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 posted in 2015
I love the end of the year, because it's a natural time for us to wind down, to think back on the events of the year, and to think ahead of the year to come. It's a good time to reflect on how the year has gone, to examine the goals that we had laid out for the year, and to evaluate how far we've come. It's also a good time to look forward to the year ahead, to set some goals for where we'd like to go, and to it back and look at the big picture.
As you know by now, I love to think about things as they ought to be, and how I can play a part in facilitating that. That naturally translates into a combination of introspection and visioning.
In order to know the role that I can play, I've got to understand myself, and need to know my strengths and my weaknesses. I've got to assess where I've come, how my choices this year have panned out, and determine how I can improve on the character traits that I'm working on.
In order to know the role that I should play, I've got to understand the big picture, and need to know given my capabilities what I can do to advance that picture. No matter how small my impact, I've got to be constantly looking ahead towards the goal that I'm called to play, and understand how that fits in to the whole.
My hope is that you'll take time - whether it's now at the end of the year like I do, or some other time that you set aside for yourself - to think back on where you've come, evaluate how you've gotten here, and look forward to what's ahead. I firmly believe you've got a great part to play in his-story, and can't wait to run along there with you!
Tags: #Focus #Character #Purposeful Living
People do things for a myriad of reasons and motivations, but at the end of the day, it generally boils down to fulfillment, meaning, and purpose in this life. No matter how cynical the individual, mankind was made for advancement. We were made with the innate desire to move forward, to advance the state of our species, to strive to be ever greater than we were before.
This quest for fulfillment and for forward progress can be a good thing.
The differentiating factor then is in the semantics of what brings you that fulfillment. What is it that ultimately makes you feel satisfied after having done something? What is it that you're ultimately looking to achieve?
I read a very pointed quote the other day that speaks to that:
"A creative man is fulfilled by accomplishments and a competitive man is fulfilled by beating others"
I love that contrast. While at the end of the day, both men may be accomplishing something, the motivation and drive that propels them to action is critically important. Not just because the competitive man cannot feel a sense of fulfillment on his own, but because the competitive man is not looking for the betterment of others, and hence becomes limited to achievement that is defined by others that he is trying to beat. Because his fulfillment is found in comparison to others, he will always look for the next competition, the next person he can beat to remain fulfilled.
The creative man on the other hand, is a man who finds fulfillment not in beating others or in the praise of others, but rather in having accomplished that which he set out for. There is a saying that sometimes the best reward for having done a thing well is to know that one has indeed done it.
My challenge to you is to consider what you're doing, and why you're doing it. Is it to beat others? Is it to please someone else? Is it to demonstrate that you are worthy of something? That you are better than someone or something? Or is it genuinely for the betterment of others and for the sake of the accomplishment itself?
Ultimately, I want you to live a rich and fulfilled life that is not dependent on others' praise or demise, but rather is made significant by the things that you strive for, and the accomplishments that you achieve. Because that is something honorable, something noble. That is how the world ought to be.
Tags: #Character #Changing the world #Fulfillment #Purposeful Living
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.
Tags: #Balance #Focus #Character #Time #Purposeful Living #Relationship
As your second birthday approaches, I've been thinking about what a wonderful little guy you've become and about all the fun that we've had together, and one thing that has definitely stood out is just how happy you are.
From the moment you wake up, you're a happy, smiley, mischievous little guy. You love to play, and spend much of your life running away from me while laughing hysterically, only to run too fast, fall over, roll around on the ground, and keep laughing. Your infectious laugh can be heard all through the house at all hours of day, whether we're eating, playing basketball, banging the drums, or trying to get you to bed.
It's been a fantastic reminder to me of what it means to have child-like joy, and how incredibly easy it is to become jaded by the world, to lose the ability and desire to laugh and to have fun in many circumstances.
Why is this important? All sorts of reasons. But a few of them stand out to me as extremely important.
- Laughter helps diffuse even the tensest situations. Jesus says that "in this life, you will have trouble". It's not a matter of if we run into emotionally charged situations, but a question of when we encounter them. Laughter helps alleviate these situations and lets us be at our best to handle them.
- Joy is contagious. Not only does it lighten up your own life, but it catches others with it as well. It is a part of the equation of leadership - people are drawn to joyous people, to charismatic people, to people who have something that they want to emulate in their own lives. And everyone wants to be joyful and happy.
