Posts tagged with #Confidence
To some, our world today may look bleak. We are at the end of the second year of COVID-19 life, with the world still teetering and toying with the idea of reopening. In an ever evolving story with what seems like as many setbacks as victories, this pandemic thing certainly isn’t over, already amassing almost 6 million deaths. In the midst of all of that we have the various racial hate crimes that have sprung up on top of an already volatile world.
Closer to home, the stress added by this quarantining pandemic life has caused much unrest, emotional instability, anxiety, and hardship. Many people have lost jobs, have been forced out of homes they can no longer afford, and become increasingly dependent on an insufficient system.
The Good Book is pretty clear that this is expected:
“In this life, you will have trouble. But take heart! For I have overcome the world.” - John 16:53
Our history books, religious texts, and novels are all replete with characters that have experienced much hardship. Characters riddled with flaws and insecurities for whom life pulls no punches. Characters who in spite of huge diversity and against all odds emerge victorious. Characters like King David, George Washington, Maverick, Maximus, and even Frodo Baggins - all of them had the odds stacked against them and still emerged victorious.
It isn’t that there was no fear or self-doubt; no, these characters all displayed a healthy amount of those. Nor did they have redeemers come to deliver them from their circumstances with some overwhelming force. No, the reason these great characters were triumphant was internal. It is their mindset, their approach to the situation. Their ability to see the pitfalls all around them, “bogies like fireflies in the sky”, and say those two simple words: “and yet”.
Those two words change the equation. They change our entire outlook. Those two small and simple words have a world of impact because they reshape our posture. They take us from the defensive (and occasionally defenseless) posture full of fear and dread for what’s next to one of hope and determination that “this too shall pass”.
With that shift in mindset our entire being changes. No longer are we helpless victims of circumstance; we are confident owners of our destiny. Yes, we have been dealt a rough hand. But it is our hand to play, our hard work to put in, our hope to place and hold on to.
I love the story of Horatio Spafford, the man who penned one of my favorite songs. A prominent and successful lawyer, Spafford lost his 4 year old son in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Shortly thereafter, he and his wife planned to take their 4 daughters to London. Due to complications with his business, he was delayed but sent his family ahead. They were shipwrecked, and his wife alone survived the tragic accident, and sent him a telegraph containing two words: “Saved. Alone.”
It was on the ship he took to rejoin with her that he penned these famous lines:
“When peace like a river attendeth my way,
when Sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.”
Imagine for a moment that voyage. Imagine Horatio leaning against the railing looking out to an endless ocean, tears streaming down his cheeks as he finally has a moment where he is forced to rest. Imagine the grief, the anguish, perhaps even the anger at the injustice of it all. The long journey with nothing to do but to think, to remember, to commiserate, to mourn.
Somewhere on that journey through endless water, through memories, through heaving sobs and pain; somewhere on this man’s journey dealing with the unimaginable those two little words spark a light. Small and flickering at first, that light grows and spreads, illuminating the man’s soul until he is able to say, “and yet, it is well with my soul”.
How do we get that? How do we ensure that we’ve got a fertile environment where those two little words can sprout and take root?
EXPOSE YOURSELF TO A RANGE OF PERSPECTIVES
It is human nature to believe that in times of adversity we are alone. It is a natural fear, and a common worry. Even when we are not physically alone, even when we have some blessed friends who want to shoulder our burdens with us, we will often push them away believing that they do not, can not understand. We believe our experiences to be singularly unique.
Chances are, they are not.
By regularly exposing ourselves to a range of perspectives and trying to understand them, by listening to the stories of others, we see that in fact we are not alone. Others have struggled with many similar struggles that on the surface may seem different but in reality have a lot more similarities than we may have originally thought. In seeking to understand others we allow ourselves the space to believe that we too may be understood and may not be alone, and can therefore not only withstand and weather the storm but can see that this too shall pass.
DO THE WORK TO BE SECURE OF YOUR IDENTITY
Identity is important. It is hard work. It is that which we believe about ourselves. It is the thing that gives us inner strength. There is great power in one’s identity.
When we are secure in our identity, our value, our self-worth, we can respond to adversity not by deeming it unfair, not by dwelling on the fact that we did nothing to deserve this. We can instead respond by seeing the event as unfortunate, and know that despite this, (“and yet”), we will still move forward and thrive.
