I found this sobering illustration of the cost of success in a recent David Sedaris feature for the New Yorker entitled “Laugh, Kookaburra.”
Pat was driving, and as we passed the turnoff for a shopping center she invited us to picture a four-burner stove.
“Gas or electric?” Hugh asked, and she said that it didn’t matter.
This was not a real stove but a symbolic one, used to prove a point at a management seminar she’d once attended. “One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work.” The gist, she said, was that in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.
Here’s the whole piece. It’s not really about this matter, mind you.
This is by no means the only word on the subject. But there does seem to be something right about these words.
We cannot really expect to have it all. If we want a healthy family life and friends and good health but we also want vocational success, something has to give. Nothing is life is free. Everything costs.
This is really important for Christians to consider. Whether in ministry or not, “success,” however defined, doesn’t come for free. This should, I think, temper our ambition and cause us to question our goals. Why do we want what we want? What are we willing to give up to achieve it? Many of us will quickly see that “success,” a word which almost always deserve quotation marks, comes at too high a cost. This means that to be happy, we’ll have to give something up in a vocational sense.
Too many Christians that I have studied make a different choice. Most often, I would guess that we are inclined to give up family (maybe health for some, which often affects the family in the end). It’s easier to spend less time with one’s children than it is one’s friends or one’s work. Children can be taken for granted. They’re around. There is always more time for them. Plus, they already love you. How much time and attention can they really need, or justly claim?
What is the rub, then? Seems to be this: when you have to downshift, when you have to throw something overboard, make that ambition. Make that future “success.” Forget the life coach and the consultants and the “dream big” books. Forget the next guy. Forget trying to be whoever it is in your mind that you’re trying to be. Love your family. Love your children. Don’t write the book. Don’t give the lecture. Don’t cut any burner off. Produce less, and live more.
There’s going to be tension here for many of us. Sadly, we’ll sin. We’ll try to grow. And so we should. But even with the tension noted, we should do our very best to ignore “success” and to seek to be faithful. Maybe one doesn’t have to pit the two against one another. They often, however, seem to end up at odds.