I have 3 birthday posts for you, two of them only partially finished. The first one, this one, is about identity, about what I’ve found to be helpful way to answer, for myself, “Who am I?”
The second one is about honoring your father and mother with your actions and attitudes, which I believe is extremely important for personal and community thriving, but, sadly, not practiced seriously in modern culture.
The third is about breaking things and disappointing people, and about the price of being not just successful, but originally successful and distinct.
I’ll flesh them out when I have the time as work has been very busy, a mixed bag of exciting and frustrating. It’s all part of the entreprenuerial life. The beauty of this is that I don’t write as an observer but as a practitioner. I have a lot of skin in the game. When I talk about juggling the responsibilities of family, work, community, health, and our other requirements, I share from my experiences of running a growing startup, managing multiple companies and multiple investments, while also raising a startup family, and also diligently improving myself. This, I believe, gives me a level of credibility that a mere opinion from someone who is just interpreting quotes or giving comments on things they’ve never practiced does not have.
I did finish one of the three posts, this one, so here it is.
In This Moment
Who am I?
This is a question we take for granted until something shakes our identity, or to put it more accurately, until something shakes that which we have built our identity on. What we have built our identity on becomes obvious by what causes us to lose our peace. In my case, I have observed that business threats and business failures cause me to lose peace because I’ve placed a lot of my identity in my role as a businessman. If I’m not a successful businessman, then what am I? A failed businessman? An inconsequential businessman? These are questions my mind wrestles with, particularly, as I said, when business is shaken. Interestingly enough, I don’t care if, let’s say, the fashion world was shaken. I don’t suddenly ask myself, “Am I bad designer?” or “Don’t people like my work?”. Why? because I have no stake in that world. I have no identity connected to that. I could be wearing a black t-shirt everywhere (like I currently do) and even be given an award for worst dressed CEO and it still wouldn’t shake me at all. Who I am is not affected by fashion. (I’m only using fashion because it’s one of those things I’m not too particularl about. It could be anything, like the world of stamps, or horse racing. Because I’m not a part of that world, because I have no identity connected to it, shaking it doesn’t affect me. But with the things that affect me identity, if you shake them, they will shake me.)
I started asking myself this question more deeply, and some first thoughts included:
1. I am my roles: I am a husband, a father, a manager, a friend, a son, etc…
2. I am my affiliations: I am a part of Bridge, a member of the Bonifacio family, a volunteer at Habitat for Humanity, etc…
3. I am my capabilitees: I am a voracious reader, I am an extremely hard working guy, I am someone who can run a marathon, etc…
I kept finding more and more categories that affect my self-image, until I ran into one that depressed me:
…I am my regrets. I am someone who has done things he wishes he never did, who wishes he could erase any memory of certain actions, or even better, turn back time and done things differently.
A flood of regrets crushed my mind, as I remembered event after event. “I shoudn’t have done this”, “I should have done that instead”, and “I wish I could fix that” kept coming up as I recalled painfull, embarassing, and sad moments.
This avalanche of negative memories triggered more devious self-imagery.
“I am a fool.”
“I am evil.”
“I am fake.”
I had to stop myself. It wasn’t helping. I sat there confused. Who am I? Yes, I can honestly say I am the worst parts of me. There’s too much evidence of that to deny it. I have been foolish. I have been evil. I have been fake. I have been a whole lot of horrible things. But I’ve also been good. I’ve also been virtuous. Am I fake for being a mixed bag? Do the bad parts of who I am cancel out the good parts? Who am I?
Then it hit me: Who I am, who I really am, is who I am in this moment.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say my wife and I get into an argument due to my impatience (which is 99% the cause of our fights), in that moment of impatience, I am not “wise David” or “insightful David”. I am not a “good husband” nor a “good leader”. Who I am, in that moment, is “impatient David”, “harsh David”, “angry David”. I am, in that moment, an ugly version of me. But in that moment, at any moment, I have a choice to be a better version of me, to decide instead to be a virtuous David, someone patient instead of impatient, someone gentle instead of harsh, and someone peaceful instead of angry. And if I choose then to be patient instead of impatient? Then I become “patient David”. If I choose to become gentle? Then I am “gentle David”. And if I choose to be peaceful? Then I am at peace. I am no longer an ugly version of myself, despite the reality that my wife might still be mad at me, desite that there still may be tension, and despite the case that I may be sleeping on the couch. I am a better version of me, despite the consequences brought about by the ugly version of me. And if I bear those consequences with virtue, meaning, with courage, with peace, with honesty, with kindness, with patience, with gentleness, and all sorts of goodness, then I am, in that moment, defined by those virtues, not by the consequences I may be facing.
