Dysfunction in Performance-Driven Living

"Performance-driven living puts my ego where the Mystery belongs. Instead of participating with the Mystery, I block God's presence and usurp that presence for myself. Marcus [Borg] put it this way: 'The difference between performance and expression is the difference between living one's life radically centered in God versus living centered in the messages of this world. There's enormous freedom in that.'

"This idea is a favorite theme of Marcus. In his book Jesus: A New Vision, he writes:

"To speak of radically centering in God is central to the tradition in which Jesus stood. . . . To say that 'centering in God' was the essence of the tradition was thus commonplace; but deliberately to contrast 'centering in God' to the centers legitimated by conventional wisdom, indeed conventional wisdom itself, was radical. Yet this is precisely what Jesus did. The central concerns of the conventional wisdom of his day — family, wealth, honor, and religion — were all seen as rival centers. His criticism of them was a call to center in Spirit, and not in culture.

"Performance-driven living comes when we focus our lives on one of the rival centers that Marcus named (family, wealth, honor, and religion). These environments are not inherently evil, but none were designed to be the center of life. If I choose to make one of these the center, I suffer the consequences and lose a part of my originality. If this concept seems fuzzy to you, then my suggestion is you simply put it to the test.

"Go ahead and center your life on a person and imagine him or her as the entire reason you exist. Try something similar with your job or your religion. Soon enough, you'll discover that life with any of these at the center will cause you strife. At an intuitive level, we know that fully centering on people or things (including self) is dangerous. When a relationship or the next project or the next you-name-it is all-consuming, it leads to a very dark place. This is a place we would all like to avoid as much as possible.

"If I'm not careful, my life can narrow down to my latest Amazon book rating. It starts out harmlessly enough. I just want to see how one of my books is doing. The Amazon ranking is one nonscientific way I evaluate how my books are moving. I notice that the ranking is poor, and the spiral begins. I begin checking to see what, if anything, is being said about my books. I blame the marketing department of my publishers (this is a favorite tactic of authors). I assume that my career as a writer is fading and then start to get bored.

"See where this can take me? All because I let life narrow itself down to a ranking on a Web page. This can happen quickly and consume me for some time. What consumes you? Can you describe the process that leads you into this dark place of overambition?"