F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE – What does the word success mean to you? For me, the word traps us without even defining itself. The word can foster anxiety, force people to compromise their innate talents and leave us comparing ourselves to unrealistic expectations. We all hope to be successful, but we have to be careful what we wish for because how we define success could have both rewards and consequences.
There are numerous examples of leaders who have ruined themselves because of the “curse of success.” Recently, I listened to an interview with a band who talked about their struggles of making their debut album and touring to support their sales. When they began, they were happy to have 50 people show up at their small venues. Now, with their sophomore album, demands of fans and record companies have them ironically wishing they could go back to their organic roots so they “don’t become too big.”
So how do you define success? Not an ideal definition, but your own personal constitution where success is written somewhere within you. For instance, if I value money as my metric of success, then my success rises and falls every time I look at my financial assets. According to the British Medical Journal, a study showed that the impact of a financial crisis in 2009 led to about 5,000 additional suicides. A majority of the increase can be attributed to men, according to the survey of data from 54 countries. Those men bought into a lie that just because a system failed (or actually did what it’s supposed to do in a capitalist society), they were no longer successful, and therefore must not live any longer. What a terrible deception!
Women also wrestle with what success looks like in our society. They may feel ashamed if they do not measure up to popular stereotypes. Dr. Brene Brown, in her book “Daring Greatly,” raises the idea that if a woman doesn’t have children, they are often faced with the question of when they are having their first. If the woman isn’t married, then when is it going to happen? Success, for many women, seems to be tied into the balance of home and children, all while appearing to have it all together. If a woman chooses to be single and join the workforce, then why can’t she be viewed as successful? The truth is that either choice is a calling, and neither should be looked down on as less than the other.
In my opinion, success is value-driven and has nothing to do with excess. If my success has to do with excess, then I am letting the outside world drive my happiness. I believe that God has more in store for me than trying to keep up with the next big thing. God wants me to serve Him faithfully, love my family and, as a chaplain, ensure religious freedom prevails beyond my time in the Air Force. Early in my marriage, I told myself, “I want to be successful at being faithful to my wife.” What if your definition of success was to achieve being firm, fair and kind, or being successful at influencing your peers to do something positive?
If you desire to have a long and successful career in the Air Force, that is a wonderful aspiration but there is at least one thing you’ll have to accomplish in order to get there: be teachable. There will be times when you work very hard and may not receive the immediate praise you desire; however, that was not the goal of this destination. Your journey is about being successful at patience and firm in your endeavor, regardless of the commendation. Let the accolades be the career enhancement of a person with integrity. My value system is centered on God’s will and has nothing to do with an ideal that comes from advertisements or numbers. Let the high metrics be the wonderful by-product of your passion.
Here is my invitation to you. Explore your interests. What do you like to do? I believe that God has placed an intrinsic motivation in you, which you will discover near your passion. To those that lead a large number of people, where do your people find success? The way I see it, our long term success as an Air Force depends upon retaining satisfied and fulfilled airmen. It is your job to reach into the lives of your subordinates to find out what interests them. How are you going to help them achieve success in life?
My favorite definition of success is, “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” In the past, I have written about purpose being linked to calling. How can we reframe success for own lives yet maintain the balance of tying that to the success of the world’s greatest Air Force. Could we then define success as a word that opens possibilities for ourselves when we seek a higher purpose for our lives?
My challenge for you is to take a critical look at your version of success. If material possessions, abstract numbers and a biased perspective of your personal prosperity are the primary influencers, it is time for change. Is this the juncture in your life to re-evaluate your surroundings and recalibrate your sights so your aim is centered on a genuine value system? This is my hope and prayer for you.