Posts tagged with #Relationship
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:
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.
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.
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!
We live in a world of deteriorating standards. Across the board, our world’s standards seem to be slowly but surely dropping. Whether we’re talking about personal standards (ie standards of excellence, of learned behavior, of understanding and tolerance of others) or corporate ones (ie corporate responsibility, loyalty towards employees and customers alike) it is easy to see things degrading.
Gone are the days when people sought excellence purely for excellence’s sake. Excellence is now a means to an end, and its pursuit is one for which people are always trying to find shortcuts and hacks. Excellence sought for excellence itself is passé. This is because there is an ever shrinking set of circumstances in which one seeks those that are excellent. Instead, we now seek the popular, the trendy, the viral. The leap to a hyper-connected world that technology is shrinking everyday has had the unintended negative side effect of overloading us with so many choices and alternatives that our pursuit of excellence has been replaced.
We now seek to be just “good enough”.
Because excellence isn’t rewarded. Because who cares if someone else is better, so long as you’re more popular and are good enough. Because our shrinking attention spans have an increasingly difficult time telling the difference.
And yet it’s there.
In the recesses of our minds, in the quiet place that still occasionally gets a small amount of attention, in that faintest of voices that is getting harder to hear as each year goes by, we know that there is a difference. We know that excellence matters. We know that humans are capable of much more. We know that we are capable of much more.
Why having high standards is hard
Our world has become increasingly more complex. There are more things to do in a given day than ever before. More requirements, more demands, more complexity to each of those demands. More inputs that we need to stay on top of, more trendy waves that come and go that we need to ride. And yet we still have the same 24 hours in a day that our ancestors had.
As such, things get missed. We try to cut corners. We don’t have the time to look deeply into things, so we find substitutes. We find believable people and trust their recommendations. We look at facades and veneers and try to judge books by their covers. We find ways to make progress and make decisions despite not having the time to fully consider all the options. And slowly but surely, we move towards a space where popularity and perceived excellence matters more than actual excellence.
And slowly our standards drop. Not maliciously but unconsciously. Not intentionally but unobtrusively and unnoticed.
Our attention spans have lowered so much that headliners pass as news, twitter passes as a worthy news source, and reading the top 5 customer reviews passes as doing our own product research. We are no longer concerned with excellence. We have replaced that with a concern for “good enough” performance. Who cares if one has an excellent product so long as the one we do have is good enough and performs well enough to fool the average observer?
Surely there is a better way.
It turns out that despite the slow and steady dampening of our senses, our world on a whole is still able to recognize excellence in those rare moments that it appears. While it unfortunately will take a crisis moment for this awareness to surface, we by and large are still universally able to recognize these rare moments of excellence when they appear. Because of the increasing rarity of these events, their impact becomes disproportionally large; a fact which the keen observer internalizes as an incentive to demonstrate excellence, which in turn drives the desire to actually be excellent.
Why it’s hard to hold others to a high standard
Keeping standards high is hard. It is unnatural (nothing sinister here, just simply not-natural) and difficult, and over time can become taxing and seemingly not worth it. Anyone practiced in discipline knows that keeping standards high comes at a price. Often that price is a hard trade off that our natural selves don’t want to accept. Sometimes that price is a difficult trade off that not only impacts ourselves, but others around us as well.
As such, we don’t want to inflict those trade offs on others. We are often very eager to give people passes, to lower the expectations, to extend grace - this is especially true for those that we love! This is natural, but is also harmful for a number of reasons that immediately surface once we apply any amount of critical thinking to our actions.
The dangers of relaxing our standards
In not holding our loved ones to high standards we do them a disservice as they will presently come to believe that the lower standard is sufficient, which will end up hindering their personal growth and progress. Often this is done with the best intentions! When someone we care about performs below their capacity we are brought to a crossroads that we perceive to have two possible outcomes:
- We give feedback and hold the bar high and as a result cause hurt, force an uncomfortable conversation, and potentially damage/ruin the relationship.
- We let this instance slide and opt instead to offer less direct feedback, hinting at or implying a performance issue while protecting the relationship.
When faced with these decisions, we will often pick the latter option both because we want to maintain the relationship and because we typically aren’t equipped to have a critical conversation in a manner that is clear, direct, and yet kind.
It is also worth noting that both of these outcome descriptions only consider short term consequences. Yes, it is true that providing hard feedback will cause someone hurt in the short term. However, when done correctly, clear and constructive feedback will benefit the individual much more in the long run! We have to be long game players!
