Professional Growth Requires Personal Growth

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

Diligently Killing Ourselves

I was in the middle of writing another article (What Makes a Great HR Manager?) when I decided to write this one instead. As I was writing down my thoughts on the need for Human Resource Managers to go back to its core purpose of acquiring, developing, deploying, and protecting necessary people, I realized just how far forgetting our core purpose can take us. Most managers I know want to do a great job. They want to feel proud of their work. They want to be promoted. They want to succeed. But I would also say that most managers I know are nowhere as effective as they would like to be, not so much because they don’t have the potential nor desire, but because they’ve forgotten the core purpose of the role in the busyness of the role. It’s ironic, but it happens a lot, that a person busily working on a role ends up forgetting the reason of the role. I am guilty of this. When we forget the core purpose, we start evaluating things wrongly, and when we have dishonest scales (which the Lord abhors), we start putting more weight on the wrong things and not enough emphasis on the things that need attention.

It’s like a father too busy at work trying to fulfill his role as provider that he forgets he isn’t just a bills payer, he is a father, and the only one his kids will have. So this father starts evaluating himself based on how much money he brings in and is satisfied or dissatisfied depending on how well he is able to do this. The person will end up being a bad father, and it’s not because he wants to be a bad father, on the contrary, it’s because he wants to be a good father. It is his mistaken emphasis on providing, and not the core purpose of providing love, identity, protection, along with the provision which makes a father.

It’s like a husband and wife too busy trying to fulfill their own and shared dreams that they forget to love each other in a way that reflects Christ’s love, and in the process end up burdening each other instead with expectation after expectation. People like this won’t make good spouses, not because they don’t want a good marriage, but exactly because they want a good marriage, but a wrongly defined marriage, a marriage built around each other’s happiness, not the reflection of true love.

It’s like a company too busy with its policies, its operations, it’s growth, its sales, and its efficiency that it forgets its customer, only to wake up one day to find that the business is crashing because someone else is meeting the needs of the customer in a much better way. It will fail not because it doesn’t want to succeed but because it has forgotten that companies do not exist to pursue policies but to serve customers. They will become victims of their own vigilance.

It’s like a leader allowing himself to be drawn into petty arguments or defensive exchanges on twitter, on text, or in person, forgetting that a leader should hold himself or herself above feelings and dispassionately focus on principles. This leader, because of his care, ends up hurting the organization he cares about most, simply because he has forgotten that the primary role of a leader is to influence others by the example he makes, and not realizing that the example he is multiplying is bad for the organization.

It’s like a church so caught up in its dogma, in its programs, in its leaders, and in its traditions that it starts becoming more and more about the security and satisfaction of its members and leaders, such as what is happening in our current materialistic version of Christianity. We end up hurting our lives, not because we don’t want a good life, but because we want “our best life now”, but forget that our lives have a core purpose of glorifying God.

It’s like a parent burdening their kids with pressure to get high grades, bombarding them with studies and bribes, but forgetting the purpose of education is to prepare a person for liberty, to teach them how to make free wise decisions, NOT simply hit grades. Then we wonder why our young people are weak, why, despite their good grades, they’re ineffective. We educated them for grades not for the core purpose of learning.

I can go on and on of things we do and situations wherein the core purpose has been forgotten, and the very thing we think we are promoting, the very thing we think we are protecting, is the very thing we destroy, not because we are not hard working nor committed, but because we have forgotten the core purpose.

A good example of this, and one I use often with my team, is the story of Jesus and the High Priests:

One Sabbath, Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
– Matthew 12:1-8

The Pharisees, forgot that the core purpose of the Sabbath was for man to rest, not for man to be subservient to the Sabbath.

Jesus would again have to set His own disciples straight and point them back to the core purpose of His ministry:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
– Matthew 20:23-28

His disciples were trying to get positions of influence, and Jesus says, “Hey. Ministry isn’t about positining for power or favors. This is about serving others, about laying your life down.” It’s very different from the politics and petty ego massaging common among religious and civil leaders. Why? It’s not because someone criticized them or was offensive, though we like to blame incidents. It’s because we have stopped emphasizing the core purpose. A good sign that we have lost our core purpose is when we are petty, when we are easily offended, easily angered, and easily frustrated.

Who cares if things are difficult if the core purpose is fulfilled?

Who cares if people are eating during the Sabbath if they are resting and recreating?

