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“…It’s the getting up when we’re knocked down that’s important because people are too afraid of what ‘might’ happen when we get up.”
Good morning. That’s a quote from Jere Mills’ book, “Murder on Michigan Avenue,” where a character talks about heavyweight boxing champion, Floyd Patterson, being knocked down seven times, but gets up each time. Football Coach, Vince Lombardi tells us “Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” Let’s try this morning to catch excellence.
Esteemed guests, PTK members, parents, students, BFFs, ladies and gentlemen…I’m both appreciative and humbled to be here. You know sometimes when people ask you to speak; you wonder how hard it was to find someone. But when they ask you back? I felt like actress Sally Fields, “I’m so glad you like me!” Keep that in mind as I try my best to make you “like” me again!
Before I begin, I want you to do something. Look at the person next to you. Go ahead. Look them in the eye. Say good morning. Now…did you know that in the last year the person you’re looking at could have been arraigned as an accessory to murder? I mean it. Does that alarm you? I bet you don’t feel too comfortable about the person sitting next to you now, do you? By the way, the only thing I’ve had to drink this morning was coffee. Last night? Well…don’t ask and I won’t tell. But if you were texting while you were driving today, you could have been an accessory to murder. The Department of Transportation reports texting while driving is the fastest growing cause of fatalities in our country today. The bumper sticker, “Honk if you love Jesus, text if you want to see him,” is true. Phones are distracting. They cause deaths. So for right now, if you have your phones with you, please take them out. Turn them off. I wouldn’t want any fatalities until I’m done. Thank you.
I also want to thank you for being here. You’re here when you could be somewhere else, but chose to be at PTK’s Summer Institute. Probably because you heard I was speaking. No really, you are here because you care. You are here because God is not finished with you yet. There will be many times in your life when you’ll have opportunities to join a group, run a race, or excel in a class—make the decision that’s right for you. As a character in Chariots of Fire, one of my favorite movies said, “I won’t run if I can’t win.” His girlfriend tells him, “You can’t win, if you don’t run.” Many times to not choose “is” to choose. It is what it is! Being here today tells me you are in the race to win it. That’s boss!
Today, I’m going to talk about “The Culture of Competition,” specifically “Overcoming Self-doubt to Achieve Success.” That’s a tough nut to crack as they say. Every day we face doubt; ask ourselves are we good enough? Shall I get out of bed or not; take the hard class or not; give a speech or not. Self-doubt is daunting! It’s real, and I want you to know that you are more up to the challenge than I ever was. All my life I dreamed of getting a PhD. So when I failed my qualifying exams, I was crushed. I asked myself and others, “What if I’m not good enough?” But I overcame that self-doubt because people believed in me. I’m here to tell you—you have people who believe in you. I’m one of them. You’re my new BFF.
BFF. Best friends forever!!! I’m sure most of you have at least one. Well today I’m going to give you three more as I talk about three things concerning competition in today’s culture. First: Be the Best! Second: Fight with Fortitude! For the third, Find Good Friends, I’ll share a story. Hopefully these points resonate and can become your best friends forever. Then I’ll close by sharing something that will change your life.
BE THE BEST! To do that you must believe in yourself. Keep your dreams. My younger son is away in college. I hear from him periodically. Generally when he needs something. TRUST me, parents would like to hear from you other than those times when you consider dialing 911, you call them instead. PLEASE, establish a good pattern of calling home so when the phone rings parents don’t wonder “What do they want now?”
Anyway, I’ve made a habit to write my son a letter every week. I rarely email him, but I respond to his e-mails. I generally don’t text unless I want to have a record I told him something. Sound familiar parents? And by the way, what the heck is a ‘tweet?’ So I write him letters so he’ll have something of me when I’m gone. I call them ‘legacy letters.’ He rarely comments on them, but one day when he was home visiting, he told me he looked forward to them. So I write letters. Anyway, in one of the letters, I mentioned doing your best, so he emailed me back, “What if your best isn’t enough to be the best?” My son is a real competitor. Let me share a bit of what I said.
I asked him:
“Do you want to be the best—or just do your best?” There’s a difference and sometimes it takes years for people to understand that.
“….The most important thing [I told him] is to remember only you know if you have given your best. It’s a scary thing. Many people don’t want to try their hardest because they think if they don’t succeed at something; if they hold something back; they can always say I DIDN’T GIVE IT MY ALL…
But YOU know. You know when you’ve absolutely tried your best. You know when you’ve held something back. You also know when you have run as hard as you can; practiced as hard as you can, and then for some reason, didn’t measure up. If you’ve done all that, then you have no need to feel ashamed, that you’ve disappointed someone; or failed. Remember, you only fail if you don’t start again. There’ll always be someone better, quicker, or smarter. It’s inevitable.
