How can we make and pursue goals for accomplishments, such as education and career goals, without getting caught up in pride and a desire for worldly recognition? Many (not all) objectives and achievements, such a promotions or acceptance to programs, are tied to being recognized over or judged compared to other people, and sometimes it feels difficult to be humble in the process.
I commend you for your desire to be humble. You are right that this is very important, and as President Ezra Taft Benson said in his classic talk on pride,
“Pride is a very misunderstood sin, and many are sinning in ignorance.”
The first step is to understand how the Lord defines pride, because sometimes the Lord and the world define it differently. For example, the world talks about school pride as a good thing. Patriotism could be defined as a good form of “country pride”. But as Pres. Benson warns us pride is always a sin in the scriptures. (Benson 1989). So what is pride?
Pres. Benson said,
“Most of us think of pride as self-centeredness, conceit, boastfulness, arrogance, or haughtiness. All of these are elements of the sin, but the heart, or core, is still missing.”
I believe this is the kind of pride you were referring to when you mentioned goals for education and career. But notice that Pres. Benson said this definition is lacking. He goes on to say:
“The central feature of pride is enmity—enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen. Enmity means “hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.” It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.
Pride is essentially competitive in nature. We pit our will against God’s. When we direct our pride toward God, it is in the spirit of “my will and not thine be done.” As Paul said, they “seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.” (Philip. 2:21.)”
This part is very important. Pride is pitting “our will against God’s.” Essentially every time we sin we are in a prideful state. We are saying, I know what you said, Lord, but I’m going to do what I want. That’s pride and something we need to work to overcome. But what about education and career goals? Are they also prideful? It depends.
Imagine two young people who have a goal to become a doctor. One wants to become a doctor for the prestige, honor and money. He looks forward to the day when he will say, “I’m a doctor,” and people will respond admiringly. The other wants to become a doctor because he wants to relieve suffering in the world, and with an advanced income he will have more time to serve the Lord through church callings as well. Would you call them prideful? I would say the first one is, but the second is not. You see, the thing that makes the difference is what is in their heart. One desires to be a doctor because of a competitive nature. Pres. Benson mentioned this too. He said:
“The proud make every man their adversary by pitting their intellects, opinions, works, wealth, talents, or any other worldly measuring device against others. In the words of C. S. Lewis: “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. … It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.” (Mere Christianity, New York: Macmillan, 1952, pp. 109–10.)”
Do you see how while the goal is the same -to be a doctor,- one desires it to be better than others, and the other desires it to love and serve others? The first is prideful and the other is not.
Pres. Benson also cautioned us:
“Pride is a sin that can readily be seen in others but is rarely admitted in ourselves.”
This is so true. Years ago, I approached the Lord in prayer and asked, “What lack I yet?” The Spirit soon made it clear to me that I was too prideful. I was very surprised, as Pres. Benson said it’s hard to see this in ourselves. I started making a prayerful effort to be more humble. I soon realized this would be a life-long project. Think about it–each time we sin that is pride and none of us are perfect . . . but it is a goal that is worth working towards. Prayerfully commit yourself to being more humble, and the Holy Ghost will begin to teach you the ways you need to improve.
Go forward with goals and aspirations for the future, just make sure that you have these goals for the right reasons. Read the talk I have quoted from Pres. Benson, read it often. You will be blessed for your efforts.