Letters to my sons

"The heart of a father is the masterpiece of nature."― Abbé Prévost

My sons,

Everyone wants to get ahead in life. From a young age, we are told, taught, and trained in many ways to get ahead. Parents do some pretty crazy things to give their children a leg up. People will spend their wealth, their youth, and even their health just to get ahead. Some will even sacrifice happiness, relationships, and their own well being just to give themselves some advantage.

Never mind the lack of balance and priorities of it all (a topic for another day perhaps), but so many of those sacrifices often end up in vain and not panning out. There are countless stories of parents who have “gave up everything” for their children, and yet their “incredibly ungrateful” children squander that gift by rebelling, not applying themselves, or by choosing to do something with their lives that the parents didn’t value and therefore didn’t sacrifice for.

We all want to succeed. Every one of us has a built-in innate drive and desire to move life forward and be successful. It is at the heart of the human experience; that supernatural thumbprint of creating, of refining, of achieving something great.

And yet somewhere along the way that desire starts to fade and fizzle, and eventually disappears in many. What began as a childlike awe and enthusiasm for wonder, for greatness, and for creating and experiencing incredible things slowly is replaced by the need for good grades, for strong extracurriculars, and for studying deeply to get the slightest advantage in our hyper competitive and ultra specialized world. We substitute wondering and wandering for studying and discipline. We slowly but surely deprive our young of the unfiltered, carefree joy of being a kid and insist they focus on academics. We rob them of their range.

Turns out there are all sorts of studies and examples of the benefits of range, especially in our specialized world. From CEOs to brilliant academics to star athletes, our world is full of examples of people who have made it to GOAT status (Greatest Of All Time) in their fields who attribute their success not to a deep and insular focus on their craft alone but rather on a wide range of experiences. David Epstein does a wonderful job expounding on these and many more examples in his book, “Range”, so I won’t do that here. Instead, I want to focus on Range as it applies across your various life experiences in making you well-rounded, balanced individuals who have a wealth of experiences. From academics to sports to music to culinary experiences, I believe that getting a wide range of experiences and having a large set of interests is truly the only way to get ahead and have a rich and full life. Here’s why.

HAVING RANGE EXPANDS YOUR CIRCLE

Having a wide range of interests and experiences expands the set of people that you interact with. Each activity you partake in is an opportunity to engage with someone else that shares that interest, and gives you a natural exposure to a more diverse set of people that can expand your horizons and can push the limits of your understanding.

Having larger circles of people to interact with is always a good thing, as much of life is a numbers game. A larger circle means more opportunity for conversations which brings a higher probability of encountering new ideas and experiences, both of which are essential elements of a rich and full life.

HAVING RANGE EXPANDS YOUR PERSPECTIVE

By encountering a wide array of people, we naturally begin to have our vision expanded. Each new encounter, each new experience is an opportunity for us to see just a little further, feel just a little deeper, understand just a little more. But only if we approach these times with a growth and learning mindset.

In the timeless film Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams famously gets up onto his desk and faces his students as an object lesson to teach them the value of perspective. Seeing the same world from a different lens allows us to challenge our preconceptions and give us a more holistic understanding.

HAVING RANGE LEADS TO A RICHER LIFE

Throughout history, mankind has used many measures to determine the value of life, which in turn impacts our pursuits and endeavors. That topic itself is one worth spending more time to dive into at a later date, but for now it will suffice for us to borrow a line from the Good Book. Jesus tells us that

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” - John 10:10

What then does it mean to have a rich and full life? I believe the answer lies in the experiences and interactions that we have.

B. J. Neblett famously said that:

“We are the sum of our experiences. Those experiences - be they positive or negative - make us the people we are, at any given point in our lives. And, like a flowing river, those same experiences, and those yet to come, continue to influence and reshape the people we are, and the people we become.”

Having range allows us to have a wide set of experiences that shape us. Those experiences lead to more experiences, which over time become the sum of our lives.

My prayer for you both is that you will lead lines that are characterized by deep connection, by rich experiences, and by a broad view and understanding of our marvelous world. I love you boys!


My sons,

Our world is constantly on the go. Everything from fast food to same hour delivery to instant banking, we are a species that is relentless in our pursuit of micro efficiencies. We desire instant gratification and will go to great lengths and pay large amounts to attain it. Millions of people across thousands of companies spanning hundreds of industries all work with the sole purpose of delivering more to you faster, and more seamlessly than before.

We are in such a relentless pursuit of the destination that we lose sight of the journey, and with it the process of learning, and of self discovery.

One of my great mentors said that often we are so caught up in the next big thing; the next promotion, the next big sale, the next accomplishment- that we forget to think about the people that we are becoming. And in the grand scheme of your life, That matters a whole lot more.

