What is your “purpose”? That’s a question that has been thrown around a lot in recent generations. But what does it mean, and is it realistic for busy adults to chase after it?
If you’ve looked at the cost of college tuition lately (which is typically around $10,000 and up per year), you might be asking yourself, “Should my kid go to college? Is college worth it?“
According to several studies, nearly 90% of high school graduates say they want to go to college of some sort after high school, yet only about half of High school graduates say they feel prepared to go to college or begin a career.
Of the large majority of high school seniors who say they want to go to college, about half of them enter college without knowing what they want to major in – without knowing what they want to do with that college degree – and around 75% of them change their major before they graduate college.
In other words, the majority of high school graduates want to go to college, yet the majority of them don’t know why.
Maybe that’s why over 70% of college graduates work in a field unrelated to their major, and approximately one third of college graduates work in a field that doesn’t require a college degree. That’s a lot of time and money wasted. (Here’s one source, another source, and one more source.)
Most people rush blindly into college without even considering the consequences of going to college without having some sort of direction. For our culture, college has become a four year long rite of passage. It’s as if we feel as though we should be able to celebrate and have a pre-adulthood party in college because, well, that’s what everyone else does
The phrase “college dropout” has become a bad word in America. We look down on people who are college dropouts and think less of people who skipped college altogether.
We’ve created a social structure where 17 and 18 year old kids feel pressured by society to go to college so they can be successful, then statistically over 60% of them will go into debt in the form of student loans. Then, nearly half of all college students will drop out before graduating. Source Source
This is a problem.
So we’ve got a huge number of kids going to college blindly, a huge number of kids taking out loans to do so, and then a huge number of kids not even finishing college and walking away with nothing but thousands of dollars in debt. And it’s not just a few thousand, either. The average amount of student loan debt owed is just under $30,000.
So instead of having a system that’s built to equip kids to enter the workforce in a productive way, we actually send them the opposite direction by putting them in a position to take on loads of debt.
What’s even worse is, we incentivize students to stay in school and continue going into debt by telling them that they shouldn’t drop out because then their student loan payments will kick in or by telling them that if they drop out they will lose scholarship money and have to repay it. There’s very much a fear-based mentality around college that says if you don’t go to college you’re a failure, and if you drop out you’ll have to work a dead end job and be broke.
College is expected in America, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, college is a business where plenty of people make plenty of money by students blindly going to college and blindly signing their life away financially before they’re old enough to even know what they’re doing.
Too many kids end up in their mid 20s with over $20,000 in student loan debt without even feeling bad about it. They become numb to the idea that student loan debt is dumb because everyone they know is doing it and all of their teachers teach them how to do it.
As a result, student loans feel like monopoly money to them. The magnitude of what they’ve done doesn’t sink in until they have families of their own and they’re trying to keep everything afloat while student loans expect hundreds of dollars a month from them. Then they figure out far too late that college can be a disastrous waste of time and money if you don’t know what you’re doing.
But we shouldn’t be altogether against college. College started out as a good thing and at its core it still can be a good thing. For certain career paths, college is absolutely necessary to get the additional training needed to be able to operate at the level at which the job market needs.
For example, if you want to be an engineer, you probably don’t want to go out and teach yourself that. Most people would like to know that you got some sort of formal education before you start designing, inspecting, and building bridges that people are going to drive across.
We usually also like to know that whoever is operating on a family member’s heart or brain spent a significant amount of time in college learning how to do that in a very meticulous way. I certainly hope they didn’t teach themselves and I certainly hope they didn’t learn online.
So in very technical or high-expertise career fields, college is great. The problem is when over 1/3 of college majors in four-year institutions are in things like business, communication, and arts And over 2/3 of majors at two-year colleges are in liberal arts, general studies, and humanities.
In other words, a huge chunk of money, time, and energy is being spent on college degrees that aren’t necessary. That doesn’t mean they’re not helpful, but they’re not necessary to work in fields like business, arts, and humanities.
