Chances are, you don’t have the body you want. Chances are you don’t have the savings you know you need. Chances are you’re not performing as well as you could in your job. Chances are you’re not as consistent with your daily devotions. Chances are you’re nothing like the posts you like on social media. Chances are your big dreams won’t come true – and when you’re honest with yourself – it’s because you simply haven’t stuck with them, choosing instead to listen to one or more of the unlimited excuses available to all of us.
But this doesn’t have to be the case.
To be honest, the statements above describe me accurately as well. While I may have some success in those areas, and while I’ve seen improvement, I cannot say that I am the level I desire to be.
But it won’t be the case forever. I’m working on achieving my goals in the different areas of my life.
I have big dreams and big goals. Just ask my family and my team, and they will tell you that I’ve never been a small thinker. Setting big goals, having a vision, and dreaming up amazing things is beneficial, and is an inspiring exercise, but it is completely useless IF it is not followed with discipline, diligence, and determination. I believe someone with small goals, a blurry vision, and a simple dream who is disciplined, diligent, and determined, will go much further than “visionaries” who lack those character traits.
Dreams combined with Discipline, Diligence, and Determination, on a Daily basis, lead to success.
Discipline is the ability to focus on and commit to the necessary requirements of achieving a goal.
Diligence is the care and hard work we apply to everything we do.
Determination is the proactive, no-excuses, will to finish things excellently.
Daily is self-explanatory but just as important. It’s very possible to sabotage a week’s worth of exercise with a weekend binge. (If you burned 3000 calories at the gym and added another 5000 calories over the weekend you’ll actually gain weight.) It’s possible to blow a lifetime of savings with one bad decision. By aiming for success on a day-by-day basis, we stay consistent and vigilant.
As we end the month of January, I hope you’ve set great goals for yourself. But I also hope you’ve set yourself up for success by fixing your schedules, setting your alarms, adding accountability, and tracking your actual results. I hope you don’t waste another year, another set of goals and dreams, by not combining them with Discipline, Diligence, and Determination on a Daily basis. #DB
We said our “I love yous” But what did we know? When we had yet to find How very proud we are so #db
“I didn’t sign-up for this.”
I don’t know how many times I have thought those words (and sometimes even spoken). I’ve said it to myself after fights with Yasmin. I’ve said it to myself after a long day, or a difficult meeting, or during avoidable and unavoidable drama. I’ve said it when people haven’t met their commitments to me, or when things don’t go my way after trying so hard, or when life feels just so damn difficult. “I didn’t sign-up for this.” It’s me saying, in a way, that the life I have isn’t the life I want. It’s me saying the difficulties I’m facing is unfair to me. I’ve come to realize that what I’m doing is accusing God, who gave me this life; and accusing myself, for steering myself to where I am through my decisions. Either way, I tear down the One who can help me most: God, and the one who needs to help himself most: me. I’m glad Yasmin has corrected me about not saying this. It’s a very destructive statement, even if unsaid. But why do I do this? Why do I default to wanting to rationalize the letting go of difficult circumstances instead of digging deep and finding courage? Why am I so easily shaken? I think it has to do with my crazy expectations, starting with the misunderstood expectation that I have certain inalienable rights, which I have romanticized without the foundational reality that these expectations have a price to be paid to be fulfilled. Let me give you two examples:
1. I love the idea of freedom. I love the idea of being able to choose. But I’ve forgotten that the ability to choose does not mean I get think, say, or do whatever I want, when I want, where I want, why I want, and how I want. That is the romantic idea of freedom, a romantic idea that appeals to me. But the reality of freedom is not “everyone is free”, in fact, I would argue most are not free, lacking the necessary self-control to truly be self-determining. The romantic view is that “we’re all free”. The reality is without self-control there is no personal freedom, without rule of law there is no mandate to prevent the different freedoms of diverse people from encroaching on each other, and without moral absolutes there are no standards by which we can base laws on fairly. The reality is, without curbing our freedom to choose with wisdom, we destroy that very privilege, and that is what freedom is, a privilege, not a right, that if abused, we will lose. Don’t believe me? Think of a man who argues that he is free to eat whatever he wants and goes on to debauch on large volumes of food, until the day his organs give way, drastically limiting his bodily functions. Free to choose but not free to choose consequences. Better to choose well before that final consequence or final victory we will all face: death.
