Wisdom Not a Trivial 'Pursuit'
By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director
CBN.com - Orlando Magic senior vice president Pat Williams has experienced a great deal of success in his 44 years as a professional sports executive. He won a world championship with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1983, co-founded the Orlando Magic, and was named as one of the 50 most influential people in NBA history.
But what Williams is most passionate about is his writing. The author of 51 books, his latest is called, “The Pursuit: Wisdom for the Adventure of Your Life” (Regal Books). Using practical advice he received from his mentor, R.E. Littlejohn, Williams has crafted six powerful, practical insights that aren’t taught in school, but are essential in the pursuit of a successful and rewarding life.
CBN.com Program Director Chris Carpenter recently sat down with Pat to discuss the importance of making wise decisions, whether a person needs a personal mentor, and where to actually find wisdom.
You have written more than 50 books over a 35 year period about just about every topic imaginable. Why a book on wisdom?
I found what was happening was with my children, with young people in our organization, I’m dispensing advice and counsel and I would always flash back to my mentor. R.E. Littlejohn. When I was 24 years old and arrived in Spartanburg, South Carolina, as the general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies farm club there, I spent four years with Mr. Littlejohn. I was always just awed by the man. College presidents, senior pastors, baseball executives, would all gravitate to him. He did not have a formal education. He had a high school diploma only. Yet people kept coming to him and I kept coming to him. Then it dawned on me that he had a quality called wisdom. I think that hit me many years later. I found that as I was dispensing wisdom principles to young people I started thinking, “I sound just like Mr. Littlejohn.” Then I sat down and really sorted through it and I remembered that there are really six key principles that he had built into my life. So, I am now his mouth piece. He died 20 years ago. Nobody can get to him obviously. He can’t sit in his living room and dispense wisdom anymore so I am doing it for him.
Mr. Littlejohn obviously had a tremendous impact on your life. What are some of the things that he did that really resonated with you?
He was a very soft-spoken, quiet man. He was not boisterous. There was a peace to him. I didn’t know where all of that came from but obviously it came from his faith in the Lord. He was a deacon at the First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, South Carolina, although he did not wear that on his sleeve. He was not a Bible-pounder or scripture-quoter. He just lived his life in a very quiet, powerful way. He wouldn’t force his way on you. But as the issues of life were coming up … you would go to see him or I would go over to his house and he just kept building these principles into my life. The first one is to control those things over which you have control and let go of everything else. I am still wrestling with this issue but at the end of the day we have no control over other people. We have no control over the economy. We have no control over the ozone layer. We have no control over global warming. We have no control over the population in China. We have no control over any of it. But it has finally dawned on me that I have no control over my children. They are all out of the house. But I can control my attitude. That is what I know I can do. Your attitude is like a paint brush – it colors every situation.
You highlight six principles in your book but I am sure there are more. Why the six you chose?
That is a great point. I think those were the six that I find myself most repeating to young people today. If you were to sit Mr. Littlejohn down have him write up a list, these would probably be at the top of his list. I thought they were the most usable, most applicable, and most practical. I thought these were the six easiest principles to comprehend. They are:
- Control What You Can
- Be Patient
- Pay Your Dues
- Keep It Simple
- Don’t Run from Your Problems
- Pay Attention to the Little Things
Is there any one principle that you feel is more important than the others?
If you were to ask me to give a 15 minute talk on one of the six principles I would pick number five – Don’t Run from Your Problems. Your problems give you a wonderful chance to sell yourself to others. Anybody can operate in the good times, when things are going well, anybody can do that. But in the troubled times, in the area of problems, that is when you have a chance to step up and really make a difference. Here is the bottom line: I have been very influenced by a quote from Gen. Colin Powell, who said, “Leadership is solving problems. When people stop bringing you their problems you are through as a leader.” So, as I run into people all the time who have a lot of problems, I tell them that it is good news because their job is secure. If this is you, you are in good shape.
You have spoken extensively about Mr. Littlejohn and what he meant to your life. He was obviously someone you could look to for guidance and good advice. Does everyone need a mentor in life?
I think so. I think you need to seek mentors out. I don’t think mentors will seek you out. I don’t think an older, wiser person is going to come to you and say, ‘Let me be your mentor’. I think it is the other way around. I don’t think you ever outgrow your need for a mentor. I am reminded all the time of Fred Smith, the business leader in Houston, who died recently. He had that stable of Zig Ziglar, Bill Glass, and on and on. These were men in their late 70s and 80s who did nothing until they checked with Fred. Even at their age and level of accomplishment they referred to Fred Smith as their mentor. So, I don’t think there is ever that point when you don’t need a mentor. I think you can have more than one. You might have a mentor in your area of business. You might have another one in your religious life. You might have one in the area of marriage, or perhaps with children. I think it helps to have one in your field. And I think your mentor should be someone of the same sex.
Can someone not have wisdom and still be successful?
Yes, but I think it depends on the definition of success. I think there are many wealthy people who you wonder how in the world did they achieve this level of success? They are loose cannons, they are out there doing stupid things. So, if having a lot of money is your definition of success than yes, it is possible to have success without being wise. I think success really does not come with money earned or fame or fortune or power. At the end of the day it is all about what you are doing with your children, for society, what contributions are you making to your community, what difference are you making in the world, and how are you helping the lives of other people.
Where do you get wisdom? From what source do you acquire it from?
Number one, you ask the Lord for it. Those early verses of James 1 are so important – Any man who lacks wisdom let him ask for it and God promises He will give it liberally. He won’t scold you for it. That is enough wisdom for today. You can have as much as you want. Secondly, you need to hang around wise people. You seek wise people and stay away from fools. Hang around people who have great wisdom regardless of their age. Number three, you practice using wisdom in doing wise things. I think it is like any other skill, the more you do it the better you are going to get at it. I use that wonderful statement from Andy Stanley, who wrote a book called “The Best Question Ever”. The best question ever is what is the wise thing for me to do? The fourth way to get wisdom is to read. There is so much packed between the covers of books – to study the life of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Theresa, Winston Churchill, Walt Disney, and on and on. All that they learned, all that they have to dispense, their biographies are just filled with wisdom. The opportunities are endless. I really encourage people to study wise minds from the past. There is so much you can learn from people like leadership, humility, and character.
Let’s say you are working on these six principles that you write about and you are really trying to apply them to your life and nothing seems to be happening. You don’t feel like you are improving. What then?
This is a lifetime pursuit. I don’t think there are any short term fixes in life. I have learned that you are never there, you never arrive. I am 68 years old and I am still trying to make it, trying to get a book to work, still trying to get a second championship ring, still trying to improve myself as a public speaker, and still trying to cut my time in my marathon running. I constantly tell people you are never there. You are always building your resume. You will never be at the point where you feel you have achieved everything in life there is to achieve. These six principles are the same way. I am still trying to control those things I have control over. I’m still trying to be patient. I’m still trying to get experience. Hopefully, I will be better next year than I was this year. I think Colorado Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said it best when he said, “Lord, keep me a simple man in a complex world.”
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