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Have You Fallen Into The “Significance Trap”?

By June 10, 2015 No Comments

By Ben Sands

I’ve written before about superheroes – using the term, tongue-in-cheek, to describe the art of cultivating meaningful networking relationships.

I joke, but in reality it can feel a bit “heroic” to get that meeting with a hard-to-reach executive or cup of coffee with a well-known thought leader.

Why is that?  

It could be that when someone we deem to be “important” makes time for us, that makes us feel important, too.  In a sense they are validating our “significance” in the world; confirming that we matter (at least to them, in that moment).

And we like that.

We want that.

We need that.

Don’t we?



Significance – a feeling of being unique, important, mattering – is a prerequisite to our overall sense of well-being. It is one of the fundamental human needs (the others being certainty, love and growth).

Among the uber-talented adults with whom I work, significance is the most common priority next to “certainty” (i.e. financial security, shelter, ability to avoid pain).

And there in lies the problem.

Let me explain…

At first glance, “mattering” seems great. Critical, even.

Significant people do significant things.

And significant things are good for the world, right?

Yes, but the paradox of significance is that it can isolate us.

In our quest to “stand out,” occasionally we end up standing alone. A worst-case scenario.

Here’s how it happens:

1. We adopt a ‘significance-at-all-costs’ mentality.

We aspire to “win” – and, consciously or unconsciously, separate ourselves (personally and professionally) from others in the process. These are the people that would “do anything” to achieve. Anyone who has ever had to change the channel out of sheer embarrassment for a reality TV personality knows what I mean.

2. We  lower our standards.

In order to safeguard our feeling of significance, we surround ourselves with people with fewer ambitions; people who won’t threaten us with their aspirations, drive, or values. The unexpected consequence however is that, over time, our own ambition wanes and we adopt the new, lower, standard of our peer group.

3. We lie to ourselves.

We shield ourselves from the reality of our situation. Most often we find something – or someone – to blame for our sense of inferiority and/or rejection.

We all need to feel significant; we all need we matter.

The reality however, is that a life in which significance is prioritized will have a very different trajectory than one in which other needs (such as love, growth and/or security) take precedence.

Ideally, we will have both.

A good example: JetBlue CEO David Needleman.

Of the many innovative CEOs whom I’ve studied, Needleman has one of the best approaches for ensuring one’s own significance without falling prey to the traps listed above.

In an interview with RoadTrip Nation he says simply:

“My definition of success is mattering… It’s knowing that when I leave this earth that there will be people who say ‘he really mattered. He really made a difference.'”

I hope we can all be as lucky.

What about you? If today were your last day, would you matter?

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Ben Sands

Author Ben Sands

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