Category Archives for "Thoughts on Value"

The Cost of Joy

A few times last year, I wrote and spoke of the real and imminent dangers facing us today. While some of the things I share may be applicable to other countries, my thoughts are for a Philippine context. These thoughts came from a question I was asked once while on a panel about what issues I think the country needs to focus on. While many would have said the economy, and poverty specifically, and others may have said the environment, or corruption, or education, all of which are massively critical, as I thought about that question from before, and about my audience then, mostly people drowning in these issues themselves, I remembered an often quoted line from The Gulag Archipelago:

“But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

I realized what my answer would have been. (I forget what my answer then was.) The most pressing issue for you, me, all of us today, is for you, me, all of us, to confront the evil in our personal selves. 

I identified some particularly widespread “evils” we can easily observe today:

  1. Entitlement masked as Human Rights
  2. Vanity masked as Self-Esteem
  3. Superstition masked as Spirituality
  4. Impatience masked as Life Hacking
  5. Unreasonableness masked as Political Correctness 
  6. Irresponsibility masked as Freedom

I’m adding two more: Externalizing Evil masked as Social Justice, which has led to today’s Call-Out Culture, and Materialism masked as Progress.

It is more important than ever, in an age of mob-rule, groupthink, and populism, in a time of fake news, biased news, and click-bait, for individuals to grow in mental and spiritual depth, which basically mean to grow in a wisdom that cuts through shallow thinking and in commitment to a life purpose that dwarfs natural pettiness.

To the entitled person, a post of someone having a great vacation, or driving a nice car, or buying a house elicits an “I should have that too.” A wise person doesn’t react that way. He or she responds, “I COULD have that too.” And an even wiser person would respond, “Will that really bring me joy?” And even wiser will identify, “Is this aligned with my own life’s purpose?” Do the posts of others trigger feelings of entitlement or reflection?

To a vain person, the path to Self-Esteem, is through external validation. It’s someone liking us, sharing us, praising us, acknowledging us, worshiping us, noticing us, and attention isn’t revived, the vain person feels rejected, unimportant, not special. But a wise person knows that one can never achieve self-esteem through external validation. No amount of outside praise can fill the black hole of an empty heart. So it doesn’t rely on it for fulfillment. It knows that all this outside attention is junk food, that may make us feel full, for a moment, but then leaves us unhealthy in the end. Instead, they develop self-reliance, the ability to stand securely independent of others, and for the things beyond their control, they develop personal perspectives. 

To the Superstitious, any word said from their “god”, may he or she be a preacher, a shaman, a politician, an actor, an influencer, a pundit, an expert, an author, a professor, or a witch doctor, is taken as divine truth. Any word and every word. We think that steadfastly clinging to all the words of a man or woman makes us more pure, when purity does not come, cannot come, from other impure men and women like the rest of us. Humans are too inclined to bias, to personal agenda. It’s true for me. It’s true for you. It’s true for your hero. So the wise set up external tools, tools that defend themselves against themselves, tools such Opposable Thinking, Divergent Thinking, counting before responding, reading contextual work, empathy, gratefulness, open experiences, and more tools available to us to expand us. Does your hero narrow you? Or does your hero expand you? Does your hero narrow the world’s problems to someone else’s mistakes? Or does your hero lead you to the infinite work of eternal value within you?

To the Impatient, every new technology, new practice, Life Hacks they’re called, every new productivity idea needs to be immediately harnessed, and the results need to be immediately visible. But the wise person knows that success is more like a fruitful tree than a fast food drive through. You don’t simply drive up and order success from a menu. You cultivate your life towards the goals you have set for yourself, and fruits of that cultivated life, hopefully, are the fruits you want. This is actually a beautiful thing, because it means that there’s no one kind of success, that success can come in many different ways. What a beautiful picture it is to imagine millions of different, unique, special  success stories, each, in their own chosen ways, contributing, not comparing, their voice to a grand symphony.

