Get Up

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 final video where Rowe closes up the S.W.E.A.T. Pledge, I find what is maybe the most important of all the principles. It will make or break all of the others we have examined in this miniseries.

Most people (but not all) will be able to “show up” for life to do what is necessary. But there is an intangible quality to the fact that a much smaller group demonstrate an internal fire and personal commitment to “get up” long before what is necessary and do what it takes to be excellent.

Angela Duckworth calls it “grit” in her well-known TED Talk.

And Rowe is right. This commitment is about choices.

It is not about talent; it takes no talent to get up earlier and work harder than anybody else. It is not about education; you cannot teach this to others in a lecture hall. It is not something that can be medicated or consumed as a product.

This commitment is an internal commitment to be a part of something (to use the cliche) “bigger than yourself.” For many from the secular perspective, they find this fire by being internally committed to themselves. Others find this in their commitment to the larger team, community, or group of “others.” I am assuming that for some, this internal fire is even dysfunctionally fueled by guilt, insecurity, and fear.

Appropriately placed (in my mind), this fire comes from a deep and abiding belief in what is most true about the world: a belief that God is putting the world back together, that this project is deeply meaningful to lots of other people and a planet that suffers from all kinds of brokenness. It is a belief that God is looking for partners and an unbelievable gratitude that we get the opportunity to be a part of these restoration efforts.

We have the opportunity to get up every day and be a part of what the Jews call tikkun olam, or “the repairing of the world.” If this opportunity doesn’t inspire us to be deeply committed to personal growth and hard work — not for ourselves and our own Towers of Babel, but for the wholeness of the universe — then I don’t know what will.

But getting up and working hard is the piece we can control that has the ability, when used by God, to turn morsels into miracles. When neglected, it is also the thing that has killed more potential than any other problem we have ever encountered.

Of all the principles we looked at in this series, if there is one thing I could magically give to each of my students, it would be this principle of hard work and dedication combined with a healthy understanding of identity and a true rest of the Spirit that comes from knowing we are loved as we are. It should be a beautiful mixture of work and rest — work finding its appropriate place, and a healthy human being at rest in the love, value, and acceptance of God.

And the bummer is that you cannot manufacture this in a blog post any more than you can in a classroom.

But the combination of those two realities can change a world — your world. And when enough of our worlds are changed, it helps us be a part of changing the big one. This is why I work with college students: I have a deep, abiding belief that if you can mentor this in enough students, you can change the course of history. If you Impact the U, you Impact the World.


Life Is Not Fair

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 video, Mike Rowe talks about a principle we toss around with frequency — particularly when it is convenient (in realms like parenting or mentoring) — but rarely do we ever take the time to consider how profound and difficult the truth of the statement is.

Life is not fair.

Rowe uses the example of a job he had earlier in his life and a generous holiday bonus he received with great joy — until he found out a coworker had received more than him. Rowe goes on to simply observe and accept the very honest reality that life is full of these moments and circumstances. I really appreciated that he did not spend any time trying to explain the details of “what could be going on” or why we may or may not be “seeing it correctly.” Instead, he simply stated it and accepted it as a common life experience: life is not fair. Life will be full of moments just like this one. Rowe spent no time trying to blame the bosses or talk about what is wrong with the culture of his former workplace.

Nope, this is going to happen in life. A lot. We can either accept it as a common experience or fight it (to no avail, I might add) at every turn.

And he rightly pointed out the two things I think are important about remembering how to respond to life’s unfair moments: circumstance and control.

First there is circumstance. Life happens. Each day you wake up, and life hands you your pieces of the puzzle. All you have to work with are the pieces of the puzzle you are handed that day. They might be more than what you need, and they might be wrong in every way. You might not have the right puzzle pieces, or the picture on the lid may be inaccurate. You might not have enough to finish the job. Whatever it is, each day presents you with another piece to play in the puzzle of your life.

So when that piece is lousy, what do you do? When the circumstances are off, and life is unfair, how do you respond? Do you jump on Facebook and rant about how things aren’t turning out in your favor? Do you blame others for the plot you find yourself in?

You certainly could. Of course, it just doesn’t make a difference with those puzzle pieces. It doesn’t change the circumstances. And if it does anything, it changes you from the inside — and not for the better.

But then there is control. There are things we can control. We can control our choices, and we can control what we are going to do with the mess that lies in front of us. No matter who is to blame, no matter how hopeless, and no matter how unfair, there is only one direction we can head: forward. We pick up the pieces, and we do the best we can with what we have. We do not concern ourselves with how our table of puzzle pieces compares to our neighbor’s. We simply do the next right thing with what we have to work with.

And as I have added throughout this series, this does not mean we cannot address injustice and that there aren’t proper ways to address things in life that are wrong. This is about being crippled by the idea that you are entitled to a different situation just because somebody else experienced something different.

