A few years ago it would be unheard of to see a young person knock out an elderly man and unthinkable that they would punch older lady. But security cameras are catching these thugs doing just that. A few years ago, when a police officer told you to stop doing what you were doing and put your hands in the air, you did just that. (At least I did.)
Early in my academic career I struggled with paying attention. My mind would bounce from one thing to the next racing to stay ahead of terminal boredom. I grew up in pre-medication days so I had to figure something out or flunk out of flight school.
I’m a slow learner. I struggle with focus. I was tested for learning issues at a young age. After four decades in the education system in some form or fashion, I learned how to get A’s. It wasn’t always that way. I failed a number of classes in high-school. I even failed gym class.
As we enter the back-to-school season, I want to address an all-too-common attitude that derails the academic experience for many students. I was the expert in this mindset so I know it well. I call it the “just get the grade (or credits)” attitude. This attitude is formed when a student does not understand the larger purpose of an education.
It was nearly 29 years ago to the day at my high-school football banquet. The coach – Coach Buckel – went through each player on the team and shared some glowing remarks about each of them. Anticipating the shower of compliments with both of my divorced parents in the room he got to the very last player and…and…nothing. He skipped right over me! I shrunk down into my seat hoping the earth would swallow me up. My friends spoke up and told the coach he forgot about me. So he sheepishly brought me up and made up a few words and quickly moved on. Now I wasn’t his star player for sure, but I never missed a practice and regularly took beatings at the hands of the first team all year.
Thirty years later, I’ve learned a few things about life. I know what it means to be picked last. I’ve learned how to overcome life’s little injustices. Here are some insights for you if you’ve ever been forgotten, overlooked, or picked last.
- Realize not all gifts are handed out equally. This is the cold, hard reality. Some people will excel at things you struggle with. Some have great athletic ability. Some excel at music and theater. Some can sing like birds and run like deer. Some people can do all of them! We cannot control the gifts God gave us, but we can control what we do with them. While on the football field, I couldn’t run as fast as others nor could I generate the force of someone twice my size. It is what it is.
- Find what you’re good at. While gifts are not handed out equally, you did get some natural ability. Part of the fun of life is searching for these seeds of greatness. What types of things come easier to you than your peers? Where do find endurance with joy? When others want to quit, you want to keep going. What things do you enjoy reading about? What interests do you have? What gifts do others see in you that you may not even notice? I may not have been a great football player, but I could fly an airplane soon after I received my driver’s license. It wasn’t long and I was taking my friends up into my world.
- Work harder than your peers. Those players on the team that the coach didn’t forget worked all year on their strength and their skills. I didn’t. I procrastinated and didn’t get everything I could have from my talent. Champions are made in the off season. You’re gifts do not come to you fully developed. You must put in the time to see them blossom. Experts tell us that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. I don’t think it takes that long to blossom a gift, but you get the point. There is no shortcut to anyplace worth going. No matter your talent, you must endure being bad at something long enough to be good at it.
- Your value is not rooted in your performance. When I stunk at football, it didn’t make me less of a person. It didn’t make me less valuable as a human (a team-mate maybe, but not a person). Your value is rooted in the fact that God created you and invested his glory and image in you. He purchased and redeemed you at the cost of His son on a Roman cross. You carry the value of Christ, regardless of your performance. This truth liberates you to try and sometimes fail at different things. When picked last, you can simply admit, “I’m not so good at this game, I’ll do my best and keep a positive attitude throughout the experience.” There will be a time when your talent will save the day. Perhaps it is not this day, but your value doesn’t hinge on your performance.
- Be a good cheerleader and find a way to serve. When my daughter’s first grade class built a float for our city parade, each parent needed to help. I showed up ready to contribute, but a number of alpha males with their cordless drills and nail guns took over. Building things was their thing. Me, not so much. Not picked again. After a few minutes, I realized the team didn’t need another person building. I stepped back and looked for another way to serve. I slipped away (no one noticed) and bought some pizza and drinks. Everyone appreciated my contribution. Instead of sulking when picked last, be a good cheerleader and find a way to serve. Jesus told us the path to greatness runs through servant hood.
Life will present many opportunities for you to forgotten and left out. How you handle these situations will make a great difference in the trajectory of your life. You can grow bitter or better. Find your gifts, grow them, work hard, serve and cheer others, and you will find a lot of people will want you for their team!
