Uncommon Advice for Uncommon People (An Introduction)

Uncommon Advice for Uncommon People (An Introduction)

Not a day goes by without some event urging me to write this book. Yes, some people have asked me to write a book (not a lot of them), and, yes, it’s sort of an obvious next step for a blogger to publish one (even if it’s really more a compilation of old stuff), but my personal reason for committing to this are the many people I interact with that make me ask myself, “Why do we think this way?”

Why do we think that work life balance is such a good thing? Why do we think our lives suck when we work too much? And what is too much work?

Why are we so easily stressed? Even worse, why are young people so easily stressed? What the heck is quarter life crisis? How can someone with most of life before them be so tired already?

Why are we so good at identifying the external things we struggle with, and the things causing those struggles, but are so bad at recognizing the more obvious internal character flaws we need to work on, that’s causing the people around us to struggle?

Why are we so easily impressed with superficial things? “He gave a talk, so he must be a good leader. He spoke on money, so he must be rich. He talks a lot, so he must be an expert. He preaches, so he must be God’s voice. He’s on a magazine, so he must be worth following. He has a million followers, so he must be making the world a better place.”

And even older people, and people in the middle (like me), are guilty of this:

“He got good grades, so he’s going to be a success. He went to a prestigious school, so we should hire him. He has a prominent last name, so he must be of good quality. He has money, so he must be wise.”

I can go on about some of the common ways of thinking I encounter that really make me pause, and, after some contemplation, really worry me: If people think like this, than what kind of contribution (or lack of contribution) will they make to the world and to their own lives?

It’s a thought that should worry all of us.

This book is not about new ideas. I guess you can even say it’s about old ones. Neither is it about big ideas. I actually prefer operationalizing small ideas excellently. If you’re looking for inspiration, this is not the book for you. There’s enough quotes shared online that should have done the trick by now. If you hate perspiration, the difficult, painful, gritty, embarrassing, soul-rending, ego-crushing, process of character building, this is not for you either. If you’re one of those who buy books and actually don’t read them, practically just using them as decor for your bedside or your instagram feed, this is also not your book (I want to have as plain a cover as possible to avoid this). If you see books or ideas as boosters, as silver bullets, as panaceas, as a source of that great insight that will finally help you become a success, this book won’t be able to help you either. If you’re one of those who needs the “sandwich method” in order to be corrected, I think you’ll find my offering lacking any buns. If you’re more concerned with how you appear than who you’re becoming, than you’ll find I offer no fashion advice or tips on how to fake it to make it. This isn’t a prayer book. I don’t pretend to be an expert in magical incantations and rituals to convince our Creator to prioritize the healing of the body I won’t even diet for, much less care for; the bank account I won’t save for; the career I won’t work for; the family I won’t sacrifice for; and the soul I won’t wrestle for.

Sadly, many of the people who are supposed to be guiding us, experts, thought leaders, and public speakers, are confusing us with well meaning, nice sounding, bad advice. “Do what you love”, “Prioritize work-life balance”, and “Do your best and God will do the rest” are some of the popular ideas that may be appealing but are, sadly, many times misleading. This is what happens when we take our cues from professional speakers and professional influencers, people whose main job is to please the crowd without being accountable for improving performance. When we split the influence from the responsibility, we end up with what we have now: overrated celebrity thought leaders who are disproportionately more respected and better compensated than those who are actually held accountable for achieving the results.

I’m writing for people who want to reconnect the results they want in life with their own responsibility to make it happen.

I guess I’m really writing for a very limited audience, particularly one single person, my son. Someday I want to tell him, “You’re going to be entering an exciting world of ideas but I want you to be able to separate the good, the bad, the nice, the popular, the acceptable, from the great. I want you to be a man of substance, not vain. I want you to be wise, not superstitious. I want you to be impactful, not entitled. I want you to be effective, not opinionated. I want you to be truthful, not politically correct. I want you to be virtuous more than rich or famous. To be that, you need to live by convictions not conventions, and that takes more than new or big ideas, that takes more than inspiration or excitement. That takes character. Character building starts when we take accountabilities in life and courageously face the gap between who we are and who our accountabilities need us to become.”

This book is me taking aim at well-meaning, nice-sounding, generally-accepted, even well-loved ideas, that ultimately prevent us from building great character.

Author’s Note:

As you read this book, feel free to disagree with my ideas. These are based on my limited experiences and context which could be very different from yours. If they challenge you, wrestle with them, debate them, and discuss them. Whatever you do, don’t just accept them or reject them. That’s the shallow thing to do. I’m simply presenting my thoughts hoping they will trigger in you a process of figuring out what you should believe for yourself, even more, that you will take accountability for your beliefs and the actions they result in.

Our Own Cross to Bear

One of the things that saddens me are messages from people turning to me for help instead of turning to God. I do my best to share my thoughts and give advice, but anyone who actually reads my posts regulary, instead of just browsing and liking status messages, will know that one of the things I hate is celebrityism, which is the illogical praise, admiration, and/or dependence on a person just because he or she is known. I don’t like the idea of “special people” because I believe that everyone has the responsibility and potential to do the good works God has for them, starting with serving the people around us. Celebrityism makes us turn to limited man when we all have access to an unlimited God. This is both illogical and ineffective. We are all called to bear our own cross, and we can all cast our burdens on Jesus. To expect and insist someone else to carry our cross is selfish and will lead to disappointment. I’m up at 4:30am casting my own cares to God, I encourage you, if your cross is so heavy and your need so urgent, to do the same.

