Posts tagged with #Intentional
In life, there will be many tools, tricks, skills, and experiences you can gain that will help you in a myriad of situations. I believe that one of the greatest such tools is the ability to analyze a situation and to know the right moment. Whether it is knowing the moment to retreat from battle, to press your advantage, to use your ace in the hole, or when to kiss the girl, your ability to instinctively know the right moment to act or to speak is disproportionately beneficial.
In relationships, knowing whether the moment is right to air a grievance or to wait and instead be supportive can be an incredible boon to the partnership. Imagine your partner coming home from a crummy day just to have you bring up something you’ve been stewing on for months. Crummy. Now imagine them coming home from that same crummy day to have you be sensitive to the fact that now is perhaps not the right moment to air your thoughts and instead choose to be supportive and gentle with them. How much stronger would your partnership be!
We must realize that everyone - ourselves included - has bad days where their threshold of irritability or tolerance Is low. In realizing and identifying that, we must then act with compassion and choose actions to accommodate. We must develop the skill and the sensitivity to know the moment and know how to choose to do the next right thing.
So how do we grow this skill? A few thoughts.
It is important to be constantly aware of how important timing is. We are trained to be concerned with content, with delivery, with action, and with substance. While those are absolutely important things, we must realize and give credence to the reality that timing is critical. Even if all else is perfect, if the timing is off, if the moment isn’t right, failure (or at least a sub-optimal outcome) is guaranteed.
BE RESOLVED NEVER TO SPEAK OR ACT IN ANGER OR FRUSTRATION
These emotions (and others: jealousy, wounded pride, resentment, fear etc.) make us irrational, and often cause us to say or do things inconsistent with our values, and often cause irreparable damage. Aristotle wrote,
“Anybody can become angry - that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way- that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy”.
How true that is. Let us not act in such a state!
Knowing the right moment begins with understanding the people around you. Understand their perspective, their thoughts, their circumstances, and their fears. By building the muscle that allows a greater understanding of our compatriots, we put ourselves in the position to better anticipate the situation and therefore more likely to know the right moment to act.
BE THOUGHTFUL OF THE FUTURE
Not just your future, but that of others. Is your friend about to enter into a difficult situation? Is your brother about to start a new job? Is your boss’ wife about to give birth to their first child? Knowing these things and being thoughtful about them will help you be more prepared to anticipate outcomes. Remember that the future is impacted by a variety of factors - a person’s desires, the community that they keep, their family, the circumstances of their job, even plain dumb luck. All of these, and many other factors, can and will influence the future.
Lastly, build your staying power, your perseverance, your ability to wait not only for the right moment to come around (and it will come around) but also for the universe to come round and adjust to the changes you’ve already initiated.
My boys, I cannot stress how important timing is, nor can I emphasize how much it is a learnable skill. Don’t get me wrong - I’ve got a ton of stories of ill-timed, ill-fated endeavors and situations. My goal is to share my thoughts here with you in hopes that you can learn from my learnings, and take the effort to learn this invaluable skill yourselves. I love you boys!
There are all sorts of philosophies, books, and articles written that dance around the topic of discipline. Life hacks, tips and tricks, short cuts, scheduled regimens - everyone is trying to figure out quick and surefire ways to lead a more productive and successful life. I definitely don’t profess to be an expert on these topics by any means, but I do want to share with you my thoughts and experiences on what has worked for me, and what I’ve found success in.
First of all though, we need to define the difference between discipline and habits, because while they are entirely related, they’re not the same. In fact, I believe they’re two sides of the same coin.
Discipline is the ability to take action in accordance with a particular system of thought or belief. It is the ability to fight against one’s natural state of inertia and take action. It often is used interchangeably with will power, and tends to be associated with doing things that go against our natural selves.
For example, we associate discipline with the ability to refrain from eating that second slice of pie, or the act of choosing to go home instead of continuing on with your mates late into the wee hours of morning.
Habits on the other hand, are the actions that we take without much thought or intention. They are our body’s default actions, our programmed auto-responses to stimuli and situations. They are often overlooked and not thought about precisely because they are automatic, and our conscious mind therefore does not detect them.
