Posts tagged with #Character
I’ve been reading a lot about temperance and moderation, and its impact on our culture, and by extension, our leaders and role models.
The Big One and I recently got back from our annual father-son trip to DC. It was a great trip for a number of reasons - lots of sights to see, museums to learn from, and experiences to be had. One of my highlights was the chance to learn more about our founding fathers. I learned about their quirks, their thought processes, their goals, and their values. Humility, tolerance, and patience are oft respected, demonstrated, and spoken of as praiseworthy.
In modern times, many of our prominent leaders seem to have a lack of these traits and often demonstrate quite the opposite. This is unfortunate, but not altogether unexpected. This is because each of these traits are difficult in themselves:
Our world values confidence. In leaders, in friends, in lovers, even in children that are selected for advancement. We are drawn to those that can stand against the waves and stay steadfast in their choices.
This is a good thing.
But balance. Temperance. Being able to have all things in moderation. Confidence without humility becomes arrogance. We miss teaching that part, and miss evaluating the balance there.
In our work-dominated American culture it is important for people to be right a lot. When people are right a lot they tend to build self confidence and begin to trust more in their thoughts, opinions, and processes. This is a great thing. But left unchecked and without temperance, without balance, this quickly turns into arrogance.
The counterbalance for this is supposed to be the principle to learn and be curious. However that tends to translate into a future focused learning and less a retrospective humility. True humility requires time, requires introspection, requires patience.
George Washington highlights this in his farewell address to the nation after declining to run for a third presidential term:
“Though in reviewing the incidents of my administration I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors.”
Confidence is a great and valuable trait, but it must be accompanied by a reflective humility.
We live in an intolerant world. We’re constantly up in arms about anything and everything. This is likely because we’ve lost the ability to separate ideas from identity. When someone has a different perspective, we treat that as an affront to our identity.
And so we get defensive. Self preservation dictates that we defend ourselves and stands up for our strongly held beliefs. And so the cycle of intolerance continues.
Instead, we ought to refocus not on our differences, but on our similarities. Regardless of our deeply rooted beliefs, our concerns and cares may have much more overlap than we may think, if we only looked past those differences. In looking to these similarities and in bringing them into focus, we allow our differences to lose their intensity, their prominent place in our minds. As we become more tolerant not of the behaviors themselves but of the people behind those behaviors and as we begin to separate action from identity, we will presently find ourselves in the company not of hostile adversaries that we are forced to endure but rather the company of like-minded individuals that have a shared common goal.
If the vision is big enough, the details don’t matter as much.
If our focus and gaze on our similarities is strong enough, the differences, the details, the nuanced deviations don’t matter as much.
We have lost the ability to wait. We spend an exorbitant amount of money on these little boxes that we carry with us everywhere that allow us to never have to wait for anything. When we’re waiting in line for our coffee we have to distract ourselves by scrolling. When we wait for our dinner partner to use the rest room we immediately pull out these boxes and scroll.
We have lost the ability to be at rest, to let our minds wander, to wait for the next thing.
At the surface, this seems fine. Why wait when we can fill our idle time with productivity? And if not productivity, at least entertainment? If time truly is the only resource in life we never get back then why waste it? Why shouldn’t we fill it with anything and everything? In some sense, noise is better than silence… isn’t it?
In what’s possibly the most impactful class I’ve ever taken in my life, my wonderful senior year English class (thank you Ms Corey!) had as a reading assignment an essay that has stayed with me throughout the years and is one that has slowly but silently shaped the course of my life: /“The eloquent sounds of silence”/. In it, the author compels us consider for a moment the role that silence plays in our world.
As true today (if not more so) as it was back in 2001 when it was written, the essay urges us to consider what a noisy world we live in, and to consider that silence is not a failing to be remedied, not a bug to be fixed, but rather a goal, a valued treasure that we need to work for, to earn. “In love”, he says, “we are speechless; in awe, words fail us.”
Silence. Patience. The ability to wait, to be comfortable with one’s own thoughts. These practices allow us to meditate, to deeply consider, to unlock the wisdom and understanding that comes from patiently considering all that the unconscious mind has learned, has gleaned, and has ruminated on.
Many of us regret the next day our immediate responses and reactions from the day before. Our impatience causes us to act rashly; our focus on immediate results causes us to take suboptimal paths that often are altogether counterproductive.
How we can develop these traits
Our world often praises the opposites of these traits. Instead of humility we praise confidence. Instead of tolerance we praise sticking to one’s guns. Instead of patience we praise a bias for action.
How do we not only develop these traits but apply them successfully in our world? As with all change, we need two things: a change of mindset and a change of habits. First, we need a mindset shift.
- Play the long game. Know that in the end, character will always win. We may be tempted in the short term with shiny distractions that seem like quick fixes, but over the course of a lifetime, character always wins. Play to win.
- Value relationships. In our increasingly connected world, it is becoming virtually impossible to accomplish anything of value on your own. We need others. Whether for professional endeavors or personal ones, our world is powered by relationships.
- It will more before it gets better. As with any meaningful changes we make, things will initially seem to get worse as we seek to develop and apply these traits. This is normal. We need to scrub off the old paint before we can apply a fresh coat!
Next, we need to start building a few small habits.
- Give twice as much praise as criticism. It will feel like you’re constantly giving (or thinking about how to give) praise at first, and it will seem disproportionate. If you need to, keep a tally - I guarantee you’ll have given less praise than you thought.
- Don’t think of a response while someone is talking. Most of us aren’t fully listening; we’re formulating our rebuttal. Don’t. Spend time fully engaged on every word the other person is saying. In doing so, you stop trying to highlight the differences to counter and instead highlight the similarities to agree on.
- Set aside time dedicated for silent thought. It may be as little as five minutes a day, but be disciplined in this. Set aside that time and stick to it. Use a timer if you must. It is an important step in cultivating a stronger internal life.
- Find others who want to be on this journey with you. Life is too short to be lived alone. Find others that are like-minded and intentionally journey together.
Be warned: cultivating a spirit of humility, tolerance, and patience isn’t easy, nor is it popular. There will be much pressure to give into short term wins, to take short cuts, to grab immediate satisfaction, but a life of temperance, of moderation, and of balance will always win in the end!
And so my boys, my hope for you is not that you be secluded from the world and run away from it while developing these seemingly counter-cultural traits; quite the contrary. My hope is that you have balance. While the world will naturally urge you to develop confidence, resolve, and a bias for action, I hope you will temper those with humility, tolerance, and patience to become well-rounded men. I love you boys!
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.
We live in a world of instant gratification, of content on demand, and of immediate feedback. We are constantly looking for ways to eliminate toil, to remove delays, and to get exactly what we want, when we want it. People are always looking for quick fixes.
Take a look at your reading feed. As I write this, I’m using Medium as the hosting provider, which means that I get daily emails from Medium with suggested stories for me to read. 99% of those stories have headlines like “5 things you need to do to get your life on track” or “3 easy steps to achieve your career goals”. Almost every headline is some small set of steps to get quick results, some hack to eliminate the toil and time needed.
That is not how character is made.
Character is developed slowly, over time. It is intentional. It is a painstaking process. It requires grit, determination, and will. It is the explicit declaration that it is not what we accomplish that matters most, but how we accomplish it. It is the understanding that the journey, the struggle, the road taken to get there, wherever that may be, is of primary importance.
And so we must struggle well.
We must learn to shift our aim to the struggle, the growth, and the refinement of character. Otherwise, we will never be satisfied. By achieving our goals, we are often left empty - it is not the achievement, the attainment of the prize, or the trophy rewarded to us after that satisfies and fulfills; it is the knowledge that we have struggled well.
To some extent, the outcome doesn’t even matter!
Yes, we need a great outcome to set our eyes on, to inspire, to motivate. But ultimately, whether we achieve it or not in the long run is less important. “If you shoot for the moon and miss, you’re still among the stars”. “Life’s a journey, not a destination”. So much conventional wisdom tells us that it is not the goal that matters, but the struggle.
This is why at the end of his life, the Apostle Paul is able to say that “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day”. Beautiful.
Paul knew that the struggle mattered, not the outcome. And so we too need to struggle well. We need to set ourselves up not for success but for a well-fought battle, regardless of outcome.
Nature tells us that strength is better than weakness. Whether you’re an evolutionist that believes in survival of the fittest, a capitalist that believes in the best product winning, or simply a compassionate human that believes in helping those that are in need, our world tells us that strength is something to be desired.
We also know that struggling builds strength. Physical strength is built with exercise. Mental fortitude is built with dedicated time and energy spent on development, analysis, and understanding of oneself. Emotional strength is built by experience, by reflection, and by understanding. Every facet of our lives is made stronger by struggle.
It is the very reason that we take on challenges that stretch us, and is the reason why we grow the most when we are out of our depth. It is the process by which we grow, by which we refine. It is the very act of moving life forward.
What does it mean to struggle well?
We know that life has a plethora of challenges that every human needs to deal with, and we know that not everyone handles those challenges well. So what does it mean to struggle well?
First of all, struggling well requires mental fortitude. We must be people of perseverance and determination. This requires us to have a big picture view and vision of our situation so that we can see the value of our struggling and the growth that comes at the end of it. It requires us to take things in perspective of our grander journey, and to both see and play the long game.
This is hard.
Humans are hard wired to look for quick wins, to optimize for the immediate and local, to think about self ahead of the greater collective. With that mindset, people will avoid the struggle and take the paths of least resistance that allows them to get to the greatest gain with the least effort. Resist that.
Next, struggling well requires a framework or an archetype. It is not enough to simply struggle. By struggling without thought, reason, purpose, or framing, we simply struggle without gain (and often without benefit or positive outcome). Instead, we must be thoughtful about our endeavors, and be intentional about the purpose for which we struggle.
When we struggle for the sake of learning, for the pursuit of our passions, or for the advancement of something we believe in, we struggle well. For when the going gets tough we need things to sustain us, reasons to keep us going. It is not enough for us to struggle through by sheer willpower alone; no, that won’t produce the outcomes that we desire. Rather, struggle well for a cause, for a reason, for a purpose, and presently you will discover that after your time of struggle you will have evolved and grown not just despite the struggle, but rather because of the struggle. And we know that for mankind, evolving is life’s greatest accomplishment and its greatest reward.
Lastly, struggling well requires reflection. It is not enough to simply power through the rough times in life. Rather, we must recover, pause, and take time to reflect on our experiences during the struggle so that we can reframe, digest, and evolve as humans. It is that reflection that ultimately brings about our growth.
And so my boys, I urge for you to struggle well. Do not struggle in vain, without cause, reason, or purpose, but rather for a vision grander than the mundane so that you too will be refined in your struggling, and will become better men because of it.
It’s been said that personality is how we show up every day, but character is how we show up on our worst day. If that’s true, then it behooves us to think about each of the two and to understand their impacts on our decision making and ultimately on our lives.
Personality is about our preferences expressed. It is the set of default actions we take when we are at equilibrium, when we are able to behave as we’d like to.
Our preferences are ever- evolving, and are a product of many complex inputs. There have been many studies and books written on the topic (a great one I read recently is Wanting by Luke Burgis) showing that as much as we’d like to claim originality and uniqueness for our desires, many of them are in fact mimetic (fancy word for copied).
Turns out human beings are great imitators. This is something we start immediately at conception, and is something we carry with us all the way into adulthood. It is a fact that is at once both our greatest strength to be capitalized upon and our largest weakness that can be (and is constantly being) exploited.
It is the reason social media products have had such a meteoric climb, and why many experts in human psychology, productivity, social sciences, and education alike agree in limiting (or- even removing altogether) this form of input in our lives.
Briefly explained, the theory of mimetic desire states that human beings seek models to imitate and to serve as our guide for navigating the world. As children, we imitate our parents and are strongly impacted by them. As we grow and are exposed to more complex interactions, we naturally adopt other models into our lives seamlessly and often unconsciously and unknowingly.
These models affect our preferences and by extension our personalities. We must therefore be incredibly diligent and vigilant in choosing and identifying our models as they have great impact on how we show up and interact on a regular basis!
Character on the other hand is not an expression of our desire, but rather of our values. It is how we show up on our worst day when we’re out of steam and don’t have the energy to put up our facades and our defenses. It is what we do when we believe no one else is watching.
We should first note that often what we attribute to character is actually personality. The majority of our relationships don’t have the depth such that true character shows up. Our observations and experiences of others may give us glimpses into their values which in turn give us something to base our expectations of their character, but most of the time our brains want confirmation bias.
It is therefore critically important that we pay attention not to the surface level things and interactions that occupy the majority of our regular observations but rather to the typically less obvious signs and signals of underlying character.
They say that you can learn much of a person’s character not by how they treat their peers or superiors but rather by how they treat those who in some form are beneath them. This can be how they treat their subordinates, people that seduce them (waiters, flight attendants, grocery baggers etc), or people that they are ahead of in life (children, college students, new hives etc) .
These things are worth paying attention to in the people we surround ourselves with because we become like those are associate ourselves with. We mimic the behaviors of people we like and admire, and for better or worse we will typically grow to admire those we spend a lot of time with.
The million dollar question then, is how do we impact our character?
1. Surround yourself with people of great character.
Remember that great character is more rare than great personality. Therefore when you find someone of great character, over index on that. Keeping in mind that life’s a journey, not a destination, it therefore behooves us to find folks that journey well.
There are many who are quite enjoyable to do the good times of life with, who are great at enjoying the shared times of levity together with, but there are far fewer who will journey well with you.
2. Accept the fact that hardships will come. Learn from them.
The Good Book tells us that “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33), and that “we rejoice in our suffering because suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance (produces] proven character” (Romans 5:3).
Realize that trials are a part of life, and are a great tool for us to develop our character. So don’t avoid them. Don’t try to minimize or sweep them under a rug. Lean into Them.
Difficult, I know. But worth it.
3. Read. Study. Learn.
By immersing yourself in the thoughts and efforts of others, and by regularly thinking about and attempting to apply the things you learn, you will slowly but surely move the needle of your own character.
Finally, remember that life is a marathon, not a sprint. Be ready for the long haul and keep that perspective in mind. My hope for you is that you run a good race, and that you run with a great team of coaches, supporters, and cheerleaders who not only help to shape your already wonderful personalities but who labor with you to refine your character as well. I love you boys!
From early childhood, we’re taught that exercise is good. Outdoor play and physical exertion is built into every school curriculum from the minute we’re conscious. Exercise is our body’s way of developing, of building muscle, of growing. We’re taught to lean into the soreness, to relish and nurture the pain because pain means our muscles will be rebuilt stronger.
The problem is that many of us don’t exercise our physical bodies. We’ve become lazy, sedentary. Worst of all, we’ve allowed that lazy and sedentary mindset to carry to our mental and emotional lives! This trend is creating not just physically unhealthy humans, but mentally and emotionally unhealthy ones.
Our physical bodies need exercise. So do our mental and emotional ones.
Many of us make New Years resolutions to exercise more, to go to the gym, to eat healthier, and to snack less. It’s a well documented reality that gyms and other physical fitness institutions see an annual surge in memberships and attendance at the start of the year. We know that it is in our own best interest to physically exercise and to keep our bodies healthy.
So how do we carry this through to our mental and emotional lives?
No pain, no gain
This is true not just in the proactive sense (ie you have to work for something that you want) but also in the reactive (ie when life gives you lemons). Building the body is obvious pain - physical discipline, eating well, lifting weights, physical exercise.
In the realm of the mind, pain is a little less obvious. Frustration, mental struggle, embarrassment, shame, failure - these are all pains of the mind, and are things that we need to lean into.
I remember when I learned how to snowboard. My instructor would cheer each time I fell because it meant that I was pushing my limit. Then he’d come over and reflect over what caused the fall with me so I that I could hone in on that feeling and identify it next time so that I could adjust how my body responded to it.
If you’re not failing, you’re not pushing your limits. If you’re not pushing your limits, you’re not maximizing your potential.
Reflect rather than avoid
As humans, we have a tendency to avoid pain. From an early age, we’re taught that fire = pain, so we avoid fire. While this may be a perfectly reasonable and rational philosophy for the physical world, our minds naturally extrapolate this concept to the mental and emotional world.
This is a mistake.
We need to train ourselves to develop the habit of being reflective of pain. Just as we exercise our physical bodies and grow from the pain, we need to grow from the emotional and mental pain too. Whether we’re talking about a bad breakup, failing a test, or being embarrassed publicly for some piece of incorrect knowledge which you were certain of, we need to lean into the pain and reflect on how it has impacted us.
When we reflect on our pain, we’re able to examine several things.
- Why was this painful?
- What happened that didn’t meet my expectation?
- How did I react?
By regularly thinking through these things, we’re able to evaluate whether we’re happy with our responses, and from there build a desire for change. And just like we build exercise plans like doing crunches and planks for strengthening a targeted physical area, so too do we need to build a plan for dealing with our emotional and mental pain.
We should note explicitly though, that this is contradictory to our base animal instincts. Evolution tells us that over the past several millennia, human beings have survived due to our evolutionary instinct of fight or flight. This goes against both of those!
Learn to be mindful of your responses
Human beings are instinctive and reactive. This is frequently a praiseworthy trait. We pay athletes millions of dollars because they have above-average reaction times and have honed those reactions to be favorable. However, this too is a trait that can cause us as much harm as good when applied in the emotional and mental realms.
