A Stake in the Ground

I am a legend. In my own mind, that is. It’s really more infamy than legend, I suppose. What I’m talking about is my ability to overthink just about anything, decisions large and small. If you need “character” references, just ask my family, closest friends, or ex-girlfriends.

You see, I’ve been overthinking this whole “success” thing from way back before I ever started this little project. It has manifest itself most recently in my repeated failure, to this point, to define precisely what I mean in using that word. I’ve felt a little weird about it, actually. Could you tell?

But no more. I don’t know that I’ve figured it out as much as the odor of it’s obviousness has finally has finally overpowered the rhetorical air fresheners I’ve been spraying in this digital room.

Success is an awareness of the intersections of preparation and Providence in one’s life, and a decision to act in ways consistent with the figurative path they form.


So…I have to ask. How underwhelmed are you right now? You may have had greater expectations for this moment, which is something I’m going to address later on in this post.

In order to redeem the word with some majesty – which is in no way lost in that definition, at least to me – let me try to relate Success to its metaphysical counterpoint: Grace.

There are 3 things about Grace that inform our (“my,” if you’re not ready to throw in your lot with me just yet) understanding of Success.

First, Success, like Grace, is available to each of us. It is not, as I’ve noted in a previous post, a zero-sum game. Your success does not preclude mine. Similarly, there is no theological universe in which God says “Sorry, someone already beat you to all of My Grace. No more to give out today.” Success requires an attitude of Gratitude, and of abundance, rather than of scarcity and selfishness. (1)

Second, we each arrive at Success, or Grace, by different paths. Sometimes very different ones. (Actually, I believe that Grace finds us.)  Going back to our working subtitle, “the intersection of preparation and Providence,” this means that your intersections – your conditions of success – are different from mine.

Third, Success and Grace are arrived at only by deliberation and choice. In other words, Free Will. (And that is as far as I will go into the topic of Free Will.) When we’re trying to make sense of how to order our lives or how to solve a problem, all of that thinking (or overthinking) leads to one or often multiple possible conclusions, from which we must choose. It is the same with choosing to accept God’s grace as it is with applying yourself where your conditions of success exist. You either accept, and do, or you do not. It’s a choice, and one that can only properly said to have been made after appropriate deliberation.

Fourth, and finally, a recognition of Success and its conditions in your life should, just like Grace, completely change you. The temporal implications are every bit as demanding and serious as the spiritual ones, the whole eternal life thing notwithstanding.

How does all of that work itself each day and over the course of a lifetime?

Sticking with the Rule of Three, here are the three possible outcomes from acting within your own conditions of success.

Beginning with one I’m intimately familiar with, and a motivating factor behind this whole effort: it is possible for one to reach desirable outcomes without being aware of their particular intersections and acting knowingly and decisively within them. But that’s not success. That’s just being fortunate, or lucky, which are just two ways of watering down Providence. “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut,” right?

Next, and within the context of thinking and choosing to act within your conditions of success, when you’re doing something – anything, really – at which you’re both naturally talented (Providence) as well as experienced (preparation), the results tends to be favorable. This is not a revelation, I understand. The assertion is difficult, if not impossible, to quantify, but I will go as far as to say that it has a higher rate of success than this.

I’m joking. But seriously. From sports, to business, to relationships, to investing, to everything in between – we all know someone who just “has it,” and you could never beat them at their thing, assuming you were in an actual win/lose competition. The point here is not to get discouraged. We all have our conditions of success, but it takes work and some courage to find these intersections and then proceed down this merged path toward Success.

The final possible outcome is the less-than-desirable one. It’s where, despite your conscious efforts – actions in coordination with your own conditions of success – things don’t turn out the way you want them to. And if you thought my last point was underdeveloped, then this one should make it appear airtight. Right now all I have to say is that Success is not a formula. If it were, then there would be no need to waste my time on this blog. You’d just need to figure out the equation for a particular scenario: add “A” parts Providence to “B” amount of Preparation, and you’ll “C” anything turn out exactly like you want it to. Doesn’t work like that.