I’ve read several great books on the topic - the two foremost authorities being “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, and “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. They both define habits as being a multi-part function. The cue prompts us to crave the thing in question, which causes us to respond to the craving and gain the reward for our action.
For example, after dinner (cue) we desire to end on a sweet note (crave) and therefore procure a dessert (response) which makes us feel satisfied (reward).
Leading a more productive life then, requires both discipline and good habits. It is not enough to rely on sheer force of will to make lasting changes in one’s life. Nor is it possible to build great habits without some semblance of discipline. We need both working in tandem to permanently affect our behaviors.
Both Duhigg and Clear propose means for tweaking that multi-part function to change our default behaviors. By changing the cue (ie avoiding the casino), changing our craving (ie learning to make a delicious yet healthy snack), changing our response (ie deliberately leaving your cash at home), or changing the reward (ie buying yourself a treat after working out), we can make lasting changes.
In order to tweak any of those parts of the function though, we require discipline.
Change tends to go something like this:
- You determine you wish to make a change in your life, one that is not currently a natural occurrence
- Your discipline allows you to overcome the natural inertia of it initially, and your zeal for the change propels you forward
- You tweak one or more of the habit function to incentivize the right behavior
- Your discipline allows you take the right action the first few times
- After a few times, the habit becomes solidified and you’ve changed your behavior
My boys, I wish nothing short of a rich and fulfilling life for you both, and I am convinced that the path to that is through actively and intentionally changing our behaviors to reflect the character that we wish to embody. Being productive, being successful, building deep connection, and having rich and meaningful experiences are all deeply connected to the character that we have. My prayer for you both is that you grow up to be men of great character, men that are continually seeking to learn and grow, and men that love, support, and encourage one another on this journey. I love you boys!
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.
Something that’s been on my mind a lot lately is the concept of choosing to love, especially when it’s hard.
It’s very easy to choose to love someone or to choose to do the loving thing when things are easy. But the true test of character is what we do when things aren’t easy, when they’re not ideal, when they’re not living up to our expectations. How do you respond? What choices do you make? Do you choose anger? Or do you choose love?
Anger begets more anger
So choose love. Choose to do the thing that you know is right, even if you don’t feel like it. Choose to hold to the principles that you believed to be praiseworthy and worth pursuing when you weren’t in the midst of the storm. And hold on. Tight.
How do you do it? How do you choose to do the hard thing, to do the unnatural thing, to do the thing that you know you ought to but really, really don’t want to? How do you choose to hold your tongue when you’re ready to rip someone a new one? How do you choose to love, to swallow your hurt and pain, and do the right thing?
There’s a song that I love from a movie I watched recently that’s entitled “The next right thing”. I love so many things about that song, musically, dramatically. But most of all, I love the message the song conveys.
This grief has a gravity, it pulls me down
But a tiny voice whispers in my mind
“You are lost, hope is gone
But you must go on
And do the next right thing”
Break it down to this next breath, this next step
This next choice is one that I can make
So I’ll walk through this night
Stumbling blindly toward the light
And do the next right thing
There will be times when you feel like you’re flattened, that you’re on the floor. You’ll feel like the world is against you, and you’ll want to give up. I hope that in that moment, for just a moment, you’ll be able to take a breath and get even the briefest hint of perspective that will allow you to choose to do the next right thing.
It’s something that gets easier with each victory, and is something that should be celebrated when you succeed. Take a second for yourself to internalize that feeling when you know you’ve chosen the right thing, even when the walls are still crumbling. When you know that while you may not have saved the current situation, you’ve chosen the right thing. The thing that will let you look back and be happy at the men that you’ve become, that despite all odds and worldly wisdom or reason that told you to choose otherwise, you chose the next right thing.
And that’s my hope for the two of you; that when life goes sideways, when things really suck, that you’ll be able to choose to do the next right thing.
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!
