Life is such a precious gift. We tend to spend the best parts of our lives in the pursuit of our ambitions, without pausing to consider the purpose of it all. I have certainly been guilty of this basic fault of our human condition. But life has a funny way of bringing us all back down to earth.
I mention these things because this year has been full of the highest triumphs and the most humbling tragedies. This year has been a year of incredible loss – my mother died this past April, and several of my closest friends and colleagues have passed on to meet their makers. These were people like my colleague and fellow journalist Gwen Ifill, who pioneered a new path of success and achievement for women of color in journalism. The list includes my friend and financial mentor Dick Gregory, who achieved so much as an activist and champion for civil rights and healthy lifestyles. He was a giant among giants, who never tired of exploring and challenging the status quo. And yet, he too, was brought to the end of his life by the inexorable forces of time and human mortality that we all must eventually face.
And yet amidst the loss of so many close loved ones, this year has borne witness to personal and professional accomplishments that I could scarcely have imagined when I started out in the media business thirty years ago. I became the owner of one of the largest networks of minority-owned television broadcast stations. I was privileged during the recent election to be involved in a major way to lead a coalition of faith leaders in addressing some of the challenges facing our inner-city communities. My long-time relationship with Dr. Ben Carson, who became secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, has also given me a unique opportunity to influence the way in which some of these communities are shaped by government policy.
These are great accomplishments in the sight of man of course. But one cannot help but wonder what they matter in the grand scheme of God’s creation. Considering that soon we must all hasten to our maker, helps put our earthly ambitions into their proper context. What, then, should we do with our limited time here on this planet that truly matters?
What is for certain is that none of the edifices we are human beings build to enshrine our importance or status will ultimately stand the test of time. All of the buildings will eventually crumble, and our very bones will be dust in an instant. And anyone who ever knew of us or our ‘legacies’ will also fade into the vast forgotten spaces of history.
The answer to our purpose is likely to begin to take shape around our work and daily routines. How aware are we of how our thoughts, words and actions affect those around us? Are we building people up or dragging them down? Are we diligently pursuing our work, or merely passing the time away? These simple practices are what allows us to create the opportunity to refine our character and cleanse our souls daily.
Although there are many opportunities that I have been afforded because of the blessings of wonderful parents, siblings, friends, mentors, wealth and health, I still find myself gravitating towards the same practices that have stood me in good stead over the years. I still rise before the sun and pray. I still work out religiously at five a.m. every morning. And I’m still at my desk working before seven in the morning. Many of my colleagues at my companies have pointed out that despite not having to work for personal financial survival any longer – I work harder today than when I was seeking and striving to arrive at a place of prominence.
When they point this out, it does tend to give me pause. What am I working for? Why continue to strive in spite of my success? Whenever I take time to ponder these questions, they usually perplex me for some time. But whenever a close friend passes on to the next plane of existence; whenever the great are humbled and brought low by death, it reminds me of why we struggle. We struggle and we strive because those are the surest signs we can have that we are truly living.
No one wants to merely exist. Mere existence is a purgatory that we would find unbearable without the daily struggles and challenges. For it is only through these struggles that we find our true purpose. Those who know me well know that I am fond of repeating the aphorism ‘the victory is in the struggle.’ Although I believed this for years, it was not until I truly tasted victories that I began to understand the true meaning of the words.
What we point to as life’s ‘victories,’ graduating from college, getting one’s first job promotion, purchasing a home, marrying the spouse of our dreams are merely the side-effects of prolonged struggle. Health is a result of struggle at the gym, and struggle to avoid harmful consumption. Wealth is a side-effect of the struggle to produce increasing value in the marketplace, and to serve one’s clients and customers well. What we call happiness the side-effect of the struggle to refine one’s character in the face of life’s bleak moments.
But what comes into clear focus as we grow in understanding is that none of these edifices we construct is permanent. They are all fleeting. And so, we struggle to maintain and grow them in the face of ever-changing conditions. Along the road of this life-long striving to perfect ourselves, we can certainly take pause to experience success. But the fleeting nature of our accomplishments, and the stinging prick of our set-backs and challenges, can and should drive us on to greater heights.
Mr. Williams is Manager / Sole Owner of Howard Stirk Holdings I & II Broadcast Television Stations and the 2016 Multicultural Media Broadcast Owner of the year. Listen to Mr. Williams on Sirius XM126 Urban View nightly 6:00-8:00pm EST. Follow him on Twitter @arightside