Letters to my sons
A collection of thoughts and lessons I've learned along the way for my little men, and anyone else that's interested.
Posts posted in 2023
We live in a world of deteriorating standards. Across the board, our world’s standards seem to be slowly but surely dropping. Whether we’re talking about personal standards (ie standards of excellence, of learned behavior, of understanding and tolerance of others) or corporate ones (ie corporate responsibility, loyalty towards employees and customers alike) it is easy to see things degrading.
Gone are the days when people sought excellence purely for excellence’s sake. Excellence is now a means to an end, and its pursuit is one for which people are always trying to find shortcuts and hacks. Excellence sought for excellence itself is passé. This is because there is an ever shrinking set of circumstances in which one seeks those that are excellent. Instead, we now seek the popular, the trendy, the viral. The leap to a hyper-connected world that technology is shrinking everyday has had the unintended negative side effect of overloading us with so many choices and alternatives that our pursuit of excellence has been replaced.
We now seek to be just “good enough”.
Because excellence isn’t rewarded. Because who cares if someone else is better, so long as you’re more popular and are good enough. Because our shrinking attention spans have an increasingly difficult time telling the difference.
And yet it’s there.
In the recesses of our minds, in the quiet place that still occasionally gets a small amount of attention, in that faintest of voices that is getting harder to hear as each year goes by, we know that there is a difference. We know that excellence matters. We know that humans are capable of much more. We know that we are capable of much more.
Why having high standards is hard
Our world has become increasingly more complex. There are more things to do in a given day than ever before. More requirements, more demands, more complexity to each of those demands. More inputs that we need to stay on top of, more trendy waves that come and go that we need to ride. And yet we still have the same 24 hours in a day that our ancestors had.
As such, things get missed. We try to cut corners. We don’t have the time to look deeply into things, so we find substitutes. We find believable people and trust their recommendations. We look at facades and veneers and try to judge books by their covers. We find ways to make progress and make decisions despite not having the time to fully consider all the options. And slowly but surely, we move towards a space where popularity and perceived excellence matters more than actual excellence.
And slowly our standards drop. Not maliciously but unconsciously. Not intentionally but unobtrusively and unnoticed.
Our attention spans have lowered so much that headliners pass as news, twitter passes as a worthy news source, and reading the top 5 customer reviews passes as doing our own product research. We are no longer concerned with excellence. We have replaced that with a concern for “good enough” performance. Who cares if one has an excellent product so long as the one we do have is good enough and performs well enough to fool the average observer?
Surely there is a better way.
It turns out that despite the slow and steady dampening of our senses, our world on a whole is still able to recognize excellence in those rare moments that it appears. While it unfortunately will take a crisis moment for this awareness to surface, we by and large are still universally able to recognize these rare moments of excellence when they appear. Because of the increasing rarity of these events, their impact becomes disproportionally large; a fact which the keen observer internalizes as an incentive to demonstrate excellence, which in turn drives the desire to actually be excellent.
Why it’s hard to hold others to a high standard
Keeping standards high is hard. It is unnatural (nothing sinister here, just simply not-natural) and difficult, and over time can become taxing and seemingly not worth it. Anyone practiced in discipline knows that keeping standards high comes at a price. Often that price is a hard trade off that our natural selves don’t want to accept. Sometimes that price is a difficult trade off that not only impacts ourselves, but others around us as well.
As such, we don’t want to inflict those trade offs on others. We are often very eager to give people passes, to lower the expectations, to extend grace - this is especially true for those that we love! This is natural, but is also harmful for a number of reasons that immediately surface once we apply any amount of critical thinking to our actions.
The dangers of relaxing our standards
In not holding our loved ones to high standards we do them a disservice as they will presently come to believe that the lower standard is sufficient, which will end up hindering their personal growth and progress. Often this is done with the best intentions! When someone we care about performs below their capacity we are brought to a crossroads that we perceive to have two possible outcomes:
- We give feedback and hold the bar high and as a result cause hurt, force an uncomfortable conversation, and potentially damage/ruin the relationship.
- We let this instance slide and opt instead to offer less direct feedback, hinting at or implying a performance issue while protecting the relationship.
When faced with these decisions, we will often pick the latter option both because we want to maintain the relationship and because we typically aren’t equipped to have a critical conversation in a manner that is clear, direct, and yet kind.
It is also worth noting that both of these outcome descriptions only consider short term consequences. Yes, it is true that providing hard feedback will cause someone hurt in the short term. However, when done correctly, clear and constructive feedback will benefit the individual much more in the long run! We have to be long game players!
It behooves us therefore to learn how to give great feedback in a way that is clear, specific, and most importantly, kind. Because we care for people, we ought to want the best for them, and holding the line for them when it counts will help us toward that end.
