Canonical Success
Jerry Walls

Susan Howatch is a best selling British author who has written several lengthy fictional works including six critically acclaimed novels on the Church of England known as the Starbridge series. The first volume in the series, entitled Glittering Images, tells the story of Charles Ashworth, a young minister of considerable achievement who has been rewarded for his efforts by being appointed canon of a Cathedral in Cambridge. Because of his various religious and academic accomplishments, he is on the fast track to becoming a Bishop.

As the story unfolds, Ashworth gets caught up in complicated plot which eventually exposes the complexities and contradictions in his own soul. During this difficult time, he seeks the counsel of a spiritual director who helps him untie the numerous tangles in his life. One of the most significant aspects of this process was his re-evaluation of the real meaning of success. He came to see that much of his life had been lived in service to a false sense of self which kept him from true success even though he was very accomplished by normal standards. As this truth came into focus, his spiritual director asked him how he would now define failure. He answered as follows: "Locking up one's true self in order to live a lie. Living out of harmony with one's true self in order to pursue the wrong goals for the wrong reasons. Caring more about other people's opinions than about serving God and doing His will."

What this points up is the essential role of integrity in any meaningful account of success. Genuine success cannot bypass the importance of living truthfully with who we are at the level of our deepest values and convictions.

Success is a word which has itself become a glittering image in our culture. The whole notion has been trivialized by superficial ways of measuring success which ignore what is really important. The notion of success has been largely captured by a market mentality which defines success in terms of possessions and power. And many speakers on success reinforce this superficial image with pep talks which give little attention to the larger meaning and purpose of life.

Such a superficial notion of success is demoralizing to the large majority in our society who by definition will never reach "the top." After all, there is only so much room at the top. The key is not to redefine success in such a way that anything counts. This would empty the concept of any meaningful content. But the heart of true success should be understood in such a way that it is attainable by all who have the courage to live truthfully with their deepest selves.


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