Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What I Know At 20

An Essay for Professor Philip Foxwell, Life 101
Once upon a time, there was a man. This man had a thriving business, a life which weaved effortlessly between continents, a loud and loving family, passionate involvement in global mission movements, and enough travel and adventure to fill several lifetimes. The word successful could be used to describe his exploits, but I believe he is a part of something far beyond success. This man asked his four children, of which I am the youngest, to read the book “What I Wish I Knew When I was 20: A Crash Course on Making your Place in the World,” in an effort to teach us about life, business, challenges, opportunity, and success. Being a hopeful 20-year-old, I thought perhaps there would be some magic to actually discovering these things at that age. Tina Steelig, author of this book and professor at Stanford University, would claim that “the key to success is the ability to extract the lessons out of each experience,” especially the challenges, obstacles, and failures, and to “progress with that new knowledge” (13). This may reflect the truth, but there are a few things that I have learned, (by the age of 20), that transcend these academic theories. Is progress really the key to success, and success the pinnacle of life? It makes sense in my mind, but something turns in my stomach as I try to accept this as the key. This cognitive dissonance proved to me that the book had some helpful insights, but it was lessons learned from the people in my life, namely the wisdom and integrity of my father, that has brought me to this place at the age of 20, ready to take on the world, one wave at a time.
There are a few phrases that are always on the tip of Daddy's tongue—phrases that anyone who knows him well would recognize as his maxims. I'm not talking about “nein fraulein,” or “huge tracts of land,” but those used almost as often. I don't know how many times I have heard, “You can't just sit there!” “Work hard, play hard!” “Be thankful!” “Keep the main thing the main thing!” “dive under the wave,” and “Let love and faithfulness never leave you!” As I reflect on these words that have almost become cliché to me, I am struck by what good advice they are, and how they connect to the book. A wise man I know once paraphrased Socrates: “I don't know everything, but I do know some things.” With all the wisdom my dad has given me, there are some things I know and some things that will always be unknown. That being said, without further ado, this is what I do know, at the age of 20.
You Can't Just Sit There
There is a tiny creek flowing between doing nothing and doing something, but the two sides of the creek lead down life-alteringly different paths. Steelig agrees that “the two options have wildly different outcomes” (Steelig, 19). Daddy has a few go-to stories to illustrate his various points, but one story is the definite front-runner. As he tells it, an old man ties handfuls of helium balloons to his lawn chair, grabs a 6-pack, a sandwich, and a BB gun, and sits in it as it lifts off into the air. Things got a bit out of control and he ended up lifting 15,000 feet or so into the air and getting in the middle of air traffic of LAX. He finally came down onto power lines after several freezing and terrifying hours in the air. When reporters later asked him why he attempted such a feat, he answered, “You can't just sit there.” That is a favorite of my dad's because he loves to encourage people to get moving, take initiative, and do something.
As Steelig's book says, “The world is divided into people who wait for others to give them permission and people who grant themselves permission” (57). I have experienced frustration at times with the current state of the church. The epistle of James calls believers to be “doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” I can relate to this concept. I like to be a peacemaker, facilitating the actions of others in harmony, but I have learned that this needs to be balanced with the desire to challenge the corruption and injustice of the world, going out of my comfort zone to make a change. Opportunities are all around us, like when I got lost on a run and ended up asking for help and getting a job offer in the process, or when I had no plans for spring break so I signed up for what would be an unforgettable service trip with the homeless in Denver. “Most of us are content with taking small, reliable steps. We don't get very far, but we don't rock the boat either” (28). After the tsunami ravaged the coast of Japan, the roads up north were closed and communication was difficult. Rather than biding his time until he could go help the people in Shichigahama, my dad did everything he possibly could to make his way up to the devastated area, even before the self-defense troops were able to arrive. Against the warnings of radiation in Fukushima and the roads that were closed to civilians, he fearlessly took action, because that is the kind of man he is. He has inspired me to rock the boat, going out into the world to passionately combat evil at every chance I get.
Work Hard, Play Hard
Hard work is something Steelig wrote about and I have certainly seen embodied in my dad. I have no idea how he maintains the busy schedule that he does. He makes business trips to the U.S. that have meetings in a different state every day. His office is a place where challenge turns into opportunity. The very premise of his company is combatting the difficulty of cross-national business expansion by creating deals and negotiations in which everyone walks away smiling. With hard-work and open-minded determination, he has caused a tiny new company to grow into a flourishing business.
