Posts tagged with #Perspective
If there’s one thing in the world that I wish to be known as, it’s this; to be a lifelong learner. Over and above every other possible thing, I hope to be remembered as someone who was always learning, always looking for great inputs, always considering those inputs against his current perspective, and always willing and ready to have a mind shifting conversation. No matter what the realm we’re considering; be it relationship, engineering, management and leadership, spirituality, or even health or politics, I hope to have the attitude and mindset of one that is learning, all the days of my life.
This is because the world we live in is incredibly vast, and gets increasingly more complex with each year that passes. So much so that it is impossible for any one person to see it all, know it all, experience it all. The wealth of knowledge and wisdom that is collected, refined, and passed down through generations is awe-inspiring. There is much richness contained there that we ought to tap into in order to further accelerate our experience.
We were all born with an innate drive for progress. Whether you’re a creationist that believes that this is the breath of God in you or an evolutionist that believes that this trait is what made our forefathers fittest to survive, it is undeniable that we each have a spark; a special, mystical force within us that compels us forward.
And learning is the very core of that.
So then, if it’s so important, why do so many of us struggle with it? Not only in our formative years where we’re expected to learn, but in our later years where we have choice and as such choose not to continue? Why have we been so ill-equipped to truly be lifelong learners?
How we were trained to think about learning
When we were young, our education systems taught us that learning was for a purpose, and that purpose was the same for each of us. We were taught that learning was for the purpose of passing exams. Because ultimately, if you do well on exams, then you’d have a leg up on life, and you’d be able to succeed and have a great life.
And so everything we did at a young age revolved around this simple idea that the goal of learning was success. The process was laid out simply as learning -> acceptance to a good college -> get a good job -> have a good life.
That simple idea framed everything. It impacted what we read and how we read it. It caused us to think of writing as a means to that end. It changed how we research and expanded on our ideas. It engulfed the first 20+ years of our lives with an all-consuming requirement that most of us don’t realize is wrong until much, much later.
Allow me to restate the obvious just for completeness: the goal of learning is not to pass exams.
Why we learn
There are many intermediate goals that we may have in our lives for which learning is a required part of the journey (yes, passing exams is one of those). However, I would propose a more lofty goal.
The goal of learning is to gain wisdom, knowledge, and perspective that we can then apply to every facet of our lives.
Each of us has our own path to forge, our own destiny to follow, and our own legacy to leave. We each want to live a great life. We desire many things for ourselves; success, love, greatness, wealth, happiness, relationship. The list is long but distinguished for each of us, but at the end of it all, we each want to know that we lived a rich and full life.
At a young age, we believed that life to be about maximizing self, especially in comparison to others. We strove to be on top, to beat others. We loved (and for many, still love) being right a lot. This is because being right has a lot of beneficial side effects.
Not only do we get the pleasure of knowing that we were right and did the right thing, but we get reinforced by a number of forces both internal and external when we’re right. We may get praise when we’re right. We may be rewarded. We may gain trust and earn respect from our peers. We may be seen in high regard in our community.
Taken with the right attitude, there is nothing wrong with being right a lot. In fact, society on a whole moves forward by people striving to be right and to do the right thing. However, there are two ways to be right a lot. One is to learn a lot. The other is to never leave your niche.
It is good to leave your niche.
Disagreement as you learn
Only a fool assumes they know everything. Wise men know the limits of their own knowledge and are thirsty for more. They leave their niches in search for more wisdom and knowledge. They endeavor to learn; from experiences, and from others.
It is human nature to think about ourselves. Everyone can do that. However, it is unnatural (ie not sinister, but simply not natural) for people to think about others, to see things from their perspective, and to thoughtfully disagree in a way that encourages communication and facilitates joint learning.
As such, we must learn to appreciate (and develop!) the art of thoughtful disagreement. When you are able to find someone that can disagree with you thoughtfully and unemotionally, hold on to that - those people are rare!
Remember that it is pointless to be angry at a disagreement. Disagreements should not be seen as threats but rather as opportunities for learning and for refining one’s perspective.
How we learn
Ultimately, learning boils down to taking in new inputs, analyzing those against our current system of thought and belief, and determining how we adjust those beliefs in response to the input. These inputs can be new experiences, new ideas, or new rumination and insights gained about existing ideas.
