Facebook's shares go on sale today in one of the most anticipated public stock offerings in recent history. Mark Zuckerberg, the company's 28-year-old founder, could see the company he started in his college dorm room valued at $104 billion before days end, making him not only one of the youngest but also one of the most successful CEOs of the modern business world.
College students, Facebook's initial customer base, marvel at the ingenuity of the company's creator, who took the basic idea of social networking and transformed it into a multi-billion dollar enterprise. Zuckerberg's story serves as both a motivation and a challenge to other ambitious college students. But while some hope to follow in Zuckerberg's footsteps, others say they're focused on using their talents to do the tasks God gives them, regardless of earthly success.
Nolan Carter, a junior at Wheaton College, in Wheaton, Ill., readily admitted he found Zuckerberg's swift rise to prominence intimidating: "I'm jealous of people who have this talent. I don't. I'm generally intelligent...but this is on the super human levelâ€¦ Stories like this don't inspire me; they put me in my place."
But Grant Hensel, a sophomore at Wheaton who is building his own online business finds Zuckerberg's success, despite his youth, encouraging: "Zuckerberg's success definitely inspires me. College students have the zeal, enthusiasm and even naÃ¯vetÃ© that you need to invent new industries."
Peter Cunningham, a junior at Wheaton, said Zuckerberg's success has broken down an age barrier, allowing young adults to move forward with their ideas while still in their 20s: "It's inspiring, and actually kind of encouraging, to know that my ideas I have now are not necessarily immature or going to be unsuccessful just because I'm young."
Bernard Terreblanche, a pre-med student at Cedarville University, in Cedarville, Ohio, sees Zuckerberg's rise as evidence that college students have no limitations on what they can accomplish when they invest in their area of study. Caleb Liebing, a senior at Hillsdale College, in Hillsdale, Mich., believes that achieving celebrity status like Zuckerberg requires a great deal of perception and creativity: "Zuckerberg had the guts and the foresight to work on Facebook through his college years and it really paid off."
Spencer Robinette, a Biblical Studies major at Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Va., said Zuckerberg's effective use of his natural talent to take a small idea and grow it into a business with more than 900 million users really captured his attention: "I think it just shows me that if I set my mind to it and work hard that I can take something simple and make it huge."
But it's not Zuckerberg's billion-dollar company or his fame that impresses these students. "[Zuckerberg's success] is incredible, but in the end it's small compared to God's glory," Robinette said. While Zuckerberg's work ethic and mastery are enviable, Robinette believes that the motivations underlying someone's success are of supreme importance, especially for Christians.
Anna Wilhelm, a junior at The King's College, in New York City, agreed: "A Christian's success should be measured not by what the world calls success, but by how much we glorify God where we are."
Tom Thistleton, a Hillsdale graduate, said Christian students should evaluate success differently. For the Christian, success "should be manifested in such a way that it displays the generosity of God, not the power and greatness of man."
And Abby Taylor, a recent Wheaton graduate, said it's possible to fail by worldly standards and still be a success in God's eyes: "Christian success is measured by how it affects eternity. Therefore, Christian personal success does not really exist. A successful Christian can be a failure by the world's standards."
Hugh Whelchel, the executive director of the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics, defines Christian success as "being the best you can be given the gifts God has given you." Whelchel points to Jesus' parable of the ten talents, as a reminder that Christians need to be focused on their eternal, not temporary, rewards.
"If I am only a one-talent person, I will never be a Mark Zuckerberg," he said. "But if I am faithful with what God has given me, my reward will be exactly the same."
Although college students might be tempted to follow Zuckerberg's example, that might not be God's plan for them. Christians are called to lay down what they want to do in order to pursue the work that God has planned for them, even if it means they are not successful by today's cultural standards, Whelchel said: "If we can get to that place where we lay down all the things we want to be, if we can sacrifice and be what he wants, that is the mindset that the Bible calls us to, where we find peace and great joy."