But, as a parent, you know that most high school graduates want the college experience. Many of them understand that it’s a social pressure thing, but they want to do it anyway. Either way, if your kid is considering degree programs and wondering if they have to go to college or if it’s worth the money spent, here are a few questions to ask:
What do they actually want to do with their life?
This seems like an obvious question, and I know they probably don’t know the answer to it yet, but this has to be the starting point. Too many people start by asking which college they should go to or where they should live or whether or not they qualify for federal aid. These are all great questions, but none of them make any sense if they’re not starting from a place of honestly asking themselves what they actually want to do when all of that stuff is gone.
It’s important to remind them that they’re on this earth to serve. God put them here for a purpose and that purpose is to know and serve him as their father and to know and serve other people in their family and community. That’s why everything we do drives us towards service.
Harvard University conducted a nearly 80 year old study to try to figure out what led to healthier and happier lives, and they found that the keys to health and happiness are relationships and community.
Therefore, the purpose of college is for us to find a career where we’re best serving other people. This is important because you’ll need to reframe the way your kid sees “what they’re supposed to do with their life“. Because, very simply, they’re here to serve, and they’ll only be fulfilled when they’re serving. So when your helping your kid discover their “purpose,” what they should be looking for is:
- What are they good at?
- What do they enjoy doing?
- What do they find important?
- What do people need?
Write down the first three on a sheet of paper, then make a list, then write a list of careers where all three of those intersect. Once you have a list of careers where those intersect, then ask yourself, do people need this? Chances are, the answer will almost always be yes if it’s a viable career field where people are working and making money currently, but it’s important to run each of the careers on your list by that test so you don’t end up down a rabbit hole with something that’s just a good idea but doesn’t actually pay any money.
Do the careers you’ve discovered require a college degree?
Do the careers you’ve discovered require a college degree? If so, what kind of degree? An associates degree or a bachelors degree? Do they require a graduate degree? Do they even need a degree at all or can they substitute experience for a degree?
The quickest way to learn about how to get into a career field is to start reaching out to professionals in the industries you’ve identified and ask them what they would do if they could go back knowing what they know now. When people don’t have something to gain by giving you advice, they’ll give you the most truthful and helpful advice. So ask people who actually are doing the jobs your kid wants to do.
Once you’ve genuinely, honestly, and thoroughly, identified whether or not a college degree is necessary for some of the potential career options you’ve identified, then it’s time to move on to the third consideration.
What are the next steps they can take without debt?
Whether you’ve discovered that your kid will need college or not, the next step is to identify what they can do without debt.
Student loan debt may be normalized in America, but it’s becoming a huge problem and it will cripple your adult life. Student loan debt is now the second largest type of consumer debt category in America second only to mortgages.
So if they don’t need a college degree, then what apprenticeships and part-time jobs can they take, or where can they volunteer, to start racking up as much experience as possible? Maybe they need to live with you to save money. Don’t worry about them being free adults when they’re 19 years old and trying to get through college debt-free. They’ll have all their life to be independent. Let them take advantage of the shelters they have in place that are there to help them spread their wings and fly.
But do have them start looking everywhere aggressively – making phone calls and writing emails and even dropping by business offices if they have to – asking people if they can apprentice, volunteer, or work for next to nothing just so they can learn. That’s the best way for them to figure out what they want to do and it’s the best way to get a jumpstart on their career.
If you’ve determined that your kid does need a college degree, then start looking at what it would look like for them to work full-time at a restaurant or some other position where they can make decent money, particularly tip money, for about a year or so before going into school. If they’re in high school, then start seeing what they can do to make some extra money now and then see if their college will let them do a payment plan for their first couple of semesters. They usually will, then they’ll have the summer to work their butt off to get money for the next round of payment plans.
The smartest thing to do here is to flat out save up cash. A year of their life will feel like a lifetime they might feel like a loser, but the truth is, their being weird now so that they can be free from debt and the depression and anxiety that it brings on, and they’ll be the weird one who’s financially stable when their other friends get out of college making less than them and owing 30 grand in student loans.
