For the last four months my family has been regularly going to church… yes, I’m bragging… I’ve never been good at it. I’ve been loosely connected to this church for twenty years largely because the pastor is such a wonderful person (a pastor who’s a good person, weird, I know). He’s the perfect mix of gentleness and warmth on top of having an incredibly developed public speaking ability. He’s the kind of person that really ticks me off… in a good way… well, I say it’s a good way, so I don’t feel so bad about it. He’s ultimately a better person than I would even think of becoming (if that makes sense). It’s not because I’m lazy; it’s because I can’t be bothered… so I guess it’s because I’m lazy.
Last week this pastor told a fantastic story that I will now try to duplicate. As butchered as it might be, it still gives the basic idea.
Years ago this pastor was visiting a men’s meeting at a church in the States. Not long after he walked in, a very large and brash man (aka a very American American) greeted/accosted him. Have you ever met a person so brash they make you uncomfortable? This is what he experienced, and being such a gentle person he was all the more taken aback and wanting to hide. This American, however, was not letting the pastor get away as he very boldly announced, “You’re new here. You have to hear my story!” I don’t have the best social skills (hence I’m a writer), but even I know telling someone they have to hear your story isn’t the best way to build interest. If he said this to me, my internal response would be, “Do I have to give you my wallet before or after the story? How does this social mugging work?”
Without allowing time to protest, the American started his story: “Years ago I created a business. It was very successful (he’s better at bragging than I am). It was so successful I opened another branch in another city. That success continued and I opened another branch and another and another and another. Soon I was making over $100 million a year (i.e. more than this author has even had playing with fake money). At that point, we ended up going international, so I started making even more money!” If you’re like me, so far this story seems like he’s showing off and suggests he needs to buy friends because he has no social skills. Actually if you’re like me, you’d be thinking how can I use this guy? (I might be going to church, but that doesn’t mean I’m a good person.) This guy makes well over $100 million a year from being good at making business decisions, why wouldn’t he want to invest in an unknown writer wanting to publish a couple more books in a saturated market? That seems like a solid business investment.
At this point the American flipped his story around. He was actually very good at building it up in order to make the next part so powerful: “When I was at my peak, that’s when, in one week, my life completely fell apart. I found out my wife was leaving me, my daughter was heavily addicted to hard drugs with little hope for recovery, and my son tried killing himself for the second time. I had all this money, yet I had nothing! If I was given the choice I would’ve cut off my own arm if that would save my family. I had spent so much of my life climbing the ladder of success, but when I reached the top I discovered I had climbed the wrong ladder. All of my life had been so devoted to work that I forgot what really mattered. What good is being at the top of a ladder when you’re at the wrong building? It didn’t matter how much money I had, I missed out on what really mattered and where I should have been!”
At the end of the story I was dumbfounded. That was brilliant! It’s hard not to look at people who are making incredible amounts of money and achieving the highest materialistic successes and not at least wonder what it’s like. It’s easy to look at someone with a giant house or a crazy expensive car and wonder what it’s like to be able to afford things like that. The problem is the more money someone has, statistically the less happy they become because little things mean less, their expectations become ridiculously too high, others try to use you, and the rich person loses touch with reality and the people who could be bringing them meaning and joy.
The important truth is we need to stop looking at people who are above us in their climb with envy because that doesn’t mean they’re actually climbing up the right building. Plus, the people most worried about climbing the ladder of success are compensating for something missing in their life. Instead, we need to focus on making sure our own ladder is on the right building and that it doesn’t slip away leading to our fall. We also need to make sure it doesn’t pull a Harry Potter stairwell move and shift to a whole to building without us noticing because then we’ll need to make adjustments to get my life back on track.
This week may you consider whether the ladder you’re climbing is on the right building.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people