I have been teaching as an adjunct professor at Pepperdine Law School for more than a decade. It’s a place filled with bright, ambitious law students, many of whom have had a lot of life break in their direction. I also teach a class at San Quentin State Prison. My class there is filled with men who are felons, and their misdeeds have exacted a high price from them — namely, their freedom. I learn quite a bit from both sets of students, but the contrast between them cannot be overlooked. There is an authenticity that brokenness can refine in our lives if we’ll let it. Ironically, the guys with the life sentences often seem to be living freer lives than the law students with all the opportunities.
Their brokenness ultimately led them to a personal freedom, even behind bars.
Have you ever wondered why some people achieve so much with their lives and others don’t? One person starts with no money, some terrible circumstances, and seems to be the happiest, most fulfilled and self-aware person you’ve ever met. Another person is born with a trust fund, good looks, and endless apparent opportunities, and yet they lead a sad, self-absorbed, meaningless life. What happened to allow some people to make the shift and others to miss the ramp? Some people seem to move from success to success, while others seem to be stuck in a loop of pain and sadness and distress. Some people also have a rich and vibrant faith that is taking them places, while others believe the same things just as much but seem stuck struggling with their beliefs and how to reconcile them with their lives.
In short, why is it some people live inspired lives and others can’t? How come some people glide through life and others grind it out? Why is it that some people seem to be living three times more than a normal life, and others feel like they are only living half of one? These are all questions most of us ask ourselves at some point. Where do you think you fit on the spectrum? Don’t shade it, fake it, or sweat the answer. Just get real about it. Here’s why: we need to figure out where we are before we can plot a course forward.
The fact is no map will take us where God wants to lead us. We are all off-roading most of the time. Yet there are plenty of clues out there for living the big and meaningful life that Jesus talked to His friends about. Instead of telling them to look for a plan, He pointed them toward their much bigger purposes. In the pages that follow, let’s figure out where your purposes are and then hatch a plan to get there.
I’ve written a few books, and some of the stories probably made you laugh, while others made you cry. I want this book to make you think. In the pages that follow, I hope you’ll figure out where your purposes lie and then chart a course to get there.
When I was out of college and living alone, I had a closet in my house where I would throw the things that didn’t have a specific place to go. Naturally, this closet quickly became a huge, disorganized, impenetrable pile of debris. Everything in there was evidently important enough to acquire at some point and even valuable enough to keep, yet none of these things remained accessible to me anymore because there was no order to them. As a result, a whole lot of items, with individual value, were collectively worthless because I couldn’t get at them.
Our lives are not much different. We gather experiences, emotions, knowledge, and self-awareness. We amass pains, triumphs, disappointments, and wisdom. Without some shelves to put them on, though, we can’t access these things or what they’ve taught us to help us move forward. These experiences and “aha!” moments are the stuff you’ll need to access as you figure out what your next moves are going to be in the direction of your ambitions. Put aside the self-help talk. What you need is a good set of shelving to access what you’ve already experienced and a willingness to reflect on what you find there.
It took 220 years after the pencil was invented for someone to invent the eraser. I’m glad they did because I’ve erased in my life much more than I’ve kept. We all get to do this. We take what we’ve written about ourselves, what we truly believe God thinks of us, and decide what to keep and what to erase. We’re not the only author of our lives either. Like the ones who have signed the pages of a high school yearbook, other people who have intersected our journey have written over us too. Some of what they said is true and beautiful and lasting. Other things not so much. “Never change” was written in my yearbook by at least a dozen people. It’s the worst advice I’ve ever received. We’re supposed to change constantly — into kinder, humbler, more faithful versions of our old selves. This change and growth happens when we sort out the truth from the lies in our lives. Here’s some great news. The next version of you is the one who will pursue the ambitions all the previous versions were unable to accomplish.
Our understanding of who we are and how God sees us is worth all the time and energy we’ll put into the task. The trick is figuring out what is true after all the distractions, misstatements, and misunderstandings have been eliminated from our lives. Here’s what makes it worth it: when we sort through all the words written by ourselves and others, and when we discard what isn’t true or doesn’t matter anymore, we’ll find the clarity we need to choose the desires worth pursuing. What’s left over will be your truest, most beautiful, and lasting ambitions. That’s what this book is all about.
