Posts tagged with #Balance
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!
We are a species that is obsessed with memories. We spend so much time and money on inventing, creating, buying, and consuming technology centered around memories. Since the earliest times we can recall, humankind has spent countless hours and energy on memories. If we travel far back enough, we give memories the fancy term of “history”. Our modern day PR for the term is “social media”, or “news feed”, but whatever way we spin it, it is all centered around memories. Documenting what has happened, solidifying it for all eternity.
These recorded memories take different forms. History books attempt to record factual memories. Memories capture thoughts, feelings, and remembrances of the rich and famous. Period pieces attempt to paint (typically with rose colored glasses) a picture of a time long past in its prime, filled with life, mystery, and drama. Memories are rooted in the finite, of time that has been concretely shaped, of the road that has already been travelled.
The problem with spending so much of our time and mental energies on memories is that they are all in the past. We remain forever rooted to what has already come, and as a result are always looking backwards. Many of us romanticize the past (in fact, our brains do this on purpose so that we can forget the pain and bad memories of the past and instead can move forward).
Now don’t get me wrong; I enjoy a good nostalgic trip down memory lane as much as the next person. But we cannot allow our focus to remain there, cannot allow our time to be entirely consumed by our reminiscing.
Dreams on the other hand, focus on the future. They focus on things which have not yet come to pass, and keep our eyes looking forward. They paint a very different picture - one of possibility, of potential, of the expansive and the infinite. They ignore the details of what is and allow us to focus on what could be. They too vie for our time and our mental capacity. They too seek regular visitation from our consciousness, but they have a very different focus and motive.
Why it matters where we spend our time
Why does any of this matter? Can’t we simply allow our minds to wander where they will and call it a day? Why is it important for us to think through whether we’re spending our time snapping photos to edit and post on social media or thinking through how to make our dreams a reality?
The obvious one is that time is finite. This is obvious, but is also misleading.
It is true that we all have the same 24 hours in a day, and that we all go through periods of life where we feel like we’ve got all the time in the world. For arguments’ sake, let’s assume we all live standard long-ish lives (in the US as of writing, the average life span is 79 years old).
But even then, not all time is created equal, because despite wall clock time being a finite and universally equal thing, the way we experience it is not equal. For some experiences, 5 minutes may feel like an hour. A year may feel like a decade. A season may feel like an instant.
For instance, I had the privilege of taking an auto cross class, and the 73 seconds it took for me to do a lap with 4 laps had the experience feeling like it was a 15-20 one. This past year of my life has been richly filled with experiences and relationships that it has felt more like a decade than a year. For some, the past three years since the COVID pandemic hit has felt like months, and they remember 2019 like it was yesterday.
Our experience of time depends on what we do and how we do it.
This means that what we do with our time is more important than how much time we have. Explicitly, this means that instead of attempting to prolong our measurable time by tacking on additional time at the end, we should aim for prolonged experiences where time seems to stand still and stretches, and our experience of it lengthens. Instead of being an exercise nut, eating large quantities of kale, quinoa, and whatever other “superfood” is currently trendy, and focusing on extending life we should focus on adding more substantial experiences to our lives.
How do we elongate our experienced time?
I believe that time feels longer because of novelty. When experiences are new, when we experience inputs that we’ve never encountered before, and when we view the world with a different perspective than we had in the past, time seems to slow down. This is additionally magnified by our attitude towards these novel experiences - do we embrace trying new things and learning? Or are we closed off to them?
Clearly my belief is that openness is best (more on that some other post).
This is backed up by our own personal experiences. For instance, our childhood is a complete cauldron of novelty, and therefore ends up often feeling like a much longer period of our lives than it actually is. Everything is new, every feeling, every experience, every situation - all new. First loves, first breakups, first championship goal, first failure. All of these firsts are imprinted in our minds, and our experience of those feel elongated.
It is not an accident that we call those years our formative years; our childhood and early adulthood are periods filled with core memories and events that shape us and last throughout our lives. The reason? Novelty.
This does not mean we should go out seeking novel experiences all the time! While some of those experiences are perfectly justifiable, we should also be seeking novel ways to look at existing experiences. This may mean asking a friend a question you never dreamed of asking. It may mean a conversation or a new attitude towards something that has been in your life for decades.