Anyone who has been in a relationship, be it familial, platonic, romantic, or otherwise, knows what its like to react negatively to someone else. Often those reactions come out as anger, irritation, aggression, avoidance, and a myriad other self-preserving and negative things.
Instead of reacting automatically to stimuli, we need to train ourselves to mindfully respond. Mindfulness doesn’t just give us the ability to acknowledge what’s going on, but also gives us the space to thoughtfully respond. It doesn’t mean we’re passively allowing the world to just happen, but instead gives us the room and the tools to decide how we respond instead of reacting out of instinct.
By injecting a brief pause in between our brain’s decision to act vs our body’s reaction, we can rewire our actions despite our initial internal reaction. This allows us to respond in a way that is congruent with our beliefs and our values. It creates the space for us to do that by training our emotional beings to identify the feelings and impacts of a given situation and to give us but a breath of space before taking action.
That breath may well be the most invaluable space in our lives.
We value people who are able to respond well under pressure and are able to stay calm. Mindfulness helps us choose our response so that we too can take actions that are honorable, noble, and consistent with the people that we want to be.
My sons, in this life you will have pain. And while I wish I could take that pain in your stead so that you can live pain-free and happy lives, I know that it is in that pain that you grow. And so my prayer is not that you would live a painless life, but that you would be reflective in that pain, that you would have people in your lives that can share those pains with you, and that you can learn from those experiences so that you can mindfully live your best lives possible. Love you boys!
To some, our world today may look bleak. We are at the end of the second year of COVID-19 life, with the world still teetering and toying with the idea of reopening. In an ever evolving story with what seems like as many setbacks as victories, this pandemic thing certainly isn’t over, already amassing almost 6 million deaths. In the midst of all of that we have the various racial hate crimes that have sprung up on top of an already volatile world.
Closer to home, the stress added by this quarantining pandemic life has caused much unrest, emotional instability, anxiety, and hardship. Many people have lost jobs, have been forced out of homes they can no longer afford, and become increasingly dependent on an insufficient system.
The Good Book is pretty clear that this is expected:
“In this life, you will have trouble. But take heart! For I have overcome the world.” - John 16:53
Our history books, religious texts, and novels are all replete with characters that have experienced much hardship. Characters riddled with flaws and insecurities for whom life pulls no punches. Characters who in spite of huge diversity and against all odds emerge victorious. Characters like King David, George Washington, Maverick, Maximus, and even Frodo Baggins - all of them had the odds stacked against them and still emerged victorious.
It isn’t that there was no fear or self-doubt; no, these characters all displayed a healthy amount of those. Nor did they have redeemers come to deliver them from their circumstances with some overwhelming force. No, the reason these great characters were triumphant was internal. It is their mindset, their approach to the situation. Their ability to see the pitfalls all around them, “bogies like fireflies in the sky”, and say those two simple words: “and yet”.
Those two words change the equation. They change our entire outlook. Those two small and simple words have a world of impact because they reshape our posture. They take us from the defensive (and occasionally defenseless) posture full of fear and dread for what’s next to one of hope and determination that “this too shall pass”.
With that shift in mindset our entire being changes. No longer are we helpless victims of circumstance; we are confident owners of our destiny. Yes, we have been dealt a rough hand. But it is our hand to play, our hard work to put in, our hope to place and hold on to.
I love the story of Horatio Spafford, the man who penned one of my favorite songs. A prominent and successful lawyer, Spafford lost his 4 year old son in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Shortly thereafter, he and his wife planned to take their 4 daughters to London. Due to complications with his business, he was delayed but sent his family ahead. They were shipwrecked, and his wife alone survived the tragic accident, and sent him a telegraph containing two words: “Saved. Alone.”
It was on the ship he took to rejoin with her that he penned these famous lines:
“When peace like a river attendeth my way,
when Sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.”
Imagine for a moment that voyage. Imagine Horatio leaning against the railing looking out to an endless ocean, tears streaming down his cheeks as he finally has a moment where he is forced to rest. Imagine the grief, the anguish, perhaps even the anger at the injustice of it all. The long journey with nothing to do but to think, to remember, to commiserate, to mourn.
Somewhere on that journey through endless water, through memories, through heaving sobs and pain; somewhere on this man’s journey dealing with the unimaginable those two little words spark a light. Small and flickering at first, that light grows and spreads, illuminating the man’s soul until he is able to say, “and yet, it is well with my soul”.
How do we get that? How do we ensure that we’ve got a fertile environment where those two little words can sprout and take root?
EXPOSE YOURSELF TO A RANGE OF PERSPECTIVES
It is human nature to believe that in times of adversity we are alone. It is a natural fear, and a common worry. Even when we are not physically alone, even when we have some blessed friends who want to shoulder our burdens with us, we will often push them away believing that they do not, can not understand. We believe our experiences to be singularly unique.
Chances are, they are not.
By regularly exposing ourselves to a range of perspectives and trying to understand them, by listening to the stories of others, we see that in fact we are not alone. Others have struggled with many similar struggles that on the surface may seem different but in reality have a lot more similarities than we may have originally thought. In seeking to understand others we allow ourselves the space to believe that we too may be understood and may not be alone, and can therefore not only withstand and weather the storm but can see that this too shall pass.
DO THE WORK TO BE SECURE OF YOUR IDENTITY
Identity is important. It is hard work. It is that which we believe about ourselves. It is the thing that gives us inner strength. There is great power in one’s identity.
When we are secure in our identity, our value, our self-worth, we can respond to adversity not by deeming it unfair, not by dwelling on the fact that we did nothing to deserve this. We can instead respond by seeing the event as unfortunate, and know that despite this, (“and yet”), we will still move forward and thrive.
SURROUND YOURSELF WITH POSITIVE AND RESILIENT PEOPLE
I would be remiss not to mention this out. We know that bad company corrupts good morals. We know that passion is additive and contagious. We know that our environment greatly impacts not only our choices but also the connections we make and the experiences we have that ultimately govern those choices.
Thus by surrounding ourselves with positive and resilient people we are able not only to learn from them but to be changed by them. In witnessing their resilience, in walking with them through their struggles we prime ourselves to do the same.
My boys, life is not going to be easy. It wasn’t meant to be. There will be challenges that help refine you. There will be hardships for you to endure. My prayer is that you will face them, understand them, and be able to say those two small but powerful words, “and yet”.
Much has been said on the topic of grit, perseverance, and persistence. In fact, I’m sure I’m devoted some (or much!) time toward the topic myself. However, today I want to talk about the point at which grit and perseverance become negative. Today I want to talk with you about when too much grit becomes an inhibitor to change.
But first, let’s talk about grit and its benefits. There have been many books, expositories, and beautifully inspiring tales of grit as a noble and victorious trait. As men, these tales give us hope and motivate us to follow their example. We often hear stories where perseverance in love, in the epic journey, in business, and in friendship is described not just as a wonderful trait but as the wonderful trait.
In business grit is seen as an incredibly valuable and rare trait. We have all heard the successful startup founder who only survived past the hardships of startup culture because of the grit that allowed them to ignore the naysayers and press on when others might (and in fact did) turn back. We are taught to persist, to persevere, and to stick to our guns. We are told that being the last person standing on a sinking ship is a noble and honorable thing and is something that will be rewarded. We often witness these stories being used to depict loyalty and determination, two great traits of leadership.
In love we are told that we must fight through thick and thin for our partner. As men, we are told that women want to know that we will be steadfast in our devotion to them. Even the Bible tells us the story of Jacob working 14 years to earn the hand of his beloved Rachel.
So how can I possibly think that too much grit may be bad?
The short answer is that by having too much grit, we may miss out on something that matches us much better. By sticking with what we’ve got regardless of the situation, we may inadvertently miss something that is a much better fit. This is an age old dilemma, and I’m certainly not saying that we should always be on the lookout for something better. Rather, I am suggesting that there are many nuances here for us to think through, many concepts, factors, and considerations for us to keep in balance.
EVERY CHOICE HAS AN OPPORTUNITY COST
For every choice we do make there is the cost of the possibilities that we didn’t choose. The choice of staying with what we’ve got, of having grit to stick it out is still a choice, and still has a cost associated with it. Having too much grit may cause us to stay with something that we ought to be seeing instead as a learning opportunity for a short period of time, after which we ought to move on.
Let’s take love as an example here. There are many good reasons why we should have grit and “dance with the are that brung ya”. First, let’s be crystal clear on this point - BE LOYAL AND FAITHFUL. There is a deeper circle in hell for cheaters and disloyal people. In love, we must be honorable men.
That notwithstanding, there is much we learn from each romantic endeavor, and the experiences we have and the mistakes we make ultimately help us grow and learn so that we can evolve as people. Having too much grit and staying too long then becomes a hindrance for our growth.
The million dollar question then, is how do we know when we ought to stay and when we ought to go? How do we know when we’ve hit that threshold and need to move on? A few thoughts on that one.
CHECK THE FIT
This one is going to sound a bit like I’m simply saying to use your intuition. That’s because that’s basically what I’m suggesting. Our intuition is a collection of wisdom our bodies collect from a wide range of sources. Intuition comes from our subconscious processing a wide range of experiences, inputs, thoughts, and feelings that we may not consciously realize, which is why it is so important for us to have range. Our intuition is our whole being - not just our conscious mind - coming together to provide direction or what we ought to do. Trust it.
Chances are, if it looks like the pieces don’t fit and if it feels like you’re trying to jam a square peg into a round hole, they don’t, and you are.
SEEK ADVICE FROM TRUSTED ADVISORS
There are cheerleaders in our lives that are always on our side, who will always sympathize with us, who will laugh with us, cry with us, be angry with us, and take on the world with us. I’m not talking about these people.
Rather, I’m talking about people of wisdom, of character, and of proven ability who can offer sound and unbiased advice. People who have demonstrated their care for you, who know your values and are respectful of them in their advice. Advisors.
CHECK THE PAIN
Pain is our body’s way of telling us that something’s not right. while I’m not saying to run at the first sign of pain, I am saying that pain is a good indicator that something needs to be adjusted. Pay attention to that. Certainly different people have different pain tolerances, and there are circumstances in life that may require a higher tolerance than normal, but in general pain is a good measure to pay attention to.
My boys, if there’s one thing I want for you it is to live a well balanced life. One that has grit but also allows for change, for new experiences of learning. One that is filled with love but has also experienced the loss and heartbreak that teaches us a deeper and richer appreciation and experience of that love. I love you boys!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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:
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!
We’ve talked at length about integrity, about trust, and about strong moral character. We speak about these things because they are critical to building lasting and meaningful connections, but also because they are traits that the world values and finds desirable, admirable, and praiseworthy, and are sought out at the highest levels of our corporate culture.
As you know, I spend a lot of time reading and learning about how to be a better leader, how to build wildly successful teams, and how to create a culture for people to not only do their best work but to be their best selves. By no means have I perfected this, and I am blessed to have some wonderful people in my life that I get to learn from and learn with.
One thing that the learned from them is that there is a difference between telling the truth and ensuring that the other person has heard the truth. Let me restate and rephrase, because this is critical. There is a difference between you technically telling the truth, saying all true statements, and making sure that the other person fully understands the situation.
In the former situation, while you are being technically and objectively truthful, your listener is misled into believing something false. While you can legally claim that you haven’t told a lie, morally you haven’t told the truth. You may get away with this behavior for some time, and may even delude yourself into believing that you are an honest and truthful person, but those around you will eventually figure it out and the trust and relationship will begin to erode.
There is a big difference between telling the truth and not telling a lie.
We live in a world where character matters. Truthfulness, integrity, and honesty are traits that the world values highly yet finds in short supply. They are traits that we crave, that we long for, that we idealize in movies, books, and stories. And yet they are largely missing from our regular lives. Why is that? Why the gap?
To say that the world is full of intentionally dishonest people is not only disheartening and over simplifying, it is also incorrect and leads to very isolating and defeatist responses. No, I don’t believe that the world is full of intentionally dishonest people. Rather, I believe the world has become desensitized to dishonesty, and has allowed its moral compass to degrade to the point where half truths are often considered good enough, and the hard work, discipline, and focus required to live a morally upstanding life are deemed not worth it. Some have even been ridiculed and persecuted for pursuing those ideals.
My prayer for you is that you would both grow to be men of integrity, whose word is valued and trusted, and are known as honest, truthful, and trustworthy men. The road won’t be easy, and there will be many times where no one would ever find out if you withheld a small portion of the truth. But you would know. And just as “the safest road to hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts” (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters), so too will those small allowances of half truths slowly lead you down the road leading not to great character, but rather to deception, dishonesty, and deceit. That’s not a road you want to be on, no matter how scenic and easy it may seem.
I pray that you become men of character that not only tell the truth but ensure that your listeners hear the truth. I love you boys.
There are all sorts of philosophies, books, and articles written that dance around the topic of discipline. Life hacks, tips and tricks, short cuts, scheduled regimens - everyone is trying to figure out quick and surefire ways to lead a more productive and successful life. I definitely don’t profess to be an expert on these topics by any means, but I do want to share with you my thoughts and experiences on what has worked for me, and what I’ve found success in.
First of all though, we need to define the difference between discipline and habits, because while they are entirely related, they’re not the same. In fact, I believe they’re two sides of the same coin.
Discipline is the ability to take action in accordance with a particular system of thought or belief. It is the ability to fight against one’s natural state of inertia and take action. It often is used interchangeably with will power, and tends to be associated with doing things that go against our natural selves.
For example, we associate discipline with the ability to refrain from eating that second slice of pie, or the act of choosing to go home instead of continuing on with your mates late into the wee hours of morning.
Habits on the other hand, are the actions that we take without much thought or intention. They are our body’s default actions, our programmed auto-responses to stimuli and situations. They are often overlooked and not thought about precisely because they are automatic, and our conscious mind therefore does not detect them.
I’ve read several great books on the topic - the two foremost authorities being “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, and “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. They both define habits as being a multi-part function. The cue prompts us to crave the thing in question, which causes us to respond to the craving and gain the reward for our action.
For example, after dinner (cue) we desire to end on a sweet note (crave) and therefore procure a dessert (response) which makes us feel satisfied (reward).
Leading a more productive life then, requires both discipline and good habits. It is not enough to rely on sheer force of will to make lasting changes in one’s life. Nor is it possible to build great habits without some semblance of discipline. We need both working in tandem to permanently affect our behaviors.
Both Duhigg and Clear propose means for tweaking that multi-part function to change our default behaviors. By changing the cue (ie avoiding the casino), changing our craving (ie learning to make a delicious yet healthy snack), changing our response (ie deliberately leaving your cash at home), or changing the reward (ie buying yourself a treat after working out), we can make lasting changes.
In order to tweak any of those parts of the function though, we require discipline.
Change tends to go something like this:
- You determine you wish to make a change in your life, one that is not currently a natural occurrence
- Your discipline allows you to overcome the natural inertia of it initially, and your zeal for the change propels you forward
- You tweak one or more of the habit function to incentivize the right behavior
- Your discipline allows you take the right action the first few times
- After a few times, the habit becomes solidified and you’ve changed your behavior
My boys, I wish nothing short of a rich and fulfilling life for you both, and I am convinced that the path to that is through actively and intentionally changing our behaviors to reflect the character that we wish to embody. Being productive, being successful, building deep connection, and having rich and meaningful experiences are all deeply connected to the character that we have. My prayer for you both is that you grow up to be men of great character, men that are continually seeking to learn and grow, and men that love, support, and encourage one another on this journey. I love you boys!
Much has been said about time management and how it impacts our productivity. There is a plethora of books on the topic by a variety of experts and researchers. There are blogs and life hacks written to help you categorically improve your productivity by tweaking a few things or by buying into some concept or movement. There is nothing for me to add to those volumes except to say that I believe time management is but a plan that one formulates. There remains the question of executing said plan.
Focus is not merely the act of fixing one’s gaze on something, although it does begin there. No, focus is much more than that. It is the channeling of one’s power, the amalgamating of one’s energy, the collecting of one’s senses that, once collected, are brought to bear on the object of one’s gaze. It is the culmination and application of a disciplined life, of a mind that has endeavored to command the body. It is the single most important and impactful force in the world.
Focus is a multiplier on human impact. It is a force that when honed and deliberately practiced will multiply every endeavor you undertake. It has no boundaries and does not discriminate against its area of application. It is a skill, a tool that can be applied to the loftiest of aims or the deadliest of schemes. And it can be learned, trained, and grown.
Every human has the ability to apply focus, and almost certainly has at some point in their life. Each of us has undoubtedly experienced some situation that set off our body’s fight or flight response. In those situations, our body naturally focuses in on the perceived threat. It blocks out unnecessary noise and becomes tunnel visioned on the immediate danger, even blocking out our rational thought if it is not trained to handle the situation.
Short of constantly putting ourselves in life threatening scenarios, how do we build and develop more focus? How does one learn to harness its power and apply it to suit our needs and aid in our endeavors?
Often the biggest enemy of focus is distraction. Distractions are all around us. People will very often attempt to remedy this by either removing the distractions or by removing themselves from the distracting environment. While this is not at all a bad strategy, it is insufficient. There will be many times in our lives where we will need to harness the full power of our focus but will be unable to control or modify the environment to remove the distractions.