SURROUND YOURSELF WITH POSITIVE AND RESILIENT PEOPLE
I would be remiss not to mention this out. We know that bad company corrupts good morals. We know that passion is additive and contagious. We know that our environment greatly impacts not only our choices but also the connections we make and the experiences we have that ultimately govern those choices.
Thus by surrounding ourselves with positive and resilient people we are able not only to learn from them but to be changed by them. In witnessing their resilience, in walking with them through their struggles we prime ourselves to do the same.
My boys, life is not going to be easy. It wasn’t meant to be. There will be challenges that help refine you. There will be hardships for you to endure. My prayer is that you will face them, understand them, and be able to say those two small but powerful words, “and yet”.
In our culture today empowerment has become a buzzword. Whether we’re talking about empowering women to learn and raise their communities out of poverty, empowering young children and students to reach for a better life, or empowering young employees to speak their mind for change, empowerment it seems is everywhere. And rightly so! Empowering others is a great thing. But what does it actually look like? What does it consist of?
In its formative years, empowerment tended to look like someone in a position of power - a manager, a parent, a mentor - simply expressing that they want the individual to feel empowered. I’ve heard many times in my career phrases like “I want to empower you to make this decision”, or “you should feel empowered to make changes here”.
Sounds great, but utterly ineffectual.
At Amazon, Jeff Bezos baked into the company culture the belief that good intentions, while noble and good, are alone insufficient. The intention needs to be there, yes, but that can’t be where it stops. There needs to be more - a follow up, a plan of action, a concrete mechanism that we can turn to that ensures the good intention happens.
What does feeling empowered look like?
For any individual to feel empowered, there are a few key conditions which need to be met. The individual must be in an environment or culture that is conducive to them taking action, making mistakes, and adjusting accordingly. They must have an internal confidence that allows them to strike out and act. They must have a curiosity and a desire to learn so that they can internalize the feedback that comes from their actions in order to change, evolve, and grow.
When people feel empowered, their eyes light up. They hold their heads higher. They stand up straighter. They maneuver within their environment without fear. They are focused on the future because they know that they can impact that future. They have hope because tomorrow is not determined for them; rather, it is dependent on them.
Let’s look a bit deeper at these conditions.
An empowered environment and culture
Whether we’re looking at a workplace culture, a family environment, or a group of close friends, an environment of empowerment is a life giving place that allows us to flourish and grow. Cultures that support empowerment do not place arbitrary restrictions and requirements on classes or groups of people dwelling in that environment.
This means that there are no criteria that exist that don’t provably impact the decision making process. For example, ethnicity, gender, and tenure at a company have no direct correlation to the strength of one’s ideas for a new product launch. Age, birth order, or position in a family tree have no correlation to the validity of one’s understanding of education. Religion, belief systems, or cultural background have no correlation to one’s ability to drive. A culture of empowerment does not have restrictions like these.
While these traits may appear to be correlated, empowering cultures dive one level deeper to determine what’s actually impactful. It used to be the case that tenure was a strict requirement for many things. However many empowering environments have recognized that tenure itself is not a key requirement. Tenure typically is correlated with experience, with wisdom, with knowledge, and with understanding, but it is not a strong correlation such that in many environments tenure has been removed as a criteria.
Environments that foster empowerment are ones where requirements are strongly correlated to the thing the requirements are applied to. It is our job as leaders and managers to regularly reevaluate our requirements to ensure the environment we build fosters the culture we want to have.
A few quick thoughts on how we can do that (more on this next time!):
- Have believable people that you regularly get feedback from. Make sure that these people know that their feedback should be honest, is valued, and will not cause retribution. And make sure they have the context from which to provide that feedback.
- Be transparent about the evaluation process. Share what people are being evaluated on. Provide them the details. Be honest. Stack ranks happen - let’s stop pretending they don’t. Treat people like adults and accept responsibility for when things aren’t fair.
- Give credit where it’s due. A good rule of thumb is for each piece of recognition you receive make sure you’re giving at least 5 times as much credit to others. None of us are self-made, so if you believe you deserve that credit and no one else does, you’re wrong.
People need confidence to learn. They need confidence to know that they can get this, that they are able to progress. They need to believe in themselves, that they are capable of change, of improvement.
It is not enough to put someone in an environment that is an empowering one. It is not enough to give them resources, to encourage them to speak out, and to create a safe space for them to do so. They have to believe that they can, and that they have something meaningful to offer. And we have to enable them to have belief.