- Laughter helps us be in a mental and emotional state where we can be our best. The paragon of man is not realized when he is angry, stressed, or upset; rather, it is realized when he is of good spirit, of good cheer, and of a happy and joyful countenance.
As you know by now, I'm someone who loves to think of the world not as it is, but as it ought to be, and I'm positively convinced that the world was designed to be a place that's happy, joyful, and full of great adventures and experiences.
As life gets busier (and it always will), let's try to remember to find a little laughter in what we're going through. My hope for you is that you won't lose that sense of wonder, that ability to find fun and levity in the most grave of situations, and that you'll always continue to be our happy little guy.
Tags: #Character #Joy #Purposeful Living #Laughter
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.
Tags: #Mentoring #Character #Changing the world #Purposeful Living #Relationship #Leadership
Like it or not, people will talk about you, even before they meet you. They'll discuss whether they want you on their team or not. They'll decide whether or not they want to interview you or not. They'll decide whether they want to approach you to befriend you or not. They'll discuss how you're perceived in performance reviews. And all of that before they've even said two words to you.
What sorts of things are they saying?
What do you think about when I say Nordstrom? Coke? Apple? Toyota? Lego? Crayola?
All of these companies have paid billions of dollars in advertising to get you to think a certain thing. Nordstrom wants you to think high end fashion. Coke wants you to think cool and thirst quenching. Apple wants you to think connected, seamless, beautiful devices. Toyota wants you to think safety. And so on.
All these companies have a brand that they've established, and spend lots of money building and maintaining that brand so that you think about them at the right time.
For example, I've never owned a Toyota, but I assume that if I did, it would be super reliable, safe, and would last 10 years while I drive it into the ground. That's all based on the branding perception that they've created.
The same is true of people - each person has a brand that precedes them.
When someone is interviewing you for a job, they'll check your credentials, check their networks to see who knows you, check your social networks to see what people are saying about you - all before meeting you. When someone is deciding whether they want you on their team or not, they'll ask other people that have played with you what they think of you.
What are those people going to say about you? What is your personal brand that you've established? Will they think of you as likeable? Smart? Passionate? Ambitious? Musical? Helpful? Thoughtful?
The purpose of a brand is to quickly convey the value of the subject in question. Nordstrom wants you to think that going to its stores will provide you high end fashion. Toyota wants you to think that driving its cars will keep you safe. Nike wants you to think that wearing its clothes will help improve your athletic performance.
What does your brand say about you? What are the values that it conveys? What are the things that you want to be known for? What are the things that you value most in your life? What are the character traits and attributes that matter to you?
Tags: #Character #Purposeful Living
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.
Tags: #Having Fun #Relationship #Celebrating
As much as we'd occasionally like life to run entirely on our schedule, the reality is that it doesn't and it won't. And so this entry, while on the one hand is about being dressed well, on the other hand is really about being prepared for the unexpected to happen, and to be able to gracefully handle those situations.
The face value of the title here is very true - you should dress every day like you're going to meet the love of your life. Because who knows, you just might meet her some day, and you'd ideally want your appearance to give you the confidence to be on your best foot. Like we discussed last time, appearances matter, if only to give you an extra boost of confidence - and every man knows that when you first see that face, first encounter that angel that you'll want to spend the rest of your days with, every ounce of confidence is going to be welcomed.
The underlying point here is that life won't go according to your schedule.
That's not to say you shouldn't plan - no, definitely make your plans, and lay out the course that you want to take. But be flexible on that course. Often, the best times in life - the most memorable, the most impactful, the most exhilarating - will come when you least expect it. And if you're dressed and ready for the occasion, you set yourself up for a much better experience.
And so my advice here is to be ready for that. When you're ready and expecting the unexpected, you're able to take things in stride and handle the situation with more grace. When you're ready for life to throw its curveballs at you, you're best equipped to knock that sucker if not out of the park, than at least out to the right field corner for a double. So be prepared. Be dressed for the occasion. Plan, but be flexible. Let life take you where it will.
And who knows, you might just meet the love of your life along the way.
Tags: #Having Fun #Confidence #Appearances #Love
There are all sorts of proverbs out there about what's on the inside being what counts, that appearances shouldn't matter, that you should never judge a book by its cover, that what you look like isn't as important as who you are on the inside. All of these proverbs - while motivating and comforting - shouldn't be taken entirely literally.
