Tag Archives: success

Don’t let your dreams breed discontent

Reach for the stars!

Hard work and sacrifice pay off!

Don’t downgrade your dream just to fit your reality!

She believed she could, and so she did!

If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it!

I think most of us have heard some or all of these motivational phrases during our lives, maybe we’ve even said a few to encourage our friends or children. Maybe we have posters hanging in our office or classroom with these or similar maxims.

{raises hand}

Chasing after super-sized goals and bold dreams is a beautiful thing. I think it connects us to our humanity. It crosses the divides of age, gender, culture, race, and religion. It’s how progress is made and change is initiated.

But there seems to be a growing wariness around the connection between dreaming big and feeling discontent. Especially among women.

Never have women had more opportunities available to us than we do today. Thanks to better access to quality education, greater opportunities for start-up businesses, and, let’s face it, social media, there’s been a rise in successful, seemingly “self-made” women cheering on the rest of us with their mantras of “lean-in”, “stop apologizing”, and just “say yes”. Women can now “brave the wilderness”, “live beyond fear”, and discover that “the universe has our back”. It all sounds so enticing doesn’t it? Wrapped up in pretty paper covered packages, it seems like success is just within our reach.

But is it?

Now please don’t misunderstand, this is not a criticism of these books or the authors, some of whom I happen to respect and admire. Admittedly, I have not read most of the mentioned books, and for all I know some of them may be chock-full of sound advice and truth. But what I do read are articles, blog posts and letters from women who feel like they are not enough. I hear friends share the overwhelming amount of anxiety and pressure they feel to do more, be more, achieve more. I see my daughters, still teenagers, combating an image of perfection that they believe they must achieve in everything they try. And I have battled my own feelings of discontent and failure — both professionally and personally.

Here’s what I don’t hear or read much of:

“I’m so happy with my life, right where it is.”

“God has blessed me with a season where I can slow down and smell the roses.”

“I am enough. Right here, right now, just as I am. I am enough.”

And it concerns me that we’ve mistaken chasing after dreams as an obligation to be more. We’ve misunderstood our goals to be a yard stick showing us just how we measure up (or don’t) based on achievement. We’ve decided our resumes are a better indication of our value and worth than our hearts.

It’s so damaging. So detrimental. So not in alignment with God’s calling for our lives.

God has no problem with us dreaming big or achieving success. Some of God’s chosen were very successful in life — just look at Job, Boaz, Joseph, and David. But God does make it clear that any success we have is to bring him glory. Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”

This is where I think some of the modern day mantra of chasing our dreams and striving for success falls short. So often the ones touting their own success — and their six simple steps to achieving our own — make it all about them, or me, or we. But never about He.

As long as we are dreaming big and striving for that glass ceiling as a means to bring recognition and praise to our own name, we are inevitably going to feel a sense of discontent. Even when we achieve a big milestone or goal, the feeling of satisfaction will be temporary, and we’ll already be looking at the next great thing; because when it’s all about us, it’s never enough.

When it’s all about me, having 2,000 people read my blog is not enough. When it’s all about Him, having one person touched or encouraged by something I wrote is enough.

When it’s all about me, having the same mid-level job for ten years is not enough. When it’s all about Him, working hard, demonstrating kindness and respect to my coworkers is enough.

When it’s all about me, staying home all day wiping noses, folding clothes, preparing meals, and vacuuming carpets is not enough. When it’s all about Him, loving on my children and caring for my family is enough.

When it’s all about me, pastoring a church with 75 members and never enough in the collection plate is not enough. When it’s all about Him, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and shepherding even one of those 75 is enough.

I’m not saying to throw in the towel and stop dreaming. I’ve still got big dreams for this little blog and my tiny, start-up ministry. But I also know that whatever success I have is only because of Him, and only so that I can bring Him glory. If my work leads to 10 more people knowing His name that will be a much greater success than 10,000 people knowing mine.

 

Success

Cover photo by Katrina on Unsplash

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.

Teaching our kids how to lose

My kids are growing up in a world where every child gets a trophy or ribbon just for showing up. If you participate, you get an award. And it’s a topic that seems to produce strong feelings among  many parents. There are generally two camps of thought on this issue, or as I like to say, you’re either a Burns or a Focker (see Meet the Fockers if you don’t get the reference).

