A Few Lessons I’ve Learned Along the Way
We all have stories, some messier and more intriguing than others. Over the past ten years, my wild roller-coaster from being a prisoner to a husband, father, and CEO, all while earning a doctorate has been a worthwhile, and quite often, wild adventure. I’ve had a lot to learn, and still feel like I’m in first grade in the school of life. Here are a few of the lessons I’m thinking about today that I’ve learned along the way. I share in hopes that the lessons will be helpful to someone – maybe even to you.
1. Breaking Chains: Overcoming the Disease to Please
Some find themselves in literal prison cells, ensnared in compromising situations, or overcommitted and exhausted, all because they couldn't break free from the insidious need to please. Saying 'no' isn't just about setting boundaries; it's about unlocking true freedom. By learning to say no without guilt, you not only protect your health but also have more time to focus on what matters most to you and those you love. Annihilating the disease to please ensures your choices are genuinely yours and not dictated by the whims of others.
Often in one’s quest for recognition and acceptance, we will say yes to people and commitments that don’t advance us in the mission God has for us. Being overcommitted drains our energy and keeps us from focusing on what matters most.
I’m often asked to meet with people or travel to speak, and it’s been hard learning which opportunities to accept and which to decline. I don’t always get it right, I’m sure. Maybe I have missed out on a million-dollar opportunity…too bad. I’m more concerned with not missing out on loving my wife well and being home as often as possible while my children are growing up. So I consider opportunities carefully, make a decision in light of what matters most, and move on.
Remember, every 'yes' you give out is an investment of your limited, finite life. Prioritize what truly matters. By wisely choosing where and with whom you spend your time, you protect your most valuable asset and ensure you have the energy to consistently move toward your purpose. Guard your time, align it with God’s intentions for you, and ensure every moment propels you forward.
2. Ditch the Candy, Hold Out for the Steak
Maybe I should’ve played golf in my free time and built more professional relationships rather than spending time earning a doctorate. Maybe not. Only time will tell if earning a doctorate while working full-time was the right thing to do in my particular situation. My guess is that it has given me some additional credibility post-incarceration. It has opened doors of opportunity for me.
I don’t know what you could achieve that would further develop your competency in the specific mission you’re assigned, but I do know you will likely have to sacrifice to flourish. People and organizations that are world-class don’t just fall into that category. They have to reject passivity and laziness daily and do hard things to achieve great outcomes. If you want to soar with the eagles, you'll often have to pass up on the chicken feed. Greatness demands you look beyond today's craving.
3. Nuke Self-Destructive Demons
Let's cut to the chase: we're all flawed. Do you have secrets or struggle with destructive thoughts or behaviors? Sure you do. Everyone does.
Don’t allow knowing the worst about yourself to cause you to treat yourself poorly or settle for less than God’s best in your life. Negative self-talk and/or destructive behaviors are often the greatest battles anyone ever fights. There are cheat codes for these inner demons. Christ has the cure for this internal disease called sin. Learn to apply it daily – or more like every minute. And even in the midst of the battle, remember there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. So, if you are living in fear, shame, and/or self-condemnation – you need to come to grips with whether you believe Jesus is sufficient or not. You need to believe Him even in the midst of the battle. If you don’t know Him and would like to meet Him, I’d be happy to make the introduction.
Got a battle you can’t seem to win? Go see a professional. They’ve heard it all before – and probably worse – and if they are any good – they will be able to help you or connect you with someone who is better suited for your particular strain of iniquity. If you could have fixed what your struggle is by yourself, you would have done so already – so humble yourself and get help – the world needs what the best version of you has to offer.
4. Choose Your Tribe with Wisdom – Or Pay the Price
Biblical wisdom teaches and social science research confirms that "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." This isn't just poetic; it's practical. Surrounding yourself with individuals who challenge and inspire is life-changing. On the flip side, the wrong company will keep you from achieving your potential and often lead you into difficulties. Every friend leaves a mark; it's up to you whether it's a polish or a scar. As a craftsman is only as good as his tools, you're only as sharp, focused, and resilient as the company you keep.
In prison, most laughed, and rather loudly, when I dreamed out loud that I might go to college after prison. Only had a GED at the time. I almost didn’t even take a first step because of their toxic negativity. At university, while some probably well-intentioned but probably also holier-than-thou types avoided me after learning my story, others actively encouraged me to continue fighting the good fight. This encouragement was fuel in my tank. Choose your influencers wisely. Your life is at stake.
5. Deciphering Truth in a World of Noise
Everyone has an opinion, and they are often wrong. So are you. Be humble and willing to pivot. Ever heard the saying, "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing"? Throughout history, we're reminded that not all advice, even when well-intentioned, is golden. While everyone has an opinion, it's essential to sift through the noise and discern what’s merely someone’s opinion and what’s wisdom in a particular situation. What worked for someone else may not work for you – or it may be exactly what you need. Be willing to listen – but free from the pressure to conform to whatever they believe is best. History is replete with examples of people who had to defy conventional wisdom and the opinions of others to make discoveries and world-changing inventions.
If I had to give a dollar for every well-intentioned but bad piece of advice I’ve heard, I’d be destitute, and I wouldn’t be where I am today. We exist in a world of ideas and choices we make from those ideas. To have a life of peace, joy, and contentment, the true treasures in my experience, we all must learn to decipher between what is true and what is not.
Remember, sailing through life's waters using a faulty compass can lead you off course and even shipwreck your journey. Stay open to wisdom, especially from God’s Word, friends, mentors, and family members who have your best interest at heart but be alert and wise. Knowing when to adjust your sails can be the difference between smooth sailing and being lost at sea.
Dr. Cary Sanders, CEO of JUMPSTART SC