Purpose rather than Ambition | Reflections by Fellow Stephen Rooker, '16

The Kevin Durant quote “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard” always helped motivate me throughout high school. A basketball player myself, I took to heart these words of my NBA role model. I set lofty goals for myself, and whether it was the colleges that I wanted to get into, the personal accolades I wanted to receive in basketball, or even the dream job I wanted to work towards, I put the pressure solely on my work habits. After all, we live in a society that tells us that by working hard we can live the “American Dream,” so why not set the bar high?

I took this mindset with me into my first year of college, but reality hit hard. My goal of a 4.0 proved disastrous, my attempts to make the UVa basketball team seemed like a joke after failing to do so twice, and my campaign for class president resulted in an 8th place finish. To make matters worse, I put countless hours into accomplishing these goals only to fall flat on my face. The work took a toll on me, as I woke up most mornings red-eyed from under five hours of sleep, and my advisor told me after my first semester of course work that I shouldn’t even bother with the pre-Commerce track since I already had just about ruined my odds of acceptance. I was deflated: Hadn’t I worked hard enough to earn at least one of my goals?

When, as part of my Fellows experience, I was asked to come up with a personal mission statement, I thought back to what my early college experience had taught me. I always had a diligent work ethic, but I didn’t always have an open mind to what the Lord was doing in my life. What I learned is that sometimes the Lord is going to close doors that might be a distraction from God's goals for me. My stubbornness to accept God's goals rather than mine often led to failure in my eyes.

By 3rd year, I finally learned to let go of my ambitions. As a result, I recognized that one of the main reasons the Lord wanted me at UVa was to build relationships and create a community with all different types of people, so I (reluctantly) learned to let go of my attachment to academic success by putting more time into intentional relationships. Surprisingly, my grades skyrocketed as well, and I found much more enjoyment in school.

During my time as a Fellow this past year, we have talked a lot about one’s calling and why we are motivated. As we discussed these topics, I found myself realizing how often I ignore what I might be called to do in order to satisfy a selfish motive. Going forward, I am trying to focus on what drives my decisions before I set out to accomplish certain goals. This past month, I finally pieced together my personal mission statement, and it is one that I hope reflects what I have learned from my struggle to come to these conclusions: “To work diligently yet humbly with purpose rather than ambition.”