Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Price of Success

Last weekend, I had a great long talk with a close friend, curled up on my couch with tasty beverages. We discussed many things, but kept coming back to our goals, decisions to be made, how we're supposed to discover and live out our purpose. As usual, talking things out helped me solidify my thoughts on a few subjects. Here's one:

As we grew up, and now, my generation was taught that success or failure in any venture is solely based on how badly you want it. We can be or do anything we set our minds to as long as we're willing to do whatever it takes. While determination and a good attitude are key to success, I have a couple of problems with this philosophy.

♦ It tells us that if we don't achieve something we want, it's 100% our own fault. But even the most determined, sacrificing people can miss their dreams due to circumstances totally out of their control. Like Olympic athletes who sustain an injury at the last minute, or trip over a broken shoelace one lap into a race. And every great success has an element of what many would call luck, and I would call God or the Holy Spirit. The old friend from college who knows a person who's hiring for your dream job. The chance meeting in a checkout line with the man you'll eventually marry. The record producer who happens into the dive bar you're playing on the last song of your set. The great painting or essay that seems to flow out through you from somewhere else. These are things we can't force or control, and they often determine the outcome.

♦ It leads to idolatry. A hyper-focus on one goal isn't healthy. Even if we could get whatever we wanted via willingness to do anything and give up everything, I don't think we should. In fact, I've come to believe it takes more strength to set boundaries, to decide what you are and are not willing to do in pursuit of something. To be true to who you are and what you believe, and trust God to take care of the rest. Drawing a line can look like weakness, but it's not. As I "step out" in my own life, I'm having to make these kinds of decisions, and knowing where my boundaries are is helpful. If I never achieve the things I'm hoping for, I know I'll blame myself to some degree. But I believe that ultimately, I'll have peace because I didn't compromise what was important to me.

The problem my friend and I are left with is, how do you know when you've done enough? If you've put yourself out there and are doing what you can, and the things you want still aren't happening, should you just accept it or is it your own fault for not trying harder? What do "enough" and "trying" even mean? It's impossible. Maybe I should stop trying to figure it out, and rest for a while in God's grace and love for me and sovereignty over my life. Despite my typical feelings, He's not sighing and tapping His foot waiting for me to solve the mystery. He doesn't expect me to navigate a trail with no map. He is the Shepherd and He's leading me, His sheep, and as long as I listen to His voice, I'll get where I need to be.

Thanks for listening to my disorganized thoughts. I'm going off on these random tangents more and more often, so maybe I should make it a thing. Soapbox Thursday?


  1. Hey, I like Soapbox Thursday! I almost always get something from you when you really think about a topic.

  2. Great thoughts.. I've wondered the same a million times. And that whole "if you want it bad enough..." mentality has been a huge burden on me many times. I feel solely to blame for things and like I must not want it enough. It's really ridiculous because you're right that it leaves no room for outside circumstances beyond our control, or even just that we're human and we don't always know how far to go! I often fear getting overly fixated on particular goals, and while maybe that has kept me from reaching them, I do feel I need to be aware of how easy it is to get sucked into something and make it an idol. Finding a balance is not only difficult, but like a foreign concept to me sometimes.

  3. Thank you for your honesty! It is good to know that I'm not the only one who has had these thoughts before. And I like the idea of Soapbox Thursday :) Love you!

  4. Disorganized thoughts? Are you kidding! I'm counting not one but two bullet points, both of which are rather fantastic :)