There are three major ways to get new inputs: reading, ruminating, and living.
The traditional method of learning has us reading a text in order to strengthen a given argument. It starts with the assumption that the argument is true and then leaves us to confirm that. If you want to learn to be a better leader, read a book on how to lead. If you want to learn to cook well, read a book on how to cook.
As simple as this approach is, it’s insufficient at best and outright wrong at worst.
There is so much more to reading an article, book, or passage than the singular idea that one is trying to develop. With this top down approach, we throw out other sub themes that may be incredibly insightful for us.
A quick example that many of us have done. You’re reading a leadership book. Why would you care about the author’s anecdote about social justice? Just skip that and move on.
This type of top down learning is incredibly inefficient, and promotes echo chambers of confirmation bias.
Learning and insight must come from the bottom up. It is done by developing many ideas bottom up and seeing which ideas and arguments develop naturally, and then following those threads to their natural conclusion. It is from those naturally developed arguments that our thinking evolves and our beliefs and convictions are shaped!
As such, we should read for the sake of discovering something new. If we approach our reading as an act of discovery, we not only remove that confirmation bias, but we welcome diversity. Finding contradictory points and arguments now becomes exciting, because the our approach values and promotes diversity. This then impacts our enjoyment and subsequently our desire to read more, which impacts our opportunities for greater learning.
What do you think about when you think of the term ‘ruminating’? If you’re like me, my mind conjures up images of standing at some great height, with the camera angle pointing upwards at me as I stare reflectively off into the distance. Some pensive soundtrack is playing, like Debussy’s Clair de Lune or Bach’s Cello Suite in G Major.
Of course, life doesn’t actually happen that way.
Much of the time, ruminating can be tough. For even the most well-intentioned ruminator, this endeavor if left undisciplined and untrained can quickly devolve into an aimless wandering of the mind, much akin to a daydream.
In his book How to take smart notes Sonke Ahrens describes a wondrous system that utilizes the discipline of writing as a refining tool for our thinking. At a young age, we were trained to write for the purpose of validating learning. We wrote exams and papers to demonstrate that we indeed learned the topic at hand.
Ahrens argues that we have to change our mindset to one that views writing as a generator of learning. Writing causes us to learn, causes us to study, causes us to debate, converse, and participate in the public realm of knowledge. When we write, our brains think about what we’re attempting to write about, and formulates connections with all the other inputs that we’ve got floating around in there.
It is this act of synthesis that accelerates our learning. In order for the brain to write down a tangible and meaningful statement, it must consider our vast amounts of inputs on a topic and summarize it into something useful to be written. This is the very act of focusing our ruminations. It is directed. It is intentional. It is disciplined.
We often overemphasize this one by chalking everything up to “learning through life experience”. Yes, life experience gives us many inputs. It gives us many opportunities for which new ideas may be encountered. It provides many challenging situations for us to endeavor to overcome.
But all of these opportunities require the right framing. They require the right mindset. They require courage. They require us to lean not on the understanding of others.
We must have the courage to use our own understanding. We cannot truly learn and understand if we are always applying knowledge only in the fashion by which we are instructed! Life experience allows us to extrapolate our knowledge into real experiences, and to learn how we can continually do better.
Have an open mind
I’ll leave you with one final thought; approach life with an open mind.
Often, the most profound lessons in our lives come from the most unlikely places. Remember that there are lessons to be learned everywhere. Having an open mind allows us to learn from anything and anyone, to take the lifetime of learnings from others and to add those to our own journey.
And that ultimately allows us to be the best selves that we can be.
The French have a lovely phrase - “la joie de vivre” - which loosely translates into the joy of living. This phrase has been floating around in my head all week, and as I sit on the deck of the S. S. Catherine, docked presently in Avignon on the Rhône River, I thought I’d share some of the thoughts that have been marinating.
What are you about?
We are constantly bombarded with a steady stream of messages telling us what we should do, how we should dress, what we should think about, and what our lives ought to look like. These mimetic models come in the form of ads trying to sell us not just a product but a lifestyle, curated and idealized Instagram photos showing us that our friends have it all, and everything in between.
So how do we find signal in all that noise? How do we find out not what others think we should do, but what we want our lives to be characterized by? How do we find that joie de vivre that allows us to live lives consistent with our values in a way that brings us a daily and sustained joy?
