I. The Romance & the Reality
We said our “I love yous”
But what did we know?
When we had yet to find
How very proud we are so
It’s very clear
Our love is here to stay ;
Not for a year
But ever and a day.
The radio and the telephone
And the movies that we know
May just be passing fancies,
And in time may go !
But, oh my dear,
Our love is here to stay.
Going a long, long way
In time the Rockies may crumble,
Gibralter may tumble,
There’re only made of clay,
But our love is here to stay.
– Love is Here to Stay
“I didn’t sign-up for this.”
I don’t know how many times I have thought those words (and sometimes even spoken). I’ve said it to myself after fights with Yasmin. I’ve said it to myself after a long day, or a difficult meeting, or during avoidable and unavoidable drama. I’ve said it when people haven’t met their commitments to me, or when things don’t go my way after trying so hard, or when life feels just so damn difficult.
“I didn’t sign-up for this.”
It’s me saying, in a way, that the life I have isn’t the life I want. It’s me saying the difficulties I’m facing is unfair to me. I’ve come to realize that what I’m doing is accusing God, who gave me this life; and accusing myself, for steering myself to where I am through my decisions.
Either way, I tear down the One who can help me most: God, and the one who needs to help himself most: me. I’m glad Yasmin has corrected me about not saying this. It’s a very destructive statement, even if unsaid.
But why do I do this? Why do I default to wanting to rationalize the letting go of difficult circumstances instead of digging deep and finding courage? Why am I so easily shaken?
I think it has to do with my crazy expectations, starting with the misunderstood expectation that I have certain inalienable rights, which I have romanticized without the foundational reality that these expectations have a price to be paid to be fulfilled. Let me give you two examples:
1. I love the idea of freedom. I love the idea of being able to choose. But I’ve forgotten that the ability to choose does not mean I get think, say, or do whatever I want, when I want, where I want, why I want, and how I want. That is the romantic idea of freedom, a romantic idea that appeals to me. But the reality of freedom is not “everyone is free”, in fact, I would argue most are not free, lacking the necessary self-control to truly be self-determining. The romantic view is that “we’re all free”. The reality is without self-control there is no personal freedom, without rule of law there is no mandate to prevent the different freedoms of diverse people from encroaching on each other, and without moral absolutes there are no standards by which we can base laws on fairly. The reality is, without curbing our freedom to choose with wisdom, we destroy that very privilege, and that is what freedom is, a privilege, not a right, that if abused, we will lose.
Don’t believe me? Think of a man who argues that he is free to eat whatever he wants and goes on to debauch on large volumes of food, until the day his organs give way, drastically limiting his bodily functions. Free to choose but not free to choose consequences. Better to choose well before that final consequence or final victory we will all face: death.
2. When Yasmin and I got married, we were so excited. Me and my beautiful best friend were going to take over the world. Before the wedding, we planned the ceremony but we also planned the marriage, reading up on it, talking through difficult topics, and even discussing whether our life purposes integrated. Nothing is as romantic as marriage, the exclusive commitment to another for life. But the reality many times looks like arguments, like a lot of bills with little money, like a lot of time flying by, like two people who can’t sleep as they get used to having a roommate, like little annoyances that lead to full-scale wars, like a lot of frustration. It looks more like two proud people looking into the clearest mirror they’ll ever have, each other, and reeling at the ugliness they see.
To a lot of young people today, a relationship promises the greatest joy one will ever find, and there is some truth to this. But without an understanding of the reality, that truly beautiful romances are not built on great expectations and fleeting passions but on sacrifice, faithfulness, and forgiveness, one is most likely just going to end up jaded. I found our wedding day to be a very joyous occasion, a comment we were told by people who witnessed it, but a much greater joy for me has been the realization that I could love so much and be loved so much, and I realized this not by achieving a picture perfect marital existence, but through the words “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” over and over and over again.
Reality without romance is joyless, and this leads to a cold and ruthless existence that cannot appreciate beauty. But we also cannot have romance without reality, for romance without reality is meaningless, a series of fancies, followed by doubt and despair when they pass. Romance without reality makes us desire beautiful things without knowing the price of beautiful things. We want the passion without the commitment. We want the freedom without the responsibility nor the accountability. We want salvation without obedience. And so we end with neither.
My prayer for 2017 is to live with more wisdom, at least much more wisdom than I have lived 2016. How does one do this? By understanding What Is, doing What (One) Ought, and defining What Will (Be).
