Success at the wrong thing

Posted August 2 2004

Someone said they were not afraid of failure. They were afraid of succeeding at something that was not really of any value! It reminded me of the rich man and his barns:

Someone in the crowd said to him, 'Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.'
But he said to him, 'Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?' And he said to them, 'Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one�s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.'

Then he told them a parable: 'The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.' Luke 12:13-21

We don't even have to believe in God to see the force of this parable! What is the point of being rich and powerful if that is all you have? One's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. We have an unkind term for such a person in Australia. They are a Lombard: Lots Of Money But A Real Dickhead.

Of course it's not just money that might be involved. Some in Australia wonder if we may have several Olympics athletes coming Ross: Rides On SteroidS. What is the point of a medal when you sell your soul to the devil and cheat by breaking the rules?

I don't want to end up in palliative care like the man John, my colleague, visited years ago who was watching a black and white TV. He was a miserable man, who was miserable. My colleague asked why he hadn't hired a coloured TV for his room. The man said that he could save money on the black and white TV. Years later John was still almost lost for words when he told this story! What did it matter? He was dying!

Avoiding success at what's not important is hard if you're 55 and the only job you can get is serving ice-cream at the local Wendy's. You may well feel like you've got the failure down pat after being retrenched and spending 9 months unemployed. Now, finally with a job, it's taken two days to learn all there is about serving ice cream. You're a success, but at what! Many of us have jobs that seem to have questionable value. I guess in that situation we might keep on the lookout for something more 'redeeming' as the traditional language would have it. That is; we will try and find a job that has more social value. Selling books at Borders is better than selling books in the local porn shop. I say this seriously; I have a friend, unemployed in his 50's, who serviced poker machines. He detested it. But it was take that job or sell his house. So he did the job, and used it to live while he looked for something better. We have to deal with the hand that life has dealt us.

But then within and alongside the job, we can also seek to succeed at what is important. Whether we are a parish minister, which I no longer am, or a computer technician, which I now am, we still have to relate to the same family and neighbours. I would rather be employed, and with my family, than running a successful business and have my wife walk out at the end of year twelve exams for the youngest son. Such a man feels the king-hit of pointless success just as much as the rich man who was successful at what didn't matter and faced his death.

I don't want to die. At least, not yet. There may come a time when I've just had enough. I like life, and dying seems downright unfair. But there is worse than death. Assuming I get time to think about it for a few hours and don't just get run down by a bus, I know I will have regrets. I have plenty already! But I do feel like I've done some good and worthwhile things. I do feel like I've been able to enjoy life a little as well as work. I've been good to some people, and helped them on in life. I would hate to be lying there and feel like I had wasted it all, or chased the wrong thing, and been really good at something that didn't matter. I can get depressed sometimes, or filled with self pity, and say 'So what?' about life, because it all seems pointless, and I'm too tired, and been pushing, or pushed, too hard for a couple of weeks. But given a good sleep I get over that. To know that I was coming to the last great sleep, and only to be able to say 'So what?'- that would be hell.


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