Unreasonableness, usually masked as Political Correctness, usually pretending to be commitment to an ideal, is self-deceiving. To the Unreasonable, there is no considering of alternative views, no considering that “maybe my view is wrong”, or, “maybe my view is incomplete”, or, “maybe I don’t know enough”. The Unreasonable person is usually emotionally attached to an idea, not an intellectual master of the subject matter. An Unreasonable person usually clings on to a narrow set of information from a narrow set of voices. The wise person admits the limits of what one can know and so values other perspectives and other approaches, even if those perspectives and approaches differ from his. He knows that we are all easily trapped by our biases. He knows that the more something resonates with us the more we should question the principle behind it, not just the resonance. He knows that the more an idea offends the more he should try to understand if there’s a valuable principle behind it. The wise person seeks understanding not validation. 

To the Irresponsible, the fans of YOLO, those who are too cowardly to take on the burden and risk of accountability, they’ve found ideas and philosophies to rationalize the lack of accountability to others and to himself or herself. This lack of accountability masks as freedom but is really a prison of our own making. The wise person knows that a higher level of freedom exists for the one who defines himself or herself. When your existence has no definition, you will be subject to current definitions of the world around you. You will be unstable. But when you choose to excel in your responsibilities and, when you choose to cultivate long term relationships, when you choose for yourself what will define you, limiting yourself instead of doing whatever, you will find identity. When you know who you are, when you find your identity, you truly become free. 

These “evils”, and they are evil because it sucks out beauty, life, and love, are easy to find for they humble and honest. They are inside everyone of us. I don’t need to look far for an example these things. I just need to close my eyes and recall my thoughts. But because I’ve been trained to reflect, to look transparently at the state of my soul, I’m able to recognize how prevalent these evils are in me, and so able to deal with them, and see myself improve in my ability to defeat them. But too many don’t even realize that these evils are inside them, and the reason why most of us are blind to our own darkness, is that we are distracted by the two evils I have added above:

  • The Externalizing of Evil
  • Materialism

The Externalizing of Evil means we are quick to recognize and attack the evil in the world and the evil in others, instead of admitting the great evil inside us, the evil we are actually accountable for and able to deal with. It is easier and more immediately satisfying to play Social Justice Warrior than it is to humbly and patiently mature one’s soul.

The Externalizing of Evil, the belief that the evils of this world exist outside me, and to fight them means to fight other evil people, makes us feel as if we are doing something about the general problem of evil without being accountable to addressing the evil inside of us. It’s easier to say, “I hate the pollution these big businesses are causing!” than it is to admit that it is our collective overconsumption and materialism that is powering the economies of these big businesses. It’s easy to say “Governments should make sure everyone has something to eat!” than it is to admit, “I over eat” or “My home wastes a lot of food”. It is easier to say, “Rapists should be castrated!” than it is to castrate, to cut off, our own objectification of people. The wise know and admit, “The Evil I need to be dealing with is in my heart. That part of me needs to be cut-off. It needs to die.” This shows us that wisdom requires much more than knowledge. It also requires the humility to admit personal evil, the courage to face, and the will to follow-through. Externalizing Evil requires none of that. In fact, it’s usually marked by the opposites: self-righteous pride of not being guilty, the cowardly attacking with keyboards behind social media and with mobs, and lack of follow-through. How many missile attacks have triggered us, have “moved” us, how much of our salaries have we donated to those causes? How much of our salaries went to milk tea? How many bullying events have triggered us into righteous indignation? How many times have we caught ourselves gossiping badly about another person? How many times have we called that gossip “concern” or “just venting”? Is there a rule somewhere that just because more socially unacceptable evils exist in others that we are now innocent of evils we and others have learned to live with?

Personally, I’ve written much about  how I struggle with this dissonance, how I’m no longer surprised by the great evils in the world because I recognize the seeds, the roots, the stems, the branches, even the fruits, of great evil in my self. And even with just the garden of good and evil inside me, where I am too busy cultivating the good and burning the bad, I find that I have very little time to police others, to go calling-out, to lynch, physically and digitally, and to cowardly pretend. My heart is my garden, your heart is yours, and I want people to enjoy the fruit of my garden, and I want to connect with people who have cultivated themselves with beautiful things to share as well. I don’t know how that can be achieved if we spend so much time attacking another life while our own remains untended.

Materialism defined online is:

“Materialism is a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all things, including mental aspects and consciousness, are results of material interactions.”

