When you hear the word “successful”, what comes to mind?
I’m guessing: net worth, career, Instagram followers, fame, desirability…
I recently read an article that one of my bosses gave me. In this article, the author talked about our success-centered, self-centered culture versus the values of the past. I think it also mentioned how many kids these days consider fame and fortune as the metric for ultimate success.
Basically, there’s been a culture shift, and kids are probably competing for their first reality-television audition before they even know what “reality-television” actually means.
(Okay, so I was one of those kids. I wanted to be an actor, because actors were cool. I was five. I’m over it.)
But what happens when we peg “success” as a destination? Think about it. Success Land: The Place Where All Your Favorite People Are, and if you just happen to be at the right platform when Lucky Train comes along, and if you’ve got a bit of Hard Work, two measures of Talent, and a whole lot of Good Looks to get you onboard, you just might end up over there too. Where everything is dandy and good, and life is a whole lot better. How better? Just generally better. You’re not really sure how, but it is. You go, Ms. Popular, Mr. Man-of-the-Hour, Ms. Everyone-Wants-to-Be-Your-Friend, Mr. Make-Everyone-Envious. Congratulations, you’ve reached the top! How’s the view up there?
At least, that’s what they tell you.
What I’m saying is this: It’s not true. Not even remotely. Believe me, I tried going there.
Success is not a magical, mystical, beautiful land. It’s a mirage, in a desert, where people try to kill each other to get to the invisible horizon only to find out that their desired oasis has once again moved further from their reach.
I tried, too. I think I even reached that mythical, invisible horizon at some point. But, as we are all going to discover, this so-called “success” would continue to move beyond us, never to stay at one place. We are all moving towards Cum Laude, towards a spot in the Dance Company as a soloist. Towards acclaim, financial stability, a certain image, or just some measure of popularity on those university “Secret Files” pages. And more successes after those.
We are all blindly moving towards a moving target, looking to get lucky, only to have it all wrong.
Eventually, when my “successes” brought me nothing but misery, it finally clicked: Success has nothing to do with where you’re trying to go, the status you’re trying to achieve, or the things you’re trying to have.
Success is a state, not a destination.
It’s not about being “there”. It’s simply about being. It shouldn’t start with “Look at where they are.” It starts with “Who am I?”
Am I fighting the good fight against my destructive tendencies? Am I being honest about where I’m weak, and am I sharpening where I am strong? Am I being more responsible, loving, excellent, and smart about how I do life? Am I choosing happiness and gratefulness over misery and grumbling? Am I doing what’s right, even though it’s very, very difficult?
But most of all, am I living the way I’m supposed to, as one who is fully loved by my God, despite all my shortcomings?
When we base our definition of success as an identity rather than as an external thing to reach for, something changes. We start to see ourselves, as well as others, in a different light. We start to value what’s right over what’s easy, and we start to want things that bring us true joy, rather than the temporary high of being better than others.
We start to actually be successful, rather than just reaching “success”.
I never became an actress. (I think the closest I got was as a non-speaking toy soldier in a Christmas musical. Ah, those were the days.) And I never became a dance soloist, nor did I get that Cum Laude that I really, really wanted. I didn’t become the concert pianist either and I didn’t even go down in the yearbooks as any kind of leader, whatsoever.
What I did become, though, was self-aware of the many things that I’m not, and the many things that I am. I learned to make peace with my failings, and learned that I will forever miss the mark on “success” that the world puts in front of me. But that’s alright, because I finally understand grace for what it is: undeserved favor to become something you can never be on your own.
Am I successful? You bet. Not because of what I do, where I’ve gotten, or what I’ve done (or not done). I’m successful, because I’ve stopped chasing the wind. Because, finally, I’ve discovered my oasis, and it’s not a destination that I should strive to arrive at. It’s where I already am, in Christ. My success is being whole and complete, right here, right now. Having the grace to everyday be a better me, in the beloved state that I’m in.