Healthy Isolation, Inner Conflict, Self-Discipline, and Self-Mastery

In a Corner with My Anchor
Manila, 9:17pm

I think one of the most important abilities a person must develop, particularly someone who aspires to make a dent in the world, is the ability to cultivate times of healthy isolation. For me, this is a time to recalibrate from the busy of work of doing back to the deep work of being. It’s a moment to correct my regularly erring perspective, to remind myself of the whys behind my whats, and to repent of my sins, of which there are many (I don’t say that to be self-effacing). Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I’m a bag of conflicting traits. I’m a writer who has a hard time finding the right words during normal conversations, many times saying the perfect wrong thing and causing myself a lot of embarrassment. I’m a disciplined individual, waking up while it’s still dark, exercising regularly, working diligently, yet have a hard time with moderation – If I’m going to do something, I find myself taking it far – which can be great for good activities and bad for things such as my temper, self-pity, and overworking. I can list more contrasts but the point I want to make is beyond a description of my conflict but a reminder of something I wrote about before:

WE ALL HAVE INNER CONFLICT.

While some may seem less of a contradiction than others, everyone suffers from the ebbs and flows not only of the thoughts, feelings, and conditions within us, but also of the environment and people around us. We all must navigate the great world we live in and our own vast soul. Having contradictions doesn’t make someone more or less special. Contradictions make us human.

But they also get us into trouble. They hurt our reputations, our reliability, and our ability to be consistent, which is an important part of success and growth in anything.

So while we all have inner conflict, we must all strive towards SELF-MASTERY, and we do this through the practice of SELF-DISCIPLINE.

As we do something in a disciplined manner, we develop mastery of that thing. It’s the same with life.

When we are faced with frustration, and if we react to it, we reinforce the power of circumstances over us. But if we don’t react, if we pause and chart a wise response, we increase our power over circumstances.

If we are afraid and we let the fear dictate our next steps, we allow fear to define our decisions, and fear has a great way of making our decisions smaller and more selfish. But if we face the fear, we strengthen our character and in the process develop courage.

If we are faced with injustice, and all we do is grumble and complain without taking on the responsibility of our part, then not only are we useless to Justice but a partner of Injustice for it is unjust to hold others accountable for what we ourselves have failed to fulfill. But if we aim the judgement on ourselves, focusing on the plank in our eye instead of the spec in another’s, we find that we become agents of beautiful change, not because we are self-righteously attacking the wrong in others, but humbly dealing with the wrong in ourselves.

These examples are hard and I have to admit I have a long way to go when it comes to responding properly instead of reacting, but with the practice of self-discipline, I believe that self-mastery is achievable.

Someone once told me that we shouldn’t be mastering ourselves but should make God our master. It’s the type of uniformed comment that I find is typical of people who have not taken the time to refine their latest favorite sound bite. It’s the type of comment I tend to hear from people who are uncomfortable with doubt, naturally narrow minded from being spoon-fed, and have the luxury of a superstitious worldview. I do believe that God should be our master, but not in the way that He will somehow magically drop that one right decision I’m supposed to make, or lead me to that one right job I’m supposed to take, or that God mastering us is exclusive of us mastering ourselves. On the contrary, I believe that making God our master means offering ourselves up to Him as living sacrifices, not so much saying, “God, You make the decisions.” but instead “God, not my will but Your will. I CHOOSE to do Your will.” I believe that to make God my master is not to surrender the act of decision making to Him, a privilege He gave us when He gave us freedom and choice, but to use that freedom, my free will, to choose Him. That may seem like a simple difference but the implications are totally different. The belief that we’re supposed to let God make decisions for us puts the responsibly of our decisions on Him. But believing that our decisions are our own keeps the responsibility with us. Are we going to use our freedom for Him?

Without the practice of self-discipline, we will be reactive to the things around us and within us, and will find it difficult to use our freedom for God. To say that the self-discipline that leads to self-mastery isn’t part of making God our master is to forget that God Himself is love, and that the Bible tells us that the “greatest of these is love”, and that true love requires the freedom of choice. To love someone is to choose them, not because you are unable to choose otherwise, but because you find them most beautiful.

I believe that self-mastery in the Biblical sense is to become so awesome for the pleasure of the God you love, and for the people He has called us to love, who He Himself loves most.

You choose to believe not because you don’t have a choice, but because you choose to please God with faith.

You become a hard worker not because you don’t have a choice, but because you choose to be a good steward of the talents and time He gave you.

You become a good husband or wife, not because you don’t have a choice, or because you’re obligated by society, but because you choose to love your spouse the way God chose to love you.

You serve others not because you don’t have a choice or because you have an obligation to some institution but because you choose to love others with action.

