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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Winning Isn't Everything

I played my first tee ball game when I was six years old. To this day, I can still distinctly remember the yellow jerseys we wore that sported the name Lions Club of West Carrollton. I don’t remember anything about what happened in the game, except that the other team scored more runs than us.

As my dad started our four-door sedan and began to pull out of the parking lot, he asked me a simple question: Did you have fun? Etched somewhere deep in the fabric of my DNA was a strong desire to win. I was extremely attuned to the strong emotional correlation between winning and having fun. So in my six-year-old mind, I thought my dad was asking me a stupid question. We lost; of course I didn’t have fun. It wasn’t until many years later that I began to understand the profoundness of his question.

The Desire to Win

We’ve all encountered people who can turn seemingly everything into a competition. They turn eating into a competition. They turn working out into a competition. They turn work projects into a competition. They even turn going to the bathroom into a competition. And the rules of the game always seem to change in order for that person to win.

I hate to admit it, but for a long time, I was one of those people. I took everything, including all the simple, noncompetitive tasks of life, and turned them into competitions. Competition can be a healthy thing. It can motivate us to step up our game and prove to both others and ourselves that we’re capable of performing at a higher level. But competition, and specifically the desire to win at all costs, can be extremely destructive to both us and our relationships. This was the place I found myself.

After getting my first taste of what it felt like to win, I eagerly awaited the next competition, and the one after that, and the one after that. I became so enamored with the feeling I got from winning that I turned everything in my life into a competition so that I could experience that feeling again and again. I competed with my friends and family to see who could eat the most food at the all-you-can-eat buffets. I competed with my sister for my parents' attention. I competed with my classmates for the best grades. I competed with my little league baseball teammates for the best batting average. I needed competition because I needed to win.

In the midst of my hard-core competitiveness, I only recently realized the depth of the negative impacts it has had on my relationships. Let me put it this way: there’s a reason I’ve never won a sportsmanship award. When I used to engage in competition with someone, even if it was my best friend, I’d villainize the person for the duration of the competition. Growing up, I had a friend down the street who was about my same age and both of us were uber-competitive. When we competed against each other, which was every time we hung out, we were bitter enemies. In the same way, when Amy and I first started dating, we became bitter enemies when we competed against each other. Both of us wanted to win so bad that we’d turn everything into a competition and then fight about which one of us was the winner.

I’m not proud to admit that this was how I behaved for most of my life. And I wish I could go back in time and change the way I treated the people around me because I’m certain I hurt a lot of them in the process of trying to win.

The Mystery Revealed

A few years ago, the mystery behind my strong desire to win began to unravel. Up until that point, I’d never really contemplated the mystery behind why winning felt great; I just knew it did. But through a number of fiery trials that took place in my life, I began to gain some insight into my perpetual struggles.

Although none of us want to admit it, you, me, and everyone else struggle with massive amounts of insecurity. We all seem to wrestle with a very simple, yet defining question: Are we good enough? This question gets asked in a million different ways, but the same basic question remains at the center. Are we good enough to earn acceptance?

It’s no coincidence that we experience a close correlation between winning and being accepted. Think about an athletic event. When the home team wins, the fans cheer. When the home team loses, the fans boo. Do you see the natural correlations our minds draw from these experiences? Since we associate applause with acceptance and booing with rejection, when we win, we think people will accept us. When we lose, we think people will reject us. As someone who deeply desires to be accepted and having, from a young age, correlated winning with acceptance, I wanted to be a winner.

My life could’ve continued exactly the way it had for many years. But God, out of not only knowing what’s best for me but also acting upon it as any good parent would, decided to show me the immeasurable greatness and worth of his acceptance of me. He did two things.

First, God starved my winning idol. At the time, I didn’t understand what was happening. I was continuing to hone my skills in order to win more, but instead of winning more, I was winning less. It seemed completely counter-intuitive. If I was dealing with random chance, then I’m certain the results would’ve been as expected. But I’m not dealing with random chance; I’m dealing with the God who spoke the universe into existence. If he can part the waters of the Red Sea, cause a shepherd boy to slay a giant, and shut the mouths of hungry lions, certainly he can also cause me to lose more even though my skills have become more developed.

