No matter how much we may have reflected on all this, we should always be surprised when we think of the thirty years of obscurity which made up the greater part of Jesus' life among men. He lived in obscurity, but, for us, that period is full of light. It illuminates our days and fills them with meaning, for we are ordinary Christians who lead an ordinary life, just like millions of other people all over the world.
That was the way Jesus lived for thirty years, as “the son of the carpenter." There followed three years of public life, spent among the crowds. People were surprised: “Who is this?" they asked. “Where has he learned these things?" For he was just like them: he had shared the life of ordinary people. He was “the carpenter, the son of Mary." And he was God; he was achieving the redemption of mankind and “drawing all things to himself."
As with other events in his life, we should never contemplate Jesus' hidden years without feeling moved. We should realize that they are in themselves a call to shake off our selfishness and easy‑going ways.
ST. JOSEMARIA ESCRIVA
There are lots of resources when it comes to the topic of success. There are quotations galore, books, seminars, infomercials, and snake oil salesmen that promise success with every product or tip. Then, there are those unsuccessful people who make pious platitudes about success being something other than what it really is, and we know it is just a cop out for them being failures. So, what is success? And how do you get it?
Success in the popular mindset is comprised of only two things. The first is having money and lots of it. The second is being in absolute tip top physical condition such that it results in you having six pack abs and looking very appealing to potential sex partners. You can be an absolute failure on everything else. You can be a triple divorcee. You can be a complete jerk. You can have your license revoked for DUI. You might be on your fifth stay in rehab. Your kids might be in prison. None of that matters. Success is being rich and good looking.
Getting rich is fairly easy. Try and become famous. It also helps if you have your own reality TV show. But this project can be hit or miss, so a surer route to riches would be to work as a rat in financial services. As for looking good, get a personal trainer and some cosmetic surgery. Voila! You are successful.
Now, people may disagree with my analysis. I admit that you could probably be ugly and still be successful. But you can't be poor and successful. No matter how you look at it, success is equated with money. Fame, status, and other things are nice but only because they can be converted into cash. Here is what success looks like:
I can hear snickering on this. Vanilla Ice may have dubious skills as a hip hop MC with only one hit to his credit. But he has milked that into reality shows which keeps him famous which makes him rich. Plus, he looks like he is in pretty good shape. Ice is a success. You can be a total clown but all that matters is that cash and the abs.
If you are poor and obscure, then you are a failure in life. Being rich makes you a somebody. Being poor makes you a nobody. You can be anonymous, but as long as you are rich, you are still considered a success by just about everyone. Get those dollars! Nothing else matters.
Now, there are those who aren't successful and say that success is making a valuable contribution to your community. But you only say this to people who aren't rich. If you gave people a choice between winning the lottery or making a "valuable contribution," they are going to take the lottery winnings. This is because you can make an even more valuable contribution to the community when you are rich. So, let's not kid ourselves with this cop out. Once again, get those dollars!
Now, there are other people who think this chasing after dollars is futile and stupid. So, they decide not to make money but to sneer at it and insult it and those with the big bucks. These sneering types are known as punk rockers. Punk rockers don't need money. They don't even need guitars that stay in tune. They are above all of this. And they show their defiance in the way they look, act, dress, speak, and their aversion for all social convention involving hygiene and decorum.
The weird thing about punk rockers is that they end up making a lot of money trying not to make money. Their anti-success becomes success, and they spend a lot of time trying desperately to convince their loser fans that they are not "sell outs." Somehow, you can be rich and still keep your "integrity."
All of this sounds like nonsense, and it is. We know money is equated with success because you wouldn't be reading an essay with the onymoronic title of "How To Be Poor and Successful" without having your curiosity piqued. What is the big deal about money? It obviously isn't about the things that money buys since you can have just about anything you need and many things you would want on a regular income. Money is equated with success not because of what money buys but because of what money represents. Money is a proxy for love.
When you are rich, it usually says two things about you. You made a valuable contribution to the world, and the world rewarded you for it handsomely. Or, in the case of the lottery winner, you are rich which means that you could possibly make a valuable contribution to the world. Either way, money is a way of keeping score of your worth to others. This is why rich people matter while poor people are just human garbage. This is why all poor people are seen as a drain on society. This is why abortion is promoted among the lower classes and the third world. If this sounds utterly evil, it is.
The world has it wrong. They are looking at the world through the wrong end of the looking glass. We know this when someone laments that teachers are paid less than rappers or reality TV show stars. We also know this when we see some rich mobster flowing in wealth while also being on the FBI's Most Wanted List. Finally, Jesus was poor, but nobody has the courage to say that Jesus was a failure. The simple fact is that sometimes rewards are matched with a person's value, but this is almost accidental. More times than not, the Teslas of the world get bulldozed by the Edisons.