2. When Yasmin and I got married, we were so excited. Me and my beautiful best friend were going to take over the world. Before the wedding, we planned the ceremony but we also planned the marriage, reading up on it, talking through difficult topics, and even discussing whether our life purposes integrated. Nothing is as romantic as marriage, the exclusive commitment to another for life. But the reality many times looks like arguments, like a lot of bills with little money, like a lot of time flying by, like two people who can’t sleep as they get used to having a roommate, like little annoyances that lead to full-scale wars, like a lot of frustration. It looks more like two proud people looking into the clearest mirror they’ll ever have, each other, and reeling at the ugliness they see. To a lot of young people today, a relationship promises the greatest joy one will ever find, and there is some truth to this. But without an understanding of the reality, that truly beautiful romances are not built on great expectations and fleeting passions but on sacrifice, faithfulness, and forgiveness, one is most likely just going to end up jaded. I found our wedding day to be a very joyous occasion, a comment we were told by people who witnessed it, but a much greater joy for me has been the realization that I could love so much and be loved so much, and I realized this not by achieving a picture perfect marital existence, but through the words “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” over and over and over again.
Reality without romance is joyless, and this leads to a cold and ruthless existence that cannot appreciate beauty. But we also cannot have romance without reality, for romance without reality is meaningless, a series of fancies, followed by doubt and despair when they pass. Romance without reality makes us desire beautiful things without knowing the price of beautiful things. We want the passion without the commitment. We want the freedom without the responsibility nor the accountability. We want salvation without obedience. And so we end with neither.
My prayer for 2017 is to live with more wisdom, at least much more wisdom than I have lived 2016. How does one do this? By understanding What Is, doing What (One) Ought, and defining What Will (Be).
II. What Is, What Ought, What Will
Worse than the one who does not know Is the one who thinks he knows For he moves confident, though ignorant And does not correct where he goes #db
Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense. – Proverbs 12:11 NIV
I get a lot of questions on my blog and Facebook page, and while I would like to say that most of the questions indicate intelligent, wise, and high-impact people, the reality is (here we go again with the word “reality”), most of the questions reveal how people who buy into today’s popular ideas will naturally become shallow, foolish, and selfish. The bulk of what I’m asked are similar to this questions, “Where are all the great guys/girls?” I’ve written about this before, you can search for it on my blog, but a quick answer to this, my normal answer to this is, “They’re hiding from you!” Seriously, I’ve never seen a great thing, when fully flourished lack attention. Neither have I seen a truly substantial thing need attention to validate itself. If you find yourself always wondering why you don’t have a great guy or girl, I think you should get a more difficult job or at the very least spend your life on something more engaging. Only people who have the luxury of living in a fairy tale, or think they have the luxury of living in a fairy tale, have time to think like this. Maybe it’s because, as an adult, I’ve had bills to pay and shareholders to be accountable to, that many times the only option for the day was to keep my head down and work, and before you know it, it’s years later, and there’s some success.
