Beginning at the age of five, I could be found shooting hoops in my driveway at all times of the day. As an inspired elementary school student, my dream was to one day play for The University of Cincinnati basketball team. Surely one day kids just like me would be wearing my jersey and chanting my name. Surprisingly, as determined as I was, it never came to pass. (Somehow the team went on without my athletic prowess.)
A more realistic dream emerged in college in the form of dollar signs. I figured rather than a rousing collegiate athletic career, success would now be defined by the net worth attached to my name. All was transpiring flawlessly until my bank account was wiped clean thanks to a helicopter ride to the hospital from the side of the highway and my earning capacity took a hit. Being dependent on others without the use of my arms or legs, I wrestled through a season of questioning how on earth I could possibly be successful now.
How can success be defined? What will my measuring stick be?
Is a blog post measured by how many hits or follow-up emails it gets?
In terms of hanging out with 16-year-olds, is my success determined by how many show up each week or if I see colossal growth in their maturity over the course of one afternoon? (I sure hope not.)
When I speak, is my success wrapped up in the number of laughs? The amount of people that thank me afterwards? If I get invited back?
When it comes to physical therapy, am I measured by the amount of time I put in? How much new movement I have?
Over time, God began to open my eyes to my flawed understanding of what it means to be successful. Galatians 1:10 poses the question, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” In different areas of my life, success could be measured differently depending on who I’m trying to cater to. The question is, whose definition of success am I going to go by?
I’ve come to realize that my success is not determined by society, the opinions of others around me, or how my accomplishments stack up to my peers’. My success is ultimately determined by my obedience to God.
Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah were assigned with the task of calling the nation of Israel back towards God. All three devoted their lives to this task but ended up dying without seeing much change. Were they successful? Yes. They obeyed the task given to them by God.
With hindsight 20/20, I now realize that if my plans of stacking up money had come to fruition I would still be looking over my shoulder realizing someone is making more, and I would forever be a slave to comparison. Comparing myself to others’ achievements, accomplishments, or responsibilities would have led to slow torture.
I once heard the analogy of God sitting at the head of the table dealing out “individual assignments” to people sitting around the table. Each person’s assignment differs greatly from the person next to them. Comparing these assignments would be like comparing apples to oranges, to the point where it would be impossible for one person to carry out someone else’s assignment. Humility is realizing our responsibility for the assignment we have and allowing others to take care of theirs. Worrying about the assignment given to the person next to me is a waste of time.
My job is to put my hand to the plow of whatever I believe God has called me to. If that is writing a book or speaking to an audience of people I’ve never met, completing the task to the best of my ability is where I should focus, rather than looking over my shoulder at what my peers are doing or where I originally thought I would be at 25.
Comparing ourselves to others is the start down a dangerous path. We each have our own race to run. Let’s finish well.
Contact info: Ryan.S.Atkins@Gmail.com
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