Job/career. Family. Church/volunteer activities. The foundation underneath all three of those pillars is my faith in Christ.
Thank you, Stephen R. Covey, for helping me discover that about myself.
A long time ago, I read Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” One of the seven habits includes writing a personal mission statement. He offers guidelines on how to do that (habit 2: Begin with the end in mind).
I discovered that my life has those three pillars, with my faith as the bedrock of each. Over time, I’ve seen cracks in all three pillars, some cracks bigger than others. My faith has kept the pillars from crashing down.
Covey’s first habit is “Be Proactive.” One of the subheads in that chapter is “Act or be acted upon.”
It’s so easy to reject that advice, to say it takes too much effort, or the results may not turn out the way we want them to.
But the alternative is even worse. I know people who choose not to engage life at all, unless absolutely necessary. We spend so much of our energy trying to escape real life, because real life is hard. It often doesn’t go the way we’d like it to.
So, we set up alternative worlds:
- Fantasy baseball or football. They aren’t real by definition.
- Video games, a $99.6 billion industry last year, according to market research firm Newzoo. https://venturebeat.com/2016/04/21/video-games-will-become-a-99-6b-industry-this-year-as-mobile-overtakes-consoles-and-pcs
- The Internet boasts an estimated 700 million to 800 million individual porn pages, three-fifths in America, reports The Economist. http://www.economist.com/news/international/21666114-internet-blew-porn-industrys-business-model-apart-its-response-holds-lessons
- Movies and TV shows, sometimes.
- The casino. (Do you really expect something for nothing, a big jackpot for an output of a few dollars? The American Dream has never been about that.)
- Social media. Many of us interact only with people who have views similar to ours. Hey there: Look up from your device to see the world around you.
Not all “escapes” are bad things. Sometimes we need to refresh ourselves for the real life we find ourselves in.
But even in our own fantasy worlds, we should follow the values we’ve decided are worth keeping.
I can’t say I’ve always done this. I know the theory, but putting it into practice is hard.
My job/career pillar was the first to take a hit. A big hit. I had a great job that allowed my wife to be a stay-at-home mom for our three sons. After 24 years with the same company, my job was eliminated as the company downsized.
Over the past eight years, I’ve had six jobs in three states, and twice was out of work for 11 months. When stuff like that happens, you find out whether your personal mission statement is written well or not. Was I prepared to handle such a major shake-up in my life?
Yes and no. It’s been a major struggle, since as a man I feel the need to provide for my family, and I’m convinced I’ll never have a “secure” job again. Any company, any career, any job can disappear. When Jesus said build your treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21), he wasn’t kidding. Treasures on this earth can be taken away very quickly.
That’s real life.
Because I’m married, my wife has taken this roller coaster ride with me. When I get an out-of-state job, she comes to the new town not knowing a soul, and with no connections. It takes time to find a niche, to make a house a home, to begin to feel settled in a new community. We’re still working all that out. It hasn’t been easy, and still isn’t.
In a new place, we have to find new social opportunities as well. These also take time.
Our faith is a huge help in these situations. We can find brothers and sisters in Christ, who read the same Bible and follow it, no matter where we go. Instant connection. It takes time to develop friendships, but having faith in God can ease that transition.
I like to put my faith into practice, to get involved in the community where I live. I was a leader in the Saginaw County (Mich.) CROP Hunger Walk for many years, an annual 10-kilometer event that raises money and awareness for hunger issues locally and around the world. Here in Elyria, Ohio, there is a CROP walk, but the leaders here aren’t passionate about it. In Saginaw, it was a nearly year-round event as we sought new ways to reach people and connect with the community. Here, the committee meets once, the same people show up, the same people walk, they raise some money and they’re done.
They don’t need me.
I’m not one to force myself on people. Perhaps I should have tried to light a fire under them, but I didn’t feel the passion myself to do that. So I let it go.
I also enjoy mentoring elementary school students. I did that for a year here, then the program disappeared. I recently started mentoring a fourth-grader at a school in Cleveland, a half-hour down the highway.
Why do that? Because volunteering is one of the pillars of my life. I need to do things like that to feel fulfilled.
Covey says we should tweak our personal mission statements every so often, even though the main points remain the same. I haven’t tweaked mine in years. My statement has become a part of me, guiding me through uncertain times.
I’d encourage you to write a mission statement of your own, if you haven’t already done so. It will be different than mine is, for sure, possibly very different. That’s a good thing.
What gets you up in the morning? Where do you find meaning in life? You won’t find it in any fantasy world.
Time to get real.