Posts tagged with #Purposeful Living
It’s been said that personality is how we show up every day, but character is how we show up on our worst day. If that’s true, then it behooves us to think about each of the two and to understand their impacts on our decision making and ultimately on our lives.
Personality is about our preferences expressed. It is the set of default actions we take when we are at equilibrium, when we are able to behave as we’d like to.
Our preferences are ever- evolving, and are a product of many complex inputs. There have been many studies and books written on the topic (a great one I read recently is Wanting by Luke Burgis) showing that as much as we’d like to claim originality and uniqueness for our desires, many of them are in fact mimetic (fancy word for copied).
Turns out human beings are great imitators. This is something we start immediately at conception, and is something we carry with us all the way into adulthood. It is a fact that is at once both our greatest strength to be capitalized upon and our largest weakness that can be (and is constantly being) exploited.
It is the reason social media products have had such a meteoric climb, and why many experts in human psychology, productivity, social sciences, and education alike agree in limiting (or- even removing altogether) this form of input in our lives.
Briefly explained, the theory of mimetic desire states that human beings seek models to imitate and to serve as our guide for navigating the world. As children, we imitate our parents and are strongly impacted by them. As we grow and are exposed to more complex interactions, we naturally adopt other models into our lives seamlessly and often unconsciously and unknowingly.
These models affect our preferences and by extension our personalities. We must therefore be incredibly diligent and vigilant in choosing and identifying our models as they have great impact on how we show up and interact on a regular basis!
Character on the other hand is not an expression of our desire, but rather of our values. It is how we show up on our worst day when we’re out of steam and don’t have the energy to put up our facades and our defenses. It is what we do when we believe no one else is watching.
We should first note that often what we attribute to character is actually personality. The majority of our relationships don’t have the depth such that true character shows up. Our observations and experiences of others may give us glimpses into their values which in turn give us something to base our expectations of their character, but most of the time our brains want confirmation bias.
It is therefore critically important that we pay attention not to the surface level things and interactions that occupy the majority of our regular observations but rather to the typically less obvious signs and signals of underlying character.
They say that you can learn much of a person’s character not by how they treat their peers or superiors but rather by how they treat those who in some form are beneath them. This can be how they treat their subordinates, people that seduce them (waiters, flight attendants, grocery baggers etc), or people that they are ahead of in life (children, college students, new hives etc) .
These things are worth paying attention to in the people we surround ourselves with because we become like those are associate ourselves with. We mimic the behaviors of people we like and admire, and for better or worse we will typically grow to admire those we spend a lot of time with.
The million dollar question then, is how do we impact our character?
1. Surround yourself with people of great character.
Remember that great character is more rare than great personality. Therefore when you find someone of great character, over index on that. Keeping in mind that life’s a journey, not a destination, it therefore behooves us to find folks that journey well.
There are many who are quite enjoyable to do the good times of life with, who are great at enjoying the shared times of levity together with, but there are far fewer who will journey well with you.
2. Accept the fact that hardships will come. Learn from them.
The Good Book tells us that “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33), and that “we rejoice in our suffering because suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance (produces] proven character” (Romans 5:3).
Realize that trials are a part of life, and are a great tool for us to develop our character. So don’t avoid them. Don’t try to minimize or sweep them under a rug. Lean into Them.
Difficult, I know. But worth it.
3. Read. Study. Learn.
By immersing yourself in the thoughts and efforts of others, and by regularly thinking about and attempting to apply the things you learn, you will slowly but surely move the needle of your own character.
Finally, remember that life is a marathon, not a sprint. Be ready for the long haul and keep that perspective in mind. My hope for you is that you run a good race, and that you run with a great team of coaches, supporters, and cheerleaders who not only help to shape your already wonderful personalities but who labor with you to refine your character as well. I love you boys!
Much has been said on the topic of grit, perseverance, and persistence. In fact, I’m sure I’m devoted some (or much!) time toward the topic myself. However, today I want to talk about the point at which grit and perseverance become negative. Today I want to talk with you about when too much grit becomes an inhibitor to change.
But first, let’s talk about grit and its benefits. There have been many books, expositories, and beautifully inspiring tales of grit as a noble and victorious trait. As men, these tales give us hope and motivate us to follow their example. We often hear stories where perseverance in love, in the epic journey, in business, and in friendship is described not just as a wonderful trait but as the wonderful trait.
In business grit is seen as an incredibly valuable and rare trait. We have all heard the successful startup founder who only survived past the hardships of startup culture because of the grit that allowed them to ignore the naysayers and press on when others might (and in fact did) turn back. We are taught to persist, to persevere, and to stick to our guns. We are told that being the last person standing on a sinking ship is a noble and honorable thing and is something that will be rewarded. We often witness these stories being used to depict loyalty and determination, two great traits of leadership.
In love we are told that we must fight through thick and thin for our partner. As men, we are told that women want to know that we will be steadfast in our devotion to them. Even the Bible tells us the story of Jacob working 14 years to earn the hand of his beloved Rachel.
So how can I possibly think that too much grit may be bad?
The short answer is that by having too much grit, we may miss out on something that matches us much better. By sticking with what we’ve got regardless of the situation, we may inadvertently miss something that is a much better fit. This is an age old dilemma, and I’m certainly not saying that we should always be on the lookout for something better. Rather, I am suggesting that there are many nuances here for us to think through, many concepts, factors, and considerations for us to keep in balance.
EVERY CHOICE HAS AN OPPORTUNITY COST
For every choice we do make there is the cost of the possibilities that we didn’t choose. The choice of staying with what we’ve got, of having grit to stick it out is still a choice, and still has a cost associated with it. Having too much grit may cause us to stay with something that we ought to be seeing instead as a learning opportunity for a short period of time, after which we ought to move on.
Let’s take love as an example here. There are many good reasons why we should have grit and “dance with the are that brung ya”. First, let’s be crystal clear on this point - BE LOYAL AND FAITHFUL. There is a deeper circle in hell for cheaters and disloyal people. In love, we must be honorable men.
That notwithstanding, there is much we learn from each romantic endeavor, and the experiences we have and the mistakes we make ultimately help us grow and learn so that we can evolve as people. Having too much grit and staying too long then becomes a hindrance for our growth.
The million dollar question then, is how do we know when we ought to stay and when we ought to go? How do we know when we’ve hit that threshold and need to move on? A few thoughts on that one.
CHECK THE FIT
This one is going to sound a bit like I’m simply saying to use your intuition. That’s because that’s basically what I’m suggesting. Our intuition is a collection of wisdom our bodies collect from a wide range of sources. Intuition comes from our subconscious processing a wide range of experiences, inputs, thoughts, and feelings that we may not consciously realize, which is why it is so important for us to have range. Our intuition is our whole being - not just our conscious mind - coming together to provide direction or what we ought to do. Trust it.
Chances are, if it looks like the pieces don’t fit and if it feels like you’re trying to jam a square peg into a round hole, they don’t, and you are.
SEEK ADVICE FROM TRUSTED ADVISORS
There are cheerleaders in our lives that are always on our side, who will always sympathize with us, who will laugh with us, cry with us, be angry with us, and take on the world with us. I’m not talking about these people.
Rather, I’m talking about people of wisdom, of character, and of proven ability who can offer sound and unbiased advice. People who have demonstrated their care for you, who know your values and are respectful of them in their advice. Advisors.
CHECK THE PAIN
Pain is our body’s way of telling us that something’s not right. while I’m not saying to run at the first sign of pain, I am saying that pain is a good indicator that something needs to be adjusted. Pay attention to that. Certainly different people have different pain tolerances, and there are circumstances in life that may require a higher tolerance than normal, but in general pain is a good measure to pay attention to.
My boys, if there’s one thing I want for you it is to live a well balanced life. One that has grit but also allows for change, for new experiences of learning. One that is filled with love but has also experienced the loss and heartbreak that teaches us a deeper and richer appreciation and experience of that love. 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!
Our world is constantly on the go. Everything from fast food to same hour delivery to instant banking, we are a species that is relentless in our pursuit of micro efficiencies. We desire instant gratification and will go to great lengths and pay large amounts to attain it. Millions of people across thousands of companies spanning hundreds of industries all work with the sole purpose of delivering more to you faster, and more seamlessly than before.
We are in such a relentless pursuit of the destination that we lose sight of the journey, and with it the process of learning, and of self discovery.
One of my great mentors said that often we are so caught up in the next big thing; the next promotion, the next big sale, the next accomplishment- that we forget to think about the people that we are becoming. And in the grand scheme of your life, That matters a whole lot more.
As we’ve discussed in the past, the things that matter, the things that last, the things that we’ll remember and want to be known for as we reach the sunset of life - those things tend to be relational. Whether it is directly impacting someone personally or changing the lives of millions through the things we build, we are a relational and social species.
