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.

You Have Permission

It’s 7:00am on January 2, 2016. The second day of the new year. I’m thinking about last year and the things I NEED to improve on to be a better steward of this year. I use the word “need” instead of “can” or “should” because I’ve come to realize that constant improvement isn’t an option but a necessity. Many people, when making their resolutions, think of them as options to choose from a range of stuff that needs improvement. I see them more seriously as this: I have goals. I have dreams. I have promises to keep, to myself and to others. What needs to happen? What should I be doing? Who am I supposed to be to make these goals, dreams, and promises come true?

My resolutions are what I believe to be the necessary evolutions of myself in order to achieve my life’s purpose.

I wrote a little about how I plan for myself before but here’s a summary:
1. I start with a reminder of my life’s purpose. When I was 16, I wrote in my journal that I would focus on the following (the wording has evolved through the years): a. Honor God through a life of humble service, b. Be a devoted family man, c. Be a great steward by massively creating value and deploying value wisely, d. Significantly improve the situation of the poor and the unjustly treated. While I haven’t been close to perfect in any of these areas (I’ve actually done very bad according to my self-assessment), but having them defined helps get me see where I can improve. I find that many people don’t know what to do despite there being a million things one can do every single day. We think that the fix is more activities but being busy never fixed a lack of purpose. What people need is a reason to wake-up that’s much much much larger than ourselves. In exponential organizations, this is what is known as an MTP or a Massive Transformational Purpose, a purpose so big, it requires us to transform ourselves and our organizations to achieve it, and transforms the world around us in the process.

2. Then I set my Objectives (BHAGs). BHAGs, like I wrote in an article for the Bridge business blog, are Big Hairy Audacious Goals that force us to stretch beyond what we can currently achieve. The older I get, the more I see the wisdom in attempting big. We’re all going to live 365 days this year, we’re all going to use up 24 hours, yet we’re not all going to achieve great things. We all CAN. But not all of us WILL. One reason is because only a few people will aim really big, some will aim “realistically” small (failing to understand that what’s realistic is what you make real), and most won’t aim at all, opting for the nice feeling of general wishes than the accountability of specific targets. I like to make goals for the following areas: Spiritual, Yasmin, Relationships, Physical (health), Mental (learning), Stewardship (personal finance and business). For me, this 2016, some of my objectives include: Become the Best Operational CEO (which I see is a weak spot for many managers in the Philippines), Learn Spanish (because it was a language that I did terrible in back in college – and I hate losing to anything), Get Married (which talking about stresses me out), and recurring desires such as Connecting to God in a Deeper Way. These goals are specific, they are not based on current capability but desired outcomes, and they will require an increase in discipline and investment in other to achieve. I currently don’t have the level of discipline nor all the resources to achieve them but that’s ok. I can improve my discipline, increase my output by upgrading my capabilities, and I can grow in faith. When you aim within your comfort zone you assure yourself that you won’t grow. When you aim big you force yourself to live a big life.

A story that sticks out for me is a conversation I had with Walden Chu, President of CBTL Holdings and Table Group, when discussing our goals for one of the companies under the New Leaf Ventures umbrella. “You’re aiming too small”, David. “I am?” I asked. “This company barely hit its goals this year.” I reminded him. “I know” he said. “And these new targets are 5 times the targets last year.” I added. “I know” he said. “How can we be aiming too small?” I asked him. He answered “Your goals have nothing to do with your past. Your goals are where you want to be. Make your goals bigger.”

I hope you catch that nugget of wisdom: Your goals have nothing to do with your past. Your goals are where you want to be. You don’t need to go from minimum wage to P15,000/month. Why not aim for P100,000? Or even P1,000,0000? Or More! You don’t have to go from 1 bedroom to two. Why not aim for what you really want? Your goals have nothing to do with your past. Your goals are where you want to be. Make your goals bigger.


