After two advanced degrees, four years, 11 foreign countries, 53 classes, 72 course books, 132 hours of final exams, almost 100,000 pages of assigned reading, my 30th birthday, and my wedding, here ends the final week of my grad school experience! I still have four final exams left and thus, as any law student will tell you, the game is far from over. Nonetheless, sentimentality has set in, and with it a sense of appreciation as this adventure has likely been the most formative of my life thus far.
Experience is the highest price you can pay for wisdom; so, for what it’s worth, here are three of the lessons I’ve learned over the past four years.
1. Intentionality is an inescapable rule of life.
Intentionality is one of life’s unavoidable necessities. If you want to live well, you must learn to be intentional about making good decisions. Of course, there’s a balance to be struck with patience – but if you fail to be intentional you’ll inevitably miss out on a great deal of what life has to offer. You must actively resist the path of lease resistance. As a Christian, I find this to be one of the most interesting paradoxes of life: ‘Waiting on God’ (i.e., patiently delaying action in anticipation of His guidance) and ‘Waiting on God’ (i.e., taking action as a servant who knows his role). As this season comes to a seemingly sudden close, I have a new perspective on the Apostle Paul’s admonition that we ‘redeem our days’ and make the most of every opportunity (Ephesians 5:16). He calls time evil in part because each day expires so quickly. As a result, our lives are easily wasted! If we want to make the most of them, we must be intentional with every decision so we invest our time instead of just spending it.
“Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.”
– Francis Chan, Author of Crazy Love
2. Humility is good, even when it’s thrust upon you.
I used to pray daily, asking God to help me be a humble man. I don’t have to do that anymore because God answered with my grades first year of law school! As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, getting my first semester grades was an unpleasant experience that forced me to embrace humility while fighting off self-pity and confusion. As a result, I came to better understand the strengths and talents God has given me, and how to best apply them. I also learned to better appreciate those he has given other people (Romans 12:6-8). I now see that a proper view of self is critical to being effective in all areas of life. Paul seems to suggest that failing in this area is a peak of foolishness (James 1:23-24). Similarly, John Maxwell insists that “all is well that begins well.” Consequently, in the end, if we want to live the most impactful lives possible, we each need an accurate understanding of our unique talents, and the nexus between natural ability and hard work. Humility is the requisite foundation to build on.
“I rejoice in God’s righteousness. It is peace and joy. There is no anxiety or fatigue in it. It is always there – in me and for me. I cannot easily explain it or figure it out. The only adequate response is praise and service: I will let it humble me. I will let it free me. I will let it lift me up.”
– Professor Bernie James, Pepperdine University, School of Law (on Psalm 36:6-10)
3. Adversity clarifies priorities like nothing else can.
Any law student will attest to the apparent ‘life and death’ importance of first year grades. Accordingly, my lackluster performance immediately quashed my ‘big firm’ aspirations, at least in the near term. The deteriorating economy and worst-ever legal employment market added to my malaise. At first, I resented these constraints. My pride mutinied and, embittered and wondering if I’d taken the wrong step of faith in going back to school, I considered dropping out. However, as I embraced a new-found humility, I knew I had a choice: External constraints can frustrate us, or cause us to focus on what matters most. I’m a hard worker, but I just don’t possess the same cognitive horsepower or legal acuity as some of my classmates. So, I spent a great deal of time thinking about my deeper burdens – those that continue to grip my heart and keep me awake at night. I re-read my application essay, focused on the real reasons I decided to come back to school, and realized that my first semester grades had absolutely no relevance to those pursuits. I pressed on, and the adversity clarified the burdens on my heart. Happily, I also recovered academically.
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
– Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the United States
As I wrap things up here at Pepperdine, I am more aware than ever that I leave a part of myself in the places I experience – a legacy of opportunities taken, adversity endured, and lives invested in. I am also more confident that every person can make certain to leave the ‘right’ part – and have the most impact – by learning to be intentional, embrace humility, and press through adversity.
Leave a Comment: What significant lessons have you learned about intentionality, humility, or adversity? What else is required for living a life characterized by positive impact?