Lesson Learned, Value Added

As I write this post, I am at a new place in my psyche. I have been taking stock for the last year. Asking myself this question: How did I end up here? “Here” is not a pretty picture in some ways. As I write, I am 44, broke, twice divorced, and alienated from my two daughters. Now, to be fair, it’s not ALL bad. I am happily remarried to the most amazing woman I have ever known. For the first time in 25 years, I am happy and hopeful. I am moving forward. I have learned, however, that in order to move forward, it is good for me to know what I have done wrong, and look backward, so as not to repeat any mistakes. That is very good for me because I have made some big ones. My many mistakes all stem from a lesson I learned very early in life. I now know that the lesson I learned was wrong in so many ways. Yet, it has defined my entire existence until now. I have burned some very good bridges and lost many wonderful friends because of this one lesson I learned as a young boy. 

This lesson shaped my philosophy in life for thirty-four years. This lesson was taught to me by the most influential people in my life at that time, my parents. I’m not blaming them, mind you. At the time, it was what was working for them. No, my mistakes are MY fault and MY responsibility. It was this lesson that caused me to make the choices I made, not my parents. My father died with nothing to his name because of this lesson. My mother is not the same angry person she was back then. She is happier now and enjoying her life. I’m so glad. However, the lesson still resides beneath the surface and rears itself now and again in her words. My mother spoke the words of the lesson to me as a young boy, and my father lived the lesson by example.

So what was this lesson which so shaped my early philosophy and habits? Here it is: “Todd, no matter what, you always have to look out for number one.”

There are the thirteen words that were ingrained into my impressionable mind, and spoken to me by a woman who had been married for seventeen years to an undependable alcoholic. She was bitter when she said that; I understand that now. She meant well; I really do believe that. She had been hurt by someone she trusted and depended on. He failed her. He failed us all. She was forced into a place where her only defense was to depend on herself and not my father or ANY man. As I said earlier, I am not blaming her. I understand her now more than I EVER did.

I did take the lesson to heart those thirty-four years ago. Put yourself first. That is really easy to do, especially for a child. Me first, everyone else second. I will spare you the detailing and outlining of the many mistakes I've made and the many people I have disappointed and hurt through the years. The list would fill volumes. Suffice it to say, I am now reaping what I have sown. Big time. I had it coming, though.

I do not recall the exact moment, but I know it was recent. In this moment, I was brought face to face with all the damage I have caused by putting myself first and everyone else second.  Fortunately, there is another lesson I learned much later in life: It’s not how you start, but how you finish that matters most. The last ten years have been the most difficult. I caused a lot of it. I reacted badly. I was hurt badly. I became bitter. Being hurt is inevitable. Being miserable is a personal choice. In choosing misery, I alienated many people, including my children and my lifelong best friend. Having that mirror held to your face is more humbling than I can express in words. I will simply leave it at that. To write it all out would fill more volumes.

I have been on the road to redemption this year. Redemption has not been without its challenges. I remarried way over my head to a woman who was sent straight to me from Heaven! I have never been happier! Laura makes me want to be a better man. A few weeks ago, during a routine CT scan, cancer was discovered on Laura’s right kidney. The pain was on her left side. The surgeon said that the unrelated pain on the left side that she was being seen for had saved her life! It was a very deadly cancer and it was spreading fast. They were thankfully able to remove all of it. My own health has been an issue as well. Financially, this has been my most difficult year ever. We are not destitute. We are just broke. Too much month left at the end of the money. We are working on a strict budget and plan that I believe will help us make it.

I have never been more motivated to make some big changes. The late Jim Rohn said that, “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” I have really taken these words to heart. You see, I can name many other times where motivation was not lacking, but new habits were. So I have made a commitment to the Lord, my wife, and my children to change some things for the better. For me, this began with some deep, serious soul searching. The first and most important change I have made is in my philosophy of life. It can no longer be all about me. I want to live for others. My hero, the late Bruce Lee said that, “Real living is living for others.” I want that real living! My ultimate Hero, the Lord Jesus, says, "I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly." I want that too!

I receive a daily email called, “A Minute with Maxwell,” which is put out by John Maxwell, another of my life heroes. In these emails, he always concludes by asking us to share his videos so that they can “add value” to others’ lives. That expression, adding value to others’ lives, has been working its way through my soul. You see, for many years, I proceeded with the philosophy that others added value to MY life. I now believe that was wrong. Now I want to turn it around and find ways to express this concept of adding value to others everywhere I go, and starting at home. There are a number of things that I am doing right now that I am really excited about. Laura and I are doing a couple of home-based business opportunities that we believe will not only help us improve our financial position, but will allow us to add value in others as well.

I am involved in a church for the first time in 4 years. I am not on staff. Not seeking to be. I am just trying to help wherever I can, using whatever gifts I have. I am still teaching at Midlands Technical College. I am back in school this fall to finish my Masters. Those are big external changes. The real change is coming through the practice of several small disciplines that I am trying to do every single day.

If you have been around me for awhile, you have heard all of this before. If you get really bored one day, read through some of my older blog posts. They are usually titled with words like Transitions, New Attitude, or New Beginnings. They were moments where motivation was in ample supply, but disciplines were grossly lacking. A Pastor friend and another of my life heroes, Mike Gonzalez, once told me that I was unwilling to pay the price for what I wanted, and that I had a “what’s in it for me” attitude. I didn’t listen to him back then. He was right though. I was too self-focused to listen to him. I was too self-focused in those days to listen to anyone. I sure don’t want to make that mistake again.

For the last ten years, I have been lazy in learning. I am just being a sponge these days. Reading, listening, pondering, and considering. Another of my favorite life heroes, Rick Stilwell, inspires me to read and grow. He is certainly one who adds value to others.

I am also making goals and seeing small results. Small victories are still victories. They are worth celebrating! Another of my life heroes, Pastor Shane Phillips, once told me to “always celebrate the small things.”

This brings us to today. Rodney Dangerfield summed up most of my life at the end of the movie, "Back to School." “Look out for number one, but don’t step in number two.” I stepped in it a lot over the last three decades. I really don’t want to anymore.

I am cleaning and polishing my shoes, and hopeful for a better tomorrow. I sincerely hope that whoever reads this gets something from it. If all you get is, “Hey, Todd, you were a JERK,” then I guess that is something!  I’m praying for all of you! Here’s to victory…every single day! Blessings!


Rhonda Gibson said…
This is a wonderful message, Todd. I'm sure a blessing will come from the opening of your heart. Thank you.

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