Your Significance

As a teenager, your task is to question and reflect and experiment – you discover your significance by paying attention to the questions and the answers that evolve.  The heroic challenge is in looking at these questions directly and in accepting yourself as a person of significance – as a teenager, not waiting for adulthood.  It is particularly useful to reflect and talk with others.

I want to live my life in such a way that when I get out of bed in the morning, the devil says, “aw shit, he’s up!” - Unapologetically You


There will be lots of voices – some internal and some external – that will question your significance.

“If I’m not in a boy/girlfriend relationship – if I’m not a key member of a group of friends – if I’m not a star in sports or the performing arts – how can I be of significance?”

The trap to avoid is thinking that you have to save the world in order to be of significance – to matter.  The reality is that, for most of us, our significance will be reflected in how well we do the small things – the things that combine over time to make a difference.

The challenge is to be aware of how we can make the small differences and then to make them – consistently.  It’s a matter of being in the game vs. being on the sideline as spectators – waiting for something to occur or someone to step in.

This is true for you as a teenager and it will be true for you throughout your adult life.  If we do the little things that matter, they not only add up, but they prepare us for the big things when those opportunities arise.

Significance and Responsibility

One of the surprising tests – surprising because it’s not obvious –  is accepting the responsibility of being significant.  “If I’m not significant, my actions don’t make much of a difference, so I really don’t have to assume much responsibility.”  Vs.  “If I am significant, then my actions matter and make a difference (I make a difference), so I do need to take responsibility for my actions – and choose wisely.”

Warning!  Beware the “Aw Shucks” Phenomenon.

That’s when people say, “Aw shucks, I’m not really significant.”  That sounds humble, but it’s really a way for people to avoid taking responsibility for their lives.  It’s not bragging to say, “I am significant – I make a difference.”  It’s accepting the challenge.  It’s acting in small ways and making a difference vs. being a bystander.

The problem is not in not doing the big things.  The problem is in not doing the little things.

Surprising Ways You Can Make a Difference

Look at the sample list of characteristics and see how many of them offer the chance to be significant – to make a difference. Some of them can make a really big difference.

Just for Example – You matter if you are:

  • Kind
  • Thoughtful
  • Someone who sees the good in others
  • Supportive
  • Respectful
  • Responsible
  • A good friend, brother/sister, son/daughter, neighbor
  • A good performer/athlete/artist
  • Come up with solutions to small or large problems

You also matter if you:

  • Pick up the litter in your school or neighborhood
  • Smile at people in school
  • Encourage someone who is struggling
  • Shop or cut the grass for a homebound neighbor
  • Volunteer
  • Step in if someone is being bullied or put down
  • Ask someone if they need help if they look confused, scared, or hurt
  • Form a club or play a leadership role
  • Are a good team member
  • Bring energy
  • Do small jobs around the house or neighborhood
  • Care for someone when they are sick
“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.”-Helen Keller (1880-1968)

These Things Make a Difference

These are just examples and only a couple of them require much training or effort – but they matter – a lot. They matter to individuals and families and they matter to schools and neighborhoods. Some may feel natural and some may feel awkward at first. Some, like stepping in when someone is being bullied, are tougher than others.

You Are of Significance When You Affect Others

It’s actually pretty surprising how many people you can affect, particularly if you are aware of how you can be of significance. The health of a school community or a neighborhood or even a family is often determined by the individual acts of their members – little consistent acts that create a culture – a set of norms that define the group.

This is a matter of being aware of the possible value that you can add in little ways – and then acting to add that value – being significant. You don’t need to prepare a lot. You just need to accept your significance and act on it.

I’m Struggling as a Teenager – Can I Still Make a Difference?

The really surprising thing is that you can be of significance – you can make a difference – even if you are struggling and simply trying to survive. It’s the little things that really matter. You don’t have to be on the top of your game and feeling in control of your life to make a difference.

"Few of us will do the spectacular deeds of heroism that spread themselves across the pages of our newspapers in big black headlines. But we can all be heroic in the little things of everyday life. We can do the helpful things, say the kind words, meet our difficulties with courage and high hearts, stand up for the right when the cost is high, keep our word even though it means sacrifice, be a giver instead of a destroyer. Often this quiet, humble heroism is the greatest heroism of all."

Wilfred A.