The moment a person stops believing that things happen to them and starts believing that things can happen because of them, they begin to see the world in a different light. They begin to believe that they can shape their stars, that they can chart their own course, and that they can make the world better. It is that moment that Melinda Gates calls the moment of lift.
In her book with the same title, Melinda describes the moment of lift as
“a moment that captures grace. Something happens to relieve us, to release us from pain, from burden. It is extrinsic. We cannot lift ourselves. We must be lifted.”
It is that powerful grace that has the ability to set us on a different course and to truly lift us out of our current circumstances. To truly empower people we must lift them up. We must move them into a place where they begin to believe in themselves. We must help them to see that when the tides of circumstance loom overhead that they can stand against them.
A few thoughts on how we can help build confidence in others (again, more on this in a future post!):
- Be specific about praise. Saying “great job!” is absolutely useless. Tell them why. What was great? What did they do that was great? Why was it “great” and not “good”?
- Hold people accountable. When someone makes a mistake, let them know you hold them responsible. When we are honest in our accountability, people will know that we are also honest in our praise.
- Be generous with your time. Chances are people who you give feedback to don’t fully understand it. Take the time to explain it to them thoroughly. Remember that just because you’ve been thinking about it from many angles for a long time doesn’t mean that they have the same context. Be patient and walk them through it. Make sure they really get it before you move on.
Curiosity and learning
An unfortunate reality of our world is that our education systems are broken. They incentivize the wrong things. They promote memorization, short term recall, and specific application of a concept to a specialized problem space. This in turn creates a culture where we dread learning, mostly because we have an inaccurate understanding of it.
Learning ought to be a lifelong activity and endeavor. It is something that we expect of our children. It is something that we allocate the first quarter of our lives to. It is something that successful people do all their lives.
As children, we are born with an innate sense of curiosity. From a young age we are curious about everything and anything under the sun. We stick things in our mouths, we put our chubby little fingers into wall sockets, and we’re mesmerized by anything new. We want to be like our older siblings, our parents, our role models. We want to progress forward. We are curios and want to learn.
And yet as we have gotten older, we’ve lost touch with that curiosity and have lost the sense of wonderment and joy at learning new things. Instead we prefer to fill our time with meaningless trifles such as celebrity gossip and the vast amounts of time-wasting things all around us. We’ve lost the ability to be in awe of things, to marvel at things, to be amazed by things, and to be infinitely curious about them.
So how do we spark curiosity in ourselves and in others? A few thoughts (and again, more next time!):
- Build in time to slow down. Whether it’s meditation, going for a walk, or just simply dedicating time to sit and enjoy your morning cup of coffee, slowing down allows our minds to wander and wonder.
- Don’t answer a question, even if you know the answer. Whether we’re talking about employees, children, or students, sometimes the best thing we can do for someone is to not give them the answer even if we’ve got it. Let them stew on it. Let them consider what they know. Let them surprise themselves (and maybe even you!) with their thoughts.
- Put yourself in awe-inspiring places. Whether you’re taking the time to travel and see things or you’re surrounding yourself with some awesome people, know that your environment and your surroundings slowly but surely impact not just how you think, but what you think about.
By instilling a curiosity in people, lifting them so that they have the confidence to act on that curiosity, and putting them in an environment that values, supports, and encourages those bold and brave behaviors, we can create the necessary conditions for creating more empowered people. And this is a great thing, because empowered people are the ones that can change the world.
Relationships make our world go ‘round. No matter how we slice it, no matter how we try to automate things and put impersonal systems in place to remove the human element, we cannot escape the fact that at the end of the day, we are a relational species and relationships make our world go ‘round.
So how do we set ourselves up for success in all manner of relationships, be they personal, transactional, business, romantic, or familial?
There are three closely related things that I believe are the foundation to any great (substitute your choice of word here depending on the relationship you’re thinking about - perhaps “effective” or “efficient” for work relationships, “passionate” or “steadfast” for romantic relationships etc) relationship: trust, communication, and consistency.
I’ll tackle each of them in separate posts, but today we’ll talk about consistency.
Neuroscience tells us that our brains are big pattern matching machines based on our mental models. When we notice a particular stimulus our brains use our mental models to create an expectation. This happens millions of times in an instant. For example, when I pick up my coffee cup, my brain expects my hands to feel the smooth porcelain of the cup. If I then run my index finger up the handle, my brain expects to feel a handle protrude from the cup base and for the handle to be cooler than the body of the cup.
