The Art of Significance

"Personal success, what we do for ourselves, dies with us, but significance, what we do for others, remains and is ever-lasting."

- The Art of Significance, page 7

If you’re like most people, you probably spend time thinking about success.

What does it look like for you? Does it include landing a certain job, buying your dream house, or earning a certain income? Does it involve traveling or more time for your hobbies?

These all seem like reasonable characteristics of success, but in his latest book The Art of Significance, Dan Clark says if your only aim is success, you are aiming too low. As you can guess from the title, the real reward lies in becoming significant.


The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Go One Step Further

"Significance is a higher state of happiness and fulfillment beyond the merely successful. Attaining significance means becoming aware of your purpose and working hard to bring that out in the world."
- The Art of Significance, page 4

Few people will remember the title on your business card or the size of your checking account. Yet, it’s easy to get caught up in measuring success in terms of material wealth. From the time we are young, marketers pound us with messages that glorify consuming and collecting “things”. Teachers and even family members place a premium on prestige and position in the professional world. And in the midst of all of it, we lose sight of the real opportunity we have – to go beyond “finding happiness on a superficial level” and focus on leaving “our families, friends, coworkers, neighborhoods, and countries in better shape than we first encountered them.”

To help you accomplish this task, Clark offers these Twelve Laws of Significance and with each law he demonstrates how to go from success to significance:

  • Practice Obedience Instead of Free Will Agency
  • Exercise Perseverance Instead of Patience
  • Proactively Stretch Instead of Change
  • Trust Predictability Instead of Hope and Faith
  • Know the Whole Truth Instead of Believing What You Think
  • Focus on Winning Instead of Team
  • Do Right Instead of Seeking to Be Best
  • Experience Harmony Instead of Forcing Balance
  • Accept Others Instead of Judging Them
  • Love and Be Needed Instead of Romanced and Used
  • Establish Covenants Instead of Making Commitments

You need not master them all at once. As with many things, significance is about the journey, not the destination.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Look Inside Yourself

"Mere change is foisted upon us from outside; we react to the demands of others, including bosses, parents, and coaches. Stretch, by contrast, follows from our own heartfelt commitment to become more of who we already are - everything we have the potential to be, both personally and organizationally."
- The Art of Significance, page 53

With the Third Law – Proactively Stretch Instead of Change, Clark does a brilliant job of reframing how we should view change. Mantras like “change is hard” and “no one likes change” play like a broken record when it comes to business and personal development. Sure it’s hard and miserable when it’s forced on you. When you’re only doing it because someone else wants you to, where is the intrinsic motivation? What will you grab onto when it gets tough? No wonder you resist.

Significance is about learning to stretch yourself, not following someone else’s agenda. Start by focusing on what’s meaningful and important to you. When the motivation to go beyond your comfort zone is an internal force, when “you determine why, when, where, and how – resistance melts away.”

Even though the motivation for stretching is deeply personal, achieving significance is not a solo effort. Making improvements can be difficult work. Find and surround yourself with people who will support your growth.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

The Truth Will Set You Free

"Feedback is the breakfast of champions, telling us more of the truth so we can adjust our actions."
- The Art of Significance, page 93

The Seventh Law addresses feedback – specifically the importance of seeking it out as a vehicle for improvement. As Clark says, “the quicker we recognize weakness, mediocrity, misdirection, or failure, the easier and more cost effective it is to fix it, change it, and get ourselves back on track toward our desired destination.”

He suggests there are three forms of feedback people should seek:

1. Factual Feedback – constitutes the cold, hard facts of our current reality, data to which we assign accountability without blame.
2. Motivational Feedback – the cheering crowd and encouraging coach who tell us, “You can do it – go for it.” We need motivational feedback to get us to hustle; it triggers the adrenaline and endorphins we need to compete.
3. Educational Feedback – correctional coaching.

Motivational feedback is generally easy to find. We all have someone who cheers us on no matter what. Someone who urges us to go one step farther. Similarly education feedback is available. If you don’t have access to it readily, you can hire a coach.

But getting valuable (timely, candid, and constructive) factual feedback is a skill in and of itself. Many people aren’t comfortable giving constructive feedback. They don’t like telling you what you could be doing better or what you’re doing wrong. They don’t want to hurt your feelings.

Knowing this, there are a few things you can do to facilitate getting better feedback. Create an environment where people feel safe and comfortable being honest. Don’t be defensive. Listen. Ask for specific examples. And most importantly, use the feedback to make yourself better. That’s the best way to show people you are serious about improving yourself.


The Art of Significance takes many of the themes from personal development books that have come before it and puts a new twist on them. The concept of focusing on significance rather than success is one I find worth exploring.

What’s one thing you could do to become more significant to the people around you?

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Joe McGonigal

ABOUT Joe McGonigal

WHO ARE YOU? My name is Joe McGonigal. In October 2012, after 12 years as a sales executive with a large healthcare distributor, I left to start my own venture...
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