Last month I turned 38. What? Thirty-eight. XXXVIII.
If you know me well you know I’m not much of a personal birthday celebrator. One of the most fun things I’ve done in the past five years was learn how to hide my birth date from Facebook so I didn’t have 200 people wishing me happy birthday. Fact is, I just don’t care about my birthday much. I celebrated this year with an appointment at the Passport Office.
Yeah, I’m 38. Big deal. Go to work.
Get on with it.
The Only Thing That Works For Me…
Adult life began for me around 20 years ago. A couple of weeks before my eighteenth birthday, Mid-May 1994, I moved out of my dad’s house in Mishawaka, Indiana and into a college dorm at Moody in Chicago with two strangers. High school graduation was three weeks away. I’d never missed school for more than a day or two in 13 years of school, but I had an opportunity to get a full-time job painting dorm rooms that’d help me pay for college so I took it. My teachers were awesome about it. I didn’t attend class the last three weeks of school and no one reported me absent. I didn’t take finals but got straight A’s.
After my first day of work I walked over to Cosmopolitan Bank & Trust on Clark Street and opened a checking account. If college were going to happen, I was going to make it happen. I opened my account with $50. On August 15th I had to write Moody a big check and the only one who was going to make that happen was me.
Two weeks later, when I got my first paycheck I saw that after taxes 40 hours per week of painting at $4.80 just wasn’t going to be enough to pay for college… so I walked around the Gold Coast for a few hours looking for another job. That afternoon I walked into a small ice cream shop on Oak Street, met the owner, and agreed that I’d start working 4 PM to close 6 days per week.
8 hours x $4.80 = $38.40 or $192 per week before taxes.
8 hours x $6.50 = $52 or $312 per week before taxes.
After taxes and $10 per week for food that meant I put away about $400 per week from June until mid-August when classes started, then I cut back from two full-time jobs to just one because of classes so I could pay my Winter school bill.
In those 12 weeks I learned some things:
- I can make my way.
- The only money I appreciate is money I’ve earned.
- God may be my provider, but make no bones about it, that provision wasn’t a gift… it’s earned.
- 80 hours of work per week isn’t bad. 96 is way better because of the overtime.
Looking back, the biggest thing I learned in that first summer as an adult was this: The only thing that works for me is hard work.
There’s No Shame in Confidence
Twenty years later I can look back at that period with fondness. I don’t have rose-colored lenses about it. I remember how hard it was because it’s not like today is a whole lot easier. The Summer of 1994 was just the first round, a foreshadowing of what was to come. (2001-2002 was far more difficult.)
In that moment— it was exhilarating. There’s no finer feeling than walking up to a window and writing a check to pay for your education.
I remember the day I went to pay for my first semester. I woke up early, showered, and shaved. I put on a nice shirt. I was nervous. I waited in line, took my turn at the window, handed the lady my bill and my check, and I forced myself to hold it together.
She stamped my bill “paid” and handed it back to me. I put it into my checkbook, cool. Then I calmly walked over to the elevator bank, hit the button, and waited.
When the door closed on that elevator I celebrated.
I don’t mean a fist pump and a head nod. Or a tear of gratitude or a quiet prayer of thanksgiving.
I’m talking spike the football, full Richard Sherman mode.
- Don’t doubt me.
- Don’t tell me what I can’t do.
- Don’t tell me I don’t have what it takes.
Yes… without a doubt… I was laughing in the face of doubters. I heard the murmurs. I saw the looks. And so walking into that office and writing that check and seeing that word “paid” on my bill was proof to me. The only thing that works for me is hard work.
In that moment I didn’t just prove people wrong, I proved something to myself.
And I wanted to do it again. I had to. And I did… I’ve paid my own bills and earned my way since that day.
Over the years I’ve been told some people think I’m arrogant. Or a little too confident for a Christian leader. I’ve been told I can be cocky.
Well, conversely, over the years I’ve met a lot of people who are soft. The simple fact is I don’t have as much respect for someone who had stuff handed to them that I do for people who earned it. Why? Because that’s where I’ve come from. That’s my reality. Mommy and daddy didn’t write checks for me… I had to write checks for myself. I think that’s why friends like Andy Marin and I get along so well. Yup, we’ve accomplished some things. But no one gave us anything. We made it happen. Team Hustle, baby. And when the rewards come they are just that much sweeter.
To some people titles, responsibilities, and leadership roles are given. I tip my cap to them. I know that’s the way the world works. Some people get stuff handed to them because of who their parents are or who they know. That’s just not my world. Everything that has come to me as come because of hard work. No one gave me a title or responsibility or a leadership role.
So you can look at me and say I’m arrogant or whatever. Truthfully, I’ve been called worse and probably deserved it.
I just think that people who judge me without knowing me misread confidence for arrogance.
The Next Thirty-Eight Years
I don’t think I’ve arrived. Pfft… what does “arrive” even mean for a blue collar kid? There’s no retirement party coming or 30 years of golf in my future. Eavesdrop on a walk with Kristen and I one evening and you’ll hear how aggressive I am about what we’re doing at the Cartel. We’ve hustled to get here. And we’re going to hustle to get where we’re going.
The fact is that the first twenty years is only setting up the next 38.
The challenge for the first twenty years has been… “How do we get from here… NOTHING… onto the pathway of the vision God laid on my heart as a broke, punk seventeen year old who figured out a way to get into Bible college?”
The challenge for the next season is getting other people on board. No coronations, no hand outs, no freebies… together we get there by hard work, the only thing that truly works for me.
I’m thankful for the vision God had for me.
All of the crap I went through, every hard day from there to here, makes sense.
God’s vision for my life has been so much harder, more fun, and more rewarding than I could have ever figured out on my own.