When we dream big, we create a large distance between the grand, epic vision and the small, often unimportant distractions. When our gate is fixed on something grand and inspiring, the little things that distract us lose their power over us.
Focus is a skill. Like every other skill, it can be learned, cultivated, and improved. And like every other skill, the way to do this is to practice.
Start small. Be deliberate. Just as you would set aside time to practice your piano, your curve ball, or your speech, set aside time to practice focusing.
Pick something you don’t want to do, that you would naturally procrastinate on. Pick a reasonable interval (say 5 minutes). Use a timer. Then go. And repeat. A lot.
MAKE IT A HABIT
It is said that the journey of a thousand steps begins with a single step. Profoundly simple, the idea here is that we need to start small. We apply this principle to building habits - start small, start with a single step. In doing so, we create small wins that allow us to continue our journey and to take on bigger things.
Focus on something small, for a short period of time. Make it a habit, and presently you’ll discover that your threshold of focus has greatly expanded.
If one reasonable measure of a life is the impact it has had on others and on our world, then surely force multipliers like focus are important tools for us to pick up along the way. My hope for you boys is that you fix your gaze on the unseen things in this world and stay steadfast, focused on the things that help others and help to make the world a better place.
You’ve both often heard me talk about having discipline, being efficient, and living intentionally. Without a doubt those are great things to work towards and to cultivate in your lives. Yet as with most things in this world, there is a balance that when struck correctly brings out an undeniable beauty. That balance is the skillful art of creating space, and knowing when and how to do so.
The finest art is that which speaks most loudly to you. As the observer, yours is the only opinion that matters. Regardless of the artist, the medium, the subject matter, the artist’s intention as they created the piece, or even the opinions of the critics, the finest art is that which speaks most profoundly to you alone as the one experiencing that art.
Truly great art leaves space for the observer to explore, discover, and to savor.
It has been said that art is that which you leave out. It is the space created for you to fill with your thoughts, your background, your experiences, your worries, your struggles, and your triumphs. And once filled, it is the gentle nudge that begs us to deeply contemplate.
This concept is one that transcends art and finds its home in many other areas of life. In sports, coaches tell their players to train hard before the game and then to clear their head to give space for their instincts to take over. In love we give space to those we love to allow them to work out their feelings and choose to reciprocate. In music we have natural breath marks, spaces intended to allow the mind to settle and root itself on a mood or theme before being whisked away again. In friendship we share our thoughts and opinions with our friends and then give them the space to choose their own path while we support them wholly. Even in the act of Creation, God rested on the seventh day and made space.
Space to remember
It is with great intention and reverence that we create space to remember. At funerals we create a solemn space to remember the deceased and the life that they led, their impact on us, what they meant to us. At memorials we create an aura of silence to honor the dead and their sacrifice. At graduations we prompt our graduates to pause and reflect on their accomplishments in preparation for what is to come.
Space allows the heart to reminisce, to slowly and deliberately consider that which we are remembering, and to place ourselves in the midst of that experience once more. It allows us to experience more deeply, to love more deeply, to honor more deeply.
Space to heal
We need space to heal. The body cannot heal if we continue to put pressure and strain on our injury. The heart cannot heal if it is constantly being battered and under attack. The mind cannot heal if we continue to relive our trauma without the space or the tools to rewire our thinking. The soul cannot heal if it is not given the time to receive nourishment. When we have broken relationship, we instinctively ask for time and space to think, to ponder, and to heal. Without ever being taught, we know this. Deeply.
It is in that space that we are able to choose to heal, that we are able to take action towards healing. It is not a coincidence that many cultures have mourning rituals that specifically call for time and space to mourn. It is not a PR stunt for companies to offer bereavement time to their employees. It is because the space allows us to mourn, to remember, to honor, and then to integrate the reality of loss into our lives.
Space to grow
As a species, we are wired for growth, for forward movement. It is no wonder we have so many metaphors and images for growth. Perhaps one of the most common and well known images is that of spreading our wings and flying. We know this. We feel it. At a very early age, we instinctively spread our arms wide as we imagine taking flight and going to places currently out of our reach.
The beauty and glory of that image is not only in the jubilant and expectant pose we take, but also of the space around us; the space to explore, the vast horizon spread before us, the breathtaking view of the mountain we are about to soar over.
Human beings are meant to grow, and we need space to do that.
And so I urge you to create space. It may seem counterintuitive. It may feel awkward and unnatural. It may appear destructive at worst and not helpful at best. But we all need space. As you navigate your lives, my prayer for you is that you learn when you need space, how to skillfully create it, and how to confidently and unapologetically take the space that you need.
I love you boys.
Something I’ve always valued is retrospection and introspection. Looking back at our experiences to learn from them, and looking within to thoughtfully consider the choices, decisions, and actions we’ve taken are two very good habits to build. As with any habit, it’s best to start building them early and when one doesn’t need them yet. Taking a page from Robert Redford in Spy Game:
“When did Noah build the ark, Gladys?”
“Before the rain.”
Looking back on this year, it has definitely been one for the history books with all the unexpected twists and turns. It’s been a trying year for most, full of challenges, upset routines, and new and very real fears. It’s brought folks face to face with many insecurities: meaning, purpose, relationship, isolation. It has caused many to look forward, to desire a different future, and to even take action towards making that different future happen.
As we think through those new beginnings, I want us to consider a few important things.
The future is decided by optimists
I’m not just being optimistic here myself, hoping for a future that is defined by optimists. The future will always be decided by optimists.
Why? Because it’s human nature to desire inspiration, to follow those that are inspiring. We are wired to move life forward, to strive for a tomorrow that’s better than today. Optimists paint those pictures, tell those stories, and dream of those grand and epic scenarios.
We aren’t attracted to pessimists. We may resonate with their negativity, and we may seem to connect over a shared disdain, fear, or dislike, but ultimately they don’t attract or inspire us in the long run. It’s the optimists that attract us, and ultimately it will be the optimists that change the world for the better and decide what our future looks like.
Be FOR other people
Coming out of this isolating time, I would challenge us all to be more for other people. We’ve already had enough focus on ourselves this year. Let us make tomorrow more about other people than ourselves. Let us make it a time where we think more of others, do more for others, care more for others, and love others more.
It’s never too late to start
Lastly, it’s never too late to start making the changes you want to see in yourself! If I’ve learned anything at all this year, it is that it’s never to late to get started.
You may have had a rocky start. You may have rough soil to work with. You may have spent years down a path that you’re not happy about. But that’s okay. We move life forward, one step at a time. Tomorrow isn’t defined by what you did yesterday; it’s defined by what you set your mind to do tomorrow. So as we start this new beginning, my challenge to you both is to start it by being optimistic that the best is yet to come, and by setting your minds on being for other people.
Happy new year!
We live in challenging and complex times where nothing is simple, nothing is exactly as it seems. There are no black and white situations, and there are no clear cut answers. Every situation we face has an immense amount of nuance that needs to be considered, examined, and thoughtfully understood.
This year has been packed full of hard stuff. Natural disasters. Racial tensions. Riots. One of the most polarizing presidential elections in recent history. One of the worst global pandemics in all known human history. Social
These are all extremely complicated situations. And yet we can learn something in them, we can grow in them, we can flourish as a result of them.
Something I’ve been learning lately is that so much of the battle is just showing up. That simple act of getting off the sidelines, picking a side, and standing with your fellow men and women to take on whatever’s coming is immensely powerful. Make no mistake - the enemy (whoever you want to think of as the enemy, be it fear mongers, racists, bigots, homophobes, religious persecutors, or any other person or power that tries to diminish the nobility of the human spirit) wants us to stay idle. The enemy wants us afraid, lazy, lethargic, arguing amongst ourselves, or anything else that would prevent us from action.
Showing up is half the battle.
1. We create a positive, forward moving mental state
So much of success in the arena is simply about moving forward. When we are still, the battle is lost. But when we are in motion, when we are fluid, when we are gaining momentum and focused on a goal, that is a beautiful thing. That motion, that movement, that momentum and inertia moves our lives forward and gives us courage to take on even bigger things.
Simply showing up is a victory unto itself, and however small that may be is enough to spark us into action.
2. We encourage others
The human spirit is strengthened by witnessing acts of bravery, of honor, of noble intent. When someone sees us getting off the sidelines and showing up in the arena, something deep inside them sparks. Regardless of whether that spark itself is enough to light a fire in them, us showing up and bringing encouragement to another is itself a powerful thing.
3. We show the enemy we’re not afraid
So much of the world is shrouded in fear, in misdirection, in misinformation that leads to inaction. By showing up, we show the enemy that we’re not afraid, that we’re willing to stand shoulder to shoulder in the arena and take on what’s coming.
So my sons, my prayer for you is that you too would show up. That you would move life forward, that you would encourage others and find others of like mind to fight together with, and that together we can stand up against the injustices and the abominations of the world. For together we stand; divided we fall. I love you boys.
I wanted to talk a bit today about our Amazon Leadership Principle Learn and Be Curious. The description of this LP is as follows: “Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.”
But what does that mean? How does that actually apply in our regular lives?
First, a few thoughts about learning itself. Specifically about our relationship to learning, how we approach it, and our mindset around it.
Learning ought to be a lifelong activity and endeavor. It is something that we expect of our children. It is something that we allocate the first quarter of our lives to. It is something that successful people do all their lives because it separates us from the rest. It is the thing that allows humanity to progress, to advance, and to have made leaps and bounds from our much more primitive ancestors.
And yet once we graduate from college, the majority of us have a sharp decline in the rate of learning, the topics which we learn, and the time we spent dedicated towards bettering ourselves. We leave our climate and environment of learning and are thrown into a fast paced delivery-driven culture that more often burns out our college grads more than it teaches them.
That in turn begs the question of environment. Do we have an environment where people can learn? One that encourages the trial and error required for new neural pathways to be created? One that rewards failure as much as it rewards successes, knowing that failure is but a step on the path to progress and victory?
In a candid fireside chat in San Diego earlier this year Bill Gates suggested that there are certain conditions that which, if not met, make it incredibly difficult - even impossible - for an individual to learn: confidence, curiosity, and constant feedback. Let’s talk about each of those.
People need confidence to learn. They need confidence to know that they can get this, that they are able to progress. They need to believe in themselves, that they are capable of change, of improvement.
Confidence is built by successes, by cheerleaders, by supporters, coaches, and mentors. The more we craft an environment where these things naturally happen and are praiseworthy the more confidence we will see among those living in it.
When we were young, we were curious about everything. The quintessential example is the kid that asks “why” one too many times that it sends their parents over the edge. We each have a natural curiosity about the world, a spark of joy at discovering something new, something novel, something wonderful.
And yet that curiosity gets beat out of us. It begins in adolescence when the desire to fit in (and the awkwardness of not fitting in) begins to pick up steam. And then responsibility kicks into full gear, whether from owning a home, being married, having children, having family responsibilities thrust on you, or a myriad of other things.
Slowly but surely our natural curiosity shrinks until we become caught in the rat race of the mundane.
We must craft an environment where curiosity flourishes, where people are able to explore, to try new things, to fail at things, and to share those learnings with others. We must give people the time, the physical space, and the mental headspace to venture out, to ask questions, and to stick their finger into the proverbial socket to see what happens.
As leaders one of the most important things entrusted to us is the care for our people. As General Stanley McChystal puts it in his book Team of Teams, leaders must take on the role of the gardener. The gardener has no direct ability to make plants grow. However, they do have the ability to cultivate the plants, to prune as needed, to till the soil, to water and provide nutrients, and to provide an environment that is ideal for growth.
So too is it with leaders.
We need to create the right environment for our people to grow in, and need to trim and prune where necessary as well. This means providing consistent and constant feedback as people learn and grow. Without a tight feedback loop, people will be left wandering and reinforcing bad habits that should have been pruned early on.
Learning to learn
So how do we create this environment where people can flourish in their learning, and how do we create that desire for learning, that mindset for growth, that joy that comes from making progress?
A few practical things we can do.
- Reward learning. When I was a new parent I was told that we should praise our children for the learning process, not for the accomplishment. In her book Mindset Carol Dweck argues that praising results creates a fixed mindset in our children who are hyper focused on results and not on the growth or the learning. We obtain what we measure and reward.
- Lead by example. When I was at Microsoft, Bill Gates used to take what he called Think Week. It was a week where he would go off the grid and allow himself to learn. He would read. He would think. He would ponder. He would ruminate. And in doing so he set the example for his company that reading and learning were highly valued activities.
- Play the long game. Learning takes time to come into fruition. As teams and leaders, valuing learning from our people means that we need to have the patience for that growth to pay off. We have to invest in our people and have the mindset of long term benefits. When we are short sighted, when we become too caught up in tactics and immediate results, we stifle our people’s ability to participate in and to value learning.
One of my lifelong mentors taught me that we don’t build teams for a reason or season, but for life. That is long game thinking. That is the type of thinking that encourages growth, fosters curiosity, and values learning. And that’s what I desire to do - to build teams for life; teams of lifelong learners who are excited to learn together and to apply our learnings to the problems of the day.
It’s easy to look at the world around us and see its many flaws and many weaknesses. It’s easy to see the hatred, the racism, the sexism, the anger, the suspicion - it’s easy to look at all that and decide to keep your head down and mind your own business.
And no one would fault you for that.
We live in a world where people are expected to cower, to keep their voices down, and to do the bare minimum to appease their own consciences, often with little to no impact.
I implore you to choose a different path.
I recently read a beautiful speech from the 26th president of these United States, Theodore Roosevelt, which has since come to be known as The Man in the Arena. It reads:
It is not the critic who counts;
not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,
or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;
who strives valiantly; who errs,
who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;
but who does actually strive to do the deeds;
who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions;
who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,
and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly,
so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls
who neither know victory nor defeat.
Yes, there are many ways in which we have fallen. Yes, there are many unspeakable acts and unimaginable crimes that have been committed, and even sanctioned in our lifetimes. Yes, we are surrounded by imperfection in this fallen world.
But let us stop standing on the sidelines watching idly as others struggle and fight in our stead. Let us never stop picking ourselves back up and getting back into the arena. Let us fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. Let us speak up for the voiceless. Let us defend the defenseless. Let us bring hope to the hopeless.
Let us let shine the nobility of the human spirit; that spark within us that when pressed enables us to stand courageous with a courage we didn’t know existed.
I love you, my boys. I pray that when you are old enough to understand these words, that you will find your father in the arena, that he will be standing side by side and back to back with men and women that he loves and loves him, and - most of all - that you will join them in the arena and fight together.
I read a statement today that was simple yet profound. It got me thinking about my upbringing, my context, my biases, and my perspective. I was raised very fortunate, very lucky. I was raised in a loving home with parents who did absolutely everything in their power to give me and your uncle everything we wanted. We were treated with dignity and respect, and were taught to honor others and to treat others well. We were raised believing we could do whatever we set our minds to, that we could be instruments of change, that we could be leaders of the future.
Not everyone is raised this way.
I now realize how lucky I was, how precious it is to have that be my story. The statement I read today inspired me to redouble my efforts. It said simply:
“When you honor what you have, you’re honoring what I’ve lost.”
We are currently in a time where many have lost. Loved ones, homes, jobs, families, safety, security - all of these are among the things that have been stripped incredibly unfairly from such a large number of people. So many homeless, without safety, without security, without the knowledge of where their next meal will come, or if it will come at all.
To be fair, there are many that are rising to the occasion. The heroes of today don’t don spandex and nylon capes, no. They put on their nurse’s scrubs, their surgeon’s gloves, their firefighter suits, their signs of protest and defense. God bless those heroes.
But beyond supporting them, beyond giving our resources and time to listen, to learn, to stand up for, and to protect, we can do more still. We can live each day honoring the things that we have, so that we honor those who have not. We can live each day taking every opportunity that fortune blesses us with, and do so remembering those who are less fortunate.
We are fortunate to live in America, to live in a nation founded on the belief that all people were created equal, to live free of oppression and free to pursue happiness and association however we desire. Many are not that lucky. Many living even in this nation are not that lucky.
Something we’ve done since you were young is to share things that we’re thankful for at the end of each day. I pray that this letter finds you still with that spirit of thankfulness, of gratitude, of humility. You are both blessed beyond measure; don’t take that for granted. Honor those who have less than you do.
Something that I’ve always taken for granted growing up is that all people are created equal. Growing up in Canada, that was just something that I assumed. I had close friends of many different races and never thought twice about it. We played sports, learned how to write code, talked about our relationship troubles, applied to colleges, and dreamed about our futures together, regardless of race, religion, or culture. I used to just accept that as a reality, and assumed it was like that everywhere in the world.
Boy was I wrong.
While I’d encounter the occasional stranger who had a disdain for Chinese people and vocalized it to me, my group of multi-racial friends always dismissed those comments as coming from ignorant folks, and we just went on our merry way. However, many don’t have that luxury, and many have much worse persecution than just being called a derogatory racial name.
In my youth, I believed that everyone was created equal, and should be treated as equals. As I grew older, I learned that there’s a difference between equality and equity.
Equality is treating everyone equally. Equity is treating everyone how they need to be treated in order for them to feel equal.
