If you’re anything like me, a young and aspiring professional, then you understand first-hand the need to succeed. Each morning, we awake determined, fixated on our daily tasks, recognizing that steadfast perseverance will lead us to eventual triumph. And, so, we challenge ourselves to work harder, longer, and better than others, seizing our destiny one project at a time, our dreams of prosperity inevitable.

But, what if the seeds of our ambition and toil fail to germinate into the life-long success we dreamed?

Most of us cringe at the thought, the fear of failure a motivation only slightly more potent than the prospect of mediocrity. On our quest for success, we never consider a second place finish, much less defeat. Mistakes are only momentary setbacks, which we overcome by the sheer force of our will and the power of our modern mind. Like a mathematician testing a proof, we obsess over our life blunders, painstakingly analyzing our past decisions for the slightest miscalculation. After all, we are convinced that A+B=C — hard work plus a quality education always yields a good job. And, in those rare instances when our formula of success fails, ruining our immediate expectations, we quickly rework our figures without excuse, confident that our equation for personal prosperity has been made logically sound again.

Yet, despite our wishes to the contrary, success in life is not a calculation regulated by absolute laws of nature. Often, our best laid plans, formulas of success proven in the lives of others, become irreparably tattered. No matter how hard we work to emulate these seemingly perfect processes, we don’t all become the movie stars, professional athletes, or medical doctors we intended. To our dismay, most of us somehow miss our proverbial “lucky break,” that enigmatic move of fate that propels us toward greatness. Worse still is the reality that some of the “lucky” few, those of us somehow arriving victoriously, achieving our dreams of success and prosperity, do so only to find it strangely unfulfilling, the unintended consequence of perspective gained. All at once, life’s cold, hard reality confronts us mercilessly, challenging the very paradigm of success which has long since guided and shaped our lives.

We frantically question ourselves, asking, “What now? Is this all there is?”

Must we seemingly settle for a second-rate life, one forever stained with the failure and personal regret of dreams left unfulfilled? Or, having achieved unfulfilling dreams, must we now live some elaborate charade, assuring others of our contentment even as we remain unconvinced ourselves?

No. But, like everything in life, the answer is entirely up to us.

Some, oblivious to its ultimate futility, will maintain their eternal devotion to popular ideals of success without question, unwavering in their pursuit of wealth, power, and fame against all odds. Yet, those like us, you and me, consciously respond in a critical moment of clarity, willfully choosing to challenge these social norms, reclaiming our ambitions, and regaining the authenticity of our unique, God-given purpose, regardless of others’ perceptions.

Reviving that which subtly was lost, we suddenly feel alive again, as if for the first time. We shrug off the weight of external expectations, choosing to embrace our own path, contently walking in our new-found freedom. Throwing out the calculus book of success, authored from the formulaic lives and accounts of strangers, we pick up our own pen and begin to write, believing that what God has placed uniquely within us will create an incomparably beautiful story, a journey that, with last jot, will reveal our greatest success.

You see, we’ve discovered the deep truth, the one hidden among all the noise: life isn’t about setting our sights low or high; it’s about setting them genuinely, orienting them within the broader picture of who we really are — who God has created us to be — and that which brings us ultimate fulfillment and joy.

That is success.