Loving people through high standards
High standards are critical for people to grow. This is true in both our personal and our work lives. We must be tough on people. We must keep our standards high. Especially for those we care most about and are most invested in their progress and growth, we must keep pushing them and raising them up.
But we must love people through it.
Sometimes those that we’re tough on aren’t used to it. Sometimes they hate it. Sometimes they lash back out at us. Sometimes they choose to ignore us and move on with their lives. Sometimes they cut us out completely, unable to see past their own hurt.
But we must love them through it.
Remember that being tough gives us the opportunity to demonstrate love and care for people, and that loving and caring for people allows us to be tougher on them. This is a virtuous cycle that is hard to start but incredibly valuable when done right.
As I write this, my eldest boy is 9. He is in little league. It’s been hard for him, as there are some kids who have been throwing a ball daily since they were 3. He hasn’t. But he has potential, he has drive, he has the desire to play well. At one of the early practices he made a bunch of overthrows past the first baseman’s head.
I could have pat him on the back and told him, “good try!”, but that wouldn’t be enough. As our famous little green friend says, “do or do not; there is no try”. So I hold the standard. I tell him the reason he is overthrowing when others on his team are hitting the mark is because he hasn’t practiced as much as they have. I hold the line.
But then I love him through it. We start a new ritual together where everyday after school we go outside and throw the ball for 30 minutes. We watch videos on how to throw more accurately and with more power together. We practice wrist motions to snap the ball on release. We do this everyday for a month, and his throwing drastically improves. He makes some clutch throws during games and throws out a bunch of runners from long distances. He has found a new pride in his craft, and loves baseball even more now. We’re going to work on hitting next.
In everything, be it parenting, coaching, mentoring, managing teams, or simply being a friend, we need to hold our standards high, but we need to love people through it. And we need to surround ourselves with people who will hold us to those same high standards, and will love us through them too.
My sons, I have so much love for you both. And yet I want to hold standards high for you. My prayer is that by the time you read this, that you’ll be able to look back on your childhood and see that daddy had high standards for you but he also loved you strongly and walked with you through it all.
Tags: #Relationship #Excellence #Connection #Loyalty
We live in a world filled with noise. Everywhere we go we are bombarded by the constant steady stream of noise that never really seems to shut itself off. So much so that many people feel the need to take retreats to get away from it all.
Each time I’ve done this the first thing I notice, always, is how quiet it is. When I finally force myself to turn off my devices, to disconnect, and to be fully present in my surroundings, the first thing I experience is a quiet that has become all too foreign in our lives. The quiet that allows you to hear your own thoughts, that allows you to really see what’s going on around you, and that allows you to direct your musings and contemplations.
This is unfortunately an uncomfortable exercise for many of us. We have grown so accustomed to the constant pace and buzz of our world, to the little gadget in our pockets that keeps us constantly connected, and to the distractions, direction, and influence that our strongly connected world has on us that quiet contemplation about topics of our own choosing is foreign at best and can be uncomfortable and down right scary.
We are so uncomfortable with this quiet that we in fact default to generating our own noise to combat this. We post, tweet, text, and perform a myriad other noise-generating activities to help fill the silence. We identify the like-worthy and retweetable sound bytes of our lives and spew them out. We comment on others’ sound bytes and create a world filled with much conversation but little communication.
There are many unfortunate realities of this situation, but the one I want to focus on today is this: with all the talking we’re doing to fill our own silences, we’re unable to truly listen to others.
We listen in order to speak
Maybe you can relate to this: you’re in a group conversation with two or more people, and one person is speaking. And honestly, they’re speaking a little more than you’d like, and you feel that they’re somewhat long winded. You know that they’ll eventually take a breath, and you need to make sure you capitalize on that, so you’re running through what you want to say, making sure you’ve got the right counterpoints to what they’re proposing.
You’re listening, but are you internalizing what they’re saying? Are you giving what they’re saying its due regard? Or are you trying to formulate your response, your rebuttal, or your clever anecdote in retort?
Let’s face it, we’ve all done that. We’ve all laid out logically our counter argument, and have even had the pleasure of everyone else in the group nodding their heads as we counter the original argument point by point. Feels great right?
Sure. But in those conversations, while we may be speaking, and while we may even be speaking eloquently, we’re not communicating. And chances are, the person(s) we’re conversing with are doing the same, which means that none of us are really listening to one another.
While you may develop a reputation for being a wonderful orator, you won’t be receiving any accolades for being effective.
Are you actually interested?
Perhaps the first and foremost problem is that most of the time we’re not actually interested in the other person’s views or opinions.
Now don’t get me wrong - I’m not talking about the blatant, flagrant, and offensive “dude I don’t care about what you think” type of thing that usually comes along with a “and in fact I don’t really care about you” approach to the relationship. No, this is a much more refined, polite, and often unexpressed and only faintly detected lack of care and concern about what the other is saying despite genuinely having care for the relationship and for the other person.
