A new definition of success

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 favor and good success in the sight of God and man. – Proverbs 3:3-4

Over the years, my view of what success would look like for me has changed many times. But one thing was certain, success always looked BIG. As in, change the world big!

As a young college freshman I decided to major in Communications and Journalism, ready to change the world by becoming the next Woodward or Bernstein. Then, as my spiritual journey went through a period of immense learning and growth in my early 20’s, I thought I was being called into ministry, specifically missions. I planned to change the world one village at a time.

By the time I graduated college I had met the love of my life and was engaged to be married. Ideas of going into ministry were put on hold and it seemed the responsible thing to do was get a “real job”. So using my Communications degree I got a job in a corporate marketing department…and I did well. Really well. I moved up quickly and had a taste of career success. Soon my plan was to crash through the glass ceiling; and as my husband and I started to discuss having kids, I was determined I would prove you could “have it all” (whatever “it all” means).

During those early years as a mother, I put much of my focus and measurement of success with my children. If they were successful, then that surely meant I was successful as a mother. But it didn’t take long before I learned (the hard way) just how much is out of my control. I realized it was unfair to both my children, and to me, if I measured my success as a mother and as a person based on their successes and failures.

By the time I was 30 I had a great marketing manager job with a global company. I was able to work from home partially and travel to places I had always dreamed about, like South Africa, Australia, and East Asia. I felt like I had arrived, this is what success must look like: balancing a family and a career, getting to travel the world.

But soon, I felt the pull for more. I took on a more senior role, one that had a lot more responsibility. At first it was great, but over time the stress began to wear on me. I started to wonder: “if this is what success looks like, why doesn’t it feel like everything I thought it would?” Simultaneous to this, God began working on my heart and re-igniting that call to go into ministry and I wondered what exactly He wanted from me. Had my pursuit of success been misguided? Had I been pursuing the wrong kind of success?

I finally decided that it was time to put it all in His hands. To stop trying to map out my career path or plan every step of my life’s journey. I knew that I needed to help people in some way and I wasn’t sure what that would look like, but I started trusting God to guide me in the right direction. I felt a push to write, to minister, and to educate. I began blogging, speaking and writing a book. I led my first women’s retreat, and led a Bible study with my husband. It felt right, like I was doing what I had always been meant to do,  but I didn’t feel successful. I thought, in order to be a success at any of these things I would have to turn them into a career and earn a living.

Meanwhile, I was feeling like a failure in my senior marketing job. Projects took longer than planned and technology issues presented daily problems. I began to feel like all I did was put out fires. Any feelings of success I had felt years earlier had dissipated.

Then an opportunity presented itself to take a different role with the same company, a role writing and teaching. It wasn’t exactly what I had hoped for, but I trusted God and accepted the job. Still, leaving my other job I felt like I had failed in my role. I wondered what was my legacy in that position where I had given so much for the last six years?

As I left one role where I felt a failure, and began to take on another that I wasn’t sure lined up with God’s calling for my life, I realized for the first time in my life I didn’t know what success looked like any more, or if I would ever achieve it.

Then in the final week of my marketing job I received an email from a colleague. He wrote: “One thing I’ve learnt from you is to always be courteous and polite – no matter what the production pressures are; because at the end of the day there’s a real person with feelings on the other end of the telephone.”

Reading that note, in that moment I realized I’d had it all wrong.

My idea of success was so misguided! It isn’t about how many projects were delivered on time and on budget; it isn’t about how many issues I had successfully resolved, or innovative solutions I’d created. It certainly isn’t about money or climbing a corporate ladder. And it isn’t even about ensuring I find some perfect job that lines up exactly with God’s call for me to be in ministry (because where did Jesus ever say we had to earn a living in ministry in order to successfully minister to people?).

It’s about love and faithfulness. And making sure I am totally and completely bound to these.

Proverbs3.3-4

 

How can I touch someone’s heart with a kind word, a patient response, or an understanding ear? How can God use me to improve someone else’s day by how I treat them, how I pray for them? And most importantly, how am I modeling what it means to be a follower of Jesus by how I treat others?

This is what success looks like to me now. Whatever happens in my professional or personal life, whatever path God leads me down, or however the world defines me, my definition of success will forever be measured by the number of lives I touch by simply being kind, patient, understanding, forgiving, etc.

But I did get one thing right in my younger days. Success — this kind of success — is big. Like change the world BIG.

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8 thoughts on “A new definition of success”

  1. Thanks for making “big” seem much more attainable. You have a true gift for reaching a person’s heart and soul through your words.

    1. Thank you, my friend. I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by friends like you, who have shown me what it means to love and encourage others. Miss you!

  2. I love reading your writing Jelise, and always take some personal learning from it… And sometimes ‘change the world big’ is significant for the one starfish that you pick up on the beach and throw back into the sea…it changes that starfish’s world.

    1. Thanks Janice! You have no idea how much your words mean to me. I love that story of the starfish, and I wonder if all of us changed our definition of success to be that of Christ’s, we could not only change the world for a few starfish, but for all of them.

  3. As always I love your heart and your words. You are a powerful woman of God and I am glad to be in fellowship with you. Love this article because since homeschooling I was out of the workforce for 6 years and never have had great jobs like before since. I always felt somewhat like a failure but I see my sons as men and fathers and know that I am rich and blessed with a great husband and marriage. God is showing me that was his will and I obeyed him and that was pleasing to him. Thanks for your great reminders of god’s grace.

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