As we enter the back-to-school season, I want to address an all-too-common attitude that derails the academic experience for many students. I was the expert in this mindset so I know it well. I call it the “just get the grade (or credits)” attitude. This attitude is formed when a student does not understand the larger purpose of an education. They filter their future through the lens of their very limited life experience. One can spot this attitude by the words students use to describe their school experience. Common phrases include, “Why do I have to learn this?” “When will I ever use this?” “This is so dumb.”
This attitude kept me locked into a small world. It wasn’t until after college that I learned how I had missed out on fantastic opportunities to sow seeds that would produce greatness in my future. If you find yourself saying similar things during your school day, let me rescue you from this deadly attitude by giving you a bigger picture of what the educational process can do for you if you attack each subject with the right attitude.
First, you must understand that you lack perspective. As a high-school or college student, you haven’t walked on this planet long enough to judge whether or not a certain discipline or field of study is pointless. You just stopped wearing Spider-man pajamas! (Or maybe you haven’t.) You’re not qualified to make that judgment! For each class you take, brilliant people have poured hundreds or thousands of years of blood, sweat and toil to wring out the secrets of that discipline. When you open that textbook or sit in that lecture, you stand on the shoulders of giants. Who are you to say that their lives and research was pointless? Only the small minded would make such a statement. Michelangelo craned his neck for four years to give us the Sistine chapel (reluctantly, because his passion was sculpting), Madame Curie – at the cost of her life – discovered the principles of radioactivity. Isaac Newton discovered Calculus in order to better describe concepts like gravity and the orbits of the planets. They poured their lives into the foundation of these disciplines that you now stand on.
Second, a complete education enables you to correlate the facts, principles, and concepts between each discipline. You CANNOT predict when you will benefit from these correlations.
When I was in the Flight Instructor Academy, they taught us that learning takes place in levels. From low to high – Rote, Understanding, Application and Correlation. When you adopt the “just get the credit” mentality, you sentence yourself to the lowest level of learning – rote. Your brain works best when it can take your knowledge of American literature and correlate it with antebellum history and correlate that with modern slavery and correlate that with the theory of law, with principles of public policy, with principles of foreign policy…we could go on. The educated person CAN go on. But too many people cannot even build a bridge between two concepts because they haven’t learned deeply enough. They learned enough to know what word to put in the blank on the test, but not enough to really benefit from that knowledge — or benefit others with it. Educated people know something about the various kinds of problems tackled in psychology, theology, philosophy, physics, literature, and mathematics. They understand how people in all these fields arrive at conclusions and how these fields relate to each other.
Third, when you know more, you CAN know more. Part of a quality education is having a reliable storehouse of information from which to draw upon. Like a rolling snowball, as you know more, your brain finds it easier to absorb information because it associates information together. Bits of information that you think of as useless, your brain makes useful.
Fourth, by hacking through the jungles of each discipline, you will learn about yourself. You will learn what you enjoy and what you do well. Jobs that involve responsibility and higher pay depend on self- management skills. These include knowing how to manage time, resolve conflict, set goals, conquer stress, and learn new skills. Education is a place to practice such skills.
Fifth, in life, you will face problems. Not the carefully-crafted and sanitized problems of the classroom, but the wild, untamed, and unmerciful dilemmas of the real world. Because of how the areas of life interrelate, if you lack critical information in one area, say economics, your problem solving skills will be sorely hampered. Nothing will help you more than a large body of knowledge stored in your brain that you can correlate into a meaningful whole. All that stuff you thought you would never use becomes suddenly useful.
Sixth, learning is like lifting weights for your brain. Even apart from giving you a reliable storehouse of knowledge, learning will train your brain in critical thinking skills. When faced with real world problems, knowing how to solve a quadratic equation may not help you. But the critical thinking skills you learned while studying and solving these equations will help you. Professional athletes don’t find themselves bench pressing or curling on the court or field. That does not mean, however, that the extra strength gained from weight conditioning is useless to them. You will find each subject becomes useful and builds your brain in different ways. Learning different languages enables you to communicate better, improves your vocabulary, and obviously produces dividends as the world becomes a global village. The sciences will help train you to think clearly and test out what you believe. Scientists get the privilege of thinking and discovering the thoughts of God after him. Classes in English, speech, and drama will show you how to speak and write so that people will listen to you. If you want to be an expert, out-read your peers. If you want to be their leader, out-write them.
History gives your life a context. It teaches you what mankind is like, and what happens to nations that forget or ignore God. Biology will help you marvel at the wonders of life God created and economics shows you the secrets of wealth and how people react to it. It gives you insight into raising your standard of living, running a business, saving, and investing. Government shows you how nations form. You learn how they spend your money. You learn how America tries to walk the tightrope between liberty and law; and what part you play in the democratic process.
