There are four purposes for posting selfies on social media—to show the world: 1) how we look, 2) who we’re with, 3) where we’ve been, or 4) what we’ve accomplished. This post begins the fourth item on that list: What We’ve Accomplished.
Failure-to-success and rags-to-riches stories abound.
Basketball great Michael Jordan tells audiences that he has missed over 9,000 shots and lost over 3,000 games in his career. No one would call him a failure.
Inventor Thomas Edison said “I have not failed 10,000 times (inventing the light bulb)—I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” We never remember his failures each time we turn on a light or use one of his many other inventions.
These two are among many who did not quit when they failed. Those who accomplish great things often persevere and build off of each small victory (or defeat) to complete a task. But that’s not what this chapter is about. It is to unpack why we should not let achievements (or failures) identify us.
The definitions for “accomplishment” and “success” are similar, but there is a small, but important difference. To accomplish something is to complete or attain a goal. Success suggests it is to attain fame, wealth, or social status from one’s efforts. Implications of accomplishment is that an objective, even if it seems insignificant, has been reached and it gives impetus to go on to the next goal. Success is often the ending place, to mean that one has arrived and can, therefore, rest on his or her laurels.
I have known young athletes who have gotten injured, knocking them off the field of play forever, and then lamenting, “But _ (name the sport) ____ was my life!” That is one of the saddest statements I’ve ever heard. Life is fragile enough without hinging one’s entire life on a sport or another activity.
So take the selfie of you holding the trophy or receiving a medal if you want, but see that event as only part of the whole—the accomplishment that leads to the next thing.
Retired Navy Seal Admiral William H. McRaven wrote a book on the idea of accomplishments. The book is titled Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…and Maybe the World.
If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right. And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made — and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.[i]
So according to this author, to accomplish something is more of an ongoing process rather than a place to land. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “life is a journey, not a destination.” That statement should be at least considered when trying to figure out where you’re going in life. The late ex-Beatle John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” These are two inspiring perspectives on our time on earth. They imply that our existence on earth is fluid—always moving and that we should keep moving. The Bible has a lot to say about that, too.
The Apostle Paul used athletic terms as metaphors for life’s challenges. In Ephesians 4, he writes to the church at Ephesus “I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands.”
Also, he writes to the Philippians (chapter 3, verse 14),… “I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” Paul was never idle even when he was in prison. He was forever pressing on to the goal of pleasing God and making Him known to the world.
Children of God do not have to prove their worth to Him. Love and perfect performance do not exist together with Him. We do not need to prove ourselves worthy of His favor.
The author of the Generation Me book, Jean Twenge, is pretty hard on the current younger generation, pointing out a trend that she thinks is one of the reasons this generation lacks motivation. She says that the blame should go to athletic teams, “…everyone gets a trophy just for playing—you sit on the bench, you get the trophy; you don’t try, you get the trophy…”
I don’t share her aversion to participation prizes. I don’t attribute laziness and apathy solely to this practice either. These undesirable qualities have deeper roots, often, that have nothing to do with a participation trophy.
There are some people who are not satisfied to just run the race, they must win the race to feel valued. Again they associate worth with achievement. And then, according to an article on WebMD there are those who transfer their need to win to their favorite sports team or to their own children. Bragging rights, if you will. “There’s a term for getting behind a winning team: ‘basking in reflected glory.’ It means you vicariously enjoy a victory even though you may not have done anything but cheer: ‘We won, we won!’ On the flip side, if your team doesn’t win, you don’t want any part of it: ‘Those bums lost again!’”[ii] Transference of achievement can be found in children to parents. The kids achieve, therefore the parent is somehow more valuable.
We all have heard about youth sports parents becoming violent when an umpire or coach makes a call that the parent questions. An article in the Washington Post reports, “Sports are a metaphor for life: Sometimes things don’t go your way. Learning how to deal with disappointment, whether it’s a bad call or striking out when the bases are loaded, is a valuable lesson. But that message has been stifled by parents who want to protect their child from anything negative ever happening.”[iii]
Rarely do we want to document our failures. We don’t often take selfies of ourselves coming into last place—or even second place for that matter. We sometimes believe that our worth is about winning. And when we don’t win, we’re deflated, angry, or feel cheated. Life isn’t fair, of course, so one—or many losses—cannot define who we are or how valuable we are.
My friend, Debbie, had a wayward son and I asked her how this made her feel about herself. She wrote,
Embarrassed and isolated…I could never have imagined that I’d be that mother…looking through bullet-proof Plexiglas to see her 19-year-old son, dressed in an orange, prison-issued jumpsuit. Twice a week for about 3 months, that was the extent of our interaction. [My son] had certainly earned that consequence over the six previous years…involved with drugs, alcohol, stealing and breaking-and-entering. Starting when he was 13, he began by running away, skipping school, smoking, stealing from us…and lying about all of it. We were devastated, and I have to say, embarrassed.
Guilty…Satan, the Accuser, loved to remind me of all I’d done wrong, the places I’d failed, the words I should never have said. (personal interview)
Another friend of mine who had a child who was drifting away told me, “I abandoned my career to be a stay-at-home mom. My job was to raise my kids to be responsible, healthy adults. Now I’ve failed at that job. I am worthless.”
In both of these homes, the children did grow up to be wonderful, productive adults, and the women could rip off the label of being an unfit mother, but the process was grueling especially when they had to watch their children fail and transfer that failure to themselves.
STOP: Are you trying desperately to please someone, a parent or friend, by winning every contest?
Is your sense of value tied to your performance? If you win, you’re worth something. If you lose you are worthless? Are you basking in reflective glory?
LIE: *People will love me if I’m recognized for my accomplishments.
*I have to win at everything; otherwise, I don’t deserve respect or love.
TRUTH: “…[God] saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy…” (Titus 3:5, CSB)
“But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.” (Romans 5:8)
“What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are.” (1 John 3:1)
[i] McRaven, Admiral William H.. Make Your Bed (p. 2). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.