What is NOT Success

As a youngster, I grew up with an older brother who was a star at just about everything. In fact, he is still is. Being a few years younger, I never won…basketball, soccer, checkers, swimming across the river, fishing… he was ALWAYS better than me!  Once, my brother was off at school and I spent the day trying to land the biggest fish in the river. I got lucky and caught a carp (which is actually a trash fish but as a little kid the size is all that matters). When I landed this humdinger, I celebrated by doing a triple fist pump and letting out a roar of excitement. I was so proud of this fish that I decide I was going to put it in a bucket and wait for my brother to get home from school so I could brag about my catch. Basically, my 6-year-old brain was saying, ‘You did it, this is a way bigger than any of Conner’s fish!’ Thirty minutes before Conner got home, a grumpy neighbor who seemed to care for this fish’s well being more than mine, dumped the bucket back into the river to save it from dying. I cried like a baby.

I tell this story because it is so apparent that from a young age I thought I could find worth in my achievements and I don’t think I am an anomaly here. Sadly this seems to be ingrained into our society. Success is getting good grades, scoring goals, getting into a good university, and landing that six-figure job. Taking Webster’s word for it, success is defined as “the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like”. Well, with years of striving for success in the classroom and on the field, I am here to tell you that the process of finding success can be miserable if you have the mindset I had as a young fisherman looking to one up my big bro. It will ultimately leave you wanting more and searching for fulfillment.

John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, put success into perspective for me.  Before his coaching years, John Wooden was a English teacher in South Bend Indiana and quickly became frustrated with parents who expected their children to get an A or B… a C was okay for the neighbors kids because they were average, but not for their kids! Wooden explains that in the parent’s eyes, either the teacher failed or the youngster failed. These parents were suggesting to their kids that the higher than average grade meant they were successful and worthy. To Wooden this wasn’t right, so he came up with his own definition of success that would give his students and athletes something to aspire for…something more than a higher grade in the classroom, more goals on the soccer field, or something more than a catching a bigger fish than your brother. This is what he came up with:

“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”

As a professional soccer player, this altered my perspective in a huge way. My whole life I was taught that winning is a success and losing is a failure... no ambiguity and no room for debate. Now John Wooden, the coach who has 10 National Championships is saying that success is NOT based on the end result? I think Coach Wooden knew that the problem with society’s definition of success is that may not line up with God’s definition of success. In fact, Webster’s definition may actually lead to failure in HIS eyes.

The aforementioned theory is studied in depth in the book “To Who” by Aaron Tredway, but as an example take a look at the Old Testament story of King Saul who failed in God’s eyes but was wildly successful in his people’s eyes. Here are the highlights: Saul was tall, handsome, strong, and a great military leader who had loads of “success.” He built a monument in his own honor because of his victories. God didn’t like this so he had his prophet Samuel go on the search for a new King. This was a big ask since everyone love Saul… Samuels’s life was at stake. So, with God’s provision he went to Jesse’s house to anoint one of his sons. Looking at Jesse’s biggest and strongest son, Samuel says, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed.” But God told Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at heart.”

Samuel goes on to choose David who was the youngest, weakest and most unlikely of al 8 sons. There you have it folks, God gave his definition of success over 2500 years ago. Rather than the money you make or the grades you get, it is about the motivation of your heart, which gives you purpose in your actions, which finally culminates in the things you do! And finally, if you do these things with the best of your ability, you are truly successful.

This may be a complete shift in your perspective of success or winning at life. I believe winning involves way more than the material possessions you acquire or your trophies you win. I believe that winning at life is all about being the best version of yourself for the glory of God. The cool thing is that in my experience, this type of success gives something far greater than a big trophy or a fat paycheck… it gives purpose and fulfillment!  

Taking a step back into my childhood, I wish I knew this definition of success. I wish I had valued my determination, strategy, and effort to catch that fish rather than my brother’s validation. I am sure I wouldn’t have gone home crying to my Mom. So, I encourage you to strive for “self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” Let us know if it leaves you doing triple fist pumps! 

By: Jordan Burt