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.

Career Advice for Starters

I’ve been in business for close to 13 years now – and this is not including summer jobs and my mini-childish-rackets. My very first company was a single-proprietorship when I was 16 years old making websites for companies abroad. I was actually supposed to have a partner but a few weeks into it it was evident to me that I was better off working alone. In many ways I’m still that way but I think I’ve learned to work with others better.

In my more-than-a-decade of being in business, I’ve come to work with many young and not-so-young starters in business. It’s been one of my life’s pleasures to help these people achieve their dreams by guiding them, many times step-by-step, on how to succeed. Every dream has a cost, and part of that cost is a financial cost. It’s better to accept this reality, learn to respect money (not love it), and master the ways of generating value – which is what business is.

I’m about to give you a simple formula that I’ve observed. While I’m probably more known for ripping up play books and doing things differently, this formula seems to consistently lead to success for the people who stick to it and a good indicator of future failure for those who stubbornly insist on seeking success without it. I’ve interacted with everyone from students, recent graduates, young, old, parents, couples, single-parents, experienced, inexperienced, creative, mathematical, different backgrounds, different interests, different strengths, and every one who achieved significant sustainable results followed this formula.

So my career advice for starters is this formula, and here it is:

(Character + Capability) X Time = Competence + Credibility = Success

Let’s break it down.

CHARACTER
Character is the sum of qualities that define a person. I always tell people, particularly young people, when starting out, don’t pay too much attention to the money or to recognition (which can come in the form of promotion or even respect from peers). Instead, focus on becoming a high-quality person, a high value person. Develop good behaviors, productive habits, and learn to discipline your thoughts, your feelings, and your actions. A lot of career education focuses on academics and a lot of what we know as “character education” is limited to a classroom. Character is developed in the world when we face real things with real stakes.

A person learns to be hardworking by having to work hard day in and day out even under uncomfortable circumstances.

A person learns to be trustworthy by being reliable and honest even when there’s a reason not to be.

A person become brave by facing his fears despite the challenge.

Character is the foundation of a flourishing career, maybe even a flourishing life. If great companies have great cultures, great people have great character.

CAPABILITY
Success is not just about attitudes and theoretical behaviors. Success is about action and abilities. The greater your capabilities, the better you are at harnessing your strengths, the better your chances of achieving your goals. Look at any incredibly successful person in his or her field, you’ll find that each person has achieved a level of mastery over the necessary capability. Part of this capability is the ability to inspire and influence people to collaborate with their capabilities.

Lebron James’ capabilities, as well as the capabilities of his teammates, have helped him win two NBA championships.

A master artist’s abilities to perceive, to compose, to pain, to express differentiates him from the lesser capabilities of those who have not achieved mastery.

Everyone has to grow through a period of learning, growing, cultivating, and developing. Don’t get impatient for the rewards of success. Instead, grow your capabilities incrementally. People ask me how I learned to read so much. It started by forcing myself to read one page a day – just 1 page – and even that was hard for me back then. It’s the same with my music or art, I force myself to learn a little bit more, practice a little bit more, learn one more piece, one more technique, and I’ve applied this to my business life.

Mark out what capabilities you need to succeed in your job then incrementally improve in these capabilities through practice, getting a teacher or a mentor, study, and learning from failure.

TIME (COMMITMENT)
One of the problems with may people today is an inability to commit. Some of you might say, “Look who’s talking.” but we’re not talking about girlfriends here. We’re talking about careers and business.

Time is a friend to those who harness it, using the moments to learn, grow, achieve, even rest and recreate. There’s no success that does not have the time factor.

All successful people built their character and capabilities over time. This is what commitment is. Commitment is not merely staying in the game. It’s staying in the game and doing what it takes to win.

It’s not enough to exhibit flashes of character and capability on good days and being inconsistent on bad days. That’s not commitment and that does not lead to success.

I’ve seen with many incredibly talented people, people who can dominate their crafts, but could never achieve their dreams, dreams and goals they set themselves, because they gave weak commitments. A weak commitment is this: I will do whatever it takes as long as I feel like doing it or only until it stays achievable.

Developing your character and capability over time leads to success. Even as our own dreams change, and trust me they will, having strong character and capabilities will serve anyone well in whatever stage they find themselves in as they pursue whatever goals. Commitment allows you to develop into the kind of person with the kind of skills needed to succeed at your chosen field.

COMPETENCE + CREDIBILITY
Before we actually achieve our goals, what character and capability developed over time actually bring us is competence (we become really good at what we do) and credibility (we earn people’s trust). Achieving these two are incredibly important for achieving success.

Let me be clear, credibility and attention is NOT the same thing. Most of the famous people I know, I would never trust to run my business. Yes, they get attention but it doesn’t mean they’re trustworthy. Why? Because they get attention through their projections. They project an image that undiscerning people fall for and very smartly earn from this. With the internet and social media, it’s very easy to get attention: put all the smartest things you can think of, put cheesy quotes, take a bunch of selfies, make pa-cute, share, share, and share, and your on your way.

You may fool some people but the people with good judgment know better, and usually our success is connected to earning the trust of credible people. Only truly credible people can give true credit after all.

To keep this section simple, it’s this: GET REALLY REALLY REALLY GOOD AND EXHBIT THIS OVER TIME AND PEOPLE WILL NOTICE.

Finally, SUCCESS (and FAILURE)
It’s easy to spot a future success. It’s a person who is developing his character, his capabilities over time, and earning credibility and developing competence.

Given that these factors, it’s also easy to spot a future failure.

It doesn’t take too much observation to see that most people will never achieve their dreams, and that’s what it means to fail – to set your goals and fall short of hitting them.

Hate me for calling this out but it’s better we face the facts. After all, as many of my fellow Generation Y kids like to say, “You only live once”.

