Whenever I write about life at Herbert W. Armstrong College, some readers say, I wish I had that opportunity. I often share this with our students to help them better appreciate the opportunity God has given them and to encourage them to make the most of it.
Malcolm Gladwell has a lot to say about opportunities in his popular book Outliers. In it, he acknowledges the critical difference hard work makes. The closer psychologists look at the lives of successful individuals, he writes, “the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.” According to Gladwell, experts are who they are because they abide by the 10,000-hour rule: They achieve mastery in their field only after about 10,000 hours of practice over about 10 years.
Our students are in training to become experts in the field of balanced living through a Bible-based liberal arts curriculum, a hands-on work-study program, numerous fine arts engagements, formal events, opportunities for travel, intramural sports activities, active and wholesome dating and an uplifting family atmosphere, including regular fellowship with faculty members.
The training AC students receive here over eight semesters adds up to over 9,000 hours: 4,500 hours on the job; 1,800 hours in the classroom; at least half again that amount in study; 1,200 hours for forums, Bible studies and church services; and maybe 800 hours more for the numerous intramural activities. This doesn’t even count the most important regular activity: each student’s personal relationship with God. We encourage students to set aside one hour per day for earnest, heartrending prayers to their Creator, following the examples of many great men of the Bible. Four years of doing so would amount to 1,300 hours of contact with God! We also encourage 30 minutes per day for personal Bible study in addition to their classroom instruction; one hour is optimal.
It all amounts to well over 10,000 hours. Granted, those hours are not invested in one highly specialized field of expertise. They cover many fields and endeavors, most of which involve God and His Family, and all with a view toward ultimately sharing God’s way of life with all of mankind. God’s inspired Word shows that His plan for mankind is to reproduce His character in us (Genesis 1:26). That is why AC is a character-building institution.
I can see why some readers might wish they had the opportunity to attend AC when they were younger. But the truth is, God’s way of living brings successful abundance wherever you might be in life—but only if you are willing to work really hard at it. That’s what distinguishes top performers from the middle of the pack, Gladwell points out. “[P]eople at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else,” he writes. “They work much, much harder.”
Our college’s namesake, Herbert W. Armstrong, learned more than 60 years ago that true success is not reserved for those with superior ability, but for individuals—any individuals—willing to abide by the definite set of laws God set in motion that will guarantee successful results. He outlined these laws in his most popular booklet, The Seven Laws of Success—requested by more than 3 million people during the 20th century. I re-read the booklet again after reading Gladwell’s Outliers and found it to be right up to date—packed with wise instruction that leads readers along a path toward success!
The first law of success is to fix the right goal. To make sure it’s the right goal, one must first be able to define true success. Though thought-provoking, Gladwell’s book offers no specific definition of success. Generally, success is thought of as money or fame. God’s definition is totally different. While physical blessings might be enjoyed along with success, God defines true success as the way of life that causes all that is good and successful. We must voluntarily choose that way and relentlessly pursue it.
This is why we constantly remind our students of their first priority in life: drawing near to their Creator through consistent prayer, Bible study, meditation and occasional fasting. Perhaps the opportunity to attend Armstrong College as a full-time student has passed you by. But your personal relationship with God is an entirely different matter. As the Apostle Paul told the Athenian philosophers, God is “not far from every one of us” (Acts 17:27). But because most are unwilling to diligently seek after Him—which takes hard work—only a minuscule few ever find Him.
In 2004, after fighting for it in court, we began distributing the completely updated Herbert W. Armstrong College Bible Correspondence Course. This 36-lesson study, which forms the bedrock biblical instruction our students receive at AC, is distributed freely to anyone who enrolls. After every four lessons, our distance learning students complete a simple test before receiving the next four lessons.
In 6½ years, over 75,000 people have signed up for the course. Currently, about 7,500 are enrolled. Over 50,000 have dropped out. On average, 74 percent don’t get past the very first test. To date, only 3,898 people—just 5 percent—have completed the study. In this case, it’s not the opportunity that is lacking, but rather the persistent, determined willingness to finish a course that would dramatically improve their lives!
In the parable of the sower, Jesus described four kinds of individuals, all given the opportunity to receive God’s message. One never really got started. Two others enthusiastically began learning God’s way of life, but one became distracted by the cares of this world, and the other lacked the character to stay with it. One of those seeds, however, took root and continued to grow, eventually producing abundant fruit. Those few who diligently seek God’s way of life learn that an intimate relationship with God not only prepares them to take advantage of opportunities—it creates opportunities!
Request and study The Seven Laws of Success. And enroll in the Herbert W. Armstrong College Bible Correspondence Course; set aside time each day to work at it—and stay with it. Then supplement this practical, Bible-based study with regular, heartfelt prayers. Over time, the hours will add up, and you’ll be well on your way to accumulating advanced training in the area of expertise that matters most: how to live.