Have you ever wished you could go back in time and meet a person who lived hundreds of years ago? I have found the solution to this problem in reading great biographies. Recently I finished David McCullough’s award winning book John Adams and I was quite moved by it. It feels like I spent a couple months living with the guy. It is impossible to walk away from such an experience without the feeling that the story of his life has been burned into my character in a unique way.
A Little Background
John Adams one of the most important figures in the movement for the independence of the United States of America. His intellect, conviction and energy were an indispensable aspect of the process of bringing together a new nation. He studied law at Harvard back when it had only a few buildings and a couple hundred students. Unlike many of the prominent leaders of his time, John Adams was a simple man. His father was a shoemaker and Adams himself grew up a farmer. He studied law at Harvard and, because of his great mind and energy, became a powerful figure in the movement for independence. After decades of powerful and sacrificial service to his nation, he returned to his farm, located not far from Boston. Looking back over his life, a few important lessons stand out to me personally.
The Power of Conviction
When I look at this man’s life I really see that very often history is indeed shaped, not by groups or organizations, but by individuals. History is built on the backs of individuals who were moved by deep convictions, people who lived passionately for the things that they believed. Conviction holds a man through thick and thin. It enables him to have the determination to do the right thing, even when it is the least convenient choice. We all have great ideas and desires in life, but it is a deep conviction that enables us to commit ourselves to actually bringing these things to fruition. The validity and depth of our convictions is one of the most important factors which determines the impact that we have.
The Force of Integrity
Adams lived in the time when democracy and politics were just being born. The press was a powerful social media tool that many used and abused to their themselves into the spotlight. This was a time that showed how people can get to the top by a variety of vastly different avenues. Some scrambled and fought for leadership and power all their lives. They cut corners, used manipulative methods, and made compromises – all to “further their great cause”. Adams was a man who firmly hold to what they believe, and seek to display it in the most honest and transparent fashion. He never endorsed his candidacy or promoted himself. And yet, its interesting to see how, despite his lack of political cleverness, he was frequently brought to the top.
Those who fight to get to the top usually have to fight to stay there. Those whose character speaks for themselves are able to maintain an authority that supersedes talent, ingenuity, or any communication/leadership tactic that is out there. People are drawn to someone they can trust. Adams was that kind of man.
The Beauty of Joy In All of Life
Although he had his weakness of criticism, and at times even depression, Adams was a man who was moved by the beauty of life all around him. His great intellect lead him to delight in everything from proper dirt fertilization, to great winter storms, to various cultures, to medicine and the sciences. This went back to his theological perspective that all of life was the result of an intelligent and powerful God who stood behind it all. Joy is not something that is achieved through attaining some sort of position or goals. Its a perspective, a take on life. There is no point in reaching our goals unless we are delighting and rejoicing in the process of life that gets us there. In every stage of life, Adams was a man who had a sense of humor, a smile and an attitude that saw the beauty behind everything.
Reading this book was once again a reminder that the external value and impact of a person is the result of their intrinsic value. The timeless values and convictions that shape us on the inside are really the things which will determine the weight of our lives. It has helped me be more aware and honest of the real motives that drive me and the faults that stand in my way.