Before any game, the wise coach and team spend hours practicing and mastering the basics, watching the game films of the other opponent, and adding to the fundamentals, a next level strategy that will make the difference in winning and losing. After writing the first article in this series, Keeping Score, I realized that before there is ever a start to the game, there is the time to get ready, to prepare, to look at your opponent and yourself. Great leaders understand they are not necessarily the smartest person on the team. They strive to surround themselves with excellent team members that not only compliment your good traits but also compensate for areas that you find yourself less than perfect. A synergy where the results far outdistance the sum of the parts because each member of your team is totally committed to a common cause.
This article will deviate a bit from drilling down to a deeper level of dentistry. Instead, I would like to share a personal letter I wrote three days ago for my grandson’s 13th birthday. His father is a lead pastor in a church, his mom, my daughter, is an attorney, and he is the middle child of three. I was asked to write a short note to him, along with about 10 others, to encourage him at this time in his life. What follows is some advice (it ended up being 3 pages instead of a simple paragraph) I never got from my parents or a mentor. I hope you take the time to read this from an old dentist who is very close to his “use-before date”. It is advice that I would give any person I loved on how to approach the game of life and how to keep score before the game really starts.
I am honored to write this letter on your thirteenth birthday. I know you will have many men quote scripture verses and tell you how important your Christian walk is, but I want to do something a little different. My Dad never took the time to give me any advice about life. My hope is that with time, you will reflect on what is written here, not just as a 13-year-old, but as a young adult and for the rest of your life. You are fortunate to have parents who model how a women and man should live their lives. You have had a great example of how a man should treat the women he loves. You have had the rare experience of growing up in a Christian family and attending a Christian school. What is commonplace for you, is rare in the world we live in. You have had an incredible head start on your faith walk and a strong Christian life.
With that said, you will face times when things don’t go your way. There will be times of disappointment and seasons of joy. At your age, you will find that changes will occur quickly, and you need to know that your faith and family will always be there to help you. I am excited for you and the future God has for you.
I wanted to give you a few quotes that have meant a lot to me when I have faced challenges. They have helped, along with God, to light my path and my life.
You have a “born-on date” (happy birthday) and a “use-before date” (when God takes you home). If you think about it, every tomb stone has those two dates separated by a “dash”. Born: August 19th, 2010 – Died??? Being a lot closer to my use-before date than my born-on date, I have noticed that during a funeral, no one really cares about your birthdate or when you died, but they do remember how you lived. That “dash” is an important thing in your life. You will be tested, knocked down, lifted up, given opportunities and challenges. That story about your dash, is what is important. The legacy that you leave will affect everyone you contact in your life. They call this the Tomb Stone Legacy: as you live, you are writing your legacy and the “dash” that everyone will remember.
John Maxwell said it well when describing truths about life.
“You will learn lessons in life. There are no mistakes, only lessons. A lesson is repeated until it is learned. If you don’t learn the easy lessons, they get harder (pain is one way the universe gets your attention)”. To me, it seems that sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn. I have always felt that even if you get knocked down, you never have failed, if you get back up. Always get back up.
You may not have noticed, but I have always had a “little guy” attitude. Tell me I can’t do something, and my attitude about challenges is get out of my way, because I will go over it, around it, under it or through it, but I will do it. One of my favorite speakers is a man who died a few years ago named Jim Rohn. He reminded me many times that I will end up being the average of the 5 individuals I spend most of my time with. Make sure one of them is Christ and be very careful how you choose the other 4. He also liked to tell a story about ants. I love the story, but I really think it describes a life lesson and good habit to learn. It is all about ants.
When was the last time you saw ants reach an obstacle and give up with their heads down and head back to the ant hole to relax? NEVER
How much will an ant gather during the summer to prepare for winter? All that it possibly can.
Imagine what you could accomplish if you never quit and always did all that you could do.
I think everybody should study ants and their philosophy because it is simple, and powerful:
“Ants never quit. That’s a good philosophy. If ants are headed somewhere and you try to stop them; they’ll look for another way. They’ll climb over, they’ll climb under, and they’ll climb around. They keep looking for another way. What a neat philosophy, to never quit looking for a way to get where you’re supposed to go.
Ants think winter all summer. That’s an important perspective. You can’t be so naïve as to think summer will last forever. So, ants are gathering their winter food in the middle of summer. Why do you need that advice? Because it’s important to be realistic. In the summer, you’ve got to think storm. Think ahead.
Ants think “all-you-possibly-can.” How much will an ant gather during the summer to prepare for the winter? All it possibly can. Ants don’t have quotas or “good enough” philosophies. They don’t gather a certain amount and then head back to the hole to hang out. If an ant can do more, it does. What an incredible philosophy, the “all-you-possibly-can philosophy.”
As I see it, try to never give up, always look ahead, stay positive, and do all you can. It is like the football coach says at the final championship game: Leave it all on the field. Regardless of the score, you still win if you do your best.
Doing your best means there is a cost or overhead to everything you will do in life. Every decision or action has a cost. Your birthday heralds a time where tradition says you go from a child to a man. This is the time that you will make decisions that will affect your future. As hard as it seems, making certain decisions as a teenager can affect the rest of your life. You may gain or lose friends because you chose the path less taken by following Christ. You may say no, when all of your friends fear rejection and say yes. There will be a cost with any direction you take in life. You pay this debt with time, engagement in the process, commitment, and being guided by the words of God. These will not be easy choices, nor will you get them all right, but there will be a cost, a lesson learned, and an opportunity taken or missed. You miss all of the shots you never take. In life, always go for it.
The last quote speaks to these opportunities, winning, and coming up short. It is by Theodore Roosevelt about striving valiantly and daring greatly.
“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory or defeat.”
From a speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910
I realize this probably wasn’t at short as it should have been. I am so proud of you and who you have become. Just know that if you get knocked down or find a time where the choices you have are not good, feel free to call me for anything. I look forward to seeing how you take on the opportunities that you have been given.
Before the game starts, do your homework, put on your game face, and start pushing uphill. Being both realistic and ready will quash your tendency to give up or slow down. You are in it for the long haul. Get as ready as you can, find the right mentors, educate yourself, act, look at your results, adapt, and repeat. I know each of you have this in you. Find and start wearing the T-shirt that boldly states: “I will do whatever it takes”.
Michael Abernathy DDS