Standing with my toes in the Atlantic this week, I looked out on the expanse of water before me and felt small. I walked over a mile to reach this particular stretch of uninhabited beach with high hopes that I'd experience this very feeling. Honestly, I needed the reminder... I needed to consider the truth that while I am small, I am not insignificant. And, nothing brings me into that head space quite like the ocean (or the mountains if they were easily accessible to me these days, but I digress).
I don't know about you, but what I thought about that day and have noticed since is how maybe we're all fighting to be significant. If we look around at current events, I think we can see this deep longing in our society, too. Our motivation to matter is profound and this longing can lead us into life or into death. I think it's where the hustle mentality comes from, actually. We want our lives to count. We want to achieve and be known for something and help people and ensure our own needs are met in the process. And these desires can be quite beautiful. But maybe we buy into the story that, to be truly significant, we must have our freedom in every aspect. Money and respect and influence ensure we achieve it. So, we keep going because, if we stop or develop rhythms of rest, we may actually have to grapple with the things that feel undone or out of control or sad in our lives.
Success is often based on these nebulous ideas of influence and resources and how we're perceived on the outside. But I think that these cultural norms we tend to honor and hold in high esteem actually serve to diminish our dignity. If we're not careful, we can be swept up into the flow of culture that tells us that being significant means finding success using some pretty shallow guidelines. Even if we're not seeking the shallow nature of outward success, we must be attentive to the influence it has on our lives, decisions and the perspectives we carry with us.
I've thought a lot these past few weeks about my story—past and present. I've thought about my dreams and my passions. I've considered how I have the opportunity to live my purpose every day regardless of how I'm making money to pay my bills. I've wondered what it means to serve and love people well right where I'm at and how I don't need a role or a title or a high paying job to accomplish these objectives.
I've reflected on some of the clients I've worked alongside and little pieces of work I've said yes to since leaving my career in the non-profit arena. Not all of the work has been glamorous or tied into my big picture dreams for my life. Often, work has looked a lot like simply showing up and doing what is needed. My perspective on the tasks I've accomplished was the key to ensure my work meant something that day. I would choose to carry hope into the place I worked because someone I'd interact with or meet that day needed some hope.
And in this process, one of the part-time places I landed involved working in a role heavy in customer service. I don't think one can know the depths of the entitlement mentality or the beautiful gift of dignity extended until we've engaged in a role like this one. It's amazing how quickly you learn how others view success in this type of environment. My compassion for people both matured and was challenged as I engaged with some whom, upon not getting their way, quickly turned to devalue and diminish me. Having no understanding or desire to understand my perspective, abilities, or experience I was held in contempt on multiple occasions. On the other hand and in the same place, I experienced delight and unexpected care from others who took time to time to know me as a person. What a difference our posture and perspective make.
We are not made for common things, but our perspective on the things we give our time to and the people we encounter can make them common. We can buy into what culture deems as successful or we can literally work anywhere and with anyone and cultivate meaning and hope in our days. Some seasons in a place may be long, others may be short. What does it matter, though if we're all in? If our significance is not based upon what we do but founded in who we are and who we are becoming I think we'll be just fine.
On a call today, I was reminded of a core belief of mine and a shared belief I have with this new friend: We are made for love and to offer love. If we make our vocation to love others every day of our lives, we become successful. In that line of work, nothing is beneath us. And that kind of success ensures a life that might be small, but a life that is genuinely significant. This is the beauty of life at rest.
- What is your current perspective on what it means to be successful?
- Does that perspective bring you life? How?
- Is there any part of your current perspective on success that drains the life out of you?
- How does your view of success influence the way you view and treat other people?
- Do you currently experience your life as a life at rest?