If we’re truly honest with ourselves, we’ll discover that for most of us, we converse with others more because we want to be heard rather than because we want to hear.
The benefits of listening
There are a lot of really great reasons we ought to listen to others. And since we live in a capitalist, self-centered world, I’ll only focus on the benefits to ourselves that we get from truly listening to others.
- We become more empathetic. In a world full of strongly held opinions that are weakly founded and strongly adversarial, empathy is a quality that is increasingly rare but also increasingly coveted. When we truly are able to listen to others and care more about what they’re saying than what we want to say in return, we begin to tune into their needs, their wants, their desires; a process which makes us more empathetic.
- We move in to a posture of humility and learning. By listening to others and focusing our attention simply on what they’re saying, we more readily move ourselves into a position where we can learn something. This humility, this curiosity, this willingness to accept that we in fact don’t know it all is perhaps one of the most important realizations one can make in one’s lifetime,.
- We may learn something new. Remember that learning doesn’t always mean new knowledge. In fact, it’s probably arguable that the majority of learning we need has to do more with perspective and mindset than it does new information we were unaware of.
- We can build deeper connection. When we take the time to really listen to people, we may in fact discover that we have more in common than we might have originally thought. These commonalities light a path towards greater connection, greater understanding, and greater shared experience.
Practice paying attention
Attention is the beginning of connection and devotion. We can’t love something, be devoted to it, desire it, and move it forward if we can’t focus your attention on it. We can’t have a deep connection with something, be it a person, cause, idea, or effort if we are constantly distracted, constantly thinking about ourselves and our situation. As such we need to have mastery over our focus and our distractability - if we are too easily distracted, we will discover presently that the things we profess to love, we love in name only.
So how do we do this? How do we move our focus from self to other? How do we get better both at the desire to understand others as well as the practice of conversing in a way that allows for that understanding?
A great friend of mine has a wonderful technique that I’ve stolen and am starting to implement in my own life. It’s a simple phrase, and when asked with the right motivation yields great results.
That’s interesting… tell me more!
Simple right? Such a simple phrase, such a simple concept. Asking someone for more. But I assure you, it’s a magical concept. A few reasons:
- It shows a genuine interest in the other person(s). This simple phrase expresses to the other that you are interested in them, that you find something in them and in their story desirable, and who doesn’t want that? Who among us doesn’t take joy in the feeling of someone else desiring to know more about us?
- It allows others to shine. By expressing our desire for the other person to expand on their thoughts, we allow them to have their moment, to feel like they are expressing mastery over something. We are all built with an innate desire for mastery, for attaining mastery and for being recognized for it. What a great gift it is when someone allows us the opportunity to demonstrate that!
- It breaks barriers to connection. When we show interest in someone else, it allows them to let down their defenses and show interest in us, thereby creating a much deeper connection than we would have had otherwise! We walk around this earth constantly on the defensive. We are constantly bombarded with messages about how unsafe the world is, how much we need to protect ourselves. What a breath of fresh air it is to be able to break down those barriers by showing genuine interest in someone else! These broken down barriers eventually lead to a reciprocal interest, which as we know is the basis for connection!
And so my sons, my hope for you is that you too can incorporate this simple technique into your relationships, that you too can ask someone to tell you more about themselves, about their journey, and about their story. Ultimately life is about connection, about relationships, about fulfillment in the time, endeavors, and relations that we have, and above all things I want you both to have a rich and full life. I love you boys!
Tags: #Relationship #Listening #Empathy #Curiosity
Time is the only resource in life that you can never get back. This fact makes it one of the most valuable resources in the world. It is also one of the most controversial and complex resources in the world.
For example, when one is young, time seems to be the thing we have an abundance of. Aside from the required daily school and occasional parent-inflicted extra curricular activity, one has very few demands on one’s time at an early age such that we’re often left with an abundance of it. “I’m bored” is probably the most common complaint among children, and is one that spans all ages, races, genders, ethnicities, and every other imaginable distinction.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have people in their 50s and 60s who spend all their life’s savings and energies on trying to get back more time. Whether that’s by offloading things from their lives that demand too much time, or by attempting to prolong their life and add more time to it, there are many in their sunset of life that seem to never have enough time.
Why is that? What’s the catch here?
What is valuable?
One very unfortunate reality of our current social norms is that in our developing years we are taught (often implicitly) that our primary purpose in life is progress along a fairly well-trodden path.
From our first breath we are put on this neverending conveyor belt of progress and expected to spend our lives entirely on it. We were taught to walk so that we could run. We were taught to run so that we could play. We were taught to play so that we could interact with other children at school. We were put in high school so that we can get into a good college. We strove to get into great colleges so that we can get good jobs. We strive for good jobs so that we can make money to start a family and support them. We have children so that we can teach them and help them speed up their process along the same conveyor belt.