But, I maintain a high degree of confidence in my original assertion that, acting knowingly within the conditions of your success, you stand a greater chance of favorable outcomes, whatever they may be.

Let’s tie a bow on this by examining two mindsets that I am fighting against myself to really absorb.

My friend and former boss, Chris, recently told me that “The keys to happiness are low expectations and a high fiber diet.” Or some version of that, anyways. And so as not besmirch his otherwise mostly spotless character and motives, I assure you that this was an offhand remark in the context of a flippant conversation. But clearly the quote stuck with me, and for good reason. It actually kind of fits here, with some tailoring.

Rather than having “low expectations,” think about it in terms of “raising your standards.” Standards you hold for yourself, I mean. This is everything from your character and behavior, to those you associate with, to your business practices. It puts the burden where it should be: on you. And me. And each of us. You see, our expectations are 100% within our control, unlike pretty much everything else involving human interaction. But in order to guard against any excess pride resulting from an “it’s all up to me” mentality, or to silence any cynics in the e-peanut gallery, let me play the spiritual trump card and refer you to Jesus.

In chapter 2, verses 24 and 25 of his gospel, John writes, “But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.”

Ok, out of context that actually could sound a bit jaded.

Fortunately, Oswald Chambers, author of the inimitable daily devotional My Utmost For His Highest, has some helpful commentary on the passage:

Many of the things in life that inflict the greatest injury, grief, or pain, stem from the fact that we suffer from illusions. We are not true to one another as facts, seeing each other as we really are; we are only true to our misconceived ideas of one another….Our Lord is so obviously uncompromising with regard to every human relationship because He knows that every relationship that is not based on faithfulness to Himself will end in disaster. Our Lord trusted no one, and never placed His faith in people, yet He was never suspicious or bitter. Our Lord’s confidence in God, and in what God’s grace could do for anyone, was so perfect that He never despaired, never giving up hope for any person.

(Read the full devotional here: http://utmost.org/the-teaching-of-disillusionment/)

Much better. And it’s the ultimate example of unyielding, uncompromising effort in the face of what should otherwise be “hellishly” low expectations.

A final piece of advice about high standards, which you should imagine me saying as though I’m standing in front of a mirror: your standards should be in proportion to the thing you’re evaluating. Ask yourself: “Is this a big deal?” And not everything can or should be. If you have a high (possibly unattainable) standard for everything you do, then you really have high standards for nothing at all.

Which brings me to the “high fiber diet,” or, put a little more palpably, eliminating waste. (On second thought, was that a better way to say it?)

Understanding your conditions of success can be a double-edged sword. It will – or should – present you with an array of possible pursuits. And, like having high standards, you have to choose among and between them. It requires deliberation and choice (remember that Free Will thing from earlier?) to eliminate some and put time and effort behind others. When you do that, you cannot look back and wonder “what if?” Or, seeing someone you know who chose a path similar to one you once had available – and did not take – and who is now enjoying success and earned favorable results, think that they have “won” and you have “lost.” Again, this is not a zero-sum game.

A second and equally important part of eliminating wasted effort requires brutal honesty with yourself and maybe with the help of those who know you best. Admit where conditions of success are not present in your life, despite how you might want them to be. It could be related to legitimate and worthwhile ventures, not just the startup business you’re still hoping will take off and make you rich someday.

In fact, dedicating appropriate time and other resources to the important areas of your life (family, work, etc.) where conditions of success do exist is one of the best decisions you can make, for this reason: despite my previously noted preference for not always talking about things in purely economic terms, you do indeed stand the best chance of getting maximum return, with minimum investment, and the lowest risk, by always working within your conditions of success. It will actually free up more time for your “labors of love,” and eliminate the encumbrances of fear or the guilt that your efforts are wasted or even counterproductive.

And with that, I’ll get back to worrying about and overthinking every word in this post and how much time I’m spending on each of these.

More soon…



  1. I’ve been reading/listening to lots of material from Tony Robbins, Ramit Sethi, Tim Ferriss, and their ilk, so both this reference and my last post on Gratitude owes a lot to them. There’s a significant amount of osmosis and regurgitation going on here.

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