What Is This Thing We Call Success

An excerpt from Dr. Linda Seger’s book, Spiritual Steps on the Road to Success: Gaining the Goal Without Losing Your Soul

When we hear the word “success,” many of us immediately think of how the world defines success – by wealth, by power, by position, by fame, by prominence in our field, by the respect that others give us. For some people, success depends on how much kowtowing everyone is doing to them, and whether they have the clout to get the best of everything – the best seat on the plane and in the theater, the best food and wine, the trophy spouse and the envy of everyone else.

Some think of success as the prosperity gospel, which believes that we are meant to be prosperous, even wealthy, and if we only pray enough, good things will come our way. If they don’t, well, there must be something wrong with us and with our prayers.

But in my view, these definitions have little to do with a spiritual viewpoint about success. Most spiritual people would find the above definitions to be superficial and ultimately empty. Yes, sometimes the abundant life mentioned in the Bible includes wealth and fame and respect, but not always.

In fact, spiritual success doesn’t always neatly fit into any of these categories and may actually contradict these definitions.

Dr. D. Gareth Jones, Professor in Anatomy and Structural Biology at the University of Otago in New Zealand, sees success as helping others: “No matter where one is in science, one’s actions have repercussions at many levels. For me, this element of servanthood has always been crucial, although it is an element that has to be imposed upon one’s activities.”

The Quaker abolitionist John Woolman also saw a potential problem with success – saying that he wanted to be “free of cumber” and realizing that our work can overwhelm us and consume us, not giving us the time we need to do spiritual work. For Woolman, success included a balanced life.

In one of my more depressed moments about my career and my ability to make a living, my mother told me, “If the only thing you don’t have is money, you’re way ahead of everyone else!”

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