True meaning

Meaning is like air to us. Without it we die. With it we soar like eagles.

I just read this morning an author state that the universe doesn’t care about you or anything that happens on our planet or anywhere else. And that the only meaning we can conjure up in this cold hard world is from ourselves. We make meaning. And that’s true. We do. The meaning we have is that which we’ve made for ourselves, our pain, our joys, our mundanity.

But, just because we do something doesn’t mean that’s the way it should be. Fabricating our own meaning seems empty. It’s not weighty enough to carry one of life’s heaviest questions. Making your own meaning just doesn’t have enough oomph. And I think if I continued to craft my own meaning, it would make me feel like a fraud. Fake. If we’re honest with ourselves, we make things up all of the time to make ourselves feel better. If we can deceive ourselves in all other parts of our lives, why not here?

I believe there is true meaning and we must seek it.

In high school, I set out to find it. After discussions about existentialism and how authors like Faulkner, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald displayed, in their deliciously crafted words, the sad idea that the world is devoid of meaning, I had to seek the truth. A meaningless world sounded absurd to me. So I searched. And I didn’t go far; I started by looking around.

Surrounding me were people who lived as if life was full of meaning. I saw students burying their noses into books and feverishly taking notes to get that A+; teachers stood in front of the classroom, teaching their hearts out to students even if some of them drooled on their desks; neighbors meticulously grooming their well-manicured lawns like it was Busch Stadium. Nobody got out of bed, thinking, “Awesome, let’s get to work because it’s meaningless.”

But getting good grades, looking presentable to (and better than) the Jones, and not even transferring knowledge to the next generation (of drooling kids ) is enough meaning to satisfy the deepest desires of our hearts. We want firm ground—truth.

But that is so hard to get at, especially in our world. There are so many people who claim to know what’s true. Some say that there is no truth (which is a truth statement). Others say that everyone’s right (but that’s impossible). Jesus says that he is the Truth. That author says that the universe doesn’t care. This author is saying that God does. It’s so confusing.

And in that confusion, many of us may not bother ourselves with the reason we exist. We distract ourselves with our newsfeed, or think there might be some kind of meaning out there but will look for it after binge-watching a great show on Netflix or, as the author I quoted said, fill our own lives with the meaning we find meaningful. That’s how we get ourselves out of bed.

Or, we might even think, “Why bother?” with such a difficult question. But it’s the biggest question we can ask. Can you think of anything greater than the meaning of life? It’s one of the main reasons why so many of us are struggling, depressed, hurting. We are literally dying because we don’t know that there is a real reason to live.

When I was in high school, I wasn’t satisfied with the answer that the world doesn’t have meaning. I wanted to know the true meaning to life. I looked at all of the religions, studied philosophies, made my own observations, and I found that there is meaning and found the notion that a cosmic entity who doesn’t care wrong. The universe or God does care. He loves us.

Look around. Yes, there is evil. Yes, there is unbelievable pain and stupidity that happens around us and in us that must make alien life forms laugh and weep for us, simultaneously. But there is beauty. Radiant, luscious, gorgeous beauty surrounds us. And goodness, everything we have is good, even the ugliest things. Look at some of those Pug dogs. Ugly as sin but so good.

Love happens. In the direst of times strangers love and help each other. Friends, neighbors, families, colleagues trust and care for one another. Sometimes they even sacrifice for the other.

My friend’s kidneys stopped working, and he needed a transplant because he was born with diabetes and also lived several years of his young adult life with reckless abandon, drinking and abusing his body with enough substances that would kill several small animals; but his sister volunteered to give him her kidney. To make a bad situation worse, the surgery for her was much more dangerous and painful than for him. But she did it anyway. That’s love.

It’s easy to allow the darkness to eclipse the light in the world. And although it may feel like that at times, if night truly did swallow up the day, we would be in far worse shape than we are now. The light is easy to take for granted because it’s everywhere. The very fact that we love, experience good, feel the sun’s warmth, and seek meaning means something.

That’s how we were designed. The world we live in was created good. And whenever something is fashioned, it’s done with and for a purpose—meaning.

Stating that the “Universe doesn’t care,” and then following that up with “Make your own meaning” doesn’t work. Ok, it’s a way to survive. It’s a way to limp along and stay alive. But I think we are made for so much more.

We’re made to soar.

These next several weeks I’m going to explore this subject. If you have any questions or thoughts you want me to tackle, please send them along.

In the meantime, lots of love to you.

