It’s amazing how the many different parts of our lives parallel each other. Anyone who has worked with me in our teams, or has been reading my blog posts, will know that many of my management insights have come from areas like art, physics, psychology, sports, religion, and nature, among other bodies of knowledge. It’s important to not just collect information in our heads but to be able to make connections and combinations with these pieces of information in order to come up with better applications. Having a posture that’s constantly curios, constantly inquiring, that is hopeful for answers, and does not settle for anything less than understanding will help a person in every area of their life.
An example of this truth, that we can pick-up lessons from one area of our life that are useful to the other areas, came to me after a discouraging week of work. I run a social impact tech startup called Bridge, that provides a range of human resource (HR) solutions to companies in the Philippines (including payroll and staffing) that is layered with our Fintech platform (Access) that allows us to refinance the expensive loans of employees and help them save what they used to pay in interest. Our goal is help employees work towards “security” not “stuff”. While our mission is noble (you’ll be shocked at how horrible the usury is in the Philippines), it doesn’t mean that we don’t have to face the growth pains of a startup, especially one that is disrupting both the HR and lending spaces at the same time. With thousands of users on our platforms, over ninety full-time employees, and big goals, every single day is full of action.
One Saturday, while not working (Saturdays are supposed to be my Sabbath), while changing Elijah’s diaper (which I rarely do), my mind was full of different Bridge concerns and opportunities. My son, Elijah, has somehow figured that wiping his poop on his dad’s hands is funny to him, as it brings out my grossed-out anger. How this boy learns to be cheeky is beyond me, but he just knows how to push my buttons. I scolded him, “Elijah, stop it!” Which he doesn’t do, and continues to attempt to grab more poop to wipe on me, all the while giggling with his adorable giggle. Somehow, I managed to finish changing his diaper anyway, wash my hands a billion times, and get him dressed. This is why I let his mother and nanny do the changing. They’re better at it. They’re more efficient. I like efficiency. And I hate getting poop on my hands. I thought to myself, “Already so much trouble, this little shitter.”
The next morning, I watched as my son slept, already so long and so big, and I kept thinking about how lucky I am to have such an amazing son. I remember my instinctive thought the day before, right after getting poop on my hands. In that reactive moment, Elijah, my favourite boy in the world, was a “Little Shitter”. In the morning, seeing him in another light, all I saw was how lucky I was to have such an amazing son. I kept thinking about his future potential, about the dreams I have for him, and about my next steps to prepare for his college, to train him, and to make sure he’s as healthy as possible.
I thought about my other “baby”, Bridge, another young one that has captured my heart and is full of potential. There are some moments where my reaction thinks that there’s so much trouble and inconvenience. But every single time I step back, and look at Bridge, not for the latest concern, but for its qualities, its amazing team, its growing customer base, its beautiful mission, and the potential to bring about sustainable and scalable impact, my mind is refocused on the right things.
The point of this post is simple: When you see the different areas of your life as “little shitters”, you will fail to treat them as they should be: as beautiful potential waiting to be realized. Every day, Elijah continues to shit without warning, and he continues to require help to clean himself up, but he’s more than a little shitter. He’s my little giant who is showing incredible physicality and an indomitable will. He’s excitingly developing associations and is learning how to show his affection, especially to his mother. He can recognise tens of animals and dinosaurs, and can tumble of our bed. And he’s only 20 months. What more at 24 months? What more at 36 months? What more in a decade? What more in 50 years? What more will he accomplish?
I now feel this way for all the areas of my life. What can my health look like if I daily just do the necessary things to stay healthy over time? What could Bridge look like? What could Stealth look like? What could my family look like? Instead of putting so much emphasis on the wrong things that happen, and there’s a lot, I use my attention and energy on realign potential not reaffirming negativity.
“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.
A notification went off on my phone telling me I slept only 66% of my sleep goal of 6 hours a day. The same alarm pings my Apple Watch, iPad, and MacBook. (Am I really this dense that I need so many reminders?) None of these notifications are needed to inform me that I am tired. Exhausted is probably a better word. I would like nothing more than to be snoring loudly on this warm Sunday morning.
