While I was visiting an Internet job site that had listings from Hartford and Manhattan to the Great Plains and Alaska, I came upon a story that offered tips for people who want to be successful. And we all want to be successful, don’t we?
The piece, which was titled “Questions you should ask every successful person you meet,” gave advice on how to probe the minds of people who made it to the top and are in the notorious “One Percent.” (Of course, for the other 99 percent of us, “making it” usually means having enough to feed our families, pay the mortgage, send our kids to college and go on a summer vacation every so often.)
I’m always eager to read advice from the experts. A few days before, I’d stumbled upon a story with the headline, “10 College Majors You Should Avoid Because They Don’t Pay.” If I had seen that story years ago, my life would have turned out differently. You see, I selected two unprofitable college majors, journalism and theology, that are among the worst if you want to make money.
Now I understand why I drove a Plymouth, vacationed at Hammonasset State Park and raised four daughters in a three-bedroom Cape with one bathroom. (During the morning rush, everyone had a scheduled time to get in there – and get out. Showers were limited to several minutes so that each daughter could get her allotted share of hot water, although the fourth sibling often ended up screaming, “THERE’S NO HOT WATER!”) All because I majored in theology and journalism. I should have studied computers, but I don’t think they’d been invented yet.
The questions you should ask successful people were supposed to help you gain insights into their secrets and let you pattern yourself after them. They included:
• “When did you consider yourself a success?”
• “How do you push through your worst times?”
• “What keeps you awake at night?”
• “What are your success habits?”
• “What is your favorite TV show?” (Since I don’t own a TV, that question is meaningless.)
I confess that at this stage in life, the secrets of the rich and powerful don’t mean much to me. I no longer care about being a success in the eyes of the world as much as being a success in Christ’s eyes, which isn’t easy in modern America, probably because his standards aren’t the same as society’s.
After thinking about it, I compiled my own list of questions I’d like to ask successful people, and they were a bit different:
• How often do you pray?
• What are your ethical standards?
• What do you do when your values conflict with your professional life?
• Who is your favorite author? Your favorite saint?
• What are your habits for spiritual growth?
• Did you turn to God during your worst hard time?
The sad irony is that many people who win the world’s praise are often unhappy human beings with no love for God or their fellow man. Usually they’re so self-obsessed that their only concern is getting ahead and staying ahead.
Even worse, the role models America offers young people – from Justin Bieber to Miley Cyrus and the Kardashians – lead them in the wrong direction.
Our children and grandchildren, who are cursed with being “ordinary people” in a culture where “celebrity” is glorified, are especially susceptible to the lure of entertainers who have no values.
However, being a success in the eyes of the media, corporate America, the sports world and the entertainment industry will count for little in the end, and our children should be taught from an early age to direct their lives toward what is spiritually valuable, not socially valuable.
Jesus, thank goodness, doesn’t judge us based on the length of our obituaries, our gross annual income, our profile in People magazine, academic degrees, sports awards and stock portfolios. How unfair that would be. More than once, he said the meek would inherit the earth. And how can we forget what he said about the last being first and the first being last?
At the end of the day, Christ will measure our “success” by how much we loved and strived to do his will. And as we claw our way up the ladder, we should always remember what he had to say about success: “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?”
J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.