How To Stop Worrying About Being “Successful”

September 15, 2009

With love, from JenK. in Longmeadow …

At this year’s Ted Talks, Alain de Botton spoke to some of the world’s movers and shakers, giving a talk called, “A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy of Success.”

In it, he argues that in order to avoid anxiety about whether or not we are successful people, we must reconsider our ideas of success, rather than giving up on the idea of success altogether. To do so, we must “make sure that [our ideas about success] are our own . . . that we are truly the authors of our own ambition.”

Why is that the answer? De Botton argues that it’s because most of us organize our whole lives around goals that are popular, but ultimately unsatisfying. We are anxious because we toil to get things we don’t want or need, and we refuse to admit that there are some things that we will never be good at.

“[I]t’s bad enough not getting what you want,” De Botton says, “but it’s even worse to have an idea of what you want, only to find at the end of the journey that it isn’t, in fact, what you wanted all along.”

His talk made me think about what it means to be a “success,” and by extension, of course, what it means for me to be a successful Christian:

  • Am I getting my ideas about success from Christ and His word, or like most of the world, am I allowing my life’s goals to be defined by the television, my education, my job, and my peers?
  • Will I get to the end of my life and find that I wasted parts of it chasing after things that aren’t worth a lick?
  • Am I unrealistically striving after “success” in every area of my life, rather than living out the “broken vessel” theology that permeates the Word?
  • Am I letting Christ be the “author of my ambition?”

The Ted moderator calls De Botton’s observations “fascinating”–and they are–but shouldn’t I know this already? Shouldn’t we all?

The talk is short and worth a listen. Hopefully it will give us all a chance to consider just how much “success” we really have in our lives!


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