Want to Walk the Road Less Travelled? Get off the Success Treadmill!

Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.
– Robert Frost – 
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The ‘road less travelled’ is an alluring and romantic notion. It’s the idea that we can take steps out of our secure boundaries from time to time and feel like a dare devil. If this venture goes relatively well we may try it again and we may even become ‘heroes’ or ‘courageous’ in the eyes of others … until we fail!

The fear of failure keeps the masses at bay. It is one of the most powerful tools of rhetoric, regularly accessed by political and religious leaders. Everyone wants everything to be ‘great’ – we want to make everything great again. Triumph, success, adulation – the opium of the masses of the developed world.

In the faith tradition that I embraced like a zealot in my first half of life, triumph was the goal. We were encouraged to step out in order to ‘walk on water’ or ‘break the boundaries’ or ‘slay the giants’. ‘Live on the edge and God will bless you’ was the modus operandi. If you bought into the persuasive, manipulative garble of some, you would be convinced that only success matters. You will eventually become wealthy, healthy and wise. You will not fail.

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The fear of failure is a tenacious force in many social structures, especially modern Pentecostalism. Failure, for many, would be a sign of God’s disapproval. It would be a given that if you took a step into the unknown, into a path of ‘faith’, then God is obliged to ‘bless’ you. The thought of not being ‘blessed’ can seriously risk your status, identity and belonging in these religious social groups. That thought is simply awful. That’s why it remains a ‘road less travelled’.

But what, if just for a moment, we would consider that failure, just like grief, sorrow and disappointment, is really not our enemy? What if we were to grasp that the success-treadmill-mentality that lies so deeply embedded because of a thousand different clever messages thrown at us every day, that this treadmill can be abandoned? What if, despite the disapproval of our community, we adopted a sort of quixotic lunacy and fight for what we believe, even if it means failure? How would we live then?

Perhaps it is time to take another look at this perceived, scary fiend called ‘failure’. What if we were to have a cup of coffee with failure and discuss some of our deepest hopes and dreams? We may come to realise that making failure a friend allows us to live life in a manner that evades most – with the freedom to pursue the most difficult of dreams because we value them more than success.

If we only act because there is a great likelihood that we will succeed then we will live relatively safe, confined lives. And perhaps that is satisfactory to many. But I find that the success treadmill is a constraint when we want to live from a place of value and ethics because the success treadmill creates constant value transgressions. The value of my endeavours cannot be determined by the odds of success. I have to face the fact that negative consequences may be a result of my most daring adventures. And that’s ok!

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So can I suggest that you investigate your relationship with failure. As an only child and a One on the enneagram, mine is a rather precarious one. However, I am learning that failure is not my adversary, no matter what the success-addicted crowd thinks. In stark contrast to popular opinion, I am finding that the more I embrace this strange companion, the more I live life from the inner sanctum of authenticity and freedom.

Remember, dear friend, there are many lofty goals worth far more than success – pursue them!

“You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.” – Elizabeth Gilbert – 
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10 thoughts on “Want to Walk the Road Less Travelled? Get off the Success Treadmill!”

  1. Great post Nicole. Very challenging. I particularly liked this sentence, both for its linguistic brilliance and the extreme challenge it frames for us all:

    “What if, despite the disapproval of our community, we adopted a sort of quixotic lunacy and fight for what we believe, even if it means failure?”

    Thanks for sharing Nicole 🙂

  2. Thanks Nicole, I was on the merry go round for a long time until harder times came and these were difficult but helped change my perspective on success. A Pastor friend of mine some years ago asked me to share a message on “success”. Preaching is not something I do very often! As I worked through what the heck I was going to say I realised that from God’s perspective success is a lot different.
    I came to the conclusion that success in God’s economy is faithfulness in all aspects of our lives no matter how big our income or may be or how we stack up in other external measurements imposed on us by others.
    Thanks for the reminder!

  3. We need to redefine what success really is. It requires us to move from the Greek philosophical model of Plato and Aristotle, where life was lived in separate compartments. Rather, we need to return to the holistic Hebrew model of an integrated life. Thus work becomes part of our worship acceptable to the Father, regardless of whether we are ever recognised by our peers for that work. This then becomes an integrated part of experiencing God’s Shalom in all its peace and beauty.

    1. I think you raise such a valid point regarding redefining success. Unfortunately, I think the word is rather ‘toxic’ in today’s culture and we may need a whole new word to grasp that Hebraic idea …

  4. Brilliant, and relatable. In my Pente years I often struggled with the cognitive dissonance of being told to ‘be anxious for nothing’ and have ‘peace that transcends all understanding’ while it seemed to me that most of us (myself included) were terrified of getting it wrong – missing God’s one and only plan for our lives and burning for all eternity. It’s exhausting and the expected doom at the end is horrifying (I never understood how people could mention eternal hellfire so casually, as if they were okay with the idea of their perceived enemies suffering).

    Life as a ‘failure’ is tough but it is profoundly liberating in other ways! It’s the freedom to think and be and talk to whoever and not be forever looking over one’ side shoulder in case a fellow Christian calls us out for dining with ‘sinners.’ 🙂

    1. Thank you for your comment and sharing some of your experience, Fi.I think the tightly held fundamentalist views are exhausting. “I never understood how people could mention eternal hellfire so casually, as if they were okay with the idea of their perceived enemies suffering” – so true.

  5. Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.”
    Thomas Merton

    1. What a brilliant Merton quote for this post. Thanks heaps for sharing, Paul – will put that on the Mugwumps Facebook page.

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