Beating 5 Pound Problems

Beating 5 Pound Problems

“Great week! This week was intense!” was the common comment I got from the team about our start of the year. “It didn’t feel like we just came from Christmas break. It feels like we never took a break!”

Music to my ears.

Of course we did take a Christmas break, and I don’t think anyone of them will say that they  didn’t enjoy their holidays, but what I’m pleased to hear is that we have people who are committed. When I say committed I don’t mean willing to slave away, which I actually find to be a misconception about dedication and intelligence (if people are really efficient and effective they should be able to achieve what takes others days in hours or less), but I mean they take full responsibility for their results. It doesn’t matter what time of the year it is, we are responsible for our life’s results. It doesn’t matter if everyone is slowing down because it’s December, we’re going to keep our pace because we are responsible for our life’s results, not the guys who announce there’s no work. It doesn’t matter if everyone is using January to warm-up because it’s the start of the year, we’re going to hit the ground running and running hard because we’re responsible for our lives results.

This fundmental understanding that we are all individually responsible for the results of our lives is both incredibly important to sustainable success, and sadly very much lacking in our entitled world. This is why I am vigilant about stamping out seeds of entitlement in our teams. The worst leaders I know are those who think “listening to their followers” means giving them whatever they complain about. This is not true. If you baby your team you’ll have a team of babies. But if you teach them to be professional and mature adults, and if you treat them as such, expecting maturity, intelligence, and responsibility, you will have a winning team. And this starts by laying a foundation of understanding. At our company Bridge, understanding is the foundational value we build on, and to us it means empathy (not sympathy nor pity) and wisdom (not opinion nor idea). It means we dig deeper into situations, we don’t take our first opinion on things as truth, but look for an underlying principle, a foundational truth to explain what we’re seeing, and we partner this with wisdom, which is the ability to know and do the right thing in the right  at at the right time in the place with the right people.

So when someone says “I’m stressed” or “I’m overworked” the answer they get from me is “Really? Ok, let’s rationalize your work. What are your objectives? What are the high impact activities you need to accomplish to achieve your objectives? (The first 2 questions are to make sure they’re focused, not just busy playing office.) How many hours would an efficient person need to fulfill those activities? Explain why these activities take this much time.” This is to ensure we have placed an objective measure of what a good baseline for productive and efficient is. Anyone can be busy but very few can be objective. A guy who takes a hundred jump shots but makes one will still lose to a guy who takes theee shots and makes them all. I want to make sure they’re benchmarking against excellence not against feelings.

Usually, very usually, actually, the results are the following:

  • Lack of clarity or focus:
  • Lack of competence or ability:
  • Lack or misuse of capital, partially the misuse of time and energy

The cure to lack of focus is make very clear what the objectives are and make it very clear to the whole team what everyone is supposed to contribute. Sports teams are effective because they share one goal (score more than the opposing team). All the dribbling, rebounding, passing, screening, fouling, goes towards that one shared goal. Many teams don’t go to work sharing the same goal. Someone in the team wants to be famous, another wants to kiss the boss’s ass, another is trying to find himself, and yet another wants to get laid. This team isn’t going to win if people show up with different agendas. At Bridge, it’s clear that the goal is to become the most excellent payroll company in the country, and we have one ultimate metric to measure ourselves by: number of clients. No matter how hard we work, the whole team knows, the proof of success is the trust of clients. This allows us to benchmark against a simple question, “Will this help us earn and keep the trust of clients?”

Every team will have a different objective. The important thing is that is clear to everyone and shared by everyone. That is what makes a team united after all, it is that they are after the same win.

For lack of competence, ideally we hire people who have the competence for the role, but given the reality of resource constraints, it is important that even if we don’t put a bonafide expert in the role, we need to put someone who is HUDE: Hungry, Understanding, Diligent, and Empowered. Over and over, the HUDEs have shown much better performance than the experts. Between a financial expert and a HUDE, I would place my money on the HUDE becoming wealthy. Between a pedigreed professional and a HUDE, I would choose the HUDE to rely on. Why? Because they’re going to find an intelligent way, and they’re not going to quit until the mission is accomplished, and they’re going to empower others in the process. Because they don’t rely on common knowledge or advanced degrees, they take every challenge with the fresh eyes of a student, so they learn much more than someone who already thinks they know the field. Because they’re HUDE, they grow more significantly and at a much faster pace than others. Let me explain this with an example:

Before leaving the office yesterday a little after 6pm, I noticed much of our team still there. (This is a team that starts work at 7am, to they were putting in 11 hour days on the first week of the year!) I used the time to teach them a lesson I learned from many years of “stress” (I personally hardly use that word to describe how I feel), and the lesson is this:

When you’re stressed, don’t ever allow discouragement, doubt, or defeat creep in. Instead, see where you need to grow, then grow.

