Letters to my sons

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

Posts tagged with #Balance

My sons,

We are all blessed with the same 24 hours in a day. Father Time is unbiased In this regard (though some may question His fairness in His numbering of our days). Whether rich or poor, young or old, big or small, male or female; we each get the same 24 hours to apply to a day.

We explicitly say apply here because some may choose to inefficiently lose it, some may choose to squander it, some may choose to invest it, and some may choose to thoughtfully spend it.

Being unintentional with one’s time

When one doesn’t thoughtfully consider how to apply one’s time and apply good intention and boundaries around it, we may inadvertently lose much of it without having anything to show for it in the end.

We all know of that person who may have the greatest intentions to be incredibly productive with their afternoon, but on her way out she remembers that she had a half written email from the night before she wanted to finish, so she sits at her desk to finish that up. In doing so, she sees an ad for that thing she had been wanting, and, seeing no harm, clicks on it and spends a little while tangled up in articles and videos about It. Realizing that a half hour has gone by, she then gets up, resolved to go about her day, but in the 30 minutes since, she notices that the clouds have come in more than she had thought, so she decides to put on a sweater. In going to her closet, she realizes that the laundry needs to be done, so she begins that. Starting her laundry reminds her that some dishes from the previous day are still in the sink, so she begins to clean them. Pretty soon, her entire afternoon is gone and she still hasn’t gotten out of the apartment to do the productive things she had intended to do in the first place.

You might argue that some of those things are good. The laundry needs to be done, the dishes need to be washed, so why is our heroine being frowned upon?

The answer lies in our ability to direct the course of our lives.

Back to our heroine. If we take individual time slices of what she ended up spending her time on and simply tally the time she has “wasted” (more on wasting time later), she may measure up quite favorably. Doing the dishes, doing the laundry, finishing her email correspondence - those are all useful and necessary things, and do effectively move her life forward. Time spent on ads and videos may be arguably useful as well, especially if those activities lead to more clarity and ultimately a purchase decision on something.

When we take a step back however, we see that our heroine has not intentionally moved life forward in any measurable way. Her initial intention was to be productive with her afternoon, which we assume to be an afternoon spent in activities that move the macro needle of her life forward (for example studying, learning some new skill). We may be tempted to give her a pass this time, as her overall time was spent usefully, and in this single instance it may be fine for us to do just that.

The problem arises when we look not at this single slice of her life but when we apply the principle to all (or at least, the majority) of her days. Without the skills and the tools to combat this type of approach to life, we may quickly find weeks, months, or even years have gone by without our explicit direction. Worse, we may decide that the ability to have any input into the grand scheme of our life was a farce to begin with and remove our hands from the wheel altogether.

So what do we do?

Increasing our time

When it comes to our professional lives, it is pretty common for us to think about how to maximize our time. We have trainings and seminars about how to be more productive, and our teams are always trying to optimize processes so that we can be the most efficient in our application of the time we allocate to our professional endeavors. (I’ve recently shared a few thoughts myself on the matter: here and here).

How do we apply similar principles to our personal lives so that we can get the most there as well?

Think Big first

This might be a bias from me working at Amazon long enough to adopt the “Think Big” terminology, but it’s the right term to use here. We must first start by thinking big, thinking long term, thinking grand. What is it that brings us satisfaction and fulfillment in life? What is it that causes us to have that Joie de vivre we’ve heard so much about? What is it that makes us tick, the thought of which brings a smile to our face and an inner warmth in our hearts?

Once you’ve figured out what your “big” is, remind yourself of it daily. Whether you like mantras, sticky note reminders, hung phrases above entryways, or scheduled conversations, you need to remind yourself of your “big” frequently. It needs to be always hovering close to the top of your mind so that you can channel it and recall it instantly.

Our brains need regular reminders of what’s important. We are lazy by nature. Humans are creatures of inertia. When left to our own vices, we always choose the path of least resistance, both physically and mentally. By reminding ourselves of our “big” regularly, we create an environment that aids us in our thinking big and gives us natural prompts to orient our lives accordingly.

It’s worth calling out that there can be many big things in your life, and some of those things can be contextual. That’s totally okay! Put your reminders and in appropriate places in your life so that you have the right frame of mind for the right context.

Prioritize ruthlessly

Once you’ve determined your big things, you then need to ruthlessly prioritize everything else under them. I say ruthlessly because it’s often easier (and much less effective) to say that a number of things are as important as one another.

This is the burning house test, but for your own initiatives (if your house was burning down and you could grab one thing, what would it be?). Remember that if everything is important, then nothing is important. You can only have one best friend. You can only have one top priority.