Constantly rushing from one event to the next, we are in danger of reducing life to a string of accomplishments in which the passing of time is marked only by check marks on todo lists. We remove the connection, the deep reflection, and the space to be in awe and wonder at the world around us. I’ve found that in my life many of the most rewarding interactions and the deepest connections have been unplanned, unintentional, not orchestrated.
Have you ever sat down with someone and said, “let’s have a deep and meaningful conversation” and had that actually work? Okay, in all honesty l’ve never tried that, but I can’t for the life of me imagine that would work. Most of my most meaningful and impactful conversations have happened when I least expected them. Connection needs time, and needs the space to spontaneously grow and flourish.
As such, we need to slow down. We need to purposefully pause and give our souls the chance to breathe. Have you ever started on a familiar journey (such as walking home from school or driving to your uncle’s house) and suddenly realized that you’re already there? That’s usually a good indicator that life is on autopilot and that it’s time for a pause to be thoughtful about the routines and the habits we’ve built.
Pausing allows us to listen. It gives us space in an otherwise jam packed life to think, to ruminate, and to process. Our world is filled with noise - media, social media, professional obligations, shuttling kids around from one extracurricular to the next. Our crazy schedule barely give us enough time to sleep enough. Time to think, to listen, and to be aware of what’s really happening around us isn’t even on the list for most of us.
Pausing, then, allows us to really listen. Not just to hear whats going on so that we can formulate our own response, but to really listen. The average person spends more time thinking about how they will respond to someone than they do listening and internalizing what’s being said. This is especially true in America where cutting in, interrupting, and immediately responding before the speaker has a chance to start another sentence is the norm.
Pausing allows us to breathe. When I was a kid playing little league, I used to be a pitcher. I wasn’t bad, but definitely had my share of bad days where my ball control just wasn’t there. I remember one game when I was pitching a particularly uninspired game. My coach called a time out and headed out to the mound to chat with me. He told me that whenever I felt frustrated, I should step off the mound, take my hat off, run a hand through my hair, and take a deep breath before returning to the mound. That piece of advice has done wonders for me over the years. Just breathe.
It turns out that the body is a pretty amazing thing, and that there are many benefits to breathing. Breathing calms us. It creates space for us to think and to process. It allows us to momentarily step back from the situation and assess. It heals, it mends, it expands, and it elevates our countenance.
SMELL THE ROSES
Lastly, pausing allows us to stop and smell the roses. We are so often running from one checked off item to the next that we need others to tell us to relax and take a moment to reflect on our surroundings. Even at work, we need HR to tell us to take our vacations. We need automated systems to harp at us to take time off to recover, rejuvenate, and revive. Never in the history of our species have we been so busy and unable or unwilling to take the time to stop and to smell the roses.
The worst part is that we pass this culture, this lack of balance, and this incomplete view of the purpose of life to our children. We fill our children’s lives with so much noise and activity that they too do not have the space to breathe, and worst of all believe that this is what life is supposed to be.
Even God rested on the seventh day. Jesus’ first miracle was to save and prolong a celebration. My sons, my hope is that by the time you are old enough to read and understand this, we will have raised you as boys who know how to work hard, yes, but who also know how to play hard, to have balance in your lives, and to have a healthy amount of time and space to pause. I hope that my relationship with you both has more play, levity, and joy than it does toil, discipline, and work. I love you both!
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!
Today I want to talk about one of the most dangerous phrases in the English language. Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? I assure you that the phrase itself is indeed very powerful, and is also incredibly common. It is a phrase as old as time, and has been uttered by kings and peasants, rich and poor, young and old, the educated and the ignorant, even the wise and the foolish. It is a phrase that does not discriminate against any measurable external trait, but rather is a strong indicator of the internal human condition. It is the phrase, “if only”.
You’ve heard it before, and may have even said it to yourself a time or two.
“If only I was smarter, or taller, or better looking.
If only I had more money, or more friends.
If only she still loved me.
If only I paid more attention in class.
If only he didn’t mock me.
If only they had let me into their club.”
This phrase is dangerous not because of anything it conveys, but rather because of the mindset it exposes. It is such a seemingly harmless phrase, yet it expresses so much of the underlying internal condition. And as with all habits, if left unattended, it will change our character and will permanently impact the way we approach the world. Several negative ramifications we should be wary of:
WE DWELL IN THE PAST
If we look carefully, the words immediately following the “if only” are almost always anchored in the past. If only someone hadn’t wronged you, if only you had a better teammate, or if only you had chosen differently. Even the future sounding cues are really anchored in the past! If only she would take more initiative, if only he would be more kind. While those may sound forward looking, they aren’t! If only she took more initiative implies that she didn’t in the past!
The down side of dwelling in the past is that it’s just that - the past. We cannot move life forward when we have our gaze fixed on the past. Life is designed to be forward moving. We are meant to grow, to progress. It’s wired into the very fabric of our being! Every living thing is designed to move forward. The circle of life doesn’t go backwards! It is ever forward moving, and though it is cyclic, it does not run in the reverse direction.
You cannot move forward if you are fixated on the past.
WE FOCUS ON THE NEGATIVE
If only statements are generally negative. They point towards something that we wish didn’t happen, some event that we wish had gone differently, some regrettable circumstance that may have been thrust upon us. Human nature already fixates on the negative. A single traumatic event is often enough to have us spending a lifetime avoiding that same situation again.
This is a survival instinct that helped humanity tens of thousands of years ago cope with its environment. While modern advancements in research, in categorization, and in education have allowed us to understand much of our planet, this was not always so. Our ancestors could not point their smartphone camera at some plant and have Google tell you type of plant it is along with nutritional information, whether it has any medicinal properties, and how to pair it with other ingredients to turn it into an amazing salad. No, mankind of old learned things the hard way and avoided things it did not know; especially if it had a negative or painful experience.
We no longer live in that world, and yet our instinct of emphasis on traumatic events still remains. Journalists capitalize on this fact. The news is centered on the dramatic, the traumatic, and the negative. We don’t need more negativity; in fact, we need much more of the opposite. The world is not as bad as it seems, and things are getting much better! But we are not wired to see that, and so must fight against things that focus our attention on the negative.
WE DON’T TAKE RESPONSIBILITY
If only such and such a thing happened, then the result would have been much better. If only my team was better, then we would have won. If only mom cooked better, then I would have healthier eating habits.
These statements all push the burden of responsibility off of ourselves; we shift the blame to the thing that didn’t happen instead of acknowledging our own culpability in the matter. It is no longer our fault! If the other person had done better, or if the referee had not singled me out, or if she didn’t have it out for me from day one, then things would have been different and I would have had a more desirable outcome.
My sons, do not believe those lies. Do not focus on the negative events of the past, placing blame and judgement on others. Rather set your mind on the future; look forward for the next things that will come, and be hopeful for that future! Yes, there may be pain and suffering, but there will also be joy! Laughter! Beauty, love, romance, and new shared experiences! These are what we live for and look forward to. I pray you fix your eyes on those things and not the failings of the past. Acknowledge the past, take responsibility, learn from your mistakes, then move on, move forward.
I love you boys, and am so proud and happy to be able to move life forward with you!
We’ve talked at length about integrity, about trust, and about strong moral character. We speak about these things because they are critical to building lasting and meaningful connections, but also because they are traits that the world values and finds desirable, admirable, and praiseworthy, and are sought out at the highest levels of our corporate culture.
As you know, I spend a lot of time reading and learning about how to be a better leader, how to build wildly successful teams, and how to create a culture for people to not only do their best work but to be their best selves. By no means have I perfected this, and I am blessed to have some wonderful people in my life that I get to learn from and learn with.
One thing that the learned from them is that there is a difference between telling the truth and ensuring that the other person has heard the truth. Let me restate and rephrase, because this is critical. There is a difference between you technically telling the truth, saying all true statements, and making sure that the other person fully understands the situation.
In the former situation, while you are being technically and objectively truthful, your listener is misled into believing something false. While you can legally claim that you haven’t told a lie, morally you haven’t told the truth. You may get away with this behavior for some time, and may even delude yourself into believing that you are an honest and truthful person, but those around you will eventually figure it out and the trust and relationship will begin to erode.
There is a big difference between telling the truth and not telling a lie.
We live in a world where character matters. Truthfulness, integrity, and honesty are traits that the world values highly yet finds in short supply. They are traits that we crave, that we long for, that we idealize in movies, books, and stories. And yet they are largely missing from our regular lives. Why is that? Why the gap?
To say that the world is full of intentionally dishonest people is not only disheartening and over simplifying, it is also incorrect and leads to very isolating and defeatist responses. No, I don’t believe that the world is full of intentionally dishonest people. Rather, I believe the world has become desensitized to dishonesty, and has allowed its moral compass to degrade to the point where half truths are often considered good enough, and the hard work, discipline, and focus required to live a morally upstanding life are deemed not worth it. Some have even been ridiculed and persecuted for pursuing those ideals.