1. The Burns camp: We are misleading our children and doing them a disservice by celebrating mediocrity. In the real world you don’t get an award just for showing up and not everyone wins.

2. The Focker camp: We are building our children’s self-esteem, evening the playing field, and recognizing effort.

I have to admit that as a mom, I struggle between these two camps. While I do agree that in the real world not everyone wins, you don’t get an award just for showing up, and if we don’t prepare our children for that we are doing them a disservice; I also feel that my children will have 60+ years of the real world (God willing) where people and experiences will tear at their self-esteem, so why not let them have a few years to build up their confidence and believe they can succeed?

When my son’s hockey team came in third place (out of three teams) he beamed with pride as they put that bronze medal around his neck. And why shouldn’t he? He and his teammates practiced every weekend, skated their little hearts out, and worked just as hard as the kids who won first.

Yet when my daughter came home devastated because she was the first kid in her class to be eliminated in the school spelling bee, I had to remind her that not everyone could win or it wouldn’t be much of a competition, and she should be happy for her friends who won.

It’s a delicate balance. And I’m quite sure I haven’t got it figured out. But one thing I was reminded of this week was that letting our kids lose — and more importantly, teaching them how to lose graciously — is an incredibly important responsibility we have as parents.

My eldest daughter has led what I would consider a bit of a “charmed life”. She’s incredibly smart and therefore always received good grades, often without trying too hard. While she’s not a star athlete, she does pick up new skills fairly quickly. This, coupled with the fact that she goes to a very small private school, means she gets a lot of playing time on her volleyball and basketball teams. Most recently she’s been bitten by the acting/music bug and was given a solo in her school play earlier this year. The kid is used to things going her way. So when the school science fair came upon us earlier this year she desperately hoped and prayed for placing in the top three so she could advance to the Regionals. Low and behold her project won first place at the school level and she was going to get her wish to go to the Regional Science Fair.

A month later, we headed out early in the morning with a whole cheering section in tow (siblings, grandparents, the works) for the college where the Regional Science Fair was being held. My daughter was a ball of nervous energy mixed with excitement for getting to have this, as she called it, “once in a lifetime experience.” After a long day where she presented her project to seven different judges over the course of nearly two hours, we anxiously awaited for the winners to be announced. Her classmates who also attended Regionals won first in their categories, but my daughter’s name was never called. She didn’t place in the top three for her category. She would not be coming home with a medal.

She was on the other side of the gymnasium, so I couldn’t see her face when the awards were read, but I braced myself for a heart-broken little girl and a few tears. Instead, what I saw as I crossed the gym was her congratulating her classmates. There were no tears, and her head was held high.

Later, in the car, as we approached home I asked her what she thought about the whole experience and what she had learned. She said, “well I learned that you can’t win all of the time.”

“Yes, that’s true,” I said. “But what do you think about that?”

“Well, everyone deserves a chance to shine and succeed, and I already had my moment.”

That night I hugged her tight and I told her how very proud I was of her. Not just for all of her hard work on her science fair project, but for her poise and composure. I told her I was proud of her for the way she handled herself and how it showed what a strong character she had to not get what she wanted and still be gracious about it. She looked up at me beaming and said, “really?”

“Yes really. I couldn’t be more proud of you and the person you are becoming.”

Sure, I could have said things like “you’ll get ’em next time!” Or tried to find reasons why she didn’t win and start strategizing about what she can/should do differently next year to secure a medal. But then the conversation would have become all about winning. I would be teaching my daughter that success only comes in the form of a trophy or medal. When what I really want to teach my daughter — all of my children — is that hard work, strength of character, and trying new things that challenge us are the ultimate prize.

They won’t always be picked for the team, win a ribbon, or even be recognized for their hard work. And if they are doing it for the recognition, they will be disappointed. However, if they do it for the joy of the adventure, for the experience; if they focus on trying their best and being kind to those around them in the process; if they remember that approval and self-worth come from the One and not from being number one, then they will always be successful.

The last thing my daughter said to me that night?

“Mom, I can’t wait until next year’s science fair!”

Yes she lost. Perhaps it’s not what she would have chosen, but I’m so grateful that she was able to see the bigger picture and understand that losing does not equal failure. How we approach life and respond to disappointment is what truly makes a person successful.