In America, for decades, we have been conditioned to evaluate individuals based on their outward appearance, accomplishments, and possessions. Too often success is measured and defined by these attributes. This reality has led too many of us to accentuate the outward and diminish the inner. This inordinate obsession for several generations has sadly devalued the importance of one’s character.
This distorted priority has wreaked great havoc and resulted in an unquantifiable loss to our lives, culture and nation. And in our businesses, this de-emphasis on the inner in favor of the outward has led to misdirected priorities, often resulting in short-term material gains but long term character losses.
Having been engaged in business for the last 35 years, I can affirm that there have been too many instances where I have also bought the lie that success is measured by the outward. This subtle deception is so easy to succumb to that even someone who knows the importance of the inner, can easily be caught up in the simplistic pursuit of the outward.
Scripture is replete with teachings regarding this truth but here are a couple:
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23)
“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7)
If we are to believe not only the Truths above but also what observation in life can teach us, then we should acknowledge that we, too, can be tempted frequently to diminish the greater in pursuit of the lesser.
As I think about my own personal and business life, I can see glaring examples of instances and goals that were certainly temporal in nature. While in themselves these goals were not wrong, if they became a driving force in my life, in place of the focus on my heart, or character, then it was clear that I had embraced the deception of our culture.
As early as I can remember, I’ve had an obsession with cars, and the more exotic the better. As a young child, my craze was limited to 99 cents matchbox cars and I had a nice collection of them (which I still have to this day). As an adult though, the Ferrari matchbox car quickly changed to a goal of owning the real thing. I eventually did acquire one and then another and another. But the question I have had to confront though is this. Has my pursuit at times of the outward exceeded my focus on the inner? Was the focus on what was parked in my garage or the balance in my bank account of greater importance than that given to my inner growth?
I think also of the initial business plan that my business partner and I formulated back in the mid 90’s. Our first projections were to grow the company to in excess of 75 properties in five years, a monumental feat that would have required $400-500 million in funding. While we never achieved that level of growth, we did still see results that were beyond our expectations. However, with the initial projections driving us, there were instances when we hastily acquired real estate, including in Nevada and California, to expand into — places we should have never considered. Those two states alone resulted in millions of dollars in losses. And looking back, I have to acknowledge that to some degree, the chase to grow was motivated more by a desire for outward success than anything else.
While I could go on with examples of my own personal struggle in accentuating the outward while minimizing the inner, many entrepreneurs will likely admit that they too have battled this same temptation.
So what is the solution to keep from being lured into the spirit of our culture that places short-term shallow pursuits above long-term inner growth, character development, and destiny? I believe there are many principles we can incorporate into our lives that can keep our lives in balance with a focus on our inner growth. But perhaps this non-original statement summarizes the process that will ultimately determine our character and destiny:
Sow a thought, reap an action.
Sow an action, reap a habit.
Sow a habit, reap a character.
Sow a character, reap a destiny.
As Proverbs 4:23 indicates above, everything we are and become flows from our heart, or thoughts. Our thoughts are intensely personal, but they are deeply influenced by the external. So the question is what external forces or ideas are influencing your thoughts? Are they the popular myths of culture that define your worth, value and success based on what you have and what you’ve accomplished? Or do you allow the Truths of Scripture, the wisdom of the ages, to keep your thoughts grounded in order to resist the prevailing whims of culture?
Do you ever wonder why you do certain things or why you have certain priorities? Check your thoughts. Before an action can occur in your life or mine, there had to have been thoughts that drove it. If you’re pleased with the actions you are taking, then continue the thoughts you are entertaining and dwelling on. But if your actions displease you, then go back to the motivator of those actions, your thoughts.
A habit is simply the repeating of the same action long enough to the point that it becomes a routine and can even occur unconsciously. Could anyone deny that the “habit” many businessmen have embraced today is to evaluate other businessmen and women based on their outward appearance and apparent trappings of success. Perhaps because many of us do this, we can be tempted to “keep up with the Joneses” and in this small way be pulled into the lure of the outward.
The inner qualities that each of us possesses, that which we call character, are what ultimately guide our decisions and choices and determine our destiny. Success, as measured by our culture, may increase our options in life and provide us added comforts. But ultimately the measure of an entrepreneur is not determined by the profitability of his business, or the cars in his garage, or the size of his bank accounts. Rather, it is determined by the character he has built, and that begins with the thoughts he embraces.
Are you and I thinking Truth, or are we influenced and deceived by our culture? If the former is our guide, then the character we are building will most certainly achieve true and lasting success. And in many instances, our outward success will ultimately mirror the inner growth we are achieving.