Ahead, Behind, Beside, Always Moving Together

Mall of Asia, Race for Life 2015

Before the Race…

“Are you going to run with me or run ahead?”, Yasmin asked, throwing me off-guard.

I answered a nano-second too slow.

“You’re going to run ahead aren’t you?” She followed up.

I was still torn, knowing that we would be running slower but I answered, “No, I’ll run with you.”

She smiled. And right there I already won the race.

Recalibrating
I was thinking about that moment at the race, and about the adjustment needed when choosing to walk with others in relationship. It’s difficult for me being so used to setting my own objectives and running at my own pace. I’ve realized that I have in many ways become an efficiently selfish guy. Which I never realized being single, because the ability to mark objectives, fix your schedule, and discipline yourself towards those objectives is seen as a strength, and it is. But being in a relationship introduces a new dynamic to my day, and it’s no longer “How am I going to maximize today?” but “How are we, Yasmin and I, going to make something beautiful?”  

Working as a team is harder than it sounds because it’s not simply about agreeing to pray together or sharing your dreams. It’s an uncomfortable process of learning to change your rhythm or lack of rhythm and calibrating to run at a pace you both can sustain. In many ways for me it means speeding up, particularly my maturity and learning to communicate with a female better. (Which probably means I should stop referring to ladies as females.) But it also means slowing down. It means not just running around and be content to share things on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, but learning to put things down, call her on the phone, and say things like “How was your day?” or give a more detailed account to my day than “It was ok.” That might sound funny given that I’m a writer with over a thousand posts floating around, but as Yasmin has figured out by now, I’m not actually that great at communicating on the spot, that my posts are not the product of some communications expert but a process, a long one, of reflection and draft after draft. But I don’t get draft after draft with Yasmin. No guy gets a “save as draft” when communicating with their lady. We only get “published”. And I need to learn how to do that right if I’m to make something beautiful with Yasmin.

During the Race…

“Woah! Look at him!”, Yasmin pointed at a lean-muscled African runner speeding past, already on his way back, much much ahead of all the other runners. “Now he’s fast!”

And he really was. I have to admit to the insecurity of my heart, as my first thoughts were, “I could be running faster than I am now but I have to run at your pace. I’m faster than this.” I felt a tug-of-war within me. One side wanting to run ahead, push my capabilities, and see how well I could perform, and the other thinking about my commitment to run WITH Yasmin, not ahead of her. In hindsight, no one really cares about my time. It’s not like I’m a pro-runner or some sort of celeb. The only person who really cared about my time is… drumroll… ME. I think part of maturing in a relationship is going from wanting to be impressive to your partner to just being there with your partner through everything. That’s more mundane but not because it’s unimportant, it is, like many of the most important things in life, fundamental.

“If you want to run ahead, you can.” Yasmin said, reading my mind. “I can see it in your face.”

I looked at her and resolved to stop considering running ahead. I replied, “No we’re running together. And I’m going to pull you if I have to. We’re not going to stop until we finish.”

And that’s what I did. I took her hand, running a few steps ahead I pulled her to run a bit faster than what we were doing. Yasmin laughed, “You’re so competitive.” And I am, but I realize now that the competition wasn’t about me trying to win a race I never would have won anyway. The real fight was between me and myself. Would I let my personal desire to clock-in a better time beat my greater desire of finishing with Yasmin? I silently told the selfish part of me what I tell everything and everyone I compete with: “I’m going to beat you.” Then I pointed at a couple running ahead of us, “There’s our target. Let’s finish before them. Let’s go!” Yasmin just kept laughing.