But I am awake and typing this. Why? Am I really some sort of blogging addict? Nope. It’s because I scheduled to post an article today, meaning, I committed to myself that I would sit down, process my thoughts, and share them with others, hoping that they may encourage and empower others. The ability to do things not because it feels good, or feels right, or is popular, fun, or respectable, and despite being opposite all those things,but following through simply because you made an invisible commitment to yourself, is what is known as self-control. Self-Control, the ability to respond to life, not merely react like little babies do, is a key indicator of maturity. What about ourselves should we control? This often-shared quote encapsulates things nicely:
“Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”
Self-Control means controlling our thoughts, words, actions, habits, character, and ultimately our destiny (our destination, where our lives go).
When we don’t control our thoughts, when we let circumstances, the opinions of others, our worries and fears, our lusts, our anger, our impatience, our unprocessed thoughts, and unrefined ideas dictate what we think, we exhibit a lack of self-control. We are reacting to things outside of us, instead of doing what the Bible says:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things
– Philippians 4:8
This is not so easy during a stressful situation, like trying to make your finances work while calming a wailing baby at 3am. But it is possible and very beneficial. For this specific example, a true example from my own life, I CHOOSE to go beyond the surface suffering and look at the profound privilege of the activity. I am not merely struggling to pay the bills and calm my son. I am participating in the amazing process of raising a godly man. If being up at this time is part of it, it’s worth it. If having to tighten our belts and move funds around is part of it, it’s worth it. If feeling very tired is part of it, it’s worth it. And it’s extra worth it because I know that not only am I part of such a meaningful activity, but that if I set my eyes on Jesus, if I trust Him and obey Him in all circumstances, not only will things work out, but I’ll be transformed to be more like Him. Sometimes, I forget that God’s main goal is not to give me the life I want or a life with no struggles, but to make me more like Christ, which means, that my thoughts words, actions, habits, and character reflect those of Christs because the spiritual virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and, here it comes again, self-control, are so evident in my life. I have born fruit. The pleasure of having a son, and the privilege to be able to become more like my Jesus, makes everything worth it. Of course I find it worth it because I have activated the self-control required to reject society’s values of success and the good life but determined for myself that I want to please God and love my family. My success is based on how well I do the latter two. I think most people simply live by recommendation and convention, not by conviction, so actually live others-controlled and wonder why they don’t feel free. Is it not logical to understand that to be others-controlled means you’re not truly choosing for yourself?
Cultivate self-control. Be free.
Last Friday morning, my son, Elijah, was circumcised. While I won’t go through the reasoning of why we chose to have him circumcised, I want to share a simple story from it. Inside the operating room, after preparing Elijah for the procedure, the doctor warned me that the babies usually cry when they’re injected but that after that they’d be fine. Right before they injected him, the doctor said, “Ok, here we go. 1-2-3…” And proceeded to inject him, only to marvel, “Oh. He didn’t cry.” Elijah had only made a slight grunt and went back to sleep. Throughout the whole procedure, he did not cry at all. He’d whine a bit, but then relax again. The anaesthesia must have taken over at some point. I was so proud to watch how my 3-week old son handled what is a painful situation. He took it, winced, and let it go. “That’s my son.” I thought to myself. The nurses told me that he was very brave. I don’t know how much of that is true or them being nice, but I’ll take it. Haha!
Anyway, the next day, I was still so proud of how tough my son was when I had a thought: Maybe this is how God the Father feels when He sees me win over my anger, surrender my pride, defeat lust, or choose kindness and godliness under pressure. Maybe this is how He felt watching Job take hit after hit yet remain faithful. Maybe this is how He felt when the disciples worshipped until death. Maybe this is how He felt when His Son chose the Father’s will. More than enjoying freedom as we become self-determining when we are self-controlled, the beauty of self-control is that we are able to worship God in our own special way, responding to our own individual circumstances in our own unique acts of worship. For me and Yasmin, one of the songs we sing to God looks more like ass-wiping with a smile at 2am. For me, the melody I send to Heaven, is the sincere gratefulness in my heart at working in Bridge on such an awesome mission, even though I haven’t slept. The chorus I repeat is my recurring repentance of my many sins and constant trusting in His goodness, even as I face consequences.
This, I believe, is true worship as Romans 12:1 explains it:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.“
Just as there is good singing and bad singing, there is beautiful and pointless worship. Pointless worship is lip service. Beautiful worship comes from our self-controlled choosing to please God in all that we do, knowing that He is pleased when we walk in faith, obey His word, and love others as ourselves.