All of these expectations happen an immeasurable amount of times per day, and yet we don’t notice any of them. Our brains are trained to explicitly not draw our attention when the expectation matches our mental models.
However, when something doesn’t match, when something isn’t consistent with our mental models, our brains raise alarm bells. For example, if I ran my finger up what my eyes detect as a steaming porcelain cup but feel a cool fuzzy feeling instead of a hot smooth surface, then my attention gets snapped to that difference. My brain has detected that something is wrong, and it immediately gets my attention. This attention is expensive. It takes me out of my flow. It derails my train of thought. It disrupts my current task and demands immediate attention.
Expectations in our relationships
This same principle is true of our relationships as well. Our brains create mental models for every relationship we have, and every interaction in those relationships. Whether it’s ordering coffee with the cute barista at my favorite coffee shop, sending a note to my manager with some bad news, or chatting with my partner about something interesting I’ve read, my brain has mental models and expectations for each of these interactions.
And when those interactions match the model, my brain is free to engage, to conserve its resources, and to continue with the low hum of activity that is always going on in the background (for me, that background activity typically is “listening” to some song in my head). However, if the interaction isn’t consistent with my expectation, my brain goes into hyperdrive.
Hyperdrive itself is not a good or bad thing - it’s just a thing. It is our body kicking ourselves into high alert, which is an ability that has served humanity very well in our evolution. For example, suppose I’m out camping in the woods after dark and I hear rustling nearby. My brain will kick into high gear, triggering my fight or flight instincts and being extremely aware of indicators of whether this is a run-for-my-life situation or if this is a funny-anecdote-to-tell-later thing.
While hyperdrive can be incredibly exhilarating (think of the anticipation in the last few seconds of the roller coaster cart climbing before the inevitable large drop), it is also exhausting. It uses up much of our body’s energy, our mental capacities, and our attention quota and drains us dry. (Incidentally, this must be why hormone-crazed teenagers are always tired and sleeping all the time…!)
When those that we’re in relationship with are inconsistent in their behaviors towards us, they cause us to stay on high alert and awareness. While some spontaneity may be welcomed, there is a difference between spontaneous and chaotic. Effective, mature, adult relationships should not be chaotic. Life itself gets incredibly busy; let us not add to that by tolerating or enabling relationships where we are (or are causing others to be) expending extra effort to handle the inconsistencies.
Our natural desire for equilibrium
Our world is designed for equilibrium. Whether we’re talking about our scientific and physical world (high school remembrances of Chatelier’s principle aka The Equilibrium Law come to mind) or our relational life, our world naturally trends towards a steady state. It’s as wired into our natural world as much as it is into our brain chemistry. We desire order.
For example, human psychology tells us that in the midst of crisis, we will seek some semblance of normalcy, and will often make a number of short term optimizations that will allow us to take a step closer to our steady state. People in trauma will often cling to the one thing in their life that reminds them of normalcy and allows them the illusion of consistency in their lives.
While we may desire the occasional burst of spontaneity, at the core of it we desire relationships where we know what to expect. We highly value traits like steadfastness, loyalty, constancy, and reliability. People who exemplify these traits cause us to feel safe, to feel secure, and to feel like we belong.
Consistency in your professional life
It is incredibly important to be consistent in your professional life. Like it or not, we all have brands. Just as corporations have brands that come with expectations and implications, we too all have our own personal brand and are known for some set of traits. We may not always be aware of how we’re viewed or what our colleagues think of us, but we all have brands that follow us around from job to job and impact us in often unseen and unforeseen ways.
And brands are hard to change.
It therefore behooves us to think about those brands, to be consistent in our establishment of them, and to be reliable in their execution. As a hiring manager, I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a referral from a colleague that went something like “you need to have this person on your team - they do X, Y, and Z things, which is a perfect fit for what you’re looking for!”. We establish those brands by being consistent.
Consistency in your parenting
I learned very early on in parenting that setting expectations with children helps them to be their best selves and allows them to navigate the world in a healthy and confident way. It turns out that telling our children that we’re going to leave the birthday party in 5 minutes, or that daddy is going on a work trip and will be back in two days allows them to prepare themselves for the situation and confidently be prepared for what’s to come.
And this makes sense - as adults, we would hate being jerked around and told we have to leave immediately, or told that we have to take a business trip with no end date specified. We want to know how to plan our lives. We want to know how to prepare our emotional beings for what’s to come.
