What is Success?

What is your definition of success? I’ve been thinking about that a lot over the weekend. I attended a women’s retreat at my church, and I heard the most amazing woman speak. As I listened to her story, and the stories of others that she relayed, I couldn’t help but thinking that this woman’s life was a total success. But it’s not the type of success most people think of when they hear the word “success.”

Successful…or Not?

Imagine the following scenarios.

Scenario #1. After high school, a young man goes to college to study economics. He serves as president of his fraternity, goes on to get a Doctor of Philosophy degree in economics and lands a job at a well known oil company.

He went on to serve at the Department of the Interior and then went back to the business world, eventually working his way up to a CEO position of a major corporation, earning millions of dollars a year. He also received a long list of awards, ranging from Father of the Year to alumni awards to business awards.

Scenario #2. A young woman trains under her father to become a watch maker. At the age of 50, she is still unmarried and living with her father and her other unmarried sister, helping to run her father’s watch shop.

Eventually she and her family became involved in something illegal, and they lost everything. Her sister and father were even put to death.

Which scenario describes the successful person?

Without knowing who these people were, the world would tell you that the person in scenario #1 was a success. After all, he made millions of dollars as one of the highest paid CEO’s in our country’s history. He received numerous awards. He rose to the top.

The person in scenario #2 never married, lived at home long past the time when most people have made their own lives, didn’t make much money, and was severely punished by the government for taking part in illegal activities.

But that’s not the whole story.

The Basis of Success

I’m sure many of you have already guessed who these people are. The person in scenario #1 is Kenneth Lay, former CEO of Enron. When Enron began to go south, Lay dumped his own Enron stocks, while encouraging his employees to continue buying stock. He was found guilty of 10 different charges of fraud and making misleading statements. He could have served between 20 and 30 years in prison, but died before he was sentenced.

The person in scenario #2 is Corrie ten Boom. The crime she and her family committed was hiding Jews from the Nazis in Holland during Hitler’s regime. Her family was eventually caught and brought to the concentration camps, where her father and sister died.

Corrie was eventually released, and went on to travel the world, speaking on God’s love and forgiveness. Her biography, The Hiding Place, has inspired many, including me. Corrie ten Boom is my personal hero.

Now answer the question again. Who is the success?

I believe most of you would say Corrie ten Boom. In spite of incredible opposition, she followed her convictions, doing what was right, even at the risk of death. When times were tough, she made decisions that saved lives. Decisions that a half a century later, we still laud as honorable.

The basis of her actions was her faith in God. As a Christian, that’s inspiring to me, and I strive to make every one of my life decisions on that basis as well. I don’t always succeed, but that is the goal. No matter how hard life gets, I pray I would never throw away my faith and corresponding ethics.

And that is where Kenneth Lay went wrong. When times got tough, he didn’t behave ethically. He caved to the temptation to look out for number one, instead of looking out for those in a worse situation than his own. His employees.

That is the basis of success. A willingness to do the right thing, even when doing the wrong thing would be easier. Yes, it is possible to accumulate many worldly riches and be ethical…a success. It is also possible to be a complete success, yet have no large bank account to show for it.

Success is based on who you are. How you treat others. Learning from your mistakes. Success is based on what you do in difficult circumstances, when you think nobody is looking.

Would you agree, or not? What do you think is the basis of success?

Photo by [Adam_Baker].


By , on Oct 19, 2009
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


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  1. Nice post! I like these types of juxtapositions.

    Wow, Adam takes great pictures!

  2. Success is when you are happy in this moment. Carpe Diem!

  3. Marj M.:

    Oh, I soooooooo knew you were speaking of Corrie ten Boom in the #2 example. “The Hiding Place” was such a heartbreaking yet wonderful example of the perfect peace the Lord gives us when we stand firm our purpose and trust in Him. Corrie’s book, “Each New Day” starts every morning for me.

  4. What a thought provoking post. Success comes in the eyes of the Lord, not the world

  5. Greg:

    That is a great post…. It really makes a person question their perspectives!!!

  6. Loved the post. There’s another good book by a young Christian Dutch woman who rescued Jews—“Things We Couldn’t Say.” It’s available through Focus on the Family.

  7. DK:

    Great post Lynnae. You had me all the way through the end! It’s crazy what people think “success” is. It isn’t money. It isn’t power.

  8. Taryn:

    Wonderful Lynnae! I’m actually reading The Hiding Place right now so I’m so moved to see it here! Corrie is amazing, and I agree that success is based on ethics and empathy. There is so much to her story that it is hard to even encapsulate it in a comment. But I think Ecclesiastes is so right as it says money and success as goals in themselves are fleeting and vain.

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