You probably have a longing to be significant, to contribute, to do something honorable, noble, purposeful, and lasting. It’s hardwired in us, this desire for significance. Your impact on the world is not tied to your age, your economic status, how famous you are, or even your big ideas with bestselling potential. The key to choosing a life of significance comes down to two words: Being Intentional.
John Maxwell is America’s leadership guru, with dozens of books on leading, thinking, and communicating. While he has sold more than twenty million books in his career, several of them on the New York Times Best Seller List, he considers this book, Intentional Living: Choosing a Life That Matters, to be the most important book he’s ever written. In this book, he shares his own story of significance, and he invites each of us to find our own path in our own stories. Maxwell says that one of the keys of intentionality is learning to abandon self-centeredness, to learn to think of other people first.
Develop a Greater Appreciation for Other People. Ask yourself, “Who brings the best out of you?” Take a few minutes to think about and list the people who continually add value to your life. None of us can really claim to have gotten where we are without the help of other people. We need others, and we need to value them. Once you have your list, it will be difficult to forget the people who have shaped you. This kind of a list can inspire you to get outside yourself, to put others first, just as others have put you first.
Ask to Hear People’s Stories. Everyone we meet has a story. We can easily lose sight of this, as we bustle through our days, cross items off our list, and pass people in the hallway without ever looking up. Do you know the stories of the people in your life? Where have they come from? What are their hopes and dreams? What are their struggles and defining moments? When you ask someone to tell their story, you slow down and take your attention off yourself. It’s hard to stay self-centered when you’re listening to someone else.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes. Maxwell tells a powerful story about a couple who went out to dinner for their anniversary, only things didn’t go as planned for their romantic evening. The service was slow, the food was late, and the evening felt ruined. But the couple noticed that the waiter was taking care of twelve tables on his own, and despite running faster than his feet could carry him, he remained upbeat and delightful. The couple tipped him extravagantly, with a note that said, “We’ve been in your shoes. Paying it forward.” When you try to see the world from someone else’s view, you may be amazed at the shift in your perspective.
Make Other People’s Interests Your Priority. As you get to know people, as you learn to appreciate their stories and who they are, you begin to know their interests. You can choose to store this information as leverage, or you can choose to embrace their interests as your priority. Look for something you can do to make someone else’s life better. Make their interests important to you.
Make Winning a Group Activity. In Intentional Living, Maxwell confesses that when he started his career, he thought life was an individual hundred-yard dash, but he now sees the truth: it’s more of a relay race. Winning an individual race may feel empowering and exhilarating, but crossing the finish line with your team is often more fun and always far more significant. Be willing to lose yourself to the group for the goal of the team. Win together.
“Significance comes from using what you have to benefit others.” John Maxwell
Tricia Lott Williford is a remarried widow, a writer, teacher, reader, and thinker, and the author of three books. Her newest book is You Can Do This, a memoir on being a confident woman. Thousands of readers join her each morning for a cup of coffee as they sign online to read today’s funny, poignant stories that capture the fleeting moments of life. She collects words, quotes, and bracelets, and she lives in Denver with her husband and two sons. You can get to know Tricia through her regular posts at tricialottwilliford.com.