Letters to my sons

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

Posts tagged with #Connection

My sons,

I am not a mind reader. I can’t read your minds, can’t predict what you’re going to do next, and can’t know how you’re feeling or what you’re actively concerned about. ‘But of course,’ you say, ‘no one can do that.’

And yet that’s often the unspoken expectation in many of our relationships.

Take a minute to process that. While I’m sure everyone would agree that they themselves cannot read minds, but we often expect others to read our minds. Sure, we may disguise that desire in cliches. “If she really knew me, she would know what I think about this thing”. “I’ve raised him and lived with him for his 25 years. He should know what I want”. “We’ve been married for 10 years. He should know what makes me happy”. “We grew up together. She knows me like the back of her own hand”.

Bullshit.

This type of thinking is not the mark of a mature adult. It is unrealistic and impractical. It typically indicates that the individual has not spent the time to learn and understand the depth of relationships and the work required to attain them, and by extension that they do not and cannot experience the richest depth relationships have to offer. More on that later.

Why we expect people to read our minds

At a young age, we were taught that when we cry, mommy and daddy know what we want and give it to us. While they may not be right on the first time, they generally get it within a few tries. This is easy when you’re a newborn - all you do is eat, sleep, and poop.

However, many of us have not progressed past that. Once we mastered language, we were never taught to rewire our actions and our expectations to incorporate advanced communication. The Good Book provides some instruction here:

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” - 1 Corinthians 13:11

To certain degrees, we have all done this. We’ve grown, we’ve developed the necessary communication skills to get by in professional and many social settings. We’ve learned to give presentations, to send and respond to party invitations, and to communicate with kids’ teachers and counselors.

And yet when it comes to communicating about our feelings, our desires, or our fears, most of us still follow the ways of childhood. We expect others to extrapolate from a small statement about putting a plate in the sink that we feel uneasy without a spotless kitchen at the end of the night. We demand perfect recall from our partner of every comment we’ve made in passing about our desires. How dare they not forget? Do they not love us or care for us?

We are not mind readers.

We desire to be known

Some of this stems from our desire to be known. As people, we need connection. We were built for relationship. We thrive in community. We need diversity. We need novelty, new inputs, and different perspectives in our lives.

This need to be known is natural, and is a great thing. Human connection is strongest and the most uplifting when we are wholly known. Collaboration is at its maximum, motivation and inspiration soar, and sparks of new ideas fly when we deeply and completely connect with someone, know, and are known by them.

But we’re also lazy.

We desire to be known without wanting to do the work required to build the type of relationships that allow us to be fully known. We have some notion that the level of connection we’re looking for should happen without our need to learn about it or to apply any effort to get it. We believe that time should be sufficient. That the simple fact of being childhood friends, of being married for a decade, or of having grown up sharing a room (and some hand-me-down clothes) should be sufficient and should automatically make us known.

Unfortunately, that’s not the way relationships in reality work. That level of connection requires one very important thing that most of us are quite poor at: being vulnerable.

Being vulnerable is a skill

When we were young, vulnerability came easily. We had few desires (eat, sleep, poop) and were quite ready to communicate (cry, wail, tantrum) them to anyone that would listen. So far so good.

But then as we grew, we developed more awareness of ourselves. We began to understand and feel embarrassment. We were taught about propriety and civility. We began to see the complex social systems around us. And we began to feel fear.

So much so that by the time we grew into our teenage years, most of us retreated into the recesses of our being, determined to avoid the embarrassment that comes from having the spotlight shone on us. Our bodies were changing - our hormones and thought processes were continually evolving, adapting to the new situations we found ourselves in. Our physical discomfort was made worse by our mental and emotional discomfort, and so we employed self preservation mechanisms.

Unfortunately, most of these mechanisms created separation and isolation. We expressed apathy towards things. We retreated to our rooms behind closed doors. We resorted to hiding behind the facade of a well-curated social media persona that we carefully crafted for ourselves.

As we reached adulthood, we came horribly unequipped and ill prepared for the type of vulnerability required to build the deep relationships that we crave. To add insult to injury we even began believing that this is simply the way things are, and that this level of arms length relationship is all that is possible and feasible as adults.

Thankfully we are wrong. It is possible to enjoy a deeper closeness than many of us grew up believing. It is possible to be in an environment and relationship where one can express themselves wholly and not be judged, and in fact be accepted, celebrated, and valued. But we must work on it. We must learn, we must experiment, we must take risks. To get the attainable amount of closeness we desire, we must develop the skill of vulnerability.

Learning to communicate

Arguably the most important skill a human being can ever develop, communication is the very core of any society, modern or ancient, and is the key to creating the environment of trust and vulnerability that we need to flourish. We must learn to skillfully communicate our needs, desires, and fears in a way that invites positive reciprocation and deepens relationship. To do that, we need to realize a few things.

