What do you want out of life? The standard answer is something like, “I want to be happy, or I want to be successful.” With these answers people can be focused on different areas of life — relationships, career, finances, spirituality or significance to name a few. Since no one consciously starts life with the goal of being a failure, why do so many feel like one? What does it take to move your life upward in a positive direction? This would seem to be a desire that is consistent with the theology of being created in the image of God. Many books are written on this subject, and several traits of successful people could be discussed in this article. However, let’s just focus on one principle — the exchange principle. This principle simply stated is, “you have to give up to go up.” In other words, what are you willing to exchange or give up from your current reality to reach your preferred reality?
The first step is to take an honest assessment of your current reality or what will eventually be called your old normal. This is a very hard step for most of us. As Jeremiah said, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT). We are all prone to denial and self-deception. We also can be overly optimistic or pessimistic. To combat these tendencies, we should have some trusted advisors. God tells us there is safety in a multitude of counselors. You can also do what the psalmist did in Psalm 139.23-24 when he invited the Holy Spirit to search his heart, show any hurtful ways in him and lead him in the everlasting way.
Once we face where we are then we need to decide where we want to go. What does this new normal look like? This vision needs to be clear, realistic, detailed and compelling to us. Some changes are unwanted but thrust upon us anyway. Some we choose, but in either case we can struggle with the transition from the old to the new normal. The question “Do I really want this change?” needs to be answered with a firm commitment to make the change if the answer is yes.
Count the cost
Jesus told a parable about this very thing. He said if you are going to build a tower, you count the cost to know if you can finish it. If you are going to war against an enemy, you evaluate the strength of your opponent to see if you can win. His message was there is a cost to being a Christ follower. Do not put your hand to the plow and then turn back. Likewise to succeed in any worthwhile endeavor is never easy. It always costs more, takes longer and is harder than you originally thought.
Today we live in a culture of entitlement. People think they are owed things – success, a good job or material prosperity just to name a few. The worst part is they think it should just be handed to them rather than having to work for it. If someone else has more than me then take some of theirs and give it to me is the mindset. Jesus talked about helping the poor and marginalized in society. He said they would always be with us; have compassion on them. This is totally different than enabling those who are capable of doing things for themselves. The Bible also says to not feed the lazy; when they get hungry enough, they will work.
Part of that reality check is to realize the world is not fair at this time, and none of us are owed anything. The great thing about America and the reason so many want to come here is we offer freedom and opportunity not guarantees. There is no free lunch concerning legitimate opportunities. The only truly free thing is God’s offer of salvation. The cost is usually in the form of something that is given up to reach the new normal. It is about delayed gratification. You can never go up without giving up. This is the reality that so many are unwilling to face and what keeps them from moving forward in life.
Develop your strategy
This last step is where the rubber meets the road. It is about execution and action steps. It is how dreams become reality. The process is dreams, reality and cost assessments, written goals with time lines and specific plans or tactics for moving from the current reality to the desired new normal. What do I have to do to get from where I am to where I want to be? The strategic plan is a living document that is constantly tweaked and changed when necessary to meet the current reality on the ground. Do not be afraid to make adjustments when necessary rather than viewing your original plans as carved in stone. Believe in your strategy, change it when necessary and persist. The thing that will not change is the new normal you want to arrive at and the realization you have to give up to go up.
Dr. John Hawkins, along with his son, John Jr., runs Gateway Counseling Center in Boynton Beach. He can be reached by visiting gatewaycounseling.com.