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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
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Blog, Uncommon Advice
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.
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NOTE: Before I continue, while I use masculine pronouns, this in no way means I’m automatically referring to men unless explicitly done so. These days, with all the sensitive people, one must be extra politically correct. (I’m mocking political correctness, in case my sarcasm is missed, as happens many times in writing.) Also, because quite a few people got offended with the directness of my post on Getting a Life (as I thought would happen), I’ve decided to make these posts more about “How I went about things” and “How I would do / redo things”. If you don’t like what you’re reading, just leave the site. No need to whine little boy / little girl. – This morning, May 1, Labor Day, a holiday, I woke up at 6am, a little later than usual, to go through the events of the day. With the office closed, I set aside time to do a lot of catching up, particularly with my fitness goals, work priorities which include our upcoming investment round and board meeting, a moment to connect with new friends (Yasmin and I have been trying to spend more time with older couples), and some “home work”. There’s a lot of literal homework going on as we prepare for our baby, a son, for those of you who don’t follow me on Facebook or Instagram. We’re moving things, packing things, selling and giving things, as we make space for another human. I also wanted to continue on a painting I started but I simply don’t have time today. After devotions and before going to the gym, I wanted some time to write this piece on embracing one’s role. Needless to say, I have a very packed “free day”, and that’s not a bad thing. I don’t remember the last time I didn’t have anything to do, when waking up early was not an option, and it’s not because I have people breathing down my neck, but because of two words: Roles and Responsibilities. A person who “has a life” embaces his roles and understands his responsibilities. Let’s start with Roles At the start of this year, I made a mind map of my priorities for the year. I didn’t start with “What do I want to do?” or “What’s my passion project for 2017?”, but a simple listing down of what my roles are. When I was a child, my role was very undefined and limited to mostly playing and hopefully behaving. When I became a student, that became my defining role, and with it came responsibilities such as learning and getting good grades. When I got to college, along with the continuing responsibilities of a student, I also could fulfill other roles that opened up as my abilities improved. For example, since I could drive already, I could go to the store and pick things up for my parents. I also started my first “business” when I was 16 (if you could call it that), and with the new role, again, I had new responsibilities to customers and suppliers. When I graduated and started working with Dr. Joey Castro, the founder of the Real LIFE Foundation, I added the role of Executive Director for a very small salary, which my dad explained to me, came with the role of being in a startup program. After this, when I took over an ailing company, I took on a CEO role, which sounds more impressive that it really was because the company was hemorrhaging cash. It’s in this period that I learned NOT to put too much emphasis on the title but on the requirements and responsibilities of the role. For me, during that period, I needed to stabilize cash flow, reduce expenses, and pay of debt. I wasn’t a CEO on a private jet. I was a CEO using public transportation because the role I was in needed a level of frugality to keep us alive. I would take on more business and non-profit roles, requiring different behaviors, different skills, and bringing different responsibilities. Some were fun immediately fun and rewarding, others have been a continuous slog, but all have been contributive in their own way. These days, I am now having to integrate two very important, in fact, most important, roles to an already busy life: Husband and Father. They’re not easy because these roles are highly emotional and require more than discipline and efficiency. They require patience, kindness, generosity, humility, selflessness, gentleness, politeness, truthfulness, or in short, in requires love. Nothing has shown me how selfish and unloving I can be than having to live with someone – for the rest of my life. I’m glad I married Yasmin, who is not just extremely beautiful, but loving, kind hearted, funny, and can cook! The thought of ending up with someone horrible sends shivers down my spine. I’m glad that I’m adjusting to this new role with someone as patient as Yasmin. In a week’s time, May 7, we would have been married for 1 year. I marveled at how fast time flew. My friends marveled at how Yasmin was able to take me for a year. I marvel at that too. Because it hasn’t been an easy adjustment for me. It must have been extremely difficult for Yasmin to adjust to me. Our friend, Jay Rod, commented yesterday, “I spent the afternoon with David and Yasmin, and David is really tiring.” I have to admit that I can be. It’s the problem with intensity and energy are mixed together in one person, that helps a lot at work, but it’s something that needs better management now that I’m married. I have a different role with Yasmin, and I need to adjust. This role doesn’t require me to hit sales targets. It requires that I make Yasmin feel loved. This is harder than it sounds because “feeling loved” isn’t a measurable thing. Sometimes I wish someone would invent an objective measure of love, but then love would lose its dynamism. I’m learning that fulfillment in a relationship is not something you can copy off a book or Instragram (this part I knew at least), but something two people have to calibrate, something two people have to learn when they vow to take on the roles of husband and wife. And now, I’m going to be a father. I’m both excited and terrified. The stakes with this one are so high. Parenting is the greatest role on Earth, and I’m happy I get to fulfill the part with the most beautiful person in the world. I’ve been reading books and articles on parenting, on baby formation, on pregnancies, on the meaning of names, on baby stuff, on early childhood development. I’ve been running the numbers on how much it’s going to cost. (How does such a tiny thing cost so much???!!!) It’s yet another role I need to play. Maybe play is the wrong word, when the roles I’m talking about, particularly the roles of husband and father, are incredibly serious. The next part of this series talks about the Responsibilities that come with our life’s Roles, but for now I have a simple point: All of us has a role, a part to play. They start very small and simple. For some of us, it’s to be a great student. It’s to take each class seriously. It’s to help around the house. For some of us, it’s that and to put our siblings to school because of a financial difficulty. For others, it’s to babysit, it’s to work summer jobs, and it’s to ace night school. For some of us, it’s to save a family business, or find a job, or keep a job. For some of us it’s to come up with killer marketing campaigns, it’s to design websites, and sell products. For some of us it’s to manage the accounts, it’s to make sure recruitment is working, or security is tight. For some of us, it’s to help our teams win, to stay fit, to practice. Everyone has different roles, that while similar to others, are different depending on the circumstances you find yourself in. I had to take on a tough business role at a young age. It wasn’t ideal. It wasn’t lucrative. It wasn’t fair. But it the role required filling, and I filled it. When I look at the most secure people I know, when I look at the most impressive people I know, I find that the security wasn’t some natural or magical endowment, but rather an achievement that came from embracing the role presented to them that needed filling. Too many people are looking for that thing they love to get their life going when there’s a family at home that requires a helping hand, an encouraging member, and source of joy, there’s a piece of homework that needs excellence, a lecture that needs mastering, and an objective that needs achieving. People are always looking at some future opportunity, some lottery win, or praying for some open door, when a door was flung wide open, and the path made so clear the day they were born. All they need to do is to embrace what they have now and commit to executing even the most simple roles in most excellent ways. #db
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