Tuesday, October 13, 2015

My Worst Mistakes: Self Defined Success


I'm pretty sure I like to be praised, don't we all? But I think there is more to it. I mean, I actually help people learn my love language, personality type, favorite food and Myers Briggs results so they can communicate praise to me in the most meaningful ways. I'm a guy, so no doubt my ego is involved but am I sick? Is this normal? (no need to answer, it's rhetorical)


If my ego demands a daily fix, or maybe an hourly fix, if people around me are educated as to how they can best communicate praise to me, then what's the problem? Oh, wait, I haven't explained to them what success looks like in my world, so they don't know if I am truly awesome or not, thus being unsure about when to stroke my ego. What was I thinking? Let's educate further. Success, as it turns out, has lots to do with the career field or circle of friends I hang with. Football = Touchdowns, Basketball = Slam Dunk, Golf = Hole in One and Bowling = 300 game. Car guys = Sweet Rims. Rich Guys = Good Stock Deals. Makes sense right. Simple, easy to remember.

In my career field of non-profit and for-profit work we sometimes fail to make the definition of success that clear. As I have come to realize, I tend to enjoy this little margin from reality because it allows me to sort of make it up. 


I can tell stories of lives changed, people influenced or even cite hard core data about attendance to an event I plan. These might be good definitions of success but truth is, not many people stop to ask further. Some might call this mechanism for defining success "warm fuzzies". Sort of like a middle school girls volleyball game where five times in a row the girls can hit the ball out of bounds or miss a simple pass, and five times in a row, they will high five each other and chant their "we are awesome" chant at center court. I want to say, but you missed the ball, again and again, why are you celebrating? The girls, as I have learned from my three daughters and wife, are encouraging one another and celebrating having fun together, which apparently is their real definition of success. I can respect that.

What challenges me are the days I don't feel successful. Days when people forget my love language or days when my teams seem to be more random oriented than results oriented. As long as warm fuzzy ego sensitive strokes come my way, I feel good about myself. But let someone try to bark out demands for clearly defined goals with fair and result oriented measures, then, wait a minute, I don't feel so good about myself anymore.

If the definition of success is objective, fair, funded, explained, trained, taught, caught, coached and expected, that takes the guessing game away, which seems to be the game me and those in my career fields are sometimes best at.

If my church has a certain number attending, check. If my home is a certain size, check. If my wife or kids dress a certain way, check. If my car has a certain name on it, check. If my kids attend a certain school or master a certain sport, check. These may not be truly valuable definitions of success, the kind to transform society or even pass values along through my home. But, they sure stroke my ego, especially if someone notices and speaks to me in my love language about them, boy my cup gets full.  


My cup being full may not be a bad thing. But, self-defining success can be bad for me, my family, my fitness, my finances and more. When I look in the mirror and see that 18 year old stud from High School, I am self-defining fitness and health success. Because the guy on the scale is actually 20 lbs over weight with climbing blood pressure. When my friends come over and comment my house is bigger than the one they own, I must be successful. At that moment I feel successful. But, maybe my mortgage negates how cool my house is. Or maybe the limitations I have financially created by the mortgage and maintenance of the home I think is so cool, actually creates a real lack luster result, when truly looking at success. If my kids obey while in public, right on check out number 5 at the grocery store and all the old ladies comment, I must be successful. But, if my kids secretly despise my late work hours, my fear based method of controlling their behavior or my lack of care for their souls, then what part of success have I missed?

Here is the thing. Am I even willing to think about the real definitions of success? At work we share "wins" each week at staff meeting. I like the idea on the surface, but after a while it seems we are just throwing out success stories to justify our paychecks. Do I have hard core, objective, strategic, life-giving, city-reaching, generation-impacting measures of success, or do the warm fuzzies do the job? If I put extra money in the offering plate where people see me give and still can't save for retirement or make a monthly budget, I guess the Lord is happy. If I wear basketball shoes, hike a trail from time to time, I must be successful at staying fit. Oh wait, don't look at the fast food bags on my car floorboard, all 7 of them. And what of marriage, ministry, school or social justice? Are their definitions that challenge me, or do I create a self-defined and somewhat fluid matrix of check points to manage my own "feelings" of success? I really like the idea of a mulligan for each category, I need some grace and mercy as well, and a little dab of "God will work it out" and "it will be what it is" to soften the blow. After all, I have an ego to think about.

So, I must be honest to ask, am I willing to struggle with better definitions? In parenting, for instance, am I willing to define success by the happiness of my children, or the pleasure my children bring to their creator. Do I look at the money they make, the people they know or the stages they stand on? Success requires a definition in order to become success, otherwise, we never know we have reached it. So what is it?

I may have a little bit of a problem with this issue of success. I guess my personal ego, the way others stroke my ego and the world I work in all lend toward the lack of fair and objective definitions for meaningful success. I must be careful that my spoken "wins" don't stop me from truly pursuing the actual "wins". Asking the hard questions may stop if my warm fuzzy quotient is met each day or each week. If my goal is to sell 100 shoes to be successful, then I should hold myself to that. If I have no goal and get paid to just be at work on the sales floor, then one great shoe selling story a week will get me all the warm fuzzy and public praise necessary to make me feel I am doing a great job. I mean, I'm a nice person, I mean well, I try hard, what else matters.

I hope I get lots of people to read this post, and follow me on twitter, I will be successful then!!