I feel a certain weariness knocking on my door. It’s a feeling I’ve felt many times in my life, particularly during seasons of high stress and busyness. When I feel this way, I like to quiet myself and think through the basics of my life, going through the fundamentals of my spirit, soul, and body, and checking whether each is healthy. A sample of this exercise is asking the following questions:
I have never once gotten a perfect score on the questions above. Most of the time, I have to admit a greater need for discipline, for focus, for help, and for accountability. But this process of reflection is like looking at a mirror, it is where we get the idea of reflection after all. We look at a clear surface to see an accurate picture of who we are, not as we wish we are, but how we actually are. I don’t always like what I see, but I’m better off knowing the truth, even the ugly truth, especially the ugly truth.
Here’s what my reflections have been telling me: You’ve become fat David.
You’re spiritually fat, soul-fully fat (mentally fat, willfully fat, and emotionally fat), and finally physically (body) fat.
But it’s true.
My body fat is the easiest to prove. I just checked my body fat percentage and I went from 18% in December, to 15.2% at the end of January (after a lot of discipline), and back to 17.8% as of yesterday. This body fat battle isn’t easy. It requires adherence not just to caloric deficits but proper macro-nutrition and intense workout. While I’m relatively fit and healthy, knowing that the average is person not close to being healthy, I don’t want to benchmark with average. I want to achieve a physical level that will help me enjoy as much time with my family and be physically able to continue to be productive and creative. The biggest enemy of my physical goals is my diet. The composition of my diet, the volume of what I eat, and the timing of my meals have not been optimal. If I want to achieve my goals, and I do, I need to address those things. I read somewhere that man is more likely to die from “over-nutrition” than starve from hunger. Diseases like diabetes, heart attack, and cancer, as well as fatigue, headaches, and other ailments are linked mostly to eating too much than too little – especially too much of the wrong things, like sugar. The point is this: my physical goals aren’t suffering because I don’t have a good gym, don’t have the right workout clothes, or am missing the newest workout craze. I’m missing my goals because I am, frankly, overfed. The problem with being fat is not that it doesn’t look attractive. The problem with being fat is that it chokes your organs and causes them to work over time (leading to tiredness) or even fail (leading to all sorts of issues, even death).
It’s not too different in the area of my soul.
Our soul is made up of our mind, will, and emotions. Even in these areas I can easily find I’m also fat.
Mentally, I read at least 50 books a year. This year, I’ve read at least one book a week. I also read a lot of magazines and articles, as well as listen to audio courses and podcasts. Every day, my brain is crunching through thousands of pieces of data. If we think of information as mental nutrition, like food for the mind, but don’t accompany this mental nutrition with exercise, with serious verification, validation, critical thinking, and wise application, we end up with a mentally fat mind, full of information but actually too choked-up to be useful. I find a lot of people, particularly young people are mentally fat. They have so much information but do not have the ability to do something as basic as move out and be independent. We know so much but can do so little relative to the greater information we have.
Emotionally, social media has been like soda fountain, pouring emotional stimulation through targeted posts, likes, and shares. While I have so many social connections, I can’t say I am at an emotionally better place. In fact, I find that social media has made me socially fat and can choke-up time meant for my core relationships. This is why I have been removing people from Facebook, unfollowing people from Instagram and Twitter, and being stricter about my network. I simply have too many acquaintances, describe as “friends” on social media, but are really people I barely know, have no responsibility over, nor benefit me in any way. They contribute to my emotional fatness with emotional junk. If I want my relationships to be healthy, I need to stop feeding off emotional social media junk and get really good at enjoying the very nutritious relationships of family, of high performing teams, of mentors, and of friends who stick closer than brothers.
Even in the area of my Will, my focus and disciplines have been shaken a lot simply from being too busy. I find myself being late more, being distracted more, and just unable to stick to my schedules as strictly as I have in the past. The reason for this is just simply: doing too much. While running a startup family and business is difficult, there are ways to prioritize, to focus, and to turn-off distractions that will help me. So I’ve been saying “no” more. I’ve been declining speaking engagements, partnership invitations, and meeting requests. It may sound selfish, but it’s simply being wise. I know my priorities and I need to treat them as such.
