned “enough money” or, for some others, “enough power” in conjunction with it. It’s just like the label of being “wealthy.” When do you consider yourself wealthy? Is it a million dollars? How about two million dollars? Some individuals may say it’s simply earning six figures a year, including benefits. Others may say wealth is making money while you sleep, while others may simply say it’s good health, great friends, and the freedom to choose.

When you set out on a business venture that is based on elevating the significance and impact you will have on as many people in the world as possible, you shift your focus from your own personal wants and desires to building something that people around the world need.

The Road To Significance

When someone aims for success alone, it breeds limitations. However, limitations are all in our heads, and once we break those limitations, we break free and are more likely to find a pathway to significance. In my travels, I had a chance to get to know a rather inspiring individual who fully embodies a physical shift from success to significance. His name is Sam Schmidt, and he is a former Indy race car driver.

Before becoming a race car driver, Sam Schmidt was first a successful businessman, eventually purchasing his father’s parts company in 1989 at the age of 25. He started racing at the amateur level, which was supported by his business income, but decided that he would work toward racing professionally in the Indianapolis 500. He would make his professional race debut in 1995 in the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series.

He had reached success in business, and now racing, as a winning race car driver. During the off-season, Sam was testing in preparation for the 2000 season when he crashed at Walt Disney World Speedway on January 6, 2000. The accident was so severe, it rendered him a quadriplegic, and he needed a respirator for five months. Sam himself, as well as others, could assume that his racing days were over. His future view had changed for the worst, and his success would end that day at the track.

Skipping Your Biggest Problem

However, he was far from done; his tragedy was merely a starting point in a personal transition from a life of success to one of significance. Being a quadriplegic, you are paralyzed from the neck down, leaving almost no ability to traditionally operate a vehicle, let alone a race car. One would consider that to be an impossible obstacle to overcome, but Sam did not. His first use of my principle of Taking Your Biggest Problem and Skipping It was to implement it in overcoming his most severe and debilitating obstacle, driving a race car.

To drive a race car as a quadriplegic, most would believe that Sam might benefit from some form of new technology, such as autonomous features found in many self-driving cars today. However, that’s not what was at play here. Instead, he commissioned a tech team to help him race again, with Sam in full control of the car. Additionally, he didn’t want to race in just any old race, he wanted an exponential challenge. That challenge was the Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb competition, which has many turns, as it is a climb up a mountain! To do this, Sam would have to use only his helmet to steer, accelerate, and brake the car.

To solve the technical problems, the team used another principle I teach: Opposites Work Better. Instead of autonomous, high-tech expensive equipment, they used off-the-shelf technology to allow Sam to control his 2016 Corvette Z06.

Simultaneously, sensors mounted on an Arrow-designed high-tech headset that he wore were connected to infrared cameras mounted on the dashboard, detecting his head-tilt motions to steer, and a sip-and-puff device that Sam breathed into enabled him to accelerate and brake.

Helping Others

When I met Sam Schmidt, he had gone even farther in taking his success to significance by founding the nonprofit organization Conquer Paralysis Now, which is working to find a cure for paralysis and spinal cord injuries. But in addition to this, I see something he has done even more significant to the betterment of humankind.

By taking old technology and using it in new ways, and getting himself behind the wheel of a race car yet again, he has set in motion the possibility of forever changing other quadriplegics’ prognosis of whether they will ever drive again. Since Sam’s race, a number of other race car drivers who have lost legs and far worse, and who thought they would never race again, are now racing, thanks to Sam.

Knowing what Sam did, I think it’s possible to adapt this technology to help get disabled veterans behind the wheel again. There is a growing shortage of truck drivers, and our disabled vets could certainly fill that role and earn a good living again.

Before the accident, Sam focused on living a successful life as a race car driver, but after the accident, he started living a significant life, inspiring and helping others around the world and creating a new level of success for himself.

Thankfully, you don’t have to have a tragic accident like Sam did to shift your focus from living a successful life that is focused on you to living a life of significance that’s focused on elevating others. Also, as a great side benefit, you’ll find ever-expanding levels of success while elevating your significance, and the world will be far better thanks to you.

To find out more about my friend Sam, watch this YouTube video and enjoy his road to significance.


Daniel Burrus is considered one of the World’s Leading Futurists on Global Trends and Innovation. The New York Times has referred to him as one of the top three business gurus in the highest demand as a speaker. He is a strategic advisor to executives from Fortune 500 companies helping them to develop game-changing strategies based on his proven methodologies for capitalizing on technology innovations and their future impact. He is the author of six books, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal best seller Flash Foresight as well as the highly acclaimed Techno-trends.

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