The “True” Definition of Success

Before I go into today’s story, let me issue all the usual disclaimers. Yes, I know there is not one true definition of success. What I write today is my opinion and no one else’s. Success can be gained with the world’s values or with religious values. I could literally talk with twenty people and get twenty different definitions of success. But, today I want to share my own thoughts of success and what it took to get me here.

It begins with my pre-adolescence, a TV show, and an actress and ends many years later with a journey to meet said actress and a realization that, for me, the only “true” way to be successful is to invest in other people like Jesus did. Y’all, adolescence was not kind to me. I was chubby, nerdy, and bullied by other people. I was as far away from being in the “in crowd” in middle school as you could possibly get. I wasn’t interested in boys, and I wasn’t interested in make-up either. I think, even back then, I knew my value wasn’t tied up in those artificial things. I was more interested in the things that mattered and in the world around me. In science fiction and action-adventure. In changing the world around me. But, those things at that time were not the things young girls were interested in. So, I longed for the role model I didn’t have at home.  I had not become a Christian yet so the closest thing I had to role models were my teachers at school and the characters in the books I read.

Enter the TV show and the actress. I was ten the year The Bionic Woman premiered. Watching the first episode, I was spell-bound. Here was a woman on television who was doing all of the things I dreamed of doing. Yes, some of it was cheesy. Yes, some of it reflected the time it was shown in. But, all in all, Jaime Sommers (the main character) taught me that what was important was the content of your character and not what you looked like. Those were important lessons for me to learn between the ages of ten and twelve and even later when I faced constant criticism for what I looked like and for not following the crowd. I admired Lindsay Wagner, the actress who played Jaime, so much and even had a poster of her on the wall of my room for a time.

Fast forward to many, many years later. I was an adult and a Christian who was married and had two children who were teenagers. Adults had poured into me as a new Christian, a teenager, and a young adult. I had learned about the best  and worst things the world had to offer, and it seemed like I had experienced all of them. Now, I’m not trying to say I was perfect. I was far from it. I could be as selfish as the most worldly or the most Christian among us. I had lived a good portion of my life. That year I had the opportunity to go to something called Dragon Con. Many actors, writers, and artists make appearances there. Some are well-known, and others are not. I had recently come back to writing, and as a science fiction, fantasy loving wanna-be author, it was the place to be. Finding out Lindsay Wagner was on the guest list sealed the deal.

So, off to Atlanta I went. At this point, as an adult woman in her 40’s, I knew that actors and the characters they portray were different people. I knew there was a chance that Lindsay Wagner wouldn’t be anything like the character she portrayed all those years ago. But, I also knew I had to say thank you for what she had meant to me. I spent the weekend going to writing workshops, seeing other actors I was interested in, and soaking up the whole experience. I noticed that some of the professionals were more approachable than others and some had very inflated egos. (It cost more money to see them.) Finally, it was time to see Lindsay Wagner. I was so nervous as I stood in line because she was my childhood hero. Finally, I got to the front of the line. She was so kind and very aware of the role model she had been. I said what I wanted to say and received my autograph and picture. It was an amazing experience and showed me that some people were aware of how they influenced others and acted accordingly.

It has been over five years since that experience. Tumultuous years. Years where the American public has become deeply divided. Years where we all have become more selfish. Years where I’ve been sure nothing would ever go right again. But, these years  have also been years where I’ve become part of an interracial church family. Years where I’ve made a deliberate focus to talk to people others wouldn’t talk to. Years where I’ve done my best to use words Jesus would want me to use. I haven’t been successful all of the time. There are people who would testify to this. Human nature and life have knocked me down again and again.

Most importantly though, I’ve worked through a lot of the garbage from my own past. My growth and experiences through this work have brought me to the point I stated at the beginning of this post. The “truest” success people can have is the success of investing in and ministering to other people. In other words, truly listening and being happy for the other people in your life. But, it’s the hardest kind of success to achieve. In fact, I know only a handful of people who are like this in my own life. People who are heart friends. People who don’t let prejudice get in the way. People who are not concerned  with cliques or what the “rules” are in their interactions with other people. People who share joy.

I am a work in progress in this area. There are days when I am at my most selfish and wonder why the “trappings” (money, achievement) of success don’t come to my family. Then, there are days when one of the maintenance guys at my apartment complex corners me and wants to talk about his Christmas because I had talked to him before. There are days when I think no one notices my presence and days when I get a comment or two saying how my writing has touched them. I’ve said my word for this year is “believe”, but perhaps I should add two words to it. Authentic and joy. That’s how I want to live. As someone with authentic joy. Not as the world defines it , but as my faith defines it. For those of us who are Christians, I believe this is the way Jesus wants us to live. And for all of us, it can bring us to the place where we know character counts in how we live. Thankful for all the heroes in my life and for the people who have invested in my life!

Have a great day, everyone!

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