I don’t know what your future will hold, or what the racial, socio-economic, gender, status, or belief structure will look like when you two grow up. I do know that you two will grow up as two of the most fortunate boys in the world, simply by being raised in America, in one of the largest and most prosperous cities of our time, and with a family that loves you, is concerned about teaching you to treat others with respect and dignity, and seeks to give you every opportunity to experience a rich and full life.
Do not squander that blessing.
My sons, I urge you to be a part of the solution. Don’t assume that everyone is being treated equitably and thereby ignore the issues of our time. Speak up for those without a voice. Love those who the world does not deem lovely. Advocate for those who cannot represent themselves. Be generous with your time, with your resources, with your hearts, and with your care. And above all, listen. Listen to those who are in pain, to those who are persecuted, to those who have come to their wits end. And then have grace and mercy for them, and love them.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a bold dream in 1963. That dream was for this country and this world to believe and act as though all people were created equal. It was a dream that longed for his children to be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. It is a dream that I have for the two of you, and is a dream that has not yet been realized.
We can change our world, but it takes all of us coming together to make that dream a reality.
Life is an adventure. It is beautiful. It is breathtaking. It is full of joy, of triumph, of victory, of mountaintop experiences. It is also full of sadness, of loneliness, of gut wrenching sorrow. It is about the journey and not the destination.
The Good Book tells us that “in this life, you will have trouble.” It’s not an if, it’s a when.
Composure, then, is the manner in which we meet that trouble. It is the perspective we take, the peace (or lack of) we have, and the mindset we embody. It is the expression of our true selves, our inner core, our self discipline, our grace.
As you know, we’re currently in an unprecedented time in our world. In an era where global travel is incredibly accessible, individual freedoms are at their prime, and technological advancements have created an expectation of connection and information, an outbreak of this magnitude has been difficult to contain. The death toll is nearing a half million, with hundreds of thousands of new cases still being confirmed. There is currently no known cure or vaccine, and much of the world is living in self-quarantine.
It’s very easy to feel that things are unfair, to feel hopeless and helpless, to feel that there isn’t anything we can do.
In these situations we are presented with a choice. We can choose the path of self-pity, of externalization, and of blame, or we can choose the path that is steadfast, that is bold and courageous, and has the resolve to go through this painful refinement of our character and come out stronger. We can choose the mindset of merely surviving, grasping at any means to do so, or we can choose the path of flourishing and prospering despite our circumstance.
The difference between believing things are unfair vs unfortunate is subtle but important.
When we feel that things are unfair, we believe that things are outside of our control. We absolve ourselves from blame and from responsibility for the situation, and we believe that there is nothing we can do to influence the outcome. We believe that undesirable things are being done to us. We position ourselves as the victim, and fixate our mind on a position of self-pity.
On the other hand, when we feel that things are unfortunate, we remove blame from some unreachable or invisible actor that has it out for us and instead focus on the situation itself. We recognize that we live in an imperfect world, and that inexplicable things happen. We take the perspective of recovery, of advancement, of moving life forward. We see ourselves not as helpless but as capable and able to change our stars. We have self-compassion, taking the necessary care for ourselves so that we can recover and thrive despite our surroundings.
This difference, while subtle, end up causing ripple effects in our mindset and in the actions that we take. Over time, it affects our constitution, our demeanor, and the way that we approach the world. That in turn impacts the interactions and relationships that we have, ultimately deeply impacting our lives. And so I encourage you the next time you find yourselves in unfortunate circumstances to think of them as just that; unfortunate circumstances. I pray that you have the discipline and mental fortitude to direct your reactions so that not only will you survive, but will thrive in those times.
I love you, my boys.
We’re currently in the middle of a global pandemic. It’s something that this world hasn’t seen in quite some time, and is something that I sincerely pray you won’t have to experience again in your lifetimes. There are many tragic stories of loss, of separated loved ones, of devastation. There are also many stories of hope, of perseverance, of strength, of unity, and of support. The impacts of this pandemic are both global and local. Globally, our economy has taken a huge hit, our social structures are stressed to the point of breaking, and our government is struggling to act decisively and swiftly. Locally, we are practicing social distancing, staying home with our families and going out only out of necessity.
It has not been an easy adjustment for many.
I recently finished a book called “A gentleman in Moscow”, by Amor Towles. It is a wonderful and beautifully written book that seems poignantly relevant in our current world situation. The book is a novel that follows the life of Count Alexander Rostov, a Russian aristocrat who after the revolutionary war ended in the 1920s is convicted of such. He is forced to live out his days as a “Former Person” within the confines of the Metropol hotel, not being permitted to ever leave its premises.
The book chronicles the life of the count, who first sets foot inside his new quarters in the prime of his life. He immediately has the realization that in order to survive the constant mental assault and boredom of several more decades in this space, one must have resolve, determination, and fortitude of mind. As we walk through his early days of captivity, he quickly establishes a regular routine that provides him the much needed structure of a productive life. As he settles into that routine, we watch him evolve from a person who is striving simply to survive to one that is longing and looking for ways to thrive.
It is that mental fortitude, that singular belief that in order to flourish, one must overcome one’s current situation that allows the count to positively thrive for decades in such a small space.
“Our lives are steered by uncertainties, many of which are disruptive or even daunting; but that if we persevere and remain generous of heart, we may be granted a moment of supreme lucidity - a moment in which all that has happened to us suddenly comes into focus as a necessary course of events, even as we find ourselves on the threshold of a bold new life that we had been meant to lead all along.”
I certainly don’t profess to know the secrets of mental fortitude, nor do I know by what magical coincidence or stroke of good luck I have been blessed with some measure of it. I do however know the secret of building fortitude, of building strength. Exercise. Just as our physical bodies require exercise and a healthy diet to build strength, our mind requires exercise and a healthy diet of positive inputs and interactions.
I’ve discovered a few key things that have done wonders for me:
Read. Reading not only develops our creativity, but it challenges our mind to imagine, to ponder, to think deeply about topics and situations that we may not have had the chance to face yet. It allows us to develop the ability to empathize with a character, to reason with an author, to dream wondrously with the protagonist, and to suffer deeply with the fallen hero.
Reading also gives us the opportunity to build relationships, to dialog, and to discuss with friends new and old the topics and virtues of the latest book that we’ve read. Read for enjoyment, read for self-development and self-improvement, read for knowledge, and read for perspective. Read fiction to dream and paint canvases in your mind. Read non-fiction to be challenged, to think critically, to ruminate, to reason.
Meditate. Meditation builds focus of mind, and trains our discipline. It allows us to process our thoughts, to understand ourselves, and to listen to our innermost mind.
Write. Writing causes you to elaborate on your thoughts, to organize them, and to provide structure to them. Regardless of whether your writings are read by three people or by three hundred, writing builds your ability to expand on a thought and to nurture and bake an idea in your mind. We all have the spark of creation within us; let it be a tool to help refine your mental process.
Jesus tells us that “in this life, you will have trouble”. That is a certainty. Those with an ample supply of mental fortitude are the ones who are able to not only survive, but to thrive in those troubles. And that’s my hope for you today, that you both would be strong men, physically, emotionally, but most importantly mentally. That you would have the strength of mind and discipline of heart to achieve all that you set your sights on.
I’ve been reading a book that a great friend recommended to me called “Where the crawdads sing”, by Delia Owens. So far, it’s an artfully written book full of beautiful and vivid images the author paints for your mind’s eye combined with insightful nuggets of truth for you to ponder. Perfectly up my alley.
There’s a beautiful dialog in the book between father and son where the son complains to his father that he’s studying poetry in English class and doesn’t like it. The father’s retort is beautiful:
Don’t go thinking poetry’s just for sissies. There’s mushy love poems, for sure, but there’s also funny ones, lots about nature, war even. Whole point of it - they make ya feel something.
I love that. They make ya feel something.
So much of our lives are about things that don’t touch on the topic of feelings. We’re inundated with information, obsessed with learning and progressing, and laser focused on academics and achievement. But we’ve got to remember to feel. As Robin Williams puts it in Dead Poets Society:
We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion.
Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.
Perfect. In the book, the author says of the father:
His dad had told him many times that the definition of a real man is one who cries without shame, reads poetry with his heart, feels opera in his soul, and does what’s necessary to defend a woman.
My sons, if I’m able to accomplish that, to impress that single line upon you, then I’ll be beyond ecstatic. Be strong men, yes. But strength is not only stoic and outwardly fearless. It also embraces vulnerability so that one can be known and understood. It is confident in the relationships and connections it has built enough for vulnerability, for sentiment, for sensitivity.
So my charge to you today is this: be strong and decisive men, yes, but take the time to do things that make you feel. Watch a beautiful sunset descending between the crevice in the mountains. Sit still and deeply listen to music that moves you. Rekindle an old connection. Embrace a friend fully and earnestly. Love big. And be loved big.
I love you, my boys.
Something that’s been on my mind a lot lately is the concept of choosing to love, especially when it’s hard.
It’s very easy to choose to love someone or to choose to do the loving thing when things are easy. But the true test of character is what we do when things aren’t easy, when they’re not ideal, when they’re not living up to our expectations. How do you respond? What choices do you make? Do you choose anger? Or do you choose love?
Anger begets more anger
So choose love. Choose to do the thing that you know is right, even if you don’t feel like it. Choose to hold to the principles that you believed to be praiseworthy and worth pursuing when you weren’t in the midst of the storm. And hold on. Tight.
How do you do it? How do you choose to do the hard thing, to do the unnatural thing, to do the thing that you know you ought to but really, really don’t want to? How do you choose to hold your tongue when you’re ready to rip someone a new one? How do you choose to love, to swallow your hurt and pain, and do the right thing?
There’s a song that I love from a movie I watched recently that’s entitled “The next right thing”. I love so many things about that song, musically, dramatically. But most of all, I love the message the song conveys.
This grief has a gravity, it pulls me down
But a tiny voice whispers in my mind
“You are lost, hope is gone
But you must go on
And do the next right thing”
Break it down to this next breath, this next step
This next choice is one that I can make
So I’ll walk through this night
Stumbling blindly toward the light
And do the next right thing
There will be times when you feel like you’re flattened, that you’re on the floor. You’ll feel like the world is against you, and you’ll want to give up. I hope that in that moment, for just a moment, you’ll be able to take a breath and get even the briefest hint of perspective that will allow you to choose to do the next right thing.
It’s something that gets easier with each victory, and is something that should be celebrated when you succeed. Take a second for yourself to internalize that feeling when you know you’ve chosen the right thing, even when the walls are still crumbling. When you know that while you may not have saved the current situation, you’ve chosen the right thing. The thing that will let you look back and be happy at the men that you’ve become, that despite all odds and worldly wisdom or reason that told you to choose otherwise, you chose the next right thing.
And that’s my hope for the two of you; that when life goes sideways, when things really suck, that you’ll be able to choose to do the next right thing.
It’s been said that the virtue that leads to all other virtues is gratitude. I love that sentiment, whether it’s true or not. I’m sure that by now, you both know people that are generally very happy and content with life, as well as people that can’t be satisfied and are upset with everything under the sun.
No one looks at a complaining person and a happy person and actively decides that they want to be more like the complainer. That’s just the truth of it. None of us grow up wanting to be whiny, complaining, discontent people. “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” - these are the very principles that our great nation is founded upon. We all want to pursue happiness, and want to have it in abundance.
Gratefulness plays a huge role in that.
If you look a little closer, I’m willing to bet that a common thread among those that are happy is that they’re also very grateful people. A couple of reasons for that.
Gratefulness causes you to think outside yourself.
A heart of gratitude causes you to be regularly thinking about the things that you’re thankful for, and keeps your mind off of yourself and on others. It keeps you being thoughtful about the external; about how others are feeling, about their actions and intentions.
By thinking about others, the altitude of your view gets higher. You get used to thinking about spheres outside your own. Your world becomes bigger.
Gratefulness causes you reflect on the beauty in your life.
When we stop to acknowledge the good that others have done in our lives, we stop moving, if only for a moment. This world that we’re living in is incredibly fast paced and is constantly trying to drown out any silence that gives you room to reflect. But taking the time to reflect on the many things we have to be thankful for, the many things that are beautiful, rich, and wonderful about our lives regularly; that truly is a great thing.
Gratefulness gives you the space to make mistakes.
When you approach your life with a heart of gratitude, it creates the space for the imperfections of humanity to breathe, to air out, to be released. So often we’re concerned about looking perfect, sounding perfect, appearing like we’ve got perfect lives on social media. We don’t give ourselves the space for the truth that is humanity - we’re not perfect. We’re not idyllic. We have flaws.
Gratefulness allows us to recognize that others can contribute to our lives, and in so doing allow us the space to recognize that we need others and aren’t perfect.
And so my prayer for you is that you will live lives that have an abundance of things to be grateful for, that are characterized by happiness, joy, and thankfulness. Hopefully when you read this, we’ve continued our nightly traditions of sharing three things that we’re thankful for each day. I started that with you several years ago in an attempt to set a regular pattern in all our lives of being grateful, and I pray that we’re still continuing with that tradition to this day. I love you boys.
Something that corporate America puts a large emphasis on is this concept of owning outcomes. It is so deeply rooted in our professional culture that at the time of my writing this, the exact phrase “owning outcomes” is one of the things that my company measures my performance on.
We are a capitalist culture that is hyper focused on outcomes, on the output of the individual, the team, the company. So much so that we’ll often sacrifice other things to get the results that we want.
Now, don’t get me wrong - I believe that owning your outcomes is a good thing. It’s good to be intentional, to be deliberate, to have the organizational mindset that enables planning for success and for achievement. But as always, too much of a good thing can and likely will become a bad thing, and I believe that we’ve gone overboard with this notion of owning outcomes. Here’s why.
First, when we put ownership of outcomes so much higher than other attributes such as empathy, balance, and mature judgment, we miss out on the fact that in pursuit of those outcomes, we may in fact cause pain to others. We ignore the fact that we may be causing a natural imbalance that has other rippling effects. And we may not spend the time to thoughtfully assess the impact of our actions on other areas of our concern.
Second, when we focus too much on outcomes, we lose sight of the fact that in the journey of life, the destination isn’t the only important thing. We are sometimes so incredibly focused on where we want to be, what experiences we want to have, what the notch on our belt or the line item on our resume will be that we forget to take into consideration who we are becoming. How will these experiences and choices shape the men that we are becoming, the values that we are acquiring, and the natural inclination to repeat these choices in the future?
Lastly, when we focus on outcomes, people become an afterthought at worst, a resource or asset to tap at best. And resources over time tend to be exploited selfishly for their worth to us.
So my challenge to you today is to recognize that while planning well and having a thoughtful strategy for your life is a good thing, ultimately the outcome is out of our control. Be content with the way you handle factors that are in your control; factors like the way that you respond to stressful situations, or the patience you have with the person who cut you off. Don’t focus so much on the outcomes here, because chances are, many of these outcomes aren’t as important as the men that you are becoming.
We are, as a society, largely concerned with goals and milestones. We are greatly focused on hitting the next checkpoint, the next marker on the path towards the target, the journey that we’ll need to take to get there.
And yet we never talk about what happens once we do in fact, get there, wherever that happens to be.
I absolutely love grand, epic stories. I love reading about the internal struggle that the hero must overcome in order to be victorious against the external. I love that epic ending, that dramatic finish. And yet something that often gets missed is what happens afterwards. The evil king is overthrown and the people come back to power. The hero slays the dragon and saves the princess. The long lost son returns home. The aliens are defeated and the world is saved. The crisis is averted, and the world returns to normal. Roll credits.
What these stories never mention is what happens afterwards, in the years following victory! What happens when there are no more foes to defeat, no more hills to climb, no more beachheads to conquer?
The truth is that we don’t write books or make movies about that part because it’s boring. It’s unremarkable. We want the adrenaline rush that culminates in the big resolve after the final conflict.
But life isn’t just about that.
In fact, I’ll argue that most of life isn’t about that at all, and instead of those mountaintop experiences where the camera pans out behind us and depicts the grand and epic army ahead of us to conquer, most of life is actually spent in the valleys where one patch of flowers is indistinguishable from the countless others.
While character traits like courage and boldness are needed on the mountaintops, it is character traits like persistence, grit, resolve, and collaboration that are needed in the valleys. These are the traits that allow us to persevere, that allow us to slow down and run the long race. These are traits that move us from a place of reaching for the latest and the greatest, the glitzy and the glamorous, to a place where we can be content and satisfied being right where we are.
There are a number of reasons why we ought to have this change in perspective:
- By removing our hyper focus on the top of the mountain and allowing ourselves to pan out and see the surrounding landscape, we’ll see many things that we weren’t able to notice before. Things that may not have seemed important, or may be smaller in comparison. Things that didn’t stand out, or weren’t clearly in focus. We’ll be able to see these things, and we’re able to derive joy from them.
- We’re able to see people. Often our hyper focus on the goal causes us forget that there are people around us that are affected by our actions, and that need our attention, support, and care. Shifting our focus allows us to see these people more clearly.
- We’re able to sustain our pace. Life is not a sprint; it is a marathon. By learning to persevere and persist in times when your adrenaline isn’t rushing and flooding your system, we’re able to pace ourselves and sustain. The long game doesn’t only require the ability to run fast; it requires the discipline to know when to push hard and when to relax and recover. It calls for balance and for wellness. It demands rest.
