Winning the Game of Life
The most amazing College National Championship Game I’ve witnessed was between Georgia and Alabama in 2018. In that game, Georgia man-handled Alabama the first thirty minutes of play and lead 13–0 going into halftime. The bulldogs were pitching a no hitter and moving the ball well against the nation’s best defense. Georgia seemed unstoppable while Alabama could not get on the board.
During halftime, Nick Saban objectively assessed the first half and made a brilliant but controversial change. Saban, shocked the football world, by pulling quarterback Jalen Hurts, a twenty five and two starter, and replaced him with true freshman Tua Tagovailoa. Up to that point, Tua had only played a small amount of “junk time” in games that were already decided. Tagovailoa was sitting on the bench behind fire alarm glass that said, “break glass only in case of emergency.” An emergency like Jalen Hurts being injured. No one replaces a proven starter like Hurts with an unproven freshman in the National Championship Game! Come on Nick! What are you thinking? Nevertheless, after halftime reflection, Saban broke the glass and sent in an unproven freshman.
It was a good call. Tagovailoa took the field and lead Alabama back to a 20-20 tie in regulation. In the second overtime period, on Alabama’s first offensive play, Tagovailoa was sacked for a 16-yard loss. The critics raged. The Alabama faithful buried their heads. Georgia fans cheered and more than a few prayed. Nick Saban tried to give Tua a brow beating over the loss of yardage but could not get to him in time. Then, as if not fazed by the sack, Tagovailoa throws the game-winning touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith. Tagovailoa was named the offensive player of the game. Alabama won another national championship, 26-23. Talk about a half time change!
Like that national championship game, our lives are lived in two halves. The first half is from birth to age forty something when we are “getting established”. Halftime starts sometime around age forty-five when we are assessing our first half. The last half starts from forty-five or so until death when we are thinking about our legacy.
For many people halftime is a time of reflection. It is a time to consider the first half of life and determine where they want to go from here. At half time, people can be in a variety of circumstances ranging from mid-life crisis to being on top of the world to viewing their first half as a mixed bag of good and bad experiences. When people have the courage to take an objective look at their first half and learn from their mistakes, they can play a better second half. Like Saban, we have to be willing to take a hard look at our game to date and make the changes needed to improve our lives.
In Atlanta, Nick Saban was losing badly at halftime. Despite having a proven quarterback, a significant amount of depth, and top national talent, Kirby smart was kicking his butt. Rather than making excuses, blaming others, or trying the same failed game plan in the second half, Saban admitted his mistakes and made necessary corrections. He made the best decision he could under a situation of high duress. He knew if Alabama lost, he would be the goat and all the blame would fall on his shoulders for “playing a true freshman before he was ready”; “abandoning a proven war horse that had gotten them there”; or “giving up at half time.” Nevertheless, Nick Saban did what we all have to do at half time. He revised his game plan and executed it without worrying about what others might say.
In the end, Alabama won the game by taking away Georgia’s advantages in defensive preparation and game momentum by starting a pass oriented freshman that no one expected to play. Sometimes, winning in life requires that we make audacious changes at half time. As the Georgia Alabama National Championship game illustrates, these changes can totally change our legacy.
As we enter the second half of our lives we have three choices:
1. Maintain our current course
2. Make minor course adjustments
3. Turn the ship 180 degrees
Plan a Better Life
The process for exchanging ordinary living for extraordinary life consists of the following steps:
1. Objectively evaluate your life
2. Develop your life plan
3. Intentionally execute your plan
Objectively evaluate your life. This can be a difficult process for narcissists or selfish people who cannot accept that anything is wrong with them. This is why narcissists end up with few people at their funerals, i.e. no one cared for them because all they cared about was themselves. Unless it’s totally about you, you can exchange ordinary living for an extraordinary life and leave a positive legacy. Whether your first half was terrific, okay, or terrible, the power to transform your life lies within you.
I believe that each person has a highest and best use and that God is active and interested in helping us fulfill our purpose. God allows each of us to choose our path, but guides our steps. The key is picking the best path out of the many trails open to us.
To evaluate your life, ask yourself the following questions:
- If I were to die tonight, which six men would my family call to be my pallbearers?
- What are my spiritual gifts?
- What are my talents?
- What do people say that I do well and value when I do it?
- What are my ethics and values?
- What do I enjoy and/or feel good about doing?
- What would people say about me at my funeral if I accomplished x in my life?
- What would God have me accomplish in this life? For me? For my family? For the least of these (people who can do nothing for me like the homeless, poor, prisoners, starving people, orphans, widows, war refugees, victims of crime)?
