I've been thinking a lot about success lately. Okay...truth be told, I'm an achiever (down to my core), so I think about success all the time. But lately, my mind's been consumed with how exactly I define success in my own life. For my college girls, I know you wrestle with, or soon will, the same questions, and I struggle in coming up with how I would guide you on this subject.
In March of last year, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, drew worldwide attention with her narrative, Lean In. The premise of the book (that I'm only about 1/4 of the way into), which followed the 2010 TED Talk you can view below, is that "women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers and so it encourages women to “sit at the table, seek challenges, take risks, and pursue their goals with gusto" ().
Naturally, Sandberg's message has drawn both enthusiastic praise and sharp criticism. (When I've finished the book, more than likely next summer, after I finish my masters, I'll follow up and let you know which side I land on!) It was actually a letter from the editor in Real Simple in April 2013, however, that caught my eye. Editor Kristin van Ogtrop rebutted,
Here's the thing: I don't want to be striving for bigger/better/higher/more every minute of every day. I don't always want to have a larger goal. That just sounds exhausting and, worst of all, completely joyless. I want to enjoy my days: past, present, and future. I take great pleasure in my professional success, but I can tell you with certainty that, when I'm lying on my deathbed, I'm not going to be thinking about career wins. I'm going to be thinking about my parents and two sisters who greeted every new life situation like it was another chapter in a long, hilarious narrative; my steadfast husband, who gave me love and a true north; and finally, the three children who made me take life both more and less seriously, and whose faces are the only thing I see when I close my eyes...I don't really want to lean back for long. But I don't want to lean in, either. I know I'm most comfortable standing up straight.
I suppose my struggle as an achiever/woman/wife/Christian stems from my inability to define success in my own life. Is it leaning in - charging ahead in a business career, chasing after opportunities that others would envy, earning more, putting more hours in, and being recognized for more? Or is it leaning back and settling into life as a Pinterest-perfect mama with crunchy kids that eat organic snacks and speak three languages? Or, is it tirelessly volunteering to raise money, plan galas, and clock volunteer hours that others find impressive? Often, this achiever feels like she has multiple personalities, and in all honesty, I don't always know which one to appease.
This past Wednesday, the world lost an incredible poet and a wildly successful woman when Maya Angelou passed away. Scanning through Facebook statuses and Instagram posts, I was touched by many incredible words Ms. Angelou shared with her audiences. It was one quote in particular, however, that caught my eye.
I think Angelou was on to something when she insinuated that, perhaps, true success is only experienced when we are operating out of the inherent strengths and gifts God blessed us with. This is why success looks differently for each of God's children. For some, it is living amongst orphans in a third-world country. For others, it accepting a coveted position and proceeding to make your first million before age 30. Maybe success is reaching 100K followers on your blog, or, healing a friend with a quiet listening ear in private, but desperately needed, counseling sessions. The world has A LOT to say about what success looks like, and I know that I often find it hard to quiet all those opinionated voices in my own head.
"But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to Him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?" (Romans 9:20-21)
I write A LOT of blog posts. Now, I know what you're thinking...this girl is the most inconsistent blogger ever! She hasn't written a post in weeks. You're right. I write A LOT of blog posts in my head...posts that never make it to the internet. As an achiever, my biggest barrier to success is the fear of my own failure - the fear that I will be unsuccessful. So, while I think and reflect and write countless paragraphs in my thoughts, most never make it to the page because I see two options - be a wildly successful, 100% dedicated, regular blogger or just don't bother. I only see two ends of a continuum, no spectrum in between. I'm my own worst opposition. In too many areas of life, I see two options: instant success or instant failure. But through the lens of God's word, I can start to see how resting in the promises of the Lord, the promises that He has equipped me and made me to carry out a specific purpose in this life, will reveal a spectrum of success I don't have to be afraid of.
So, if asked by my college girls, in the peak of the planning stage of your lives, as you define your own success, "just what does success look like", what would I say? Would I tell you to lean in, lean back, or stand up straight? "Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, 'The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him." (Lamentations 3:22) I think I would tell you (and tell myself) to just be still.