A guide to turning first half success into second half significance


If you could commit the rest of your life to doing only one thing, what would that be? John Sikkema says it’s worth finding out in order to move our focus from success to significance. 

Today we are living longer; we are the best educated, the healthiest generation in the history of the world and in the Western world as affluent as we have ever been. However, this poses the question: How do we best capitalise on this unique position to improve our own lives and those around us? Can we turn our success into significance and in so doing leave a legacy for future generations?

Management guru and prolific author Peter Drucker said “Today there are two parts to life: LIFE 1 and LIFE 2. Most people are over-prepared for the first half of life and underprepared for Life 2. And there’s no university for the second half of life”. 

I have spent a large part of my working life in banking and financial services, including about a decade of working as a financial planner. During this period I quickly learnt that there are two groups of clients. 

The vast majority of clients fell into one group: They mostly started with lots of enthusiasm going on trips and ticking off a few items on their bucket list. But I noticed after a few years that their mood and level of happiness was mostly dependent on the current state of the economy and share market. This didn’t help their view of the future. The uncertainly meant that they appeared somewhat lost with what to do with the rest of their lives – except to keep doing more of the same. Sadly I saw this negatively impact their close relationships, their health and ironically even their finances.

Interestingly the much smaller group of clients were those who had a very clear purpose and were engaged and busy, passionately pursing that purpose. I loved listening to their stories and adventures – they were living happy, positive and productive lives. Surprisingly, more often than not they had considerably less money than the first group. 

What’s your “one thing?” 

Fifteen years ago I read a book called “Halftime – Moving from Success to Significance” by Bob Buford, a highly successful media entrepreneur from Dallas, Texas. Bob shared how the tragic drowning of his only son in his early 20s caused him to stop and reflect on what he should do the rest of his life. 

Bob hired a coach who helped him decide whether he should simply keep building his business or devote time to doing something else. Bob’s coach asked him to answer the question: If he could commit the rest of his life to doing only one thing, what would that be? 

So while still in his mid-40s, he decided to commit 50% of his time to helping train and resource not-for-profit-organisations and entrepreneurs that aligned with his faith and beliefs. For the last 20 years he has spent all of his time doing just that. 

Some of us will need a dramatic event to be the catalyst and tipping point to move our focus from success to significance. It can be loss of job or career, bankruptcy, divorce, cancer or the death of someone close to us. 

We stay in the success lane too long because we don’t have a significance plan! 

When I was CEO of a financial planning company I used to visit our franchisee practice owners around Australia. I’d spend a day in their boardrooms and have a great time brainstorming plans to take their business to the next level. The meeting invariably ended on a high note as they saw a constructive way to move forward. 

I would finish with one last question: “Do you have a plan for your own personal life, distinct from your business?” Almost always silence was followed by “not really”. As I probed deeper, asking them about their families and aspirations, they would suddenly get very passionate about their personal dreams, which had been put on hold while they pursued the ‘business” of building wealth and attaining success. What seemed to John Sikkema | April 12, 2016 FEATURED FORUMS Home Topics Forums About Submissions Search x really matter to them had been buried in their subconscious or given a low priority because life had become too busy. You could say they were rich on paper, but their lives lacked a sense of meaning and purpose. 

During those one-on-one brainstorming sessions, we often needed to double back and alter their business plan so that they could start much earlier to turn their business successes into a more lasting significance. Melinda Gates once said her mum encouraged her and Bill to start turning their success into significance whilst Bill was still in his 50s rather than waiting until he was 70. 

It’s easy to stay in the comfort of the success lane too long… but sooner or later we have to ask the question: How much is enough? How many toys do we need? 

To turn 1st half success into 2nd half significance requires one to move from predominantly using one’s business head and switching to using your heart more. There’s also a need to challenge some of societies’ and our own personal mindsets. Here are some principles I have found may help to guide you: 

Principle 1. Change doesn’t just happen. 

You will need to have an overwhelming desire for change and achieving unfulfilled goals. Unfulfilled desires can be an incredible motivator. 

Principle 2. You are wired to help others. 

We’d all agree business can be so self-focused we can lose our soul in the process if we are not careful. It’s very much about profit and the return on investment. Rediscovering the ancient truth “it’s better to give than receive” becomes a different way of thinking – and that now drives you. 

Principle 3. Generosity is more than writing a cheque. 

Often it’s easy to write a cheque because we are busy and need to relieve our guilt. But often our skills and time can often be of far greater value especially in assisting not-forprofits organisations. 

Principle 4. There is no limit to your potential. 

A lot of us can be tired and worn out after years on the success treadmill. So all we want to do is play golf, take a cruise and relax. We check out. However, once people discover or rediscover their ‘one thing’, their life regains purpose and they keep on growing. 

Principle 5. Retirement is not an option. 

Significance is all about proactively giving back and using your passion and energy just like you did before. Meaningful work not only adds life to your years, but years to your life! 

Principle 6. There is no perfect plan or perfect moment. 

So often people I coach say “I need to wait until all the ducks line up”. Funnily we never did that in Life 1, we just took risks and went for it. We can overthink and live in fear and do nothing as we prepare for Life 2. Or we can just go for it. 

Principle 7. Accountability is your friend. 

Most wealthy people would say they are not responsible for their own success – they attribute it as much to the good people around them. It’s just as critical in Life 2 to have people to bounce things off. 

They say you only get one shot at life. But perhaps that’s not quite true. What can you do right now, knowing all you have from Life 1, to take a shot at Life 2? For thousands of people it’s been the best thing they’ve ever done. I know. I’m one of them.