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 #Fear
Popular culture today is centered around, and even driven by the catch phrase “fomo” (fear of missing out). It is engrained in the way we think, the way we act, and the way we process and apply our values. Whole companies are built around creating more fomo and then capitalizing on that fomo to drive our behaviors. Our capitalist society is indeed founded on the basic engine of fomo -> consumer behaviors.
Take advertising. The goal of advertisers is to convince you as their target customer to believe that you’re missing out on whatever glamorous and glorious thing the more-beautiful-than-average model on your screen is doing. Always put together, fashionable, and incredibly happy, the models tell you that whatever they’re selling has just changed their lives. And not just that, it’ll change yours too! So call/click now and get your life upgrade!
Or consider social media. Whether you’re on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or whatever the latest craze is of your day, the basic premise is the same. Give people the tools to glam up their public persona (ie Insta filters etc), give them a targeted platform to share that persona (ie your social network paired with an AI-based recommendation engine), and then create a virtuous cycle of likes, re-tweets, and dopamine hits. All of that to keep you coming back for more, and to make you feel like you’re missing out and need a change.
And so we click.
We click through ads that promise us that same happiness that we see our friends enjoying. We buy things that help us glam up our own personas by adding filters, buying light rings, and learning the right selfie angle to make our pictures really pop. We engage with content that tells us our kids need to be in more camps, need to learn more skills, need to have a long list of extra-curriculars.
Annnnnd cue the fear!
Bombarded by these messages daily, even hourly, we are left defenseless to the onslaught of subtle messaging telling us that we’re missing out, that our children are missing out. Over time, we begin to live that life - you know, the one that is so busy with scheduled stuff that there is no room for rest and relaxation. We begin to internalize the rat race as the correct way to live life. We begin to let fomo ruin (ahem, run) our lives.
The down side of fomo
There are many, many down sides of fomo, and this post is not not a fomo post after all, so I won’t even attempt to cover them all. I will however share a few that I believe are particularly problematic.
- Fomo causes us to lose control of our lives. We move to a space where the driving force is social media, or what our friends share with us, or what we see on TV. Regardless of the source, fomo causes us to relinquish control over where we spend our time and how we spend our thought energies.
- Fomo doesn’t allow us to enjoy life. Le joie de vivre is not experienced by running around following our fears; rather, it is experienced by ignoring everything else and focusing on the current moment.
- Fomo does not elevate life. It is focused on the surface, on the veneer. It causes us to spend our time replicating the actions of others instead of introspecting and expanding on the grand and elevated life.
So what’s the alternative?
The joy of missing out
To figure out an alternative mindset, let’s first dive into why fomo exists in the first place.
Popular culture tells us that missing out on something is bad, and as such is something that we should be fearful of. It tells us that when we miss out on something, our life is less than it would have been if we hadn’t missed out, and as a result we ought to aim to never miss out on things.
That fundamental line of thinking has driven so much of our industry, our products, and our cultural norms. It is deemed socially acceptable for one to be out with friends but also having a full asynchronous texting conversation that requires concentrating on one’s phone for 30 seconds every several minutes. It is normal for one to receive a notification and pull out one’s phone, handle the event, and return to the conversation without any apology because there’s nothing culturally wrong with the behavior!
Not only is this rude, but it also misses out on a basic premise of human life: one cannot fully appreciate that which one is not fully immersed or present in.
This means that by having fomo, by multi-tasking, being never fully present, and by attempting to keep abreast of all the social media posts and topics that are constantly bombarding our phones, we miss the life that is being lived in front of our eyes. In other words, fomo is causing us to have a worse life.
Instead, we should realize that missing out is a good thing. In economics, we’re taught that the opportunity cost of investing in option A is the ability to invest in every other option out there. But if we invest in a way such that we want to not pay any opportunity costs, then we don’t make any investments at all and therefore remain stagnant. If we choose to hedge our bets and invest a little in everything, we completely fail to capture exceptional growth events in a particular option.
This is exactly true in our personal lives as well. To have a rich and full life, we must choose things to invest in, and by definition pay the opportunity cost of not being able to invest in everything else. In other words, missing out on one thing means that we’ve invested fully in something else. It means we’ve explicitly chosen something else to spend our time on, and in so choosing have committed ourselves to something rather than sitting around waiting for the possibility of something.