From the earliest age we build mental models. We learn to model the world and then extrapolate what we expect based on those models. We learn that touching a steaming plate will burn our little fingers, and that pushing our younger sibling will cause them to cry. These models help us navigate the world, and give us confidence to explore and to discover.
As parents then, it becomes incredibly important for us to be consistent with our children. Whether we’re talking about praising great behaviors and demonstrations of great traits, rewarding strong outcomes, disciplining and correcting bad attitudes and behaviors, or enforcing guidelines and boundaries, one of the best things we can do for our children is to be consistent.
Consistency in your relationships
There are all sorts of sitcoms, clips, and shorts that poke fun at the inconsistent individual. From pithy and memorable frameworks like “the hot-crazy scale” from How I Met Your Mother to the comical caricatures of the free-spirited crazy younger siblings, popular media is replete with examples of chaotic, unreliable, and inconsistent people and the challenges that they bring into their relationships of any sort.
These characters often end up in unfulfilled relationships and circumstances, and have a much more difficult time building deep and meaningful connection with others. They end up regularly disappointing those that rely on them, and over time prove themselves to be unreliable and untrustworthy.
And so my boys, my hope for you is that you are consistent. That you are consistent in your thought lives, your love lives, your community lives, your professional lives, and your family lives. I hope we can learn together to be ever more consistent and dependable, and can come to rely on one another as we navigate this life together!
I know I’ve written about empathy in the past, but I’ve been doing a bunch of reading and thinking on the topic, and I wanted to share some more thoughts with you both as I learn more about this beautifully difficult character trait.
When I first encountered the concept of empathy, I believed it to mean putting myself in someone else’s shoes, and trying to determine what I would do in their situation. While I still think that much of that statement is true, I need to make a small tweak. I now believe empathy to mean putting myself in someone else’s shoes, and trying to determine what they would do in their situation, and why.
The fundamental difference here is the focus. My first definition has to do with me; what would I do in their situation. This is entierly determined by me, my background, my experiences, and my context. The choices I make in that frame of empathy then, will reflect my preferences, my value system, and ultimately would, without intention, be self-serving.
Now, since our goal when we apply empathy is to understand the other person and to add strength to the relationship, this definition isn’t as useful to us.
Our new definition is more compelling because it gets at the heart of what the other person needs, what they desire, and what motivations factor in to their decisions. It causes us to not just know about the other person, but to know them.
In his book The Lonely man of Faith, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik postis that one of the core needs of man is the need to know and be known. He argues that the need to be known is a universal characteristic across mankind, and that as relational beings, we find much fulfillment and peace in being known.
And so when we want to demonstrate empathy, there is much good that we can do to add to our shared understanding, and to bring fulfillment to the other person.
Remember that empathy is an act of understanding, not of judgment. It is primarily an observational activity, observing and learning about the other person’s motivations, context, and values. It is not applying our own judgment to those things!
Be patient. In our self-centered and self-focused world, it takes time to develop the muscle to break away from that trend and to focus not on our own agenda and goals but on someone else.
Intentionally practice and apply empathy. No change comes without effort. While the desire to have empathy is already a great first step, we need to progress past that and realize that there is real work to be done in order to get us being truly and effectively empathetic.
My hope for you both is that you grow up to be men that are confident in yourselves, and have enough confidence around your own desires and needs that you’re able to set aside yourselves and learn to concern yourselves with the needs of others.
As a kid, I loved candles. I loved watching them flicker, loved watching the glow that they made. I was always amazed at how much light could come from such a small little flame. I loved the glow; soft, warm, almost magical in nature.
As I grew older, my fascination with candles changed. While I still loved that warm familiar light that they emitted, I became enraptured with how they shone brighter when a small breeze would come through the room. The small, gentle flame would become large and fierce. It would fight to stay alive, would flame up and light up the room more brightly.
The noble human spirit shares this beautiful quality; it is a peaceful glow that flames up fiercely under adversity, fighting to stay lit and illuminating all those around it in the process.
Jesus said that “in this life, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!” - John 16:33
In this life, we are assured trouble, trials, difficulties, struggles. That’s a fact, guaranteed. The true measure of a man is how we handle these trials. When the wind comes, do we carefully nurture that candle so that it gets just enough wind to let it fiercely light up our spirit? Or do we turn that candle straight into the wind, letting it blow out completely?