  1. Being vulnerable is a risk. By definition, it is taking the risk to put oneself out there without defenses, with nothing but the hope that we will not be attacked while our guard is down. But there is great reward as well. If we put ourselves out there, and the other party reciprocates and instead of slamming us nurtures and loves us, our lack of defenses actually multiplies and intensifies the closeness experienced, and by extension the strength of the relationship built. As such, it is important to be judicious about who you are vulnerable with, and who you bring into your inner circle to share yourself with.
  2. You will most likely have to take the first step. Bridges are built from both ends, but getting to mutual agreement on the bridge often requires one side to start building first to demonstrate commitment to the investment. Which side starts is of no importance; it therefore might as well be you.
  3. In any communication, how you communicate matters as much (if not more) than what you communicate. This means things like tone, body language, choice of words, facial expressions - all of these matter as much as the message itself.

So how do we improve here? A couple of quick thoughts.

  1. Read. There are tons of books that provide great perspectives on communicating and how we can learn to be more effective at it. Books like Nonviolent Communication, The Charisma Myth, and the classic How to win friends and influence people to name a few are great resources that expand our understanding of communication.
  2. Take a small, calculated risk. Small victories where we can expose some vulnerability, can communicate some small facet of ourselves unknown to the other will lead to larger risks and larger victories. Going big to start is a surefire way for you to go home immediately after.
  3. Be persistent. Know that just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, a deep and vulnerable relationship takes time to build. Because they are rare, your relation may not be immediately receptive. Stay the course.

In learning to communicate, in learning to create spaces of trust that promotes vulnerability, we remove the need for our partners, friends, and colleagues to read our minds. And so my boys, my hope for you is that you will develop the skills necessary to have relationships and partnership where not only do they not need to read your mind, but you also do not have to read theirs.


My sons,

We are a relational species. Whether you believe in creation, evolution, or some mix of the lot, we are intrinsically relational beings. Creation tells us that in the beginning was relationship. Before God created the world, the Holy Trinity was in constant relationship. Evolution tells us that our ancestors survived not because of ingenuity or cleverness, but because of their ability to work together to conquer beasts and circumstances far fiercer than they.

Every culture in the world has myths and legends, and they all revolve around relationships. Every person is born wired for relationships.

And yet so many of us are lonely.

Despite being in the most connected time in human history where our ability to communicate not only spans any distance on earth but even distances off the planet, and despite so many having access to various mediums, technologies, and products designed to connect us, we find ourselves lonely. No matter how evolved our species claims to be, no matter how many revolutions and evolutions we have of culture, of mind, and of our social fabric, we still find it difficult to make deep and meaningful connections.

Almost a century ago, Dale Carnegie wrote an invaluable piece of knowledge into committed human history in the form of his timeless book, How to win friends and influence people. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend reading it, as it provides an almost too-obvious set of rules and recommendations for how to create the ability and space for connection with others. Written in 1936, the book is as relevant today as it was then, and has impacted millions of people in this past century.

And yet so many of us are lonely.

How do we make connections amidst all the noise? How do we find real, deep, meaningful relationship amidst the superficial facades of social media and social brand engineering? How do we cut through the layers of stuff that we think others expect of us and get through to the real human underneath it all?

Admitting that we desire real connection

First and foremost, we need to admit that we desire real connection, and that we don’t currently have it (or have enough of it). It’s a pretty hard thing to do, in a world where people regularly track the number of followers, likes, and retweets they’ve gotten on an hourly basis. With all those followers, with all these likes and faves, how can one possibly be lonely and lacking real connection?

Relationship researcher Brene Brown describes real connection as relationship that is based on vulnerability and trust. She further defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. It is that exposure, that willingness to lay it out on the line, that ability to say “here I am with all my strengths and flaws” and know that we will not be judged but rather will be accepted; that is what creates real connection.

Why is it hard?

Real connection is hard to make because there’s a whole lot of fear and shame running around in our world today. One of the down sides of this hyper connected world is that there are so much more transparency into our lives and so many more points of feedback that can make any risk we take seem daunting. With the advent of social media, one’s social blunder that was experienced in person by a small few can quickly become the next viral video in our social circles, with hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of people providing unsolicited judgment of our action.

That makes it really, really hard to put oneself out there.

In his Paris address in April of 1910, Theodore Roosevelt gave what would become the most quoted speeches of his career, which many have now taken to calling “Man in the Arena”. In it, he says:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;

who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;

but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions;

who spends himself in a worthy cause;

who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Why we need real connection

Centuries ago, Confucius wrote that “It is nearly impossible for the quality of your life to be higher than the quality of your friends”. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn elaborated on this by adding an urge for us to “look at the five people you spend the most time with because that’s who you are”.

Our friends aren’t only there for our enjoyment, to shoot the breeze with, to go on life’s journeys with, and to revel and celebrate with. They are there to challenge us, to grow us, to sharpen us. They are there to refine us and help bring us back to the right path when we falter. They are there to support, to encourage, and to be a shoulder to lean on when we are weak. They are there to make us better because of the time we spend with them.

