How Do You Know If You’re Mature?

How do I know if I’m mature?
How do I know my calling?
How do I know what to do?

These three questions are very connected. They lead into each other, validate each other, and inform each other. Let’s explore these connections.

I was talking to a potential new member for senior management at Bridge. It’s generally quite tricky to hire for Bridge, given our intense culture, strictly defined values, incredible goals, and life stage (startup). It’s extra tricky hiring senior management because we require not just skill and experience but the hunger, eagerness to learn, and work endurance usually more associated with younger people. This person I was meeting with has all the qualities above, which is why we were on our second meeting.

During our conversation, she asked me about our young leaders, and she said something very insightful, “Given the way you’ve structured Bridge, this will require a lot of trust between your leaders, especially between your junior and senior leaders. How mature are the business unit heads?” I thought about her question, and proceeded to answer it the same way I answer most questions asked to me, with more of a description than a direct yes or no. Here’s what I said (paraphrased):

“Our team is young. But they’re hard working, they’re hungry, and they’re teachable. They’re all different personalities and different levels of skill and experience, but to be a leader in any of our organizations, you need to be willing to embrace your accountabilities, face the gap between who these accountabilities need you to be and who you are at the moment, identify what you need to do to start bridging that gap, and work extremely hard to do so. Our leaders are like that.”

Then she said, “That was what I meant about mature. That’s good to know.”

Fast forward to this morning. It’s 5:33am, and I’ve been thinking about this concept of maturity since I woke up around 3:30am. My alarm is normally set for 4:30am, but many times I’m woken up by something I can only describe as a call. When I try to explain this to many people, the response I normally get is a mixture of “Wow, that’s admirable. But you’re crazy.” and “You’re crazy for getting up so early.” and “You’re too intense.” Then there are those who, without saying anything, look back with recognition. Their faces show, “I know exactly what you mean.” These people excite me. They remind me of a C.S. Lewis quote, “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” With these people I go further and explain to them what that call is, and the usual response is, “I’ve known that for a long time. It’s only now that someone has captured the idea for me in words, but I’ve always somehow understood that.” And I can see the validation lighting their eyes up, that all of sudden all the quiet plodding, all the courageous counter-culture decisions, the thankless hard work, the invisible soul wrestling, and the shedding of ease, made sense for them. They were not being kill-joys, or corny, or missing out on the good life or being cool. They were answering a call, their call, a call unique to them so cannot be validated by someone else’s experience but their own meditation on who God wants them to be.

Too many times, when I hear someone, particularly someone asking me for money, say, “God’s calling me to this…” I find myself thinking about what my next meeting is or wishing I had an eject button to send either of us elsewhere. It’s a very commonly used and commonly misused statement. So I like to ask, “How do you know God’s calling you?” And the usual answer is, “I felt it. You know, when you feel something is right. You know it.”

Famous last words. In my opinion, a calling is less a feeling and more a recognition of something or someone reaching out to us. Who or what is reaching out to us? The “who” are our stakeholders, the people we have commitments to. The “what” are our commitments themselves. A calling is not something we’re very interested in or very “passionate” about (another abused term), but the recognition of an accountability to someone or to others. Answering a call is not about finding the job that will never feel like work but about courageously, selflessly, and effectively heeding the summons of your life’s commitments.

And this is where maturity not only comes in but is necessary. It takes maturity to recognize life’s calls because it takes maturity to embrace life’s commitments, and to understand that commitments are accountabilities, meaning, there are consequences when we fail. A mature person faces the fact that we need to make commitments in life, the scary truth that failing in our commitments have consequences, and the very real risk of failure, without giving up or whining.

This is why you’ll find, over and over, that people who tend to have a lot of free time, flexibility, and less responsibility usually are less productive, less effective, whine more, complain more, criticize more, and breakdown easier, than very busy, very structured, and very responsible people. It’s not a question of busyness but of maturity. A lot of people who appear to have “control of their time” because they have a lot of free time are the most lost and ineffective people I know. Their “control” is a myth, because they’re bad controllers. They’re bad controllers because they don’t have discipline. So they’re actually not controlling anything. They are controlled by their feelings, by random events, and by what others are doing. This is obviously a sign of an immature person.

