A stronger you is often born from weakeness

Weakness often begets our greatest strength.

Most of us hate the idea of being weak. It conjures up images of being needy, helpless, desperate.

But that is one of the best ways of unleashing our greatest strengths. It’s often when we’ve hit a place where we feel the most vulnerable, exposed that something is catalyzed to take us to a place we never imaged going, somewhere better than we ever dreamed.

It happened to me.

I was fired from the only job I was qualified for in my mid-twenties. It devastated me. I lied in bed for months wallowing in depression from the loss of a dream and career and years of training. I didn’t have any idea of what I was going to do for a career moving forward; I had no idea how I was supposed to pay for rent. I was lost; I was weak.

But, at that time, what I didn’t know was that that season not only formed my character and solidified a faith in me that would help me weather future storms; it set me on a new trajectory that served me better in so many different ways.

After I got fired, I started an entry level job at a huge bank that helped me understand business and finance. That helped me land a job at a small design company that gave me a view into entrepreneurship. Marrying those experiences, I started my own company. And later, I used the cumulative learnings to begin investing.

Getting fired ended up being one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Being terminated initiated the trailheads for new successes and directions that I would have never imagined for myself all those years back. And with each step forward, I couldn’t have known where it would lead me. But, over time, when I looked back, I started to understand the beauty of how things worked out for my benefit.

And I’d be remiss to say that I wasn’t aided by incredible Divine Grace. I was. I was the object of God’s mercy and love. But that’s not my point. Nor am I saying that there aren’t deeply tragic events that happen to us that can collapse all of our hopes and darken even the brightest of days. There are.

My point is that there is almost always a way out when the terrible strikes. And if we are open to the possibilities, things tend to work out better than they were before, even when you feel like you’re at your weakest—often especially when you’re there.

See, even this pandemic that’s ravaging our world is a case study for this dynamic. The virus has brought us to our knees and halted travel, commerce, holidays—life. But, even now, in this pit of weakness, we can see the sprouts of new strength growing in our world. It’s visible in the historic innovations in science with the vaccine developments, bolstering our supply chains, and improving our healthcare protocols. It’s evident in how we appreciate our health and families and how we’re all washing our hands a thousand times a day.

Christmas also gives credence to this. Jesus, the Son of God, was born as a baby. He came into the world vulnerable, flesh and blood, killable. And he didn’t arrive with pomp or in a court or with a scepter or divine fire. No, he came swaddled and weak, suckling and shivering, lying in a manger.

So, if you are feeling weak, remember; you likely won’t remain that way. And more than that, it’s often the beginning of a path to a strength you may never have believed you could possess.

It’s the begetting of a new you.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. See you in 2021.

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To be rich, this is the kind of hustle we all need

Often it’s not how much money you make but what you do with it that counts.

I heard this story about this Chinese woman selling these little buns, for like fifty cents or something like that, in New York City’s Chinatown many years ago. And after maybe decades of working, she bought a building in Chinatown with her earnings. Then from there, she bought others.

You see, she didn’t make much, but she made the little that she had count. Day by day, she saved every cent to maximize her efforts to reach her future goals. She didn’t let her small income hinder her from dreaming big dreams. No, she did what she had to in the short term to enrich her long term vision.

She didn’t spend her money on nice clothes, a nice house, eating out, a Lexus. No, she saved. And, she slaved away rolling those buns before dawn, then spent the rest of the day standing on her feet selling her goods and wheeling her cart back and forth to her corner. And after she saved enough money, she invested and bought an asset that could earn her income. That’s hustle.

But it’s not just any kind of hustle. It’s immigrant hustle. It’s starting small, with virtually nothing but some buns and cart, and ending up NYC landlord rich. It’s knowing that you can compound a life’s worth of work and see incredible gains if you persist and manage your resources smartly.

She knew that even though she didn’t make a lot of money, she could save and not spend. And, this is important—over time, years, even decades, she could invest. She would accumulate assets that would make her rich. That’s the equation that makes the rich rich: saving + investing.

