I was raised a Missouri Synod Lutheran, courtesy of my mother. I was raised with a strong Protestant work ethic, courtesy of my father (who was himself raised a Southern Baptist). Both of those influences fused me into something of an overachiever, although only for those things where I felt I had a chance to overachieve. Academics were one area. Sports were not.
Until my senior year in college, my life followed that overachiever pattern. Set goals, achieve them, surpass them, and then set new goals. As a college freshman, I set several goals, and kept adding to them.
By the middle of my senior year, I had achieved or overachieved everything. All the positions, honors, accolades, recognitions – I had captured them all, including being the managing editor of the student newspaper for my final semester – the position that ran everything in the paper except the editorial page. I had the power position on the paper, likely as powerful as any student office on the campus.
Nothing was left. Nothing.
I crashed and burned.
I kept working; the work ethic was too strong for that to stop. But I crashed. Everything I had accomplished seemed meaningless. Everything I had done seemed like wasted effort. Meaningless. Chasing after the wind.
What I didn’t know was that I was careening, wildly careening, right into the arms of God.
Through what seemed a strange series of circumstances, I landed one night in a conversation with the director for my college’s Campus Crusade for Christ chapter. I was angry, believing that I had been taken advantage of by this man’s organization, which seemed to preach one thing and practice another.
We talked, possibly for hours. I don’t remember how long. But by the end of our conversation, I found myself in God’s arms. I had become a story – the story of the second chance.
This wasn’t an opportunity to reinvent my life. This was a transformation of my life. In a matter of minutes, I understood that everything had fundamentally changed.
About 11 p.m., I found myself in the newspaper editor’s office. He was working late. He asked me if I was okay. “Has something happened?” he asked. And I nodded. “Everything happened,” I said. “Everything. And I can’t explain it.”
The story of the second chance didn’t begin and end that night. If I have learned anything about my life, it’s that the second chances keep coming.
Fourteen years after that night, I had a career crash and burn. Same pattern of overachievement; same result. It happened again 10 years after that, and then 11 years after that.
And each time brought an opportunity for a second chance.
I can say this: had not that second crash and burn happened, I would not have written a speech that changed an entire industry.
Had not that third crash and burn happened, I would not have spent nine months as the communications officer for an urban school district in extreme crisis, learning that a lot of people think differently than I do and they all don’t live in nice, comfortable suburbs, and that some of their children attend schools with 110 percent turnover – annually.
Had not that fourth crash and burn happened, I would not have had published three novels and a work of non-fiction. I would not be a weekly columnist on poetry.
Four stories of second chances. And each time, something changed, something was learned, and something was realized.
Something was being grown inside of me.
What was growing, what is growing, is less of me.
Photograph by Lisa Pellegrini via Unsplash. Used with permission.