Friday, April 18, 2008


Is success an illusion?

(I'm really asking.)

I said in an earlier post that success was an illusion. I'm not sure that's right.

Do you think success is an illusion?


majorsteve said...


Please define success and I'll tell you if it's an illusion or not.

truevyne said...

Seems to me, the only real success is the kind God does or is.
I've met some lifetime goals this year, but I still don't feel like I've arrived.
So here's my stab at a definition of success. It's the same definition I stick to of worship.

"Was I radically obedient to the Word of God today?"

FancyPants said...

Major, that's a good point. I guess that's part of the question. What's your definition of success?

Truevyne's definition would be: success = being radically obedient to the Word of God today.

I see success as more of a long term thing....

Anonymous said...

No, success is not an illusion. Its worth may be, but it is a real thing.

FancyPants said...

Cach, how would you define it for yourself?

Chaotic Hammer said...

I'm kinda with Majorsteve on this one. The word "success" seems so open-ended and is probably defined differently by just about every person.

Certainly there's a general American idea about what it means, but I would argue that even that is a moving target for most people.

In the context of your previous post, I would say that it is an illusion, mostly. Perhaps it also depends on whether you are talking about your own personal definition of "success" or "success" as defined in your life by others.

Fork said...

Do you think Scrooge McDuck thought it was an illusion when he went swimming in his money vault??

Heck no! Success is the real deal, Lucille!

majorsteve said...

I don't have a money vault to swim in, I'm not famous, not good looking (anymore), not overly talented or smart, so why do I feel "successful"? Honestly I just love my wife and my two girls and my little house and I'm just so blessed on so many levels that I feel that if I had to choose just one thing with which to define success it would be love of family and God. It's like God said "I'll let you be successful in one or two aspects of life so take your pick". And I picked my little family right here and right now. It doesn't mean I'm not frustrated a good bit of the time, but ultimately, I got what I wanted and I would not trade it for anything. Anything.

Seth Ward said...

I would say, yes.

I would say there are different ways of thinking about success, but I think that success can be loosely defined as "achieving a goal."

Now, whether your goals are realistic or not, or how you go about achieving them, or what you do when it doesn't quite work out the way you planned... is another matter altogether.

This way, success is subjective and not subject to comparison. A man that has a huge house and a big SUV and a perfect-10 wife, but doesn't help anyone isn't nearly as successful as the man with 4 kids, an okay car... but whose kids love him and he is doing what he is passionate about and blessing others abundantly with what "little" he has.

I think in the Kingdom, if there is a measure of success it would be closely defined by what one has done with the fruits of the achieved goal and to quote Prince of Egypt, in "Not how much he gained, but how much he gave." If I get all the money in the world from a book deal and hole up in my apartment for years and never share that success generously, I would consider myself a failure.

There are a thousand "successes" that people can experience every day, and some of those will bring you a greater joy than your "big dreams." It is sad to note that it takes getting the "big dreams" sometimes, to realize that you've been missing out on the real success, or missed chances at the important successes: family, marriage, quality time, giving, serving...

It is encouraging to see that people like Warren Buffet and Bono and even Oprah, or even Mr. Wacoan of the Year, the Cachinator.

Anonymous said...

I think success can only be defined by you.

Me.... Contentment.

Hi, I'm a stranger named Erin. I happened upon your blog a few days ago. I read your post on how you felt about being at the fancy schmancy party, and I have felt the exact same way, many times lately. Feeling painfully inadequate in a situation where you so want to fit in. Been there, it's frustrating and it makes me down on myself.

I don't want to sound like a hounding mother, but when I feel like that, it can all be attributed to a state of mind. I've found envy and jealousy to be useless human emotions. It is human nature, so it happens... but when I start to feel like that, I make it (in my mind and for my own sanity) about them. I say to myself, "Ya know, good for them! God bless them! I'm sure they worked hard to get what they have." That usually motivates me to do something about the situation and/or it just leaves me with hope and positive feelings about that person. Which really could be a blessing for both of you.

That's just me.

Go Jesus!

...and you are totally right about Oprah. I "discern" that Tolle is wack!