I think there’s an extreme that’s quite prevalent in Philippine society, that what’s important is that we all get along in relationship regardless of our performance. That’s a loser’s mentality. And when we gather a bunch of people who think that way, we end up with a bunch of losers. Yes, relationships matter, but performance matters too. Yes, enjoying a party together matters, but waking up early, being responsible, and being highly successful at your calling matters too.
Here’s why: To say that you love someone means that you’re giving them your best. If your best sucks, then what your loved one will get won’t be amazing. If I say that I love someone but won’t push myself, discipline myself, fight my feelings, fight my laziness, fight my fears, fight my selfishness, to be amazing for that person then maybe I need to rethink about what I understand is love. It means I’m ok that the people I love don’t get something amazing.

I’ve realized that to love someone means that the thought of them having less than amazing is more painful to me than the pain of the effort and sacrifice of giving my very best. 

And if the pain of the effort and sacrifice is greater than the pain of knowing the person you love will have less, we should really check out hearts.

This is why we need leaders who run ahead. People who say “Don’t settle! Fight!” But we need leaders who’ll take our hand even as they run ahead, reminding us that “Yes, we’re not going to settle, but you’re more important than the goal, to run with you is the goal, and when we achieve greater goals together we will enjoy greater fruits! Let’s pick up the pace!”

Many times Yasmin runs ahead of me. Especially in the area of patience, kindness, and gentleness, which are all part of the Fruit of the Spirit, and just as crucial as self-control (discipline) and faith. It’s also an adjustment for her to see how slow I am at that race, and I appreciate it when she runs ahead, exhibiting more patience than I do, showing kindness when I’m unkind, and being gentle when I my temper starts flaring. But I appreciate it more that she does all of those things not to show me how much better she is, but to be the partner pulling me to perform better in areas I’ve done poorly in. I’m happy that she doesn’t go down to my level of impatience or to my level of unkindness. That would be settling for less. In this race to have more of the Fruit of the Spirit, she doesn’t slow down because I’m slow, she pulls me forward. 

Sometimes we run ahead of our partners and the people who follow us, and forget to stay linked. We forget that being good or smart or strategic or creative or kind or full of faith or brave or to have any talent or skill, is for us to run at an excellent standard YET stay linked, with arms stretched backwards, pull people to a higher standard. Sometimes, we stay linked at a low standard and we wonder why life doesn’t seem to be getting better or why things aren’t improving. It’s because we’ve settled together and have forgotten to grow together.

There was a part of the race where Yasmin’s knee started to hurt and instead of stopping, I went behind her and pushed her. Every time she felt like stopping, I would place a hand behind her and push her gently. A friend of mine who saw me, joked, “David! Slave Driver!” We laughed. Yasmin, told me, “Don’t stop. It helps. I want to finish without stopping.”

To make a long story short we finished. It wasn’t my best time, but it was OUR best time. Come to think of it, this was the most fun I’ve had in a race, so I did have my best time. And to see the look of accomplishment on Yasmin’s face after, to know that we didn’t stop, and to know that we finished together is priceless.

I guess here’s the lesson I would like to share: In this race of life, and maybe race isn’t the best analogy, so let me change it, in the journey of life, whether we’re building a family, a business, a community, or whatever, sometimes we need to run ahead. We need to set a high standard and not allow people to settle. Mediocrity is evil. It is selfish. It is an attitude that fails to understand that to love God and love others means to say “the pain of knowing you don’t have my best is worse than the pain of giving you my best.” But sometimes we have to go behind, pushing people forward even if it means we lag for a bit, but communicating that “You’re more than your performance, you’re my partner. And you better ante up because I’m going to push you.”

I’ve learned that being a leader, and we’re all called to lead amazing lives, requires the wisdom to know when to run ahead and when to run behind. But I’ve also seen that in a highly democratized world, where the Internet has given us access to information, perspective, and the power to influence others from our vantage points, a key skill for leaders will be our ability to run beside others. In a world of a million influences, it’s not the leader who says “Look at me. Follow me.” who will change the world. It’s the leader who says, “Run with me. Train with me. Fight with me.” who will succeed. To develop people means that someday they’re running beside you, not behind you. To help the poor means that we’re restoring equity, not simply giving handouts. To educate others means that they someday can contribute to intelligent solutions not merely learn to appreciate the brains of another. To raise mature people means that someday they’re not dependent on you or others. They’re able to carry their own weight.