Another question I get a lot is “Can you be my mentor?” I personally have no idea why they would want me. I saw my cousin over Christmas break and he mentioned that word in our common business circles is that I’m “intense”, and in Yasmin’s more specific estimation, “harsh”! Now let’s apply some logic to this request: I’m guessing that if someone is seeking a mentor, it’s because they want to grow in wisdom or become more like their mentor in the area they’re seeking mentorship in. Yet, most of the time, when talking to people who want to be mentored, they don’t seem to understand the most basic ideas of duty, obligation, and responsibility. The simple idea that one must do what one does not feel like doing simply because it is one’s duty is super basic. But when I hear people telling me why they want to move jobs because it’s “hard” or “people are mean” or “it’s not my passion”, I have a hard time not getting impatient. I can’t mentor someone like that. I don’t think anyone can. Mentoring isn’t simply meeting up to blow smoke up someone’s ass. Besides, if a person won’t fulfill his obligations to people who gave him life, his parents, and even complains about them and their shortcomings, the chances of this person really listening to me, who has done nothing for him, is not going to be good. My answer to this is usually, “You don’t need a mentor. You need to commit yourself to your life’s roles and find a way to do a really good job in each. You’ll find the lessons you need. You’ll find the teacher you need.” I can go on with the questions that worry me. They worry me because they reveal that majority of people are preoccupied with basic ideas of identity and purpose. We are insecure and think we can find it in identity, in being someone, which is sort of true, but if who we are, the someone we are, is of weak character, of little competence, and no credibility, then it doesn’t matter how many relationships we have, or how many involvements we can list, because we will still be insecure – not because the world is a dark place – but because we are unable to handle reality. We swing between points of being lost, being bored, and being fleetingly excited because we seek the next “must see”, “must have”, “must eat”, and “must experience” instead of our daily “must do”, and doing our tasks in an excellent way. I didn’t find my life purpose by seeking mentors or reading self-help books, nor by reading blog posts (such as this), or having a prayer partner.
The reality is, I didn’t start with a life purpose. I don’t think anyone does. I started with what my parents gave me: duty, obligation, and responsibility. I didn’t start out with “It’s my life’s goal to build an NGO when I have money”. I started out as a 5 year old being exposed to a squatter area, “David, you don’t have everything but you have so much. These people have very little It is your job to be grateful everyday for the things you do have and to be very generous, especially with people who have less.” The life purpose of helping the poor started with duty. My parents explained to us that is was our job to help. Neither did my purposeful business building start with a great idea or glamorous startup. It started with having to take over a failing company which was a family obligation. I didn’t like having to come to work at 6am. I made myself come at 6am because there was no time to lose and because I was too worried to sleep anyway. This heavy obligation led to an amazing character building experience which has led to other wonderful things. The things I enjoy today didn’t come simply because they were handed down to me. They’re the product of living responsibly, being taught as a young man, “If you don’t develop your mind, you won’t be smart.” or “If you don’t use your time wisely, someday, in the future, you won’t have anything to show.” or “If you don’t eat your vegetables and eat a lot of junk your body will suffer.” It was responsibility, the lesson that I needed to take control of the things that mattered to me and cultivate them, that led to fruitful living. It did not start with romantic ideas, big dreams, and Big Hairy Audacious Goals (all of which I love), but with little seeds planted during times of duty, obligation, and responsibility, which are, to me, the way God tills our hearts in preparation for His word. God uses these three things to break the soil of our hearts and prepare them for planting.
So instead of starting 2017 thinking about, “What do I want to do?” or “What are my goals?” Start with the questions, “What are my roles? What does my immediate world need from me?” Am I student? How do I excel more than ever – even when I’m bored or frustrated? Am I a husband or wife? How can I love my spouse more deeply this year? Am I a son or daughter? How can I honor my parents more meaningfully this year? Am I “leader”? How can I fundamentally improve the lives of my followers this year instead of just pleasing fans? Am I an employee? How can I see make my boss great? How can I make my team great? How can I make my company great?
Start with your roles and identify your duties, obligations, and responsibilities. Start by identifying what’s required of you and commit to fulfilling them.
Personally, I’ve divided my efforts into three: – Understand What Is, meaning understand universal spiritual and physical principles, so that I will have strong foundational concepts upon which to build on. I’ve been loading up on Physics, Chemistry, and Biology reading, as well as going back to Math, Economics, and Theology, not taking for granted what I may already know, but desiring to increase my knowledge in these fundamental areas. – The next thing I’m focusing on is to Do What (One) Ought, meaning, do the necessary things, especially the necessary difficult things. After understanding the foundation principles, these should help inform me daily decision-making to live wisely as I face daily opportunities and challenges. – Finally, when one Understands What Is, Does What (One) Ought, he will inevitably Define What Will (Be), meaning he will shape the future, at the very least his future, not letting it fall into the hands of random chance, but with diligence, refuses to be a victim to the workings of others, but learning to control the world by controlling himself. A lot of people are excited about this third thing. We’re usually excited about what we’ll create or build or achieve, but to do these, we need to go back to the first two. Do we Understand What Is? Do we Do What (One) Ought? If so, we need not worry, What Will (Be) is going to be beautiful.
