Missing More than His Limbs

Note: It may be helpful to read my introduction to this series in order to have some context and understand my disclaimers. You can find that post here.

This video is loaded with good stuff — perspective, inspiration, personal challenge. Just from the perspective alone, the video is worth a watch. We often have opportunities to see things, hear stories, or meet people, and each helps us put things in perspective. That is one of the blatant and surface-level takeaways from this video, at least for me. Some people have it bad — really bad — and it helps me to remember how my circumstances stack up against those of others.

I live quite a life of opportunity, comfort, and privilege. This video reminds me of that, as I’m sure it does many others. In addition, it reminds me that some of those comforts and privileges have come from the sacrifice of others. I don’t take that lightly.

It’s important to note that the power of these stories lies in the stories themselves — and the people who get to tell them because of their own experience. One of the dangers of this video is that people watch it from a place of opportunity and privilege, feel the conviction and the inspiration, and then project it onto everyone else from their place of comfort. I’m not faulting Rowe for this, but the danger is there.

The power is in the story and the inspiration of seeing life lived out in a compelling way.

The danger is when we take that inspiration, turn it into a principle, and then expect everyone else to do the same. We cannot do that. Travis has his story: He is a human being with unbelievable complexity and nuance, personality, training, context, relationships, etc. Every human life is different, and every human story is valuable. The story is powerful when it is shared and used to start great internal and external conversations. The story is dangerous when it stops being a story and becomes an expectation projected onto everyone who struggles.

The projection is doubly dangerous when it is being projected by people who speak from places of comfort, power, influence, and privilege. We need to be aware of those things. I am purposely leaving out political buzzwords that will set off my audience, but I think we all need to be challenged (on all sides of our many debates and conversations) to think about where and how we project those things.

But I digress in a serious way, because after writing a whole post on the dangers of this video, I actually really enjoyed its conventional wisdom. The video ends with Rowe asking two questions.

“If [Travis] can get through the day without whining and complaining, why can’t I?”

This is the dynamite question we can all be challenged with. This is the question that inspires me and challenges me today.

His second question, appropriately qualified, is where it gets dangerous:

“With respect, why can’t anyone?”

May we be challenged to live with less whining and complaining. May we be resolute in our commitment to pursuing our day with a more positive attitude. But may we also ask that second question with much less assumption and more genuine intrigue. May our personal conviction lead to a better life (a “good eye” to call back to our previous discussion), and our intrigue lead us to more compassion and a less assumptive, less critical spirit.

And in this, may we find and help create a better world.


Cheerfulness Is a Choice

Note: It may be helpful to read my introduction to this series in order to have some context and understand my disclaimers. You can find that post here.

I’m not sure I would add much to this conversation at all. I will just say, “What Mike said!”

In all honesty, I feel like if I were to write a few paragraphs, I would be trying to manufacture some deep, profound thoughts pulled from the pool of post-conventional wisdom.

So I won’t! There it is. Cheerfulness is a choice. May we all be challenged by the application of this in our own lives.


No Substitute for Common Sense

Note: It may be helpful to read my introduction to this series in order to have some context and understand my disclaimers. You can find that post here.

“Guidelines are great, but they are no substitute for common sense.”

For me, this video was not the most inspiring in Rowe’s series, but the content is decent, and the point is well taken. Even though people tell you that your safety is their priority, it does not remove it from being your responsibility. I think this goes for a lot of other things as well, not just safety. People might say this about your education or your success — they would suggest it is their priority; however, that doesn’t mean it stops being your responsibility.

I like it. There won’t be a lot to say here. Pretty straightforward.

But one passing thought: Some of these same ideas are relevant in a culture that loves to blame others for our circumstances. We love to point fingers and talk about how our situation is brought about by our family, our employer, our government, our neighborhood, our school. We go on endless rants about how somebody else’s mistakes have created my mess.

And this may even be true some of the time.

And I’m definitely not suggesting accountability doesn’t matter or that we shouldn’t fight for justice. That is not my point at all, and anybody who knows me will know I am a big proponent of pursuing those things.

