Behind each success there is significance — and that significance reigns supreme

They say that behind each success there is significance. Do you think that is true or just a nice thing to say — a nice bit of a “rah-rah” speech but not based in reality?

When my oldest daughter, Angela, graduated from college, Ohio Supreme Court Justice Yvette McGee Brown was the commencement speaker. Something Brown said resonated with me that day and changed the trajectory of my life and career.

Now this was not a new message. It was not unique. It was not the first time I’d heard it. But this was the first time I really listened to it.

Focus on significance

She urged the graduating students to focus on significance as opposed to success, because, “When you focus on success, that’s all about you. But when you focus on significance, that’s all about others.”

Brown went on to assure the students that by focusing on significance, by focusing on the success of others, your own success will naturally follow, and it will taste much sweeter.

This was exactly the message I needed at that particular point in time. A lot of things in my personal and professional life were no longer going well. It seemed as though everything around me was changing, some in dramatic and rapid fashion and it was beginning to feel like it was all too much.

In short, the world I had known was gone and not coming back. It was time to get on board with the changes and define who I would be in my new normal for myself, as opposed to withdrawing and letting the changes define me on my behalf.

The tools are in place

Sitting at that graduation ceremony, listening to the words of Justice Brown, I realized the tools I needed were already in place to help me heed her message, and sitting right next to me was someone who would always have my back, and be my support — my wife.

Brown’s words led me to reflect on the fact that all of the business success I’d previously had was only made possible through the support of others; from my leadership team, to mentors, coaches and consultants. I never felt alone.

That’s the moment I knew that despite some very bad things that had been going on of late, I’d been a very fortunate individual — and it was time to focus on the professional success of others. That’s the moment I decided it was time to put my experience and education to use for the benefit of others by becoming a business consultant, author, blogger and podcast host.

In this role, the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment I feel in knowing that what I share might help just one person to not feel so alone and to become more successful is an indescribable high. Just as Brown had assured the graduating students, it tastes very sweet indeed.

The years following that decision have been the happiest of my life. Little things that used to bother me no longer do. I think much less about “what’s in it for me” and much more frequently about “what’s in it for you.” I’ve seen clients, colleagues, friends and family walk away from an exchange we’ve had, feeling less overwhelmed and like they can do whatever it is that they need to do.

You don’t have to be a consultant to provide that for others. You can be a leader, a peer, a colleague, a friend or family. You can even be complete stranger.

Brown has no idea who I am. But her words were of significance to me. My wife is of significance because not only does she support and encourage me, she allows me to bounce business ideas and direction off her and provides solid critique and input even though our professions are dramatically different.

A continuous circle

I try to focus on significance by focusing on the success of others, but I can only be successful at that when there are others of significance enabling and encouraging me. It is a continuous circle.

So, yes, behind each success there is significance. How does significance reign supreme?

  1. The significance of a single thought or emotion that alters the future (yours or others’).
  2. The significance of creating a solution or product that no one else had previously.
  3. The significance of defining what success means to you.
  4. The significance of being supported by others on our quest for success.
  5. The significance of supporting others on their quest for success.
  6. The significance of choosing words and actions that may inspire success in others.

What do you do of significance? I would love to hear about and share your stories.

Jon Umstead is a business and executive consultant. His book, Business is ART, is published by Figure 1 Publishing, and paperback and ebook copies of are available in book stores including Barnes & Noble and online at Amazon. Contact Jon at [email protected] or visit