It behooves us therefore to learn how to give great feedback in a way that is clear, specific, and most importantly, kind. Because we care for people, we ought to want the best for them, and holding the line for them when it counts will help us toward that end.
Loving people through high standards
High standards are critical for people to grow. This is true in both our personal and our work lives. We must be tough on people. We must keep our standards high. Especially for those we care most about and are most invested in their progress and growth, we must keep pushing them and raising them up.
But we must love people through it.
Sometimes those that we’re tough on aren’t used to it. Sometimes they hate it. Sometimes they lash back out at us. Sometimes they choose to ignore us and move on with their lives. Sometimes they cut us out completely, unable to see past their own hurt.
But we must love them through it.
Remember that being tough gives us the opportunity to demonstrate love and care for people, and that loving and caring for people allows us to be tougher on them. This is a virtuous cycle that is hard to start but incredibly valuable when done right.
As I write this, my eldest boy is 9. He is in little league. It’s been hard for him, as there are some kids who have been throwing a ball daily since they were 3. He hasn’t. But he has potential, he has drive, he has the desire to play well. At one of the early practices he made a bunch of overthrows past the first baseman’s head.
I could have pat him on the back and told him, “good try!”, but that wouldn’t be enough. As our famous little green friend says, “do or do not; there is no try”. So I hold the standard. I tell him the reason he is overthrowing when others on his team are hitting the mark is because he hasn’t practiced as much as they have. I hold the line.
But then I love him through it. We start a new ritual together where everyday after school we go outside and throw the ball for 30 minutes. We watch videos on how to throw more accurately and with more power together. We practice wrist motions to snap the ball on release. We do this everyday for a month, and his throwing drastically improves. He makes some clutch throws during games and throws out a bunch of runners from long distances. He has found a new pride in his craft, and loves baseball even more now. We’re going to work on hitting next.
In everything, be it parenting, coaching, mentoring, managing teams, or simply being a friend, we need to hold our standards high, but we need to love people through it. And we need to surround ourselves with people who will hold us to those same high standards, and will love us through them too.
My sons, I have so much love for you both. And yet I want to hold standards high for you. My prayer is that by the time you read this, that you’ll be able to look back on your childhood and see that daddy had high standards for you but he also loved you strongly and walked with you through it all.
We live in a world filled with noise. Everywhere we go we are bombarded by the constant steady stream of noise that never really seems to shut itself off. So much so that many people feel the need to take retreats to get away from it all.
Each time I’ve done this the first thing I notice, always, is how quiet it is. When I finally force myself to turn off my devices, to disconnect, and to be fully present in my surroundings, the first thing I experience is a quiet that has become all too foreign in our lives. The quiet that allows you to hear your own thoughts, that allows you to really see what’s going on around you, and that allows you to direct your musings and contemplations.
This is unfortunately an uncomfortable exercise for many of us. We have grown so accustomed to the constant pace and buzz of our world, to the little gadget in our pockets that keeps us constantly connected, and to the distractions, direction, and influence that our strongly connected world has on us that quiet contemplation about topics of our own choosing is foreign at best and can be uncomfortable and down right scary.
We are so uncomfortable with this quiet that we in fact default to generating our own noise to combat this. We post, tweet, text, and perform a myriad other noise-generating activities to help fill the silence. We identify the like-worthy and retweetable sound bytes of our lives and spew them out. We comment on others’ sound bytes and create a world filled with much conversation but little communication.
There are many unfortunate realities of this situation, but the one I want to focus on today is this: with all the talking we’re doing to fill our own silences, we’re unable to truly listen to others.
We listen in order to speak
Maybe you can relate to this: you’re in a group conversation with two or more people, and one person is speaking. And honestly, they’re speaking a little more than you’d like, and you feel that they’re somewhat long winded. You know that they’ll eventually take a breath, and you need to make sure you capitalize on that, so you’re running through what you want to say, making sure you’ve got the right counterpoints to what they’re proposing.
You’re listening, but are you internalizing what they’re saying? Are you giving what they’re saying its due regard? Or are you trying to formulate your response, your rebuttal, or your clever anecdote in retort?
Let’s face it, we’ve all done that. We’ve all laid out logically our counter argument, and have even had the pleasure of everyone else in the group nodding their heads as we counter the original argument point by point. Feels great right?
