114: Success VS. Significance – a Tale of “Do Meaningful Work, Live Meaningful Life” | Mark Whitacre

What is the difference between leading a life of success and leading a life of significance? 

In his 30s, Mark Whitacre defined success as a seven-figure salary, a 13,000-foot home with an eight-car garage, and flying on corporate jets all over the world. That was a reality. But because of his involvement in one of the largest white-collar price-fixing cases in US history, he was sent to federal prison. Suddenly the large salary shrunk to $20 a month as he worked to help fellow prison mates earn their GEDs.

In this episode, Mark reveals how he found more fulfillment in the work he did in prison than in his corporate job. Hear why pursuing meaningful work is more rewarding, makes us more productive, and ultimately gives us the space to make a difference. 

Listen to the full conversation to learn how to help your employees do meaningful work and lead a life of significance. 

Book Recommendations: 

Truth You Can Act On:

1. Significance is Service to Others
Supporting Quote
Mark Whitacre: “I never helped anybody but myself, but then I went to prison, and I saw how rewarding it was to help others in need. I’ve been out of prison 15 years now, since 2006, and I’ve continued that path of a life of more significance. It’s how I want to finish my life with however many years I have left. I want to finish my life focused on a life of significance rather than a life of success. And that really, to me, means being a servant leader and trying to leave the world a better place when you leave it than when you came into it.”

2. Healthy Mentors Are Powerful
Supporting Quote
Mark Whitacre: “Look around and think about who you want to be as you continue to grow in your journey as a leader in your organization. It’s going to be someone older and wiser, and I think that’s just important to have the right mentor in your life. No matter where you work and no matter where you’re living, there are people around you that love to pour into the younger people into the next generation. I think all of us in our lifetimes should have a mentor in our lives, and I think we should all be mentoring others that are younger than us during our lifetime.”

3. Great Leaders Share Vulnerably 
Supporting Quote
Mark Whitacre: “The last 24 years I’ve mentored several people, but probably one of the most significant was a medical doctor that I got to know. And he was on a very similar track that I was probably in my thirties: all about himself, or a large seven-figure income, being a surgeon and very much a selfish leader. He read about me and heard about me and reached out and wanted to know if I could spend some time with him. I became his mentor, and it’s amazing how I’ve seen him grow in the last four or five years. He’s changed tremendously to become the servant leader that I feel strongly that God built him to be. I’ve seen him become a better father, a better husband, and serve others. In the hospital, he loves seeing others get promoted instead of just always himself. He helps others get promoted and recommends others in the hospital and he serves and mentors others around him. All things he didn’t do before.”

4. Do Meaningful Work
Supporting Quote
Mark Whitacre: “I was in federal prison at age 40, making $20 a month, and I helped these guys in prison get their GED. Some of them learned how to read. Some of them I helped to get two-year degrees through correspondence. Some of them were eighth grade dropouts and I had the opportunity to help them get their GED and two-year college degrees through correspondence. And I tell you, those years became some of the most productive years of my life at $20 a month. Going through that journey, I learned the difference between a life of success, the way the world defines success, compared to a life of significance.”

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