Posts Tagged ‘Vaughn Hebron’

What Is Success?

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Critical question: What is Success?

It is interesting living in this culture because we frankly are a sports obsessed nation.  I would argue that much of our understanding of success gets tied back into athletics.  Athletics clearly can teach the right lessons and it can just as clearly teach the wrong lessons.

A few statistics that point to the challenges of equating athletic success in terms of “wins” and “losses” with success….

  1. Suicide Rate for Retired NFL Players is 6 times the national average
  2. Life expectancy for a NFL player who plays 4 years is 55 (CBS News)

Anecdotally, I hear from parents all the time – and I have experienced first hand – that the pressure continues to build in terms of athletic success and yet it appears very hard to step off the merry-go-round.  Spring seasons have try outs in the fall.  Travel teams are billed as the way to “keep up” and ensure that your son or daughter does not “fall behind.”  Every new piece of equipments is a “must have” in order to gain the competitive advantage.  (Underarmour touts that it’s new mouthpiece makes players faster and stronger.)   Parents spends thousands of dollars a year to secure a hoped for college scholarship worth a few thousand dollars.

I am not disparaging this from a  distance.  I get it.  With my own children, I participate in the above.  We have rarely said “no” to any of the above.  And we need to acknowledge there is a cost.

The cost is the immersion in a cultural based on the endlessly frenzied pursuit of athletic success versus the pursuit of a settled soul that can leverage the best of athletics without the accompanying obsession.

And I say the above with some trepidation, worried it will be misunderstood.  I LOVE sports.  I played numerous sports.  Captained my high school’s football and lacrosse teams and played the later through my 20′s.  I coached at Youth, Junior Varsity and Varsity levels.  I witnessed numerous young men and women find in organized sports a sense of purpose, a sense of discipline and and sense of direction via athletics.  It no doubt “saved” lives in a certain sense.   I watch football every weekend!

And I need to clearly sound a note of caution.

As a Junior in high school, I was privileged to be a second stringer on a  football team that was unimaginably successful.  Quarterbacked by our very own assistant pastor, Barry Halterman, the team gave up ONE touchdown the entire season.  The star of the team was one of the most violent individuals I knew.  I remember numerous events even in practice where teammates were mocked or pummeled.  On one drill for an onside’s kick I recovered the ball and went to the ground, as we were taught.  Standing over me, he snarled “Good thing you got down” – clearly a threat to the violent end to the play that would have awaited me if I stood up.  And I wasn’t a tackling dummy – I was a decent player.  I can only imagine what life was like for those lower on the athletic food chain.

What never sat right and still does not sit right is the constant chatter that “sports teach us about life.”  Because here was the rub – this violent individual was wildly successful, receiving numerous accolades.  He was the model.  He was who we were supposed to be.  It was not an approach to “life” I thought much of then and I certainly think less of it now.

This individual clearly mellowed with the years.  And sports may well have been integral to that evolution. And lets sound a note of caution.  Life is not athletics. Life is life.  Athletics can support life, can teach us lessons about life.  But to say sports is life?  Problem.  And note, we may not say that but we may live it.

What then is success?

Success is the settled soul.  Success is the undoing of fear.  Success is the deep understanding of the moment.  Success is the development through spiritual practice of a connection with God that guides us in every moment of our thinking. Success is freedom from the limitation of our ego-driven will.   Success is actual “surrender” to a purpose larger than ourselves which is the only “currency” we bring to the next life.

Success is defined then in relation to our true, best selves, our relation with others, and our relation with the God of our understanding.  Hopefully you can read the above list of definitions and with ease connect the dots about what athletics, when held in perspective, can teach.   Discipline, teamwork, sacrifice, resiliency are all embedded in the above.

When I met with Vaughn Hebron, one word got right to the core.  In talking about success, Vaughn said it is “relationship.”  He said that the transportable value that flowed from the NCAA to the NFL to his business is “relationship.”   A great point!

Christ consistently used relevant cultural metaphors to bring His points home.  It was a agrarian society and so He used numerous agrarian references.  In today’s culture, athletics functions the same way.  We can talk of spiritual topics using athletics as the matrix.

And what is it that I think Christ would remind us?  I love this line from Matthew, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” The settled soul – that is success.

If we cultivate that settled place, we can handle far more calmly the ups and downs that are inevitably part of life’s journey.  And, ironically, the settled place can allow us to really launch ourselves passionately into LIFE!   Hell, from our theological perspective, is constantly telling us “Anything but THIS …. Anything but NOW.”  And success is now – in its blessings and breaking.  Life based on an endless, frenzied pursuit of athletic success, simply won’t get there and will burn itself out.  A deeper flame can light the way, allowing us, to use Kipling’s words, “to meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same.”