II. What Is, What Ought, What Will
Worse than the one who does not know
Is the one who thinks he knows
For he moves confident, though ignorant
And does not correct where he goes
Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense.
– Proverbs 12:11 NIV
I get a lot of questions on my blog and Facebook page, and while I would like to say that most of the questions indicate intelligent, wise, and high-impact people, the reality is (here we go again with the word “reality”), most of the questions reveal how people who buy into today’s popular ideas will naturally become shallow, foolish, and selfish. The bulk of what I’m asked are similar to this questions, “Where are all the great guys/girls?” I’ve written about this before, you can search for it on my blog, but a quick answer to this, my normal answer to this is, “They’re hiding from you!” Seriously, I’ve never seen a great thing, when fully flourished lack attention. Neither have I seen a truly substantial thing need attention to validate itself. If you find yourself always wondering why you don’t have a great guy or girl, I think you should get a more difficult job or at the very least spend your life on something more engaging. Only people who have the luxury of living in a fairy tale, or think they have the luxury of living in a fairy tale, have time to think like this. Maybe it’s because, as an adult, I’ve had bills to pay and shareholders to be accountable to, that many times the only option for the day was to keep my head down and work, and before you know it, it’s years later, and there’s some success.
Another question I get a lot is “Can you be my mentor?” I personally have no idea why they would want me. I saw my cousin over Christmas break and he mentioned that word in our common business circles is that I’m “intense”, and in Yasmin’s more specific estimation, “harsh”! Now let’s apply some logic to this request: I’m guessing that if someone is seeking a mentor, it’s because they want to grow in wisdom or become more like their mentor in the area they’re seeking mentorship in. Yet, most of the time, when talking to people who want to be mentored, they don’t seem to understand the most basic ideas of duty, obligation, and responsibility. The simple idea that one must do what one does not feel like doing simply because it is one’s duty is super basic. But when I hear people telling me why they want to move jobs because it’s “hard” or “people are mean” or “it’s not my passion”, I have a hard time not getting impatient. I can’t mentor someone like that. I don’t think anyone can. Mentoring isn’t simply meeting up to blow smoke up someone’s ass. Besides, if a person won’t fulfill his obligations to people who gave him life, his parents, and even complains about them and their shortcomings, the chances of this person really listening to me, who has done nothing for him, is not going to be good. My answer to this is usually, “You don’t need a mentor. You need to commit yourself to your life’s roles and find a way to do a really good job in each. You’ll find the lessons you need. You’ll find the teacher you need.”
I can go on with the questions that worry me. They worry me because they reveal that majority of people are preoccupied with basic ideas of identity and purpose. We are insecure and think we can find it in identity, in being someone, which is sort of true, but if who we are, the someone we are, is of weak character, of little competence, and no credibility, then it doesn’t matter how many relationships we have, or how many involvements we can list, because we will still be insecure – not because the world is a dark place – but because we are unable to handle reality. We swing between points of being lost, being bored, and being fleetingly excited because we seek the next “must see”, “must have”, “must eat”, and “must experience” instead of our daily “must do”, and doing our tasks in an excellent way. I didn’t find my life purpose by seeking mentors or reading self-help books, nor by reading blog posts (such as this), or having a prayer partner.
The reality is, I didn’t start with a life purpose. I don’t think anyone does. I started with what my parents gave me: duty, obligation, and responsibility. I didn’t start out with “It’s my life’s goal to build an NGO when I have money”. I started out as a 5 year old being exposed to a squatter area, “David, you don’t have everything but you have so much. These people have very little It is your job to be grateful everyday for the things you do have and to be very generous, especially with people who have less.” The life purpose of helping the poor started with duty. My parents explained to us that is was our job to help. Neither did my purposeful business building start with a great idea or glamorous startup. It started with having to take over a failing company which was a family obligation. I didn’t like having to come to work at 6am. I made myself come at 6am because there was no time to lose and because I was too worried to sleep anyway. This heavy obligation led to an amazing character building experience which has led to other wonderful things. The things I enjoy today didn’t come simply because they were handed down to me. They’re the product of living responsibly, being taught as a young man, “If you don’t develop your mind, you won’t be smart.” or “If you don’t use your time wisely, someday, in the future, you won’t have anything to show.” or “If you don’t eat your vegetables and eat a lot of junk your body will suffer.” It was responsibility, the lesson that I needed to take control of the things that mattered to me and cultivate them, that led to fruitful living.