When I was a small kid, 5 years old I believe, I carried and dropped a 5 lb. weight on my toe, and it hurt like hell. Today, 5 lbs. isn’t even a warm up. It’s easy to carry. I can carry it with one hand. I can carry much more than 5 lbs. Why? Because I grew. Growth is what helps us face the ever increasing difficulty of ever increasing responsibilities and dreams.

Discouragement makes us lower our goals because of the difficulty. Doubt distracts us with inner conflict. Defeat makes us quit. Instead, focus on growth. Imagine if I let that 5lbs weight failure define my life’s aspirations, if I said, “I tried carrying 5lbs and I just hurt myself. What makes me think I can life 180?” I would not be where I am.

Too many people are letting their 5 pound failures define their lives. They got turned down so they don’t try elsewhere. They got cheated on so they don’t commit. They failed an exam and hate school. They got dumped so won’t ask anyone out. They got tricked so won’t trust. They had a bad first day and let this first impression linger. Their parents were harsh so they rebel. Their parents didn’t have enough so they they settle or complain. They take their 5 pound challenges, fail them, and allow discouragement, doubt, and defeat in and reject growth.

I make sure no one in our team allows a 5 lb. problem beat them. They’re too important to lose to such a small enemy. Instead, they know they need to grow.

Don’t quit because you got dumped or fired or rejected. Grow and make yourself indispensable. Don’t complain because your family can’t afford what you want. Grow and make yourself useful. Don’t complain because no one is listening to you. Grow and make yourself credible. Don’t complain because you have a lot of work. Grow and increase your capacity to handle difficult, long, complex work.

If you want competence in yourself and your teams, don’t accept excuses. Help people grow.

Finally, the issue of lacking and misused capital is usually self-fixing when people are focused and growing. Why? Because money is usually not the main problem even if we keep thinking it is. A focused and competent team is efficient and part of efficient means achieving more with less resources. This is why a lot of big companies fail when they try to spend their way to efficiency when their own bureaucracy ensures lack of clarity and focus, as well as lack HUDE. Bureaucracy, politics, unfair wages (where non-performers make as much or more than performers) will drive HUDEs away.

In a small company like ours, our leaders make sure that we don’t let resources constraints become an excuse for anyone. When someone says, “I didn’t have this and that” we focus on their time and energy use instead “With the time you have, did you focus? Did you maximize your time?”

The point of all of this is:

Don’t let your 5 pound stresses define your aspirations not your effort. Seek instead to grow. Before you know it what was once a huge challenge isn’t even a warmup, and not only will you be able to successfully handle greater weight, you’ll be able help others carry their own.

Foundations – Why I’m Building

Foundations – Why I’m Building

We play life like a game of house,
A house on shifting sand and gold-colored sh*t
No wonder our souls are easily shaken
With neither the mind, nor body, nor spirit,
We do not have the character to be useful
We are not prudent, disciplined, nor wise
So we lived destroyed lives and destroy others
Because we refuse wisdom that’s not nice
But let’s not pretend we seek wisdom at all
We don’t, we seek encouraging lies
We want to be told we are amazing
Even as we offer half-hearted tries
Let’s not pretend we seek truth either
We prefer a myth, a beautiful fairy tale
Then wonder when the results of our lives
Are demands for more and pleas that fail

This is a series I’m starting the year on the foundations I’m laying for my life as well as my family’s. The word foundation is from the word found, which means to establish, to set, and to place. I like to use the start of the year to check my life’s foundations. Just like anything else, they suffer from wear and tear. I am always shocked at the state they’re in, and always finding that I need to be stricter about what I consider to be foundational. Not all my preconceived and firmly-held beliefs were essential, many of them were strong opinions with no standard to base them. I was building my foundations on sinking sand. Here’s my explanation on building personal foundations, a simple What I’m building, Where I’m building, and How I’m building, starting with what they’re all sharing, a single Why I’m building, and that is love.