Fork said...

Wow. You guys are deep.

Popcorn said...

I refrained from commenting early this morning, for fear my comment would not seem intellectual enough. I pretty much wussed out til I could read other comments... But would have said the same thing as the stranger said.And MS, too. Success is contentment with one's life. My definition syncs up with both majorsteve's and the stranger's really. Contentment=My Family*** I have what I always wanted. A husband that I cherish and with whom I have a close satisfying relationship and three healthy, thriving, happy, Christian kids. Are we perfect and problem free? Of course not, don't pretend to be. I don't fool myself with the lie that life can be perfect. I just can't think of anything that would make me feel more successful than what I already have, warts and all. I have achieved success. Any other blessings are icing on the cake of life. I thank God for blessing me with these people to love every day. I go so far as to say to self, if I died tomorrow, I would die a happy, satisfied woman who had everything she ever wished for.I have to say that being gifted with both daughters and a son made me the happiest girl on earth. Go ahead a wipe the tear out of your rolling eyes. I know you're out there. I know some smart patootie will shoot this down and mock me...but this is the ever lovin' truth. ok, I'm braced for the fallout from all of the eggheady-er people out there...My vote is no, my success is not an illusion. I take it to school each morning and enjoy driving with our seat warmers on and watching it eat its to-go beloved whole wheat waffle with lots of butter and syrup, I watch as it does its homework at the kitchen table every night with its ipod blaring in its ears, I text it goodnight in Lubbock and tell it how much I miss it and want summer to get here, I kiss it when it gets home from waiting tables at Kona Grill, and then cuddle up with its warm hairy legs when I go to sleep every single precious night.If that is all an illusion it is a mighty tangible one that I am ever grateful for. : )

FancyPants said...

More definitions of success:

Forky = Success is swimming in a money vault.

Major = Success is family and the blessings family brings.

Seth = Success is achieving a goal. It is also family, marriage, quality time, giving, serving...and can be measured by how much you give from the fruits of achieving said goal.

Erin = (Welcome, Erin!) Success is contentment.

So from these definitions, I can conclude that Success is real. It is not deception. It can be attained. It is not a misconception or a false idea. Fame is an illusion, but not success.

But I decide for myself what Success is, instead of letting society decide for me. I think we get confused and lost when we let someone else decide for us what success is.

I guess my next question would be: how do we operate in a society that defines success for us all the time? New York, in a way, defines what success is for me, because I have to meet its demands in regards to cost of living, for one. Success has to be relative to society, while not dependent on it.

FancyPants said...

Pop, if there's a smart patootie out there that will mock you for that, they're not smart enough.

Popcorn = Success is a husband with hairy legs =-), two daughters and a son, and contentment.

Kat said...

Success = achieving the goals YOU have defined.

Success is NOT achieving goals that others have defined.

Success is NOT achieving goals that you've verbalized even though they're old or bad goals.

Success exists in a vacuum. Prestige exists in society.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the Welcome!

I don't think success determines your cost of living. I think that money determines your cost of living. Money pays the bills. If that is what you are referring to?

I don't necessarily see having or not having money as a part of being content (as defined earlier, success). I do enjoy clothing on my back and a roof over my head, though. Those things do not define who I am and who I want to be. You, your personality, your character, your faith, your love, are the only things that can define success.

I have to admit that I see your predicament in the profession that you are in. As an actor, you are judged by the amount of work that you do and the amount of money that you make. What my guru self would say to that is, "Do you act because you love the craft of creating and entertaining and nothing else profession-wise would make you feel like a whole person, or do you act because you want to be famous and have money?" If it's the latter, that is not success as contentment. If you *are* judged by the amount of money you make and the amount of work that you do and the amount of fans that you have, to them I would say, Poo! You are a Child of God, and comes with that is a confidence in yourself to win their hearts and the next job, and therefore money to maintain a cost of living.

--Stranger Erin

FancyPants said...

I don't think success determines your cost of living.

I don't either. I think, that in a way, cost of living determines one's definition of success.

You, your personality, your character, your faith, your love, are the only things that can define success.

