When’s the last time you set out to accomplish much more than you knew you were capable of? I mean, really stretched yourself. I’m talking — to the point that if you tried to explain what you were doing to anyone else, they’d either try to talk you out of it, or at the very least pity you for being so abundantly dumb.
We don’t collectively try this as a culture. For the most part, it’s not safe. Don’t believe me? Try it. You’ll find most people will respond in a “wise” yet condescending tone with questions that have seemingly obvious answers. Any of these sounds familiar?
- But haven’t you thought of…?
- Well don’t you think you should at least…?
- Why aren’t you…?
- Okkkaaay, don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Talk about buzz kill.
But I get it. We all genuinely want to help one another — and when we see someone doing something that is absolutely ridiculous, we want to help set them in the right direction. I’m guilty of this pretty much every day of my life.
Yet, what would the world look like if we believed in people’s ability to accomplish more than we thought they were actually capable of? What if we went as far to encourage those who dare to accomplish what is clearly and unavoidably impossible. I’m serious. Stop and think about it. Is it such a crazy thought?
Many of you might be a little too quick to agree with me in theory; but in practice, I’ve observed that most of us tend to play the role of “wise mentor”, offering counsel and sound advice to our closest friends and family. AKA, we discourage, and squash, otherwise great ideas. We stomp on them like an five year old boy killing hapless ants with his pointer finger for the first time.
What’s the result of this? We stop sharing our passions with one another. Eventually, we stop having passion altogether. We begin to live bland, monotonous, and colorless lives. Dispassionate about everything, we become restrained, well-tempered, and overly conservative about every word we exhale. Simply put, we become old and boring and dissatisfied.
But let me remind you why, beyond common sense, we should immediately break this awful cultural habit. A bunch of really old dudes, from like, a few thousand years ago, thought there was a reason to believe in ordinary people doing extra-ordinary things. A guy named Isaiah, David, and even Paul all talked about how they were great, not because of anything they could do, but because of the strength of the Lord. And there was this prophet named Habakkuk, who some 1,691 years ago said something like this,
The Lord GOD is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, And makes me walk on my high places. For the choir director, on my stringed instruments.
Okay, that sounds pretty familiar. Yada-yada. Heard that one a million times, “are you going to quote Philippians 4:13 next, Ryan?”. Not yet. But listen, what was that about, “made my feet like hind’s feet”? What does that even mean?? …Habakkuk was basically saying,
look guys, God’s made me capable of doing some really cool things that I’d never be able to do by myself — he’s allowed me to overcome stuff that shouldn’t even be possible (seriously!)
And then Habakkuk finishes with this crazy line,
For the choir director, on my stringed instruments.
What?! That doesn’t even make sense. I bet you overlooked it, I know I did. But let me break it down for you: Habakkuk is really saying something like this,
go ahead and throw your best dubstep mix tape behind this quote, cause I’m about to MIC DROP.
Whoah. Turns out Habakkuk was actually a pretty cool dude. Not so boring and liturgical after all. But does God even still do this kind of stuff, or was this kind of like a “prophets only club” benefit. Well, I’ll speak from personal experience.
Now this is a story all about how, my life got twisted upside down…
For those of you who know me, you’ll know that for some reason, most people think I’m really smart. I continually tell people I’m not, they just think I’m being humble. But I’m here to tell you, I’m really not all that smart. Want proof? In high school I was at about the 46th percentile in my class (aka, super average).
“Well that’s not that bad Ryan, that’s about 4 out of 10, there were 6 people behind you!”
Thanks Mr. Optimist. But, you don’t understand. There were about 700 people in my graduating class. That means that 322 people were smarter than me.
Want more proof? In college, I changed my major four times. I started pre-med, and my grades were horrible. I would make study guides for all my tests, and memorize them (all 8 pages), and I still got C’s and D’s. So I took that as a sign that premed wasn’t right for me and changed my major to computer engineering.
After a semester of that, and failing half my classes, I decided that wasn’t right either. I played with the idea of business, then philosophy and landed on Psychology (“super hard major, Ryan!”). Let’s just say I wasn’t wearing any ribbons or badges when I graduated college (and by the way, I didn’t actually graduate until two years after I was supposed to, because well, I had a few more credits to conjure up).
So believe me, I’m actually not a smart guy by default (I know some of you are already chiming in with “we didn’t need proof Ryan, we believed you from the get go!”).
So what does a not smart guy like me do for a living? I’m a solution architect, devops guru, sysops engineer, full-stack developer, and technical consultant.
- Want to guess how many classes I took to do that? Zero.