The ideal scenario would be for them to get a job doing something even remotely close to one of the careers you’ve identified above. Then, they have a year to get experience related to a field they like, and by the time they go to school, they cash flow it and have a year of experience under their belt. Future employers will be thoroughly impressed by that.
So if you’re wondering, “Should my kid go to college and is college worth it?“ The answer is: it depends.
It depends on what they want to do with their life, whether or not the things they want to do require a formal education in today’s day and age, and whether or not you/they have the cash to make it happen now.
Remind them to be patient. Their life feels like every moment needs to be seized and that to do that they should go to college immediately so their dreams don’t slip away. But assure them that all of their dreams will still be waiting for them in a year or two once they get a little experience, cash, and perspective about how they can actually serve this world rather than going to school because they feel like that’s what they should do to be socially accepted.
Do you struggle with wondering if what you’re doing is having an impact?
I had an odd thought the other day. I walked into a public restroom and as I walked by one of the stalls for some reason I noticed the little sign next to the door handle on the stall that says vacant and occupied.
This is how weird my brain works. My first thought was, “I wonder what font they used to make that little sign.”
I know, strange observation. You’d be surprised how often my mind goes down weird rabbit trails like that.
But then it led to a deeper thought. I thought, “I wonder if the person who designed this sign felt like the work they were doing mattered.”
Maybe you felt that way before, and maybe you’ve asked a question like that before. After all, most people don’t have glamorous jobs or work that allows them to clearly see some sort of deeper impact they’re having on the world.
I mean, teachers and doctors and motivational speakers can all pretty clearly see the change they’re making in the world. But what about the rest of us? What about the industrial designers and assembly line workers and utility workers? Is it possible for them to see that their work is changing the world? Or is their work changing the world?
In a society where everyone is connected to everyone else and we all compare what we do to everyone else, it can feel depressing to think that what you’re doing doesn’t matter, especially when it feels like people around you are doing things that are so meaningful.
But what if the person who designed that bathroom sign didn’t do that job? What if no one did that job?
Sure, the easy answer is that we would never know if we’re about to walk in on someone using the restroom or not. And that’s a real problem.
But there’s a more practical problem with abandoning investing in work that feels menial:
What’s the threshold to “meaningful” impact?
How many lives does your work have to change for it to be valuable?
I think we’ve gotten it backwards in America. We’ve come to believe that if we can make a large scale impact, then we can justify small scale neglect. In other words, it’s okay to bypass the small things at the expense of having a “large” impact – financially, environmentally, politically, socially, etc.
This line of thinking goes like this:
- It’s okay to be rude to some people because I’m on my way to doing important work
- It’s okay to go into a little debt here and there because what I’m working towards is worth the trade off
- It’s okay to spend less time with my family for an extended period of time because I’m building something for their future
Let me be a little more direct:
Modern American culture tends to make us believe that as long as we are doing what makes us happy, then we can neglect the needs of the people around us.
For the designer who created the bathroom sign, I pictured their family. I pictured the house they would save to buy so their kids would grow up in a safe neighborhood. I pictured them saving for a swing set and weekend camping trips and school supplies – all so their kids could make memories that would last for generations.
I pictured the money they would save for college because their kids wanted to become architects and doctors and engineers. I pictured the work ethic they would instill in their kids so that when they got to college they wouldn’t party, get arrested, and drop out (like I did).
I pictured the values they passed along to their kids – values that when you’re faithful with a little you’ll be faithful with much.
This led me to ask myself a tough question:
How would I feel if I knew that my life‘s work was for an audience of five?
What if my four kids and my wife (okay, 6 including our dog Millie) were the only ones I focused on impacting? Would that be enough for me? Is that enough for you?
I’m not encouraging you to think small, and yet, at the same time I am.
What if instead of striving for personal significance in the large things we started striving for personal satisfaction and investment in the small things?
