We all have our own definitions of success. For a long time, my view of whether I was successful was defined by relationship. Being married and having a family was to me, a marker of success – after all, my job could be gone at any point. I realise that in the light of my life now, this statement is somewhat ironic. It made me reevaluate what success meant to me.
I would still love to be married again, have a family one day, and I hope that this happens for me. But if it doesn’t, I won’t consider myself unsuccessful. I never thought I’d love my work as much as I do. I could have worked harder and become a Key Stage leader or a subject leader. To the world that would be success. Instead I decided to go back to the bottom.
So I’m single, at the bottom of a second career ladder, fairly broke but rich in friendships and family…it’s not the world’s view of a successful person.
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, people were expecting a success. They were anticipating a deliverer, someone who would conquer the occupying Roman force and be mighty. They were most likely expecting this to be done through military force, maybe even a bloodless coup as Jesus was big on peace.
By their definition, Jesus was massively unsuccessful.
On being subject to death, whipping, spitting, solider casting lots for his clothes, Jesus fulfils over 300 prophecies and promises made in the Bible. Over 300! That’s surely a marker of success from anyone’s perspective. It wasn’t what the people wanted, because that wasn’t how they viewed success. But imagine if Jesus hadn’t taken every sin that had ever been or ever will be committed onto his own shoulders, so that He could be the world’s version of success – it doesn’t really bear thinking about. We would still be sacrificing goats for forgiveness and not have the option of a one-on-one relationship with God.
How we view success isn’t always the way the world sees it. When we view success in only one or two ways, there will always be those who don’t measure up and who fall short. So why are we not asking a different question: in what way is this person successful?
Maybe they’ve made a courageous decision?
Maybe their character is beautiful?
Maybe, having erred considerably, they have taken opportunity to reform? Job, no job, renting, owning, married, single, divorced – anything can be done well.
If you define your success by those around you, chances are you will be disappointed. There is likely to always be someone worse than you, but often someone better. There’s a whole swingscale ranging from arrogance to despair if you compare. We tend to be harder on ourselves when measuring success, and berate ourselves for minor failures. We see other people’s success through a wide-angle lens, and then look at ourselves through a tiny pin hole of success.
If someone else has an impact on whether you are successful, it can be difficult ground too. My success was dependant on someone else. Promotion, job specification, marriage, divorce – they all hinge on someone else. However, my character and my conduct were entirely down to me. I feel (hopefully without sounding arrogant) that overall I have been successful in those. I have acted with integrity in the context of divorce, I view that as success.
God didn’t make us all to sit in an office, to be self-employed, to create, to organise. I don’t think God has a fixed view of success in the ways the world does. He asks that, like Jesus, we do what we are asked with good character. This doesn’t mean following blindly, and it might be tough. Jesus tells God how much he doesn’t want to die, but finishes with “not my will, but yours”. If that’s what I need to do, that’s what I’ll do, even though I don’t want to. He could have been a miraculous, preaching success who was adored and died at a nice old age in bed. Instead He did what He came to do, with grace and forgiveness. He broke the power of death, meaning everyone who believes can go to heaven to be with God. Triumphing over death: that is the pinnacle of success.
I don’t know about you, but the way people have lived their lives is what I’ve often remembered them for. To live with grace, forgiveness, and a beautiful character – that’s the kind of success I’d like to be remembered for.