By connecting with others, by building real relationship that is built on vulnerability, on trust, on shared experiences, we allow others to breathe life into us, to shape us, and to mold us. In walking with others, we invite them along for the journey of self discovery and refinement, and are able to become better together.

If we want to have a great life, if we want to have grand adventures and rich experiences, then we need to ensure that the quality of people that we do life together with is incredibly high!

My sons, I want nothing more than for you to have great lives characterized by deep connection and by fulfilling adventures. Those lives must be lived with others in an environment that encourages trust and vulnerability. Those people are hard to find, and those relationships require work to cultivate. More importantly, being someone with whom others want to connect deeply with is hard work! And so my prayer for you is that you do the work, that you learn, that you evaluate, and that you continue to refine your perspectives on relationships and connection. And above all, my prayer is that you find those connections that will last you a lifetime.


My sons,

Our world is constantly on the go. Everything from fast food to same hour delivery to instant banking, we are a species that is relentless in our pursuit of micro efficiencies. We desire instant gratification and will go to great lengths and pay large amounts to attain it. Millions of people across thousands of companies spanning hundreds of industries all work with the sole purpose of delivering more to you faster, and more seamlessly than before.

We are in such a relentless pursuit of the destination that we lose sight of the journey, and with it the process of learning, and of self discovery.

One of my great mentors said that often we are so caught up in the next big thing; the next promotion, the next big sale, the next accomplishment- that we forget to think about the people that we are becoming. And in the grand scheme of your life, That matters a whole lot more.

As we’ve discussed in the past, the things that matter, the things that last, the things that we’ll remember and want to be known for as we reach the sunset of life - those things tend to be relational. Whether it is directly impacting someone personally or changing the lives of millions through the things we build, we are a relational and social species.

Constantly rushing from one event to the next, we are in danger of reducing life to a string of accomplishments in which the passing of time is marked only by check marks on todo lists. We remove the connection, the deep reflection, and the space to be in awe and wonder at the world around us. I’ve found that in my life many of the most rewarding interactions and the deepest connections have been unplanned, unintentional, not orchestrated.

Have you ever sat down with someone and said, “let’s have a deep and meaningful conversation” and had that actually work? Okay, in all honesty l’ve never tried that, but I can’t for the life of me imagine that would work. Most of my most meaningful and impactful conversations have happened when I least expected them. Connection needs time, and needs the space to spontaneously grow and flourish.

As such, we need to slow down. We need to purposefully pause and give our souls the chance to breathe. Have you ever started on a familiar journey (such as walking home from school or driving to your uncle’s house) and suddenly realized that you’re already there? That’s usually a good indicator that life is on autopilot and that it’s time for a pause to be thoughtful about the routines and the habits we’ve built.

LISTEN

Pausing allows us to listen. It gives us space in an otherwise jam packed life to think, to ruminate, and to process. Our world is filled with noise - media, social media, professional obligations, shuttling kids around from one extracurricular to the next. Our crazy schedule barely give us enough time to sleep enough. Time to think, to listen, and to be aware of what’s really happening around us isn’t even on the list for most of us.

Pausing, then, allows us to really listen. Not just to hear whats going on so that we can formulate our own response, but to really listen. The average person spends more time thinking about how they will respond to someone than they do listening and internalizing what’s being said. This is especially true in America where cutting in, interrupting, and immediately responding before the speaker has a chance to start another sentence is the norm.

BREATHE

Pausing allows us to breathe. When I was a kid playing little league, I used to be a pitcher. I wasn’t bad, but definitely had my share of bad days where my ball control just wasn’t there. I remember one game when I was pitching a particularly uninspired game. My coach called a time out and headed out to the mound to chat with me. He told me that whenever I felt frustrated, I should step off the mound, take my hat off, run a hand through my hair, and take a deep breath before returning to the mound. That piece of advice has done wonders for me over the years. Just breathe.

It turns out that the body is a pretty amazing thing, and that there are many benefits to breathing. Breathing calms us. It creates space for us to think and to process. It allows us to momentarily step back from the situation and assess. It heals, it mends, it expands, and it elevates our countenance.

SMELL THE ROSES

Lastly, pausing allows us to stop and smell the roses. We are so often running from one checked off item to the next that we need others to tell us to relax and take a moment to reflect on our surroundings. Even at work, we need HR to tell us to take our vacations. We need automated systems to harp at us to take time off to recover, rejuvenate, and revive. Never in the history of our species have we been so busy and unable or unwilling to take the time to stop and to smell the roses.

The worst part is that we pass this culture, this lack of balance, and this incomplete view of the purpose of life to our children. We fill our children’s lives with so much noise and activity that they too do not have the space to breathe, and worst of all believe that this is what life is supposed to be.

Even God rested on the seventh day. Jesus’ first miracle was to save and prolong a celebration. My sons, my hope is that by the time you are old enough to read and understand this, we will have raised you as boys who know how to work hard, yes, but who also know how to play hard, to have balance in your lives, and to have a healthy amount of time and space to pause. I hope that my relationship with you both has more play, levity, and joy than it does toil, discipline, and work. I love you both!