Why I’m Building: Love
To explain this, I’d like to start with why it’s important to define what love is before saying it’s our motivation. People take the true meaning of words for granted, no longer checking for actual meanings nor true definitions. We’re content with general ideas that could mean the same thing (even if many times they don’t). It’s sad in my opinion, because when we are ok with weak definitions for things, such as words, our lives start losing exactly that which definitions were supposed to produce: meaning. Let me give an example:

Good & Nice
When the word nice starts to mean good and the word good starts to mean nice, then neither of them keeps its meaning, becoming neither good nor nice. How many times have I heard someone tell me, when asked about a certain person’s quality, “He’s nice” as if nice is some high standard to be attained. This is the sort of thing that happens when we do not protect definition.

To be very clear: nice is not a high standard. To be nice is not a virtue. To be good, now that’s a high standard. But to mix them up as synonyms can be dangerous, leading us to rationalize foolish, ineffective, and even immoral behavior as not being so bad because the person is “nice”. And on the flip-side, it’s much easier for us to be upset, get angry, and even hate a truly good person who is not nice, who is harsh, or blunt, or insensitive. 

We prefer nice fools more than not-nice sages. When we prefer the fool over the sage, when we cannot distinguish nice from good, we will be very prone to foolish decisions, following nice fools and rejecting the wisdom of the not-nice, even if it is still wisdom.

While a lot of what is good is nice, not all that is good is nice, and neither is all that is nice considered to be good. Being good and being nice are very different things. Being good means being righteous. Being nice means being agreeable. It is very possible, in the pursuit of goodness/righteousness to be not nice or not agreeable, especially if the situation includes being disagreeable to unrighteousness. To be nice or agreeable in this situation would mean not to be good or righteous. This example does not only show that it is possible to be good and NOT nice but also shows that it is possible to be nice and NOT good.

The point is, when we water-down definitions, we destroy meaning. When we destroy meaning, we destroy purpose. Life becomes meaning-less.

Few words, if any, have lost their meaning like the word love. When I ask people what the definition of love is, they usually say stuff like, “love is not a feeling but an action” or “love is patient, kind…” or some other nice/agreeable statement. There are two problems when we use these generalizations and unstudied definitions:

1. Because we have such misunderstood ideas of love we know not how to recognize true love, especially when it is packaged in a way we do not understand nor do not prefer. When the word love gets mixed in with preference, such as in “I love ice cream”, then we start to think that anything that is not preferred is not love. This is a grave mistake. Discipline, the way the Bible says, is a powerful way God treats those He loves. I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly prefer discipline, but understand I need it because it is a loving and all-knowing God’s way of setting me on the right track. When we only accept preferred love, then we will miss love that comes in ways we do not prefer, and this will lead us to question the person giving us this love, ultimately leading us to doubt him, until we finally rebel. This is typical of adolescents who question a lot the rules and discipline their parents give them, thinking they understand the world better, questioning whether their parents care about them (when they’re really questioning whether their parents care about their feelings and teenage social life), yet failing to recognize the love shown in food to eat, spoons and forks to use, a bed to sleep, and day in and day out of consistent hard work. While consistent faithfulness, the kind we easily take for granted because it doesn’t come with fanfare or romance, is closer to the Bible’s idea of “laying your life down for your friend”, we now live in a world where kids think love is when dad gives them a new cell phone, where wives think love is when their husband can afford their impulses, where husbands think love is when their wives stay hot, or when students think a “cool” teacher loves them more than a challenging one.

We do not know the definition of love, and so cannot recognize it, especially when it comes in ways we do not prefer, particularly when it comes tempered by wisdom, prudence, and discipline. When we cannot recognize it we will not embrace it, and when we don’t embrace it we will not enjoy it, and worse, we will reject and reject it, only to lose it.

2. Because we have misunderstood ideas of love, we know not how to show it. One glaring way to know whether we’re not showing love correctly is by honestly asking this question:

Am I more focused, more concerned, and more diligent with my obligation to love others with my actions or am I more focused, more concerned, and more diligent with claiming my entitlement to the love of others? 