But there is a very significant line crossed when the objectivity of pursuing justice, mercy, and accountability becomes the subjectivity of blame.

People (especially leaders) should be held accountable for the worlds they create.

But we are responsible — solely — for how we respond to our circumstances. And I do get frustrated when people pick one of these sides and denounce the other. They are not mutually exclusive. I say that with all of the awareness of the comfort and privilege I bring to the conversation. As a white male, my list of circumstances working against me is horribly short. And yet, some of the people who have taught me the most about responsibility (especially in the last few years) have been people with much less privilege and comfort than I have.

So accountability does not remove responsibility. And responsibility does not remove the need for accountability. Can both of these statements be true? I certainly hope so.

What does this mean for you and your circumstances? It is not for me to say. I cannot understand what it is to walk in your shoes and I cannot apply wisdom in your life (only my own); but together, we learn from each other.


A (Potential) Bad Decision

Note: It may be helpful to read my introduction to this series in order to have some context and understand my disclaimers. You can find that post here.

This video is wonderfully straightforward. And while there are a couple of things I’m not necessarily interested in (the conspiracy theory mentality is just a little thick in this video, and the promotion for his foundation is beside the point for my purposes), I don’t think I would or could add much to his argument. As someone who is around universities and students for my job every day, I can tell you that this problem is real.

And that probably makes me a really bad campus minister.

But I don’t actually believe it does. I do think there needs to be a market adjustment on the industry of secondary education, but I don’t believe (nor does Mike Rowe) that the institution itself is broken. The university is still an essential place where many vocational pursuits receive specialized training necessary for a given job. I can hardly imagine a world without people trained in medical or legal fields. Engineering allows so much of our world to exist effectively and efficiently. And I need people trained in history, economics, political science, and the like to help lead us.

But what Rowe said in this video is so true. This is not how we’ve been selling university education.

When I was in high school (and I’m not aware of this changing much in recent years), the impression was that college is an absolute must if I want to be “successful” or even simply survive with a family in the future. I got lucky: I went to a very affordable Bible college and was able to, with the help of my family, escape without student loans. But this is becoming more and more of a miracle in today’s experience. And while undergraduate and graduate level training is actually quite effective and useful in many ways, it is not delivering what we were promised. It is developing us as human beings (at least in some ways), but it is not producing jobs.

It used to be true that if you went to college, you were almost guaranteed a starting position in your career field. That is no longer true. Such education used to be affordable; but as you saw depicted the video, this is no longer true. College is no longer (for many) the ticket it used to be, and it is no longer (for many) a wise investment. But we were all told that this is where the path to success starts. For far too many, it is no longer leading to the same destination.

I can tell you that classmates who did not go to college are a few steps ahead if they simply applied themselves and began a practice of hard work. To be sure, their earning potential is often much less than my college-trained counterparts, but the latter are so saddled with crippling debt and had such a slow start on their earning potential that they cannot round the curve.

Meanwhile, an entire generation has bought into a counter-productive narrative (when thinking of the Kingdom of God) that fills them with insecurity and leaves them empty of meaning.

It may be time we quit feeding the same trope of what leads to success and start teaching how to ask a better set of questions. To be sure, I hope our college campuses continue to be filled with people who are convinced of their calling and driven to be trained in their specialized field. I hope these students experience training that is more intentional and a job market that is more balanced with people who have a better understanding of what they do — but even more importantly, who they are.

If we are an organization that believes when we impact the U, we impact the world, then we have to take that logic out beyond the walls of the university campus. To be sure, tomorrow’s leaders are on our university campuses. But they can also be at our trade schools and our community colleges. They can be taking classes in the School of Life Experience. These people, with or without four-year degrees, will be tomorrow’s parents, artists, small business owners, and church leaders. We might even see a world where they can be our political leaders and representatives.