My prayer for you is that you would both grow to be men of integrity, whose word is valued and trusted, and are known as honest, truthful, and trustworthy men. The road won’t be easy, and there will be many times where no one would ever find out if you withheld a small portion of the truth. But you would know. And just as “the safest road to hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts” (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters), so too will those small allowances of half truths slowly lead you down the road leading not to great character, but rather to deception, dishonesty, and deceit. That’s not a road you want to be on, no matter how scenic and easy it may seem.
I pray that you become men of character that not only tell the truth but ensure that your listeners hear the truth. 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!
Something that I’ve always taken for granted growing up is that all people are created equal. Growing up in Canada, that was just something that I assumed. I had close friends of many different races and never thought twice about it. We played sports, learned how to write code, talked about our relationship troubles, applied to colleges, and dreamed about our futures together, regardless of race, religion, or culture. I used to just accept that as a reality, and assumed it was like that everywhere in the world.
Boy was I wrong.
While I’d encounter the occasional stranger who had a disdain for Chinese people and vocalized it to me, my group of multi-racial friends always dismissed those comments as coming from ignorant folks, and we just went on our merry way. However, many don’t have that luxury, and many have much worse persecution than just being called a derogatory racial name.
In my youth, I believed that everyone was created equal, and should be treated as equals. As I grew older, I learned that there’s a difference between equality and equity.
Equality is treating everyone equally. Equity is treating everyone how they need to be treated in order for them to feel equal.
I don’t know what your future will hold, or what the racial, socio-economic, gender, status, or belief structure will look like when you two grow up. I do know that you two will grow up as two of the most fortunate boys in the world, simply by being raised in America, in one of the largest and most prosperous cities of our time, and with a family that loves you, is concerned about teaching you to treat others with respect and dignity, and seeks to give you every opportunity to experience a rich and full life.
Do not squander that blessing.
My sons, I urge you to be a part of the solution. Don’t assume that everyone is being treated equitably and thereby ignore the issues of our time. Speak up for those without a voice. Love those who the world does not deem lovely. Advocate for those who cannot represent themselves. Be generous with your time, with your resources, with your hearts, and with your care. And above all, listen. Listen to those who are in pain, to those who are persecuted, to those who have come to their wits end. And then have grace and mercy for them, and love them.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a bold dream in 1963. That dream was for this country and this world to believe and act as though all people were created equal. It was a dream that longed for his children to be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. It is a dream that I have for the two of you, and is a dream that has not yet been realized.
We can change our world, but it takes all of us coming together to make that dream a reality.
It’s been said that the virtue that leads to all other virtues is gratitude. I love that sentiment, whether it’s true or not. I’m sure that by now, you both know people that are generally very happy and content with life, as well as people that can’t be satisfied and are upset with everything under the sun.
No one looks at a complaining person and a happy person and actively decides that they want to be more like the complainer. That’s just the truth of it. None of us grow up wanting to be whiny, complaining, discontent people. “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” - these are the very principles that our great nation is founded upon. We all want to pursue happiness, and want to have it in abundance.
Gratefulness plays a huge role in that.
If you look a little closer, I’m willing to bet that a common thread among those that are happy is that they’re also very grateful people. A couple of reasons for that.
Gratefulness causes you to think outside yourself.
A heart of gratitude causes you to be regularly thinking about the things that you’re thankful for, and keeps your mind off of yourself and on others. It keeps you being thoughtful about the external; about how others are feeling, about their actions and intentions.
By thinking about others, the altitude of your view gets higher. You get used to thinking about spheres outside your own. Your world becomes bigger.
Gratefulness causes you reflect on the beauty in your life.
When we stop to acknowledge the good that others have done in our lives, we stop moving, if only for a moment. This world that we’re living in is incredibly fast paced and is constantly trying to drown out any silence that gives you room to reflect. But taking the time to reflect on the many things we have to be thankful for, the many things that are beautiful, rich, and wonderful about our lives regularly; that truly is a great thing.
Gratefulness gives you the space to make mistakes.
When you approach your life with a heart of gratitude, it creates the space for the imperfections of humanity to breathe, to air out, to be released. So often we’re concerned about looking perfect, sounding perfect, appearing like we’ve got perfect lives on social media. We don’t give ourselves the space for the truth that is humanity - we’re not perfect. We’re not idyllic. We have flaws.
Gratefulness allows us to recognize that others can contribute to our lives, and in so doing allow us the space to recognize that we need others and aren’t perfect.
And so my prayer for you is that you will live lives that have an abundance of things to be grateful for, that are characterized by happiness, joy, and thankfulness. Hopefully when you read this, we’ve continued our nightly traditions of sharing three things that we’re thankful for each day. I started that with you several years ago in an attempt to set a regular pattern in all our lives of being grateful, and I pray that we’re still continuing with that tradition to this day. 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.
We are, as a society, largely concerned with goals and milestones. We are greatly focused on hitting the next checkpoint, the next marker on the path towards the target, the journey that we’ll need to take to get there.
And yet we never talk about what happens once we do in fact, get there, wherever that happens to be.
I absolutely love grand, epic stories. I love reading about the internal struggle that the hero must overcome in order to be victorious against the external. I love that epic ending, that dramatic finish. And yet something that often gets missed is what happens afterwards. The evil king is overthrown and the people come back to power. The hero slays the dragon and saves the princess. The long lost son returns home. The aliens are defeated and the world is saved. The crisis is averted, and the world returns to normal. Roll credits.
What these stories never mention is what happens afterwards, in the years following victory! What happens when there are no more foes to defeat, no more hills to climb, no more beachheads to conquer?
The truth is that we don’t write books or make movies about that part because it’s boring. It’s unremarkable. We want the adrenaline rush that culminates in the big resolve after the final conflict.
But life isn’t just about that.
In fact, I’ll argue that most of life isn’t about that at all, and instead of those mountaintop experiences where the camera pans out behind us and depicts the grand and epic army ahead of us to conquer, most of life is actually spent in the valleys where one patch of flowers is indistinguishable from the countless others.
While character traits like courage and boldness are needed on the mountaintops, it is character traits like persistence, grit, resolve, and collaboration that are needed in the valleys. These are the traits that allow us to persevere, that allow us to slow down and run the long race. These are traits that move us from a place of reaching for the latest and the greatest, the glitzy and the glamorous, to a place where we can be content and satisfied being right where we are.
There are a number of reasons why we ought to have this change in perspective:
- By removing our hyper focus on the top of the mountain and allowing ourselves to pan out and see the surrounding landscape, we’ll see many things that we weren’t able to notice before. Things that may not have seemed important, or may be smaller in comparison. Things that didn’t stand out, or weren’t clearly in focus. We’ll be able to see these things, and we’re able to derive joy from them.
- We’re able to see people. Often our hyper focus on the goal causes us forget that there are people around us that are affected by our actions, and that need our attention, support, and care. Shifting our focus allows us to see these people more clearly.
- We’re able to sustain our pace. Life is not a sprint; it is a marathon. By learning to persevere and persist in times when your adrenaline isn’t rushing and flooding your system, we’re able to pace ourselves and sustain. The long game doesn’t only require the ability to run fast; it requires the discipline to know when to push hard and when to relax and recover. It calls for balance and for wellness. It demands rest.
While I’m not at all saying that we shouldn’t reach for the stars and strive for the mountaintops, I do believe it is equally important that we learn how to slow down, and more importantly, how to tell when we need to switch between the two.
Because while it’s the mountaintops that offer breathtakingly epic views, it’s in the valleys that the flowers grow.
And so my prayer for you boys is that not only will you encourage each other to run and push as hard as you can when it is appropriate to do so, but that you can also rest, rejuvenate, slow down, and take the time to see the details of what’s going around you.
Over the past few years, we’ve spent a bunch of time talking about the grand and the lofty. We’ve talked about attributes and character traits that are expansive, traits that encourage big picture thinking and visioning. Today we’re going to talk about something quite different and yet just as important, if not more so.
Mankind was created to move forward. We were made with this celestial imprint on our lives that drives us to dream, to innovate, to invent, and to create. But sometimes, the path to get there isn’t easy, and is filled with hardship, with opposition, with trials, and with people who would see us fail. It is a truism that our lives will not be easy, and it is a certainty that when we endeavor to elevate our thoughts and actions that we will face opposition that will attempt to pull us back down.
It is in those times that we need to have grit.
Grit is the ability to dig deep and to persist in your endeavors. It is the ability to remain steadfast in your convictions and your beliefs, and to stay on the path that you’ve determined to travel. It is the trait that enables us not to give up, not to abandon our aim, no matter how hard things get.
