A Word to the Strugglers
I’ve been to numerous graduations and have noticed over the years the gradual sugar coating of the messages. Too much “cotton candy fluff.” I’m not “successful” enough to ever be invited to speak at a graduation, but fortunately I have a blog post.
It matters who you know.
I grew up in the “baby boomer” generation under the misassumption that you could make your way in the world on your own merits and not “who you know.” Unfortunately and fortunately, this just isn’t true. Once when in Ecuador, I needed to leave the country immediately on a family emergency. Such a move was impossible without the proper paperwork, which I did not have. Standing in line, hoping and praying I could make it through customs, I found myself standing behind the second most influential man in Ecuador. I didn’t know him, but my missionary colleague did. Problem solved. Many years later, working as the editor in a small town, I learned to network with the movers and shakers as part of my job. When it was time for my daughter to graduate, numerous local scholarships came in; partly because of her efforts, but partly because these folks knew me and knew of our financial need. Make networks. Invest yourself in your community. Find people and make friends, not just to better yourself, but to understand others.
Slow and steady doesn’t always win the race, but it does get you there. I’ve always been amazed driving down the interstate or in town at the folks who think speeding is the only way to travel. I’ve seen cars zip around me only to stop at the same traffic light or bottleneck. I’ve often wonder what their hurry is and why they didn’t just leave a few minutes earlier to avoid the rush. Studies have been done that speeding doesn’t get you there that much faster—at least not faster enough to warrant risking your life or someone else’s. We’re all on the same journey and most of us are heading to similar destinations. However slow or fast we get there really doesn’t matter. I’m the kind of traveler who enjoys taking detours. Going back and forth to see my dad in Florida, I would see an interesting place and say, “Oooh, let’s stop here for a moment.” Some of our most enjoyable “Kodak” moments came from impulsive stops like this. Life has too many wonderful places to see and things to do to be in such a hurry to get to a destination, especially since there is always someplace else we need to be later on.
If you don’t put anything in, you can’t expect to get anything out. I love the old story of the hand pumps during pioneer days. Modern generations aren’t familiar with these pumps, but I wonder if we shouldn’t reintroduce the concept into society, just to teach this principle. The old pumps didn’t automatically produce water. A sealed jug would be set inside the pump and a user was expected to pour the pint of water into the pump to activate the pump. Once the water is poured in, the pump is lubricated and produces an unlimited supply of water. The same principle applies to life, work, success, friendships, etc. The problem is we are conditioned to think only large amounts of input or risk are worthwhile. Even tiny investments, over time, produce great results. I always tell my students, “Start at 18 putting $2000 a year into mutual funds and do this for seven years. Leave the money alone. When you retire, you’ll be a millionaire.” They don’t always believe me, but the financial tables prove this out. The amount itself isn’t the key; it’s the action of investing yourself, your time, your money into whatever captures your passion.
At the end of the day, you are the only one who can determine the parameters of your success. There is always going to be somebody better than you. Don’t let society’s definition of success rob you of the enjoyment of your accomplishments. You might never win the Nobel Peace Prize, make the cover of Time magazine or be named Doctor of the Year. Only a minuscule amount of people is remembered by history and there are millions of us who are equally successful as those rich and famous who are also long forgotten by history. As long as what you accomplish matters to you, it is sufficient. The parent who raises godly children, the doctor who works in a rural hospital, the farmer who provides for his family, the teacher who sees the light dawn on one student’s face, the photographer whose work graces a local hospital, are as successful as those whose names and faces are constantly before the public. One hundred years from now you will be as well remembered as they are. So refrain from beating yourself up at your “lack” of success. Enjoy your talents and your abilities; embrace your accomplishments and take pleasure in your life.