Introduction: A Year of Failures
For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.
– Proverbs 24:16
At the end of each year, I go back to the objectives I set at the start of the year to evaluate how successful the year was. This year, like all the previous years I’ve been doing this, I am faced with yet another year of failures. I missed almost every goal I set this year. I planned to read 50 books in 2018 but only read 40. I planned to grow our PayDay users 10x (or 1000%) but only did 2x (2000%). I planned to achieve 14% body fat, reached as low as 15%+, but currently hovering above 18%! I planned to write a blog post a month but struggled to finish my thoughts, leaving a long trail of unfinished drafts. I planned to renovate my apartment (it’s the same place I’ve been living in for over 10 years) to make room for my growing family, but all the extra expenses (particularly health expenses) erased my renovation budget.
In short, in every area of my life in 2018, body, soul, and spirit, financial, relational, and impact, all have fallen short of the targets I set for myself.And like I said, it’s been the same way every year.
But failure doesn’t mean no progress.
Because despite the long list of failures, the progress has been amazing. I may not be able to say I’m a success, a success is someone who has achieved the goals he set out to accomplish, and I failed to do that this year, but I can say I grew exponentially this year. The loftiness of my difficult goals, though remaining unrealized, when combined with extreme commitment and extreme hard work, leads to exponential growth.
Let’s look at the progress. Physically, from 20% to 18% body fat is a reduction of 10%, and in the process I increased my benchpress and squat to as high as 75kg and 100kg respectively, both over 100% of my body weight. What led to those gains? As I pursed my body fat target, I saw that weight training played a big part in burning fat, so I followed the very simple 5×5 method.
In business, let’s take Bridge. While PayDay only doubled its user base (double isn’t enough in tech!), the net promoter scores of our payroll clients grew to an impressive 16+. Payroll isn’t an easy business, but to have more than satisfied customers is an achievement. Even more, we’ve been able to increase our Access user pipeline to beyond 100,000 users – a target we didn’t even set. So our 3 year old startup now has over 70 employees, is receiving great scores for payroll service, and is very well positioned as the only savings app in the Philippines.
With my reading, as my workload and home responsibilities increased, I realized what Solomon said thousands of years ago:
“Of making many books there is no end, and much study wears the body.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12).
So I decided to change my approach to assembling a personal canon, a list of foundational books for me and my family, and knowing those books by heart. I’m moving away from my youthful vanity of reading a certain number of books to seeking more depth.
In this year of failures, I come out stronger, wiser, more focused, better connected, and better positioned to attack yet another year, another exciting year with even bigger goals set.
When we don’t let our failures, our falls, crush us, when we rise, and rise, and rise again, we progress and improve.
There’s a verse in Proverbs 24:15-16 that goes:
Do not lurk like a thief near the house of the righteous,
do not plunder their dwelling place;
for though the righteousfall seven times, they rise again,
but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.
It’s interesting that the verse reminds us that even righteous people can and will stumble.It goes against the formulaic beliefs of most people today, that if I get certain things right, I’ll automatically succeed.The Bible doesn’t say that. This verse actually reminds us the opposite it’s true. It’s possible for people who are seeking to do the right things to still fall and fail. But it also warns anyone who would take advantage of a righteous person’s fall: they’re going to rise again.
I asked myself, “How can someone remain righteous in the midst of great failures, which are many times painful and embarrassing?” Here’s the rule I put for myself and my team:
Even if we fail, let it not be because we were dishonest, lazy, and/or unkind.
To me, to be righteous means to remain honest, hard working, and compassionate, even in the face of failure, trusting God’s word that we will rise again.
But the verses contrast the rising of the righteous with stumbling of the wicked.This reminded me of another verse that refers to the wicked, this time it was the parable of the master and his three servants in the book of Matthew. When rebuking his servant that didn’t put his talent to work:
“His master replied, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have recede it back with interest. So take the bag of gold from him and tie it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them…”
It’s interesting that the Bible doesn’t only call the greedy wicked but also calls the lazy wicked.It’s easy to point to some greedy rich businessman and call them evil. It’s much harder to admit personal laziness as wicked. But in the Bible they’re both wicked, and both stumble during calamity, and both lose out in the end.
All of this to say, the path of the righteous isn’t some linear road to success. It is a journey to constantly progress in one’s character, moving through each success and failure towards a brighter and brighter future, not because they’re more “successful” as the world defines success, but the path of the righteous gets brighter because the traveler, the righteous person, has become himself, a burning bright light.
Yet another Proverb says this well:
The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.
– Proverbs 4:18
This idea of being a burning bright light is what the following post is about. I hope it encourages you as you enter the new year to set audacious goals, evaluate yourself honestly, work harder than you’ve ever worked, focus more than you’ve ever focused, grow more than you’ve ever grown, and burn brighter than you’ve ever burned.
Without further ado, my 2018 Finale, titled, The Light from a Soul Burning and the Brilliance of a Thousand Sparks.
(NOTE: I’m sharing the intro ahead so you can read it as I finish the rest of the article. My posts tend to be long, so this should give you a head start. Think of it like a trailer!)
Part 1. The Light from a Soul Burning
If they shut doors and do not hold up the light when the night is troubled with storm,
O thou unlucky one,
with the thunder flame of pain ignite your own heart,
and let it burn alone.
– From Ekla Cholo Re by Rabindranath Tagore
When there’s nothing left to burn, you must set yourself on fire.
– From Your Ex-Lover is Dead by Stars
(Section to Follow)
Part 2. The Brilliance of a Thousand Sparks
As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another.
– Proverbs 27:16
“The beauty of the soul shines out when a man bears with composure one heavy mischance after another, not because he does not feel them, but because he is a man of high and heroic temper.”
“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”
– C.S. Lewis
As I write this section, I feel a familiarity with it that goes back a long time ago. I feel as if I’ve been writing this section all my life. For part of my mistake-riddled life, are countless rebukes, apologies, corrections, and lessons. Countless. Many of these corrections, particularly the most meaningful ones, stung the most, even hurt the most, but they also stuck the most. The process of sharpening iron isn’t without sparks. But I’ve come to realise that it is these very sparks that produce a brilliant life. No one is born brilliant. Brilliance is produced by hitting, banging, and clanging.
There are two ways we can apply this idea to our lives. The first is to follow the light of leaders who constantly allow themselves to be sharpened. I’m not just talking about a leader who learns to behave more and more nicely, but about person who is not settling