Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Measuring the Intangibles of Success

Success under most circumstances is unmeasurable, and that can be incredibly frustrating!

Some people are fortunate, because they live in the world of concrete facts, statistics and bench marks. LaDanian Tomlinson, of the San Diego Chargers, knows he's a good football player because he has over 1000 rushing yards for this season. Or Michael Dell know's he's a successful business man because he's the 9th wealthiest person in America and he founded the world's largest computer manufacturing company.

But what about the rest of us, what about our other goals. Many days I feel like I'm much more like Hugh Jackman's character in the Prestige, or Abigail Breslin's iconic Olive from Little Miss Sunshine. It's hard to evaluate how we're doing as a magician, how can you begin to know if you're the best magician. Is it ticket sales? Is it your own level of personal satisfaction? The faces in the crowd? Or how about young Olive. Did she walk away from the Little Miss Sunshine pageant the biggest winner or the biggest loser? How can you tell.

Even in my current job, there are both measurable goals and unmeasurable goals, and even if I do my very best job, somedays I feel like Abigail Breslin, that my success can't be measured on the typical scale, rather a scale of abstraction, were I have to know that I have done the best I can.

I think many of us, wish we could evaluate our personal level of success better. Especially when it comes to family issues. My wife and I recently watched the only-mildly-entertaining film The Family Stone, and I think the journey of Sarah Jessica Parker's character (Meredith Morton) is not atypical. Here someone who generally feels confident about themselves, is forced into an arena where they feel they have to prove themselves, and the smallest of things effect the perception of of her characters success.

I think that's why American television is always filled with stories about police officers, lawyers, and doctors. At the end of the day there are ways for a police officer to tell they were successful. On CSI they always solve the crime, on Law and Order justice is served, and on House M.D. they figure out how to cure the odd disease. Even Jack Bauer is almost always able to foil the terrorist at the last minute, and when something goes wrong, viewers are forced to reconcile the situation with the knowledge that it could have been worse.

I think sometimes I hope that there will be a point in my life were I have the Mr. Holland's Opus moment where people all around me from every stage of life are able to help me see how I was successful as a person and that in the world of intangibles, my sacrifice and my effort made a difference on eternity.

Yet, it's all flawed human logic. The other day I was reading Psalms 115 and in achieved and unachieved goals my prayer has been: "Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory."

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Out Of Jersey said...

Well put, that has been a huge struggle of my own in the last few years. Especially since I have reverted in so many ways in my career. And opportunities that I have been given I just as gladly gave up.

Ryan said...

I'm having to learn some hard lessons about measuring success as well. I've moved from the concret world of being a grad student, where success is measured by the "A" received on a paper, and the chance to do better next time is indicated by the "B-", to the world of being a clergyman, where people say "nice sermon today, Father" but you wonder if they really got it. I also work with the youth a lot, and they are a bit easier, because they will let you know when you're doing well and when you need improvement. But, by and large, success is not measured in the long-term, and not the short-term. I don't get immediate notification, like a note that says, "A+" on tonight's youth group meeting, or "C+" on that pastoral care call. But I get long term satisfaction, and it is hard for me to learn the patience necessary to appreciate that. I did get a nice note from a friend in my former city, in which she paid me (unwittingly, no doubt) one of the finest compliments I've ever received. She wrote, "We miss you. It's hard to rally the troops without you here."

All this is to say, let me join you is your prayer, "Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory."


Jon said...

Great thoughts RC. I know I've spent a lot of time in life trying to impress and succeed - trying to live up to something.

The problem is like you said. We can't always ID what success really is in a lot of areas. We can try to compare ourselves to others in a job, marriage or relationship, but what does that say? We can't see the whole picture.

It just makes a whole lot more sense to live up to the standards we know we've been called to and be happy to seek God and do what we can where we are.

jasdye said...

you succeeded in melding together the cinematic world and the real, universal world in a good essay, if that means anything.

i'm at a starbucks now precisely because i feel like a failure at my job now. but tomorrow is another day, and another (or, rather, several other) opportunity to try to do good in the world.

Yih said...

FANTASTIC POST!!! you've summarized my thoughts about this subject almost too well.

Dad said...

Yeah, Seventh Heaven stunk until they brought on the police guy and the fireman. I know that's what you were getting at.

What if there were a show where they always got really close to solving a problem but never quite made it? Wait a minute, that's Deal or No Deal. I guess the draw is not success itself, but the ability to measure it. That's what most of us are longing for.


Anonymous said...

Good words here, RC. My Dad and I have spoken for years about what we call the "Bach syndrome." Bach was a phenomenal composer, but he never really got so much feedback in his own time to realize he was so good (in fact, I think he sons were more respected as composers than he was!).
I don't think it's a bad idea at all to pray for the Bach syndrome in your own life. "God, if I actually do end up good at anything, maybe you should keep me from realizing it, because a big head doesn't work out too well with your glory at the same time."


Mike K said...

The definition of success is different from person to person. Most people link it to money, fame, or power.

However, none of those things bring any happiness. And we can't bring that stuff with us in the afterlife.

It is better to focus on trying to be the best person that you can be. It is also best not to compare yourself to others. (I admit that I screw that up from time to time myself.)

Peter said...

I would feel success can be mesaured lie above not by money fame and power but by trying to be a better person and develop into a good role model for your children. Its hard not to compare to people around you though and that can often bring people down.

But a god measure of spirt is getting back up and doing all you can to improve the situation.

On wards and upwards!!