In order to put ourselves in these novel situations, we need to dream. This is explicitly different than daydreaming. Daydreaming is for all practical purposes equivalent to wistful and wishful thinking without any action or impact on ones life. Dreaming big however is an explicit and intentional action that we take to think about our world not as it is but as it ought to be. It is a future-focused activity that prepares our mind for the possibility that something new will happen to us and in us.
A few thoughts on dreaming big.
- The wider our range of inputs in our lives the bigger the canvas we have on which to dream. By being open to a wide range of experiences, by putting ourselves in circumstances that we have never encountered, and by reading and conversing with people that have different perspectives than we do, we stretch our mind’s ability to dream and in doing so create a virtuous cycle of growth.
- Some of your dreams should scare you. Not because they’re nightmares, but because they’re so big that imagining them take hold of your life is breathtaking and borderline terrifying. This is a good thing. If you’re never scared of the possibilities of realizing your dreams, you’re not dreaming big enough.
- Dreams are best shared. Sharing our dreams with our close loved ones allows us not only to inspire others, but be inspired by others and to refine our dreams so that they can start taking shape in reality. By creating a culture of love and trust where we can share our dreams without fear of ridicule or persecution we enable ourselves to freely express, to push our boundaries, and to safely explore the vast world of possibilities out there for us.
The important question then, is what you’re doing with your time. Do you spend your time living in the past, reliving old memories, and longing for days gone by? Or do you have an adequate reverence for the past while focusing on your dreams for the future?
My sons, my hope for you is that you find that right balance that allows you to reminisce and to nostalgically relive the past appropriately, dream big about the future, and live passionately in the here and now.
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.
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.
We live in a world that is increasingly polarized and extreme, and in a time where everyone seems to have strong opinions that are strongly held (and unfortunately, usually weakly researched). Many folks with extreme thoughts are also closed off to other inputs and conversations from folks with differing perspectives. The unfortunate result of which is further divide and disconnect between people. Some of this is natural.
In the past century, our world has gotten a lot smaller. Air travel prices have drastically reduced such that the average person is able to fly and see much more of the world than ever before (in 2022 the Gallup poll stats show that the average American flies 1.4 times a year). Video conferencing technologies make it possible to talk to virtually anyone in the world in real time. The internet has made it possible to access news, research, and opinions from anywhere and everywhere in the world instantaneously.
In this environment, it is natural that those seeking to be heard and to build a platform would have to differentiate themselves. Since your local newspaper is no longer your only source for news, agencies and publications need to differentiate themselves. The media is shaped by “newsworthiness”, which is in turn shaped by what is trending on Twitter and Facebook. The easiest way to get things to trend? Toss outrageous extreme grenades at core beliefs and watch it rain.
This type of extremism, while being occasionally amusing at best and purposefully confrontational at worst, does not lead you to a great life. It does not bring people together. It does not create a better world. It does not bring the type of vulnerable closeness that we seek, and does not lead to great and long-lasting outcomes.
The pitfalls of extremism
There are many pitfalls to extremism of any sort, but that’s not our primary topic today so we’ll touch on this only briefly. In my mind there are two major downfalls of extremism as we see it playing out in our world.
The first is that it divides and does not unite. Having strong opinions is fine - great even. But those strong opinions must be weakly held, and must be fair game for honest and open conversation and debate, and must not close the door for collaboration. Remember that human life is created to move forward together. We were created for relationship.
Oliver Burkeman put it perfectly in his book Four Thousand Weeks:
“The truth is that almost everything worth doing, from marriage and parenting to business or politics, depends on cooperating with others.”
Put simply, extremism breaks cooperation.
Second, our current rendition of extremism is not open to other ideas. Rather than allowing new information from opposing opinions to change our minds and provide us perspective, these encounters tend to deepen our certainty about our own perspectives. This echo chamber is further amplified by social media’s knack for surfacing more opinions that are like ours (and slightly more extreme than ours - as we said above, grenades generate great click rates).
A balanced approach
In contrast, there is much beauty to be found outside of the extremes.
Consider a simple example. We hold in high regard the quality of courage. We make movies about men and women who demonstrate high amounts of courage. We give awards, commendations, and much recognition for courageous acts. It is a trait we believe the paragon of virtue contains.