3. Because big goals aren’t enough, I set my Habits to achieve these Objectives.
This is one of the things people fail to do when setting their resolutions. In order for objectives to be accomplished we need to turn them into actions. I’ve found that pretty much any objective, no matter now large or difficult, can be broken down into daily habits and consistent practice. Let me give you an example: When I was a younger businessman, I always thought I had a funding problem. “If only I had more money.” I would tell myself. Then I realized that the business successes I would read, many times, if not most of the time, were about people who didn’t start out with money but found a way to raise it. I then realized that I didn’t have a funding problem. Funding is out there. What i really had was a network problem (I didn’t connect with the people who could write the checks and were willing to write them) and I had a business model problem (my business needed a lot of improvement). When I thought about the my network problem, I realized the reason why I had a limited network is because I didn’t go out and cold call enough to meet people. In short, in the area of networking, I was lazy. That simple. So I decided to make it a point to meet someone new every week. Today, my networking habits included connecting with 3 people on LinkedIn every day. On the business model problem, what I lacked was a deep understanding of how each part of the business worked. So every day, I would take one department, for example accounting, and ask simple questions: What does my accounting do? How do they affect my business? What are the best practices of the best accounting teams in the world? Then I go on Google, ask away, and read away. This is still a practice I go back to (and I suggest many young business leaders adopt). I wish I was one of those geniuses who just knows and remembers everything, but I’m not. I’m quite a slow learner with a brain that’s easily overwhelmed, so I take time to study and keep meticulous notes.

The point is this: Many times we think our challenges, obstacles, and problems are things outside of us. I’ve realized that this is an excuse I liked to believe because it meant my lack of results wasn’t my fault but the environment. Instead, I’ve learned to take big things, big goals, big challenges, and break them down into the parts that I need to work on, and break them down even further into daily habits. This is one major reason why I’m confident the businesses and projects will succeed even if they take long, because we’re daily improving things. We bridge the gap between our great dreams and humble beginnings with a great team putting in great effort day after day after day.

 

You Have Permission
When my brothers and I were kids, my parents used to read to us from a book called You Can Change the World before going to bed. Every section was about a country, facts about it like population, a narrative describing the place, and prayer points we would lift up to God during evening prayer. The next evening, we would go through another country, learn about it, and pray. Looking back, what seemed like a simple kid’s world almanac and prayer book, was actually a force for change. Who knows how many countries were prayed for by thousands of kids all around the world? It also was a daily practice of getting our childish minds off the new toy we wanted or off our petty concerns, and reminded us of the bigger world beyond not just our room, but our country, and of the suffering of other kids like us simply because they were born under different circumstances. But I’ve come to realize another benefit now that I’m much older. One of the things my parents drove into us, and the tile of the book says it all, is this: You CAN Change the World. In other words, You have the Permission and the Power to make a difference.

That’s what it means to empower someone, to give them both the permission and power to make things happen.

I find that many times we forget that one of the first things God told Adam when He put him in the garden is “You’re free.” He didn’t say, “You’ve got to pray just to make it today” or “God helps those who help themselves” or “Kiss dating goodbye”. He said, “You’re free.” In other words, “You have permission.” That’s my first encouragement for you to start the year: You’re Free. You have permission.

My second encouragement is this: You also have the power. Use it.

You have the permission to build a great business, the greatest this world has ever known, use your time and energy to grow as a leader, improve your management skills, learn what each department does, talk to your customers, sharpen your mind. Too many people are praying for “God’s direction” when He gave it to us when He created us with brains and minds and told us. “You’re free!” You have permission to raise an amazing family, no matter what your family looks like, or no matter what the current situation. For me, I realized that I didn’t manage my work as efficiently as possible last year, which led to longer hours, which ate into my time for my relationships. Since I’m making it my goal to spend more time with family and close friends at the same time making our business goals even larger this year, there is now a greater impetus to become a better manager. This isn’t easy. But the good news is, God has given me time and energy, and if I use them wisely, daily studying how to become better, daily improving our rhythms, reporting, and processes, then I’ll succeed.

You have permission to go for a fearless 2016 because you understand that you have the power to pay the price.

 

Someday I’m Going to Die (and So Will You)
I woke today thinking about something I think about quite often: I’m going to die. So I didn’t waste another second in bed. I got up, read my Bible, oil-pulled, made coffee, and started writing this.

