It’s amazing how the many different parts of our lives parallel each other. Anyone who has worked with me in our teams, or has been reading my blog posts, will know that many of my management insights have come from areas like art, physics, psychology, sports, religion, and nature, among other bodies of knowledge. It’s important to not just collect information in our heads but to be able to make connections and combinations with these pieces of information in order to come up with better applications. Having a posture that’s constantly curios, constantly inquiring, that is hopeful for answers, and does not settle for anything less than understanding will help a person in every area of their life.
An example of this truth, that we can pick-up lessons from one area of our life that are useful to the other areas, came to me after a discouraging week of work. I run a social impact tech startup called Bridge, that provides a range of human resource (HR) solutions to companies in the Philippines (including payroll and staffing) that is layered with our Fintech platform (Access) that allows us to refinance the expensive loans of employees and help them save what they used to pay in interest. Our goal is help employees work towards “security” not “stuff”. While our mission is noble (you’ll be shocked at how horrible the usury is in the Philippines), it doesn’t mean that we don’t have to face the growth pains of a startup, especially one that is disrupting both the HR and lending spaces at the same time. With thousands of users on our platforms, over ninety full-time employees, and big goals, every single day is full of action.
One Saturday, while not working (Saturdays are supposed to be my Sabbath), while changing Elijah’s diaper (which I rarely do), my mind was full of different Bridge concerns and opportunities. My son, Elijah, has somehow figured that wiping his poop on his dad’s hands is funny to him, as it brings out my grossed-out anger. How this boy learns to be cheeky is beyond me, but he just knows how to push my buttons. I scolded him, “Elijah, stop it!” Which he doesn’t do, and continues to attempt to grab more poop to wipe on me, all the while giggling with his adorable giggle. Somehow, I managed to finish changing his diaper anyway, wash my hands a billion times, and get him dressed. This is why I let his mother and nanny do the changing. They’re better at it. They’re more efficient. I like efficiency. And I hate getting poop on my hands. I thought to myself, “Already so much trouble, this little shitter.”
The next morning, I watched as my son slept, already so long and so big, and I kept thinking about how lucky I am to have such an amazing son. I remember my instinctive thought the day before, right after getting poop on my hands. In that reactive moment, Elijah, my favourite boy in the world, was a “Little Shitter”. In the morning, seeing him in another light, all I saw was how lucky I was to have such an amazing son. I kept thinking about his future potential, about the dreams I have for him, and about my next steps to prepare for his college, to train him, and to make sure he’s as healthy as possible.
I thought about my other “baby”, Bridge, another young one that has captured my heart and is full of potential. There are some moments where my reaction thinks that there’s so much trouble and inconvenience. But every single time I step back, and look at Bridge, not for the latest concern, but for its qualities, its amazing team, its growing customer base, its beautiful mission, and the potential to bring about sustainable and scalable impact, my mind is refocused on the right things.
The point of this post is simple: When you see the different areas of your life as “little shitters”, you will fail to treat them as they should be: as beautiful potential waiting to be realized. Every day, Elijah continues to shit without warning, and he continues to require help to clean himself up, but he’s more than a little shitter. He’s my little giant who is showing incredible physicality and an indomitable will. He’s excitingly developing associations and is learning how to show his affection, especially to his mother. He can recognise tens of animals and dinosaurs, and can tumble of our bed. And he’s only 20 months. What more at 24 months? What more at 36 months? What more in a decade? What more in 50 years? What more will he accomplish?
I now feel this way for all the areas of my life. What can my health look like if I daily just do the necessary things to stay healthy over time? What could Bridge look like? What could Stealth look like? What could my family look like? Instead of putting so much emphasis on the wrong things that happen, and there’s a lot, I use my attention and energy on realign potential not reaffirming negativity.
From my private collection
“The most disgraceful kind of loss, however, is that due to carelessness.
Furthermore, if you will pay close heed to the problem, you will find that the largest portion of our life passes while we are doing ill, a goodly share while we are doing nothing, and the whole while we are doing that which is not to the purpose.