We live in a noisy world. The growing allure of cities that never sleep, the 24/7 nature of online communities, the endless stream of echo chamber social media updates, the constant notifications and interruptions brought about by our connected devices; these make moments of true silence a scarcity, or even a rarity. Our world prides itself on being able to entertain us and hold our interest at all hours of the day with anything and everything that we may desire at the tip of our fingers. Instant messaging, same-day shipping, fast-food services; all of these reinforce the man-made belief that we are extraordinarily busy, and that any moment spent without a pressing action to take is a wasted one.
When I was younger, I read a beautiful essay titled “The eloquent sounds of silence” by Pico Iyer that spoke to me as much then as it does now, and speaks volumes on the topic. Masterfully written, the essay begins by describing the nobility and loftiness that our thoughtful selves identify with silence. Quoting Herman Melville, he begins:
“All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by Silence.
[It] is the general consecration of the universe. Silence is the invisible laying on
of the Divine Pontiff’s hands upon the world. Silence is the only Voice of our God.”
It is no accident that the greatest honor we can pay someone is a moment of silence. Sacred places are purposefully silent. Reverent places. Honored places.
When one visits the 9/11 memorial at the World Trade Center, one is instantly transported to a place of honor, of grave silence, of respect and admiration for those that lost their lives and to those that gave them to save another. In that silence, in that reverent space, one’s words and thoughts cease and make room for emotion and feeling to rush in. It is in falling silent that we allow ourselves to truly feel. It is in that space that the most beautiful and divine elements of humanity can be experienced.
And yet silence is something that at best eludes us and at worst terrifies us. We are constantly seeking to drown out the silence with noise. We prefer the bustle, the white noise, the incessant notifications of a busy life.
“In silence, we often say, we can hear ourselves think;
but what is truer to say is that in silence we can hear ourselves not think,
and so sink below ourselves into a place far deeper than mere thought allows.”
Perhaps we fear the things we cannot control. Perhaps the thought of something deeper than our consciously controlled thoughts terrifies us. Or perhaps, hopefully, our avoidance of silence is not a conscious one and is therefore one that we can remedy. Perhaps all it takes is a bit of desire and some strong intention to allow ourselves to be silent, to allow ourselves to be taken to that transcendent place that allows us to simply be.
“In love, we are speechless; in awe, we say, words fail us.”
Someone once said that the true measure of a life is how much of it is given away. I’m not sure if that’s the only measure, but it’s certainly a very noble one, and is one worth considering.
While the argument can be made (and certainly has been) that those in fortunate positions ought to be generous with what they’ve got, I want to go further and suggest that we remove the precondition. People ought to be generous with what they’ve got, regardless of their station in life. There are the obvious altruistic reasons for this, but it turns out there are a lot of benefits for the generous individual as well.
Focus on others
Being generous causes us to think of others. It takes our eyes off ourselves and instead allows us to consider someone else, to consider their needs, to consider how to help move their lives forward. By thinking of others and pouring into their lives, we necessarily need to know how and what to pour in; requirements that can only be fulfilled by us shifting our gaze from ourselves onto others.
Whether we’re giving time, resources, or our energy, generosity naturally fosters a growth mindset. We pour into others to help them grow, to help them be filled, and to move their lives forward towards fulfillment. And with any habit, the more we practice this, the more our brains will be rewired towards that mindset.
Have you ever noticed that the happiest people you know are also the most generous? They may not be the richest people, the smartest, or the ones with the most time and uncomplicated life, but they are generally quite generous with whatever resource it is that they’ve got. No matter their station or circumstance, I’m willing to bet that when you enumerate those in your life that you know of that are truly happy, they’re also very generous with anything and everything that they’ve got.
This isn’t an accident. The more generous a person is, the more perspective on life they get. Because generosity requires us to pour into people, requires us to loosen the hold on the things that are ours, and requires us to consider others, we see things from a different vantage point. We view ourselves against the backdrop of humanity on a whole and are able to get a glimpse of the big picture. And that’s a very humbling experience. When we see ourselves on the canvas of the world painted on the timeline of history, we realize that while our individual part is incredibly significant and meaningful, we are but a small part of a much more important whole.