Then I shared a story from my life. Parents like to do that.
“There is only one time I feel I reached this pinnacle of exertion. [I wrote]. It was…a race I ran in 1989. It was the 800 meters. I’d run the 1500 meters before and finished impressively, but didn’t win a medal. My colleagues who were competitors told me I was lazy and didn’t run as hard and as fast as I could have. So when I ran the 800 meters I ran harder and faster and kept pace with the leader. In the final stretch, the leader began to pull away…I let him. Then something clicked; less than a hundred yards from the finish line I made up…my mind I was going to go for it, in a ‘Rocky’ sort of way. I reached DEEP and ran like no tomorrow. People were jumping up in the audience as the guy who was ahead ‘picked up’ the pace. As I ran, it was with WILD abandon. I didn’t care about my lungs being on fire; how my form was. I didn’t care if I won or not, I just decided to push myself. It was a photo finish as we fell as we crossed the finish line together. Whether I won or not was not important…I knew that at least once I’d done my best and that was good enough.
I then wrote:
“If your best is not good enough for you, then you haven’t done your best. You know if you’ve cheated; could have trained harder, studied more...You have to be willing to give it all, and okay is not quite enough... you’ll…learn you can always do better, but some people just stop trying. No one can answer your question because this is your journey. No one else is privy to what you know. French priest Pierre de Chardin says “we are not human beings on a spiritual journey, but rather spiritual beings on a human journey.”
I closed my letter by reminding him
“There are more angels out here than you realize, and sometimes you have to look up to see them, or just ask around.”
That’s a lot to think about, right? YOLO!!! But as parents, we WANT YOU to succeed, and on the road you travel, you’re NOT alone though you might THINK so. Doubt can creep in as you chase the perfection Coach Lombardi talks about. My older son [who’s here today] once wrote, “The ability to create defines the ability to excel.” Today I’m telling you to dream! Don’t forget to do that.
As you dream…FIGHT WITH FORTITUDE. That’s my second point. Beyond all doubt, fight for those things you believe in. Fight for them with fortitude. Fortitude is defined as courage in pain or adversity. Many say adversity builds character. Ask any parent who refused to constantly subsidize the latest fad for their children. I keep telling our older son, it is my desire “to get you off my payroll.” Now there’s a reason for that remark he’s not supposed to know. The sooner he’s off my payroll, the sooner he can take care of dad. More importantly, the sooner dad knows he can take care of himself.
A good fight makes you grow up. Carl Bard says “Though no one can go back and make a brand new start … anyone can start from now and make a brand new end.” He’s talking to EACH of you. It’s never too late. I hate people who constantly tell me I didn’t do something right. Don’t let them kill your dreams! “Give faith a fighting chance!” Some of you will be tempted to cheat to get ahead; want to give up because you can’t find the job you were trained for; or won’t be able to win the attention of the love of your life, no matter how many roses you send or how many Facebook pokes you do.
It’s not going to happen. Grow up! Move on! And I don’t mean ‘hit it and quit it.’ You feel me?
You will encounter potholes in the road; just drive around them, and if you hit a few, they are there to build character. Learn to deal with them. No one’s perfect. Well, I was, until I got married. But dream!!! Never let anyone take your dreams from you. They die…you die. As we look at fighting self-doubt, Max Erhmann writes in a piece called Desiderata, “If you compare yourself with others you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.” Who you are is something you possess. One of the consequences of comparing is people get hung up on size. Size isn’t everything. There will always be someone who has a bigger house, a bigger car or a bigger … minds out the gutter guys; and you girls quit smiling. TAKE Romeo and Juliet for instance. They fought with fortitude. And what’s Romeo & Juliet about? I’ll tell you. It’s about two horny teenagers who want to hook up, whose parents can’t stand each other. Now please don’t go tell your English teacher some PhD told you that. But it’s the truth. Now what they did was stupid. Teenagers do stupid things. There was no Facebook for them to break up on. They made a horrible choice. You will have opportunities to make choices too, and saying WTF or WWJD isn’t the answer. I’ll tell you what Jesus would do. Jesus would tell you to get up off your lazy ass. Can I say that? I guess I did. My bad. But JC would tell you, He’s not going to do it all for you. If you’re LAZY…you’re going to get left behind. Hard work never hurt anyone. And fighting with fortitude for your convictions will carry you far! You get knocked down? GET UP!! Got it?? GOOD!!
Now I’ve addressed “being the best; fighting with fortitude, now my last point:
FIND GOOD FRIENDS: John Kuebler tells us, “show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.” My parents told us, “you are known by the company you keep.” My sister once told me, “If you sleep with dogs, you’re going to get fleas.” Friends are important. Friends define you. I told my older son “the hardest thing to learn in life is which bridge to cross and which to burn.” For you today, it might be which friend to keep, which to un-friend.
