Are You Living A Significant Life?

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George Bernard Shaw said:

To be used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one…I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live.

I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me.  It is a splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brithly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

I keep coming back to this…the notion of service and significance

Big picture and little picture. Global impact, local impact. I cannot rally to every cause, nor am I drawn to. One person’s all-consuming mission is not necessarily mine. But, for those that have meaning to me, be it growing a happy, loving, connected family or helping people grow businesses and careers that allow for greater self-determination…

It’s always been about impact.

And, I wonder, am I making a difference on some level? If so, how will I know? What’s my metric?

So, I made a short list that I now look at each day, just as a way of reminding myself of the value I place on significant actions. It doesn’t stop me from wasting time, that still happens more than I’d like. Instead it serves as a reminder, something I can regularly refer back to as a vehicle to refocus on what matters most.

Here it is:

  1. Have I served my community today, be it local or global?
  2. Have I given without expectation of receiving today?
  3. Have I done something to take care of my mind?
  4. Have I done something to take care of my body?
  5. Have I done something to take care of my spirit?
  6. Have I mentored, taught, helped or coached someone?
  7. Have I created something that will impact someone else?
  8. Have I been present and involved with my family?
  9. Have I been there for my friends and colleagues?
  10. Have I led with compassion?
  11. Am I leaving a footprint I am proud of?
  12. Have I given anonymously?

Do I always tick off every item on the list every day? Not a chance.

Some days, I hit all 12 (it’s the rare day), most days I hit about half, other days, none. Regardless, it serves as a powerful “significance feedback loop,” a tool to keep me aspiring in the right direction and to hold me accountable to taking significant acts on a daily basis.

So, I am curious…

How do you define significance?

What’s your metric?

What else can you add to the list?

How would you customize it for yourself?

Let’s discuss…

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28 responses

28 responses to “Are You Living A Significant Life?”

  1. […] Go to the author’s original blog: Are You Living A Significant Life? […]

  2. I believe our version of significance is aligned with our unique purpose in life. The reason why so many people don’t feel or know if they have been significant in a lifetime or today is because they don’t know their purpose in life.

    Ask what do you do? You will receive instant answers. Ask what is your own understanding of what your unique purpose is on this earth right now and how that manifests to what you do everyday in your personal and professional life? Crickets…Silence…

    The book, The Power of Purpose, by Richard Leider changed my own definition of success & significance.

    Now that I know my unique purpose and have defined my version of significance, I can qualify and quantify a measurement of my significance.

    I developed a Scorecard for myself and my clients that provides closure every day to those significance “activities” that if done consistently with the right behavior, attitude, and technique will yield significance.

    Another thought provoking post Jonathan.

  3. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Michael – Thanks so much for your thoughts. I have to confess to having mixed feelings about hanging significance-based action on the determination of life purpose.

    I’ll have to take a read through the book you shared, but to date, I’ve read many books on the topic that have suggested many exercises and I am actually not sold on the ability to determine an overarching life-purpose…until you’ve lived enough of your life to tap into it.

    But, that’s not my real reservation. Actually, my bigger concern about is how setting life-purpose as a prerequisite for taking significant career action can backfire and become a giant barrier to action.

    Ya know, I’ve actually wanted to write about this for a while, so rather than lay it out here, I am going to post about it in more detail next week and let’s continue the discussion then, kapish?

  4. Laura says:

    As I turned 40 this year, I am particularily drawn to this thought topic. I believe that your purpose can change throughout your life so to identify a purpose and tie all your actions to it could limit you and even impede you.

    I can relate to Jonathan’s list in that it’s focus is not on actions but the notion of accountability – in particular being accountable to ones own self. Something I feel is sorely lacking in our communities. I feel it’s far easier to be accountable for specific actions that you don’t have to think about (consider items such as paying your bill at a restaurant, opening the door for an elderly person or sending a thank you note) It is far more difficult to gauge with what intent did you perform these actions.

    I think the phrase “being present” is becoming my mantra. If I am present and engage in what I’m doing, if I am thoughtful of the consequences of what I’m doing and if I am always moving forward with the intent to do what’s right (not what’s popular) I think I am far more likely to do something of value. It’s the value of how and why I’m doing something that will create meaning for me – not the what. The janitor cleaning a school who does so in order to ensure a clean and safe environment for children to learn in has more value in the living of their life then the individual who spends their life volunteering – and telling everyone about it.

    I hope that as I move into this next decade of my life experience I can live with value and integrity, engaged and present in all interactions I am blessd to experience.