My sons,

We all have different characters in our lives, and each one plays a specific role and occupies some amount of space within our social circle. Some of these characters bring joy to our lives, some bring insight, some bring comfort, and some bring companionship. Each relationship is unique, and each person adds different things to our overall experience.

It has been said that friends may be friends for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Some friends are in our lives for a reason; whether it’s to help us learn something, for us to go through an experience together, or simply because we’re classmates for a particular class, there are some people that fulfill their purpose and then exit our lives almost as quickly as they entered. Others are here for a season; perhaps they are there to walk with us through a season of change, or to help shoulder our burdens through a season of pain, or to be our sounding board in a season of growth. Finally, there are a small number of friends that are around for a lifetime; they endure through thick and thin, and support and encourage us through all the best and the worst that life throws our way.

It is this lattermost group that is not only the most difficult to find, but also the most difficult for us to be.

In my life, I’ve only got a handful of friends that I think will be with me for my lifetime. As I consider these friendships, I realize that each of these friends has a common trait shared among them. They are and one people.

If you’re basketball fans, then you’ll know that in basketball, “and one” means that after you make a shot and get fouled, you have the opportunity to add to your score. Similarly in life, “and one” people are those who “add to your score”. They are people who take whatever you do, think, or say, and add to it. When you tell an “and one” person your idea, they want to add to it, to riff on it with you, and to push you to think more. They say “yes, and you can also do this-and-that too!”. A few things that are common across all of these people:

THEY FOCUS ON THE POSSIBLE

While “and one” people may see the negatives, the roadblocks, the hurdles, and the potential pitfalls, they choose to focus instead on what could be. They ask questions, provide support, cheerlead, and encourage us to expand on our ideas, to push past our perceived limitations, and to achieve more. Because of their focus on what could be, they give us that boost that we need to move forward.

THEY FOCUS ON YOU

We’ve all known people who listen to your story only long enough to remind them of some experience they’ve had that then causes them to interrupt and share with you. “And one” people focus on you. They are good listeners. They are there for you; not for themselves.

THEY HELP US BUILD MOMENTUM

We are by nature creatures of great inertia. “And one” people help us build the momentum that we need. They get excited about our ideas and create a virtuous cycle of forward thinking. They take our budding ideas and give them light to nurture.

Not only is it important to surround yourself with “and one” people, it is also equally important for us to learn to be “and one” people for others. I’m a big believer that a life well lived is one that impacts, influences, and inspires others to be the best version of themselves that they can be. “And one” people do this naturally. A few thoughts on how to become more of an “and one” person:

DON’T COMPLAIN

As Dale Carnegie posits in his book https://www.amazon.com/How-Win-Friends-Influence-People/dp/0671027034, we ought not to complain. Yes, life may provide us with a series of unfortunate circumstances and events, but complaining doesn’t do anything positive for us in the least. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t have hurt, upset, or angry feelings; rather it is to say that we ought to practice self control such that even when we’re overcome with those feelings we don’t complain.

By not complaining, we begin to orient our thinking along a positive track instead of a negative one, and in so doing become more able to see the positive in others.

THINK ABOUT OTHERS

It has been said that humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less. When we spend less time thinking about ourselves and more time thinking about others, we begin to think about the possibilities for their lives and endeavors and are more ready to support and encourage them.

BE “FOR” SOMEONE

Champion someone. Decide that you will become their biggest advocate. Be for them. As you take on this task you will find presently that not only are you able to espouse their great qualities but you are able to more readily see opportunities ahead of them to build on those qualities.

My sons, life is too short to be lived alone. Surround yourselves with people that are “and one” people, and be “and one” people for those you surround. Encourage one another, spur each other on, and move life forward together. I love you boys!


My sons,

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
Cowardice Courage Rashness
Shamelessness Modesty Bashfulness
Pettiness Munificence Vulgarity
Sulking Assertion Rage
Fierce independence Vulnerability Neediness

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.

Perspective matters

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.

Wrong.

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.


My sons,

Life is an adventure. It is beautiful. It is breathtaking. It is full of joy, of triumph, of victory, of mountaintop experiences. It is also full of sadness, of loneliness, of gut wrenching sorrow. It is about the journey and not the destination.

The Good Book tells us that “in this life, you will have trouble.” It’s not an if, it’s a when.

Composure, then, is the manner in which we meet that trouble. It is the perspective we take, the peace (or lack of) we have, and the mindset we embody. It is the expression of our true selves, our inner core, our self discipline, our grace.

As you know, we’re currently in an unprecedented time in our world. In an era where global travel is incredibly accessible, individual freedoms are at their prime, and technological advancements have created an expectation of connection and information, an outbreak of this magnitude has been difficult to contain. The death toll is nearing a half million, with hundreds of thousands of new cases still being confirmed. There is currently no known cure or vaccine, and much of the world is living in self-quarantine.

