Choose Your Own Adventure

(Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
– The Road Not Taken, Roberst Frost

Whenever I’m going through a tiring or exhausting moment, feeling lazy or unmotivated, or feeling frustrated with myself or the things happening around me, I like to remind myself of my 3 options:

  1. You can either choose to be cool and fit-in, or you can choose stand out.
  2. You can either  choose to be cute, or you can choose to be useful.
  3. You can either  choose to be comfortable, or you can choose to be great.

But I can’t choose to be both.

It’s possible that by choosing one I’ll still get the other, but it’s more likely because I chose the more difficult option. But I can’t pursue opposing values and expect to arrive anywhere. Just as heading north, then heading south, then heading north, then heading south will keep me stuck, trying to be cool yet standout, cute yet useful, and comfortable yet great, is practically impossible. So I need to choose. And I need to choose with an understanding that when I choose one direction I forsake the other.

Which is why I find a lot of the popular advice today to be destructive to success because it makes us choose the path of least resistance. If you only really do the things you enjoy, then you will be incredibly one-dimensional and limited, for there is no great achievement without skill, and there is no skill that can be developed without doing difficult things we don’t enjoy. If we only listen to politically correct things, which are usually things that are not offensive, then we water down our ability to learn from ideas that start out as a difficult but bear good fruit. An example of this for me is when a mentor of mine, Butch Bautista, told me that if I didn’t learn to focus I would fail and waste my potential. I remember my discomfort at being told I would fail but I’m so grateful to him today. Today’s popular thinking is to avoid conflict, avoid confrontation, avoid painful truths, avoid offending feelings, and avoid rocking the boats.  Don’t realize is that by avoiding painful lessons, painful disciplines, and making painful choices, and doing all this without losing compassion and hope, we build the type of character that can withstand life’s realities and take on the cares of others. The world is not made better by people avoiding evil and the pain it causes. The world is made better by people who confront evil and confront pain.
This isn’t some old fashioned advice. It’s simple logical reasoning.

I think logical reasoning is gravely missing in the thinking of people today. It’s sad that many people have lost the ability to reason with clarity due to an overemphasis on political correctness and the sensitivity of egos. Sometimes we need to be ruthless with ourselves, particularly with the bad habits, the excuses, and the mediocre relationships that hold us back. Ruthless self-reflection, is a humbling exercise, but if we’re willing to learn, it becomes the first step towards improvement. We shouldn’t muddy our thinking with how people will perceive us. We must focus on the purpose we desire to achieve, the task at hand, and the commitments we’ve made. Focusing on these things gives us clarity, and this clarity gives us confidence to “go boldly in the direction of our dreams”, as a popular Thoreau quote goes.

So here’s my advice for success: Choose the road that forces you to confront your yourself.

Do the workout that makes you sore but gets you results.

Read the books that give you a headache and study them. You’ll learn what you don’t know – and it’s usually what we don’t know that limits us.

Seek mentors who point out your weaknesses.

Learn to listen to your spouse – especially on the parts you don’t llike to hear. I have an incredibly hard time with this, but find that Yasmin is many times right. I’m learning that wives have a way of being illogical but right, so I’m learning to do the right thing beyond just the logical thing, a lesson I’m learning to appreciate. If you’re not married, learn to listen to your parents with humility and teachability! That’s the best practice for being married!

Persevere in the difficult jobs. They teach you critical skills and more importantly strengthen character.

Take on impossible roles. You’ll learn that impossible is nothing,  and better, that nothing is impossible.

Wake up in ungodly hours – even on weekends – because your purpose never ends.

Don’t hunger for praise. Hunger for improvement.

Don’t judge your performance according to your fans. Judge your performance according to world standards.

While everyone else Pokemon Goes, go boldly in the direction of your dreams – and I hope it’s more than catching a digital creature. (Nothing against computer games. I actually really like them. Ask Yasmin. But they should be enjoyed in their right time and place.)

While everyone is cheering for the next big must-enjoy distraction, be focused, even if you’re the party-pooper, because you understand that you don’t build great things with distractions but with diligence.

Move out of your comfort zone – starting with moving out of your parents home. The sooner you pay your own dues, the sooner you can start getting better at it. The sooner you pay your dues, the sooner success will come to you.

Have discriminating taste – especially with who you call your friends. I’ve come to. Wet quite a few people, but call very few people my friends. We will become the average of the 5 friends we spend the most time with, so choose wisely.

I can go on with examples but the simple point is this: Choose the road that forces you to confront yourself, the path that requires you to face your weaknesses, your insecurities, your fears, your lack of skill, your lack of money, your lack of wisdom. Confront yourself bravely, with perseverance, and humility. Don’t just be a believer, be a philosopher. Don’t just seek experience, seek foundation. Don’t just be a spectator of other people’s stories, choose your own adventure.