While I’m not at all saying that we shouldn’t reach for the stars and strive for the mountaintops, I do believe it is equally important that we learn how to slow down, and more importantly, how to tell when we need to switch between the two.
Because while it’s the mountaintops that offer breathtakingly epic views, it’s in the valleys that the flowers grow.
And so my prayer for you boys is that not only will you encourage each other to run and push as hard as you can when it is appropriate to do so, but that you can also rest, rejuvenate, slow down, and take the time to see the details of what’s going around you.
We live in an age where leadership is a quality that is expected at every level. From an early age, children are engrained with the notion that they are all expected to be leaders. They are taught the qualities and characteristics of a leader, and are put in situations where they are expected to demonstrate leadership. Then they go to college and are told that leaders are to be esteemed, and that they are the leaders of tomorrow.
It’s quite clear that leadership - and the attributes and character traits that go along with it - is highly regarded. It behooves us, therefore, to dig in and learn about this topic; to consider, to study, to debate, and to discuss, and in so doing, deeply enhance our own understanding of what it means to be a leader.
It is said that the true measure of a man is not how he treats his equals or his superiors, but rather how he treats those who are inferior to him. This inferiority can come in many forms; an inferiority in status, station in life, accomplishment, or even ability. It could be the cashier at the checkout stand, or the bellman who takes your bags. It could be the new college hire on your team, or the person who restocks the snacks in the office pantry. It could even be the customer service agent you had to call because their company messed up your order.
The truth is that the way we treat these people speaks volumes to our character. Treating those who may be beneath us with dignity and respect says a few things, especially to those in our organizations.
It says that we believe everyone has the same intrinsic value. We tell people who may be in our organization that regardless of their current role, we will treat them with respect and will distinguish evaluating their work from evaluating them.
It says that we believe our current role as the manager is a job role and not a value judgment. As a manager, we are not worth more and are not valued more; rather, our role and responsibilities are simply different than theirs.
It says that we will not judge a book by its cover, and will take the time and the care necessary to get to know people. It says that we will demonstrate the thoughtfulness and empathy needed as we evaluate them.
And if these aren’t enough, remember that as leaders we are examples to those we lead!
“Attitude reflects leadership, captain” ~ Remember the Titans
When we treat the least and the last with dignity and respect, we not only set ourselves up for success as leaders, but we influence those that we lead to do the same. And that, truly, is a mark of a great leader!
Over the past few years, we’ve spent a bunch of time talking about the grand and the lofty. We’ve talked about attributes and character traits that are expansive, traits that encourage big picture thinking and visioning. Today we’re going to talk about something quite different and yet just as important, if not more so.
Mankind was created to move forward. We were made with this celestial imprint on our lives that drives us to dream, to innovate, to invent, and to create. But sometimes, the path to get there isn’t easy, and is filled with hardship, with opposition, with trials, and with people who would see us fail. It is a truism that our lives will not be easy, and it is a certainty that when we endeavor to elevate our thoughts and actions that we will face opposition that will attempt to pull us back down.
It is in those times that we need to have grit.
Grit is the ability to dig deep and to persist in your endeavors. It is the ability to remain steadfast in your convictions and your beliefs, and to stay on the path that you’ve determined to travel. It is the trait that enables us not to give up, not to abandon our aim, no matter how hard things get.
That’s not to say that being stubborn and set in the path that you’re taking excuses all else. Being steadfast doesn’t excuse bad behavior, and doesn’t give us permission to treat others without respect. Quite the contrary - having grit says that not only do we stick to our path, but we stick to our character as we hold the line.
There are those that abandon their posts when the going gets rough. Of those that don’t, there are those that stay and yet complain about it and have a poor attitude towards everyone, believing that because of their resoluteness, they have the right to look down on others.
And then there are those that stay and elevate the situation and all those around them. They stay the course; both the course that they’ve physically set out on, as well as the course to maintain their integrity and their values while the trials come.
Not the people who can endure any hardship, but the people who can endure those hardships without compromising their beliefs, their integrity, their character, their praiseworthiness.
And that’s my prayer for the both of you. Life will get hard; there is no doubt about that. But my prayer is that not only will you be able to stay the course, but that you will be unwavering in your moral character as you do.
I watched a movie once which had a great line in it. I don’t remember which movie, or whether it was a good movie or not, but this one line stuck out to me:
”True darkness is not an absence of light. It is the conviction that the light will not return”
I found that not only to be an extremely beautiful and poetic line, but also an insightful one. Life often brings about hardship, and we may occasionally feel down or discouraged in our situation. Certainly I’ve had moments which I thought were rock bottom for me - moments where I lost hope, moments where I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, moments where I truly felt lost in the dark. And yet despite that, I still believed in that age-old mantra, ”even still, things will get better”.
The key then, is to determine what we do in those times of darkness, of despair, of hopelessness. Do we succumb to it, allowing it to envelope us and draw us into a downward spiral where we eventually will not only be unable to see the light, but will become convinced that the light will not return? Or do we hold steadfast to the belief that in spite of this, things will get better?
There’s a beautiful hymn that I love called “It is well” by Horatio Spafford which has a beautiful story behind it.
Horatio lived in Chicago in the 1800s and was a successful lawyer, with much of his money invested in property in the area of Chicago. In 1871, the great fire of Chicago claimed the life of his 2 year old son, as well as much of his property investments. In 1873, after the economy tanked, he had planned to travel to Europe with his family. In a late change of plans, he had to stay behind a while longer, so he sent his wife and four daughters ahead and had planned to meet them. Their ship was shipwrecked, and he lost his four daughters. His wife survived, and sent him that famous telegraph which simply read, ”survived. alone”.
After reuniting with his wife, the two walked along the beach commiserating their loss. It was there that he penned these beautiful words.
When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul
It is well
With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul
~ Horatio Spafford
My prayer for you both is this; that when life throws you curve balls and you find yourself lost and without hope, that you may cling to the belief that things will get better, whether you can see the light at the time or not. I love you, my boys.
I know I’ve written about empathy in the past, but I’ve been doing a bunch of reading and thinking on the topic, and I wanted to share some more thoughts with you both as I learn more about this beautifully difficult character trait.
When I first encountered the concept of empathy, I believed it to mean putting myself in someone else’s shoes, and trying to determine what I would do in their situation. While I still think that much of that statement is true, I need to make a small tweak. I now believe empathy to mean putting myself in someone else’s shoes, and trying to determine what they would do in their situation, and why.
The fundamental difference here is the focus. My first definition has to do with me; what would I do in their situation. This is entierly determined by me, my background, my experiences, and my context. The choices I make in that frame of empathy then, will reflect my preferences, my value system, and ultimately would, without intention, be self-serving.
Now, since our goal when we apply empathy is to understand the other person and to add strength to the relationship, this definition isn’t as useful to us.
Our new definition is more compelling because it gets at the heart of what the other person needs, what they desire, and what motivations factor in to their decisions. It causes us to not just know about the other person, but to know them.
In his book The Lonely man of Faith, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik postis that one of the core needs of man is the need to know and be known. He argues that the need to be known is a universal characteristic across mankind, and that as relational beings, we find much fulfillment and peace in being known.
And so when we want to demonstrate empathy, there is much good that we can do to add to our shared understanding, and to bring fulfillment to the other person.
Remember that empathy is an act of understanding, not of judgment. It is primarily an observational activity, observing and learning about the other person’s motivations, context, and values. It is not applying our own judgment to those things!
Be patient. In our self-centered and self-focused world, it takes time to develop the muscle to break away from that trend and to focus not on our own agenda and goals but on someone else.
Intentionally practice and apply empathy. No change comes without effort. While the desire to have empathy is already a great first step, we need to progress past that and realize that there is real work to be done in order to get us being truly and effectively empathetic.
My hope for you both is that you grow up to be men that are confident in yourselves, and have enough confidence around your own desires and needs that you’re able to set aside yourselves and learn to concern yourselves with the needs of others.
We live in a world that is quickly commoditizing skills, assets, experiences, and capabilities. Globalization began with goods; starting with raw minerals and materials and eventually expanding to finished products. Then came services; the ability to have offshore call centers for example. Then came ideas and philosophies; the internet has made mass proliferation of thoughts and ideas instantaneous.
Just about everything you can think of that is outside your body can be exported to you in a matter of days, if not sooner, and if desired, can be replicated fairly effectively and efficiently.
That leaves our minds, our opinions, our beliefs, and our convictions as the last bastion of our unique selves.
There’s a scene from one of my favorite movies, The Shawshank Redemption where the incarcerated main character Andy Dufresne, played by the marvelous Tim Robbins risks his life boldly stepping up to one of the prison guards to offer his services as an accountant. After dangling Dufresne’s body over the edge of the roof where they were standing, the guard relents and accepts Andy’s help. In exchange, Andy asks simply for two buckets of beers for his fellow prisoners currently working roof detail.
His prison mate Ellis Redding, played by the legendary Morgan Freeman narrates, speculating that the reason Andy pulled off such a stunt was simply so that he could feel human again. That sitting up on the roof in the hot sun with a bucket of beers allowed him and his fellows to remember what it meant to be free men; and that was a beautiful thing.
Our beliefs, our convictions, our values - these are things that can never be taken from us.
And so it behooves us to be critical of them. If men are defined by what they believe in, what they stand up for, what they are passionate about, then you must be critical of those things. Do not allow the world to imprint them on you unwittingly. Be intentional about defining and refining your beliefs. Debate them with trusted peers. Meditate on them. Reflect and expound on them. They are the things that make you unique, and are the things that will ultimately drive the direction of your lives!
My prayer for you is that the two of you will be steadfast in your beliefs; that when the winds of the world blow, they will find you firmly grounded in beliefs that you have thought out, debated, and formulated as a culmination of your experiences, your relationships, and your critical thinking. I pray that the two of you would have a relationship where you can be that sounding board for one another. May you both grow to be men of bold beliefs, strong convictions, and non-extinguishable passions.
Today, you turn four. What a joy you are! You are such a beautiful, wonderful, kind, adventurous, and mischievous little guy - I love you so much! Your mom calls you my little buddy cause we do all sorts of things together. I couldn’t be happier. Much of what I’ve been learning these days I’m learning from you and with you, and I love the thought that I get to share those learnings with you here with the hopes that someday when you’re older, you’ll read them and they’ll be learnings for you as well.
When I was growing up, I read many different articles and perspectives around what love is. Love is a feeling. Love is a commitment. Love is a choice. Love is easy. Love is hard. Love is patient. Love is a million different things, depending on who you ask and what perspective you’re coming from.
While I don’t pretend to be any expert on the matter, and while I won’t attempt to give a full definition of what love is, I believe that one of the things that defines people who love strongly is that they choose to love. Regardless of your definition of love, regardless of how you experience it and what it means to you, I firmly believe that very often, love is a choice.
It’s easy to love someone when everything is going very well. It’s easy to love someone that’s very lovely, loves you back, is in sync with you and your thoughts and perspectives. It’s hard to love someone that is doing things to make themselves less lovable to you. It’s hard to love someone when they’re at odds with you, when they’re attacking you, when they’re in violent opposition to things that are at the core of your being and values.
And yet I urge you to choose love.
Whether we’re talking about an unlovable neighbor, a combative classmate, a family member currently at odds with you, or even a spouse that you’ve got a strong disagreement with; choose love. It’s hard. It takes self sacrifice and patience. It requires you to grit your teeth and not fight back. It means you have to take punches without throwing up your guard and without counter attacking.
But it will be worth it.
My prayer for you is that you are able to choose love more often than the alternatives, and that you grow to become a man that is characterized by his heart for people. We have always prayed that you be a kind person; I would urge you to go one step further and be someone that chooses to love when everyone else disagrees. Because love conquers all things. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Something in life that’s very difficult to balance well is risk against comfort. While these are often at odds with one another as many other things are, these two have the power to completely shape a life. Comfort can be a place of healing, of relaxation, of rejuvenation and recovery. Risk can be a place of trial, of hardship, of overcoming, of victory and growth.
Both of these in moderation can be great things, and finding a strong balance between the two is difficult. To top that off, there are many different philosophies and beliefs as to what the right balance is, and undoubtedly you have friends and acquaintances that will strike different balances and may even entice you to share their view.
I urge you to strike a balance that leans towards a risk and growth mindset.
Now, I’m not saying that comfort, rejuvenation, and relaxation are bad things; rather, I’m saying that those things reduce momentum and lower movement. There are certainly times in life where lowering movement and being still are exactly the right things to do. But those times shouldn’t be as often as our times of movement.
Life is a constant refinement; we were made to grow, to move life forward, to progress and advance our world. One cannot do that without motion.
And so I challenge you to keep moving. Let your default be to move, to risk, to take action, to grow. Know that inertia is hard to overcome. Know that comfort has many vices and becomes easier the more we seek it and stay in its embrace. Know that you are not a finished product, that the potter has much molding to do, much refinement to make. And know that I will cheer you on, in whatever race you’re running, along whatever path you find yourself on.
One of the most remarkable things about our world is how diverse it is. From the thousands of different species of plant and animal life to the millions of tiny organisms that the eye can’t even see, there is such diversity and imagination in every living breath and being that we encounter. And yet it all works together to form something more beautiful in its entirety than its individual parts.
As I’ve grown and learned over the years, I’ve realized that just as how the natural world has much harmony in its diversity and is more breathtaking and awe-inspiring as a result, our social world ought to follow nature’s path.
It’s an interesting phenomenon, our natural instinct to stay close to the similar, the familiar. It starts so young - little boys sticking together in packs because the girls have cooties, strangers from the same race sitting at the same lunch table together, people who dress the same way forming their own little cliques. Part of this stems from a feeling of familiarity and belonging in shared similarities; this much is totally fine and good, but the other part, the part that stems from fear of the unknown and fear of things that are different, that part is a bit trickier.
My challenge to you today is to be brave. Ever since you were little, your mother and I have been encouraging you to be brave, encouraging you to face your fears with bravery and be willing to stand up to things that aren’t right. You’ll need that bravery to be inclusive, to welcome all comers, to embrace those that are different than yourself. Not only because you’ll need to overcome your own fears, but because you’ll need to stand up to the masses that are telling you that you’re wrong, that those that are different aren’t welcome.
The Bible tells us that God so loved the world. The whole world. Not just one race, not just one gender, not just one demographic, not just one intelligence level, but the entire world. And our goal is to spread that inclusiveness in all our circles, be it professional, academic, or social.
So my prayer for you today is that you’ll be someone who is known for being kind, for being inclusive, for bringing in those that need shelter from the storm, for being the one that stands up for the little guy.
We live in a time when the amount of information that’s available out there is enormous. The information age is in full swing, and we’re generating data at an astronomical rate. Gartner has forecasted that the sheer volume of information that will be generated in a single year in 2020 will be four times the amount of information accumilated from the dawn of the internet to our present day.
By 2020, we’re also expected to surpass one trillion devices in the world that are connected and generating raw information for someone to consume. For a world population of 7 billion or so, that’s an astronomical amount of devices.
So why am I bringing this up? Because the average person will be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the stream of noisy information that they get, and it will become critical for you to know how to turn that information into insight that you can act on.
As with everything in life that’s worth doing, this takes practice. There’s no substitute for raw hours put in to refine your craft and your abilities. So practice. Be diligent about consciously tuning out the noise and filtering out what you need to hear.
Next, know what you’re looking for. Know what you need from each information stream and don’t get drawn in to the distractions. Remember that much of the content that’s out there is made to distract, to entertain. Isn’t it strange that when something doesn’t have actual value, we say it has entertainment value?
Lastly, tell stories. Each new insight that you take in should sharpen your narrative and provide clarity to the story you’re telling. Make sure it does that, and make sure you tell each updated version of your story often.
Because at the end of the day, the most valuable thing we’ll be able to add to this world’s story is our own.
As the technology of our time advances to automate more intelligent tasks, the differentiating factor becomes the ability to create, to innovate, to dream, and to realize those dreams. Our world has evolved such that success and productivity are no longer achieved by repetitive and well-known tasks. As we automate more of the routine tasks required for sustaining life, the acts of creativity and discovery come to the forefront.
It’s said that creativity is simply us discovering things that God has hidden for us.
If that’s the case, we must ask ourselves how we can discover more of these things. What lifestyle changes, what behavioral adjustments, what values and investments do we need to shift so that we’re ready and able to see what’s hidden there? What can we do?
First, we can be intentional with the time that we spend. As with any other skill, the skill of discovery and detailed observation takes practice. Set time in your day to thoughtfully observe, to ponder, to consider. Be thoughtful about your experiences, your circumstances, and the inputs that you have in your life. Examine them to see if there’s more than meets the eye there - you might find some transformative insights there. (Yes yes I know, your dad’s a Transformers nerd).
Second, find people that are interesting and run with them. Interesting people tend to be thoughtful about their interests, and tend to have reasons for doing the things that they do. These conversations help shape you, help refine your context, help polish your thought process. Interestig people also tend to have interesting friends, so expanding your circle there helps too.
Lastly, never say no to a new experience. Yes, I know there are exceptions to that rule, but your default stance should be one that is willing to try new things, to expand your horizons. This is something I didn’t do nearly enough of when I was younger and it’s one of the few things in my life that I’d change if I had to do it over again.
I’m not guaranteeing that by doing these things, you’ll end up discovering the next big thing. I am guaranteeing though that these actions will make your life that much richer and that much more full. And ultimately, that’s the prayer that I have for you every day - that God would give you a rich, full, abundant life.