It’s very easy to feel that things are unfair, to feel hopeless and helpless, to feel that there isn’t anything we can do.

In these situations we are presented with a choice. We can choose the path of self-pity, of externalization, and of blame, or we can choose the path that is steadfast, that is bold and courageous, and has the resolve to go through this painful refinement of our character and come out stronger. We can choose the mindset of merely surviving, grasping at any means to do so, or we can choose the path of flourishing and prospering despite our circumstance.

The difference between believing things are unfair vs unfortunate is subtle but important.

When we feel that things are unfair, we believe that things are outside of our control. We absolve ourselves from blame and from responsibility for the situation, and we believe that there is nothing we can do to influence the outcome. We believe that undesirable things are being done to us. We position ourselves as the victim, and fixate our mind on a position of self-pity.

On the other hand, when we feel that things are unfortunate, we remove blame from some unreachable or invisible actor that has it out for us and instead focus on the situation itself. We recognize that we live in an imperfect world, and that inexplicable things happen. We take the perspective of recovery, of advancement, of moving life forward. We see ourselves not as helpless but as capable and able to change our stars. We have self-compassion, taking the necessary care for ourselves so that we can recover and thrive despite our surroundings.

This difference, while subtle, end up causing ripple effects in our mindset and in the actions that we take. Over time, it affects our constitution, our demeanor, and the way that we approach the world. That in turn impacts the interactions and relationships that we have, ultimately deeply impacting our lives. And so I encourage you the next time you find yourselves in unfortunate circumstances to think of them as just that; unfortunate circumstances. I pray that you have the discipline and mental fortitude to direct your reactions so that not only will you survive, but will thrive in those times.

I love you, my boys.


My sons,

We’re currently in the middle of a global pandemic. It’s something that this world hasn’t seen in quite some time, and is something that I sincerely pray you won’t have to experience again in your lifetimes. There are many tragic stories of loss, of separated loved ones, of devastation. There are also many stories of hope, of perseverance, of strength, of unity, and of support. The impacts of this pandemic are both global and local. Globally, our economy has taken a huge hit, our social structures are stressed to the point of breaking, and our government is struggling to act decisively and swiftly. Locally, we are practicing social distancing, staying home with our families and going out only out of necessity.

It has not been an easy adjustment for many.

I recently finished a book called “A gentleman in Moscow”, by Amor Towles. It is a wonderful and beautifully written book that seems poignantly relevant in our current world situation. The book is a novel that follows the life of Count Alexander Rostov, a Russian aristocrat who after the revolutionary war ended in the 1920s is convicted of such. He is forced to live out his days as a “Former Person” within the confines of the Metropol hotel, not being permitted to ever leave its premises.

The book chronicles the life of the count, who first sets foot inside his new quarters in the prime of his life. He immediately has the realization that in order to survive the constant mental assault and boredom of several more decades in this space, one must have resolve, determination, and fortitude of mind. As we walk through his early days of captivity, he quickly establishes a regular routine that provides him the much needed structure of a productive life. As he settles into that routine, we watch him evolve from a person who is striving simply to survive to one that is longing and looking for ways to thrive.

It is that mental fortitude, that singular belief that in order to flourish, one must overcome one’s current situation that allows the count to positively thrive for decades in such a small space.

“Our lives are steered by uncertainties, many of which are disruptive or even daunting; but that if we persevere and remain generous of heart, we may be granted a moment of supreme lucidity - a moment in which all that has happened to us suddenly comes into focus as a necessary course of events, even as we find ourselves on the threshold of a bold new life that we had been meant to lead all along.”

I certainly don’t profess to know the secrets of mental fortitude, nor do I know by what magical coincidence or stroke of good luck I have been blessed with some measure of it. I do however know the secret of building fortitude, of building strength. Exercise. Just as our physical bodies require exercise and a healthy diet to build strength, our mind requires exercise and a healthy diet of positive inputs and interactions.

I’ve discovered a few key things that have done wonders for me:

  1. Read. Reading not only develops our creativity, but it challenges our mind to imagine, to ponder, to think deeply about topics and situations that we may not have had the chance to face yet. It allows us to develop the ability to empathize with a character, to reason with an author, to dream wondrously with the protagonist, and to suffer deeply with the fallen hero.

    Reading also gives us the opportunity to build relationships, to dialog, and to discuss with friends new and old the topics and virtues of the latest book that we’ve read. Read for enjoyment, read for self-development and self-improvement, read for knowledge, and read for perspective. Read fiction to dream and paint canvases in your mind. Read non-fiction to be challenged, to think critically, to ruminate, to reason.

  2. Meditate. Meditation builds focus of mind, and trains our discipline. It allows us to process our thoughts, to understand ourselves, and to listen to our innermost mind.