Who I am, who I really am, is who I am in this moment.
So let’s say I failed big time, and it causes me my job. Yes, I am a fired, jobless, maybe embarassed David. But if choose to look for what I can learn and do better, then who I really am is teachable David, and if I choose to thank God for the experience, then I am grateful David too. I am not defined by my work failure, but by my moment by moment response.
Let’s say I have no money, and have to pay off debt. I don’t have to be “poor David”. I can, from this moment on, be “money-wise David” by deciding differently on future financial decisions. I may have been “money-dumb David”, but by choosing better right now, and committing myself to choosing better in future “right nows”, I am someone new, someone better.
But this is a double-edged sword. Just as I don’t need to be trapped by past mistakes, I shouldn’t rely too much on past achievements. I may have been extremely generous in times past, but if I decide to be selfish in this moment, then, in this moment, I am not a compilation of generosity, but a selfish man. Just as it is protection from bitterness and being swallowed by regret, it is also a guard against pride and thinking too highly of one’s self. I may have succeeded in things past, but in this moment, am I succeeding in being the person I have to be?
The past mistakes are beyond my reach. They exist in a moment I can no longer recover. The past achievements though beneficial do not matter as much as today. And the future? Who knows what the future will bring? Why hinge my identity on what may or may not happen? But in this moment, the only moment I am ever actually in, there are only two choices: Will I or will I not be the person the moment requires me to be.
I can hear my baby crying. Time to be that man.
“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
– Psalm 90:12
In this extremely fast-paced world, it is important that I am responsibly handling how I allocate my time. I’ve been adopting techniques to help me improve focus, remove distractions, and increase productivity, one of which is keeping my phone on Do Not Disturb for most of the day. Of all the different productivity hacks, I’ve found that most useful to me is simply setting the 3-4 Most Important To-Dos for the day, stubbornly focusing on those, and then, and only then, do I move to the others. Sometimes a little flexibility is required, but this is the exception to the rule. Most of the time, the determined priorities for the day stay.
A question popped into my head as I was reviewing my daily priorities from the past couple of days, checking how well I did at addressing them, where I can improve, and if they truly were important or urgent, which is a distinction Stephen Covey makes in his classic book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, a book you will see me mention over and over.
The question was: What are my days adding up to?
As with all good questions, more questions followed behind it:
As I pondered on my answers to these questions, I started writing down ideas on how to streamline my life better, to sync effectively the different priorities, and to achieve flow. A spiritual term for this concept, a much more powerful term, is the word Shalom: harmony, wholeness, completeness, health, and peace.
One way I am putting this into practice is by better connecting my life roles with my writing, sharing the purpose, principles, and performance ideas of each role with my readers as I study them. This way I am able to have a neat flow from my life’s role, the requirements of that role, my efforts to fulfill those requirements, and to what I share on my blog.
The categories I will be focusing on are: Business (particularly the ideas that relate to my company Bridge), Family (my series on How to Live for my son Elijah, and about the lessons my wife has been teaching me in How Not to Be a Husband), Faith (my devotions), Society (my thoughts on the human condition and the institutions that influence us), and finally a category I call Overflow (my art, stories, poetry, etc.).
Overtime, I will also be categorizing old posts into these sections as well. The world is evolving, and so must I. I hope this blog continuous to encourage you to make most of every day, even as it evolves as well.
I know I run the risk of seeming old-fashioned or conservative with this article, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with either. Being closed-minded, bigotted, and unteachable are obviously wrong, but agreeing with time-tested principles, seeking to grow in timeless virtues, and building on the good work compounded over time is not only not wrong but beneficial in my opinion.
It’s also very easy to prove that many of our opinions, for all ou pretenses of being progressive and empowerd, are just as, if not more, closed-minded, bigotted, and unteachable.
