What If We Defined Success as Freedom?

on-track-freedom

How many times have I made myself miserable by focusing on my unfulfilled hopes and desires?

How often have I stayed put for fear of appearing like a failure?

When haven’t I said that I’m not enough or not doing enough in order to meet a certain measure for success?

Sometimes life feels like an endless race where I just keep moving the finish line for myself. All it takes is a bit of unchecked envy or comparison to make me realize I’m doing everything wrong, am in danger of appearing as a failure, and at risk of being a lonely isolated failure forever. So I squint my eyes hard to look at that finish line and commit to work harder than anyone else in order to reach it before people learn THE TRUTH about me.

A New Standard for Success

Let’s forget that finish line for a second. Let’s forget what everyone else is doing.

What if that finish line for success and the fear of being found out as a fraud is actually holding you in bondage? What if the allure of freedom through success, money, influence, etc. is just a fleeting mirage of our consumer society? What if the people who appear to be on top are actually MORE TRAPPED than we are because they have all of the same fears as us and they need to maintain the appearance of having it all together?

I’m done with defining success as a particular accomplishment that we can measure with material possessions or online analytics.

Let’s define success as freedom.

Do you know that God loves you deeply and has sent you to love others?

Are you creating space in each day to rest in that love and in the presence of God?

Are you sharing that love and freedom in some way? Are you free to love your family and friends?

I’ve lived under the weight of anxiety, fear, and performing for others for far too long. Sure, there are many things that I can legitimately fear, but fear and scarcity become lifestyles that rob us of the gifts we should enjoy.

If you’re looking to define yourself or your day as a success, let’s ask this question: Am I living in freedom?

God Offers What We Need

The Gospel message that I have given my life to is about freedom, freedom in Christ and freedom through the Spirit. Our lives are hidden away in Christ and Christ lives in us. We have been set free for the purpose of freedom. This is the anthem of the Gospels and Epistles where Jesus and Paul repeatedly argued with people who wanted to add behavior requirements and mandatory rituals for followers of Jesus. Paul clearly stated that we don’t live in the freedom of Christ by subjecting ourselves to yet another written code.

The love of God frees us to love and serve others. There is a cost of following Christ, but there is also tremendous freedom as we drop the crushing weight of pursuing success and trying to identify ourselves by what we can earn or the influence we can gain.

It is extremely problematic to define ourselves by the flimsy judgments of others and the forces of the market.

I can’t do anything to make God love me more.

I can’t do anything to improve upon the freedom that God gives.

I can only choose to accept God’s freedom by faith and lean into it each day. That is where the real struggle of spirituality comes in for me.

Are You Thirsty for God? Then You Are In!

Each day I can either seek the presence of God and move toward freedom or I can seek outward measures of my worth and success. I can start to look at everything I haven’t achieved or I can rest in all that God has given me.

The good news is that even if we face this struggle daily, we can turn things around. We can stop the fear, anxiety, and longing for something, anything other than what we have.

Instead of working harder, getting more efficient, or adopting new ways to schedule productive days, we can opt out of the crazy, soul-crushing system. We can take the ultimate leap of faith into a moment of silence where we believe that God calls out to us: All who are thirsty, come!

 

What’s Your Next Step?

Keep in touch via my newsletter where I’ll share more “off the record” thoughts on prayer, writing, and caring for your soul. Sign up and receive two FREE bestselling eBooks.

Does this describe at least part of your writing career? Check out my book: Write without Crushing Your Soul. The eBook is usually between $1.99 and $3.99 on Kindle.

Dig deeper with some helpful books: Richard Rohr’s Immortal Diamond and Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly are among the most helpful books I’ve read.

 

 

Rohr for Writers: Above All Else, Avoid Success

Rohr forWriters

How many times have I rejected God’s mercy because it came clothed in failure and disappointment?

No one signs up for an exciting new career or work opportunity with the goal of utterly and completely failing. And yet, how many of us have fallen flat on our faces at one time or another?

In my writing I’ve experienced a roller coaster of encouragement and discouragement. Each day is a new adventure in measuring incremental success and trying to reach just a few more readers than the day before.