What man can you show me who places any value on his time, who reckons the worth of each day, who understands that he is dying daily?”
We are all dying daily. Time is truly the most finite -and most valuable- of our resources. I won’t speak of those who don’t believe this. I am not one of them. For myself, I used to think that since time is running out, one must be as busy as possible. I know better now. I know that busyness does not equal valuable use of time. And busyness isn’t simply about work.
One of the misconceptions we have today is that the more work we have the more busy we are. It is also possible to be busy with leisure, busy with hobbies, busy with social interactions, and busy with thoughts. Busy means being continually preoccupied. Work is not the only thing that can preoccupy us.
And busyness isn’t simply about work.
So what must I do with my time? Do I pack it in? Do I keep it light? Do I seek balance? Do I seek activity? As for me, I seek to carefully select the activities that lead to compounding benefits on time spent. A minute with Yasmin and Elijah is a more valuable minute. A minute spent for them is valuable too. A minute waiting in line for today’s must-enjoy is very low on the value-compounding scale. A minute worrying, though it makes us feel concerned, is a minute wasted, when that minute can be used on removing obstacles. A minute on my goals, my life’s mission is precious.
Work is not the only thing that can preoccupy us.
The question isn’t so much whether what we are using our time on is “right” or “wrong”, but whether the moment, this moment, will grow in more value, at least to us, over time.
Will this moment grow in more value over time?
Today, is my 3rd anniversary.
Last night, I turned to my wife, “Yasmin, we’ve been married three years. We made it.” She replied, “I guess this is still better than when you told me that only three months after our wedding!” Those who know me, know that this kind of relationship has never been an area of particular success, and I’m quite proud of the progress I’ve had over the last few years, even if they’ve been baby steps. What accounts for my improved results in being in a relationship? (This has been my longest relationship by far!)
But one thing that helped me a lot is calibrating my perspective
It isn’t that the situations our relationship finds itself in are incredibly amazing. In many ways, on paper, you’d be forgiven for thinking our situation is quite complex, even very complex. For starters, I’ve never been successful in any of my past relationships. Yasmin is divorced. We have incredibly different backgrounds and personalities given our cultural differences, upbringing differences, and seven year age gap. We have a twenty year old son (from her previous marriage) and a one year old son. Both our parents live in far away cities (mine in Singapore and Yasmin’s in London), meaning we take care of most things ourselves. While work has been rewarding and is extremely exciting, my businesses, particularly the startup social impact company Bridge, demand a lot of time and financial investment, meaning very long hours for me at work and Yasmin holding the fort at home, as well as, super tight budgets.
Just a few days ago, Yasmin, was telling me of how her friend has nearly double the grocery budget we have with less mouths to feed. I replied with, “They’re also fatter than us and obviously not thinking about university in England!” Seeing only double the food budget may make us feel like someone has it better than us, but when we change our perspective, based on our own realities, meaning the realities of life, the realities of our specific situation, and realities of our own goals, we find that there’s no reason to compare, because even if we did, we don’t share the same financial realities (they have more spending power than we do), we don’t view life’s realities the same (we don’t think quality of life is about being able to acquire and experience things), and we don’t share the goals (such as the same health goals and the same educational goals), so we allocate resources differently.
It’s very important to constantly be calibrating our perspective A lot of what we think are actual are usually our perceptions, which are usually incomplete perceptions. Just like the grocery budget example. On one hand, relative to her friend, we have a smaller budget. Viewed from that perspective, we would feel poorer. Viewed from someone with a budget smaller than ours, we would feel richer. Viewed from someone who values low-cost spending, we would be viewed as thrift. Viewed from someone who values amazing eating experiences, we would be viewed as missing-out, or even cheap. Viewed from someone into achieving low body fat, we would be viewed as healthy. So what are we? Are we poor? Are we rich? Are we thrift? Are we cheap? Are we missing-out? Are we healthy? What are we?
