Can you remember watching your dad shave when you were a little boy? Or watching your mom put her makeup on in the morning? I wanted to be like my dad, and I think I even had a little toy razor so I could imitate him.
Admiring and even envying the achievements of others is a pretty normal experience. I had someone approach me earlier this year after I gave a presentation in front of 1200 people. He told me, “I want to be where you are.” He’s not the first person who has come up to me after I’ve spoken on a big stage and said they wanted to do what I do.
Sadly, though, I’m a recovering cynic. So I replied, “That’s awesome. Do you want to know what it took for me to get here?”
When Payoff Overshadows Process
Like this young man, many of us want the payoff without the process. We want the platform someone stands on without the blood, sweat and tears it took them to build it. We are not patient enough to put in the work – we want shortcuts or hacks to make it easier and faster. We think pain is a sign we’re on the wrong path when it’s actually a sign we are getting closer to our goal. Too many of us lack perseverance, and far too many of us give up right before a breakthrough.
Honestly, I was cynical about this man’s comment. When I heard him say, “I want to be where you are,” I heard “How can I get your platform without the pain?” If you had told me what it would take for me to get this stage, I would have given up a long time ago.
At 14, my dad – a pastor – had a stalker and I swore it would be a cold day in hell if I ever became a pastor. I lost a $76,000 scholarship to my dream college because my favorite high school teacher sent his recommendation letter in one day late. At 18, I moved to a new city and started over, knowing no one. I took over a campus organization from its founder and struggled to lead it. The organization folded two years after I graduated because I did all the work; I didn’t raise up a legacy of leaders behind me. While giving my first sermon, I spoke so fast that most of the audience said they couldn’t understand what I was saying. I endured two seasons of burnout in my 20s and became dangerously cynical because I didn’t take care of myself or learn how to forgive amidst a toxic organizational culture.
I shared with this young man that if he wanted to be where I was, he would need to invest years of his life and a lot of pain. He would have to be prepared for a lot of struggle. Not surprisingly, he didn’t seem to appreciate my response.
The Laws of Preparation
I believe our culture undervalues preparation. We celebrate and spotlight success, not the hard work it took to get there. We share our highlight reels on social media, not the unsexy process it took behind-the-scenes to succeed. We spurn the daily grind wishing we could arrive sooner when it’s actually the journey which holds the meaning, not the destination.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. What if we became the kind of people who could withstand the pressure of the struggle along the way? What if we gained the character to sustain us under the lights of that big stage?
As I thought about how I might have helped this young man had he accepted my challenge, six action steps emerged for me. They’re “laws of preparation” we must abide by if we want to be ready for the platforms and opportunities in the future.
Adversity is an opportunity. If you’re a leader, what you want may lie on the other side of a crisis. When we accept this view, we see a crisis as a tool to teach us or advance us in a way ease or comfort cannot. Most of us only change as a result of adversity. We innovate because of adversity, and we learn new abilities and ways of working in the face of challenges.
We learn perseverance by persevering. There is no replacement for experience in developing this trait. By building perseverance, we increase our likelihood of success. It is said that Orville and Wilbur Wright took five sets of parts with them when they went outside Dayton, Ohio each week to experiment with their flying machine. They planned for and learned how to persevere during failure in their pursuit of success.
Your integrity is the one thing which cannot be taken away from you. Only you can build it or give it away. We like to work with people we trust. We give second chances to people we believe in. We invest in people we feel are worthy. In a world where we are all presenting our best selves and moments online, personal integrity sets us apart. Author Craig Groeschel says, “People would rather follow someone who is always real over someone who is always right.”
Decide to be patient.
If anything is undervalued in the marketplace today, it is patience. In a world of quarterly reports, 24-hour news cycles, and constant social media chatter, we must relentlessly fight to take a long view. It is so easy to sacrifice long-term success on the altar of short-term gains. But, it is the patient who make the best decisions, not just the ones who seem right at the moment.
I heard a seasoned leader recently say, “When someone comes to me and says they’re burned out, I now translate that to mean they’re discouraged.” It is not easy to maintain hope and excitement in a difficult environment or with challenging people. Leading is hard work, and in many industries, the market conditions are not getting better; they’re getting worse. If we anticipate discouragement, we can develop practices and mindsets which enable us to endure discouragement without it defeating us.
Focus on the why.
Gail Hyatt was absolutely right when she said, “People lose their way when they lose their why.” It is your why which gets you out of bed on a cold Monday morning when you don’t feel like it. It’s your why which keeps you going when adults are acting childish or when what has always worked for you no longer moves things forward. In his uber-popular TED talk, Simon Sinek reminds us “people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”
The Wright brothers achieved powered man flight before Samuel Pierpont Langley, a better-funded and more-educated man who had The New York Times following his every move. Orville and Wilbur worked hard for the potential of what powered man flight might open up, whereas Langley did it for the money and the fame. Which “why” lasted longer and had more power?
If I were wiser, I wouldn’t have asked the young man about what it took for me to step on that stage. I would’ve asked why he wanted to stand on that stage himself. Someone once said, “When you know your ‘why’ you can endure any ‘how.'”
If you know your “why” then everything is preparation. Everything gets you ready to arrive at your destination, stand on your stage, achieve your victory and enjoy it. What if we could enjoy the process without it crushing us or us suffocating others?
Arriving is way overrated, while preparation is way underrated. May we all discover the riches in the preparation.