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
How do I know if I’m mature?
How do I know my calling?
How do I know what to do?
These three questions are very connected. They lead into each other, validate each other, and inform each other. Let’s explore these connections.
I was talking to a potential new member for senior management at Bridge. It’s generally quite tricky to hire for Bridge, given our intense culture, strictly defined values, incredible goals, and life stage (startup). It’s extra tricky hiring senior management because we require not just skill and experience but the hunger, eagerness to learn, and work endurance usually more associated with younger people. This person I was meeting with has all the qualities above, which is why we were on our second meeting.
During our conversation, she asked me about our young leaders, and she said something very insightful, “Given the way you’ve structured Bridge, this will require a lot of trust between your leaders, especially between your junior and senior leaders. How mature are the business unit heads?” I thought about her question, and proceeded to answer it the same way I answer most questions asked to me, with more of a description than a direct yes or no. Here’s what I said (paraphrased):
“Our team is young. But they’re hard working, they’re hungry, and they’re teachable. They’re all different personalities and different levels of skill and experience, but to be a leader in any of our organizations, you need to be willing to embrace your accountabilities, face the gap between who these accountabilities need you to be and who you are at the moment, identify what you need to do to start bridging that gap, and work extremely hard to do so. Our leaders are like that.”
Then she said, “That was what I meant about mature. That’s good to know.”
Fast forward to this morning. It’s 5:33am, and I’ve been thinking about this concept of maturity since I woke up around 3:30am. My alarm is normally set for 4:30am, but many times I’m woken up by something I can only describe as a call. When I try to explain this to many people, the response I normally get is a mixture of “Wow, that’s admirable. But you’re crazy.” and “You’re crazy for getting up so early.” and “You’re too intense.” Then there are those who, without saying anything, look back with recognition. Their faces show, “I know exactly what you mean.” These people excite me. They remind me of a C.S. Lewis quote, “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” With these people I go further and explain to them what that call is, and the usual response is, “I’ve known that for a long time. It’s only now that someone has captured the idea for me in words, but I’ve always somehow understood that.” And I can see the validation lighting their eyes up, that all of sudden all the quiet plodding, all the courageous counter-culture decisions, the thankless hard work, the invisible soul wrestling, and the shedding of ease, made sense for them. They were not being kill-joys, or corny, or missing out on the good life or being cool. They were answering a call, their call, a call unique to them so cannot be validated by someone else’s experience but their own meditation on who God wants them to be.
Too many times, when I hear someone, particularly someone asking me for money, say, “God’s calling me to this…” I find myself thinking about what my next meeting is or wishing I had an eject button to send either of us elsewhere. It’s a very commonly used and commonly misused statement. So I like to ask, “How do you know God’s calling you?” And the usual answer is, “I felt it. You know, when you feel something is right. You know it.”
Famous last words. In my opinion, a calling is less a feeling and more a recognition of something or someone reaching out to us. Who or what is reaching out to us? The “who” are our stakeholders, the people we have commitments to. The “what” are our commitments themselves. A calling is not something we’re very interested in or very “passionate” about (another abused term), but the recognition of an accountability to someone or to others. Answering a call is not about finding the job that will never feel like work but about courageously, selflessly, and effectively heeding the summons of your life’s commitments.
And this is where maturity not only comes in but is necessary. It takes maturity to recognize life’s calls because it takes maturity to embrace life’s commitments, and to understand that commitments are accountabilities, meaning, there are consequences when we fail. A mature person faces the fact that we need to make commitments in life, the scary truth that failing in our commitments have consequences, and the very real risk of failure, without giving up or whining.
This is why you’ll find, over and over, that people who tend to have a lot of free time, flexibility, and less responsibility usually are less productive, less effective, whine more, complain more, criticize more, and breakdown easier, than very busy, very structured, and very responsible people. It’s not a question of busyness but of maturity. A lot of people who appear to have “control of their time” because they have a lot of free time are the most lost and ineffective people I know. Their “control” is a myth, because they’re bad controllers. They’re bad controllers because they don’t have discipline. So they’re actually not controlling anything. They are controlled by their feelings, by random events, and by what others are doing. This is obviously a sign of an immature person.