I'd have to disagree here. After some thought on the subject, I'd also have to disagree that success = contentment. I understand and relate to the premise behind the thought, but I'm coming to the conclusion that I think of success in a different way.

Or maybe it's a matter of semantics. So many things are. But here's what I think:

The end result of every goal has to be one of two things: success or failure.

Personality, faith, love, character, contentment, are all things I should have whether I succeed or fail. They are not actually success themselves. They are constants, or at least I strive for them to be constants, a constant state of mind and being.

No matter what goals I set for my life, whether they be in my family, my marriage, my career, I hope to have faith and contentment, even if I fail.

I have a goal in mind for family. My goal is that divorce is never even considered, that I have children, at least 2, and that we are well-fed, the bills are paid, we have a home. God forbid I should fail at this. God forbid my marriage fails. (I'm not saying I expect it to.) But if my goals for my family fail, I hope my faith and contentment will stay despite the failure.

There are different measures of success. Without discussing priorities (and goals must have priorities): Any time I set a goal for anything in life I aim for success. I might succeed at one goal and fail at another. I might have a beautiful family but never sing on Broadway. But I will always have faith and love.

I guess you could say that the ultimate LIFE success might be faith and love and contentment, but I'd rather these be constants. And if I go through a season of discontent have I failed at life? Surely not. If I at times doubt my faith have I failed God? I don't think so. If I've succeeded at every goal I've set for myself but still have not love or contentment or faith, then my existence is miserable despite the successes.

FancyPants said...


My marriage is not failing. I reread that comment, and it might sound like I'm worried about it failing. NOT worried. Don't worry, folks. I'm the happiest bride, and it only keeps getting better.

FancyPants said...

Sorry for the repeat comments here...

Also, I think the having of love and contentment and faith can be goals in themselves.

Today, this week, this year, my goal is to have contentment no matter what circumstances come my way. I can either succeed or fail in that attempt, today, this week, this year. Spiritual goals of sorts.

Seth Ward said...

You don't bring me flowers.... you don't sing me love songs.... (Neil Diamond enters with side burns and bell bottom slacks) "You hardly talk to me anymore, when I walk to the door at the end of the day...

(Babs sings slowly) "I remember when..."

Name that song!

(We like making out and crying to that song. We're dramatic that way.)

Rob said...

Let's not start making up new meanings for words that are perfectly well defined right now. That leads us to chaos!

According to the dictionary:,
success is "the achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted" and illusion is "something that deceives by producing a false or misleading impression of reality."

Thus success is not an illusion. As Fancy noted, when you try something the result is either success or failure. No illusion there.

I suspect that the question behind the question is more about choosing those things that we ought to desire, plan, or attempt. What makes a thing worthy of desiring? Why should we plan to do a thing?

The answer to those questions is also not illusion. It is the answer to the question, "Why do I exist?" If you first tell me why you exist, then we can begin to look at whether or not your existence is a "success."

Anonymous said...

Great question. It's all in the definition. What I do know all too well is that it's temporary.

majorsteve said...

Rob is right. In the strict sense of the word sucess is the opposite of failure. Success might be an illusion, however, if you see someone that you think is "successful" and it turns out they are actually a failure. In that regard, their success was an illusion. Take the last governor of New York for instance. A few months ago I would have seen this man, the same age as me, as the epitome of "success" But it would have been an illusion. He is a failure. When you meet someone like Kristen Chenowith, who is apparently successful, you don't know that when she goes home at night she might be contemplating suicide. I doubt that's true, I don't know her but I'm just using her as an example. Success in career does not always equal success in life. So, your own success in narrowly defined areas of your life and even overall, can be very real. The success you see on the streets of NYC might very well be an illusion. Who knows?

Seth Ward said...

I think that a real problem in our culture is calling someone a success or a failure. How in the world can we do that? Even if a man has failed in his marriage, he may be somehow, a good dad, or a good boss.

I failed my German test, but I am not a failure. Etc.

While it is just as much there with women as it is men, the "feeling like a failure or a success" tends to kick in gear at around 30 hard-core in men, and doesn't let up till maybe 70, if ever.