The answer to “How do I know if I’m mature?” is this: Do you know what is required from your life by the people around you? And do you courageously, selflessly, and effectively embrace this accountability, along with the potential benefits and consequences of success and failure?

Do you know what is required of you as a son or daughter? Are you embracing this requirement?

Do you know what is required of you as part of a team or group? Are you embracing this requirement?

Do you know what is required of you as a follower of God? Are you embracing requirement?

Do you know what is required of you as a spouse? Are you embracing this requirement?

Do you know what is required of you by your customers? Are you embracing this requirement?

Do you know what is required of you as a person living in a free society? Are you embracing this requirement?

Whatever your role in life, recognizing your accountabilities in each role, embracing the requirements of these accountabilities, and courageously, selflessly, and effectively meeting these requirements is what mature people do.

That’s how to know if you’re mature. If you don’t know your role, if you don’t know what’s required of you, and/or if you don’t effectively meet these requirements, you have your indicators of a lack of maturity.

So we’ve answered the first two questions about maturity and calling. Callings aren’t some weird fuzzy feelings or interests. They are very simple recognitions of my roles in life (follower of Christ, husband, father, son, leader, friend, etc…) and what they require of me, and maturity is heeding this call with courage, selflessness, and effectiveness.

This leads me to the last questions: How do I know what to do? The answer is very simple.

You should do what your calling requires of you. You should do what your accountabilities require of you.

What time should you wake up? You should wake up at the time required of you.

What books should you read? You should read the books that help you fulfill your life’s requirements.

What should you eat? You should eat the food that helps you fulfill your life’s requirements. (And you won’t be able to fulfill it if you’re dead.)

What should I wear? You should wear what helps you fulfill your life’s requirements.

What job should I take? You should get the job that helps you fulfill your life’s requirements. And sometimes that means getting a job that’s boring or difficult simply because your life requires you to grow up, move out, and learn how to be independent, more than it needs you to be comfortable. For me, my most difficult job and searing learning experience came from having to take over our old family business. It wasn’t my brilliant foresight that made me take it on. I was so scared about the business for years, sweating profusely despite being in an air conditioned building. But it was what life required of me in that moment. It didn’t require me to be cool, or to eat in fancy restaurants, to enjoy the trapping of success. It required me to sit in banks and ask for grace. It required me to beg for terms from suppliers. It required me to go to work at 6:00am and get comfortable with all nighters. It required me to grow as a manager and leader. It required me to trust God at a level I had never done so before. It was what my love for my family was calling me to do. It was difficult and I wouldn’t not wish it on anyone. But it was beneficial. More than the lessons, there was the character building, the cultivation of virtue that can only really happen through difficulties. Even more, I hope, that God was pleased with my reliance.

Your basis for what you should do is not how you feel, or what others are doing on social media, or what your social calendar says. Your basis for what you should do is your deep understanding of your roles, your accountabilities, and your requirements.

This is why I never tell people to follow their passions. I tell them to follow their responsibilities. You will discover more about yourself, cultivate stronger character, and achieve more impactful results by getting good at being the guy who makes and keeps commitments than by being the one who has the benefit of little responsibility living off of someone else’s maturity. This is also why I vehemently disagree with people who say, “Some people are really just like that. You can’t expect them to be mature. They were never taught.” Saying this means we have automatically concluded that these people will a) never face the many consequences of immaturity (they will), and b) they will never enjoy the satisfaction that only people of achievement experience. It is not true that people who were not prepared to be mature are exempt of the consequences of immaturity and it’s not true that just because someone did not start out mature, they are not able to develop maturity. They can and should.

#db

Uncommon Advice for Uncommon People (An Introduction)

Not a day goes by without some event urging me to write this book. Yes, some people have asked me to write a book (not a lot of them), and, yes, it’s sort of an obvious next step for a blogger to publish one (even if it’s really more a compilation of old stuff), but my personal reason for committing to this are the many people I interact with that make me ask myself, “Why do we think this way?”

Why do we think that work life balance is such a good thing? Why do we think our lives suck when we work too much? And what is too much work?

Why are we so easily stressed? Even worse, why are young people so easily stressed? What the heck is quarter life crisis? How can someone with most of life before them be so tired already?