And I won’t be taking the time to write some cheap blog post about this or that group and their “participation trophies” or their generational entitlement; those are easy straw man arguments to make, and the thick irony is that those who make them miss the very principle we are espousing here.

It is your path. Be grateful for what is on your path. Be grateful for the opportunity to walk your path and to make something of the hand you have been dealt. And do not calculate the value of your path by comparing it to your neighbor’s.

And as for your neighbor’s path? Be grateful for that, too. Cheer for their success and celebrate their victories. For their path will have its own turns and disasters — and we all need cheerleaders. And the negative internal change we spoke of above? It can be reversed by celebrating the success of others. Gratitude begets more gratitude.

No matter what life throws us today, let’s crack our knuckles and be glad to tackle it the best we can.


Choices v. Circumstances

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 was short and to the point. To be honest, I was so refreshingly surprised by Rowe’s proposition in this video, and I couldn’t agree more. Some people make horrible mistakes. I am a person who believes in second chances, and so do most of my readers. When people make mistakes and then respond to those mistakes appropriately, they should be given the opportunity to keep building on that positive momentum. Some of the greatest contributions to this world will come because of some of our worst errors.

What I love about what Rowe did here was that he did more than just agree to an idea. He didn’t just nod his head and decide not to get in the way of someone’s rehabilitation; he actually put his foundation out there to help the person be successful.

To be honest, if any of us are going to rebuild from our major mistakes, we are going to need more than just the tacit agreement of our right to do so. We are going to need proactive and compassionate help from others investing in our success. 

The math doesn’t seem to work right. You take one negative (a person’s mistake) and add it to another negative (some other person’s sacrificial investment), and it seems like you should be losing ground and ringing up negative growth. And yet, the Kingdom economy doesn't work that way. It takes those two negative variables and turns it, somehow, into positive growth — often exponential in nature.

Is it possible we somehow end up even better by responding to mistakes properly than if we would have done it by the book in the first place? I think it is.

I know this series is supposed to be about conventional wisdom, but sometimes that wisdom takes us right into discovering some post-conventional truths, as well.


Education is Already Free

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 one of my favorite videos of the SWEAT pledge. Mike Rowe tells a great personal story about his time on QVC and uses it to make a great point. In his experience, he needed education; he realized education could be found anywhere, and it was his responsibility to get it.

To be clear, I love this video for purely selfish reasons. I have built most of my career on the premise of this particular conventional wisdom. To be fair, I did go to college and complete my undergraduate education, but I did it at an institution that was unbelievably affordable and not academically impressive. None of this, however, impacted the quality of education I was responsible for getting on my own.

I was able to study as hard as I wanted to study and access information from any field I so desired. My education was totally in my control, and my academic institution simply provided me with parameters for focusing that energy and proof of the work that I put in.

After graduation, I was able to use those tools to know how to study well. Not all information is good, academically vetted, or even scientific at all (when applicable), but college gave me the ability to know how to find resources and tools to educate myself.

After college I did not pursue graduate-level study, and to this day have no plans to do so. But I think it would be safe to say I have done far more education since I graduated from college than during my studies as an undergrad. There are some drawbacks: I don’t have letters after my name or degrees to prove the work I have done; I have had to exercise quite a bit of autonomy to accomplish all of this and doing so kept me from increased academic relationships and accountability, and my vocational career does not benefit from the academic network provided by a graduate-level education.

But I have been educated and seek to connect more and more of my students to the proper systems — oftentimes those are universities (sorry, Mike!) — and counsel them in pursuing their own goals. I have become an educated teacher and individual who can quote sources (not opinions) and talk about the larger academic conversations that drive my conclusions. I am not speaking of “rogue science” or self-published authors spouting nonsense. The same study from those fine institutions is available to me as a learner. Although the quality of this education is proportional to the money spent, and the oversight is minimal, the opportunity is still mine to seize.

But these goals are available to all of us. College students and high school dropouts, churches and think tanks, businesses and non-profits — we all have the opportunity to use the resources at our disposal to become better at everything we do. There is nobody who can keep us from this task. Some of us enjoy more opportunities and privilege than others, but all of us can work to become better versions of ourselves. It would also be wise to remember something Rowe hinted at in his video: there are many times when we are each other’s best resource. “Education” is not owned by an elite group of people or a system of institutions; it is a process we can all engage in, and the more we do so together, the better it will be.

It seems to me Jesus told a parable about people who were each given different amounts to invest in his Kingdom project (see Matthew 24:14–30). Some were given more than others, but all were expected to take what they had been given and use it to invest in more. Only the one who took the amount and buried it, refusing to do any more than keeping what was handed to him, was scolded.

May we hear the wisdom in this teaching and know we are invited to invest our blessings. May we remember much of this world’s education is already free, and it is our responsibility to pursue that learning.


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.