How belief in Jesus Christ can help you realize your potential and help you find real satisfaction.

This article is also available in Spanish.

Success is:______. How would you fill in the blank?

“That’s easy,” you might say. “Success is … for an athlete, winning the Super Bowl, the World Series, or a gold medal: for an entertainer, winning an Oscar, a Grammy, or an Emmy; for a businessperson, being a top executive with one of the Fortune 500 companies: for a university student, being elected to Phi Beta Kappa or student government.” But is it always so easy to define?

Several years ago Ranier, a German friend, spent three months with me in the U. S. Once, while he was watching his first baseball game on TV, the batter hit the ball out of the park for a home run. The fans went wild! Ranier turned to me with a puzzled look and asked, “Why are they cheering? They’ve lost the ball?” To the hometown fans the batter was a great success. To someone from another culture, the home run was a mystery.

The meaning of success also varies with individuals. One dictionary defines success as “the satisfactory accomplishment of a goal sought for.” To be successful, you must achieve the goal and be satisfied with the outcome. With this definition one wonders if “success” that does not include personal satisfaction–a sense of well-being–is really true success at all.


Several factors contribute to success. Consider a few:

1. Positive Self-Concept. Imagine that you wake up one morning and your roommate is waiting to tell you something. He or she says, “I’ve been wanting to tell you what an outstanding roommate you are. You’re so kind, so thoughtful; you always keep the room so neat. Just being around you motivates me to be the most positive person I can be.”

After you recover from your cardiac arrest, you head off toward your first class of the day. Whom should you run into but your date of the previous evening, who says, “Am I ever glad I ran into you! I’d been hoping I’d get a chance to tell you again what a terrific time I had yesterday. My friends are so jealous of me. They think that I’m the luckiest person in the world to go out with someone like you, and I agree! You’re so friendly, so intelligent. You have a great sense of humor and good looks to boot! Why, when I’m with you, I feel like I’m in a dream!”

Then you float into your first class. Your professor is about to return the midterm exams you took last week, but before he distributes them he says, “I have an announcement I’d like to make. I want everyone to know what an outstanding job this student has done on this test.” He points to you in the front row and says, “You are a breath of fresh air to me as a professor. You always do your assignments on time. You often do even more than is expected of you. Why, if every student were like you, teaching would be a joy. I was even considering leaving teaching before you came along!”

Wouldn’t that help you have a great attitude about yourself? And wouldn’t it motivate you to be a better roommate, a better date, a better student? You’d say to yourself, “Why, I’m one sharp person. After all, my roommate, my date and my prof all think so … and they’re no dummies!” You wouldn’t argue with them for a minute! {1}

Of course, some people think so highly of themselves that their egos become problems. Nevertheless, many psychologists agree with Dr. Joyce Brothers when she says, ” . . . a strong, positive self- image is the best possible preparation for success in life.”{2}

2. Clearly Defined Goals. Aim at nothing and you’ll surely hit it. Aim at a specific goal and, even if you don’t hit it, chances are you’ll be a lot farther along than if you’d never aimed at all.

The U. S. Space Program has produced many successes and, sadly, a few tragic failures. The successes of NASA help illustrate the importance of goal setting. Perhaps you’ve heard of the three electricians who were working on the Apollo spacecraft. A reporter asked each what he was doing. The first said, “I’m inserting transistors into circuits.” The second answered, “I’m soldering these wires together.” The third explained, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”

Which one was more motivated and satisfied? Probably the one who saw how his activities fit into the overall goal.

Without a clear life’s goal, daily duties can become drudgery. Knowing your life’s goal can increase your motivation and satisfaction as you see how daily activities help accomplish that goal.

In the early 1960’s, President John F. Kennedy set a goal of putting an American on the moon by the end of the decade. In 1969, Neil Armstrong took his “one small step.” A specific goal helped NASA achieve a major milestone in history. Someone who desires success will set specific goals.

3. Hard Work. Any successful athlete knows that there would be no glory on the athletic field without hard work on the practice field. A true test of character is not just how well you perform in front of a crowd, but how hard you work when no one notices—in the office, in the library, in practice. President Calvin Coolidge believed “nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not … Genius will not … Education will not … Persistence, determination, and hard work make the difference.” {3}

“A true test of character is not just
how well you perform in front of a crowd,
but how hard you work when no one notices.”