Last time, we talked about paying attention. More explicitly, I suggested that the world has a road that they want you to follow, and if you don’t choose your path yourself and pay attention to where you’re going, you’ll naturally fall into that path.
Today I want to encourage you to follow your passions.
How is this related? For starters, people who follow their passions whole heartedly tend to carve out a path for themselves that allow those passions to flourish. More importantly though, following your passion allows you to encounter others that do the same.
Passion is one of those things that is entirely additive in nature - the more you do life with passionate people, the more that passion rubs off on you.
As you grow up, there will be many attempts to get you to conform, to “fall in”, to focus on doing what’s expected of you. By the time you read this, I hope I’ve helped you keep time set aside for yourself, for you to follow the things that excite you, for you to let the things that spark your soul flourish.
As much effort and pressure the world puts on you to conform to a path, it strangely doesn’t reward that conformity, which is a bit of a mystery. Those that have the patience, persistence, and gall to follow their own path are the ones that not only end up being more successful, but end up being more interesting, keeping more interesting company, and leading rich and full lives as a result.
While I’m not saying to completely buck the trend and be completely non-conformist, I am saying that you need to pay attention and invest in your passions as well. At the end of it all, that’s what brings you the joy, fulfillment, and happiness of a life well lived.
As you know by now, I try to be a pretty intentional person. I heard something the other day that I absolutely loved, so I thought I’d share it with you.
Wherever it is you want to go, there is a long and conventional path, and there are shorter, less conventional approaches. The long conventional path is the outcome of not paying attention. It’s what happens when you let other people dictate your life.
I’ve found this to be extremely true in my experiences.
While I do believe it is sometimes beneficial to not pay attention, those times should be explicitly decided upon. Some of the best memories I’ve had were days where a few of us had no firm plans or designs, but rather played the day by ear and presently discovered that we had a fabulous time as a result. Those are days that are intentionally unintentional, and aren’t the subject of my attention today.
What I’m referring to today is the consciousness and critical nature that is required at a grander scale. It is more than just ability; it is a trained state of mind, a refined attribute that may take years of intentional practice to adequately acquire.
It is the art of knowing what pieces of input to process and come back to, and what to discard and not spend time on. It is the discipline to remember to step back and look at the bigger picture ervery so often. It is having the audacity to challenge the norms that are given to you, that you’re supposed to just accept.
The truth is that society doesn’t want you to do that. It wants to raise a geeration of people that are easily influenced by the latest greatest marketing trends that are out there. Capitalism is selfish by nature, and so it will do everything in its power to numb your senses and have you follow the path that profits it the most.
If you don’t have a plan for yourself, someone else will and you’ll fall into that.
My challenge to you today is to make sure you’re paying enough attention to be able to intentionally choose which path you take. Because even if there are many paths to your destination, time is the resource that you’ll never get back. So make the most of your time and pay attention to what you’re doing, where you’re going, and who you’re going there with!
As a kid, I loved candles. I loved watching them flicker, loved watching the glow that they made. I was always amazed at how much light could come from such a small little flame. I loved the glow; soft, warm, almost magical in nature.
As I grew older, my fascination with candles changed. While I still loved that warm familiar light that they emitted, I became enraptured with how they shone brighter when a small breeze would come through the room. The small, gentle flame would become large and fierce. It would fight to stay alive, would flame up and light up the room more brightly.
The noble human spirit shares this beautiful quality; it is a peaceful glow that flames up fiercely under adversity, fighting to stay lit and illuminating all those around it in the process.
Jesus said that “in this life, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!” - John 16:33
In this life, we are assured trouble, trials, difficulties, struggles. That’s a fact, guaranteed. The true measure of a man is how we handle these trials. When the wind comes, do we carefully nurture that candle so that it gets just enough wind to let it fiercely light up our spirit? Or do we turn that candle straight into the wind, letting it blow out completely?
One of the hardest things a father has to do is to not stop the wind even though he sees it heading straight for his children. I pray for the discernment for you to know how to nurture that candle so that when you need it to, it will shine brightly in the night. There is much darkness all around us, and the world will need more candles to keep us in the light. May yours be one that shines brightly, and may it bring light to all those around you!
As you will have discovered by now, I love the epic, the grand, the vast and expansive. Naturally this means that I spend a lot of time thinking about it, and have spent a number of my notes to you espousing my thoughts on that.
Today’s thought will be quite contrary, but at least as important if not moreso.
It is the little moments in life that that really make us feel human.
It’s the accumulation of the little things, the seemingly insignificant instances whose individual presence may not account to much but whose combined impact is far greater than the sum of its parts. They may be as small as a friendly wave from an acquaintance, a kind word from a stranger, or a shared experience with a friend.
While the big moments are the ones that stand out, it’s the continual flow of little moments that forms the backdrop for those epic events to be seen.
As you know, I love photography, and a very basic understanding in photography is that no matter how beautiful your subject is, your photo is only as good as the background elements - the light, the backdrop, the scene, the underlying notes of color and contrast - all these things bring life to the subject.
It’s these little things that ultimately determine our character and overall composition. And amazingly enough, it’s these little things that we often have the most control over.
So my challenge to you today is to impact the little things in your life as best you can. Be the one that gives a friendly wave. Speak an encouraging word. Give a stranger a smile. Give a friend a hug.
While it’s difficult to orchestrate an epic moment, the little ones are absolutely within our realm of control, so I urge you to take the opportunity to help make positive little moments for those you interact with, and to be a bright spot in someone’s day.
There’s a book on your bookshelf right now that your mom and I read to you that has us imagine people with buckets. Each act of kindness fills someone’s bucket a little bit at a time. Such a simple yet beautiful analogy that even at a young age you were able to understand. So I’ll leave you with the sentiment of that book: go and be the best bucket filler you can be!
As much as I wish I did, the truth of the matter is that I don’t have all the answers. Nor am I always right. My thoughts in these letters to you are just that; my thoughts. These letters are a culmination of my experiences, my influences, my environment, and my best efforts. But they are just mine.
The reality is that you are your own person, with your own interests, your own designs, your own desires, your own aspirations. If you’re anything like you are at the time of my writing this, then you’ll have so many of these things. Even at this young age, you’ve got a beautiful personality, decisive, confident, and full of passion. My prayer is that over the years, all of those have grown and have molded and shaped you into a wonderful man.
So with that in mind, today’s thought is going to be pretty simple.
“Find something to care about; and then care deeply about it.”
And that’s it. No matter what you do with your life, no matter pursuits you choose for yourself, pursue them strongly and deeply. Your mother and I will love you and support you regardless of what you choose. My charge to you today is that whatever and whomever you choose to care about, care deeply.
I love you, my boy. I can’t wait to see what kind of man you choose to be.
One of the toughest things that a man must do is to admit when they’re wrong. We are wired for victory, for success - from an early age, we’re taught that it is praiseworthy to succeed and to be victorious. Hopefully by the time you read this, your mother and I will have instilled in you our philosophy that learning, making progress, and improving yourself are more important than winning.
Life is about more than just the destination. The journey is equally - and sometimes even moreso - important.
And so today we’re going to talk about something that every great man knows is the right thing, but many find difficult to do. Taking responsibility for your own actions, especially when things go wrong.
It’s a story as old as storytelling itself - the first sons of the world struggled with this very concept. In Genesis 4, we’re told the story of Cain and Abel, sons of Adam and Eve. Because of his jealousy and his own inadequacies before God, Cain takes Abel’s life out of anger and frustration. That of itself is already quite bad, but when God calls him on it, what is Cain’s response?
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” - Genesis 4:9
I won’t mention that this was already a family trait, as dad had already pulled the same stunt with God, blaming Eve for his eating the apple before the two of them got themselves kicked out of paradise. Oh and so did mom - she passed the blame onto the serpent.
Great start humanity has eh?
Fast forward a bit, and we’ll see that even God’s favorite son struggles with this one. Thankfully for mankind, when the prophet Nathan confronts him, David does in fact repent and fesses up and repents for his actions, but even he needed a kick in the pants to get on the right page.
So what does this mean for us?
I believe there are a few reasons why taking responsibility for your own actions is not just something that we ought to do, but is something that actually gives us strength and adds to our effectiveness. Here’s why.
Absolutely the most importat. Having integrity is what makes a man. I don't care what anyone else says. Integrity is in my books one of the most (if not *the* most) important traits a man can have and must guard. It is the quality that brings out the best in you and in those around you because it's the quality that says no matter what the circumstance, no matter who's watching, no matter what the arguments are opposed, I *will* do the right thing.
- Earnest connection
By taking responsibility for our actions and admitting when we're wrong, we move ourselves from the adversarial position to an earnest and open one. As a populice, we resonate with leaders that let their guard down and share an apology, a fault, a heart-felt admittance of failure. By displaying vulnerability, we remind people that we're all flawed and broken, striving to be better, reaching for that beau ideal of human excellence.
Taking responsibility also keeps us honest and keeps us humble. It keeps us in a posture of humility where we're able to hear truth being spoken into our lives. It lets us recognize that we need to grow, and lets us see the path ahead.
I love the quote by legendary football coach John Wooden about the topic. He says that “you aren’t a failure until you start to blame”. How true that is!
And so my son, my challenge to you this time is to continue striving for greatness, continue growing and learning and trying new things, and to continue putting yourself out there and going out on a limb for things. As you do that, you’re bound to have set backs, and when you do, my prayer is that you’re able to own up to those too. Claim your losses just as you claim your victories; they both are great opportunities for growth and for deeper connection. And those are great things.
The last twenty years has seen a trend of people who are raised to believe in self, in the individual human spirit. While I’m not against the belief that intrinsically each person has value and that God created each one of us uniquely and wonderfully, I do think that we could take a lesson from one of the greats in history.
JFK said once that we ought to “ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country”.
The sentiment here is that there’s something greater than ourselves that we ought to consider, and that there’s something to be gained, some purpose fulfilled, some satisfaction in pursuing a goal that may not have originated with us.
Much of my generation has struggled with the question of purpose. Many spend years trying to discover themselves, to find meaning in the chaos that is life. Conventional wisdom these days says to look within oneself for the answers, and while there is some element of truth there and we can indeed learn more about ourselves as we become more introspective, I think that’s only half the story.
If we consider the things that resonate most with the human spirit, the things that kindle a fire deep within us, the things that elevate us to greater heights, to greater awareness, and to a greater richness of life - these things are not exclusively internal. The purity of the human spirit is the work of God refined by our relationships, experiences, endeavors, and shared ventures. Mankind was not put on this earth to be alone. Nor was he put on this earth to live for himself alone.
Discovering that which we were created for, that which we are destined for - that is something that takes a lifetime to learn and to refine. As Nietzsche put it, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how”.
The vital question then becomes this: What does life want from me?
In other words, what is the larger, grander venture that I ought to be a part of?
My challenge to you is to discover what that is. And whether it is being a comfort for the weary, being a safe place for the oppressed, feeding the hungry, loving the downtrodden - no matter what it is, I urge you to run at it with all that you have. We keep talking about a deep sense of richness and fulfillment in life - this is one of the keys that will help get us there.
One of the most sobering realizations that you’ll have in your life is that your life this side of heaven is finite. As I noted last month, time is the only resource in life that we will never get back. Each moment that you spend is one that you’re never going to get back. So how do we make the most of it? And what’s that got to do with self-respect?
Quite a bit actually.
Self-respect is the thing that lets you own your own destiny, that lets you fearlessly choose the path that you want to take. You are beautifully and wonderfully made - own that. Claim it. Run with it.
There are all sorts of benefits from having a strong sense of self-respect, of self-esteem, but the fundamental thing is that it gives you confidence to be your own man, to do things that may not be popular, to stand up against opposition, and to do the things that you believe in.
- Confidence to fight for the little guy.
This one is arguably the most important. In this world, there are so many people without voices - the sick, the poor, the scrawny kid in class that gets picked on, the girl on the bus that no one wants to sit with. To each of these, Jesus asks us to love them as He loves us. In Matthew 25:40, Jesus tells us that "whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me". In my own life, I've found that this one is extremely difficult. It's so hard to step outside the norm, to go against the grain, to put yourself out there to stand up for the little guy. But just think - how much harder is it for them?
- Confidence to stand up for what you believe.
We live in an age where the social norm is to not offend, to not have beliefs that could show disapproval to anything that popular culture deems is acceptable. We have axioms like "it's the nail that sticks out that gets hammered". Never in the history of our world has there been a need for people to stand firm in what they believe in, to have a deep rooted sense of morality, and to be that light on a hill for all to see.
- Confidence to be alone.
It's tough being alone. Whether it's being circumstantial - being home alone for an evening, going to an even like prom alone, or even taking a vacation on your own - or if it's a longer term thing like being single while your friends are coupled off, being alone is tough. Having self-respect gives you the confidence and sense of self enough to be not just okay with those situations, but to stop seeing them as inflictions and instead to start seeing them as opportunities.
- Confidence to strike it out on your own.
It's a basic human instinct to seek safety, and to seek safety in numbers. Striking out on your own goes against that very nature and by definition isn't easy. But so much of life, so much about being a man, so much about an enriching experience is only accomplished and experienced when you strike out on your own. Being your own man isn't easy, but it's absolutely essential.
- Confidence to ask her to marry you.
Nothing is more nerve wracking than when you find yourself on one knee holding a little box with a ring that costs 3 months of your salary in it. Nothing. And no matter what anyone else tells you, nothing should be. Finding a life partner that you can run with, laugh with, celebrate with, and mourn with is so hard, and when you finally find her, asking her to be yours as long as you both shall live is nerve wracking. As it should be. Having confidence in yourself lets you realize that it's just as hard for her, and that it's just as big of a commitment for her as it is for you. And that's a good place to be.
So my prayer is that as you grow into a young man that you would have confidence in the man that God is created you to be, and that out of that understanding of self, of self-worth, of self-respect and self-esteem can come a heart for the world that is kind, considerate, protective, bold, and courageous. I love you, my boy.
There’s a natural tension in life between today and tomorrow. As you know, time is the only resource in life that we will never get back, and so we naturally want to maximize that. This creates the dilemma of whether we should invest in tomorrow or if we should spend on today.
As much as I would love to give you a hard and fast rule for which choice to make, the reality is that the richest lives are lived somewhere in the middle - investing enough in tomorrow while still spending time today to live your life.
So then what are we talking about today?
A rich and full life is one that balances our investments in the future - school, learning, reading, developing skills and interests - with our enjoyment of today - shooting the breeze with friends, sitting on the deck and enjoying the sunset, standing in awe of the most beautiful sight you’ve ever seen.
Asian culture tells us to invest in tomorrow. We’re taught to save our money and to invest it. We’re constantly reminded to work hard today so that we can be successful tomorrow. We’re reminded to think about the big picture, about the life that we want to have later, about our next job, our future wife and family, our retirement plans.
And yet there’s no emphasis on today.
In that sense, tomorrow is something that is always coming but never comes.
And that’s my challenge for you today. While investing in the future, make sure you take the time to smell the roses. Make time to do it. And do it big. Whether this means turning on your noise-cancelling headphones and cranking up your favorite epic song, sitting outside with a glass of wine and watching the sun set over the horizon, or taking a walk down a familiar street with the love of your life.
Those are the moments - those perfect, timeless moments - that give you strength to keep pushing forward. Those moments you’ll remember for a lifetime, and will ultimately confirm for yourself that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.
Life’s too short to live with regrets. While it is certainly good to go back and consider where you’ve come, do so to learn from the experience and not to regret what’s happened. Everything is 20/20 in hindsight - use that to your advantage. Go back and consider the things that have happened, but do so in order to learn from the experience, not to regret what’s happened.
I love the concept and the thought of the epic moment. I love how it transcends time and becomes engrained in your memory as a time when everything in the world lined up perfectly to bring this one pure and perfect memory, this glorious experience that can’t be tarnished over time. I love that these moments are timeless and can be shared and experienced across the ages.
In order to live in these moments and to be in a place where we can experience them, we’ve got to live free of the confines of regret, free from the shackles of guilt and self-doubt.
Remember that time is the only resource in life that you will never get back. You can always earn more money and can always buy new material things, but you’ll never get your time back. It is the most valuable resource simply because it’s non-renewable, and is consumed at a constant rate regardless of your wishes or whatever you do to prevent that.
And so we ought to live maximizing that resource.
That’s my prayer for you - that you would live with no regrets, that you would give your all to your experiences, that you would dream without abandon, and that you would have a rich and full life. That the time that you spend on this world will be full of those epic moments, full of timeless, transcendent moments. And that above all things, you would love with everything that you’ve got.
It’s human nature to reminisce, to think back to days gone by, and to romanticize the days gone by. While I certainly don’t support living in the past and not being able to live in the present (that’s another topic for another day), I do believe there is value on occasionally reminiscing about your past.
Reminiscing reminds you of your values
One excellent outcome of reminiscing is that it reminds you about your values. The things that are absolutely core to your being, the things that you care about, are driven by, and are unwilling to compromise - reminiscing reminds you of those things.
One of the prerequisites of living a full life is to know what you’re living for, what you’re loving for. And the only way to know that is to know thyself intimately enough to know your motivators, your passions, and the values that define your very being.