Sure. But in those conversations, while we may be speaking, and while we may even be speaking eloquently, we’re not communicating. And chances are, the person(s) we’re conversing with are doing the same, which means that none of us are really listening to one another.
While you may develop a reputation for being a wonderful orator, you won’t be receiving any accolades for being effective.
Are you actually interested?
Perhaps the first and foremost problem is that most of the time we’re not actually interested in the other person’s views or opinions.
Now don’t get me wrong - I’m not talking about the blatant, flagrant, and offensive “dude I don’t care about what you think” type of thing that usually comes along with a “and in fact I don’t really care about you” approach to the relationship. No, this is a much more refined, polite, and often unexpressed and only faintly detected lack of care and concern about what the other is saying despite genuinely having care for the relationship and for the other person.
If we’re truly honest with ourselves, we’ll discover that for most of us, we converse with others more because we want to be heard rather than because we want to hear.
The benefits of listening
There are a lot of really great reasons we ought to listen to others. And since we live in a capitalist, self-centered world, I’ll only focus on the benefits to ourselves that we get from truly listening to others.
- We become more empathetic. In a world full of strongly held opinions that are weakly founded and strongly adversarial, empathy is a quality that is increasingly rare but also increasingly coveted. When we truly are able to listen to others and care more about what they’re saying than what we want to say in return, we begin to tune into their needs, their wants, their desires; a process which makes us more empathetic.
- We move in to a posture of humility and learning. By listening to others and focusing our attention simply on what they’re saying, we more readily move ourselves into a position where we can learn something. This humility, this curiosity, this willingness to accept that we in fact don’t know it all is perhaps one of the most important realizations one can make in one’s lifetime,.
- We may learn something new. Remember that learning doesn’t always mean new knowledge. In fact, it’s probably arguable that the majority of learning we need has to do more with perspective and mindset than it does new information we were unaware of.
- We can build deeper connection. When we take the time to really listen to people, we may in fact discover that we have more in common than we might have originally thought. These commonalities light a path towards greater connection, greater understanding, and greater shared experience.
Practice paying attention
Attention is the beginning of connection and devotion. We can’t love something, be devoted to it, desire it, and move it forward if we can’t focus your attention on it. We can’t have a deep connection with something, be it a person, cause, idea, or effort if we are constantly distracted, constantly thinking about ourselves and our situation. As such we need to have mastery over our focus and our distractability - if we are too easily distracted, we will discover presently that the things we profess to love, we love in name only.
So how do we do this? How do we move our focus from self to other? How do we get better both at the desire to understand others as well as the practice of conversing in a way that allows for that understanding?
A great friend of mine has a wonderful technique that I’ve stolen and am starting to implement in my own life. It’s a simple phrase, and when asked with the right motivation yields great results.
That’s interesting… tell me more!
Simple right? Such a simple phrase, such a simple concept. Asking someone for more. But I assure you, it’s a magical concept. A few reasons:
- It shows a genuine interest in the other person(s). This simple phrase expresses to the other that you are interested in them, that you find something in them and in their story desirable, and who doesn’t want that? Who among us doesn’t take joy in the feeling of someone else desiring to know more about us?
- It allows others to shine. By expressing our desire for the other person to expand on their thoughts, we allow them to have their moment, to feel like they are expressing mastery over something. We are all built with an innate desire for mastery, for attaining mastery and for being recognized for it. What a great gift it is when someone allows us the opportunity to demonstrate that!
- It breaks barriers to connection. When we show interest in someone else, it allows them to let down their defenses and show interest in us, thereby creating a much deeper connection than we would have had otherwise! We walk around this earth constantly on the defensive. We are constantly bombarded with messages about how unsafe the world is, how much we need to protect ourselves. What a breath of fresh air it is to be able to break down those barriers by showing genuine interest in someone else! These broken down barriers eventually lead to a reciprocal interest, which as we know is the basis for connection!
And so my sons, my hope for you is that you too can incorporate this simple technique into your relationships, that you too can ask someone to tell you more about themselves, about their journey, and about their story. Ultimately life is about connection, about relationships, about fulfillment in the time, endeavors, and relations that we have, and above all things I want you both to have a rich and full life. I love you boys!
Time is the only resource in life that you can never get back. This fact makes it one of the most valuable resources in the world. It is also one of the most controversial and complex resources in the world.
