Living a Life That Matters

Fred Smith frankly discusses what it takes to have a life worth living.

By Fred Smith

A life worth living is available, but you must earn it. You must honestly want it - consistently want it. Emerson said, "Be careful, young man, what you want, for you will have it." He was talking about the thing that you want deep down in your heart, the lodestar, the thing that is the magnet to which you are drawn. So many people I see really don't want the life they've got; they want "something else" but they haven't been willing to go through the pain of defining what they want.

One of the most telling truths of Christ's ministry was at the pool of Bethesda when he said to the man who had been there 38 years, "do you really want to be healed?" I used to think that was a very foolish question, but the longer I live with people, the more I need to know what they honestly want. The rich young ruler claiming that he wanted to understand eternal life, heard Christ say to him, "sell all you have and give it to the poor." Christ knew that he could not reach spirituality by doing away with his money but he also knew that his money was his treasure. If the young man wanted to talk about one treasure while holding another he would be schizoid. The scripture says that we cannot serve two masters, and Christ knew that wealth was the master of the rich young ruler.

A friend, when one of his young executives comes to him unable to do something asks, "Is this something you can't or won't do?" Then he goes ahead to say, "If you can't do it, I can help you. If you won't do it, nobody can help you." I see so much time wasted by people trying to help people who don't want to be helped. I don't like to build a 95% bridge.

As an executive, when I look at problems I generally find that the basis is either ignorance or ego. If it's ignorance, often I can help. If it's ego, I have never found the way to help. One Saturday a young businessman came in without an appointment and imposed on me for an hour or two telling me about his terrible personal problems. I thought I was talking to a 16-year-old boy instead of a 35-year-old man. I listened, asked a few questions and saw that all he wanted to do was upchuck emotionally on somebody — and he had picked me. I didn't go to the office on Saturday morning to let people drop in and do that. When he left I determined he wasn't going to do that again. However, sure enough, the next Saturday morning he came again. As he started the same story over again I stopped him and said, "What have you done during this past week to improve the situation?" Of course he had done nothing because in his own mind it wasn't his problem to solve—it was what the parents had done to him. Never before nor since have I done this, but I picked up a New Testament, handed it to him and said, "Until you've read this from cover to cover, don't come back in here." He never came back, and I'm sure he went all over town telling what a lousy Christian Smith was and what a hard-hearted executive I was. I had rather be thought hard-hearted than waste time on people who are intellectually dishonest about their problems.

There are two questions that I want to ask of those who want my help in achieving a life worth living:

(1) What have you done to help yourself?

The other evening I was visiting with a middle-aged man who looked like a comer when he was young. I've been surprised that he has not really made a success of his life. He left a large corporation that he joined directly from school as a bright and promising young star. I began to understand it when we were talking about the disciplines necessary to pull ourselves out of emotional slumps. He said, "Sometimes I just like being in them and I don't want anybody to pull me out until I have completely enjoyed the funk." I began to see that he had a negative narcissism that an executive simply can't afford.

(2)What am I willing to have done for me? There are times when we cannot do it alone. We need someone else to help and we need to ask for that help. There are times when only God can provide the help. We must be humble enough at that time to reach out and say, "Please help." False pride will extinguish the fire of a meaningful life.

The life you have is the result of your choices. If you want a different life, make different choices. A life worth living is worth wanting.