“My friend, you and I have lived in serious times.”
John Adams wrote this to Thomas Jefferson toward the end of both their lives. And I think we’d all agree he was right.
The American Colonies, after years was contending with Britain, drafted the Declaration of Independence and catalyzed a war. Then, rather than being obliterated by their super-power mother country, they succeeded in birthing a new nation that, in a little over two centuries, would become unrivaled and unprecedented in power and influence.
You know, the plot of the amazing musical Hamilton…sort of.
But it wasn’t just serious times. The more I learn about that era of history, the more impressed I am that many men and women led serious lives. In fact, if they hadn’t, it’s unlikely history would’ve gone the way it has.
John Adams, the first Vice President under George Washington and second President of the United States, was essential to the Continental Congress, the Revolution, and negotiating the Treaty of Paris.
Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, became our first Secretary of State, second Vice President, and third President. He drew up the Louisiana Purchase and founded the University of Virginia.
Intentional lives lived during serious opportunities.
Your Chance to Write History
I don’t know whether or not we live during equally serious times, but there are plenty of high stakes conversations, tensions, decisions, and innovations happening.
I think the opportunity to write a bit of the future is still in our hands (even if we never become characters in an historical musical).
Paul Helm once wrote, that “the whole of a person’s life is fundamentally serious, something for which he is responsible before God, and for which he will have to give an account…. He is individually responsible to God for what he ‘makes’ of it.” You may or may not believe there’s a God, but I would still suggest that you still live (or want to live) like your choices matter and your life as a reason for existing.
I want my life to matter. Always have.
I want my life to be measured in other lives.
I want my “resume” to be how other people are healed, helped, inspired, illuminated, energized, or ignited because they knew me.
You live (or want to live) like your choices matter and your life has a reason for existing.
Transparently, I battle temptations like anybody else: to look good, to be well-known, to be right at-all-costs. These get in my way and I’m working hard to address them. I think my life will serve more the less I’m driven by this.
When I first saw the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, I was immediately drawn to one of the members of the Fellowship. I’ll bet you were too the first time you read or saw it. For me, it was Gandalf. Hands down. In that reality, that’s the character I wanted to embody. I wanted to be sought after for help. I wanted to be confident in who I was, but hungry to keep growing. I wanted to be a person in other people’s lives who opened up the way for them to have their great journey, ascend to their throne, face their greatest fears, ask better questions.
I wondered, Where could that happen in the real world? I know I’m no Gandalf the White yet. I’m not even Gandalf the Taupe! Maybe the reason I was drawn to the pastoral work in the past, maybe the reason I love being an executive coach now—maybe the reason I love being a Dad!—is because I’m following a call wired into my life. There is nothing that competes with this in potential and importance. Nothing.
What I do with this “call” matters in history. I don’t know to what degree, but I live every day with the assumption that my choices matter and I have a reason to exist.
I want to live an intentional life in (however) serious times.
I don’t know how you identify with history or The Lord of the Rings, but I’ll bet you’ve got a model for your version of a noble and focused life. You want your life to matter, too. Admit it.
There are figures you witness or read about and it stirs something in you to play a bigger game or swing for the fences. To be a part of some adventure bigger than yourself.
You Might Miss Your Chance
Sadly, for most people, it ends there.
The credits scroll and the feeling fades before we get to our cars (or click on the next thing).
We finish the final chapter breathless, but then we’ve got to answer some emails.
A podcast interview sparks 3 exciting ideas then a criticism reminds us that we'll probably fail.
The concert was jaw-dropping, but our guitar hasn't been touched in years.
We are experts at killing inspiration before it gets dangerous.
We allow the “spirit” in inspiration to surface, then sink back down when we intuitively assess the risk and discipline it would take to do anything about it.
As a result, we lose the vision. We lose the narrative. We lose a sense of purpose.
We stay safe, we play small, and we live reactively.
We might be busy—even stressed!—but we're not driven, because to be driven you have to know where you're driving.
You Can Do This.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
During the serious times of Adams and Jefferson, know one would've predicted with certainty if women and men would step up to meet the moment. No one could've possibly predicted if it would work if they did!
With this in mind, Thomas Paine crafted a series of tracts called The Crisis, published from 1776-1783. “These are the times that try men’s souls,” Paine opened. “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country.” But he also understood what would happen if men and women did not shrink from an intentional life. “... but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”
George Washington was so moved by Paine's writing that he ordered it read to his troops late in December 1776 when prospects looked bleak. Many soldiers were scheduled to end service on January 1, but were inspired to re-enlist. Later that month, America won at Trenton and the trajectory of war turned completely.
Another revolutionary figure—one who has unarguably left the biggest impression on human history to-date, once looked at a sea of humans and said, "You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see..." (Jesus, quoted in Matthew's biography, 5:14–16, New Living Translation)
Carpe Diem, "seize the day", has become so ubiquitous since Dead Poets Society, that we don't give it serious thought. It has basically come to mean "be present and savor the moment" as opposed to capturing, leveraging, betting, using! the moment.
For Jesus, seizing the day meant answering the challenge of the moment.
Where do you start? Men and women for generations have done two things to make history:
Understand the opportunities of the times (and even seeing the challenges as opportunities).
Understand your unique opportunity (role, circle of influence, contribution) paired with the times.
This may take some thinking—and certainly takes some help—but seizing it now matters.