Every step along the way, we were told that our accomplishments and achievements are the things that we should be striving towards, and yet no one ever explained to us why these things hold value. Nowhere on that belt are we taught to take the time to discover what is valuable to us. Instead we’re taught that the next step, the next thing, those are what’s important.
Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t plan for tomorrow, that we shouldn’t have goals and progression paths that we want to be on. Quite the contrary. Plans and goals are great. However, the problem of too much planning for too far in advance is that we don’t focus on the here and now. Living constantly for tomorrow means that you will never enjoy today, will never actually “get there”. There will always be another “there” to go!
When we were children we assumed our parents’ values. But because we were never taught to discover our own values in our developmental years, many reach adulthood still on the conveyor belt their parents set them on. As children we’re told that the future has value so we should work towards that.
That unfortunately causes us to miss the reality that childhood is not a training ground for adulthood! We rob our children of half of their lives when we treat it as such, and we set them up to perpetuate the same cycle with their own children in future generations. When we treat everything we’re doing - life itself, in other words - as valuable only insofar as it lays the groundwork for something else, we miss out entirely on the beauty of the present.
Instead, we need a range of inputs, learnings, and experiences. We need to balance the time we push to the future with the time that we enjoy the present.
Our society is structured such that we rarely think about the present. Our immediate choices don’t create meaning in the here and now, but rather create the possibility for meaning later. Many live as though the present moment is an obstacle which they need to overcome to get to the “right” moment in the future. The present is never quite right, never quite good enough.
We must learn that the present is not only a gateway to the future - It is an end unto itself!
At some point along the journey we realize the hidden wisdom in the old riddle, that the thing that is always coming but never comes is tomorrow. Enter the midlife crisis.
This is a time where many realize that the incessant striving towards tomorrow is not the mark of a life well lived, that the pursuits of wealth, fame, fortune, and success do not satisfy as we had hoped. We therefore seek to find ourselves, to find the things that we believe we should pursue for the remaining half that will give us meaning.
It is typically not until the sunset of life that we realize the truth behind the matter - that regardless of our choices, our experiences, our relationships, and our chosen career paths, things have value because in choosing them we could not choose any alternative. They have value because in pursuing those things we had to explicitly choose not to pursue everything else.
When we accept this, and accept that life is finite, then things become meaningful. If we had infinite time, choices don’t matter, as there is no sacrifice for them. But because time is finite, each choice we make explicitly is at the expense of another choice, and therefore makes the choice itself valuable. The fact that we have a limited amount of time when our children are young, that we have but 4 years in our college experience, that we have only two weeks for our upcoming vacation - these are why our choices matter, and what gives them meaning.
Managing your time
It therefore behooves us to consider the question of time management. How does one do it? How should one prioritize the finite time that one has on this earth?
There are many time management philosophies out there, and I will neither pretend to be aware of them all nor will I provide any prescription on what I think is best. Rather, I will suggest that if your time management philosophy doesn’t help you neglect the right things then something is wrong! In this life there will be infinitely more things that you don’t have time for than those that you do. Any effective philosophy you adopt must therefore help you choose what not to do as much as it helps you choose what to do.
Effective time management is about more than just slotting in the right things into convenient time slots and playing calendar Tetris. It is about prioritizing, and about realizing that you will never have enough time in a day to accomplish all that needs to be done for the given day, so you need to prioritize. It ought to allow us to face our limitations, our time constraints, the finite nature of our lives, and our inability to control it.
When we don’t thoughtfully and intentionally apply an effective system we find ourselves giving up control. This is natural - having some other external force take control and make a choice for us which precludes us from making some other choice is much easier than owning the responsibility of that choice ourselves.
Sadly, many of us choose to escape the fact that we in fact are responsible despite our desire not to be, so we relinquish control and allow ourselves to be swept away by the currents of the day. This allows us blame something else for our misfortunes and allows us to save our pride.
For if we never try, we can never fail, right?
Unfortunately the reality is that this relinquishing of responsibility often ends up with us being bored. Boredom ought to lead to a realization that we are in control of how our experience is unfolding, and thereby bring about a visceral understanding of the reality that this is it, this life, these choices, these experiences - these make up the sum of human experience.
This is why we must train children to figure out what to do with their own boredom. We must teach them to self-motivate, because without that ability, they will inevitably turn to something else - social media - to fill their time instead of taking control of it and wrestling with their own finitude. We must teach them to better manage this valuable resource that each of us gets a finite amount of in our lifetimes.
Time is a networked resource
Time is a valuable resource, no doubt. And it is absolutely better the more we command it (ie similar to money). However, it is also a networked resource, which means that it has more value the more people have control of it as well (ie telephones, internet etc).
