Why I Love Working

My day starts early, about 5:00am, and many times I wake-up before my alarm. (You can read about how I start my day.) I enjoy sleeping as much as most people, but it’s hard to stay in bed when there’s something burning inside you. I know it sounds cliche’ but it’s true that being passionate about something is the only way to do good work. But what does it really mean to put your heart into something?

For me, it means to put everything into it, which include my heart, soul, strength, and mind.

But we can’t fake passion. People won’t pour everything into nothing. We’re smarter than that. We can be responsible without passion and tick the boxes on our to-do lists but only passionate people will turn those boxes in awesome inventions and impactful solutions. Because we can’t fake passion, it’s important to know what we’re truly passionate about, which is, by definition, something we’re willing to “suffer” for (the definition of passion is suffering).

How do we discover what we’re passionate about? How do we know if we have the right passion?

I think this process is different for everyone, but I’ll share mine. For me, it started when I began thinking deeply about the idea of “value”. I asked myself a simple question, “What is this all worth?” I wanted to know what the stuff in my life were worth.

But first I needed a framework to objectively weigh the value of the things in my life, and I came up with the following criteria:

Materials Used – Valuable things are made out of valuable materials. Jewelry is expensive because of the precious metals and stones, such as gold and diamonds, that are used to make it. The most expensive dishes use expensive ingredients. There’s even an ice cream sundae priced at $1000 USD because it has gold in it. The more valuable the materials the more valuable the item.

Craftsmanship – Valuable things are made with intricacy and expertise. A good example of this is the famous Hermes Birkin bag which can cost as much as $150,000 USD!

Wikipedia had this description of it’s craftsmanship:
“The bags are handmade in France by expert artisans. The company’s signature saddle stitching, developed in the 1800s, is another distinctive feature.

Each bag is hand-sewn, buffed, painted, and polished, taking several days to finish. An average bag is created in 48 hours. Leathers are obtained from different tanners in France, resulting in varying smells and textures. Because of the individual craftsmanship, other details of the bags may not all match. The company justifies the cost of the Birkin bag, compared to other bags, based on the meticulous craftsmanship and scarcity.”

Great craftsmanship, handmade stuff, intricately designed things command great value. Before you think this is just about stuff, please read on.

Function – Valuable things achieve functions that are valuable to us. A good example of this is the price difference between a MacBook and a MacBook Pro. Because the Pro is more powerful, we cough up more money for it. This is easy to understand as the concept is simple: people greatly value things that have high utility, even perceived utility.

Rarity – One of a kind, limited edition, these are some statements used to describe valuable things. When something is scarce its value goes up. An example is the Enzo Ferrari limited edition car with only 349 units made and now sells at more than a $1,000,000 per car. The rarer something is the more valuable it is. This too is an easy concept to understand.

Lifespan – Valuable things last. Fads don’t and lose value. Truly valuable things hold their value and stand the test of time. They make great investments because they appreciate, endure, and can be passed on.

Maker – I like to explain this with an example. If I draw a doodle on a napkin (like I always do), the waiter, when clearing out the table will throw it away. If Picasso drew on a napkin, we would fight for it, frame it, then sell it at Sotheby’s for millions! The maker counts. A white shirt is more than a white shirt when a guy on a horse is embroidered onto it. A car isn’t just a car when Ferrari makes it. Frank Lloyd Wright didn’t just make shelter. DaVinci didn’t just put color on a canvas. Great stuff come from great makers
As I applied this framework to the things in my life and the things I hoped to have someday, cars, clothes, toys, awards, and many of the commonly desired stuff, I realized that of the most valuable things in the world that one can invest in, the single most valuable thing, objectively, based on the criteria I had set, were people.

People are made of living cells. We’re made of life. Science is always trying to copy what we’re made of.

People are intricately crafted. Take the biggest loser you know and take the most expensive car, and the person’s nervous system, respiratory system, reproductive system, and other systems, are still more intricately crafted and designed.

People are incredibly functional. To prove that we instinctively understand that people are more than just their economic value is how we take care of our kids who bring us joy and hope and excitement, even as they are economic drains in the short run. We understand the value of people when we see them without greed because we remember that they can make us laugh, they can comfort, they can inspire, they can make and invent, and they can transcend.

People are rare. Every person is not just limited edition but single edition. It doesn’t get rarer than that. If I don’t love the people around me, there won’t be a David to love them. If you don’t do your part, no one will enjoy the contribution only you could have made. That’s how important every single person is. That’s how valuable you are.