First, we need to look up. Someone once said that
“If you’re never looking up, you’re always just looking around”
There is immense value of having a viewpoint which transcends the mundane. Life is a series of connected moments that may at many times seem random and disconnected. It is up to us to add value and meaning to those moments such that over the course of our lives they string together to build a beautiful tapestry of our history.
By constantly looking around us and never looking up at the loftier things, we reduce our lives to the mundane and meaningless drivel of existence. However, if we deign to look up every so often and fix our eyes on the grand, we turn that mundane existence into rich and meaningful life. We begin to see our place in the grander scheme, and are able to take things in stride.
Looking up gives us context. It puts our lives in perspective. It allows us to see that we are a part of a greater whole. As the saying goes,
“If the vision is big enough, the details don’t matter”
If we’re able to see the grand story of Life with a capital “L”, then we are able to see our our lives fit into the picture, and when we’re able to do that the little bumps along the way seem to matter much less.
No matter what you see, no matter what the bigger picture looks like for you, no matter what piece of the big puzzle you believe you ought to play, live it. Run towards it. Constantly refine it. Nurture it. Engage with what you see upwards so that you can know what you value and believe and can therefore apply those things all around you.
Having a sharper view on what we’re about is but a starting point. We need to apply that understanding to our present reality.
From a young age we’re taught to think about the future. Even before children enter a hyper-competitive school system young parents are constantly trying to give their children a leg up by signing them up for enhanced learning classes, math camps, language lessons, and everything under the sun that they can manage to afford and cram into an already-too-busy schedule.
Kids are then ushered through a grueling 12 year program designed with one single purpose in mind: college acceptance into the best school that you can both afford and qualify for. The next four years after that are designed to mold you into the perfect cog to fit into the American economic machine so that you can make good money and have a wonderful life.
Well what is that wonderful life? Having a family and kids of your own of course. And once you’re past parenting your own kids through to college, you’re saving for retirement to make sure you can end life well.
Surely somewhere along the way life itself must actually be lived, right?
While none of these things themselves are bad (I’m not at all advocating for us to abandon education) they are incomplete. They are not the only important thing in life. They are not even the most important thing in life.
It is good to think about the future, to plan for it, to be prepared. However, that needs to be balanced with living in the moment and being present.
Focus on each moment
To be present, to fully enjoy that joie de vivre, we need to learn to focus on each moment and to be present in it.
It’s worth explicitly pointing out that we should only begin focusing on the moments after we’ve taken the big picture context in mind. This is because the big picture context acts as a lens through which we filter each moment and allows us to view them with the right perspective.
It is in our nature to see the worst in each moment, to see fear and danger everywhere. This is an evolutionary imperative and has worked well for millions of years in keeping the human species alive. As such, it is a trait that we automatically apply to every situation, regardless of the fact that there are no longer bears, tigers, and other natural predators out to get us.
Filtering our experiences through the big picture context allows us to strip out that initial reaction and see each moment through the lens of our values. It is through this lens that we should focus on each moment, allowing ourselves to fully feel, fully embrace, fully love, fully cry.
La joie de vivre doesn’t only mean happiness; rather, it means a richer experience of each moment, happy or otherwise. By focusing on each of these moments, by being present through them instead of thinking about the next ones, and by releasing ourselves and allowing ourselves to fully be in them, we are more able to experience a richer, more vivid, and more sublime world.
My sons, my hope for you is that you’ll be able to experience life fully, that you will have no regrets about how you responded to the situations and circumstances that life threw your way. I love you boys!
Everyone wants to get ahead in life. From a young age, we are told, taught, and trained in many ways to get ahead. Parents do some pretty crazy things to give their children a leg up. People will spend their wealth, their youth, and even their health just to get ahead. Some will even sacrifice happiness, relationships, and their own well being just to give themselves some advantage.
Never mind the lack of balance and priorities of it all (a topic for another day perhaps), but so many of those sacrifices often end up in vain and not panning out. There are countless stories of parents who have “gave up everything” for their children, and yet their “incredibly ungrateful” children squander that gift by rebelling, not applying themselves, or by choosing to do something with their lives that the parents didn’t value and therefore didn’t sacrifice for.
We all want to succeed. Every one of us has a built-in innate drive and desire to move life forward and be successful. It is at the heart of the human experience; that supernatural thumbprint of creating, of refining, of achieving something great.