Maybe we should also judge our leaders differently, not asking “Are they great?” but “Do they make others great?”

I truly believe that the leaders who desire to run with others will beat the performance of those who just simply run ahead of everyone. It’s the sustainable to path to grow. It’s also the more enjoyable way to live.

In the journey of life, if we are to thrive, sometimes, we must run ahead, setting an example, pulling people forward, and not letting them settle. Sometimes, we must run behind, giving people a strong base to push forward. And for this new world of highly empowered individuals, we must learn to run beside, influencing more than ordering, coaching more than commanding. And no matter where we are, ahead, behind, beside, we must always run in the same direction – together.


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Moment by Moment, Day by Day, One Step at a Time

I’ve just finished my 2nd pass of a project I’m editing. It’s looking promising. Tomorrow, I’ll go over it again with the team, and again as it sinks in, and even more as I think about it. Before editing, I took a break from work to have dinner and read a few chapters from the latest book on Steve Jobs, a person I find incredibly inspiring because of how much impact he made despite his great flaws, and before that chapter, I read from Marc Benioff’s account of the Salesforce story. I make it a point to read a few chapters from a set of books every day. It’s a long way from where I started, which was saliva stains on my Bible from falling asleep on it. How did I go from drool on scripture to a few chapters a day?

One page at a time. Literally.

I forced myself to read one page a day – from Hardy Boys.

Once in a while there would be a book that interested me which I would devour, such as Al Ries and Jack Trout’s Positioning which I read as a kid, but usually, I found reading to be boring and difficult.

So I forced myself to read one page, everyday, one page.

I’ve realized that success is the same way. Success is the attainment of one’s goals. Success is not having a lot of money or fame. There are rich people and famous people who are not successful. They’re just rich and/or famous. There’s a distinction. A successful person is one who sought something out and achieved it – even if that “it” has morphed over time. We achieve success the same way I learned how to read: moment by moment, day by day, one small step at a time. 

I realized this while on my favorite thinking spot (the toilet) pondering on why girls reset the goodwill level instantly. I’ve learned that with girls, it doesn’t matter how awesome you’ve been all week, if you’re a jerk in one moment, you’re a jerk. It doesn’t matter if she was about to nominate you for boyfriend of the year, or if you’re driving home from an awesome date out of town, or if you fixed your hair that morning, if you say something like “You need to workout” or “I wish our kids look like you but have my talents” or forget to write her a card on her birthday (when you’re known for being a writer), your points don’t just go out the door, they never existed to begin with. Proof that women don’t believe in Karma.

In my head, I frustratedly thought, “Females are impossible! One misstep and they’re upset.”

(I conveniently forgot that we are all like that towards God. So easily anxious, so easily upset, so easily threatened, so easily unkind to others when we feel justified, so easily selfish, so easily faithless, when things don’t happen the way we think.)

But what I thought was a monologue was interrupted by a gentle whisper, “But that’s how love is. Love is not a collection of achievements. Love, like kindness, like patience, like faithfulness, like everything true love is, is won moment by moment, day by day, one small step at a time.”

We can be loving all week but if we aren’t loving at this moment we are simply unloving. 

We can be hardworking all week but if we don’t persevere at this moment we aren’t diligent. 

We can be wise for years and still be foolish at a given moment.

We can be known for kindness yet if we’re not kind in a moment we have become unkind. 

We can be faithful all our lives yet if we are unfaithful once we have become unfaithful. 

And if love is a moment by moment, day by day, one step at a time activity, and if we take the advice of truly successful people to work on things we love, then the way we achieve success is also moment by moment, day by day, one step at a time.