- Or how many computer sciences courses or books I read? Zero and zero.
- Or how long did I study to learn six different computer languages, in efforts to land my first full-time gig in the field of engineering? Less than two weeks.
Yeah, and I’m telling you, just look back at my collegiate effort (including miserably failing when I had just one semester of computer engineering seven years prior). You’ll be reminded that I’m not actually capable of learning six technology languages in less than two weeks.
If it’s not yet clear to you, I am bragging about things I am naturally terrible at, so that you know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the only reason I can be any kind of half way decent at what I do today is directly and explicitly because of the Lord. This is what Paul means when he says that he boasts about his weakness, that the Lord may be glorified. This is a real life, modern-day example — not some stuffy, dusty — possibly literary only — example from a few hundred years ago.
And to prove my point without any room for doubt, here’s a short list of just a few of the different technology languages and frameworks I’ve somehow learned in the last two and a half years:
That’s stupid. There’s no way I’m capable on my own volition of learning or understanding those things, much less excelling in them. But when the Lord has a plan, He makes possible the impossible. And He does it in style.
So let me be the first to tell you, any success in my life is a direct result of some grace and favor the Lord is doing. Not by my own strength, but of His.
But how did I get started?
I can tell you, it wasn’t by a bunch of people telling me all the things I hadn’t yet fully thought through before interviewing for a full-time full-stack engineer position after having only spent two weeks learning the six minimum required languages.
And it certainly wasn’t by somebody being so kind as to remind me of my GPA in high-school, or college, or the fact that I failed physics electrical and magnetic because I had no clue what was going on in class, or by reminding me that I dropped out of Calculus 2 because I couldn’t even understand what the instructor was writing on the board (were those letters, or numbers, or…).
So, how did I get started?
It was by three different people, within the span of three days, asking me (independently) for no apparent reason if I’d ever consider a career as a developer.
The first person who encouraged me took me aside at 7:30am on a Tuesday morning, and simply asked if I’d ever considered a career in development. Why, oh why (being on a a customer service team) would I ever listen to them — given that I had absolutely zero background in engineering (aside from the happy memory of failing a semester)?
Well, the night before, I had an seemingly ordinary (and random) thought that I should consider a career in development. It struck me as crazy, but crazy enough to pay attention to.
So I responded, “Lord, if that’s something from you, I’ll followup on it, but how about you send someone tomorrow to confirm it’s not just me rambling?”.
“GOTCHYA!” I thought. The Lord isn’t really going to send someone. BOOM. Done. I’ll just sit here comfortably in this position I seem to be doing fine in. But lo-and-behold, the next morning, one of the three lead developers at my company pulled me aside with a simple word of encouragement, “have you ever considered a career in development”.
As if that wasn’t enough, I thought, “eh, that might have just been coincidence. If you really want me to go through this thing, how about one more person tomorrow?”
Any guesses as to what happened the next day? You guessed right. The second of three lead developers — again, independently — pulled me aside and asked, “have you ever considered a career in development?”
How simple is that. Would I have ever gone through with the interview had those two people not proactively pulled me aside? Would I have ever thought to ask them? No and no.
What if I had received zero encouragement, AND what if my closest friends and family had spent their precious time warning me against an unwise and unfounded career change. Would that have motivated me? Would that have been helpful?
Thank God (literally) that my friends and family were crazy enough to dream with me.
I tell you, it is encouragement, not wisdom, that moves this world forward. Encouragement, not wisdom, that binds the body of Christ. Encouragement, not wisdom, that stirs faith amidst our spirits.
Wisdom is great. I love wisdom to death. But by itself, wisdom is the ultimate fire extinguisher for any kindling of passion beneath our hearts and souls.
Encouragement is what this world needs most. The Lord will take care of paving wisdom for those who seek it. But people need encouragement. Don’t be the person that squanders someone’s passions and dreams. Stop being the ‘realist’ for a moment, and encourage your spouse, your kids, your parents, your friends, your dog..someone. Encourage.
Encouragement is what enables us to trust one another with our deepest and most sacred thoughts, desires, and passions. It unlocks the door to happiness, to freedom of expression. Encouragement allows ordinary people to become extra-ordinary.
The power of encouragement is far greater than you could ever imagine. Be an encourager. And in case you’re a little out of practice, here’s some animal meme’s to get you started.
I’m glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess—happy that you’re again showing such strong concern for me. Not that you ever quit praying and thinking about me. You just had no chance to show it. Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. I don’t mean that your help didn’t mean a lot to me—it did. It was a beautiful thing that you came alongside me in my troubles.
Philippians 4:10-14 (MSG)