At the end of the 16th Century play Tamburlaine the Great by Christopher Marlowe, the warrior Tamburlaine (for the actual historical figure, think a combination of Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun) is dying, not of battle wounds, but from a fatal illness.
The End of Battles
Tamburlaine is not best pleased at his ensuing death, mainly because he has throughout the play constructed a massive sense of self-identity as indestructible (he refers to himself as ‘the scourge of God’). Now, faced with his own mortality, he calls his sons to him, asking them to bring a map of the world, so he can celebrate with them all the countries, lands and peoples he has conquered in his career as a supreme fighter. You can see him counting off the areas of the map he vanquished:
Here I began to march towards Persia,
Along Armenia and the Caspian Sea,
And thence unto Bithynia, where I took
The Turk and his great empress prisoners….
And so on he goes with his narrative. His resume of colonial achievement is an impressive one. But then, apparently for the first time, he considers the remainder of the map, and sees the rest of the world untouched and unaffected by his reign of destruction. He realizes that, for all his best efforts, there is so much left to do. He asks:
And shall I die, and this unconquered?
At the limit of his natural life – just a man after all and not a god — Tamburlaine also experiences the limit of his material impact. Not quite grasping the point, he exhorts his sons to continue his rapacious plan, leaving them with the real question, which is not ‘How can we conquer the whole world?’ but ‘Even if we did conquer the whole world, what would we do then? Who would we be when we’d succeeded?’
That inquiry is still present in our society. I met a man the other day who told me ‘I’ve just completed my bucket list and I’m not quite 50 yet. What do I do now?’ He knew already that the answer to that was not going to be ‘Write another bucket list.’
The inquiry concerns the nature of success. For many people, it is about beginning to look beyond what they may well have devoted their lives to — the manifestation of material goals.
In the words of Eckhart Tolle, they have ‘played with the things of form’ and done that very well. They have built and sold businesses, achieved significant results, made big things happen. And now they are beginning to feel there may be another level to play at beyond that. Not more of the same, but different.
This inquiry concerns also a consideration of legacy. ‘What will I remembered for? What difference will I have made for others?’
Crossing the Threshold
This shift I describe as moving ‘from success to significance.’ We may well choose to continue to draw up and execute ‘bucket lists’ until one day, like Tamburlaine, we can finally do no more. And we will enjoy those external experiences. But the real inquiry will be a construction and declaration of purpose from the inside out. I imagine that for many of us, this ‘work beyond working’ is going to look different from what we have spent most of our lives doing. So it may look like setting up a new business, but a business devoted to social change rather than commercial return. It may look like devotion to charity or the creative arts rather than to products and brands. Philanthropy rather than earning. Serving rather than executing.
For many, it will be a chance to ask ‘What am I called to do?’
It may not be the first time we have asked ourselves that question – and maybe now we will have given ourselves the space to explore the answers.
I believe this is a shift that requires guidance and community, which is why CoQuora is hosting a program called From Success to Significance: The Difference Maker Community. This will bring together a small group of people who are all standing at the exhilarating — and possibly scary — new threshold I’ve talked about in this essay. This will be both a safe and a challenging space, built on a foundation of similar values – including the intention to make this amazing time one of fun, opportuniy and creativity.
The people in this group will also be connected by a mutual desire to find out what waits for them on the other side of the threshold — and to uncover what it takes to step powerfully into the new world beyond it.
If all this resonates with you now, take a look at the overview of our program here and either email us for more information or set up a call by accessing the Schedule Time app at the bottom of that page.