In this season of school application deadlines, I am frequently reminded of our society’s bittersweet love affair with achievement. It pushes us forward, drives us to set goals and meet them, and keeps us going. Achievement is attractive, and it feels good.
My daughter is convinced that if she constantly achieves and gets into the school that she wants to attend, then her life will be perfect. This is yet another example of how our culture has led us to believe that a child’s worth is wholly defined by achievement—grades, awards, popularity, athletic prowess, and acceptance letters. As I think this through, I can’t help but ask myself, “Where is all of this going? What if she doesn’t get in?”
I’m forty-one years old, and if I had to name one moment in my life that impacted me the most, one thing that truly transformed me and began to define who I really am, it wasn’t a shining moment of achievement or “success.” It wasn’t a spot on my high school’s homecoming court or an acceptance letter to a top academic university or a great job offer, or closing a big transaction at work or buying a nice new car or house.
It was the minute I realized that I had failed on a monumental level. The time my life fell apart—when I was so broken that I was convinced I wouldn’t survive. The moment that all three of my children were standing in the living room crying and expecting me to fix the unfixable, and I just stood there, realizing that my past decisions had not just affected me, but would affect generations to come.
In this moment, I was overwhelmed by guilt, shame, and isolation, and imprisoned by the secrecy of things that people didn’t know. Suddenly, all of my “achievements” were profoundly overshadowed, and I had to dig deep to find a way to keep going. Fueled by my mother’s love and my faith in God, I pressed on… one day at a time, following a path that I certainly hadn’t planned—but one that has been filled with many unexpected blessings.
So… if my daughter doesn’t get in, it’s okay. She’s a valuable and wonderfully made child who is loved and cherished by her family. I want her to know that I don’t love her because she achieves, and her worth is not based on a resume. “Failures” should be propellers, not roadblocks. They just move us on to the next thing.