6 Awful Ways to Define Success
Is success a number?
I have an idea of how many copies I’d like to sell of “Epic of God.” I know the number I have to attain if it is to be considered a “best-seller” by more people than both my awesome mom and smokin’ hot wife. Incidentally, it's the same number a very dear friend told me I wouldn't be able to reach (I like challenges!). But honestly, I didn’t write the book hoping it would sell tons of copies. I really didn’t.
Goals are not bad. Specific goals with numbers are not bad. They keep us progressing. But when numbers become the end, rather than a means to an end, it becomes dangerous. Preachers and church leaders can fall prey to this. If attendance drops or stagnates, there’s no way that church can consider herself successful, right?
Is success a dollar-figure?
I know what it’s like to make more $$ than my dad ever dreamed of making. I also know what it’s like to take a leap down from that. Way down. Is success determined by how much salary you can earn? How much profit you can make? How strong or vibrant the contribution is?
Is success the number of “friends” you have?
I know folks who have over 5,000 friends on Facebook. Others have way more. Even defined in real-world terms, is success measured by how many “friends” we have? If so, what does that say about our definition of friendship? Is it even possible for one person to have a meaningful relationship with that many people at the same time? If life is about the accumulation of as many friends as possible, what are we to do when one friendship requires us to surrender more than is prudent?
Is success how famous you become?
If so, how do we explain guys like Lance Armstrong? Or Osama bin Laden? (Lance, I’m not comparing you to Osama; please don’t sue me). The people who make headlines often do so for infamous reasons, not because they were successful. If life is about “getting your name out there” and having your face easily recognizable, I suggest you never run for Vice President. Many folks on the street can’t identify Joe Biden by his official photo. Fame is elusive.
Is success the number of accolades and honors you acquire?
“Epic of God” won an award. I was proud; who wouldn’t be? It got me on TV and several pats on the back. But it took the TV station all of a split-second to move on to something else, and no one likes to hear about all your awards for very long. I have lots of trophies I have earned in my lifetime. Some of them say that I was awesome at building a Pinewood Derby car in Cub Scouts. Others say I “participated” on my Little League team. Awards, accolades, and honors recognize temporary excellence, but cannot be the measure by which we define success. A lot of works of art (books, films, TV shows) received critical claim. But virtually no one read/watched them.
Is success how much stuff you obtain?
Sara and I have a storage unit housing the stuff we can’t fit into our house. The longer that stuff is in the unit, the less I miss it and wish that someone would just come and haul it all away. If you think the accumulation of stuff defines your success, run that theory by the person who has to get rid of it all after you die.
At least for me, I’m learning that success is first measured by my faithfulness to God. I can’t overstate that. But after that, my level of influence on others is also important. Not the # of people I influence, but the quality of the influence. If I sold only one copy of “Epic of God,” but had a tremendous impact on that person’s faith in God, I succeeded with that book. If one person reads this blog post, but changes the way s/he defines success, I succeeded.
Success in life, then, has more to do with our influence on others than it does measurable statistics like sales figures, website visits, money earned, friends via social media, etc. Not that these things are unimportant, but they cannot be the primary means by which we define success in life. Jesus called us to be salt and light (Matt. 5:13-15), so that means serving him is about positively influencing others around us to the glory of our Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16).
If you and I were to define success differently, it may require us to shift how we spend our time, money, and influence. It might require us to be more generous with the time we give to others, etc. It might require us to seek greater influence, not for our ego’s sake, but so that Jesus can be glorified and his Church’s boundaries spread. And even if you are only able to influence one person positively, you are successful.
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