This is a truth I feel many people have forgotten in this instant world. We are so impatient for results that the daily plod is not only underappreciated but many times seen as a bad thing. It’s as if struggle is a sign of wrong decision-making, as if discomfort is the result of foolishness. Not necessarily. It could be the necessary steps to success. I’ve found that many of the most difficult experiences I’ve had in business have made me wiser and stronger in ways schools and advice could never have taught me. I’ve found that my arguments with Yasmin, when we humble ourselves, have brought us closer in ways dinner dates and flowers could never have done for us, and I appreciate how wonderful it is to have her even more, because the reality is she gets me in a way I’ve never experienced before. She really really gets me, as proven by how she corrects me, by how she’s motivated to serve, and by how she opens her heart even when I upset her. Amazing things I would never have discovered from following formulas. And I’ve found that praying through storms, even when those prayers were answered in a way opposite to what I requested, have built up my faith in ways that Sunday School or Bible study could never have built.

So here’s my advice, before labeling your situation as wrong, before concluding you need a change, before moving on, face whatever you’re facing moment by moment, day by day, one step at a time. Don’t try to win the whole war in one stroke. Don’t try to win the whole battle even. Just focus on the current execution. Get those small gains before the big wins, those single pages of thick books, those inches before the feet. Focus on winning in each moment.

Here are a few thoughts to help you:

1. Learn to be Comfortable with Struggle
I was telling my friend earlier, “The things I’m working on that are outside of my strengths are struggles. The things that I’m doing within my strengths are beautiful struggles.” Either way, both paths will have their struggles. One good way to know if you’re struggle is worth it is to be very humble and honest and ask, “Is this experience forcing me to learn hard important lessons?” If the answer is no, it’s a waste of time. If the answer is yes, struggle on. If the answer is “not sure”, my advice, struggle on. Why? One of the most important lessons anyone can learn is the ability to find clarity in the midst of a less than ideal situation. Popular culture always portrays clarity as the product of some sabatical or break, and there’s validity to this, but I think it’s more important to learn how to look for silver linings amidst dark clouds, how to let necessity teach us creativity and resourcefulness, and how to stay long enough in a situation to experience a miracle. Very few people have the luxury of pausing theirs lives to figure things out. Not everyone has obliging parents, a signicant savings account, or the time to just eat, pray, love.

I know I don’t.

2. Read Whole Biographies – Not Just Highlights
The Internet, despite the wealth of information, have made people dumb. It’s made us wealthy with data yet incompetent to harness the data. One reason is because we make decisions based on an incomplete data set (such as people who comment and like blogs before reading them well.) We read a success story and think “Wow how inspiring! I want to be like that.” but we forget that “being like that” actually means undergoing something that no write-up can explain accurately: the doubts, struggle, loneliness, and risks that come with doing anything meaningful. If I find a story really inspiring, I like to look deeper, I especially look for more information on the struggles to keep my perspective correct. There is no great success story without a great struggle. Our success is dependent on our character, and our character is formed by our struggles. We, who are in the struggle should remember this. And when we see others in their struggle, we should help them without removing the gift and privilege of a beautiful struggle. How do we do this? By sharing in their struggle instead of taking them out of it, by encouraging them instead of casting doubt.

3. Just Get Back Up
I’ve failed. I still do. I still will. And my failures today are more embarrassing and carry more weight than when I was starting, but I have to keep risking that if I’m to keep moving forward. Knowing that failure is not just a possibility but a key part of success helps me fail smarter. All that really means is that I’m able to spot where the failure was faster and move on faster. Too many people think that failure is final, that our lives are one great failure away from missing destiny. I disagree with this teaching. One of the best things about  getting our security from God is that we are reassured that even as we’re not powerful enough to achieve anything without Him, we are also not powerful enough to ruin what He is doing IF we continuously keep running back to Him. If you fail, when you fail, just get back up. Let them comment. They will. Let them doubt. They will. Lose the reputation. Lose the money. Lose the time. Lose whatever. Then let go of the loss. Get back up. Hold on to Jesus. 

