96. We're all holding our breath, hoping for the best

Most of your visible success will come from the things you do no one else sees. Just like the seeds you sow. Most of the process of a plant’s growth happens beneath the surface, hidden in a place no one sees.

Success— which we’ve defined as living up to your God-given potential in every area of life— is largely like that. Most of the factors that create visible success are invisible. They’re real and measurable, but most people don’t see them. 

Because of that, problems arise when we compare our daily grind to someone else’s moment on the stage— or their highlight reel. We often don't see the myriad of factors contributing to that highlight reel. 


Most of the actions which create visible success are unseen.

"You only see 10% of the iceberg," the saying goes. "90% of the iceberg exists beneath the surface."

The preacher from whom I first heard that stat used the metaphor of the iceberg to describe character flaws beneath the surface of our lives. Unseen things we hide. Things that left unchecked can bring things as big as the Titanic down in a night. 

We’ve all watched it unfold numerous times…

  • Ministry leader fails— because of some huge thing beneath the surface
  • Marriage falls apart— because of some relational rift that kept getting swept away under the rug rather than discussed
  • Kids shun parents and parents shun kids— because of some hurt that dug so deep that no one would simply own so that everyone can move forward together
  • A hidden addiction— to alcohol, porn, drugs, sex— suddenly combusts and something (or someone) goes down in flames

You could add more things to the list. We've both watched it play out in real time. Multiple times. 

Speaking about unseen things we should AVOID is NOT the purpose of this talk. Rather, I'd like to call your attention to the UNSEEN THINGS we should NOT avoid. The UNSEEN things we should do every day. It's these UNSEEN THINGS that create greatness. And it's those same things that give us the platform to encourage others to the greatness within them. 

What are the “underwater” activities? 

Things like:

  • Persisting when you’re tired or even bored
  • Failing and getting back up
  • Sacrificing time when you could be doing other things and receiving an “instant” result
  • Dealing with humiliation— then stepping back and showing your face to the same crown (often, more times than once)
  • Overcoming doubt and frustration— the inevitable feelings with any of the above happen
  • Good habits for extended periods of time
  • Feeling alone— as you do the hard work no one else sees

You’ll eventually “walk on water.” To succeed, though, you’ve got to grow comfortable swimming beneath the surface first. Everyone who walks on water first swims under water! 


Of course, not all swimming is negative. The biggest part of “the swim” is being consistent— of working the hours required, of continuing the good habits, of pressing forward even when no one else is… even when you don’t seem to be making much progress. After all, that’s when the biggest breakthroughs are generally just around the corner.

Here’s something I’ve learned about success and dreams:

If it’s your dream,  you’ll invest the time it takes to succeed. Even when no one sees. If not, you won’t. 

(That doesn’t mean you’re a “bad person,” by the way. It just means that, well… this isn’t your dream. Something else is.)

For a season I had a list of wannabe business builders on our home-based biz team who consistently missed training opportunities and big events— even though those are two of the factors which successful builders always attribute to their success. In other words, these efforts are part of the success recipe. Implement those and you’re closer to your "cake."

“I can’t miss this _______________” (fill in the blank of whatever the “thing of the month” they opted to attend instead), they regularly reported. Then, the promise— “I’ll get to the next event that I’m able to squeeze into my schedule.”

No problem. Missing one opportunity isn't the end of the world. Life is full of trade-offs. But, if you miss every single opportunity, you need to step back and be honest with yourself. 

In some instances, they need to admit the truth. This business isn’t their dream. 

Or, if it is their dream, they haven't come to terms with the actual cost. It’s something that’s a good idea, but if they’re not willing to invest the time and energy… if there not willing to move this from a MISSION to a VISION… from a WHAT to a HOW… then, really, it’s not theirs… 

They don’t own it. 

Or they want to own it yet work so little at it, that they CAN’T SUCCEED because they’re not willing to invest the time + energy that successful people invest in it. Remember, success is a recipe. That means you need the same ingredients and the same time (20 minutes for a chocolate cake and a whole lot more time for big life dreams) to generate success. Anything less and you’re fooling yourself— even if unintentionally.

Let’s apply this concept to other dreams, because this principle is is true in every area of life: 

  • If you want to lose weight, you likely need to exercise 30 minutes a day x 5 days a week. And you need to adjust your food intake. Anything less, and it's probably not your dream.
  • If you want to write a book, you need 2 hours each day for several months.
  • If you want a sizzling marriage, you need a date night— or some other form of time alone. 
  • Your kids hearts? Turn off the TV, block 1 hour a night for family dinner, and leave you cell phone in the briefcase until they go to bed.

