(Originally published in the Charlotte Observer, 7/6/1930) Copyright Friends of Vance Havner
We have a peculiar notion that those few notables who happen to crash into the limelight are the great of earth while the rest of us are the misfits with a complex or a loose screw somewhere. We measure success by the degree to which a man accumulates property, rises in office or gets himself written up in the news.
As a matter of fact, this farce we call success is a tricky thing not dependent entirely upon human merit. There are plenty of people as funny as Will Rogers, as poetic as Edgar Stanley Jones who pass out quite unknown. The difference is not in merit and what keeps them from reaching the reputation others no better than they attained is beyond their power to affect.
There is a tremendous element of what one might call pure luck in success. Some people happen to run into a happy combination that made them famous overnight or put them in line for the front page while others work a lifetime and never strike such a “break.” William J. Bryan, I believe, attributed part of his fame to luck and any sensible man knows the part it plays. One man happens to fit into a series of developments which he did not create, a set of converging events that throw him up into fame while another man, as good or better, plugs along unknown.
Mind you, this does not mean we must not have the merit too. One must be fit to meet the big chance when it comes and if a man is unprepared all the lucky breaks in the world cannot help him. But, for all that, we must recognize the “breaks” which may be only a slang term for Providence.
So we need not berate ourselves because we miss the Hall of Fame. It is not necessarily a reflection upon us. Part of the game is not in our hands and we are here to play well so far as the field is ours, let results be what they may.
We have magnified too much the goal, the reward, the laurels and the ballyhoo. We have made that the big thing and being fit and laying well have been advocated because they lead to the big job and the front page. But exactly the opposite is true. Being fit and playing well the game is the main thing; the results, the rewards, are purely incidental.
In religion, we have often made heaven, the reward of the righteous hereafter, the main attraction. We have been good because it pays. Our eyes have been glued to the goal and all else has been secondary to pay-day. But to be good is the main thing; all else is incidental.
Let us get the is matter of right living in its proper perspective. The sole business of the Christian is to live the good life. All external matters, what happens to him, whether he becomes rich or poor, has good luck or bad, is famous or obscure, all these are not for him to bother about. The one concern for him is to live each day up to the best light he has and let developments care for themselves.
Those who so live are the truly great. The famous and prosperous are not the only great; they do not exhaust the list. For greatness is not measured by external fortune and circumstances. Those things do not enter into it. The really great comprise some of both rich and poor, fortunate and unfortunate; famous and unknown.
The great are those who live well each day regardless of what happens.