What does success actually mean?


As hard as I try not to think in absolute categories about things, I always slip into it. I’m sure you do too. As humans, we enjoy putting things neatly in boxes, with a nice, tidy label on them.

The other day I was with a group of friends and the conversation turned to siblings. One of the girls present explained how her brother was my age (26) and living in California, a computer whiz. He hung with movie stars, had more money than I will probably ever even dream about in my entire life, and by every numerical standard had really achieved “success.”

My friend who is a few years younger than me turned to me and said, “Wow, James, you’re really a failure aren’t you?”

He said it jokingly, but it made me think, “Wow. I really am a failure.” When I was in high school I never imagined I would be working as a “Missionary-In-Residence” director of college ministry (as you can imagine we aren’t necessarily “rolling in the dough”). I figured I would be a high-powered lawyer, or president or something. Yet here I am, 26, and clearly some of my former peers are much, much more successful by the world’s standards.

I’m a failure.

I don’t have a lot of money, or investments, or a 401k. I don’t have a powerful position at  large firm, or my name on a shiny plaque.

And I think that’s ok.

It’s ok that I am not well-known, or rich, or powerful. Because, at the end of the day, success cannot be measured by those things.

I heard once that we judge other people by their actions and ourselves by our intentions. Most of the time it means that we judge others harsher than we judge ourselves. But in this case, this girl’s brother is better than me on every conceivable metric society would use. His actions are much more successful than my intentions.

But that’s not what success is.

Success is pursuing your dreams, whatever they are, with conviction and joy.

God didn’t put you on earth to just make a lot of money, or to just have a lot of people know your name. You were made to honor God. That looks a little different for everyone. But if you are doing what you are passionate about, in a loving manner and with Christ in your heart, then you are far from a failure.

James Harris

Author James Harris

James is probably the 3rd or 4th funniest guy you know. Funny enough to invite to a party; not witty enough to talk about later. Co-Founder and Content Editor of Everyday Exiles, Director of College Ministry at Reynolda Church, EPC, and husband to Meredith. He has a dog named Calvin, a cat named Opie, and a robot vacuum named Alfred.

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