For example, when one is young, time seems to be the thing we have an abundance of. Aside from the required daily school and occasional parent-inflicted extra curricular activity, one has very few demands on one’s time at an early age such that we’re often left with an abundance of it. “I’m bored” is probably the most common complaint among children, and is one that spans all ages, races, genders, ethnicities, and every other imaginable distinction.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have people in their 50s and 60s who spend all their life’s savings and energies on trying to get back more time. Whether that’s by offloading things from their lives that demand too much time, or by attempting to prolong their life and add more time to it, there are many in their sunset of life that seem to never have enough time.
Why is that? What’s the catch here?
What is valuable?
One very unfortunate reality of our current social norms is that in our developing years we are taught (often implicitly) that our primary purpose in life is progress along a fairly well-trodden path.
From our first breath we are put on this neverending conveyor belt of progress and expected to spend our lives entirely on it. We were taught to walk so that we could run. We were taught to run so that we could play. We were taught to play so that we could interact with other children at school. We were put in high school so that we can get into a good college. We strove to get into great colleges so that we can get good jobs. We strive for good jobs so that we can make money to start a family and support them. We have children so that we can teach them and help them speed up their process along the same conveyor belt.
Every step along the way, we were told that our accomplishments and achievements are the things that we should be striving towards, and yet no one ever explained to us why these things hold value. Nowhere on that belt are we taught to take the time to discover what is valuable to us. Instead we’re taught that the next step, the next thing, those are what’s important.
Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t plan for tomorrow, that we shouldn’t have goals and progression paths that we want to be on. Quite the contrary. Plans and goals are great. However, the problem of too much planning for too far in advance is that we don’t focus on the here and now. Living constantly for tomorrow means that you will never enjoy today, will never actually “get there”. There will always be another “there” to go!
When we were children we assumed our parents’ values. But because we were never taught to discover our own values in our developmental years, many reach adulthood still on the conveyor belt their parents set them on. As children we’re told that the future has value so we should work towards that.
That unfortunately causes us to miss the reality that childhood is not a training ground for adulthood! We rob our children of half of their lives when we treat it as such, and we set them up to perpetuate the same cycle with their own children in future generations. When we treat everything we’re doing - life itself, in other words - as valuable only insofar as it lays the groundwork for something else, we miss out entirely on the beauty of the present.
Instead, we need a range of inputs, learnings, and experiences. We need to balance the time we push to the future with the time that we enjoy the present.
Our society is structured such that we rarely think about the present. Our immediate choices don’t create meaning in the here and now, but rather create the possibility for meaning later. Many live as though the present moment is an obstacle which they need to overcome to get to the “right” moment in the future. The present is never quite right, never quite good enough.
We must learn that the present is not only a gateway to the future - It is an end unto itself!
At some point along the journey we realize the hidden wisdom in the old riddle, that the thing that is always coming but never comes is tomorrow. Enter the midlife crisis.
This is a time where many realize that the incessant striving towards tomorrow is not the mark of a life well lived, that the pursuits of wealth, fame, fortune, and success do not satisfy as we had hoped. We therefore seek to find ourselves, to find the things that we believe we should pursue for the remaining half that will give us meaning.
It is typically not until the sunset of life that we realize the truth behind the matter - that regardless of our choices, our experiences, our relationships, and our chosen career paths, things have value because in choosing them we could not choose any alternative. They have value because in pursuing those things we had to explicitly choose not to pursue everything else.
When we accept this, and accept that life is finite, then things become meaningful. If we had infinite time, choices don’t matter, as there is no sacrifice for them. But because time is finite, each choice we make explicitly is at the expense of another choice, and therefore makes the choice itself valuable. The fact that we have a limited amount of time when our children are young, that we have but 4 years in our college experience, that we have only two weeks for our upcoming vacation - these are why our choices matter, and what gives them meaning.
Managing your time
It therefore behooves us to consider the question of time management. How does one do it? How should one prioritize the finite time that one has on this earth?
There are many time management philosophies out there, and I will neither pretend to be aware of them all nor will I provide any prescription on what I think is best. Rather, I will suggest that if your time management philosophy doesn’t help you neglect the right things then something is wrong! In this life there will be infinitely more things that you don’t have time for than those that you do. Any effective philosophy you adopt must therefore help you choose what not to do as much as it helps you choose what to do.
Effective time management is about more than just slotting in the right things into convenient time slots and playing calendar Tetris. It is about prioritizing, and about realizing that you will never have enough time in a day to accomplish all that needs to be done for the given day, so you need to prioritize. It ought to allow us to face our limitations, our time constraints, the finite nature of our lives, and our inability to control it.