And I don’t mean begrudgingly doing the little things so you can one day have a meaningful life. I’m asking, what if the small things are the point?
Here’s what will happen:
Once you start focusing on doing the small things well and making those the point, they will inevitably snowball into bigger things.
The man who loves his wife well and does his daily work with pride almost always ends up gaining more in other areas of his life.
It’s not because he was working his way up to that. He just simply cultivated a character that could naturally carry more weight. But having more isn’t what makes him happy; he understands what living a meaningful life truly is.
Let’s be honest, the bathroom sign I saw that day is never going to change anyone’s life. Sometimes we try to apply the “purpose-chasing” culture we live in and apply it to the little things in life. We’ll say things like, “You never know how your work can impact another person.” Sometimes work is just that – work that needs to be done. But that doesn’t make it any less holy.
It’s okay that the designer of the bathroom sign probably isn’t going to change anyone’s life with the signs she or he creates.
The point we often miss in American culture, and the thing that’s driving us to anxiety and depression, is that your meaning is not found in your work. It’s found in your audience of five, whatever that looks like for you. Then it will naturally expand from there.
Here’s the takeaway:
Who has God given you the ability to invest in right now?
Life is about the people we get to interact with, not the projects we get to build. The projects we build are only as valuable as the lives they interact with.
Building things that impact people is a worthwhile pursuit. But using or neglecting people to build things will always leave us disappointed.
So who’s your audience of five and what’s your bathroom sign?
Ask yourself these questions:
- Who can I set an example for and invest in today?
- What’s the work I have in front of me that I can do with excellence in order to accomplish that today?
Because regardless of how cool or boring your work is, those two things are the only things that create a meaningful life.
Have you ever gotten tired of the same-old stuff and decided to go down the path of starting something new in life?
Maybe it’s your job, your car, your hobbies, your hair, your clothes, the music you listen to, the way the organization you work for operates, the work you do within your organization, or practically any other area of life.
We’ve all been there. There’s nothing inherently “bad” about wanting change.
The trick is, how do you balance the old with the new? How do you balance the exciting new ideas of change with the boring old security of what’s currently at least somewhat working?
This is the question of competing priorities, and I call it the tension between boats and docks.
Boats and Docks: The Keys to Starting Something New
“Docks” are the things that are secure and necessary. They’re the things that have gotten us to where we are.
Docks are not glamorous, and you may have even come to hate them, but docks are the things that if they were removed from your life, something else would have to immediately replace it in order for you to maintain your current standing.
Examples of docks:
- The full time job you hate that pays the bills
- The effective but “probably-not-ideal-long-term” parenting tactics you use to maintain order in your home
- The “boring” vacation spot you take your family every year while you save to pay for your dream vacation
- The sturdy used car you drive that you have to keep driving while you look and save for a new car
- The mediocre standards at work that drive you nuts but that also maintain a moderate level of order and keep you afloat as an organization
- The prayers that feel awkward and uncomfortable while you grow in your walk with God
Docks are stable. They’re not ideal, they’re not exciting, and they’re not the long-term goal. They might even be downright uncomfortable. But they’re stable. They provide a base from which you can build.
Don’t get this confused. I am NOT telling you that you should stay in a situation that is truly unhealthy mentally, physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
If you’re in an abusive or otherwise unstable situation, you should absolutely seek the relief you need. But most of us aren’t in that kind of danger. Most of us are in situations that are stable but not ideal. Those are docks.
Here’s the thing: As terrible as they can feel sometimes, docks must be your priority number one no matter how boring they may feel.
You shouldn’t throw out family vacations altogether just because you can’t go on the vacation of your dreams.
You shouldn’t quit your job just because they’re not doing things how you think they should be done.
You shouldn’t get discouraged as a parent just because you don’t have it all figured out.
When you’re starting something new, you have to start from somewhere, and it’s only from that place that you can start to build your “boats”.
Boats are the changes you wish to see in your life, and we all should have them. Boats are plans and investments into something in the future.
