Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Successful or Significant?

Sunday morning at the ACFW Conference, literary agent Chip MacGregor shared a devotion after breakfast. I'm going to give a very bare-bones, doesn't-do-it-justice paraphrase here, but basically, he asked... do you want to be successful or significant?

It's a question that struck a chord with me, and something I've been pondering ever since. In the publishing industry, success can be boiled down to some very basic, quantifiable facts. How many books did you sell? Did you earn out your advance? Do you have another book contracted?

Significance is a little harder to pin down. What touches one person may mean nothing to another. But ultimately, it's those times when our work strikes a chord in someone that makes it significant.

During a rare time between running from this to that, I was sitting with a friend and talking about what kind of stories we write. For the first time, I acknowledged a common thread running through all of mine: identity. In The Pastor's Wife, I wrote about a woman who tried so hard to live up to the expectations of others that she lost track of who God meant for her to be. In The Mother Road (which comes out in April 2012), a marriage expert is thrown for a loop when her husband tells her he wants a divorce, making her doubt everything she thought was true about herself. Obviously, identity is a topic I'm passionate about. And I believe it's significant.

When I started my blog, The Pastor's Wife Speaks, I did it with the goal of supporting women who live on the front lines of ministry... women who sometimes struggle to separate their true selves from the expectations others have for them. When I told someone (who shall remain nameless) about the plan, I was asked this question, "How are you going to make any money from that?"

I understand the reasoning behind the question. Starting up and maintaining a new blog is a lot of work, and most people won't put that much work into something without an expectation of financial return. But the blog isn't about success for me... it's about creating something with significance. I knew I was on the right track when I got an email saying, "I'm so thankful for today's post. I thought I was the only one who felt that way."

How about you? Besides raising your kids (because let's face it, that's the first thing most of us women think of, and rightly so), what's the most significant thing you've been a part of?

In the above picture: Four significant women... Bonnie Calhoun, Anita Mae Draper, Lisa Richardson, and Jen AlLee


Lisa Karon Richardson said...

Chip's devotion has been filtering through my brain since then too. It's both a simple and a profound concept. I'll never write great literary literature. But hopefully I can entertain, and while I do that, nudge people toward the truth.

Tamika: said...

Do I want to be successful or significant? That is the powerful question I've heard in a while, and something I need to give a lot of prayer to.

Externally I could say I want both, but really on God knows my true motivations. I'm curious to see what they are.

Thanks so much for this post!

Richard Mabry said...

Jen, I devoted my own blog post recently to "indicators of success." It's good to see that others are considering this question as well. Thanks for sharing. And it was good to see you at ACFW and break bread with you and the gang.

Janna said...

That was a great devotion wasn't it? It really made me stop and think too. Significance is definitely more important and good thing too since my paychecks don't indicate success but teaching at my Christian dance studio 3 days a week to a bunch of young people is full of significance...

Jennifer AlLee said...

Lisa, my goal has always been to deliver an entertaining story that upholds Godly principles. And if people learn something along the way, that's a side benefit :+}

Tamika, I think it's possible to be successful AND significant. I think writers like Lewis, Tolkein, and L'Engle fit into that category. There are others, of course, but those are the first that popped into my mind. As you say, motivation is key.

Richard, I'm so glad we were able to chat more this year. I enjoyed getting to know you better and look forward to many more years of fellowship!

Janna, I can't think of a more significant occupation than one that molds young lives. I know you are a blessing to the girls you teach!

Thou Art Jules said...

I am not on the front lines of ministry but often as a parent even, you are held to certain standards and sometimes you don't even know what they are.

I saw your tweet and it really hit home for me. I think above all I want to be significant. Success is such a double edged sword sometimes.

Thank you for this post and the food for thought!

It's nice to meet you :-)

Jennifer AlLee said...

Nice to meet you, too! And you're right. Mothers also have expectations to live up to, many of which are impossible to achieve. You may not technically be involved in ministry, but as a parent, you're definitely on the front lines of ministry! Please know that you're welcome over at The Pastor's Wife Speaks. It's a great community of supportive women. I hope to see you there :+}