And so I urge the two of you to view yourselves on that canvas, and to see the role that you can play as a part of the bigger picture. In being generous, not only do you sharpen your view of yourself and of the world, but you see the movement and growth of the world that you can play a bigger part in. Our generosity allows the world to move forward, to heal, to rebuild, to refine, and to redefine. And those are all beautiful things worth giving our lives for.
There are times when life feels simply like a grind. Too much work to do, too many books to read, too much study left with topics to learn. In those times, it is easy to feel like life is an endurance exercise, that it is something to be endured.
We’re told that our endurance is rewarded. We’re told that studying hard in school means that we’ll be rewarded with a great job. When we start that great job, we’re told that working hard will allow us to advance quickly and will give us the freedom and purchasing power to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Then we have kids and we’re told that we need to invest in our kids and give them every opportunity. Following this train of thought, the point at which we stop enduring and stop working incredibly hard is the day that we retire.
And then we can enjoy life.
Now, don’t get me wrong - I’m not at all suggesting that working hard is a bad thing, and that perseverance and grit aren’t noble characteristics; quite the opposite. I want you to grow up as steadfast men, as men that have grit and perseverance, as men that stand up for the right things and fight the good fight. But I also want you to grow up as balanced men, men that recognize when it’s time to be running the race, but also when it’s time to be having fun, enjoying life and love, creating joy, and experiencing freedom.
Life should not only be an endurance exercise.
Even in our physical exercise, we’re told to take breaks. Just as the body needs time to rehydrate, to recover, and to refuel, so too do our souls need that time. Push hard, yes. Go big, yes. But make sure that you don’t work so hard that you forget what it’s like to have fun. Make sure you’ve got people by your side that you can have the time of your life with, who will be there to shoulder the load with you when you can’t carry it alone, who will be there to jump off a cliff with you when you desire it, and who will laze by the pool with you when you need it.
My hope is that you can be that for each other, that you can help keep each other balanced. Run the race together, yes. But also celebrate the victory together. I pray there are many of those for you both. I love you boys.
Something that corporate America puts a large emphasis on is this concept of owning outcomes. It is so deeply rooted in our professional culture that at the time of my writing this, the exact phrase “owning outcomes” is one of the things that my company measures my performance on.
We are a capitalist culture that is hyper focused on outcomes, on the output of the individual, the team, the company. So much so that we’ll often sacrifice other things to get the results that we want.
Now, don’t get me wrong - I believe that owning your outcomes is a good thing. It’s good to be intentional, to be deliberate, to have the organizational mindset that enables planning for success and for achievement. But as always, too much of a good thing can and likely will become a bad thing, and I believe that we’ve gone overboard with this notion of owning outcomes. Here’s why.
First, when we put ownership of outcomes so much higher than other attributes such as empathy, balance, and mature judgment, we miss out on the fact that in pursuit of those outcomes, we may in fact cause pain to others. We ignore the fact that we may be causing a natural imbalance that has other rippling effects. And we may not spend the time to thoughtfully assess the impact of our actions on other areas of our concern.
Second, when we focus too much on outcomes, we lose sight of the fact that in the journey of life, the destination isn’t the only important thing. We are sometimes so incredibly focused on where we want to be, what experiences we want to have, what the notch on our belt or the line item on our resume will be that we forget to take into consideration who we are becoming. How will these experiences and choices shape the men that we are becoming, the values that we are acquiring, and the natural inclination to repeat these choices in the future?
Lastly, when we focus on outcomes, people become an afterthought at worst, a resource or asset to tap at best. And resources over time tend to be exploited selfishly for their worth to us.
So my challenge to you today is to recognize that while planning well and having a thoughtful strategy for your life is a good thing, ultimately the outcome is out of our control. Be content with the way you handle factors that are in your control; factors like the way that you respond to stressful situations, or the patience you have with the person who cut you off. Don’t focus so much on the outcomes here, because chances are, many of these outcomes aren’t as important as the men that you are becoming.
It’s been said that in life, we only have a handful of moments, of choices that set us on a path and ultimately work to shape our legacy. Those moments may be actions that we choose to take that have eternal impact, words we choose to say or write, or even thoughts we allow ourselves to entertain.
These moments happen when we least expect them.