This means that despite our desire to have absolute control over our time, it actually benefits us for others to have some control over it as well. When we have friends and family that feel like they can impose on our time and help direct what we do with it, our lives become much richer. When we have shared experiences, they have the potential to have much more depth than our individual ones.
This, like many things, requires balance and good boundaries. We cannot exert complete control, but we also cannot relinquish complete control to others. We must have balance for how we manage our time, whom we allow to make demands, and what our criteria are for granting those demands.
Regardless of how we label the axis - patriarchal vs individual, eastern vs western etc - we must find the balance along the axis that allows us to have healthy boundaries with our relations. It is not a surprise then that in her book “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying”, author Bronnie Ware finds many on death’s doorstep regretting living the life others expected of them instead of having the right boundaries to live the one they desired for themselves.
And so my boys, my hope for you is that you learn the value of time, that you learn of its role in determining value and meaning in your life, and that you establish early on a great set of boundaries that will keep you on a balanced filled with great relationships along with great freedoms to forge your own way. I love you boys!
Tags: #Time #Meaning #Relationship #Balance
Popular culture today is centered around, and even driven by the catch phrase “fomo” (fear of missing out). It is engrained in the way we think, the way we act, and the way we process and apply our values. Whole companies are built around creating more fomo and then capitalizing on that fomo to drive our behaviors. Our capitalist society is indeed founded on the basic engine of fomo -> consumer behaviors.
Take advertising. The goal of advertisers is to convince you as their target customer to believe that you’re missing out on whatever glamorous and glorious thing the more-beautiful-than-average model on your screen is doing. Always put together, fashionable, and incredibly happy, the models tell you that whatever they’re selling has just changed their lives. And not just that, it’ll change yours too! So call/click now and get your life upgrade!
Or consider social media. Whether you’re on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or whatever the latest craze is of your day, the basic premise is the same. Give people the tools to glam up their public persona (ie Insta filters etc), give them a targeted platform to share that persona (ie your social network paired with an AI-based recommendation engine), and then create a virtuous cycle of likes, re-tweets, and dopamine hits. All of that to keep you coming back for more, and to make you feel like you’re missing out and need a change.
And so we click.
We click through ads that promise us that same happiness that we see our friends enjoying. We buy things that help us glam up our own personas by adding filters, buying light rings, and learning the right selfie angle to make our pictures really pop. We engage with content that tells us our kids need to be in more camps, need to learn more skills, need to have a long list of extra-curriculars.
Annnnnd cue the fear!
Bombarded by these messages daily, even hourly, we are left defenseless to the onslaught of subtle messaging telling us that we’re missing out, that our children are missing out. Over time, we begin to live that life - you know, the one that is so busy with scheduled stuff that there is no room for rest and relaxation. We begin to internalize the rat race as the correct way to live life. We begin to let fomo ruin (ahem, run) our lives.
The down side of fomo
There are many, many down sides of fomo, and this post is not not a fomo post after all, so I won’t even attempt to cover them all. I will however share a few that I believe are particularly problematic.
- Fomo causes us to lose control of our lives. We move to a space where the driving force is social media, or what our friends share with us, or what we see on TV. Regardless of the source, fomo causes us to relinquish control over where we spend our time and how we spend our thought energies.
- Fomo doesn’t allow us to enjoy life. Le joie de vivre is not experienced by running around following our fears; rather, it is experienced by ignoring everything else and focusing on the current moment.
- Fomo does not elevate life. It is focused on the surface, on the veneer. It causes us to spend our time replicating the actions of others instead of introspecting and expanding on the grand and elevated life.
So what’s the alternative?
The joy of missing out
To figure out an alternative mindset, let’s first dive into why fomo exists in the first place.
Popular culture tells us that missing out on something is bad, and as such is something that we should be fearful of. It tells us that when we miss out on something, our life is less than it would have been if we hadn’t missed out, and as a result we ought to aim to never miss out on things.
That fundamental line of thinking has driven so much of our industry, our products, and our cultural norms. It is deemed socially acceptable for one to be out with friends but also having a full asynchronous texting conversation that requires concentrating on one’s phone for 30 seconds every several minutes. It is normal for one to receive a notification and pull out one’s phone, handle the event, and return to the conversation without any apology because there’s nothing culturally wrong with the behavior!
Not only is this rude, but it also misses out on a basic premise of human life: one cannot fully appreciate that which one is not fully immersed or present in.
This means that by having fomo, by multi-tasking, being never fully present, and by attempting to keep abreast of all the social media posts and topics that are constantly bombarding our phones, we miss the life that is being lived in front of our eyes. In other words, fomo is causing us to have a worse life.
Instead, we should realize that missing out is a good thing. In economics, we’re taught that the opportunity cost of investing in option A is the ability to invest in every other option out there. But if we invest in a way such that we want to not pay any opportunity costs, then we don’t make any investments at all and therefore remain stagnant. If we choose to hedge our bets and invest a little in everything, we completely fail to capture exceptional growth events in a particular option.