That’s not to say that being stubborn and set in the path that you’re taking excuses all else. Being steadfast doesn’t excuse bad behavior, and doesn’t give us permission to treat others without respect. Quite the contrary - having grit says that not only do we stick to our path, but we stick to our character as we hold the line.
There are those that abandon their posts when the going gets rough. Of those that don’t, there are those that stay and yet complain about it and have a poor attitude towards everyone, believing that because of their resoluteness, they have the right to look down on others.
And then there are those that stay and elevate the situation and all those around them. They stay the course; both the course that they’ve physically set out on, as well as the course to maintain their integrity and their values while the trials come.
Not the people who can endure any hardship, but the people who can endure those hardships without compromising their beliefs, their integrity, their character, their praiseworthiness.
And that’s my prayer for the both of you. Life will get hard; there is no doubt about that. But my prayer is that not only will you be able to stay the course, but that you will be unwavering in your moral character as you do.
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.
Today, you turn four. What a joy you are! You are such a beautiful, wonderful, kind, adventurous, and mischievous little guy - I love you so much! Your mom calls you my little buddy cause we do all sorts of things together. I couldn’t be happier. Much of what I’ve been learning these days I’m learning from you and with you, and I love the thought that I get to share those learnings with you here with the hopes that someday when you’re older, you’ll read them and they’ll be learnings for you as well.
When I was growing up, I read many different articles and perspectives around what love is. Love is a feeling. Love is a commitment. Love is a choice. Love is easy. Love is hard. Love is patient. Love is a million different things, depending on who you ask and what perspective you’re coming from.
While I don’t pretend to be any expert on the matter, and while I won’t attempt to give a full definition of what love is, I believe that one of the things that defines people who love strongly is that they choose to love. Regardless of your definition of love, regardless of how you experience it and what it means to you, I firmly believe that very often, love is a choice.
It’s easy to love someone when everything is going very well. It’s easy to love someone that’s very lovely, loves you back, is in sync with you and your thoughts and perspectives. It’s hard to love someone that is doing things to make themselves less lovable to you. It’s hard to love someone when they’re at odds with you, when they’re attacking you, when they’re in violent opposition to things that are at the core of your being and values.
And yet I urge you to choose love.
Whether we’re talking about an unlovable neighbor, a combative classmate, a family member currently at odds with you, or even a spouse that you’ve got a strong disagreement with; choose love. It’s hard. It takes self sacrifice and patience. It requires you to grit your teeth and not fight back. It means you have to take punches without throwing up your guard and without counter attacking.
But it will be worth it.
My prayer for you is that you are able to choose love more often than the alternatives, and that you grow to become a man that is characterized by his heart for people. We have always prayed that you be a kind person; I would urge you to go one step further and be someone that chooses to love when everyone else disagrees. Because love conquers all things. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
One of the most remarkable things about our world is how diverse it is. From the thousands of different species of plant and animal life to the millions of tiny organisms that the eye can’t even see, there is such diversity and imagination in every living breath and being that we encounter. And yet it all works together to form something more beautiful in its entirety than its individual parts.
As I’ve grown and learned over the years, I’ve realized that just as how the natural world has much harmony in its diversity and is more breathtaking and awe-inspiring as a result, our social world ought to follow nature’s path.
It’s an interesting phenomenon, our natural instinct to stay close to the similar, the familiar. It starts so young - little boys sticking together in packs because the girls have cooties, strangers from the same race sitting at the same lunch table together, people who dress the same way forming their own little cliques. Part of this stems from a feeling of familiarity and belonging in shared similarities; this much is totally fine and good, but the other part, the part that stems from fear of the unknown and fear of things that are different, that part is a bit trickier.
My challenge to you today is to be brave. Ever since you were little, your mother and I have been encouraging you to be brave, encouraging you to face your fears with bravery and be willing to stand up to things that aren’t right. You’ll need that bravery to be inclusive, to welcome all comers, to embrace those that are different than yourself. Not only because you’ll need to overcome your own fears, but because you’ll need to stand up to the masses that are telling you that you’re wrong, that those that are different aren’t welcome.
The Bible tells us that God so loved the world. The whole world. Not just one race, not just one gender, not just one demographic, not just one intelligence level, but the entire world. And our goal is to spread that inclusiveness in all our circles, be it professional, academic, or social.
So my prayer for you today is that you’ll be someone who is known for being kind, for being inclusive, for bringing in those that need shelter from the storm, for being the one that stands up for the little guy.
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.
One of the toughest things that a man must do is to admit when they’re wrong. We are wired for victory, for success - from an early age, we’re taught that it is praiseworthy to succeed and to be victorious. Hopefully by the time you read this, your mother and I will have instilled in you our philosophy that learning, making progress, and improving yourself are more important than winning.
Life is about more than just the destination. The journey is equally - and sometimes even moreso - important.
And so today we’re going to talk about something that every great man knows is the right thing, but many find difficult to do. Taking responsibility for your own actions, especially when things go wrong.
It’s a story as old as storytelling itself - the first sons of the world struggled with this very concept. In Genesis 4, we’re told the story of Cain and Abel, sons of Adam and Eve. Because of his jealousy and his own inadequacies before God, Cain takes Abel’s life out of anger and frustration. That of itself is already quite bad, but when God calls him on it, what is Cain’s response?
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” - Genesis 4:9
I won’t mention that this was already a family trait, as dad had already pulled the same stunt with God, blaming Eve for his eating the apple before the two of them got themselves kicked out of paradise. Oh and so did mom - she passed the blame onto the serpent.
Great start humanity has eh?
Fast forward a bit, and we’ll see that even God’s favorite son struggles with this one. Thankfully for mankind, when the prophet Nathan confronts him, David does in fact repent and fesses up and repents for his actions, but even he needed a kick in the pants to get on the right page.
So what does this mean for us?
I believe there are a few reasons why taking responsibility for your own actions is not just something that we ought to do, but is something that actually gives us strength and adds to our effectiveness. Here’s why.
Absolutely the most importat. Having integrity is what makes a man. I don't care what anyone else says. Integrity is in my books one of the most (if not *the* most) important traits a man can have and must guard. It is the quality that brings out the best in you and in those around you because it's the quality that says no matter what the circumstance, no matter who's watching, no matter what the arguments are opposed, I *will* do the right thing.
- Earnest connection
By taking responsibility for our actions and admitting when we're wrong, we move ourselves from the adversarial position to an earnest and open one. As a populice, we resonate with leaders that let their guard down and share an apology, a fault, a heart-felt admittance of failure. By displaying vulnerability, we remind people that we're all flawed and broken, striving to be better, reaching for that beau ideal of human excellence.
Taking responsibility also keeps us honest and keeps us humble. It keeps us in a posture of humility where we're able to hear truth being spoken into our lives. It lets us recognize that we need to grow, and lets us see the path ahead.
I love the quote by legendary football coach John Wooden about the topic. He says that “you aren’t a failure until you start to blame”. How true that is!
And so my son, my challenge to you this time is to continue striving for greatness, continue growing and learning and trying new things, and to continue putting yourself out there and going out on a limb for things. As you do that, you’re bound to have set backs, and when you do, my prayer is that you’re able to own up to those too. Claim your losses just as you claim your victories; they both are great opportunities for growth and for deeper connection. And those are great things.
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.
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.
This world often measures us by our results, by our accomplishments, and by the amount of impact that we've had based on our finished products. While results are important, they pale in comparison to the journey that we take to get there.
It is the process of refinement, of improvement, of becoming and not being that is of utmost importance.
For we know that character is not innate or automatic. Rather, it needs to be built, refined, tried, tested, and improved upon. It is worked on with great effort, with great intention, and with great patience. And it is not easily built alone.
The more we are able to find others to walk life with us, to challenge us, and to encourage us on that journey, the greater our chances of success. The more that we find ourselves in an environment that praises not our talent but our growth and our learning, the more we are able to improve and to better ourselves, and in so doing are better able to produce those results that our society so covets.
As you know, I love the epic, the inspiring, the mountaintop experiences that give you a breath of life so exhilarating that words can only describe but a glimpse of the experience. Those are the experiences from which we take away our life's greatest learnings. As David Brooks says in his book, The Road to Character:
"Moral improvement occurs most reliably when the heart is warmed, when we come into contact with people we admire and love and we consciously and unconsciously bend our lives to mimic theirs."
I love that sentiment, that from these people that we admire and love, we bend our lives to mimic theirs.
And so to that end my challenge to you is to make sure you've surrounded yourself with people who encourage you to become more than you are, that challenge you to dig deep and to work on yourself, and that share the belief that to be is not nearly as important as to become.
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.
One of the most beautiful things about the world is the vast diversity that's in it. We live among people of varying backgrounds, experiences, world views, beliefs, expectations, and biases - and that's a beautiful thing. It's an incredibly inspiring thing to see when people of different shapes and sizes come together to build something greater than themselves.