- What wholesome activity makes me feel alive?
- What causes am I passionate about?
- What is my education and skill set? What additional education or training do I need/want?
- What makes me happy? Sad?
- What people do I have / want in my life?
There are many introspective questions that can be used evaluate your first half. The key is focusing on who you are, who you want to be, and what legacy you want to leave behind. When considering the last half of life, think about your epitaph. Think about your family and friends. I think about why God placed you in here and what he wants you to accomplish. As you search for direction, the process will become less about you and more about God and how your life impacts others. At the highest level, it becomes about having a transcendent cause that means more than life itself.
Develop Your Life Plan: If we don’t know where we’re going, any old path will take us there. Since many people never do the hard work of planning their life, they live accidental rather than intentional lives. This means they take jobs because they need money or someone makes an offer. They marry because it seems like time and they have a significant other in their life that seems “okay”. They take whatever path life presents and many end up where they never wanted to be. There are also events that are beyond our control that can take us “off plan”. These include getting a fatal disease, being falsely accused of a crime, or having a loved one killed by a drunk driver. These situations and many others can make us bitter unless we work hard to get better and move in a positive direction. Regardless of the events in our first half, remember that the past does not define us, it prepares us. We can make half time changes and have a much better second half.
By objectively assessing our first half and deciding what we want to achieve in our second half, we can chart the right course. The key is being honest about who we are, who we want to be, and what legacy we want to leave behind.
Below are three steps to help you prepare your Life Plan:
1. Life Mission Statement. This statement should be a sentence or phrase that contains the essence of who you want to become in this life and what you want to accomplish. Examples of Life Mission Statements include: to be known as a loving person who was always there for his family and friends; to know God and display His power on earth; to Please God; To serve the needy; to be the best physician on earth thereby healing people at every opportunity without regard for their ability to pay; to experience peace and harmony so I can give back to those I love; to cure breast cancer; to reach ten thousand people for Christ; to build a orphanage in Kenya; To rightly provide justice to those in my court; to stamp out child trafficking in Atlanta; or to make my church a place of refuge and healing for all people.
Your Life Mission Statement should communicate the ultimate measure of how you will evaluate your life when you pull the rip cord between this life and the next. It should be realistic, authentic, and motivating. While creating a life mission statement takes a lot of soul searching, it is essential to defining your life goals.
2. Set Goals for Achieving Your Mission. Goals are like way points on your life’s journey. They define your steps along the path to fulfilling your Life Mission. For example, if someone’s mission is to cure breast cancer, they would need to include goals around education, research projects, patient interaction, work life balance, personal health, relationships, career and finances. This person will never get to cure cancer without earning a Ph.D. or M.D. They will not be able to be married and spend the hours required in the lab and clinic without a spouse that supports their work. They will not get far without putting themselves in the right research organizations that focus on breast cancer research. They also may not live long enough to fulfill their mission if they don’t take care of their health. A person who is forty-five years old and not a physician or scientist at this point in life has likely forgone the opportunity to cure cancer and should develop a more realistic mission statement.
Exhibit A: Life Plan Outline
Below is a simple outline for your Life Plan:
Life Mission Statement:
Life Long Learning Objectives:
Health and Wellness:
Weight and Medical
Education for Children
Budget: 70% for living, 30% for long term savings
Like the old winter road sign in South Dakota said, “Pick your rut carefully, you’re going to be in it for the next ten miles.” Pick your life mission carefully; you’re going to live it for the rest of your life.
Assertively Execute Your Plan In the Georgia vs. Alabama National Championship Game, Nick Saban came out of half time confident. He took the field and his team followed his lead. There was nothing cowardly about his presence. Saban had made the hard call.
When Nick Saban was asked about making his “gutsy call”, he said “Well, I just thought we had to throw the ball in the game, and I thought he could do it better,” Saban said of Tagovailoa. “And he did.” In essence, Saban assessed the first half, made his best plan for a better second half, and his team executed it.
What changes do you want to make in your Life Plan? Is it time for a Nick Saban halftime change? Do you need to make up for the way you have mistreated your family or recover lost relationships? Is it time for a new career? Do you need more education or new skills? Do you need to take half time off and honestly evaluate your first half? Are you who you want to be? The great news is that you can change the game at half time using these steps.
Remember that you are the captain of your ship. Only you determine how you react to life’s events and where you go from here. Develop a Life Plan and begin exchanging ordinary living for extraordinary life today!