Examples of boats:
- a growing family
- a healthier diet
- a deeper level of intimacy with God
- a new date night idea
- a different approach to parenting to deepen your relationship with your kids
- an advancement in your career
- new ways to improve the culture at your job
- any other “next level” you can take in your life
We should all have boats based on our alignment with God’s vision for our future.
We should all be doing research and development in every area of our lives – and this does apply to every area of your life.
Every area of your life should be moving into the future with intentionality and an at least rough-draft plan for how each area will improve going forward, because being stagnant and complacent is no life at all.
The purpose of the “boat” is to build something better for the future and to keep you engaged and creatively driving forward for the benefit of those around you and generations to come.
Balancing Boats and Docks
It can feel overwhelming at times to balance boats and docks, but it’s entirely possible. Issues arise, however, when we start getting distracted and placing other priorities above our boats and docks. If “docks” are our first priorities and “boats” are our second priorities, then anytime we put something else as third, fourth, and fifth priorities above the first and second, we’re going to experience problems.
We do this for a number of reasons. We may be trying to please or impress other people. We may be averse to conflict and not be willing to tell people no. We might just be looking for an escape from the mundane work of our “dock” and the difficult work of our “boat”. Or, we may simply not have clear priorities in our minds to know what our “docks” and “boats” are.
Too many people, myself included, hustle their faces off on four or five different things and never actually accomplish any of them. They spread themselves too thin, and pretty soon their lives are just chaos and disappointment as a result of jumping from one project to the next on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.
Don’t get me wrong, even when you’re only managing the top two priorities, things can get hairy. After all, priorities are meant to be put in order. When they’re not in the right order, things go haywire. When you put your boats ahead of your docks, your life becomes a ticking time bomb. Docks only tolerate neglect for so long before they begin to crumble beneath your feet.
Let’s be honest. Docks can suck sometimes. We get tired of the same old same old. We want near instant change, and when we don’t see it, we can easily get discouraged. We can easily get tired of doing something in which we’re not completely satisfied. Most driven people are not exactly in love with the way things have always been done. But docks are the things that allow boats to land, so never underestimate the value of the boring and steady.
The goal, of course, is to make the transition from dock to boat. It’s not that you’re never content; it’s just that you’re always moving forward and making progress. That process takes time, and it’s typically not one to be rushed.
So, when it comes to starting something new, prioritizing is essential. When you’re prioritizing, fill your calendar with two things in mind: docks first, boats second, and everything else in the parking lot. Whatever you do, do not let them swap places. Remember, you can only build a boat while standing on a dock, and you certainly can’t build it goofing off in the parking lot.
Have you ever wondered why dreams die? Why do people settle for lives that are less than what they imagined? How is it that too many of us (most of us) quit on our dreams and decide they’re no longer worth chasing?
People talk a lot about making a difference and changing the world, and that’s all well and good, but the problem with dreams is that they are just that: dreams.
Dreams don’t pay bills. The exchange rate on what-ifs is not great.
It takes a certain, somewhat rare, mindset to come up with purposeful ideas that will change things for the better, but it takes an entirely different mindset to bring those ideas to life.
See, most people hear success stories and think that great ideas and the audacity to dream is all you need to succeed. But it’s not true.
Dreams require a lot of planning, and more than anything, a lot of action. Thinking and dreaming and hypothesizing mean absolutely nothing until you take the necessary steps to bring it to life.
It can be inconvenient to map out the details, and even more inconvenient to actually take the small steps to carry out the details, but you have to have a detailed plan and detailed action to make it work.
The bigger lesson here is to not only make a plan, and not only take action on that plan, but take consistent action. Meaning, don’t give up after a week. Don’t give up after a month, or two months, or six.
It’s tough, I know, but you have to pace yourself in order to be consistent, and consistency builds amazing things. After all, you know what they say about eating an elephant.
And there’s another reason why dreams fizzle…
I think the word fortitude best describes it.
