Last week I was at APEX: The Unconvention. APEX is the annual national gathering of Lumerit Scholar: Unbound students. The team that plans and runs APEX is part of the Student Life department that I direct for Lumerit Education and it is one of the great privileges of my life to work with such an amazing group of people every year. APEX is planned, created, and run by a national student cabinet, a group of student leaders from all over the country. They meet together only once, and then meet online for over six months before coming together at the event to make it happen. Every year they do an amazing job, but this year they really surpassed themselves.
APEX is a special event every year, but this year seemed to really stand out. It had the largest attendance of any event we have ever done. Despite the larger size it appeared to me that students were more connected to each other than ever before. I witnessed friendships born and deepened. Conversations went deep. The respect and care shown to each other and staff seemed to me to be exceptional. Good citizenship and good behavior were the norm. The speakers were interesting, informative, challenging, and sometimes controversial, but they were always shown tremendous respect and appreciation from the students.
In short it was an amazing event. It was the kind of milestone event that is big enough, and important enough, that you feel like it was a landmark in your life. There was everything that happened before, and then you experienced this event and life looked a little different afterwards. I have attended such events before. Hopefully all of you who are reading this either have, or at some point will, attend such an event.
Often you can tell it was a really great event by how sad you are when it’s over. Somewhat perversely the worse you feel when you come home the better the event probably was. If you have attended such an event and have had an experience like that it leaves you with a challenge: What do you do when you get home? How do you put into practice what you have learned? How to you translate the emotional and spiritual “high” of the event to your everyday more mundane reality of home? How do you take a great experience and carry it forward and make it something bigger and better?
With those thoughts and challenges in mind, and thinking specifically of what I observed and learned at APEX: The Unconvention last week here are three things that I want to share with all those who attended the event. If you didn’t attend these points are still relevant, both in your everyday life and for when you have your next big event or experience.
First – Pursue Friendships
More than anything else this past week reminded me of how important, and how rewarding, great friendships can be. I was also reminded that it can be difficult to find such relationships and when they are found they should be treasured. Really deep, long lasting relationships can be found and formed anywhere, but they are found most often with people that you share a common foundation with. When you share some core foundational beliefs and characteristics with someone it makes it easier, and more likely, that you will form a deeper, tighter bond with that person. This is only enhanced when you share similar experiences as well. This is true whether you share those experiences together in the same place and time, or whether you have had the same experiences, but separately from each other.
Those of you that attended APEX last week found a rare alignment of all of these factors. Collectively you all share an unusual educational experience that you have pursued individually, but that you can all relate to because you have all faced the same challenges. Together you experienced the week at APEX, hearing the same speakers, doing the same activities, sharing meals and time together.
Even more rare was the fact that many of you share many of the same foundational beliefs and traits. This is not so say that you were all the same. Far from it! There was a wide range of personality differences, viewpoints, ideas, opinions, and backgrounds. With that being said, you did have much in common. You are all willing to do and try something different. You are willing to think outside the box. You are very self-motivated and self-driven. Many of you share the same faith and worldview. All of you (that I observed) demonstrated an unusual level of respect, love, patience, and kindness with each other. I am constantly amazed at how well all of the different kinds of personalities, viewpoints, ideas, opinions, and backgrounds integrate and mix with each other so well at APEX.
This combination of deep relationship building factors is not common. Therefore, you should take advantage of it! Please, build relationships, friendships, networks, and connections wherever you live, study, and work, but don’t miss the opportunity for unique friendships that APEX has presented to you. I challenge you to network and stay connected to as many people from APEX as you can using all of the connection tools and social networks that modern technology offers us today. My prediction is that those connections will deepen, and blossom, in unexpected and advantageous ways in the years ahead.
At the same time remember what I told you in my presentation at the event: You can only maintain a few very close relationships, probably less than a dozen. I challenge you to identify a half dozen or less people that you were in contact with at APEX and commit to maintaining a closer connection to them. Communicate a little more often. Pursue some deeper conversations. Look for ways to serve them. Find ways to see each other again, either at future official events or by creating your own opportunities. My prediction is that these relationships could well become lifelong and life changing friendships.
