Every morning, my husband wakes me by bringing us coffee in bed. (Sorry, he’s taken.) We typically spend an hour sipping while we each read our own devotions , poking each other whenever we come across something to discuss. This morning, he got tripped up by a quote that said “Nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.” He’s a literal man, this husband of mine, so he wanted to know how Coolidge knew this statistic and who defines success.
The world of coaching is steeped in talk of “success”. It’s the reason it took interviewing five coaches before I hired mine. I wanted someone to help me manage my mind, take action so I could help other women live the lives they were created for. I found lots of coaches who knew the tricks of the trade to becoming “successful” at this new world of online marketing, but I just couldn’t see through their distorted lens that defined “success” and “abundance” from only a worldly perspective. I didn’t want to become someone who’s more focused on money and followers than on the souls I’m called to serve. More than once I heard coaches say they’re driven by the fact that “we only live once”, so they want to go out knowing they gave it their all and accomplished as much as possible before they die. It sounded like nails on a chalkboard each time I heard it.
Of course as Christians we know there‘s more than this life, and what we do here has eternal implications. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to go “all in” when it comes to our lives, as long as the “abundance” we seek is in the areas that really matter. As Thomas Merton said, we may spend our whole life climbing the ladder of success, only to find when we get to the top that our ladder is leaning against the wrong wall. I don’t want to “give everything I’ve got” to something that displeases God is or is shallowly focused on this temporary life.
So, do we have to be in ministry or work at a non-profit, or stay at home or volunteer in the church full time? Absolutely not! It’s no mistake that we all have unique passions, dreams, talents, and areas of interest. (Oh, and He came to earth and worked as a carpenter. There’s that.) We serve a God who not only creates with purpose, but for pleasure. (Why else would he make 400,000 kinds of flowers?) How we find success is not defined by what we do or what we are called. It comes from being who God created you to be, in connection with Him.
When I began work as a counselor, I met with one of my professors (at a secular college) and told her I wasn’t sure if I wanted to market my practice as Christian or not, because I was afraid it might limit who I reached. Her words have served me in multiple areas of my life: “There’s no such thing as secular counseling. The Holy Spirit is working with and around you regardless of what you do.”
So who determines what it means to be “successful”? Look up the definition of success online and you’ll see everything from money to fame. Here’s my home-grown definition: Success is joining God in the work He’s doing around me, using the talents & gifts He’s given me, passionately serving others as if working for Him.
I think Earl Nightengale had it almost perfect. He taught that people with goals succeed because they know where they’re going. I’d say that’s pretty good. (Or they succeed if they know where they’re going because they’ll be sure their goals align with God’s.) But he also said success is setting a goal and working toward it. Notice he didn’t say achieving it. I like this as well, because God doesn’t ask for perfection; He asks for obedience. (He knows how imperfect we are!) Remember the story of guy who wasted his talents?
One last thought
Success will never come from serving yourself.
True, you may make lots of money, get that big promotion, or any of the other things this world calls the prize.
But real success will always involve giving it your all, connecting with people, and serving others.
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