As we’ve discussed in the past, the things that matter, the things that last, the things that we’ll remember and want to be known for as we reach the sunset of life - those things tend to be relational. Whether it is directly impacting someone personally or changing the lives of millions through the things we build, we are a relational and social species.

Constantly rushing from one event to the next, we are in danger of reducing life to a string of accomplishments in which the passing of time is marked only by check marks on todo lists. We remove the connection, the deep reflection, and the space to be in awe and wonder at the world around us. I’ve found that in my life many of the most rewarding interactions and the deepest connections have been unplanned, unintentional, not orchestrated.

Have you ever sat down with someone and said, “let’s have a deep and meaningful conversation” and had that actually work? Okay, in all honesty l’ve never tried that, but I can’t for the life of me imagine that would work. Most of my most meaningful and impactful conversations have happened when I least expected them. Connection needs time, and needs the space to spontaneously grow and flourish.

As such, we need to slow down. We need to purposefully pause and give our souls the chance to breathe. Have you ever started on a familiar journey (such as walking home from school or driving to your uncle’s house) and suddenly realized that you’re already there? That’s usually a good indicator that life is on autopilot and that it’s time for a pause to be thoughtful about the routines and the habits we’ve built.

LISTEN

Pausing allows us to listen. It gives us space in an otherwise jam packed life to think, to ruminate, and to process. Our world is filled with noise - media, social media, professional obligations, shuttling kids around from one extracurricular to the next. Our crazy schedule barely give us enough time to sleep enough. Time to think, to listen, and to be aware of what’s really happening around us isn’t even on the list for most of us.

Pausing, then, allows us to really listen. Not just to hear whats going on so that we can formulate our own response, but to really listen. The average person spends more time thinking about how they will respond to someone than they do listening and internalizing what’s being said. This is especially true in America where cutting in, interrupting, and immediately responding before the speaker has a chance to start another sentence is the norm.

BREATHE

Pausing allows us to breathe. When I was a kid playing little league, I used to be a pitcher. I wasn’t bad, but definitely had my share of bad days where my ball control just wasn’t there. I remember one game when I was pitching a particularly uninspired game. My coach called a time out and headed out to the mound to chat with me. He told me that whenever I felt frustrated, I should step off the mound, take my hat off, run a hand through my hair, and take a deep breath before returning to the mound. That piece of advice has done wonders for me over the years. Just breathe.

It turns out that the body is a pretty amazing thing, and that there are many benefits to breathing. Breathing calms us. It creates space for us to think and to process. It allows us to momentarily step back from the situation and assess. It heals, it mends, it expands, and it elevates our countenance.

SMELL THE ROSES

Lastly, pausing allows us to stop and smell the roses. We are so often running from one checked off item to the next that we need others to tell us to relax and take a moment to reflect on our surroundings. Even at work, we need HR to tell us to take our vacations. We need automated systems to harp at us to take time off to recover, rejuvenate, and revive. Never in the history of our species have we been so busy and unable or unwilling to take the time to stop and to smell the roses.

The worst part is that we pass this culture, this lack of balance, and this incomplete view of the purpose of life to our children. We fill our children’s lives with so much noise and activity that they too do not have the space to breathe, and worst of all believe that this is what life is supposed to be.

Even God rested on the seventh day. Jesus’ first miracle was to save and prolong a celebration. My sons, my hope is that by the time you are old enough to read and understand this, we will have raised you as boys who know how to work hard, yes, but who also know how to play hard, to have balance in your lives, and to have a healthy amount of time and space to pause. I hope that my relationship with you both has more play, levity, and joy than it does toil, discipline, and work. I love you both!


My sons,

In life, there will be many tools, tricks, skills, and experiences you can gain that will help you in a myriad of situations. I believe that one of the greatest such tools is the ability to analyze a situation and to know the right moment. Whether it is knowing the moment to retreat from battle, to press your advantage, to use your ace in the hole, or when to kiss the girl, your ability to instinctively know the right moment to act or to speak is disproportionately beneficial.

In relationships, knowing whether the moment is right to air a grievance or to wait and instead be supportive can be an incredible boon to the partnership. Imagine your partner coming home from a crummy day just to have you bring up something you’ve been stewing on for months. Crummy. Now imagine them coming home from that same crummy day to have you be sensitive to the fact that now is perhaps not the right moment to air your thoughts and instead choose to be supportive and gentle with them. How much stronger would your partnership be!

We must realize that everyone - ourselves included - has bad days where their threshold of irritability or tolerance Is low. In realizing and identifying that, we must then act with compassion and choose actions to accommodate. We must develop the skill and the sensitivity to know the moment and know how to choose to do the next right thing.

So how do we grow this skill? A few thoughts.

