I was scrolling through my news feed the other day and saw a random, nerdy article comparing the success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens with Rogue One. The primary difference, according to the article, is that the characters in Rogue One were not taking action. Lots of things happened to them, but they weren’t proactive agents in the storyline. Meanwhile, in The Force Awakens, we see the main characters making decisions and taking action. In a movie, the article stated, the protagonist always acts–the hero always acts–and they are not acted upon.
I’m not a film critic and I don’t know if this is true of these Star Wars movies, but this idea of the hero acting and not being acted upon really struck a chord with me. If my life were a movie, it’d be ridiculously boring because I spent so much of it letting life happen to me. I believe it’s helpful to have this idea in mind if you get stuck on a decision. You don’t know what the right decision might be, but the hero always acts. Make a choice and then come what may. Perhaps it wasn’t the best decision but you’ve moved the plot of your life forward.
This also brought to mind a great book called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. I think I might re-read it and do a little walk through here. I highly recommend the book! It goes much deeper into this idea.
(That link above is an affiliate link. If you click and buy through it I’ll get a tiny cut of the sale. If that bothers you, here’s the book without the affiliate link.)
There is so little time. Memories from when I were a kid can feel as vivid as if they happened yesterday. And, yet, I sit here at 37 years old. Those memories are decades old and all that time is gone, for better or worse. Sometimes I still feel like a kid, like I never grew up or matured. Knowing that 40 is right around the corner hits pretty hard when you still feel like you haven’t really lived in a meaningful way.
It’s easy to get into ‘survival mode.’
You do the things you’re supposed to do each day. And those days zip by at a subtly ferocious speed and you barely notice.
The toughest part about this is that you don’t necessarily feel older as these days go by. I feel as young as I did in my twenties, but hanging out with 20 somethings reminds me that, yes, I’m not as young as I feel.
I’ve had enough, though. I refuse to let my life be permanently set on autopilot. Each morning I get out of the shower and the morning light pouring in reveals the faint shimmer of my first gray hairs. It drives me now to be mindful of making the most of that day.
I know that when I am much older–God willing that I still have my memory–I will be able to look back on these days like I now look back on my childhood. I want to be able to say that I lived a good, full life. I want my family to be able to agree with that.
It all starts with a decision that you make today. Make it with me.
Yesterday I picked up my daughter from her after-school program and soon found out that she made a mistake. When we got to my in law’s house to pick up her sister she came and said, “Daddy…I forgot my glasses at school.” Sure enough, she told me exactly where they were: on the bench in the playground. The school closed at 6pm and it was 6:05.
My daughter looked me in the eye while she said this and I could tell she was really, really nervous. As we drove home she started to cry a little and I am pretty sure I heard her say that she was stupid for forgetting her glasses. And she got even more anxious when she wanted to tell her mom what happened. I decided to take a different approach.
A crucial moment
I could easily be angry about this. Who knows what will happen to those glasses? It’s a hassle that they were left at school and, if they’re gone, it’ll cost me something like $900 to replace them. That’s aggravating and, in the past, I didn’t really try too hard to hide my frustration. And now she takes a simple mistake very, very personally. That’s my fault.
I pulled my wife aside before she talked to our girl and told her that she made a mistake. I quickly explained that L wants to tell her but that it’s super important she doesn’t show how mad it makes her feel. That conversation happened and my wife did an amazing job of being gracious even though that could be a very expensive mistake.
I talked to L that night and tried to share an important perspective. The worst thing that can happen here is that the glasses are gone. If they are, in fact, gone then we’ll figure it out. “What do we do when we have problems? We figure it out.” She was still really sad but I am trying to help her develop a healthy perspective on making mistakes and facing problems.
Practice what you preach
Kids really absorb a lot more than we might think at first. We got to this point because I am my own worst critic and I am not kind to myself when I make mistakes. No one is harder on me than me. I am never good enough for myself and I have paid a price for that mindset. My girls have seen that in me all their life and so it doesn’t really surprise me when I heard L being so hard on herself.
It’s been a big lesson that L and I are going to learn together. A mistake is just a mistake. We’ll work to figure it out.
And, today, there were a pair of glasses waiting for L on her teacher’s desk. It worked out well in the end.
It was an odd thing to do. I sat at on a bench that was near my work and I finally admitted to myself that my dreams, the very things I had wanted for nearly half my life, had to go. I had to give up on them. It was a rather hot day but I remained on the bench in that heat for some time. My life literally just changed its trajectory.
From the time I was 16 until that day at 34 years old I had wanted one thing: to work in ministry. It took on different forms over the years. I had wanted to be a pastor, a missionary, a Christian educator, or on staff at a parachurch organization. I automatically rejected other possibilities that came up along the way. Become a teacher? NOPE. Look at jobs in banking, government, technology, etc? NOPE, NOPE, and…NOPE. I was singular in my focus.
