My group at work recently provided for its members an opportunity to attend a Get Motivated seminar. Among the noted speakers were Robert Schuller, Rudy Guilliani, and Steve Forbes. I have a strong, perhaps unique and maybe errant inclination towards cynicism in regards to such positive-thinking schemes, and I carried that cynicism with me to the seminar.
While we did not attend the entirety of the seminar before retiring to a local restaurant for a meal, one which I enjoyed, I came away from this team building exercise with some thoughts that validated my ingrained cynicism. I also came away with some perceptions and insights. In all the ‘three steps to success’ and ‘dream it and achieve it’ exhortations being pandered to the massive auditorium full of starry-eyed salespeople and entrepreneurs, I could, with little imagination, picture myself in typical Joel Osteenesque mega-church where the greatest sin perhaps is not living up to your potential and achieving your dreams. With tangible irony, Schuller, a minister ostensibly of the Protestant faith, his church financially and spiritually bankrupt, was the first to speak. While trotting out iterations of his thread-bare “If you can dream it, you can do it!” schtick, I was thinking to myself, you are lying, you bankrupt minister. Try hard as they might, not everyone gets to be an astronaut when they grow up. Sometimes life, Providence, puts you in a place from which you cannot escape. Preach your positive-thinking to an inner-city gang of youths and tell me how it floats with them. Try motivating someone impoverished in Africa, dying of AIDS. Trot out your spiel in North Korea. Such positive-thinking rhetoric only works for those who really have a chance at your definition of success to begin with. It offers no hope, or false hope to many.
What I mulled over, also, was the meaning of success in this success-drenched circus. The making of more money was always an underlying goal, and not necessarily a bad one. Success was at times defined as having lofty goals and putting plans in place to achieve them, perhaps despite daunting obstacles, and again, not necessarily a bad thing. We were given three steps to achieve this and five steps to achieve that, and until then, it had never dawned on me that this uniquely American vision of success was apparently so easy as to be distilled into kindergarten platitudes. I mentally palmed myself on the forehead upon that epiphany. But what I really arrived at was the conclusion that, by their definition of success, I am a loser. I have no overarching goals other than to work with my mind and hands to provide for my family, perhaps enjoy the fruits of my labor now and again, and help those in need. I have no goals or desires of ticking off entries on some bucket list. I want to live honestly, not worrying about money because I have little to worry about (at least my American standards – big picture – I am stinking filthy rich). If you say you trust in a God Who says He will provide for His children’s basic necessities, then you should be content with that.
Having money to retire on was a goal spoken of at times. As I look back down the corridors of the past, I dawns on me that only in recent western history has the concept of not having to work during your latter productive years so has to enjoy a perennial vacation been the common expectation. We either put money aside to retire on, sacrificing during our now for a hoped-for leisurely later, or our employer pays a lifelong pension. Again, retirement is fine, but it not an entitlement. It never has been over the course of history. I think of that laying up of treasures on earth with the rust and moths and thieves thing the Jewish King and carpenter spoke of. While it is wise and prudent to put aside money for a rainy day and hard times, do we really need to plan on not having to work for thirty years? I will work till I cannot. There is, I think, honor in that. Without regard to the market, I refuse to worry about money or spend substantial amount of time thinking about it. If that makes me a failure, I will wear that label proudly. I could pontificate ad nausea, but enough for now……