You will have opportunities to meet and make friends and build relationships for the rest of your life, but the times that you will find so many people with so many opportunities to form such deep connections as what you just experienced at APEX are not common. Don’t take it for granted.
Second – Think Small
You’re millennials and everyone likes to tell you to think big and dream huge. I don’t disagree. I love big visions, big dreams, and big ideas! Big is great, but life has taught me that big is often hard. Hard can lead to paralysis, paralysis can lead to despair and despair often leads to the death of dreams and big thinking. I think hard is good, but I’m not much of a fan of paralysis, despair and dead dreams.
Here’s the solution to avoiding dead dreams: think and act small – repeatedly. Set your sights and your goals as high as your dreams take you, but make sure you commit to something small enough to achieve as your next step. If you went home with the dream of winning Fish Tank next year then that’s great, but only if you actually do something to make it happen. As you dream about running down to the stage to get your startup check next year commit to write an outline of your business plan by the end of this week so your dream has a shot at reality.
If every one of you who attended APEX last week took a little time to decide how you want your life to be different based on what you learned, and then each of you committed to and did one small thing this week to actually make that change, then that would be a very big deal. If you did it again the next week and the next and the next then I predict that each of you would see exponential advancement and improvement in your life, and think what a difference that would make all together! Hint: If you connected with other people from APEX to challenge each other to dream and commit and hold each other accountable to doing your one small thing again and again then you would be more likely to experience actual change in your life and you would be building some deep relationships at the same time. Two for one!
Third – Focus on the Ordinary
Would you please carefully consider this last point that I want to share with you? Please read this carefully: If you were inspired to make a difference in the world, to dream bigger, do more, serve better, reach higher, or whatever else you were inspired to do then I think the best, most effective thing you could do to accomplish that would be to commit to doing the ordinary extraordinarily well.
I have no doubt that some, perhaps many of you, will be extraordinarily “successful.” You will be recognized leaders, you will start businesses, make a lot of money, gain fame and recognition, write books, music, and scripts that may reach thousands or hundreds of thousands. Some of you will do that. That’s great! I’m just not very convinced that those kinds of things will be the most important things that you can do, will do, or should do.
I think the most important things that you can do are a lot more ordinary, but we are in desperate need of some people like you who can do them extraordinarily well. Things like studying well, so you can tell the difference between a good idea and a bad idea and so that you can solve problems effectively. Things like remembering that love is a choice, so that you can form and build great friendships, relationships, and marriages. Things like being a really great parent. Providing for your family. Taking care of your parents. Loving your siblings. Serving people who need you. Choosing to love some people who are hard to love. Being great citizens. Working in your communities. Being great employees. Being a great employer. Working hard. Being honest, even if it hurts. Staying faithful, even when it costs you. Ordinary stuff. Important stuff.
I don’t believe God called you to be famous, or rich, or important. I don’t think God called you to find the most amazing and awesome job everyone ever heard of so you can be deliriously happy going to work every day. I don’t think God called you to do something so amazing that everyone will want to invite you onto the stage to talk about it. I don’t think God called you to be happy.
I think God called you to be faithful. By being faithful you may be all of those things above. Or none of them. God also calls us to suffer sometimes. God didn’t call you to be happy, but He did call you to Joy. To something bigger. Something greater. Something that will allow you to do the ordinary extraordinarily well and in doing so connect to something much bigger, better, and greater.
APEX: The Unconvention attendees, and anyone else who ever reads this: If you committed to finding and building deep, meaningful relationships. If you would focus on achieving the small things, that ultimately lead to big things. If you would dedicate yourselves to doing the best you can wherever you are and do the ordinary extraordinarily well then I predict that in doing so you will catch a “wisp of heaven” and that collectively that will not only change the world, but that is the only way that you actually can change the world.
Until we meet again…