It is hard to imagine the headlines this week. “17 year old creates an app that sells for $30 Million dollars to Yahoo.” Impressive for such a young person going through adolescence. And while it is attention grabbing, it really is not all that new.
The American Dream and success is as old as our country, but it appears to be at least on the surface, changing… not in outcomes but the time it takes to achieve it.
Mark Zuckerberg might be the quintessential example of a college kid with a hoodie starting a multi-billion dollar Facebook idea in a dorm room. Within a few years, his idea is impacting global politics.
A prime example is the founder of Groupon, Andrew Mason. He built the venture into the fastest growing company to ever receive a $1 Billion dollar evaluation in less than 18 months of its launch, all the while still in his 20’s. Quite an accomplishment for a young buck.
A few days ago I finally was able to open the much anticipated MAILBOX app that had created so much buzz you had to wait in a line to get it. I started at number 950,000. I waited for weeks to just try the service on my iPhone. I waited and waited. It was down to around 175,000, and while I was still waiting to just try the app, news came it had sold for around $100 Million.
What? $100 Million. I was still in line.
The world is moving quick. Looking to the past, can seem archaic at times but I can’t help to ask if there is something buried there when the world was slower and so was the recipe of success. Food grew at the pace you planted and harvested, not could run to the store. You could travel as fast as your legs or your horses could ride, but not faster. Patience was a required virtue.
Point is this… you really could not hurry success, like you could not hurry most anything else… it took awhile to achieve. You had to plant it, water it, and wait till it would grow.
Today, well most of those barriers have been removed. We have instant access to information online, travel at light speed, and the technology of today, takes away so many barriers that required any waiting.
While I would be the first to say I have enjoyed that, I can’t help but ask… does it produce the same success and the character that might be needed in the people by achieving it so early? What is in the process of waiting in line? Or earning your way into that position?
Ironically after the 17 year old new story came on the news, came the PowerBall $300 Million winner. It was an interesting parallel.
Think about all those lottery winners. Folks who are often living one check to the next, instantly come into millions. Most of the documented stories say that it ruins most folks. And they end up broke. Everyone becomes their friend, money is spent, and wasted, and after a decade… it is somehow all spent.
It is as if their life had not produced the character and container to hold that type of wealth and how to handle it so quickly. And the result is most are worse off then before.
The fact that so many of our ancestors would be willing to travel for weeks by boat just for the chance to come to America, and take part in the original American dream, and just be given the opportunity to spend decades to build it, shows there was a virtue in enduring the process to obtain it. They were in for the long run.
What pushed the wagons Westward to farm land that required years of clear cutting trees, tilling ground, and learning their land to achieve it? It wasn’t the promise of a quick IPO, or selling out to a bigger business in a few weeks. That Mailbox App had been released and sold before they would have even made the voyage to America.
Here is another question… Do most of us young men and women in America, would we willing to set out for this journey today?
I would argue most might say… why put in the work? We don’t need it. We have made so much progress. Why would you want to go through that if you could achieve it in just a few years, maybe even a few months of intense work? We can speed up this process. Microwaved success. Instant.
But that is the problem. We don’t think about what that produced in those people.
That fastest growing company… Groupon. Well, after the company went public and after increasing pressure, he resigned. The parting words for the company he founded as he was asked to step down? His resignation letter was so odd, so childish and quirky, that Fox Business brought in a 10 year old actor to read it on air.
I couldn’t agree more. Was the guy smart, you bet. But look at what a teenager does when he is given a throne without the process and character to handle it over in North Korea. He is playing out video game war games with the United States. It’s childish success. The kid needs a spanking. Seriously, he really does.
Here is what I am beginning to think… “What if the greatest gift we could be given is not getting it… at least… not so early.”
There is a great story in the Biblical texts of Moses that represents what I think true leadership comes from…
So we have Moses. He was born as a baby in a time when Egypt was slaughtering all the children of their slaves. His mom floats him down the Nile in hopes of an escape and with the providence of God, he is picked up by the Pharaoah’s wife. He goes from assumed death to be raised in the greatest household of wealth, power, and education in the world. That would appear a recipe for early success.
This kid must feel special. He is dining, learning, and sitting with the pharaoh. Moses is given the highest education, all the luxuries and power with the position.
But he is divided. He also knows he is not like them. He is a Hebrew. His people are the slaves building the Pharoah’s Empire that he looks out upon each day. One day… he sees his Hebrew people in this condition. And that hubrus comes into action. He sees his opportunity and seizes it. “What if the people will see me and notice I am their leader.” He goes for it. Success? Well, not exactly. He kills a man and is driven out. Far away. Wilderness. Abandonment. Attached from all his previous identity.
How long? Well… 40 long years. 40 years away from power, success, riches, entitlement.
That part of the story is often lost for the Moses we all know who is the leader who takes his people through the Red Sea.
But did you notice where he had to go first?
I have to think there is some very serious intentionality here. Those 40 years of wandering in the desert. Apart from his throne, from his people he thinks he is to save. This is the guy who is to lead God’s people. And where does he have to go?
The think we lack as a culture right now is honoring how character is cultivated. How is that? Well, its not getting what you want so early. It’s learning to bleed and sweat. Heading into a desert experience, maybe from your own foolishness like Moses. It is about learning life is not always about you. Learning from failures. Building the character that is needed for those moments.
Is success early and our expectation of it, good for us in the long run? Most people that get it early, well, they don’t do so well later.
No one is talking about that today. That there is something more important than success and money or headlines. Character. The thing that can’t be made quickly. Can’t be purchased, can’t be learned in a quick weekend. It takes longer than we want.
I am 34 years old. I feel a bit between the guy out of college and the experienced guy a decade or two away. But as I look at where I am, and what is shaping me. I can see that need for success early, and yet, the gift of not getting it. I am not sure if I had the substance to handle it. More than likely it would look like something similar to the lottery story.
Instead the last decade has humbled me. Taught me some lessons about managing money, my relationships, including with my wife. mostly by not doing it well. I have had to look at how I spent money, viewed my life, examined opportunities.
Here is what I would love you to consider with me…
What if you considered heading in a different direction. What if we built our lives similar to the original dream. Hard work and a long path. We built our lives that grew character above all. That success was an outcome of a life, not a lottery pick.
One thing that struck me in learning about so many of the tycoons of a few generations ago. After all their wealth and success, it seemed what they wanted even more was a good name after it. They wanted a legacy. And the irony for many, was the choices they made earlier, haunted and stayed with them. I can’t help but wonder, what if we start there with that goal in mind. That regardless of great success or not, we will have our name, our character, and our legacy.
What if you looked at your life as a longer approach. What if you were to build something and find success, but have it in time. You and I had some learning years. We had the hope that in the decade of your 40’s or 50’s. Instead of the first thing you start, work for, create, might not be the thing.
What if you believed the American dream of our great-great grandfathers. That is a story that has been lost. And we need to recover. Character above success. And fortune only if that comes after a life of virtues that we esteem.