There is risk if you follow this blog’s advice. I’m preaching the pursuit greatness–being ambitious, if you will, about living an exceptional life. But, in fairness and full disclosure, I should mention the downside of my advice. There is a substantial downside to this journey.
YOU MIGHT FAIL–MAKING ALL THAT EFFORT A WASTE
What if you spend years of time and effort and end up with what can only be described as a “regular” life? Discovering you’ve failed after all that sacrifice would be very painful, even tragic. What would it say about you? What about all the hours you could have enjoyed the easier path? What if, after all that sloughing through the hard road, you discover it takes you to the exact same destination as the easy road?
After all, the only way to avoid all disappointment, of course, is to lower your expectations.
YOU COULD LOSE FRIENDS
In addition whether you succeed or not, This choice could have serious social costs. Being intentional about living differently will cause some people to see you as arrogant. Who are you to think you’re exceptional? What kind of judgment are you making, simply by how you live, on all those who don’t choose this path? How many of your friends won’t want to walk this path with you? How many of those friends are you willing to lose? Even if you want to do this, maybe only a limited, under-the-radar approach is best? I mean, what’s the point of exceptional living if it’s done alone?
YOU COULD MAKE ENEMIES
And it’s more than just making it harder to connect with your friends. The more unusual your life and success, the more people will actively work to keep you down. Australia calls it the Tall Poppy Syndrome. In a field of poppy plants, the metaphor goes, it’s the tall ones that get cut down to size. Americans might call it the lawn mower principle–only the grass that dares to grow beyond the other blades get cut back to a more socially comfortable size. While I’m far from world-class or famous, in a few areas of my life, just the small amounts I’ve stepped forward has drawn this reaction. It’s not fun to deal with.
My response to my own questions (why this isn’t my last post on pursuing greatness):
First, the risks are real. If you’re not willing to pay a price, you’ll never have anything other than hum drum. I will not blow off these costs with clever, witty remarks. However…
While I can’t guarantee greatness if you make the effort, I can guarantee that your life will be more meaningful and satisfying if you make some effort than if you don’t. Greatness is not an all or nothing game. You can at least be more great than you are now. Besides, who said fame and greatness were synonymous. No one, including you, will know the true legacy of your life, so don’t judge your success by whether others consider you exceptional or not.
You can’t be friends with everyone. Pursuing exceptional living will move you further away from those who don’t choose that path. But it will also put you closer to others who are pursuing greatness as well. In general, that will mean that you will have less friendships (fewer people, sadly, are on the exceptional path than the easy path), but those increasingly few friendship will be increasingly deeper and richer than you’ve ever experienced. You may even find friends who will go a while down the hard road with you, only to pull back later. I’ve had this happen, and painful as it is (I’d thought it was a lifetime friendship), there are more (and richer) friendships further down the road. Which kind of friends will you choose?
Finally, the ultimate problem with all these questions–why they fail to convince me in the end–is that they focus on the outcomes, the external measures. Maybe that’s what’s driving you toward greatness, but I’m not doing this for an external reward. Don’t get me wrong–I’d love to have better friends, more grand experiences, more pleasure. But I’ve found rewards like that to be ultimately shallow–unable to sustain the kind of constant effort this path requires. No, my ultimate project is myself–crafting the best possible person out of the raw materials God gave me. It’s my act of worship, obedience, and gift to the world. It’s not about getting something back from the world–that’s just a bonus I hope for.
In the end, the question is not whether there’s a price, but whether the price is worth the reward. I know my answer, but I can’t answer that for you. And Jesus said that only a fool starts a project without first counting the cost (Luke 14.28-32).