  5. shelley says:

    Wow- what a great topic.

    I also have a big birthday coming up so I too have looked over my life and what I have done and what I want to do and it always comes back to how satisfied I am with all of the pieces of life. It has been a long year of redistributing my time and resources, cleaning out the weeds, and expressing my highest ideal as often as possible- It is a daily journey for me to live in a way that I can feel connected, feel authentic, and feel that I am at one with all of those around me.

    I like that you use the word Significance. I believe that we are all looking for meaning in this life and that it manifests in different lifestyles for each of us. I believe in the notion that every single person wants to feel Loved, and therefore that their life has Meaning or that they are Significant in some way- as a part of something greater than themselves. This can show up in their relationships, their careers, or their hobbies- for me the “significant based action” is a broad stroke on the canvas and that the details will depend on the individual. I don’t see it as a barrier at all- if it is based on a Virtue not a Goal or Expectation of Achievement.

    People do not strive for Mediocrity- they strive for Validation, for Meaning, for Love and Significance. It is all the same thing for me.

    What is my barometer?

    My religion is Love. Plain and simple. Love each and every person (including myself) with honor, respect, without jealousy or pride, an open heart, without shame or contempt, each and every second of the day. Do I always hit the mark? No way… being human leaves me in a constant struggle for this balance- but with a clear goal (a simple virtue or mantra to live by) and a simple checklist I have seen much more success in this endeavor- the details of life become secondary as does my job, my apt, my “things” because how I define success is in the moment to moment- the journey not the destination.

    I have surrounded myself with a tribe of people who feel the same way, work that allows and encourages me to this end, and I seek out new opportunities to explore the boundaries and to play with the edges of my Love practice-


    Shelley 🙂

  6. Adrian says:

    Recently watched some of The Do Lecture videos from the UK in early Oct. Fascinating, all of them.

    In particular, Tim Ferriss’s lecture discussed the role of using metrics in making a significant positive impact. For example, “this year, we are going to house 500 women and build 40 schools.”

    He also discussed the highly fascinating concept of setting “unreasonable” goals to achieve the above – i.e. how can we raise $1 million in 24 hours?!

    Have a watch if you have a little time: “How and Why to be Unreasonable” –

  7. Jonathan,

    Deep post. I am wondering if you have heard of Steven Reiss and his work regarding basic drives of human nature. A few of the things you touched on were mentioned as innate human drives.

    My business has me working with BigLaw attorneys (AM Law 100) I am wondering if you spent any time at one of the firms…

  8. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Laura – no doubt, being present is whoever’s life yo commit to being present in is one of the greatest ways to honor your sense of impact and significance.

    @ Shelley – Really, you have a big birthday coming up? 😉 Love that you capitalized the words “Love, Significance and Virtue.” Kind of like “S”elf in yoga as being different from self.

    @ Adrian – yeah, I’ve seen TF talk about this issue before. Regarding outrageous goal setting, Tim and many others often refer back to the notion of “Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals” made famous in the book Built To Last. I tend to have a similar mindset. Work toward things that will lead to profound change.

    @ David – Haven’t heard of Steven Reiss, I’ll give him a google, though, thanks for the resource!

  9. Rhea says:

    I spent many years doing (unpaid) work on the issue of sexual violence. I felt it was my calling, almost. That work has tapered off to almost nothing but writing checks for the cause. I feel a real hole in my life and I need to go back and do something on the issue, but in a different form than I did before. I am working on it…

  10. Hey Jonathan,

    The big picture is just a composite of 7 billion little pictures, don’t you think? Each of us is like a single pixel in the panorama of life. The ones that stand out are those that provide contrast to the middle hues. So, if we are among those that add contrast, is it because we shine or because we’re a black spot on the screen? That’s my analogy anyway. And by the way brother, you definitely SHINE.

  11. Pete says:

    I see you deleted my comment on

    What’s wrong, Jonathan? Don’t like to see the truth?