“What is success?” asks British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. “I think it is a mixture of having a flair for the thing that you are doing … hard work and a certain sense of purpose…. I think I had a flair for … (my work), but natural feelings are never enough. You have got to marry those natural feelings with really hard work.” {4}

The heavyweight-boxing champion of another era, James J. Corbett, often said, “You become the champion by fighting one more round. When things are tough, you fight one more round.” {5}

Success requires hard work. Of course you can overdo it and become a workaholic. One workaholic businessman had a sign in his office that read, “Thank God It’s Monday!” We all need to balance work and recreation, but hard work is essential to success.

4. A Willingness to Take Risks. Theodore Roosevelt expressed the value of this asset in one of his most famous statements: “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in the great twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat, ” {6}

Ingemar Stenmark, the great Olympic skier, says, “In order to win, you have to risk losing.” Consider this question: “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” That question can expand your vision and enlarge your dreams. Maybe your desire is to be a great political leader, an entertainer, a top businessperson or academician, a star athlete. What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?

Now ask, “Am I willing to risk a few possible failures in order to achieve that goal?” Success often involves risks.


A positive self-concept, clear goals, hard work, and a willingness to take risks … all contribute to success. But there is a major obstacle to experiencing success and satisfaction in life.

In 1923 a very important meeting was held at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. Attending this meeting were seven of the world’s most successful financiers-people who had found the secret of making money.

Consider what had happened to these men 25 years later. The president of the largest independent steel company, Charles Schwab, died in bankruptcy and lived on borrowed money for five years before his death. The president of the greatest utility company, Samuel Insull, died a fugitive from justice and broke in a foreign land. The president of the New York Stock Exchange, Richard Whitney, spent time in Sing Sing Penitentiary. A member of the President’s cabinet, Albert Fall, was pardoned so he could die at home. The greatest “bear” on Wall Street, Jesse Livermore, died a suicide. The head of the greatest monopoly, Ivan Krueger, died a suicide. The president of the Bank of International Settlements, Leon Fraser, died a suicide. All these had learned well, the art of success in making a living, but apparently they all struggled with learning how to live successfully. {7}

Pollster and social commentator Daniel Yankelovich quotes a $100,000/ year full partner in a public relations firm: “I have achieved success by the definition of others but am not fulfilled. I appear successful … I have published, lectured, exceeded my income goals, achieved ownership and a lot of people depend on me. So, I’ve adequately achieved the external goals but they are empty.”{8}

Dustin Hoffman is an extremely successful movie actor. His film career seems almost dazzling and includes an Oscar for his performance in “Kramer vs. Kramer.” Yet consider what he says about happiness and satisfaction: “I don’t know what happiness is …. life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? I’d strike out happiness …. Walk down the street and look at the faces. When you demand happiness, aren’t you asking for something unrealistic?”{9}

Success in one area does not guarantee satisfaction in life. You can reach all your goals and still not be at peace with yourself. How can you both achieve your goals and be satisfied? And even if you feel a degree of satisfaction, could there be something more?

“You can reach all your goals,
and still not be at peace with yourself.”


More and more psychologists and psychiatrists are seeing the need to develop the total person physically, psychologically, and spiritually–to produce real satisfaction. Often in our struggle for success, we focus on physical and psychological development at the expense of the spiritual.

Not long ago a group of counselors spent quite a bit of time in New York City interviewing some of the nation’s most successful executives. They interacted with editors of newspapers and magazines, executives with advertising agencies, banks, the TV networks, seeking to understand these leaders’ ideas about success.

One question these counselors asked involved the spiritual area: “What place do faith and spiritual values have in your fife?” In response, 75% conveyed that spiritual values were “important” or “very important” to both personal and professional development. Remarked one, “If they could be strengthened, a lot of these other things would fall into place.” Yet, surprisingly few of these leaders had clearly defined convictions in the spiritual area. As one radio broadcaster noted with a smile, “I am inspirable, but I can’t find anyone to inspire me!” {10}

Then these executives were told about someone who could inspire them, one of history’s most influential personalities, a person who stressed the importance of spiritual development as well as the physical and psychological. The life and teachings of this influential and very successful leader have made quite a positive impact on my own life, as well. Perhaps a bit of background will put my discovery in perspective.

In high school I looked for success through athletics, academics and student government. And I found it. I lettered in basketball and track … our track team was undefeated. I ranked in the top of my class academically, was involved in student government, and was attending one of the nation’s leading prep schools. John F. Kennedy and Adlai Stevenson were graduates as were playwright Edward Albee and actor Michael Douglas.