It’s not ours to determine when they happen, so we need to be ready for them. As you both know, I’ve always been a huge fan of being intentional, both in thought and in action, and while that’s certainly much more of an aspiration than a daily reality, I believe that it’s our ability to stay the course, to strive for that aspiration that will be our greatest asset. And so we start small. Rome wasn’t built in one night, and neither is character.
So start small. It’s the little things we do, each and every day, each and every little choice we make - these add up to shape the greater whole of our character, and ultimately allow us to be ready for those moments when they arrive.
We may not even know they’ve come and gone until later when we’ve had the time to reflect and to assess the impact they’ve had on our path.
My prayer for you both is that when those moments come, you’ll be ready to consciously and intentionally make the choice that you want, that you intentionally have come to decide is the right one for you.
And remember that no matter what you choose, you’ll always have my support. I love you boys, and I know you’ll both make me proud!
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.
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.
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.
Something I realize I’ve taken for granted in these posts is the fact that I believe deeply that you can change your stars. Not just that you can be whatever and whomever you want to be, but that the future is unwritten, and that you can be an author in the grand drama that is ever unfolding.
One of the greatest founding principles and beliefs of many of our modern nations is that we are free. Free to believe, free to speak, free to associate, free to express, and free to be happy with the life and path that we’ve chosen. That freedom is the very foundation on which many, if not all, of the thoughts that I’m able to share with you are based on. I have nothing but the utmost respect and gratitude for that freedom, and for the men and women that make that freedom possible.
That very freedom is the foundation by which we are able to move life forward, are able to be a change agent, are able to thoughtfully and intentionally shape our world the way we dream of. To quote from Whitman:
You are here - that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
You may contribute a verse. You may author a verse. You have the power to impact that powerful play, and you can be a force that can change the world.
The only way to do that is to be authentic in your expression. Write your verse. Speak your mind. Sing your songs. Make your music. But do all of those things authentically. Do them with the fullness of your conviction and your beliefs. Don’t take half measures. Be all in.
The world is full of people, of corporations, of agendas that want to shape you into something you’re not. Don’t let them. As the Lord said to Joshua,
Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. ~Joshua 1:9
So my challenge to you today is to write, to sing, to dance, to paint, to create, to invent, or to do whatever it is that you do. And to do it all with all your heart and determination. The future is truly unwritten, and it is up to you how you want to write it.
We live in a time when the amount of information that’s available out there is enormous. The information age is in full swing, and we’re generating data at an astronomical rate. Gartner has forecasted that the sheer volume of information that will be generated in a single year in 2020 will be four times the amount of information accumilated from the dawn of the internet to our present day.
By 2020, we’re also expected to surpass one trillion devices in the world that are connected and generating raw information for someone to consume. For a world population of 7 billion or so, that’s an astronomical amount of devices.
So why am I bringing this up? Because the average person will be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the stream of noisy information that they get, and it will become critical for you to know how to turn that information into insight that you can act on.
As with everything in life that’s worth doing, this takes practice. There’s no substitute for raw hours put in to refine your craft and your abilities. So practice. Be diligent about consciously tuning out the noise and filtering out what you need to hear.
Next, know what you’re looking for. Know what you need from each information stream and don’t get drawn in to the distractions. Remember that much of the content that’s out there is made to distract, to entertain. Isn’t it strange that when something doesn’t have actual value, we say it has entertainment value?
Lastly, tell stories. Each new insight that you take in should sharpen your narrative and provide clarity to the story you’re telling. Make sure it does that, and make sure you tell each updated version of your story often.
Because at the end of the day, the most valuable thing we’ll be able to add to this world’s story is our own.
As the technology of our time advances to automate more intelligent tasks, the differentiating factor becomes the ability to create, to innovate, to dream, and to realize those dreams. Our world has evolved such that success and productivity are no longer achieved by repetitive and well-known tasks. As we automate more of the routine tasks required for sustaining life, the acts of creativity and discovery come to the forefront.
It’s said that creativity is simply us discovering things that God has hidden for us.