And yet somewhere along the way that desire starts to fade and fizzle, and eventually disappears in many. What began as a childlike awe and enthusiasm for wonder, for greatness, and for creating and experiencing incredible things slowly is replaced by the need for good grades, for strong extracurriculars, and for studying deeply to get the slightest advantage in our hyper competitive and ultra specialized world. We substitute wondering and wandering for studying and discipline. We slowly but surely deprive our young of the unfiltered, carefree joy of being a kid and insist they focus on academics. We rob them of their range.
Turns out there are all sorts of studies and examples of the benefits of range, especially in our specialized world. From CEOs to brilliant academics to star athletes, our world is full of examples of people who have made it to GOAT status (Greatest Of All Time) in their fields who attribute their success not to a deep and insular focus on their craft alone but rather on a wide range of experiences. David Epstein does a wonderful job expounding on these and many more examples in his book, “Range”, so I won’t do that here. Instead, I want to focus on Range as it applies across your various life experiences in making you well-rounded, balanced individuals who have a wealth of experiences. From academics to sports to music to culinary experiences, I believe that getting a wide range of experiences and having a large set of interests is truly the only way to get ahead and have a rich and full life. Here’s why.
HAVING RANGE EXPANDS YOUR CIRCLE
Having a wide range of interests and experiences expands the set of people that you interact with. Each activity you partake in is an opportunity to engage with someone else that shares that interest, and gives you a natural exposure to a more diverse set of people that can expand your horizons and can push the limits of your understanding.
Having larger circles of people to interact with is always a good thing, as much of life is a numbers game. A larger circle means more opportunity for conversations which brings a higher probability of encountering new ideas and experiences, both of which are essential elements of a rich and full life.
HAVING RANGE EXPANDS YOUR PERSPECTIVE
By encountering a wide array of people, we naturally begin to have our vision expanded. Each new encounter, each new experience is an opportunity for us to see just a little further, feel just a little deeper, understand just a little more. But only if we approach these times with a growth and learning mindset.
In the timeless film Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams famously gets up onto his desk and faces his students as an object lesson to teach them the value of perspective. Seeing the same world from a different lens allows us to challenge our preconceptions and give us a more holistic understanding.
HAVING RANGE LEADS TO A RICHER LIFE
Throughout history, mankind has used many measures to determine the value of life, which in turn impacts our pursuits and endeavors. That topic itself is one worth spending more time to dive into at a later date, but for now it will suffice for us to borrow a line from the Good Book. Jesus tells us that
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” - John 10:10
What then does it mean to have a rich and full life? I believe the answer lies in the experiences and interactions that we have.
B. J. Neblett famously said that:
“We are the sum of our experiences. Those experiences - be they positive or negative - make us the people we are, at any given point in our lives. And, like a flowing river, those same experiences, and those yet to come, continue to influence and reshape the people we are, and the people we become.”
Having range allows us to have a wide set of experiences that shape us. Those experiences lead to more experiences, which over time become the sum of our lives.
My prayer for you both is that you will lead lines that are characterized by deep connection, by rich experiences, and by a broad view and understanding of our marvelous world. I love you boys!
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!
As a youngster one of my favorite Proverbs was Proverbs 3:5, which says “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding”. As a good Christian kid, this meant that there were things that I was taught to do that didn’t make sense to me yet, but I had the full belief that in the fullness of time they would. That didn’t stop me from learning though, and trying to further my own understanding of the world.
I enjoyed the debates, the reading, the studying, the ruminating. I enjoyed diving into many subjects - English literature, philosophy, religion, science and technology, leadership. As I moved through college life, that enjoyment strengthened, and I often found myself having conversations late into the night with groups of friends and other students about many of these topics.
When I graduated though, I discovered that debating about virtues and philosophy and all those other things was very different than applying those things to my life. I found that peer pressure didn’t actually fade away; rather, it morphed into an unspoken expectation of how I was to live my life. The more I settled into the routine of “the rest of my life” after college, the more I found myself swept away by the guidance of the crowd.
Adolescence and the quest for knowledge
Our society has structured the first two decades of modern life around the primary goal of acquiring knowledge and skills. Once we enter into our school systems, we are expected to move along on the conveyer belt of knowledge injection until we graduate from college with enough retained knowledge and, hopefully, some small amounts of gleaned wisdom and understanding to enter “the real world”.
