I recently came across an article that cited roughly 67 percent of millennial women are experiencing burnout in their jobs. Despite the decent job titles, good paychecks and enticing benefits packages, it appears that “having it all” isn’t necessarily all that it appears to be.
I remember having a conversation with a friend about her “quarter-life crisis.” Working as a freelance journalist and cold-calling editors late into the night, she confessed her dissatisfaction with her current position.
“It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I was supposed to graduate with honors, land my dream job and buy a trendy studio downtown with my future husband. But it hasn’t worked out the way.”
I couldn’t help but relate. As a child of the American dream, I have often felt society’s pressure to “climb the ladder,” nab my dream job (if such a thing even exists) and buy into the white-picket fence dream. And it’s not hard to see why. Our culture is obsessed with the idol of success, and it affects men and women alike. The drive for ambition, the desire for more money, the need to accumulate more stuff, the goal of having that perfect relationship bombard us on a daily basis through TV shows, LinkedIn career blogs and good old-fashioned comparison with our peers.
While my friend’s dissatisfaction seemed a bit melodramatic at the time, it perhaps echoed something louder that we all might need to address: our definition of success.
A dangerous obsession
I believe that today, perhaps more so than ever before, our generation is facing a crisis—an identity crisis. And it all begins in our obsession with success. Beginning at a young age, the need to achieve a career, family and comfortable lifestyle is fostered within us.
While there is nothing wrong with achieving your goals, the problem comes when we begin to equate our achievements with our value. It’s one of the reasons that “What do you do?” becomes my most dreaded question asked at parties. Somehow along the way, we’ve reconciled that who we are—our identity—is what we do, what we own and who we love. It’s become our name tag, our social media profile, our “This is everything you need to know about me” badge that we wear in front of our peers or among our community.
All of the things that our culture is telling us we need to be successful people: the gorgeous spouse, a giant salary, numerous promotions, the super-sized house with an Audi parked in the drive. These things are not inherently bad, but they have the potential to pull us in the opposite direction of pursuing God’s Kingdom.
Flipping the script
My mind jumps to one of my favorite quotes from Lysa TerKeurst’s book, The Best Yes. “If I really want an unrushed life, I must underwhelm my schedule so God has room to overwhelm my soul.”
Is my desire for success overwhelming me to the point where my soul becomes underwhelmed as a result? I don’t know about you, but I’ll be honest here. As a child who grew up in middle class America chasing the “American dream”—success has long been a deep-seated idol for me.
It is possible to achieve your dreams and maintain an identity fixed on Christ. In fact, I know many people who have and they often remark that the things in life which bring them the most enjoyment have nothing to do with their accomplishments.
They recognize the huge pressure our culture has put on us to succeed and choose to separate what they have accomplished from their value and worth as children of the Most High.
Ultimately, they know that the world’s definition of success is meaningless. Because it’s the mentality that our achievements are everything that will eventually suffocate us. It will suffocate us from breathing in that breath of fresh air that God would want to give to us, to be freed up to say “Here I am Lord, use me for whatever purpose you have.” If we’re not careful, the need to succeed will distort our self-esteem, rob us of right relationships and will keep us so preoccupied that we’ll forget to really live at all. That is, if we’re not careful.
God wants us to thrive, not just achieve.
So is God opposed to our achievements? I don’t think so.
My mind goes to Mark 10 where Jesus warns the rich man about his wealth keeping him from entering heaven. The rich man says to Jesus, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” We then read Jesus’ reply which is to sell everything and follow Him, to which the man breaks down in tears. We may read this passage and feel sorry for the rich man, but I can’t help but cringe. Because throughout my 20s, I have often felt like this man because I can relate to his struggle. His need to show what he has accomplished only to realize it was just chasing the wind.
“I’ve done all the right things to get to heaven”—to reach success, to be someone of importance, to make something of myself.
At times, my “heaven” has been that epitome of achievement, the god of our society, leading me to pursue all of the things the world would convince me I need and cannot live without.
God wants us to thrive, not just succeed. Not just to enjoy the rewards of our earthly success, but to know Him and be known by Him. This is His greatest desire for us. He has created each of us for a unique purpose. And that will most certainly involve our careers. But I wonder if our definition of success was changed—if we viewed a relationship with our Father as the greatest achievement—I wonder if then, would we start to really live.