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Ah success . . . an oft-used word in our country. Many times, an oft-misunderstood word.

Over the next three weeks, we’ll be posting on the subject of success. We’ll look at it through the lens of God vs. the lens of humanity. We’ll talk about how leaders get this confused sometimes. What happens when we get this “success thing” right? What happens when we get it wrong?

Today, I want to kick off this series with the subject, The Peril of Success.

28 years ago, I suffered through major depression. I was pastoring a growing church. We had been there four years, and that particular year was the best of our tenure. We had more people surrender to Jesus, get baptized, join the church than any year prior in our four years. The church’s finances were strong.

I was married to the beautiful love of my life, Laura (still married to her, thank you Jesus!). We had four healthy boys, a house with a pool. On the outside life was outstanding. But on the inside, I was falling apart emotionally.

It’s strange isn’t it: In a season of tremendous growth and blessing, I found myself on the edge of suicide. How could that be? Well, I’ll explain in just a minute. Since that dark time of my life, I’ve never fallen as far into the emotional pit. But there have been three occasions where depression was knocking at my door. Interestingly enough, all three happened during stretches of significant growth and momentum in either my marketplace work or ministry work.

It begs the question, why? How can depression and anxiety threaten when so much good is happening in our life? On the surface, it doesn’t add up. But when you dig beneath the surface, it’s not hard to figure out why.

When those seasons of growth and momentum occurred, I made three critical errors:

Error 1: I allowed success to tempt me to take on more than I should

When we’re in a season of great momentum, a false sense of invincibility can overtake us. We think, “I can take on one more event, one more customer, one more opportunity.” We end up allowing momentum to fool us, so we ride the wave, taking on more than we should, and all of a sudden, our work days get longer, our sleep gets shorter, and it doesn’t take long before the evil twins of anxiety and depression start knocking at our door. Exhaustion sets in, and our defenses get lowered. In those moments, we’re more susceptible to making poor choices . . . choices we would never make if we were rested. I’ve lost count of the stupid things leaders have done simply due to being tired.

Error 2: I allowed success to crowd out exercise and healthy eating

I do strength training four days per week, and walk a minimum of 10,000 steps daily. I do this to stave off Father Time (a losing battle I know), and to keep myself mentally/emotionally fit. When work success comes, it easier to cheat your body. “I’ve got no time to walk today, lift weights today, do cardio today, etc.” Because our schedule is out of control—due to growth in our work—we eat at odd times, are tempted to consume fast food, and eat ice cream to combat our elongated stress. Exercise and proper diet are garrisons against anxiety and depression. Scientific research proves time and again their positive impact on our mental/emotional wellbeing.

Error 3: I allowed success to put friendship on the back burner

Healthy friendships are a lifeline to us. Their effect on our mental/emotional fitness cannot be overstated. In Genesis 2:18 God said about Adam: “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Even in the middle of perfection, God knew Adam needed another human to do life with. We were built for healthy, replenishing, life-giving relationships with God and other humans. Success, momentum, growth . . . all of these, if we’re not careful, can compete with our need to intentionally nurture those friendships we must have to thrive. If I have to lose at relationships in order to win at work . . . I’ve lost.

Success—though desirable—comes with hidden landmines. In times of growth and momentum, beware. You’ll be tempted to overcommit in terms of your work schedule, and under-commit in terms of caring for yourself and nurturing life-giving friendships. Over time, these errors set you up for real trouble.

We want you to reach your full potential professionally. But not at the expense of your personal life. Be sensible about what you say yes to. Care for your spirit, your body, and your mind/emotions. And cultivate those most important relationships God has blessed you with. That way, you can succeed with less peril.

Rooting and praying for you,

John Opalewski

Author John Opalewski

John Opalewski is a graduate of Oral Roberts University. He served as a pastor for fifteen years. He has worked in the business world for nearly two decades, serving in multiple leadership roles. John's experience as a leader in both the church and business arenas has made him a sought-after international speaker, coach and mentor.

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