The problem is that society got more complex. With the dawn of the information revolution, the number of highly manual and physical jobs decreased dramatically and was coupled with an equally meteoric rise of knowledge worker jobs (a knowledge worker simply is someone who’s main capital and profitable resource is knowledge). This meant that our traditional schooling systems designed during the industrial revolution with a goal of churning out workers capable of operating heavy farm machinery needed to adjust to producing graduates armed with enough knowledge to work in the new space.
These institutions were never designed that way, and have had a hard time adjusting to accommodate. Instead of simply needing to graduate with the ability to drive a tractor or to repair an engine, graduates are expected to have a wealth of knowledge in math, physics, basic engineering, chemistry, and many more. As a result, schools (and many parents) attempt to jam an insane amount of knowledge into the student’s mind, requiring pages and pages of homework to be completed nightly with regular tests and evaluations to ensure the knowledge has stuck.
Goodbye real life application. Goodbye learning and understanding.
The need to have your shit together
Armed with our budding belief that knowledge is more required than wisdom, we enter the workforce where we’re confronted with terms like “imposter syndrome”, “meritocracy”, and “high potential employees”. The set of expectations placed on us increases exponentially and strongly incentivizes us to lean on the knowledge of others, to listen to mentors and managers, and to “follow the crowd at chow time”.
Socially, we want to fit in. We want to be liked, to be admired, and to be respected. When we’re first starting out in our careers, a lot of times that respect gets tied back to what everyone is thinking a lot about; our careers. And so we play the dance, and try to sound like we know what we’re doing, and that we’re advancing and making career progress. We watch instructional videos with titles like “How to sound like an expert” and “How to speak with confidence”.
Pretty soon, our time for, effort in, and motivation towards our own stream of learning and our own exploration of ideas dwindles down to a drip, and eventually may dry completely. Slowly but surely, we then begin to rely on the understanding of others. We begin to mimic, to follow in their footsteps, and to set out on the path that someone else has laid for us.
It takes courage to use our own understanding
Hopefully, over time, each of us realizes the folly of this path. Some realize it earlier than others. For some, it is an awakening that happens early into their careers. For some, it disguises itself as a midlife crisis. For others, it is a sobering reality realized at retirement. Whenever that realization hits, each of us hopefully realizes at some point that living a life where one does not fully express, does not feel agency, and does not use their own understanding is a very unfortunate state to be in.
In her book “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying”, author Bronnie Ware shares that an all too common regret is the wish that one had the courage to live the life that they wanted, not the one that was expected of them. It takes courage to use our own understanding and to forge our own path because our world isn’t designed for it! Humanity has an evolutionary need to fit in, to stick together. But that needs to be balanced with a thoughtful and learned approach for applying our own wisdom and understanding.
A few thoughts as to why:
- Living life according to the herd is great (and even necessary) when the herd is in survival mode. The penguins of Antarctica shuffle around in packs, huddling together and rotating which penguins are on the outside of the pack so that they maximize warmth for the pack. In order to survive, they have to live according to the herd. If you’re reading this, there’s a high likelihood that you are not (or desire not to be) in survival mode and should therefore make your life choices with a view towards thriving.
- Growth, innovation, and enhancement do not operate at herd level. One cannot do the same thing day in day out and expect a different result. Therefore one must do things differently if one wishes to grow.
- Every leap of advancement in human history began with someone questioning the norm. Is the world really flat? Can mankind really only travel on the ground? Is the moon really out of reach?
Everyone who has ever accomplished something great has run into resistance, and has had to reach deep to overcome those hurdles. Whether they be in the form of naysayers, political opposition, or financial barriers, each of these hurdles shouts the same message: stay where you’re at; don’t rock the boat. The Japanese have a proverb that says “the nail that sticks out gets hammered”. It takes courage to overcome the hammering.
Taking off the training wheels
When we were young, our parents made many decisions for us. As we grew, we ought to have learned to develop a framework by which we could make our own decisions. Ancient cultures had rituals that marked the point in a person’s life when their tribe believed them to have learned enough to decide for themselves. This rite of passage often marked the transition to adulthood, where the individual was able to transition from being led to being guided.