One of the hardest things a father has to do is to not stop the wind even though he sees it heading straight for his children. I pray for the discernment for you to know how to nurture that candle so that when you need it to, it will shine brightly in the night. There is much darkness all around us, and the world will need more candles to keep us in the light. May yours be one that shines brightly, and may it bring light to all those around you!
As much as I wish I did, the truth of the matter is that I don’t have all the answers. Nor am I always right. My thoughts in these letters to you are just that; my thoughts. These letters are a culmination of my experiences, my influences, my environment, and my best efforts. But they are just mine.
The reality is that you are your own person, with your own interests, your own designs, your own desires, your own aspirations. If you’re anything like you are at the time of my writing this, then you’ll have so many of these things. Even at this young age, you’ve got a beautiful personality, decisive, confident, and full of passion. My prayer is that over the years, all of those have grown and have molded and shaped you into a wonderful man.
So with that in mind, today’s thought is going to be pretty simple.
“Find something to care about; and then care deeply about it.”
And that’s it. No matter what you do with your life, no matter pursuits you choose for yourself, pursue them strongly and deeply. Your mother and I will love you and support you regardless of what you choose. My charge to you today is that whatever and whomever you choose to care about, care deeply.
I love you, my boy. I can’t wait to see what kind of man you choose to be.
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.
One of the most sobering realizations that you’ll have in your life is that your life this side of heaven is finite. As I noted last month, time is the only resource in life that we will never get back. Each moment that you spend is one that you’re never going to get back. So how do we make the most of it? And what’s that got to do with self-respect?
Quite a bit actually.
Self-respect is the thing that lets you own your own destiny, that lets you fearlessly choose the path that you want to take. You are beautifully and wonderfully made - own that. Claim it. Run with it.
There are all sorts of benefits from having a strong sense of self-respect, of self-esteem, but the fundamental thing is that it gives you confidence to be your own man, to do things that may not be popular, to stand up against opposition, and to do the things that you believe in.
- Confidence to fight for the little guy.
This one is arguably the most important. In this world, there are so many people without voices - the sick, the poor, the scrawny kid in class that gets picked on, the girl on the bus that no one wants to sit with. To each of these, Jesus asks us to love them as He loves us. In Matthew 25:40, Jesus tells us that "whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me". In my own life, I've found that this one is extremely difficult. It's so hard to step outside the norm, to go against the grain, to put yourself out there to stand up for the little guy. But just think - how much harder is it for them?
- Confidence to stand up for what you believe.
We live in an age where the social norm is to not offend, to not have beliefs that could show disapproval to anything that popular culture deems is acceptable. We have axioms like "it's the nail that sticks out that gets hammered". Never in the history of our world has there been a need for people to stand firm in what they believe in, to have a deep rooted sense of morality, and to be that light on a hill for all to see.
- Confidence to be alone.
It's tough being alone. Whether it's being circumstantial - being home alone for an evening, going to an even like prom alone, or even taking a vacation on your own - or if it's a longer term thing like being single while your friends are coupled off, being alone is tough. Having self-respect gives you the confidence and sense of self enough to be not just okay with those situations, but to stop seeing them as inflictions and instead to start seeing them as opportunities.
- Confidence to strike it out on your own.
It's a basic human instinct to seek safety, and to seek safety in numbers. Striking out on your own goes against that very nature and by definition isn't easy. But so much of life, so much about being a man, so much about an enriching experience is only accomplished and experienced when you strike out on your own. Being your own man isn't easy, but it's absolutely essential.
- Confidence to ask her to marry you.
Nothing is more nerve wracking than when you find yourself on one knee holding a little box with a ring that costs 3 months of your salary in it. Nothing. And no matter what anyone else tells you, nothing should be. Finding a life partner that you can run with, laugh with, celebrate with, and mourn with is so hard, and when you finally find her, asking her to be yours as long as you both shall live is nerve wracking. As it should be. Having confidence in yourself lets you realize that it's just as hard for her, and that it's just as big of a commitment for her as it is for you. And that's a good place to be.
So my prayer is that as you grow into a young man that you would have confidence in the man that God is created you to be, and that out of that understanding of self, of self-worth, of self-respect and self-esteem can come a heart for the world that is kind, considerate, protective, bold, and courageous. I love you, my boy.
It’s human nature to reminisce, to think back to days gone by, and to romanticize the days gone by. While I certainly don’t support living in the past and not being able to live in the present (that’s another topic for another day), I do believe there is value on occasionally reminiscing about your past.