You see, you don’t get rich by living richly. No, you do it by living poorly and investing like the rich. That’s how fortunes are made: little by little until you have more than you can count. Fortune favors the patient and diligent. You don’t have to be an immigrant to practice immigrant hustle, nah. Anyone can do that.

Most of you have a greater advantage than this woman. Imagine what you could do if you heeded her example.

Yeah, you’d be rich.


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A time to grieve

Grieving can be one of the best things we can do.

Life isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. Sometimes it sucks. Sometimes it almost kills us. Sometimes it sends a pandemic.

Those are the times we need to grieve. We need to face the terrible state of our life or the lives of others or our world, and we need to recognize it for what it is. Broken. Wrong. Sad.

Grief isn’t something that many of us like to do. We like to feel strong, capable, ok, good. But feeling bad, not ok, incapacitated—weak, no, we don’t like that. Many of us hate it, in fact.

I know I do.

But isn’t grieving what we all need these days. Isn’t it better if we just let the sadness of all that is happening in the world, in us, wash over us? And, instead of fighting it; we just feel it. We succumb to the reality of our situation.

Sometimes that’s the best thing for us.

Sometimes that’s the best act we can perform.

Sometimes being weak is the strongest thing we can be.

And, doing that is often the first step toward healing.

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This is your bet of a lifetime

We’re all betting, but there’s more to winning.

You see, how we spend our time, energy, and money requires us to decide how we want to allocate them. How much time and money do you spend on this or that, invest in the stock market, get together or not, buy expensive clothes, or not are all investment decisions. They’re all bets.

Life is a bet.

But that’s not the problem, though. It’s that many of us don’t know how to bet well.

Some of you are conservative, others aggressive. Some of you play not to lose, others to win it all.

And, really, some make better bets than others. Some tend to win far more often.

And what makes the difference? That’s the question.

There are a lot of factors. But I think it boils down to one thing. It’s this.

Short-term thinking.

We think if we cut corners, or buy that shiny thing right now, or sell that stock to get the $1000 profit instead of waiting, we will be better off.

That’s why we buy fancy cars or too much house or refuse to save our money and invest because we’re too tempted by instant gratification.

But, all the while, we don’t realize that we are undercutting ourselves from getting the things we really want: respect, wealth, flourishing, wellness, etc.

See, all of those things take, well…time.

They are goals that take a lifetime of building, doing, working.

If you want healthy relationships, you need to cultivate them with truth-telling and integrity.

If you want wealth, you need to spend less than you make and save and invest your money.

If you want respect, you need to earn it one decision at a time and pay the same respect to others.

If you want wellness, you need to practice daily practices that make it so.

By betting well, you will increase life’s quality. You’re not just betting you’re life but how you will live, not just your livelihood but the quality of your life.

Making great bets take time to play out. They aren’t quick wins.

They’re long ones, even a lifetime. Knowing that will make the difference.

You’ll win more.


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Gratitude is good, but contentment is better

Gratitude. It’s something we hear a lot about, especially this week. But, there is something that has a greater impact on our lives, like gratitude, but more richly. What is it?

It’s contentment.

You see, gratitude is something you do, an action. But contentment is a state of being. It’s not just an act; it’s who you become. What I mean is that we don’t say “practice contentment,” like you would say with “gratitude.” Rather, we say to “be content.” We do say “be grateful,” but that often means for something or a particular time, like “you should be grateful for this present, or this food, etc.” Whereas, “contentment” is what you are. And therein lies the magic.

With gratitude, we’re told to give thanks for this and that, and we have our gratitude practices, journals and yoga poses (I don’t know if the last one exists or if I just made it up). But after we’re done practicing, journaling, yoga-ing. It’s easy for us to fall right back into complaining, wanting, pining.

“But John, I practice my gratitude sessions every day,” you might be thinking, “and I hear people talking about gratitude all of the time.”

I applaud you and am sure that you are practicing it, but I think we talk too much about gratitude; and not enough about contentment.