If all of this is possible without being enslaved to crippling debt, this world will be a better place. I hope for people to be found in our university classrooms, but I hope those rooms are filled with more and more of the right people. I hope those who have been fed a line will find the right place in a world that needs their leadership so badly — a place just as fulfilling and necessary.


Bringing the "Awesome" to Anything

Note: It may be helpful to read my introduction to this series in order to have some context and understand my disclaimers. You can find that post here.

In this conversation, Mike Rowe speaks against this common idea of “following your passion.” I think Mike might say this idea falls squarely in the realm of the less mature, pre-conventional wisdom. He suggests passion is not something you follow, but instead something you bring with you.

One of the things we are intentionally working on at Impact Campus Ministries is the art of sacred vocation. We have a fundamental belief that all work is holy and sacred. There is a sanctity to a vocation that is often overlooked. Why is vocation holy and sacred? Because vocation is, in its essence, about the proper ordering and stewarding of God’s creation. For centuries, Christian theology has unintentionally (I hope) pulled apart soil and spirit, giving the impression that the “Kingdom work” is done by clergy and missionaries, while the rest of the parishioners essentially make money to help the real work happen. They rub shoulders with the unsaved at their places of employment. They bring the money and “the lost” to the conversation and the holy folks do the spiritual work.

But this is not grounded in good theology. God is putting the whole world back together, bringing shalom to the physical chaos of creation. What this means is that the real work is done by those people who have their hands in the soil (literally or otherwise). It is the job of the clergy to help others see why their work matters. The non-clergy folks are actually engaging in the ends and not the means to that end. It’s all holy and spiritual work, but the clergy are engaging in the means to the Kingdom end — we usually have it backward!

This is so important in the conversation Rowe begins above, and yet one of the hardest ideas to grasp is where the passion lies. For many, the conversation about sacred vocation revolves around the idea that they must find the perfect vocation where their true passion lies.

But as Rowe points out, this is backward thinking.

Passion does not lie in the content of the vocation; passion describes the way we engage vocation in the first place. I think some of us go through life looking for the thing in our future that will give us passion when that passion is already within us and would transform the way we engage with our present.

One of the values at ICM is passion. We use this word to talk about the energy we bring to our pursuit of God. In this case, it is fitting that Rowe’s point is we bring passion to our work. In the same way passion describes the energy we bring to our pursuit of God, passion also describes the energy we bring to our vocation.

We have all met people who remind us of Les (from Mike’s video). They aren’t driven by their circumstances but bring a passion that affects the circumstances around them. It might be a grocer who always makes you feel better by the time you are checked out. I once heard a speaker talk about the parking lot attendant at a local establishment; living in a major urban city, he will drive past two other stores of the same franchise just to interact with this parking lot attendant. Why? Because they bring passion to their job, and their job becomes a sacred kind of “holy.”

Some of these people have jobs that would impress us — jobs of influence and intense specialization and high salaries.

And yet, some of these people work incredibly menial jobs and have a similar impact on the world around them.

It is true we have been created with certain gifts and are wired to be good at particular things. It is true some jobs align with those gifts better than others and that some situations are suffocating and stifling the life that burns within us. But we are not created for a particular career. We are created to be a particular kind of person. Our careers are simply the place where we can let those things grow.


No Such Thing as a Bad Job

Note: It may be helpful to read my introduction to this series in order to have some context and understand my disclaimers. You can find that post here.

This is a great conversation to follow our last post where we talked some about persevering in the face of rejection. In this video, Rowe shares more stories about his youth and what he learned about work. His point in this video is that every job is an opportunity to be shaped and to learn. This is good wisdom, rarely spoken of or promoted as worthwhile.

And yet, I know many of my students would struggle with exactly how to apply this truth. Do you just say yes to every opportunity that comes your way? Usually not. Especially as life begins to progress and take off, you will be given more and more opportunities; and in fact, saying no to things will be the bigger challenge. There are some chapters in life where you are not given multiple opportunities. You feel like you aren’t being given any shots, and you take the first thing that comes along. Yes, this happens as well. Life is full of complexity and just about every experience you can imagine. We aren’t talking about formulas, but general principles and conventional wisdom.

