Sunday, January 31, 2010

Redefining Success...

Recently I read a quote regarding the true meaning of success. (I can't find the blog, but I remember the quote, so I looked it up. It was written by a woman named Bessie Stanley. It is sometimes attributed to Emerson, but the above link sorts that all out.) The quote is actually a poem:


To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better,
whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;
to know even one life has breathed easier
because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded. "

I like pithy sayings: proverbs, axioms, general systems laws, rules-of-thumb. This quote is a bit longer than that, but then success is a complex subject.

I teach kids. I teach kids who struggle to be average in academics. The grades they earn are often less than gratifying. Some work hard just to be below average rather than "failing." Have these kids succeeded? And will they be successful?

Part of what I teach these kids is that their worth and success is not measured by grades on a report card. That's not what matters the most. I inculcate a deeper measure of self-worth or success. Are you kind? caring? pleasant? hard-working? These issues of character are more important than grades now, or dollars earned later. Success in life is measured much differently. But how?

That's why I like the quote. It resonates with me. It also validates my life and beliefs. It validates a life many might think of as inconsequential or ordinary.

Abraham Lincoln once said, "God must have loved the ordinary people. He made so many of them."

Fame and fortune are noticeably missing from Stanley's definition. I like that. But something else is missing from the quote: God's view of success.

One of my favorite sayings from the Bible is a nugget found in the often overlooked book of Micah. It reads, "He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you? But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?"

Do justly... love kindness (mercy)... and walk humbly with your God? (Not the three top requirements one might guess God would highlight.) The first two correlate to Stanley's poem, but the third transcends it.

At different times in my life I've struggled with the question, "What does God want me to do with my life? What does He want me to become?"

In struggling with that question I often beat myself up for not "making the most" out of my life. I have not striven for notoriety, money, fame, titles, or degrees. Had I aimed too low? Had I sold out for something lesser than what God wanted me to be?

Then I came to a realization: I can quit apologizing to God for why I'm not what He never asked me to be. Most of my self questioning was based on someone else's definition of success, not God's.

Micah gives me some simple direction regarding a more meaningful measure of success. And that helped.

More help was found as I read the New Testament. It provided me an unexpected emphases on what really matters in life. I read...

One of them, a lawyer, asked him (Jesus) a question, testing him. "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?"

Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. A second likewise is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."

The greatest commandment? the chief requirement? " the Lord your God..." and " your neighbor as yourself." (Not the commandments anyone was expecting to be highlighted by Jesus, but they were.) Loving your neighbor as yourself certainly covers Stanley's points. Loving the Lord your God covers Micah's. "...walk humbly with you God" -- that's love.

Stanley, Micah, and Jesus all offer words to consider. They offer alternative assessments of what really matters in life and how we need to define success.