People have souls which are eternal. Investments in a soul are eternal investments. I have a business partner who is an atheist, and he once told me, “I don’t believe in an afterlife but I do believe that we live on through the lives of people we’ve impacted.” So whether you’re a believer (like me) or like my partner, we agree that people are a valuable investment that has the potential to appreciate infinitely.

People are made by God, the greatest designer. This belief has helped me calibrate my heart to love those many people have identified as hopeless because if God made them then there’s a spark of hope in them because the God I trust in is a God of love. Now, if you’re like my business partner, you don’t believe that God made man, then you believe that man made man, and, like we’ve already listed, based on the criteria above, he or she is most valuable. So the most valuable made the most valuable.

I realized how foolish I was to chase metal, cloth, bricks, cement, stones, and the fiat and failing to intensely, deliberately, and wisely invest in developing people. People to me were means to an end, forgetting that they were what was valuable. More of my time, money, and energy went to achieving and amassing stuff I no longer enjoy, no longer use, nor even remember, much less find valuable. But the relationships I had cultivated were appreciating in value.

I decided to change my values-system. I had objectively identified people to be valuable, and I was not going to waste another moment chasing things of less value.

But that still doesn’t answer my post’s title on why I love working. Here’s the answer:

Now that I know that I have to invest in people, I need to put myself in as great a place to wisely invest in as many people as possible. I need to be wealthy so that I have money to invest, that’s why I need to deliver valuable products and service, because that’s what people exchange money for. I need to be healthy so I have strength to share, that’s why I need to exercise and learn how to rest. I need to be wise so that I can guide and teach, that’s why we need strategy and metrics and evaluations. I need to be organized and efficient so that I maximize the 24 hours we all have, because there’s an opportunity cost. Those who don’t have won’t be able to give, those who are weak cannot carry heavy loads, and those who are selfish won’t have a heart big enough to offer. So I need to, and more importantly, want to, become that person who is better able to invest in people.

I love to work because working is the tangible expression of my passion to chase things of value, particularly the value of people.

In Luke 10: 27, some people asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. This was His answer:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus was not just telling us what command to follow. He was giving us the greatest investment tip, a tip that leads to lasting value. In a world that has muddied the definition of love, I like to keep my understanding of it simple: It means to offer everything. Now we come full circle, as I mentioned above that nothing can be achieved without passion, and passion means to throw everything in. And when we throw all that we are to chase the truly valuable, the returns are both infinite and eternal.

Now that’s a good investment.

It’s Easy to Love from Afar

On the plane from Singapore to Manila.

I’m flipping through the latest issue of Forbes Asia’s list of Billionaires. It’s a list of the wealthiest in the world. If you’re like me, deeply immersed in a business world that is obsessed with high valuations, it’s easy to get awed by these larger than life rich people. As I read the inspiring profiles, I was reminded of a question the children of my friend Denny Andrian asked me last week in Jakarta, “Uncle David, who is your hero?”

I knew my answer already. I’ll tell you my answer at the end. I asked myself that question before and ended with an answer I found personally surprising.

Growing up my parents deliberately presented my brothers and I with stories of heroism, success, and leadership. From Bible characters to historical figures, to present-day achievers, stories of admirable characters were abundant in our home. George Washington, Winston Churchill, our namesakes, Joseph, David, and Joshua, these were the guys, among others, that we were taught to admire. This is probably why there is an inclination in my family to draw personal value from achievement and proper behavior, which isn’t bad but can be quite a burden. I think many young kids are learning their standards from what their parents or society praises in their eyes. I’ve written about the importance of choosing wisely what you make beautiful because that will greatly influence the standards of people watching and learning. But this post isn’t about that. This post is about my maturing opinion on heroism.

Here’s what I’ve learned: it’s easy to worship someone far from you. It’s easier to admire a perfect face in a movie than it is to be pleased with the soul in front of you. It’s easier to praise the achievements of someone in the news than it is to appreciate the daily service of people that have become familiar. (I wrote about this in an article Goodbye Constants.) It’s easier to be a fan of someone you don’t really know than it is to be faithful to someone you know intimately and intimately knows you – which means you know each other’s worst.

It’s easy to love from afar.

But that’s not really love. And if it is, love because we can argue the depth of our feelings, we’re not really in love with the person but a projection of that person. We are in love with what we know about someone, and if we only know a projection, then we are fools to have so ardent a love for so shallow an experience. This is why I have written many times against celebrityism, the shallow appreciation, the uneducated, simple-minded, worldly, and vain worship of people we don’t really know. Why give so much of your heart to someone who doesn’t even know you exist?