“But wait!”, you say. “What if I have qualifiers? I have a best work friend and a best childhood friend!”. That’s all fine and good, but taken to its logical conclusion, every person could be “best” in their own category, which means that every friend you have is some type of best friend. This of course makes the title “best friend” utterly meaningless.

The same is true of our priorities. While it is tempting to say that my top work priority is such and such, and my top personal priority is this and that, this still fails the burning house test. Given you have a finite amount of the singular most precious resource in the world (ie time) which you can only allocate once, where will you allocate it?

Now, I’m explicitly not suggesting we starve any of the lower priorities. This isn’t a serialized, only work from the top down type of list. But when push comes to shove and we have conflicting things to do, ruthlessly prioritizing will allow us to drive our life’s course in a direction consistent with our values.

Plan for (and value) rest

The Good Book tells us that on the seventh day God rested “from all His work which He had done” (Genesis 2:3). He instructed His people to observe the Sabbath. He intended for us to rest. For some reason that has gotten lost in translation in modern day America, and we’ve somehow begun mistaking slacking off for rest.

First, we think that after a long week’s work, we owe it to ourselves to veg out in front of the TV and call it rest. It isn’t.

Next, because we think resting and slacking off are the same thing, we think that those who rest are slacking off, which our workaholic culture tells us is an ineffective use of our time.

I had a European coworker say once that they don’t want our American workaholic culture to be carried over onto our Europe team. (For those of you who read that and think, “those Europeans are slackers”, I hope this section speaks particularly strongly to you)

Let me begin by asserting that:

Resting is not slacking off

We need rest. We were made to require it. It is healthy, necessary, and nourishing to our bodies and our souls.

Rest is not simply ceasing to work. It is not slacking off or shirking one’s responsibilities, nor is it passively sitting on the sidelines and letting life do its thing.

It is active. It is intentional. It is thoughtful. It is practiced.

We are all wired differently. We have different motivators, different passions, different fears. And we all rest differently. What is restful to one may be stressful to the next, and vice versa. Just as we must spend the time and effort getting to know what our dreams are, what “big” means to us, so too must we spend the time to know what rest looks like for us, what that soul-nourishing, rejuvenating rest is.

My sons, our world is increasingly hectic. We are bombarded by countless vies for our attention. The world gets smaller, more connected, and more noisy everyday, with a million and one things trying to steal your time. My hope is that you learn to manage your time well and stay in the drivers seat of your lives, so that you can live the lives that you dictate, that you desire, and that you strive for.


My sons,

There are times when life feels simply like a grind. Too much work to do, too many books to read, too much study left with topics to learn. In those times, it is easy to feel like life is an endurance exercise, that it is something to be endured.

We’re told that our endurance is rewarded. We’re told that studying hard in school means that we’ll be rewarded with a great job. When we start that great job, we’re told that working hard will allow us to advance quickly and will give us the freedom and purchasing power to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Then we have kids and we’re told that we need to invest in our kids and give them every opportunity. Following this train of thought, the point at which we stop enduring and stop working incredibly hard is the day that we retire.

And then we can enjoy life.

Now, don’t get me wrong - I’m not at all suggesting that working hard is a bad thing, and that perseverance and grit aren’t noble characteristics; quite the opposite. I want you to grow up as steadfast men, as men that have grit and perseverance, as men that stand up for the right things and fight the good fight. But I also want you to grow up as balanced men, men that recognize when it’s time to be running the race, but also when it’s time to be having fun, enjoying life and love, creating joy, and experiencing freedom.

Life should not only be an endurance exercise.

Even in our physical exercise, we’re told to take breaks. Just as the body needs time to rehydrate, to recover, and to refuel, so too do our souls need that time. Push hard, yes. Go big, yes. But make sure that you don’t work so hard that you forget what it’s like to have fun. Make sure you’ve got people by your side that you can have the time of your life with, who will be there to shoulder the load with you when you can’t carry it alone, who will be there to jump off a cliff with you when you desire it, and who will laze by the pool with you when you need it.

My hope is that you can be that for each other, that you can help keep each other balanced. Run the race together, yes. But also celebrate the victory together. I pray there are many of those for you both. I love you boys.


My son,

Last time, we talked about paying attention. More explicitly, I suggested that the world has a road that they want you to follow, and if you don’t choose your path yourself and pay attention to where you’re going, you’ll naturally fall into that path.

Today I want to encourage you to follow your passions.

How is this related? For starters, people who follow their passions whole heartedly tend to carve out a path for themselves that allow those passions to flourish. More importantly though, following your passion allows you to encounter others that do the same.

Passion is one of those things that is entirely additive in nature - the more you do life with passionate people, the more that passion rubs off on you.

