There comes a point in every man’s life when he wakes up and realizes he isn’t a boy anymore. Yeah, he’s kind of known it for a while. There are all of those mile stones: graduating from high school, graduating from college, starting a career, marriage, kids…the list goes on and on. Still, there comes a point, or at least there has for me, when a man realizes he’s thirty now. He has responsibilities—lives that quite literally depend on him. He doesn’t get to be a boy anymore.
I’ve been thinking about this lately. Yes, I turned thirty this year; so maybe it’s one of those early midlife “whamos!” But just the same, I’ve been thinking. We live in a culture that celebrates excellence but mass produces mediocrity—a culture of evenings in front of the TV box and weekends of leisure. We grow up through a machine of education that makes sure everyone is on a par of base knowledge without accelerating the best and brightest on to conquer the stars. We graduate to college that looks more and more like grades thirteen—sixteen all the time. We get a job and work hard enough during our weekdays. We produce, or most of us do, something from our efforts—success on some level. Perhaps, if we are at it long enough, we get a promotion or a bonus—a nice pat on the back. Then we wake up with four kids, a mortgage, and a career. We’re doing fine. It’s the American dream, I guess.
The problem is, “fine” doesn’t sound all that great to me. It’s not what I dreamed of when I was younger, not what I thought of for an answer to the ever-important, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
There’s something to be said for contentment, but I am not convinced that contentment and mediocrity are the same thing.
I don’t really have the answer to my ponderings, other than, to Jesus and his glory. But, as Tony Campolo told me once, God imbued passions into my life, and I don’t think they are simply there to taunt me. No, there comes a time when a man wakes up and realizes he isn’t a boy anymore—realizes he is responsible for living out his dreams. Nobody’s stopping by to drop off your wishes, neatly wrapped with a bow. The book contract with a six-figure advance for my unfinished novel isn’t in the mail yet for some reason.
Perhaps when all of life’s distractions come calling, when mediocrity slips back in, I need to do as Nehemiah did when rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and shout down from atop the wall, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?”
Obviously, there are things to come down for—other important “life” things outside of our “great work” bubble. Too often those things are not important enough for me to climb down off my wall to deal with, though. Too often they are loud, annoying, or immediate things, but not more important than finishing my wall. Fine is fine and can be achieved by many. I guess I’m in pursuit of something more—in pursuit of excellence.
How about you? Have you ever had that moment? What did you do about it? What does excellence look like for you, or is fine, fine?
Ryan J. Doughan