The Significance Trap

Everyone strive for progress in every area of life. We need to strive to be financially free so that we can buy the things that we want. We need to exercise and watch our diet so that our stamina and endurance would improve so that we can still play with our kids when they reach their teenage years. We read books and attend classes so we could advance our understanding with people. We go to Mass and read the Bible so we could gain more wisdom.

However, in the process of pursuing progress, we often take away our eyes on our purpose and instead focus on significance. What do I mean by this? Many people buy cars for the reason of projecting their status in life not because they need a vehicle to bring them from point A to point B. Other people take Masters or Doctorate degrees because they want to be perceived as more significant than their peers, not for the learning and applying what they’ve learned to improve the status of other people. If you happen to read this and thinking if what you did was pursuing your purpose or for more significance, you need to ask yourself why.

This is the significance trap.

Significance is directly connected to security and freedom. Why would someone need to prove how significant they are if they are fundamentally secure who they are. If you continue to pursue significance, then you are not actually free.

Why do people pursue significance? It goes back to how we define ourselves who we are. Many people define themselves with what they do, like doctor, businessman and engineer. Others would define themselves by the position they are in, like VP of the largest oil company in the Philippines, a congressman, etc. Though it is essential for everyone to have aspirations, we have to bear in mind that our position, our wealth, our work, our aspirations are not who we are.

This topic is so close to me because much of my childhood and early adult life was about proving myself to my family and to other people. Growing up, I did not receive the ample attention from my parents and I harbored that feeling of unwanted. What drove me back then was to prove to them that I was intelligent too, that I was an achiever too, that I was worth their love.

So how should we define who we are? We are human beings. If you define yourself by what you do, that is human doings. If you define yourself by your wealth, that is human havings. If you define yourself as loving, kind, generous, respectful, helpful, happy, then you are defining yourself just as a human being.

By knowing who you are, no amount of material things would really make you more significant. Regardless of your work, or your wealth, who you are should not change.

I believe this is one of the culprits why people fall into depression, take drugs or commit suicide because they anchor their identity on possessions, fame, wealth or even human relationships that they believe give them significance.

Changing your perception takes time and I would encourage you to write down who you are and remind yourself every morning. Do this regularly and it will set you free.