John

This is what it costs to live a great life

There is no forever without always.

There is no way to gain the riches of commitment without committing.

You can have great friendships but you need to be a great friend.

You can have deep connections but you need to connect deeply.

You can have a life together but you have to give them your life

You can be loved but you have to be loving.

So, you see, if you want forever, it costs always.

Wanting something that lasts is easy. To get it is hard.

It’s work. It hurts. It costs us.

It requires a price, committing, being faithful, connecting, loving—always.

If you want the reward, you need to count the cost. And pay it.

But it’s worth it.

This is how you make better decisions

We all want to make smart decisions. And you can, by living in the tension.

Now I’m not talking about the daily decisions like eating a sandwich or salad (get the half and half, of course), or to like a photo on Instagram or not.

Let’s talk about big decisions, like looking for a new job or not, marrying this person or not, moving to a new city or not, breaking up with that person or not.

Those decisions are hard, and scary.

Because they can really change how you live, you take them seriously. You don’t want to derail your life and become a trainwreck.

But instead of trying to figure out what is the best way forward, it’s so tempting to do nothing. You decide not to make a decision. You keep on dating that person that you’re not so sure about, stay at a job that just doesn’t quite seem to be the best fit, keep doing what you’ve been doing even though you hate it.

But that is a decision. Indecision is a decision.

So you might be asking, What should I do instead? Good question.

Everyone has their practices for making decisions: prayer, meditation, journaling, walking, fighting, driving, etc. I won’t tell you which method is best. Everyone has their own style, gait, way. You do what feels right there. But I will tell you this.

To make smart decisions, you need to sit in the tension.

That means sitting in the push and pull of the possibilities, the pros and cons, the uncertainty. You have to straddle the choices and hope nothing jumps up and smacks you in the groin. And you have to stay there.

The only issue is that we hate living like that. All of us want certainty. Everything in us craves it like a stray dog slobbers after food. So we end up making stupid decisions because we want to rid ourselves of the pain of not knowing.

To do that, many of you do the opposite of indecision: You make a rash choice because sitting in the tension sucks. It’s so tense. To make the unknown known as quickly as you can, you just decide even before you really know what you’re doing.

You get engaged even though you see enough red flags to make you feel like you’re walking around Beijing, take that job even though the new manager seems like an ass, move to a city even if you’re not confident it’s the best place for you.

One of the primary mindsets that causes you to decide too quickly is that many of you idealize what something can be, telling yourselves that such and such will work out. So you jump in. But the truth is that things often don’t work out. Marriages break up fifty percent of the time, more people than not hate their jobs, and a lot of people live with regret.

Instead of being idealistic, some of us can demonize an option, not because anything is really that wrong with it. You just think that nothing works out, so why should this be any different. You tend to be a glass half broke type of person. So you turn down anything that comes your way, thinking of all of the negative things that could happen to you. But you’re likely being overly pessimistic, because things rarely go as badly as we think they could. (As much as we think the zombie apocalypse will happen, it probably won’t.)

Regardless if you’re overly optimistic or pessimistic, making rash decisions isn’t a good decision-making process. It’s gambling.

Sure, you can make a quick decision, and sometimes that works well. Life does require assessing risk and taking risks, but it shouldn’t be treated like a roulette table, where we put all of our chips on red just because it feels right. You can get lucky, but that doesn’t mean your decision-making process is good. That doesn’t mean you will consistently make a great decision.

To do that, besides straddling the options, hoping that nothing bops you in the private parts, you need to search for the truth.

To know the facts about the options before you is key. But to do that, you need to do the work. You have to pick up a shovel and start digging. Ask the hard questions to those around you that are relevant to your decision. If you’re looking at a job, look at Glassdoor and read the reviews, talk to people in your network and ask them what it’s really like to work at that company—keep digging.

If you’re thinking about getting engaged but you have your doubts, you need to look at them. Be honest with yourself. When it comes to love, we tend to have rosy glasses on. We do that because we want to spare ourselves and the other person the truth that you shouldn’t be together (knowing that is terribly inconvenient). But you’re afraid of being lonely, so you just wander into an engagement that is convenient but genuinely uncomfortable. It sucks, really. Don’t do that. Shoveling past the smelly crap you are telling yourself will force you to see that you both would be miserable if you take one more step forward in your relationship. And you will likely do the one thing you know needs doing: Breaking up.

Shoveling to find the truth is hard work. It’s painful. You get blisters when you dig long enough. But there’s gold in them hills.

