One day in college while I was less busy and pondering on life, a thought popped up. What did I want with my life? I wanted to finish college, enroll for review classes, be the topnotch in the board exams, be president of the United Architects of the Philippines, and then be president of the Philippines soon after.
Decades after, when I married and had kids, I returned to this thought. Why had I wanted all that? Of course, I gave myself the usual litany of good intentions we recite when asked about why we wanted to succeed in our ambitions—help my countrymen, make a difference, start reforms, see a better Philippines, etc., etc. All politicians say that. Even religious organizations say the same things. But what do they really do once in power?
The Bottom Line
Decades after, being more mature than I was in college, I faced the thought again, honestly this time. Why had I wanted success in my career as I had wanted to? Well, if we cut the crap and honestly tell what’s in our hearts (can you? Very few people can), it was really for control and power—high-paying job, influence, security, privileges, respect, fame and power. I wanted to be admired and I wanted my family to be proud of me. I wanted to prove to all what kind of family I came from. I wanted people to respect me and agree with most things I’d do.
But I wasn’t content with that. I searched deeper within. Being radically honest about it, and coming face-to-face with reality, I actually feared life. That was why I wanted control and power. I feared how I might get a low-paying job, be living below the standard lifestyle (or be poor), be treated less than I expected to be treated (be treated unfairly or be disrespected), and especially be treated as ordinary folks are treated. Most of us dread living like that and our antidote is to have control, influence and power—or what we fondly call (or mask as) “being successful in life.” So we study hard, pursue higher education and do our best to get high grades. We even try to work or live abroad by hook or by crook. We want to be protected. And to be protected, we realize we need control, influence and power.
Why do we work so hard to have lots of money? We cover this up by merely saying we want to be successful. We want our lives to improve. But in truth, we want to have lots of money so we can be protected by the ability to control and influence others and have power to keep us at an advantage. We’ve seen in real life how it’s easy to be respected and get good treatment when people see we have lots of money. We’ve seen how people can be so cruel to people who have no money.
Even most pastors pursue after high sounding prefixes attached to their names (like Reverend Doctor) to protect themselves from folks who look down on title-less people. I haven’t seen a guy who pursued being top of his class, finished his masters and doctorate and tried to be topnotch in the board exams just to be a janitor or clerk in a small company. These are all done to get control, influence and power someday.
Well, on the other hand, I’ve seen how Jesus Christ was made “perfect through suffering” [Hebrews 2.10] only to take the form of a servant later. In short, he pursued excellence to do a lowly, menial job. In the Kingdom, this is greatness and success. But you rarely see this principle at work even in Christian churches. There’s only power tripping and grabbing. Everyone wants to be leader.
It’s Nothing Really But Self-Preservation
So in the end, it’s all about self-preservation. You want yourself and family to be protected so you pursue being at the top, as much as possible, because you see that place as your safety zone. Only Christ saw his safety zone at the bottom, at the grassroots, on the cross. We sometimes mindlessly brag about how we are always the head and never the tail when we are in Christ—not understanding that in Christ, it’s always the reverse. The least is the greatest. To be the head, we need to be the least, so we can be the greatest in God’s sight. If we pursue being the highest in this world, or the boss who always throws his weight around, people will admire us and we get the comfort we want. But in God’s eyes we become the tail. We become the least.
So, in your pursuit of excellence, you become known. You become well regarded and respected. People admire you. You’re regarded highly. You find yourself easily convincing people, making them nod to what you say and getting them to take your side. But it’s all for your benefit, for your protection. You may make it look like it’s some kind of a service to people, but it’s only you and your interests that get benefited.
In a sense, you become a celebrity without a purpose except protecting your self interests. Pretty much like a popular showbiz star who claims he makes movies or does shows or concerts out of love for his fans and likes serving them in those ways—he’s even seen hugging and kissing them. Sometimes being in tears for them. But really, who gets all the benefits? Who gets all the money? Who gets more lucrative offers? Who gets richer?
Worse, you make people believe you’re helping them when it’s really the other way around. All they get is temporary pleasure and that with a cost. In the end, they still have their problems to deal with but you are richer. If you do something even great but which only benefits you, you are a celebrity without a purpose.
Get a hint from Jesus—he was promoted to the highest position, not to be boss, but to serve. He was not a celebrity (and avoided all means to be so) but what he did got worldwide attention and it was with a selfless purpose, an important one at that. The next time you are less busy, think about this.
Image above from bbbt.us