A marathon runner doesn’t count his success as the number of people he finished ahead of; simply completing the race means that he has done an incredible job.
I was watching my RA and his fiancé stuff wedding invitations into envelopes the other day, and I pointed out that they were using different methods to achieve the same goal: he was grabbing 10 or so envelopes at a time, and then sealing them one by one until his small stack was gone, then reaching for another set. She, however, was sealing the letters one by one. I challenged them to a race, to see who’s method was better… soon after the letters were being sealed as quickly as possible, sometimes at the expense of a bent envelope being stuffed in the box wrong.
Afterwards, this moment got me thinking about how we compare ourselves to others. I think in American careers, we are taught that getting things done faster is often better — that’s why we live 100 mph lives. While we drive to work, we talk on the phone; while we watch football, we also send out emails. Everything we do is geared towards efficiency, because we know that if we slowed down, someone else would take our place and we would become irrelevant.
Our lives are lived with this race mentality, and it never seems to slow down. We get things done faster, yes, but it’s often at the expense of quality — not necessarily the things we produce, but the lives we live. We are lessening the quality of our lives by racing; and our envelopes are becoming bent and creased along the way.
I think this race mentality ultimately stems from a misinformed view of success: our successes seem to lie in accomplishing a goal faster or better than those around us. A bigger paycheck, another raise… these are how we gauge our successes. Our constant comparison steals our joy as we push each other farther and farther into this cycle of striving to be the best.
However, what if we changed our view of success to not mean getting things done faster or better, but simply just getting them done? In the case of my RA and his fiancé, this would mean that they could both work at whatever pace they desired — regardless of who was faster — to work towards a common goal, and BOTH would succeed fully when the letters were finished. The race mentality seems to be uniquely Western; there are many many places in the world where work is something to be done; not something to be done quickly.
By giving ourselves time and grace to finish what we start, I feel that we can begin to live much more full lives — we may not get as much done in a day, but maybe God isn’t calling us to a constant cycle of racing busyness. Matthew 20:1-16* has a beautiful example of this; the laborers who worked one hour received as much as the laborers did who worked the whole day. Their success wasn’t based upon how much each individual accomplished, but whether the job was done or not. Thus, everyone got the same pay.
I would encourage you to start to view your successes based on what you finish, and not worry about how others have finished the same work, whether faster or slower, better or worse. Instead, give God thanks for the opportunity to glorify Him through the work that you do. Be able to look on what you did, and be able to say that it is good, just as He looked on you and saw that you were good. This is one way that we are able to #LiveItLikeJesus.
*This passage is taken out of context; Jesus is talking to His disciples about the kingdom of heaven. This parable lets the disciples know that those who come to salvation, whether in their youth or in their old age, will be accepted into God's kingdom. However, I still believe it can tell us something about work ethic as well.