Tag Archives: success

Why Achieving Success Doesn’t Equal Living Well

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It’s natural for all of us to focus on finding our place and role in this world. We each have a part to play. Our society, our mentors, our families all seem to have expectations for what we can and should contribute. So we make up a definition of success and striving to attain it becomes our focus. There’s nothing wrong with accomplishing great things or earning accolades, but I’m realizing that living for these things doesn’t add up to living well. We might hit the target we’ve set for ourselves, or that others set for us, but are we truly fulfilled by it? The target seems to be ever shifting and elusive. Haven’t we all set out to accomplish a goal, finally succeeded, felt an exhilarating high for a couple of days, and then said, “Huh, now what?”

The high doesn’t last. The praise of others doesn’t last either. They applaud for a moment, then get on with their lives. We then assume we didn’t have our target set quite right, and we need to aim a little higher to truly be “successful” and fulfilled. We rarely stop to ask ourselves why we think we have the authority to define success in the first place. We just assume that we need to, or in some cases the definition of success seems set by our culture and we feel powerless to change it.

A few years ago when I was in the deepest, darkest days of battling my chronic illness, I felt called to write a book about the beauty God had brought out of the ashes of my suffering. So naturally, I took that calling and proceeded to define what success of that calling should look like. I also promptly jumped into trying to figure out the “how-to” for writing a book and getting it published. You want to talk about being overwhelmed, try looking into publishing, book proposals, agents, editors, marketing, etc.! I got so intimidated and bogged down by it all! I couldn’t figure out how to structure my experiences into chapters in a way that would capture the interest of publishers and readers alike. In short, my inspiration didn’t fit well into the parameters I was trying to force it into, and it paralyzed my ability to move forward.

Now, a few years out, the passion and intensity of that calling has faded as I’ve enjoyed reprieve from suffering. I’ve gladly put distance between myself and the reality of what living every single day in a severely broken body was like. Yet I’ve wrestled with a lingering guilt that I never wrote that book. I feel as though I can’t move forward with other writing until I go back and check that box, but all of the same overwhelming roadblocks to that target have not changed. So on New Year’s Day I sat down with my journal and asked God if this is still something He wants me to do, or if I’m released from the calling. I told him how I feel stuck and shackled by the “shoulds”. Those “shoulds” encompass not just writing the book, but also finding “success” as a writer in general. It’s a common sentiment among writers to feel that getting published is necessary in order to really be able to call yourself a writer. We don’t really have any other credentialing that validates what we do in our culture. And we all want to be validated, don’t we? If we’re not, then we haven’t achieved success as we’ve defined it.

Over the last couple of years I’ve tried to figure this successful writer thing out. I’ve attended webinars by New York Times bestselling authors. I joined an online writing community. I listened to the advice of top gurus who all have achieved what I felt I needed to achieve to really meet my calling and have the impact God wanted me to have in this world.

As a writer, this is what you’re told…if you want to maximize your impact, you need to build your platform. A large platform will help you capture the interest of publishers. To build your platform you need to know and serve your audience. Write the content they want to read. Engage your audience through several social media outlets. Master the art of writing a book proposal. And the list goes on and on as we try to map out the pathway to “success”. None of these suggestions are bad in and of themselves, and in fact, some may very likely be necessary in order to be published. The problem is, none of this has ever really resonated with the calling that is deep in my heart, which is simply to share hope and encouragement through my story. Naturally, I do desire to have impact and to serve my readers well, but shifting my focus to how to achieve those goals leads to striving toward a target of my own making. I take that calling from God, and promptly get bogged down in doing it “right”.

 

In that early morning quiet on New Year’s Day, God answered my question about writing a book by showing me that success is not mine to define, it’s His. The following is an excerpt from that journal entry.

This is your journey and your history. You need to remember all I’ve done in your life. You need to remember where you came from, and how you struggled and grew. This battle was yours – for your benefit – your perseverance, character, and hope. You need to remember for you. Write about it for you. Write from that framework. That you’re doing this to commune with Me, to grow, to remember. Then it has value no matter who else it reaches. You write it for yourself, for our relationship, to bring glory to Me in your own heart. Then what you have created just for us, you can share with the world. When you remove the burdens and expectations of trying to meet some made up need in the world and plaguing yourself with questions of what “they” need, and what “they” want, and what “they” will buy, and what will help “them” grow, then you’re free to write the way I intended. Just between us. That’s where the power is.

