When is the last time you heard something that really changed you? As a young person I encountered multiple truths over the past 20 years that have truly changed my life. Most of these truths were given to me by men far greater than I am, and I want to pass them along to young people who may not have the opportunity to hear them.
These truths are pivotal in that they can help you swing from one manner of thinking and acting to another, and each of these represent a major shift in the way I approached my life at the time I received them. I am going to do a series of blog posts over the next few weeks explaining these truths in hopes that other young people will be changed by them as I was changed.
I want to challenge you to read this truth aloud to yourself and let it sink into your mind.
Five years from now, I will be the same person I am today, except for the books I read, the places I go, and the people I meet.
Jay Strack, the founder and President of Student Leadership University is the person who challenged me with this simple truth when I was 14 years old. He built a leadership school based upon this statement, and it changed my life. Through him I have met US Senators and Congressmen. I have walked behind the scenes at Sea World and spent the night in the shark tank. I have listened to a lecture on Just War Theory in Arlington National Cemetery, watched Les Mis in the Queen’s Theater of London, stood on the beaches of Normandy, and prayed for the lost in the Garden of Gethsemene. All of that happened because I met one man, my youth pastor, Bill Hulse, who was willing to take a goofy looking 8th grader to a a summer experience called Student Leadership University. There I found this truth, and this truth changed my life.
Books You Read: Books have a way of gripping you that is different than any other medium for presenting ideas. Books require you set aside time by yourself to engage in the material you have chosen. The lack of images require your imagination to be active in producing images. The process of reading is slow and deliberate, making room for you to connect what you are reading to your daily life. Books bring together information, imagination, and deliberation in a way that no other medium allows. So read books you love. Read books that make you mad. Read books over your head. Read books that make you think. Read books that make you feel. Read. And learn to balance the two most important rules in reading: never finish a book just because you started it and never quit a book just because you don’t like it. Judge modern books by their covers, it usually works. Read with a pen in your hand and an open mind. In short – READ! If you don’t like to read, learn to like it. As Al Mohler once said, “Those who choose not to read are the impoverishers of their own imagination.” Learn to read.
Places You Go: One of the biggest opportunities available to young people (high school and college students) made difficult for older people is travel. The sad truth is that many young people waste their travel on meaningless places which will look good on Instagram. You (until you have a spouse and children) will have the time, disposable income, and work flexible enough to permit a lot of travel. Use those opportunities to travel somewhere that will grow you as a person. Go to the Grand Canyon and hike the South Kaibab Trail; it will cost you $20 to spend two nights in the base of the canyon, and you will create memories you will never forget. Go to Washington D.C. and immerse yourself in the history of your country – you will be humbled to learn what others have sacrificed that you take for granted. Go to New York and watch a Broadway show; the biggest blockbuster of the summer has nothing on the experience of uncut, live talent. Go to Paris, but make sure to stop in Normandy. Go to Russia and see the incongruity of the gorgeous architecture with the hopeless hedonism of their young adult culture. Go to India, and serve children in the slums. Go to Africa, and bring fresh water to the diseased. Go somewhere that will make a difference, a memory, and an impact. Don’t waste your travel making new profile pictures.
People You Meet: Relationships are the cog on which opportunity turns. If you want to advance in your education or career, relationships are the way to do it. I promise that when you graduate college and start looking for a job, who you know will take you as far or farther than what you know. So work hard to get to know your professors. Get to know a leader in the career you want to pursue. Seek out your biggest hero and find a way to meet them. You may start doing these things for your own good, later in life, but if you really get to know these people, they will do more than propel you. They will challenge you. They will inspire you. Let them guide you and follow their lead. Build lasting relationships, where you are a blessing to others, and you will be amazed at how small the world will become. Jay Strack once told me you are no more than four relationships away from anyone in the world, but you have to build and maintain those relationships to get there. Learn to introduce yourself with confidence and meaningfully engage others. Maintain relationships through email, occasional phone calls, and written notes. Do your best to keep important relationships prioritized in your life. Build connections with others, and be the steward of those connections.
In the end, we are talking about controlling your future. You will read tons of stuff in various social media and internet outlets, you will travel to the beach and your parent’s house many times, you will meet more people than you could possibly remember, and all of those events will change you. But you get to decide whether those changes happen by convenience and happenstance or through hard work and planning. Take control of your future. Read books, expand your horizons, and make meaningful connections which will change you into the person you want to be. I promise it is worth the effort.