He’s a highly successful pastor, but one day we talked about failure. I first met him when he was the pastor of a 300-member congregation. A couple of years later the membership had ballooned to 900, and now they have several thousand members and established two satellite churches.
After I commented on how well he had done, my pastor friend said, “I know this is where I belong, but I’m not sure what we’re supposed to do next.” He spoke of the many opportunities to help people and he wasn’t sure which way to direct his leadership.
In our discussion, he made a comment that has stayed with me since that day nearly three years ago: “I’m not afraid of trying and failing,” he said and paused thoughtfully. “I’m afraid of succeeding at the wrong things.” He went on to say God had given him a number of gifts and he recognized them as just that—gifts.
I understood. Some of us focus on the wrong things. We try something and it’s easy and we succeed. But that may not make us contented or happy.
I thought of that conversation this morning after I came across notes I had taken more than 20 years ago when Bill Moyers interviewed Joseph Campbell on public TV. Campbell said there are two paths in life. He called the first the right-handed path because “It’s prudent and practical.” He pointed out that it was an obvious way to go. If we follow the right-handed path, it often leads to the ladder of success. “If we climb the ladder of success, eventually we learn that the ladder is against the wrong wall.”
Then he referred to the riskier left-handed path. He called it the path of following our bliss—our rapture—our ecstasy (his words).
If we take that riskier path, others might not understand, and we have no guarantee where we’ll end up. We have no assurance that we’ll achieve our goals or attain our dreams. “But if we choose the left-handed path,” Campbell said, “it’s worth it because the journey itself is its own reward.”
If we don’t take the left-handed path, we might succeed—but at the wrong things with no inner joy.
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