You can also get callouses and feel tempted to dig forever. That’s just going back to indecision.

To mitigate against that, create a deadline. Sometimes one is given to you by a potential employer in an offer letter, or something like that. But when it’s not, make your own. Mark it in your calendar. Tell yourself that you will decide by the time you set.

Of course, make sure you have enough time to dig below your dung pile. That layer can be quite thick sometimes, you know. We can tell ourselves a lot of lies. So give yourself the time to find the truth. And then you need more space to pray, meditate, journal, walk, fight, drive, or whatever you do to make your decisions. So account for that.

While you are deliberating, know that you can’t make a perfect decision. That does not exist. Remember that you are blessed to even have such choices before you. But if you practice sitting in the tension and digging for the truth, you will have a better chance of making a great decision than a poor one.

And you won’t find your life derailed from your decisions. In fact, you’ll realize you’re not even on a train. You’re not a passenger.

You’re an explorer. You’re in a forest. And you’re blazing your own path.

So decide the best way forward for your life.

Then go onward. Life is an adventure.

Decide.

This is the best way to transform the world around you

The bus was taking forever. And it wasn’t just cold; it was windy, not like a gentle breeze. It was gusty, which is common in New York City. At least it was sunny. But we were still shivering while on 14th Street and 9th Ave surrounded by people who looked like arctic adventurers with the pervasive fur-lined hoods. Then my family and I met Tolerance.

Tolerance wasn’t a person. She was a tiny dog, so tiny that she almost looked like a gerbil, literally. She was cute. And I couldn’t help but feel the owner was trying to communicate something by naming her dog that multisyllabic word. It felt like a name that you would only find in a coastal city.

Then I stopped thinking about the cultural dynamics and moved on to the idea of the human condition and how tolerance fits in it and asked myself this question: Is tolerance (not the dog, but the actual meaning of the word) what we really need?

I doubt it.

Tolerance is an idea we can throw around when we live in urban centers like New York because it sounds good. It’s shiny. But it lacks depth. It can’t get the job done.

Humans, no matter how great, are greatly broken. We hurt one another. We hurt ourselves. It’s almost like we can’t help it.

And yes, tolerance is needed, but it’s not enough. Tolerance puts up with people. It lets them do what they do. It’s not about caring, helping, blessing. It allows people to do something, say something, think something without intervening, correcting, saving. But don’t you see that’s not what we really want. Tolerance is cold; it’s distant. There is less humanity in it. There isn’t intimacy, teaching, guiding that we need. We need others to be involved, engaged with us: parents, coaches, mentors, lovers. Even as adults, we need closeness. We need other humans talking to us, telling us how stupid we are being, giving us advice on how to do such and such, encouraging us to do better.

That’s not tolerance. Tolerance acts like a stranger, is aloof, standoffish, unmoved.

No, we want more than that. What we all really want is this.

Love.

We want people to care about what is happening in our lives. We want to feel heard, respected, cherished, important. We want people to ask us questions and listen—like really listen, making constant eye-contact and nodding the head at the right times kind of listening.

Tolerance is certainly needed. We do need more of it. Sometimes, when we see and hear people with whom we profoundly disagree, tolerance is the most we can give. And maybe a two-pound dog that looks like a gerbil is the best reminder for us to be more tolerant with one another.

But tolerance is the least we should do. I wish people named their dogs Love. Because that’s what we all really want; that’s what we all really need.

The world in which we live has darkness and evil that scares all of us. Yes, there is beauty and glory that is bewildering and dazzling. But there are unspeakable things that happen everywhere, even in the shining city of New York. And that darkness isn’t just out there, it inside of us. We have thoughts and feelings that we would never want to be projected for all of the world to see. Yet we still think them, feel them.

You see, tolerance isn’t strong enough to conquer the high tide of evil, pain, suffering that plagues our world, us.

But love can. It can meet it. And one day, Love will destroy all of our suffering, longing, agony.

The greatest act of love that I know of was displayed by a controversial man, who claimed to be God. He was innocent but was crucified. He wasn’t just going to die, but He was going to be abandoned by His Eternal Father. It was their plan. They did it because they wanted to swallow up evil. Not with swords, guns, military might, political maneuvering—no. They used sacrifice. By giving Himself up to the raging tide of hatred and death, being swallowed up by it, out of love, Jesus accomplished the work of paying for all of the darkness in the world, in our hearts. Hatred cannot be crushed. It can only be subdued, transformed.