All of that fell apart, of course.
Pursuing your dreams is all the rage these days. It’s been that way for a while. In fact, it’s one of the default things we’re told to do when we’re in college or have otherwise found life to be uninteresting. I took that advice to heart and ran with it as far as I could. Now, you might think that this is a heart-wrenching story with a sad ending, but it isn’t. Giving up on my dreams was probably one of the best things I’ve ever done.
Now I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard. I essentially took something that I viewed as my purpose in life and dropped it. I felt that I had thrown away my identity. I quite literally didn’t know who I was or what purpose my life even had. It was initially very depressing and I’d say I felt fairly numb for a while. Along the way I started growing my hair out, took an extended break from church and tried to figure out what the hell happened.
So why was this good? Well, I learned a lot about myself and also about my dreams and how to properly pursue dreams.
Dreams need to be tested
The first thing I noticed as I looked back on my past is that my dream of a career in ministry wasn’t really tested to see if I would be good fit. My dream preceded any real experience. It might sound funny but I didn’t really know myself. I hadn’t given myself room to learn about what resonates with me.
Listening to the stories of successful people has taught me that many of them find their success after they realize what they excel in. One recurring theme is that other people recognized this skill in them and sought them out for help. Those successful people then took the hint and started going that direction with their lives. I didn’t have that moment that said I was really a good fit for what I wanted to do.
I learned that a key principle is that you need to be doing things that interest you and to pay attention to whatever really resonates with you. Pay attention to what others say you do really well. There are clues there to what you should do.
Dreams require lots of hard work
The second thing I saw in myself is that I was full of ‘want’ and very little ‘do.’ I spent countless hours thinking about working in ministry. I read books; I read blogs; and I listened to podcasts about pursuing that career. I wrote pages upon pages in my journal about this yearning to get out of my job and shift to that work. I also wrote endlessly about all the obstacles that were in the way. But I did very little about any of it. I wanted the results, but wasn’t willing to do the work.
I learned that people who achieve their goals in life almost always have to work really, really hard. The work tends to be harder than they ever expected and lasts longer than they thought it would. In the end, though, that’s how you achieve big things in life. If you want the results then you’ll need to patiently put in the work.
Why this was good
If I hadn’t reached the point of giving up on my dreams, then I would still be stuck chasing the wrong goal. I’ve learned more about what I actually want in life. I’m happier. And I am confident the direction I’m going now will actually result in what I had originally set out to do: help people. It’ll be different than I imagined years ago, but it will be much better than it would have been.
Have you had a similar experience? How did you know you needed to change?
How to become successful was one of the biggest questions I have wrestled with since high school. I defined success in many ways over that time but success itself–however I defined it–seemed impossible to achieve. One word that describes all those years very well is ‘hesitation.’ I had a lack of commitment to the degree I pursued in college, a lack of commitment to a career and simply a lack of commitment to an overall purpose in life.
Three reasons I fell into a rut.
I was afraid of the opportunity costs since pursuing one option meant I could not pursue others.
I was ashamed of the things that really interested me because I feared the opinions of others. Most of those years I quietly longed to work in Christian ministry but didn’t want to be labeled a fanatic.
I was not willing to work hard. As soon as the journey got tough I gave up. All of this is on me.
This ultimately meant I spent several years feeling very mediocre. They weren’t really bad years, per se; but those years fell far short of the dreams I had for myself. The cruel irony of hesitation is that it didn’t make the decision go away and now that time is gone.
One question that is changing everything for me
“What do you WANT to do?”
My wife has asked me this many times during our years of marriage. I honestly felt offended by the question because she side-stepped all the other stuff I was wrestling with and focused in on it. It felt like she didn’t care about what I was going through, or that I simply did not know what I wanted. But that couldn’t have been further from the truth. As it goes with so many of the great things our loved ones tell us, I just needed to hear that question from another voice to start taking it seriously (finally).
Enter Gary Vaynerchuk.
I love Gary’s style because it’s basically the opposite of me and I need that opposing view to give me a kick in the pants. This one line stands out to me because it gets straight to the point:
“Stop being confused.”
Just stop it. Stop being confused. Make a decision on what you want to do and pursue it. All the objections in my head need to be set aside because, for me, these feelings weren’t very reliable. Yes, I need to focus in on a specific goal. Yes, that means I will, by default, not choose the others. But that focus is important.
And, yes, I need to put on the blinders if I hear the haters chime in with their opinions.
And, of course, I need to accept that hard work is going to pave the way to success when that energy has a specific direction.
This is all a work in progress but I have a feeling it’s in progress for the duration of our lives. It’s all about the journey.