The only way that can happen is with empathy.
Empathy isn't about being nice. It's about having the ability to listen and to understand someone else's perspective, and to care about it. It's about setting aside your own biases and experiences and recognizing that there's value in an opinion or a thought that may be different than yours.
It's the thing that allows you to look at someone else and see the best in them, see the intrinsic value in them. It's the thing that let's you look past the veneer and see the common beauty of the human spirit in someone else, and make a connection with that.
And so my charge to you today is to abound in empathy. Life's too short to live alone. I want you to have a full life, one that is filled with mountaintop experiences that challenge you to be better, one that is surrounded by diverse and wonderful people that will push you out of your comfort zone, one that is deeply and richly connected to those around you.
From the time that you were conceived, your mother and I have prayed that you would grow up to be a man that is kind, that is empathetic to those around you, and that encourages and challenges people to be better. May you be empathetic, and may you make those lifelong connections, and in doing so live a rich and full life.
I love the end of the year, because it's a natural time for us to wind down, to think back on the events of the year, and to think ahead of the year to come. It's a good time to reflect on how the year has gone, to examine the goals that we had laid out for the year, and to evaluate how far we've come. It's also a good time to look forward to the year ahead, to set some goals for where we'd like to go, and to it back and look at the big picture.
As you know by now, I love to think about things as they ought to be, and how I can play a part in facilitating that. That naturally translates into a combination of introspection and visioning.
In order to know the role that I can play, I've got to understand myself, and need to know my strengths and my weaknesses. I've got to assess where I've come, how my choices this year have panned out, and determine how I can improve on the character traits that I'm working on.
In order to know the role that I should play, I've got to understand the big picture, and need to know given my capabilities what I can do to advance that picture. No matter how small my impact, I've got to be constantly looking ahead towards the goal that I'm called to play, and understand how that fits in to the whole.
My hope is that you'll take time - whether it's now at the end of the year like I do, or some other time that you set aside for yourself - to think back on where you've come, evaluate how you've gotten here, and look forward to what's ahead. I firmly believe you've got a great part to play in his-story, and can't wait to run along there with you!
People do things for a myriad of reasons and motivations, but at the end of the day, it generally boils down to fulfillment, meaning, and purpose in this life. No matter how cynical the individual, mankind was made for advancement. We were made with the innate desire to move forward, to advance the state of our species, to strive to be ever greater than we were before.
This quest for fulfillment and for forward progress can be a good thing.
The differentiating factor then is in the semantics of what brings you that fulfillment. What is it that ultimately makes you feel satisfied after having done something? What is it that you're ultimately looking to achieve?
I read a very pointed quote the other day that speaks to that:
"A creative man is fulfilled by accomplishments and a competitive man is fulfilled by beating others"
I love that contrast. While at the end of the day, both men may be accomplishing something, the motivation and drive that propels them to action is critically important. Not just because the competitive man cannot feel a sense of fulfillment on his own, but because the competitive man is not looking for the betterment of others, and hence becomes limited to achievement that is defined by others that he is trying to beat. Because his fulfillment is found in comparison to others, he will always look for the next competition, the next person he can beat to remain fulfilled.
The creative man on the other hand, is a man who finds fulfillment not in beating others or in the praise of others, but rather in having accomplished that which he set out for. There is a saying that sometimes the best reward for having done a thing well is to know that one has indeed done it.
My challenge to you is to consider what you're doing, and why you're doing it. Is it to beat others? Is it to please someone else? Is it to demonstrate that you are worthy of something? That you are better than someone or something? Or is it genuinely for the betterment of others and for the sake of the accomplishment itself?
Ultimately, I want you to live a rich and fulfilled life that is not dependent on others' praise or demise, but rather is made significant by the things that you strive for, and the accomplishments that you achieve. Because that is something honorable, something noble. That is how the world ought to be.
I love speed. You know this. But every so often, life needs a speed check.
Don't get me wrong - speed is great. It's exhilarating. It's adrenaline-inducing. It's memory-making.
But there comes a time when you need to slow down and take special care to the details that you might miss at high speeds. Here's why.
- Speed requires you to be looking forward always - since things come so quickly at you, you need to be focused on what's ahead to make sure you don't slam into a wall. And this is a great thing - focus enables us to do great things. It gives us purpose, gives us goals, gives us a drive to continue onward. But it also makes the things not in front of us relegated to our peripheral vision only.
- Speed requires you to act on instinct and intuition. Again, this can be a great thing - if we know the path ahead and are sure footed, this isn't a problem. But when the road becomes less clear and the path less obvious, speed gives us less time to react and adjust.
- Speed dulls your other senses, and you can get tunnel vision.
While all of those things aren't bad in themselves, life is about balance. Sometimes you have to slow down in order to see clearly. Sometimes, you need to take in all that's around you, examine the details, and see the hidden beauty in the things that are all around.
Remember that life isn't just about having a singular goal, even though at times those may be there. Life is about more than that - it's about the journey, about the people that are with you, about the small unexpected circumstances that you may find yourself in. It's about the small shared moments of disappointment. It's about the shared experience of comfort. It's about walking together through struggles. It's about celebrating together through victories. It's about making the most out of every moment that you've got, and sometimes, sometimes, you need to slow down to notice those things.
As your second birthday approaches, I've been thinking about what a wonderful little guy you've become and about all the fun that we've had together, and one thing that has definitely stood out is just how happy you are.
From the moment you wake up, you're a happy, smiley, mischievous little guy. You love to play, and spend much of your life running away from me while laughing hysterically, only to run too fast, fall over, roll around on the ground, and keep laughing. Your infectious laugh can be heard all through the house at all hours of day, whether we're eating, playing basketball, banging the drums, or trying to get you to bed.
It's been a fantastic reminder to me of what it means to have child-like joy, and how incredibly easy it is to become jaded by the world, to lose the ability and desire to laugh and to have fun in many circumstances.
Why is this important? All sorts of reasons. But a few of them stand out to me as extremely important.
- Laughter helps diffuse even the tensest situations. Jesus says that "in this life, you will have trouble". It's not a matter of if we run into emotionally charged situations, but a question of when we encounter them. Laughter helps alleviate these situations and lets us be at our best to handle them.
- Joy is contagious. Not only does it lighten up your own life, but it catches others with it as well. It is a part of the equation of leadership - people are drawn to joyous people, to charismatic people, to people who have something that they want to emulate in their own lives. And everyone wants to be joyful and happy.
- Laughter helps us be in a mental and emotional state where we can be our best. The paragon of man is not realized when he is angry, stressed, or upset; rather, it is realized when he is of good spirit, of good cheer, and of a happy and joyful countenance.
As you know by now, I'm someone who loves to think of the world not as it is, but as it ought to be, and I'm positively convinced that the world was designed to be a place that's happy, joyful, and full of great adventures and experiences.
As life gets busier (and it always will), let's try to remember to find a little laughter in what we're going through. My hope for you is that you won't lose that sense of wonder, that ability to find fun and levity in the most grave of situations, and that you'll always continue to be our happy little guy.
God created us to be in community. He designed us to live with others, to experience life with others, and to share our journeys with others. And with that shared journey comes the ability to be inspired by, and to inspire. To be challenged by, and to challenge. To be loved, and to love. To be taught, and to learn.
That's what mentoring is about.
It's about sharing the things that you've learned with others, and in turn learning from the experiences of others. It's an acknowledgement that you can't learn everything there is to learn in life on your own.
It's a commitment to another person saying that I will walk this next part of my journey with you. I will share things that may be uncomfortable or even unpleasant with you for the sake of our mutual trust and learning.
It's about building a bond of trust to allow someone else to see into your soul and to allow them to speak into it. It's about having the grace to look into the heart of another and treat it with care. It's about truly embodying the statement that together, we are better than the sum of our parts, and that "as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another".
I've been blessed in my life to have a small number of phenomenal mentors over the years. These men have poured into my life, have relentlessly pushed me to be better, and have shared with me pieces of their lives and their faith that have helped reveal to me the type of man that I want to become. And I am eternally grateful for their faithfulness.
In turn, I try to do that with others, and try to pour my time, care, and effort into their lives as well. As your mother has helped me discover, the legacy I want to leave is to be known as a person who inspires others to be the best that they can be.
And so my prayer for you is that not only do you find good mentors that will help you through the journeys that you'll go through, but that you too will walk alongside someone else and aid them in their adventures and be a guiding post for them as well.
Like it or not, people will talk about you, even before they meet you. They'll discuss whether they want you on their team or not. They'll decide whether or not they want to interview you or not. They'll decide whether they want to approach you to befriend you or not. They'll discuss how you're perceived in performance reviews. And all of that before they've even said two words to you.
What sorts of things are they saying?
What do you think about when I say Nordstrom? Coke? Apple? Toyota? Lego? Crayola?
