The date on which this Leading Thoughts is being sent out—May 3, 2018—is thirty-seven years to the day since I graduated with my bachelor’s degree. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Stephen Mansfield on that day so many years ago. I’ve realized that I have learned some things I wish he had known.
I would like to have told him that being a leader isn’t primarily about being impressive and being “in command.” Being a leader is about investing in others. I know now that “you have a destiny, but your destiny is fulfilled by investing in the destinies of others.”
I would tell him that his harsh military upbringing made him hyper-sensitive to criticism, but that if he would relax and ponder the words of his critics for a while, he would be a better man. Our critics really are the unpaid guardians of our souls.
I would tell him to get help earlier. He will not have to walk alone as much as he will eventually choose to. He will not have to spend so much time trying to fix his own soul. There will be good men around him. There will be wise women. Look up, look around, and enlist the help of others. God will put the right people in your path at the right time, Stephen. Let them in. No man is an island.
I would warn him to play more and work a bit less and to take himself a bit less seriously. I would tell him how important friends are but I would also tell him that he need not suffer fools and betrayers long. Keep good friends close. Realize that not everyone is part of your story forever. Some folks just need to go.
I would urge him to pray more, fast more, and read the Bible more. I would also urge him not to be as hurt by the weaknesses and deformities of his fellow Christians. Folks are folks, flawed and marred. Not everyone leans in to the better angels of their nature, even in church. That’s why God sent his son.
I would tell him to trust a little less, love a whole lot more, keep a wise distance when necessary, laugh louder and longer, be wild but out in the wild and not at home, never overstay a welcome, forgive quickly, and be even more radically generous than he intends to be.
Finally, I would tell him that some of the ancient slogans are true: Fortune does favor the bold. Character is destiny. Our wounds do make us better. A life of meaning is indeed to be preferred over a life of fame.
That’s it. Some wisdom for twenty-two-year-old Stephen—and for all of us.