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Success and Stuffed Tigers

October 4th 2013 1 comment so far  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGrowing up, Calvin and Hobbes was my favorite comic strip. Its creator, Bill Watterson, took the simple premise of a six-year-old boy who imagines his stuffed tiger is real, combined it with surprisingly deep topics for a newspaper comic and superb illustration to make arguably one of the most artistic and influential comic strips ever created. From 1985 to the last strip in 1995, it was extremely popular and at its peak was published in over 2,400 newspapers.

Watterson is an interesting study. When you see a Garfield t-shirt or a Peanuts calendar, it means the comic strip has been licensed for merchandising, and the syndicate the cartoonist has representing him makes bookoos of money off the merchandise, as does the cartoonist. Watterson vehemently opposed licensing his work and got into an ugly battle with his syndicate because of it. When he finally won out, he left millions, if not hundreds of millions, on the table. To him, the art and controlling his own message was worth it. How many of us are that convicted of our life’s work, that we would leave millions of dollars on the table to preserve its integrity?

The quote below is from a commencement speech that Watterson gave to his alma mater, Kenyon College, in 1990.

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success…. As if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth. You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing…. To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.

For Christians, it gets a little iffy at the end with the “To invent your own life’s meaning…” line, but I think there is a good message here. For Bill Watterson, success was living the way he wanted to live and not letting others dictate what his work would look like. He didn’t see the accumulation of money as success, like most folks do. What is “success” to you?

How does God define a successful life? God has a radically different view of accomplishment than all of us, who immediately envision big houses and big offices. For a little perspective, I turn to Matthew 16:24-27.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

A lot of interesting angles to this excerpt, but I especially like the part about denying ourselves and finding life. Essentially, it’s the old example of not being able to serve two masters and having to choose between serving God and money (although you could easily substitute “success” or anything, really). If we truly desire to be a disciple of God, we have to deny our own desires, hopes, and dreams. What good is getting all the money and all the power in the world if you don’t take care of your soul? If you don’t have God? Accomplishment as it’s seen in the world today is inherently selfish.

It goes on to say that “he will reward each person according to what they have done.” If you had to imagine what God will reward his followers for, what would some of those things be? Getting that raise or promotion? Sending your kid to the best school? Driving the nicest car on the street?

No, I venture God cares more about what we did to further His kingdom than any of those things. To piggyback off of Watterson’s more human-oriented sentiments, did we create a life that reflected God’s values and satisfied Him? Were you satisfied with the work God had you performing? Would God be satisfied with who you were and what you were doing? Striving for those things seems  closer to what the Lord would think success looks like.

Maybe Watterson doesn’t have it all the way right, but I think he has a much healthier view of success than most people, including myself. In the end, what you accomplished in the boardroom doesn’t compare to what you can accomplish in your own heart and the lives of others. That, I think, is where true success can be found.



    Cheryl Trudel October 11th at 12:49 pm  

    Really like this, Townsend! Well penned food for thought. And I’m in agreement with it all.

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