III. Working Silently, Alone, in the Dark
I’ve learned to love the ripples Of unknown achievements Why does anyone have to know? We made possible these moments #db
If you fail under pressure, your strength is too small. – Proverbs 24:10 NLT
This is probably my eighth stab at writing this piece. I have drafts saved in computers and notebooks, outlines on scattered pieces paper, and I can’t say I’m happy with it. I guess it will have to do. Maybe I’m trying to share too much, putting too much pressure on one article to help change prevailing mindsets. Maybe it’s time I got an editor. But I guess if I could sum-up my encouragement for my readers, it would be this: Get really really really good at working silently, alone, in the dark. Get good at being excellent invisibly.
Get good at studying without awards.
Get good at working without recognition.
Get good at standing for what’s right on a daily basis, even when you’re alone, especially when you’re alone.
Get good at doing the necessary hard thing.
It’s easy to march in a rally. It’s hard to walk in unity. It’s easy to express our personal frustrations. It’s hard to address our personal mistakes. It’s easy to post on social media. It’s hard to cultivate an inner life. It’s easy to message, text, and snap. It’s hard to bootstrap. It’s easy to compare. It’s hard to live aware. It’s easy to blame. It’s much harder, the soul, to tame. It’s easy to seek applause. It’s difficult to admit our flaws.
Get really really good at working silently, working without fanfare, without needing to make a fuss, without complaining about how stressful or hard things are, and without pride and arrogance. Get really really good at working alone, developing personal conviction and developing the independence required to live in interdependence. And get really really good at working in the dark, like the roots of a tree thickening, unseen, surrounded by dirt, under the ground. Trust that your personal efforts in understanding, diligence, and empowerment will bear fruit, and that someday your stem will break through the soil, and even more, as your oak grows, you will have the roots to hold it strong.
Eat because you're hungry. That is enough. Paint because you have color in your heart. That is enough. Write because you have something meaningful to say. That is enough. Enjoy the moment in the moment. That is enough. Love because you've found someone to love. That is enough.
You don't need the approval of "likes" to validate your existence, to validate you activities. If people like your stuff, wonderful. If they don't, just as good. Who you are is enough. #db
This year sped by fast. It’s the fastest and busiest year so far. It’s been awesome.
Every year I try to cap my blog with a finale, and in the past I’ve basically packed (some have said overpacked) my post with the lessons I picked-up from the year that just passed. This year, I’ve thought long and hard about the one idea that stood out among the rest, the one I feel has been most critical to learn and will continue to be critical to practice. I’ve done this because I recognize that many people don’t read long articles (which is a shame because I actually like it when good articles continue) and because I’ve experienced the beauty, practicality, and effectivity of focusing on the essentials. This year, what’s become most essential to learn is this one thing.
One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.
– Psalm 27:4
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
– Mark 10:21
I never liked the story about the rich young ruler in the book of Mark. Along with the stories of Samson as well as David & Bathsheba, this story seems to be written exactly for someone like me, not that I’m a ruler or rich, but because like him I’m prone to getting so caught up in being a certain kind of person that I tend to forget that one thing. It’s funny how Jesus put it, “One thing you lack” then He goes on to enumerate a few things. Here again is the depth of the Bible on display, because that one thing Jesus was asking, in my humble non-expert opinion, was faithfulness, and not just any kind of faithfulness, but faithfulness to Him, and to be faithful to someone means to devote yourself to that someone – and that includes doing a whole lot of things you may not like, including giving up stuff, because you know it brings you closer to who you value. Jesus wasn’t simply asking the young man to do or not do things. He was asking Him to follow Him, and not just to go where He goes, but to be like Him and live like Him. Jesus was inviting him into a relationship. The verse actually says,”
“Jesus looked at him and loved him.”
If I were to paraphrase (and I have no idea if this is allowed), I think Jesus was saying, “I love you. Come give everything up for me – especially that thing you love most: your wealth, because to love someone means to lay your interests down for them.”