True love is, yes, a feeling of desire, but it is a powerful desire that leads to certain actions, certain actions that lead to desired results. So in this explanation you get the powerful passion, but you also get right practice, and both are guided by the great purpose.

Passion without right practice towards great purpose will either dissipate or self-destruct. Practice without powerful passion will lack the motivation to achieve a great purpose. Passion and practice without great purpose is like a dog chasing its tail, going round and round, with no meaning.

Because we have forgotten this, and because we are so into “nice” as the ultimate virtue, we think that someone is loving when they’re nice, and think we’re being loving when we’re nice. This idea shows a severe lack of understanding, as nice, while it may be part of of the practice of love, it does not cover both passion and purpose. No one is nice because they’re passionate. The most passionate people I know can many times be not nice! And no one who is seeking a great purpose aspires to be nice. They aspire to whatever that great purpose is. This is not to say nice is wrong. It’s good to be agreeable when the situation merits it. Nice is not wrong, but it is not love. To think that the most loving people in the world are the nicest and the nicest people in the world are loving is to be naïve. And to think that our being nice is being loving is a big mistake.

You can’t plant seeds of nice and get fruits of love.

While I’m trying to provide an objective definition of love, I find myself becoming more cynical with writing reasonable explanations for a world that doesn’t want reasonable explanations but nice and agreeable explanations of the world even if they’re not accurate, I do hope that maybe even just one person is influenced to start laying strong foundations, not built on shifting sand which is so easily shaken and destroyed, but built on the rock, the Word of God.

Now I’ve realized that one major reason why my foundations show many cracks is because I don’t build on the whole Word. I pick and choose the parts that I find, here’s the word again, nice or agreeable. I love to read and reread the parts about great plans and blessings. I love to share the verses about loving me despite my faithlessness. But I fail to take just as seriously the more sober parts like, “Do not answer a fool according to his (or her) folly” or the one on “Do not make light of the Lord’s discipline” or the really scary ones such as:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
– Matthew 7

These happen to be the verse right before the example of building a house on shifting sand. It’s another sobering reminder that we cannot simply embrace what’s nice But from my experience, we don’t want wisdom. What we want is to be loved for who we are – even if who we are is holding others back. What we want is to not be judged, even if our own bad judgement is costing others. What we want is to be loved for who we are, unwilling to be loved for who they are, and unwilling to love others for who they are as well.

In short, we don’t want God’s word. We want our feelings assuaged.

The foundation I’m seeking to build in my life is not a feelings-based one. This is not because I do not have feelings. I do. And as is seen in my writing, poetry, and art, emotions are a big part of me. But I see them as things to be mastered and harnessed, not merely expressed. The difference between a masterpiece and ordinary art, is that one artist infused his work with a combination of skill and soul. There’s emotion AND mastery. The ordinary ones are all just expressions, emotional farts without depth.

All of that to say, the reason why I’m building a foundation is because of love, not the mushy love of movies, but the faithful, consistent, enduring, growing kind.

Sometimes I wonder, what if others don’t reciprocate the love I’m forcing myself to show? Then I remind myself it doesn’t matter. We are obligated to love, not entitled to it. Even more, he (or she) who truly loves God will be transformed by that love into a better person, so even if one is disappointed by the love of others, one of two results could happen: (1) it won’t matter so much because the person is so transformed by God’s love he doesn’t need the love of others for satisfaction, (2) the person is so transformed by God’s love that he naturally attracts love from people who have also allowed themselves to be transformed. Either way, this person is not at a loss.

So here’s my loooong explanation for WHY I’m building, summarized into a few sentences:

The reason WHY I’m building is because I love God and I love others, particularly the closest people in my life such as my wife and family. I want to show them real love by being the kind of person who is so excellent that I can love excellently.

I have a long way to go.

I have a long long long long long long…

…way to go.

2016 Finale: Working Silently, Alone, in the Dark

2016 Finale: Working Silently, Alone, in the Dark

I. The Romance & the Reality

We said our “I love yous” But what did we know? When we had yet to find How very proud we are so #db

It’s very clear Our love is here to stay ; Not for a year But ever and a day. The radio and the telephone And the movies that we know May just be passing fancies, And in time may go ! But, oh my dear, Our love is here to stay. Together we’re Going a long, long way In time the Rockies may crumble, Gibralter may tumble, There’re only made of clay, But our love is here to stay. – Love is Here to Stay

“I didn’t sign-up for this.”