When we don’t thoughtfully and intentionally apply an effective system we find ourselves giving up control. This is natural - having some other external force take control and make a choice for us which precludes us from making some other choice is much easier than owning the responsibility of that choice ourselves.
Sadly, many of us choose to escape the fact that we in fact are responsible despite our desire not to be, so we relinquish control and allow ourselves to be swept away by the currents of the day. This allows us blame something else for our misfortunes and allows us to save our pride.
For if we never try, we can never fail, right?
Unfortunately the reality is that this relinquishing of responsibility often ends up with us being bored. Boredom ought to lead to a realization that we are in control of how our experience is unfolding, and thereby bring about a visceral understanding of the reality that this is it, this life, these choices, these experiences - these make up the sum of human experience.
This is why we must train children to figure out what to do with their own boredom. We must teach them to self-motivate, because without that ability, they will inevitably turn to something else - social media - to fill their time instead of taking control of it and wrestling with their own finitude. We must teach them to better manage this valuable resource that each of us gets a finite amount of in our lifetimes.
Time is a networked resource
Time is a valuable resource, no doubt. And it is absolutely better the more we command it (ie similar to money). However, it is also a networked resource, which means that it has more value the more people have control of it as well (ie telephones, internet etc).
This means that despite our desire to have absolute control over our time, it actually benefits us for others to have some control over it as well. When we have friends and family that feel like they can impose on our time and help direct what we do with it, our lives become much richer. When we have shared experiences, they have the potential to have much more depth than our individual ones.
This, like many things, requires balance and good boundaries. We cannot exert complete control, but we also cannot relinquish complete control to others. We must have balance for how we manage our time, whom we allow to make demands, and what our criteria are for granting those demands.
Regardless of how we label the axis - patriarchal vs individual, eastern vs western etc - we must find the balance along the axis that allows us to have healthy boundaries with our relations. It is not a surprise then that in her book “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying”, author Bronnie Ware finds many on death’s doorstep regretting living the life others expected of them instead of having the right boundaries to live the one they desired for themselves.
And so my boys, my hope for you is that you learn the value of time, that you learn of its role in determining value and meaning in your life, and that you establish early on a great set of boundaries that will keep you on a balanced filled with great relationships along with great freedoms to forge your own way. 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 are a relational species. Whether you believe in creation, evolution, or some mix of the lot, we are intrinsically relational beings. Creation tells us that in the beginning was relationship. Before God created the world, the Holy Trinity was in constant relationship. Evolution tells us that our ancestors survived not because of ingenuity or cleverness, but because of their ability to work together to conquer beasts and circumstances far fiercer than they.
Every culture in the world has myths and legends, and they all revolve around relationships. Every person is born wired for relationships.
And yet so many of us are lonely.
Despite being in the most connected time in human history where our ability to communicate not only spans any distance on earth but even distances off the planet, and despite so many having access to various mediums, technologies, and products designed to connect us, we find ourselves lonely. No matter how evolved our species claims to be, no matter how many revolutions and evolutions we have of culture, of mind, and of our social fabric, we still find it difficult to make deep and meaningful connections.
Almost a century ago, Dale Carnegie wrote an invaluable piece of knowledge into committed human history in the form of his timeless book, How to win friends and influence people. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend reading it, as it provides an almost too-obvious set of rules and recommendations for how to create the ability and space for connection with others. Written in 1936, the book is as relevant today as it was then, and has impacted millions of people in this past century.
And yet so many of us are lonely.
How do we make connections amidst all the noise? How do we find real, deep, meaningful relationship amidst the superficial facades of social media and social brand engineering? How do we cut through the layers of stuff that we think others expect of us and get through to the real human underneath it all?
Admitting that we desire real connection
First and foremost, we need to admit that we desire real connection, and that we don’t currently have it (or have enough of it). It’s a pretty hard thing to do, in a world where people regularly track the number of followers, likes, and retweets they’ve gotten on an hourly basis. With all those followers, with all these likes and faves, how can one possibly be lonely and lacking real connection?
Relationship researcher Brene Brown describes real connection as relationship that is based on vulnerability and trust. She further defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. It is that exposure, that willingness to lay it out on the line, that ability to say “here I am with all my strengths and flaws” and know that we will not be judged but rather will be accepted; that is what creates real connection.
Why is it hard?
