Your life matters. You probably already know that. At some level, most people do understand that. But, here is the problem. Most people do not understand how much their life matters. The reason that most of us do not realize the full extent to which our life matters is because we can’t see much beyond our nose. That sounds harsh. But, for the average person, it is true. I’ll explain more. But, here is what I want you to take away from this assertion. It doesn’t have to be that way. You were born to be a ladder that connects yourself and others to something transcendent. Until you do, your ladder will never be fully extended.
In my garage, I have a fiberglass extension ladder. Ladders are great metaphors for life’s journey. Just as the rungs of the ladder will take us either up or down, so is the lesson of life.
Which direction are your steps taking you? We can think of your best you or your ultimate dream as being at the top of the ladder. We can think of your comfort zone that comes naturally to you as being the first rung on the ladder.
You then must continually ask yourself three questions.
Question #1: “What is at the top of your ladder?”
I see the problem over and over again. People want help moving towards their dream. Makes sense. But, they don’t really know what their dream is. To stick with the ladder metaphor, they are not sure what is at the top of their ladder. The reality is that you don’t have to have this crystal clear vision. But, you have to feel something. That feeling is called passion. And, passion is the fuel that pushes you up the ladder. Until you know about what you’re passionate, you will never really step in the direction of your destiny. You will simply keep jumping from one ladder to another until you get frustrated and forget the climb. The other reason that you have to follow the sound of your passion is that if you don’t know where you are going then a map isn’t going to help you. Nobody can help you get to an uncertain destination.
I know what is at the top of my ladder. It is my dream to empower leaders at home, in ministry, and in the workplace to build authentic relationships that convert to actionable results. That is my pursuit of influence.
The reality is though I’m going to give it the best that I have I will never actually reach the last rung on that ladder. You won’t either. That isn’t the point. It is the process of going for it or the journey towards it that matters. There will always be more to be reached. But, here is
Question #2: “On what rung are you standing?”
You need an honest appraisal of where you are. This is important because if you don’t know where you are a map isn’t going to help you. The problem is that so many people are in denial about God placed in them to accomplish. Maybe this is a result of low self-esteem. Maybe it is the harried lifestyle that makes it hard to think about more abstract pursuits. Maybe its the distractions that keep us focused on the things that really don’t give us joy.
Regardless of its origin, the key point here is that each of us is accountable to be a steward of what God has placed in our hands. There is an excellent biblical parable (The Parable of the Talents) found in the book of Matthew 25 that illustrates this responsibility. I will give a synopsis. A Master entrusts three servants with varying amounts of resources to invest for him. To one he gives 10 “talents” another five talents, and the third one talent. The Master then departs the region for a lengthy period of time. The servants who received ten and five talents invested what was entrusted to their care and were able to provide a 100% return to the master. However, the servant with only one talent did nothing with what was placed in his care. He simply gave the Master back what was originally given to him. While the savvy servants were handsomely rewarded by the Master, the lowly servant was called slothful, lazy, and was ultimately deposed by the Master.
What have you done with the investment that the Master has given you? That is what it means to look at where you are on the ladder. Are you acquiring the knowledge and connections to live out your life’s purpose. You may have stepped out of your comfort zone to the first rung of the ladder. That is a great start. But, you can’t stay there. What does it take to get to that next rung? Remember, it’s the passion that pushes you to go higher. If there is no passion, you are on the wrong ladder. You need to dismount and go find your ladder.
Maybe you got on the ladder that someone else wanted you on rather than listening to your own heart. You’ve heard those stories before of the physician who has a successful practice. But hates her job because she only did it to please her parents. What she really wants to do is help orphaned children. This physician needs a plan to get off of this medical ladder and mount the one that she was born to climb.
What are the biggest obstacles to honestly assessing the rung on which we are standing? There are two primary ones. The first is a visceral fear of what we might discover. The second one is called commitment bias. This means that you feel like you have too much invested in this to dismount. Regardless of how dissatisfied you feel, you fear the implications of giving up all of the steps that you’ve already taken. I know that this can be hard.
I remember back to the time when I left a fifteen career in information technology. My undergraduate degree what is this field. I had a Master’s degree in Systems Engineering to bolster my position in this field. I had successfully climbed the corporate “ladder” to the management ranks. It was only when my passion to impact families became greater than my fear of loss was I able to make the bold move to relocate my family across the country and pursue education in the behavioral sciences.
It is hard to switch ladders when you’ve invested a lot into it. But, your life depends on it. Get a plan in place to dismount and start the climb for which you were built.
Question #3: How do I take the next step?
Would be leaders often struggle to reach their lofty aspirations not because they don’t have passion but because they lack focus. Leaders tend to be idea people. We have plenty of ideas. That, of course, is our blessing. But, it can be our curse if left unchecked. We can get so focused on the top of the ladder, the other people on the ladder, and the other distractions that the ladder introduces. What we lose is focus on the very next rung.
That happens to me so frequently that it is almost laughable—if it wasn’t so frustrating. There is a proverb, “man who chases two rabbits catches neither”. And, some of you are chasing dozens of rabbits. Your climb is stunted because you’ve lost your focus on the next step. You need focus in order to move up the ladder with a sense of purpose and commitment.
How do you accomplish this? You have to stop thinking about all of the stuff that you could do and just focus on the one thing that will generate the most momentum for you. I will say it another way for emphasis. Assuming that you are actually on the right ladder, pick ONE thing that you can do right now to generate momentum towards your area of passion. And, do not do anything else until that ONE thing is done.
This simple yet profound concept is behind Gary Keller’s New York Times Bestseller, “The ONE thing: The surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results” (affiliate link). There is no designated pace at which you have to climb your ladder. But, dutifully climbing it you must in order to satiate that passionate fire within you.
My hope is that these three questions will encourage you along your own climb. There is nothing more dispiriting than spending your life climbing a ladder only to reach the end of your life and realize that your ladder was leaning against the wrong wall.
I started this post with an assertion that many of us struggle because we can’t see beyond our own selves. Here is the truth. Yes, you are climbing your own life’s ladder towards your purpose. But, at the same time you are the ladder for other people. You are their connection to their purpose. Their ultimate reach in life is directly connected to how high your ladder extends because you can never really show someone how to climb somewhere that you have never done yourself. Theory doesn’t help here. It is experience that matters.
Your children’s climb is dependent on yours. Your spouse’s climb is intricately linked with your own. Your life is the scaffold for your family and so many others that you don’t yet know. Some of them you will never know. That’s okay. All you have to do is keep answering those three questions and then climb like your life depends on it because it does—as do the lives of all those you hold dear. As you climb you will see that like that extension ladder in my garage, you will keep extending in your influence and reach.
Leave me a comment and let me what you have struggled with in your own climb? How can I encourage you for that next step.
Praying for your climb.
I encourage you to go to my website haroldarnold.com and get your copy of the free resource, “10 Proven Steps to Your Extraordinary Influence” to help you with your climb.