Others also transformed the world through followed the same path though not to the same degree. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King used the power of love to defeat the power of hate. They absorbed violence and flooded the world with love, creating lasting transformation. Tolerance wasn’t strong enough to overcome slavery, bigotry, hate.

It can’t bring about peace. It only looks peaceful. Tolerance is merely a two-pound dog that can only scamper around and whimper.

Love is a lion.

This is one of the best ways to think

The best way to improve ourselves is to improve the way we think. 

I recently read a great book about culture called What You Do Is Who You Are (affiliate). 

It drew from some amazing events and people that showed how actions are what actually form culture. Not thought, philosophies, ideas, values, but cold hard acts. If you fire someone for lying, you are creating a culture. If you let them lie, you are also creating a culture. The question is what kind of culture do you want to create. 

And reading that book got me wondering about where mindset fits in. And that’s when I heard this phrase in my head. 

“How you think is who you’re becoming.” And I think that perfectly compliments that author’s point about actions and is a true statement that I can stand by. 

The way one thinks is always the precursor to action. But not just any thought, it’s how you think that changes actions, not just what you think. What you think are the conclusions you draw, which is important. But, I believe, how you think is more so because it is the process by which you reach those conclusions. In other words, it’s your operating system, your mind’s software. If the way you think is that you’ll do anything to win, even lie, then you’re going to do it because you’re programmed to. It’s just a matter of when. Or, if you see the world through a lens of fear, that’s going to determine the way you navigate through the world, whereas someone who considers the world to be good-natured will act very differently. 

But that doesn’t mean you can’t change. Your software can get upgraded. It starts with having a realization that changes the way you think. Epiphanies don’t happen often, but when they do, your actions change because you now see the world differently. It causes your mind to think differently.

Early in my marriage, our culture was terrible. I always had this dreadful fear that my wife was going to leave me. To someone who knows very little about me, it would be easy to conclude that my fear was caused by insecurity, which I’m sure I was insecure; but, I don’t think that that was the real driver of my fear. I was afraid that my wife would leave me because I had been left before. 

My wife and I got married when I was in my thirties. But I had been previously engaged in my early twenties. And that fiancé broke off our engagement, which broke me. I was devastated and wasn’t able to really get back into another relationship for almost five years. And even though I had healed much by the time I got married over a decade later, my thinking was still damaged, my OS was buggy.

Engagement and marriage are similar situations. And because of those similarities, I thought my wife could also leave me just like my ex-fiancé. In short, I thought the situation is what drove the results of these relationships. And that heightened my fear. But there was only one problem. I was wrong. How I thought was totally wrong. My OS wasn’t just buggy; it was bad.

Because my wife was a completely different person, I shouldn’t have thought the way I did. My marriage wasn’t a situational paradigm; it was a personal one, meaning that this is about a person, namely, my wife. 

And one day, during a huge fight, I tried to use words to get my wife to leave me. (This was stupid since I tried to get her to do the very thing I was deathly afraid of, because, in a twisted way, I thought that it was inevitable that she would leave, so I tried to force her to when I could expect it, instead of unexpectedly like my ex-fiancé.) In all of that, I had an epiphany. My wife was never going to leave me, no matter how much of an idiot I was. She was staying. 

Knowing that changed everything. I stopped getting so scared and pushing her away. Our fights lessened in quantity and intensity; I got less stupid. And we started to flourish. All because I stopped thinking situationally and realized that this was about a person. My wife wasn’t my ex-fiancé. 

All of us have faulty software in our minds. It’s got bugs; we’re buggy. But we don’t want to stay that way. We want to and can become someone better. And that almost always happens by changing our software or how we think. But do we always need to fight with our loved ones in an epic battle to do that? I hope not. 

There are a lot of ways to kill our mental bugs. Here are a few that I think work. 

Good relationships

Being social creatures, we need to be around people to become the best versions of ourselves. But it’s not just any kind of people. They should be those to whom we aspire to be like or at least those whom we respect. Because if we surround ourselves with negative people or those who aren’t what we hope to become, we will most likely follow their lead. 

So it’s essential to choose your tribe well. It doesn’t have to be a large group; it can be small, a couple of people, maybe even just one person. But dialoguing with others and hearing what they think about you and allowing them to speak into your life and how you think will only make you better, especially if they have your best interest at heart.