Real connection is hard to make because there’s a whole lot of fear and shame running around in our world today. One of the down sides of this hyper connected world is that there are so much more transparency into our lives and so many more points of feedback that can make any risk we take seem daunting. With the advent of social media, one’s social blunder that was experienced in person by a small few can quickly become the next viral video in our social circles, with hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of people providing unsolicited judgment of our action.
That makes it really, really hard to put oneself out there.
In his Paris address in April of 1910, Theodore Roosevelt gave what would become the most quoted speeches of his career, which many have now taken to calling “Man in the Arena”. In it, he says:
“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.”
Why we need real connection
Centuries ago, Confucius wrote that “It is nearly impossible for the quality of your life to be higher than the quality of your friends”. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn elaborated on this by adding an urge for us to “look at the five people you spend the most time with because that’s who you are”.
Our friends aren’t only there for our enjoyment, to shoot the breeze with, to go on life’s journeys with, and to revel and celebrate with. They are there to challenge us, to grow us, to sharpen us. They are there to refine us and help bring us back to the right path when we falter. They are there to support, to encourage, and to be a shoulder to lean on when we are weak. They are there to make us better because of the time we spend with them.
By connecting with others, by building real relationship that is built on vulnerability, on trust, on shared experiences, we allow others to breathe life into us, to shape us, and to mold us. In walking with others, we invite them along for the journey of self discovery and refinement, and are able to become better together.
If we want to have a great life, if we want to have grand adventures and rich experiences, then we need to ensure that the quality of people that we do life together with is incredibly high!
My sons, I want nothing more than for you to have great lives characterized by deep connection and by fulfilling adventures. Those lives must be lived with others in an environment that encourages trust and vulnerability. Those people are hard to find, and those relationships require work to cultivate. More importantly, being someone with whom others want to connect deeply with is hard work! And so my prayer for you is that you do the work, that you learn, that you evaluate, and that you continue to refine your perspectives on relationships and connection. And above all, my prayer is that you find those connections that will last you a lifetime.
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!
In life, there will be many tools, tricks, skills, and experiences you can gain that will help you in a myriad of situations. I believe that one of the greatest such tools is the ability to analyze a situation and to know the right moment. Whether it is knowing the moment to retreat from battle, to press your advantage, to use your ace in the hole, or when to kiss the girl, your ability to instinctively know the right moment to act or to speak is disproportionately beneficial.
In relationships, knowing whether the moment is right to air a grievance or to wait and instead be supportive can be an incredible boon to the partnership. Imagine your partner coming home from a crummy day just to have you bring up something you’ve been stewing on for months. Crummy. Now imagine them coming home from that same crummy day to have you be sensitive to the fact that now is perhaps not the right moment to air your thoughts and instead choose to be supportive and gentle with them. How much stronger would your partnership be!
We must realize that everyone - ourselves included - has bad days where their threshold of irritability or tolerance Is low. In realizing and identifying that, we must then act with compassion and choose actions to accommodate. We must develop the skill and the sensitivity to know the moment and know how to choose to do the next right thing.
So how do we grow this skill? A few thoughts.
It is important to be constantly aware of how important timing is. We are trained to be concerned with content, with delivery, with action, and with substance. While those are absolutely important things, we must realize and give credence to the reality that timing is critical. Even if all else is perfect, if the timing is off, if the moment isn’t right, failure (or at least a sub-optimal outcome) is guaranteed.
BE RESOLVED NEVER TO SPEAK OR ACT IN ANGER OR FRUSTRATION
These emotions (and others: jealousy, wounded pride, resentment, fear etc.) make us irrational, and often cause us to say or do things inconsistent with our values, and often cause irreparable damage. Aristotle wrote,
“Anybody can become angry - that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way- that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy”.
How true that is. Let us not act in such a state!
Knowing the right moment begins with understanding the people around you. Understand their perspective, their thoughts, their circumstances, and their fears. By building the muscle that allows a greater understanding of our compatriots, we put ourselves in the position to better anticipate the situation and therefore more likely to know the right moment to act.
BE THOUGHTFUL OF THE FUTURE
Not just your future, but that of others. Is your friend about to enter into a difficult situation? Is your brother about to start a new job? Is your boss’ wife about to give birth to their first child? Knowing these things and being thoughtful about them will help you be more prepared to anticipate outcomes. Remember that the future is impacted by a variety of factors - a person’s desires, the community that they keep, their family, the circumstances of their job, even plain dumb luck. All of these, and many other factors, can and will influence the future.