Lastly, a good education allows you to enter in and contribute to a larger world. It allows you to understand and speak about the biggest questions of life, “Where have we come from?” “What gives life meaning?” “How should we live?” and “What is our destiny?” Your voice will enter in with our finest scientists and artists and it will span centuries and cross cultures. Doors will open up to a universal conversation about the nature of truth and beauty, knowledge and compassion, good and evil – ideas that form the foundation of our society. Ignorance will imprison you to a world of pop culture, vine videos and the Teen Choice Awards.
The world needs more from you. So buck up and study hard. The seeds sown into your life may not bear fruit for many years. But when they do, they will feed you and the world.
I am hesitant to write you this letter. I know I need to but there is a part of me that likes having you ignorant. I enjoy the freedom your distracted indifference provides me but I also see a different kind of prison forming around me and well… I need your help.
I need you to please unplug me. Do it quick. I know when I was young, the T.V., video games, and internet provided you a convenient pacifier for a rambunctious child, but now that I am growing up, they are hindering me from becoming a man.
I now spend between 7 and 9 hours per day looking at a screen. I realize we live in a technological age, but please unplug me. My developing brain needs to grow the ability to concentrate, to focus, and to rest.
The digital juice you have allowed me to drink has had an effect on me.
It has trained me to expect easy success. I have learned to be a guitar hero, but the guitar you gave me for Christmas two years ago lies buried in my closet. I won’t be able to play it at the next camp fire. Had I devoted the time I spent plugged into the game to the real instrument, I most definitely could. But when I picked up the guitar, it hurt my fingers. I felt clumsy, I couldn’t come close to my virtual virtuosity. So I took the easy road. Now I’m beginning to realize, there are no short-cuts to anyplace worth going. In real life, success doesn’t come through a few hours and some cheat codes. It takes 10,000 hours to master a real skill. I’ve mastered some skills, but I’m finding the world needs real heroes, not just guitar heroes. Please unplug me.
The digital juice has trained me to consume rather than produce. I’ve spent my childhood enjoying the hard labor of other people but I have not learned to produce anything of value. I have enjoyed the production of other programmers, producers, animators, and writers. But I have not learned any of those skills. A sure sign of maturity is the ability to produce more than I consume. In a globally competitive world, I have little to offer because I haven’t found that job yet that will pay me to watch You-Tube. I suggest you teach me the difference between a consumptive technology and a productive technology. Then make me earn my consumptive technology time by spending time learning productive technology like video and audio editing, programming, web development, and graphic design. And don’t forget to help me learn to write because the element of story is woven into everything.
Staying plugged in has trained my appetites to crave the counterfeit. I feel like I want to conquer something. I want to be a hero. That’s why the battle games appeal to me. However, my life must be lived in the real world. I have shunted my masculine energy into airbrushed girls and virtual battles and I have little left to conquer in the real world. I haven’t the foggiest idea how to care for and steward a real person. I have traded ruling in the real for conquering the counterfeit. Sadly, the world needs my positive masculine energy to push back evil and carve out a place for my family. But it’s scary to me because life doesn’t have a reset button. Unplug me and help me learn where I fit into the real story, not just the virtual one.
So much access to the internet has stained my imagination. I know you think I’m a good kid – and I am. But you have left me in over my head. The internet is like a big city – with all the good and bad a big city has to offer. And from a young age, you have left me to wander around unguarded. I know you told me there was bad stuff out there, but I’m curious, now I’m stained. You left me to walk around Detroit at night and now I struggle to get those images out of my mind. It has influenced how I look at girls, sex, and family. It has fed appetites in me that I need to control in order to live a healthy life. I realize now that you were too preoccupied in your own world to know that YouTube, Vine, and other popular websites give me access to images that stain my imagination. But I appeal to you now, please unplug me.
I know I will throw a fit. I’ll be angry. I’ll most certainly be bored. But let me be bored, it is a signal that my soul is starting to detox and my mind is plowing the soil to grow a healthy imagination. After awhile, I may go outside and discover things like sticks, rocks , and fish. Help me. Unplug me, the world will thank you.
Post Script: I have worked with boys and men now for over 20 years. The above post reflects my observations and objective research. I have watched the digital world shunt the best of our boys’ masculinity. In response, I have launched a ministry called the Joseph Center designed to train the next generation of godly men to be sons, leaders, lovers, protectors, and providers. I would also recommend the article below by a pediatric occupational therapist Chris Brown below.
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!