How to Succeed Without a Lead Pipe


In honor of the twenty year anniversary of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, I share with you how to do life without a lead pipe.  If you recall, at the U.S. figure skating championships in – of all places – Detroit, MI, Nancy Kerrigan was walking off the practice ice when a goon, hired by rival skater Tonya Harding’s husband, whacked her in the knee with a pipe hoping to derail her Olympic dream while giving her rival a leg up.

For a large portion of my life I could relate to Harding because I was a cheater. I cheated my way through school. I invented new ways to cheat. I cheated in math, in English, physics, gym, I cheated in every subject. I used a lead pipe to get ahead. I broke into classrooms to fill in scores that I had never completed. I would sneak looks on other papers. I forged report cards. I had a lead pipe and I wasn’t afraid to use it. Then one day I went to flight school.

Problem. You can’t cheat your way through flight school. At that time, God was working in my heart to live with integrity and my flight instructors were working on my brain to establish discipline. Would you want to ride in a plane flown by a guy who cheated his way through flight school? To become a commercial pilot, you must pass a minimum of three written exams, three 2 hour oral exams and three flying tests. No way to cheat here. Either you know it or you don’t.

When they took my lead pipe away, I learned a few things that may benefit you. Cheating isn’t going away, in fact, we have seen a dramatic increase. Recently, the Josephson Institute, a Los Angeles-based ethics institute, surveyed 29,760 students at 100 randomly selected high schools nationwide, both public and private. The survey found that 35 percent of boys and 26 percent of girls – 30 percent overall – acknowledged stealing from a store within the past year. One-fifth said they stole something from a friend; 23 percent said they stole something from a parent or other relative. 64 percent said they have cheated on a test.

I cheated because I wanted the easy way to performance. I used the lead pipe to get ahead. Had I known what I lost in the process I never would have done it.

First, I lost money. I spent four years in high-school under caring, dedicated teachers, many of whom I could name today. But, instead of taking advantage of the free learning opportunities provided in high-school, I had to pay college instructors and sit in remedial classrooms. I also missed out on thousands of dollars of need-based scholarships because I scored poorly on the ACT.

Second, I lost a good reputation. I realized that what people think of you really matters. Favor travels through people. If people think you’re a cheater, liar, or thief, they won’t take chances on you. Your reputation precedes you. Now that I make hiring and firing decisions, I understand how much people judge your character.

Third, I lost character. While cheating gives you quick shortcut to apparent success, it cost you the key character traits it takes to truly succeed. Cheating cost me the ability to think and solve problems. It cost me the ability to persevere and delay gratification.

Fourth, cheating cost me freedom – ironically the very thing I was looking for. Sin is like that. It steals the very thing you’re looking for. In reality, only discipline brings freedom. It’s the disciplined athlete that has the freedom to perform at a high level. Only the disciplined musician has the ability to play skillfully. Only the disciplined student has the freedom a scholarship brings. If you want freedom, gain discipline, taking shortcuts robs you of freedom. And there are no shortcuts to anyplace worth going.

So how do you succeed without a lead pipe? Do the hard work. Develop your talents. Do your best in every situation. Resolve that it’s better to be poor and honest than rich and a cheater (Proverbs 19:1). Discipline is the currency by which we purchase our dreams. Tonya Harding was a terrific figure skater.  She won six national class competitions, including the U.S. championships. Now she’s a punch-line. Cheating stole from her the spoils of her hard work and talent. Don’t rob the world through a mediocre you. And, don’t rob yourself of the joys and freedom discipline brings. Happy skating!