Yet this trait taken to either extreme is bad. In extreme excess, this trait becomes rashness. In extreme deficiency, this trait becomes cowardice. We need the balanced middle; courage.
Another example. There is a fine line between neediness and vulnerability. It is perfectly fine to vulnerably express that things have been quiet of late and therefore one has been lonely. That is explicitly different than expressing that one is lonely and needs to never be left alone again.
Aristotle provides the following framework, for which we’ve filled in a few examples:
|Vice from deficiency||Balance||Vice from excess|
Our world is not characterized by balance. We all too often lean into either excess, and see examples of those all around us.
Learning through diversity
Why is it so common for people to lean into excesses? To address this, it’s useful to understand how our childhood programming around learning factors into all of this.
We were taught that when we learn, whether we are reading, discussing, or experiencing, we gather inputs in order to strengthen a given argument. We start with the assumption that our belief is true and then we seek to confirm that. We need to flip our understanding of learning so that we learn from the bottom up. We need to read, ponder, and process for the purpose of gleaning knowledge and wisdom from the text, not to reinforce an idea we’ve already held.
By adjusting thus, we not only remove that confirmation bias, but we welcome diversity. Finding contradictory points and arguments now becomes exciting because it gives us an opportunity to expand our thinking, and to gather more perspectives on a given topic.
In work as in life, perspective matters. But more than that, knowing which perspective to adopt is essential, and our ability to find the right level of zoom and the right altitude to take will be critical to our continued growth along the path that we’ve intentionally set ourselves out on.
Let me unpack that.
First, it is good to understand that there are many different perspectives to any given situation. Having a good range of perspectives that you can understand so that you can pick and choose the right one to handle a given situation will be very beneficial.
Next, figure out the right zoom level. When you zoom in as deep as you can, many details emerge that you could not see at higher altitudes; perhaps you can see the details of the seashell in your hand, and its intricate colors and contours and textures. Zooming out, you are able to see that this seashell was sitting on a beach filled with many other seashells. Further still, you are able to see that this beach is a part of a river, lake, or ocean. Even further and you are able to see that this river flows from one large body of water to another.
We need to be able to discern when it is in our best interest to zoom in and look at all the granular details and when it is best to zoom out and look at the big picture. We need to determine which perspective and zoom level gives us the best perspective to make the best decision possible.
It is said that life is a series of individual moments that make up a larger path. Each of these moments requires us to pick the right perspective so that we can best stick to the larger path that we intend for our life progression.
Balancing impact and savoring life
We’re often told that we need to go big or go home. We’re trained to think about our careers as the thing of utmost importance. We’re pushed to be productive, to have lasting impact, to have great effect on our teams, our industries, and our world.
And somewhere along the way, we accepted that this came at the expense of savoring life.
But here too, it is possible to have a balance! The key is to think through what you want and how hard you want to run after each thing. We must realize that in life, as in work, there are skills to be developed, discipline to be employed, and learning to be had to savor and enjoy life to the full.
Yes, you read that right. We need to learn and apply effort to enjoying life.
We grow up believing we need to put effort into school, into learning new skills, into getting better at sports, at music, at art. But for some reason, we think that relationships should be easy. We think that enjoying life should be easy. We think that finding someone who you can spend your life with, and who you can squeeze every ounce of enjoyment and pleasure out of life with should be easy.
It takes as much effort, learning, intention, and instruction to savor life as it does to be highly impactful in our world. We need to therefore work hard to get as much of both as possible, and in doing so find the right balance for us at every given moment.
A final word on solutions
Something I’m learning is that there are no solutions, only adjustments for a certain time. Today’s solutions become tomorrow’s problems. As such, I want to encourage you not to think of any of this as a solution for how to live a balanced life. Rather, we make adjustments for a time, for a season, for a spell. And when it is appropriate to do so, we reevaluate and make more adjustments.
My sons, life is dynamic. It is free flowing. It is full of beauty, of joy, of sadness, of sorrow. It is rich with color, abundant in love, spotted with pain, with the occasional streaks of anger. It is best experienced together, with vulnerability and trust.
My hope for you is that you live lives that are not characterized by extreme behaviors but rather of balanced, thoughtful, mindful, and measured.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!