Before journaling you read my words in Matthew 6:33 when I say, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  This is how it applies to your writing – seek Me with no agenda. Seek whatever I have. Seek your own growth in Me. When you write that way, and simply share it with the world, then all those other needs and wants of the world that paralyze your writing will automatically be taken care of as well. It’s not for them, but it will serve them all the same, and truly with even more power. It’s not fabricated to try to hit a target. It’s just authentic from the soul, and that’s what truly hits the target. So I want you to stop worrying about getting published, building a platform, or serving your audience. I want to be your only audience as you are writing. But then, as I direct, I want you to share these things written in private. Just put them out there as an act of obedience and praise, but return then to the secret place with Me. Don’t chase the end of the path where those words might land in the world. They are released. You release and then return (to Me). And so I will unleash my power through you. The impact you have ceased striving for will be given to you naturally. It will be a blessing, but it will no longer be your focus. If you seek a specific end result – impact, platform reach, publishing, etc., then your eyes have shifted to be wholly focused on a goal that will shift and move and never fully satisfy. When your focus is on remaining in Me, obedience, sharing hope, and praising Me publically in writing, then the fulfillment and impact you crave will be truly fulfilled. Me at the center is where fulfillment comes. Not chasing an accomplishment. So now you’re free. Vulnerable, yes, very much, but free of set expectations and the confines of serving others. You serve Me and through that they will be served. As you write your colitis journey, do it to remember, to praise, to commune with Me. Don’t do it to catch the eye of a publisher. Share your story with yourself. The part of you that has forgotten and will continue to forget.

So living well this year means drawing yourself into Me. Reviving your morning journaling times, but also taking the next step to share with the world what transpires between us, what I’m teaching you, how I’m growing you, what I’m laying on your heart. Just share with no expectations. You’re not striving for a reaction and response. When you dwell and remain in Me, My light will fill you and spill out. This is how you shine brighter than the dawn. This is how you live well. Be intentional. Days quickly pass. Don’t miss what I have for you by neglecting time with Me. Your fulfillment lies in this time. You cannot find it without it.

What definition of success have you been striving toward? Who defined success for you? Are the hoops you’re jumping through on your way to that target God ordained? Has He called you to them? I truly believe He is the ONLY one who has the authority to define success for each of us. It often won’t look the way we expect, or even the way our ego hopes it will. All of our definitions will look a little differently because all of our giftings and callings are a little bit different. But at the core, I believe our definition of true success is the same. To commune closely with God. To be grafted into Him. To remain in Him. And out of that closeness to be obedient as He calls us. Pastor Craig Groeschel said, “Obedience is ours, outcome is God’s.” For me, trying to figure out the outcome, stalled my obedience. We don’t need to define the outcome. We need to release the outcome to Him and focus on being obedient to what He calls us to do.

When we are faithful to living fully submitted to Him, using our gifts as He intended, then He is faithful to provide for us and to complete the good work He began in us when we were created. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in trying to figure out our calling that we lose sight of the One who is calling us. He calls us to love Him and to follow Him. And so, loving well and following well are the foundations for living well.

I pray for each and every one of us, myself included, that in this new year, we would return to loving and following God with renewed passion. That we would shift our focus from our own definitions of success and restore our focus back to the One who already has a perfect plan for our lives. And as we embrace His plan and release our own, I pray we’d experience the joy, fulfillment, and freedom of truly living well.

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Redefining Possible

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A year ago I set out on a journey that I had once thought impossible. My husband and everyone else agreed with my verdict – “Yup, great in theory, but not possible.” In all honesty I think this particular undertaking was, in fact, impossible for a former version of myself, but it’s interesting how trials change us. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That may very well be true as it turns out; at least for me.

