As current and aspiring professionals, we all strive to achieve success. Is success everything the media imposes on us, or is it something more?
Famous hip-hop artist Drake defines success in terms of possessing money, cars, clothes, and the ability to attract the opposite sex. Society also tends to define success based on personal abilities and prestige. Most people whom society considers to be successful do, in fact, possess these things in a larger-than-normal quantity. All of these things are nice to have, but should we really base our feelings of success on materials and vanity?
This standard for success is all that we see in television, movies, music, magazines, and even our own communities—but it is flawed. Everything the world glorifies—money, expensive merchandise (cars, clothes, technology, accessories, etc.), attractiveness, abilities, and popularity—are all destructible or will decay over time. In addition, they can all lead to unhealthy emotional ties and addictions when overvalued. In other words, once you have something, you only obsessively seek to own more of it, and if you ever lose it, your emotions negatively flip toward anger and/or depression at the drop of a dime.
Simply put by rapper Andy Mineo in his labelmate Lecrae’s song entitled The Price of Life, “If you own something you can’t depart with, you probably don’t own it…it owns you.” Material possessions are necessities only to a small extent, but we often forget this once we unnecessarily raise our standards of living along with our income level. If you’re not careful, you’ll spend countless time and energy trying to fill a personal void by accumulating stuff that will depreciate and may even outlive you. Before you know it, you’ve wasted your life.
So what is the alternative?
We’ve evaluated success from the world’s standard…what defines success from the Christian standard?
First, let’s see what the bible says about the world’s standard. Regarding materials of the world, the apostle Paul says this in I Timothy 4:4 (New Living Translation):
Since everything God created is good, we should not reject any of it but receive it with thanks.
This passage is a reminder that everything in the world—our possessions, talents, and appearance—was created and divinely inspired by God and is nothing to avoid having. However, the key is to keep these things in their proper place. By constantly remembering to give God thanks for these things, we are recognizing Him as the ultimate source of our success and stability, not our belongings.
Jesus also provides a great analogy regarding the folly of placing excessive importance in the materials of the world in Matthew 7:24-27 (New American Standard Bible):
Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.
The second part of this parable is our main focus here. The tangible possessions of this world can disappear at anytime because of a natural disaster (hurricane, tornado, wildfire, earthquake, or tsunami) or an unfortunate life event such as a robbery or a repossession of assets. If your identity is founded upon what you what you have, what you can do, and the people you try to please, you are walking through life on a slippery slope. People change. Automobiles and electronics depreciate. Abilities may fade over time.
I am a living example of this concept: I lost my car and most of my life possessions including my casual & dress clothes, shoes, and electronics (laptop, television, keyboard, printer, CDs, etc.) when my car caught on fire on the side of the road on my way back home after my sophomore year of college at ULM. Never in a million years could I have imagined that happening to me. Since I was much less spiritually mature at the time, I was deeply depressed and overwhelmed. I was a victim of that very same slippery slope.
Therefore, it is never good when you let your possessions and popularity define you. You will only be setting yourself up for the same great fall in the previous parable. But if you construct your foundation on God and keep him first, you will always have peace; for God’s presence is eternal and his love is unconditional and everlasting.
Now let’s see what the bible says about success through God’s eyes. Look at what Jesus said to his disciples in Luke 22:25-27 (New Living Translation):
In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the
people.’ But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as the one who serves.
As we can see, God’s standard for success and prestige is the complete opposite of the world’s standard. Success here is achieved through service by meeting the needs of others. As Christians, that is our life purpose. God works through people—we are His vessels. Through serving others and reflecting God’s light, we bring glory to God. Unlike the world’s standard of success through possessions, God’s method of success has intangible value; it cannot be touched and measured, and as a result, there is no infinite void that must be filled. Satisfaction is naturally achieved through your daily walk of life.
Those of you currently in the workforce or who plan on entering the workforce soon have a wonderful opportunity to fulfill that purpose. Many career paths—medicine, politics, the military, athletics, media, etc.—involve serving the public in some sort of capacity while performing required duties. Also keep in mind that networking is a key component of advancement in the workforce, and in order to effectively network, relationship building must occur. Relationship building doesn’t happen through selfish ambition, but through offering your knowledge, time, and talents to your peers not only as a colleague, but also as a mentor to those aspiring to get to where you are—a mutual give-and-take.
I’m sure some of you reading this piece can testify to the genuine feeling of joy that exists through helping others, whether through community service, your job, or by simply being a positive influence. This is what God wants us to do in our lives! We make Him our priority when we commit to this purpose on a regular basis.
But what about the cool stuff again…the nice house, fancy car, loving spouse, and public presence that you may need to advance your professional career? The answer to that is in Matthew 6:31-33 (New Living Translation):
So don’t worry about these things, saying ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.
As gospel artist J Moss says in one of his latest hit songs, “Don’t worry…God’s got it!”
Be professional. Be blessed.