4. Finally, Have Faith in God
I remember an entrepreneur once saying that he didn’t believe in faith because of the lack of proof of God. So I reminded him that 9 out of 10 businesses, according to statistics, will fail. I told him, “9 out of 10 of us in this room will fail. Yet we’re all here now, entrepreneurs, believing, that despite the statistics, despite the lack of track record, despite the odds, despite the strength of the competition, we believe that our business is that 1 business that will prove the odds wrong. What do you call that? You call that faith. So you do believe in faith. You just don’t have faith in God. In fact, you probably have greater faith because you believe, despite you being the only believer, that your self belief has better odds than the belief of billions of people all over the world throughout history to make your life work.” I wasn’t belittling his faith. I was simply pointing out the fact that he had faith.

In the ups and downs of our journies, don’t be in a rush to get to some place you’re not in. Have faith and be still. Being still doesn’t mean some adult version of stop dance or holy paralysis. It means, instead of moving from where you’re at, go to God from where you’re already at, and say, “Father, I offer this moment to You. Show me Your will.” 

As I typed those words down I was reminded of a similar prayer in the Bible, the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as he approached the moment of His death. “Father, take this cup away from me. But not My will but Yours.”

I wonder what would have happened if Jesus, in that moment passed on the painful cup He was given.  I really don’t know. I’m grateful He is not like me who is so quick to react. I’m just thankful that His love won in that moment as He partook of His cup of pain so that my cup could overflow. 

Ok, I have to make my way home. My evening coffee is wearing out. There’s still so much I want to say but I have to follow my own lesson and take this dream of progress, of a greater future, moment by moment, day by day, one step at a time.

Purpose Trumps Plans

“Stop!!!” Yasmin, shouted out of nowhere, prompting me to hit the breaks. “What?!” I urgently asked her, wondering what caused the sudden exclamation. “I want to take a picture of those clouds.” she said. “You already have hundreds of cloud photos. Three of them just from this trip.” I told her not a little bit irritated. Yasmin responded, “I don’t have a shot of these clouds. And I like clouds. Just give me a minute.”

 

And she went and got her clouds.

 

After that interruption, while driving a little grumpy (as anyone who knows me knows I can be really grumpy), Yasmin asked me, “Why are you irritated?” I responded, “Because you keep delaying us. You want to stop here, and there, and take photos of clouds, and more clouds, then you want to stop for fruits, then you want Bag o Beans (a popular place in Tagaytay), then you want to take a photo of the new Coffee Bean which is in the other side of Tagaytay, and spend time on the grass of Taal Vista. And…”

 

“Are we in a hurry to go anywhere?” She interrupted me with a question.

 

“Yes! We came here to have dinner!” I said, reminding her of our plans. “You never stick to the plan!”

 

Yasmin looked at me, clearly hurt but more concerned, “Why are you always so fixed on the plan?”

 

“Why make plans at all if we’re not going to follow them?” I impatiently answered her question with my own.

 

I won’t forget her answer, “I don’t know about you, but what’s important to me is that we spend time together. I’m excited for dinner (Yasmin loves to eat), but I’m just happy to be with you. I’m happy to be in this car with you. I’m happy to drive by a gas station with you. I’m happy to be on a detour with you, in traffic with you, to make an unplanned pitstop with you. I like the plan but what’s important to me is to be with you.”

 

I remembered that incident, and I remembered what three different friends, Walden, Carlos, and Chip, told me while I  was complaining about how much time having a girlfriend takes from my routine, how it gets in the way of my well-planned schedule and my efficient life, “David, you should be happy she wants to spend so much time with you.”

 

It also reminded me of another time, while talking to Yasmin who likes to jump from topic to topic to disconnected topic to disconnected topic. Irritated (I guess you’re seeing I’m irritable), I said, “You always do this! We’ll start a conversation and you’ll jump from topic to topic. I feel like I’m juggling with you. It’s nuts!” To which she answered, “That’s how my brain works! And you can talk to me about whatever too. I don’t really care about the topic. I’m happy to talk to you. I want to talk to you about everything.”

