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Living with Significance: Betty’s Story

Betty came to see me in my office and explained that she had suddenly come to a critical turning point in her life.

She had worked with enthusiasm for many years as a secretary in a leading law firm but was now obliged by circumstances beyond her control to leave her position. It was not going to be easy for Betty to leave her friends, her boss, and the corporate culture that had become such an integral part of her life. She worried that she would not find a position elsewhere that would be as fulfilling and interesting.

If she turned to a different occupation, even for a short time, Betty would run the risk of finding it difficult to ever return to the kind of adventure — a word she used often in our conversation — she had been engaged in for so long.

I asked her, “What do you want most of all in the world?” There was a long silence. Then Betty replied, “I want to do something truly significant with my life.”

Something significant.

We talked more than an hour about the meaning of those words. What does it mean, “something significant”? Is anything ever ultimately significant? Betty hopes so. In fact, she is counting on it.

As a counselor I must be careful not to lay on Betty my value judgments of what may or may not be significant for her. If I were to do so, I would be treating her as less than a capable, responsible person. What she needs from me more than anything else is a dialogue. Few people learn to understand themselves in isolation. Understanding comes only in deep encounters with others.

Betty broke the silence, “I know that just because something is good, it will not necessarily be significant. But I’m confident that if I can be and do significant things, I know that what I put my heart to will be good.”

Did you catch the word Betty used earlier in our conversation — the word adventure?

Life for this woman has always been adventure — complete with the hills and valleys, storms and sunsets, hurts and passion. Once a person without a shred of confidence, weak and ineffective, she learned that it has been through her adventures that she has become the mature woman she is today. Each passing has made her available for other adventures, which have always been more adult and more fruitful.

Now another adventure awaits her.

I tell you Betty’s story because our lives cry out for adventure and significance. That’s why we climb mountains, swim in high surf, extreme ski, scuba dive, fly airplanes, go on vacations to exciting places. It’s why we sit wide-eyed with our hearts pounding through our chests as the roller coaster approaches its final ascent just before it leaps into space, where for those few out-of-body moments we can scarcely catch out breath as our hearts fall to our stomachs and we’re lost in the thrill of temporary weightlessness, screaming, blood pressure rising, with adrenaline coursing through our bodies faster than a moving train.

Our spirits cry out for these thrills as an escape from our humdrum existence.

Even though I have never met you, I know what you want in your heart of hearts. You, like Betty, want to be significant, and you want to do significant things. Your adventures will help define your significance as much as anything else because they are manifestations of your self-expression. Your adventures will invigorate you, push you beyond yourself, and propel you toward your worthy goals. they will demand that you risk stepping out of the too-safe shallows into the wild white water of life where the real action is, where you will encounter both the exhilaration of victory and the learning that comes from defeat.

So press on with confidence. Stay around people who will help you grow. Accentuate the positive. Fan into flame the gift of God that is in you. Remember the source of your strength. Aim for excellence, not for perfection, and confidence will be yours.

I invite you to live boldly and confidently with this assurance.

SOURCE: Chapter 8 “The Joy of Confident Living” in How to De-Stress Your Life by Gregory L. Jantz, PhD., founder of The Center for Counseling and Health Resources Inc.

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