The young man in the story valued his wealth and his honorability most, and what he wanted from Jesus was not Jesus but to enter His Kingdom or to enjoy the wealth and honor that kingdoms are supposed to have. That’s why when he realized that Jesus was not promising the wealth and honor of an earthly kingdom but the vulnerability, humility, and self-sacrifice of love, he walked away.
Why would anyone reject Jesus?
Jesus explains why in verse 23 when he said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
And thats the part that hit me. It’s hard for someone who is caught up with what he has to get caught up in God. It doesn’t have to just be money. It can be achievement and success. It can be wisdom and insight. It can be religion and tradition. It can be honor and duty. It can be relationships and friends. It can be so many things, even so many good things that we get so caught up with that it becomes the thing we cannot give up for God. It’s whatever we’re rich in that can get in the way.
Instantly, I started seeing things in my heart that I’ve prioritized over God. Good things that I treated as more important than Him. So I did what I do during the many times that I’m wrong and repent. I realized that it wasn’t that the things I was prioritizing were wrong – they’re actually good and important things – it’s that I realized that in my life I was lacking that one all-important thing: faithfulness.
But godliness with contentment is great gain.
– 1 Timothy 6:6
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
– Matthew 25:23
Get up you son of a bitch. ’cause Mickey loves ya.
– Mickey, from the movie Rocky
I was sitting in the back of my Uber ride (which has been useful since Dante drives for Yasmin), and I was talking to the driver like I enjoy doing because I find their life stories interesting. This driver was special. He was well-dressed, wore driving gloves, spoke intelligently on the topics we discussed and in perfect English. I liked him so much that I tried to segue into offering a job. I asked him, “Have you thought about doing something other than being a driver? You seem really smart. We may have some openings for you.” He replied quickly, “No, sir. I like driving.” To which I responded, “You can still drive. Maybe be a manager of a fleet.” And to that he came back with, “I like what I’m doing now. I’m driving here because I chose to be here. I like driving and I like meeting different people. And now I can make a decent living doing both every single day. I actually have a degree and can get other jobs but I’m happy already. I’m happy to drive and drive and drive and interact with different people like you.”
I’ve paraphrased his exact words (this was a while back) but the basic idea was simple: I’m happy. And I thought about that after he dropped me, here was a guy who took a short cut to fulfillment, and it was simply this: “I’ve found what I love doing and I’m going to do it extremely well.”
Thinking of this experience, I was reminded of The Parable of the Talents and how the Master was happy with the two servants who stewarded what they were given wisely. I used to think it was unfair that the guy with five got five more and the guy with two only got two more when he was only given two to work with. That’s how I felt seeing other people with more capital and I had to work for mine. I used to think to myself, “If I just had that person’s capital I’d be more successful than him.” (I’m giving you a preview to my proud mind.) But this year I had a different insight to this story that removed removed my envy of the opportunities of others. It’s this, when the Master rewarded them both, He rewarded them with the same two things: an invitation to share in His pleasure and additional responsibility commensurate to their abilities. I realized that the story isn’t so much about how to have more but about being faithful, and that both the guy with 5 things and the guy with 2 things were invited to the very same thing: share in the Master’s happiness. The reason why I thought it was unfair was that I have this simple-minded view that more automatically means better: the guy got 5 + 5 talents, so he’s better off than the others. But the story doesn’t teach us that more is better. It teaches us that having more means having more responsibility or duty to put the more that we have to good use, and that we are judged by our Master, God, not by how much we have but by how faithful we were in putting what we had to good use.
But in both cases of faithfulness, they both are invited to happiness. This story shows us that ultimately, we’re not scored by how much we have but by what we did with what we have. We are scored on faithfulness.
Like my driver, being faithful at whatever we’ve been given to steward, even if it seems tiny compared to the other “important” things others are doing, is the shortcut to happiness. When we are faithful with what we have right now we find fulfillment.
I think one major reason why many of us aren’t happy is because we have been unfaithful. Many times we think that the way to happiness is to improve our circumstances, and that makes us victims to life’s events and the decisions of others. Maybe we will be happier in our marriages, at our work, with our families, in our nation, if we learn to take everything we’ve been given and faithfully steward it to grow to something better instead of looking at what we don’t have, what we wish we had, what we want to have someday, and what others already have.