To Be Able to Paint That Picture

10 Years from Now…

“10 years from now…” this is a phrase our team hears from me over and over. Along with, “The literal meaning of passion is suffering.”, “thats not a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal!”, and “Missionaries not mercenaries!”, this forms part of my team development philosophy of making sure every team member lives by perspectives that lead to success. This is a deliberate effort on my part to battle the popular ideas spreading around that sound appealing but really leads to entitlement, vanity, and excuses, all of which are enemies of greatness. I want, I deeply deeply want, every single person in our team to be great.

“10 years from now…” is my way of getting them to learn the lesson under the lesson. It’s me reminding them to learn how to sell effectively, but more than that, to identify and communicate value. It’s me reminding them to learn to solve a client’s issue, and also how to process any issue. It’s me reminding them to learn the lesson that matters by identifying the lessons that matter a decade from now.

“10 years from now, this won’t matter. What will matter is that you can picture an outcome and order your life to achieve that outcome. And you learn that by working extremely hard to order your life to achieve the target you’ve been assigned. Someday that target will be your own. It will be tuition for your kids. It will be a dream home, a dream car, a dream vacation. It will be an emergency. It will be a cause. And if you’ve learned how to refine the picture so that you see it so clearly, so vividly, and if you’ve learned how to order your life to achieve that picture, you’ll be able to turn that picture, your picture, from an idea in your head into an achievement of your life.”

There’s a lesson behind the lesson, a foundational principle beneath the success. It’s sad that today’s generation is so shallowly rooted that they are so easily shaken, so easily impressed by trappings, and so easily vain. We have a generation that has been so protected from the responsibility, difficulty, and beauty of the struggle, that they’re failing to learn the right lessons because they’re too busy either trying to avoid the pain and embarrassment of failure or rationalizing their failure as someone else’s mistake, someone else’s unfairness, and someone else’s fault. 10 years from now, whose fault it is won’t matter either. What will matter is this: Have we become people who take responsibility? Or have we learned how to make ourselves feel better by always placing the responsibility on someone else? Have we learned to paint that beautiful picture we want? Or have we learned that beautiful pictures are for others to paint – for us? In other words, have we learned to live excellently and love excellently? Or have we hardened our pride and vanity?

Those who match excellent lives with excellent love will paint beautiful pictures.

The proud and the vain? For those of you asking why the world is so dark and violent and harsh, here’s what I believe: it is so because our hearts are proud and vain, self-centered yet empty. And that empty hungry heart cries out for filling, yet this generation of hearts has been told to “love yourself first”, so a bunch of empty hearts are grasping for each other’s emptiness, taking what they can, and turning the once empty hearts into broken empty hearts. This generations’ hearts have not been taught to face harsh realities, particularly the harsh realities of the state of our own hearts. We are told we’re great – without a qualifier for what makes anyone great: the ability to make their fellow man fundamentally better. So we walk along believing we’re great without knowing why, without foundation, that when an event comes that questions or threatens our imargined greatness, we whine and are defensive. We are defensive because we are insecure. We are insecure because we have no foundational principles to stand on. Truly great people need not be insecure, for their hearts are neither selfish nor empty, so what happens to them can be set aside for the greater mission. The world is dark because we have selfish and vain hearts, and because we’ve all been told to prioritize ourselves, and there can be no light in a world of selfish empty hearts prioritizing themselves every single day, posing as modern love.

But sometimes in life’s museum of modern love, we walk across a piece, not a mere expression, but the soul of an man, a woman, matching an excellent life with excellent love, and for a moment our hearts say, “Wow…” They sit with us and we feel uplifted. They walk with us and we feel transported. They speak with us and we feel enlightened. More than inspiration, they remind us of our responsibility. These light bringers, peacemakers, lovers, painters of beautiful pictures remind us there’s hope.

10 years from now, I hope there will be a major shift from the vanity and ugliness of self-centeredness to the sanity and celebration of selflessness.

To Be Able to Paint That Picture…

In a few hours I’ll be speaking at an event of a good friend and man I respect, Brother Bo Sanchez. I think about his impact on thousands, maybe millions, of peole, and how he fundamentally improves their lives.

A beautiful piece in life’s museum of modern love.

I think about my parents, and all the honest, selfless, hardworking parents, and the smile of the old man having to push his cab in traffic last night, who Yasmin insisted we helped, and I appreciate these beautiful pieces in life’s museum of modern love.

I think about the missionaries who are serving not simply proselatyzing, of their selflessness to show God’s love through sacrificial love, through feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and educating the simple. More beautiful pictures in life’s museum of modern love.

I think about honest soldiers and cops, about helpful officials, about industrious students, about hungry, hardworking, humble team members, all beautiful pieces in life’s museum of modern love.

And I say, “Wow…”

There’s a lot of crap in this museum, and they call it modern love. It’s modern yes. But it’s not love. And that’s why we reel at its ugliness when we see it’s real effect.

So I walk back to my favorite pieces.

Once again, I catch msyelf, “Wow…”

Then I walk back to my own soul, shadows and all, inspired by those beautiful pieces, put on my pigment stained overalls, I grab my chisel, my brushes, my palette, and get to work, hoping that someday I too may add a beautiful piece that blesses others in life’s museum of modern love.

