The Starfish Story
This story has been around for some time. Perhaps you’ve heard it before? In any case, I believe this story sets up this post well.
Strolling along the edge of the sea, a man catches sight of a young woman who appears to be engaged in a ritual dance. She stoops down, then straightens to her full height, casting her arm out in an arc. Drawing closer, he sees that the beach around her is littered with starfish, and she is throwing them one by one into the sea. He lightly mocks her: “There are stranded starfish as far as the eye can see, for miles up the beach. What difference can saving a few of them possibly make?” Smiling, she bends down and once more tosses a starfish out over the water, saying serenely, “It certainly makes a difference to this one.”
The Impact Of A Book
Have you ever read a book, seen a TV interview, or perhaps watched an online video that causes you to have one of those “AHA” moments? You know, when a light bulb goes off in your mind and you feel like a major shift in your thinking has taken place?
This happened for me about 7-8 months ago, when I watched a Youtube video of an orchestra conductor named Ben Zander and then read his book “The Art of Possibility.” You can read my book review on “The Art of Possibility” here.
In several chapters of his book, Ben discusses some of his challenges of being a conductor of a volunteer orchestra. As I continued to read through the book, I kept having these “Aha” moments of realization and learning.
For a large portion of his life, Ben Zander struggled with the drive to be to be successful as well as a fear of failure. He claims that this struggle caused both himself and those around him considerable suffering. The greater his success as an orchestra conductor, the worse this tension became in his life.
The tipping point for Ben came when his second wife walked away from their marriage. He began re-thinking how he was “doing life.”
He came away with the realization that he was living a life of selfishness. He was more inward focused on his own success. When being inward focused, he had more of an attitude that there was always another orchestra – aside from the one he was currently conducting – that he suspected would bring him more success, and so he was never fully present when he was on the conductor’s podium.
When he began playing the game of contribution, on the other hand, he found there was no better orchestra than the one I was conducting, no better person to be with than the one he was with; in fact, there was no “better.” In the game of contribution you wake up each day and bask in the notion that you can be a contribution to the lives of others.
A Shift Takes Place In My Thinking
This personally hit home with me about my own relationships within my family, as well as the volunteer orchestra I direct each week. I started asking myself questions about whether I was more interested in achieving success in my family or ministry, or am I truly more interested in living a life of contribution. This subtle but important shift in my mindset has (I believe) created a more enjoyable experience for those that I love and lead.
For example with the orchestra at church, in the past, I would get frustrated or upset with various problems such as excessive absenteeism for orchestra rehearsals on Wednesday nights as well as worship services on Sundays. My mindset before was too focused on having a successful orchestra and the roadblocks (in my mind) that my volunteer members were causing me to be a successful director.
Once I made this shift in my thinking, though, I started focusing on the orchestra members who decided to be present for a particular Wednesday rehearsal or Sunday worship service. I began realizing I could and should be a contribution in their lives spiritually, musically, and personally.
And you know what has happened? I’m enjoying my life and ministry a whole lot more by living a life focused on contribution rather than success versus failure. And, I hope those around me are enjoying life at a deeper level as well.
The Generous Life
Playing the game of contribution should really be of no surprise to those of us who are believers in Christ. The Bible has much to say about living a life of generosity versus selfishness.
In Proverbs 11:24-25 (MSG) we read these words:
The world of the generous gets larger and larger;
the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller.
The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed;
those who help others are helped.
Throw yourself into life as someone who makes a difference, accepting that you may not understand how or why. Just like our starfish story at the beginning, don’t get overwhelmed and give up because you can’t help everyone. Focus on being a contribution to the few that you can be.
Questions: Are you living a tension-filled life based on a drive for success and a fear of failure? Is your life enjoyable or full misery? Do you need to consider a shift in mindset from success versus failure over to contribution?