Success Defined!

‘Success means doing the best we can with what we have. Success is the doing, not the getting; in the trying, not the triumph. Success is a personal standard, reaching for the highest that is in us, becoming all that we can be.’ Zig Ziglar

‘Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.’ 3 John 1:2

Not many people are intentionally trying to fail in life; but obviously, many will finish their lives with ‘the hand writing on the wall’ taken from the book of Daniel 5:25 ‘And this is the writing that was written, Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin.’ Tekel means, ‘you have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.’ All of us want to succeed in life. We want to accomplish something – to feel that in some way, we’ve won.

We live in a culture which is very success-minded; but it is this very culture which is so wrong-headed that it measures success only in terms of one’s career, education, financial status, skill, achievement, invention, cleverness, body fat, possessions, etc. And we breathe the cultural air that honors and rewards those who chase one of these carrots!

It’s easy to get sucked into thinking that we have to succeed on the world’s terms when, in actual fact, we each need to define success for ourselves. What does success look like to you? Is it the model set down by your parents or grandparents: a steady job, your own house, kids? Is it what all your friends are chasing: big salaries, a huge television and a flashy phone?

When we point to someone and call them a ‘success’, what exactly do we mean? All too often, we mean that they’ve reached a high level of their career and they’re making a six-figure salary. But success is a lot more than how much money you make, or how much stuff you own… Few people look at the real meaning of success. You may see someone rich or famous and think that they are successful, are they really? All too often you will read about a celebrity who has overdosed drugs or is involved in a messy divorce. They will sometimes get themselves committed to a psychiatric or rehab facility. That does not sound like success to me!

I’m often amazed at how people define success as making (or having) a lot of money. If you believe success is simply making (or having) a lot of money, you may be setting yourself up for failure. It’s very strange, because many of the people who think this way are agitated, stressed and, outspokenly, pretty miserable. Money is not that important. Personally, I would rather make a modest living doing something that I enjoy, something that is fulfilling than get rich earning a six figure salary in a job that I hate.

Steve Jobs was one of the richest people in the world, but he once said ‘being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.’ We all know that money doesn’t make us happy. Beyond a certain level of security, having more money won’t make a difference – sure, you can always buy another gadget or splash out on a better phone, but will a few extra megapixels on your camera really matter? A big bank balance might be nice to look at, but it can never replace the love of family and friends, or the sense of satisfaction gained by doing work which you enjoy and which is fulfilling. You could be earning $100,000.00 working a 60-hour week in a job which you hate… is that success? I’d say no, it’s not.

Sometimes, we treat success as though it’s a game where we need to rack up as many points as possible. We think success means having a particular career, or owning lots of flashy gadgets, or even having a partner and three kids. I’m not saying that your career or your family doesn’t matter – of course they do. But in themselves, are they really success? Is your unmarried uncle a failure because he chose to travel the world and work for charities, rather than buying a house, settling down and having a family? I’d say no, he’s not. A lot of people want to be a success in their own eyes, and so they define success differently from God. Thus, even if they are fortunate enough to succeed, they discover too late that they were aiming for the wrong target.

So what exactly is success?

Success is a difficult concept to define. As I said earlier on, more often than not, success is often associated with material wealth, self satisfaction, prestige or something along those lines. None of this is real success. It is not what you get or have that makes you successful, it’s who you are. Success is achieving the purpose God has for you, knowing that your life is pleasing to God.

How does the Bible define success? When King David was about to die, he gave his son, Solomon, the following advice:

‘And keep the charge of the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, that thou mayest prosper in all that thou doest, and withersoever thou turnest thyself:’ 1 Kings 2:3

Notice that David didn’t tell his son to build up his kingdom with great armies, or to gather wealth from other lands, or to defeat his enemies in battle. Instead, his formula for success was to follow God and obey Him. When Solomon became king, he didn’t ask the Lord for wealth and power, but for wisdom and discernment in order to lead God’s people. God was pleased by this request and granted it, giving Solomon a wise and understanding heart, more than any man had ever had before. He also gave Solomon the things he didn’t ask for – riches and honor among men (1 Kings 3:1-14) Solomon took his father’s advice to heart, at least for most of his reign, and reflected on it in his writing in Proverbs:

‘My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsakes you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man’ Proverbs 3:1-4 ESV

Picture two hands, in the right hand there are the offer of true contentment, the ability to handle life’s problems without being overcome by them, amazing peace that sees us through all circumstances, wisdom to know what to do, knowledge and constant direction for life, love for others, acceptance of ourselves, joy no matter what, and at the end of life, an eternity with the God who freely gives all these gifts. The left hand holds all the money and power and success the world has to offer, without any of what the right hand holds. Which would you choose? Remember, the Bible says, ‘For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’ Matthew 6:21. That which is in the right hand is the biblical definition of success.

What is your definition of success? Before you can achieve success, you need to define what success means to you. Unless you have a clear vision of what success is to you, you cannot work towards it. Success means different things to different people. To find your own definition of success you need to dig deep within yourself and question your values in life. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What are the things that are important to you? By answering these questions you can then come closer to your own definition of success. Be aware that this can be a long process. You may not get the answers so quickly. But it is alright. Define your measure of success, one at a time. Let’s take your career as an example. What would your definition of success be for your career? To make the managerial level by a specified time? Then dig deep to see what are your own strengths which would help you achieve it. Which of your weaknesses is a barrier, and does it go against your values?

For me, I value time with my family. However, sometimes my work requires me to work late nights and long hours. I will need to adjust my own definition of success. Which would take priority?

When defining your success, remember this important thing. ‘There is no point at which you can say; well, I’m successful now. I might as well take a nap.’ Carrie Fisher. Success is a journey. It has multiple peaks and not one ultimate pinnacle. One success builds on another. Setbacks and mistakes will also help you build success. It’s tempting to think about success as some far-off point where you’ve accomplished everything you’ve ever wanted: ‘I’ll be successful when I have my dream job, make a million dollars a year, and spend all my time traveling the world with my soul mate.’ This type of thinking is flawed because the accomplishment of worthy goals only leads to the possibility of accomplishing more worthy goals. A successful person doesn’t stop once they achieve something; they’re inspired to achieve something even greater. Success is an ongoing path. As Ben Sweetland once said, ‘Success is a journey, not a destination.’

At different periods of your life, success is defined differently. In your career, at a more junior level, your success can be defined by exceeding your job requirements or getting a promotion. Or success can be defined in a few respects. They can be: your relationship with your boss; your relationship with your peers; your dealing with other departments; and your learning curve.

Well, there’s no single definition. Success is about living your best life, and only you can say what that means. It doesn’t matter what your friends or parents or society thinks: defining success is up to you. Perhaps, to you, success means having enough money to get by, and having as much free time as possible. It might mean getting recognition in a particular field – maybe as an artist or a musician. For some people (both men and women), success might be about raising happy, healthy children.

I’d encourage you, whatever stage of your life you’re at, to take some time to truly think about what success looks like to you. Is it really about having a particular qualification or achieving a promotion? Or is it about having the life which you truly want?

Success is a Choice. Mark Caine once said, ‘The first step towards success is taken when you refuse to be a captive of the environment in which you first find yourself.’ Your life is in your hands. So if you don’t like your situation, change it. Each of us has the resources and the opportunity to create a better life. But we each must make the decision to do this. As an old Swedish proverb says, ‘God gives every bird a worm, but he does not throw it into the nest.

Have you bought into someone else’s definition of success?

‘The fastest way to succeed is to look as if you’re playing by somebody else’s rules, while quietly playing by your own.’ Michael Konda. Don’t get caught up with how other people define success. Traditional success includes a six-figure income, a happy family, and a house with a white picket fence. But your success doesn’t have to include any of these things. Is it time to start living life on your own terms? If so, what’re you going to do about it?

‘Excellence is not a singular act, but a habit. You are what you repeatedly do.’ Aristotle

‘Success: 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!’ Ralph Waldo Emerson.


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