Reminiscing reminds you of your values
One excellent outcome of reminiscing is that it reminds you about your values. The things that are absolutely core to your being, the things that you care about, are driven by, and are unwilling to compromise - reminiscing reminds you of those things.
One of the prerequisites of living a full life is to know what you’re living for, what you’re loving for. And the only way to know that is to know thyself intimately enough to know your motivators, your passions, and the values that define your very being.
The things that we reminisce about are clues to what we truly care about.
Reminiscing shifts your mindset
One of the great things about the human mind is the ability to transcend the immediate and be immersed in something greater, something bigger than ourselves.
When we take the time to thoughtfully consider the victories and mountaintop experiences of the past, our mindset shifts to adapt. By recalling and reliving those great moments, we’re able to put ourselves in that environment again, and are able to focus on how we felt, how we reacted, how we anticipated, and how we thought in that moment. We’re able to adopt the mindset of our experience and apply it to our current existence, and respond accordingly.
Reminiscing brings your current path into focus
By remembering where we’ve come from and noting where we are, we’re able to extrapolate the path that we’re on so that we can course correct as needed. In looking back on our past experiences, we’re able to see the growth that we’ve had since, and are able to focus on the path and see where we’re headed.
So my challenge to you is not to be afraid to look at where you’ve been, but to deliberately do so in a manner that helps you be more confident in who you are, where you’ve come from, and where you’re headed. Don’t get stuck in the past, but rather learn from it. Draw strength from it, and use it to channel and direct your energy where you want it to go.
As much as we'd occasionally like life to run entirely on our schedule, the reality is that it doesn't and it won't. And so this entry, while on the one hand is about being dressed well, on the other hand is really about being prepared for the unexpected to happen, and to be able to gracefully handle those situations.
The face value of the title here is very true - you should dress every day like you're going to meet the love of your life. Because who knows, you just might meet her some day, and you'd ideally want your appearance to give you the confidence to be on your best foot. Like we discussed last time, appearances matter, if only to give you an extra boost of confidence - and every man knows that when you first see that face, first encounter that angel that you'll want to spend the rest of your days with, every ounce of confidence is going to be welcomed.
The underlying point here is that life won't go according to your schedule.
That's not to say you shouldn't plan - no, definitely make your plans, and lay out the course that you want to take. But be flexible on that course. Often, the best times in life - the most memorable, the most impactful, the most exhilarating - will come when you least expect it. And if you're dressed and ready for the occasion, you set yourself up for a much better experience.
And so my advice here is to be ready for that. When you're ready and expecting the unexpected, you're able to take things in stride and handle the situation with more grace. When you're ready for life to throw its curveballs at you, you're best equipped to knock that sucker if not out of the park, than at least out to the right field corner for a double. So be prepared. Be dressed for the occasion. Plan, but be flexible. Let life take you where it will.
And who knows, you might just meet the love of your life along the way.
There are all sorts of proverbs out there about what's on the inside being what counts, that appearances shouldn't matter, that you should never judge a book by its cover, that what you look like isn't as important as who you are on the inside. All of these proverbs - while motivating and comforting - shouldn't be taken entirely literally.
Make no mistake; appearances matter.
I don't mean that they are of central importance; no, in that respect, I agree with those proverbs. What's on the inside is more important. That's why we have all these talks about character, about integrity, about honor; no, without a doubt, what's on the inside is more important.
However, that doesn't mean that appearances don't matter. Here are a few reasons why.
- First impressions stick. Whether we like it or not, not only do our first impressions of others generally stick, but certainly their first impression of us does. And unfortunately, much of that first impression will be based on appearance.
- Being underdressed puts you at a disadvantage. If not in your eyes, than certainly in theirs. Being underdressed demonstrates to others a lack of care at best, a lack of respect at worst.
- When you look your best, you feel that way too. When you take care to look presentable and professional, it sets you in the right frame of reference to feel presentable and professional, and it gives you the confidence to behave as such.
That last one is the real kicker. When you are confident in your appearance, you don't have to spend energy being worried about whether or not you look like you fit; you are confident that you appear like you do. And that gives you the confidence to actually do so.
And that's the real reason appearances matter. Not because they should be used as a yard stick or as a means of judgment, but because they empower you to feel your best. They give you confidence, and put you on an even playing field so that you can be the best version of you there is. And that's not a bad thing.