This is exactly true in our personal lives as well. To have a rich and full life, we must choose things to invest in, and by definition pay the opportunity cost of not being able to invest in everything else. In other words, missing out on one thing means that we’ve invested fully in something else. It means we’ve explicitly chosen something else to spend our time on, and in so choosing have committed ourselves to something rather than sitting around waiting for the possibility of something.
This is why we should live with the joy of missing out.
In order to fully embrace the richness of each experience, we need to ruthlessly prioritize what we spend our time on. A few notes on ruthless prioritization, as it’s slightly different than your standard prioritization.
- Ruthless prioritization requires a stack rank, with no ties. For you logic/math people out there, this means that for two goals A and B, it must be true that A > B or B > A. This also means there is no “P1 bucket”. Each discrete goal has its own priority, and it is explicitly not equal to any other.
- You cannot accomplish all your goals. There exists some maximum number of goals that are accomplishable in a given timespan, and that is almost always a smaller number than the things that you might want to have on your priorities list. This means explicitly that there are things on your list that you will not be able to accomplish. This is hard for many people to accept, and as a result many try (and fail) to do a little bit of everything. This is foolish, and will always end in either failure or in burning yourself out.
- Goal N+1 will always be the worst! This is because it was just under the line, which means that it’s something you value. As a result, it will be tempting to spend just a little bit of time on it. Don’t. You need to actively decide not to do it, as it didn’t make the list.
By actively prioritizing the things that you do, you intentionally set aside things that you would have liked to do but aren’t going to, which in turn allows you to focus on the things that are the most important! Welcome to the joy of missing out!
And so my boys, my hope for you is that you’re able to experience the deep joy that comes from a life well lived, filled with rich experiences and strong connections with loved ones. My prayer is that you never fear missing out on things but instead take joy in the knowledge that you’ve intentionally decided on the experiences you want in your life, as well as those that you don’t.
Tags: #Prioritization #Mindset #Fear #Joy
We are a species that is obsessed with memories. We spend so much time and money on inventing, creating, buying, and consuming technology centered around memories. Since the earliest times we can recall, humankind has spent countless hours and energy on memories. If we travel far back enough, we give memories the fancy term of “history”. Our modern day PR for the term is “social media”, or “news feed”, but whatever way we spin it, it is all centered around memories. Documenting what has happened, solidifying it for all eternity.
These recorded memories take different forms. History books attempt to record factual memories. Memories capture thoughts, feelings, and remembrances of the rich and famous. Period pieces attempt to paint (typically with rose colored glasses) a picture of a time long past in its prime, filled with life, mystery, and drama. Memories are rooted in the finite, of time that has been concretely shaped, of the road that has already been travelled.
The problem with spending so much of our time and mental energies on memories is that they are all in the past. We remain forever rooted to what has already come, and as a result are always looking backwards. Many of us romanticize the past (in fact, our brains do this on purpose so that we can forget the pain and bad memories of the past and instead can move forward).
Now don’t get me wrong; I enjoy a good nostalgic trip down memory lane as much as the next person. But we cannot allow our focus to remain there, cannot allow our time to be entirely consumed by our reminiscing.
Dreams on the other hand, focus on the future. They focus on things which have not yet come to pass, and keep our eyes looking forward. They paint a very different picture - one of possibility, of potential, of the expansive and the infinite. They ignore the details of what is and allow us to focus on what could be. They too vie for our time and our mental capacity. They too seek regular visitation from our consciousness, but they have a very different focus and motive.
Why it matters where we spend our time
Why does any of this matter? Can’t we simply allow our minds to wander where they will and call it a day? Why is it important for us to think through whether we’re spending our time snapping photos to edit and post on social media or thinking through how to make our dreams a reality?
The obvious one is that time is finite. This is obvious, but is also misleading.
It is true that we all have the same 24 hours in a day, and that we all go through periods of life where we feel like we’ve got all the time in the world. For arguments’ sake, let’s assume we all live standard long-ish lives (in the US as of writing, the average life span is 79 years old).
But even then, not all time is created equal, because despite wall clock time being a finite and universally equal thing, the way we experience it is not equal. For some experiences, 5 minutes may feel like an hour. A year may feel like a decade. A season may feel like an instant.
For instance, I had the privilege of taking an auto cross class, and the 73 seconds it took for me to do a lap with 4 laps had the experience feeling like it was a 15-20 one. This past year of my life has been richly filled with experiences and relationships that it has felt more like a decade than a year. For some, the past three years since the COVID pandemic hit has felt like months, and they remember 2019 like it was yesterday.
Our experience of time depends on what we do and how we do it.
