While we like to think that life can be lived in neatly separate compartments, the reality is that all the different parts of us flow into all the other parts. It is our responsibility to make the different areas of our lives thrive, by developing each as best as we can, and fixing the connections between them.
I’m writing this for young professionals (and maybe even some older ones). I’m writing this because I keep observing a disconnect between what people want and what they’re willing to do to achieve them. I see this in many areas, and the common mistake is wanting something without accepting the responsibility that leads to what we want.
“I want to be healthy. But I don’t want to give up sugar.”
“I want to be successful. But I only want to work 9-5.”
“I want to get married. But I don’t want to risk getting heartbroken.”
“I wish for world peace. But I need to love myself first.”
“I want a better government. But I won’t vote.”
I can go on and on and on about the number of times I’ve spoken to people about their resolutions, faith goals, OKRs, and ideals, only to listen to them conclude with excuses. This reminds me that, for all our so-called advancement and enlightenment, we are not as rational as we think. What kind of truly rational person would believe, “I want something but I don’t want to fulfill the requirements of achieving that something.” That is as irrational as believing in unicorns. Isn’t it more rational to accept, “If I want something, I must do what is necessary to attain it”? It is.
What do you call accepting of personal responsibility for one’s own results? In a word, maturity. Maturity IS personal growth. It isn’t reaching a level of perfection or of taking less risks, or having less failures, or even of committing less mistakes, but finally accepting that I am who I am, I am where I am, I have what I have, because of my decisions, and if that I am to advance from here, I need to grow – personally. I can’t hide behind my team, my family, my nationality, my excuses, nor my bright ideas. I, David Bonifacio, need to accept responsibility and do whatever it takes to fulfill what’s required.
This is why I ignore 99% of the business advice out there and focus on the information that will help me satisfy the requirements of my responsibilities. It doesn’t matter how cute or good sounding it seems, if it doesn’t help me be more responsible it is virtually worthless to me. Professional growth does not come from buying new gadgets, downloading new productivity apps, applying some life hack, nor getting a promotion. Professional growth starts and continuous through the acceptance of more and more responsibility. I love this approach because it puts my promotion in my hands, not someone else’s. I don’t need anyone to promote me. By increasing my sphere of responsibility, by being more and more personally accountable, I am promoting myself.
The bottomlife is this: Professional Growth Requires Personal Growth. Unless we deal with the personal weaknesses in our lives, we will never be truly professionally strong. Unless we deal with our personal bad habits, we will never be professionally sustainable. Unless we deal with our personal demons, we can expect those very demons to haunt our careers. I know this from experience. This is why I believe in a daily moment of prayer to spend time with God, because I know I have my own share of demons that I don’t want hurting what I’m building. Instead, I don’t want to react. I don’t want to be easily-triggered, easily-worried, easily threatened, and easily-angered. I want to understand, so I need to clarify. I want to be wise, so I need to be teachable. I want to achieve, so I need to be diligent. And the gap between who I want to be, what I want to achieve, and who I am now is vast! But I accept that reality, and embrace the responsibility to develop myself continuously.
And after all of that, what happens if I fail?
Then I failed. As simple as that.
But by being responsible, I improve my chances of success, though never really eliminating risk. Risk is part of life. Get used to it. At least, I wasn’t a coward, nor irresponsibile, lying to myself that the ills of the world were not of my doing, when my own lack of contribution made them possible. The goal of life is not to die unscathed. The goal of life is to love God and others with the outflow of the best possible version of you. #DB
How do I know if I’m mature?
How do I know my calling?
How do I know what to do?
These three questions are very connected. They lead into each other, validate each other, and inform each other. Let’s explore these connections.
I was talking to a potential new member for senior management at Bridge. It’s generally quite tricky to hire for Bridge, given our intense culture, strictly defined values, incredible goals, and life stage (startup). It’s extra tricky hiring senior management because we require not just skill and experience but the hunger, eagerness to learn, and work endurance usually more associated with younger people. This person I was meeting with has all the qualities above, which is why we were on our second meeting.
During our conversation, she asked me about our young leaders, and she said something very insightful, “Given the way you’ve structured Bridge, this will require a lot of trust between your leaders, especially between your junior and senior leaders. How mature are the business unit heads?” I thought about her question, and proceeded to answer it the same way I answer most questions asked to me, with more of a description than a direct yes or no. Here’s what I said (paraphrased):
“Our team is young. But they’re hard working, they’re hungry, and they’re teachable. They’re all different personalities and different levels of skill and experience, but to be a leader in any of our organizations, you need to be willing to embrace your accountabilities, face the gap between who these accountabilities need you to be and who you are at the moment, identify what you need to do to start bridging that gap, and work extremely hard to do so. Our leaders are like that.”
Then she said, “That was what I meant about mature. That’s good to know.”
Fast forward to this morning. It’s 5:33am, and I’ve been thinking about this concept of maturity since I woke up around 3:30am. My alarm is normally set for 4:30am, but many times I’m woken up by something I can only describe as a call. When I try to explain this to many people, the response I normally get is a mixture of “Wow, that’s admirable. But you’re crazy.” and “You’re crazy for getting up so early.” and “You’re too intense.” Then there are those who, without saying anything, look back with recognition. Their faces show, “I know exactly what you mean.” These people excite me. They remind me of a C.S. Lewis quote, “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” With these people I go further and explain to them what that call is, and the usual response is, “I’ve known that for a long time. It’s only now that someone has captured the idea for me in words, but I’ve always somehow understood that.” And I can see the validation lighting their eyes up, that all of sudden all the quiet plodding, all the courageous counter-culture decisions, the thankless hard work, the invisible soul wrestling, and the shedding of ease, made sense for them. They were not being kill-joys, or corny, or missing out on the good life or being cool. They were answering a call, their call, a call unique to them so cannot be validated by someone else’s experience but their own meditation on who God wants them to be.
