Foundations – What I’m Building

For Why I’m Building, please read this article.

In my last article, I explained WHY I’m building, and that reason, in a nutshell, is love. What I mean by love, as I clarified, is not simply a feeling, but a desire so strong for God, the principles, and the people dear to me that develop myself to be as best an offering to them as possible. For example, because I love my wife so much, the questions I ask myself are “How can I be more faithful?” or “How do I make sure my wife has the fittest possible husband?” or “How do I make sure my wife has a wise and intelligent husband?” Or when I think about having future kids, I ask myself, “How do I become a great dad?” or “What is a great dad?” or “How do I balance the need for discipline and the need for acceptance?” For work, which I love a lot, I ask, “How do I make sure my teams have a great leader in me?” or “How do I make sure our leaders are growing spirit, soul, and body, and how do we empower them with the opportunities and resources to grow in these areas?”

I guess you can say I’m thinking of a lot of things. I think we should all be thinking of a lot of things. The ability to reason and think logically and not just instinctively is one of the main things that separates humans and animals.

I’d like to get more specific about how I’m going about the structuring of WHAT I’m Building, not so much to say that these are superior categories or a superior process, but more to give you ideas for how you can approach your own planning. There are many different methods to planning, and I’m always optimizing my own processes. Like an operating system updating to a newer version, I think it’s important that a person is constantly updating their own operating systems, an improvement from David 2.0 to 3.0, and so on.

I. The first thing I start with is a mind map of my major roles, including future roles. I give an example in the photo bellow:

Every role we play in life is both a privilege and a responsibility, which means they are meaningful and can be lost. Many times we take these roles for granted and think we won’t lose them. We can. And we will if we don’t take care of them. No matter how far-reaching God’s love is, He will honor the free-will He gave us if we choose to live independently of Him. No matter how beautiful our weddings were, our marriages will fail if we don’t take our roles seriously and fulfill the responsibilities of the role. It doesn’t matter how much we pray for our health, our bodies will suffer if we do not take care of that dimension of our person. The point is, we need to take account of the different roles we play.

Taking into account future roles is also very important. Someday, if I’m going to be a dad, I’ll need to grow into a certain kind of person. If I don’t, if I wing it, then my child will get a dad who wings it. If I don’t prepare now, my child will have an unprepared father. If I don’t save now, I’ll stress about bills later. In the same way, too many people are living just for the moment and sacrificing future roles. Before they know it the future is upon them and they have nothing to show and no preparation for the opportunities and challenges now facing them. If you’re in college, start preparing for life after college, which is a working, independent, productive life. If you’re single, start preparing for a lifetime of commitment. Start saving, start learning to control impulses, and most importantly, start learning to walk humbly before God. I wish I did more of those things.

II. The next thing I do is I break these roles down into more specific categories. In the photo bellow, you’ll see that I divided my role as a Person, which I believe is to be maximized, into Body, Soul, and Spirit.

I believe that every person has the privilege and responsibility to grow their body, soul, and spirit towards maximum value. Especially if you say you’re motivated by love, you should be motivated to offer a great person to the world. I’ve never met a truly loving person who didn’t want to give their best to the person they love. Who I am is ultimately what I’m offering God and the world, by growing spirit, soul, and body, I offer God and the world a more purposeful, a more loving, a more rested, a wiser, a healthier, stronger, and more energetic person.

I further break these down into the even more specific areas of Diet, Hydration, Exercise, and so on for body, as well as Devotions, Church, and Bible Study for Spirit. This helps me identify what activities I need to do to succeed in these areas.

III. I identify specific activities I will practice to succeed in the category. As David, I have a personal dimension, and that person is made up of a Body, Soul, and Spirit. In the Body category of my person, I need to exercise if I’m going to succeed in my body. The exercises I’m focusing on this year, considering my goals (such as 8% body fat), constraints (time and money limitations), and preferences (I’m easily bored!) I chose HIIT or high intensity interval training (which I can do at home or outside), swimming (my apartment has a pool so no extra cost), and running (which allows me to listen to audiobooks while working out). To these I add specific goals, such as swim 2k straight (which I used to be able to do, but haven’t done in a while) and a 24 minute 5k (which I also used to be able to do when I was much younger).

Having specific goals like these help me plan my approach. For example, to swim 2k, I need about 1 hour at the moment. I don’t have 1 hour a day to swim, so I do this on weekends. For the 24 minute 5k, I currently run 27 minute 5ks, which isn’t too bad, but it’s not good enough for me, so I’ve prepared interval training and running programs to improve. Because time is a limitation, I try to keep my daily workout to 30 minutes or less and my weekends for longer ones. So I spend less than 5 hours a week on my body (not including sleep of course), which isn’t a lot at all, so I have no excuses.

IV. Finally, I identify the details of the activities and schedule them into one time events or recurring events on my schedule. 

Thinking of goals and dreams is fun, planning for success, which means planning in detail, scheduling, budgeting, and saying NO to a million things is tedious and difficult – but it’s what gets results. I did this planning exercise with Yasmin, and while she was very excited for this year, she was also incredibly tired after. So was I. For everything we say “yes” to, we need to remember that we’re saying “no” to others. This is where maturity comes in. When I say “yes” to a “renovation” fund, I say “no” to a “David’s New Car” fund (which works for me because I prefer Uber anyway). When I say “yes” to being healthy, I say “no” to many of my favorite food and drinks, and I say “no” to certain expenses to say “yes” to certain investments in health.
In the example above, I show a general view of my role as a Steward (which is someone who manages the resources God has entrusted to him). For me, I have found that I have opportunities and talents in business, social work, and with my art, specifically, writing, music (I have compositions that need to be re-recorded), and painting. For the business areas of my life, I articulate my goals here as the Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) of the company, aligning my goals with the companies’ goals. For art, particularly for writing, I’m in the process of launching my first book. This means I need to identify things like “October Book Launch” or “sign publisher” or “submit manuscript”. These things happen in order. I won’t be able to launch in October if I don’t submit my manuscript at least 3 months before. And these things don’t happen in a vacuum. I have other roles and responsibilities. So I need to plan ahead and plan well.

It is possible to do a lot of things. Like I wrote in an old blog about Magellan, people of today can do what took the world’s #1 explorer a year to do in less than a day. By planning and harnessing technology and best practices, I’ve found that I am able to live a prolific life despite the challenges of every day.

Hope this helps you plan your own awesome year. May God bless us our plans.

Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.
Proverbs 16:3

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

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.