In a previous life, I lived in southeast Missouri.
Today, when Sunday rolls around, I head for the mountains and hike to a peak, a lake, or a waterfall.
Back then, when the weather was hot and humid and the sun was blazing, a bunch of us got up early, bungied canoes to the roofs of our cars, smeared sunscreen virtually everywhere, and launched our boats into the Black River where we relaxed by floating, splashing, and clowning around in the water.
If you pick the right river, the current carries you from the put-in to the take-out point. The only paddling you have to do is left-right navigation to avoid boulders and to keep from striking the shore. If, inexplicably, you can’t resist the urge to deliberately tip your friends’ canoe over with them in it, you then have to paddle frantically to delay their adrenaline-fueled revenge. Once the score has been settled, you slow down to reapply the sunscreen, enjoy a sandwich and some chips, and chat with other drifters. (Some were friendly, some were boring, some were drunk – and then there was the fascinating/socially-unique guy in the Grumman who had stenciled letters on the side of his boat announcing, “Jesus did not drink, smoke, or take drugs”).
Some of the river-drifters either couldn’t afford a canoe or they preferred to ride the current on an overinflated inner tube with their butts positioned through the center and their arms and legs dangling over the sides. Whether they got to their destination as quickly as we did was not the point. They were drifting and they had fun.
It’s one thing to drift down the Black River in canoes and on tubes. It’s another to acquiesce to DTL (Drifting Through Life). In Ecclesiastes 3, Solomon says, “There is a time for everything. A time to be born, and a time to die. A time to weep, and a time to laugh. A time to keep, and a time to give away. A time to be silent, and a time to speak.” Solomon could have added, “There is a time to drift, and a time to live deliberately.”
Way too many people drift through life. They succumb to the current of life, moving from one place to another, from one season to the next. Year follows year and, before they realize what happened, they arrive near the end of the river and have no idea how time passed them by. In the movie The Bucket List is this brief but insightful exchange: Chambers: “Forty-five years goes by pretty fast.” Cole: “Like smoke through a keyhole.” The founder of Mary Kay cosmetics said, “Most people live and die with their music still unplayed.”
Nugget: When we are young, our regrets tend to be short-term; things we did that we wish we hadn’t done. When we are older, our regrets tend to be long-term; things we didn’t do that we wish we had done.
How does this nugget play out in the various arenas of life?
Let’s start with a fun example: Adventure and travel. If you’d like to conquer Mt. McKinley, you have to be deliberate. If you want to visit Plitvice, Iguazu, the Parthenon, or the pyramids before you kick the bucket, you have to plan ahead. You have to make a bucket list and follow it up with planning, discipline, and action. Some people are content to sit on the couch and read 1000 Places to See before You Die, but most prefer to squirrel away some finances, save up vacation time at work, and actually make some of the trips. You can’t just drift and expect to get where you’d like to be.
All of which brings me to Dave Ramsey. When you’re 24 or even 32, retirement is not at the front of your mind. (Things start to change when you hit your 60s.) The path of least resistance is to succumb to the avalanche of ads designed to separate you from your money and make you feel deprived if you don’t have all of toys that your neighbors have. You fight traffic and get home from work and you’re too stressed to find something to eat at home so you eat out six or eight times a month. It’s been forever since your uncle asked if he can borrow your pickup to tow two tons of rocks over the continental divide, but you still can’t resist that hot-off-the-lot Ram 4×4 pickup with the Cummins diesel and Laramie Longhorn package so you take out a mega-loan and sign a contract with a bottom line of $57,000. That’s drifting.
Then Dave Ramsey comes along on the radio (or at that annoying class at church) reminding you that the status symbol of choice is no longer the BMW but the paid-off home mortgage. And then he shows how a minimum-wage worker can retire a millionaire simply by investing 15% of his income in a growth stock mutual fund over forty years. You’re going to be 65 someday, and sooner or later you have to face the music that you can’t just drift and expect to get where you’d like to be.
Nugget: The difference between the economic classes in North America has little to do with how much money they do or don’t make, but with their ability to delay gratification.
Now apply the same principle to your health, your relationships, and your spiritual life. Are you living deliberately or are you drifting? Apply it to your leadership. Are you taking your leadership call seriously? Are you investing the time and effort to make sure that your gift is maximized for the benefit of the people you are called to serve? I heard a leadership coach say, “In any given room of people, I’m not the smartest person. But I’m almost always the most disciplined. I have to be.”
There is a time and a place for drifting. But unless you’re enjoying a hot, summer day on the Black River in a canoe or on a tube, kick the DTL habit. Choose to live deliberately. You be happier, and you’ll be exponentially more successful.
Q: In what area of your life do you need to live more deliberately? What will you do about it? What tools or allies do you need?