Lastly, build your staying power, your perseverance, your ability to wait not only for the right moment to come around (and it will come around) but also for the universe to come round and adjust to the changes you’ve already initiated.
My boys, I cannot stress how important timing is, nor can I emphasize how much it is a learnable skill. Don’t get me wrong - I’ve got a ton of stories of ill-timed, ill-fated endeavors and situations. My goal is to share my thoughts here with you in hopes that you can learn from my learnings, and take the effort to learn this invaluable skill yourselves. I love you boys!
Relationships make our world go ‘round. No matter how we slice it, no matter how we try to automate things and put impersonal systems in place to remove the human element, we cannot escape the fact that at the end of the day, we are a relational species and relationships make our world go ‘round.
So how do we set ourselves up for success in all manner of relationships, be they personal, transactional, business, romantic, or familial?
There are three closely related things that I believe are the foundation to any great (substitute your choice of word here depending on the relationship you’re thinking about - perhaps “effective” or “efficient” for work relationships, “passionate” or “steadfast” for romantic relationships etc) relationship: trust, communication, and consistency.
I’ll tackle each of them in separate posts, but today we’ll talk about consistency.
Neuroscience tells us that our brains are big pattern matching machines based on our mental models. When we notice a particular stimulus our brains use our mental models to create an expectation. This happens millions of times in an instant. For example, when I pick up my coffee cup, my brain expects my hands to feel the smooth porcelain of the cup. If I then run my index finger up the handle, my brain expects to feel a handle protrude from the cup base and for the handle to be cooler than the body of the cup.
All of these expectations happen an immeasurable amount of times per day, and yet we don’t notice any of them. Our brains are trained to explicitly not draw our attention when the expectation matches our mental models.
However, when something doesn’t match, when something isn’t consistent with our mental models, our brains raise alarm bells. For example, if I ran my finger up what my eyes detect as a steaming porcelain cup but feel a cool fuzzy feeling instead of a hot smooth surface, then my attention gets snapped to that difference. My brain has detected that something is wrong, and it immediately gets my attention. This attention is expensive. It takes me out of my flow. It derails my train of thought. It disrupts my current task and demands immediate attention.
Expectations in our relationships
This same principle is true of our relationships as well. Our brains create mental models for every relationship we have, and every interaction in those relationships. Whether it’s ordering coffee with the cute barista at my favorite coffee shop, sending a note to my manager with some bad news, or chatting with my partner about something interesting I’ve read, my brain has mental models and expectations for each of these interactions.
And when those interactions match the model, my brain is free to engage, to conserve its resources, and to continue with the low hum of activity that is always going on in the background (for me, that background activity typically is “listening” to some song in my head). However, if the interaction isn’t consistent with my expectation, my brain goes into hyperdrive.
Hyperdrive itself is not a good or bad thing - it’s just a thing. It is our body kicking ourselves into high alert, which is an ability that has served humanity very well in our evolution. For example, suppose I’m out camping in the woods after dark and I hear rustling nearby. My brain will kick into high gear, triggering my fight or flight instincts and being extremely aware of indicators of whether this is a run-for-my-life situation or if this is a funny-anecdote-to-tell-later thing.
While hyperdrive can be incredibly exhilarating (think of the anticipation in the last few seconds of the roller coaster cart climbing before the inevitable large drop), it is also exhausting. It uses up much of our body’s energy, our mental capacities, and our attention quota and drains us dry. (Incidentally, this must be why hormone-crazed teenagers are always tired and sleeping all the time…!)
When those that we’re in relationship with are inconsistent in their behaviors towards us, they cause us to stay on high alert and awareness. While some spontaneity may be welcomed, there is a difference between spontaneous and chaotic. Effective, mature, adult relationships should not be chaotic. Life itself gets incredibly busy; let us not add to that by tolerating or enabling relationships where we are (or are causing others to be) expending extra effort to handle the inconsistencies.
Our natural desire for equilibrium
Our world is designed for equilibrium. Whether we’re talking about our scientific and physical world (high school remembrances of Chatelier’s principle aka The Equilibrium Law come to mind) or our relational life, our world naturally trends towards a steady state. It’s as wired into our natural world as much as it is into our brain chemistry. We desire order.
For example, human psychology tells us that in the midst of crisis, we will seek some semblance of normalcy, and will often make a number of short term optimizations that will allow us to take a step closer to our steady state. People in trauma will often cling to the one thing in their life that reminds them of normalcy and allows them the illusion of consistency in their lives.
