What would you pay for hindsight?

Being where we are in this season of our journey, has brought literally hundreds of new friends into our lives. Many of these people have impacted our hearts and our perspective in all sorts of ways, some however, have left deeper marks…

Several weeks ago, Jim and I shared coffee and conversation with Nat, an economics honours student from Sydney University, who was visiting Crossroads for a couple of weeks. As this young man shared a part of his heart with us, we listened – intently.
“Could you write down what you are telling us, and send it to me in an email,” I asked him. “And…would it be ok if I shared this with others?”
Nat smiled. “Sure, I’ll send you something in the next day or so.”

Here below is a wondrous window into the heart and spirit of a young man, who was Head Boy at one of the best private schools in Sydney, and is studying on a full scholarship at Sydney University. Already the world has shown itself to be his ‘oyster’, and yet at 21 years of age, he is profoundly blessed to know that there are pearls of much greater price – and value.

‘The world these days is geared towards encouraging us to accumulate what we do not need. Everything plays on our selfish desires. We’re told that the mark of success is what we have, how much we earn, how popular we are, how many people serve us.
I think the opposite. That the mark of a person is the number of people he or she serves, that we should focus not on getting but on giving, and that we should pursue our passions – not what we’re told we should pursue.

I don’t deny that it is very tempting to take success as the world defines it. This has become very apparent to me in the past couple of years. Last year, I was offered close to A$100,000 to work at Boston Consulting Group this year (instead of completing my Economics Honours). They said that if I worked there for two years, I would get a pay rise close to $150,000, then after another year they’d pay for me to do a Business Management Masters Program at Harvard. Then I’d get another pay rise, and some years later be considered for a partner position, probably earning close to $1million.

I’ve also been offered a few other jobs with the Reserve Bank of Australia and NAB. In each case, the businesses create an incentive structure that lures you into staying with the business for a long period of time. I imagine it would be quite easy to start work at one of these commercial firms with the intention of staying for only a couple of years, but then to find yourself staying for a couple of decades.
Unfortunately, this is what happens to a lot of people. Many people I have talked to who have worked in the commercial world have gotten to the age of 40-60, only to ask ‘What was the point of it all?’ It’s a shame that it takes people this long to realize that the message that is drilled into us about success is ultimately a lie.

Similarly, I’ve also been offered some quite lucrative part-time jobs, which I have not accepted because I know that if I take them up, it will reduce the time I can spend working with non-profit organizations such as World Vision, The White Ribbon Foundation, and 180 Degrees Consulting.
I guess it all comes down to priorities.

We all die in the end, and at that point the amount of possessions we have accumulated count for nothing.
When was the last time you heard of someone on his or her deathbed say ‘I wish I had worked longer hours to earn more money,’ or ‘I wish I was more famous?’
What’s more common is for people to say ‘I wish I had used my time and money to help others,’ or ‘I wish I had invested more in meaningful relationships.’

To illustrate this in a completely different way, so many times when sportspeople win a major event, they say something along the lines of, ‘It still hasn’t sunk in yet’. I think what they are actually saying is, ‘I’ve worked so hard for this, it’s not as good as I thought it would be, but I’m hoping it’ll get better.’ Wealth and fame rarely make us content. On the other hand, many of the children I have met in Africa and other developing countries are very happy. When you give them a soccer ball or even a balloon, it makes their day. It’s the simple and unselfish things in life that make us content.

I don’t want to spend my life being focused on me – getting money to spend on me, or trying to get famous so people will notice me. I strive not to be someone, but to do something worthwhile. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been given so many opportunities. I feel a deep desire to use whatever abilities I have been given to help those in need. This isn’t something that I want to do for a week or a month, or even a year. It’s something I want to do for my whole lifetime. That’s why I turned down the job offers. That’s why I’m going to, instead, pursue my passion for helping others, particularly through social entrepreneurship and development economics.

I want to do whatever job will enable me to have the largest social impact – whether it is starting up my own social venture, or working with non-profit organizations to develop creative solutions to social problems (similar to my work with 180 Degrees Consulting), or working with social entrepreneurship organizations such as the Skoll Foundation or Ashoka.

I admire the work of people like Jeffrey Sachs, Tim Costello and Muhammad Yunus, but I admire even more the work of people who are not well known, who receive no recognition for their work, yet who day in and day out do what they can to help make the world a better place.

One of my favourite quotes is ‘The path you take with your feet should never contradict the conviction of your heart’. If my heart is in serving others, then the path I take with my feet must be in that direction as well.’

Listening to, and getting to know, Nat a little when he was here, has made me realise more deeply a few key truths:
Firstly, one does not have to reach the age of 65… or be lying on one’s death bed, to be struck with the insights that Nat has shared.
Secondly, if these profound insights do begin to nag at us, disturb our sleep, disrupt our 10 year plan…. then perhaps we should begin to pay attention to them, before the years literally turn into the decades Nat talked about, and we suddenly witness the sackful of pennies dropping, and see all too clearly that, as one cynic put it, ‘we’ve been climbing a ladder that was propped against the wrong wall’.
Thirdly, and all too obviously, our life – and our character- will ultimately reflect every decision we make – whether it is to help out in an orphanage in Africa or to say ‘no’ to a lucrative job offer.

As I reflect on our times with Nat, I know we have met an extraordinary young man, who has been making life decisions since his late teens. And those decisions are based on values infinitely deeper than dollars and peer status.
And it seems to me that were hindsight a commodity that people could invest in or buy- Nat, at 21, has accumulated dividends which are already reaping him more than satisfactory returns

One Response to “What would you pay for hindsight?”

  • Debbie:

    Thank you for sharing Nat’s heart and your own – I am caught right now with the nagging sense that ‘this is not my life’ and the worldy wisdom of settling in a home to give the kids security, have them go to the same school and have the same friends etc – yet I can’t shake the feeling that it is not what I am to do. At 44 may I incline my heart and ear to what the Spirit is saying.

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