The Dangers of a Front-Runner Mentality vs. True Success

An old friend of mine coaches basketball at a large high school. I recently asked how his season was going, and I’ve since been reflecting on his profound response—he said one of his biggest concerns for his team was, what he called, a “front-runner mentality.” 

Front-runner thinkers are driven by a distorted picture of success: they don’t try if they don’t think they’ll be the best. Essentially, this mindset it is a rejection of process and worship of product. Some might call it “number one or no one.” This philosophy has many dangers for our youth, and I’d like to highlight just a few.

As I mentioned, the front-runner mentality rejects process. I’m sure we can all remember a time on a sports team, in a job, or in a relationship where we lacked the resources, abilities, or skills to guarantee a successful result. But despite the odds and setbacks, we labored diligently and even experienced pain to achieve a greater end. In the process, we learned important lessons about ourselves and those around us. We then took these lessons to bigger, more important tasks.

Those who think like front-runners miss out on the character produced by the process because they’re completely unwilling to try unless they’re guaranteed a “good” result. And if they do try, they never exude maximum effort, stunting their own growth. Without experiencing the crucial lessons taught by effort and failure, front-runner thinkers will experience some big identity problems. Valuing product over process defines one’s identity by a version of success that’s all about control in a world that simply cannot be controlled. Failure is inevitable, and the front-runner mentality guarantees our kids won’t be equipped to handle it.

Like all important life issues, I believe the Bible has much to say about work, effort, identity, and success. Unfortunately, many people associate discipline as simply punishment for wrongdoing. Hebrews 12 uses “discipline” interchangeably with “training.” That’s why school subjects like math and reading are called disciplines, or why we say an Olympic athlete is disciplined. Discipline is good. It is a difficult, and sometimes slow, process that prepares us for the future. Hebrews tells us God proves He’s our Father by disciplining us and that He loves those whom He disciplines.

Hebrews 12:11 reads: “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” Hardship in life is guaranteed. It’s part of God’s plan. If we trust Him and include Him in our struggles, we can take on his character. If we do that, how can we lose? Our identity will be firmly rooted in Christ. “Winning” and “success” become by-products of the people God is molding us into instead of destinations we beg, borrow, and steal to achieve.

The dangerous front-runner mentality is modeled constantly to us by the world, but we are called to live according to the Word. With the example of Jesus’ humility and perseverance before us, we can raise a generation that will follow Him regardless of His popularity or perceived cultural relevance. We can teach our children to stand for Truth, regardless of the outcome. When we look to Jesus to define us, we see true success is born of the process: being made like Him, and ultimately, being fully at peace with the abilities He has given us.