I don’t know how many times I have thought those words (and sometimes even spoken). I’ve said it to myself after fights with Yasmin. I’ve said it to myself after a long day, or a difficult meeting, or during avoidable and unavoidable drama. I’ve said it when people haven’t met their commitments to me, or when things don’t go my way after trying so hard, or when life feels just so damn difficult. “I didn’t sign-up for this.” It’s me saying, in a way, that the life I have isn’t the life I want. It’s me saying the difficulties I’m facing is unfair to me. I’ve come to realize that what I’m doing is accusing God, who gave me this life; and accusing myself, for steering myself to where I am through my decisions. Either way, I tear down the One who can help me most: God, and the one who needs to help himself most: me. I’m glad Yasmin has corrected me about not saying this. It’s a very destructive statement, even if unsaid. But why do I do this? Why do I default to wanting to rationalize the letting go of difficult circumstances instead of digging deep and finding courage? Why am I so easily shaken? I think it has to do with my crazy expectations, starting with the misunderstood expectation that I have certain inalienable rights, which I have romanticized without the foundational reality that these expectations have a price to be paid to be fulfilled. Let me give you two examples:

1. I love the idea of freedom. I love the idea of being able to choose. But I’ve forgotten that the ability to choose does not mean I get think, say, or do whatever I want, when I want, where I want, why I want, and how I want. That is the romantic idea of freedom, a romantic idea that appeals to me. But the reality of freedom is not “everyone is free”, in fact, I would argue most are not free, lacking the necessary self-control to truly be self-determining. The romantic view is that “we’re all free”. The reality is without self-control there is no personal freedom, without rule of law there is no mandate to prevent the different freedoms of diverse people from encroaching on each other, and without moral absolutes there are no standards by which we can base laws on fairly. The reality is, without curbing our freedom to choose with wisdom, we destroy that very privilege, and that is what freedom is, a privilege, not a right, that if abused, we will lose. Don’t believe me? Think of a man who argues that he is free to eat whatever he wants and goes on to debauch on large volumes of food, until the day his organs give way, drastically limiting his bodily functions. Free to choose but not free to choose consequences. Better to choose well before that final consequence or final victory we will all face: death.

2. When Yasmin and I got married, we were so excited. Me and my beautiful best friend were going to take over the world. Before the wedding, we planned the ceremony but we also planned the marriage, reading up on it, talking through difficult topics, and even discussing whether our life purposes integrated. Nothing is as romantic as marriage, the exclusive commitment to another for life. But the reality many times looks like arguments, like a lot of bills with little money, like a lot of time flying by, like two people who can’t sleep as they get used to having a roommate, like little annoyances that lead to full-scale wars, like a lot of frustration. It looks more like two proud people looking into the clearest mirror they’ll ever have, each other, and reeling at the ugliness they see. To a lot of young people today, a relationship promises the greatest joy one will ever find, and there is some truth to this. But without an understanding of the reality, that truly beautiful romances are not built on great expectations and fleeting passions but on sacrifice, faithfulness, and forgiveness, one is most likely just going to end up jaded. I found our wedding day to be a very joyous occasion, a comment we were told by people who witnessed it, but a much greater joy for me has been the realization that I could love so much and be loved so much, and I realized this not by achieving a picture perfect marital existence, but through the words “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” over and over and over again.

Reality without romance is joyless, and this leads to a cold and ruthless existence that cannot appreciate beauty. But we also cannot have romance without reality, for romance without reality is meaningless, a series of fancies, followed by doubt and despair when they pass. Romance without reality makes us desire beautiful things without knowing the price of beautiful things. We want the passion without the commitment. We want the freedom without the responsibility nor the accountability. We want salvation without obedience. And so we end with neither.

My prayer for 2017 is to live with more wisdom, at least much more wisdom than I have lived 2016. How does one do this? By understanding What Is, doing What (One) Ought, and defining What Will (Be).

