The Success Trap

gold-medals-suitToday at work we were reading about the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah. Let me put this in the most biblical way possible: his life sucked.

He was selected for work that caused him to figuratively bang his head against the wall over and over and over again (and literally be beaten), and no one ever listened to him. He yelled at God all the time about it, and then went back to the work he was selected for, and got ignored even more. During his lifetime, he was not a success, at least not that any person could measure.

It made me think: what is success, really? I know how I have measured it in my 46 years of life. Until about 15 years ago, success was measured externally. What were my swimming times? What was my weight? What was my GPA? How much money did I have? How did I measure against the person swimming next to me or sitting next to me? My worth was measured in comparison to others. When I did manage to measure myself against my own past performance, I failed to see that perceived “failure” was actually growth.

For the last 15 years or so, I’ve viewed success differently. But more importantly, perhaps, than viewing success differently was the reason why I viewed it differently.

The reason I began to view success differently was because what I thought was success was never enough. You never think you have enough money. You’re stomach simply will never be 21 again. You perform slower and slower in athletics with each passing year. Your appetite for success, when you view success externally, will never be sated.

I don’t have a great biblical or philosophical definition of success. My definition of success is this: you are successful when you find your purpose and you pursue it, taking risks along the way, and when you slack up or get off course, you admit that to yourself and others. That is success.

There is a theological twist for me. I do believe I am here (and you are here) for a very special, unique purpose. That doesn’t mean you are supposed to be famous or in the limelight or recognized as the (external) best in the whole world. But that does mean you are supposed to find out that purpose, leverage your opportunities, and be willing to try hard things and therefore willing to fail.

I’ve met some new people this year, people I’ve met in my new job and friends of my kids. Wow! There are really cool and talented people out there who may not be well known in their fields or have the best GPAs, but I see that God has a special purpose for them, even though I don’t know what it is yet, and I’m excited to see where the journey takes them.

This isn’t a pass to be lazy. I hate lazy. But for those out there who struggle with themselves because they don’t have the All Powerful Numbers (4.0/36-26-36/$1 million/add your own perfect number here) labeled as “successful,” stay calm.

There is something really important for you out there. You need to find it, leverage it, and take risks.

That is success.

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