Make no mistake; appearances matter.
I don't mean that they are of central importance; no, in that respect, I agree with those proverbs. What's on the inside is more important. That's why we have all these talks about character, about integrity, about honor; no, without a doubt, what's on the inside is more important.
However, that doesn't mean that appearances don't matter. Here are a few reasons why.
- First impressions stick. Whether we like it or not, not only do our first impressions of others generally stick, but certainly their first impression of us does. And unfortunately, much of that first impression will be based on appearance.
- Being underdressed puts you at a disadvantage. If not in your eyes, than certainly in theirs. Being underdressed demonstrates to others a lack of care at best, a lack of respect at worst.
- When you look your best, you feel that way too. When you take care to look presentable and professional, it sets you in the right frame of reference to feel presentable and professional, and it gives you the confidence to behave as such.
That last one is the real kicker. When you are confident in your appearance, you don't have to spend energy being worried about whether or not you look like you fit; you are confident that you appear like you do. And that gives you the confidence to actually do so.
And that's the real reason appearances matter. Not because they should be used as a yard stick or as a means of judgment, but because they empower you to feel your best. They give you confidence, and put you on an even playing field so that you can be the best version of you there is. And that's not a bad thing.
Tags: #Character #Confidence #Appearances
Your namesake is one of independent action, intentional living, and transformative thinking. My prayer is that you would be a man that is kind hearted, who wants to help others, and can lead them to be better.
Leadership is something that is the birthright of every man. God created you to lead your household, just like Jesus leads the church. It is not something you can shirk away from, and so my hope is that you will willingly step into that role, deliberately and intentionally.
There are many books on leadership out there, but over the years, I've been able to boil those thoughts down into 5 key learnings.
Leaders motivate those they lead to action by providing a compelling mission and vision.
Leaders have the tenacity to drive outcomes and to overcome adversity and resistence.
Leaders build relationships that create trust and promote honesty.
Leaders are stewards of even the least of those that they lead.
Leaders leave no one behind.
I'm sure there are many other nuggets of wisdom that you will pick up over the years, but these are just a few that I've found to be timeless truths. I hope they can serve you well, as they have done so for me.
Tags: #Character #Purposeful Living #Leadership
Hopefully you will have grown up having built strong relationships; relationships built on trust, mutual respect and admiration. If so, you may find yourself entrusted with another's secret.
I cannot stress the importance that you keep that secret.
Any relationship that matters values honesty and trust. Divulging another's secret proves a person unworthy of that trust. No matter what the cost, no matter what fire your feet are set to, honor that secret, for it is not yours to share.
When you keep that secret, you prove yourself trustworthy and honorable. When you keep that secret in light of personal suffering, you prove your character, and you prove yourself worthy of respect. In one of my favorite movies, Scent of a Woman, Al Pacino puts it superbly in his final speech:
"I don't know if Charlie's silence here today is right or wrong. I'm not a judge or jury, but I can tell you this: He won't sell anybody out to buy his future! And that, my friends, is called integrity. That's called courage. Now that's the stuff leaders should be made of."
And that's my hope for you, that you would be a leader of men, a great leader that builds strong relationships, fosters long-lasting bonds, encourages others, and builds others up. In order to do that, you have to be a man of integrity, who knows how to keep confidences, and who doesn't have a loose tongue.
Tags: #Character #Integrity #Purposeful Living #Leadership
I realize that until now, we've been talking about a lot of different topics that are centered around character, around refining the noble spirit that lives within us. Today I want to take the chance to talk about something that while different, is just as important in living life as it ought to be lived.
Having fun. Enjoying life, basking in the light, smelling the roses.
In our all-go-no-quit society, it is very easy to get caught up in moving forward. We're trained to believe that forward motion is the most important, that if we're not making progress then we're sliding backwards.
And while that may be true, it's also extremely valuable to stop and enjoy what you've got.
The Bible uses paternal imagery to describe our heavenly relationship, and it's in that context that this entry is crafted. As a father of a 16 month old, something surprising has dawned on me. While I love watching you learn things and have been extremely proud to watch you go from an infant learning how to follow objects by turning his head to a toddler that shouts "da da!" at the top of his lungs excitedly every morning, those moments don't bring me as much joy as simply hearing you laugh and seeing you have the time of your life.
