What would you do if you didn’t need to work? Would you golf more, travel, volunteer, spend time with family and friends, teach, or go into politics? A friend of mine called me today, told me that the sale of his business had closed and that he had enough money to never need to work again. He informed me that he had put together a list of people he respected and was calling to ask what I would do if I didn’t have to work again.

I was pleased to have made his list and was impressed with his logical pursuit of advice and counsel, but wasn’t at all surprised that he was searching for a bit of direction. While many entrepreneurs tirelessly seek their exit by disposition, few have spent a great deal of time planning what life after work looks like. In this article I’ll share a few thoughts on planning for the future…

I want to begin with an excerpt from my book Leadership Matters…The CEO Survival Manual“:

“By the time you reach the CEO level you should be striving to move beyond success and towards significance. You need to use your network, your wealth, your experience and intellect, as well as your passion to create a legacy that transcends your title…Having the advantage of hindsight, I can say with great certainty that who you are a a person is infinitely more important than the job you hold. There are few things in life as thought provoking as witnessing what by all outward appearances seems to be a successful executive, but as you begin to peel back the layers of their carefully crafted veneer you quickly come to realize that they are little more than an empty, bitter, and frustrated person. They work their entire career chasing some illusive form of fulfillment only to fade into the sunset with nothing more than an empty lifetime of regrets as their reward.”

While my friend is the farthest thing from the illustration provided in the aforementioned quote, I have seen far too many people fall into this category. My hope in authoring this post is to have you adjust your thinking when it comes to the definition of success. My clients usually tend to be successful individuals prior to finding me. My goal is to simply help them leverage their success into significance over the course of our dealings. The sad reality is that far too many people either confuse success with significance, or they are so focused on success that they are actually blind to the meaning of significance.

Just take a look around and you’ll see that most people use their knowledge, resources, and experience to acquire things in an attempt to satisfy their personal desires, which in their minds constitutes success. Contrast this with the people that use their knowledge, resources, and experience to serve and benefit others, which by my standards constitutes significance.

Sure, for those “who get it” success and significance are one in the same, but for most professionals success begins and ends with the achievement of a certain list of personal goals with little regard to the impact on others. These people confuse success with significance, and regardless of their wealth and professional accomplishments, they won’t accomplish the true greatness that only comes through making significant contributions to something other than one’s self. I don’t care how your resume reads, what your net worth is, or what your W-2 shows…what I care about is your motivation, and what you do with what you have.

I am always impressed by those who choose a life of service over personal glory, or those who understand how to leverage their personal success into significance. Most of my clients have acquired significant material possessions…they just don’t live their lives according to a “he or she who has the most toys wins” philosophy. They don’t give because their accountant told them to, or for estate planning purposes, they give to make a difference. They don’t throw trivial contributions to a variety of charities to see their name appear on donor’s lists, they make substantial contributions (usually with little if any self-promotion). It all boils down to motivation…are you solely seeking to have fun, fame, fortune, and recognition, or are you seeking to serve and benefit others with what you have?

It is my opinion that when you start to define your personal success by the value you add to the lives of others you have arrived as a mature human being who possesses true influence and has become a person of significance. My challenge to you is this…set the chinning bar very high for yourself by reevaluating your goals and objectives to insure that you are on a path towards significance. Don’t allow yourself to become blinded by your success, rather leverage your success in an attempt to make a lasting and significant legacy for which you and your family can be proud.

So, what would you do if you never had to work again? Share your thoughts below…