To be able to picture a beautiful future, to see it so vividly, and then to be able to work backwards, breaking it down into the background, the outlines, the shadows, the highlights, the hues and shades, the values and contrasts, or to put it simply, to be able to paint that beautiful picture in your head, that is what it means to enjoy your God given freedom, to bless others with the excellence of that beauty, that is what it means to love, to do both every single day, that is what it means to be alive.



Easy Expressions and Meaningful Masterpieces

There will be a noticeable theme among many of my posts, and it’s really the challenging of widespread ideas, accepted conventions, and popular advice that I believe are useless at best and, not only counterproductive, but destructive at worst. I go about this early in the morning or late in the evening by diving deep into a concept until I reach its essence, which is, its fundamental purpose, its reason for existence. In other words, I look for the “why”. Then I ask, “Is the fundamental purpose achieved by this type of thinking? Does this behavior or this advice or this technique or this trend or this event achieve the fundamental purpose it was supposed to?” From there, this journey goes through a series of more “why” questions as I investigate and learn.

There’s a simple word for all of this. It’s called study. We were supposed to have been taught that in school, but how many people today truly study their lives and the lives of others in order to to learn how to live life masterfully.

I guess it’s the difference between a masterpiece and an expression. Anyone can throw color on a white sheet and call it art. But it took a Boticelli to produce a Primavera. Anyone can stick things together and call it art. But it took a Michaelengelo to sculpt a David.  Anyone can compile a series of events and call it a life. But it takes a special kind of effort to live life masterfully.  It takes a Steve Jobs to build a company like Apple. It takes an Abraham Lincoln to keep a country together when there’s a civil war. It takes a Picasso to produce a Guernica. This is why I have a photo of paints on my Facebook page, to remind me that each day, each moment, is a stroke on my life’s painting.

Most people will be living expressions, simply trying to participate and partake of the back and forth of society. When they’re happy, they express happiness. When they’re sad, they express sadness. When they’re stressed, they express it. When they’re horny, they express it. When they feel cheated, they express it. When they want to talk, they express it. When they want something or feel something, the express it, which isn’t necessarily wrong, but also not necessarily wise, for wise is choosing the path, the activity, the expression, that is aligned with our purpose. Most will buy into the idea that “we’re free to express whatever we want”, and we are, but, sadly and detrimentally, will not filter their expressions in light of their purpose. I know this because I struggle with this. Also, we accept whatever expressions others make, telling ourselves that this is “love”, that this is “freedom”, that this is “understanding”, that “love wins” when everyone is free to do whatever they want for whatever reason they want, because we’re all equal. When someone is happy, and they express it, we automatically respond, “Nice! He’s happy.” When someone is sad and they express it, we automatically respond, “I’m sorry you’re sad.” When someone is expressing anything, we automatically express back, without thinking about this simple yet most essential thing: purpose. What’s the purpose of the moment? What’s the purpose of his or her expression? What’s the purpose of my response? The automatic and unreflected response is not freedom, it is not understanding, it is not more loving either. I would argue that it is less because it is impulse, it is reactive, and it is shallow. Maybe the happy person doesn’t need an, “I’m happy for you” but a “Time to move out and be a man. Your life is too easy.” Maybe the sad person doesn’t need, “I’m sorry” but “get over yourself.” These may sound harsh but may actually be what’s benefitical. Just like a coach who tells his team to fight harder, screaming at their faces to show the seriousness of the matter, maybe what people need to hear is not simply a mirror of their expression, but reminder of purpose.

One way I see this regularly in my own experience is when I see hundreds, if not thousands of people like or share my posts, then find that the average number of minutes spent on the post are actually not too high. Which means people either read really fast, faster than me at least, or people aren’t really reading the whole thing and simply browsing. Which makes me wonder, “What are they liking? A piece they didn’t actually read? The title? The little blurb they happened to resonate with? What if the rest of the piece was junk?”

They’re expressing their support for something they didn’t actually read, much less truly understand. 

But there will be those willing to make the impossible effort necessary to live a masterpiece. Unlike those mindlessly expressing themselves, these people don’t start with “How do I feel?” but with “Who am I?” and “Why am I?”, for our identities are closely related to our purpose. These people aren’t randomly stringing life together based on the circumstance or the feeling of the moment, they’re disciplining themselves, they’re chipping away at their marble souls to bring out the sculpture they envision in their minds. The end result is not a mishmash of expressions and moments but a life, that, despite the struggles present in all our lives, maybe even because of it, impacts the world with such meaningfulness. Of course that life is meaningful, FULL of MEANING, because it was lived with meaning, with definition, with a clear why, or in other words, it was lived on purpose.

So every day I have a choice: Do I merely live a collection of expressions based on the experiences of the moment or do I cultivate true art? Do I, like a true artist, and not one of those pretenders, hold myself up to that impossible standard of the great vision in my head, deliberate, systematic, passionate, tirelessly producing study after study until I get things right, ignoring the pressures of society, and transcending the shocks of life, that I may someday unveil a masterpiece.