For a variety of reasons many have not made that transition and still rely on parental leading instead of guiding and coaching. We must take off the training wheels. We must learn to have the courage to use our own understanding without the guidance of others. We cannot truly learn and understand if we are always taking direction and applying the directed knowledge instead of figuring it out ourselves.
My sons, my hope as your father is for you to a beautiful transition, one which clearly marks your passage into adulthood. I hope that I can lead you when you need to be led, but teach you so that you can learn to make your own decisions, learn to build your own framework by which you evaluate the world. Remember that learning comes before deciding! So learn. Read. Ponder. And have the courage to apply all that you’ve gleaned!
I wanted to talk a bit today about our Amazon Leadership Principle Learn and Be Curious. The description of this LP is as follows: “Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.”
But what does that mean? How does that actually apply in our regular lives?
First, a few thoughts about learning itself. Specifically about our relationship to learning, how we approach it, and our mindset around it.
Learning ought to be a lifelong activity and endeavor. It is something that we expect of our children. It is something that we allocate the first quarter of our lives to. It is something that successful people do all their lives because it separates us from the rest. It is the thing that allows humanity to progress, to advance, and to have made leaps and bounds from our much more primitive ancestors.
And yet once we graduate from college, the majority of us have a sharp decline in the rate of learning, the topics which we learn, and the time we spent dedicated towards bettering ourselves. We leave our climate and environment of learning and are thrown into a fast paced delivery-driven culture that more often burns out our college grads more than it teaches them.
That in turn begs the question of environment. Do we have an environment where people can learn? One that encourages the trial and error required for new neural pathways to be created? One that rewards failure as much as it rewards successes, knowing that failure is but a step on the path to progress and victory?
In a candid fireside chat in San Diego earlier this year Bill Gates suggested that there are certain conditions that which, if not met, make it incredibly difficult - even impossible - for an individual to learn: confidence, curiosity, and constant feedback. Let’s talk about each of those.
People need confidence to learn. They need confidence to know that they can get this, that they are able to progress. They need to believe in themselves, that they are capable of change, of improvement.
Confidence is built by successes, by cheerleaders, by supporters, coaches, and mentors. The more we craft an environment where these things naturally happen and are praiseworthy the more confidence we will see among those living in it.
When we were young, we were curious about everything. The quintessential example is the kid that asks “why” one too many times that it sends their parents over the edge. We each have a natural curiosity about the world, a spark of joy at discovering something new, something novel, something wonderful.
And yet that curiosity gets beat out of us. It begins in adolescence when the desire to fit in (and the awkwardness of not fitting in) begins to pick up steam. And then responsibility kicks into full gear, whether from owning a home, being married, having children, having family responsibilities thrust on you, or a myriad of other things.
Slowly but surely our natural curiosity shrinks until we become caught in the rat race of the mundane.
We must craft an environment where curiosity flourishes, where people are able to explore, to try new things, to fail at things, and to share those learnings with others. We must give people the time, the physical space, and the mental headspace to venture out, to ask questions, and to stick their finger into the proverbial socket to see what happens.
As leaders one of the most important things entrusted to us is the care for our people. As General Stanley McChystal puts it in his book Team of Teams, leaders must take on the role of the gardener. The gardener has no direct ability to make plants grow. However, they do have the ability to cultivate the plants, to prune as needed, to till the soil, to water and provide nutrients, and to provide an environment that is ideal for growth.
So too is it with leaders.
We need to create the right environment for our people to grow in, and need to trim and prune where necessary as well. This means providing consistent and constant feedback as people learn and grow. Without a tight feedback loop, people will be left wandering and reinforcing bad habits that should have been pruned early on.
Learning to learn
So how do we create this environment where people can flourish in their learning, and how do we create that desire for learning, that mindset for growth, that joy that comes from making progress?
A few practical things we can do.
- Reward learning. When I was a new parent I was told that we should praise our children for the learning process, not for the accomplishment. In her book Mindset Carol Dweck argues that praising results creates a fixed mindset in our children who are hyper focused on results and not on the growth or the learning. We obtain what we measure and reward.
- Lead by example. When I was at Microsoft, Bill Gates used to take what he called Think Week. It was a week where he would go off the grid and allow himself to learn. He would read. He would think. He would ponder. He would ruminate. And in doing so he set the example for his company that reading and learning were highly valued activities.