It did not start with romantic ideas, big dreams, and Big Hairy Audacious Goals (all of which I love), but with little seeds planted during times of duty, obligation, and responsibility, which are, to me, the way God tills our hearts in preparation for His word. God uses these three things to break the soil of our hearts and prepare them for planting.
So instead of starting 2017 thinking about, “What do I want to do?” or “What are my goals?” Start with the questions, “What are my roles? What does my immediate world need from me?”
Am I student? How do I excel more than ever – even when I’m bored or frustrated?
Am I a husband or wife? How can I love my spouse more deeply this year?
Am I a son or daughter? How can I honor my parents more meaningfully this year?
Am I “leader”? How can I fundamentally improve the lives of my followers this year instead of just pleasing fans?
Am I an employee? How can I see make my boss great? How can I make my team great? How can I make my company great?
Start with your roles and identify your duties, obligations, and responsibilities. Start by identifying what’s required of you and commit to fulfilling them.
Personally, I’ve divided my efforts into three:
– Understand What Is, meaning understand universal spiritual and physical principles, so that I will have strong foundational concepts upon which to build on. I’ve been loading up on Physics, Chemistry, and Biology reading, as well as going back to Math, Economics, and Theology, not taking for granted what I may already know, but desiring to increase my knowledge in these fundamental areas.
– The next thing I’m focusing on is to Do What (One) Ought, meaning, do the necessary things, especially the necessary difficult things. After understanding the foundation principles, these should help inform me daily decision-making to live wisely as I face daily opportunities and challenges.
– Finally, when one Understands What Is, Does What (One) Ought, he will inevitably Define What Will (Be), meaning he will shape the future, at the very least his future, not letting it fall into the hands of random chance, but with diligence, refuses to be a victim to the workings of others, but learning to control the world by controlling himself. A lot of people are excited about this third thing. We’re usually excited about what we’ll create or build or achieve, but to do these, we need to go back to the first two. Do we Understand What Is? Do we Do What (One) Ought? If so, we need not worry, What Will (Be) is going to be beautiful.
III. Working Silently, Alone, in the Dark
I’ve learned to love the ripples
Of unknown achievements
Why does anyone have to know?
We made possible these moments
If you fail under pressure, your strength is too small.
– Proverbs 24:10 NLT
This is probably my eighth stab at writing this piece. I have drafts saved in computers and notebooks, outlines on scattered pieces paper, and I can’t say I’m happy with it. I guess it will have to do. Maybe I’m trying to share too much, putting too much pressure on one article to help change prevailing mindsets.
Maybe it’s time I got an editor.
But I guess if I could sum-up my encouragement for my readers, it would be this: Get really really really good at working silently, alone, in the dark. Get good at being excellent invisibly. Get good at studying without awards. Get good at working without recognition. Get good at standing for what’s right on a daily basis, even when you’re alone, especially when you’re alone. Get good at doing the necessary hard thing. It’s easy to march in a rally. It’s hard to walk in unity. It’s easy to express our personal frustrations. It’s hard to address our personal mistakes. It’s easy to post on social media. It’s hard to cultivate an inner life. It’s easy to message, text, and snap. It’s hard to bootstrap. It’s easy to compare. It’s hard to live aware. It’s easy to blame. It’s much harder, the soul, to tame. It’s easy to seek applause. It’s difficult to admit our flaws.
Get really really good at working silently, working without fanfare, without needing to make a fuss, without complaining about how stressful or hard things are, and without pride and arrogance.
Get really really good at working alone, developing personal conviction and developing the independence required to live in interdependence.
And get really really good at working in the dark, like the roots of a tree thickening, unseen, surrounded by dirt, under the ground.
Trust that your personal efforts in understanding, diligence, and empowerment will bear fruit, and that someday your stem will break through the soil, and even more, as your oak grows, you will have the roots to hold it strong.
Eat because you're hungry. That is enough. Paint because you have color in your heart. That is enough. Write because you have something meaningful to say. That is enough. Enjoy the moment in the moment. That is enough. Love because you've found someone to love. That is enough. You don't need the approval of "likes" to validate your existence, to validate your activities. If people like your stuff, wonderful. If they don't, just as good. Who you are is enough. #db