The things that we reminisce about are clues to what we truly care about.
Reminiscing shifts your mindset
One of the great things about the human mind is the ability to transcend the immediate and be immersed in something greater, something bigger than ourselves.
When we take the time to thoughtfully consider the victories and mountaintop experiences of the past, our mindset shifts to adapt. By recalling and reliving those great moments, we’re able to put ourselves in that environment again, and are able to focus on how we felt, how we reacted, how we anticipated, and how we thought in that moment. We’re able to adopt the mindset of our experience and apply it to our current existence, and respond accordingly.
Reminiscing brings your current path into focus
By remembering where we’ve come from and noting where we are, we’re able to extrapolate the path that we’re on so that we can course correct as needed. In looking back on our past experiences, we’re able to see the growth that we’ve had since, and are able to focus on the path and see where we’re headed.
So my challenge to you is not to be afraid to look at where you’ve been, but to deliberately do so in a manner that helps you be more confident in who you are, where you’ve come from, and where you’re headed. Don’t get stuck in the past, but rather learn from it. Draw strength from it, and use it to channel and direct your energy where you want it to go.
Throughout history, every single achievement that mankind has accomplished has been a group effort. Even the great ones - Einstein, Gretzky, da Vinci - all of them had strong influences that encouraged, challenged, instructed, and inspired them to be able to have accomplished the great things that we know them for today.
There has been much research about a person’s development, growth, and ultimate success as a healthy, fully functioning member of society. While there are very drastically different theories on the most important experiences or surroundings that produce successful people, every theory agrees that relationships are critical to a person’s upbringing.
As the good book says:
“Bad company corrupts good character” - 1 Corinthians 15:33
It is therefore critically important that you be thoughtful about the company that you keep, about the relationships that you build. Build being the operative word here.
Make no mistake about it - relationships are works of art that need to be intentionally built. They need to be thought out, planned, worked on, evaluated, and refined. Whether we’re talking about a casual acquaintance, a lifelong friendship, or an epic romance, each of these need to be sought after, worked on, invested in, and cared for.
So how do we build the right relationships?
While I am by no means an expert on the subject, I can share with you my thoughts and observations.
- Be mindful about the type of investment this is. Not all relationships are equal. Some are meant for your enrichment, some are meant for you to learn patience and endurance as you pour into someone else for their enrichment. Some are mutually beneficial. Know which is which.
- Own it. Be intentional about what you want out of each relationship. While it’s very easy to have acquaintances and friends that are seemingly aimless, don’t tolerate that. Be deliberate and thoughtful about each relationship you have.
- Prune it. Reclassify relationships as required, and prune the ones that no longer serve a purpose. Relationships themselves will naturally run their course, and while it is certainly easier in the immediate instance to allow them to do that without your intervention, in the long run, you’ll find that being intentional here is going to be far better.
- Pour your life into it. For relationships that you’ve decided are worthwhile, go big. Don’t take half-measures, but pour your all into it. Relationships are two-way streets - the more you pour into them, the more you’ll get out of them.
My hope for you is that you will have a lifetime of rich experiences, and great relationships and companions to travel the road with you. Remember to go big, to dream without abandon, to give without expectation. And above all, love with everything that you’ve got.
This world often measures us by our results, by our accomplishments, and by the amount of impact that we've had based on our finished products. While results are important, they pale in comparison to the journey that we take to get there.
It is the process of refinement, of improvement, of becoming and not being that is of utmost importance.
For we know that character is not innate or automatic. Rather, it needs to be built, refined, tried, tested, and improved upon. It is worked on with great effort, with great intention, and with great patience. And it is not easily built alone.
The more we are able to find others to walk life with us, to challenge us, and to encourage us on that journey, the greater our chances of success. The more that we find ourselves in an environment that praises not our talent but our growth and our learning, the more we are able to improve and to better ourselves, and in so doing are better able to produce those results that our society so covets.
As you know, I love the epic, the inspiring, the mountaintop experiences that give you a breath of life so exhilarating that words can only describe but a glimpse of the experience. Those are the experiences from which we take away our life's greatest learnings. As David Brooks says in his book, The Road to Character:
"Moral improvement occurs most reliably when the heart is warmed, when we come into contact with people we admire and love and we consciously and unconsciously bend our lives to mimic theirs."
I love that sentiment, that from these people that we admire and love, we bend our lives to mimic theirs.
And so to that end my challenge to you is to make sure you've surrounded yourself with people who encourage you to become more than you are, that challenge you to dig deep and to work on yourself, and that share the belief that to be is not nearly as important as to become.
One of the things I've learned over the years is the benefit of perspective. Seeing the world from a different vantage point is often much more beneficial than we might initially think. This becomes increasingly clear as the years go by.
Something one begins to notice is that there seem to be two types of people that emerge over time. The first are people who seem to be filled with wisdom, with understanding that is beyond their years, who have an uncanny ability to see the big picture. The second are, well, people that aren't.
What's the difference? Why are some people able to grow past the adolescent fascination with self and emerge as people who understand that they are but a small piece in a big puzzle, and some aren't?
I read a great quote the other day:
"[Wisdom] is moving over the course of one's life from the adolescent's close-up view of yourself, in which you fill the whole canvas, to a landscape view in which you see, from a wider perspective, your strengths and weaknesses, your connections and dependencies, and the role you play in a larger story" - David Brooks, The Road to Character
So how do we get there?
First, we need to realize that wisdom is obtained through lifetimes of diligent effort to dig deeply within. We obviously can't afford to live those lifetimes ourselves, so we must be willing to learn from the wisdom of others. In learning from others, we continue the refinement process that they began, and that another will complete after we are gone.
Secondly, we need to realize that life is too difficult to do on our own. We must rely on others that have come before us, and that are running the path with us. Blessed is the man who surrounds himself with others that are more wise than he, for he will gain the benefit of not just his own experiences and theirs, but the lifetimes of learning and refinement that have gone into those that have come before them.
It's all a matter of perspective.
One of the most beautiful things about the world is the vast diversity that's in it. We live among people of varying backgrounds, experiences, world views, beliefs, expectations, and biases - and that's a beautiful thing. It's an incredibly inspiring thing to see when people of different shapes and sizes come together to build something greater than themselves.
The only way that can happen is with empathy.
Empathy isn't about being nice. It's about having the ability to listen and to understand someone else's perspective, and to care about it. It's about setting aside your own biases and experiences and recognizing that there's value in an opinion or a thought that may be different than yours.
It's the thing that allows you to look at someone else and see the best in them, see the intrinsic value in them. It's the thing that let's you look past the veneer and see the common beauty of the human spirit in someone else, and make a connection with that.
And so my charge to you today is to abound in empathy. Life's too short to live alone. I want you to have a full life, one that is filled with mountaintop experiences that challenge you to be better, one that is surrounded by diverse and wonderful people that will push you out of your comfort zone, one that is deeply and richly connected to those around you.
From the time that you were conceived, your mother and I have prayed that you would grow up to be a man that is kind, that is empathetic to those around you, and that encourages and challenges people to be better. May you be empathetic, and may you make those lifelong connections, and in doing so live a rich and full life.
I love the end of the year, because it's a natural time for us to wind down, to think back on the events of the year, and to think ahead of the year to come. It's a good time to reflect on how the year has gone, to examine the goals that we had laid out for the year, and to evaluate how far we've come. It's also a good time to look forward to the year ahead, to set some goals for where we'd like to go, and to it back and look at the big picture.
As you know by now, I love to think about things as they ought to be, and how I can play a part in facilitating that. That naturally translates into a combination of introspection and visioning.
In order to know the role that I can play, I've got to understand myself, and need to know my strengths and my weaknesses. I've got to assess where I've come, how my choices this year have panned out, and determine how I can improve on the character traits that I'm working on.
In order to know the role that I should play, I've got to understand the big picture, and need to know given my capabilities what I can do to advance that picture. No matter how small my impact, I've got to be constantly looking ahead towards the goal that I'm called to play, and understand how that fits in to the whole.
My hope is that you'll take time - whether it's now at the end of the year like I do, or some other time that you set aside for yourself - to think back on where you've come, evaluate how you've gotten here, and look forward to what's ahead. I firmly believe you've got a great part to play in his-story, and can't wait to run along there with you!
People do things for a myriad of reasons and motivations, but at the end of the day, it generally boils down to fulfillment, meaning, and purpose in this life. No matter how cynical the individual, mankind was made for advancement. We were made with the innate desire to move forward, to advance the state of our species, to strive to be ever greater than we were before.
This quest for fulfillment and for forward progress can be a good thing.
The differentiating factor then is in the semantics of what brings you that fulfillment. What is it that ultimately makes you feel satisfied after having done something? What is it that you're ultimately looking to achieve?
I read a very pointed quote the other day that speaks to that:
"A creative man is fulfilled by accomplishments and a competitive man is fulfilled by beating others"
I love that contrast. While at the end of the day, both men may be accomplishing something, the motivation and drive that propels them to action is critically important. Not just because the competitive man cannot feel a sense of fulfillment on his own, but because the competitive man is not looking for the betterment of others, and hence becomes limited to achievement that is defined by others that he is trying to beat. Because his fulfillment is found in comparison to others, he will always look for the next competition, the next person he can beat to remain fulfilled.
The creative man on the other hand, is a man who finds fulfillment not in beating others or in the praise of others, but rather in having accomplished that which he set out for. There is a saying that sometimes the best reward for having done a thing well is to know that one has indeed done it.
My challenge to you is to consider what you're doing, and why you're doing it. Is it to beat others? Is it to please someone else? Is it to demonstrate that you are worthy of something? That you are better than someone or something? Or is it genuinely for the betterment of others and for the sake of the accomplishment itself?
Ultimately, I want you to live a rich and fulfilled life that is not dependent on others' praise or demise, but rather is made significant by the things that you strive for, and the accomplishments that you achieve. Because that is something honorable, something noble. That is how the world ought to be.
I love speed. You know this. But every so often, life needs a speed check.
Don't get me wrong - speed is great. It's exhilarating. It's adrenaline-inducing. It's memory-making.
But there comes a time when you need to slow down and take special care to the details that you might miss at high speeds. Here's why.
- Speed requires you to be looking forward always - since things come so quickly at you, you need to be focused on what's ahead to make sure you don't slam into a wall. And this is a great thing - focus enables us to do great things. It gives us purpose, gives us goals, gives us a drive to continue onward. But it also makes the things not in front of us relegated to our peripheral vision only.
- Speed requires you to act on instinct and intuition. Again, this can be a great thing - if we know the path ahead and are sure footed, this isn't a problem. But when the road becomes less clear and the path less obvious, speed gives us less time to react and adjust.
- Speed dulls your other senses, and you can get tunnel vision.
While all of those things aren't bad in themselves, life is about balance. Sometimes you have to slow down in order to see clearly. Sometimes, you need to take in all that's around you, examine the details, and see the hidden beauty in the things that are all around.
Remember that life isn't just about having a singular goal, even though at times those may be there. Life is about more than that - it's about the journey, about the people that are with you, about the small unexpected circumstances that you may find yourself in. It's about the small shared moments of disappointment. It's about the shared experience of comfort. It's about walking together through struggles. It's about celebrating together through victories. It's about making the most out of every moment that you've got, and sometimes, sometimes, you need to slow down to notice those things.
As your second birthday approaches, I've been thinking about what a wonderful little guy you've become and about all the fun that we've had together, and one thing that has definitely stood out is just how happy you are.
From the moment you wake up, you're a happy, smiley, mischievous little guy. You love to play, and spend much of your life running away from me while laughing hysterically, only to run too fast, fall over, roll around on the ground, and keep laughing. Your infectious laugh can be heard all through the house at all hours of day, whether we're eating, playing basketball, banging the drums, or trying to get you to bed.
It's been a fantastic reminder to me of what it means to have child-like joy, and how incredibly easy it is to become jaded by the world, to lose the ability and desire to laugh and to have fun in many circumstances.
Why is this important? All sorts of reasons. But a few of them stand out to me as extremely important.
- Laughter helps diffuse even the tensest situations. Jesus says that "in this life, you will have trouble". It's not a matter of if we run into emotionally charged situations, but a question of when we encounter them. Laughter helps alleviate these situations and lets us be at our best to handle them.
- Joy is contagious. Not only does it lighten up your own life, but it catches others with it as well. It is a part of the equation of leadership - people are drawn to joyous people, to charismatic people, to people who have something that they want to emulate in their own lives. And everyone wants to be joyful and happy.
- Laughter helps us be in a mental and emotional state where we can be our best. The paragon of man is not realized when he is angry, stressed, or upset; rather, it is realized when he is of good spirit, of good cheer, and of a happy and joyful countenance.
As you know by now, I'm someone who loves to think of the world not as it is, but as it ought to be, and I'm positively convinced that the world was designed to be a place that's happy, joyful, and full of great adventures and experiences.
As life gets busier (and it always will), let's try to remember to find a little laughter in what we're going through. My hope for you is that you won't lose that sense of wonder, that ability to find fun and levity in the most grave of situations, and that you'll always continue to be our happy little guy.
God created us to be in community. He designed us to live with others, to experience life with others, and to share our journeys with others. And with that shared journey comes the ability to be inspired by, and to inspire. To be challenged by, and to challenge. To be loved, and to love. To be taught, and to learn.
That's what mentoring is about.
It's about sharing the things that you've learned with others, and in turn learning from the experiences of others. It's an acknowledgement that you can't learn everything there is to learn in life on your own.
It's a commitment to another person saying that I will walk this next part of my journey with you. I will share things that may be uncomfortable or even unpleasant with you for the sake of our mutual trust and learning.
It's about building a bond of trust to allow someone else to see into your soul and to allow them to speak into it. It's about having the grace to look into the heart of another and treat it with care. It's about truly embodying the statement that together, we are better than the sum of our parts, and that "as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another".
I've been blessed in my life to have a small number of phenomenal mentors over the years. These men have poured into my life, have relentlessly pushed me to be better, and have shared with me pieces of their lives and their faith that have helped reveal to me the type of man that I want to become. And I am eternally grateful for their faithfulness.
In turn, I try to do that with others, and try to pour my time, care, and effort into their lives as well. As your mother has helped me discover, the legacy I want to leave is to be known as a person who inspires others to be the best that they can be.
And so my prayer for you is that not only do you find good mentors that will help you through the journeys that you'll go through, but that you too will walk alongside someone else and aid them in their adventures and be a guiding post for them as well.
Like it or not, people will talk about you, even before they meet you. They'll discuss whether they want you on their team or not. They'll decide whether or not they want to interview you or not. They'll decide whether they want to approach you to befriend you or not. They'll discuss how you're perceived in performance reviews. And all of that before they've even said two words to you.
What sorts of things are they saying?
What do you think about when I say Nordstrom? Coke? Apple? Toyota? Lego? Crayola?
All of these companies have paid billions of dollars in advertising to get you to think a certain thing. Nordstrom wants you to think high end fashion. Coke wants you to think cool and thirst quenching. Apple wants you to think connected, seamless, beautiful devices. Toyota wants you to think safety. And so on.
All these companies have a brand that they've established, and spend lots of money building and maintaining that brand so that you think about them at the right time.
For example, I've never owned a Toyota, but I assume that if I did, it would be super reliable, safe, and would last 10 years while I drive it into the ground. That's all based on the branding perception that they've created.
The same is true of people - each person has a brand that precedes them.
When someone is interviewing you for a job, they'll check your credentials, check their networks to see who knows you, check your social networks to see what people are saying about you - all before meeting you. When someone is deciding whether they want you on their team or not, they'll ask other people that have played with you what they think of you.
What are those people going to say about you? What is your personal brand that you've established? Will they think of you as likeable? Smart? Passionate? Ambitious? Musical? Helpful? Thoughtful?
The purpose of a brand is to quickly convey the value of the subject in question. Nordstrom wants you to think that going to its stores will provide you high end fashion. Toyota wants you to think that driving its cars will keep you safe. Nike wants you to think that wearing its clothes will help improve your athletic performance.
What does your brand say about you? What are the values that it conveys? What are the things that you want to be known for? What are the things that you value most in your life? What are the character traits and attributes that matter to you?
There are all sorts of proverbs out there about what's on the inside being what counts, that appearances shouldn't matter, that you should never judge a book by its cover, that what you look like isn't as important as who you are on the inside. All of these proverbs - while motivating and comforting - shouldn't be taken entirely literally.
Make no mistake; appearances matter.
I don't mean that they are of central importance; no, in that respect, I agree with those proverbs. What's on the inside is more important. That's why we have all these talks about character, about integrity, about honor; no, without a doubt, what's on the inside is more important.
However, that doesn't mean that appearances don't matter. Here are a few reasons why.
- First impressions stick. Whether we like it or not, not only do our first impressions of others generally stick, but certainly their first impression of us does. And unfortunately, much of that first impression will be based on appearance.
- Being underdressed puts you at a disadvantage. If not in your eyes, than certainly in theirs. Being underdressed demonstrates to others a lack of care at best, a lack of respect at worst.
- When you look your best, you feel that way too. When you take care to look presentable and professional, it sets you in the right frame of reference to feel presentable and professional, and it gives you the confidence to behave as such.
That last one is the real kicker. When you are confident in your appearance, you don't have to spend energy being worried about whether or not you look like you fit; you are confident that you appear like you do. And that gives you the confidence to actually do so.
