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
It was the first day of tennis lessons, and I had shown up ready to dominate. I had read a bunch of articles on what to expect, bought a book on tennis, and learned about the tennis legends. I had a brand new Prince racket that was newly strung with a clear letter “P” inked on it, and I wore just-purchased tennis whites: a polo, shorts, socks, and shoes, all Nike of course, because my favorite player at the time, the great Pete Sampras, wore Nike, and I was going to be great too.
So I thought.
After a few minutes into the lesson, the trainer, remarked, “Ang pogi mo pero hindi ka naman marunong. Sayang lang gamit mo. Gumaling ka muna.” (You look good but you don’t know how to play. Your gear is wasted. Get good first.)
He than asked the ball boy to get his racket, an old, heavy-looking, scratched piece of metal, and told him to get ready on the baseline. He hit a ball to him and they proceeded to have a short rally, after which, the coach looked at me and said, ” Yan ang importante. Hindi yung porma, pero yung nababalik ang bola.” (That’s what’s important. Not how you look but that you can return the ball.)
I wore a t-shirt to my next lesson. (Maybe this is why I prefer black t-shirts so much.)
I never became a great tennis player, but improved, enough to be more than the poser I was on that first day, enough to benefit from a good workout, and, more importantly, enough to actually enjoy the game.
That was a humbling moment for me, one of many humbling moments I am now incredibly grateful for. A humbling moment isn’t simply an embarrassing experience. It is a time of honest realization, of personal paradox. It is a time when we realize that we’re not as great as we think, that we should be more, that we can be more. Embarrassing moments, times of failure, periods of difficulty, are life crossroads where we must choose whether we allow the moment to make us more smug, more arrogant, more defeated, more discouraged, or more teachable. When the coach made that true but offensive comment, I could have said one of the common things a lot of people reply with today:
Don’t judge me. You don’t understand me. I’m better at you in other things. No one’s perfect. You’re bad at other things. I’m not taking this from you because you’re harsh. Can’t you see I’m trying my best? You should be more encouraging. Were you this good when you just started? Do you treat all your students this way? Who do you think you are? What have you accomplished?
I can go on…
The problem with all these statements is simply this: None of them would have made me better. None of them would have made me a better tennis player. None of them would have allowed me to enjoy the game.
The only useful thing these replies would have been for, was to couch a fragile ego, to help me retain some pride after being called out.
So I had a choice then, like I do every time I’m faced with limitation: Do I choose the lesson? Do I choose wisdom? Or do I choose defense? Do I choose growth? Or do I choose ego? Do I choose a chance to mature? Or do I choose stubbornness and bitterness? I could have chosen to be proud and miss the lesson. I’m glad I chose to be taught, because I enjoy playing tennis a lot. I wish I had time to start playing again.
A few weeks ago I bumped into an old friend I used to play tennis with, Chase, and we laughed about how we used to escape to play, of how I broke the tennis arcade machine after punching it, how I ended up going out with a beautiful friend of his after the one and only time I ever beat him, and how he invited me to church, only to realize my dad was the pastor (which shocked him so much because of my temper). In the same week I got a message from another friend, Gino, who was, and is, an incredible tennis player. That guy broke a lot of strings. Both of these guys kicked my ass in tennis. They could beat me with hands tied behind their backs. I really was never in their level. But to have played with them, to be their friend many years later, is a benefit I still enjoy today because I didn’t let a harsh and embarrassing correction determine my teachability. The benefits have gone beyond tennis and have been sustained through the years.
I think a lot of people need to wake up to this reality:
WE ARE NOT GREAT…
BUT WE CAN BE.
IF we get off our high horse, if we wipe the smug look off our faces, if we sacrifice our pride and say to a proven expert, “You’re better at this than me. Teach me. Show me. Tell me what to do. Don’t give up on me. I’ll give this everything I’ve got.”
IF we stop focusing on how we appear, how we look to others, what crowds think, and focus instead on getting really good at whatever our responsibility is.
AND IF we don’t? If we let our ego, our sensitivity, and our misguided entitlements determine our teachability, then we better be prepared to be pushed to the sidelines by those hungrier, with their worn caps, open-toed sneakers, and bacon collared shirts, by those willing to run harder and farther, those willing to take criticism and be powered by it, with their borrowed rackets, and mismatching socks, those willing to blister, willing to dive, willing to fight, willing to dig deep, willing to bleed, so we can watch as they become that great person we told ourselves we were, but know deep down we aren’t, and never will truly be.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trails of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”
– James 1:2-7
I can feel the fatigue. It’s like a vulture perched on my shoulders. With 238 emails to go, a few hundred more messages, and never ending lists to do, I try to muster whatever energy last night’s broken sleep allowed me, and sit on the dining table to type. I have to practice what I preach. “If you go to the gym and you’re not exhausted after, did you really get a workout? If you went to battle with the day, if you went to work, and your soul isn’t stretched, did you really live that day?” I like to ask my team. “Being tired is proof you didn’t hold back on life. Don’t hold back on life. Someday, you’ll look back, and you’ll have one of two thoughts: Woah! Look at what we’re now able to accomplish or Yikes! What happened to the time? Why don’t I have much to show? You don’t want to be the latter. Don’t hold back on life. Give every day the very best that you’ve got.”
What does it mean to give your best? Let me tell you exactly what it means:
I’m tired. I can feel the vultures claws tightening. I smile to myself at the thought, that once again I gave today the very best of me.