This is why we should live with the joy of missing out.
In order to fully embrace the richness of each experience, we need to ruthlessly prioritize what we spend our time on. A few notes on ruthless prioritization, as it’s slightly different than your standard prioritization.
- Ruthless prioritization requires a stack rank, with no ties. For you logic/math people out there, this means that for two goals A and B, it must be true that A > B or B > A. This also means there is no “P1 bucket”. Each discrete goal has its own priority, and it is explicitly not equal to any other.
- You cannot accomplish all your goals. There exists some maximum number of goals that are accomplishable in a given timespan, and that is almost always a smaller number than the things that you might want to have on your priorities list. This means explicitly that there are things on your list that you will not be able to accomplish. This is hard for many people to accept, and as a result many try (and fail) to do a little bit of everything. This is foolish, and will always end in either failure or in burning yourself out.
- Goal N+1 will always be the worst! This is because it was just under the line, which means that it’s something you value. As a result, it will be tempting to spend just a little bit of time on it. Don’t. You need to actively decide not to do it, as it didn’t make the list.
By actively prioritizing the things that you do, you intentionally set aside things that you would have liked to do but aren’t going to, which in turn allows you to focus on the things that are the most important! Welcome to the joy of missing out!
And so my boys, my hope for you is that you’re able to experience the deep joy that comes from a life well lived, filled with rich experiences and strong connections with loved ones. My prayer is that you never fear missing out on things but instead take joy in the knowledge that you’ve intentionally decided on the experiences you want in your life, as well as those that you don’t.
Tags: #Prioritization #Mindset #Fear #Joy
We live in a noisy world. The growing allure of cities that never sleep, the 24/7 nature of online communities, the endless stream of echo chamber social media updates, the constant notifications and interruptions brought about by our connected devices; these make moments of true silence a scarcity, or even a rarity. Our world prides itself on being able to entertain us and hold our interest at all hours of the day with anything and everything that we may desire at the tip of our fingers. Instant messaging, same-day shipping, fast-food services; all of these reinforce the man-made belief that we are extraordinarily busy, and that any moment spent without a pressing action to take is a wasted one.
When I was younger, I read a beautiful essay titled “The eloquent sounds of silence” by Pico Iyer that spoke to me as much then as it does now, and speaks volumes on the topic. Masterfully written, the essay begins by describing the nobility and loftiness that our thoughtful selves identify with silence. Quoting Herman Melville, he begins:
“All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by Silence.
[It] is the general consecration of the universe. Silence is the invisible laying on
of the Divine Pontiff’s hands upon the world. Silence is the only Voice of our God.”
It is no accident that the greatest honor we can pay someone is a moment of silence. Sacred places are purposefully silent. Reverent places. Honored places.
When one visits the 9/11 memorial at the World Trade Center, one is instantly transported to a place of honor, of grave silence, of respect and admiration for those that lost their lives and to those that gave them to save another. In that silence, in that reverent space, one’s words and thoughts cease and make room for emotion and feeling to rush in. It is in falling silent that we allow ourselves to truly feel. It is in that space that the most beautiful and divine elements of humanity can be experienced.
And yet silence is something that at best eludes us and at worst terrifies us. We are constantly seeking to drown out the silence with noise. We prefer the bustle, the white noise, the incessant notifications of a busy life.
“In silence, we often say, we can hear ourselves think;
but what is truer to say is that in silence we can hear ourselves not think,
and so sink below ourselves into a place far deeper than mere thought allows.”
Perhaps we fear the things we cannot control. Perhaps the thought of something deeper than our consciously controlled thoughts terrifies us. Or perhaps, hopefully, our avoidance of silence is not a conscious one and is therefore one that we can remedy. Perhaps all it takes is a bit of desire and some strong intention to allow ourselves to be silent, to allow ourselves to be taken to that transcendent place that allows us to simply be.
“In love, we are speechless; in awe, we say, words fail us.”
Tags: #Silence #Intentional #Purposeful Living #Reverence #Fear #Feelings
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.
Tags: #Character #Fear #Purposeful Living #Inclusion
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.
Tags: #Focus #Character #Purposeful Living #Fear #Storytelling
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.