You choose to run back to God over and over and over again, not because you’re perfect, or some robotic holy man, neither because of your obligation and accountability to others, but because you love Him, meaning that at the core of your heart is a deep desire to choose the path brings you closer to Him, simply because you find Him most beautiful.

Streaking Comets and Child’s Whys

The atoms bond and break
Little miracles unseen to naked
Eyes, yet right in front of us
Unappreciated in hearts unstaked
With eyes that can’t see stars
Past thick clouds in stormy skies
Nor imagine streaking comets
Out in space and child’s whys
Yet I want to taste each page
Never be too wise to be small
Never be too great to wonder
Never think I know it all,
Or even more than my brothers
Who kneels not how I tend to
Who is called to another journey
Not unlike the one I’m called to
Not unlike the singing birds
Are different from the sunrise
Yet both part of the orchestra
Heralding darkness’ demise
Theres pictures in my head
The melodies singing in my heart
This is Your beautiful handiwork
Your planned wonder from the start

New Normals, Timelessness, and the Faith to Live Big

Nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come.
– Victor Hugo

One of the things I talk to my teams about regularly is the importance of adapting to change, continuously learning, and making sure we are aware of the new normals that technology and progress bring.

Let me give you an example explain this:

Early on, humans relied on oral tradition to communicate. When you wanted to exchange information, you had to say it or utter it to someone who had to hear it and who could understand it. Being able to orally communicate was a good skill to have.

Then man advanced towards early writing, such as the Summerians and Cunneiform, as seen in the famous Hammurabi’s Code. The new skill for communicating these laws that were supposed to throughout the kingdom still involved oral tradition (through proclamations) but these proclamations were now read from clay tablets, prepared by people who were skilled in marking clay with writing instruments, letting them dry, and passing them on. Now the originator of content didn’t have to beside the receiver, nor did he have to repeat himself. Now he could “save” his words on clay tablets that could be passed on.

Technology would improve to things like papyrus which, if I remember right, the Egyptians invented. Now it was faster to save your thoughts on paper that didn’t need drying in the sun like clay.

As technology developed, from quills to pens, to printing presses, to typewriters (which are basically mini-printing presses), to computers, with every stage of development, a new skill set was required, and those who mastered those skill sets (or controlled those who did) had a significant advantage.

Today, we don’t need to know how to impress lines on clay tablets. But what we don’t realize is that we have some skills that we think are normal but are actually weren’t normal before. The average human during historical times didn’t know how write. Today, we won’t hire someone who can’t spell. Writing had become normal. At our tech companies, we look for people who cannot only type, but can code. Saying you can “type” in your resume is like saying you can “write”. It’s not impressive. It should already be the case.

All of this to say, with the evolution of technology, a new standard of normal is laid. That new standard becomes the new minimum. To survive, we need to meet that minimum. To thrive, we need to surpass it. The things that belonged in the science fiction of previous generations are now a reality. It would be a mistake to limit what technology can disrupt.

Just like you won’t outrun a car in a horse carriage, nor outprint a printer with scribes, you won’t be able to compete with people who are making the most of new technology and new thinking every-single-day to improve themselves.

Before, it was enough to launch things on time. Now we know it’s important to launch before competitors. Before, it was enough to grow linearly. Now if you’re growing at 10% a year, you’re falling behind those growing 10x or even 20x or more a year. Before, it was enough to follow orders. Now, it’s important to understand objectives and creatively achieve them. This is one key reason why I think the current educational system doesn’t prepare young men and women for the real world. In school, whether you did your best or not, as long as you pass the minimum, come graduation, you’ll move up. In the real world, if you’re not evolving, you’re stuck in the past. You can progress simply by the current of time. If you don’t move, you won’t move.

What’s my advice for navigating the reality of changing normals?

Be timeless.

Here’s what I mean by that. Understand the fundamentals, know the essentials, and practice foundational disciplines. If we’re always hungrily continuously learning, staying aware of your biases, over confidences, comfort zones, we’re more likely to gain the insights needed to adapt. If we practice the self-discipline needed to achieve objectives, we’ll be able to find ways to thrive despite the new challenges. If we’re constantly solving problems and pains, the technology can only help us, because we understand how it can amplify our capabilities.

