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Seeking Significance

The first time I ever sat down to write a resume, I was a senior in college. One of my roommates, Roy, who was a business major, took me to the computer lab to help me craft my very first resume. It is worth noting that I was a Studio Art major at Gettysburg College, so writing a resume felt more than a little daunting. I knew what kind of job I was looking for. I was applying for graduate assistant football coaching positions at a long list of colleges. What I did not know was how to connect the dots of my education and experience to create an engaging resume. Enter Roy.

Roy was, and is, the kind of person who seemed to have the world figured out much sooner than the rest of us. He knew what mattered, was great with people, and had an unending reserve of energy. We sat down to work on my resume and after picking a template, a font, and getting my contact information entered, we hit the first real snag of our collaboration. The next section of my resume would live under the heading of “Objective.” So, Roy asked me, “What is your objective?”

My answer was immediate and it actually energized me as I thought maybe this would not be so difficult. I proudly stated my objective: “To positively impact the lives of other people!”

The look I got in return from Roy gave me the impression that this was a very “Art Major” answer to a question that did not call for creativity. He told me that wasn’t a RESUME objective. I insisted it was the most important objective I saw for my life. In the end, Roy guided me through a statement that outlined my desire to find a job as a graduate assistant. But we agreed to finish with, “… and positively impact the lives of other people.” It was a compromise and that objective lived at the top of my first several batches of resumes.

I am not sure where the idea of making a positive impact in the lives of other people became so important. I imagine it was something that grew over time as I grew to appreciate the people who made a positive impact on mine. Through the years, I have dialed in on an essential question for me as I pursue making an impact. Do I want to be important or do I want to be significant?

This question of importance versus significance may seem like hair splitting, but I believe there is a clear line between the two. Many people in our lives occupy places of importance. A boss or employer is certainly important in our workplace. But, few of us would define every boss we have had as significant once we no longer answer to them. Anyone who has authority in our lives plays a role of importance, but few earn the title of significant. A parent plays an important role in the life of a child, but whether they are significant to that child in the end is another question all together. Yes, we can be important because of position, seniority, or authority, but we must choose to be significant.

Many of us seek significance in life to find where we belong. We want to feel connected and vital to have confidence that we matter. Too many times, when we are not feeling these things, we fall back on the things that make us important. My job title, I’m your boss! My authority, I’m your father! My arrogance, I know better! We quickly find importance in our titles and what we are empowered to do. This is where importance and significance part ways. While we can claim importance in what we are, significance lies in who we serve. I can stand on the mountain top and recite all of the things that make me important, but my significance lies in the moments that I have helped another person understand that they have value too.

We become significant in the lives of other people when we add value to their lives, make their lives better. We help them overcome an obstacle, navigate a challenge, or fill them with the praise and energy they need to keep going. We are significant in the lives of other people when we are listening so we can hear what they need, instead of telling them how we would fix the predicament they are in as if it should be common knowledge.

T.S. Elliott one said, “Most of the trouble in the world is caused by people wanting to be important.” That is a powerful statement and reminds us that our craving to be important can lead us down dangerous paths. Instead, let us consider that much of the good in the world is caused by people wanting to be significant. Choosing the service of seeking significance over the power that comes with importance finds us much more focused on the needs of others and how we can meet those needs and elevate those people.

Perhaps that should be our challenge to one another: to carve out a legacy based on significance and a life of service to others. Otherwise our resume at the end of our lives may leave a long list of positions held, but will it tell the stories of the lives we have impacted? If not, we may not leave the world better than we found it. That would point to a life that was neither important nor significant.

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