So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. Psalm 90.12

Monday, 28 November 2011

How Do You Measure Success?

For awhile now, I've been thinking about our society's preoccupation with success, education and information.  Success is generally calculated by how much money you make, which is determined by your level of education, which is determined by how much information you were able to cram into your head.  Sadly, even many Christians have this skewed sense of success, which is often detrimental to their spiritual life.

So what is success - REALLY?  The Webster Universal Dictionary has quite an extensive description of success. "The act of having succeeded; the state of having succeeded; favourable termination of anything attempted; accomplishment; attainment; issue, result, outcome; a happy ending; good fortune; prosperity; a person who has achieved success."  My two favourite definitions are "favourable termination of anything attempted" and "a happy ending".

There is such an emphasis on high achievement today.  Everybody wants to be the best.  College/university education is a must, because a degree is essential to getting a good job.  Even when that college or university education is going to put you thousands and thousands of dollars in debt, which will take many years to pay off even if you do get a "good" job in your chosen field, it is always pushed as the way to succeed.

The thing is, we can't all be doctors or lawyers or the presidents of companies or sports stars.  We aren't all meant to be those things.  Some people are but others aren't.  Since we live in an imperfect world, there are jobs that must be done that are not "nice", "good", or don't make you look successful.  Like the garbage collector.  Not a nice, tidy job; not a fun job but a necessary job.  How would our homes, towns, and cities look if we didn't have garbage collectors?  How would they smell?  Our garbage collectors provide a valuable service to us that increases our quality of life but instead of being applauded for their efforts, they are looked down upon.  It's sad.

Being "successful" does not make you "good".  It does not make you a good person, a good husband/wife, a good mother or father.  There are probably people living on the streets that are "better" people - more moral, kind and caring - than someone who has every material want or need satisfied.  Conversely, not being "successful" does not mean you are a bad or lazy person.  Success does not determine the value of your life.  All people are valuable because we have all been made in the image of God.  God plans different lives for each one of us according to His great wisdom.  He puts us in our families for a reason.  He doesn't make mistakes and nothing happens by accident.  We don't always understand why things happen (or why things DON'T happen, as the case may be).

It would be nice, in a way, for my children to grow up and get jobs that would mean financial security for them.  However, I would not want that to happen at the expense of their spiritual and moral lives.  I would far rather see my child working cheerfully for the Lord as a garbage collector than to see them as a highly successful professional who did not honour God.

I first began writing this piece quite some time ago, and recently came across this quote:
"Too many of us treat education as a competition, with some idea of success as the objective.  This approach is bad for the "winners" and bad for the "losers", who only see themselves more or less as failures.  Such a narrow focus ignores children's strong points, their gifts.  For instance, taking a rather extreme example, a child has Down's syndrome, and yet her personality shines with love and loyalty.  What family, group or community can do without these valuable qualities as an example for others?  We have turned into fools when it comes to appreciating what is really worthwhile in life - proud fools with no understanding of what God treasures.  We live in a worldly generation that encourages a blind pride.

What would happen if everybody planned for their children to be business executives, lawyers, scientists, or academics?  Where would we be without the honoured homemakers, craftsmen, artists and musicians?  Where are those who are good at pastoral care?  Who will care for community needs - tend the sick, plow the fields, and, yes, collect the garbage? (Garbage collection, water purification, home construction, and similar activities are arguably more valuable to our human communities than the work of many of our CEOs and star entertainers.  Salary and educational attainments mean nothing in themselves.)      -Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, When Children Love to Learn p.35 (general editor Elaine Cooper)

What are your thoughts on this subject?


Marsha Cooper said...

My feelings exactly.
It really bothers me when people are looked down upon because of their job.
Myself included in this one as I chose to be a lunch aide in the Headstart program. Not because I wasn't smart enough to hold any of the other positions, it was what I wanted to do. However, several at work treated my like I was "stupid" because of my job.

Betsy Price said...

Great insight.
I think the problem is when people remove God from their perspective of what success is.
The first answer to the Westminster Shorter Catechism states that man's sole purpose is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Now that's success!!
Hopping in from HHH!

Homeschool on the Croft said...

When I began - years ago - saying that a trade was one of the most worthwhile things a boy could do, people thought I was nuts! My feeling has always been that a boy should try his hand at a trade, and if it's not his forte, then he can train for something else. Our eldest son spent a year and a half with his dad, learning the basics of joinery/building. As it happens, he wasn't good at it, and it wasn't what he'd choose. He's now studying for a degree (at home), because that's where his talent lies.
All this nonsense about getting as many kids getting degrees is intellectual pride (and the government's way of keeping as many people out of the job's market as possible. If our countries went to war, they would soon change their tune, and decide that boys are best out of lecture halls and in the trenches.) Sadly, we are so influenced by whatever thinking is prevalent in our age...
(I'll put my soap box away... can you tell I could go on and on?!!)

Jacqueline said...

Thanks, ladies, for your comments! Anne, you go right ahead! I totally agree with you.