I agree with Steve in that I've known men who live in humongous houses but are plagued with feeling like a failure. Most times it is because they didn't pursue what they were passionate about early in life and pursued something that they thought would make them "successful" or appear to be successful.

The truth is, no one is a total success or a total failure. In the eyes of God, through Grace, we are a success, but we are never going to get everything right.

It is the perspective that you choose after your success or failure that really counts. I can get beat in tennis 10 time in a row, but if I get closer every time, I feel like a success. If I don't, most times that means, I didn't do my best and I might feel like I failed. But so what? I Learn from it, admit that I was wrong and let God turn my failure into a success. It is what is unique about Christianity. In every religion there is this idea of Karma. Eye for an Eye. But here comes Christianity... "If you screw up, not only will the Lord forgive you, but if you repent, He will find a way to turn you ashes into beauty."

From this perspective, I can say, whether I succeed or fail, "I did the best I could and the Lord gives and takes away, but all for my good and His glory." OR I can say, "I slacked off, trusted myself; I was arrogant and cruel. I repent, and I know that God will find some way to use my past failures for my good and his Glory."

The second one makes no sense in the cause in effect world, but that is Grace and the good news.

Keeping this in mind, I will be less likely to make success OR failure be my god. Nothing but God can bring me the true happiness I desire. From that I can take the "failures" with the "successes" and count them equally for my good and His glory. My problem with success is two-fold.

On one hand It is hard to say, when things don't go my way, "But God, I reeeeeaaally wanted that. However, you know best. Thy will be done."

On the other hand, I grew up so scared of walking in faith and being selfish that I hid behind un-needed sacrifices because I was afraid of "succeeding" and making something my god. So, in doing that, I made a feeling of failure my refuge and my God and said, "Well, the Lord just didn't want me to do this or that..." or, "I think if I make a CD I might be to tempted to worship myself and turn away from God. That is fear, and God wants us to shake it off. "It was for freedom that Christ set you Free." "For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."

FancyPants said...

I've really enjoyed hearing everyone's thoughts on this, so thanks for commenting. You've helped me consider this idea of success...what's good about pursuing it, and what makes it dangerous. I keep thinking about Cach's statement (among others):

No, success is not an illusion. Its worth may be, but it is a real thing.

And WIthoutwax's comment (Welcome, Wax!):

What I do know all too well is that it's temporary.

Is it really? Is success temporary? I know the products of it are, or rather, can be. Money is the first that comes to mind. You can't take it with you. But a successful marriage, successful child raising - that isn't temporary, is it? Our experience of achieving a goal, even if it's our carreer - Do we not take that into eternity with us? It's how we view that achievement and what we do with it that can be temporary, or eternal, depending on one's actions.

At the risk of running this topic too long with new questions, (Lord knows I can do that) I'll say just a few things in summary, my thoughts anyway, and then feel free to continue commenting or we can leave it for now.

Rob, your question: Why do I exist? I'll answer, not because nobody else knows that answer, but because I think it's important to remember. I exist because God wants me to exist. So the fact that I am here is a "success." No one's existence is a failure. A failed existence is no existence at all, and then even that isn't a failure because no existence means God has not willed it so. And if one believes his existence is a failure, there lies the illusion. That's a lie.

The appearance of success can be an illusion. The housing market, an example. Subprime mortgages...a home owner who doesn't have the income to support the mortgage. The home might be considered an illusion. A couple can give the appearance that their marriage is succeeding when in fact it is not. They can fool themselves. They can fool others. As MajorSteve noted, "So, your own success in narrowly defined areas of your life and even overall, can be very real. The success you see on the streets of NYC might very well be an illusion.

I could go on, but I'll stop there before my comment becomes a should-be post.... Maybe it will be soon. Thanks again, everyone, for sharing your thoughts.

This Southern Belle said...

May sound simplistic, but my definition of success is being in and accomplishing God's will at all times. I'm not always successful, of course, but I figure that if I can stay in His course then what I am supposed to achieve will follow.

Great question, Fancypants.

Seth Ward said...

I like that SB!