If you ain’t first, you’re last,” shouted Will Ferrell as the character, Ricky Bobby, in the movie Talladega Nights. His daddy told him that as a child right before he sped off high and drunk from Ricky’s school. He based his whole life on the words his dad left him. Moral lessons from a Will Ferrell movie? There is a lesson everywhere when we look for it. Ricky’s journey took him to eventual life victory by learning people matter over place. Being second is our topic here today.
Imagine a young couple with a newborn infant. The economy is bad, she’s at home with the baby, and he’s doing everything in his ability to provide. He’s tired, confused, and struggling. That is the moment. We all face it. When life is at its toughest is when we need to dig in and fight as a leader. The man that places his own needs first is the man that cuts and runs every single time. Our world is full of them. That’s not the men we are called to be.
Life is not about me, and it’s not about you. Here are some tools we can use to lead our families via the power of personal sacrifice.
Leading by Example
There are hundreds of moving parts to a standard functioning family, and we are tasked with the leadership of this constantly changing, living dynamic. How do we lead our marriage to bring it to its maximum potential? How do we bring forth the best gifts and talents of our children as we guide them towards adulthood? How do we pay the bills, and how do we provide shelter and food? We have to serve more than we dictate, sacrifice more than we take, and we must constantly be planting the seeds of future success by placing our own needs second to those of the family good. Leading by example means we make it clear to our family that we will never tell them to do anything that we aren’t willing to do ourselves. If we ask our wives to cut the grocery budget by 25%, and then we play golf on Saturday spending twice the savings of the budget cut, what message was sent? Lead from second place.
Debt is a killer and credit has been relatively easy to come by for most of our lives. What debt serves to do to families is enslave them. It invites worry, stress, heartache, hardship, and, at worst, total calamity. How do we avoid that self-induced prison? Personal sacrifice. All the luxuries we pretend we can afford are, in reality, pieces of the wall being constructed to close us in. When I was a single man in my 20s, I had made a good decision and purchased my first home. I was building equity in the future. Then I got selfish as young men often do, and I ran up a lot of credit debt. When I was about to get married, it was time to sell that house. What could have been a nice bundle to start our marriage with (the equity I planned for), instead was all used up paying off credit debt. Zero sum. My wants in the now wound up hurting the future of us—my family.
Seek the True Prize
Life is competitive, and in this social media-driven era never has it been more apparent that envy and jealousy rule the decision-making process of a great many. It’s terribly destructive to lead a family in the spirit of finishing first over perceived competition. What that does is create a layer of superficial perfection on top and underneath a reality of collapse and unhappiness. Seek the true prize—a healthy, functioning, imperfect, sometimes suffering, sometimes flourishing…real family. Being first in some great societal competition means absolutely nothing. But when you’re 85 years old and your grandchildren are bringing your great-grandchildren to see you, and your wife is still your wife and she’s beaming with glory…you will smile with what teeth you have left, and you will know you did it right. You were always second.