There's an old story that goes something like this:
A rich guy goes on a trip. Before he leaves, he calls his household employees together and gave them a task. Each of them got some money to manage for the boss while he was away.
- one got $3,000,000
- another got $1,200,000
- the third one got $600,000
The boss was gone for quite a while. When he came back, he called his three employees in to evaluate their performance.
The first guy had invested it well, and had been able to double the portfolio to 6 million bucks. The boss is thrilled, saying "Great job! My benefit will also be your benefit...I'm going to share the profits with you!"
The second guy also has good news - he doubled his portfolio as well. The boss tells him the same thing - that he's really pleased and that the employee is going to get a reward for his performance.
When the last guy speaks, it's quickly apparent that they didn't go 3 for 3.
The last guy tells his boss that he didn't do anything with his money. He was worried what would happen if he lost it, or if his boss would need access to it, so he put it in a checking account for the entire time. It didn't earn a dime.
The boss was furious with him.
"Are you kidding me!? You didn't even put it in a savings account or an IRA to earn some interest? If I can't even trust you with that, how can I trust you with anything I actually value?"
He was fired right in that meeting.
The story has multiple truths to explore. The obvious one is to do everything you can with what you have been given, but just below the surface of that is another truth: not everybody gets an equal starting point.
Both of the first two guys doubled their investment, but one of them started with a much bigger amount, so his results were magnified. The boss doesn't explain why one got more than another. It was the bosses prerogative to divide his investment however he wanted.
I went road biking with a friend the other day. I normally mountain bike, but I have a friend who road bikes and we agreed to each try the other style. I road biked with my friend, and he will mountain bike with me sometime later this summer.
When I was performing better than he expected, he complimented me and said that the running and mountain biking I do must have 'something to it'.
I told him about how I will be running a fourth Tough Mudder this year and how my current fitness goal is to complete a half full ironman triathlon next summer.
He had the same reaction that many people do when I talk about it, which is some combination of 'you're crazy' and 'why do you do this'?
My wife has asked me the same thing. Many friends and acquaintances have also asked this. I usually give an answer that goes something like this: I like to find my limits and push past them.
In the midst of the ride, though, something occurred to me. I told him the famous quote by Socrates: "The unexamined life is not worth living." I used to think this applied to philosophical introspection, but it dawned on me that was I applying this to my physical life.
I like to examine my limitations. So that I can push those limitations further out.
And I've done this not only in my physical life, but in my intellectual life as well. I finished a graduate degree and started teaching part time at local universities and colleges. I read books at a reasonable high rate on a wide variety of topics. I'm interested in entering a doctorate program in the next few years.
Spiritually, I threw myself into exploring the nature of God. To the point where I wanted to be involved in growing and strengthening the community of believers known as the Body of Christ. It led me to full time ministry.
I had an epiphany that I'm doing what Socrates said in pretty much every area of my life.
I think that I'm the second guy in that story from above (which you can read in Matthew 25:14-30 if you want the way Jesus told it).
I'm not the smartest guy I know, but I'm a professor. I'm not the fastest or strongest guy I know, but I've completed triathlons. I know better ministers, but I'm part of an amazing community of believers who I get to help lead.
The point I'm making is not that I'm a jack of all trades and a master of none, but rather that I simply wasn't given the 3 million dollars to start with, but that I think I'm doing everything possible with the one million I did get.
Others may have more than I do in their results, but I would bet that most of them started with more than I had to work with.
I think I have gotten pretty good returns on what I was given. And instead of getting frustrated that I didn't get more (with 3 more inches, my baseball career could have gone a lot further), I'm going to get every drop out of what I have to work with.
I didn't want to run races in my 20s because if I couldn't win, I didn't want to compete. I mistakenly thought I should compare myself to what others could do. I knew there would always be somebody faster than I am.
But when I learned to compete against myself, and against the clock, I realized that it was all about maximizing what God has given me.
I'll keep that in mind on June 13th in Virginia when I'm running through tear gas, electric wires and dumpsters full of ice water.
I do this because I want to get the highest rate of return possible out of every part of my life, so that my boss says 'Great job! I'm going to share my profits with you!"