This means that what we do with our time is more important than how much time we have. Explicitly, this means that instead of attempting to prolong our measurable time by tacking on additional time at the end, we should aim for prolonged experiences where time seems to stand still and stretches, and our experience of it lengthens. Instead of being an exercise nut, eating large quantities of kale, quinoa, and whatever other “superfood” is currently trendy, and focusing on extending life we should focus on adding more substantial experiences to our lives.
How do we elongate our experienced time?
I believe that time feels longer because of novelty. When experiences are new, when we experience inputs that we’ve never encountered before, and when we view the world with a different perspective than we had in the past, time seems to slow down. This is additionally magnified by our attitude towards these novel experiences - do we embrace trying new things and learning? Or are we closed off to them?
Clearly my belief is that openness is best (more on that some other post).
This is backed up by our own personal experiences. For instance, our childhood is a complete cauldron of novelty, and therefore ends up often feeling like a much longer period of our lives than it actually is. Everything is new, every feeling, every experience, every situation - all new. First loves, first breakups, first championship goal, first failure. All of these firsts are imprinted in our minds, and our experience of those feel elongated.
It is not an accident that we call those years our formative years; our childhood and early adulthood are periods filled with core memories and events that shape us and last throughout our lives. The reason? Novelty.
This does not mean we should go out seeking novel experiences all the time! While some of those experiences are perfectly justifiable, we should also be seeking novel ways to look at existing experiences. This may mean asking a friend a question you never dreamed of asking. It may mean a conversation or a new attitude towards something that has been in your life for decades.
In order to put ourselves in these novel situations, we need to dream. This is explicitly different than daydreaming. Daydreaming is for all practical purposes equivalent to wistful and wishful thinking without any action or impact on ones life. Dreaming big however is an explicit and intentional action that we take to think about our world not as it is but as it ought to be. It is a future-focused activity that prepares our mind for the possibility that something new will happen to us and in us.
A few thoughts on dreaming big.
- The wider our range of inputs in our lives the bigger the canvas we have on which to dream. By being open to a wide range of experiences, by putting ourselves in circumstances that we have never encountered, and by reading and conversing with people that have different perspectives than we do, we stretch our mind’s ability to dream and in doing so create a virtuous cycle of growth.
- Some of your dreams should scare you. Not because they’re nightmares, but because they’re so big that imagining them take hold of your life is breathtaking and borderline terrifying. This is a good thing. If you’re never scared of the possibilities of realizing your dreams, you’re not dreaming big enough.
- Dreams are best shared. Sharing our dreams with our close loved ones allows us not only to inspire others, but be inspired by others and to refine our dreams so that they can start taking shape in reality. By creating a culture of love and trust where we can share our dreams without fear of ridicule or persecution we enable ourselves to freely express, to push our boundaries, and to safely explore the vast world of possibilities out there for us.
The important question then, is what you’re doing with your time. Do you spend your time living in the past, reliving old memories, and longing for days gone by? Or do you have an adequate reverence for the past while focusing on your dreams for the future?
My sons, my hope for you is that you find that right balance that allows you to reminisce and to nostalgically relive the past appropriately, dream big about the future, and live passionately in the here and now.
Tags: #Grace #Forward #Balance #Dream
I am not a mind reader. I can’t read your minds, can’t predict what you’re going to do next, and can’t know how you’re feeling or what you’re actively concerned about. ‘But of course,’ you say, ‘no one can do that.’
And yet that’s often the unspoken expectation in many of our relationships.
Take a minute to process that. While I’m sure everyone would agree that they themselves cannot read minds, but we often expect others to read our minds. Sure, we may disguise that desire in cliches. “If she really knew me, she would know what I think about this thing”. “I’ve raised him and lived with him for his 25 years. He should know what I want”. “We’ve been married for 10 years. He should know what makes me happy”. “We grew up together. She knows me like the back of her own hand”.
This type of thinking is not the mark of a mature adult. It is unrealistic and impractical. It typically indicates that the individual has not spent the time to learn and understand the depth of relationships and the work required to attain them, and by extension that they do not and cannot experience the richest depth relationships have to offer. More on that later.
Why we expect people to read our minds
At a young age, we were taught that when we cry, mommy and daddy know what we want and give it to us. While they may not be right on the first time, they generally get it within a few tries. This is easy when you’re a newborn - all you do is eat, sleep, and poop.
However, many of us have not progressed past that. Once we mastered language, we were never taught to rewire our actions and our expectations to incorporate advanced communication. The Good Book provides some instruction here:
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” - 1 Corinthians 13:11
To certain degrees, we have all done this. We’ve grown, we’ve developed the necessary communication skills to get by in professional and many social settings. We’ve learned to give presentations, to send and respond to party invitations, and to communicate with kids’ teachers and counselors.
