Don’t let the opinions of the average man sway you. Dream, and he thinks you’re crazy. Succeed, and he thinks you’re lucky. Acquire wealth, and he thinks you’re greedy. Pay no attention. He simply doesn’t understand. — Robert G. Allen
“It’ll get old, trust me,” said the driver, smiling in a crooked sort of way as I stared out the window.
“What will get old?” I asked.
“The mountains,” he said. “Give it a year and you’ll get bored seeing the same thing.” His gaze never wavered from the road.
I had just been picked up at the Colorado Springs airport for my first duty station assignment in the U.S. Air Force. I was 19.
As a boy, I had traveled numerous times through the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee on trips to Florida with my family, but outside of magazine photos and television, I had never laid eyes on the Rockies.
My escort maintained his focus between the white lines. I held my view as well, scanning the crags and snow-capped peaks to our west. How could this get old? I wondered.
Average Is a Choice
When it comes to our height, our weight, the houses we live in and the cars we drive. The food we eat and the clothes we wear, the vacations we go on, and even the jobs we have, there is nothing wrong with average.
There is something wrong, however, with living average. I don’t mean the size of your pursuits, how many Facebook and Twitter followers you have (or don’t have), how impressive your job is (or isn’t), or how big this BIG thing is that you’re doing (or how little) compared to what others are doing. That all falls in the list above—they’re just things, sometimes dictated by circumstance. I’m talking about your outlook. Your mindset. The way you live your life, regardless of anything else.
I think about people like John O’Leary. At nine years old he was engulfed in flames playing with matches and a can of gasoline. 100% of his body was burned and he was given a one percent chance of surviving his first night in the hospital. My wife and I were fortunate to have met him once and hear him speak. His fingers appear melded together and curled, yet he shakes your hand, gives you a hug, and smiles a huge smile. Part of his catchphrase is “Ignite Your Possibility.”
Who in their right mind would want to use motivational words that are a constant reminder of something terrible in their past? John doesn’t have to do any of this, but he chooses to, and it changes lives. (You can hear more about John’s story at Rising Above.)
I think about Nick Vujicic. An Australian man born with no arms and legs. As far as average goes, his body doesn’t come close to meeting the bar. He has every reason to be pissed at the world, and at God—or deny God altogether—for being born this way, yet he chooses to speak out in faith about how God is big enough to overcome any disability. Nick may be far below average in stature but he is living an above average life. (Read more about Nick’s story at Life Without Limbs.)
My good friends Mike and Christa Shore have a similar story. Mike was diagnosed with a life-threatening lung disease which nearly took his life several times over the course of six years and through two lung transplants. Several times they could have given up hope, but they continued to believe that either through life or death their story could help somebody else.
Mike, who barely had enough oxygen to breathe at one point let alone speak, is now the pastor of the church we attend. He teaches a sermon twice each weekend and has told his story numerous times in public. (I’m honored to be working with them to tell their story; read here for details).
Don’t Get Fenced In
Choosing to find and use your unique gift is what sets you apart from the average life, no matter how small, stupid, or insignificant it may look to others, and no matter what life has put you through. But it’s a choice you have to make.
One of my biggest fears is that I will have lived my life conforming to the expectations of everyone else instead of walking in the direction that I know in my heart I need to go. Essentially living life within the confines of somebody else’s plans, or subscribing to somebody elses outlook (in particular the negative ones), never free to explore my own dreams.
The lyrics from Robert Fletcher and Cole Porter’s “Don’t Fence Me In” come to mind (I’ve rearranged this slightly):
Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love
Let me be by myself in the evenin’ breeze
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please
Don’t fence me in
And I can’t look at hobbles and I can’t stand fences
Don’t fence me in
People like Nick, John, Mike, and Christa have refused to let their circumstances or the opinions of others fence them. That doesn’t mean they don’t get mad, don’t struggle, or that everything comes easy. Listen to their stories and you’ll find they had severe moments of darkness and doubt, but through choice, faith, and the love of encouraging people, they found light, truth, and purpose—and a reason to keep going.
See the Beauty, Climb Over the Fence
If you feel average, or below average, and maybe all of those other things about you are average (your body, your income, your house, etc.), but why can’t you live above that? You can! It starts by choosing to look at life different from the average person.
Explore for yourself what others are telling you. Don’t just automatically believe it. Even what I’m telling you! Ask. Investigate. Dream. Pray.
I spent nine years living along the front range mountains of Colorado. Minus a few trips out of town, that’s 3,287 days of driving north and south and east and west in the mountains. Seasons burst forth in colors and fragrances of wildflowers, pine and aspen, dew, rain, and snow. Wildlife danced in step with nature’s rhythm, sending elk, mule deer, and mountain goats up and down landscapes sculpted by time and weather. Clouds billowed, sun beams and shadows rose and fell along the face of the mountains every minute.
I could have believed the driver that day, trusting his been-there-done-that attitude, and waiting for the day I could tell the next guy, “Dude, it’ll get old.” Instead I chose to look for myself. Every day.
I’m sure he had a reason to feel the way he did—we all have a past. Unfortunately I never saw him again, though I sometimes think about him. And I wonder if he’s still behind his fence.