Success: noun 1.The attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like. (Dictionary.com)

I used to be a prisoner of success. Growing up in Korea, I saw only two types of people: the top five percent who got straight A’s, and the remaining 95 percent.

Life was singularly defined by a letter grade. Every student competed in the same desperate game: to reach the top of the ladder of success.

As a slow learner, I grappled with my unforgiving grades every day and was being reduced to nothing but the number assigned to me. At age 14, I saw no hope, no passion, and no purpose in life. I decided to leave Korea for a chance to redeem myself.

During the next ten years, I made Vancouver, Canada my home. It took a long time to restore my confidence level, learn English, and acclimate to the Canadian culture. Every day I was driven by the fear of failure. By the time it came to university, I knew it would be the last chance to prove myself. My first two years were a struggle. But my last two years of university were the most successful of my entire life. I co-founded a student organization, which has become the largest ethnic business club in western Canada. I became a subject matter expert in Human Resources by serving as a consultant to student executives in my student society. I interned twice at two admired Fortune 500 companies.

I clearly remember one day, six months prior to my graduation, sipping hot chocolate at a café thinking, I have finally made it!  But it was a temporary victory. Though I had been able to eradicate the painful memories, and had achieved so much, I soon felt empty.

Christian author and apologist Ravi Zacharias words perfectly described my state: “The loneliest moment in life is when you just experienced that which you thought would deliver the ultimate, and it has let you down.”

Fast forward a few years. I had met a mentor with whom I had developed a trusting relationship. On one occasion he asked me: “Paul, why are you trying so hard to become successful?” For some reason, I felt as if God were asking me this question. After several forlorn attempts of defense, I yielded to the Holy Spirit and acknowledged that I was driven to succeed because I had to prove I was not a failure. An enormous burden lifted as I felt the outpouring of God’s love – a love that was not based on performance, nor on good works, but was simply unconditional.

My mentor offered a paradigm-jarring Christian definition of success. He said, “Success and failure are master words; faithfulness is the only concern of stewards.” God has a simple standard for measuring success. In His kingdom, success in life is about stewardship and maximizing what we’ve been given. This was in sharp contrast to the American Dream which I’ve embraced all my life. That is, you can become anything you want to be if you put in hard work and effort. Instead, I realized I can’t be anything I want to be but I can be a lot more of who I already am.

My mentor continued, “Life is to be lived intentionally. Every one of us is to live each moment with godly intentionality guided by discernment and wisdom. This will help you live in your sweet spot.”  Living intentionally is a lot like a GPS system. When you put in the right starting point and destination, it calculates the best route for you to follow. My mentor asked three fundamental and interrelated questions that have helped me plan my journey towards an intentional life.

Whose Am I? – As a Christian, I understood I was created by God for a purpose. This question helped me understand that God is the primary authority and audience for my life. In other words, is He the one I seek to please? This question helped me discover my overarching calling. The Bible defines this for me: to glorify God in all I do and enjoy Him forever. A daily commitment to meditating upon Scripture has become the cornerstone for living intentionally. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet, a light for my path.”

Who Am I? – Each one of us is created by God in His unique image. There are no two people in this world that are the same. The Psalmist says, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Only by discovering my God-given gifts and passion will I honor God. There are many tools available that have helped me to better understand myself. I asked for feedback from family, friends and co-workers through three simple questions: “What should I stop doing?,” “What should I continue doing?,” and “What should I start doing?” Some tools to help discover gifts:  Strengths Finder 2.0, DISC assessment, Myers-Briggs Test Indicator, and StandOut assessment.

Why Am I Here? – All of us are born with a divine purpose. Unfortunately, many people die without knowing the answer. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” If you have started discovering answers to the two preceding questions, the answer to this question becomes easier. Bill Hybels asks, “What is the one aspect of this broken world that, when you see it, touch it, get near it, you just can’t stand?” For Moses, it was the misery of God’s people. For me, it is equipping men and women to become influential leaders in their area of calling to effect a societal transformation in the world. Answers to questions like this don’t come overnight. Prayerfully approach this and reflect over your life to see hints of God’s grand design in your life.

Paul Sohn is a leadership coach, best-selling author and speaker. Paul is the founder and CEO of QARA. Paul is a best-selling author of Quarter-Life Calling: Finding Your God-Given Purpose in Your Twenties. Paul was named one of the Top 33 under 33 Christian Millennials to Follow by Christianity Today.
  • Jon Lee

    Hey Paul,
    Great to see what your doing with Qara! I wanted to share a definition of success I came across which your post reminded me of : Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming (by John Wooden).

    I hope and pray many find inspiration and direction through this work.

    Jon

  • Jung Woosung

    What a Great! I’ve got a huge insight between master and steward. Thank you Paul. God bless you.

  • Ivan Oreamuno Canizal

    This is just amazing! I felt so identified with your story. Thanks Paul!