SHARING and CARING…it’s what LIFE is all about!

How We Measure Success

Posted by on Dec 6, 2013 in Blog, Food for Thought, Quotes | 6 comments

“Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” So says the Scriptures in Joshua 1 verse 8, and it ties in nicely to a recent challenge by our adult Sunday school teacher.

The question put to us was, What is success and how is it measured, or should we measure it at all?

I immediately thought of a definition I read in a missionary’s letter back in the mid-80s: Success is not necessarily reaching your goal. It’s reaching your maximum potential. And, further in the letter: Goals must be realistic but they should always be high enough so that success can be termed a miracle. I typed those two comments on recipe cards for each of my children and another one that remained taped to our fridge door for years. Stained and crumpled, it’s now in my Bible.

Success is an interesting word and if you were to check out the Collins English Dictionary, you would see it defined as: “the favourable outcome of something attempted” and “the attainment of wealth, fame, etc.” Frankly, I was perplexed that the word would be defined with such a significant difference!

The first definition is healthy and encouraging. For example, it allows a child to colour within the lines and be considered successful for a job well done, regardless if the art is picked for display on the classroom wall, or not. It allows for a person to run a marathon and cross the finish line last and still be considered successful for having completed the race. No trophy, no fame, no hero status, nevertheless a success…“favourable outcome of something attempted.”

The more I think about the second definition, the more I realize that as humans, we are often guilty of measuring a person’s success—intentionally or otherwise—by the yardstick of wealth, fame and fortune. I mean, honestly, don’t we always remember the Olympic gold medal winners and have no idea who won the bronze? It seems we are drawn to those who have ‘arrived’ and have fallen into the trap of believing that the more money a person has, the more possessions owned, the more friends on the Christmas card list and the more social engagements, the more successful a person is. And we are wrong.

I can’t help thinking of the individuals who have excelled to their own personal best and received the blue ribbon. Does this make them less successful for having not received the red one, especially if they did their best? If that were the case, there isn’t a number big enough to tally up the ‘failures’ that have walked this earth.

Based on the world’s concept of success, the unknown tomato farmer in Kansas, the humble potato farmer in PEI or the grandmother who faithfully knitted innumerable blankets for orphaned babies in Africa would never be considered successful. Such individuals who have remained faithful to their calling may never see their names in lights, have a book written about their journey up the success ladder or be interviewed on CNN; yet, in following their passion to the fullest, they are successes, regardless of their lack of wealth, fame and fortune. But if we were to use the world’s concept to determine if the grandmother had been successful, we could quickly determine she had not. When we do so, we have allowed the world’s definition of success to define who a person is and risk the mistake of clouding—if not eliminating—the happiness that can come from fulfilling a passion and gaining a sense of self-respect and pride upon completion, regardless of the end result. There is the threat, too, that our inner peace can be invaded and we will miss the mark of what real success is. And how sad is that!

I wonder if there is a connection between how the world defines success and the familiar cliché, “It’s lonely at the top.” When a person has reached the acclaim of the world—whether it’s the Microsoft Guru, the latest American or Canadian idol or the team that outdid the others—the interpretation for success can too often be defined by one’s accomplishments and gold ribbon status. It makes me consider this possibility: “Is there a problem arriving one rung from the top?” Sadly, to those who have allowed the world to decide whether they are successful or not, or are driven by the need to perform and fulfill the expectations of others, one rung short of the top would be considered failure.

As part of the ‘homework’ assignment from our teacher, I asked several people how they viewed success. Some were able to respond immediately. Others wanted to take a moment or two to consider it. In every case there was a common thread: following a personal passion or heart’s desire, enjoying a God-honouring life along the way and making others happy enroute.  And if you need a thought-provoking definition of success, take a moment and watch The Race, by D. H. Groberg [Ctrl/click]. To entice you just a little, the opening verse reads, Whenever I start to hang my head in front of failure’s face, my downward fall is broken by the memory of a race…. And the closing verse begins with, For all of life is like that race, with ups and downs and all. And all you have to do to win is rise each time you fall….

Success isn’t always about winning; it’s about doing your best, keeping pride from controlling you and the resulting outcome, and living a life full of contentment and faithfulness, knowing that you finished the race!

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
    bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favour and good success
in the sight of God and man.

Proverbs 3: 3-4






Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Bryan norford

    Hi Ruth:
    As you allude to in your blog, success can be measured. It is the completion of a goal. So whether someone is successful depends on the goal they set themselves and their level of achievement towards it.
    For me, the first decision is not to compete. Too many assume success is attaining another’s goal or winning over them. That’s why it’s so “lonely at the top.” We can’t measure our success against others. My goals have to be set within the parameters of the temperament and gifts God has given me.
    Second, I need to be in the place God wants me, for success is finalising the task I find there. This means, of course, that I will never reach final success, I’m a fallen individual raised by God’s grace, and the task will probably be ongoing beyond my time here. So for me, success is simply faithfulness to that task.
    However, there are markers to assist in measurement, and that is the fruit that we produce. That consists of two things: am I growing more in conformity to Christ’s likeness, and do I draw others to the Saviour as a result? The first is necessary for the second.
    The means of arriving at those goals varies from person to person. As a writer like you, writing helps me reflect upon myself and influence others. But there are other ways. To see a smile from a gas jockey or a harried waitress as I greet them is a daily measure towards that goal.
    For me, life is like building a fence. My goal is to build a complete and true fence. But, looking back at my work, posts are leaning or absent, whole sections half done or missing. Then I see the fence complete, through the eyes of Christ who has redeemed my life and its work.
    The final measure must be the “Well done, good and faithful servant,” from the Master. Even then, I’ll feel inadequate recalling my failures along the way. It is only through my continuous attempts to be faithful and His abundant grace that fills the gaps can I achieve “success.”
    I trust, Ruth, these ramblings, among others, will help toward the discussion of a Christian’s success.
    God bless your work for him,

    • Ruth Waring

      Thanks for your sincere and thought-provoking comments, Bryan. You have said so much in what you called ‘ramblings’ that it has only added another dimension to what I was trying to say. Success is such a big topic that limited space on a blog fails to do it justice. Thanks for taking the time and the interest.

  2. Glynis

    Very well said, Ruth. Oh how we need to be reminded about this and encouraged that success is nary a measurement as much as it is a journey. As Albert Einstein said: Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value. Thanks, for making me think, Ruth.

    • Ruth Waring

      Appreciate your impute and the quote from Mr. Einstein, Glynis! There was so much more I could say, but you know blogs, you’re supposed to keep them ‘short.’ This one was hard to do with shortness in mind! Blessings!

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