BE AWARE

It is important to be constantly aware of how important timing is. We are trained to be concerned with content, with delivery, with action, and with substance. While those are absolutely important things, we must realize and give credence to the reality that timing is critical. Even if all else is perfect, if the timing is off, if the moment isn’t right, failure (or at least a sub-optimal outcome) is guaranteed.

BE RESOLVED NEVER TO SPEAK OR ACT IN ANGER OR FRUSTRATION

These emotions (and others: jealousy, wounded pride, resentment, fear etc.) make us irrational, and often cause us to say or do things inconsistent with our values, and often cause irreparable damage. Aristotle wrote,

“Anybody can become angry - that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way- that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy”.

How true that is. Let us not act in such a state!

PRACTICE EMPATHY

Knowing the right moment begins with understanding the people around you. Understand their perspective, their thoughts, their circumstances, and their fears. By building the muscle that allows a greater understanding of our compatriots, we put ourselves in the position to better anticipate the situation and therefore more likely to know the right moment to act.

BE THOUGHTFUL OF THE FUTURE

Not just your future, but that of others. Is your friend about to enter into a difficult situation? Is your brother about to start a new job? Is your boss’ wife about to give birth to their first child? Knowing these things and being thoughtful about them will help you be more prepared to anticipate outcomes. Remember that the future is impacted by a variety of factors - a person’s desires, the community that they keep, their family, the circumstances of their job, even plain dumb luck. All of these, and many other factors, can and will influence the future.

BUILD PATIENCE

Lastly, build your staying power, your perseverance, your ability to wait not only for the right moment to come around (and it will come around) but also for the universe to come round and adjust to the changes you’ve already initiated.

• • •


My boys, I cannot stress how important timing is, nor can I emphasize how much it is a learnable skill. Don’t get me wrong - I’ve got a ton of stories of ill-timed, ill-fated endeavors and situations. My goal is to share my thoughts here with you in hopes that you can learn from my learnings, and take the effort to learn this invaluable skill yourselves. I love you boys!


My sons,

We all have different characters in our lives, and each one plays a specific role and occupies some amount of space within our social circle. Some of these characters bring joy to our lives, some bring insight, some bring comfort, and some bring companionship. Each relationship is unique, and each person adds different things to our overall experience.

It has been said that friends may be friends for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Some friends are in our lives for a reason; whether it’s to help us learn something, for us to go through an experience together, or simply because we’re classmates for a particular class, there are some people that fulfill their purpose and then exit our lives almost as quickly as they entered. Others are here for a season; perhaps they are there to walk with us through a season of change, or to help shoulder our burdens through a season of pain, or to be our sounding board in a season of growth. Finally, there are a small number of friends that are around for a lifetime; they endure through thick and thin, and support and encourage us through all the best and the worst that life throws our way.

It is this lattermost group that is not only the most difficult to find, but also the most difficult for us to be.

In my life, I’ve only got a handful of friends that I think will be with me for my lifetime. As I consider these friendships, I realize that each of these friends has a common trait shared among them. They are and one people.

If you’re basketball fans, then you’ll know that in basketball, “and one” means that after you make a shot and get fouled, you have the opportunity to add to your score. Similarly in life, “and one” people are those who “add to your score”. They are people who take whatever you do, think, or say, and add to it. When you tell an “and one” person your idea, they want to add to it, to riff on it with you, and to push you to think more. They say “yes, and you can also do this-and-that too!”. A few things that are common across all of these people:

THEY FOCUS ON THE POSSIBLE

While “and one” people may see the negatives, the roadblocks, the hurdles, and the potential pitfalls, they choose to focus instead on what could be. They ask questions, provide support, cheerlead, and encourage us to expand on our ideas, to push past our perceived limitations, and to achieve more. Because of their focus on what could be, they give us that boost that we need to move forward.

THEY FOCUS ON YOU

We’ve all known people who listen to your story only long enough to remind them of some experience they’ve had that then causes them to interrupt and share with you. “And one” people focus on you. They are good listeners. They are there for you; not for themselves.

THEY HELP US BUILD MOMENTUM

We are by nature creatures of great inertia. “And one” people help us build the momentum that we need. They get excited about our ideas and create a virtuous cycle of forward thinking. They take our budding ideas and give them light to nurture.

Not only is it important to surround yourself with “and one” people, it is also equally important for us to learn to be “and one” people for others. I’m a big believer that a life well lived is one that impacts, influences, and inspires others to be the best version of themselves that they can be. “And one” people do this naturally. A few thoughts on how to become more of an “and one” person:

DON’T COMPLAIN

As Dale Carnegie posits in his book https://www.amazon.com/How-Win-Friends-Influence-People/dp/0671027034, we ought not to complain. Yes, life may provide us with a series of unfortunate circumstances and events, but complaining doesn’t do anything positive for us in the least. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t have hurt, upset, or angry feelings; rather it is to say that we ought to practice self control such that even when we’re overcome with those feelings we don’t complain.