I mention these details not to boast but to draw a contrast. Success in these areas had not brought the personal satisfaction I’d wanted. I was still an introvert, sometimes afraid to introduce myself to a stranger or ask a young woman for a date. My attitudes were often inconsistent with my behavior. Outwardly I could appear very positive and loving, while inwardly I might be negative and resentful of someone I didn’t like. Guilt, anxiety and a poor self-image often hindered me from taking risks or from being vulnerable in relationships.

Later, in college, I was still wrestling with these areas. Then I ran into a group of students who had something special about them, a love, joy, and enthusiasm I found very attractive. I especially appreciated the fact that they accepted me just the way I was. I didn’t have to try to impress them with a list of accomplishments, though they were sharp, attractive, and successful. Even in dating I didn’t feel the normal pressure to display a macho image. They seemed to like themselves and they accepted me, too.

These were Christian students and I knew that I wanted what they had. They told me they had found a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I couldn’t accept all that right away, yet I kept going back to their meetings because I was curious and because it was a good place to get a date. Especially because it was a good place to get a date!


The more I spent time around them, the more I saw how their faith affected their lives and relationships. They told me that God loved me unconditionally, but that I was separated from Him by a condition of alienation called sin. They said that He had sent His unique Son, Jesus, to die on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins and rise from the grave to offer new life. When I placed my faith in Him, they explained, He would enter my life, forgive me of my sin, and begin to produce the fulfillment I’d been looking for.

Finally, through a simple, silent attitude of my heart, I said, “Jesus Christ, I need you. Thanks for dying and rising again for me. I want to accept your free gift of forgiveness. I open the door of my heart and invite you in. Give me the fulfilling life you promised.” There was no thunder and lightning. Angels didn’t rise in the background singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” and I didn’t become perfect. But gradually, I began to see change. I had a new inner peace that didn’t fluctuate with circumstances. I found a freedom from guilt and a new purpose for living. I saw my self-image improve and felt freer to take risks, to love others less conditionally.

There are many examples of Christians who are both successful and satisfied: Roger Staubach, former quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys; Julius Erving, star professional basketball player; J. C. Penney, founder of the department store chain; Dr. Charles Malik, past president of the UN General Assembly: Mark Hatfield, U. S. Senator from Oregon; Janet Lynn, a figure skater; Jerome Hines, Amy Grant, Pat Boone and Debby Boone as entertainers: and many more. Being a Christian doesn’t guarantee supreme success. Christians have their failures, too. But a relationship with God can enhance your self-concept, help clarify your goals, strengthen your determination and help you improve whatever you do. The personal satisfaction Christ provides can make a positive difference, too.

“What a tragedy to … climb the ladder
of success, only to reach the top
and find the ladder leaning against the wrong wall.”

Here’s how: Remember the earlier illustration about your roommate, date and professor showering praise on you? Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen every day. But God thinks you are very special, so special that He sent His only Son to die in your place. When you come to know Christ personally and realize the magnitude of His love for you, you can find strength to accept yourself and greater freedom to take prudent risks. You can face rejection with the security that even if everyone else turns on you, God still loves you. Knowing He wants the best for you can increase your determination to work hard for worthwhile goals.

What about you? Does your definition of success include personal satisfaction? Have you found success? Will your success be enough to sustain you through any rough times that may lie ahead? Have you found personal satisfaction?

What a tragedy it would be to spend an entire lifetime climbing the ladder of success only to reach the top and find the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall. Are you willing to consider how Jesus Christ can make a difference in your life?


1. Illustration adapted from Zig Ziglar, See You at the Top (Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Co., 1979), p. 46.

2. Ibid., p. 49.

3. Ibid, p. 319.

4. Prince Michael of Greece, “I Am Fantastically Lucky,” Parade Magazine, July 13, 1986, p. 4.

5. Ziglar, op. cit.

6. Hugh Sidey, To Dare Mighty Things,” Time, June 9, 1980, p. 15.

7. Adapted from Bill Bright, “The Uniqueness of Jesus” (San Bernardino, CA: Campus Crusade for Christ, 1968) pp. 14-15.

8. Daniel Yankelovich, New, Rules,p-69.

9. Gerald Clarke. “A Father Finds His Son,” “Time,” December 3, 1979, p. 79.

10. Patty Burgin, “A View From the Top,” Collegiate Challenge, 1980, p. ii.

©1986 Rusty Wright. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Rusty Wright, former associate speaker and writer with Probe Ministries, is an international lecturer, award-winning author, and journalist who has spoken on six continents. He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively.

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