When Success Won’t Come

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We all are seeking some measure of success. It may be we desire to pass a class or graduate. We may be seeking to land our dream job or lead role in the big production. Some want to raise healthy, well adjusted kids or enjoy a loving marriage. Some are seeking huge endeavors, other are trying to finish the quarter strong. All around us, we are seeking to succeed at the endeavors to which we give ourselves everyday.

Of course, things don’t always workout as we hope. Life happens when we are making other plans. I decided to address this topic because it has been the subject of many conversations lately. Not only am I personally, finding it very difficult to produce the results that I’m accustom to producing, but many around me have shared a sense of deep concern that things are not “flowing” like they used to in our pre-COVID world.

For this reason, I thought I’d share some questions I ask (myself and others) as I try and de-construct why things aren’t working and what we can do about it. In the end, true success may not be defined as we prefer to define it. These questions will help us stay on track.

Do you know what to do?

When success won’t come, there is clearly confusion. It’s right that we should feel lost or out of sync with what is happening. The rate of FLOW has changed and we may not have adapted. At times like this, we may not know what to do. If that is the case, then figuring it out is our first assignment. Start by looking in the mirror.

We all must begin with a good plan. Hoping for a rescue or a better day is not a plan. If you don’t know what to do then you are “over your head” and you need to seek counsel, coaching or help to get your life moving. We all have blind spots for which we must become aware. We need others for this because we can’t see them.

For those of us who know all to well what needs to be done, we must be willing to do it. Knowing how to build a house will not provide a dwelling, but it is a pre-requisite for any home. Every structure in our society first began with a blue print. What is the blue print for your dream?

Have you put in the work?

If you know what to do, the next question is: Have you done it? This question begins to unearth our deeper motivations and some of the internal malware scripts that plague our progress. Where as ignorance lies behind the first question, diligence lies behind this question.

Every successful endeavor is not a single event, but a series of countless smaller events which build upon each other over time until our success is realized. Often we are very motivated to start a project but then later our motivation fades or we become distracted by other projects which compete with our time. In the end, we must ask if we are doing the work which is required to accomplish our goal. Some of the steps are not fun. Some are not comfortable. Some are risky. Some are costly. Nonetheless, they cannot be avoided. Success is always on the other side of diligence.

Have you put in the time?

So you know what to do and you have begun doing it. The next question is have you done it enough? This is truly a difficult question because it taps into whether or not we are faithful and whether we have vision. My son builds these elaborate scale model airplanes that he flies via radio controls. Some of the steps in the construction process are so tedious and boring and uninspiring that I wonder how they are ever completed. However, his effort is a tremendous reminder to us about keeping our eyes on the ultimate goal (vision) and remaining faithful to execute even the most monotonous work with excellence. He learned early on, that planes built with haste don’t fly well and do nothing to satisfy the dream.

We would do well to adopt the same faithfulness toward our hopes for success. I’m in this place now with my work. In sales there is a “seeding” time prior to harvest. While I expected sprouts by now, they haven’t come. It’s discouraging, but I know I’m doing the work for creating the right soil. We must keep on sometimes. Perhaps you feel like giving up. Perhaps you feel like you are in a dead end, monotonous feedback loop. What if you are only at the beginning or middle of a process which takes years, decades or a lifetime to accomplish? How do you know when you’ve put in enough time?

Some people derail their success because the think it must come faster than it actually does. Your business, blog, or ministry will not be a success within six months. If your dream is a byproduct of who you truly are, then you will not mind giving your life toward the effort. A decade is just getting started.

Have you surrendered the outcome?

Here’s the part where you will dislike my trajectory, but stay with me if you can because this is something for which I’ve truly given my life to understanding. If your dream of success is measured in externals (income, status, fame, notoriety, influence, subscribers, etc…) then be careful and be warned. You are giving your life to something after which you obtain it, could leave you tremendously dissatisfied and empty.

“For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:25)

The world only has eyes to see the external measures of success. When it defines success, it does so in ways that appeal to our lusts for power, adulation, comfort, and freedom, but are these the true measures of success? Are these what we want our children to pursue? Are these somehow lurking behind our own personal hopes for success? If so, we must know that there is another measure for success, if we would have a fulfilling life, enjoy our toil, find satisfaction. We must look upon the motivations of the heart. We must look toward internal success first, then the external success can follow because it is a byproduct, not an end product.

“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9)

God is looking at the heart which is the true measure of success. That doesn’t mean we abandon the work before us or the goals we share with others in our companies, ministries, or families. What this means is that God measures success by who can surrender the outcomes and still remain faithful and diligent and engaged in the work we are each called to do.

How do you know what we are called to do? Simple. What needs to be done today? What needs to be done right now? That is our calling. You may be called to the dishes right now, or to a crying child, or to mow the lawn. Don’t over spiritualize this. How we do anything is how we do everything. Just execute whatever you have to do with excellence as though you were doing it for the Lord. Is it laundry? Do you drive a truck? Do you write code? Do you sell tests for cancer? Do you build or repair or cook?

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might,” (Ecclesiastes 9:10)

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

We need not worry about whether or not our role is ideal for us, or whether it is below us or if we are between roles. Each is our calling for each day. We must go out and gather it, and celebrate it as the manna which it is. If you want to change it. Do so in precisely the same diligent way that you do your work to which you are called each day. Don’t get too distracted with one day, focus on what needs to be done today.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34)

This is surrendering the outcomes, which is the epitome of faith. It is accepting what comes based upon an honest appraisal of our faithfulness, diligence, and knowledge of what we’ve been given to do today. Why should any of us be given a new lot, a larger pursuit, or greater positions if we have not been faithful to execute with excellence what we already have?

“If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (1 Thessalonians 3:10)

Surrendering the outcomes is not apathy. It is not quitting. It’s a new level of trusting the Lord and his provision for us. It’s meeting each moment as it comes in faith and accepting it as the love of God showing up in and as each moment. We do all our work in hopes of particular outcomes, yet we accept that may these outcomes may not come, so we remain flexible to receive and work with “what is.Thus success is doing the faithful work, not necessarily the results of our work. The result doesn’t always represent the work, thus it’s a poor way to evaluate success.

If surrendering outcomes means we miss our deadline due to unforeseen circumstances. So be it. If that means we fail in our mission. So be it. If that means we don’t get paid, or we lose our job, so be it. But if we are faithful, diligent, and serve all others with excellence in our work as unto the Lord, we may just find that our our biggest dreams were not big enough. We may discover that reaching our hope of success was not as meaningful as the success we obtained within our hearts in working toward it. While we thought we were building a business, a ministry, or a service, we discover they are actually building us.

When we finally see this happening, the New World begins to emerge.