 

Thinking about those three incidents, it hit me: “So that’s what that verse means!” I’ve read Proverbs 19:21 so many times, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” but I only understood it now. Another reminder to appreciate God’s subtle whispers, “Purpose trumps plans, David. Purpose trumps plans.”

 

“I don’t know about you, but what’s important to me is that we spend time together.”

 

I don’t really care about the topic. I’m happy to talk to you.”

 

“David, you should be happy she wants to spend so much time with you.”

 

Purpose trumps plans.

 

Businessmen, particularly those involved with startups, know that plans will change, and not only that, they’ll have to change. They’ll have to change to succeed. They’ll have to adapt to what the market needs and wants if they’re going to keep them. They’re going to have to change to grow, to derive as much value, even just to survive. And they’ll have to keep doing this over and over and over, over time. That’s why the best businessmen, while they do plan as effectively as possible, are resilient, able to withstand the changes to deliver that which doesn’t change: the purpose and the values. I understood the whole idea of needing plans that are adaptable in business but, as many times happens to me, I didn’t practice that lesson in my personal life. I hate it when my plans are ruined.

 

And I get really angry with the people who ruined them. I get really frustrated with God when it seems He ruined them. I may not confess them, and I definitely won’t rant on my blog or twitter or Facebook like a clueless idiot, but the conversations of my heart are revealing:

 

“God, why believe in Your promises? I’ve been waiting so long for You to come through, and I look around at all these other people succeeding, and I’m trying to do it right yet things aren’t working.”

 

“God, why don’t they understand? They’re stifling me. They’re not contributing to my success and they’re holding me back with false burdens.”

 

“What is wrong with these people? Such a simple request and they can’t even do it. I work so hard and I’m responsible but people aren’t responsible towards me.”

 

“What’s wrong with the government? No opportunities, and their corruption is holding us all back. This country is going to the dogs.”

 

“Why do people always have to mess things up just when things are starting to do well? Why this port issue now? Why this tax issue now? Why are they targeting us small businesses when the bigger crooks are getting away so comfortably?”

 

I can go on. With every complaint I write a new one enters my head before I’m even finished typing the last one. I grumble quite a bit. Not out loud, but in the darkest parts of my heart. I grumble when what’s happening isn’t lining up to the expectations of my heart, when things aren’t going according to my plans.

 

But now I am reminded: Purpose trumps plans. And I am reminded that ultimately, in the eternal scheme of things, God’s purpose is for us to enjoy Him, and that purpose I can fulfill no matter how well my plans are going. In the midst of a delayed deal I can say, “Father, can I wait with you?” In the midst of rejection I can request, “Father, remind me that You love me.” In the midst of accusation, I can get on my knees and confess, “Father, You’ve taken my sins as far as the east is from the west.” In the midst of a fading dream, of a painful circumstance, of a major disappointment, I can reframe my perspective and say, “Father, this really sucks! This really sucks so bad! I planned this so well, I worked so hard at this, but it’s not turning out according to plan! But have Your way.”

 

And I feel Him reminding me, just like Yasmin,“I don’t know about you, but what’s important to me is that we spend time together. I’m excited for your future, but I’m just happy to be with you, now, today, in the present, whatever that present is. I’m happy to be in this journey with you. I’m happy to be stuck in a phase with you. I’m happy to be on a detour with you, in a life jam with you, to make what you think is an unplanned pitstop with you. I like the plan but what’s important to me is to be with you.”

 

I’ve learned two things from all of this: Purpose trumps plans, and as long as I’m fulfilling that purpose, let the plans adapt. I’ve also learned that Yasmin’s lines aren’t original. Now I know where she gets them from.

 

It’s a great feeling to know that those who hold your heart share the same purpose.
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