If that’s the case, we must ask ourselves how we can discover more of these things. What lifestyle changes, what behavioral adjustments, what values and investments do we need to shift so that we’re ready and able to see what’s hidden there? What can we do?
First, we can be intentional with the time that we spend. As with any other skill, the skill of discovery and detailed observation takes practice. Set time in your day to thoughtfully observe, to ponder, to consider. Be thoughtful about your experiences, your circumstances, and the inputs that you have in your life. Examine them to see if there’s more than meets the eye there - you might find some transformative insights there. (Yes yes I know, your dad’s a Transformers nerd).
Second, find people that are interesting and run with them. Interesting people tend to be thoughtful about their interests, and tend to have reasons for doing the things that they do. These conversations help shape you, help refine your context, help polish your thought process. Interestig people also tend to have interesting friends, so expanding your circle there helps too.
Lastly, never say no to a new experience. Yes, I know there are exceptions to that rule, but your default stance should be one that is willing to try new things, to expand your horizons. This is something I didn’t do nearly enough of when I was younger and it’s one of the few things in my life that I’d change if I had to do it over again.
I’m not guaranteeing that by doing these things, you’ll end up discovering the next big thing. I am guaranteeing though that these actions will make your life that much richer and that much more full. And ultimately, that’s the prayer that I have for you every day - that God would give you a rich, full, abundant life.
Last time, we talked about paying attention. More explicitly, I suggested that the world has a road that they want you to follow, and if you don’t choose your path yourself and pay attention to where you’re going, you’ll naturally fall into that path.
Today I want to encourage you to follow your passions.
How is this related? For starters, people who follow their passions whole heartedly tend to carve out a path for themselves that allow those passions to flourish. More importantly though, following your passion allows you to encounter others that do the same.
Passion is one of those things that is entirely additive in nature - the more you do life with passionate people, the more that passion rubs off on you.
As you grow up, there will be many attempts to get you to conform, to “fall in”, to focus on doing what’s expected of you. By the time you read this, I hope I’ve helped you keep time set aside for yourself, for you to follow the things that excite you, for you to let the things that spark your soul flourish.
As much effort and pressure the world puts on you to conform to a path, it strangely doesn’t reward that conformity, which is a bit of a mystery. Those that have the patience, persistence, and gall to follow their own path are the ones that not only end up being more successful, but end up being more interesting, keeping more interesting company, and leading rich and full lives as a result.
While I’m not saying to completely buck the trend and be completely non-conformist, I am saying that you need to pay attention and invest in your passions as well. At the end of it all, that’s what brings you the joy, fulfillment, and happiness of a life well lived.
As you know by now, I try to be a pretty intentional person. I heard something the other day that I absolutely loved, so I thought I’d share it with you.
Wherever it is you want to go, there is a long and conventional path, and there are shorter, less conventional approaches. The long conventional path is the outcome of not paying attention. It’s what happens when you let other people dictate your life.
I’ve found this to be extremely true in my experiences.
While I do believe it is sometimes beneficial to not pay attention, those times should be explicitly decided upon. Some of the best memories I’ve had were days where a few of us had no firm plans or designs, but rather played the day by ear and presently discovered that we had a fabulous time as a result. Those are days that are intentionally unintentional, and aren’t the subject of my attention today.
What I’m referring to today is the consciousness and critical nature that is required at a grander scale. It is more than just ability; it is a trained state of mind, a refined attribute that may take years of intentional practice to adequately acquire.
It is the art of knowing what pieces of input to process and come back to, and what to discard and not spend time on. It is the discipline to remember to step back and look at the bigger picture ervery so often. It is having the audacity to challenge the norms that are given to you, that you’re supposed to just accept.
The truth is that society doesn’t want you to do that. It wants to raise a geeration of people that are easily influenced by the latest greatest marketing trends that are out there. Capitalism is selfish by nature, and so it will do everything in its power to numb your senses and have you follow the path that profits it the most.
If you don’t have a plan for yourself, someone else will and you’ll fall into that.
My challenge to you today is to make sure you’re paying enough attention to be able to intentionally choose which path you take. Because even if there are many paths to your destination, time is the resource that you’ll never get back. So make the most of your time and pay attention to what you’re doing, where you’re going, and who you’re going there with!
