Stages of Success
from Survival to Significance

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.”
Zig Ziglar


There are five stages that people (who start with nothing) have to go through to build a life that matters – a life of significance.

Unlike the game of Monopoly, where everybody starts with $1,500, not all of us begin with the same advantages or opportunities in life. Some of us start below the bottom rung, while others are blessed with a great beginning, such as having wealthy parents who may provide them with the tools to, at the very least, skip the first step, which is survival.


Survival is the starting point for many in the world. A large percentage of the population is living paycheck to paycheck – 78% of North Americans, to be exact.

Although this is the starting point, this is where most people remain for most of their lives. Why? Because most people in survival mode have just accepted their fate. They have ‘allowed’ their lives they are not ‘leading’ their lives. “It is what it is,” is their motto. “Life sucks, and then you die,” others say. Very few use the survival stage as a steppingstone. The survival stage is like standing at the foot of a mountain before the climb, looking at the top, and thinking, “This is too hard. I’ll never make it.” As a result, most in survival mode pitch their tent at the foot of the mountain and never begin the climb. They get discouraged before they even attempt anything.

If you’re like many people, you may be struggling just to keep your head above water. You’re in survival mode. Whether because of circumstances, setbacks, or poor choices, you have to put a tremendous amount of effort into just making it day to day.

Characteristics of Survival:
• You function day to day without a plan.
• You experience more distraction than focus.
• You are more reactionary than proactive.
• You experience little joy and meager results.
• You are frustrated and or discouraged.

When you’re in Survival mode, you’re only concerned about making it through the day. You’re juggling too many bills against too little income. An emergency (like an unexpected job loss, accident, injury, etc.) could put your welfare in serious jeopardy.


For those among us who are blessed with a good beginning, we get to skip the survival part – which is the hardest to overcome mentally. What do I mean by “with a good beginning?” Well, this might be having parents who have a good income and who can afford to pay for your schooling. For others, it may mean having parents who own a company, and who entrust the reins to their children. This might enable you to skip the first two stages. For yet others, it may only mean to find your passion young and to be able to pursue it while never looking back – which can also yield some great results. Either way, this means a much quicker route to (at the very least) the level of Stability.

At this stage, people have passed the struggle of survival. They stopped having too much month at the end of their money and are faring okay in a stage where their income is adequate for all their expenses, family vacation, with money aside to brace for potential emergencies. They are mostly debt-free and want to keep it that way in a very delicate balance between income and expenses.

While not super comfortable, many choose to pitch their tent there. They reason that this is as good as it gets. They don’t dare to take unnecessary risks because it might jeopardize their semi-precarious situation. They count their blessings, and few try to grow further.

Stability happens when your income matches or even slightly exceeds your bills. Stability happens when we finally take responsibility for creating our security. Our lives are relatively calm, we have good relationships, and our days are relatively quiet. When in Stability, we have the time to lift our heads, look around, and begin to plan and build our way to Success.

If you’re working hard to make life better for yourself and your family, then I applaud you. Keep working.
But once you’ve gotten to a place of Stability, then what? What will you live for? Will you serve yourself or others? Will you put all of your energy into Success in trying to get farther ahead than others? Or will you work toward significance? Will you try to make a difference by helping others get ahead?


For many, the security stage is often mistaken for the success stage. The security stage is very appealing. It usually equates with the nice house, the nice car(s), the nice trips, eating out in nice restaurants, and nice money in the bank. It’s a nice stage to be in.

Financially speaking, it is very secure (hence its name), and it provides more than its share of good times. It is often the stage where many professionals settle and pitch their tents – understandably so.
Security, for the most part, is a stage of financial Success. Many find some fulfillment there, but not all. The potential problems with this stage are usually lack of time freedom and unfulfillment.

Many at this stage have traded in long hours of study and hard work for security. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, it may leave some of its members in want of “What If’s.”

So, here is the secret plight of some in the security stage: some of them are unfulfilled. They have money, but not a purpose. They have many things, but they wonder if they matter. They have possessions, but no real joy. They are often surrounded by people but lack the time for relationships.


In an article by the Wealth Research Group, they stated that 98% of the people die without ever achieving their dream. In context, it would mean that they die in the first three stages of either Survival, Stability, or Security. That’s 98%!

I believe Success is, in part at least, achieving one of your dreams. I know that I have spoken much about finances from one stage to the next, and yes, they are relevant to Success. Nevertheless, money is not the end-all-be-all of Success.

