“We’re going to have to part ways with you, Jake.”
Words I thought I would never hear.
It was Fall of 2009 and I had just been fired. Fired from the first and only real job I had ever known. I had been with this particular Chick-fil-A location for just over 2 1/2 years, but combined with another store, I had over 5 years of total Chick-fil-A experience.
But I was a leader. I was well-liked. I was supposed to have it all together. At the time I had authority in my community, a growing influence on social media, a part-time job in student ministry at a church I loved, and a crazy idea that I would change the world some day. And as a manager of that particular Chick-fil-A, I thought my boss had lost his damn mind.
“How dare he fire me!” I repeated in my head and in conversations for weeks following the embarrassing conversation.
After long hours and rude customers and dumpster dives and missed college football Saturdays, I was somehow forgetting my complete lack of interest in everything pertaining to fast food chicken. Looking back, I should have seen it coming – showing up late, having a bad attitude, working with complete apathy, and owning a ridiculous 22-year-old’s ego that seemed to tag along because I had been requested to speak at a few big church events here and there.
No other boss would have put up with me as long as he did. No one. So he did what any good leader would do in an effective organization: he fired me. It would have been ignorant of him not to. I was arrogant and entitled and misinformed about what I thought the world owed me; I was doing far more harm than good as a leader in that organization.
So what happened next? Well, my 4-plus-year relationship ended, I moved back into my parent’s house, I started serving tables at a restaurant chain, and soon after everything hit the fan, I began to learn a lesson that is something I still have to be reminded of today:
How you finish is far more important than how you start.
But at the time, I didn’t understand. And sometimes today I still struggle with this. I am a pro at starting and leading and helping and fixing until I feel there is something else that will be more fun or pay more money or look cooler to the people around me. There are serious organizations and people and chances I have hurt, confused, and missed because I’ve become distracted and disinterested and self-centered. I’m not proud of this, obviously, and it’s something I recognize more about myself the older I get.
But now I see. I look back at my experience with that Chick-fil-A store (and other, more recent experiences) and I understand that life is about more than what I can get out of it. I’m learning that leadership is about far more than what benefit there is for my career, my name and my influence. Leading is far greater a responsibility than simply starting something…
It’s about following through and working hard and doing the little things. And when the doors close and the time to walk away is present, it’s all about finishing well.
At the end of the day, opportunity and leadership and life is a whole lot less about what it is you have to offer and a whole lot more about what it is you are willing to give.
New things and people and opportunities and relationships are good, but when the new things come, old things still have a purpose. When the end is near, you must remember why you started in the first place. Give every conclusion and resolution the guts of who you are. Pray to the end. Fight until it’s over. Keep fires burning and keep bridges standing upright. Finish well. All of your relationships and choices and positions and stories are vital moments in the tale that is your time on this earth.
That job you can’t wait to get out of? Finish well. Think about the lessons you learned and the time you gave. They matter.
That last semester of college you just can’t seem to wake up in time for? Finish well. Give those professors a reason to believe in you and see that you have what it takes to accomplish what you went to school to do.
That idea that just didn’t work out how you thought it would? Finish well. Don’t waste the lessons you learned because your ego was damaged by a failed endeavor.
Ultimately, finishing well has to do with your character. Stick it out. Keep your chin up. Persevere. Grace is always waiting on the other side.
How you finish says a lot about who you are. Finish well.