I moved into the room over the garage at my parent’s house when I was fifteen years old. Complete with its own bathroom and separate from the rest of the house, it felt like I was finally growing up. I was ready for high school, independence, and life on my own.
Ten years later, as a broke salesman, my wife and I moved back into that same room over the garage. The real estate bubble had burst and left me holding the bag. To add insult to my already injured ego, I had acquired a rental home in South Florida that was $100,000 under water, a monster SUV payment, and an investment property that was bleeding me dry. Each morning when I opened my eyes to the nostalgia of my old room, the sting of bad decisions was fresh. I guess that’s what they call humble pie.
In order to survive, I took a job as an insurance agent with North Carolina Farm Bureau Insurance. I knew nothing about the insurance business—absolutely nothing—but I knew that I was great with people and had a knack for sales. Besides, we had to eat, so I took the job. That was nine years ago.
This past weekend, I gathered with more than eight hundred insurance agents across the state at our annual sales conference. For the eighth time in nine years, I was recognized as a Top 75 Best of the Best Agent. As I walked to the front of a full banquet hall to receive my award, I was humbled. But this was different from what I felt while living with my parents. Instead of being humbled by my circumstances, I was humbled by how faithful God has been in the process.
What most see as “success” has come with its share of costs. Too often, I failed to count those costs. But with wisdom afforded by hindsight and forged through the struggle, here are a few thoughts on the cost of success, embracing your day job, and living your dreams.
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The Cost of Success
I began my career in insurance with a survival mindset. And, I really wanted to move out of my parent’s house. I loved them and I was grateful for the shelter, but I desperately wanted to redeem the mistakes I had made. As a man, I wanted to prove myself. But the funny thing is, when we’re hell-bent on proving something we lose sight of what we might be sacrificing in the process.
Within a couple of months, my business was growing and competition had subtly became my motivator. Winning felt good and I could easily justify it as “hard work”. But behind the facade, I had sacrificed my marriage on the altar of success. I hit rock bottom so hard that I bounced. When I regained consciousness, I realized that I was losing the very thing I treasured most—my wife. Reality is sometimes painful, but if we refuse the pain and refuse to see things as they are, we refuse the opportunity to grow.
My wife and I had inadvertently built a wall between us, each adding our fair share of bricks. In addition, my faith was convenient at best. I believed in God, but I rarely listened to what He had to say. My view from the floor gave me the perspective I needed to see the error of my ways. Oddly enough, the more clearly we see, the more likely we are to hear what He has to say.
Success had come at the expense of my faith and my marriage. And, it wasn’t worth it. You can take my advice, or you can go broke trying to figure it out for yourself. But I promise you, no one is rich enough to buy the wisdom that can only be learned through pain.
Embrace Your Day Job
Marriage counseling and reprioritization got us back on the right track, but God threw us a curve ball to keep us guessing. In sixteen short months, He blessed us with three sons. I chuckle now because His sense of humor always comes with a deeper lesson in humility.
This season of life was all about diapers, all-nighters, and Disney Jr. This was my new normal. Life fit comfortably into its compartments and I became incredibly efficient as a way to cope with the demands. There was my faith box, my family box, my work box, my social box—you get the picture. The truth is, I was exhausted from failed attempts to keep the boxes full. Balance was a myth that sounded good, but it didn’t really work. I was sliding further and further away from who God had called me to be.
To force clarity and gain perspective on what I was wrestling with, I began writing. It seemed an odd answer, but I’ve learned that God rarely gives us what we expect. In fact, He offends our expectations to trade them for His purpose. I published my book, Redefine Rich, as a testimony of what I had learned and pretty soon, people began inviting me to speak.
This new passion energized me and inspired a hidden love beneath my salesman persona. But sadly, I was so passionate that I began to sacrifice my career on the altar of my dreams. I’d convinced myself that the insurance gig had to go if I was going to be an author and speaker. Instead of embracing my day job, I began to resent it as a stumbling block. My efforts to construct life on my own were failing.
Live Your Dreams
I’m a huge fan of living your dreams. But I’m not a big fan of the “day job/dream job” myth that we’ve created. That creates a scarcity mindset that rarely results in the realization of your dreams. I’ve come to understand that while the world calls us to pick “this” or “that”, God is a God of the “and”. He’s a God of abundance. I’m a Christian, and a husband, and a father, and an insurance agent, and a speaker. In order to live fully in each of those capacities, I have to live fully in all of them. We experience success and abundance when we live the and.
The only year I missed the Top 75 Award with Farm Bureau is the year I lost my perspective. That’s incredibly clear to me now. When you begin to resent your day job, you become unfaithful with what God has given you. Excellence and purpose aren’t a destination that you’ll reach someday, they’re what you must bring into every waking minute. Learn to be grateful for what you’ve been given and exhaust each moment for a purpose greater than yourself. Then, you’ll discover wholeness.
As the lights dimmed on this year’s sales conference, I realized that I am living my dream right here and right now. Culture has convinced us that we have to take the leap, but sometimes it takes courage to stay. Living your dream begins with the faithfulness of embracing the adventure along the way and trusting God to bring your desires to life. We realize our dreams when we begin living the ones God’s already given us.
If you’re building your own kingdom, one that neglects His voice and seeks its own gain, it will crumble under the weight of circumstance. If you want a successful legacy, one that cannot be shaken, build an eternal kingdom that is defined by God and fueled by His faithfulness.
Along with Zondervan author, Kevin Adams, Matt Ham is the co-founder of YouPrint, a Faith Development organization. Learn more at www.youprint.life