Because, even though you have that practice, you still live with dissatisfaction and envy and a grass-is-always-greener syndrome. Deep down inside, you probably think that if you get that upgraded car, or prettier spouse, or more money, or that new job, or better home, or whatever, then you’ll be happier. And you might be for a bit. But you won’t stay that way. That happiness will fade because practicing gratitude is a start, not the fulfillment.

Just because we practice gratitude doesn’t make us live gratefully. When we are content, that’s the fulfillment of gratefulness.

A sign that someone is content is if they look at their life and sincerely say, “This is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now, and I’m glad” even with all of the crap going on, the pain, the difficulties, mixed with the joys and blessings and goodness.

“Contentment” means you’re satisfied with who you are, what you have, where you are, etc. When you look around at your life and at yourself, you’re filled with satisfaction.

It’s not that gratitude or the practice thereof is bad—far from it. Gratitude is a part of contentment. To be content, we must have a gratitude practice and that can include our spirituality.

For Christians, like me, contentment should be particularly applicable to us. God is called our “portion” in the Scriptures, and that means he is everything we could ever need or want. And if we believe in him and that he is truly God, then we should grow in our contentment. We can know that this world does not have what we really want. For what truly feeds us and gives us joy isn’t here. It’s him, the Eternal Being.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I struggle with contentment, too. Very much so. Even when I’m doing my warrior one gratitude poses on my fancy yoga mat, getting my grateful namaste on, telling myself that I’m glad to be here right now, I can still feel a twinge of envy for this or that thing I want but don’t have.

But, I am improving. If I can, so can you.

So in this great season of Thanksgiving, let’s not just give thanks. Let’s learn to be content.

For, today is a gift.


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How you can survive the pandemic

In this pandemic, our best medicine is to face reality.

Reality is being true to the situation at hand, you know, that we are in the middle of a pandemic and being with people is highly risky, especially indoors, mask-less. “Facing reality” means more than intellectual ascent, but actually practicing what you know to be true.

And, that might sound too obvious, but today I was at the grocery store and I saw a guy walking around the store with his mask dangling from one ear while he talked on the phone, flapping his bare lips. I wanted to say, “Hey, wearing a mask off of one ear doesn’t mean you’re wearing a mask.” Or, yesterday I heard about some family members of mine who are going out and even attending house parties.

I’m sure these aren’t stupid people. The ones I know are quite intelligent, well educated, “normal” people. Yet, they are still taking, in my opinion, outrageously dangerous risks for an unbalanced reward. I mean, why couldn’t that guy keep his mask on while talking?

You might be tempted to take the same kinds of risks. That’s probably especially true as you’re thinking about the holidays. I get it. I miss casseroles and pie. I want to hang out with family members, even that awkward uncle.

But, we are terrible at gauging risk for ourselves. We’re much better at it for others. We can see when something someone else is doing is too dangerous; but when it comes to measuring our own risks, we’re awful at it (read this article to find out more). I think that’s what causes that guy I saw on the phone and my partying family members to take bigger risks than what seems reasonable.

You see, right now, and for the foreseeable future, being true to reality is our best preventive measure to keep our loved ones and us healthy. Yes, there has been good news about Pfizer’s vaccine, but it’s not fully vetted yet. In other words, it’s still not real.

It can feel like the pandemic is close to ending. I feel it, too.

But it hasn’t ended yet. Just because we are close doesn’t mean we are there.

The last leg of a race is often the hardest one, and most treacherous.

When you think you’re winning is often when you can slack and let an opponent win. This mindset is why most accidents happen close to your home. We relax because we feel like we’re home when we’re still driving.

The reality is, we haven’t won; and we’re not home. Not yet.

But we can be. I think we will be.

And my hope is this, that as many of us as possible will get there, together—alive and well.


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Politics and investing

No matter who’s party is in the White House, the market is in the black.

The stock market has been volatile these past several days leading up to the election. And it’s easy to want to sell our investments with a click of a button and jump in a bunker and hunker down.

I get it. I was there last week.

But that doesn’t work.

You see the market has been going up for almost a century. Yes, it goes down here or there, think 2008-2009, or this past March, or last week or so. But, usually, it goes up.