Why are we so good at identifying the external things we struggle with, and the things causing those struggles, but are so bad at recognizing the more obvious internal character flaws we need to work on, that’s causing the people around us to struggle?

Why are we so easily impressed with superficial things? “He gave a talk, so he must be a good leader. He spoke on money, so he must be rich. He talks a lot, so he must be an expert. He preaches, so he must be God’s voice. He’s on a magazine, so he must be worth following. He has a million followers, so he must be making the world a better place.”

And even older people, and people in the middle (like me), are guilty of this:

“He got good grades, so he’s going to be a success. He went to a prestigious school, so we should hire him. He has a prominent last name, so he must be of good quality. He has money, so he must be wise.”

I can go on about some of the common ways of thinking I encounter that really make me pause, and, after some contemplation, really worry me: If people think like this, than what kind of contribution (or lack of contribution) will they make to the world and to their own lives?

It’s a thought that should worry all of us.

This book is not about new ideas. I guess you can even say it’s about old ones. Neither is it about big ideas. I actually prefer operationalizing small ideas excellently. If you’re looking for inspiration, this is not the book for you. There’s enough quotes shared online that should have done the trick by now. If you hate perspiration, the difficult, painful, gritty, embarrassing, soul-rending, ego-crushing, process of character building, this is not for you either. If you’re one of those who buy books and actually don’t read them, practically just using them as decor for your bedside or your instagram feed, this is also not your book (I want to have as plain a cover as possible to avoid this). If you see books or ideas as boosters, as silver bullets, as panaceas, as a source of that great insight that will finally help you become a success, this book won’t be able to help you either. If you’re one of those who needs the “sandwich method” in order to be corrected, I think you’ll find my offering lacking any buns. If you’re more concerned with how you appear than who you’re becoming, than you’ll find I offer no fashion advice or tips on how to fake it to make it. This isn’t a prayer book. I don’t pretend to be an expert in magical incantations and rituals to convince our Creator to prioritize the healing of the body I won’t even diet for, much less care for; the bank account I won’t save for; the career I won’t work for; the family I won’t sacrifice for; and the soul I won’t wrestle for.

Sadly, many of the people who are supposed to be guiding us, experts, thought leaders, and public speakers, are confusing us with well meaning, nice sounding, bad advice. “Do what you love”, “Prioritize work-life balance”, and “Do your best and God will do the rest” are some of the popular ideas that may be appealing but are, sadly, many times misleading. This is what happens when we take our cues from professional speakers and professional influencers, people whose main job is to please the crowd without being accountable for improving performance. When we split the influence from the responsibility, we end up with what we have now: overrated celebrity thought leaders who are disproportionately more respected and better compensated than those who are actually held accountable for achieving the results.

I’m writing for people who want to reconnect the results they want in life with their own responsibility to make it happen.

I guess I’m really writing for a very limited audience, particularly one single person, my son. Someday I want to tell him, “You’re going to be entering an exciting world of ideas but I want you to be able to separate the good, the bad, the nice, the popular, the acceptable, from the great. I want you to be a man of substance, not vain. I want you to be wise, not superstitious. I want you to be impactful, not entitled. I want you to be effective, not opinionated. I want you to be truthful, not politically correct. I want you to be virtuous more than rich or famous. To be that, you need to live by convictions not conventions, and that takes more than new or big ideas, that takes more than inspiration or excitement. That takes character. Character building starts when we take accountabilities in life and courageously face the gap between who we are and who our accountabilities need us to become.”

This book is me taking aim at well-meaning, nice-sounding, generally-accepted, even well-loved ideas, that ultimately prevent us from building great character.

Author’s Note:

As you read this book, feel free to disagree with my ideas. These are based on my limited experiences and context which could be very different from yours. If they challenge you, wrestle with them, debate them, and discuss them. Whatever you do, don’t just accept them or reject them. That’s the shallow thing to do. I’m simply presenting my thoughts hoping they will trigger in you a process of figuring out what you should believe for yourself, even more, that you will take accountability for your beliefs and the actions they result in.

What’s the Distinction?

