By Megan Gebhart

(Editor’s note:  Megan is an MSU alumna who is currently on a year-long experiment with caffeine and conversation. Each week, she has coffee with someone she doesn’t know and writes about what she learned along the way. This post was originally featured on her “52 Cups” blog and it  is what she learned from me, way back when we first met. She is now up to 47 cups. I highly recommend reading the blog from the beginning!)

In cup 13, I learned about sacrifice.

I wasn’t planning on it. I didn’t really want to. But it happened.

That happens a lot with sacrifice. It’s not planned. It’s not wanted. But it happens.

Or so I thought before I spent an hour drinking coffee with Dave Isbell. He gave me the harrowing news that sacrifice would be an unavoidable part of my life—not exactly news I wanted to hear. Luckily his next piece of advice was more optimistic:

While I can’t avoid sacrifice, I can be proactive and take control over the sacrifices I make.

He went on to say that sacrifice isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The act of consciously choosing sacrifice adds incredible meaning and value to life. I wasn’t sure I believed him—but I thought back to one of my clearest experiences with sacrifice and it made sense.

My freshman year of high school, I joined the varsity cross country team and suddenly my life was consumed with running. I woke up, ran, went to class, ran, ate dinner, finished my homework, went to sleep, and woke up the next day to do it all again. Every choice I made went through a running filter. If it helped my running, I did it. If it hurt my running, I said no.

And it paid off. Our team had a lot of success and I accomplished many of my running goals. But not without a price—I had to pass up a lot of high school fun in the process.

Yet, as when I look back, I wouldn’t change anything about high school. Running never felt like a burden stopping me from what I wanted to do. Running gave me a sense of purpose and that made the trade-offs worthwhile. I was willing to sacrifice the short-term excitement so I could reach my goals.

Dave had a similar story. From the age of 13, he knew that his destiny was to be a rock star so he worked tirelessly and willingly made sacrifices to get closer to success. By the time he was 21, his band was asked to go on tour—the hard work had paid off.

But then he faced another sacrifice. He declined the offer and ended the band. The rock star life conflicted with his responsibilities as the husband of a young family and he knew he wasn’t mature enough to handle both. So he left the stage, and the dream, because he knew it was the right thing to do—his family had become his first priority.

So I understood what it meant to make sacrifices, but somewhere along my college journey, I forgot. It was easy to do. I’m in college! I have the freedom to do what I want! I’m having the time of my life! I don’t want to talk about sacrifice!

Then graduation day arrives and reality sets in.

Dave sees this happen often. Young graduates go out into the world full of pride and excessive confidence only to be humbled when the burdens of life catch up to them.

After leaving the band, Dave did some serious soul searching that eventually led him to his role as Alumni Career Services Coordinator for Michigan State. Every day he meets with alumni—usually in their late 40s and 50s—unhappy with their career situation looking for a change.

Many are alumni that spent their lives going through the motions—went to class, joined a few clubs, accepted the best job offer—but never stopped to see what direction they were headed. Why should they? They had a degree and a job—they were set!

Then a few decades go by and—when they have a mortgage, car payment, and three kids to put through college—they realize they aren’t happy in their career. But the financial burdens prevent them from leaving their job. They are forced to sacrifice their happiness—but it’s not a meaningful sacrifice. It is a forced sacrifice, which means it is a burden, not a decision that creates meaning.

Dave works hard to change that. His goal is to help alumni discover their vision and find a job that allows them to play a role in the pursuit of that vision. Because he knows if he can help them define their greater purpose in life, he can help them make meaningful choices. So when life gets difficult—and it always does—they can choose to sacrifice instead of accept a burden.

He shared the lesson with me so I could discover what I’m willing to sacrifice now—when I am young and without responsibilities—instead of finding out the hard way 20 years down the road when I’m in his office looking for advice.

And I am grateful for that.

Without Cup 13, I likely would have ignored the concepts of sacrifice and humility until it was too late. I would have left MSU with my fancy degree and fulltime job expecting the world to give me everything it owed me after my four years of hard work in college.

But the world doesn’t owe me anything. I’m 22. I have a lot of learning and hard work ahead of me—and if I think otherwise, I’ll end up falling flat on my face.

As Dave said, many times, “You can either choose humility or be humbled.”

Our coffee meeting was somewhat of a wake up call. I was expecting Dave to confirm the conclusions I’ve drawn in the past 12 weeks about careers—not introduce a whole new level of things to consider. And consider it I have; his quote has been on my mind since our meeting. It’s nestled in the back of my brain right next to, “Everybody makes sacrifices, you might as well chose the ones you’re willing to make.”

I have a feeling they will be there for a long time.


Megan Gebhart is a self-imposed nomad, adventurer, conversationalist, and writer. Before she graduated from MSU with Honors and spoke as valedictorian, she was a founding member of Gumball and the Kick Ass Ladies Club which were both instrumental in launching leaders that are already doing great things to make a positive impact on the world. On a personal note I (Dave Isbell) count my participation in Megan’s blog as one of the greatest honors afforded to me in my career, right next to being able to call Megan my friend. She is truly an inspiration and embodies what it means to me to be a Spartan!

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