My Third Career: A Catapult, Not A Carrier

My Third Career: A Catapult, Not A Carrier
Issue 6 // 1st Quarter // 2014 Category:Purpose By: Bob Buford

I had an “aha!” moment recently, a serendipity…you might call it a blinding flash of the obvious. Something that was there all along but had been hidden in plain sight. But first, some history: My primary concern for 27 years, even in my money-making season, had been to discover my calling and to get busy doing it.

The Bible says that each of us has a life task “prepared beforehand for us to walk in” (Ephesians 2:10). Homer and the ancient Greeks called it a destiny, a necessary work predetermined by “the gods.”

King David, in my favorite Psalm, 139, declared:

"For you have formed my inward parts: You have covered me in my mother’s womb…For I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are your works, And that my soul knows very well…When I was made in secret…your eyes saw my substance being yet unformed. And in your book, they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them."Psalm 139

Each one of us has a life task coded into what I call our spiritual DNA. We don’t have to acknowledge that code because of the free will that God has granted us. “To be, or not to be: that is the question” is the memorable way Shakespeare put it in Hamlet.

The other big question is “How to?” For me it was never a question of whether or what to do, but “How to?”

Now, on to the serendipity I mentioned in my first line. The answer came to me in five unplanned encounters, all during one momentous week.

In each case, I had long ago made a small investment of time or money in someone’s life, which provided a steppingstone for them to proceed with a task that God had uniquely assigned them.

Every one of those persons was already fully equipped. All they needed was a shove. What I like to say is, “The fruit of my work grows on other people’s trees.”

In whatever form it took, the results were because of encouragement. Someone needed to say, “You can do that,” and to ask, “How can I help you?” That is what my mentor, Peter Drucker, did for me.

My work in the Halftime Institute has convinced me that many, if not most serious believers, at some level, know what their calling is–but it may be buried under years of busyness and distraction. Yet it follows them for years. Each Sunday as they leave church, it follows them like an accusing shadow.

In explaining the Parable of the Sower, Jesus called these diversions, “the cares and concerns of the world and the deceitfulness of riches.” The pressures to keep pushing for success are unrelenting and many: money, recognition, the best table in the best five-star restaurant.

People want their lives to count, but they lack two things: clarity of calling, which leads to courage and commitment; They also need encouragement, someone to say, “You can do that. Let’s talk about it until it becomes clear.”

Here are a few things I’ve learned in my third career as an “Encourager.” Encouragement is a mix of:

  1. Permission: To be the person God designed you to be.
  2. Acknowledgement: A pat on the back that says “You did it! Great work!”
  3. Applause: Recognition in small but effective doses from people who actually care about you and genuinely understand the good work you’ve accomplished.
  4. Accountability: A critical element in converting good intentions to results and performance.

Encouragement releases positive energy, lifts spirits, and makes the challenging and “impossible” seem possible. Usually a little encouragement, delivered one-on-one and possibly invisibly to the outside world, goes a long way.

"At this stage of your life, it’s your job to release and direct energy, not to supply it."Bob Buford

A good way to sum this up is what I learned from my good friend, Admiral Ed Allen, who was captain of one of the U.S. Navy’s 12 aircraft carriers. He once expressed my role this way, “The catapult is what makes the United States Navy work. It is virtually invisible, but it gets the 60,000 pounds that is a fully loaded F-16 off the deck in about 200 yards. You are not the carrier. You are not the plane. You are not the pilot. You are the catapult that gets the plane airborne.”

Admiral Allen gave me a dramatic visual image of all the companies and ministries I’m involved in. It’s what Leadership Network does for large-church leaders, what Halftime does for high-capacity midlife-significance entrepreneurs, and what The Drucker Institute does for Social Sector leaders. They are all catapults.

My call, perhaps for the rest of my life, is to be the catapult, not the carrier. We can all do this. The Bible describes a set of the specific good works that God wants us to live out. As St. Paul tells us in Ephesians, “Therefore, I beg you to be humble and gentle, to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”


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