Don’t be stuck in the past. Don’t be afraid of change. And don’t be someone who keeps people stuck in the past, someone who puts more emphasis on tradition and ritual than their meaning. Many times I feel sorry for the people who can’t break out of the social pressures placed on them. Somewhere a 15 year old boy is changing the way we look at DNA, a young team is building a billion dollar company DNA mapping more accessible, a young businessman is raising funds to pursue his dream of 3D printing, yet for many, probably most, the main preoccupation is how to earn enough to achieve current needs and short-term wants, and to fit in well within social norms. Somewhere someone is discovering new planets, new stars. Somewhere someone is building custom prosthetics. Somewhere someone is giving shoes for free in a new business model. Somewhere someone is experimenting on wireless power, or a cure to aids, or making robots more accessible. But for most they’re listening to the fears of those supposed to be wise, they’re carrying the burdens of the mistakes of their past, and they’re living weighed down instead of powered-up.

Be timeless, and be courageous.

I’ve realized that many of the things I do or am doing won’t be appreciated – and that’s fine. Our purpose in life isn’t to be appreciated after all. And now I understand why. Most people will be so caught up in their own worlds, in the things they can understand, in what they’re interested in, that no matter how well you do in other things, they’re just not capable of seeing the value of it. They will only see how well you’re fitting into their well, or, be upset by how un-well you’re fitting in. Keeping an open mind, staying curious, staying imaginative, asking, wondering, searching, these are tools to keep our world large and expansive. We need to be courageous to stay tough amidst setbacks, to withstand what have fallen lesser men, to go on long enough to breakthrough.

There are more attitudes, and values we need to thrive, but I’ll mention a key one for me: faith.

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for… I love that definition. It is this deep belief that this idea I’m holding on to is true even if I can’t see it. For Christians, it’s holding on to the grandness and the goodness of God. So I asked myself, “Why aren’t there more cutting-edge Christians in the Philippines? Christians who are at the forefront of change, of progress, of innovation. Yes, I’m sure there are Christians in different spheres, but why aren’t they in the lead, in pole position? Shouldn’t the people whose every day is supposedly powered by an omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent God be changing the landscape of the world – not simply filling church halls? I don’t know the answers to those questions.

I can look at the plank in my own eye, and I can take steps to make sure that my faith doesn’t get stuck simply in “God’s goodness”, looking for a lifestyle sweet spot of security, predictability, and comfort. I can say, “Father, You are a good God, but You’re also a great God. You’re bigger than my small fears. So I’ll be brave. You’re bigger than my biggest mistake. So I’ll move on courageously. You’re bigger than my deepest hurts. So I will not carry bitterness. You’re bigger than my biggest challenge. So I’ll face them responsibly. You’re bigger than limiting expectations on me. So I will live unburdened. You’re bigger than my dream lifestyle. So I will walk by faith – even if those steps are through the valley of the shadow of death. You’re bigger than my wildest imagination. So I’ll dream beyond myself.”

Epilogue:
I read two stories recently in the Bible, one about Adam and the other about Abraham. Both have helped me navigate the conflicting feelings of faith and fear inside of me.

The one about Adam was when he was in the Garden of Eden, and God said, “You’re free but stay away from this one tree.” It sounds so unlike the voices around us, which say, “You can’t do that, you might fail. You can’t do that, we don’t have the resources. You can’t do that, people will get offended. You can’t do that because it’s culturally against the norm. You can’t do that, you might get embarrassed or embarrass us. You can’t do that, you might be attacked. You can’t do that. You can’t do that. You can’t do that. Here’s what you can do: You can follow the norms.” It’s like God saying, “I’ve made you this huge garden, and the wisest thing you can do is to explore only this part.” I’m glad He didn’t say that, He said, “You’re free. Go. It’s for you to enjoy. Just don’t live independently of Me, because I want to enjoy the universe with you.”

So for me, in practice this means praying, “Father, I’m limited and flawed, and many times, like Adam, I choose to be without You, but when I remember I come running back and find you waiting. I’m truly sorry for deciding outside Your love.” And the peace I get sounds so unlike the accusation we commonly hear, so unlike the “I told you so”s and “you should have known”s. It sounds more like, “Welcome back, son. Ready to explore?”

Then there’s the one about Abraham. I like how one Rabbi explained why, of all the people in Abraham’s family, God caledl him into the Promised Land, when there’s really nothing special about him. He said that God did not call Abraham because he was special. He called him like He calls all of us. The story of Abraham is not the story of someone so special that God called Him. It’s the story of someone who answered God’s call to leave his comfort zone and journey with Him. God was calling everyone in that family, even more, He was calling every single person in that city to journey with Him. It was Abraham who took his family and left.

Combining this with my reading about Adam, and combining this with the realization of just how big the world is, my prayer for us as we end this weekend and enter a new work week is, “Father, help us live courageously big. Help us leave the smallness of our mistakes, of our fears, of our pride. Help us unburden others. Help us empower them with wisdom and courage. Be with us as we explore the beautiful world You created, as we walk by faith not by sight.”

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.
– Psalm 16:6

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