Early in my career, a mentor told me, “You’ve got to look for the people who’ve got fruit on the tree.”
He was referring to Matthew 7:17, “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”
My mentor believed that if a person was wealthy and successful, they must be an admirable person. After all, God had blessed them for a reason.
But that interpretation of success never felt quite right to me. By that metric, Bernie Madoff looked like an especially good person until his deceitfulness was revealed. In fact, most criminals appear quite successful and virtuous if we’re to assume that wealth is an indicator of God’s grace.
Of course, we know God doesn’t approve of lies, stealing, and the worship of material wealth. So financial achievement cannot be the Holy Grail of success.
But what about people who are both virtuous and outwardly successful? We all know someone who is at the top of their game professionally, enjoys a happy marriage and family life, and is an all-around great human being. Should we measure our success against what they have?
Well, no. A fulfilling home life and good character are obviously worth pursuing. However, material wealth will always be a poor standard for success.
It’s a mistake to conflate wealth and self-worth because wealth is fleeting. You can go back to zero at any time, as many people did during the Great Recession. I knew many people whose identities were tied to their big houses, their boats, their private planes, their vacation homes in Florida. When the crash hit and they lost everything, it felt like an existential threat to their survival.
If your identity is tied up in the stock market, you’re always just one stock correction away from losing yourself. That’s why we must always stay grounded in Christ. A Christ-centered character and relationship with the Lord are rock solid. They’re not going anywhere, regardless of how much money you have in the bank.
Whether you’re racing up the career ladder or stuck in a professional dead-end, don’t make your job or your possessions your identity. Fancy titles sound nice, but they’re fleeting. Do you think God will be more impressed with your executive nameplate or with the way you treated your work as worship and honored Him every day?
In our comparison-obsessed culture, it’s easy to become convinced that our material possessions reflect our value as human beings. When we see people share their major purchases or seemingly perfect lives on social media, we can’t help but feel less than them.
The Today Show surveyed 7,000 mothers about how using Pinterest affects their sense of self-worth. Forty-two percent said they felt inadequate as parents when looking at the perfectly baked loaves of homemade bread and the magazine-ready birthday spreads prominent on Pinterest. It’s not just moms who are vulnerable to this, either. Most people can’t keep up with what they see on social media, and their self-worth suffers because of it.
How many times have you opened Facebook and felt your heart sink as you scrolled through photos of a friend’s brand new home or watched the congratulatory comments roll in on someone’s new job announcement? If you’re unemployed or coping with a recent failure at your job, those posts can inspire feelings of despair, resentment, and worthlessness. But even if you’re happily employed, you may begin to wonder whether you should be buying a house or vying for a promotion, too.
None of us want to fall behind, so we constantly seek out the next opportunity, the next big purchase, the next material high. But the truth is, those pursuits do not bring lasting happiness.
The excitement of a promotion fades, and it’s only a matter of time before the stress of the job dampens the thrill of the new opportunity. A new house is nice to have, but it becomes just another dwelling over time. No matter how extravagant or lovely, a house still demands upkeep and work. And it won’t fulfill your desires for true happiness and spiritual fulfillment.
Harvard University’s landmark, nearly 80-year study on happiness revealed something that all Christians know at some level: material wealth doesn’t bring happiness. Nor does a storied, high-powered career. Happiness comes from good relationships with our spouses, children, parents, friends, and communities. And that happiness grows tenfold when we have a strong relationship with Jesus.
But we can’t have good relationships with the Lord or with our loved ones if we’re always chasing external desires. If money and status are at the forefront of your heart, where is the room for love, prayer, and discernment?
If you’ve been caught up in the material rat race, don’t despair. You can shift your gaze inward and upward, and find peace and fulfillment again. Here are a few steps to get started:
We come into this world with nothing, not even a shred of clothing on our backs. For the first 10 to 20 years of our lives, we have nothing to offer but ourselves — our character, our virtues, our flaws, our faithfulness. And our families and friends love us completely, just as we are.
But as we enter the professional realm, our perception of our self-worth changes. We worry that our jobs and houses and cars and handbags aren’t impressive enough. We impose man-made expectations on ourselves, such as “I need to have my MBA by 24,” or “I need to make partner at the firm by 35.”
There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious. God blessed us with unique gifts and talents, after all, and we honor Him by using them to the best of our abilities. When we work faithfully, He’s happy to see us advance in our professions, but not when we neglect our relationships and our spiritual lives for the sake of material achievements.
You can’t control whether you land that dream job or win that high-paying promotion. Sometimes businesses fail, and you find yourself unemployed through no fault of your own. Those things are out of your hands. But what you can control is how diligently you work and how you define success.
I like to tell people, “Don’t try to be successful. Be faithful.” Being faithful means trusting in the talents God gave you. It also means working to sharpen those skills every day through programs such as Crown’s Career Boost Formula and other professional development opportunities. Working hard is its own reward when you’re constantly trying to better yourself for the glory of God.
If you can say, “I worked hard today, and I’m proud of my effort,” then you’ve had a successful day, even if you don’t get the outcome you wanted.
I experienced a big mental shift after reading an article about how deleting the Facebook app can double your smartphone’s battery life. Until that point, my battery was drained by noon every day, and it was annoying to constantly have to plug in. I immediately deleted the app and was delighted that my smartphone lasted so much longer without it.
But the real reward wasn’t increased battery life. It was the disengagement from the social media comparison culture. Don’t get me wrong, I still check Facebook at night from my laptop. However, I’m no longer constantly scrolling through other people’s updates and having to fight the urge to compare my life to theirs. Spending less time on Facebook also helped me spend less time on other social media sites, which further freed me from the comparison trap.
That’s allowed me to focus on what’s really important in my life — my faith, my family, my work. If I’m feeling frustrated with my team or disconnected from my wife and children, I check in and ask how I’ve been showing up for them recently. Maybe I’ve been preoccupied with our revenue numbers and therefore haven’t been listening as well as I might have. Perhaps I was going through the motions because I was a little bored with a project or irritated by delays. Or maybe I’ve been contemplating buying a new car because I’m a little envious of my college buddy’s latest purchase.
As soon as I realize I haven’t been 100% present in the areas that matter most, I flip a switch and go all in. That simple mindset shift changes everything, and I’m reconnected with my true priorities.
When you put God and relationships at the center of your life, you will always be successful. The big salary and impressive-sounding titles may come, but your identity won’t depend on them. They’ll just be nice perks in an already rich and fulfilling existence.
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