Let me simplify it for you: Materialism is the valuing of material things above all else. A simple way to check for Materialism in our own lives is to honestly reflect on what is capturing our attention and is driving us. Many times, I catch myself working very hard (as usual) for material reasons, not necessarily bad reasons (it’s not evil to want a new car or a nicer home), but temporal things. In my head, I tell myself, “If I could only earn enough to afford this/that life would be much better.” When I see others have it and I don’t, I sense envy and impatience in me start to grow. Especially when I see “corrupt” people having the good life, I sense bitter resentment mixed in. When the material things become most valuable to me, it screws my ability to look at the world clearly. It makes me angry at those who have, proud when I have, insecure when I don’t have enough, and mistakenly secure – for a short moment – while I still have enough. Materialism, the valuing having over being, makes us proud, insecure, artificially secure, envious, and impatient at the same time.

I think a lot of the ills I mentioned above come from a heart that is primarily Materialist.

Feelings of Entitlement surface when others have things what we feel we should also have. If we truly valued virtue more, things like love, joy, and peace, would there be any reason to feel entitled to what someone has? Isn’t there more love, joy, and peace for all of us when we celebrate what others have instead of feel like we’re unfairly treated? I have friends much richer and much poorer than me, and I treat them the same. I value love, joy, and peace, true riches in my opinion, and there’s enough those to go around. In a material world, scarcity is a reality. In many ways, the limitedness of something, it’s finiteness, impacts its value. But in the world of virtue, the value of the virtue has nothing to do with with its exclusivity. You aren’t more special or more valuable because you have more virtue. The value of the virtue is in the beauty the virtue begets. I think a virtuous approach to a material world is to focus more on the lasting beauty and lasting good the material generates, not simply the having of the material itself.

Do the things you have make you more productive? Or are they distracting you from being a better person?

Do the things you have make you more loving? Or do they make you more proud or insecure?

Do the things you have make you more joyful? Or do they make you more envious or boastful?

I know I am far off from the right path when I find I am more concerned with having than being. When my lack makes me worried instead of determined, when my abundance makes me proud or wasteful instead of generous, I know that society’s materialism is choking my heart.

The Cost of Joy

I was shooting hoops with a friend of mine last Saturday. I’ve known him for a while and have consistently encouraged him to remove distractions and put his many talents to good use. We were chatting about work when he said something very insightful:

“It used to be that when people saw money or success, what people appreciated and respected was the hard work and the great effort that went into the achievement. People used to say, “If you’re that successful, you must be someone to respect.” It seems these days, and I really see it in the Philippines, that people don’t care so much about the character behind the money, but they’re really attracted to the things, the lifestyle, the money can buy. They don’t care if the person never worked a day in his life and simply inherited it. What matters is that he’s rich. They don’t care if the person is corrupt and stole the money. What matters is that he can afford nice things.”

I thought about what he said as I walked home. My friend, himself a “rich kid”, and himself trying to reconcile this very material world with the person he knows he can be, described very succinctly what’s wrong with society.

“…people don’t care so much about the character behind the money, but they’re really attracted to the things, the lifestyle, the money can buy.”

You can change the word ‘money’ for ‘fame’, ‘attention’, ‘likes’, ‘acceptance’, etc. People don’t care about the character behind these things anymore. They only care about what these things can attain.

In a world where people stop caring about a person’s character, and mostly obsessed with what can attain, don’t be surprised if society is filled with darkness. We traded away the being for the having, the life for the material, and beauty for attention.

Then you wonder why you’re not happy. You shouldn’t wonder anymore. You now know exactly why. I explained it to you in this article.

Now let me give you an alternative life. It’s the life I fight to live out. Sometimes, I fail in my attempts, but then I just start again the next day. In my experience, while there are many ways to lose joy, there are only a few things a person needs to do to regain it. For me, my time to regain or refresh joy in my life is in the morning, right before I attack the day. It’s my time of devotions, which is made up of the following:

  • Daily Gratefulness: I list and savor three things I’m grateful to God for. No matter what my current circumstance, I force myself to look for things I’m grateful for.
  • Daily Wisdom: I read a verse or verses and meditate on what they mean. A devotional guide is useful for this. Again I force myself to do this.
  • Daily Worship: I pray to God, reminding myself of my very insignificant place in the universe, and that I’m lucky to be alive, lucky to be able live out another day, and lucky to be able to try to make a difference. Regardless of my current circumstance, I remind myself that I’m lucky to even experience it.

