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How To Know When You’ve Finally Arrived

December 10, 2009

I once heard a story about Henry Kissinger falling asleep in the middle of a very important meeting. Everyone noticed, but no one dared say anything because he was such a highly respected diplomat. The moment he came to, upon picking up the few fragments of sentences that were being discussed in mid-conversation, he immediately interrupted the group with some blinding insight.

I try not to fall asleep in meetings, whether I am making the presentation, or receiving one. Because, unlike Henry Kissinger, I am very concerned about what people think of me. I would rather make sure I come across as sharp and capable and prepared and on the ball. I guess I haven’t achieved enough yet in my career that would allow me such unguarded self-possession.

But that story puts things in perspective, mostly by revealing how insecure I must be. Here is a man who was so self-assured as to feel the freedom to doze off in the middle of some high-powered meeting. “What’s the difference?” he’s thinking. “I am smarter than all of these people, and I know what the end result is going to look like anyway. My time is better spent in a snooze.” If only I had such bravado!

How Will You Know When You’ve Finally Arrived?

I decided that Mr. Kissinger was an inspiring role model. If only I could be so well-respected, unquestionably smart and insightful! In fact, his example would be a good benchmark for success. Better yet, why not make it a goal? Yes, this is how I will know when I have finally arrived in my career: I can fall asleep during a meeting without giving a rip, because everyone knows that even in my sleep, I am a valuable team member.

Not that this could actually ever happen in my lifetime. But it did get me thinking about success, and the possibility to nail down a version of what that ultimately might look like for me. What will it take for me to finally calm down and truly believe deep down inside that I’ve made it?

Most of us view our lives as a series of plateaus to climb – when we have accomplished one thing, we start looking for the next. So our idea of “success” is a moving target, and in that case there is no true sense of arrival. On the other hand, scripture tells us to look to God, be content in what we are doing, stop striving (look at the lilies of the field!), and rest in the Lord. Also, remain humble, put others first, and submit to God’s will. Well, that’s all spiritually agreeable, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying, stop dreaming, stop reaching.

Is There A Spiritual Definition of Business Success?

I started fishing around for a better definition of success (without a sleep reference), one that can integrate my desire for spiritual fulfillment right alongside my ambition and desire for achievement. Here is what I came up with.

My definition of success is this:

Achieving my full potential while fully surrendering to God.

What do you think?

Works for me.

This post is also the guest post today on Michael Holmes’ Blog, “I Shall Raise Thee Up!” Michael is a leadership blogger and author. Stop in and say hello to Michael!

Photo by nAncY, used with permission.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. December 10, 2009 10:21 am

    I was at CSIS on K Street when Mr. Kissinger kept an office there. Believe me, his talents went beyond allowing himself the pleasure of falling asleep at meetings. (And I’ll stop there, because I want to remain a nice person.)

    I like that you are seeking a redefinition of business “success”, which too often has been equated with “get what you want at any cost, no matter the harm to others”. I’ve stepped out of the way more times than not rather than accede to that.

    Yours is a graceful suggestion and it’s application, as shown through the Word, offers us many examples to consider.

    • December 12, 2009 7:58 am

      Thank you, Maureen. I bet you’ve seen a lot over there in Washington. Politicians motivated by power and ambition? Nah….

      Now tell us, what did you REALLY think of Mr. Kissinger?

  2. December 10, 2009 10:22 am

    And as an editor, I hate typing “it’s” when I should have typed “its”. (Just me needing to make a correction.)

  3. December 10, 2009 4:25 pm

    I’m glad you rethought your “sleeping” definition of success. One of my classmates in college was notorious for falling asleep in class. No one woke him up because we didn’t respect him much at all. Most of the class would get a chuckle when he’d show up to the next class 10-15 minutes late.

    Not a godly response, true. But I was a bit of a wild thing back then.

    Opposite ends of the respect spectrum apparently can yield similar results. I’m just saying. 😉

  4. shoreboy permalink
    December 10, 2009 9:26 pm

    I’d have to consider success as about the same thing: doing your best under God and doing what God would have you do.

  5. Michele Corbett permalink
    December 10, 2009 11:30 pm

    I’ve been known to fall asleep at the wrong time here and there. Maybe I have arrived!

    Hmmm. Definition:

    Success is when your deep passion and the world’s deep hunger meet.

    I’m quoting someone I read – not my original thought by any means.

  6. December 11, 2009 6:25 am

    I’ve been thinking about Steve Jobs’ definition of success: “Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful, that’s what matters for me.” but since it involves a sleep reference, I guess it doesn’t count, does it?

    • December 12, 2009 7:56 am

      Leon – You get extra points for combining success with a sleep reference. I don’t know how much time you spent researching that, but I am very impressed.

      I don’t know how often I actually can go to bed at night thinking that same thought as Steve Jobs- it’s usually more like “We’ve done SOMETHING today, at least. I hope.” and then pray that it leads to something wonderful down the road!