And second, God showed me an overwhelming glimpse of the unconditional love he has for me, a love which I not only read about in a book, but one which I personally experience every single day. He doesn’t work the way most people work. God’s love isn’t contingent upon my ability to perform a certain way. He has decided to love me and his decision is final; it will never change based on what I do. At the same time, as a good father, he isn’t content to leave me where I am. He wants me to have the best. And because he wants me to have the best, he’s starving my winning idol. I wait in eager anticipation of the day when that idol is completely removed from my life.

In the meantime, although God is not yet complete with his transforming work in my life, I’m amazed and excited about the difference that his work has made in my life. It’s so freeing to wake up every morning and not see everything I do as a competition. It’s so relieving that Amy and I have stopped fighting about everything we treated as a competition. And it’s so refreshing to realize that I have a Father who loves me no matter what.

Final Thoughts

When I think back to the question my dad asked me twenty-five years ago, I realize that maybe his question wasn’t so stupid after all. Maybe he was trying to teach me that winning isn’t everything. And more importantly, maybe he was trying to teach me that he loved me unconditionally, regardless of whether I was a winner or a loser.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Sand Castles

Shortly after Christmas, Amy and I packed our bags and hopped on a plane for Florida to spend some time with her family. I have to say, Florida is pretty nice this time of year. I got to wear shorts and a t-shirt every day, sit by the pool, play tennis and basketball, and go to the beach.

During one of our beach excursions, I found myself watching our nephews try to construct a primitive sand castle right along the shore line. Having learned from previous sand castle building experiences, our eight year old nephew decided to add an extra-large wall on the ocean side of his sand castle to prevent the waves from overtaking it. However, as the afternoon waned on and the tide continued coming in, I watched as it beat and battered his extra-large walls, slowly tearing them apart and washing them out to sea. By the time we packed up to head out that afternoon, there wasn’t even a small trace of his sand castle remaining. It was as though his castle had never existed.

On the way home, I got to thinking about how similar my nephew’s sand castle building experience is to our own personal achievements. Many of us spend our entire lives building a sand castle that gets beat and battered by the storms of life, and within a couple hundred years of us passing away, there’s not even a trace that our sand castles ever existed.

When I look at my own life and all the stuff I’ve spent my time working on, I’ve seen the same thing happen to quite a bit of it. Most of what I’ve accomplished no longer exists. For example, in previous jobs, I spent hours developing numerous processes and procedural documents to help the projects I’ve been working on to succeed. When I moved on from those jobs, I passed my processes and procedures along to others so that they could continue to implement them, but I highly doubt any of them are still being used.

As another example, when I was on staff at Apex Church in Marion, Ohio, we spent lots of hours and lots of money trying to open up another campus in Findlay. Then the building caught on fire and was eventually torn down. A few months later, the congregation in Marion decided to move buildings, so I designed and led the effort to move our worship space to a different building. Five years later, the church now meets in yet a different building and our former worship space has been transformed into a barber shop. You’d never even know those buildings had at one point been set up as houses of worship.

On the other hand, there are a number of projects I worked on that still exist today such as Tiffany’s and the Lego store at Easton Town Center, the Wexner Medical Center at OSU, and my various tank farm projects at Marathon. But in fifty, a hundred, or two hundred years, I wonder how many of those projects will still exist. Will there be even a trace that any of these places ever existed?

At first, this realization may sound depressing. After all, who wants to spend their entire life building a sand castle that’ll get washed away when the tide rolls in? I have to admit that it’s kind of discouraging to think about these projects disappearing after all the sacrifices I made in order to accomplish them. But I’ve recently had a mindset shift which allows me to see my story differently. I don’t think my time spent on these projects was in the least bit worthless. After all, my work on these projects drew me closer to God, gave me lots of great learning experiences, and enabled me to build relationships with numerous people that I wouldn’t have otherwise met.

Later that evening, I couldn’t help but think about all the projects I’m currently undertaking and recognize that one day all of them will also disappear. In that moment, I found myself being challenged to consider whether I’m currently spending my money, time, and energy building worthwhile sand castles, or whether I’m spending my most valuable resources building worthless sand castles.

I want to challenge you to pause briefly to think about your life. If you knew that all the things you’ve accomplished and all the projects you’re currently working on will one day disappear, would you still continue doing the things you’re doing? Would you continue to build your sand castles, knowing that even though you may build extra thick walls, the waves are still going to beat and batter them until there’s nothing left? Or would you choose to build a different sand castle, one which is still going to get beat and battered by the waves, but which is going to add so much value to your life and the lives of those around you in intangible ways that it’s worth spending the time to build?