Is There Life After Success?

To answer this question, we need to understand what success in life is:
When you are 12-months-old, success is to be able to walk.
When you are 2, success is not pee in the pants.
When you are 15, success is to have sex.
When you are 18, success is to have a driver’s licence.
When you are 30, success is to have money.
When you are 60, success is to have a lot more money.
When you are 70, success is to have a driver’s licence.
When you are 80, success is to have sex.
When you are 85, success is to have a lot of friends.
When you are 90, success is to not pee in the pants.
When you are 95, success is to be able to walk.

Moral: success varies according to what it signifies in each stage of life and in the culture we belong to. For a competing athlete, success is to be a champion. For the gunman, success is the number of unhappy souls that have crossed his path. Success is the realization of a dream, but once the target is met, success loses its reason for being and we feel aimless.

I, for one, fell in love with cars as a little boy, and aspired to become a race driver for my whole life. I worked hard, trained exhaustively, tried to summon all the resources I could reach to fund my racing, until I arrived at the top racing category: the Formula 1. Those were thrilling, challenging, intense years, but when they finished, I could not help but ask: now what?

Unhappy is he who depends on success to be happy. For such a person, the end of a successful career is the end of the line. His destiny is to die of bitterness or to search for more success in other careers and to go on living from success to success until he falls dead. In this case, there will not be life after success.

In order to survive success, we need instead to find the meaning of our life, to discover our true vocation and the purpose that justifies our existence. As Frederick Buechner puts it, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”[1] In this perspective, Mother Teresa was much wealthier than Bill Gates, at least until the day in which he stopped running Microsoft to dedicate himself to philanthropy and humanitarian help, in the search for a purpose for his life. To help others is surely a more noble kind of enterprise, yet the problem is that noble and praiseworthy success is still perishable success. Any life project that does not transcend the here and now is faded to end in a cemetery.

I believe lasting success is success that transcends the grave. Death gathers all limitations that result from our disconnection from the source of life. And in my analysis, throughout cockpits and soccer stadiums and victory celebrations and losses at the last inch and days of plain routine, I have not found someone who can reconcile and reconnect us to the source and maintainer of life as Jesus Christ does. Only through him will there be life after all and every success.

Alex Dias Ribeiro is a former Formula 1 driver, and has accompanied the Brazilian teams as a chaplain in many of the last World Cups and Summer Olympics.

[1] Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC (New York: HarperOne, 1993).

8 responses to “Is There Life After Success?

  1. Great reflection, Alex! We are so full of dreams for the future – professionally, relationally, etc. – and imagine that life will change after they come true. But I guess the question of how do we survive success is even more crucial than how do we survive failure, eh? To conceive new milestones to be reached does not solve the problem, we have to dig deeper, or the most splashing of successes will still leave our hearts empty and craving for the next peak.

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