  12. […] applicable, but also very revealing with regard to where Jonathan’s coming from. The title is, Are You Living a Significant Life?  and here’s what he had to say: . George Bernard Shaw said: . To be used for a purpose […]

  13. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Rhea – No doubt, doing work that fills you up is essential, even if it’s something we do on a volunteer, part-time or project-basis. And, often times, there are small ongoing ways to get involved taking a somewhat different path on a daily basis. 🙂

    @ Jonathan – Thanks for your kind words. Love the pixel/panorama analogy. No doubt, contrast is a good thing as long as it serves some constructive purpose. I sometimes wonder, though, whether contrast for contrast’s sake end up not adding to the beauty of the panorama, but, rather injecting static. Some people would argue that static is just part of what makes it beautiful. In theory, I agree, but in practice, not always so easy. I’ll be thinking on this for a bit, now. 🙂

    @ Pete – Thanks for your comment. Comments that are (1) relevant to the topic of the post, (2) add to the conversation, (3) are offered in a respectful manner are approved. And, yes, since it’s my blog, I am the arbiter. Enjoy your day. 🙂

  14. Stephanie says:

    Hi Jonathan and friends,

    Sometimes (more often than I’d like) I shut myself out from experiencing life… mostly to avoid pain. Then I remember that blissful moments arrive when we are open to people, to learning, to love, and to life. It is when I am truly open and INTERESTED that I make connections and feel significant. Be real, be interested, be compassionate, and be naughty (my way of saying be playful and have fun).

    Today I heard a song by The Killers… I like the message so I thought I’d share.

    “Are we human or are we dancer?” ~ Human by The Killers

    Have a wonderful day!


  15. Justin says:

    I define significance as utility; how many people you are helping, and to what magnitude. You still need to take care of yourself, though, but it is important to dedicate some part of your life to others. I’m not sure what else to add to that list you made, as it seems sufficient enough.

  16. Martin says:

    Significance is a feeling I get when living with purpose. On a good day I would be busy on activities that have personal value e.g caring, sharing, developing. How I measure my success? The same as number 11 in your list, Am I leaving a footprint I am proud of?
    I like your list, mine would look much the same. Except No.1, I would have written, Have I served ‘the’ community today, local or global? Its just the word “my” suggests that their is a community I don’t belong to, I would use the word community universally, referring to the community at large.
    P.S I like your writing; consistently interesting articles that remind me of my humanity. Plus their is always some thoughtful discussion from your readers.

  17. Marvin says:

    I’ve made it my purpose to influence others towards discovering their purpose. I know it sounds a little odd but I think part of the reason most people can’t verbalize their purpose is because no one ever helped them to find it.

  18. Matthew says:

    I think of the metric in terms of the Olympic rings: Each represents a different important aspect of one’s life: Social, psychological, physical, mental, and spiritual.

    Psychological and mental are different, because mental has to do with intellectual pursuits, and psychological has to do with mental health.

    The goal of course is to maximize the positive aspects of all of them.

    Thanks, Jonathan, for a great post, and thanks for all the insightful comments.

  19. […] Are You Living a Significant Life? This is more or less my goal every day. I make it … most of the time. (@ awake @ the wheel) […]

  20. […] Are You Living a Significant Life? This is more or less my goal every day. I make it … most of the time. (@ awake @ the wheel) […]

  21. […] Are You Living a Significant Life? This is more or less my goal every day. I make it … most of the time. (@ awake @ the wheel) […]

  22. […] you living a significant life? Awake at the Wheel leads the […]

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  24. […] on Zen Habits on How to Press the Reset Button or this post from the excellent Jonathan Fields on Are you living a significant life or on a related topic, check out Start finding your life’s work from Pamela Slim (always a […]

  25. […] on Zen Habits on How to Press the Reset Button or this post from the excellent Jonathan Fields on Are you living a significant life or on a related topic, check out Start finding your life’s work from Pamela Slim (always a […]

  26. […] on Zen Habits on How to Press the Reset Button or this post from the excellent Jonathan Fields on Are you living a significant life or on a related topic, check out Start finding your life’s work from Pamela Slim (always a […]

  27. Jacqui says:

    Life of Significance?

    I had an 8 year struggle with depression and this concept was the major one I came out with. I do not need to be famous, successful or wealthy in anyone elses terms I need to feel significant. I looked at your 12 point checklist and realised that I need to write my own, each person’s view of what makes their life significant will be different.Have I lived up to my highest ideals today? How do I know and measure if I don’t have a list like this. Thank you Johnathan for this idea. I intend to encourage my children to write a list of their own too and we can review them together as a New Years tradition adapting them for new phases of our lives.

  28. Tamara says:

    On a light note, have you ever missed a credit card, phone bill or mortgage payment, if so then you know how significant you are…

    Have you seen the movie “Pay It Forward”.. I think that encapsulates our individual significant role in life. Also the list as Jacqui pointed out will be different for each individual and also depending on our value system. Ultimately what ever list we have it should be done from the purest of intention, for love not for the ego.