Grace. The Antidote to our Achievement Addiction.

We live in a world obsessed with merit and achievement. And while lockdowns may push the phenomenon behind home office doors, Dr Justine Toh says it’s nonetheless true: we’re collectively addicted to achievement — and we can’t get enough of it.

In her new book, Achievement Addiction, Dr Toh argues that our culture worships hard-won success above almost everything. It’s part of the reason for our obsession with Olympic gold medals, before-and-after fitness photos, and… every reality TV show, ever.

If we could put our meritocratic attitude into a formula, it would go something like hard work + perseverance = success you’ve rightly earned.

But Dr Toh, in the latest release from the Centre for Public Christianity’s Re:Considering series, says there’s a problem: internalising this attitude, we need to work hard to maintain our value, as people and workers.

With a PhD in Cultural Studies, Justine Toh writes with a personal and relatable warmth that comes from personal experience: she knows she’s an achievement addict.

“I’ve long known that achievement is my kind of alcohol,” she writes. Growing up as the child of first-generation Chinese migrants, Toh first experienced the call of meritocracy when she and her sister sat the selective public high school exams. Her sister got in. She didn’t.

“The next six years passed in a fog of shame,” she writes. “I would like to tell you that I rebelled. But my adolescent self was frantically striving because I believed that the quality of my work was directly tied to my worth.”

“Achievement addiction may not be fatal,” she concedes, “but it’s no way to live.”

With gentleness and precision, Justine reflects on Jesus’ story of the parable of the workers in Matthew 20:1-16. In God’s kingdom, earning our way in the world just doesn’t do it.

The solution to a culture of self-made merit is the recognition that ultimately, everything in life is a gift that no one did anything to deserve.

“For a world obsessed with merit, grace is just miraculous.”

Find out more about Dr Toh’s latest book and discover the rest of the Re:Considering series at reconsidering.com.au, and get your copy at Koorong.

For more information, and for interviews with Dr Justine Toh contact Penny Mulvey at [email protected] or on 0403 063 499.