How We Respond When We Can’t Handle Success
Recently, I had a string of little victories, and they proved to be surprisingly difficult to enjoy. A little background will probably be helpful.
I’ve been writing this blog for almost five years now, post after post, without becoming any sort of overnight success. However, one unexpected breakthrough happened in 2011, when I wrote a post called “Man Enough to Love a Real Woman.” Thanks to a kind reader, it made it to the desk of Martha Krienke, editor of the popular website Boundless.org (Boundless is a ministry of Focus on the Family). Martha asked if she could publish it; it became the most popular article on their website that year; and thus began my relationship with Boundless, which has been very fruitful in the three years I’ve written for them.
A Bumper Crop
The folks at Boundless were kind enough to invite me to speak at their conference in Colorado a couple of weeks ago, and it was relatively surreal. I mean, you don’t know how many late nights, early mornings, and lunch breaks I’ve spent in front of a laptop, putting my thoughts on the internet, hoping that God will take what I’m learning and use it to help people who can relate to my thoughts. And then to suddenly meet some of the real, live readers who have been touched in some way by my writing – it was like Christmas for a struggling writer.
On top of all that, my wife and I ended up doing extended interviews for an upcoming documentary being produced by Focus on the Family, I got a chance to be interviewed by a producer of the Focus radio show, and I got to meet some of my fellow Boundless contributors and role models. Yet almost the whole time, I struggled with feeling guilty about it; and afterwards, I found myself having conversations about the trip and feeling obligated to remind everyone that truly I understood the dangers of getting the big head.
But then yesterday, I was having a conversation with my brother Caleb, and he asked if I was still enjoying the high of all the great things that happened in Colorado. I immediately launched into my perfunctory explanation that I was very grateful for it, but I needed to be careful not to get full of myself.
“Come on, Josh,” he said, “you’ve been working at this for a long time – it’s okay to enjoy some of the fruit of your labor. And it is exciting, so you ought to be excited about it.”
Plastic Medals and Paper Crowns
It was a relief to have Caleb, whom I deeply respect, encourage me to be okay with being pumped about my victories. It reminded me of how I felt recently when my little girls “graduated” from their gymnastics class and proudly stood on a platform to receive plastic, gold medals.
I was proud of them and unashamedly thrilled with their relatively insignificant success. And quite frankly, it would have bothered me if one of them had stepped off the stage and gotten on some weird guilt trip about how she didn’t want her plastic medal to go to her head. If that would’ve happened, I would’ve thought that either: (a) my daughter didn’t realize how truly insignificant a plastic medal is; or (b) she had a really weird guilt complex and needed deliverance.
C.S. Lewis, who was wildly successful in his time and long after, once said that if we’re going to end up in a land where we will cast our golden crowns at the feet of Jesus, “we must here [on earth] be content both to assume for ourselves and to honour in others crowns of paper and tinsel, most worthy of tender laughter but not of hostile contempt.”
So with that in mind, I want to thank my dear brother for the reality check, the reminder to celebrate my victories. It was nice to wear a little Burger King crown for a weekend in Colorado Springs. May God take all of the efforts behind that crown and turn it into gold that I can throw at His feet one day.