By not complaining, we begin to orient our thinking along a positive track instead of a negative one, and in so doing become more able to see the positive in others.

THINK ABOUT OTHERS

It has been said that humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less. When we spend less time thinking about ourselves and more time thinking about others, we begin to think about the possibilities for their lives and endeavors and are more ready to support and encourage them.

BE “FOR” SOMEONE

Champion someone. Decide that you will become their biggest advocate. Be for them. As you take on this task you will find presently that not only are you able to espouse their great qualities but you are able to more readily see opportunities ahead of them to build on those qualities.

My sons, life is too short to be lived alone. Surround yourselves with people that are “and one” people, and be “and one” people for those you surround. Encourage one another, spur each other on, and move life forward together. I love you boys!


My sons,

Today I want to talk about one of the most dangerous phrases in the English language. Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? I assure you that the phrase itself is indeed very powerful, and is also incredibly common. It is a phrase as old as time, and has been uttered by kings and peasants, rich and poor, young and old, the educated and the ignorant, even the wise and the foolish. It is a phrase that does not discriminate against any measurable external trait, but rather is a strong indicator of the internal human condition. It is the phrase, “if only”.

You’ve heard it before, and may have even said it to yourself a time or two.

“If only I was smarter, or taller, or better looking.
If only I had more money, or more friends.
If only she still loved me.
If only I paid more attention in class.
If only he didn’t mock me.
If only they had let me into their club.”

This phrase is dangerous not because of anything it conveys, but rather because of the mindset it exposes. It is such a seemingly harmless phrase, yet it expresses so much of the underlying internal condition. And as with all habits, if left unattended, it will change our character and will permanently impact the way we approach the world. Several negative ramifications we should be wary of:

WE DWELL IN THE PAST

If we look carefully, the words immediately following the “if only” are almost always anchored in the past. If only someone hadn’t wronged you, if only you had a better teammate, or if only you had chosen differently. Even the future sounding cues are really anchored in the past! If only she would take more initiative, if only he would be more kind. While those may sound forward looking, they aren’t! If only she took more initiative implies that she didn’t in the past!

The down side of dwelling in the past is that it’s just that - the past. We cannot move life forward when we have our gaze fixed on the past. Life is designed to be forward moving. We are meant to grow, to progress. It’s wired into the very fabric of our being! Every living thing is designed to move forward. The circle of life doesn’t go backwards! It is ever forward moving, and though it is cyclic, it does not run in the reverse direction.

You cannot move forward if you are fixated on the past.

WE FOCUS ON THE NEGATIVE

If only statements are generally negative. They point towards something that we wish didn’t happen, some event that we wish had gone differently, some regrettable circumstance that may have been thrust upon us. Human nature already fixates on the negative. A single traumatic event is often enough to have us spending a lifetime avoiding that same situation again.

This is a survival instinct that helped humanity tens of thousands of years ago cope with its environment. While modern advancements in research, in categorization, and in education have allowed us to understand much of our planet, this was not always so. Our ancestors could not point their smartphone camera at some plant and have Google tell you type of plant it is along with nutritional information, whether it has any medicinal properties, and how to pair it with other ingredients to turn it into an amazing salad. No, mankind of old learned things the hard way and avoided things it did not know; especially if it had a negative or painful experience.

We no longer live in that world, and yet our instinct of emphasis on traumatic events still remains. Journalists capitalize on this fact. The news is centered on the dramatic, the traumatic, and the negative. We don’t need more negativity; in fact, we need much more of the opposite. The world is not as bad as it seems, and things are getting much better! But we are not wired to see that, and so must fight against things that focus our attention on the negative.

WE DON’T TAKE RESPONSIBILITY

If only such and such a thing happened, then the result would have been much better. If only my team was better, then we would have won. If only mom cooked better, then I would have healthier eating habits.

These statements all push the burden of responsibility off of ourselves; we shift the blame to the thing that didn’t happen instead of acknowledging our own culpability in the matter. It is no longer our fault! If the other person had done better, or if the referee had not singled me out, or if she didn’t have it out for me from day one, then things would have been different and I would have had a more desirable outcome.

• • •


My sons, do not believe those lies. Do not focus on the negative events of the past, placing blame and judgement on others. Rather set your mind on the future; look forward for the next things that will come, and be hopeful for that future! Yes, there may be pain and suffering, but there will also be joy! Laughter! Beauty, love, romance, and new shared experiences! These are what we live for and look forward to. I pray you fix your eyes on those things and not the failings of the past. Acknowledge the past, take responsibility, learn from your mistakes, then move on, move forward.

I love you boys, and am so proud and happy to be able to move life forward with you!


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