What Does Success Mean to You?
By Michael Kang
In partnership with the University Staff Christian Fellowship, Fellowship of Evangelical Students and Graduates’ Christian Fellowship, the Veritas Forum in Singapore held a lunch- time conversation on faith and career, entitled What Does Success Mean to You?
Held on 30 June 2022, the forum had Emeritus Professor Dr. Charles Lee (Graduate School of Business, Stanford University) as the presenter while Associate Professor Dr Chen Zhi Xiong (Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore) acted as the interviewer. The online forum was attended by 60 participants from Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and the United States.
The Veritas Forum is a non-profit organisation, which works with Christian students on campuses to hold forums centred on the exploration of truth (veritas in Latin) and its relevancy in human life, through the questions of philosophy, religion, science and other disciplines.
Definition of success
The conversation started with Dr Chen asking Dr Lee on how he would define success. He responded with a framework and context to approach the question. According to Dr Lee, success may be defined as the attainment of a goal or goals, so the real question is whether the goal itself is good and useful in serving the purpose which human beings are created for. In Christianity, we believe in a powerful and benevolent Creator God, so it only makes sense for us to ask God what we are designed for.
In a broader perspective, Dr Lee referred to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “What is the chief end of man?”, to which the answer was “to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” In a day-to-day context, he saw successes in making himself available to God through the little things he did in daily life. The most important aspect of daily living would be the relationships with other people, and whether we bring positive changes to the people we encounter.
In addressing the question on failure, Dr Lee urged the audience to draw a distinction between the success or failure at a task and the success or failure as a person. When we experience task-based failures, we should not jump to the conclusion that we fail as human beings. Nor should the worth of a person be measured as the sum of his or her task-based successes. He emphasised that human beings have intrinsic value, having been created in the image and likeness of God, and not just functional or economical value.
We should however, learn from our failures, and in fact, many successful people failed many times before they become successful. To help us learn from failures, personal reflection is very powerful. To better deal with failures or successes without losing our sense of worth and identity in God, it is important for us to be able to not hold on too tightly to our successes or failures. Dr Mok Ying Ren, who was one of the online attendees, noted that task-based successes and failures can be gifts from God, through which He shows us which door is opened or closed for us as we move forward.
Money and success
As Dr Chen noted that money or material wealth is often closely linked to success, Dr Lee clarified that it was the love of money, which was the root of all evil, not the money itself. He argued that the Bible does not focus on poverty but on priority — making God the priority in life. Only when God is our priority then, every little (or big) success in life becomes meaningful. Addressing people who aspire to taste the riches of the world, he testified that even though he had tasted some delights of the world, he believed that he had tasted something infinitely better that everything else, that is, God, which makes a $3,000 meal not much different from a $3-worth bowl of noodles.
Only when God is our priority then, every little (or big) success in life becomes meaningful.Dr. Charles Lee
Addressing the tension
Dr Chen observed that sometimes, Christians feel the tension between what the world or people around us defines as success with what God wants us to do or to be. To address this tension, Dr Lee used a 2×2 quadrants to illustrate worldly success versus godly success, as shown below:
All Christians would want to be on the upper-left quadrant, and nobody wants to be on the bottom-right quadrant. The tension generally lies between the upper-right and bottom-left quadrants. Dr Lee highlighted that in the Bible, people in the upper-left quadrant were usually downwardly mobile. This means that if they had to, they would choose to be on the bottom-left quadrant, to be faithful before God and deemed as failure by men.
It is often difficult for people around us to understand such a choice, but for Christians who understand their calling, it is not difficult. And instead of viewing it as a constraint for Christians in making choices, we should see it as a freedom to walk away from what is difficult for the rest of the world to walk away from.