  3. Write. Writing causes you to elaborate on your thoughts, to organize them, and to provide structure to them. Regardless of whether your writings are read by three people or by three hundred, writing builds your ability to expand on a thought and to nurture and bake an idea in your mind. We all have the spark of creation within us; let it be a tool to help refine your mental process.

Jesus tells us that “in this life, you will have trouble”. That is a certainty. Those with an ample supply of mental fortitude are the ones who are able to not only survive, but to thrive in those troubles. And that’s my hope for you today, that you both would be strong men, physically, emotionally, but most importantly mentally. That you would have the strength of mind and discipline of heart to achieve all that you set your sights on.


My sons,

I’ve been reading a book that a great friend recommended to me called “Where the crawdads sing”, by Delia Owens. So far, it’s an artfully written book full of beautiful and vivid images the author paints for your mind’s eye combined with insightful nuggets of truth for you to ponder. Perfectly up my alley.

There’s a beautiful dialog in the book between father and son where the son complains to his father that he’s studying poetry in English class and doesn’t like it. The father’s retort is beautiful:

Don’t go thinking poetry’s just for sissies. There’s mushy love poems, for sure, but there’s also funny ones, lots about nature, war even. Whole point of it - they make ya feel something.

I love that. They make ya feel something.

So much of our lives are about things that don’t touch on the topic of feelings. We’re inundated with information, obsessed with learning and progressing, and laser focused on academics and achievement. But we’ve got to remember to feel. As Robin Williams puts it in Dead Poets Society:

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion.

Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.

Perfect. In the book, the author says of the father:

His dad had told him many times that the definition of a real man is one who cries without shame, reads poetry with his heart, feels opera in his soul, and does what’s necessary to defend a woman.

My sons, if I’m able to accomplish that, to impress that single line upon you, then I’ll be beyond ecstatic. Be strong men, yes. But strength is not only stoic and outwardly fearless. It also embraces vulnerability so that one can be known and understood. It is confident in the relationships and connections it has built enough for vulnerability, for sentiment, for sensitivity.

So my charge to you today is this: be strong and decisive men, yes, but take the time to do things that make you feel. Watch a beautiful sunset descending between the crevice in the mountains. Sit still and deeply listen to music that moves you. Rekindle an old connection. Embrace a friend fully and earnestly. Love big. And be loved big.

I love you, my boys.


My sons,

Hopefully by the time you both read this, I’ll still be as avid a reader as I am while I’m writing (or perhaps even moreso!). Over the past few years, I’ve been trying to read books that are outside the standard set of things that I have spent much of my life concerned about. Books that don’t have to do with leadership, technology, faith, or self-improvement. Books that are works of fiction. Books that are on topics I’ve spent less minutes thinking about than I’ve got fingers.

A great friend recommended one to me, called “When Breath becomes Air”. It’s a beautiful memoir by a brilliant young doctor as he struggles for meaning knowing that he’s terminal and that he hasn’t got a lot of time left. As I journeyed with the author through his struggle and through his quest for meaning, I found myself relating, empathizing, and searching for those same answers. Instead of an informative last testament of a man I’d never met I found a mirror held up to my own question of meaning.

And I cried. I cried for him, for his family, for his wife and daughter that survive him. I cried deeply as his wife’s Epilogue ran across the pages, speaking of his focus for life and his love of relationship. It was that book that started me on my journey to better understand myself, my purpose, my meaning.

I won’t say that I’ve found all the answers since then, and I don’t doubt that when you boys read this, I will still not have all the answers. But I will say that along the way, I’ve been learning more and more that connection - meaningful connection - matters.

We were made for connection, made for relationship. We were made to do life together.

I’ve found that to be true. When I look back on the time lapse of my life so far, when I see the fleeting three-second clips of deeply cherished memories, I see connection. In every single one of those memories I see connection. Whether it is sharing a beautiful sunrise with a great college friend after pulling an all nighter together, or chatting with the one friend that stayed awake while the others slept in the back on a long cross-country drive, or even celebrating our childhood sports victories over milkshakes. Most of these moments were about connection.

It’s not an accident that every success, every victory, every win that I have I immediately want someone to share it with.

It’s also not an accident that the deepest, sorrowful moments of my life were all moments that I felt alone and abandoned.

We were made for connection.

So my challenge to you then, is to be generous in your attempt for connection. Put yourself out there. Be courageous. Be willing to make the first move, to initiate a conversation, to sit next to a stranger on a plane and not immediately put in headphones or pick up a book. Even small connections matter. A smile, making eye contact with a stranger, a friendly wave, a warm hug goodbye. You never know just how much those moments may shape someone’s day.


My sons,

In recent years, popular culture has decided that the majority of our lives are lived out unauthentically. You’ll get a lot of head nods when call out the need for authenticity, but by and large the majority of the populace lives with a buffer, a barrier that prevents others from seeing their authentic selves. This is so prevalent that we’ve developed an interesting subculture of occasionally piercing that barrier to let people in to see our real selves.

We call this “being real”.

