By David Hegg
From the time we start to walk and talk there seems to be a drive in all of us to succeed. No one wants to be last. Of course, at some point in elementary school a really cool kid will discover he can succeed at being last and doing nothing and most of the girls will think he’s dreamy. But, even that kid at some point will want to drive his own car and own his own home so he’ll figure out some way to be successful.
Success usually implies having reached a certain level of economic well-being. Or it could mean having achieved some honor or accomplished something regarded as outstanding. While we might not be able to define it exactly, we all understand success is to be pursued and applauded.
For most of us, success centers on our careers. We get an education we believe will launch us in the right direction, we work hard, pay our dues, and at some point in our 40s we hope to reach a level of monetary and company success that allows us to live the life we desire. Only there’s usually a catch. Most often this kind of “success” appears wonderful until you own it. Too often the goals we set, and the expectations that go with them, turn out to be much less satisfying to the soul than we thought. We have worked hard to grab the brass ring only to find out that it is only a brass ring.
Someone has said we spend the first 40 years of our lives trying to be successful and the last 40 trying to be significant. I think whoever said that first was really on to something. The essence of that thought is that as we age our vision of what is satisfying in life changes from personal accomplishment to lasting legacy. Success usually is measured in terms of dollars, possessions, and social standing. Significance, it turns out, is measured by our lasting influence, by how many lives were changed for the better, and by how we used the time and resources at our disposal to make our world more beautiful, righteous, neighborly and godly.
I am quite excited that the emerging generation seems to be learning a strong lesson from my generation. They have watched us burn ourselves down to achieve success, only to find it was significance we wanted all along. They are starting earlier, understanding at a young age that the goal cannot simply be to live prosperously, but rather to live intentionally, aiming to bring significant benefit to the world.
This “others-centered” way of living is nothing new. History has made heroes out of those whose life goals pushed them past personal success to immerse themselves in dreams and ideals whose accomplishment had wide-ranging significance for their world. We appreciate their successes, but we celebrate their significance.
My hope is that we haven’t stopped finding people whose significance is worthy of celebration. We still have quite a few Mondays available, and the only question is whether there will be men and women who push past the siren call of personal peace and affluence to do the hard work, dream the big dreams, and evaluate the benefit of their lives by the legacy they leave. It won’t be the shocking rock star, the “bad girl” actress, or the athlete du jour. It will be those who, early on, learn the value of ethical behavior and hard work, and strive for significance as the only success worth pursuing.
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a local resident. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.