Letters to my sons

A collection of thoughts and lessons I've learned along the way for my little men, and anyone else that's interested.

Posts tagged with #Encouragement

My sons,

We were created for relationship and were wired to need one another. This is why there are so many tragic stories of the rich, famous, and powerful but lonely feeling entirely unfulfilled in life. We crave connection. From the moment we enter this world we reach out for it; without it we feel lost, abandoned, alone.

As such, one of the most important things we can do for another human being is to show up. Whether it is a time of need, of pensive thought and reflection, of joy, or of immense sorrow, the most important thing we can do is to consistently be there for one another. I recently read Bill Gates Sr.’s book with the same title as this post, and it prompted me to think hard about how I show up, for my community and for my world.

So how do we do that? How do we create relationships where we show up for others and can rely on others to show up for us?

We need the right priorities

First and foremost we need to have our priorities straight. To me, the three most important things that any citizen of our world should hold highest in priority order are:

  1. Family. If one of the primary drivers of meaning in life is relationships and if the strength and value of a relationship is proportional to the time invested in it, then family comes easily to the top of the list. While there are some that disagree on the grounds that we don’t get to choose our family, my view is that this is a good thing - they don’t get to choose you either!

    An important note though is that while there are many that believe that simply being family covers a myriad of sins, I wholeheartedly disagree. Just because they are family does not mean we hold the bar lower. Too often what started out as great family relationships get ruined because a family member is not held to the same standard which causes unspoken strain on the family relationship. This is broken.

    Family does not get a pass simply because they are family. The bar must be kept high (if not held higher!). Family should, however, get more grace and be given more chances. Because we live in the messiness of the day to day with our families we ought to give more grace knowing that they may not be at their best on any given day.

  2. Friends. Great friends are a blessing that we ought to cherish. It has been said that if one requires all the fingers on one hand to count the number of great friends one has that they are incredibly blessed. I believe it.

    Great friends show up for you. They laugh with you, cry with you, push you to be your best and then keep pushing. They mourn with you. They rejoice with you. They take joy in your victories and feel sorrow for your misfortunes. They are the whetstones that sharpen us and help refine us.

    As such it is incredibly important to cultivate great friends, and to choose wisely whom those friends are! Remember that our great friends don’t have to share all our beliefs, but they will tend to share many of our values.

  3. Public service. This is simply the act of endeavoring to enrich our communities and our world. Much of our lives are characterized by a desire for advancement and growth - these are good things, and not in conflict with public service (for if one has no abilities, what can one hope to give back to one’s community?). We should, however, always have some thoughts and actions taken towards serving those around us.

    We need to teach our children this at an early age so that as they grow in capability so too will they grow in their service of their communities. It is in service to one another that we enrich our own lives, build great relationships, and make our world better.

    We also need to remember that we can serve with others despite differences in our beliefs and values. If we focus on our differences before working for our community we will never get anything done. We should instead recognize that while we may have different beliefs that are deeply rooted, those different roots can produce many branches that have areas of overlap. Areas like a desire to raise our children in safe environments. A desire for equality and justice for our world. A desire to see women empowered, to see our poorest countries lifted out of poverty. These are the common ground that we can serve side by side with our neighbors, regardless of their deeply rooted beliefs.

We should build traditions

Traditions give us the extra push to do something that we may have been on the border of not doing but always enjoy when we do. When done right they can be incredibly beautiful and freeing. They remind us of who we are, where we’ve come, and what we value.

But they must evolve with us.

Too often people hold traditions to be sacred. This is a mistake. Traditions when placed in their rightful place are held in service of the people, not the other way ‘round. Traditions should free us to fully experience our relationships and communities. They should not bind us.

As such they should evolve as we evolve. They ought to have a natural end of their usefulness, and when they do ought to be replaced by other traditions that uplift the underlying values of the community. Growing and evolving traditions to suit the new needs of the moment are signs of growth and health in a community!

We need to deliberately nurture cherished friendships

Cherished friendships are ones that have stood the test of time. They are friendships that have grown along with us. Life is not a one-act play. Cherished friendships have been with us through each of these acts and have shown up and stuck with us through it all.

In our world filled with noise and time wasters like social media and the like, it becomes all too easy to forget to nurture these friendships. Simply “liking” a post of a cherished friend doesn’t count, nor does retweeting or whatever the latest social amplification of the day happens to be. Real friendships take time and effort.

As such, I urge you to regularly set aside time to nurture those who have shown up for you, and for you to continue to show up for them.

We ought to show more gratitude

Above all else we need to regularly express gratitude in ways that are intentional and meaningful. Expressing gratitude allows us to posture ourselves for someone. We focus on them, on the great value that they add to our lives, and in doing so uplift them and strengthen them.

And so my sons, I will end this note with an expression of gratitude towards the two of you. I have learned so much from the both of you, from being your dad, from watching you grow, from learning to take care of you well, and from interacting, playing, traveling, and talking with the both of you. I am both a better father and a better man because of you. I love you boys!

My sons,

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

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

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

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

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!



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