Ask me about my goals in life.

Okay.

I wanna be the very best, like no one ever was.

If you grew up watching Pokemon, you think I just made a joke. If you grew up reading Merriam-Webster for fun, you think I just made an allusion.

You’re both partly right.

But if I’m being really, truly, chopping-down-the-cherry-tree honest with everyone here, I’m actually making a confession. I have always had a profound aspiration to be extraordinary, and not just extraordinary in a way that puts me among the greatest people that have ever lived. I kind of want to be the greatest person that ever lived.

I’m glad if you find me amusing, because it’s less off-putting than the alternative, which is to be terrified. I wouldn’t blame you. I’m a little terrified myself. Because I understand how messed up this is. I mean, this sentiment was both the incentive and the downfall of every supremely evil being that has existed—Hitler, Nero, the devil…

Think about it. I really want to be the best. At everything. At the expense of everyone else. When I was six years old, I only told everyone that I wanted to be a ballerina when I grew up because it was more pithy than “I want to be an insightful, likeable, hyper-intelligent triple-threat, writer and revolutionary with Tina Fey’s brain, Emma Watson’s face, and the soccer skill of Edson Arantes do Nascimento.”

Now you’re terrified, no doubt, by the emotional see-saw upon which I am bouncing you up and down. Wait, is she using hyperbole, or being serious? Is she heroically ambitious, or emotionally unstable? If I’m reading this blog post, can she track my e-mail address? Did she just compare herself to Hitler and Emma Watson within two paragraphs?? Yes, yes I did.

The thing is, I suspect I’m not alone here. I might be alone with the Hitler and Hermione thing, but I find it hard to believe that I’m the only person in the world who at some level wishes to succeed more than everyone else. Because let’s be honest, if I were, people wouldn’t like being valedictorian so much and most songs probably wouldn’t exist.

I haven’t taken a math class in quite some time, but I’d like to create a hypothetical equation. Let’s say that success equals talent subtracted by weakness and multiplied by opportunity. If I cultivate my talents, eliminate my weaknesses, and harpoon opportunity like a white whale, I will obtain a certain level of success that can be measured against the relative products of everyone else’s accomplishments.

SUCCESS = (TALENT – WEAKNESS) x OPPORTUNITY

There’s something enormous missing from the equation, however.

Or maybe it’s the concept of success as a calculable quantity that’s a part of the problem.

One off-kilter element of this entire philosophy is the idea that life is a competition, that my success can only be measured by someone else’s failure. Now, you might try to argue with me that people don’t actually believe that, or at least that you don’t. And I can tell you that I certainly don’t believe it either.

On the GRE, if I came across the following question…

27. True or False: Individual accomplishment is only possible in conjunction with corresponding failure on the part of an associated party.

Or, if you prefer, on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills…

 27. True or False: You can only be awesome by being better than someone else.

 …I would obviously fill in the little bubble for “False.” But even though my pencil might indicate a nobler viewpoint, my person says otherwise.

I live like I’m filling in the “True” bubble. When I score high above the class average on a test, I’m ready to award myself the Nobel Prize in everything, but when the entire class scores within the top ten percent, I’m ready to stab my pencil through the table. When a guy tells me I’m “the coolest girl he’s ever met,” I feel like I just played a winning poker hand, but when an ex-boyfriend starts dating a Midwestern Kate Beckinsale, it feels like somebody just sunk my battleship. I revel in perceived triumphs over others, but lose self-esteem like battery power from an iPhone 3GS when I feel as if I have fallen short of someone else’s victory.

It is a pet peeve of mine when people attempt to steam-roller honesty because it seems like self-deprecation, so if any of you try to cut me off right now, I will virtuo-slap you so hard…

Allow me to impart something to you.

I’m not beautiful. I’m not smart. I’m not important. I’m not wise, witty, capable, brave, inventive, resourceful, strong, athletic, or talented in any other meaningful way.

Not, at least, on my own.

But you see, until recently, I had forgotten that there is someone else who also wants me to be the very best. He created me to be that way actually, but our world is bent in such a way that I choose daily to live as a mere shell of my intended existence. This creator’s intended design for me was once labeled “good.” And one thing that I’ve learned in this past year is that goodness might even be better than greatness. I don’t mean that in a hokey “it doesn’t matter if you succeed, just if you’re nice to people,” sort of a way, but rather a grave belief that maybe God’s intention for you is much higher than anything you can imagine for yourself.

I used to think this meant that God intended me to be an astro-physicist when I was resigned to being a black belt in karate, but now I imagine that it’s more like God intending me to be a living, breathing lion when I was perfectly thrilled to be a drawing of a cat.

Here’s another realization that I came to recently. God didn’t knit himself into a bundle of senses and sinews in order to pour his blood and soul out in agony so that we could get into heaven and tune some harps.

The Lord of the Universe died because couldn’t stand for his creation to be anything less than its fullest.

Let me run that past you one more time.

So that you could be your fullest self, he died. HE DIED.

And lest we begin to think that this is about us, let me assure you that it is not. It is absolutely about him. Everything is.

And when you’re at your proudest, not the vain sort of pride but the real true, “well, done, good and faithful servant,” solidity, you’re still just a shadow of what he intended and intends you to be. When you’re brought to glory, he revels in you. And you glorify him.

He revels in you because you glorify him. Every good part of you reflects him, because that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

That’s why it’s silly to worry about being successful, or smart or beautiful. Because you aren’t. Not when you define your intelligence by your superior IQ or your beauty by the number of girls who are jealous of your profile picture. You’re beautiful because he is beautiful. You’re worth something because he is worth everything. It’s stupid to compare yourself to other people, not because “it’s what’s on the inside that counts,” but because neither you nor they can have any beauty, goodness, nobility, purity, rightness, or loveliness apart from him. Anything admirable that you recognize in someone else cannot be a signal of your own failure because this merit comes from the same source as your own. Your beauty and their beauty are simply complementary reflections of another, greater beauty.

And here is where words start falling short, because the words “success,” and “victory” and “accomplishment,” no longer seem to apply. I have resorted to using the word “beauty” because it isn’t as inherently competitive, but I’m pretty sure that many of us still think it is, so that falls short too. There’s just a “best-ness,” something that is in us only because it is in him. Something he was willing to die for, so that the whole of creation could have it too. Something that when you encounter it, the hairs stand up on the back of your arms. And that’s what I want, I’m pretty sure.

My life goals?

Ask me again.

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Thanks, Lauren. If only we could live into this truth every day. English major note: I’ve been teaching Paradise Lost this week, and I noticed for the first time that, according to Milton, harps in heaven never need tuning! See Book 3 line 366.

    Reply
  2. Elaine Schnabel

    I thought you were describing me for the first half of that piece. Creepy (in a good way) and nicely done.

    Reply
  3. Avatar

    This piece really spoke to me. Thank you so much.

    Reply

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