Building a dream sucks. It’s easy to look at other peoples’ success and lose sight of that, but the truth remains. It’s a TON of hard work to build something that makes a real difference.
When you’ve worked 90 out of the last 120 hours and you haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what it’s going to take to launch your idea, much less keep it going, that’s when most people stop. When you’re exhausted and stressed out, and it’s all for a vision, that’s the moment when the awesomeness of your dream kind of starts to go away.
You absolutely must have a plan of action that includes struggles and failure. That plan also needs to include some long hours, late nights, and sacrifices, but you need to plan for what happens when you hit a wall and are ready to quit – because it will happen. Anything else is wishful thinking.
It’s easy to overlook that part because the dream is the fun part. But consistent work and fortitude is what puts you in the place to grow into something great and inspiring generations to come.
Look, having a dream is a wonderful thing, don’t get me wrong. Trust me, I’m full of them. After all, dreams are how all great things start. But until there’s a plan to actually put legs and feet and boots on that dream, it’s nothing but another cool story to tell people about. And frankly, most people are tired of talk.
We all get blinded by our own ambition from time to time. We get so caught up in what we want and how we see progress unfolding in our lives that we forget to back up and adjust our focus on what’s truly important around us. That’s when we need perspective.
Perspective is defined as an attitude, a way of regarding something, or a point of view. Perspective is the difference between looking at an unruly child and seeing potential instead of brokenness, and perspective is always what will keep you focused on what’s most important as you pursue your purpose.
If you have commitments, a full-time job, and a side project you’d like to be doing full-time, you know exactly what I experienced in that moment with my son. It’s a worthwhile journey to pursue your purpose, but it’s a delicate balance.
So how do you make it all work?
How can you pay the bills, spend time with the family, and work on your dream – all without letting any of them go to ruin? Better yet, how can you maintain perspective in the midst of everything you’re pursuing?
I would be lying if I said I have a secret for you. But I do have a story that might help:
A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mason jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly and the pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.
The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students just laughed, and when the laughter subsided, the professor explained.
“Now,” said the professor, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things — your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions — and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car. The sand is everything else — the small stuff.”
“If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.”
Pay attention to the things that are critical. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Laugh with friends. There will always be time to work. Take care of the golf balls first — the things that really matter. Set your priorities. Adjust your perspective to see everything in your life -and everything you’re worried about – in the right order of importance. The rest is just sand.
When it comes to balancing the things you need, the things you love, and the things you want, I can tell you one thing: The goal is to make time for all three; but you absolutely must remember which order they go in.
Think about your eulogy. What do you want your legacy to be? What do you want your life to stand for?
Do you want to be the guy who missed everything or who was stressed out and irritable all the time? Of course not.
Keep that in mind next time you’re making decisions about what to invest your time in.
Truthfully, there will be times of imbalance. When you’re learning a new skill or creating a new project that will make an impact, you’re going to get out of whack. But you have to bring yourself back within a reasonable amount of time. Don’t let it get away from you.
I think the best thing to do is to plan on sleeping less. Seriously.
Either wake up before everyone else gets up and work on your side gigs or do it after everyone goes to bed. Don’t do it while your son is jumping up and down on the couch next to you crying for your attention. That feels terrible.
Lunch breaks are good too. It’s a solid hour every single day, and if you plan it right, you can get a lot done in that hour a day.
Whenever it is, make time for yourself every day, but schedule that time around everything else.
I actually used to write blog posts while driving to the store to pick up things we needed. If we needed diapers I would go to the store and take my phone so I could use Evernote and speech-to-text in my iPhone to actually “write”, or speak, a blog post into my phone.
It probably wasn’t the safest thing in the world to do, but I kept my eyes on the road and I was able to accomplish something on an otherwise useless ride to and from the store.
Whatever you do, don’t guilt yourself into giving up on your dream altogether, but don’t talk yourself into thinking it’s the most important thing for right now, because it’s “building you and your family’s future”.