Now the story that exemplifies good friendship. Think who you might be in the story:
“One day, when I was a freshman in high school, I saw a kid from my class walking home from school. His name was Kyle. It looked like he was carrying all of his books. I thought to myself, ‘Why would anyone bring home all his books on a Friday? He must really be a nerd.’ I had quite a weekend planned (parties and a football game with my friends the next day), so I shrugged my shoulders and went on.
“As I was walking, I saw a bunch of kids running toward him. They ran at him, knocking all his books out of his arms and tripping him so he landed in the dirt. His glasses went flying. I saw them land in the grass about ten feet from him. He looked up and I saw this terrible sadness in his eyes. My heart went out to him. So, I jogged over to him. As he crawled around looking for his glasses I saw a tear in his eye.
“As I handed him his glasses, I said, ‘Those guys are jerks. They really should get lives.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Hey thanks!’ There was a big smile on his face. It was one of those smiles that showed real gratitude. I helped him pick up his books. Asked him where he lived. As it turned out, he lived near me, so I asked him why I had never seen him before. He said he had gone to a private school. I would never have hung out with a private school kid before. We talked all the way home, and I carried his books. He turned out to be a pretty cool kid. I asked him if he wanted to play football the next day with me and my friends. He said yes. We hung all weekend, and the more I got to know Kyle, the more I liked him. And my friends liked him too.
“Monday morning came and there was Kyle with the huge stack of books again. I stopped him and said, ‘Damn boy, you are gonna really build some serious muscles with this pile of books every day!’ He just laughed and handed me half the books. Over the next four years, Kyle and I became best friends. When we were seniors, we began to think about college. Kyle decided on Georgetown, and I was going to Duke. I knew we would always be friends, that the miles would never be a problem.
“Kyle was valedictorian of our class. I teased him all the time about being a nerd. He had to prepare a speech for graduation. I was so glad it wasn't me having to get up there and speak.
“Graduation day, I saw Kyle. He looked great. He was one of those guys that really found himself during high school. He filled out and actually looked good in glasses. He had more dates than me and all the girls loved him! Boy, sometimes I was jealous. Graduation was ‘not’ one of those days. I could see that he was nervous about his speech. So, I smacked him on the back and said, ‘Hey, big guy, you'll be great!’ He looked at me with one of those looks (the really grateful ones), smiled and said ‘Thanks.’
“As he started his speech, he cleared his throat, and began. ‘Graduation is a time to thank those who helped you make it through those tough years: your parents, your teachers, your siblings, maybe a coach...but mostly your friends. I am here to tell all of you that being a friend to someone is the best gift you can give them. I am going to tell you a story.’ I just looked at my friend with disbelief as he told the story of the first day we met. He had planned to kill himself over the weekend. He talked of how he had cleaned out his locker so his Mom wouldn't have to do it later. He LOOKED hard at me and gave me a little smile. ‘Thankfully, I was saved. My friend saved me from doing the unspeakable.’
“I heard the gasp go through the crowd as this handsome, popular boy told us all about his weakest moment. I saw his mom and dad looking at me and smiling that same grateful smile. Not until that moment did I realize its depth.” FIND GOOD FRIENDS!!
Life is short! Be careful! It’s much easier to keep a bridge than rebuild one you’ve torn down. Never underestimate the power of your actions. One small gesture can change a person's life. Don’t think you can’t…it could be as simple as dropping an extra nickel or quarter in a coke machine; telling a friend not to text while driving; or going to sit with someone at the dining hall so they’re not sitting alone. You can make a difference.
Remember "Friends are angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly."
Now to change your life…I’m a father. I have two sons. I consider myself a good dad because both my sons are still alive.
Remember I told you I was perfect until I got married? Well my wife was perfect until we had kids. Now remember this if you don’t remember anything else today—“Parents have a right to say no! You don’t have a right to ask why!” When you learn to respect their decisions, your gift will be—you’ll make better decisions when you have to make the big ones, particularly when your parents are gone. As parents, WE have to LEARN to let you go…so you will LEARN how to fly.
Well that’s it. I’ve shared my BFF about handling self-doubt: Be the best; Fight with fortitude; Find good friends.” I told you a story. I gave you a challenge I hope may change your life. Don’t be afraid of it. Trust yourself. Make a difference. Yours is a generation bound for greatness. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Keep your dreams! And as country singer Lee Ann Womack said, “Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance, and when you get the chance to sit out or dance, I hope you dance.”
And by the way…stop texting while you drive. I need you to pay taxes so I can get my social security check. Thank you.