When a person’s “progressive” viewpoint causes them to be unable to even consider another viewpoint, this so-called progressive is closed-minded. When a certain “empowered” person uses their power to tear others down, either overtly or covertly, that person is bigotted.
You see, it’s not having a viewpoint that makes one closed-minded. It’s a mind that is unable to consider other view points – rationally – meaning objectively, meaning with principles that help determine the veracity and value of an idea. The most closed-minded mind is not the critical mind, but the mind that won’t criticize itself. When we are not willing to look for the faults in ourselves before we look at others, and more than we look at others, we will inevitably be closed-minded.
It’s not having a viewpoint that makes one a bigot. Someone can have a totally opposite position as mine on a topic and still not be a bigot. A bigot is someone who is obstinately devoted to a belief system. The belief system people are devoted to today is not even religion. It is the belief of the “Primacy of Me”, meaning, “My thoughts, my feelings, my opinions, my challenges, my experiences, my struggles, my causes, and my everything come before those of others.” It’s easy to blame a religious fanatic or extremist of being bigoted. It’s much harder to admit our own bigotry, simply because self-awareness, honest to goodness self-awareness, is not a natural ability but a skill that must be developed. The truth is this: Our picture of ourselves, the really good or really bad picture, is most usually not accurate. Humans are incredibly prone to believing the surface, the surface of others and ourselves, and thinking that is who they or we are. That’s the surface. The tip of the iceberg. Who I am, who you really are, is much more than our surface persons. Reflection, the act of looking at ourselves honestly, will teach us deeper and deeper things about ourselves, and I don’t think it’s possible for one to journey deep into their own soul and not find darkness. I know this from my own experience. This is why I know I can be bigoted. The undeclared but many times lived-out ideology of the Primacy of Me is strong in me. This inevitably makes me bigoted many times.
This introduction is necessary to open our minds, first to our own closed-mindedness and bigotry, which have made us too sensitive, too easily offended, too easily fatigued by rational discussion, but also to put my readers in a position of consideration. To park preconceived notions, particularly about love, and look at the merits (and demerits) of this point, which is:
Love Means Taking Responsibility. There is no such thing as love without responsibility. If someone says he or she loves but is ignorant to the responsibilities of that love, that person will be a unsatisfying lover. If someone says he or she loves but is unwilling to take responsibility for that love, that person does not love, but merely feels sentiments of romance, and will someday fail.
Loving someone, being a lover, is not merely a feeling, but a role, and like every role, come with responsibilities. Any role that does not come with responsibilities is a meaningless role. Everyone likes the idea of a no-pressure love, a natural kind of love that requires no effort. This is a mirage. It does exist, but it doesn’t last. And usually it spoils us from reaching a greater kind of achieved love, one that blooms not simply because of the randomness of natural causes, but what that flourishes because of the careful cultivation of those who cared for it.
Love means taking responsibility over the flourishing, including the satisfaction, of that which you love.
Being someone’s lover means taking responsibilty over that person’s flourishing. What does it mean to take responsibility? I like to think of responsibility as having two important parts: the power and the accountability. Being responsible means we have the power and abilities to live in such a way that leads our lover towards flourishing, but this also comes with the accountability, meaning there are consequences for us, when we fail to do this, even if we failed because we were ignorant of our responsibility in the first place.
When we have a feelings-first approach to love and don’t have an understanding that love comes with responsibilities, we will be able to rationalize any act if it means making ourselves feel better, even if these acts are things would hurt our lover. This is dangerous for both men and women, for both parents and kids, and for all our other relationships.
When we forget that love means taking responsibility we start evaluating our situations based on feelings and will be unstable. People won’t be able to rely on us if we are like this. How can we say we love someone when that someone can’t rely on us, much less trust us?
Let me put it simply, when you say you love your company, it means you have a responsibility to perform and make the performance of those around you better.
When you say you love your spouse, you have a responsibility to make sure that spouse is better today than when you first committed to him or her.
When you say you love your kids, you have a responsibility to learn how to become a better parent, to master your issues, and to love your kids with wisdom.
When you say you love the poor, you have a responsibility to improve their lives.
If you say you love your country, you have a responsibility to improve that country.