Since coming to this realization, every day I start with a simple prayer, “Father, help me be faithful.” When I’m at work and having a difficult time, I pray it again, “Father, help me be faithful.” When I’m writing a blog post I don’t want to study for and just wing, I pray, “Father, help me be faithful.” When I’m running and feeling tired, “Father, help me be faithful.” When I’m working on a drawing or a painting, reading, spending time with Yasmin, and even when we argue (which is bound to happen when you have two strong-willed people), I make that my prayer, “Father, help me be faithful.”
Ultimately, I’m not scored by how much money I make, or how many awards I get, how many likes my posts get, how many people like me, how many books I read, problems I solve, people I help, or things I build. I’m not even scored by how church events I went to or whether I got more things right than wrong. I’ll be giving an account of what I was given, particularly the minutes of every day of every week of every month of every year of my lifetime, the calling in my heart, the talents within me, and the people already around me, and whether I took these and through faithfulness made them flourish, because that pleases God. To be faithful is to be full of faith, and faith pleases God.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
– Matthew 5:16
That’s the meaning of faithfulness by the way: complete devotion, and not just not-cheating.
– It’s About Infinite Possibilities
“From a pound of iron, that costs little, a thousand watch-springs can be made, whose value becomes prodigious. The pound you have received from the Lord,–use it faithfully.”
– Robert Schumann
Every day, be this: be faithful.
To be faithful means to be devoted. It includes not cheating and it also includes giving everything. It’s not enough to never do bad. You also have to do good. It’s not enough for a husband to never cheat on his wife. He also has to lead, and provide, and cultivate. It’s not enough for a wife not to cheat on her husband. She also has to support, and comfort, and manage. It’s not enough for a worker to simply clock-in at work, he also has to focus, and be diligent, and master his responsibilities. It’s not enough for a boss to pay wages. He also has to lead, and manage, and encourage. It’s not enough for a pastor to preach on a pulpit. He also has to affect his world outside the building because the true spiritual condition of a people is seen in daily excellences or lack of. It’s not enough for a teacher to parrot a lesson. He has to make sure students learn. It’s not enough for students to do homework. They need to make sure they’re being prepared for responsibility. It’s not enough to be spiritual healthy. Our bodies have to be healthy too, as both have been given by God. It’s not enough to know theology. We need to do theology, especially the most important part of loving God and loving others.
God has been generous to us by giving us such multidimensional lives. There’s a spiritual side to us but there’s also a physical side. There are emotions but there’s also logic. There are comforts and there are also responsibilities. There’s rest and work. There’s day and night. There’s so many different parts. And in all of them we are asked to be faithful, to make the most of each moment and because we know that it’s from God to treasure them and not waste them away.
Since praying that simple prayer, I’ve found more joy in my stressful situations. I’ve even found more joy in repenting because even in my struggle, I know, by faith, that this simple desire and simple act of just running back to God over and over, and not getting caught up in the circumstances, shows Him that I have remembered the one most important thing, to be faithful.
And what about the others who don’t do their part? Isn’t it difficult to be faithful in an unfaithful world? The Parable of the Talents actually shows what God wants us to do. With the person who didn’t handle his one talent wisely, he gave the responsibility to those who will be responsible. This is both a reward and a duty. We don’t have to live in a broken world because there are broken people in it. We can fix it. But it will require responsible people to go the extra mile and take on the burdens of those who have not carried their own. I don’t like this idea too much. But even in this story of responsibility, Jesus does not stray away from His core message of love. When others don’t do their part, take on the responsibility.
And what about if we’ve been unfaithful as we all have been? We just need to run back to our faithful Father. 2 Timothy 2:13 reminds us, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.”
He cannot deny himself.
What a powerful statement. God’s very nature is to be faithful. That’s why it makes sense to be faithful to Him, as I’ve learned that not all faithfulness is beneficial. It’s possible to be faithful to the wrong things and the wrong people. But to be faithful to the most faithful is most wise, it leads to daily fulfillment and future success, and it results in shared happiness. That’s why for 2015, my encouragement is every day, be this, be faithful.