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 you will have discovered by now, I love the epic, the grand, the vast and expansive. Naturally this means that I spend a lot of time thinking about it, and have spent a number of my notes to you espousing my thoughts on that.
Today’s thought will be quite contrary, but at least as important if not moreso.
It is the little moments in life that that really make us feel human.
It’s the accumulation of the little things, the seemingly insignificant instances whose individual presence may not account to much but whose combined impact is far greater than the sum of its parts. They may be as small as a friendly wave from an acquaintance, a kind word from a stranger, or a shared experience with a friend.
While the big moments are the ones that stand out, it’s the continual flow of little moments that forms the backdrop for those epic events to be seen.
As you know, I love photography, and a very basic understanding in photography is that no matter how beautiful your subject is, your photo is only as good as the background elements - the light, the backdrop, the scene, the underlying notes of color and contrast - all these things bring life to the subject.
It’s these little things that ultimately determine our character and overall composition. And amazingly enough, it’s these little things that we often have the most control over.
So my challenge to you today is to impact the little things in your life as best you can. Be the one that gives a friendly wave. Speak an encouraging word. Give a stranger a smile. Give a friend a hug.
While it’s difficult to orchestrate an epic moment, the little ones are absolutely within our realm of control, so I urge you to take the opportunity to help make positive little moments for those you interact with, and to be a bright spot in someone’s day.
There’s a book on your bookshelf right now that your mom and I read to you that has us imagine people with buckets. Each act of kindness fills someone’s bucket a little bit at a time. Such a simple yet beautiful analogy that even at a young age you were able to understand. So I’ll leave you with the sentiment of that book: go and be the best bucket filler you can be!
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.
The last twenty years has seen a trend of people who are raised to believe in self, in the individual human spirit. While I’m not against the belief that intrinsically each person has value and that God created each one of us uniquely and wonderfully, I do think that we could take a lesson from one of the greats in history.
JFK said once that we ought to “ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country”.
The sentiment here is that there’s something greater than ourselves that we ought to consider, and that there’s something to be gained, some purpose fulfilled, some satisfaction in pursuing a goal that may not have originated with us.
Much of my generation has struggled with the question of purpose. Many spend years trying to discover themselves, to find meaning in the chaos that is life. Conventional wisdom these days says to look within oneself for the answers, and while there is some element of truth there and we can indeed learn more about ourselves as we become more introspective, I think that’s only half the story.
If we consider the things that resonate most with the human spirit, the things that kindle a fire deep within us, the things that elevate us to greater heights, to greater awareness, and to a greater richness of life - these things are not exclusively internal. The purity of the human spirit is the work of God refined by our relationships, experiences, endeavors, and shared ventures. Mankind was not put on this earth to be alone. Nor was he put on this earth to live for himself alone.
Discovering that which we were created for, that which we are destined for - that is something that takes a lifetime to learn and to refine. As Nietzsche put it, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how”.
The vital question then becomes this: What does life want from me?
In other words, what is the larger, grander venture that I ought to be a part of?
My challenge to you is to discover what that is. And whether it is being a comfort for the weary, being a safe place for the oppressed, feeding the hungry, loving the downtrodden - no matter what it is, I urge you to run at it with all that you have. We keep talking about a deep sense of richness and fulfillment in life - this is one of the keys that will help get us there.
There’s a natural tension in life between today and tomorrow. As you know, time is the only resource in life that we will never get back, and so we naturally want to maximize that. This creates the dilemma of whether we should invest in tomorrow or if we should spend on today.
As much as I would love to give you a hard and fast rule for which choice to make, the reality is that the richest lives are lived somewhere in the middle - investing enough in tomorrow while still spending time today to live your life.
So then what are we talking about today?
A rich and full life is one that balances our investments in the future - school, learning, reading, developing skills and interests - with our enjoyment of today - shooting the breeze with friends, sitting on the deck and enjoying the sunset, standing in awe of the most beautiful sight you’ve ever seen.
