Not that success isn't an accomplished teacher, it's simply that she generally teaches me the wrong things. Victor Hugo wrote these profoundly insightful words:
Success is a very hideous thing.
Its false resemblance to merit deceives men.
- So, I am something special after all...at least, this finally proves that I'm better than that guy over there.
- I'll betcha I can pull this off again. This time, since I now know what I'm doing, let's skip the whole prayer part.
- People are giving me credit for this success...they can't all be idiots, maybe it really was me that has made this happen.
- This success kind of rebalances things for me, right? I don't really need to keep seeking God's help in those weak areas of my life...success covers a multitude of sins.
- Wow, is applause ever underrated! Who knew? I could get used to this. Let's see, what could I do to top that last one?
Spiritually, I've learned far more from my failures than from my successes. Defeat tends to keep me humble, teachable, broken and dependent on my Creator. In the past, I've told guys I've been mentoring that spiritually, success is your enemy, defeat is your friend.
There's a lot of truth in that...we need not be terrified of defeat and we need to be extraordinarily wary when we meet with success. Recently, though, I've been thinking a lot about the fact that I can also learn the wrong things from failure. Kipling famously wrote in his poem If:
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same...
...Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it
Defeat is also an impostor, and we can learn the wrong thing from him.
For one, defeat does not necessarily mean you are on the wrong path. It could mean that you are smack in the center of the path that God wants you on. Neither does meeting with failure mean that God is displeased with you. It could mean that he didn't avert the current disaster precisely because he so delights in you he's given you the gift of a failure to keep you close to him...to keep you from wandering off like I do when I encounter that other impostor named Success.