I don’t remember how old I was when I first understood the worldly idea of success but I grew up wanting to be someone important. In my head, success was based on how money you made as well as your education level so when the time came to “grow up”, I graduated from my collegiate high school with one goal in mind: SUCCESS! I wanted to have my name on a door.
However, my plans took a little longer than I anticipated. After Hurricane Katrina, I graduated from LSU and moved to North Carolina to live with my sister. Jobs were scarce for an entry-level advertising executive so I found myself working at the mall. A year later, I had been promoted to manager and had nothing to complain about. I made my own schedule. The money was great. I loved my employees. But one thing still crowded my thoughts, this wasn’t a “real” job. I needed to use my degree and be successful in the corporate world.
Eventually, I found a job at a local newspaper, working in advertising but I hated it. I love creating ads and talking to people but I didn’t like being surrounded by cubicle walls. I felt confined in black and grey suits. I sensed God calling me back to the business of relationships.
A few months later, I realized through my “successful” job that I didn’t want the idea of worldly success. I wanted to be surrounded by people, working with them, loving them and helping them with my own time and money – not just clocking in to get paid the following Friday. I gave the Devil that wore Prada my 2-week notice and I quit my job to go to seminary. People were disappointed. After all, there’s no money in “church” work. But I knew what I wanted to do. I felt God was calling me to ministry.
Today, eight years later, I have a Master of Divinity degree and I’m a stay at home mom. No, I do not have a corporate title or a weekly paycheck, but I do have a job. Not only as a mom, I am a minister to women all around me. The freedom in my schedule as a stay at home mom allows me to meet with women weekly, studying the bible, mentoring them and also spend time reading, researching and writing.
I know some people from my past may look down on me for not using my graduate degree (or my bachelor’s) but the reality is that my worth and value is not up to them. Somehow, the idea of worldly success has made us think that we have to get the highest degree possible and be paid the highest amount in order to be worth something. But if we’re always focused on striving, we never stop to realize the value that was already there.
When I decided to stay home with my children, a few of my friends and family pushed back. “Well, why did you go to grad school for the last 4 years? To stay home?” I had a hard time calling myself a stay-at-home mom. I hated the idea of “homemaking” and it was a huge struggle in my marriage because even though I was at home all day with my kids, I didn’t want to do house work. Wash my husband’s clothes? No! I’m not a 50s housewife!
There was so much guilt and disappointment attached to the idea of staying home with the kids. If I didn’t have an office, I wasn’t successful. And if I wasn’t successful, I wasn’t worth anything. If my days were filled with Sesame Street and ABC’s, I had amounted to nothing. But then something clicked, I realized I my worth wasn’t measured by my wage or responsibility.
Taking care of the chores that need to be done every week isn’t a disgrace or disappointment. It is me doing my part. In our family, we work as a team. On days when I’m too tired to do the dishes, my husband takes over. When he has had a tough week and wants to rest on the weekend, I mow the grass.
We’re a team, working together. We are raising the next generation and realize that maybe success isn’t measured by money or titles but by the legacy we leave after we’re gone.
The word, success, carries a lot of weight for each person, man or woman. I don’t think it’s a bad word but I think the concept has been misconstrued. We shouldn’t look down upon those who have corporate success. Money is not bad. Power is not bad. Success is not bad. I just think that with the wrong intention or notion, it becomes the sole focus which can be dangerous.
There was a time in my life when I wanted to be the best of the best. Achieving the next thing was always on my list. I wanted to hold all club offices, make straight A’s, be the teacher’s pet and make sure that everyone knew my name. Now I realize self-promotion can be just as lethal as self-deprecation.
So what advice can I give? Don’t focus on the worldly idea of success. With whatever job you have, whether it is a janitor, a CEO or a housewife, work at it to the best of your ability. Have integrity and be a part of the team. Your character will bring you further places than stepping on others to get somewhere. And in the end, all we have is our reputation and the legacy we leave when we’re gone.