Asian culture tells us to invest in tomorrow. We’re taught to save our money and to invest it. We’re constantly reminded to work hard today so that we can be successful tomorrow. We’re reminded to think about the big picture, about the life that we want to have later, about our next job, our future wife and family, our retirement plans.
And yet there’s no emphasis on today.
In that sense, tomorrow is something that is always coming but never comes.
And that’s my challenge for you today. While investing in the future, make sure you take the time to smell the roses. Make time to do it. And do it big. Whether this means turning on your noise-cancelling headphones and cranking up your favorite epic song, sitting outside with a glass of wine and watching the sun set over the horizon, or taking a walk down a familiar street with the love of your life.
Those are the moments - those perfect, timeless moments - that give you strength to keep pushing forward. Those moments you’ll remember for a lifetime, and will ultimately confirm for yourself that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.
Life’s too short to live with regrets. While it is certainly good to go back and consider where you’ve come, do so to learn from the experience and not to regret what’s happened. Everything is 20/20 in hindsight - use that to your advantage. Go back and consider the things that have happened, but do so in order to learn from the experience, not to regret what’s happened.
I love the concept and the thought of the epic moment. I love how it transcends time and becomes engrained in your memory as a time when everything in the world lined up perfectly to bring this one pure and perfect memory, this glorious experience that can’t be tarnished over time. I love that these moments are timeless and can be shared and experienced across the ages.
In order to live in these moments and to be in a place where we can experience them, we’ve got to live free of the confines of regret, free from the shackles of guilt and self-doubt.
Remember that time is the only resource in life that you will never get back. You can always earn more money and can always buy new material things, but you’ll never get your time back. It is the most valuable resource simply because it’s non-renewable, and is consumed at a constant rate regardless of your wishes or whatever you do to prevent that.
And so we ought to live maximizing that resource.
That’s my prayer for you - that you would live with no regrets, that you would give your all to your experiences, that you would dream without abandon, and that you would have a rich and full life. That the time that you spend on this world will be full of those epic moments, full of timeless, transcendent moments. And that above all things, you would love with everything that you’ve got.
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.
Throughout history, every single achievement that mankind has accomplished has been a group effort. Even the great ones - Einstein, Gretzky, da Vinci - all of them had strong influences that encouraged, challenged, instructed, and inspired them to be able to have accomplished the great things that we know them for today.
There has been much research about a person’s development, growth, and ultimate success as a healthy, fully functioning member of society. While there are very drastically different theories on the most important experiences or surroundings that produce successful people, every theory agrees that relationships are critical to a person’s upbringing.
As the good book says:
“Bad company corrupts good character” - 1 Corinthians 15:33
It is therefore critically important that you be thoughtful about the company that you keep, about the relationships that you build. Build being the operative word here.
Make no mistake about it - relationships are works of art that need to be intentionally built. They need to be thought out, planned, worked on, evaluated, and refined. Whether we’re talking about a casual acquaintance, a lifelong friendship, or an epic romance, each of these need to be sought after, worked on, invested in, and cared for.
So how do we build the right relationships?
While I am by no means an expert on the subject, I can share with you my thoughts and observations.
- Be mindful about the type of investment this is. Not all relationships are equal. Some are meant for your enrichment, some are meant for you to learn patience and endurance as you pour into someone else for their enrichment. Some are mutually beneficial. Know which is which.
- Own it. Be intentional about what you want out of each relationship. While it’s very easy to have acquaintances and friends that are seemingly aimless, don’t tolerate that. Be deliberate and thoughtful about each relationship you have.
- Prune it. Reclassify relationships as required, and prune the ones that no longer serve a purpose. Relationships themselves will naturally run their course, and while it is certainly easier in the immediate instance to allow them to do that without your intervention, in the long run, you’ll find that being intentional here is going to be far better.
- Pour your life into it. For relationships that you’ve decided are worthwhile, go big. Don’t take half-measures, but pour your all into it. Relationships are two-way streets - the more you pour into them, the more you’ll get out of them.
My hope for you is that you will have a lifetime of rich experiences, and great relationships and companions to travel the road with you. Remember to go big, to dream without abandon, to give without expectation. And above all, love with everything that you’ve got.