That means we need to take the longview when we invest: Check out this chart.

Source: Bloomberg

And that’s true, no matter who wins the election. The blue lines mean a Democrat was president, the red, you guessed it, Republican. So whoever plops themselves behind the desk in the Oval office, if you stay invested, you will likely get wealthier. It’s not optimism. It’s just reality.

So don’t liquidate your retirement fund or portfolio.

Instead, vote.


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Become true for yourself

Don’t be true to yourself; be true to the truth.

“Be authentic.” We hear it all of the time. It’s about being true to yourself. But often, being ourselves is the last thing we should be. Often we can be awful. We make mistakes, fail others, hurt our loved ones. I mean, sometimes, I’m a terrible father. And that’s authentic. But that’s not who I should be. Often, being authentic is exactly what we shouldn’t be.

Instead, we should be looking to be better than ourselves. And the way to do that is by finding the truth.

Many of us avoid the truth because it’s unpleasant. We don’t like hearing what might make us wrong. That’s why we tend to read articles that only support the ideas we already believe. We’re biased. We’re so much so that we don’t even realize we are. So we stay the same. We don’t change. How can we if we never see ourselves as wrong?

But isn’t that what we all want? To change, I mean. Don’t we all want to get better? Isn’t this why you’re even bothering reading this post? We don’t want to be like ourselves; we want to transform.

And we do that by searching for the truth. It needs to be searched for, sought after. It doesn’t come to us; it requires work. It’s not easy. Admitting that you may not know as much as you think is a good start. Doubting our presuppositions helps us peel away our biases. From there, we can see that what we’ve “always been told,” may have always been wrong. To find the truth, you must read sources from the other side, talk to others wiser than you, and find and debate people who disagree with you. (And having a Facebook comment war doesn’t count.) You must hunt for the truth.

These days, there are many lies, or at least untruths and misinformation, being spewed out into the world. It’s getting harder to decipher truth from untruth. And it’s not just out there.

The ones that are often most disturbing are the ones we tell ourselves, the lies in us. It’s easy for me to fall into thinking I can never be this or that, or how my failures define me and my future, or how my worst fears will become a reality.

Maybe you do the same.

That’s when we must sit and really examine ourselves and our thoughts and pit them against science or God or the ideas of more learned people than us. Doing that will set us aright. And we will find that being truer to truth makes us far more ourselves and better humans than we could ever achieve by just trying to “be our authentic selves.”

See, being authentically true to truth makes us far more ourselves than we could ever imagine. It helps us transcend the lies and untruths. The truth isn’t about you or me. It’s bigger and better than all of us. And when we find it, it raises us up, transforming us to be better and truer than we ever could have been without it.

The truth sets us free.


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To live your best life, be wrong more

Often we worry about being right. But I think we should be spending more time being wrong.

Because sometimes, in life, being wrong is the most right you can be.

This sounds strange, I know. But that doesn’t mean it’s false.

You see, we live in a world that is obsessed with being right.

The schools we went to taught us that getting A’s, 100%s, 4.0 GPAs was the way to be.

And we learned that if we followed that paradigm of always being right, it would lead to success, riches—our dreams.

But that’s not how our post-school lives work. Real-life isn’t about being right. It operates quite differently. There aren’t A’s, 100%s, 4.0s here—no.

Work isn’t about perfection. It’s about creativity, ideation, iteration.

And, relationships are murky, muddled, messy. And no one is acing that class.

Life isn’t school.

Trying to be right all of the time makes us paralyzed, inflexible, ineffective.

Often, it keeps us from being our best. It makes us play it safe, take fewer risks, live less life.

And that, in my opinion, isn’t how most of us really want to be like. We want more. And, I think, we should.

To do that, we need to be wrong more.

See, there are times to “move fast and break things” to err on the side of doing things without knowing if those things we’re doing will work.

We need to experiment.

I’m not saying to be wrong just to be wrong.

No, that’s dumb.

What I mean is that we should be trying to do things that we’re unsure about, that are uncertain, you know—risky. And we’re not doing that for just any reason. We’re doing that for a very specific purpose—to reach our dreams.

