THE PROBLEM WITH SUGAR WATER

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IT'S AN OFT TOLD STORY in the world of business. Two very different men—different in background, in philosophy, in age, and in life experience—had been involved in a significant discussion. The first man was a twenty-eight-year-old visionary and head of a growing tech company called Apple, Inc. Steve Jobs had yet to see thirty, but he was leading a company that would become one of the most successful corporations the world has seen. Apple was about eight years-old when the conversation began and was experiencing growing pains. As much of a visionary as Jobs was, he lacked experience in piloting his company through the oft times treacherous waters of big business. Apple needed an experienced hand at the tiller, and Jobs set out to find that man.

Enter John Scully III, the head of Pepsi. Scully was a decade-and-a-half older than Jobs and had proved himself a nimble, forward thinking, leader. Jobs set his sights on Scully and pursued him with focused doggedness. Scully declined. Several times. No one could blame him. He was being asked to give up the security and large paycheck from Pepsi to take the reins of a company just a few years old and started in a garage by a couple of guys not long out of their teenage years. It had no appeal to Scully.

Jobs, however, was not to be dismissed easily. He came back one last time to offer the leadership of Apple to the king of sodas, but this time he did it with a single question: “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world.”

The question landed on Scully like a knockout punch.

The question worked and Scully took charge of Apple. (Something Jobs would later regret. He would later say, “I hired the wrong man.” But that’s a story for another time.)

The question Jobs asked haunts me. I’m of an age now when I spend a fair amount of time looking back to see if I did anything right. I think about the work I’ve done, the books I’ve written, the lessons I taught and wonder if I’ve done anything of significance. Has my work been “sugar water” or something that has lasting value? Sometimes it’s hard to say.

The problem with sugar water is that it can bring pleasure for a time, but it short on long term value. I think over all, that most of my work is more than sugar water, although I sometimes have trouble believing that. In my novels, I’ve always tried to weave a tale that makes the reader think, feel, and wonder. I’ve tried to show the Christian faith in a positive light and Christians as thinking humans trying to face trial and danger; as people who value the good and will sacrifice to protect it. In my nonfiction, I’ve tried to educate and inspire.

We only get this one life to make a difference in the world and to do so requires more than the production and sale of sugar water. Sure, people like soft drinks, but they can’t live on them, can’t grow healthy, can’t improve themselves. Does the world need more sugar water?

When I consider new projects, I now ask if I’m making something of lasting value or pouring up a glass of sugar water.

What do you think?