The Size of Success: Bigger on the Inside Than on the Outside
Success has been accorded an endless array of definitions. Some are crafted to make failure seem more like success so that we can limp through life and fail without remorse or guilt. Other definitions are quite lofty, written to give us opportunity achieve in a manner that has little to do with the achievement and everything to do with restoring blunted self-esteems. Sometimes definitions are crafted as we go along, granting us permission to fluidly and nonchalantly alter the definition of success in order to form-fit whatever the outcome of our choices have been, thereby permitting us full license to define the outcome in whatever way suits us.
Then there are other times when the definition of success is modified to diminish the works of those we’ve come to abhor and elevate those upon whom our favor has fallen. Some definitions of success are those shaped by the shifting pen of political correctness, or the placating tenets of the culture, or by the gnawing need for acceptance, or formed from the dictates of a particular social grouping that demands adherence to a prescribed set of standards. Whatever and wherever their source, a dizzying array of definitions abound.
And it this mad array of definitions that sends us scurrying in a million different directions in order to be successful in whatever way success is defined at the moment. In the end, success becomes more defined by figuring out exactly what success is rather than actually fulfilling the definition.
It is interesting that success, in whatever manner it is defined, has come to define our worth and value. Success appears to have become the litmus test as to the credibility of our existence and the gauge of our value. Success has evolved into the exclusive commodity by which we ascribe value to ourselves and others. It is the thing that gives us status, grants us credibility, authenticates what we say, lends weight to our opinions, and awards us with the sense of a life well lived. It is the crown jewel of our existence, something to be vigorously pursued and rigorously obtained at all costs, for not doing so is a life squandered, opportunity lost, and self-esteem decimated.
Success becomes so acutely defined and so irrevocably defining that we seldom entertain any other possible definition. We find ourselves so entangled in the culturally mandated definition and so absorbed in the achieving of that definition that the endeavor becomes inordinately consuming. We have no time to question the mark of success, and if we did we fear that the cultural definition might be correct and that our lives will have forever run amuck because we missed the cherished mark.
Therefore, given that the defining scale of success has assumed such a dominant role in our culture, and given that we presume there to be some golden definition out there we must find a definition for it, otherwise we have no precise framework by which to determine our success or lack thereof. Once we feel we’ve landed on the singular definition of success, we throw ourselves into the chase for fear that our lives might devolve into obscurity, our legacy might be pathetic, and we ourselves remain contemptible.
What We Do or Who We Are?
Yet, the yardstick that we use to measure success is defined by what we do. It is measured by a series of accomplishments, the manner in which we have embellished life through those accomplishments, and the achievement of goals lofty behind the imagination of the common man and far beyond the reach of the hoards. It’s understanding what’s fundamentally achievable and then embracing the belief that success is defined as raising oneself significantly above that which is fundamentally achievable. It’s being intentional about ascending to some lofty escarpment that we ourselves had deemed impossible to surmount. In doing so, we evidence our worth as held up against the enormity of the task itself and the manner in which the everyday person accomplishes the task. If we can eclipse both, we feel that we have established our worth by virtue of these comparisons.
Yet, the nature of such a mentality of success demands that we constantly achieve. It is an effort of insanely perpetual works that requires that we continually prove our worth as the previous achievement eventually fades sufficiently to demand a new one. Therefore, we become enslaved to achievements that demand nothing more than other achievements. With such an apparently irreconcilable flaw in thinking, it would be worthwhile to postulate that our worth must be based on something significantly more consistent and profoundly more fundamental.
Value Based on Who We Are
It would therefore be wise to consider the possibility that our worth is based on something so profound and unerringly rich that its worth singularly speaks for itself. It would make sense that our worth should be, and in reality is based on something that can’t be proven for no other reason than its value lies forever beyond our most magnificent achievements that would serve to even remotely evidence it.
And that itself may be the great rub. Too often in life we want to control the things that define us. In the oddity of it all, we desperately want to discover and be obedient to what life says that defines our success while covertly crafting those very definitions behind the scenes. We can craft life, impose values, shift circumstances and modify a host of other variables that shape a definition of success in order to give us a maximum chance of success because we had a hand in determining what it is. Yet, we are entirely unable to define any manner of success that would rise to the level of value that we inherently possess.
I would propose that next to God Himself, the thing of single greatest value is we ourselves. The priceless nature of a single human life, despite the manner in which we’ve blithely degraded that worth, is wholly immense. And this immensity is utterly inestimable on so many indescribable levels that proof stands as entirely irrelevant. Human beings stand as the most definitive accomplishment of creation, standing as the pinnacle of a creation that is indescribably marvelous in and of itself. We are the final touch of the cosmos themselves. We are the defining brush stroke of a creation that encompasses the galaxies, raised up mountains, gouged out canyons, threw birds into flight, painted fiery sunsets and spun the mesmerizing diversity of the seasons.
We are God’s defining work. There can be no shade of arrogance or darkening of pride in such a reality as that would only serve to sadly mar us and leave us with a diminished countenance. Indeed, we should be inordinately humbled that we are God’s crowning achievement and that, aside from any purported success grants us inestimable worth. It is not about proving our worth through the sweaty efforts of success. It is about realizing successes of even the loftiest sort and boldest character could not in and of themselves prove our worth, for it is entirely inherent and undeniably priceless.
It is in recognizing this precious reality that we work to achieve in life for the sheer pleasure of achievement, rather than as a despairing effort to establish our worth. We walk through life with vigor and tenacity out of a sense of worth, not out of some desperate effort to prove our worth. Life is engaged energized and inspired by our worth, rather than depleted in the pursuit of it. Our days are lived embracing the reality that our value is based on who we are, and to embrace that liberating reality is to embrace a life liberated.
© 2015 Craig Lounsbrough, M.Div., Licensed Professional Counselor