The Success Illusion

There is something extremely contagious about the desire for success. We live in a day when success is defined by looks, IQ, strategic alliances, titles and world records. The list could go on for several pages. Success is supposed to attract people’s attention and put you in a superior position in the human pecking order

Our kids have to be….

….the smartest.

….the fastest.

….the prettiest.

….the best connected.

….the most popular.

….the best outfitted.

….the best rewarded.

….the most confident.

It’s easy to see how parents could unwittingly think that it might be in their children’s best interest to get a piece of the action before it’s all over. It’s also easy to see why so many parents assume that the world’s view of success is something their kids can’t live without. But maybe we’d all be a little better off if we look at the anchor tenets of the success illusion with the most obvious being fame, power, health and beauty, and wealth..

Fame is an extremely attractive substitute for greatness. Our culture worships at the altar of celebrity. The more well known you are, the more significant you appear–regardless of how you gained your fame. Celebrity in and of itself is not a bad thing. Someone’s fame might be the logical result of things done well or circumstances that simply came their way. But without even trying, parents can unconsciously format their children to need the empty praise of fame by orchestrating their lives so that they can become popular among their young peer group. There’s a fine line between encouraging our children to excel and pushing them to achieve the public’s attention in the process. The fact is, true greatness often garners attention. But when we keep pushing the dream of fame on our children, we can unintentionally set them up for an adult life of discouragement when the spotlight of celebrity shines on someone else.

Our culture is intoxicated with power. And there are some parents who think they must raise their children to rule the world. They push them to be first, to take charge, and to assume the top position. “Don’t let anyone get in your way!” Yet power for power’s sake seldom turns out well. The need to dominate and control is part of our self-protective inner being. The marketplace is crowded with Barney Fifes–people with too little ability in positions of too much authority (remember the bullet he kept in his shirt pocket?) High controllers bring out the worst in the people close to them. That’s why indoctrinating your children into needing to rule people sets them up for a lot of heartache.

Of course there are many kids who pop out of their mother’s womb hardwired to dominate. They proceed to take over the daily agenda of the house with their powerful lungs and their determined wills. You are getting to train a leader. But if these children aren’t raised in submission to the leadership of their parents, and if they don’t have the essence of true greatness instilled into them, they can grow up to do a lot of damage. True greatness does not have power as its goal, but it often gains power by default.

When it comes to health and beauty, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to stay in good shape or in wanting to look your best. But the problem comes when we worship health and beauty. This happens when our view of ourselves comes from the way we fit into our clothes and the images looking back at us in the mirror each morning. Our need for superior health makes it tough for us to be sick or injured. Our moods become the sock puppet of how we feel physically at any given moment. And the bigger problem comes with the artificial value we place on ourselves and others if we (or they) happen to hit a higher aesthetic standard of beauty than the average person. It’s subtle, but people who need beauty to feel complete often give “beautiful people” far more influence than they genuinely have, are far more lenient with them than they deserve, and assume they are far more successful than they actually are. Perhaps the greatest tragedy is what happens to plain, sickly or overweight children who grow up in homes with parents who are overly fixated on health and beauty. These children know that they will never measure up.

Finally, when it comes to people’s view of success, wealth ends up on the list of priorities. And of all the false gods masquerading as greatness, money heads the list. There are very few parents who wouldn’t list near the top of their parenting priorities the need to equip their children to make a good living. Money is so important to many parents that it is not uncommon for a mom or dad to push a child to pursue a certain vocation simply because of its income potential. Whether the child has an aptitude for it, or even enjoys its, is irrelevant. The important thing is that he spends his adult life doing something that pays well. My personal hope for your children is that they grow up to be able to create all the income they need to carry out their greater purposes in life. But we must be careful to avoid equating wealth with greatness. They are not the same.

Isn’t it ironic that as a nation we worship those who are successful, but when tragedy strikes, our survival depends upon those who are great? Remember, true greatness isn’t’ about fame, power, beauty or wealth. It’s about a passionate love for God that demonstrates itself in an unquenchable love and concern for others. Unfortunately, many parents get lost in the maze of the world’s passion for success. We can camouflage these expectations in clever spiritual rhetoric, but in the long run, if we get it wrong, our kids will find themselves propping up empty lives when they’re our age. All because we unwittingly bought into a lie that true greatness has something to do with accomplishments or accouterments.

Taken with permission from Raising Kids for True Greatness (W Publishing Group).