Monday, April 20, 2009

Measurements of Success

When I was a senior in high school, a select group of seniors were voted on for class "superlatives", which is really a sham vote for people who are known throughout your class for their particular quirks, attributes, or popularity. Much to my surprise (especially thinking about it today), I was the girl candidate who was voted "Most Likely to Succeed", which in retrospect, probably should have just been named "Most Likely to Remain a Nerd for Life", because that would have been more accurate! But nine, almost ten years (Lord help me), from that point in my life, I started wondering if my classmates looked at my life today, if they would take away that superlative.

The other thing that got me thinking about success and its measurement is that I recently got an email from the UVA Reunions committee (because our Reunions weekend is coming up this June), that had snippets of the lives of some of the "classmates" that graduated with me. One of them read, "So and So went to Harvard's Government school, then during her summer break decided to start a new UN NGO, and is now negotiating for world peace" or something of the like. Most of the other snippets were along those lines as well. Over-achieving UVA students...

This all got me thinking about success. What do I define success as? And I found that in thinking this over, this is a really important question to ask and figure out, because there are SO many different ways to define "success" for a person, depending on what you want to evaluate.

Do I define success based on what I do? Do I define it by what my peers at UVA have done? Those that I graduated from FHS? Do I define it by what my family thinks? By what my boss thinks? What about my friends? My coworkers? Is success defined by my passion? What if I have many passions? Is it defined by the level of education that I have received so far? If I get an MBA or a PhD, does that up my level of success? What about the way I look? If I can get myself to be a size 6, am I then a success? If I by a miracle of God get married, will I be a success then? Or if I have children and raise a family, am I successful? Is success defined by the position or title I hold at the office? The number of hours I work a week?

The list of questions could on and on, drilling endlessly into every little aspect of my life! Is success measured by how clean I keep my house? By how cute it looks? What about my car? Is success measured by the car I drive?

Then what about my life as a Christian? Is success there defined by how many quiet times I have? Or even if I have a quiet time? Is it measured by the number of small groups I participate in, or the number of "Christian" books I read? Is it defined by whether or not I agree with this person's theology or that person's? Is it measured by whether or not I go to Mass? Go to confession? Go to church at all? Is it measured by whether or not I participate in all the various activities that are put on by the church or Young Life? What about Young Life? What is success there? The number of kids that convert to Christ? The number of kids that show up at all? The numbers that go to camp? The numbers that keep coming after camp?

They go on and on and on. And in the midst of asking all these questions, I had to come to heart of the question - my own heart and what is that heart really based on? Is it based on all the hats that I wear? Is it based on the expectations of my family, my peers, my coworkers? Is it based on the pressures I put on myself?

In the midst of all these questions and analyzing them, one popped up: "Who here really matters?" Who matters in this scenario? And in asking that, I came upon, "Who do I believe in"? Do I believe in me? My family? My friends? My job? Young Life? No to all of them.

I say I believe in Jesus to myself and to other people. So if I truly do believe in Him, then what is my measurement of success? "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind...Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37-39).

I have come to accept that this is the true measurement of success in my life. What is hard, is how unbelievable it can be to keep this at the center of my life and to believe that this is the Truth. But as I have further reflected on it, there is no other way to measure success that brings peace to my heart and life. Because if I try to measure success based on all the other questions that I listed above, I will never succeed - I will utterly and miserably fail. I believe that life has to be measured by something more than what I do, because I can "do" a lot of things. If I measure success in my life by how much is in column A versus column B, I will never be successful. Because column B will always be longer. There will always be more to "do", more to "succeed" at.

And doing or not doing things is a lot easier than loving God and loving His people, His creation.

So I have determined that success in my life is going to be measured by how I love God and His people, His creation. If I can make it to the end of my life, whenever that may be, and say at the end that I kept the love of God at the center of my life and I loved people the best I knew how, in spite of themselves and in spite of myself, then I can consider my life to have been a success.

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