So You Want to Be a Success?

Thomas Merton

“The logic of worldly success rests on a fallacy: the strange error that our perfection depends on the thoughts and opinions and applause of other men! A weird life it is, indeed, to be living always in somebody else’s imagination, as if that were the only place in which one could at last become real!” 

– Thomas Merton

In my most recent post, I mentioned that all the members of my seminary basketball team (except me) have become successful.  In case you couldn’t see from the vantage point of my webcam, my tongue was planted firmly in my cheek as I shared their actual vocations.  Not all of them have received the Nobel Prize (only four).

Mark McCullough kindly wrote in suggesting that I could count this steady blog and faithful readership as a success.  I am grateful for this acknowledgement and, as I said in reply, am glad to have this opportunity to write and be read.

I also include the quote (above) from Thomas Merton about the logical fallacy on which much worldly success is based.  Our burning desire to be “liked” (whether in the virtual or real world) often distracts us from pursuing what is good and right and holy.  Merton wrote this before the Internet age, likely from his hermit’s cabin in Kentucky and his wisdom is prophetic.

Our quest for success (as measured by fame and fortune) may seem adventurous and thrilling, but more often than not it leaves us dissatisfied with the life we are given.

I would rather daily appreciate the blessings of a well-turned phrase than obsess about writing a best-selling novel.

I would rather give two dollars to a homeless man than buy a Power Ball ticket in the vain hope that I might win big and set myself (and others) up for life.

I would rather find a satisfying job where I can be productive in my work than climb a corporate (or ecclesiastical) ladder – as I have tried.

Emily Dickinson wrote – “Success is counted sweetness by those who n’er succeed.”

Success may be sweet, but there’s an awful bitterness in striving for success.  And the sweetness of success is not necessarily nourishing for our bodies and souls.

(Thomas Merton photo from Beth Pearce in People I Admire, Respect, Adore, or Otherwise Hope to Emulate)

6 thoughts on “So You Want to Be a Success?

  1. Great post! It is my favorite yet; I can definitely relate. This morning, I was thinking about “blog success.” I don’t have the readers and the hits I’d like to see, though I’m still growing as a writer with each post.

    What use to take me two hours (before I cut down my wordy-ness and narrowed my focus a bit) can now be done in much less time. The consistency of writing has given me much to be proud of. This, for me, is my success.

    The next step, I guess, is to have an impact on others. Everyone measures that differently. One could say, writing a blog takes a little faith.

    • However we ultimately define success, I believe it’s best to base our satisfaction on the process rather than the outcome. You are absolutely right to see faith in the equation. If we are faithful in doing our work, God will bless the outcome.

      • Like Kevin I can certainly relate to this one, and I think your belief that we should base our satisfaction on the process is spot on. The wilderness can be a lonley place for sure but I think the most important personal insights are revealed there and the material outcomes are less important. We’re fortunate in an internet age our personal wildernesses can also be connected if we choose, which makes it easier for God, however you define that, to make the necessary introductions.

      • I’m glad this spoke to you and I appreciate your comments.

        You make a good point when you say, “We’re fortunate in an internet age our personal wilderness can also be connected if we choose…” I count it a blessing to connect with folks like you.

        As for whether this makes it “easier for God…to make the necessary introductions”… I would have to think on that a while. I think the sheer volume of information we become inundated with through the internet may make it more difficult us to distinguish the voice of God.

        Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

      • Hi Tony,

        Yes, good point – so much information, how do we judge what’s significant and what’s not? I like to trust in the element of chance – things that pop up when I’m not deliberately searching, or things that drop into my inbox and set me off down a new path – as if someone’s making subtle connections for me.

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