  7. December 11, 2009 10:58 am

    This made me laugh out loud. As a former teacher, I was always concerned when kids fell asleep in class–not because they found me boring, but because it meant they were sleep deprived for some reason. Sometimes the reasons were bad. (I played Wii all night.) Sometimes they were were good. (I’m working the night shift to help my family with rent.)

    The end of the piece reminds me of some things Mr. Butt has been saying a lot lately. Here is a paraphrase: “Excellence is good, but sometimes we try too hard. We run in circles instead of just meeting the goal. We need to relax. We need to be patient.”

    Darn it, I am learning how very very impatient I am.

    • December 12, 2009 7:51 am

      Marcus – I need that too. I think that’s good advice, sometimes to unplug the batteries and enjoy what we are doing rather than getting so obsessed with the result. For me, it is often the problem worrying about what I’m not doing, what I should be doing, what I should have done already, and the ever-popular (drum roll) look what all those other people are doing that I haven’t done yet.

      So tell Mr. Butt thanks, and give him a big hug for me.

      Then ask him, “Oh, so that’s how you built your grocery empire? By relaxing?” (kidding)

  8. December 11, 2009 11:13 am

    i always had to give presentations to a man who looked totally disinterested in what i had to say…but he was still soaking it up.

    Every word.

    Even though he looked far away, sleepy, disengaged, he was still connected.

    I wonder if i do the same?


  9. December 11, 2009 10:53 pm

    the idea of success moves and changes as fast as our own desires.

  10. December 12, 2009 7:48 am

    Aside from all the falling-asleep-in-meetings stories, you all have come up with some pretty sharp spiritually appropriate definitions of success (“spiriutally appropriate” is like “politically correct” except for spirituality).

    Shoreboy’s: doing your best under God and doing what God would have you do.

    Michelle’s: when your deep passion and the world’s deep hunger meet.

    Leon: Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful, that’s what matters for me.”

    Marcus: “Excellence is good, but sometimes we try too hard. We run in circles instead of just meeting the goal. We need to relax. We need to be patient.”

    These are wonderful to ponder and pay close attention to.

    Now, I hope everyone has a good, restful night of sleep so that you don’t nod off today while someone is talking.

  11. December 14, 2009 1:03 am

    Some people may say they have finally arrived. But I believe for us Christians, “we never arrive in Christian life. We survive spiritually only by constantly depending on God for mercy and for strengths”, as Philip Yancey puts it.

    Anyway, thanks for this great post. God bless.


    • December 15, 2009 1:32 pm

      You nailed it, Jose. I am coming to grips with this fact of never arriving. It’s an ongoing, never-ending process, and the only way to deal with it is to turn to God every day, every minute.

  12. December 14, 2009 7:25 pm

    I think to me success comes down to one thing: obedience. If I live a life where I am obedient to God, then that’s the best I can hope for in this life.

    Of course I’ll never get there, but each little victory I can claim is a major success.

    And yes, I recognize that “obedience” isn’t a very popular word, lol. 🙂

  13. December 14, 2009 7:40 pm

    Well, you’ve chosen to tackle a very difficult topic and I admire you for it. I don’t know much about “arriving” – like enlightenment and balance: it’s a transient, even liquid state, we move in and out of it (don’t we have to leave again to arrive? And keep leaving and arriving in the course of many journeys?) but I do know something about listening. Listening is the highest form of respect we can pay the moment or someone. When we’re able to listen completely, unconditionally, we’ve arrived absolutely, we’re present in that moment. And isn’t that all we really have?

    Falling asleep in a meeting of any kind, regardless of how adeptly you’re able to cover your ass upon awakening, isn’t being anything more than boorish, I think. Where is the power or intelligence in that? No matter how expertly you wake up, you still have that long string of saliva hanging from your lip while the class – including the pretty girl you fancy – laughs at you. I’m afraid history, in Kissinger’s case, is that girl.

    But, again, I admire you for posing an important question and you raised some good points and… that’s my two cents. Now I’ll take a nap. Timing is (almost) everything.

    • December 15, 2009 1:37 pm


      Especially the waking up with the saliva hanging part; and also the part about history being the girl in HK’s case; also the British accent you write with.. You must come back and comment again!

      Seriously, your comment on listening and being present in the moment – “and isn’t that all we really have?” how simple – how true and profound.

  14. December 14, 2009 7:47 pm

    Isn’t that funny. I just recommended to an urban teacher friend that he should encourage the kids to fall asleep for a few minutes at the start of class. 🙂 (Would you have done that, Marcus?)

    • December 15, 2009 1:45 pm

      I would call that nap time rather than falling asleep in a meeting. We don’t get nap-time at work, although we absolutely should.

  15. December 15, 2009 7:24 pm

    the definition of success has also been on my mind the past couple of days.

    here’s what mine is (today):

    Success is having the courage to stand up and keep walking no matter how many falls or failures you’ve experienced.


  1. What Does Success Mean To You?

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