I think it’s safe to say that most people yearn for significance. Perhaps when we’re young, we’re too busy to think about what that means or to wonder if what we’re doing will have lasting significance, but those of us in the second half of life, especially those who have entered their retirement years, may struggle with finding purpose or significance in their daily lives.
So what does living a life of significance really mean? Significance can be defined as “being worthy of attention” or “meaningful”. It begins with the word “sign” for a reason. A thing’s significance is a sign of its importance.
I’ve just finished reading Significant Living: A Road Map for the Second Half of Your Life by Jerry and Shirley Rose. One of the things that the Roses point out is what significance is not.
“Some people confuse significance with success” but they are not the same thing. Many so-called successful lives lack true significance.
It’s very easy in this day and age, when we’re exposed to the lives of the rich and famous through the media, to feel that we’ve somehow missed the boat if we haven’t done something truly big with our lives, but what does significance really look like? The answer will be different for each one of us, but again I quote the Roses, “For some, significance may come through mentoring or having a significant influence on the family. It may be starting a business or doing volunteer work. The important thing is not the size of what we do. Whether our pursuits are ‘big’ or ‘small’ the importance lies in filling a need in the lives of other people. Significance usually translates into getting involved with others.”
That definitely resonated with me. I do want to make it clear, however, that in our relationships, and particularly in marriage, we ought not to depend on another person to give our lives significance. Significance should come not from another person, but rather, from how your life affects the lives of others.
The simple key to living a life of significance is to share your time, talent, and treasure with others. Those of us who have reached retirement age usually have an abundance of time to give. Chances are, we have also developed skills and talents that can be used to better the lives of others. Regardless of where you are in life, you don’t have to be wealthy to give generously of what you do have to worthwhile causes, to family, or to friends in need.
For me, significance begins by knowing that God has a purpose for my life and that I am using the gifts He has given me to impact the lives of other people. I believe that the most significant thing I ever accomplished was raising my children to be the responsible young adults that they are today. I know that I also had a significant impact on at least some of the students that I taught during my career. Now that my children are grown and I’ve retired from teaching, it would be easy to feel that my significance had waned, but that is not the case. Even in our very small rural community there are many opportunities to volunteer time and talent. Over the past couple of years I’ve had the pleasure of teaching two young immigrant women who never had the opportunity to receive a formal education how to read. I’ve also done online editing and mentoring, again on a volunteer basis. If anything I’ve said on the blog has impacted another person in a positive way, that too has added significance to my life.
Do you feel that your life lacks significance? Consider your gifts and passions, then look for ways to use them to impact others. Are you living a life of significance? If so, please share what it is that makes your life meaningful. Perhaps it will help someone else!