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“Our greatest fear as individuals should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.”
Tim Kizziar, “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan

The other day, I saw a popular Youtuber post a photo of a brand new luxury car she had just brought. As amazed as I was that she could achieve such a thing at such a young age, I also became disheartened. The passion God had put inside of me was for this non-profit organization, which meant my dream career was going to be just that – non-profit. As much I love and am honored to carry out this dream, I couldn’t help but feel self-defeated that no matter where I take The Lilac Road, it was never going to put a roof over my head or food on my table everyday, let alone give me any kind of worldy success. I plunged into a negative, self-pitying mind-set. It made me think hard about what success meant to me. What I did know was that success is widely known defined as people who have enough money to live a life of luxury. We not only admire these glittering people, but we are told that if we work hard enough and study long enough, we can be rich and successful just like them.

The ambition hungry part of me had already waned in my teenage years. What I was really struggling with was how to cope with never really being seen as a ‘success’ – in my parents eyes, in my friends eyes and in the world’s eyes.

In Chicago during 1927, an important meeting took place with the world’s greatest financiers. Some of the men present included Charles Schwab, president of the largest steel company; Jessie Livermore, the greatest bear on Wall Street; Ivar Kreuger, head of the world’s greatest monopoly; Leon Fraser, President of the Bank of International Settlement; and Howard Hopson, president of the largest gas company. They were all considered to be wildly successful, but in the end, they all met with tragedy. Charles died bankrupt, Jessie, Ivar and Leon committed suicide and Howard went insane.

Reading their sad fates made me question the goals that those men had. Even though most people regard success as financial wealth and eminence (even a lot of my friends tell me that their goal is to be rich and successful), and though it is not a bad thing, I knew it would only leave people chasing more and sometimes, even unhappier.

In the midst of my discouragement, I realized that chasing after trophies and luxuries, even though temporarily satisfying at first, was going to amount to very, very little in the end. And then it hit me: what was happiness and success when you didn’t have meaning? No amount of wealth will be able to fill a heart that is desperately trying to search for real purpose in life.

While ambition in the young is natural, the older I get, the more I define what success means to me, and it has nothing to do with materialism. I want to leave behind the greatest legacy of all – a legacy of love. There are people who have gained everything materialistic there is to gain, but when it comes to finding a truly satisfying meaning in life, they are at a loss. Some fail to understand that we all came into this world with nothing, and we will all depart with nothing. No matter how much earthly wealth and certificates we accumulate, we can take none of those with us when we leave this earth. The materialistic empire we may build will be destroyed, but the legacy that will last into eternity is the one of love. Jesus preached that the greatest commandment in all the Bible was this: loving God and loving people. I look at Jesus and I see that this is how we are supposed to walk. He didn’t strive to be the best carpenter or the best preacher. He didn’t live for the money or the success, although he could have easily had both. Measure him by our standards of success, and he would have been considered a failure. He simply did what His Father put Him on earth to do: ultimately and radically, love.

What does that love look like? Paul described the love that people should exude, beautifully said in the Moffatt Translation of 1 Corinthians: “Love is very patient, very kind. Love knows no jealousy; love makes no parade, gives itself no airs, is never rude, never selfish, never irritated, never resentful; love is never glad when others go wrong, love is gladdened by goodness, always slow to expose, always eager to believe the best, always hopeful, always patient. Love never disappears.”

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To me, success also means being the best version of myself I could possibly be. I feel that if I achieve this, everything else is really secondary. I love what Ted Engstrom wrote: “The world needs people who cannot be bought; whose word is their bond; who put character above wealth; who possess opinions and a will; who are larger than their vocations; who don’t hesitate to take chances; who won’t lose their individuality in a crowd; who will be as honest in small things as they are in great things; who will make no compromise with wrong; whose ambitions are not confined to their own selfish desires; who will not say they do it ‘because everybody else does it’; who are true to their friends through good report and evil report, in adversity as well as in prosperity; who do not believe that shrewdness, cunning and hard-heartedness are the best qualities for winning success; who are not afraid to stand for the truth even when it’s unpopular; who say ‘no’ with emphasis, even though the rest of the world says ‘yes’.”

When I was 16, I traveled to Vietnam and China with my family to visit my relatives. They were very poor, some of them living on farms and in villages near sewers.  They were paid very little even though they worked long and hard. Despite not having much, they were hospitable and fun-loving people I was proud to call my family. Their first priority is family and community and their homes are always open. I think there is something to that. I reflect on the fates of the rich and striving. I reflect on the fates of the poor but loving. And something clicks. Success may mean something, but it doesn’t mean everything. When you have love – for God, for others and for yourself – you truly have everything you need.

On my deathbed, I will not remember the accomplishments I have achieved, the places I have traveled, the money I gained or how many friends I had. I’ll remember the people I love and the people who loved me. I’ll want to have left in my place the lasting legacy of love. I want the people who knew me to be marked with my testimony of how redeeming God has been to me, that they may know His love too. I want to be able to say, “I have loved, I was loved, I have lived.” And when I finally see my Maker, I hope that he says to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Wherever God takes each person reading this, whatever journey we make embark, we must hang on to this call to love above all. That, to me, is truly rich.

“Every day I put love on the line. There’s nothing I am less good at. I am far better at competition than love; far better at responding to my instincts to get ahead than at figuring out how to love another. I’m schooled and trained in getting my own way. And yet, I decide every day to set aside what I do best, and attempt to do what I do very clumsily – open up myself to the frustrations and failures of loving, daring to believe that failing in love is better than succeeding in pride.”
Eugene Petersen

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First image via Jeremiah and Rachel
Second image via Max Wanger