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 #Perspective

My sons,

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.


My sons,

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.


My sons,

Someone once said that the true measure of a life is how much of it is given away. I’m not sure if that’s the only measure, but it’s certainly a very noble one, and is one worth considering.

While the argument can be made (and certainly has been) that those in fortunate positions ought to be generous with what they’ve got, I want to go further and suggest that we remove the precondition. People ought to be generous with what they’ve got, regardless of their station in life. There are the obvious altruistic reasons for this, but it turns out there are a lot of benefits for the generous individual as well.

Focus on others

Being generous causes us to think of others. It takes our eyes off ourselves and instead allows us to consider someone else, to consider their needs, to consider how to help move their lives forward. By thinking of others and pouring into their lives, we necessarily need to know how and what to pour in; requirements that can only be fulfilled by us shifting our gaze from ourselves onto others.

Growth mindset

Whether we’re giving time, resources, or our energy, generosity naturally fosters a growth mindset. We pour into others to help them grow, to help them be filled, and to move their lives forward towards fulfillment. And with any habit, the more we practice this, the more our brains will be rewired towards that mindset.

Perspective

Have you ever noticed that the happiest people you know are also the most generous? They may not be the richest people, the smartest, or the ones with the most time and uncomplicated life, but they are generally quite generous with whatever resource it is that they’ve got. No matter their station or circumstance, I’m willing to bet that when you enumerate those in your life that you know of that are truly happy, they’re also very generous with anything and everything that they’ve got.

This isn’t an accident. The more generous a person is, the more perspective on life they get. Because generosity requires us to pour into people, requires us to loosen the hold on the things that are ours, and requires us to consider others, we see things from a different vantage point. We view ourselves against the backdrop of humanity on a whole and are able to get a glimpse of the big picture. And that’s a very humbling experience. When we see ourselves on the canvas of the world painted on the timeline of history, we realize that while our individual part is incredibly significant and meaningful, we are but a small part of a much more important whole.

And so I urge the two of you to view yourselves on that canvas, and to see the role that you can play as a part of the bigger picture. In being generous, not only do you sharpen your view of yourself and of the world, but you see the movement and growth of the world that you can play a bigger part in. Our generosity allows the world to move forward, to heal, to rebuild, to refine, and to redefine. And those are all beautiful things worth giving our lives for.


My sons,

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.


My son,

Each generation stands on the hard work and tireless efforts of those that have come before. The world changes at a rapid rate, and this fact has never been more evident than it has in our lifetime. The information revolution has exponentially accelerated the pace at which the world changes, ideas proliferate, barriers are broken down, and collaboration happens.

This is the world that you will grow up in, that you will experience, and that you will impact.

As such, it becomes increasingly important to be mindful of where you get your grounding and the influences that shape you. There is no such thing as a self-made man; every man learns from others, studies those that have come before, and gets advice from those that have run ahead.

We stand on the shoulders of giants.

Never forget that. In times past, social currency was anchored on many different things; coats of arms, gold in the vault, status in society, position in a patriarch, net worth, and even physical beauty. In an age of globally proliferated ideas, social currency is being increasingly anchored on thought leadership and on the reach of one’s ideas.

I urge you to be well-learned; study the thoughts and artifacts those giants before us have left behind. Learn from them. Life is too short for us to learn everything we need to know on our own. Ask for help, seek advice, and listen to the stories of your elders. Though they may come from a different context and from a different time, there are transcendent lessons to be learned and universal concepts to be shared. And who knows, you may stumble upon a wonderful mentoring relationship in the process.

Learn from those giants. Stand on their shoulders and elevate our world to new heights. I’m so proud of you, and can’t wait to see the world that you shape.


My son,

Something I realize I’ve taken for granted in these posts is the fact that I believe deeply that you can change your stars. Not just that you can be whatever and whomever you want to be, but that the future is unwritten, and that you can be an author in the grand drama that is ever unfolding.

One of the greatest founding principles and beliefs of many of our modern nations is that we are free. Free to believe, free to speak, free to associate, free to express, and free to be happy with the life and path that we’ve chosen. That freedom is the very foundation on which many, if not all, of the thoughts that I’m able to share with you are based on. I have nothing but the utmost respect and gratitude for that freedom, and for the men and women that make that freedom possible.

That very freedom is the foundation by which we are able to move life forward, are able to be a change agent, are able to thoughtfully and intentionally shape our world the way we dream of. To quote from Whitman:

You are here - that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

You may contribute a verse. You may author a verse. You have the power to impact that powerful play, and you can be a force that can change the world.

The only way to do that is to be authentic in your expression. Write your verse. Speak your mind. Sing your songs. Make your music. But do all of those things authentically. Do them with the fullness of your conviction and your beliefs. Don’t take half measures. Be all in.

The world is full of people, of corporations, of agendas that want to shape you into something you’re not. Don’t let them. As the Lord said to Joshua,

Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. ~Joshua 1:9

So my challenge to you today is to write, to sing, to dance, to paint, to create, to invent, or to do whatever it is that you do. And to do it all with all your heart and determination. The future is truly unwritten, and it is up to you how you want to write it.


My son,

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.


My son,

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.


My son,

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.


My son,

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.


My son,

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?

Perspective.

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.


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