This practice does not magically zap my problems away nor mystically make me a better person. What they do is they correct my perspective. Instead of being entitled, vain, superstitious, impatient, unreasonable, and irresponsible, I become grateful, deep, wise, patient, understanding, and responsive. Instead of externalising evil and blaming others for my situation, I am forced to work on my own very obvious inner evil. Instead of starting with the material, instead of jumping into the rat race of having, I immerse in the water of being.

This isn’t an easy practice. It also isn’t the most elegant for me. I use alarm clocks, reminders, and my notes reveal a struggle, not only to remain consistent, but to fight my own very real entitlement. But, lately, one thought has really helped me. It’s the thought of my son, Elijah. Whenever I think about what I’m most grateful for, my thoughts always turn to him. Whenever I think about what I need most wisdom for, they also turn to him. (Especially, now that he’s become very wilful!) When I think about my limitations, how small I truly am, and how big a challenge I need to conquer, I think about my role as a father to Elijah.

But I also think about the joy he is to me and his mother. Elijah, for all the concerns and responsibilities he brings with him, brings us unspeakable joy. I’ve never seen anyone so excited to see me. I’ve never felt so much hope and excitement for anyone. The cost of having him, the time, money, energy, and opportunity cost (babies are high maintenance!) are nothing compared to the joy he brings.

Joy has a cost. It has a time cost. It has an energy cost. It sometimes has a money cost. But what it really has is an attention cost. When I move my attention away from the things I don’t have, from the things I think I deserve, from the things I’m wishing I had, to the people already in my life and the person I am and becoming, I find joy.

Thoughts on Call-Out Culture

There’s a beautiful story in the Bible that goes like this:

John 8

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

I wrote about it before in a post called Cast the First Love. I’m bringing it up again in light of today’s Call Out Culture or Outrage Culture, which is defined as:

Call-out culture (also known as outrage culture) is a term for the social phenomenon of publicly denouncing perceived racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of bigotry. Denunciation (“call-outs”) can happen in person or online.

A good example of this were the recent events surrounding a horrific bullying video that came from a prominent high school in the Philippines. I’m not going to talk about what happened in the video. I know what I saw (and it looks bad), but I also know that I am many times deceived by what I see, either through not seeing the full picture or seeing things wrongly. This leads me to my first issue with Call Out Culture:

As seen in the definition, it is publicly denouncing perceivedevil acts. 

There’s a big difference between publicly denouncing evil acts and publicly denouncing perceived evil acts.

A good example of this was given by the author Stephen Covey:

“I remember a mini-paradigm shift I experienced one Sunday morning on a subway in New York. People were sitting quietly – some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene.

Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.

The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing. 

It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt like was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”

The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what do think, and I guess they don’t know who to handle it either.”

Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, and because I saw differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man’s pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. “Your wife just died? Oh I’m so sorry! Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?” Everything changed in an instant.” 

His paradigm, his perception of the man and the situation, changed when he found out about the bigger story. At first perception, he felt justified to correct the man. With a clarified perception, a view that included the man’s pain, not only his own inconvenience, his righteous indignation turned to compassion. This leads me to my next issue with Call Out Culture:

Call Out Culture shrinks the humanity of both the offender and the offended to the pain and the offense, and this isn’t good for both of them. When a person is narrowed to their pain, they become a victim, and victimhood isn’t healthy at all, no matter how deserved it seems. When a person is narrowed to their offence, they become evil, they are stripped of the other elements of their humanity, which makes restitution not just unlikely but impossible, for who wants to be restored to evil.

What do the top coaches and psychologists make their patients who were victims of other people’s bad behaviour? They don’t shrink the person into the pain. They expand the person by making him or her realize that while the pain is real, he or she is much much more than the pain, and this helps them admit the pain, to come to terms with the pain, to master the pain. When a person’s identity is to tied-up to the pain they feel, it’s very unlikely they will ever enjoy freedom from that pain.

What do the some of the most eminent writers who suffered through inconceivable suffering, such as Viktor Frankl and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, say about evil?

