I just finished editing Lead Like Butler, the wonderful analysis of the deeper reasons for the Cinderella success of the Butler University basketball team in the NCAA basketball tournaments of 2010 and 2011. The epilogue talks about the failure of the 2011-2012 team to receive a tournament bid. The team was young; six of fifteen players were freshmen, and seasoned leaders of previous years had departed. As writer Judy Cebula says,
Just like his mentor, Coach Stevens, senior Ron Nored did not mince words about a disappointing season. Like Stevens, he is passionate about winning. The Bulldogs lost games they needed to win, he said. They didn’t compete at the level they hoped for. And this was the last shot for Nored, the player who had been to the Final Four twice. Yes, there was disappointment and sadness. But there was clarity about what it means to lead, and about faith. “The thing that kept me going were my teammates. I have to leave here, but they have to stay, they have to carry on the next year. They need to be left with positive energy and deeper understanding about the way things are done here. That is what was handed down to me and I needed to push myself so I could help hand it down to them.”
He needed to push himself.
The beauty of goals is that they make success concrete. Goals push us to a favored end and give us reasons to celebrate. Big goals can lead to amazing results. But they don’t last. Some call it the “recency effect” or the what-have-you-done-lately phenomenon. I learned pretty early on that in spite of resumes and curriculum vitae, our achievements only serve as an end to one path and an entry to the next path in life.
Sometimes, a sustained relationship or previous accomplishment will bear fruit, like a perky perennial that pops up in a future garden. But we can’t build a crop on the past. We have to continue to seed a new garden, every year. Because the danger is that, once achieved, we get stuck. We don’t see the future coming. We wake up one day and our achievements are in the past.
When I left Ginghamsburg Church after achieving several big goals, I told my ministry partner Jason Moore that I never wanted to be a “former media minister” or a former anything. He wondered why I seemed to dismiss my accomplishments. I told him that I didn’t want to be defined by my accomplishments, but rather by my calling.
Once discovered, a calling never ends. A college basketball coach, a math teacher, a farmer, pastor, a communicator – any person who lives life by passion and a greater purpose must always return to the calling. There are always freshmen in life: new people, fresh and teachable faces that don’t yet know the nobility and challenge of our values. The final scene of the Butler story is not the NCAA tournament championship appearance, but the gym on a sunny morning the next fall. The camera, low to the ground, pans to the coach bouncing a ball on an empty court as new players walk in.
Our challenge is to to celebrate what has come before but be defined by the passion underneath the achievement. To make new goals, to push ourselves. When we keep our eyes on the bigger prize of the values that drive us, we find a deeper joy than any single achievement can offer. This is the passion that helps us move on to the next thing.