Introduction: A Year of Failures
For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.
– Proverbs 24:16
At the end of each year, I go back to the objectives I set at the start of the year to evaluate how successful the year was. This year, like all the previous years I’ve been doing this, I am faced with yet another year of failures. I missed almost every goal I set this year. I planned to read 50 books in 2018 but only read 40. I planned to grow our PayDay users 10x (or 1000%) but only did 2x (2000%). I planned to achieve 14% body fat, reached as low as 15%+, but currently hovering above 18%! I planned to write a blog post a month but struggled to finish my thoughts, leaving a long trail of unfinished drafts. I planned to renovate my apartment (it’s the same place I’ve been living in for over 10 years) to make room for my growing family, but all the extra expenses (particularly health expenses) erased my renovation budget.
In short, in every area of my life in 2018, body, soul, and spirit, financial, relational, and impact, all have fallen short of the targets I set for myself.And like I said, it’s been the same way every year.
But failure doesn’t mean no progress.
Because despite the long list of failures, the progress has been amazing. I may not be able to say I’m a success, a success is someone who has achieved the goals he set out to accomplish, and I failed to do that this year, but I can say I grew exponentially this year. The loftiness of my difficult goals, though remaining unrealized, when combined with extreme commitment and extreme hard work, leads to exponential growth.
Let’s look at the progress. Physically, from 20% to 18% body fat is a reduction of 10%, and in the process I increased my benchpress and squat to as high as 75kg and 100kg respectively, both over 100% of my body weight. What led to those gains? As I pursed my body fat target, I saw that weight training played a big part in burning fat, so I followed the very simple 5×5 method.
In business, let’s take Bridge. While PayDay only doubled its user base (double isn’t enough in tech!), the net promoter scores of our payroll clients grew to an impressive 16+. Payroll isn’t an easy business, but to have more than satisfied customers is an achievement. Even more, we’ve been able to increase our Access user pipeline to beyond 100,000 users – a target we didn’t even set. So our 3 year old startup now has over 70 employees, is receiving great scores for payroll service, and is very well positioned as the only savings app in the Philippines.
With my reading, as my workload and home responsibilities increased, I realized what Solomon said thousands of years ago:
“Of making many books there is no end, and much study wears the body.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12).
So I decided to change my approach to assembling a personal canon, a list of foundational books for me and my family, and knowing those books by heart. I’m moving away from my youthful vanity of reading a certain number of books to seeking more depth.
In this year of failures, I come out stronger, wiser, more focused, better connected, and better positioned to attack yet another year, another exciting year with even bigger goals set.
When we don’t let our failures, our falls, crush us, when we rise, and rise, and rise again, we progress and improve.
There’s a verse in Proverbs 24:15-16 that goes:
Do not lurk like a thief near the house of the righteous,
do not plunder their dwelling place;
for though the righteousfall seven times, they rise again,
but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.
It’s interesting that the verse reminds us that even righteous people can and will stumble.It goes against the formulaic beliefs of most people today, that if I get certain things right, I’ll automatically succeed.The Bible doesn’t say that. This verse actually reminds us the opposite it’s true. It’s possible for people who are seeking to do the right things to still fall and fail. But it also warns anyone who would take advantage of a righteous person’s fall: they’re going to rise again.
I asked myself, “How can someone remain righteous in the midst of great failures, which are many times painful and embarrassing?” Here’s the rule I put for myself and my team:
Even if we fail, let it not be because we were dishonest, lazy, and/or unkind.
To me, to be righteous means to remain honest, hard working, and compassionate, even in the face of failure, trusting God’s word that we will rise again.
But the verses contrast the rising of the righteous with stumbling of the wicked.This reminded me of another verse that refers to the wicked, this time it was the parable of the master and his three servants in the book of Matthew. When rebuking his servant that didn’t put his talent to work:
“His master replied, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have recede it back with interest. So take the bag of gold from him and tie it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them…”
It’s interesting that the Bible doesn’t only call the greedy wicked but also calls the lazy wicked.It’s easy to point to some greedy rich businessman and call them evil. It’s much harder to admit personal laziness as wicked. But in the Bible they’re both wicked, and both stumble during calamity, and both lose out in the end.
All of this to say, the path of the righteous isn’t some linear road to success. It is a journey to constantly progress in one’s character, moving through each success and failure towards a brighter and brighter future, not because they’re more “successful” as the world defines success, but the path of the righteous gets brighter because the traveler, the righteous person, has become himself, a burning bright light.