Last June I was hospitalized for a week for a severe flare of ulcerative colitis. It was a dark time for me not only physically, but also emotionally. All of the doctors came to the same conclusion; it was time for me to either take a stronger, more dangerous medication, or undergo surgery to remove my colon. I wasn’t ready for either of these options, and I felt trapped. I kept telling myself, “There has to be another way out of this! There has to be another option!” I prayed and prayed for a way to avoid what seemed inevitable. It was hard to be hopeful. I had already tried thousands of dollars worth of homeopathic supplements and nutrition plans (at one point I took up to 65 supplements a day!), I had cut out gluten, milk, alcohol, and a number of other random food items I thought aggravated my condition, I had taken several courses of corticosteroids, I resigned from my job to reduce stress and focus on my health, I had looked into hormonal balance – essentially, I had been down just about every rabbit trail you can imagine.

Photo by: Frank Kovalchek/Alaskan Dude

Photo by: Frank Kovalchek/Alaskan Dude

Shortly after being discharged from the hospital, my sister gave me a book that I surprisingly had not seen before called Breaking the Vicious Cycle, by Elaine Gottschall. The book contained a diet plan for treating ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, autism, and a number of other conditions. I was skeptical. I had already cut so many things out of my diet and none of them seemed to make much of a difference. Besides, I had read about other similar diets in the past, but had never tried them because they were too overwhelming. In short, they were impossible. No one could maintain such a restrictive diet for more than a week or so.

Something was different this time around though; I had changed. When I received the book, I couldn’t wait to read it and get started. I was different. I was all-in, gung-ho, completely determined. A new potential option that might avoid stronger meds or surgery had presented itself. An answer to prayer! I didn’t know if it would work, but I knew I was going to give it my best shot. My attitude had undergone a major and critical shift; I now didn’t see dietary restrictions as a deprivation, but a blessing. I have the gift of being able to eat in a way that improves my health. Don’t you agree that’s a gift?!

So today I celebrate one whole year of being completely grain-free, sugar-free, starch-free, and lactose-free! Yes, grain-free means no grains of any kind. No corn, no oats, no rice, no quinoa, no amaranth, nothing. The only types of sweetener I eat are honey and real fruit. No chocolate either (I just lost about half of you on that one alone, didn’t I?!). Starch-free means no potatoes and many kinds of beans are out as well.

In the past year, I have learned to make my own yogurt, crème fraiche, ketchup, BBQ sauce, salad dressing, and a whole list of delicious baked goods made with almond flour and honey. For many years I had been feeling guilty about eating too many processed foods, too much refined sugar, and not doing enough good old home cooking. Needless to say, following this diet has forced me to conquer those areas as well. As an added bonus, my husband and I both attained our goal weights (although neither of us exercise…I know, I know, I’m not proud of it, but hey, we all have areas that still need improvement!)

I would love to tell you today that I am in pristine health with no signs of ulcerative colitis, but unfortunately this is a long process. What I can say is that this has been my best health year since being diagnosed 7 years ago, and that I had a solid 7 months of complete remission with no symptoms. During that remission time I got through a couple of events that would have certainly caused me to flare in the past. I am currently flared, but as flares go, this one has been mild. Don’t get me wrong, even mild flares are extremely taxing, and it has been a struggle, especially since I work so hard for my health, but overall I am thankful because I know how much worse I could be.

This diet focuses on changing the balance of gut flora. I have been pursuing other treatments that have the same goal. It’s two steps forward, one step back, but I’m optimistic that I’ll get there. The book says it may be necessary to stay on the diet for 3 years. At first that was completely daunting. The success I’m celebrating today is not simply 365 days, but proving to myself that I can do this. If I can do it for a year, I can do it for three, and even forever if necessary. The victory is that I’ve redefined for myself what is possible. We are capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for. When something snaps inside you, when something finally clicks, when you stare down your struggles with unwavering determination to conquer them, when your attitude undergoes that critical shift, then, THEN, you are no longer a victim of your circumstances, you are not a passive player in your life, you do have will power, and resolve, and power to better yourself. You can do it! So much more than you ever thought you could. So much more than you ever thought possible.

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