My faith has shaped my worldview and plays a big part in my ambitions. I decided to make my first and last ambition to love God and the people I come across without an agenda. I certainly haven’t arrived, but I’m somewhere along the way of getting there. You are too.
My relationships play a big role too. Some people are easy to connect with. If you want to achieve great things, find a couple of these people to do life with. Also find a couple of difficult people to engage with love. Don’t make them projects; make them friends. This is where you’ll grow. If you do these things, I promise you will lead a purposeful and meaningful life. Sure, it will be complicated at times, and you’ll mess it up more than once, but your purpose will never become clearer. I know this because if you go deep with a few people and stay close to those who rub you the wrong way, you will have accomplished the ambitions Jesus said were always worth the effort.
While no efforts of yours or mine will be more important than loving God and the people around us, our ambitions can be much broader, more expansive, and more varied than this. I want to talk about those things too.
Achieving your ambitions isn’t going to come easy, and it won’t be cheap. Don’t bail out. Will you have setbacks along the way? Of course you will. The reason is simple: you are you and life is life. Stay the course. We’ve brought leaders together in countries riddled with conflict only to have our meetings raided. I’ve been detained, held in jail, and even kicked out of a country for freeing children held in brothels. We’ve started schools in war zones that failed completely and other schools that shouldn’t have worked but did. Don’t be put off by the difficulties you’ll face; remember the reason why you started. Keep your ambitions and your life’s purpose in mind. Why? Because our lives are on-the-job training for eternity.
If ambitions had two handles, they would be love and hope. There have never been two forces in the world more powerful than these. Much of life involves simply grabbing ahold of love and hope and never letting go.
One of the writers in the Bible named Paul nailed it when he said,
The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. — Galatians 5:6
I agree. It’s easy to mistake faith with all the doctrine you believe to be true. Faith, however, is what you do about what you believe. It’s easy for most of us to hope big things for other people. It’s beautiful and bright, and we should keep doing lots of that. This book is about hoping a couple of things for ourselves as well, then engaging our most important ambitions with confidence and a strategy so we can release those ambitions into the world.
Setting aside a time for personal reflection about who you are, why you think what you think, and why you do what you do is the heavy lifting you’ll need to do if you want to accomplish things in your life you haven’t been able to yet. I’m not advocating you go on a hedonistic bender and make everything about yourself. You will find nothing less fulfilling than making everything about you. This book is about self-discovery, not self-help. It’s not about simply having dreams. Dreams are too easy. Even my dog wags its tail when it’s asleep. I want you to become fully awake to your biggest and most worthwhile ambitions by becoming fully awake to yourself and your God-given purposes.
All this requires developing a new way of thinking. To do this you’re going to need to carve a new groove in your brain so you can get after your ambitions rather than just push them around on the plate like a bunch of peas. Carving a new groove in your brain is like blowing up a balloon. A big balloon. Sometimes your head starts spinning after a while when you think about your ambitions. Take some breaks. Rest is holy. Get as much as you need, but know when it’s time to be fully awake and get back to work. If we’re going to get after some of
your unexecuted ambitions, we need to take that new groove you’re carving and go Grand Canyon on it. Doing this is going to take some effort, but hey, do it anyway.
Let me get this out there. God is over the moon about you. Honest. I’ve asked Him. He’s not grimacing at your past failures; He’s smiling at the bright future you have with Him. As you pursue your ambitions, rest in knowing that heaven is simply nuts about you and can’t wait for you to get there. That said, you’ve got some time right here, so make good use of it. Making eternity one of your biggest ambitions is terrific, but what if we use this desire to better understand your short time here on earth and what you’ll do next with your life.
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Excerpted with permission from Dream Big: Know What You Want, Why You Want It, and What You’re Going to Do About It by Bob Goff, copyright Bob Goff.
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What holds you back from dreaming big? How does it help ground you to know that loving God & others is the greatest ambition you can have? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!