Don’t Swap Gold for Bronze
It is not personal achievement, but personal commitment to live for God that is important. Achievements are simply examples of what God can do through someone’s life. The most effective leaders spoken of in the Bible had little awareness of the impact their lives had on others. They were too busy obeying God to keep track of their successes. —Life Application Study Bible description of Ezra
My cell phone rang as I walked to my car following a three-hour meeting with an important client. Already a bit drained, I reluctantly picked up the call. A prospective partner, Michael, was on the other end of the line. Michael and I had recently met at a national conference. He provided a nice burst of praise about his first impression of me.
Michael then proceeded to explain an opportunity for the two of us to work together. He proposed working quarterly at his location, quite a distance from where I live. The work would enhance the experience of key business relationships he’d identified. But the work would be tedious, and the drive would be long. Yet if I accepted Michael's offer, it would bring me another large step closer to the success goal I had put in place for my career.
But something made me pause. Because my life is about more than my goal.
Performing Life or Experiencing It?
Goals are good. They allow you to project in your mind what you are capable of achieving. And it’s easy to get caught up in hitting a new business or fitness goal. But what about fully thriving in your commitment to God and developing your character? If you focus solely on your business or fitness goal, you may miss out on the bigger and often times more important picture of your life experience.
Author Peter Bregman writes that life is to be experienced, not performed. Think about this. Which is the greater win? If you’re going for the gold of a lifetime, what would you choose?
When you or I become fixated on a goal or on showing ourselves to others in a particular way, we might miss out on living “in the moment” as God created us to live. Yes, we can strive to reach our goal. But not at the expense of incredible small experiences that God has laid out for us in every moment. Trade those, and when it’s all said and done, we might be giving away gold for bronze.
Running Against or For?
One of the most inspiring examples of someone who would not trade what they valued most for what the world would define as success is the former Olympic hero Eric Liddell. The film Chariots of Fire portrays Liddell as Scotland’s best hope for bringing home a gold medal in 1924, most likely for the 100-meter sprint. But the heats for this event took place on a Sunday— the Lord’s Day, as Liddell put it. A devout Christian, he chose the unthinkable: Instead of running his signature sprint, he would instead compete in the 400-meter race, known to strongly favor those training for longer runs.
Commentators and spectators figured Liddell to be a non-factor in the race. He may as well have announced he was giving away the gold. Maybe for bronze. Maybe for nothing.
When the six finalists drew lots for their lanes, Liddell drew the dreaded outside lane where he would start the race in front of all his opponents. He would be unable to track his progress versus theirs. But he knew the race was more than running against them. He was running for God. In true sprinter fashion he took off like lightning and maintained his pace to the finish line. He won the Olympic gold and broke the world record in the 400-meter.
As Eric Metaxas describes in Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness:
Eric Liddell is the classic example of someone whose faith was not only not at odds with the will to win, but also, indeed and on the contrary, was a tremendous boon to it … Because he desired to use his athletic gifts to glorify God and because he knew that his winning gave him an opportunity to speak about God to men who otherwise might not be at all interested in the subject, running and winning had an eternal purpose.
Pursuing Good or Great?
I had spent a few days pondering what it would mean for me to say yes to Michael's offer when I realized it simply wasn’t worth it. Not at the time anyway. I would have been performing life rather than experiencing it. I would have been running against the challenge rather than for what I value most.
I knew that every time I took that drive I would dread leaving my family. I would have to turn down the tee-ball coaching opportunity that would bring me closer to my son. I would be forced to decline the important role at my church as we worked through difficult times of renewal. I would be choosing an instant good rather than staying the course for a truer great.
I have found that when I remain fully committed to being the absolute best I can be for others— through my integrity and servant-leader’s approach to work and life—God rewards this commitment with more than enough successes. He opens doors and reveals possibilities on the horizon that I might otherwise miss due to busyness or being overwhelmed.
Every choice you and I make comes at a cost. Michael's offer was too costly for me. After I turned it down, I was free to focus my energy toward an even greater opportunity with less intense travel and schedule requirements. I didn’t have to trade my goal for the greater gold of a lifetime. You don’t either.