All of these companies have paid billions of dollars in advertising to get you to think a certain thing. Nordstrom wants you to think high end fashion. Coke wants you to think cool and thirst quenching. Apple wants you to think connected, seamless, beautiful devices. Toyota wants you to think safety. And so on.
All these companies have a brand that they've established, and spend lots of money building and maintaining that brand so that you think about them at the right time.
For example, I've never owned a Toyota, but I assume that if I did, it would be super reliable, safe, and would last 10 years while I drive it into the ground. That's all based on the branding perception that they've created.
The same is true of people - each person has a brand that precedes them.
When someone is interviewing you for a job, they'll check your credentials, check their networks to see who knows you, check your social networks to see what people are saying about you - all before meeting you. When someone is deciding whether they want you on their team or not, they'll ask other people that have played with you what they think of you.
What are those people going to say about you? What is your personal brand that you've established? Will they think of you as likeable? Smart? Passionate? Ambitious? Musical? Helpful? Thoughtful?
The purpose of a brand is to quickly convey the value of the subject in question. Nordstrom wants you to think that going to its stores will provide you high end fashion. Toyota wants you to think that driving its cars will keep you safe. Nike wants you to think that wearing its clothes will help improve your athletic performance.
What does your brand say about you? What are the values that it conveys? What are the things that you want to be known for? What are the things that you value most in your life? What are the character traits and attributes that matter to you?
Your namesake is one of independent action, intentional living, and transformative thinking. My prayer is that you would be a man that is kind hearted, who wants to help others, and can lead them to be better.
Leadership is something that is the birthright of every man. God created you to lead your household, just like Jesus leads the church. It is not something you can shirk away from, and so my hope is that you will willingly step into that role, deliberately and intentionally.
There are many books on leadership out there, but over the years, I've been able to boil those thoughts down into 5 key learnings.
Leaders motivate those they lead to action by providing a compelling mission and vision.
Leaders have the tenacity to drive outcomes and to overcome adversity and resistence.
Leaders build relationships that create trust and promote honesty.
Leaders are stewards of even the least of those that they lead.
Leaders leave no one behind.
I'm sure there are many other nuggets of wisdom that you will pick up over the years, but these are just a few that I've found to be timeless truths. I hope they can serve you well, as they have done so for me.
Hopefully you will have grown up having built strong relationships; relationships built on trust, mutual respect and admiration. If so, you may find yourself entrusted with another's secret.
I cannot stress the importance that you keep that secret.
Any relationship that matters values honesty and trust. Divulging another's secret proves a person unworthy of that trust. No matter what the cost, no matter what fire your feet are set to, honor that secret, for it is not yours to share.
When you keep that secret, you prove yourself trustworthy and honorable. When you keep that secret in light of personal suffering, you prove your character, and you prove yourself worthy of respect. In one of my favorite movies, Scent of a Woman, Al Pacino puts it superbly in his final speech:
"I don't know if Charlie's silence here today is right or wrong. I'm not a judge or jury, but I can tell you this: He won't sell anybody out to buy his future! And that, my friends, is called integrity. That's called courage. Now that's the stuff leaders should be made of."
And that's my hope for you, that you would be a leader of men, a great leader that builds strong relationships, fosters long-lasting bonds, encourages others, and builds others up. In order to do that, you have to be a man of integrity, who knows how to keep confidences, and who doesn't have a loose tongue.
By now you should know that the two movies that have influenced me the most are Top Gun and Gladiator, and hopefully you'll recognize the title of this post as a pivotal line from the latter. The message I want to convey to you today is that while Commodus spits out this phrase facetiously, mercy is absolutely a critical characteristic for us to develop.
While Grace is the act of blessing someone with something undeserved, Mercy is the act of withholding judgment or retribution from someone that deserves it. Both of these are demonstrated by Jesus for us. His Mercy withholds the consequence of our sin, and His Grace gives us the opportunity to know and have a relationship with God.
As you know, the legacy that I want to leave behind is that I'm a person that inspires others, that motivates them, that instills passion and drive in those that are around me. To do this, we need to able to see people not for who they are, but for the best that they can be.
The capacity to consistently bring out the best in people is called leadership, and the ability to see people not as they are but as they were created to be requires the attribute of mercy.
Leadership requires not just an openness and intuition to see the best in people, but the corresponding amount of Mercy to allow people to make and learn from mistakes as they get there. Great leaders are able to focus on the accomplishments and successes while taking hold of failures and errors and using them as learning opportunities.
So how do we develop our ability to have mercy?
We develop our ability to show mercy when we are able to see how much we ourselves need mercy shown to us. When we humbly recognize our own position and understand the amount of mercy God has demonstrated for us, we are able to see how we should in turn extend mercy to our contemporaries, and we begin to model the characteristics that God desires for us.
My prayer for you then is that in light of your confidence in knowing who you are and what you are capable of, that you would be humbled by the knowledge of who God is and what He created you for, and from that posture of humility be able to show grace and mercy to those around you.
By now, you'll discover that something your dad has never lacked is self confidence. Many of my thoughts on the world are viewed through that lens, and while self confidence is a great thing, it is sometimes worthwhile to examine the world through a different lens and see what we can learn from there.
It's in that light that I write this series of thoughts.
While being confident in yourself and being firm in your convictions is a great thing, there are times in a man's life where he must accept that he is simply wrong, and to do so gracefully and humbly. There are a few reasons for this.
- Admitting you're wrong gives you the ability to be stretched. The posture of humility is one that focuses not on one's self achievement and worth, but one that allows one's short comings and insufficiencies to be revealed. In that revelation is the opportunity for change, and for God to take those flaws and begin His work of perfecting them.
- Admitting you're wrong gives others the ability to bless you. By allowing someone else to speak into your life, you not only build their confidence, but you open a channel of trust and vulnerability in your relationship. The strongest relationships are forged as we go through the tough grit of life together, and nothing is tougher than the strengthening of character, the development of the manliness that is our birthright.
- Admitting you're wrong keeps your heart humble, and able to hear God. Nothing stops you from hearing the voice of God more than pride. It is the characteristic that says that we are sufficient for ourselves, that we are able to accomplish all that we need to in this life on our own. Nothing could be further from the truth.
God desires humility in our lives; as we are emptied of ourselves, we can then be filled with the things that He desires for us.
Remember that our goal is to live life as Christ tells us we ought to live it, and whatever means He uses to get us there should be wholeheartedly embraced. I've spent much of my life trying to find the right balance here, and hopefully by the time you read this I'll have a better handle on it, but for now, suffice it to say that I believe this will be a life-long activity. One that will be difficult, but one that will ultimately refine us to be men worthy of God's calling and original design for us, and one that will create many memories and forge many strong friendships along the way.
In this life, there will be many people who try to tell you what to do, who to be, what to care about, and what to strive for. They will try to apply a value judgment to you, try to give you a framework in which to determine your own self-worth, and will try to make you fit into their molding.
Don't let them.
Remember that you are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14). God made you exactly as He wanted to, and that is a wonderful thing.
That's not to say that you're perfect and don't need to strive to be better - quite the contrary! For "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6). And what completion is that? The goal and original design that God had in mind for you.
In that light, I urge you to figure out what that is. Decide for yourself who you ought to be, who you want to be, and then go and unapologetically be that person! Jesus never promised that his way would be easy, or that everyone will like you on your path, but He did promise that He "[is] with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). You will inevitably rub some people the wrong way, you will certainly run across people who don't understand your motivations or the things that you do, and will speak out against you.
Pay them no mind.
Know who you were created to be, and be that. The Apostle Paul uses the term ginwskein, which means "to know deeply". Know deeply who God wants you to be and run and follow hard after that. And know your mother and I will always love and support you, no matter who you choose to be.
I love being inspired.
One of the most inspiring things is witnessing the things man can accomplish. Watching a painter pour their soul onto their canvas, experiencing for the first time a new piece reflecting a musician's inner turmoil, reading a short story written to celebrate life's great virtues, or walking into the great architecture of the ages built as places of worship or safekeeping - all of these things inspire me to be better, to reach higher, and to aim for the stars.
It's a beautiful thing about life, this ability to create. We are all created beings, created in the image of God, in His likeness. That means we have God's spark in us, and with that spark comes the ability for us as created beings to in turn create. Now, obviously we don't have God's omnipotence, so we can't make something from nothing, but we have a glimpse of his creativity and imagination, and can in our own way create beauty where there was none before.
Whether it’s taking a year to write your own symphony or taking an hour to paint a sunset, I believe that something within us pulses stronger when we create. It is in that moment, that space where we forget about the world, abandon its distractions, and focus solely on the object of our creation that we are elevated from the temporary into the timeless. We see the world from another angle; we gain a new perspective, and with new perspective comes new understanding.