This sort of honest evaluation forces us to consider whether or not the dream, in fact, really is ours. Remember, success isn’t just a matter of doing the right things (effort), it’s a matter of doing the right things consistently over the long haul (time). Both are important. A little time doing the right things is as ineffective as a lot of time doing the wrong things!

Success doesn’t exist without the journey.

Everyone who is successful “fast” generally comes to the game with YEARS of previous experience, numerous invaluable relationships, and an immense amount of SKILL that they’ve already developed. In other words, their starting line usually isn’t the starting line that you see. They’ve already been working the dream (sometimes even unbeknownst to themselves) for years. Sometimes even decades. 

And remember,  even the most successful people… well, even after they can “walk on water” they still swim underneath it MOST OF THE TIME. 


It also means this— some people, quite frankly, aren't swimming. They're drowning. Or treading water at best. 

I'm more open to seeing it now, because I spent my own long season treading water... 

A few years ago I subbed for my wife at a local BNI (Business Networking International) meeting. The organization has chapters throughout the world where like-minded professionals meet once a week to learn about each other, their businesses, and help each other succeed through strategic connections. They probably have a chapter meeting in your neighborhood, in fact. 

You're only allowed a few absences a year, so you're encouraged to find a sub when you must miss a meeting. That way, your sub can learn what others' needs are, they can present your own, and they can continue the dynamic conversation of everyone moving forward together. Then, they can report back to you. 

We lived a few blocks from where the local chapter met. I visited a few times with my wife, got to know the group, and regularly got phoned to sub when someone needed to miss the meeting since I knew the members.

“I'm the group's professional stand-in,” I told them. "I enjoy riding with my wife to the meetings, and I'm cheap— I work for the free coffee you serve each Thursday morning."

One day I actually subbed for my wife. That was rare. Usually, I subbed for others. In fact, I only stood in for her that one time.

I arrived early to help greet people as they arrived— a volunteer job she typically performed each week. 

There were just two or three people there setting up when one of the members approached me and asked, "Hey, who are you subbing for today...?"

I told him, “My wife. I'm actually filling in for her..."

He asked if she was sick. 

In that moment, I made a decision. I could say, “Yes”— and lie. Or, I could tell him the truth. Normally one to hide, I opted to reveal what was happening. You see, we were swimming underwater. One of our dreams had taken a huge toll on us.

"No. She's tired. Emotionally, we're threadbare. It's been a long year. I told her she should sleep in and rest... I would cover for her."

I could see, sense, and feel that my friend was listening. Somehow, the words I was speaking were serving life and breath to him...

I continued, "In these meetings, everyone hi-fives and fist-bumps. We talk about how great things are. How business is growing. How excited we are. Things like that. The truth, though, is that most people are hurting... they're tired. Drained. They need a hug— not a handshake."

Or— to use the analogy from earlier— we stand on top of the iceberg. We don't reveal that hard work it's taken us to get there. And the work it takes to remain there. Or that there are painful, gut-wrenching things under the surface of life, too...

He looked at me. He paused. Cleared his throat. Then— "It's been a hard year for us, too... I thought it was just us..."

Turns out, it's not just them. It's us. And everyone else in the room. Probably you, too. All of us. 

Couldn't we just own that, share a big group hug, and start stepping forward together? 

Encourage each other...? 

Call forth the greatness within each other— and point to the destiny that was just ahead...?

Would it really be OK if someone walked into church this Sunday, mascara running down their face...? 

Would we think someone was crazy if they said they were really, really struggling... and didn't have words for how, why, or what for... but that they were just overwhelmed...?

On the surface— that 10% above water— this leader in BNI looked incredible. Well dressed. Nice looking. Amazing family. A few kids + a wife + a house. 

And, I'd say that under the surface, his character is solid. He's incredible there, too. That 90% is NOT going to implode like I talked about earlier in this chapter. In other words, he's swimming underwater not because of character flaws that he's hiding but because— let’s just be real— life is beautiful but life is also hard.

Dreams are difficult, too. Especially the ones that matter most. The ones like thriving marriages. And heart connections with kids. And deep friendships. Especially when there’s so much other stuff weighing you down. 

Yes, he's swimming underwater most of the time. At least 90% of it.

I am, too.

And so are you. 

What would it be like if we realized that, yes, despite how bad things are right now, they will get better? 

And, that all success is proceeded by effort and time— swimming underwater? 

And what would it mean to the people with whom we come in contact every day if we treated them as if they've been holding their breath for a long time...? 

If we took the moments not just to chit-chat or fist-bump, but to infuse life and hope into them... to acknowledge their diligence... to honor, even, their struggle... to assume that they might be barely holding themselves above water, treading the wake through their tiredness...?

What if instead of starting on top of the iceberg we all approached each other beneath the surface?




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