What is success, anyway? Volumes have been written on this, and the definition of success is oh-so subjective. Your success criteria and mine might be in two different places.
Still, I’d like to tackle this one. As always, this is the gospel according to Tony, and you might think you know better. That’s entirely possible, and I’m at peace with you about that.
Foundationally, I’d say that unless you think you’re a success it doesn’t matter what the world thinks of you. For instance, you can be a gazillionaire and the world thinks you’re amazing. Yet your soul is barren and your relationships are wretched. See what I mean? Success has to be an internal thing if it’s to have any meaning to you. I love this quote from Thoreau: “A man is rich in the proportion of things he can let alone.” So as we ponder success, remember that I ain’t necessarily talking about finances. (Although, I’d say that anyone who says that money isn’t important will lie about other things, too.)
So what are some factors to consider?
- Purpose. I’m all about goals – goal setting and goal achieving. Maybe one day I’ll post a bibliography of helpful books and resources. In the meantime, just latch onto this: You’re always moving toward some kind of goal, either by purpose or default. Live will mean something if you’re going somewhere purposeful and of your choosing. Habakkuk 2:3 says, “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end – it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.”
- Consistency. If you’re remotely aware of how baseball works, you know that a batting average of .500 is pretty much a walk-on-water statistic. That means that half the time you’re batting, you get a hit, and, conversely, you miss just as many. Stated differently, you fail just as much as you succeed. If you’re successful, then count on having plenty of moments of failure. Wrap your head around this: you’re gonna screw up. But rather than burning energy worrying about what you did or didn’t do, how about using that energy on learning from what happened, sucking out whatever lessons you can, and moving on? It’s a matter of being consistent and not beating yourself up. Perseverance, in other words. How about this? “For the righteous falls seven times seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.” – Proverbs 24:16.
- Cost. Hey, guess what. There is no success for free. There are no shortcuts or work-arounds. I mean, what good is there in being successful if there wasn’t real effort to achieve it? It’s that old thing about how lottery winners tend to squander their gains because they didn’t have to work to get them. It needs to be hard, and God help us and others in our culture of entitlement. No one owes you squat. I can’t cite where I heard this, but I recall that a Steinway concert grand piano has 243 strings that exert a pull of 40,000 pounds on an iron frame. Music comes from tension, in other words. Isn’t that good? “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” – Proverbs 16:3.
- Being pleased. This isn’t an original thought with me, but … success may be won with tears but it must be crowned with laughter. Hey, if success doesn’t please you and give you satisfaction, then it really isn’t success, now is it? Ultimately, you are the only one who can know what gives you pleasure in accomplishment. You sort of have to not give a rip about what anyone else thinks. If you’re pleased, poop on ‘em. What do they know? So be satisfied and don’t apologize. That means … you may be an abject failure in the eyes of the world, but if you’re content because you’ve reached a meaningful personal goal, good for you. Psalm 37:4 is a good one here: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Note it’s YOUR heart and no one else’s!
- Spiritual faith. All this talk of success ultimately has to be grounded in belief. We Americans have been taught to be individualistic, to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, be self-made men or women, ad infinitum. As a Christian, however, I yield to the connectedness that comes from being part of a purpose bigger than myself. In my naïve worldview, I just can’t see how I could feel successful without acknowledging the Author of my purpose. This, it seems, is the great leveler. Someone might be a successful yard man and another be a successful oil company executive. Both of these can be honorable positions in life, provided that those individuals feel that they’re successful in what they do, although they are separated by a huge financial gulf. But their spiritual faith – faith in God – could be exactly the same and just as meaningful. Different thread, common tapestry! The key, I suppose, is to courageously be yourself.
Pilgrim, sojourner, encourager.
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