Thoughts on success

My twelve year-old niece Aimee emailed me recently. She has to do a presentation in class on someone who’s successful. So I was a little bit surprised and very honored that she chose me! In fact, one of the first questions was, “What is your most successful achievement?” And that had me stumped.

I’m not really sure what my most successful achievement would be. Maybe the fact that I moved half the world away from my family when I was 15, but then lots of people move and adjust to new environments nowadays. Maybe the fact that I’m a musician with his own music video? But then, there are millions of better known and more talented and more published artists. Maybe the fact that I’ve collected four degrees in nine years of higher education? Then again, I certainly wasn’t a child prodigy, and I’m certainly not the smartest person in the world!

Thinking about it more, I think my most successful achievement is figuring out what success really is, realizing that success isn’t necessarily about beating everyone in a competition or in a race, or about getting better grades than everyone else.

Success is being a good human being, a good person. Success is loving God, loving your neighbors, and loving your enemies. Success is figuring out who you are, figuring out what you’re good at, and being the best that you can be—the best that God created you to be—and knowing that that is enough, and that that is all that God asks of you. Success is helping those in need, speaking up for those who can’t speak for themselves, protecting the weak and the marginalized. Success is showing patience, kindness, grace, humility, mercy, joy, faithfulness, and love in all of our relationships. Success is being faithful and hopeful and loving in spite of all the challenges that the world and life throw at us.

In the process of learning, I’ve had many experiences that have made me question myself, my abilities, my talents, even my worth as a person. I’ve suffered disappointments in my work, felt unable to produce anything good—both in terms of music and in life in general—and known heartbreak and letdowns in relationships.

We live in a culture that measures success by comparing us to other people, and so one of the big challenges for me was realizing (and continually reminding myself) that I don’t need to compare myself to other people. All I need to do is the best that I can do; all I need to be is the best that I can be.

And ultimately … any success I may have is only by the grace of God. I suppose the way that I try to live out this kind of success is to be first grounded in God, to know what he says about me, to know that he loves me no matter what, to know that my family and my friends love me no matter what. There’s a freedom that comes with being secure in friendships and relationships, that allows us to be and do all that we can be and do.

So that’s been my success: understanding success as I think God sees it, and then living in the light and truth of that.

Justin

Hong Kong | London | California | Washington, DC Christian | Theologian | Musician | Activist | Sojourner

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