This is a phrase that has permeated through every level of our social structure. It has made itself into our corporate culture in the form of “intimate fireside chats” with their executives. It has invaded our music culture: “can I be real a second, for just a millisecond” (bonus points if you can figure out where that’s from). It has invaded our youth culture and has made its way into urban dictionary (“are you fo’ real?”). Across the board, we have realized that there is such a lack of unauthentic life that we as a society have deemed it necessary to label things “real”.

Much of the time though, being real is associated with being negative. So often, someone will say “hey, I’mma be real with you” and then go on to complain about something, be negative about something, or say something quite derogatory and demotivating to the listener. Being real at a group level has subtly mutated into gatherings where people feel uninhibited to be negative and to make strong, baseless remarks about some aspect of life that they haven’t fully taken the time to examine and to ruminate on.

My sons, being real does not give you carte blanche to be a jerk.

Being real ought to mean being authentic, ought to mean piercing the shroud and sharing our vulnerable selves with the other party. It ought to bring about a deeper connection to those around us with whom we are expressing ourselves without facade, without pretense. Being real should be associated with letting people in, with showing people our full and true selves, flaws, blemishes, and all. Being real should lead to a beautifully connected life where one knows and is known.

A few reasons for this.

WE LONG FOR CONNECTION

Human beings are relational creatures. Whether you believe in creation or evolution, we were created for relationship and our evolutionary traits have by and large weeded out the lone wolf urges and instincts such that we survive and thrive in packs, in tribes, in communities. The good book tells us in Ecclesiastes that “though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.”

We long for deep connection not just as a means of physical survival but of mental and emotional stability, safety, and flourishing as well. From a young age we develop a disdain for fakes and phonies. In our very core we know that relationship requires trust, and trust requires honesty, vulnerability, authenticity.

AUTHENTICITY ALLOWS US TO LOWER OUR GUARD

We’ve all done this. We’ve all got defenses that we put up, self-preservation techniques and tactics that we’ve employed in our lives. We all have insecurities and shortcomings that cause us to take a defensive posture towards life.

And we all know that it is exhausting having to constantly have your guard up.

Authenticity allows us to come as we are, to lower our guard, to be seen and known with all our inadequacies. It allows us to divert our energy from having our guard up and allows us to refocus that energy on growth, on moving life forward, on building up other people. It allows us to remove our scrutinizing gaze from ourselves and instead look up to see the world around us that needs us.

BEING REAL MEANS WE ARE FREE TO RICHLY EXPERIENCE LIFE

Henry Ford once said that

“Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves which we endure help us in our marching onward.”

By acknowledging our inadequacies and imperfections we unlock our minds to developing character, to experiencing life fully and richly, with all its ups and its downs. Being authentic with ourselves and with others allows us to be in the moment, to fully experience the richness and the depth of every experience. To grieve unconstrained and unashamed, to savor unfiltered and unforgettably, to laugh uproariously and obnoxiously, and to love uninhibited and unafraid.

My sons, I pray that you live lives that are authentic and real. That you surround yourselves with others who see you and know you, and love you in spite of and because of that. I love you boys!


My sons,

We live in a world that is quickly commoditizing skills, assets, experiences, and capabilities. Globalization began with goods; starting with raw minerals and materials and eventually expanding to finished products. Then came services; the ability to have offshore call centers for example. Then came ideas and philosophies; the internet has made mass proliferation of thoughts and ideas instantaneous.

Just about everything you can think of that is outside your body can be exported to you in a matter of days, if not sooner, and if desired, can be replicated fairly effectively and efficiently.

That leaves our minds, our opinions, our beliefs, and our convictions as the last bastion of our unique selves.

There’s a scene from one of my favorite movies, The Shawshank Redemption where the incarcerated main character Andy Dufresne, played by the marvelous Tim Robbins risks his life boldly stepping up to one of the prison guards to offer his services as an accountant. After dangling Dufresne’s body over the edge of the roof where they were standing, the guard relents and accepts Andy’s help. In exchange, Andy asks simply for two buckets of beers for his fellow prisoners currently working roof detail.

His prison mate Ellis Redding, played by the legendary Morgan Freeman narrates, speculating that the reason Andy pulled off such a stunt was simply so that he could feel human again. That sitting up on the roof in the hot sun with a bucket of beers allowed him and his fellows to remember what it meant to be free men; and that was a beautiful thing.

Our beliefs, our convictions, our values - these are things that can never be taken from us.

And so it behooves us to be critical of them. If men are defined by what they believe in, what they stand up for, what they are passionate about, then you must be critical of those things. Do not allow the world to imprint them on you unwittingly. Be intentional about defining and refining your beliefs. Debate them with trusted peers. Meditate on them. Reflect and expound on them. They are the things that make you unique, and are the things that will ultimately drive the direction of your lives!