But the most worrying, for me, is how I am showing signs of being spiritually fat. I guess the best example of spiritually fat people in the Bible were the Pharisees. These were people who knew the law, who even memorized the law, but instead of seeing Jesus, their hearts were choked up. Just as body fat chokes our organs, knowing God’s word, knowing theology, doctrine, and having tradition, without practicing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control will lead to a spiritually fat person. Signs of my own spiritual fatness can be seen when I am not quick to forgive, when I write people off, when I easily give in to temptation, when I lose my patience, when I am harsh or quick to anger, and mostly when I am afraid, which shows that for all my head knowledge of the Bible, I lack faith in Christ’s finished work. All these things clog up my ability to hear from God, to trust in Him, and to obey Him.
As I finish writing this, I review the rest of the things I need to do tonight to prepare for what’s shaping up to be a another busy week. It’s only February, but the amount of things already accomplished, the adversity already lined-up, and the deliverables needed to be accomplished are quite daunting. None of them can be achieved if I am spiritually, soul-fully, and physically fat. But it’s good to know what I want to achieve, and it’s good to admit the gap between what I want and who I am right now, that I am not good enough – yet. Because this way I can identify what I need to do, and then I can line up my schedule, budget, and energy in the right way to bridge that gap. I know what I want, and I want to know what I lack, even if it means seeing an honest reflection of David I don’t like looking at, because it’s the real David.
Behind my titles, behind past achievements, behind blog posts, and fans, it’s easy to seem godly, wise, stable, and fit. But that’s not who we really are. It may be part of us, and sometimes we are fooled to think that’s actually us. I’m reminded of what Aristotle said, ”We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.”
If we are fat, it’s because we repeatedly allowed it. If we are fit, it’s because we repeatedly achieved it. Who we are is what we repeatedly do.
So I erased my schedule to reprioritize. This is going to be a great week.
It’s not enough for people to respect me.
I want to know, I need to know, in the deepest part of me, where there’s no one but God and myself, that in our partnership, we weren’t lazy nor dishonest with each other. I know that He’s faithful with His part. I need to focus on being faithful with mine. This is why I put a lot of emphasis on measured results, so that I never fall into the vanity of being honored by man and think that is proof of a good life. It’s easy to impress a shallow judge. Man is a shallow judge. But by putting standards, even difficult standards, I push myself towards actual, fundamental, tangible results, that I may sleep content that I did everything in my power to be faithful to God as well.
When I am not meeting these standards, I feel the insecurity of dissonance. There is no peace in a lying heart, and my heart has, through the years, gone through many lies. Chief of which is that I am here to promote, protect, and pleasure me above all. It manifests clearly when I say things like, “I’m not so bad” or “I’m alright” or “I’m enjoying my ‘me’ time” or “I’m allowed to feel this way” or when I entertain other excuses. These are some of the conversations I have in my head when defending my small laziness and dishonesties, not thinking of the other lives deprived or hurt by me When I catch myself do this, I switch the question from “How do I feel today?” to “What is my measurable impact today?” and it changes my mental framework. Before I think about what I think I lack or need, I think about what I have given.
In Matthew 11, there’s a story where the John the Baptists sent his disciples to Jesus to ask if He’s the real deal. John was having doubts, probably due to his situation in prison. Jesus didn’t go on an offended, angry, defensive “You don’t believe in me!” speech. Instead, He said, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
Jesus simply said: Look at the results. The reply wasn’t “look at my posts”, “look what the media is saying about me”, “look at my likes and comments”. He said, “Look at the fundamental improvements in the lives of people I’ve touched. Look at my life’s message.”
Jesus never argued His value to anyone. He let His results do the talking, and His results weren’t cute or vanity metrics. They were fundamental life improvements that transformed.
This is the example I seek to follow: to live such a good life that whenever there are doubters, I can simply say, “Look at the results. Look at my life’s message. I’m not perfect. There are a ton of mistakes. But look at the results.” To do this, I need to make sure that every day is spent generating results, not necessarily for monetary ends, but for life transforming impact. This is where discipline, diligence, and determination trumps intention, inspiration, and ideas. Too many people share a lot of inspiring crap but completely fail when they are asked, “So where are the actual, tangible, fundamental results?”