A one-question diagnostic to ask yourself is this: Is this person closer to God, more fulfilled, wiser, more disciplined, and healthier because of me? In other words, is this person better spirit, soul, and body?
To love someone, to love a person, means taking on the responsibility of that person. And what is a person? In a simple way, a person is a Spirit, Soul, and Body. Of what value is someone’s love if it does not improve others Spirit, Soul, and Body.
This is the simple responsibility we all have: To improve the Spirit, Soul, and Body of those we love.
This abstract, undefined, feelings-based, and worthless kind of love is why relationships breakdown. So many lovers are searching for who knows what. No one knows because they’re chasing an ideal feeling of constant security, comfort, and happiness. Any relationship with a person (or persons) like this will fail, even if they stay together. Just like not getting fired from a job is no achievement. Staying in a failed relaionship is, in my opinion, not necessarily an achievment in itself if it does not achieve something greater.
This is why I am very careful with saying, “I love…” I don’t love ice cream. I like it. I don’t love Batman. I like him. I don’t love coffee. I like it. I have no responsibility to care and improve these things. I love Yasmin. I love Elijah. I love my work. I love my Spirit, Soul, and Body.
And it’s because I love God first.
Loving God first means I am responsible to Him first. What does He want from me? To love Him and others. What does it mean to love God? It means to love Him Spirit, Soul, and Body. What does it mean to love God in Spirit? It means to meditate on His word, to pray unceasingly, to connect with other believers, to preach the Good News, and to serve others. What does it mean to love God with your Soul? It means to cultivate your mind, your will and your emotions to make wise decisions, to have self-control, and to empathize with others. What does it mean to love God with your body? It means to train your body to be as effective a vessel of good as possible. To love God doesn’t simply mean to “feel that God is here” or to play worship songs or to give tithes. I am responsible to become a certain person for Him. I am responsible to develop my talents and please my Master. I am responsible to love my neighbour. I am responsbile to love my enemies. I am responsible to live in such a way that pleases Him. I am responsible to repent of my many sins. I am responsible to be a better and better person that others may become better and better people.
When you see a fanatically religious country full of corruption, injustice, and lack of excellence, you’ll find a people who do not understand that love means taking responsibility.
When you see a team who are full of ideals but can’t set aside personal issues to work well together, you’ll find a people who do not understand that love means taking responsibility.
When you see a couple who can’t agree or follow a budget, who can’t agree on or follow a purpose together, who claim more than they give, you’ll find people who don’t understand that love means taking responsibility.
When I look at my own life, at the many areas I have not improved, I am driven to repentance and change because I have conveniently isolated that area when I am responsible to God.
Is it possible to not take on the responsibility? Absolutely. But this is not love. At least not the kind of love that will last and bloom. Besides, when we do not seriously take on our responsibilities for those we love, we provide proof of what we really love: ourselves.
I was talking to a young man about this, and he really seemd bothered by this idea. The idea that love has an element that is natural, that requires hard work, and even forcing one’s self to do things we don’t necessarily want to do. People hate this idea of having to be responsible for others. I asked him, “Do you like the little prince.” (And most hipster millienneials do.) “I love that book!” He said. “I’ve read it a few times.” I reminded him of a part of the book that goes:
People have forgotten this truth,” the fox said. “But you mustn’t forget it. You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed. You’re responsible for your rose.”
He was quiet. This hipster millennial, who loved the idea of romance, with a mind filled with ideals, whether it’s ideal ministry, ideal office, ideal work, ideal relationship, or ideal home, who loved romantic books like The Little Prince, had failed to understand the very point of that book: “You’re responsible for what you love.” And the full passage is even more meaningful:
“It’s the time you spent on your rose that makes your rose so important…People have forgotten this truth, but you mustn’t forget it. You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed. You’re responsible for your rose.”
People wonder why relationships breakdown. Man has been around for centuries. We know why they breakdown. As much as we want to think “Things just didn’t work” or some external circumstance made the break necessary, the reality is simpler and hits closer to home. We have separated the responsibility of love from the romance of love, and it leaves us all dissatisfied. We have stopped spending time on cultivating our roses because we have forgotten that love means taking responsibility – no matter how we feel.