The Changing Priorities of Life

I remember reading a very insightful

statement, the truth of which has never
escaped me. The statement profoundly proclaimed the following perspective on life … “children rejoice in what they
have—youth rejoice in what they do—and adults rejoice in what they are.” Within this one unpretentious statement we clearly see in simplistic wisdom the changing priorities of life … from things to accomplishments to character.

During our childhood we quickly attached ourselves to things—a pacifier, a teething ring, a blanket (any flavor would do). As children, we derived our joy from things. For me (as a youngster) it was model cars. Building models was the first thing that I can remember which brought any real sense of satisfaction in my life (at least when I wasn’t throwing them against the wall in frustration as a result of certain parts that would not fit properly).

Then, as I grew into my youthful years, I began to rejoice—not in things—but in accomplishments. Being an “A” student, earning my letter in baseball, or graduating as valedictorian of my class (I’ll let you guess which two of these are true) all brought great joy during my adolescence.

Obviously, many of us are living proof that this adolescent need for accomplishment often carries well into adulthood. Like having the fastest car, owning the nicest boat, or buying the biggest house. (Did I mention having the fastest car?)

Then, at some point as we approach adulthood, a fascinating change takes place within us. Not only do things slowly lose their previous importance, but even our accomplishments do not seem quite as significant as they once did. It’s at this unpredictable point in life that we find ourselves becoming strangely satisfied with “who” we are—something we never thought would be so important to us.

But how can this be? Weren’t we taught that the person with the most toys wins? So why am I now asking myself: “wins what?” I guess we never considered that question to be relevant before. After all, it didn’t really matter what we won, as long as we won. That was the goal. And winning—we were told—was accomplished by gathering the most “things.” Yet, suddenly, for some reason, things cease to matter as much as they once did.

Before long, we begin to engage in a systematic inventory of the accomplishments of our life. During our earlier years of youthfulness, we were filled with dreams. We were challenged by great visions. We still had the potential to be great, to be somebody special, to do something of true significance.




But then we awaken one morning to the realization that we haven’t changed the world, we haven’t discovered a cure for cancer, and we probably won’t be nominated for a Nobel prize. But we also realize that it’s okay. Maybe our life wasn’t as exciting as we once envisioned, but neither has it been all that bad.

That’s when “it” happens. But who would have thought? Who knew this would transpire? We suddenly realize that we actually like being who we are. There’s a strange sense of satisfaction as we objectively consider the journey by which life has brought us to this point. And with this satisfaction comes the reality that this newly-found realization is not at all based on the number of things we have accumulated in life—nor is it a result of a long list of personal accomplishments that may adorn our resume.

No, it’s more than that. Perhaps it’s hard to describe or articulate, but we know it’s there. It’s somewhere deep within us. But it’s very real. In fact, it’s far more real than any of the things or accomplishments we once thought were so essential to a successful and happy life. And though we might not think to ever define this new revelation, we nevertheless begin to find subtle expressions of “rejoicing” over this profound awareness.

If I were to summarize in one word this complex journey of life (that takes us from childhood to adulthood), I would choose the word
character. And it is in our perception of this journey that character is ultimately defined within the context of our world of moral awareness. Character is a result of values. And our values will be a result of the way we respond to the various stages of that journey from childhood to adulthood. In the end, character is all that matters. In the end, character is all that will remain.

This transition from one stage to the next is not a function of age but a function of maturity. It is not so much a result of the events of your life; it’s more a result of the choices of your life.

As we all know, racing is about winning. And winning is ultimately about accomplishments. Here is where character enters the picture.

Do you know racers who measure their sense of importance by the number of trophies on the mantle? Often these people are never satisfied with more trophies. And they never seem to reach a place of contentment (let alone joyfulness) as a result of further accomplishments. Winning is never enough. And rather than developing meaningful character, they are driven to seek another win, another trophy, another championship.

If winning never seems to bring the sense of personal satisfaction that you seek in life, perhaps it’s time to consider the transition to a higher level of priority. Seek to measure your self-worth in who you are, not by what you accomplish. Seek to find your sense of importance in the development of character, not in the acquisition of things.

We will all journey through this process in one form or another. The things of childhood all too soon pass away. And the things you did that were once meaningful to you will one day come to a meaningless end. Only what you are will remain.

Allow me to close by posing a very relevant question. Is what you are today enough to satisfy you through the years of life that remain? If the answer is yes, then you are in a great position to enjoy the journey.