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David Hegg: Making sense of your success

Posted: April 27, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: April 27, 2014 2:00 a.m.
 

I often attend conferences where the attendees are given name tags that boldly announce who they are. This creates a phenomenon rarely seen elsewhere. As we walk the halls of the conference center or hotel, our eyes are fixed on the name tags of those we pass. We’re anxious to see if they are “somebody.” Is he a well-known speaker?

Is she an author we’ve read? Are they part of an important faculty or church or company? We zero in on their name tag to find out. But, as soon as we realize they are just commoners, unknowns, and not so special, we initiate the instinctive neck twist and look away, scanning the horizon for the next chance to spot a celebrity.

As you might guess, at conferences no one ever looks me in the eye, and more likely, they are staring right past me after reading my name. I am used to it by now, but it does make me wonder about what qualifies as success today.

What makes for success? Certainly, for many it is notoriety. You are successful if you’ve made a name for yourself that is recognized broadly. It usually means you’re written something that has sold well, discovered something that has been widely used, made a lot of money or come up with an idea that everyone wants to hear. I suppose there are other ways to become famous, but the real question is whether fame really should equal success.

A few days ago my wife asked, quite out of the blue, “Why are the Kardashians famous?” And, like the rest of civilization, I had no cogent answer. There is no reason they should be on every magazine cover except that they’ve been on previous covers and millions of people are curious about their every move, even though you’ll not find many who admit it. They are poster children for an ominous trend that is overtaking our society. Success is being recalibrated in our day. Where character, hard work, utility, and societal benefit used to be the standard criteria for measuring success in life, today we are increasingly ready to coronate as cultural kings and queens those who may be outrageous, arrogant, irreverent, and downright evil, as long as they are beautiful, rich, interesting or any combination thereof.

But this raises two serious problems. First, given the vast majority of us are not beautiful, rich or very interesting, the result will be only a few will ever be seen as successful. Second, if success becomes equated with beauty, riches, or flamboyance we will be sacrificing the grand foundation of our culture which has always measured success in such a way that fame and wealth don’t automatically factor in.

Let me suggest that success is simply faithfulness in all walks of life. A man who is faithful to his wife, raises emotionally and spiritually healthy children, does his work heartily and with integrity, and loves his neighbor must be seen as successful in everyone’s book, despite the fact that few will ever recognize his merit. A woman who sticks to her word, is honest and caring in all her relationships, and brings value to her family and friends is a success despite the fact that she never wrote a book or reached six figures.

Of course, being wealthy, or famous, or interesting doesn’t disqualify anyone from my definition of success. But none of those actually measure what is most important in life. Success is faithfulness, and while some may find their faithfulness rewarded with income, and opportunities for public acclaim, we must appreciate their character and conduct first and foremost.

The successful life is the ethical life, lived in alignment with core values such as integrity, courage, honesty, humility, and love. Without these no amount of popularity or material gain can make a life truly successful, no matter how many people recognize you as “somebody” at the next conference.

David Hegg is a senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. “Ethically Speaking” runs Sundays in The Signal.

Comments

emheilbrun: Posted: April 27, 2014 7:13 a.m.

No conversation about success is complete without the wisdom of John Wooden.

"Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming."

http://www.ted.com/talks/john_wooden_on_the_difference_between_winning_and_success#t-1047683

The link is for a 17 min talk by wooden. If you have the time (and if you are reading comments you have the time) well worth a listen.


Mamasylum: Posted: April 29, 2014 8:49 a.m.

I wholeheartedly agree with your article. First of all, I did ask a friend a few years ago why the Kardashians were famous and was mortified by the response! Secondly, raising a daughter today and trying to teach her the ultimate definition of success is difficult. Especially when I, at times, struggle with wanting accolades for minor "accomplishments." But I will continue to strive to applaud good, faithful character before outward appearance or material possessions. Thanks for the reinforcement!
This will also help as I go to the PTA Convention in a couple of weeks, where name tags and any special pins on them can make or break you :)



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