Friday, April 22, 2011

Flailing at Success

Today I was reflecting on success and it brought to mind some of the thoughts I shared a few years ago in my book Becoming Real.

After interviewing people about their definitions of success, author and speaker Denis Haack wrote, "Most people I've asked seem to have little trouble identifying the predominant version [of success] in society: Success means attaining some measure of money, fame, power and self-fulfillment—and then looking the part."
When I first read that, I had to ask myself how much of my life is spent in the pursuit of money? Or fame? Or power? Or self-fulfillment (however you define that)? And then looking the part?
Photo courtesy of nuttakit

For instance, why do we wear the clothes we do? Or drive the car we do, or live in the house and neighborhood we live in? 

"But," I can hear a voice inside of me argue, "I can't afford a nicer car or a better house!"
True. But if I had the money, if I had the opportunity to get a better car, or nicer clothes, or a bigger home, well, admittedly, just like most people, I’d probably get them. After all, in our society, how successful are you—really—if no one notices?
Money. Fame. Power. Self-fulfillment.

It struck me that when I die, God is not going to ask to see my bank account or my 401K plan or my abs. He's not going to ask me how many friends I had on Facebook or if any of my books were New York Times bestsellers or how much I can bench press. But I think he is going to ask me if I was faithful with the gifts, with the ideas, with the time he gave me.

I came across an instance when Jesus said, “A person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God,” (Luke 12:21) and I realized that, for me, whenever my work becomes more focused on accomplishment than on faithfulness, I'm no longer on the road to true success, but am actually on a detour around it.

So, I'm curious. What are the criteria you typically use to measure success? How do you identify or define a successful person? And maybe, most pertinently of all, are you a successful person?

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Looking out the Window

Last week on my flight to Atlanta (this was before the Southwest plane’s roof blew off!) I sat next to a college-aged woman who’d never been on an airplane before. She didn’t hide how nervous she was and, though I tried to reassure her we’d be okay, as we took off she was seriously nervous. 

However, when we got above the clouds she just stared out the window and gasped, “Oh! Do you see this? It’s like an ocean with waves!”

I looked out the window. Just a bunch of clouds beneath us. “Sure,” I said. “It’s nice.”

But she could barely contain herself as she saw them softly wisp across each other. “It’s the breath of God,” she said softly.

The breath of God.

Seeing the sense of wonder in her eyes, hearing the awe in her voice, struck me deeply. Here was a woman seeing something I’ve seen  hundreds of times and she was astonished by the beauty of it, while I’d been staring at my in-flight magazine and hadn’t even bothered to look out the window.
Walt Whitman wrote, “A mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels.” This universe is full of whispers of God’s mystery, his presence, his character. But most of the time we’re too blind or busy or distracted to notice.

As a writer I’m supposed to notice what other people miss, see things from a unique perspective, help people open their eyes to the real world shimmering beneath the mundane, but it took a young woman seeing something for the first time to do that for me.

I remember thinking, Wonder is living around you, Steve, clouds are whispering by, carried on the breath of God.

So today, I’m trying to see life again.

Really see it.

As if I’m looking out the window for the very first time.