Aristotle got it right when he wrote, "Dignity does not consist in possessing honors, but in deserving them." Success is like this. It matters less that you are successful than that you deserve success. For instance, it is better to poor with a great work ethic than rich and lazy. If you ever want to eliminate a person's success, you merely have to point to how undeserving they are. What was considered success is merely seen for what it is--injustice. The next time you meet a rich person, ask them this question. What did you do to deserve being rich? In a short time period, you will see it is entirely possible to be filthy rich and a complete failure in life.
The most successful person that ever lived was Jesus Christ. He alone is deserving of all glory, honor, and praise. Yet, He never got His due. This is because the world is unjust. The greatest injustice of all time is that Jesus who deserved everything was treated so shabbily. He was betrayed, beaten, spat upon, and crucified. Why did this happen? It isn't because Jesus was a failure. It is because the world is a failure. To be somebody in this world is to be aligned perfectly with this failure. This is why virtually all rich, powerful, and famous people are utterly depraved, vain, petty, evil, and stupid. These people should not be lauded but pitied. And they definitely should not be envied. Jesus said it well when He said you can't serve both God and money.
The example of Christ has a way of flipping the world's economy on its head. But the more accurate analogy is that Jesus turns the telescope around and puts the correct lens to our eye. He did this when the rich young man came to Him seeking approval and reassurance, and Jesus sent him away distraught. The disciples may have envied the man briefly, but then they pitied him grateful that they weren't rich.
People want to become rich because this connotates value, worth, and respect. These are all proxies for what we know as dignity. Success is not popularity. It is dignity. For instance, a war hero is wounded and returns to his family with a disability and does not complain. He lives out the rest of his days trying to be an ordinary person dying with enough money to bury him. After his death, some vain actor makes millions of dollars playing this man in a movie about his life. Then, he blows the millions on hookers and blow. Who was the success here? Was it the man who lived his life in quiet dignity? Or, was it the man without dignity who got paid to pretend he was the man with dignity?
It doesn't take much to realize that it is very difficult to be rich and also keep your dignity. This is because the only dignified thing to do with all that money is to give it away again. Andrew Carnegie got it right when he said, "The man who dies rich, dies disgraced." Basically, to die rich is to die with having done less good than you had the capability to do. It is like a giant sin of omission. It would be like a fire extinguisher salesman watch someone burn to death without helping him.
This brings us to the ordinary life of Jesus. His extraordinary life was the period of the three years of public ministry culminating in His trial and crucifixion. The ordinary life of Jesus was the 30 years prior to this that He spent as a carpenter and a nobody tending to His mother and earning His living. People have been flabbergasted over this ordinary period for virtually 2000 years. Fabulous tales have been concocted to fill in the "gap" of those years, but the reality is very ordinary. Jesus was a simple person living a simple life. The reason people have a hard time with this is because they can't fathom why anyone would "waste" their years on such a humble existence. Why didn't Jesus become a somebody? Why wait? But the fact that we ask these questions should give us some indication.
Jesus gave us His life as an example to follow and that includes those quiet years. For most of us, those quiet years should be the ones that we strive to achieve. They were successful years because Jesus lived a life of dignity. I imagine that His carpentry was excellent, and He stood by His work. He was honest. He worked hard. He loved His mother. He enjoyed the company of His family and friends. His life was free from scandal, turmoil, and strife. This is a successful life.
Dignity comes from humility. People who seek riches are not humble. These people are "go-getters." They shamelessly promote themselves. They believe their own hype. They exude confidence founded upon self-delusion. They also tend to be obnoxious and pushy and demanding. Their tempers are short. Their wisdom is lacking. They are neither kind nor selfless. And they seem less about creating value so much as getting paid.
Humble people tend to be hardworking. They are also longsuffering exuding patience and fortitude. They leave everyone around them better instead of worse. People are fond of doing business with them because they provide value for the dollar. Their word means something. Typically, they are not rich, but they are not flat broke either. If they are broke, it is always a consequence of calamity instead of character defect. And when you meet them, you always feel they deserve more than what life has given them. Yet, these people do not complain.
The way to be poor and successful is to live in a way that is dignified and deserving. Be humble and work hard just like Jesus did in his ordinary life. Choose to be a nobody instead of a somebody. Will the world reward you with cash and honors? Probably not. But if it ever did, nobody could say that you didn't deserve them. The ironic thing is that truly successful people don't care. In Revelation 4:10, it says that they cast their crowns before the throne of Christ. I think saints never know that they are saints, but everyone else knows it. This is called being self forgetful. This is what humility is all about. You forget yourself. Give me the quiet dignity of the ordinary man over the folly of the superstar clown any day.