There are more books, eBooks, seminars, webinars, banner ads, and infomercials on success than we can ever absorb. The masses want it and are willing to pay to get it. Many experts say they have the key in twelve (or sometimes five) easy steps. More education and more knowledge is the cry from the marketplace so we always feel behind as we try to keep up in a knowledge economy. My digital reading file is running over and my briefcase is packed with magazines and articles waiting eagerly to be read. I have done continuing education at great universities across the nation and still feel there is so much more to learn. So what do we do to achieve success? How do you measure up?
Being one of only a few women in leadership in Christian publishing, I get asked questions about the path to success especially from younger women. The truth is my life has been much more like a contemporary painting. I keep looking at the painting trying to figure out what the artist is saying. God has been the great designer of my life and it has been a journey of faith rather than a well thought out and developed plan.
My work life has gone from baby sitter, to legal assistant, to social worker, to marriage and family consultant, to editor-in-chief, to running a magazine publishing team, to director of organizational development, to vice-president of Church Resources, to my current role as President of B&H Publishing. Woven throughout this work path is thirty-seven years of marriage, being mom to two daughters, the story of two son-in-laws, and now the joy of being a Grammy with to one grandson, Josiah, age three 3, Abby due any time, and Caleb due in late May.
In looking back, here are a few lessons I’ve learned concerning success:
1. Jesus is success. No title, award, degree, job, or paycheck will ever satisfy the thirst for success. Jesus is life and in Him and through Him is the anchor for success. Because of Jesus, I have life and have life abundantly and eternally (see John 3:16 and John 10:10). Because of the grace given to me in Christ, I have ultimate success. I don’t have to earn it, but I am free to become all that God created me to be.
2. Wired to work. God created us to work. It is sad that so many people are unhappy in their work or constantly search for other work (the grass is greener). I think we need a major shift in how we think about work and life. We were made to work and we should work as long as we are on this earth. Our work can change and adapt based on the seasons of our life but every season we should have meaningful and purposeful work. Jesus taught a parable related to work where two workers worked with purpose using the talents given them. These workers heard “well done” and because they were faithful, they were given more (see Matt. 25:14–30). Get settled in the work God has wired you to do and be faithful in that work. The best reward would be to hear God say, “Well done.”
3. Know yourself. God has given you gifts that are to be used as you work. You have a unique personality and personal abilities. You even have your own unique story based on your history. It is important for you to know yourself to find the work that is most fulfilling for you and that will allow you to make the best contribution. There are several good instruments that will help you understand more about yourself so you can find the work that best fits you (see 1 Cor. 12:4–7). Don’t waste your energy or time comparing yourself to others or wishing you had someone else’s job, gifts, or even their life story.
4. People first. I go to lots of funerals. My husband is a minister and for the thirty-seven years of our marriage, we have ministered to people who have lost loved ones. Maybe the best place to study success is at a funeral and what stands out most is the relationships invested in (or not invested in) over the years. The words spoken at a funeral will be about the lives impacted by the person who died. What do you want said about you? Success will be determined by the people you invest in and serve. It shows up first in your family and then in the many people who cross your path in life. I believe the gospel requires us to love people, serve others, and let others win. Help others reach their full potential and you will be successful.
5. Succeed today. So many people define success as the thing they are pursuing not the life they have right now. You will never be successful tomorrow unless you learn to be successful today. Don’t miss the life you have right in front of you as you pursue what you think is the life you will have tomorrow. Don’t focus all your energy on the destination and miss all the lessons learned today. I have counseled many people over the years who live an “if only” life (if only I had more money, if only I had another job, if only I was married, if only I wasn’t married, if only I had a child, if only my kids were out of the house, etc.) or a “when” life (when I get the degree, then I will be successful or when I get the promotion, then I will be happy) and they miss all that is right in front of them. Do the right thing today.
6. Active learning. Take initiative and give more than is required. Ask questions to grow and learn appreciating the contribution that others make. Success in work is rarely the contribution of just one person but usually the contribution of many. Bring energy and passion to your work environment doing your work with a grateful heart. Attitude is everything in the work environment. Do you know how many people would be so thankful to have your job?
7. Be willing to risk. Step out of your comfort zone to learn and grow. When I look back over my life, I am so glad that I lived by faith trusting God to give me wisdom and guidance beyond myself. Don’t be afraid of change. No matter what work you are doing today, there is a current level of risk because of the pace of change in the world. Because our success is anchored to Christ, we can risk change.
8. Family first. Outside of your relationship with Christ, which is central to everything (not first but central), your family must be a priority. At the end of your life, your investment in your family will be the most significant measure of your success. Families are messy so we aren’t talking about a family first method that will guarantee perfection but about just showing up and loving unconditionally. You must fight for your family with an “all in” mind-set. There is no room for passive engagement with your family. Over the years I have worked both inside the home and outside the home. My family always knew that if they needed me, I would be there.
I would love to hear your thoughts on success. How do you define it?
Jesus said, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it. What will it benefit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his life? Or what will a man give in exchange for his life?” (Matt. 16:24–26 hcsb).