II. What Is, What Ought, What Will

Worse than the one who does not know Is the one who thinks he knows For he moves confident, though ignorant And does not correct where he goes #db

Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense. – Proverbs 12:11 NIV

I get a lot of questions on my blog and Facebook page, and while I would like to say that most of the questions indicate intelligent, wise, and high-impact people, the reality is (here we go again with the word “reality”), most of the questions reveal how people who buy into today’s popular ideas will naturally become shallow, foolish, and selfish. The bulk of what I’m asked are similar to this questions, “Where are all the great guys/girls?” I’ve written about this before, you can search for it on my blog, but a quick answer to this, my normal answer to this is, “They’re hiding from you!” Seriously, I’ve never seen a great thing, when fully flourished lack attention. Neither have I seen a truly substantial thing need attention to validate itself. If you find yourself always wondering why you don’t have a great guy or girl, I think you should get a more difficult job or at the very least spend your life on something more engaging. Only people who have the luxury of living in a fairy tale, or think they have the luxury of living in a fairy tale, have time to think like this. Maybe it’s because, as an adult, I’ve had bills to pay and shareholders to be accountable to, that many times the only option for the day was to keep my head down and work, and before you know it, it’s years later, and there’s some success.

Another question I get a lot is “Can you be my mentor?” I personally have no idea why they would want me. I saw my cousin over Christmas break and he mentioned that word in our common business circles is that I’m “intense”, and in Yasmin’s more specific estimation, “harsh”! Now let’s apply some logic to this request: I’m guessing that if someone is seeking a mentor, it’s because they want to grow in wisdom or become more like their mentor in the area they’re seeking mentorship in. Yet, most of the time, when talking to people who want to be mentored, they don’t seem to understand the most basic ideas of duty, obligation, and responsibility. The simple idea that one must do what one does not feel like doing simply because it is one’s duty is super basic. But when I hear people telling me why they want to move jobs because it’s “hard” or “people are mean” or “it’s not my passion”, I have a hard time not getting impatient. I can’t mentor someone like that. I don’t think anyone can. Mentoring isn’t simply meeting up to blow smoke up someone’s ass. Besides, if a person won’t fulfill his obligations to people who gave him life, his parents, and even complains about them and their shortcomings, the chances of this person really listening to me, who has done nothing for him, is not going to be good. My answer to this is usually, “You don’t need a mentor. You need to commit yourself to your life’s roles and find a way to do a really good job in each. You’ll find the lessons you need. You’ll find the teacher you need.” I can go on with the questions that worry me. They worry me because they reveal that majority of people are preoccupied with basic ideas of identity and purpose. We are insecure and think we can find it in identity, in being someone, which is sort of true, but if who we are, the someone we are, is of weak character, of little competence, and no credibility, then it doesn’t matter how many relationships we have, or how many involvements we can list, because we will still be insecure – not because the world is a dark place – but because we are unable to handle reality. We swing between points of being lost, being bored, and being fleetingly excited because we seek the next “must see”, “must have”, “must eat”, and “must experience” instead of our daily “must do”, and doing our tasks in an excellent way. I didn’t find my life purpose by seeking mentors or reading self-help books, nor by reading blog posts (such as this), or having a prayer partner.

The reality is, I didn’t start with a life purpose. I don’t think anyone does. I started with what my parents gave me: duty, obligation, and responsibility. I didn’t start out with “It’s my life’s goal to build an NGO when I have money”. I started out as a 5 year old being exposed to a squatter area, “David, you don’t have everything but you have so much. These people have very little It is your job to be grateful everyday for the things you do have and to be very generous, especially with people who have less.” The life purpose of helping the poor started with duty. My parents explained to us that is was our job to help. Neither did my purposeful business building start with a great idea or glamorous startup. It started with having to take over a failing company which was a family obligation. I didn’t like having to come to work at 6am. I made myself come at 6am because there was no time to lose and because I was too worried to sleep anyway. This heavy obligation led to an amazing character building experience which has led to other wonderful things. The things I enjoy today didn’t come simply because they were handed down to me. They’re the product of living responsibly, being taught as a young man, “If you don’t develop your mind, you won’t be smart.” or “If you don’t use your time wisely, someday, in the future, you won’t have anything to show.” or “If you don’t eat your vegetables and eat a lot of junk your body will suffer.” It was responsibility, the lesson that I needed to take control of the things that mattered to me and cultivate them, that led to fruitful living. It did not start with romantic ideas, big dreams, and Big Hairy Audacious Goals (all of which I love), but with little seeds planted during times of duty, obligation, and responsibility, which are, to me, the way God tills our hearts in preparation for His word. God uses these three things to break the soil of our hearts and prepare them for planting.