As I close this post, my two biggest fears are:
– First, that people will read this, be inspired, and not utilize the permission and power God has given us to live amazing lives.
– Secondly, that people will read this, be inspired, and think that the permission and power are for us to be really rich and comfortable, and to achieve a lifestyle sweet spot.

For the first fear, I just want to remind us that we don’t get results for the wisdom we never practice. We don’t lose weight from the diet we never stuck to. We don’t get strong from the weights we never carried. We don’t improve from the challenges we never faced. Inspiration is overrated. Practice is severely under appreciated.

For the second fear, I hope we’re smarter than the “prosperity crap” that’s so popular. When I say we have the permission to dream big, I don’t mean mansions and cars. I think the smallest dream we can dream are the “Me Dreams”. When you make your goals about yourself or just your family, your world shrinks into one person or one family. That’s not dreaming big. Dreaming for one person or 5 people is tiny! This is why I think a lot of the “prosperity preachers” are full of crap. Why would an infinitely big God make it His priority to give me my dream piece of metal on wheels that depreciates? Why would He make “stuff” His priority? Wouldn’t a big God be bigger than man-made values? When I say we have permission, I want to encourage us to dream beyond ourselves. To dream big means to set objectives that impact as many people as possible.

Dream beyond your salary raise. Instead, make it your objective to beat your targets by becoming your most productive self yet. I promise you, in time, you’ll make more money in the process. Dream beyond a beautiful house. Make it your objective to be devoted to your family, treat your maids and drivers benevolently, pay them generously, and teach them lovingly. You’ll find that in the process you have made the home you already have beautiful. Dream beyond the promotion or the title. Instead, make it your objective to be very useful, to be sensitive to the needs of others, and to be a collaborator. If you do so, you will inevitably be promoted, but more than that, you’ll become a great leader, and the world needs more great leaders.

You have permission to dream big. You have the power to achieve big. Someday I’m going to die, and so will you. We don’t have a second to lose. Don’t waste the power and permission you’ve been given on living the small dream of ME.


You might also find this post on what I think is the single best business investment for 2016 interesting.

Never Waste a Good Problem

“That’s impossible.” I don’t know how many times I’ve heard those words. I don’t know how many times I’ve told myself that.

“I don’t have enough money.”

“I don’t have enough time.”

“I lack experience.”

“The competition is too big.”

These are just some of the doubts that play through my head.

But here’s what I’ve realized, while all those statements are true, it is NOT true that something is impossible just because there are hurdles. In fact, whenever people ask me the key to creativity or how I’m able to be prolific at the different things I’m into, I tell them that I don’t waste two catalysts of creativity: Limitations and Problems. I’ve seen more creative people come from contexts of limitations and problems than I have from unlimited abundance and complete security.

One limitation is time. I only have 24 hours, so I meticulously plan each hour, and end up getting better at productivity per hour over time – though I still have a long way to go.

Another limitation was my lack experience. It’s true. So I read a lot of books. A lot. And I read them because these pages share different experiences with me, and in a few hours a day I learn from the experiences of others.

I also don’t have a lot of money, at least not the kind of money I’m planning to deploy to achieve our objectives, so we look for free things, we look for efficient things, we look for alternatives, and in the process we innovate.

I don’t have as sharp a mind as I would like or the minds of people around me, so I simplify and simplify and distill. This has helped me grasp difficult ideas in bite size pieces and share them in ways relevant to normal people like me.

My point is this: Don’t waste a good problem or limitation. Don’t waste them by accepting them as permanent or impossible to defeat. Don’t waste them by quitting, by not learning lessons, or by learning the wrong lessons  (I’ll write about this next). Wrong lessons include learning fearfulness, bitterness, or unbelief.

Instead, take your problems and limitations like an artist can take black and white yet make a beautiful illustration. Use them to force you to become creative, resourceful, innovative, and inventive.

Again, never waste a good problem or limitation.

Most people are complaining and whining and being defeated by their problems and limitations. By harnessing them instead to push you forward, you’ll discover that much of the things you believed you needed to succeed you don’t need at all.

Best of all, when you can make beautiful things with black and white, imagine what you’ll paint when you’ve earned the spectrum of the rainbow.