We are all of them and we are neither of them. The perspective changes the reality. If you listen to everyone’s perspective on you, to everyone’s opinion on who you should be, what you should be doing, and what you should not be doing, you will get lost, you will go nuts, you will fail to win any of their approval, and you will end up a failure and discouraged. I see this all the time. People bench-marking the quality of their lives, their relationships, their careers, their experiences against the realities of other people, and finding themselves failures and discouraged.
But, of course. You took your reality and judged it by someone else’s reality. You judged the soccer math by how low-scoring it is compared to a basketball game. You were aiming for a high score not realising you’re playing golf (where low scores are better).
To help you clarify your view of realities, I suggest reflecting on these questions:
The Tale of the Rose
There’s a famous scene from The Little Prince where the Prince says:
“You’re beautiful, but you’re empty…One couldn’t die for you. Of course, an ordinary passerby would think my rose looked just like you. But my rose, all on her own, is more important than all of you together, since she’s the one I’ve watered. Since she’s the one I put under glass, since she’s the one I sheltered behind the screen. Since she’s the one for whom I killed the caterpillars (except the two or three butterflies). Since she’s the one I listened to when she complained, or when she boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing at all. Since she’s my rose.”
What he was saying was, in the surface, while all roses may look alike, it’s the rose that you cared for that is most special, not so much because it’s superior to the others, but it’s the one you poured your heart into.
I think two of the most dangerous things destroying our success and satisfaction today are an inability to understand the reality of our specific situation and an inability to appreciate the unique beauty of our specific situation. We keep benchmarking our Rose against other roses. We keep forgetting that all the amazing qualities of all the roses in the world will pale in comparison to the one quality our Rose already has, that it is the rose that’s ours.
Funnily enough, The Little Prince was written by a notorious adulterer, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. His life story is an amazing read. (I have a soft spot for risk-taking, unconventional, creatives artists.) But his marriage was tumultuous. Both he and his wife, Consuelo, were free spirits, both artists, both unfaithful, and ultimately both hurt over and over. But Saint-Exupéry’s conclusion is incredibly insightful, just like Solomon, after partaking of much of what the world has to offer, he realized that what made Consuelo special was that she was his. He immortalised his realisation in his book, The Little Prince.
Despite their tumultuous relationship, Antoine kept Consuelo close to his heart. She is the likely inspiration of the major character in The Little Prince, the prince’s ‘flower’, identified as The Rose, whom he protects under glass and with a windscreen on his tiny planet which is named Asteroid B-612.
The Prince’s home asteroid also possesses three tiny volcanoes, likely inspired by Consuelo’s home country El Salvador, i.e. by the three volcanoes in the Cordillera de Apaneca volcanic range complex, which are directly visible from Consuelo’s home town. The two active volcanoes were inspired by Santa Ana Volcano and the famous conical shaped Izalco (volcano), which at the time was active spewing ash and lava when Antoine visited Consuelo’s small town in El Salvador, the dormant volcano is Cerro Verde.
Saint-Exupéry’s infidelity and doubts about his marriage are symbolised by the field of roses the Prince encounters during his visit to Earth. In the novella, The Fox tells The Prince that his Rose is unique and special, because she is the one whom he loves.
Because It’s Mine
I don’t know how many times I’ve questioned myself, asking things like, “Why is my life so hard?” Or “Why am I still in this marriage?” Or “Why is this other person’s situation always better?” Or “Why are our finances so tight?” Or “Should I be taking this much risk?” Or a thousand other questions that don’t really sit for an answer but just weigh my soul. But like a giant broom that sweeps away all those doubts, I remind myself, “David, this is your life. This is your mission. This is your wife. This is your son. This is your team. This is your reality. These are all yours. That’s why they’re special. Now go treat them as they should be, as incomparably special.”
The most beautiful things in life, the most beautiful relationships, the most beautiful careers, the most beautiful achievements don’t begin with auspicious signs and everything in order. One just needs to read about pretty much every successful person to know they many times started with the opposite conditions. The common denominator in all success stories is an extreme level of ownership, that what I have, no matter how small it is right now, no matter how unimpressive, is special because it is mine.