Yet another Proverb says this well:
The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.
– Proverbs 4:18
This idea of being a burning bright light is what the following post is about. I hope it encourages you as you enter the new year to set audacious goals, evaluate yourself honestly, work harder than you’ve ever worked, focus more than you’ve ever focused, grow more than you’ve ever grown, and burn brighter than you’ve ever burned.
Without further ado, my 2018 Finale, titled, The Light from a Soul Burning and the Brilliance of a Thousand Sparks.
(NOTE: I’m sharing the intro ahead so you can read it as I finish the rest of the article. My posts tend to be long, so this should give you a head start. Think of it like a trailer!)
If they shut doors and do not hold up the light when the night is troubled with storm,
O thou unlucky one,
with the thunder flame of pain ignite your own heart,
and let it burn alone.
– From Ekla Cholo Re by Rabindranath Tagore
When there’s nothing left to burn, you must set yourself on fire.
– From Your Ex-Lover is Dead by Stars
As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another.
– Proverbs 27:16
“The beauty of the soul shines out when a man bears with composure one heavy mischance after another, not because he does not feel them, but because he is a man of high and heroic temper.”
“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”
– C.S. Lewis
As I write this section, I feel a familiarity with it that goes back a long time ago. I feel as if I’ve been writing this section all my life. For part of my mistake-riddled life, are countless rebukes, apologies, corrections, and lessons. Countless. Many of these corrections, particularly the most meaningful ones, stung the most, even hurt the most, but they also stuck the most. The process of sharpening iron isn’t without sparks. But I’ve come to realise that it is these very sparks that produce a brilliant life. No one is born brilliant. Brilliance is produced by hitting, banging, and clanging.
There are two ways we can apply this idea to our lives. The first is to follow the light of leaders who constantly allow themselves to be sharpened. I’m not just talking about a leader who learns to behave more and more nicely, but about person who is not settling
First of all, I would like to greet my readers a Merry Christmas! I hope that Christmas is a joyful and meaningful season for you as you celebrate Christ.
I have two more posts for 2018, which has been a year of low writing output. I’ve just been really really really busy with my current startup life, which includes being a startup husband (2 years), a startup dad (1 year), and a startup CEO (3 years). Much of my last post, the 2018 Finale post, will be a synthesis of these experiences. The title of that post is The Light from a Soul Burning and the Brightness of a Thousand Different Sparks.
The other post is this one, at least the one that follows this introduction. It’s is my Christmas post for the year.
I wrote it in on our trip to Taiwan last week, after listening to my father speak on the following verse:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Isaiah 9:6 ESV
As I listened to my dad’s preaching about The Promise of Christmas; as he read the verse in Isaiah 9 describing Jesus as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace; I remembered a recent article I wrote about what makes someone spiritual. I realized that the descriptions of Jesus in the verse, words describing the coming baby Jesus, speak of not just any baby, but a spiritual one. A Wonderful Counselor who would have transcendent wisdom, an Everlasting Father for an enteral horizon, and a Prince of Peace that values shalom, an amazing concept of spiritual harmony that comes from our restoration with God (sacred values).
But I missed one, like I miss a thousand things. I missed Mighty God, and that’s an important thing to add. A truly spiritual person, has evidence of Supernatural Power, a power that comes from being deeply connected to God. It’s not enough to have wisdom, to have eternal love, nor to pursue Shalom. We also need the power to put that wisdom into practice, to turn the love we get from God into love for others, and to achieve harmony in life. That’s why I wanted to update my list of spiritual traits and add Supernatural Power.
Let me summarize it here:
Wonderful Counselor – Transcendent Wisdom
Mighty God – Supernatural Power
Everlasting Father – Eternal Love
Prince of Peace – Bringer of Shalom
It’s no accident that Christmas has a spiritual feel to it. While the busy-ness of the season many times distract us, there’s enough power in the tradition to bring families together, to cause some gratefulness and reflection that we sometimes simply think of as nostalgia. But it’s more than just warm feelings for a time past. It’s a yearly call to embrace the spiritual, to go beyond just the material here and now, to seek transcendent wisdom, to live for an eternal horizon, to pursue the sacred value of Shalom, and to be animated by the supernatural power of a Mighty God.
Here are some reflection questions to ask during this season:
Am I thinking and acting with eternity in mind? Or am I simply reacting to the here and now, and chasing temporary things?