Success will result when we apply ourselves and begin to approach our work from a place of service and joy. We have become the master of our niche and deliver exceptional services or products as our monetary works. The money just happens, opportunities are abundant, and there’s usually more of both than you can use at any one time. Many people aim for Success and stop there because they haven’t thought through the next stage.

For those who persist and never give up, the sweetness of being successful is a crown to be cherished and proud of, while never to be taken for granted if that is you, congratulations! Whether you are feeding squirrels in the mountains or running a multi-million dollar business, if you have attained the Success you were aiming for with all your heart, soul, and mind, you are part of a select group of only 2%! Success, real success, is exceptionally fulfilling and gives a great sense of purpose to one’s life, but there is more.


In an excellent article for Success Magazine, John C. Maxwell listed the five main differences between Success and Significance and encouraged people to pursue significance. Why? Because in doing so, you will inevitably cross paths with and enjoy Success. Here are those five differences:

1. Motives: With Success, my reasons may be selfish; with significance, my motives cannot be selfish

2. Influence: With Success, my impact is limited; with significance, my influence is unlimited.

3. Time: Success can last a lifetime; significance can last several lifetimes.

4. Focus: Success asks, “How can I add value to myself?” Significance asks, “How can I add value to others?”

5. Reward: If I pursue Success, my joy is the result of my Success; if I seek significance, my happiness is the result of others’ Success.

Those who have left their mark on history as people we love and admire have done so because they pursued significance. They wanted to help people, not themselves. They gave of themselves, no matter the cost. In many instances, they poured their own lives out in sacrifice to others. Some became rich, others not, but all of them were fulfilled in their calling. All of them added value in one form or another to many, many people and impacted their lives at a deeper level.

Significance ALWAYS leaves a legacy. One of the best examples of Significance is Mother Teresa, who is well known for pouring her life out.

When we meet someone who is successful and enjoys fame and financial security we tend to think that it came to them as a blessing or that they always had it. However, when we look closer, we realize that people move from SURVIVAL to STABILITY to SECURITY to SUCCESS and then to SIGNIFICANCE.
We see this journey everywhere in life, relationships, business/work, health, etc. Let’s look at the example of a woman who is diagnosed with cancer or terminal illness. At first, she will go into a state of panic because she is a mother with young children and wants to be here to see them grow up, and she has dreams of being a wonderful loving grandmother to her children’s children. This diagnosis throws her into a survival mode of fear as she frantically reviews the possible scenarios in her head about what could happen in her life. Then, she remembers that she believes in a holistic approach of mind, body, and spirit to healing. She decides to take charge of her health and creates a path of how she will get well and use this experience to grow and learn. Only then can she move into Stability, to Security, to Success and then into Significance, making a difference in the lives of those around her because of the experience she had.

The danger is when we get stuck in Survival. We see it every day where people firmly believe that their life’s circumstances are the cause of their current challenges. They struggle to rise above their circumstances and see and feel a new reality. They do not see themselves as William Ernest Henley says in his poem Invictus “… am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” The possibility of creating SIGNIFICANCE is in everyone, not just in some of us. It’s a journey that can begin any time; it’s waiting for you whenever you are ready.

I have come to the realization that our life’s journey is about achieving SIGNIFICANCE, and that occurs when we allow our greatness and our purpose to unfold and come alive. Significance refers to making greater good beyond our selves but not at the cost of sacrificing ourselves. Often time people think that mother Theresa was sacrificing herself to help others. The truth is that mother Theresa loved doing what she did, helping the neediest. In life, we move from Struggle to Stability to Success and then to Significance, and when we are struggling, sometimes we get stuck in struggle, not realizing that this is part of the process to something better. I like to use the analogy of how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. Most of us are not impressed with caterpillars, but when it turns into a butterfly, it almost always catches our attention.

Sometimes we become afraid of living a life of Significance because we think that it will mean that we have to sacrifice and do something that we don’t want to do. The true meaning of Significance is when we do what we absolutely love and, at the same time, is a contribution to making our world a better place.

Significance means operating from a place of love and service, touching people deeply, and being the beacon that draws other people towards Significance, just as you were affected and mentored by others before. Significance is more about being than doing.

To do this, we must have an open heart, an open mind, and embrace new disciplines in our lives. To achieve Significance we must have commitment, perseverance, vision, and hard work. Holistic Transformation Success is the vehicle you can use to reach Significance.


Success doesn’t come to you, you’ve got to go to it.