My prayer for you is that the two of you will be steadfast in your beliefs; that when the winds of the world blow, they will find you firmly grounded in beliefs that you have thought out, debated, and formulated as a culmination of your experiences, your relationships, and your critical thinking. I pray that the two of you would have a relationship where you can be that sounding board for one another. May you both grow to be men of bold beliefs, strong convictions, and non-extinguishable passions.


My sons,

Today, we grew our little family of three to a family of four! What an amazing journey it has been, and what a thrilling ride, filled with many ups and high points as well as its fair share of plummets into the low points. But I am blessed. We are blessed. Welcome to our world, my little boy.

To my firstborn -

You will always be my firstborn. You will be the one to blaze the trail, to forge a path for you and your brother to walk. You will hold a special place in my heart, not because I love or will love you any more or less, but because you are my firstborn son. Yours is a life of leadership, of nurturing, of guiding, and of great responsibility. I love you and will always root for you, cheer for you, converse and discuss and debate with you, and be here to support you as many days as I have.

To my newborn -

You are my baby boy. You are blessed to have someone who is a little further along to look towards, and to walk with. You will hold a special place in my heart, not because I love or will love you any more or less, but because you are my youngest, my baby. While your life may have an example and a blazed trail ahead of you, you will also have the luxury of choosing whether or not you want to follow that trail. Where your brother needed to lead, to nurture, to guide, and to be responsible, you have the privilege of deciding which of those things you want on your own unique path and journey. I love you and will always root for you, cheer for you, converse and discuss and debate with you, and be here to support you as many days as I have.

To both of you -

Today, our family has grown. May this be a reminder to both of you to always grow, to always be learning, to always be moving forward. May you grow individually into the men that you are meant to become. May you both step into the richest and fullest of lives laid ahead of you. May you decide to grow together and to walk this journey with a friend. And may God’s favor and blessing be upon you, all the days of your lives.


My son,

Each generation stands on the hard work and tireless efforts of those that have come before. The world changes at a rapid rate, and this fact has never been more evident than it has in our lifetime. The information revolution has exponentially accelerated the pace at which the world changes, ideas proliferate, barriers are broken down, and collaboration happens.

This is the world that you will grow up in, that you will experience, and that you will impact.

As such, it becomes increasingly important to be mindful of where you get your grounding and the influences that shape you. There is no such thing as a self-made man; every man learns from others, studies those that have come before, and gets advice from those that have run ahead.

We stand on the shoulders of giants.

Never forget that. In times past, social currency was anchored on many different things; coats of arms, gold in the vault, status in society, position in a patriarch, net worth, and even physical beauty. In an age of globally proliferated ideas, social currency is being increasingly anchored on thought leadership and on the reach of one’s ideas.

I urge you to be well-learned; study the thoughts and artifacts those giants before us have left behind. Learn from them. Life is too short for us to learn everything we need to know on our own. Ask for help, seek advice, and listen to the stories of your elders. Though they may come from a different context and from a different time, there are transcendent lessons to be learned and universal concepts to be shared. And who knows, you may stumble upon a wonderful mentoring relationship in the process.

Learn from those giants. Stand on their shoulders and elevate our world to new heights. I’m so proud of you, and can’t wait to see the world that you shape.


My son,

Today, you turn four. What a joy you are! You are such a beautiful, wonderful, kind, adventurous, and mischievous little guy - I love you so much! Your mom calls you my little buddy cause we do all sorts of things together. I couldn’t be happier. Much of what I’ve been learning these days I’m learning from you and with you, and I love the thought that I get to share those learnings with you here with the hopes that someday when you’re older, you’ll read them and they’ll be learnings for you as well.

When I was growing up, I read many different articles and perspectives around what love is. Love is a feeling. Love is a commitment. Love is a choice. Love is easy. Love is hard. Love is patient. Love is a million different things, depending on who you ask and what perspective you’re coming from.

While I don’t pretend to be any expert on the matter, and while I won’t attempt to give a full definition of what love is, I believe that one of the things that defines people who love strongly is that they choose to love. Regardless of your definition of love, regardless of how you experience it and what it means to you, I firmly believe that very often, love is a choice.

It’s easy to love someone when everything is going very well. It’s easy to love someone that’s very lovely, loves you back, is in sync with you and your thoughts and perspectives. It’s hard to love someone that is doing things to make themselves less lovable to you. It’s hard to love someone when they’re at odds with you, when they’re attacking you, when they’re in violent opposition to things that are at the core of your being and values.

And yet I urge you to choose love.

Whether we’re talking about an unlovable neighbor, a combative classmate, a family member currently at odds with you, or even a spouse that you’ve got a strong disagreement with; choose love. It’s hard. It takes self sacrifice and patience. It requires you to grit your teeth and not fight back. It means you have to take punches without throwing up your guard and without counter attacking.

But it will be worth it.

My prayer for you is that you are able to choose love more often than the alternatives, and that you grow to become a man that is characterized by his heart for people. We have always prayed that you be a kind person; I would urge you to go one step further and be someone that chooses to love when everyone else disagrees. Because love conquers all things. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.


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