Your wife and kids won’t remember how great it was to build your dream from the ground up. You’ll just be the person who’s not in the pictures.
When you’re not the one “in charge” it can be intimidating to step up and lead the people around you. But what exactly is a leader and how can you assume that role even if you don’t have a leadership title at your job?
First, it’s important to understand that leadership is not a title given to you. It’s an outlook. It’s a way of viewing the world – it’s a mindset. Leaders are simply problem solvers. They see a problem and they decide they want to change it, and they motivate people around them to go with them to solve the problem.
So in the work setting, when employees sit around and complain about not being in leadership and not having strong leaders around them – when they complain about not having the opportunity to lead – what they’re really saying is that they don’t want to lead. Because if they’re complaining about a problem they see instead of stepping up and doing something to solve it, then why on earth would they want to be in a position where their job is to solve problems every day? If you’re complaining about not being a leader in your job, that’s exactly why you’re not a leader in your job.
You may absolutely have the mindset of a leader somewhere deep inside of you, but you have to get past the knee-jerk reaction to complain about problems and decide in your mind that you are a problem solver; and if there’s a problem, then it’s just an opportunity for you to help solve a problem. Leaders understand that complaining doesn’t help anyone, so they get right to the business of solving the problem.
Leading in your home is the same way. In order to lead your household, all you have to do is step out in front of the problems and lead the way to a solution instead of being the one dragging everyone back through the problem by complaining.
I’ve never met a successful leader who spent their time complaining. Don’t get me wrong, we all have complaints in our minds and we all have our negative moments where we voice those complaints unnecessarily, but the only difference between leaders and followers is that leaders decide that they’re going to actually solve the problem instead of just complaining about it.
If you think about what it looks like to lead your household, it’s actually pretty simple. Let’s use a super simple example to illustrate:
If you’re hanging out with your family and you all decide that you’re hungry, you might tell them that you’re going to go get something to eat and ask them if they want to go with you. In that simple scenario, you’re leading them. You saw a problem that you had, you learned that they were facing the same problem, and then you offered to be the one to lead the charge in solving that problem. That’s really all leadership is. Yet when it comes to more complex scenarios, we make it more complex than it needs to be.
Leadership – whether it’s in the mundane or in the complex – is simple:
One person seeing a problem, sees the potential outcome of solving that problem, and then rallying the troops to go with them to solve it.
And a “problem” doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Some “problems” that need solving might include where the family is going to relax on vacation this year. These are things that need to be decided and led, and the only way to do it is to start the conversation, spur the motivation, help find the provision, and keep everyone on track to meeting the decided-upon solution.
But here’s the important part:
The leader does NOT always solve the problems themselves. Actually, they rarely do.
Good leadership – especially in a home – is empowering your family to win. It’s building your wife and kids up so they can go with you in the direction you’ve agreed that the family is going.
But you can’t do any of that if you’re complaining. Because I guarantee you while you’re sitting around complaining, your family is waiting for you to lead them in solving the problems they’re facing. And taking the hard approach to addressing problems rather than wallowing in them is what will make all the difference.
Let’s face it – as men, we can be pretty impatient at times. We want what we want and we want it as soon as possible, especially for those of us who are highly driven.
So it makes sense why we get frustrated when the dreams and goals we have aren’t accomplished as quickly as we want. Then we typically get fed up with the whole process and resign ourselves to going through the motions because, well, we don’t have time to wait and work for what we truly want.
The bad news is, there isn’t a shortcut. The good news is, there isn’t a shortcut. Let me explain.
The book The Self-Made Billionaire Effect talks about how one of the character traits of successful people is “patient urgency”. Successful people tend to have the ability to wait for the right time, but they can’t wait to work on and perfect their idea until it is the right time. But waiting until the right time is the key to that equation.
Most men would probably say that they have the urgency part down, it’s just the waiting for the right time part that they get hung up on.