Have you ever noticed how things of great beauty are often epic and awesome in nature? Sunsets, canyons, monuments, masterpieces, mountaintops - all of these things are vast in their being, and bring us to a place of awe and wonder.
I believe that the wonder we feel is the creator in us resonating with the creation we're experiencing.
And so with that, I'll leave you with a challenge. Create! Build, paint, compose, craft; express the experiences, thoughts, and dreams that are uniquely you. Because you are beautifully and wonderfully made.
There are many virtues that great men of necessity have and strive for, but at the top of that list is Integrity. No matter what sphere in life you think of; sports, friendships, academics, politics, or your professional career, integrity is extremely valued. So what is it?
Integrity is the ability to stand by an idea.
It is the ability to stick to your guns, to stay upright in the face of adversity and not waver. It is the ability to say come hell or high water, I will hold fast to my convictions and stand my ground.
In construction, the term integrity is used to describe the wholeness of the object. When an object's structural integrity has been breached, it is no longer whole and can no longer perform its function, and needs to be repaired or replaced. It is prone to damage, and can no longer withstand the loads and impacts that it was created for.
So too is man.
When a man maintains his integrity, he is able to continue performing the functions that he was created for. He can fulfill his God-given purpose, and can reach the paragon of virtue that he was designed for. But when his integrity is compromised, he becomes incomplete, not whole. He is no longer able to withstand the forces, impacts, and influences that he was designed to overcome. He must be repaired.
Nothing in life is harder to repair than trust and integrity. Once lost, the damage man can cause may be permanent, unable to be rectified. By God's grace the man may be repaired, but his actions may have irreversibly negative and lasting impact. One can spend a lifetime trying to repair the damage and never fully succeed.
There comes a time in every man's life where he is tested. He is put to the fire, and is forced to decide what kind of man he is, and more importantly what kind of man he will be. When that time comes, I pray that you will have the strength rooted in a firm foundation to stay strong and resolute in your beliefs.
Recently, I took the opportunity to look back on some of the key moments of my life, and realized that while each of those moments was vastly different, there was one thing in common across all of them - I went big. I threw caution, fear, hesitation, and laziness all to the wind and went all out. I gave it my all, and the result was that I got it all right back.
If I haven't yet, bug me to tell you about my 30th birthday party, about proposing to your mom, about my bike trips around America, or about a hundred other stories from my college days. The common thread across all of them? We put all that we had into those experiences, and were rewarded because of it.
Now, I'm not saying that every adventure has to take months of preparation, weeks of practice, or days of concerted thought and effort. Rather, I'm encouraging you remember that time is the only resource in this life that we'll never get back, and to make the most of that time. When you go big with your time, you'll make lasting memories that'll span your lifetime.
So I urge you to go and wait in line for 3 hours with your best friend for the latest release of Halo, or to go and plan a big surprise for your mother's next big birthday. Go and plan a world trip with your friends, or take a spontaneous day off to try something really new.
Whatever you do, I guarantee you that if you go big, even if you flame out big, you'll build a memory that will last you a lifetime, and will make a great story for you to tell your children too.
One of the constant pressures that you'll experience in life is the pressure to conform, to be successful as our society defines success, and to follow a number of predefined "acceptable" paths. While there's nothing wrong with those paths, I want to challenge you to own your choice. Be deliberate about picking a path, whether it is a popular, acceptable one or not. Don't be afraid to veer onto the road less taken; often that's where you'll find many of life's hidden gems and adventures!
The verse your mother and I picked out as your life's verse is Romans 12:2, which urges us to "not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but [to] be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you can test and approve what God's will is; his good, pleasing, and perfect will."
Our prayer for you from the time that God was still knitting you together has been that you will be a man that does not conform to what this world dictates is acceptable, and that you will be intentional in deciding for yourself what your life will be. I love this quote from the late Robin Williams in the movie, Dead Poets Society:
“We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering - these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love - these are what we stay alive for.
To quote from Whitman, 'O me! O life! … of the questions of these recurring, of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?' Answer: that you are here, that life exists, and identity. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
The world tells us that our identity is found in the job that we have, the clothes we wear, the people we are acquainted with, the school we graduated from, and how much money we have. While all of these things matter and are worth thinking about and pursuing, they can only define us if we allow them to. I urge you not to allow yourself to be defined - and hence tie your intrinsic sense of worth to - the external things of this world, but rather on the man that you are, the thoughts, values, and morals that you have, and by the character that you have developed.
On an archway in Delphi is written a phrase: γνῶθι σεαυτόν, which means "know thyself". The Greeks understood that life's true pursuit is to know thyself, to understand who one is, and to have the integrity to stand strong in that knowledge, regardless of opposition; and from that position, make your mark on the world, forge your path, and write your verse.
I want to leave you with a quote that I've found very inspiring in my own life.
“This is the test of your manhood: How much is there left in you after you have lost everything outside of yourself?” – Orison Swett Marden
My hope is that as you’ve grown up, you’ve begun to discover things that inspire you, things that provoke your thoughts and challenge your world view. These things can come in many forms – experiences, images, poetry, books, movies, music. The one thing that all of these inspiring mediums has in common is that they all tell a story. They may tell that story through a vibrant splash of color on an otherwise dark canvas, or through an uplifting major chord emanating amidst a dark and minor passage. They may speak to us through a surge of feeling as we stand atop a vast mountain range, surrounded by the breathtaking view of creation all around.
Whatever it is that inspires you, it has a story to tell.
Most of the highly influential people in my lifetime have been great storytellers. Whether they’re recounting an inspiring tale of overcoming adversity in their youth, or reminiscing about their first love; whether they’re channeling their innermost fire and rallying their audience to action, or expressing condolences to those that have lost, every great storyteller has the ability to bring you along with them on their journey, captivating your senses as you live in the moment that they create.
And what is it that so intrigues us when we listen to the stories of these inspirational giants? What is it that draws us into their universe and allows us to hear every sound, feel every touch, and sense every feeling in the world that they’re painting?
Every great storyteller tells stories that are wrapped in the consciousness of their existence. Whether they are ideas that resonate with them, challenges that they strive to overcome, experiences from their past, or dreams that they long to have fulfilled, every great story is laced with the soul and life of the storyteller.
Great stories are told simply. This isn't to say that all great stories are simple or that their contents are necessarily rudimentary; rather they are told in a way that is accessible to all who would listen. They are remarkable in their simplicity, yet can be equally expansive in their depth. The greatest stories can be understood by young children and studied by sophisticated adults all at the same time.
Finally, the greatest stories are timeless. They speak of virtues, values, and topics that span generations. They inspire us to look beyond the temporal and focus our thoughts on things that last, things that stand the test of time.
And so my hope is that you tell stories. Tell stories that inspire others to be better, to think of better things, to imagine the world as it ought to be. Tell stories that challenge your listeners to love recklessly and to dream big. Your mom and I deeply believe that you were meant for great things; no matter what you decide to do, who you decide to be, we will love you and support you every step of the way. My challenge to you is that no matter what all that is, that you tell your story to everyone who will listen.
If you're anything like me, you'll probably hate horror movies, and hence may have never watched an Alfred Hitchcock movie. If that's the case, don't worry, you're in good company. The genius of Hitchcock however, is that he discovered the key to building suspenseful situations that cause every hair on the back of your neck to stand up - music.
Other filmmakers have picked up on this technique now, and every great movie almost always has a great soundtrack accompanying it. Filmmakers have learned how to use music to not only build suspense, but to elicit joy, bring out a care-free spirit, instill a desire to be better, bring about a feeling of nostalgia, and even light a spark of hope in their audiences.
Why is this possible?
C.S. Lewis, in discussing the Biblical imagery of music in heaven, writes that
"Music is the thing known in the present life which most strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity."
In other words, music is the closest thing to heaven we can ever experience in this world. It is the thing that God has hard wired into the very fiber of our being so that even the most unmusical person experiencing beautiful music can be moved.
I love how film director Peter Sellars describes music:
"It touches some idealistic core of your being, where even the greatest cynic has not given up hope - that's why we listen to music."
It touches our idealistic core, it resonates with the center of our being, it stirs something so deeply fundamental to our very soul, such that even the greatest cynic can see a glimmer of hope.
By now, I'm assuming your mom and I have gotten you into piano lessons, maybe some other music lessons as well, and this is why. It's because music draws out the epic, elicits the grandiose desire to think of things as they ought to be. It can inspire, it can motivate, it can encourage. It transcends time, and can bring people of all ages together under a common love and purpose. It can be your most trusted friend, comforter, and encourager. And if you let it, it can be your lifelong companion.
They say that you can tell the caliber of a man by the company that he chooses to keep. I would take that one step further and say that you can also tell the strength of a man by the type of company that he is.
