But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” (Matthew 26:25-26)
Some people just have it. We marvel at the quarterback who leads his team to repeated victory. And he makes it look so easy, he’s a natural! Our breath is taken away at the sight of a dancer moving so fluidly across the stage. And she makes it look so easy, she’s a natural. We wonder at the carpenter applying his trade with such precision, effortlessly shaping wood into an image once held only in the mind. He’s a natural!
But is he really? “Natural.” The term implies work driven by instinct and mindless tallent over intelligence and methodical training. It’s work without cost. It’s beautiful to behold, it’s a wonder to witness, it is, well, a fiction. Even those who “have it” must still work for it. More often, “natural” simply means we have seen the fruit of someone’s hard work without knowing the cost. And there is always a cost.
College football is just around the corner. As with previous years, team mascots and Cinderella stories are just part of the culture. Each year the NCAA selects a theme song which becomes the background music to those in game highlight reels you enjoy before and after commercials. This year, that song is Natural by Imagine Dragons. The song is all about the cost of success in a dog-eat-dog world. In the bridge to the song, Dan Reynolds can be heard singing:
That’s the price you pay
Leave behind your heartache, cast away
Just another product of today
Rather be the hunter than the prey
And you’re standing on the edge, face up ’cause you’re a
Natural, A beating heart of stone
You gotta be so cold, To make it in this world
Yeah, you’re a natural, Living your life cutthroat
You gotta be so cold, Yeah, you’re a natural
You can be good at what you do, without doing good through what you do. In an accompanying press release for the song, Reynolds explains the meaning behind the lyrics: “Living in a dog-eat-dog world can bring out the worst in you.”
Being bombarded with the pressures of celebrity can understandably create callousness. In this world, it seems like rising to the top requires getting down and dirty For you to stand, others must fall.
Imagine Dragons is an incredibly talented band, Reynolds himself is tremendously gifted. But their skill is a result of tremendous work behind the scenes, on and off the stage. Work that has come at a cost. If the song represents the band’s journey to stardome, the cost has been high indeed; a “heart of stone,” being so “cold,” and “living life cutthroat.”
We all want to be the best at what we do. But if doing good work limits doing good works, it is work that should not be done. All success comes at a cost, a cost that should be estimated and evaluated before a deciding to proceed. What does your work cost you? Does it add value to the lives of those who you value the most?
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