There will be a noticeable theme among many of my posts, and it’s really the challenging of widespread ideas, accepted conventions, and popular advice that I believe are useless at best and, not only counterproductive, but destructive at worst. I go about this early in the morning or late in the evening by diving deep into a concept until I reach its essence, which is, its fundamental purpose, its reason for existence. In other words, I look for the “why”. Then I ask, “Is the fundamental purpose achieved by this type of thinking? Does this behavior or this advice or this technique or this trend or this event achieve the fundamental purpose it was supposed to?” From there, this journey goes through a series of more “why” questions as I investigate and learn.
There’s a simple word for all of this. It’s called study. We were supposed to have been taught that in school, but how many people today truly study their lives and the lives of others in order to to learn how to live life masterfully.
I guess it’s the difference between a masterpiece and an expression. Anyone can throw color on a white sheet and call it art. But it took a Boticelli to produce a Primavera. Anyone can stick things together and call it art. But it took a Michaelengelo to sculpt a David. Anyone can compile a series of events and call it a life. But it takes a special kind of effort to live life masterfully. It takes a Steve Jobs to build a company like Apple. It takes an Abraham Lincoln to keep a country together when there’s a civil war. It takes a Picasso to produce a Guernica. This is why I have a photo of paints on my Facebook page, to remind me that each day, each moment, is a stroke on my life’s painting.
Most people will be living expressions, simply trying to participate and partake of the back and forth of society. When they’re happy, they express happiness. When they’re sad, they express sadness. When they’re stressed, they express it. When they’re horny, they express it. When they feel cheated, they express it. When they want to talk, they express it. When they want something or feel something, the express it, which isn’t necessarily wrong, but also not necessarily wise, for wise is choosing the path, the activity, the expression, that is aligned with our purpose. Most will buy into the idea that “we’re free to express whatever we want”, and we are, but, sadly and detrimentally, will not filter their expressions in light of their purpose. I know this because I struggle with this. Also, we accept whatever expressions others make, telling ourselves that this is “love”, that this is “freedom”, that this is “understanding”, that “love wins” when everyone is free to do whatever they want for whatever reason they want, because we’re all equal. When someone is happy, and they express it, we automatically respond, “Nice! He’s happy.” When someone is sad and they express it, we automatically respond, “I’m sorry you’re sad.” When someone is expressing anything, we automatically express back, without thinking about this simple yet most essential thing: purpose. What’s the purpose of the moment? What’s the purpose of his or her expression? What’s the purpose of my response? The automatic and unreflected response is not freedom, it is not understanding, it is not more loving either. I would argue that it is less because it is impulse, it is reactive, and it is shallow. Maybe the happy person doesn’t need an, “I’m happy for you” but a “Time to move out and be a man. Your life is too easy.” Maybe the sad person doesn’t need, “I’m sorry” but “get over yourself.” These may sound harsh but may actually be what’s benefitical. Just like a coach who tells his team to fight harder, screaming at their faces to show the seriousness of the matter, maybe what people need to hear is not simply a mirror of their expression, but reminder of purpose.
One way I see this regularly in my own experience is when I see hundreds, if not thousands of people like or share my posts, then find that the average number of minutes spent on the post are actually not too high. Which means people either read really fast, faster than me at least, or people aren’t really reading the whole thing and simply browsing. Which makes me wonder, “What are they liking? A piece they didn’t actually read? The title? The little blurb they happened to resonate with? What if the rest of the piece was junk?”
They’re expressing their support for something they didn’t actually read, much less truly understand.
But there will be those willing to make the impossible effort necessary to live a masterpiece. Unlike those mindlessly expressing themselves, these people don’t start with “How do I feel?” but with “Who am I?” and “Why am I?”, for our identities are closely related to our purpose. These people aren’t randomly stringing life together based on the circumstance or the feeling of the moment, they’re disciplining themselves, they’re chipping away at their marble souls to bring out the sculpture they envision in their minds. The end result is not a mishmash of expressions and moments but a life, that, despite the struggles present in all our lives, maybe even because of it, impacts the world with such meaningfulness. Of course that life is meaningful, FULL of MEANING, because it was lived with meaning, with definition, with a clear why, or in other words, it was lived on purpose.
So every day I have a choice: Do I merely live a collection of expressions based on the experiences of the moment or do I cultivate true art? Do I, like a true artist, and not one of those pretenders, hold myself up to that impossible standard of the great vision in my head, deliberate, systematic, passionate, tirelessly producing study after study until I get things right, ignoring the pressures of society, and transcending the shocks of life, that I may someday unveil a masterpiece.