- Play the long game. Learning takes time to come into fruition. As teams and leaders, valuing learning from our people means that we need to have the patience for that growth to pay off. We have to invest in our people and have the mindset of long term benefits. When we are short sighted, when we become too caught up in tactics and immediate results, we stifle our people’s ability to participate in and to value learning.
One of my lifelong mentors taught me that we don’t build teams for a reason or season, but for life. That is long game thinking. That is the type of thinking that encourages growth, fosters curiosity, and values learning. And that’s what I desire to do - to build teams for life; teams of lifelong learners who are excited to learn together and to apply our learnings to the problems of the day.
I read a statement today that was simple yet profound. It got me thinking about my upbringing, my context, my biases, and my perspective. I was raised very fortunate, very lucky. I was raised in a loving home with parents who did absolutely everything in their power to give me and your uncle everything we wanted. We were treated with dignity and respect, and were taught to honor others and to treat others well. We were raised believing we could do whatever we set our minds to, that we could be instruments of change, that we could be leaders of the future.
Not everyone is raised this way.
I now realize how lucky I was, how precious it is to have that be my story. The statement I read today inspired me to redouble my efforts. It said simply:
“When you honor what you have, you’re honoring what I’ve lost.”
We are currently in a time where many have lost. Loved ones, homes, jobs, families, safety, security - all of these are among the things that have been stripped incredibly unfairly from such a large number of people. So many homeless, without safety, without security, without the knowledge of where their next meal will come, or if it will come at all.
To be fair, there are many that are rising to the occasion. The heroes of today don’t don spandex and nylon capes, no. They put on their nurse’s scrubs, their surgeon’s gloves, their firefighter suits, their signs of protest and defense. God bless those heroes.
But beyond supporting them, beyond giving our resources and time to listen, to learn, to stand up for, and to protect, we can do more still. We can live each day honoring the things that we have, so that we honor those who have not. We can live each day taking every opportunity that fortune blesses us with, and do so remembering those who are less fortunate.
We are fortunate to live in America, to live in a nation founded on the belief that all people were created equal, to live free of oppression and free to pursue happiness and association however we desire. Many are not that lucky. Many living even in this nation are not that lucky.
Something we’ve done since you were young is to share things that we’re thankful for at the end of each day. I pray that this letter finds you still with that spirit of thankfulness, of gratitude, of humility. You are both blessed beyond measure; don’t take that for granted. Honor those who have less than you do.
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.
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.
I watched a movie once which had a great line in it. I don’t remember which movie, or whether it was a good movie or not, but this one line stuck out to me:
”True darkness is not an absence of light. It is the conviction that the light will not return”
I found that not only to be an extremely beautiful and poetic line, but also an insightful one. Life often brings about hardship, and we may occasionally feel down or discouraged in our situation. Certainly I’ve had moments which I thought were rock bottom for me - moments where I lost hope, moments where I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, moments where I truly felt lost in the dark. And yet despite that, I still believed in that age-old mantra, ”even still, things will get better”.
The key then, is to determine what we do in those times of darkness, of despair, of hopelessness. Do we succumb to it, allowing it to envelope us and draw us into a downward spiral where we eventually will not only be unable to see the light, but will become convinced that the light will not return? Or do we hold steadfast to the belief that in spite of this, things will get better?
There’s a beautiful hymn that I love called “It is well” by Horatio Spafford which has a beautiful story behind it.
Horatio lived in Chicago in the 1800s and was a successful lawyer, with much of his money invested in property in the area of Chicago. In 1871, the great fire of Chicago claimed the life of his 2 year old son, as well as much of his property investments. In 1873, after the economy tanked, he had planned to travel to Europe with his family. In a late change of plans, he had to stay behind a while longer, so he sent his wife and four daughters ahead and had planned to meet them. Their ship was shipwrecked, and he lost his four daughters. His wife survived, and sent him that famous telegraph which simply read, ”survived. alone”.
After reuniting with his wife, the two walked along the beach commiserating their loss. It was there that he penned these beautiful words.
When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul
It is well
With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul
~ Horatio Spafford
My prayer for you both is this; that when life throws you curve balls and you find yourself lost and without hope, that you may cling to the belief that things will get better, whether you can see the light at the time or not. I love you, my boys.
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.
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.