I was in the middle of what would roughly be a 14-hour plane ride. My beautiful wife, Yasmin was peacefully sleeping beside me, with her pregnant belly more visible than ever. I felt a deep feeling of contentedness thinking about our startup family. Then my thoughts shifted to work, to the exciting things we’re doing at Bridge and Elevation Partners, to the opportunities with New Leaf Ventures and Issho Genki, and to the doors opening left and right. I prayed a silent thank you to God for being with me and saving me from the Lion and the Bear, as I shared in my last post.

Then my contentedness was interrupted by a challenge: David, are you really a Christian?

I’ve thought about this question many times, especially during periods in my life when I was not living virtuously, but rarely did I think about this when I felt like I was in the “center of God’s will”. Like many others, I make the mistake that being on the center is proven by having no problems and feelings of happiness, that because things are happening for me, God must be blessing something I’m doing right, and He must be pleased with me. But then I thought about the city I had just come from, London, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with so much happening for the people there, so much beauty, so much wealth, so much history, so much legacy, and such a big role in the world, yet not a lot of Jesus in the conversations I had there. (Though I did gain a lot from the Bible studies, church services, and conversations with other local believers.) I highly enjoyed the rational discussions but found over and over that many of these excellent people were not driven by Christian principles. If “the life we always wanted” is the proof of God’s presence in our life, than how does one explain the amazing lives of those who don’t believe in God, much less obey Him, and much less have Him? What is the distinction between an excellent person and a Christian who is also excellent? What is the distinction between a good mother and a Christian who is also a good mother? What is the distinction between a good businessperson and a Christian who is also a good business person?

This brought me back to the original question: Are you a Christian?

I typed a follow-up question: What does it mean to be Christian?

And here’s a simple description of what it means to be Christian:

  • Someone who embraces God’s purpose, which is the salvation of all men.
  • Someone who obeys God’s commands
  • Someone who bears spiritual fruit

A Christian isn’t just someone praying and behaving their way to “the life they’ve always wanted”. A Christian is motivated by the cause that man has major giants, not least are spiritual emptiness and existential questions of meaning, identity, and purpose, and that God wants to redeem every area of man. He wants to save man. He doesn’t merely want to convert man into a Sunday clapper, fellowshipper, cryer, tither. He wants to save man from whatever it is that’s making him or her a slave, whether that be a spiritual issue, a financial one, an emotional one, a physical one, a relational one, or some other concern. And He wisely saves us from the heart first, because that’s where the slavery happens first and foremost. If “Christians” are not primarily motivated by the salvation of man, if we are more motivated by growing our businesses, increasing our respectability, raising impressive kids, experiencing the latest popular liesure or influencer fad, then we must admit that there is no distinction between us and others.

This really shook me on that flight. It shook me more than any turbulence could have. The flight was as smooth as can be, but my soul wrestled. It’s not a bad thing to wrestle with tough questions. In fact, it’s important. It’s important to face the inner person and learn to trust God with even that, not just our physical needs.

I started to pray, “Father, help me be distinguishably Yours. Just like the world knows I’m Yasmin’s, just like the world knows I’m a businessman, let it be obvious that my life is dedicated to the salvation of man…”

“You will know them by their fruit…” this thought intersected with my prayer.

Spiritual fruit distinguishes the Christian, and I don’t mean someone who is a prolific converter, but someone who is bearing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control, a person who is living virtuously, in order than all men may be saved.

I continued to wrestle with the idea of being distinguishable. If the average Christian has the same daily purpose of materialism, survival, comfort, and security just like everyone else; and if they’re living according to their own feelings just like everyone else; and if their fruit is just as average as well, then what makes them Christian? If there’s nothing important that distinguishes Christians from others, why be Christian at all?

This led me to three questions to ponder on during daily devotions:

  1. Who is God leading me to serve today?
  2. What is God having me do today?
  3. What virtue is God cultivating in me today?

By setting a framework of Godly purpose, Godly  commands, and Godly fruit, I am more aware of whether I am truly living a Christian life. I find in my own life that the busyness and urgency of things many times steals the purpose from my heart, the obedience from my actions, and the virtue from my results. It’s more important than ever to be deliberate about being distinguishable, because we will never be a light for others if our motivations, actions, and results are no different from theirs.