But working hard has always been only half of his slogan. Daddy loves to play more than almost any person I know. No matter how much he ages, he claims he will always be “18 'till I die.” He loves his toys, projects, exotic travels, and spending fun time with the people he loves. He is an excellent creator of fun, and has a lovely sense of humor deep down in his heart. Steelig quotes her own father in her book, “You shouldn't take yourself too seriously, nor judge others too harshly” (181).
Years ago, our family sat in a car on one of our long, exciting journeys, and decided to hammer out a family mission statement. “Have fun serving God and loving the people he brings to us” was the simple phrase we wrote down. It has permeated my life even without much thought. When a friend suggested we take a fifteen minute study break together, I thought she was referring to a fifteen minute break from fun to study. Sports have always been an exhilarating way to spend my time. I enjoy having a life filled with humorous and exciting experiences. Even in the face of possible humiliation or disaster, I like to take risks. A little mischief is necessary every once in a while in my life, otherwise I will go crazy. If someone gives me a dare, or a prank opportunity, I'm usually onboard. Adventures may flop, but “failure is an important part of our learning process, especially when you're stretching your abilities, doing things for the first time, or taking risks” (72). Perhaps I do not spend enough time studying, compared to a college full of perfectionists, but I try to find the balance between working hard and playing hard that my dad managed to find. Not only does is add excitement and enjoyment to the life we have been given on earth, but a sense of fun and adventure can enhance our ability to accomplish our tasks.
Be Thankful (Intentionality in Relationships)
Be thankful and intentional in relationships. This one seems like a given, but many people do not live in this way. This one goes back to Grandpa Foxy telling us the importance of thankfulness, and Daddy reiterating it. Steelig says to “Do the right thing, not the smart thing, so you'll be proud to tell your story later” (158). I know that I am proud to tell his story, because he is a lover of people and has a thankful hear in all circumstances. He notices people and treats them respectfully regardless of what they deserve. The success of his business depends largely on his ability to recognize the needs of people and try to facilitate them. Building relationships is one of the most important things in business and life. After years of mentioning my dad in various places, and having people find connections to him, it doesn't surprise me anymore to realize the vast network that branches out of him. He is a team player, building up his fellow workers and praising their work and characters. Sometimes the strange assortment of people that my dad attracts is humorous to me, but he recognizes them each as children of God and appreciates the worth of each individual.
Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing
Some people think there is a formula for success: magic words or rules or steps. This pharisaical mindset is what angered Jesus in the gospel more than almost anything. As Grandpa Foxy and Daddy have always urged, it is important to look at the big picture of life and “keep the main thing the main thing.” Failing in little details is not the end of the world, but failing to see what the details are a part of or what they lead to can make life impossible. Break the Rules. Break free from guidelines by having a “healthy disregard for the impossible” (Steelig, 34). Even bad ideas have the seed of potential. Life is much like business and writing—the best at it get to bend the rules and be creative, as long as the main point is there. There's no set formula for success, because often succeeding means escaping the formulas and traditional box. We don't have to follow a daily routine or a rule book, because freedom and creativity is a valuable asset. A runner can try all kinds of preparations and and techniques in a race, but if they don't know where the finish line is, they will never win. Not only are the small assumptions in life not important in the long run, but some are hinderances to truth and progress. Steelig says to “Give yourself permission to challenge assumptions, to look at the world with fresh eyes, to experiment, to fail, to plot your own course, to test the limits of your abilities” (175).
Dive Under the Wave
When troubles come like a giant wave, we can't let them knock us off our feet and tumble us around. We have to brace ourselves and dive under them. My dad is prepared for difficult times and resourceful in reaction. Rather than staying braced in one position, he keeps the future open for unexpected opportunities “Uncertainty is the essence of life, and it fuels is the fire that sparks innovation and the engine that drives us forward.” (183). Our old cabin at Takayama was a heap of rotten wood with holes and mushrooms everywhere. We were surprised that all the wind and rain and earthquakes around it did not knock it down, but then we realized that when the earth shook around it, it was so weak that it would just bend and sway with the earth. Resilience. This is what kept it standing. I know I am only twenty, but I have seen a share of disasters and troubles in my life. I could let these struggles knock me down and push me to the swirling depths of the sea, but from watching my dad's example, I try to dive under them and use their powerful force for good.
Let love and Faithfulness Never Leave You
These words from Proverbs 3:3 will always be in my mind and heart because of Daddy's repetition of them. The book mentions nothing of love and faithfulness, but I believe they are more important than any strategies for success. They are pillars of my dad's life and what I respect most about him. I hope to absorb his wisdom and apply it to my life in order to be more like this man that I love so dearly.