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The Quality That Separates Success from Significance

By Maxwell Leadership | June 6, 2023
The Quality That Separates Success from Significance

This blog post has been adapted from Dr. John Maxwell’s personal productivity resource, Today Matters. John Maxwell has been one of the world’s foremost leadership and personal growth experts for more than 40 years, and this guidebook for success planning contains invaluable insights. You can pick up a copy here.

In 1957, Fortune magazine recognized J. Paul Getty as the richest man in the world – but anyone who knew him recognized him as the stingiest.

He wore rumpled suits and threadbare sweaters. And he installed a pay phone to be used by guests in his home. But the worst example of his unwillingness to part with money was illustrated by an incident involving his grandson.

16-year-old Jean Paul Getty III was kidnapped by an Italian gang in 1973. The kidnappers demanded $17 million in ransom from the billionaire. The elder Getty stubbornly refused to pay them. Only when part of the boy’s right ear was cut off and sent to a newspaper in Rome did Getty relent. He finally agreed to pay the kidnappers. But even then he wouldn’t give them the entire amount. He agreed to a fraction of what they had requested—$2.7 million—saying that was all he could raise. Fortunately, the boy was eventually found alive near Naples, but he had endured captivity by his kidnappers for five long months!

The Value of Significance

So J. Paul Getty was tight with his money. Does that really matter? Didn’t he earn it and have the right to keep it? Don’t you have the right to keep whatever money you earn—or inherit for that matter?

Of course you do. But what you have the right to do isn’t the point.

What would be best for you to do?

Ironically, one of Getty’s sons, J. Paul Getty Jr., articulated a philosophy much different from that of his father. He received only a fraction of the Getty fortune, yet he gave millions of dollars away. He said, “[I am] privileged to be the heir to huge wealth and I regard myself as custodian of that money for the benefit of people who need it more than I do.

What about us? How should we approach giving? Why should we be generous? There are many reasons, but here are just three:


No one likes to be around people who think only of themselves. In contrast, nearly everyone enjoys being around people who are giving. Biographer and literary critic Van Wyck Brooks stated:

How delightful is the company of generous people, who overlook trifles and keep their minds instinctively fixed on whatever is good and positive in the world around them. People of small caliber are always caring. They are bent on showing their own superiority, their knowledge or prowess or good breeding. But magnanimous people have no vanity, they have no jealousy, they have no reserves, and they feed on the true and solid wherever they find it. And what is more, they find it everywhere.

Giving to others naturally changes a person’s focus, particularly if that giving is habitual. In fact, generosity can be described very simply as changing one’s focus from self to others. When you’re occupied with giving to others and helping them succeed, it drives away selfishness. And that not only makes the world a better place, it makes the giver happier. As the Roman poet Seneca said, “No man can live happily who regards himself alone, who turns everything to his own advantage. You must live for others if you wish to live for yourself.”


One of the most significant things a person can do while on this earth is help others. In this life, the measure of a person isn’t the number of people who serve him or the amount of money he amasses; it’s how many people he serves. The greater your giving, the greater you’re living.

U.S. President Woodrow Wilson said it this way: “You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of home and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.” No one stands taller in the climb to success than when he bends over to help up someone else.

When you add value to others, you do not take anything away from yourself.


A panhandler asked a woman for money, and she dug in her purse and handed him a dollar bill. As she did, she admonished him, “I’ll give you a dollar—not because you deserve it but because it pleases me.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” he replied, “but while you’re at it, why not make it ten and thoroughly enjoy yourself!”

Doesn’t it make you feel good when you do something for another person? Don’t you feel especially rewarded when the person’s need is acute? Ruth Smeltzer said, “You have not lived a perfect day, even though you have earned your money, unless you have done something for someone who will never be able to repay you.” That’s one of the reasons many people rush to help when tragedy strikes. When people suffer because of earthquakes, famine, hurricanes, or war, givers are moved to help—and they never expect to receive anything in return.

When you help others, you can’t help but benefit. You can’t light another’s path without casting light on your own.

Want to do something for yourself AND someone else?

Consider getting yourself and a friend, loved one, colleague or coworker a ticket to August Day to Grow! We have some incredible speakers lined up to speak to you, including John Maxwell, James Clear (author of Atomic Habits), Juliet Funt, Ryan Leak, and Peloton personality Ally Love. Go here and get your in-person or virtual ticket.

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