Who cares if your spouse can’t afford a grander lifestyle if he’s loving you faithfully?

Who cares if your sex life isn’t like the movies if your faithfully serving each other?

Who cares if your kids’ grades are low if they’re learning how to handle adversity and learning how to learn?

Who cares if the policies are changing if it means serving customers better?

Who cares if they way someone said something is offensive if the point is true?

Who cares if I am regularly corrected if it means growing more each day?

Who cares about the petty distractions when my core purpose is being fulfilled?

All of this to make one point: Go back to the core purpose.

We don’t start businesses for ourselves. We start them to serve customers, to bring them value.
We don’t lead people to order them around. We lead them to bring them to a better place, to bring all of us together to a better place.
We don’t get married to fulfill each other’s hopes and dreams, but to love each other faithfully.
We don’t preach to burden people with our morality but share the Gospel: The Good News!
We don’t make policies to police people, but to be efficient towards serving our customers.

Sad ironies happen when we forget what our core purpose is. We end up failing at that we have so intensely tried to work on. It’s ironic because the failure doesn’t come to those who didn’t work hard, but to those who worked hard on the wrong things, spending too much time, money, and energy on other things, and not enough on the core purpose.

In Revelations 2:2-5, a letter to the church in Ephesus is written:

“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

In the letter, the church is reminded that all the virtue and righteousness in the world is worthless if we forget “the love you had at first”, which is the original love for God and love for others, which is the core purpose of the Christian walk.

The Bible is so full of good advice for leaders in any field. This reminding letter can be applied to pretty much all our different life roles:

“I know your works, your efforts, your achievements, but you’ve forgotten to love your spouse, your first love.”

“I know your efficiencies, your growth, your dedication, but you’ve forgotten your customers, the people you’re supposed to be serving.”

“I know your service to your kids, how you provide, and how you care, but you’ve forgotten that this is about preparing them. This isn’t about you as a father or mother, but them learning to be faithful, loving, and wise.”

Again, I can go on. When we abandon the love we first had, the core purpose that attracted us, that made us fall in love, we end up destroying that which we are working on. It’s extra hard to correct this because no one can fault us for not trying or working hard. This requires a lot of personal humility to say, “My efforts, for all their good intentions, for all the energy I’m investing, is not leading to fulfilling the core purpose. I am sorry. I need to change.” The person who can admit that is rare. This is why I believe most organizations, especially those that have tasted success will ultimately fail. 

I worry about this in my own life a lot. I know how prone I am to making this mistake.

Like I said, it’s a sad irony. It’s sad when that which we worked on most is destroyed by our very own hands, simply because we have forgotten our first love, the core purpose we found beautiful at the start, especially the core people we were supposed to be serving.

“But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
– James 4:6

2017 Finale – The Bride and The Child

2017 has been an incredibly tiring year. But it’s been a good year. Usually, at the coming of a New Year, I take a theme from the year that was and write about it. This year, the theme was the Bride and the Child. And what a wonderful theme it is.

The Bride

Early in our still-short marriage, Yasmin and I went through a period of almost constant fighting. My pride and her pride butted heads over and over. We called it principles, we called it facts, we called it feelings, we called it sensitivity, we called it responsibilities, we called it a lack of love language expression, a lack of understanding of the opposite gender, and a bunch of other things, but really it was pride, plain and simple pride.

One evening, after another intense argument (and argument is an understatement), I called one of my best friends and mentor, Butch Bautista, and said, “Tito Butch, Yasmin and I are arguing again. It’s like I can’t do anything right!” I went on a long monologue and capped it off with, “I used to be so effective, so efficient. I used to be so disciplined, so productive. Now, all I ever am is wrong! I feel like a part of me is dying!” Tito Butch, who had been patiently listening all this time, finally spoke up, “Yes. A part of you is dying. It’s called your ego. It’s about time.” 

What a zinger that was. My initial reaction was, “Who is this guy? He’s supposed to be on my side. Didn’t he hear a thing I said??!” I felt anger and offense at his comment. Then he continued, “David, when you got married, you said you would love her right?” I replied, “But I didn’t know she would be so…” He cut me off this time, “I didn’t ask you what you knew. You committed to love her. And you did that because you do love her. So love her.”

I forgot the rest of the conversation.

I do remember hearing those words, being more angry than before I called, and quickly getting out of the phone call. “No one understands me.” I told myself, and slept on the couch, which is a very comfortable couch I must say.