Look at some of the most successful people around:
Seth Godin, one of the world’s leading voices on marketing and entrepreneurship, spent years at a software company and other jobs before he saved enough money to start his first business.
Mark Cuban, one of the most successful business investors in the world, worked at odd jobs in college and sold software as a salesman before he finally went out and did his thing on his own years later.
Dave Ramsey, America’s leading voice on personal finance, sold his books out of the trunk of his car and had a small-time radio show for years before he ever caught real traction.
Gary Vaynerchuk, one of the leading experts on digital marketing and personal branding, spent 12 years working his tail off before he started really building his personal brand. He was only able to build his personal brand because he spent those 12 years in the trenches.
All throughout history you can find example after example of people who were successful only after years of hard work. You’ll have to look hard for that part of the story though, because that’s not the sexy part and therefore it’s the part that gets skipped in most success stories.
The truth is, if you want to do anything of any significance it’s going to take time. Once you look around the world and start examining what anything truly impactful looks like, you’ll start to see that there really is no such thing as overnight success. Not in work, not with your kids, not with your marriage, not with your money, not with your friendships. It all takes a grueling amount of work.
But in the end, the process works for our good because it prepares us for when it’s time to step up and do the thing we’ve been waiting impatiently to do.
It’s very hard for men to keep that in mind, especially in this generation. With guys like Mark Zuckerberg and other tech entrepreneurs that seem to change the world overnight, it’s tough to keep hard work and persistence in mind.
But you can’t use them as models. Their stories are one in a billion. 99.99% of the time, hard work and dedication is what pays off, not swinging for the fences.
Consider the 10,000-hour rule. Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours of practice before you can be truly great at any one skill. If you spent two hours a day working on your skill, it would take you over 13 years to be truly great at that skill. Even if you spent 10 hours a day working on it, it would still take you nearly 3 years to achieve expertise.
So, what does that mean for you?
Keep your head down, be consistent, and don’t get discouraged. Don’t obsess over something for the sake of achieving your goals faster. Slow down and enjoy life and take every experience as it comes. Don’t look past the here and now, because you’re right where you are for a reason. Learn today’s lessons so you’re ready for tomorrow’s tests.
Rick Warren, author of the book Purpose Driven Life calls this “life’s waiting room”. If you’re in the waiting room right now, waiting for something eagerly, it’s understandable to get antsy. But there’s a necessary process that must take place before anything of any significance can happen. So, stay balanced, carry the load a little at a time, and don’t give up.
Let me tell you a quick story to illustrate this point:
There was once a psychology professor who taught stress management principles to students, and one day she stepped in front of the class, filled a glass full of water, and raised it where everyone could see. All of the students expected they’d be asked the typical “glass half empty or glass half full” question. Instead, with a smile on her face, the professor asked, “How heavy is this glass of water I’m holding?”
Students shouted out answers ranging from eight ounces to a couple pounds. The professor then replied, “From my perspective, the absolute weight of this glass doesn’t matter. It all depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute or two, it’s fairly light. If I hold it for an hour straight, its weight might make my arm ache a little. If I hold it for a day straight, my arm will likely cramp up and feel completely numb and paralyzed, forcing me to drop the glass to the floor. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it feels to me.”
As the class shook their heads in agreement, she continued, “Stresses and worries in life are very much like this glass of water. When carried for short periods of time, they have relatively no effect. However, the longer you try to hold them without balance and rest, the more they can hurt you. At first, you begin to ache a little, but after a while, that same amount of relatively small weight can make you feel completely numb and paralyzed – incapable of doing anything else until you drop them.”
The truth is, you can carry a lot more than you think you can, you just have to do it a little at a time. I know it’s frustrating and I know you want so badly to immediately be where you envision yourself going. But give yourself a break, choose to back up and gain perspective, and baby-step your way to your goals.
Your wife, kids, family, friends, co-workers, and community need all of you right now, not sometime in the future. So next time you feel like your dream is taking forever, try to remember that’s a good thing. You’ll be all-the-better for it when the time comes.