While we may desire the occasional burst of spontaneity, at the core of it we desire relationships where we know what to expect. We highly value traits like steadfastness, loyalty, constancy, and reliability. People who exemplify these traits cause us to feel safe, to feel secure, and to feel like we belong.
Consistency in your professional life
It is incredibly important to be consistent in your professional life. Like it or not, we all have brands. Just as corporations have brands that come with expectations and implications, we too all have our own personal brand and are known for some set of traits. We may not always be aware of how we’re viewed or what our colleagues think of us, but we all have brands that follow us around from job to job and impact us in often unseen and unforeseen ways.
And brands are hard to change.
It therefore behooves us to think about those brands, to be consistent in our establishment of them, and to be reliable in their execution. As a hiring manager, I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a referral from a colleague that went something like “you need to have this person on your team - they do X, Y, and Z things, which is a perfect fit for what you’re looking for!”. We establish those brands by being consistent.
Consistency in your parenting
I learned very early on in parenting that setting expectations with children helps them to be their best selves and allows them to navigate the world in a healthy and confident way. It turns out that telling our children that we’re going to leave the birthday party in 5 minutes, or that daddy is going on a work trip and will be back in two days allows them to prepare themselves for the situation and confidently be prepared for what’s to come.
And this makes sense - as adults, we would hate being jerked around and told we have to leave immediately, or told that we have to take a business trip with no end date specified. We want to know how to plan our lives. We want to know how to prepare our emotional beings for what’s to come.
From the earliest age we build mental models. We learn to model the world and then extrapolate what we expect based on those models. We learn that touching a steaming plate will burn our little fingers, and that pushing our younger sibling will cause them to cry. These models help us navigate the world, and give us confidence to explore and to discover.
As parents then, it becomes incredibly important for us to be consistent with our children. Whether we’re talking about praising great behaviors and demonstrations of great traits, rewarding strong outcomes, disciplining and correcting bad attitudes and behaviors, or enforcing guidelines and boundaries, one of the best things we can do for our children is to be consistent.
Consistency in your relationships
There are all sorts of sitcoms, clips, and shorts that poke fun at the inconsistent individual. From pithy and memorable frameworks like “the hot-crazy scale” from How I Met Your Mother to the comical caricatures of the free-spirited crazy younger siblings, popular media is replete with examples of chaotic, unreliable, and inconsistent people and the challenges that they bring into their relationships of any sort.
These characters often end up in unfulfilled relationships and circumstances, and have a much more difficult time building deep and meaningful connection with others. They end up regularly disappointing those that rely on them, and over time prove themselves to be unreliable and untrustworthy.
And so my boys, my hope for you is that you are consistent. That you are consistent in your thought lives, your love lives, your community lives, your professional lives, and your family lives. I hope we can learn together to be ever more consistent and dependable, and can come to rely on one another as we navigate this life together!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Growing up, our family wasn't really big into celebrations - birthdays weren't a big deal, holidays were really just family hang out times and not big extravagant events, and even milestones while celebrated were always generally fairly subdued in nature.
Now, much of that is cultural, and a product of the era that your grandparents lived in, so I don't want you to read this and think that life in the Ng house was miserable and drab; far from it. In their own way, your grand parents taught your uncle and I how to value the right things, how to cherish your time with loved ones, how to work hard and how to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
My charge to you is to take all that one step further, and celebrate at the top of your lungs, with all the energy in your being.
Because that's what you'll remember - the big, over-the-top parties that you were a part of, the black tie ball that you went to for New Years Eve, the spontaneous trip you took to celebrate a promotion of a friend or a loved one. These are the memories that will stay with you and bring a smile to your face decades later. These are the things that your mother taught me to do (albeit sometimes against my will!), and are things that I am eternally grateful to her for.
You're almost two years old as I'm writing this, and one of the things you love to do is to cheer and make a big ruckus when you do something well. You love clapping for yourself (and getting everyone around you to clap with you!) when you use your fork to successfully shovel something in your mouth. You love cheering and throwing both arms in the air when you launch your favorite seahorse across the room. You love it when people around you clap or cheer; you clap and yell more loudly than them all.
My hope is that your mom and I are able to continue to encourage that in you, and that you'll grow up to be someone who celebrates the little things, because it's those little things that will stay with you. It's those little things that will make you a good-natured person. It's those little things that will keep you smiling and hopeful even when life gets rough. And it's those little things that will bring people together to celebrate and to run life together.