 

Read challenging books

Books aren’t as personal as friends: Books can be conversational, but you can’t have a conversation with them. But they can still change the way you think. Reading is one of the best ways to feed the mind, the soul. The trick is to read authors who may not believe what you do or study subjects that you find challenging, or may not be familiar with. Taking in ideas you are already comfortable with and espouse isn’t going to help you get better. That will only help you stay the same. So read outside of your comfort zone. Authors who push themselves or have reached great heights or tell stories of those who have, should enter into your library and fall beneath your gaze. And when that happens, lightning will strike. An epiphany will happen. 

 

Meditate/reflect/pray/journal/run

I’ve lumped all of these together—maybe—because I don’t meditate and may feel a little inadequate since all of the cool smart kids like Tim Ferriss, Ray Dalio, my wife, swear by it. But, when I do it, I just want to take a nap. The other four work like a charm for me, though. 

The point of this point is to process your thoughts in a restful, meditative, reflective, and even spiritual, fashion. Letting the mind coalesce various thoughts, experiences, and feelings creates magic. You connect the dots and BAM! That epiphany hits you. 

Running is one of the best ways for me to get epiphanies. I’m not exactly sure why, but I do know it’s impossible for me to feel like taking a nap while I’m running, that’s for sure. Another marriage-altering thought hit me while I was running (which I’ll save the details for a future post). 

And the important thought I’m trying to make here is that you need to create the space to make those connections. Connecting the dots requires mental space. Whether it’s running outside, journaling at a desk, or closing your eyes and doing a body scan, give your mind the time to run. 

 

Improving the way we think is critical to having better relationships, becoming healthier people, living better lives. Because how we think forms who we become. 

Our actions are critical, and they do form culture; but, if you can think better, you can’t help but act better. 

And your loved ones will thank you for it. 

Ask my wife. 

 

Make the time to do what you love by thinking like this

Sometimes we can think that we don’t have the time to pursue what we’ve always wanted to do.

But, you do. You always do.

Do you know why? Because following our dream is a choice.

You can choose to reprioritize your time, what you do with it, how you fill it.

Stop saying yes to all of the crap that people ask you to do and tell them that you’re committed to something else.

Ok, maybe you have a job and need to eat or feed your family. I get that. But, you’re not at your job all the time.

You can carve out thirty, twenty, ten minutes a day to write that book, start that business, build that thing.

It’s true; you know it’s true. Time isn’t the issue. You are.

Regret is for the birds. So decide to follow your dream right now. Do it.

Commit.

You will love yourself for it.

Go.

I want to see you happy

Your face aglow with a radiance blazing from within, rich with joy and satisfaction, is what I wish to see.

May you be filled with a flourishing—not from your possessions, fulfilled with more than just things, wealth, or fame—that comes from a secret knowledge, a mysterious knowing—Love.

Being loved faithfully, unwaveringly, deeply is richness that reaches beyond words, a power more powerful than any other power, a truth truer than truth.

With that, you cannot help but be happy.

Thinking like this is worth your time

Thinking you’re unworthy isn’t worth your time.

Instead, read books that teach you truths about the world, about others, about you.

Do things that you believe in and contribute to the greater good.

Pray and meditate on the world beyond this one.

And remember, if your thinking isn’t worth your time, it’s a waste of time.

So set you mind on worthier thoughts.

You’re worth it.

The worst thing that happens to you often can lead to the best results

Sometimes the worst things that happen to us are the best opportunities. They are the gateways to greatness.

Giving up is always an option. Or, you can fight and find a way through the difficulty.

The former will lead to the status quo or worse. The latter can irrevocably change your life for the better.

When I got fired from the only job I was qualified for, my first position out of graduate school, I wanted to slink away and die. I was trained to be a pastor of a church. Then, I was terminated. But, oddly enough, that helped me to become an entrepreneur.

What about you? Have you been beaten down, hurt, unjustly treated, fired? Maybe you’re tempted to give up. I get it.

But you don’t have to. You can take one step at a time, day after day, facing your fears and uncertainty, moving forward and upward.

But it all starts with not giving up and fighting.

Ghengis Khan’s (affiliate) life changed irrevocably when a rival tribe kidnapped his wife. Instead of letting her go and finding a new wife (what most men in his culture and time did, especially at his level, insignificant and impoverished), he did the unthinkable. He raised a fighting party and battled to win her back. He won.

And that decision was one of the most significant steps that helped him build the greatest empire the world has ever seen.

You may not want to be an emperor, but you want to win. You want to overcome your challenges.

The best place to start is here.

Don’t give up. Then, fight.

You can.

Rise.