I’d like to invite you to pick a fight.
This week we will celebrate the 4th of July. We will remember the merry band of traitors we now respectfully refer to as our Founding Fathers.
Consider for a moment the sheer audacity required to write and publish the Declaration of Independence.
In 1776 Great Britain was truly a great enemy, a global empire with the navy, resources, fighters and wherewithal to wage great wars. To even speak about independence was an act of treason, a hanging offense. In the Declaration of Independence, the founding fathers were not just establishing a new nation. They were picking a fight. And a big one.
This weekend I was the alumni speaker for a group of college students. Like I did in college, they are selling educational books door-to-door all summer to pay for school. Unlike me, English is not their native language. They’re here from the Czech Republic. And while I had a lot of fun during those years "on the book field," there's no getting around the fact that it’s a tough job, mentally and physically and emotionally. I imagine it is significantly harder if you add an eastern European accent to the mix.
Those students, like me, said yes to a fairly ridiculous summer job--to give up an entire summer of friends and family and fun and go work 80+ hours a week on straight commission. We said yes in part because of the money and the experience, both of which are substantial. It's an impressive experience to have on your resume and I did pay for school. All of it.
But you don’t say yes to a job that hard just for money or experience. There are other jobs in the world. They might not be as impressive or allow you to make as much, but there are plenty of them and they are a whole lot easier. These students, like me, said yes largely because we are the kind of people who like hard things. We like the way a challenge makes us grow, the way you have to become a bigger version of yourself to hit a hard goal. We said yes because each of us wanted something that you just can't get any other way except to take on something really big and pour your whole heart into it.
History, it is said, is written by the victors. Because the Founding Fathers won, they and their descendants got to write a history where they were patriotic heroes and not treasonous rats, a history that glorifies their actions and purifies their motives.
It’s important to remember their mistakes and flaws, to acknowledge that they owned slaves and codified human ownership into our first legal documents even as they lauded the virtues of freedom. It’s important to realize that their uncommon bravery was motivated, in large part, by the very common economic desire to protect and keep resources and wealth. The Founding Fathers were also the Founding Owners. That too is part of their legacy.
But it is natural and right that we celebrate these early Americans. For whatever their mixed motives, our freedom was bought with their bravery and their blood. We remember and revere them for the blow they struck for freedom, a blow that echoed through the institutions of Europe and the world. But consider how strange it is that out of all the important days we could celebrate, we pick July 4th to remember the rebels and revolution that made us free.
The things we chose to celebrate say a lot about us. There are a lot of days we could celebrate. The war actually started on April 19, 1775 with the Battle of Lexington and Concord. They didn't meant to start a war. The rebels still considered themselves British citizens--unruly, unhappy British citizens but British citizens nonetheless. Yet this was the beginning, Emerson’s famous “shot heard ‘round the world" on a day we never remember let alone celebrate.
We could celebrate on October 19. That's the day in 1781 when Cornwallis conceded the Battle of Yorktown and surrendered to General Washington. This eventually led Great Britain to negotiate for peace. That day is the day the last major battle of the American Revolution. The day we technically won the war. But very few Americans could even pick it out of a lineup.
We also don’t celebrate the day peace was finally made, the day we officially WON; September 3, 1783. On this day the Treaty of Paris was signed, officially ending the American Revolutionary War. Yet every year it passes with not so much as a sparkler.
We don't celebrate the start of the fight. We don't celebrate the day we won the fight or the day we officially became a sovereign nation, independent of Great Britain.
What we celebrate is the Declaration of Independence. What we celebrate is 13 colonies picking a fight with a tyrant in the name of freedom.
Tyranny comes in many forms. The revolutionaries had the mad King George. Your tyrant may have a different name. Like fear. Or failure. Yours might be called the economy, or the industry or the competition. For some tyranny goes by the name debt or addiction or disease or death.
The worst of our tyrants tend to be the ones of our own minds and our own makings. Maybe you are too hard on yourself. You push and push while the pressure eats away at you but no amount of work or winning is ever enough.
Maybe it’s hard for you to stay focused. You could do it if you could just get yourself to buckle down. But there’s always something else to handle or worry about and you never seem to get around to being as awesome as you could be.
Maybe your tyrant is simple fear. Millions of people are afraid to fail, afraid to win, afraid to try, afraid even to hope.
For some the tyrant is success. They’ve won, but they’ve won the wrong game and there’s no time for the life they really want because of the one they have to keep winning.
The 4th of July doesn’t mean a whole lot to people outside this country, nor should it. But this year I invited my new friends from the Czech Republic to consider why they said yes to their own mad adventure in the first place.
What I know about people who say yes to that job, or any major challenge in life, is that on some level they have seen their own tyrant in the mirror. Every time you say yes, every time you commit yourself fully to a big goal, you declare war on that tyrant. You strike a blow for freedom.
I invited these students to adopt July 4th as their own. To buy something with our flag on it to remind them of the day they declared their own independence from whatever has been holding them back and keeping them small, their old fears and enemies, the tyrants they have suffered so long. I invited them to pick a fight and to pick a big one.
It’s no easy thing to go to battle with the tyrants in your head. They are sneaky and they are skilled. They are familiar and therefore oddly comfortable. They lie with authority and logic. If you want to break free you have to be prepared to fight often and fight hard and fight for a long time. It is not an invitation for the faint of heart.
Ours is not a perfect nation. But we are a nation that keeps trying to see more people be more free. And I believe part of why we have so many innovators and entrepreneurs is because we are a people that love freedom. And we know that underneath them all perhaps the most precious freedom is to be free of the tyrants within yourself.
Setting big goals, saying yes to absurdly challenging summer jobs, attempting to do what perhaps cannot be done at all, all of these are personal declarations of independence. We commit to the goal but even more we commit to the fight that it will require because we believe in what we can become in the process.
We celebrate July 4th to remember a group of imperfect humans who picked a fight with a very big tyrant. We celebrate because we know how valuable it is to fight the good fight, because we know what it can mean for the people around us and for those that come after us, because in the deepest part of ourselves we know human beings are not meant to live under tyranny of any kind. We remember and we celebrate the courage required to take up arms against enemies outside and in, because in celebrating their bravery, we might find our own. We celebrate July 4th because there are still many tyrants to be fought, and still many freedoms to be won.
This July 4th, I invite you, like them, to think about the tyrants in your own life and to consider what it might feel like to be free of them. I invite you to create a big goal and commit yourself fully to it. I invite you to a full on rebellion against the petty, scared, small voice in your head. Life is too short and the world is too big to live any other way.
It’s time to pick a fight.
“THESE are the times that try men's souls... Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.” --Thomas Paine, December 1776