Too many times, when I hear someone, particularly someone asking me for money, say, “God’s calling me to this…” I find myself thinking about what my next meeting is or wishing I had an eject button to send either of us elsewhere. It’s a very commonly used and commonly misused statement. So I like to ask, “How do you know God’s calling you?” And the usual answer is, “I felt it. You know, when you feel something is right. You know it.”
Famous last words. In my opinion, a calling is less a feeling and more a recognition of something or someone reaching out to us. Who or what is reaching out to us? The “who” are our stakeholders, the people we have commitments to. The “what” are our commitments themselves. A calling is not something we’re very interested in or very “passionate” about (another abused term), but the recognition of an accountability to someone or to others. Answering a call is not about finding the job that will never feel like work but about courageously, selflessly, and effectively heeding the summons of your life’s commitments.
And this is where maturity not only comes in but is necessary. It takes maturity to recognize life’s calls because it takes maturity to embrace life’s commitments, and to understand that commitments are accountabilities, meaning, there are consequences when we fail. A mature person faces the fact that we need to make commitments in life, the scary truth that failing in our commitments have consequences, and the very real risk of failure, without giving up or whining.
This is why you’ll find, over and over, that people who tend to have a lot of free time, flexibility, and less responsibility usually are less productive, less effective, whine more, complain more, criticize more, and breakdown easier, than very busy, very structured, and very responsible people. It’s not a question of busyness but of maturity. A lot of people who appear to have “control of their time” because they have a lot of free time are the most lost and ineffective people I know. Their “control” is a myth, because they’re bad controllers. They’re bad controllers because they don’t have discipline. So they’re actually not controlling anything. They are controlled by their feelings, by random events, and by what others are doing. This is obviously a sign of an immature person.
The answer to “How do I know if I’m mature?” is this: Do you know what is required from your life by the people around you? And do you courageously, selflessly, and effectively embrace this accountability, along with the potential benefits and consequences of success and failure?
Do you know what is required of you as a son or daughter? Are you embracing this requirement?
Do you know what is required of you as part of a team or group? Are you embracing this requirement?
Do you know what is required of you as a follower of God? Are you embracing requirement?
Do you know what is required of you as a spouse? Are you embracing this requirement?
Do you know what is required of you by your customers? Are you embracing this requirement?
Do you know what is required of you as a person living in a free society? Are you embracing this requirement?
Whatever your role in life, recognizing your accountabilities in each role, embracing the requirements of these accountabilities, and courageously, selflessly, and effectively meeting these requirements is what mature people do.
That’s how to know if you’re mature. If you don’t know your role, if you don’t know what’s required of you, and/or if you don’t effectively meet these requirements, you have your indicators of a lack of maturity.
So we’ve answered the first two questions about maturity and calling. Callings aren’t some weird fuzzy feelings or interests. They are very simple recognitions of my roles in life (follower of Christ, husband, father, son, leader, friend, etc…) and what they require of me, and maturity is heeding this call with courage, selflessness, and effectiveness.
This leads me to the last questions: How do I know what to do? The answer is very simple.
You should do what your calling requires of you. You should do what your accountabilities require of you.
What time should you wake up? You should wake up at the time required of you.
What books should you read? You should read the books that help you fulfill your life’s requirements.
What should you eat? You should eat the food that helps you fulfill your life’s requirements. (And you won’t be able to fulfill it if you’re dead.)
What should I wear? You should wear what helps you fulfill your life’s requirements.
What job should I take? You should get the job that helps you fulfill your life’s requirements. And sometimes that means getting a job that’s boring or difficult simply because your life requires you to grow up, move out, and learn how to be independent, more than it needs you to be comfortable. For me, my most difficult job and searing learning experience came from having to take over our old family business. It wasn’t my brilliant foresight that made me take it on. I was so scared about the business for years, sweating profusely despite being in an air conditioned building. But it was what life required of me in that moment. It didn’t require me to be cool, or to eat in fancy restaurants, to enjoy the trapping of success. It required me to sit in banks and ask for grace. It required me to beg for terms from suppliers. It required me to go to work at 6:00am and get comfortable with all nighters. It required me to grow as a manager and leader. It required me to trust God at a level I had never done so before. It was what my love for my family was calling me to do. It was difficult and I wouldn’t not wish it on anyone. But it was beneficial. More than the lessons, there was the character building, the cultivation of virtue that can only really happen through difficulties. Even more, I hope, that God was pleased with my reliance.
Your basis for what you should do is not how you feel, or what others are doing on social media, or what your social calendar says. Your basis for what you should do is your deep understanding of your roles, your accountabilities, and your requirements.
This is why I never tell people to follow their passions. I tell them to follow their responsibilities. You will discover more about yourself, cultivate stronger character, and achieve more impactful results by getting good at being the guy who makes and keeps commitments than by being the one who has the benefit of little responsibility living off of someone else’s maturity. This is also why I vehemently disagree with people who say, “Some people are really just like that. You can’t expect them to be mature. They were never taught.” Saying this means we have automatically concluded that these people will a) never face the many consequences of immaturity (they will), and b) they will never enjoy the satisfaction that only people of achievement experience. It is not true that people who were not prepared to be mature are exempt of the consequences of immaturity and it’s not true that just because someone did not start out mature, they are not able to develop maturity. They can and should.