One of the most sobering realizations that you’ll have in your life is that your life this side of heaven is finite. As I noted last month, time is the only resource in life that we will never get back. Each moment that you spend is one that you’re never going to get back. So how do we make the most of it? And what’s that got to do with self-respect?
Quite a bit actually.
Self-respect is the thing that lets you own your own destiny, that lets you fearlessly choose the path that you want to take. You are beautifully and wonderfully made - own that. Claim it. Run with it.
There are all sorts of benefits from having a strong sense of self-respect, of self-esteem, but the fundamental thing is that it gives you confidence to be your own man, to do things that may not be popular, to stand up against opposition, and to do the things that you believe in.
- Confidence to fight for the little guy.
This one is arguably the most important. In this world, there are so many people without voices - the sick, the poor, the scrawny kid in class that gets picked on, the girl on the bus that no one wants to sit with. To each of these, Jesus asks us to love them as He loves us. In Matthew 25:40, Jesus tells us that "whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me". In my own life, I've found that this one is extremely difficult. It's so hard to step outside the norm, to go against the grain, to put yourself out there to stand up for the little guy. But just think - how much harder is it for them?
- Confidence to stand up for what you believe.
We live in an age where the social norm is to not offend, to not have beliefs that could show disapproval to anything that popular culture deems is acceptable. We have axioms like "it's the nail that sticks out that gets hammered". Never in the history of our world has there been a need for people to stand firm in what they believe in, to have a deep rooted sense of morality, and to be that light on a hill for all to see.
- Confidence to be alone.
It's tough being alone. Whether it's being circumstantial - being home alone for an evening, going to an even like prom alone, or even taking a vacation on your own - or if it's a longer term thing like being single while your friends are coupled off, being alone is tough. Having self-respect gives you the confidence and sense of self enough to be not just okay with those situations, but to stop seeing them as inflictions and instead to start seeing them as opportunities.
- Confidence to strike it out on your own.
It's a basic human instinct to seek safety, and to seek safety in numbers. Striking out on your own goes against that very nature and by definition isn't easy. But so much of life, so much about being a man, so much about an enriching experience is only accomplished and experienced when you strike out on your own. Being your own man isn't easy, but it's absolutely essential.
- Confidence to ask her to marry you.
Nothing is more nerve wracking than when you find yourself on one knee holding a little box with a ring that costs 3 months of your salary in it. Nothing. And no matter what anyone else tells you, nothing should be. Finding a life partner that you can run with, laugh with, celebrate with, and mourn with is so hard, and when you finally find her, asking her to be yours as long as you both shall live is nerve wracking. As it should be. Having confidence in yourself lets you realize that it's just as hard for her, and that it's just as big of a commitment for her as it is for you. And that's a good place to be.
So my prayer is that as you grow into a young man that you would have confidence in the man that God is created you to be, and that out of that understanding of self, of self-worth, of self-respect and self-esteem can come a heart for the world that is kind, considerate, protective, bold, and courageous. I love you, my boy.
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.
One of the things I've learned over the years is the benefit of perspective. Seeing the world from a different vantage point is often much more beneficial than we might initially think. This becomes increasingly clear as the years go by.
Something one begins to notice is that there seem to be two types of people that emerge over time. The first are people who seem to be filled with wisdom, with understanding that is beyond their years, who have an uncanny ability to see the big picture. The second are, well, people that aren't.
What's the difference? Why are some people able to grow past the adolescent fascination with self and emerge as people who understand that they are but a small piece in a big puzzle, and some aren't?
I read a great quote the other day:
"[Wisdom] is moving over the course of one's life from the adolescent's close-up view of yourself, in which you fill the whole canvas, to a landscape view in which you see, from a wider perspective, your strengths and weaknesses, your connections and dependencies, and the role you play in a larger story" - David Brooks, The Road to Character
So how do we get there?
First, we need to realize that wisdom is obtained through lifetimes of diligent effort to dig deeply within. We obviously can't afford to live those lifetimes ourselves, so we must be willing to learn from the wisdom of others. In learning from others, we continue the refinement process that they began, and that another will complete after we are gone.
Secondly, we need to realize that life is too difficult to do on our own. We must rely on others that have come before us, and that are running the path with us. Blessed is the man who surrounds himself with others that are more wise than he, for he will gain the benefit of not just his own experiences and theirs, but the lifetimes of learning and refinement that have gone into those that have come before them.
It's all a matter of perspective.