Am I making decisions based on Transcendent Wisdom? Or am I simply relying on common sense, human knowledge, and my own feelings?
What is my source of strength? Is it a good night’s sleep? A good meal? The compliments of others? My money? My body? My mind? Or am I finding strength by worshipping a Mighty God?
I asked myself these questions, and my honest assessment is that I haven’t done a great job living a truly spiritual life, as defined by the criteria I listed. The most damning point being that I am many times more preoccupied with temporal things instead of sacred and eternal matters. Many times the day to day responsibilities suck up the spirituality from my life.
This is why personal reflections are important. It’s beneficial to take yourself out of the busyness and recalibrate spiritually.
Christmas is a perfect time to do this.
Christmas is also a perfect time to worship. When my reflections reveal a man lacking in every way, I turn to God. I may not be the best model of spirituality, but I trust in someone who is more than a model. I follow the one the verses were talking about, my Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.
I’m working on my year-end finale for my blog, a practice I’ve been doing for years now, maybe as far back as 2012. I’ve been writing even longer than that. To be honest, some of my old writing makes me cringe, but it’s interesting to see the development of both my perspectives and writing skills. Probably over a thousand pieces and millions of words later, I’ve managed to progress into a decent writer with a few works that I am proud of. Am I proud of most of my work? No, not at all. Most of my work remain as drafts, a lot of them I would say are ok, some of them are horrible (the ones that make me cringe), and a very few of them I would say bring me pride. Some people say I can be too hard on myself (and that’s why I can be hard on others), but I’ve only understood where the difference.
When you have a true vision, not some made-up thing you wrote on a piece of paper because some workshop told you it was important, but a clearer and clearer picture of how things should be, and when you’re a true artist, not just someone who has things to express, but someone who will stop at nothing to bring that true vision to life, then you are driven by a force beyond you. You’re not driven to belong, to fit-in, to be accepted; you’re not driven to be praised, to be acknowledged, nor respected; you’re not driven simply by money (though that’s always useful), by more and more stuff, and by vanity records. There is no success nor failure, they are only milestones on the journey. There are no consolation prizes, no “good enough”.
There is only that picture. Like the image on a box puzzle that guides the puzzle master as he or she shuffles through the pieces to find what fits towards completion, a true vision guides us – and reminds us pieces are missing.
I’ll write more about the idea of vision and true vision (because I want to make a distinction between the watered-down vision inspirational speakers use and true vision). For this post, I want to focus on the idea of Missing Pieces. When I look at the puzzle box image of my life, the true vision I want to achieve for the time and place I find myself a part of, I find so many missing pieces, so many gaps and empty spaces.
There are gaps in my character.
There are gaps in my resources.
There are gaps in my abilities.
There are gaps in my faith.
There are gaps in my promises.
There are gaps in my teams.
There are gaps in my marriage, gaps in my fatherhood, gaps in my health, in my relationships, in my service, and in so many other things.
In many of those gaps, while I know that the gap exists, I find that I am missing the piece or pieces to fill it in. It’s not something I have with me currently. And this is many times a good thing, our missing pieces, our needs, our blanks, help guide our search. They clarify for us what we need to be seeking and working on.
Most people see their lack, their needs, and their incompleteness as a reason to feel inferior, to be discouraged, to be worried and fearful. Don’t be like most people. Your missing pieces are guides, a million times better than 99% of the commercial mentors out there. They point you to what you should be seeking for, and as the verse says:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
– Matthew 7:7
Many times, we don’t find the missing pieces, because we’re not actually looking for the missing pieces. We’re looking for security, for comfort, for acceptance. We’re looking for the benefit of the missing pieces, not the missing pieces themselves.
We want financial security, when the missing pieces are probably discipline and contentment.
We want spiritual security, when the missing pieces are probably a better understanding of God and community.
We want relational security, when the missing pieces are probably forgiveness and kindness.
We want a more comfortable and secure world, when the missing pieces are probably more selfless and more generous neighbours, starting with ourselves.
Let me summarize:
When you have a true vision, a picture in your head of what you’re developing, you’ll find gaps and missing pieces.
These missing pieces are guides, they tell us what to look for, what to seek.
Many times we’re seeking for the benefits of the pieces, not the pieces themselves, then wonder why our situation isn’t changing. We’re still missing the pieces!
So look for the piece. Seek for that necessary piece. It’s only that piece that can bring a more sustainable personal peace. (Now that ending sucked. That sounded like a cheesy preacher on a Sunday morning. But you get the point.)