And that's the real reason appearances matter. Not because they should be used as a yard stick or as a means of judgment, but because they empower you to feel your best. They give you confidence, and put you on an even playing field so that you can be the best version of you there is. And that's not a bad thing.
Your namesake is one of independent action, intentional living, and transformative thinking. My prayer is that you would be a man that is kind hearted, who wants to help others, and can lead them to be better.
Leadership is something that is the birthright of every man. God created you to lead your household, just like Jesus leads the church. It is not something you can shirk away from, and so my hope is that you will willingly step into that role, deliberately and intentionally.
There are many books on leadership out there, but over the years, I've been able to boil those thoughts down into 5 key learnings.
Leaders motivate those they lead to action by providing a compelling mission and vision.
Leaders have the tenacity to drive outcomes and to overcome adversity and resistence.
Leaders build relationships that create trust and promote honesty.
Leaders are stewards of even the least of those that they lead.
Leaders leave no one behind.
I'm sure there are many other nuggets of wisdom that you will pick up over the years, but these are just a few that I've found to be timeless truths. I hope they can serve you well, as they have done so for me.
Hopefully you will have grown up having built strong relationships; relationships built on trust, mutual respect and admiration. If so, you may find yourself entrusted with another's secret.
I cannot stress the importance that you keep that secret.
Any relationship that matters values honesty and trust. Divulging another's secret proves a person unworthy of that trust. No matter what the cost, no matter what fire your feet are set to, honor that secret, for it is not yours to share.
When you keep that secret, you prove yourself trustworthy and honorable. When you keep that secret in light of personal suffering, you prove your character, and you prove yourself worthy of respect. In one of my favorite movies, Scent of a Woman, Al Pacino puts it superbly in his final speech:
"I don't know if Charlie's silence here today is right or wrong. I'm not a judge or jury, but I can tell you this: He won't sell anybody out to buy his future! And that, my friends, is called integrity. That's called courage. Now that's the stuff leaders should be made of."
And that's my hope for you, that you would be a leader of men, a great leader that builds strong relationships, fosters long-lasting bonds, encourages others, and builds others up. In order to do that, you have to be a man of integrity, who knows how to keep confidences, and who doesn't have a loose tongue.
I realize that until now, we've been talking about a lot of different topics that are centered around character, around refining the noble spirit that lives within us. Today I want to take the chance to talk about something that while different, is just as important in living life as it ought to be lived.
Having fun. Enjoying life, basking in the light, smelling the roses.
In our all-go-no-quit society, it is very easy to get caught up in moving forward. We're trained to believe that forward motion is the most important, that if we're not making progress then we're sliding backwards.
And while that may be true, it's also extremely valuable to stop and enjoy what you've got.
The Bible uses paternal imagery to describe our heavenly relationship, and it's in that context that this entry is crafted. As a father of a 16 month old, something surprising has dawned on me. While I love watching you learn things and have been extremely proud to watch you go from an infant learning how to follow objects by turning his head to a toddler that shouts "da da!" at the top of his lungs excitedly every morning, those moments don't bring me as much joy as simply hearing you laugh and seeing you have the time of your life.
It is that pure joy, that child-like happiness and excitement, that thrill of just spending time with your family - that's the type of having fun and loving life that I'm describing that brings me so much joy.
I believe that our heavenly Father experiences that same joy when we love life; when we laugh, when we have fun, when we build lasting memories of loved ones enjoying life together. While He is certainly pleased with us when we work on our character, when we learn things, when we show love, sympathy and empathy to others, I believe He experiences pure joy when we just love life and have a ton of fun.
So keep pursuing noble character, learn how to change the world, decide who you want to be, build and create the world of the future and experience the world of today, and surround yourself with people who you can do all of those things with. Love recklessly. Live life to the full, and have fun.
By now you should know that the two movies that have influenced me the most are Top Gun and Gladiator, and hopefully you'll recognize the title of this post as a pivotal line from the latter. The message I want to convey to you today is that while Commodus spits out this phrase facetiously, mercy is absolutely a critical characteristic for us to develop.
While Grace is the act of blessing someone with something undeserved, Mercy is the act of withholding judgment or retribution from someone that deserves it. Both of these are demonstrated by Jesus for us. His Mercy withholds the consequence of our sin, and His Grace gives us the opportunity to know and have a relationship with God.
As you know, the legacy that I want to leave behind is that I'm a person that inspires others, that motivates them, that instills passion and drive in those that are around me. To do this, we need to able to see people not for who they are, but for the best that they can be.
The capacity to consistently bring out the best in people is called leadership, and the ability to see people not as they are but as they were created to be requires the attribute of mercy.
Leadership requires not just an openness and intuition to see the best in people, but the corresponding amount of Mercy to allow people to make and learn from mistakes as they get there. Great leaders are able to focus on the accomplishments and successes while taking hold of failures and errors and using them as learning opportunities.
So how do we develop our ability to have mercy?
We develop our ability to show mercy when we are able to see how much we ourselves need mercy shown to us. When we humbly recognize our own position and understand the amount of mercy God has demonstrated for us, we are able to see how we should in turn extend mercy to our contemporaries, and we begin to model the characteristics that God desires for us.
My prayer for you then is that in light of your confidence in knowing who you are and what you are capable of, that you would be humbled by the knowledge of who God is and what He created you for, and from that posture of humility be able to show grace and mercy to those around you.
By now, you'll discover that something your dad has never lacked is self confidence. Many of my thoughts on the world are viewed through that lens, and while self confidence is a great thing, it is sometimes worthwhile to examine the world through a different lens and see what we can learn from there.
It's in that light that I write this series of thoughts.
While being confident in yourself and being firm in your convictions is a great thing, there are times in a man's life where he must accept that he is simply wrong, and to do so gracefully and humbly. There are a few reasons for this.
- Admitting you're wrong gives you the ability to be stretched. The posture of humility is one that focuses not on one's self achievement and worth, but one that allows one's short comings and insufficiencies to be revealed. In that revelation is the opportunity for change, and for God to take those flaws and begin His work of perfecting them.
- Admitting you're wrong gives others the ability to bless you. By allowing someone else to speak into your life, you not only build their confidence, but you open a channel of trust and vulnerability in your relationship. The strongest relationships are forged as we go through the tough grit of life together, and nothing is tougher than the strengthening of character, the development of the manliness that is our birthright.
- Admitting you're wrong keeps your heart humble, and able to hear God. Nothing stops you from hearing the voice of God more than pride. It is the characteristic that says that we are sufficient for ourselves, that we are able to accomplish all that we need to in this life on our own. Nothing could be further from the truth.
God desires humility in our lives; as we are emptied of ourselves, we can then be filled with the things that He desires for us.
Remember that our goal is to live life as Christ tells us we ought to live it, and whatever means He uses to get us there should be wholeheartedly embraced. I've spent much of my life trying to find the right balance here, and hopefully by the time you read this I'll have a better handle on it, but for now, suffice it to say that I believe this will be a life-long activity. One that will be difficult, but one that will ultimately refine us to be men worthy of God's calling and original design for us, and one that will create many memories and forge many strong friendships along the way.
In this life, there will be many people who try to tell you what to do, who to be, what to care about, and what to strive for. They will try to apply a value judgment to you, try to give you a framework in which to determine your own self-worth, and will try to make you fit into their molding.
Don't let them.
Remember that you are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14). God made you exactly as He wanted to, and that is a wonderful thing.
That's not to say that you're perfect and don't need to strive to be better - quite the contrary! For "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6). And what completion is that? The goal and original design that God had in mind for you.
In that light, I urge you to figure out what that is. Decide for yourself who you ought to be, who you want to be, and then go and unapologetically be that person! Jesus never promised that his way would be easy, or that everyone will like you on your path, but He did promise that He "[is] with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). You will inevitably rub some people the wrong way, you will certainly run across people who don't understand your motivations or the things that you do, and will speak out against you.
Pay them no mind.
Know who you were created to be, and be that. The Apostle Paul uses the term ginwskein, which means "to know deeply". Know deeply who God wants you to be and run and follow hard after that. And know your mother and I will always love and support you, no matter who you choose to be.
I love being inspired.
One of the most inspiring things is witnessing the things man can accomplish. Watching a painter pour their soul onto their canvas, experiencing for the first time a new piece reflecting a musician's inner turmoil, reading a short story written to celebrate life's great virtues, or walking into the great architecture of the ages built as places of worship or safekeeping - all of these things inspire me to be better, to reach higher, and to aim for the stars.
It's a beautiful thing about life, this ability to create. We are all created beings, created in the image of God, in His likeness. That means we have God's spark in us, and with that spark comes the ability for us as created beings to in turn create. Now, obviously we don't have God's omnipotence, so we can't make something from nothing, but we have a glimpse of his creativity and imagination, and can in our own way create beauty where there was none before.
Whether it’s taking a year to write your own symphony or taking an hour to paint a sunset, I believe that something within us pulses stronger when we create. It is in that moment, that space where we forget about the world, abandon its distractions, and focus solely on the object of our creation that we are elevated from the temporary into the timeless. We see the world from another angle; we gain a new perspective, and with new perspective comes new understanding.
Have you ever noticed how things of great beauty are often epic and awesome in nature? Sunsets, canyons, monuments, masterpieces, mountaintops - all of these things are vast in their being, and bring us to a place of awe and wonder.
I believe that the wonder we feel is the creator in us resonating with the creation we're experiencing.
And so with that, I'll leave you with a challenge. Create! Build, paint, compose, craft; express the experiences, thoughts, and dreams that are uniquely you. Because you are beautifully and wonderfully made.
There are many virtues that great men of necessity have and strive for, but at the top of that list is Integrity. No matter what sphere in life you think of; sports, friendships, academics, politics, or your professional career, integrity is extremely valued. So what is it?
Integrity is the ability to stand by an idea.
It is the ability to stick to your guns, to stay upright in the face of adversity and not waver. It is the ability to say come hell or high water, I will hold fast to my convictions and stand my ground.
In construction, the term integrity is used to describe the wholeness of the object. When an object's structural integrity has been breached, it is no longer whole and can no longer perform its function, and needs to be repaired or replaced. It is prone to damage, and can no longer withstand the loads and impacts that it was created for.
So too is man.
When a man maintains his integrity, he is able to continue performing the functions that he was created for. He can fulfill his God-given purpose, and can reach the paragon of virtue that he was designed for. But when his integrity is compromised, he becomes incomplete, not whole. He is no longer able to withstand the forces, impacts, and influences that he was designed to overcome. He must be repaired.
Nothing in life is harder to repair than trust and integrity. Once lost, the damage man can cause may be permanent, unable to be rectified. By God's grace the man may be repaired, but his actions may have irreversibly negative and lasting impact. One can spend a lifetime trying to repair the damage and never fully succeed.
There comes a time in every man's life where he is tested. He is put to the fire, and is forced to decide what kind of man he is, and more importantly what kind of man he will be. When that time comes, I pray that you will have the strength rooted in a firm foundation to stay strong and resolute in your beliefs.
Recently, I took the opportunity to look back on some of the key moments of my life, and realized that while each of those moments was vastly different, there was one thing in common across all of them - I went big. I threw caution, fear, hesitation, and laziness all to the wind and went all out. I gave it my all, and the result was that I got it all right back.
If I haven't yet, bug me to tell you about my 30th birthday party, about proposing to your mom, about my bike trips around America, or about a hundred other stories from my college days. The common thread across all of them? We put all that we had into those experiences, and were rewarded because of it.
Now, I'm not saying that every adventure has to take months of preparation, weeks of practice, or days of concerted thought and effort. Rather, I'm encouraging you remember that time is the only resource in this life that we'll never get back, and to make the most of that time. When you go big with your time, you'll make lasting memories that'll span your lifetime.
So I urge you to go and wait in line for 3 hours with your best friend for the latest release of Halo, or to go and plan a big surprise for your mother's next big birthday. Go and plan a world trip with your friends, or take a spontaneous day off to try something really new.
Whatever you do, I guarantee you that if you go big, even if you flame out big, you'll build a memory that will last you a lifetime, and will make a great story for you to tell your children too.
One of the constant pressures that you'll experience in life is the pressure to conform, to be successful as our society defines success, and to follow a number of predefined "acceptable" paths. While there's nothing wrong with those paths, I want to challenge you to own your choice. Be deliberate about picking a path, whether it is a popular, acceptable one or not. Don't be afraid to veer onto the road less taken; often that's where you'll find many of life's hidden gems and adventures!
The verse your mother and I picked out as your life's verse is Romans 12:2, which urges us to "not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but [to] be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you can test and approve what God's will is; his good, pleasing, and perfect will."
Our prayer for you from the time that God was still knitting you together has been that you will be a man that does not conform to what this world dictates is acceptable, and that you will be intentional in deciding for yourself what your life will be. I love this quote from the late Robin Williams in the movie, Dead Poets Society:
“We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering - these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love - these are what we stay alive for.
To quote from Whitman, 'O me! O life! … of the questions of these recurring, of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?' Answer: that you are here, that life exists, and identity. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
The world tells us that our identity is found in the job that we have, the clothes we wear, the people we are acquainted with, the school we graduated from, and how much money we have. While all of these things matter and are worth thinking about and pursuing, they can only define us if we allow them to. I urge you not to allow yourself to be defined - and hence tie your intrinsic sense of worth to - the external things of this world, but rather on the man that you are, the thoughts, values, and morals that you have, and by the character that you have developed.
On an archway in Delphi is written a phrase: γνῶθι σεαυτόν, which means "know thyself". The Greeks understood that life's true pursuit is to know thyself, to understand who one is, and to have the integrity to stand strong in that knowledge, regardless of opposition; and from that position, make your mark on the world, forge your path, and write your verse.
I want to leave you with a quote that I've found very inspiring in my own life.
“This is the test of your manhood: How much is there left in you after you have lost everything outside of yourself?” – Orison Swett Marden
Despite my best efforts, by now you'll have experienced fear in your life, and will hopefully have recognized how you deal with those fears, and what your perspective for responding to those fears are.
The etymology of the noun fear comes from the old English "fær" for "calamity", or "danger", and its verb "færen", meaning "frighten" but also "revere". Reverence and fear are very closely related, and can be seen many times fairly interchangeably in the Bible (Proverbs 9:10, Psalm 111:10, Ephesians 5:21). This is because they both inherently have to do with our reactions to things we don't fully understand or have control over.
Reverence is a response which focuses on the awe and amazement of the unknown. It deals with the sense of solemn greatness by which we approach the object of our reverence, and instills in us the desire to be better, to imitate, and to emulate.
Fear on the other hand, focuses on the threat and possible danger of the unknown. It places emphasis not on the unknown, but on ourselves, and the damage that can be done to us by the unknown. It causes our self-preservation instincts to kick in, and makes us take a defensive posture thereby drawing our vision and attention inward.
As a father, I've come to a whole new level of understanding of fear. Where my life before merely had my own personal well-being to be fearful for and that of my loved ones, those threats and dangers were never particularly imminent, and were easily understood and mitigated. Being a father though, changes everything. As I'm writing this, you have just turned 9 months old, and there are so many threats in the world that are very real and can cause a severe amount of damage to you, and that is certainly something that causes fear in me. Suddenly, all the physical, emotional, and psychological pains that you might experience become very tangible and within the realm of possibility, and I'm forced to learn to trust that God will take care of you when I can't.
They say that faith is fear that has said its prayers.
I believe that to be true, and though I may not always be able to live it out, and my fears may sometimes get the best of me, in the deepest places in my heart where my convictions and ideal projections of myself live, I know it's true.
The Bible tells us that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), and that God has given us a spirit not of fear, but of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7). My prayer is that in your life, you will understand and experience the deep and perfect love that God has for you, and that you will never doubt the deep and complete love that your mother and I have for you as well. I pray that our love for you can help you approach the unknown with awe and wonder, and can help encourage you down the path of reverence rather than fear. I pray that you will grow up always knowing that you are deeply loved. Know that we want to do our best to support you and walk with you through it all. I love you, my baby boy.
They say that you can tell the caliber of a man by the company that he chooses to keep. I would take that one step further and say that you can also tell the strength of a man by the type of company that he is.
By now, you'll have met many different types of people, all with unique characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses. By now, you'll have also decided which of these people you want to keep as company, who you'll want by your side as you conquer life's struggles. With each mountain you climb, with each struggle you overcome together, you'll not only learn more about the man that you are, but you'll discover as I have, that loyalty can't be bought; it must be earned, built, refined.
Above all other things, it ensures that no matter what life throws at you, you will not be alone, that you will have people to overcome those situations with you. Loyalty says that no matter what happens, no matter what new bad discovery or situation, come hell or high water, I will be by your side.
Loyalty is a two way street, built together from both sides. Earned, not bought. Just as you must earn the loyalty of your friends, your loyalty too must be earned. Don't give it away freely or easily, but roll up your sleeves, get into the grit of life, and build it.
Adlai Stevenson writes:
"The dedication of a lifetime — these are words that are easy to utter, but this is a mighty assignment. For it is often easier to fight for principles than to live up to them."
Loyalty. Faithfulness. Dedication. Devotion.
I urge you to think about these things, to consider the traits that you wish to develop in yourself, and to choose wisely what kind of man you want to be.