As you grow up, there will be many attempts to get you to conform, to “fall in”, to focus on doing what’s expected of you. By the time you read this, I hope I’ve helped you keep time set aside for yourself, for you to follow the things that excite you, for you to let the things that spark your soul flourish.

As much effort and pressure the world puts on you to conform to a path, it strangely doesn’t reward that conformity, which is a bit of a mystery. Those that have the patience, persistence, and gall to follow their own path are the ones that not only end up being more successful, but end up being more interesting, keeping more interesting company, and leading rich and full lives as a result.

While I’m not saying to completely buck the trend and be completely non-conformist, I am saying that you need to pay attention and invest in your passions as well. At the end of it all, that’s what brings you the joy, fulfillment, and happiness of a life well lived.


My son,

As you know by now, I try to be a pretty intentional person. I heard something the other day that I absolutely loved, so I thought I’d share it with you.

Wherever it is you want to go, there is a long and conventional path, and there are shorter, less conventional approaches. The long conventional path is the outcome of not paying attention. It’s what happens when you let other people dictate your life.

I’ve found this to be extremely true in my experiences.

While I do believe it is sometimes beneficial to not pay attention, those times should be explicitly decided upon. Some of the best memories I’ve had were days where a few of us had no firm plans or designs, but rather played the day by ear and presently discovered that we had a fabulous time as a result. Those are days that are intentionally unintentional, and aren’t the subject of my attention today.

What I’m referring to today is the consciousness and critical nature that is required at a grander scale. It is more than just ability; it is a trained state of mind, a refined attribute that may take years of intentional practice to adequately acquire.

It is the art of knowing what pieces of input to process and come back to, and what to discard and not spend time on. It is the discipline to remember to step back and look at the bigger picture ervery so often. It is having the audacity to challenge the norms that are given to you, that you’re supposed to just accept.

The truth is that society doesn’t want you to do that. It wants to raise a geeration of people that are easily influenced by the latest greatest marketing trends that are out there. Capitalism is selfish by nature, and so it will do everything in its power to numb your senses and have you follow the path that profits it the most.

If you don’t have a plan for yourself, someone else will and you’ll fall into that.

My challenge to you today is to make sure you’re paying enough attention to be able to intentionally choose which path you take. Because even if there are many paths to your destination, time is the resource that you’ll never get back. So make the most of your time and pay attention to what you’re doing, where you’re going, and who you’re going there with!


My son,

One of the toughest things that a man must do is to admit when they’re wrong. We are wired for victory, for success - from an early age, we’re taught that it is praiseworthy to succeed and to be victorious. Hopefully by the time you read this, your mother and I will have instilled in you our philosophy that learning, making progress, and improving yourself are more important than winning.

Life is about more than just the destination. The journey is equally - and sometimes even moreso - important.

And so today we’re going to talk about something that every great man knows is the right thing, but many find difficult to do. Taking responsibility for your own actions, especially when things go wrong.

It’s a story as old as storytelling itself - the first sons of the world struggled with this very concept. In Genesis 4, we’re told the story of Cain and Abel, sons of Adam and Eve. Because of his jealousy and his own inadequacies before God, Cain takes Abel’s life out of anger and frustration. That of itself is already quite bad, but when God calls him on it, what is Cain’s response?

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” - Genesis 4:9

I won’t mention that this was already a family trait, as dad had already pulled the same stunt with God, blaming Eve for his eating the apple before the two of them got themselves kicked out of paradise. Oh and so did mom - she passed the blame onto the serpent.

Great start humanity has eh?

Fast forward a bit, and we’ll see that even God’s favorite son struggles with this one. Thankfully for mankind, when the prophet Nathan confronts him, David does in fact repent and fesses up and repents for his actions, but even he needed a kick in the pants to get on the right page.

So what does this mean for us?

I believe there are a few reasons why taking responsibility for your own actions is not just something that we ought to do, but is something that actually gives us strength and adds to our effectiveness. Here’s why.

  • Integrity
    Absolutely the most importat. Having integrity is what makes a man. I don't care what anyone else says. Integrity is in my books one of the most (if not *the* most) important traits a man can have and must guard. It is the quality that brings out the best in you and in those around you because it's the quality that says no matter what the circumstance, no matter who's watching, no matter what the arguments are opposed, I *will* do the right thing.

  • Earnest connection
    By taking responsibility for our actions and admitting when we're wrong, we move ourselves from the adversarial position to an earnest and open one. As a populice, we resonate with leaders that let their guard down and share an apology, a fault, a heart-felt admittance of failure.

    By displaying vulnerability, we remind people that we're all flawed and broken, striving to be better, reaching for that beau ideal of human excellence.