While working to attract readers, writers are especially at the mercy of others in order to achieve success. If people aren’t interested in our work, then we may as well scribble notes on paper and fold them into paper airplanes. If influential people above us don’t offer guidance, endorsements, and marketing help, we’ll most likely flounder.

It’s hard to see the mercy in failure. When you’re on the outside looking in at those who are enjoying success, it sure seems like the successful figures in the writing world are living the dream, writing books in trendy cafes (mine is full of broken chairs and dust), and talking about their ideas for adoring audiences. We don’t see the inherent drawbacks in success.

Richard Rohr clues us in:

“A too early or too successful self becomes a total life agenda, occasionally for good but more often for ill… Our ongoing curiosity about our True Self seems to lessen if we settle into any ‘successful’ role. We have then allowed others to define us from the outside, although we do not realize it.”

Immortal Diamond, pg 27-28

Mind you, that isn’t to say that every successful writer, especially those who are young, are inherently captive to the demands of his/her audience. Rather, they are the ones who face the greatest challenges when trying to hold onto a clear sense of their true selves when there are so many temptations to seek validation elsewhere. They are the most likely to make a habit of measuring themselves according to the standards of others.

More to our point here, every successful writer I’ve talked to is quick to point out the drawbacks. They are targets for criticism, endure crazy scrutiny in the public eye, and often wonder which new friendships are genuine and which are just trying to take advantage of their success. It’s not all about living the dream each and every day, even if they can afford better coffee than the average writer.

If anything, my successful friends have humbly reminded me that just reaching a point of achievement in your career can be tremendously unfulfilling. At the very least, success can be a fragile thing that is sure to fade at one point. And when it does fade, we are left wondering what remains.

Rohr makes his case in stronger language when he goes on to quote Thomas Merton on pg 28:

“‘Be anything you like, be madmen… and bastards of every shape and form, but at all costs avoid one thing: success. If you are too obsessed with success, you will forget to live. If you have learned only to how to be a success, your life has probably been wasted.’ Success is hardly ever your True Self, only your early window dressing. It gives you some momentum for the journey, but it is never the real goal.”

Reading this, I’m well aware that it’s perfectly reasonable to say that Merton was “successful” as a monk and as a writer. We’re still talking about him, aren’t we? That sounds pretty successful to me.

So, if anything, I’m encouraged to read Rohr and Merton’s words on success. Writers can achieve success for a season while still remembering that it is fleeting and ultimately a poor substitute for recognizing our identity as God’s beloved people. The great trap of success is that once people start to notice us, they will begin to try to define us and will most certainly judge us, and we’ll be tempted to give their words tremendous power—even drowning out what God says about us.

Think about that for a minute.

If you’re going to write, you’re going to receive feedback on social media, comments, reviews, emails, and (the introvert’s nightmare) phone calls based on your work. You’re going to see people leave one or two star reviews along with comments like, “Didn’t speak to me.” You’re going to have your faith, integrity, and intelligence questioned.

By the same token, you could be told that you’re brilliant and amazing. You could be told that you’re the hope for the future—the person who could save the church or at least a segment of the church. You’re going to be praised and honored for your achievements.

The crazy thing, according to Rohr and Merton, is this: Praise can be more threatening to our spiritual health than criticism. While negative reviews or insults can be deeply wounding, we can at least see what they are and take steps toward counseling and healing.

There is no ready balm for the damage done by success. Who would think of going into counseling to counteract the negative side of success? We may even tell such a person to stop being ridiculous.

Rohr and Merton remind us that success can exert tremendous power over us, trying to define who we are and what we are worth. If we can’t counteract our steps toward success with the grounding knowledge of God’s love and acceptance, then we are better off having failed in the first place.

There is great mercy in failure. Failure is an opportunity to step into our true selves, as loved and even praised by God as his beautiful creations, even when we don’t receive praise at the times and places of our choosing.

Learn More about Prayer and Writing

Check out my new book Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together to learn simple spirituality and creativity practices you can incorporate into your day right now. It’s $.99 on pre-order until March 11th when it releases.

About This Series

Rohr for Writers is a new blog series at www.edcyzewski.com that is based on the ways Richard Rohr’s writing speaks to writers. We’re going to spend the first few weeks looking at key quotes from Immortal Diamond. Click on the Prayer category to read other posts in the series.