May is the month of graduations. In 2014, I delivered the commencement address at Oklahoma Baptist University. I would like to share with you an abbreviated version of that address. Feel free to pass this along to a new graduate.
“Don’t brag about your lightning pace, for slow and steady won the race!” Do you recognize that line from an ancient text? It is the moral of a story about a turtle and a rabbit—better known as “The Tortoise and The Hare.”
I am sure you know the story.
“There once was a speedy hare who bragged about how fast he could run. Tired of hearing him boast, the tortoise, nicknamed ‘Slow and Steady,’ challenged him to a race. All the animals in the forest gathered to watch.
“The Hare ran fast ahead, then grew distracted and slept. Slow and Steady walked and walked. He never ever stopped until he came to the finish line. The animals who were watching cheered so loudly for Tortoise, they woke up the Hare. Hare stretched and yawned and began to run again, but it was too late. Tortoise was over the line. After that, Hare always reminded himself, ‘Don’t brag about your lightning pace, for Slow and Steady won the race!’”
If the tortoise could talk to us today, what would he have to say? I think he might warn us about the dangers of our tendency to hurry. He might challenge us to slow down, especially in our 20s. Don’t neglect the quiet work of the present as you pursue your future—put down the roots; lay the foundation; build the network that will sustain you.
I offer some simple counsel today, nothing novel. These are important steps in the pattern of life that you will neglect and rush past if you are not careful.
1. Labor in obscurity. Commit to working hard without recognition or immediate reward. Accept work that seems unappreciated or insignificant. Don’t be concerned about who notices what you are doing. We can expose ourselves by jumping into the spotlight before we are ready. Moses spent 40 years shepherding Jethro’s flock; Joseph managed a prison before he managed a nation; what did Jesus do in his 20s? My point precisely! Don’t be in a hurry to be noticed or known. Labor in obscurity.
2. Master your craft. Over the next 10 years, become proficient at something. A craft is some sort of skilled work. Spend the next several years developing a skill that sets you apart as useful. If you are an accountant, master GAAP and the IRS code. If you are a nurse, learn to run a flawless code blue. We have too many educators who never really learned to teach; preachers who cannot rightly divide the Word of God; political leaders who cannot write or even read policy. Communications specialists who cannot build a compelling sentence.
Before you seek a position of influence, set out to master your craft. “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men” (Prov. 22:29).
3. Cultivate relationships. Beginning with your family, develop strong relationships. These relationships will shelter and sustain you. The quality of your life will depend largely on the quality of these relationships. In the end, your connection to these people will make any success you have matter. Love and respect your spouse; raise your children; honor your parents; enjoy your friends. Taking time with these relationships is like building your network outward from the core.
4. Impact a few people. Ambition drives us to trade breadth for depth. We dream of changing the world, of influencing millions; of making our mark. The one man I know who really did this started with only 12. Beware of fabricating a broad influence. In the next few years, pour your life into the few who need you, who value your influence. The Lord will bring them to you. Remember, the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.
5. Abide in Jesus. Jesus is the maker of men and women. Abide in Him—talk to Him, trust Him, hear Him, obey Him, seek His kingdom, embrace His people, the flock He loves. He will make you the person you want to be. Remember, “Follow Me and I will make you to become…” Like most master craftsmen, He tends to work at a slow and deliberate pace. Yet, those who keep themselves under His hand are always pleased with the finished product.