by Peter Van Kets

Corporate motivation

Success vs significance

Our columnist Peter van Kets reflects on his latest talk titled, "impossible is nothing"
peter van kets.jpg

A few years ago, I was doing some research on Albert Einstein and I came across something he said that really caught my attention. Since then, I have spent many hours pondering on the value and meaning of success. He said: “Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value."

In my latest inspirational talk, which I have titled "impossible is nothing", I really get into the value of being successful and the processes I use to make sure that whenever I tackle a massive challenge or expedition, that the end result is success. It is that success which has become a focus for me.

What is the value of that success, and does it truly represent success? Is it mere personal satisfaction and therefore a selfish but positive result?

During a recent expedition race to the South Pole with teammate Braam Malherbe, the topic of success was raised during the many hours of relentless trekking. The first of these moments happened one morning quite early in the race. We had just finished packing our tent onto my sled.

Our hands and heads were freezing in the -45oC temperature. Braam turned to me and said, “I wonder what this is all about, Pete? What do you think the purpose is behind all this?" An interesting question. So did getting to the South Pole in one piece and completing the race signify complete success, or was there more to it?

This is where the word 'significance' comes into action. Braam and I have always used our expeditions to benefit others – whether it is raising funds for different charities or creating awareness around critical issues that need to be dealt with, such as climate change.

One of the great perks of what I do as a motivational speaker is that I get to see and hear about the well-being (or lack thereof) of many businesses, during the time I spend at their conferences. One thing that has really stood out for me is this: Those businesses that have their focus not simply on profiteering, but actually on putting real effort into their staff and greater communities; those that are actively and meaningfully putting back into society and which are committed to principled leadership, are the ones that are fortifying our economy and the ones who are truly successful. They are not just successful, but significant.

Simply getting to the South Pole has no real value other than self-gratification. What we do with the story gives it purpose and significance. I have always been totally committed to changing peoples lives and now I have the opportunity of doing just that by using this story to show that if we set our minds to achieving something and if we put the right processes in place, we can achieve anything – “impossible is nothing”.

For me, being significant is far greater than being successful. It means that I have done everything in my ability to make sure I have contributed to my fellow species, that I have led my business and home with integrity and gained the respect of honest, intelligent people – knowing that even just one life has breathed easier because I have lived.

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