The Problem with Popular Advice

The Problem with Popular Advice

I’m not a big fan of a lot of the popular feel good advice floating around cyberspace. There are three reasons why I think people should be careful before accepting everything that seems to resonate with them: different contexts, lack of credibility, and selfish cause. Let me explain:

Different Contexts
I see a lot of people posting things about Denmark and saying, “Why can’t the Philippines be like this?” or posting things on unlimited paternity or maternity, unlimited vacations, and the all famous “work-life balance”. The problem with just reading these things without understanding is that we’ll see ideal results yet forget that these amazing stories are not “entitled rights” but “earned privileges” Denmark is the way it is because of of its leaders. Their leaders are that way because their people are a certain way. Their people are a certain way because of their history, a history that included some very trying times. When all you appreciate is the result but don’t understand the cost, you’ll be disappointed with your current situation at best and be an entitled brat at worst. When you read articles like “unlimited vacation for Virgin employees” and don’t realize it’s not for all companies within the group, nor is it for all the suppliers and contractors that work “full time” to keep their businesses running, then you realize it’s a setup that can work with highly-dedicated, reliable team members but not with just anyone, much less everyone. When you realize that balance is something an individual achieves for himself or herself, no matter what the circumstances, you’ll work hard and focus on being as effective during work hours so that you can work just as hard and focus in the gym, or while studying, or in prayer.

Let me give you another example. Some people might read that an article about how Google or Facebook is such an awesome place to work and automatically think that it’s how their own work place should be. They’ll make comments like, “I would be more productive if I worked in an office like that.” What they don’t realize is that it’s the other way around. The reason why Google and Facebook have been able to build offices like that is because they first had productive people. Giving highly productive people perks and support only makes them more productive. Giving unproductive people more perks only spoils them. Maybe, if we become as productive as the people who work in these fancy offices, we will find ourselves working in similar premises.

Here’s the first point: If you read an article but don’t understand the context you will not become wiser but more entitled. The second point is this: See beautiful circumstances as achievements not rights. If you want a certain future, figure out the cost, and pay for it.

Lack of Credibility
The second problem is that, many times, we have no idea who the author is, we have no idea the sources, or the validity of the sources, we have no idea whether the person knows anything about the subject, and we don’t know the experience level. The simple question we should ask when reading the work of someone is this:

What makes this person credible to write on this topic?

Which is why I find it quite funny when employees won’t listen to the leaders who employ them, the people who give them opportunity and pay their salaries, but will very easily buy into the position of some article with a writer they don’t know. They don’t realize that they liked the article not because it was wise but because it resonated with them. Not everything that resonates with me is wise. And many of the things that have helped me we’re not inspiring and resonating lessons but hard truths correcting me, maturing me, and strengthening me.

Don’t simply buy into an article that resonates. Question the credibility of the author. If he is credible, it will show.

Selfish Cause
My last reason for why I don’t like many popular blogs is because a lot of them have a Selfish Cause. That cause is the uplifting of ME. The problem with being selfish is that it shrinks your world. It doesn’t expand it. Then we wonder why we feel so small. Selfishness makes us see our own contributions but discounts the contributions of others to our lives. Selfishness makes us sensitive to our own needs so we miss the great opportunities around us every day. Selfishness makes us easily frustrated when our agenda or goals aren’t met but don’t think about how we enable the goals of others more. When we read articles with selfish, me, me, me articles without intelligent reflection, without asking “Will following this article make me more loving? Will it make me contribute more? Will it make me a bigger blessing to others?” we will simply reinforce our entitlements, leading to a narrow mind and a smaller impact.

My opinion is this: Pick goals bigger than yourself and your family. Pick goals bigger than your bottom line. This is very difficult. It’s a challenge for me as well.

But it’s Christian.

Do Whatever It Takes to Love God and Love Others
I like to simplify my life. And one way I simplify it is by sticking to two criteria for whether I lived well: Did I love God and others as best as I could today? Let’s say work didn’t go so well, but did I love God and others? Did people come closer to God because of me? Or did they get turned off with my self-righteous harshness? Did I make a good example of what it means to truly have faith? (Which is to believe in something so much we work hard to embrace it.) Or do I have a superstitious belief system? There’s a lot of popular advice floating around but we can really weigh our lives by this simple question: Did I love God and others as best as I could today?

We can argue or rationalize that we only did what was necessary, or that it’s important to love ourselves, or that we can’t be a doormat, but God never asked us to be ultra successful or ultra confident or ultra powerful. He did ask us to love Him.

My encouragement for us as we end this weekend to ask ourselves whether we are loving God and others more today than we did yesterday, to test the value of an article by whether it makes us more loving, and to follow advice that understands our context, is from credible sources, and is not motivated by selfish causes.

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