Love is ardent, yes, but it also must be true, and true love means loving the truth about someone. Is it true love if what we love is a manufactured projection? No.

In the same way, it’s easy to choose a hero, a person to admire, who is detached from you, someone you aren’t close enough to see the flaws bound in every single human being, and someone whose life can now be viewed with hindsight and perspective versus someone still on their journey. (Which is everyone alive.)

It’s this understanding that has led me to view heroism differently, a view that has greatly unburdened me and has helped me to appreciate the truly important people more. My definition of a hero is simply this: A hero is someone who lays his life down so that others may live (or live better), and the true heroes of my life are those whose lives have contributed most to mine.

Which leads me to my answer to Denny’s children. I told them that today, now that I know better, my heroes are my parents.

When I was younger I admired so many of these famous people, particularly famous historical figures and athletes. Now that I’m older I’ve come to realize that the people who have laid themselves most for me and the people who have contributed the most to me, are my parents. Yasmin helped me realize this when she reminded me that it’s important to love our parents and be grateful to them for the simple reason that they gave us our first miracle: life. And they sustained that life, many times without my acknowledgment and appreciation, as I grew up. Yet it was easy to spot the mistakes, the harshness, the insensitivity, the disconnects, the business, and the “baduy” things, even as I was blind to them paying the costs for me. I grumbled when I couldn’t use the computer, even as I forgot that they bought the computer. I complained about having too much homework, even as I failed to recognize the privilege of education. I fought them over their rules, calling them unfair, without thinking about how these “unfair” parents had worked hard to provide, to lead, and sacrificed. It was easy to compare my dad’s achievements to the achievements of the men in the books I read and find him lacking. It was easy to admire models more than my mother’s service. Here I was, thinking I was so smart, yet too dumb to understand that the people I valued did not know me, much less loved me, and the people who did love me, as seen through lives laid down for me, were undervalued because I was close enough to see the flaws.

Again, It’s easy to love from afar.

But when I reflect, when I look at the things people praise on social media, I can’t help but notice that we have become people who love from afar and do not have the philosophical rigor to think through our affections and realize, “Wait a minute. Why do I love this image so much? And why do I take this soul for granted?” Without the ability to make distinctions between affections then our relationships are bound to fail because we will be holding up our actual relationships to the standards of meticulously prepared projections.

So I’ve started a simple practice to constantly calibrate my heart towards true love. When I read a story of an awesome family, I pray, “Thank You God for my family. Thank You for my dad and mom, for my brothers, their wives, and Philip.” When I see a post about inspiring love stories or power couples, I pray, “Thank You God for Yasmin. Thank You for such a beautiful soul.” When I see a company rising, I pray, “Thank You God for my company. Thank You for our leaders, for our team members, for the things You’ve entrusted to us to steward.” When I see a beautiful home I thank God for my empty apartment. When I see an awesome car, I thank God for mine. When all I can afford is a cheap meal, I thank God that I can eat. When I find my shirts are fading, I thank God I got to wear them. When I get home to the chaos of Manila I thank God for my beautiful country. I guess this is what Paul said when he encouraged, In everything give thanks.

I think it’s wise to recognize the heroism of parents as starting points, and from there, learn to value most our relationships. I think it’s mature to love those around us, flaws and all, to be grateful for them, and to treat them as we treat loved ones, extending honor, affection, and service. I think it’s wise to learn to love who you are, whoever you are, wherever you are, with whatever you have, because theses are all gifts from God, even if we sometimes forget this comparing the impressiveness of our gift with someone else’s. Maybe as we learn to love whats ours already relationships will improve. Maybe it’s time to come close and stop loving from afar.

March Books

Here’s my March reading list:

1. Turn the Ship Around by David L. Marquet
– Great leadership book on empowering everyone on the team and making sure objectives are clear and team is competent. Highly recommend, especially if you want a team of highly productive independent thinkers.

2. Prayer by Tim Keller
– It’s a straightforward book prayer. I learned a few things but wouldn’t call it his best book.

3. Making It All Work by Dave Allen
– Dave Allen is awesome! He’s probably my favorite productivity writer. I suggest reading his earlier book Getting Things Done though. It was a simpler read and I like simple things.

4. Essentialism by Greg Mckeown
– The points were interesting but I’m pretty much living them already after undergoing a financially stressful period and realizing that I could not only live with less but MUCH less. I suggest reading this and seeing why more of the essential is what’s truly important in life.