What do you do when you graduate with your degree, and you are looking for that career? I know many, many students who are paralyzed by the fear of screwing their life up at that moment. Young adults at this age are crippled by the choices, often believing if they make the wrong decision in these moments, they will drastically change the trajectory of their life.

This may be true. But that is what life is about, and you have no other options — except, of course, to do nothing.

We do the best with what we have; we make the best decisions we can. What I see most of my students doing is trying to remove all uncertainty from the equation before they move forward. This is foolishness — the opposite of wisdom. All of life is a calculation of high/low risk, high/low reward situations. You make the best choices you can with the best conventional wisdom you can muster. You make the decision, and you move forward.

As much as I might have tried to convince myself otherwise, I have never made a life decision with a complete absence of uncertainty. There is always the unknown. Sometimes I have made decisions where I felt 90% confident (and I’ve been wrong about some of those, by the way). I often make decisions about things that I feel 75% sure about. And sometimes life has thrown me situations where I needed to make a decision immediately, or in the near future, and I made decisions I felt only 50.1% sure about (in non-mathematical terms, an “I have no idea, but I’m just barely leaning this way” decision). This is a part of life and a part of moving forward. It is necessary.

We will make mistakes; we will judge things wrongly. We will make honest mistakes, and we will make mistakes where we certainly knew better and chose wrongly anyway. This is all a part of life.

And every chapter we walk into will provide us with an opportunity to learn and be shaped by our circumstances. The moment after we make these decisions, it is no longer about the decision, but about the way we respond to the circumstances. What we learn, what we take with us, the way we will be different because of this chapter. These are the things that matter.

So press on and make decisions. Know that you will probably have to do things you hate and go through periods where you don't have “the right fit” and struggle to find yourself. This is a normal part of the human experience in the modern world. Resist the existential crisis and push on to the good stuff that will go with you into the “next.”


[Maybe] The Best Thing to Ever Happen to You

Note: It may be helpful to read my introduction to this series in order to have some context and understand my disclaimers. You can find that post here.

Rowe took time in this video to share multiple stories of rejection he experienced on the path to his own calling. While I’m not a major fan of the phrase “pursuit of happiness,” I really did appreciate his overall point. But I would like to add something I don’t feel he touched on.

Throughout his story, the obtrusive question I kept thinking about was, “Why did he keep going down this path?” I do not ask that question with an assumption of the negative (“He should have tried something else!”), but rather an assumption of the positive (“Why was he driven to persevere?”).  The fact of the matter is that Rowe would have never learned this great life lesson to share with the rest of us if he had not kept going back, again and again. But because he did, he learned a very important lesson about rejection.

I believe some people have an internal awareness of the thing they are made to do. There is this inner voice that tells them they exist to be a part of some idea or create a certain experience. Because of this, they keep getting up and walking down the same road. I do not want to give the impression that I understand the psychology behind this reality; certainly, insecurity rears its ugly head in many different ways for so many of us.

I do know what I have experienced with my students, though. Many of them are very quick to question what we are doing and who we are becoming. Many of us see obstacles and frustrations as signs that we’re not made to do “this” and we change our track. I often feel like every time we do this, we begin to suffer an increasing lack of resilience and rising levels of doubt about ourselves.

This is not to say that obstacles and pushback are not powerful tools to help us make decisions and find the best fit in life, but I want to recognize that there is a tacit awareness, a resonance of the soul, a leading of the Spirit, that wants to guide us to who we are becoming. When we find that thing, we need to run down that path with a resilient commitment to the calling. We need to trust that calling and learn from our mistakes — which is another thing I feel like Rowe didn’t address. He probably learned a great many things from those experiences of rejection. Still, we push on, knowing that if we keep pushing toward the good, we will experience hardship and rejection. And yet, through it all, the relentless pursuit of our calling might just lead us to a place better than we could ever hope or imagine.