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Brian Underwood: It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it

Brian Underwood

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” — Aristotle

Over a lifetime, an inestimable number opportunities, experiences and people help to shape one’s life. This sea of influences works to determine where one might choose to set his/her professional sail. How that sail is set is something entirely different and eternally more important.

Aristotle had it right when he opined that cultivating the mind without refining the heart ostensibly voids one’s education. Over the last two years, this space has been almost exclusively focused on college and career education, which is tantamount to establishing direction. Long overdue, though, has been the discussion about the role character development plays in filling a young person’s sail toward a life of significance.

One of my favorite contemporary authors is NFL coach-turned-broadcaster Tony Dungy, who has written a series of bestselling Christian leadership books. In his book “Uncommon” (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2009), Dungy reinforces the notion that what you do is not as important as how you do it.

This is an important distinction because the professional altitude one aspires to, regardless of his/her talent, can be stunted due to underdeveloped character, which is an important cornerstone for success in life.

“In the end,” Dungy writes, “Character is a blend of inner courage, wisdom, and a sense of duty to yourself, to others, and something greater than yourself.”

Given that we live in a society that is often more interested in seeking personal gain than influencing community good, Dungy’s final point is particularly poignant. A more holistic worldview might counter with, “Is it better to live a life of success or significance?” At first, this question might seem like little more than pseudo-intellectual banter or a cute exercise in semantics, but there is a difference.

I had the good fortune several years ago to attend an educational retreat where I heard Dr. Kent Schlichtemeier, an education professor at Concordia University, Irvine. He stated the difference thusly: “Success is what you take from life, while significance is what you give in return.” It was a simple message that left an enormous impact.

Essentially, a life of significance is the “Pay it Forward” of everyday living. Unfortunately, far too many find themselves morally, spiritually or ethically bankrupt to participate.

Understanding how to embrace this sort of mission in life, professionally or otherwise, was a core message of the wildly successful bestseller “The Purpose Driven Life’” by Rick Warren, the senior pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. In this book he speaks squarely to seeking a calling that provides a sense of self-worth, purpose and significance.

Equipping this generation, and those that follow, with this sort of worldview begins at home. And despite the influence that paragons such as Hollywood, professional sports and pop culture have over today’s youth, parents remain the No. 1 influence in our children’s lives. Accordingly, parents play the strongest role in shaping this value.

Educating our young people on how to plot a professional journey that might include financial gain and/or recognition is certainly no sin. At the heart of the matter, though, is prayerfully considering how to blend one’s passions to serve something greater than oneself.

It has been my privilege to have this very experience at Sierra Lutheran High School. Since arriving two years ago, I have had the opportunity to serve an incomparable high school community while sharing my passion for college and career planning with the community. These experiences will be cherished memories for my family and me as we anticipate the end of the school year and a move to Southern California, where aging family awaits.

As this is my last column, I would like to extend a personal word of thanks to News Editor Adam Trumble for allowing me to share my passion for career planning with you, and I would like to thank the community for allowing me into your homes over the last two years. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve you.

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)

Brian Underwood is the executive director of Sierra Lutheran High School. He can be reached at underwood@slhs.com.