Link to podcast episode: EL 44: The 3 Most Important Decisions in Life
Welcome to the show leaders. Recently my oldest son, JJ graduated from high school and I was asked to give a short commencement address at his graduation ceremony. And there were two things that was about that was challenging. Number one, its graduation and you want to say something that is going to have a lifelong impact. Of all the things you can tell the graduates and the audience about, what is really the most important thing you will say at that moment of time?
The second thing that was challenging is keeping it short. You got all this important stuff to talk about. You obviously want to keep it short because there is already a ceremony that people are sitting through. So you don’t have a whole lot of their attention, they are not there to see a speech. They are there to participate in graduation and get on to the graduation party and so forth. So when I boil everything down to what I thought was the most important thing for my oldest child to know or think about that moment of life I realize it wasn’t just of importance to him, it really was important to me and to anyone who was listening. So I like to briefly share with you what I shared that day. You may find it helpful in your life or you may have some young people you want to share some of these ideals with.
JJ has a best friend name Justin. And one of the ways they have fun together is to take Justin‘s jeep off roading and trail riding. They leave Justin’s house and they drive down the real roads to a place where they go off road. And at that point they have almost unlimited choice of direction for where they want to go. It reminds me of when I graduated from high school and left my home and family and went Xavier University in Cincinnati. There I had almost unlimited choices in front of me; especially regarding what I wanted to be.
I’m just not talking about whether I wanted to be a doctor, lawyer or a candle stick maker. I am talking about more important choices and, in particular, three stories come to mind.
The first involves what I chose to do about God or just my faith in general. From my earliest memories, my parents and grandparents told me stories about a God who created Adam and Eve. And let them name the animals and tend the gardens. They told me stories about a man who walked on water and then involved a young boy in a miracle whom fed five thousand people. They told me stories about a God who cared about what was on our heart and minds and listens to our prayers and answer them.
When I went off to school and was on my own I no longer had someone who was requiring me to believe in these stories, or to go to church or to pray or have any type of faith or spiritual life at all. At that moment it was completely my choice to continue to believe in those stories or go listen to different stories; whether to continue to participate in any kind of faith life what so ever. And so I think it’s important to not just go along with whatever the crowd is doing whether that crowd is meaning your parents and just blinding following what they are say, or the crowds that you are going to experience out in the world.
At college, most students never give any of that religious life another thought. That kind of spiritual relationship gets to be, for most people, less important and so it just drops off their radar screen. And I think that is an important choice to make intentionally as opposed to accidentally.
The second story that comes to mind has to do with attitude. One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from Charles Trandahl who says “Life is 10% of what happens to us and 90% how we choose to respond to it”. To me, the person in my life who taught me that principle before I ever heard that quote was my grandmother, Jackie Russo Warner.
Jackie was very young in her mid 40’s when her husband, my grandfather, died. The two of them together were running a picture frame business. Not long after he died she realized that kind of Mom and Pop Shop really required both of them working at it full-time to make a living and she was just not going to be able to handle it on her own and the income was not going to be enough. In addition to that business she started up a second business doing real estate; which she did in the evenings and weekend primarily.
So not only did she have this huge sad event in her life; this tragic event where the love of life, long time husband; major part of her identity was gone, she had this major financial issue to deal with. Now anybody whose knows Jackie will tell you that she is one of the most positive, proactive people you will ever meet; as well as one of the most generous and selfless. She is always paying attention to who’s around her and what they need. And she demonstrates that from my earliest memories which were really around the time my grandfather died. I think that is a conscious choice to manage your attitude; to choose to respond to life proactively as opposed to just letting it happen to us. Life is 10% what happen to us and 90% how we respond to it.
And the third most important decision that comes to mind is about who to marry. I quickly made that decision after graduating from high school. I have already been dating Erin, who of course did become my wife. You know in high school as well as in college, there were lots of girls who were pretty and lots who were smart. There were plenty to choose from. Erin was both pretty and smart but she had also a spark to her and she had a depth to her that was even more attractive to me.
Furthermore, as I got to know her, I realized her values were a good fit to mine. Her attitude was a good fit mine and the way she handled relationships and her spiritual life was all a good fit to mine. And she had talents and passions and a creativity that were basically a source of ongoing spark and ongoing engagement with me. Here we are almost 20 years later where we still have wonderful time together; great fun. We always have lots of activity going on and always have lots of things to look forward to.
Was this a rational decision that I sat down and really thought through with pros and cons and evaluating Erin against others? No, but it was proactive. It basically went like this: I would go on a date with Erin before we were going steady. And I would think, “Man she is something else, I really probably should go steady with her”. But I have had steady girlfriends and was really kind tired of being tied to a single person, having all my time consumed with one person, and I just didn’t want to be that serious so fast. And I just wanted to date around and have little more easy going time of life.
But I would go on a date with another girl and I would think “Yep she’s pretty good, that was fun and I really should date around. Then I would go back on a date with Erin and I’d say “Why am I wasting my time with anyone else? I would go on a date with another girl and think “Oh no, this is really fun dating around. I like this.” But I did eventually notice that the difference was not choosing between Erin and another girl, it was always just between Erin obviously being somebody really significant and a great fit for me versus just dating around.
And when I really stopped and thought about it, that had to do with things that were optimally important to me on a deeper level to me than just good looks or brains. Erin had all of that and a lot more. And so I did; I do think I made that decision about who to marry proactively. I didn’t just sort of fall into because, hey, here is someone is just interested in me at this point in life.
So JJ and other students who are graduating this summer are approaching a moment when they can be whoever they want to be. JJ is driving in the jeep tour of cross road and he can turn right or left on a road. Or he can leave the road entirely and go off roading in every direction. And I hope that today, graduates; including my own son; will have a lot of fun as they do their own exploring.
But I encourage them to be intentional about it. I hope y’all think about the “me” you want to be. I hope you make these three choices intentionally. Because these are going to affect you probably the rest of your life. What are you going to do about God and what about whatever faith tradition that you learned from parents and others people in your life? What attitude are you going to cultivate and who are you going to marry? And of course, today graduates and all of us, just don’t make these choices one time. We make these same choices every day of our lives.
Will I make it a priority to nurture my relationship with God? Will I choose to manage my attitude? Will I choose to stay married and invest in my spouse even if I go through a period of time where it feels like she doesn’t love me anymore? So that, plus a little bit of mushy stuff at the end, is what I felt was most important to tell my son at this moment of life. And I realized it probably has a lot of applicable ability to the rest of us throughout our lives. I’d be interested to know what you leaders think would be the most important thing to you can say if you have five or ten minutes to share for examples at the graduations of some important young person in your life.
Link to podcast episode: EL 44: The 3 Most Important Decisions in Life