“Work to the point your idols become your peers.” —Unknown
Today, I turned 40. It feels weird—especially because it seems like only yesterday I was in my 30’s.
Every so often, it seems, life presents us with opportunities to look back and reflect: the birth of a new year, the death of a loved one, or a milestone birthday.
And on this day, I cannot help but look back and consider the men and women who have helped shape me into the person I am today.
Some of my mentors chose me. But not in every case:
When I was 25 years old, I was offered jobs at two uniquely different organizations. I remember them well. While the general job description was similar between the two, the work environments were entirely different.
My first job offer was in Princeton, NJ. The organization was large—millions of dollars of income each year. Their reputation was impeccable and the dollars were not in short supply. I was offered a healthy salary, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, floor tickets to the New York Knicks, even admission into Princeton University for graduate work. Our final interview occurred at one of the finest steak houses in the area. The professionally polished leader of the organization sat across from me—and offered his best sales pitch.
Days later, I was offered a job in Menomonie, WI. The town was populated by 20,000 hard-working men and women, a unique blend of farmers and professors. The organization was small—5 employees at the time. Based on typical measures of worldly success, they offered me very little. In fact, our final interview took place around the modest kitchen table of the organization’s leader. To this day, I have looked into the eyes of very few men with more humility, more love, or more commitment to others than this man. The food was pleasant and the conversation rich.
I was only 25 years old. Just starting out. And the decision could not have been more difficult.
The final decision was made 3 days later. My wife and I had numerous conversations with trusted advisors and mentors—some formal, some informal. And then, on a Tuesday night, we went out for dinner to determine our future.
All the details I do not recall, but I do remember one significant factor that ultimately determined our fate more than any other:
I asked myself repeatedly and intentionally, “What type of man do I desire to become? Who would I rather look like when I am 40?”
What would cause a 25-year old man and his young 21-year old wife to choose humility and service over money, prestige, and reputation? I’ll never know. But we did. And we have never regretted the decision.
It is interesting to me as I sit this morning to reflect on my life, that this single decision would resonate as one of the most significant. I can think of little else.
I have a loving family for which I am eternally grateful. I have a wife who selflessly loves others and remains steadfast in her faithfulness and patience for me. My life story features the names and stories of countless mentors who have invested themselves into me and saw far more potential than I ever did.
There are so many things I could dwell on today, but I choose instead to think of one decision above all others.
Maybe because, it was in that moment, I chose the type of man I wanted to become. And I decided to choose humility over the fleeting pleasure of worldly prestige.
Perhaps more than anything else, it is the men and women we choose to set-up as role models and idols that determine the course of our lives. (tweet that)
If we envy those with money and vast personal possessions, these are the people we will emulate.
If we look up to those who live their life in the pursuit of pleasure, pleasure will become our prize.
If we envy those who model selfish abandon for power and prestige, this too, will become our greatest pursuit.
But we get to decide. And if we want, we can always choose humility and selfless concern for others—even in a world that doesn’t. And then, we can surround ourselves with men and women who model it for us.
This, then, can become true of us. Our idols can become our peers.