Pressures not only affect our efforts, they affect our health, our peace, our witness, and our eternal purpose. Because we are created to be creative, our ambitions and attitudes play a role in determining our ability to succeed. Finding the correct line of perspective will help us know when enough is enough and when we’ve pushed ourselves beyond a healthy balance.
Do you know people who are so goal oriented that they don’t have time for family or friends, much less to enjoy a creative outlet? How about people who are creative and very talented, but somewhere along the line life got in the way and they stopped making time for art? There was too much else to do…or so they thought. These people don’t seem to enjoy life very much. There are the temporary highs, moments of happiness—when success comes—but before long, it’s back to the same pattern of striving for more. There are also those who never seem to succeed, even though their determination remains undaunted. Others always climb the ladder ahead of them and they’re miserable. What fills the in-betweens is a lot of hard work and stress, but not much satisfaction. Have any of these things happened to you?
1 Timothy 6:6 tells us, “Now godliness with contentment is great gain.” Part of our fallen nature gravitates toward discontentment and jealousy, distracting us from God’s purposes and His peace. Some have even fallen into a pattern of striving for other things to fill the void, but this often leads to needless activity and frustration.
People who are performance oriented often project that onto their children as well. Dan recalled the time when he came face to face with this mind-set after a football game his twelve-year-old son had just played. Troy was the quarterback; he put forth a valiant effort, did an exceptional job, and was quite excited about his performance as the two walked off the field together. His father’s assessment? “You played well son, but you could have done better if you would have…and…” Then out of the corner of his eye, Dan caught sight of the assistant coach who happened to be walking along side of them. He was shaking his head in disappointment. At that moment, Dan realized he expected too much from his son. He couldn’t even let Troy enjoy his achievements in today’s game before addressing ways he could play better. Dan’s desire for flawless precision from his son was unrealistic and didn’t encourage the normal growth process. His critical response made Troy wonder if he’d ever be good enough for Dad. Dan came to the realization that allowing Troy to celebrate his present success was crucial to maintaining his love for the game and his desire to improve.
For those of us who are parents, or have influence over the lives of others, we need to be careful not to destroy their willingness to participate because of the demands we put on them to perform. There is a difference between pushing someone with talent and setting unrealistic goals that are beyond their present ability. Pressure builds character. To illustrate, the image in a coin is formed when pressure is applied to push away all that is not part of the desired image. But if the force is too great, the coin is destroyed along with its value. There is nothing wrong with pushing someone to succeed, as long as it’s not in excess. The best thing we can do is encourage others to positively work at improving their talents without crushing their desire to do so.
Another thing we must be mindful of is the reality that there will be times when the results of our efforts will be out of our control. Do you remember what happened at the Pairs Figure Skating Competition during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games? A majority of those who watched the Canadian couple’s program thought they should have won the Gold Medal. Clearly the judges’ decision to award the gold to another pair of skaters shocked people the world over and greatly disappointed the Canadians—even though their performance reached across cultural bounds and entertained all who watched. They showed amazing athleticism and artistry tied together in a beautiful package of excellence, but it still came short of gold. A few days later, after much public outcry, the couple received co-champion honors and obtained a Gold Medal, but what if that didn’t happen? Think about it: if they based their worth on the judges’ verdict, it could have destroyed their confidence and ruined their creative future.
This instance proves we cannot always base our worth on someone else’s opinion of us. Nor should the amount of effort we put forth revolve solely around results, especially once the outcome extends beyond our control. Sometimes our actions have to carry us despite the assessment of a few, because there will be others who appreciate our creative expression, even if we don’t have a medal or an award to prove it. In competitions, as well as in life, not everyone can finish on top, but the challenge to get there should make us better. We must not allow circumstances to overwhelm us and cause us to lose sight of God’s purpose for doing a thing in the first place.
I would like each of you to take a moment and consider how you handle challenges and pressures. There are those who need a challenge to get motivated, to provoke deeper thought, and gain better results. Pressure, whether internal or external, does not have to be consuming and when handled properly, it can be constructive. How we look at effort and hard work will determine how enjoyable the process will be and will ultimately control how much influence our lives and our actions have on others.