So instead of starting 2017 thinking about, “What do I want to do?” or “What are my goals?” Start with the questions, “What are my roles? What does my immediate world need from me?” Am I student? How do I excel more than ever – even when I’m bored or frustrated? Am I a husband or wife? How can I love my spouse more deeply this year? Am I a son or daughter? How can I honor my parents more meaningfully this year? Am I “leader”? How can I fundamentally improve the lives of my followers this year instead of just pleasing fans? Am I an employee? How can I see make my boss great? How can I make my team great? How can I make my company great?

Start with your roles and identify your duties, obligations, and responsibilities. Start by identifying what’s required of you and commit to fulfilling them.

Personally, I’ve divided my efforts into three: – Understand What Is, meaning understand universal spiritual and physical principles, so that I will have strong foundational concepts upon which to build on. I’ve been loading up on Physics, Chemistry, and Biology reading, as well as going back to Math, Economics, and Theology, not taking for granted what I may already know, but desiring to increase my knowledge in these fundamental areas. – The next thing I’m focusing on is to Do What (One) Ought, meaning, do the necessary things, especially the necessary difficult things. After understanding the foundation principles, these should help inform me daily decision-making to live wisely as I face daily opportunities and challenges. – Finally, when one Understands What Is, Does What (One) Ought, he will inevitably Define What Will (Be), meaning he will shape the future, at the very least his future, not letting it fall into the hands of random chance, but with diligence, refuses to be a victim to the workings of others, but learning to control the world by controlling himself. A lot of people are excited about this third thing. We’re usually excited about what we’ll create or build or achieve, but to do these, we need to go back to the first two. Do we Understand What Is? Do we Do What (One) Ought? If so, we need not worry, What Will (Be) is going to be beautiful.

III. Working Silently, Alone, in the Dark

I’ve learned to love the ripples Of unknown achievements Why does anyone have to know? We made possible these moments #db

If you fail under pressure, your strength is too small. – Proverbs 24:10 NLT

This is probably my eighth stab at writing this piece. I have drafts saved in computers and notebooks, outlines on scattered pieces paper, and I can’t say I’m happy with it. I guess it will have to do. Maybe I’m trying to share too much, putting too much pressure on one article to help change prevailing mindsets. Maybe it’s time I got an editor. But I guess if I could sum-up my encouragement for my readers, it would be this: Get really really really good at working silently, alone, in the dark. Get good at being excellent invisibly.

Get good at studying without awards.

Get good at working without recognition.

Get good at standing for what’s right on a daily basis, even when you’re alone, especially when you’re alone.

Get good at doing the necessary hard thing.

It’s easy to march in a rally. It’s hard to walk in unity. It’s easy to express our personal frustrations. It’s hard to address our personal mistakes. It’s easy to post on social media. It’s hard to cultivate an inner life. It’s easy to message, text, and snap. It’s hard to bootstrap. It’s easy to compare. It’s hard to live aware. It’s easy to blame. It’s much harder, the soul, to tame. It’s easy to seek applause. It’s difficult to admit our flaws.

Get really really good at working silently, working without fanfare, without needing to make a fuss, without complaining about how stressful or hard things are, and without pride and arrogance. Get really really good at working alone, developing personal conviction and developing the independence required to live in interdependence. And get really really good at working in the dark, like the roots of a tree thickening, unseen, surrounded by dirt, under the ground. Trust that your personal efforts in understanding, diligence, and empowerment will bear fruit, and that someday your stem will break through the soil, and even more, as your oak grows, you will have the roots to hold it strong.

Eat because you're hungry. That is enough.
Paint because you have color in your heart. That is enough.
Write because you have something meaningful to say. That is enough.
Enjoy the moment in the moment. That is enough. 
Love because you've found someone to love. That is enough.
You don't need the approval of "likes" to validate your existence, to validate you activities. If people like your stuff, wonderful. If they don't, just as good. Who you are is enough. #db