The rift dividing good from evil, which goes through all human beings, reaches into the lowest depths and becomes apparent even on the bottom of the abyss which is laid open by the concentration camp.”
– Viktor Frankl

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”  
– Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

After suffering immensely from the evil actions of others, after witnessing the evil acts of others, their conclusion wasn’t “Kill evil people!” or even “Pay me back for the pain you caused me!” Instead, it caused them to reflect, and to honestly reflect, on the reality that evil is in all of us, including them! What amazing self-awareness leads you to that conclusion in the midst of your own suffering?

I find myself reading and rereading this particular text from The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

“It was granted me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience; how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer, and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. And it was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains… an unuprooted small corner of evil.

Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.” 

This brings me to my third issue with call-out culture: It distracts us from dealing with the evil in our own selves, even more, it causes us to legitimize our own atrocious behaviour with our pain. Again, we can turn to Viktor Frankl who puts it very simply:

“No one has the right to do wrong, even if wrong has been done to them.”
– Viktor Frankl

Even before Frankl, the Bible in 1 Peter 3 says

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

When we are too busy repaying evil with evil by participating in the bullying of the bullies, isolating the isolated, shaming the shameful, and attacking the attackers, we fail to acknowledge and address the evil inside of us, and worse, we justify doing evil back, and so propagates a longer cycle of evil.

I once read somewhere that people are more consistent with giving their pets their vitamins than taking their own. It’s probably true. We are better at diagnosing and dealing with the problems of others than facing our own. It makes sense. Dealing with my own problems is painful, humbling, and with slow reward. Dealing with someone else’s issue has no risks, makes me feel righteous, makes me feel valuable, and those feelings come relatively quickly. But the quick satisfaction of feeling justified, of feeling part of a cause, goes just as quickly, and we are left with the reality of who we are without the causes, without the anger, without the rallies, without the latest outcry, and if don’t deal with our own evil, that evil will still be there at the end of the day, even as we cried for justice. 

Focusing on our own demons, fighting them, is harder, less satisfying in the short-run, but more valuable in the long run. The point of life isn’t to make your world a better place, but to mature your soul (again, from Solzhenitsyn), and a world of mature souls is a better place.

Reacting to perceptions, especially impulse and incomplete perceptions, is not the mark of a mature soul.

Shrinking other people, other souls, to their pain or offences is not the mark of a mature soul.

Attacking the evil in others without dealing with the evil we can control within ourselves is not the mark of a mature soul.

I, personally, want to mature my soul. And I, personally, know, know without doubt, know with proof, that there is great darkness inside me. My spirituality isn’t from a man who has always loved to do good, but from a man who is willing to admit a great inclination for doing what’s wrong,  so daily prays for strength. My insights, if you find them deep, aren’t from a wellspring of wisdom, but from the mining of a dark soul, looking for a glimmer of something valuable. And any success I may have achieved is not without its scars, painful lessons, and regrets. It’s all part of life, and it’s magnified when you try to live beyond yourself.

I have no doubt someone will call me out in the future for some past, present, or future mistake I’ve done or will do, some thing I wrote (or tweeted!), some action that offended others. I’ve done way too much, I do way too much, and I interface with way too many people, many of whom I’ve inconvenienced or wronged. But even more than what others may think and say, I know myself. I know myself better than ever. And I’m no longer shocked at the darkness I see in others because I face the darkness in me. If anything, I think I’ve become more understanding. But before you think I’m defending or rationalising bad behaviour, let me end the post with this:

When you wrestle with the reality of yourself, with not just the slightly imperfect, but the incredibly dark, dark, dark, darkness inside you, yet wake-up to try, even just try, with all your heart, mustering all the courage you can muster to do something greater in the world, knowing full well that you will fail at times, knowing full well that the crowds will stone you if you do, knowing full well that those closest to you will run for cover, knowing full well those who hate you will use it against you, knowing full well that the odds are against you, knowing all of that, and still doing the necessary inner work to achieve greater goals, I think that’s what makes a great man.

I hope, if you read this, you won’t join the mob calling for yet another public crucifixion. I hope, instead, you will choose to be great.

2018 Finale: The Light from A Soul Burning and the Brilliance of a Thousand Sparks

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!)

Part 1. The Light from a Soul Burning

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


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Part 2. The Brilliance of a Thousand Sparks

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.” 
– Aristotle

“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

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