And yet when it comes to communicating about our feelings, our desires, or our fears, most of us still follow the ways of childhood. We expect others to extrapolate from a small statement about putting a plate in the sink that we feel uneasy without a spotless kitchen at the end of the night. We demand perfect recall from our partner of every comment we’ve made in passing about our desires. How dare they not forget? Do they not love us or care for us?
We are not mind readers.
We desire to be known
Some of this stems from our desire to be known. As people, we need connection. We were built for relationship. We thrive in community. We need diversity. We need novelty, new inputs, and different perspectives in our lives.
This need to be known is natural, and is a great thing. Human connection is strongest and the most uplifting when we are wholly known. Collaboration is at its maximum, motivation and inspiration soar, and sparks of new ideas fly when we deeply and completely connect with someone, know, and are known by them.
But we’re also lazy.
We desire to be known without wanting to do the work required to build the type of relationships that allow us to be fully known. We have some notion that the level of connection we’re looking for should happen without our need to learn about it or to apply any effort to get it. We believe that time should be sufficient. That the simple fact of being childhood friends, of being married for a decade, or of having grown up sharing a room (and some hand-me-down clothes) should be sufficient and should automatically make us known.
Unfortunately, that’s not the way relationships in reality work. That level of connection requires one very important thing that most of us are quite poor at: being vulnerable.
Being vulnerable is a skill
When we were young, vulnerability came easily. We had few desires (eat, sleep, poop) and were quite ready to communicate (cry, wail, tantrum) them to anyone that would listen. So far so good.
But then as we grew, we developed more awareness of ourselves. We began to understand and feel embarrassment. We were taught about propriety and civility. We began to see the complex social systems around us. And we began to feel fear.
So much so that by the time we grew into our teenage years, most of us retreated into the recesses of our being, determined to avoid the embarrassment that comes from having the spotlight shone on us. Our bodies were changing - our hormones and thought processes were continually evolving, adapting to the new situations we found ourselves in. Our physical discomfort was made worse by our mental and emotional discomfort, and so we employed self preservation mechanisms.
Unfortunately, most of these mechanisms created separation and isolation. We expressed apathy towards things. We retreated to our rooms behind closed doors. We resorted to hiding behind the facade of a well-curated social media persona that we carefully crafted for ourselves.
As we reached adulthood, we came horribly unequipped and ill prepared for the type of vulnerability required to build the deep relationships that we crave. To add insult to injury we even began believing that this is simply the way things are, and that this level of arms length relationship is all that is possible and feasible as adults.
Thankfully we are wrong. It is possible to enjoy a deeper closeness than many of us grew up believing. It is possible to be in an environment and relationship where one can express themselves wholly and not be judged, and in fact be accepted, celebrated, and valued. But we must work on it. We must learn, we must experiment, we must take risks. To get the attainable amount of closeness we desire, we must develop the skill of vulnerability.
Learning to communicate
Arguably the most important skill a human being can ever develop, communication is the very core of any society, modern or ancient, and is the key to creating the environment of trust and vulnerability that we need to flourish. We must learn to skillfully communicate our needs, desires, and fears in a way that invites positive reciprocation and deepens relationship. To do that, we need to realize a few things.
- Being vulnerable is a risk. By definition, it is taking the risk to put oneself out there without defenses, with nothing but the hope that we will not be attacked while our guard is down. But there is great reward as well. If we put ourselves out there, and the other party reciprocates and instead of slamming us nurtures and loves us, our lack of defenses actually multiplies and intensifies the closeness experienced, and by extension the strength of the relationship built. As such, it is important to be judicious about who you are vulnerable with, and who you bring into your inner circle to share yourself with.
- You will most likely have to take the first step. Bridges are built from both ends, but getting to mutual agreement on the bridge often requires one side to start building first to demonstrate commitment to the investment. Which side starts is of no importance; it therefore might as well be you.
- In any communication, how you communicate matters as much (if not more) than what you communicate. This means things like tone, body language, choice of words, facial expressions - all of these matter as much as the message itself.
So how do we improve here? A couple of quick thoughts.
- Read. There are tons of books that provide great perspectives on communicating and how we can learn to be more effective at it. Books like Nonviolent Communication, The Charisma Myth, and the classic How to win friends and influence people to name a few are great resources that expand our understanding of communication.
- Take a small, calculated risk. Small victories where we can expose some vulnerability, can communicate some small facet of ourselves unknown to the other will lead to larger risks and larger victories. Going big to start is a surefire way for you to go home immediately after.
- Be persistent. Know that just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, a deep and vulnerable relationship takes time to build. Because they are rare, your relation may not be immediately receptive. Stay the course.
In learning to communicate, in learning to create spaces of trust that promotes vulnerability, we remove the need for our partners, friends, and colleagues to read our minds. And so my boys, my hope for you is that you will develop the skills necessary to have relationships and partnership where not only do they not need to read your mind, but you also do not have to read theirs.
Tags: #Relationship #Character #Connection #Mindset #Learning