  • Humility
    Taking responsibility also keeps us honest and keeps us humble. It keeps us in a posture of humility where we're able to hear truth being spoken into our lives. It lets us recognize that we need to grow, and lets us see the path ahead.

I love the quote by legendary football coach John Wooden about the topic. He says that “you aren’t a failure until you start to blame”. How true that is!

And so my son, my challenge to you this time is to continue striving for greatness, continue growing and learning and trying new things, and to continue putting yourself out there and going out on a limb for things. As you do that, you’re bound to have set backs, and when you do, my prayer is that you’re able to own up to those too. Claim your losses just as you claim your victories; they both are great opportunities for growth and for deeper connection. And those are great things.


My son,

There’s a natural tension in life between today and tomorrow. As you know, time is the only resource in life that we will never get back, and so we naturally want to maximize that. This creates the dilemma of whether we should invest in tomorrow or if we should spend on today.

As much as I would love to give you a hard and fast rule for which choice to make, the reality is that the richest lives are lived somewhere in the middle - investing enough in tomorrow while still spending time today to live your life.

So then what are we talking about today?

Balance.

A rich and full life is one that balances our investments in the future - school, learning, reading, developing skills and interests - with our enjoyment of today - shooting the breeze with friends, sitting on the deck and enjoying the sunset, standing in awe of the most beautiful sight you’ve ever seen.

Asian culture tells us to invest in tomorrow. We’re taught to save our money and to invest it. We’re constantly reminded to work hard today so that we can be successful tomorrow. We’re reminded to think about the big picture, about the life that we want to have later, about our next job, our future wife and family, our retirement plans.

And yet there’s no emphasis on today.

In that sense, tomorrow is something that is always coming but never comes.

And that’s my challenge for you today. While investing in the future, make sure you take the time to smell the roses. Make time to do it. And do it big. Whether this means turning on your noise-cancelling headphones and cranking up your favorite epic song, sitting outside with a glass of wine and watching the sun set over the horizon, or taking a walk down a familiar street with the love of your life.

Those are the moments - those perfect, timeless moments - that give you strength to keep pushing forward. Those moments you’ll remember for a lifetime, and will ultimately confirm for yourself that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.


My son,

This world often measures us by our results, by our accomplishments, and by the amount of impact that we've had based on our finished products. While results are important, they pale in comparison to the journey that we take to get there.

It is the process of refinement, of improvement, of becoming and not being that is of utmost importance.

For we know that character is not innate or automatic. Rather, it needs to be built, refined, tried, tested, and improved upon. It is worked on with great effort, with great intention, and with great patience. And it is not easily built alone.

The more we are able to find others to walk life with us, to challenge us, and to encourage us on that journey, the greater our chances of success. The more that we find ourselves in an environment that praises not our talent but our growth and our learning, the more we are able to improve and to better ourselves, and in so doing are better able to produce those results that our society so covets.

As you know, I love the epic, the inspiring, the mountaintop experiences that give you a breath of life so exhilarating that words can only describe but a glimpse of the experience. Those are the experiences from which we take away our life's greatest learnings. As David Brooks says in his book, The Road to Character:

"Moral improvement occurs most reliably when the heart is warmed, when we come into contact with people we admire and love and we consciously and unconsciously bend our lives to mimic theirs."

I love that sentiment, that from these people that we admire and love, we bend our lives to mimic theirs.

And so to that end my challenge to you is to make sure you've surrounded yourself with people who encourage you to become more than you are, that challenge you to dig deep and to work on yourself, and that share the belief that to be is not nearly as important as to become.


My son,

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.


My son,

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.


My son,

By now, I hope you know how much I love the epic. I love experiencing things that make you think of things as they ought to be, that make you want to be different, that make you strive for more.

The danger though, is that in trying to emulate the characteristics that we experience and read about, we may overstep that boundary and try to be like the characters themselves instead of emulating their characteristics. It's a subtle difference, but it's there nonetheless, and if unchecked, can lead you places you may not have initially intended to go.

My challenge to you as you grow up and experience all these rich and wondrous experiences, characters, and stories, is to always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of someone else. Know who you are, who you want to be, who you were purposed to be, and use that as your measure. Don't compare yourself with others; rather, be inspired by their example to strive for more yourself.

The world will try to pit you against others, will try to compare you on a variety of axes and scales, will even try to tell you that your worth is relative to others. Don't listen to them.

The Bible tells us that we are wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), and that God knew us before He formed us (Jeremiah 1:5). That applies to you! You are our perfect little boy, and your mom and I love you and will always love you, no matter what you choose to do and who you choose to be.

My prayer is that no matter what kind of person you grow up to be, no matter what experiences you have, what pursuits you take, and what company you choose to keep, that you intentionally choose all of those things, and that you be the best you that you can be!


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