It is that pure joy, that child-like happiness and excitement, that thrill of just spending time with your family - that's the type of having fun and loving life that I'm describing that brings me so much joy.
I believe that our heavenly Father experiences that same joy when we love life; when we laugh, when we have fun, when we build lasting memories of loved ones enjoying life together. While He is certainly pleased with us when we work on our character, when we learn things, when we show love, sympathy and empathy to others, I believe He experiences pure joy when we just love life and have a ton of fun.
So keep pursuing noble character, learn how to change the world, decide who you want to be, build and create the world of the future and experience the world of today, and surround yourself with people who you can do all of those things with. Love recklessly. Live life to the full, and have fun.
Tags: #Character #Having Fun
By now you should know that the two movies that have influenced me the most are Top Gun and Gladiator, and hopefully you'll recognize the title of this post as a pivotal line from the latter. The message I want to convey to you today is that while Commodus spits out this phrase facetiously, mercy is absolutely a critical characteristic for us to develop.
While Grace is the act of blessing someone with something undeserved, Mercy is the act of withholding judgment or retribution from someone that deserves it. Both of these are demonstrated by Jesus for us. His Mercy withholds the consequence of our sin, and His Grace gives us the opportunity to know and have a relationship with God.
As you know, the legacy that I want to leave behind is that I'm a person that inspires others, that motivates them, that instills passion and drive in those that are around me. To do this, we need to able to see people not for who they are, but for the best that they can be.
The capacity to consistently bring out the best in people is called leadership, and the ability to see people not as they are but as they were created to be requires the attribute of mercy.
Leadership requires not just an openness and intuition to see the best in people, but the corresponding amount of Mercy to allow people to make and learn from mistakes as they get there. Great leaders are able to focus on the accomplishments and successes while taking hold of failures and errors and using them as learning opportunities.
So how do we develop our ability to have mercy?
We develop our ability to show mercy when we are able to see how much we ourselves need mercy shown to us. When we humbly recognize our own position and understand the amount of mercy God has demonstrated for us, we are able to see how we should in turn extend mercy to our contemporaries, and we begin to model the characteristics that God desires for us.
My prayer for you then is that in light of your confidence in knowing who you are and what you are capable of, that you would be humbled by the knowledge of who God is and what He created you for, and from that posture of humility be able to show grace and mercy to those around you.
Tags: #Character #Purposeful Living #Mercy #Faith #Leadership
By now, you'll discover that something your dad has never lacked is self confidence. Many of my thoughts on the world are viewed through that lens, and while self confidence is a great thing, it is sometimes worthwhile to examine the world through a different lens and see what we can learn from there.
It's in that light that I write this series of thoughts.
While being confident in yourself and being firm in your convictions is a great thing, there are times in a man's life where he must accept that he is simply wrong, and to do so gracefully and humbly. There are a few reasons for this.
- Admitting you're wrong gives you the ability to be stretched. The posture of humility is one that focuses not on one's self achievement and worth, but one that allows one's short comings and insufficiencies to be revealed. In that revelation is the opportunity for change, and for God to take those flaws and begin His work of perfecting them.
- Admitting you're wrong gives others the ability to bless you. By allowing someone else to speak into your life, you not only build their confidence, but you open a channel of trust and vulnerability in your relationship. The strongest relationships are forged as we go through the tough grit of life together, and nothing is tougher than the strengthening of character, the development of the manliness that is our birthright.
- Admitting you're wrong keeps your heart humble, and able to hear God. Nothing stops you from hearing the voice of God more than pride. It is the characteristic that says that we are sufficient for ourselves, that we are able to accomplish all that we need to in this life on our own. Nothing could be further from the truth.
God desires humility in our lives; as we are emptied of ourselves, we can then be filled with the things that He desires for us.
Remember that our goal is to live life as Christ tells us we ought to live it, and whatever means He uses to get us there should be wholeheartedly embraced. I've spent much of my life trying to find the right balance here, and hopefully by the time you read this I'll have a better handle on it, but for now, suffice it to say that I believe this will be a life-long activity. One that will be difficult, but one that will ultimately refine us to be men worthy of God's calling and original design for us, and one that will create many memories and forge many strong friendships along the way.
Tags: #Balance #Character #Integrity #Purposeful Living #Faith #Humility