The next morning, even if I didn’t feel like it, simply out of discipline, I began the day with prayer. As I prayed, I was very quickly moved to repentance. Why was I so proud, so harsh, so impatient, so unforgiving, when it is I who has been dealt with so kindly, so graciously, and so generously? Why was I so good at rationalizing my anger when I had been shown so much forgiveness? This is why having a disciplined prayer life is important. In my experience, I have been led to so much needed correction during times I did not want the truth most.

I walked to our bedroom, where Yasmin, who was obviously not able to sleep after the previous night’s fight, was pretending to close her eyes. I sat down beside her on the side of the bed, and said, “Yasmin, I’m sorry for being proud and fighting you last night. I am sorry for being impatient and for saying <–blank–>.” She just nodded her head. I felt terrible. I had acted terribly. And why? Tito Butch was right. My ego was dying, and instead of letting it, I was fighting it. I was still the most important part of my universe. I was not being loving.

To love someone is to die to yourself for the one you love. I wasn’t dying. I was providing. I was explaining. I was guiding. I was serving. But I wasn’t dying. And with every non-dying act, I collected more “points”, which I now realize were more like bricks on a wall of pride separating us more and more. Without saying it, I was thinking, “I’m doing all this for you.” I guess this is why the Bible says, “Without love, I am nothing”, because all the best works without love will build a wall of entitlement. But love does not do that. Why? Because love dies.

I can’t say Yasmin and I are an incredibly couple. What we are is in love. Having said that, I guess we can say we are an incredible couple because we enjoy incredibly powerful magic. Love is magical. Love is life-bringing death.

If two people love each other than two people die. And if two people are loved than two people are brought to life. If to love is to die, to be loved is to be resurrected. This brings a whole new wonderful meaning to the crucifixion. We are Christ’s bride… Think about that. We are loved by Jesus. The cross is His message of love, “I am dying for you.” and His love is our resurrection. Sometimes, we think resurrection only means that after our physical funeral we somehow float up. I don’t know where that came from. I don’t know where it says that in the Bible. I do know that it does say that “we are alive in Christ”. Why? Because we are His bride, the ones He has chosen to love. Resurrection, like many of the other ideas of the Bible are timeless because they do are time-bound but love-bound.

This year I learned, even as ultra-flawed me could love Yasmin so deeply and enjoy slightly-flawed Yasmin’s love so immensely, I can enjoy God’s perfect love more so, and that a perfectly-loving God somehow enjoys my love for Him. It took for me to have the experience of how a groom loves his bride to understand in a much deeper way how Jesus loves me.

Months into our marriage, I had to become the groom I wasn’t at the start of our marriage, a man ready and willing to die. So I told myself, on one night, while walking home, “Time to die. Only the dead are resurrected.”

Marriage taught me the beauty of true love, that the more I chose the satisfaction of another, the more that other satisfied me.

The Child

I’ve written about my experience during the birthing. You can read them about them in past posts. My son is now 4 months old and huge. He is over 10 kg and already excited to walk. Being his father is an absolute joy. While it’s been very tiring (any parent will know this), the happiness one feels when watching their child is indescribable. Holding Elijah, listening to his coos, and, strangely, even things like changing his diapers and trying to soothe him, feel satisfying. Serving my son, loving him, despite any lack of achievement, has introduced me to a new kind of love: the love of possession.

I wrote this on another post to describe the feeling of a newborn:

“Why do I feel so much love for someone who has not done one thing to deserve such attention, such excitement, such affection? No wonder Christ the King came as a baby, to remind the world with every child born every single day that there exists an unlimited love, an all-embracing transformative love, that need not be earned but is bestowed completely from the moment one becomes a son. No wonder Christ the King came as a baby, not to display strength that we may learn to love power, but instead a child, that we may learn the power of love.”

Being a father, having a son, taught me there exists a pure love that has nothing to do with my son’s achievements and everything to do with him being mine.

Walking Into the New Year

I stepped out of our hotel in Robertson Quay to take Elijah out for some sun. I said a simple prayer, “Father, please walk with Elijah and me. I know you watch over us all the time. But this time, please be here with us.” I realized in the busyness of my life, a busyness I have allowed to erode any margin that remained, my relationship with God has become mostly a cerebral exercise. I was missing the deep emotional experience I used to enjoy when I would pray for rescue or thank Him for beauty. My heart was like the rocky soil that choked God’s seeds with the cares of life.