But, going after them can make us wrong. What I mean is that you’ll make a lot of mistakes. What you do will be filled with failures and imperfections. That’s what happens when you pursue a dream: you’re wrong, a lot.

But, when we make errors, that’s when we can find corrections. Problems allow us to create solutions. Without an error, we often don’t know what to correct and how to move forward.

But the good thing about mistakes is that they are rarely final. After we make a mistake, most of us get retakes. We get to try again. We get second chances, and third chances, and fourth chances, etc.

And that’s where the magic happens. That’s where we get opportunities to learn from that wrong and make it better.

You can take a failed experiment, a terrible proposal, an ill-timed investment, a shuttered company, a broken relationship, and study them. And you’ll begin to understand what went wrong and how it could have been different, better and glean the lessons you need to succeed in the future.

Then, on a retake, apply those learnings when you try again in that next experiment, proposal, investment, company, relationship. Because as long as you are alive, you will have retakes.

Take them. And make the best of them. Take all of the wrongs and make them better.

And over the years and decades, you’ll see that you’ll be far more right than you would have ever been if you were only trying to be right. You’ll even live your best life.

In fact, you’ll have lived a dream.

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Endings are new beginnings

By embracing the end, you will start to see new beginnings. 

Sure, some endings are good, like getting out of a bad job or unhealthy relationships, etc. But I’m not talking about that. 

I’m talking about the things we don’t want to end, the ones that aren’t good. It can be as trivial as a great movie or show, or as serious as some major life change, or watching your baby grow up too fast.

It was a warm late summer morning, with golden rays of sun breaking through the trees, as the laughter of children rang through the air. Our firstborn was three and starting pre-school. It was his first day. We didn’t know how he would take us leaving him at school. It marked the first time he would ever be away from us. Our family was on the playground as other parents talked and the children ran around playing. Some kids were crying. 

But ours wasn’t, and he didn’t. 

When it was time for us to say goodbye, he almost didn’t care that we were leaving. We kissed, and he ran off with his new friends, unbothered. 

When my wife and I got into our car to drive home, we found that we couldn’t. Instead, we sat there and watched him. We cried like babies as we realized that our child was no longer a baby.

Endings are everywhere. They happen every day. 

Some endings just hurt. They’re hard. Really hard. They stun us. They may even kill a little bit of something inside of us. They can break our hearts. They make us cry in our car as we watch our baby growing up before our eyes.

Some of you are experiencing midlife. Like me, you feel it. And, it’s strange. It feels like you lost your youth somewhere along your journey, and you realize that you’ll never get it back. And you hate it.

Others of you are experiencing moving out of a city you love, losing a community, needing to find a new job, a loss of a career. And you’re having a hard time imagining what the future will hold because that end still has ahold of you.

All of us are feeling what the pandemic ended for us. Normal feels dead. The upcoming holidays smack us hard with that fact. 

And the problem is that we often try to fight those endings. We’re wrestling against the realities that we live in.

But, we can’t fight aging, and sometimes, we have to move, find a new job—change.

Sometimes fighting only hurts us. 

That’s why we must drop our fists and embrace the end. 

When you do that, you see life as it is. You accept the truth. You’re no longer wasting your energy running against it, no. You see that fighting some endings is like trying to stop a wave from crashing the beach—impossible. 

But, when you decide to let go of the past, that’s when something magical happens. You can see new potential, possibilities, opportunities.

You see, when you give in to the end, you welcome new beginnings. 

You see that life isn’t ending. Instead, you are allowing yourself to change, evolve, even transform. 

In midlife, you can take the learnings you gleaned in your youth and start to optimize your life. If you moved, you could start to appreciate your new home and begin to set new roots and make new friends. In the pandemic, you might see how good it is to work from home and how nice it feels to slow down. 

See, an end isn’t the end. It’s a new beginning.

And when you stop trying to fight the ocean waves, you can begin to swim with them. And when you do that, they will propel you to new places and possibilities.

You won’t be trapped in the past. You’ll be present. 

You’ll be free. 

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