I took my kids to the beach this weekend. It was 50 degrees and sunny, and up here in Wisconsin we count that as a win. We spent about an hour there, running around, taking pictures, looking for shells, skimming stones, etc. The last 20 minutes of our time there was of special significance to me. I got to witness a life lesson vividly illustrated under the guise of simply having a little fun.
As I walk through life, I see myself or others engaging in any number of small activities throughout the day. Every once in a while I like to take one of those little things and blow it up in my mind to epic proportions. For instance, if I see my little one struggling up a steep hill, I’ll magnify his every tiny step and start imagining that he’s climbing Mt. Everest, on a quest to reach the pinnacle of the world. In my mind I start cheering him on, rooting for him to succeed, and when he finally reaches the top and turns to look at me with that happy, confident smile, my praise, high-fives and hugs for him are as honest and sincere as if he really had just conquered Everest.
So at the end of our day at the beach this weekend, the little guy was off to the side doing his own thing, and the two older kids were alternating between skimming stones and just throwing them out as far as they could into the surf. Blue skies, a light breeze, rays of sunshine bouncing off the waves, kids playing . . . it was quite peaceful. Then my oldest decided to make a tiny sandcastle – more like a little fort – in the wet sand right at the edge of the waterline. At first everything was calm and peaceful as he built up the sand and patted it into shape, but after a minute or so a big wave came up and knocked down his fort. Undaunted, he built it right back up again. A minute later, it was destroyed.
He built it up yet again, but this time he worked faster, and added rocks into the sand at the base to make it stronger. The next time a big wave came, he jumped out of the way and watched it demolish only half of his fort. He jumped back in, rebuilt, and continued to build fortifications – a small wall of rock in front of the fort, like a levee or breakers to keep out the big waves. It was at this point that my mind transformed this small moment of playtime into something much bigger – my son was creating something, and the world was trying to knock it down and take it away. I jumped in and started helping him fortify his creation. He thanked me for the help and got even more excited about building quickly. Every time a big wave came in, we’d both jump back, take note of what it had broken, then get right back into it to clean up the mess and keep working.
At this point my son was on a mission, and recruited his sister to start helping as well. And so the three of us spent the next 15 minutes frantically working against the incoming tide and the waves that constantly beat upon our little fort. Gather sand, slap it on, pat it down, fortify with rocks, build the breakers, dodge the waves, assess the damage, repair the breaks, build again, rinse and repeat.
I realized that at some point during this exercise, I switched from viewing this creation as my son’s, and instead started thinking of it as ours. It belonged to him, my daughter, and me. All of us. And each of us were working so hard to build something out of nothing – to bring an idea to life against all odds and all the natural forces that set against it. We were toiling against the raging of the sea that day, and for a brief time we prevailed.
In the end, however, the tide came in, and our little fort eventually got swallowed up, just as we knew it would. We walked away happy – satisfied and content that we had done the very best we could, and in that sense come away victorious.
But deep down we all know that the works of man do not last forever, don’t we? Just as the kids and I walked away from the broken-down fort, so do we all walk away from situations in our lives where we’ve struggled to build something of our own making against all the natural forces that come against it.
That’s pretty much how life is, right? We work, we struggle, we give everything of ourselves to build something from nothing – to bring something to life that previously existed only in our mind’s eye. Relationships, businesses, achievements, structures . . . these are the kinds of things we build. And in the end, in the very end, they will all fall apart, in one way or another. Relationships will end, whether by irreconcilable differences or by death. Businesses have a lifecycle, just as civilizations and empires do. They begin, rise, peak, decline, and end. Achievements are forgotten as soon as something better comes along, and even the biggest ones will come to nothing when there’s no one around to remember them. As for structures? Physical structures and organizational structures begin to decay from the moment they’re formed. Every natural force in this world pushes them to become a broken-down pile of scattered pieces, individually capable of very little. As demonstrated by our tiny fort, the only way to maintain structure is to work constantly, and work hard. And you know what? In the end, one way or another, it’s all going to fall apart. It always does.
And we know this.
So the real question is this: Will we let that stop us? Will the knowledge that it’s all going to end prevent us from even beginning? For some of us, the answer is “Yes.” It’s hard to work at something that you know won’t last. But I believe that for most of us, the answer is a resounding “No.” That’s what I love about the human spirit. I’m the first to admit that humans are capable of great evil, but we’re also capable of tremendous good. We know that the odds are against us, and that someday all we do will fall to ruin, but still we persevere. We always strive to be the best we can be. We think. We create. We hope. And, strongest of all, we love.
ItStartsWith.Us is one year old today. I can remember sitting on the same couch where I am now writing this post, legal pad in hand, sketching out some initial ideas. It was nothing more than a dream then . . . just something I could see in my mind. And today, just one year later, we have a global team of thousands of people who join together each and every week to make a difference in this world. We have a Love Bomb team who provide hundreds of notes of love and encouragement to hurting people every week. We’re developing a Love Drop team who are beginning to give back financially to families who need a little help. I’m now starting to work with large organizations to show them how they can use this concept of microgiving among digitally connected people to make a huge difference in their community.
All of this in just one year, with much bigger things still to come.
Right now I want to give credit where credit is due, and say that it’s all happened because of you. Because you and I believe that small actions do make a big difference, and when you combine the efforts of thousands of us doing those small actions, it adds up to something huge – something this planet has never seen before. We believe that people are fundamentally good, and they care about others. We know that sometimes all it takes is a kind gesture from a group of strangers to change a person’s life forever. We’ve seen it happen. We’ve been a part of it. And we will persevere.
One year ago I wrote the first blog post for ItStartsWith.Us. It was called, appropriately, The Point Of All This. I wanted to use this site as a platform to change the world, and I wanted to make sure that love was the driving force behind everything we do. I believe that we’re well on our way, friends. I’ve been so incredibly humbled by the response to this message, and I am honored to lead a group of people like you – people who care so much about others that you’re willing to spend your precious time working together to make a difference. I know it’s hard, but I also know that when you work hard, and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.
This project is my little fort in the sand. I know that one day everything I’ve done will fade to nothing, but in spite of that fact I will give everything I have to use this platform to touch hearts and change lives all over the world. I only hope that I can continue to do it with the kind of joy and passion my kids demonstrated to me this weekend. I promise I’ll do my best, and with that I will be content. I hope you will be too.
Here’s to many more years of working together, changing the world, and having fun.
- ISWU Spotlight – Arriba las Manos
- Our First ItStartsWith.Us Meetup
- 5 Things You Shouldn’t Be Afraid Of
- There’s Always Pain
- It’s Not About Getting What You Want