By now, you'll have met many different types of people, all with unique characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses. By now, you'll have also decided which of these people you want to keep as company, who you'll want by your side as you conquer life's struggles. With each mountain you climb, with each struggle you overcome together, you'll not only learn more about the man that you are, but you'll discover as I have, that loyalty can't be bought; it must be earned, built, refined.
Above all other things, it ensures that no matter what life throws at you, you will not be alone, that you will have people to overcome those situations with you. Loyalty says that no matter what happens, no matter what new bad discovery or situation, come hell or high water, I will be by your side.
Loyalty is a two way street, built together from both sides. Earned, not bought. Just as you must earn the loyalty of your friends, your loyalty too must be earned. Don't give it away freely or easily, but roll up your sleeves, get into the grit of life, and build it.
Adlai Stevenson writes:
"The dedication of a lifetime — these are words that are easy to utter, but this is a mighty assignment. For it is often easier to fight for principles than to live up to them."
Loyalty. Faithfulness. Dedication. Devotion.
I urge you to think about these things, to consider the traits that you wish to develop in yourself, and to choose wisely what kind of man you want to be.
By the time you read this, I hope that you are starting to understand the difference between things you know and believe because you know and believe them, and things you know and believe because you've been raised to know and believe those things.
When I was your age, your grandfather and your uncle Tim were heroes to me, and I took their word as truth and believed what they taught me to believe. Things like right and wrong, goals and aspirations, what was honorable and worthy of pursuit; these were all based on what they taught me. Even my faith was founded in the stories and truths that they shared with me.
But over time as I grew up, and that wasn't enough anymore.
There comes a point in every man's life where he needs to know and believe things for himself, based not on someone else's authority, but on his own experiences. He will need to evaluate for himself, to test and approve, and to be come convinced of his values and beliefs.
In his book The Reason for God, Tim Keller writes,
"It is no longer sufficient to hold beliefs just because you inherited them. Only if you struggle long and hard with objections to your faith will you be able to provide grounds for your beliefs … that are plausible rather than ridiculous and offensive."
We live in a world that has faith deeply engrained in its very fiber, and in a time where faith, religion, and spirituality is slowly surfacing to the top of social awareness. The more prepared you are to give a reason for your faith, and the more thought out your answers are, the better equipped you will be to add value to those faith conversations, and to make an impact on the world.
There will come a day in your life where you'll be tested. Your values will be questioned, your beliefs examined, and your faith scrutinized. When that day comes, it will not be enough to have those values and beliefs founded upon the authority of someone else; you'll have to defend them and stand up for them on your own authority. My prayer is that on that day, you will stand strong with your head held high and your faith strengthened from the victory of knowing full well who you are, and what you believe.
By now, I'm sure you've heard many slogans and jingles about how short life is, and may have even come to terms with that notion yourself in your experiences. I love the timeless sentiment from Robin Williams:
But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? Carpe diem. Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary
I love that word he chose, "legacy". Listen to the legacy of those who have gone ahead of us. And what is that legacy? To seize the day, to make the most of the days that you have, to aim to live an extraordinary life.
Extraordinary, in this sense, is not a judgment of value upon the life or the series of actions that make up that life; rather, it is merely a description of those actions. Extra, meaning "outside of", the ordinary. The charge is to live a life that is different, that takes chances, that strives to be more than what society funnels us to be. Like we talked about last time, Be a first-rate version of you.
The phrase Carpe Diem goes slightly further, and suggests not only to be the best you that you can be, but to make that you something unique, something unexpected, something different than the well-trodden path that the world tries to impose on you. Set your heart and your mind on being extra-ordinary.
This concept of choosing your own path is really part of your namesake. Maverick means one that doesn't conform to society, but chooses one's own path. Romans 12:1-2 speaks also of not conforming to the patterns of this world, but being transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you can determine, test, and approve God's will for your life.
That, ultimately, is the prayer that your mom and I have for your life - that you will intentionally choose your path, and that it will be a God-pleasing path. Seize the day, and encourage others to do the same.
By now, I hope you know how much I love the epic. I love experiencing things that make you think of things as they ought to be, that make you want to be different, that make you strive for more.
The danger though, is that in trying to emulate the characteristics that we experience and read about, we may overstep that boundary and try to be like the characters themselves instead of emulating their characteristics. It's a subtle difference, but it's there nonetheless, and if unchecked, can lead you places you may not have initially intended to go.
My challenge to you as you grow up and experience all these rich and wondrous experiences, characters, and stories, is to always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of someone else. Know who you are, who you want to be, who you were purposed to be, and use that as your measure. Don't compare yourself with others; rather, be inspired by their example to strive for more yourself.
The world will try to pit you against others, will try to compare you on a variety of axes and scales, will even try to tell you that your worth is relative to others. Don't listen to them.
The Bible tells us that we are wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), and that God knew us before He formed us (Jeremiah 1:5). That applies to you! You are our perfect little boy, and your mom and I love you and will always love you, no matter what you choose to do and who you choose to be.
My prayer is that no matter what kind of person you grow up to be, no matter what experiences you have, what pursuits you take, and what company you choose to keep, that you intentionally choose all of those things, and that you be the best you that you can be!
Jesus says that "you will have suffering in this world" (John 16:33 NIV). It is a certainty, and as much as I would lay down my life to keep it all from you, I can't. You too will know suffering just as Jesus did, just as we all do. The true test of a man's character, then, is how he deals with that suffering, how he responds to it, how he chooses to live his life in spite of it.
As you already know, I love the epic. I love the pursuit of greatness, the passion for the human spirit, the desire to "have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10). In light of this suffering, my charge to you is to love recklessly as a response.
By the time you are old enough to read and understand this, I hope that U2 is still around and you'll know have heard the song Pride, which puts it in such a beautiful way:
"In the name of love! What more in the name of love?"
Pride pays a tribute to the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King (the last verse sings of April 4th in the Memphis sky, which was the date and location that Dr. King was assassinated), and is a response to the legacy and example that he lived. Despite the assassination, the song writer poses the question, "what more in the name of love?" What more can we do, in the name of love? How can we follow this example, in the name of love?
When we love recklessly and focus on seeing, believing, and fighting for the good in people, it doesn't only change our world; it changes us too. When our response to conflict and tribulation is to ask what more we can do in the name of love, we change our perspective. To be reckless means to choose to take an action, despite rational thought telling us otherwise. The more we choose to be reckless, the more our rational thought adjusts to compensate. This in turn removes the inhibitions of what we believe is possible, allowing us to think of the world not as it is, but as it ought to be - and that is certainly a good thing.
And so my prayer for you is that you respond to the obstacles in your life not with frustration, anger, or disappointment, but with a response that throws reason out the window, and just loves.
One of the things that I hope you learn about me is how much I love the epic. The epic story, movie, music, view, experience, ride - I love it all. C. S. Lewis in his book, Mere Christianity says that "Music is the closest thing to heaven we will ever experience on earth." What a beautiful statement of a deeply emotional, primal, overwhelming experience of music, and what a magnificent description of the epic; it is the closest thing to heaven we will ever experience on earth.
And that's what we all want, isn't it? To experience heaven in all its glory, to experience perfection, to experience existence - friendship, relationship, joy - the way it ought to be.
Ayn Rand considers this the definition of Romanticism with a capital 'R'. In the preface to her book, The Fountainhead, she writes:
Longevity - predominantly, though not exclusively - is the prerogative of a literary school which is virtually non-existent today: Romanticism. This is not the place for a dissertation on the nature of Romantic fiction, so let me state - for the record and for the benefit of those students who have never been allowed to discover it - only that Romanticism is the conceptual school of art.
It deals, not with the random trivia of the day, but with the timeless, fundamental, universal problems and values of human existence. It does not record or photograph; it creates and projects. It is concerned - in the words of Aristotle - not with things as they are, but with things as they might and ought to be. And for the benefit of those who consider relevance to one's own time as of crucial importance, I will add, in regard to our age, that never has there been a time when men have so desperately needed a projection of things as they ought to be.
I've spent much of my youth thinking about things as they ought to be, and trying my best to turn those thoughts to reality. Now that you’ve just turned 4 months old, I realize that my thoughts have shifted slightly; the grandiose statement I would spend hours thinking about - how the world ought to be - now has a minor shift in it.
I now think of how I believe the world ought to be for you.
If there's anything I've learned over my short existence, it's that life is what you make of it. The pursuit of something greater, of something epic, of making the world a little more like how you believe it ought to be; these noble pursuits take a series of events and elevate them into something much more than the sum of their parts. They take our lives and give them meaning, direction, and purpose. They allow us to exercise passion, ingenuity, excellence; beautiful qualities of the human spirit.
And that is certainly the way the world ought to be.
And so my hope for you is that you too would live life looking for the epic, basking in the moments when you find it. Take time to think about the world as it ought to be, surround yourself with people that share that vision, and remember that passion is contagious; if you dream big and continue dreaming big, those around you will start doing the same.