The answer to “How do I know if I’m mature?” is this: Do you know what is required from your life by the people around you? And do you courageously, selflessly, and effectively embrace this accountability, along with the potential benefits and consequences of success and failure?
Do you know what is required of you as a son or daughter? Are you embracing this requirement?
Do you know what is required of you as part of a team or group? Are you embracing this requirement?
Do you know what is required of you as a follower of God? Are you embracing requirement?
Do you know what is required of you as a spouse? Are you embracing this requirement?
Do you know what is required of you by your customers? Are you embracing this requirement?
Do you know what is required of you as a person living in a free society? Are you embracing this requirement?
Whatever your role in life, recognizing your accountabilities in each role, embracing the requirements of these accountabilities, and courageously, selflessly, and effectively meeting these requirements is what mature people do.
That’s how to know if you’re mature. If you don’t know your role, if you don’t know what’s required of you, and/or if you don’t effectively meet these requirements, you have your indicators of a lack of maturity.
So we’ve answered the first two questions about maturity and calling. Callings aren’t some weird fuzzy feelings or interests. They are very simple recognitions of my roles in life (follower of Christ, husband, father, son, leader, friend, etc…) and what they require of me, and maturity is heeding this call with courage, selflessness, and effectiveness.
This leads me to the last questions: How do I know what to do? The answer is very simple.
You should do what your calling requires of you. You should do what your accountabilities require of you.
What time should you wake up? You should wake up at the time required of you.
What books should you read? You should read the books that help you fulfill your life’s requirements.
What should you eat? You should eat the food that helps you fulfill your life’s requirements. (And you won’t be able to fulfill it if you’re dead.)
What should I wear? You should wear what helps you fulfill your life’s requirements.
What job should I take? You should get the job that helps you fulfill your life’s requirements. And sometimes that means getting a job that’s boring or difficult simply because your life requires you to grow up, move out, and learn how to be independent, more than it needs you to be comfortable. For me, my most difficult job and searing learning experience came from having to take over our old family business. It wasn’t my brilliant foresight that made me take it on. I was so scared about the business for years, sweating profusely despite being in an air conditioned building. But it was what life required of me in that moment. It didn’t require me to be cool, or to eat in fancy restaurants, to enjoy the trapping of success. It required me to sit in banks and ask for grace. It required me to beg for terms from suppliers. It required me to go to work at 6:00am and get comfortable with all nighters. It required me to grow as a manager and leader. It required me to trust God at a level I had never done so before. It was what my love for my family was calling me to do. It was difficult and I wouldn’t not wish it on anyone. But it was beneficial. More than the lessons, there was the character building, the cultivation of virtue that can only really happen through difficulties. Even more, I hope, that God was pleased with my reliance.
Your basis for what you should do is not how you feel, or what others are doing on social media, or what your social calendar says. Your basis for what you should do is your deep understanding of your roles, your accountabilities, and your requirements.
This is why I never tell people to follow their passions. I tell them to follow their responsibilities. You will discover more about yourself, cultivate stronger character, and achieve more impactful results by getting good at being the guy who makes and keeps commitments than by being the one who has the benefit of little responsibility living off of someone else’s maturity. This is also why I vehemently disagree with people who say, “Some people are really just like that. You can’t expect them to be mature. They were never taught.” Saying this means we have automatically concluded that these people will a) never face the many consequences of immaturity (they will), and b) they will never enjoy the satisfaction that only people of achievement experience. It is not true that people who were not prepared to be mature are exempt of the consequences of immaturity and it’s not true that just because someone did not start out mature, they are not able to develop maturity. They can and should.
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