“Bring me back to that place, Father.” I prayed some more.

I looked at Elijah in his stroller excitedly wiggling his arms and legs. He loves being on the move. It’s as if he cannot wait to run around on his own. I remembered how my own dad took me on many walks as well. My almost automatic way of waking up early while traveling to get a lay of the land before the others woke up was picked up from my dad. There was one walk in Hong Kong, where, after he walked with me and pointed-out the landmarks, allowed me to walk home alone – at 10 years old. “Just look for those signs. You won’t get lost.” And off he went. I looked for the signs and found my way back to the hotel where my dad was waiting. Where he found that kind of confidence to let me do that, I have no idea. I’m pretty sure he didn’t run that by my mom.

Then there was the walk through one of the many squatter areas of Metro Manila. I’ve told this story many times on my blog. I was a whiny and grumbling five year old kid. My frustrated father, took me to the shanties to show me what having it bad really looked like. He pointed out two things that day that never really bore fruit until over a decade later: “These people have nothing but find ways to be happy by being grateful for what they do have” and “You’re alive to help people like these”. That walk would set me on a path to be involved with the Real LIFE Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, and our upcoming initiative at Victory Fort to rescue 100 sex slaves.

There were also difficult walks. They were the ones that required the discussing of things I had to correct, of relationships that were poisonous, and of financial messes to fix, among many others. But on hindsight, these walks were beneficial as well.

I am thirty-three years old now, and I still enjoy walking with my dad. We scheduled one to talk about what he is doing with the church in Singapore, particularly the SQ series, which I think is an extremely exciting innovation of ministry. I’m looking forward to it.

I’m also looking forward to my future walks with Elijah. Many times during our strolls, I find myself explaining things to my son who won’t remember these things yet, much less comprehend. But to see him smile and laugh at my facial movements is satisfying enough.

“I love you more than you’ll ever know.” I told him on that quay-side walk. “No one will love you the way your papa and mama love you.” And it’s true. My dad and mom used to tell my brothers and I, “We love you more than you’ll ever know.” and we would just say, “Thanks!” or “Sure!” When we were older, when I started going out with girls, my dad would remind me, “They don’t really love you David. Trust me. I love you more.” I would always say, “You don’t know what you’re saying Pop. You don’t understand. We really like each other.” He would just say, “You think you like each other. Wait until you start sharing toilets. You haven’t smelled her poop.” My dad had a way of sending the point home. Now that I’m a dad, now that I’ve not only “smelled my son’s poop” but held it, wiped it, washed it, and even tasted it when one surprise projectile hit me, I understand what my dad was saying. He did love me more. He and my mom) also smelled and handled my poop. Yet they loved me. All of my dates and exes were over even before we got that gross. I looked at my son, unable to accomplish anything, unable to comprehend much, and unable to help himself, and I love him so much.

That’s when I unmistakably felt a thought planted: “David, I am your father.” Not in some ominous Darth Vader-like voice, but in a very simple, matter of fact, “That’s who I am. I am your Father.” For the first time in my life I realized, “So this is how you love me… Maybe this expanded to infinity. Maybe this…” I couldn’t process it. Just as I continue to fail to find satisfactory words to describe how much I love Elijah, I could not fathom how much an infinite Father loved me. The idea of “God is my Father” staggers me even now when I think of it.

Then just like Paul on his way to Damascus, I felt a bright light shine on my soul, “David, David, why are you forgetting Me? Your soul is full of goals, full of targets, full of dreams, and mostly full of worries, but you’ve forgotten that the Christian life is about the Bride and the Child.” I knew what that meant. I had been working on this post about it. I had gotten too caught up with the world. I had prioritized the temporary over timeless, the temporal over the eternal. I was burning-out on things of lesser value. Even my prayers reflected an urgency for worldly achievements that needed to be done and not enough rejoicing in my position as Christ’s bride and God’s son. To love my family so much, and to be reminded of how much I am loved by God has refined me the past few weeks, changing my priorities to things that matter eternally. 

Tomorrow is a new year, complete with a lot of concerns and work to be done. But tomorrow, like today, like every day, is to be lived differently for me, reminding myself of the joyful knowledge that I am Christ’s bride and God’s son.

26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. – John 6:26-34 

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