You only live once. Go make it a beautiful flourishing.

#db

Thoughts On Independence Day

I like the progression of my morning, rising from the floor on to my knees, dedicating the day in prayer, then rising to my feet to take the day on. Despite the chronic lack of sleep, I can feel more and more creative energy, more strength to execute, and a clarity of vision for the future. It’s as if, one by one, the words of the past are coming to pass, and whatever difficulties that were holding me back, whatever situations and mindsets, are being torn away like Eustace’s scales. And though the process may be more painful, longer, and less glamorous than thought, the freshness of this new season is freeing.

Freedom. I love that word. I consider it, along with words such as love, beauty, and character, to be terribly misdefined, and so misunderstood, and so misapplied.

In today’s world:

Love is love until it’s no longer easy, when it’s difficult and you have to work for it, it’s not love. Love is proven by how we feel. If we don’t feel good about it, get out. Love should happen effortlessly, you don’t need to try.

Beauty is how you look. It is your appearance. Yes, you need inner beauty, but so that you’ll glow and be radiant, and so people will think you’re a beautiful person. Proof of your beauty is when people recognize you, have a crush on you, put you on a magazine, include you in a list. 

Character has become about appearances too. You have character if people recognize you have character. So it’s important that people perceive you to be strong, or hard working, or smart, or wise, or loving or even whatever dysfunction, just as long as it’s “truly you”. In this social age, it matters less who you truly are but who you project to be. 

Which brings me to the word Freedom.

On the way to visit my parents on vacation, I had a conversation with their driver, Manny, who has been with our family for maybe two decades or more. It was about politicians, the concluded elections, and governance. It was so nice to listen to the questions of someone truly interested in understanding national issues and the structures that determine the course of these issues. I can’t say most of the people I know understand what a government truly is, how and why democracy is different, what it means to have a constitution.

The sad truth is, most of the people I know don’t care to know. We’ve relegated knowledge to a few intelligent people.

What do most people have?

Opinions. Thoughts and comments that are more influenced by the thoughts and comments of others rather than study and reflection.

Again, we have a mob – and a mob who “feels” more than “thinks” is dangerous.

I like feelings just as much as the next guy, but it can’t be all about feelings.

I explained to Mang Manny that during the French Revolution there was so much chaos, but out of this chaos came three ideals that would form the foundation of Democracy:

Liberty. Equality. Fraternity.

I told him in mostly Tagalog, “Today, we tend to claim so much of our liberty, our freedom to do whatever we want, when we want, how we want, why we want. Yet what efforts have we done to make sure our neighbour enjoys the safety and opportunity we do. What do we do to encourage equality, at least equality of justice under law? When we bribe the traffic officer we do not encourage equality. We encourage corruption: the mother of inequality. When we give token gifts to the beggar but do not more actively participate in the construction of strong values in families, social and private institutions, we do not encourage fraternity but self-interest.”

The whole time he kept saying, “Kaya pala. Kaya pala. Kaya pala.”

“No wonder. No wonder. No wonder.”


No wonder no one feels loved. We think the trick is to first love ourselves. How does a hungry person feed himself from within? How does one love oneself without taking from others?

This is why love must be given. If love is taken that’s stealing and rape. But if everyone is taught to love themselves, then who is left to give first?

How can we when people are falling in love and falling out of it depending on how we feel? We all know how feelings are. They’re a terrible foundation for this dream of life long commitment. We, the very people promoting and embracing words of love, are the very same people incapable of cultivating love beyond feelings.

No wonder no one feels beautiful. Is a person truly beautiful if so much effort is applied to attract? Are someone’s eyes really pretty if it takes contacts and painting techniques to bring them out? Are bodies really beautiful if they have to be cut open, sucked, arranged, and scar-lessly assembled? Do we really want our children to think that the definition of beauty is to live a life that is so outwardly focused with so much time and energy going into our physiques and clothes, and so little going to our souls. “As long as you look like this, you’re fine.” our actions tell our sons and daughters, even as our hearts and minds, the two things that help us live meaningfully, get by on a minimum diet of inspiring quotes from who knows where.

Never in the history of humanity has our self-worth rested so much on the opinions of strangers, strangers who form one general mob, a directionless wave. The mob has never been known to be intelligent. In fact, it is proven irrational. Yet we live in a way that draws so much validation from how well we match the mob. And our children will do likewise.

No wonder there’s so much insecurity. Everyone knows they’re not as good as they project. If you think you are, you’re deluded. Everyone knows our thoughts aren’t always pure or wise. Everyone knows our motives are generally selfish. Everyone knows that no one is perfect.

Yet, because perception is more important than true identity, no one will admit the need to change, to be corrected, to be forgiven. There can be no forgiveness if there is no sin after all.

If there is no sin, there is no forgiveness. If there is no forgiveness, there is no redemption. If there is no redemption, there is no reason to love because there is nothing to love. If there is no reason to love there is no perseverance. If there is no perseverance, there is no character.

If there is no character there is no hope.

Let us choose the unseen overhauling of our hearts over the visible recognition of man.

To put things very simply, as it is my goal to learn to write more succinctly, my thoughts on Independence Day are these:

Celebrate independence from oppression yet embrace the need for inter-dependence, for community, for generosity, for kindness, for forgiveness, for love.

Celebrate identity and our individuality yet embrace fraternity and equality. We are different yet we are on the same team and all are made worthy just the same. 

Celebrate freedom and choice yet embrace prudence and wisdom. Seek to learn not just be entertained. Develop convictions not just opinions. Take a stand not a pose. Act on your beliefs don’t merely have opinions. 


As has been said:
We are free to choose the life we wish to live.
We are not free to choose the consequences of our choices.
#db