Everyday, we hear about successful people – people who are more beautiful, richer, and happier than ourselves. Our hearts might give a slight squeeze when we compare our lives to theirs. We never seem good enough … But wait! Next to these people full of unattainable wealth, beauty, and happiness are the fallen ones. The once successful people who have ended up divorcing, in trouble with substance abuse or alcohol, or worse, committing suicide. We might experience a slight sigh of relief. After all, we are much better off than them.
We often count numbers, especially when it comes to measuring success. We count the money in our bank account, and assume the larger the number the larger our success. We count the size of our car, boobs, house – the bigger, the better. For our spiritual lives, we count how many times we do yoga a week, how often we pray everyday or go to church every week, or how many minutes we meditate. The more, the better. We count how many friends we have on Facebook, followers on Twitter and Likes on our blog. The more, the better!
Where did all this counting come from? Today, blind faith in science has become the dogma of our modern Western society, along with its methodology. Empirical evidence, that is numbers, are unquestioned as truth, because numbers can be quantitatively counted, compared, and placed on a graph. This ideology has also filtered into our society as a way as measuring who we are as persons. But this kind of counting is sterile and leaves us always wanting more. Counting success in this way depletes all creative energy. We are left feeling exhausted and alienated and far from recognizing the process of living as full human beings.
One day I was listening to an interview with Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest who lives and works in Los Angeles. He is the Founder and Executive Director of Homeboy Industries, which employs former gang members in a number of different businesses. During the past 25 years, 75 percent of the people they work with have stayed out of prison. Father Boyle talked about his success but also about his failures. He has had to bury 183 young gang members who died violent deaths.
“Burnout comes,” he said, “with seeking and striving after success. We all want to be effective, but it can’t be the engine that drives what you do.” He then quoted Mother Teresa who said:
“We are not called to be successful, we are called to be faithful.”
This idea is, even for those who don’t believe in a particular God, not to be anchored on the outcome of what you are doing, but rather on the higher quality it is enabling you to come closer towards.
Father Boyle continued by saying that evidence-based outcomes are sheer nonsense. The idea is to stay faithful and dedicated to what you believe in. He said:
“Success is God’s concern.”
I know this idea has helped me. Whenever I feel that no matter what I try, nothing seems to be working, I always return to the higher quality – like patience, humbleness, courage, and my own faith in God – that my failure is allowing me to experience inside. Whether I get the job or not does not count. No matter how many rejections I receive on a piece of writing, it’s okay. Whether you finish reading this blog, doesn’t matter. In the end, my success is measured by how much more faith, patience, and openness I have experienced during the creation process and how well I have managed to integrate those qualities into my life.
Perhaps one reason that we are always chasing success and counting along the way is our fear of Death – what some of us might see as the ultimate failure. If you can learn to live with failure, then you can learn to live with Death. Father Boyle, who is also a cancer survivor, suggested that we compile a list of things worst than Death, but also a list of all the things more powerful than Death. “Death is a punk,” he said. “You gotta put it in its place.”
Remember that anything worth doing is worth failing at. A life worth living, in the end, is worth “failing at.” The doing is the success, failure is only a hiccup that we all must encounter along this long journey towards consciousness. If you stay focused on what is meaningful to you, you cannot fail, but only grow and move closer towards Joy.
I love what you said about counting and comparing.