The problem with avoidance

What are you avoiding today?

Is it a conflict, a hard conversation you need to have, dealing with a work situation, disciplining your child consistently—that thing about yourself?

You know what it is. It’s been bothering you—nagging, really. But you keep burying it. But like a zombie that won’t die and keeps crawling back out of the grave, it continues to haunt you.

That guilt, shame, and anxiety keep recurring for a reason.

You’re avoiding what you should do.

Instead, face it. Deal with it. Go towards it, and come what may. Dealing with the hardships of life makes life easier.

If you do, your life will be better than it was before. If anything, you will be better.

You’ll be a better parent, friend, person—human.


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The difference you can make

Being different is the difference that makes you stand out.

See, many of us hate being different. It makes us feel alone, ostracized, alienated. I know.

I remember being one of the few Asians in my elementary school class. And, yes, people made fun of me for being different. It hurt. I cried. But later, I accepted my difference, that I wasn’t like everyone else.

And that did something to me. It woke me. It gave me the freedom to love myself. It allowed me to see things differently and walk a unique path.

Now, when I say “different,” I don’t mean being immoral or hurting others, or anything like that. It’s about being unlike others in personality or ethnicity or interests or looks or whatever. Being different isn’t bad. It’s often the best thing that can happen to us.

And anyone can be different. It’s a choice. If you hang out with only people who look, think, talk like you, that’s ok, but try to branch out and befriend others who aren’t like you. Just that feeling of being around someone who’s not like you will make you feel different. And that’s good.

If you’ve always felt different, you’re not alone. Many around you have the same feeling and struggle. But, know this, being different and accepting yourself is powerful.

For example, the most innovative research labs aren’t the ones with scientists from the same country or have large demographic, cultural, and occupational overlap. No, the labs that make real breakthroughs often have people from various backgrounds, ethnicities, and experiences working together. They are the ones who save lives, change the world, do great things. Their differences help them see the world differently and create something new.

You see, sameness doesn’t achieve greatness. No, those who want the status quo stay close to others like themselves.

So don’t conform. Don’t try to surround yourself with others like you, no. Engage those who disagree with you, eat other cuisines, speak another language, study a subject outside of your expertise. A world without diversity doesn’t change the world. It can’t.

Uniformity isn’t transformational. Only diversity can do that. And diversity starts with each person accepting that they are different and moving towards others who are unlike them.

So don’t fear or dislike your difference or others for being different from you. That’s what sets you apart. It’s the fodder for the greatness that you can experience and create.

Instead, be different. Be yourself. Be true. Don’t be afraid to stand out. Instead, shine.

And, who knows, you might be the difference between the status quo and changing the world.

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Do more by managing this resource: energy

When it comes to productivity most of us think about time. It is important, but there is, I believe, another resource that is even more so. It’s this.

Energy.

I don’t mean that we are battery-operated, like a Tesla, no. But it’s not too far from that, in some sense. I mean, you can feel it, right? It’s that draggy feeling you get through the day, or, if you’ve been working really hard and hardly sleeping, you might start feeling burned out. That’s you mismanaging your energy.

Or, on the opposite side, it’s those days, when you’ve been eating well or exercising and sleeping better, that you sense your energy levels are at full capacity. You’ve got a bounce in your step and feel like you can take on the world.

That’s what I’m talking about. That’s energy.

And many of us believe that to do more, we need to work harder. But that’s not true. It’s a recipe for hating your work or burning out. I know. I’ve been there. And doing that makes you incredibly unproductive.

Energy is critical. It’s what helps you do your job, learn, create, parent—you know, live. It’s the fuel you have within you that powers your ability to be productive in your life.

And, the truth is, too many of us are terrible at managing our energy. We don’t really think about it, let alone talk about it. But we should. It’s not easily quantifiable, but, as I said, you can feel it.

You see, highly productive people have learned to dial in their energy. They aren’t just thinking about time. They find times to play, rest, relax. Jeff Bezos talks about getting eight hours of sleep. Winston Churchill took regular breaks just to doze off or stare out over his pond and daydream. Me? I like to watch Netflix or read.

I’m not saying I’m a master at this. I’m not. My point is to make you aware of this dynamic within all of us. Awareness is key. Take stock of how much energy you do or do not have. Look at your life patterns, your routine, and consider changing things to improve your management of this.

When you are running low, learn to rest, sleep more, say no to requests. Find the things that give you energy and incorporate the into your life. Maybe it’s reading poetry, or watching a feel-good movie, even really cheesy romantic comedies, or spending time with your loved ones. Whatever it is, do it regularly. Doing that will help you have the oomph to accomplish the things that really matter.

And you’ll produce more than you thought you could, even more than when you were working longer hours.


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How to overcome your fear of pain

Life isn’t about avoiding pain. It’s about knowing what’s worth living for despite the pain.

To find that purpose that makes the pain irrelevant or less relevant is key to really living.

Many of us get carried along in our lives without really knowing what we want in life. And, when that’s the case, we take the path of least resistance. We’ll choose comfort. We’ll coast.

But, when you live purposefully or have a goal, you approach life differently, better.

You won’t see pain as something to avoid, no. It becomes an obstacle that you must overcome to get to your goal. Pain becomes a challenge, not a deterrent. You see, good goals eclipse the pain.

So take the time to clarify what you want in life. If you do, you’ll be able to go through anything to achieve your purpose.

You won’t just be alive. You’ll really live.


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A secret to winning

We all want to win in our relationships, investments, love. But winning is often counterintuitive. And we can sum it up like this.

To win, you must be willing to lose.

You see, in relationships, we want to be right or argue our point or make people see our way, our hurts, our pain, our truths. But if you’ve been around the block and have some experience, you know that doesn’t work. In fact, it only poisons relationships. Making people see what you see isn’t a way to create intimacy. To go deeper with people, you have to lose that need to be known first and, instead, try to understand others before being understood, empathize with them, feel their pain. When you do that, you will likely deepen your relationships. Of course, you want to find people where this “losing” is mutual. They are willing to “lose” for you and you for them. But sometimes, it takes someone to initiate it. And if you do, you will not find yourself without friends and loved ones.

Who doesn’t want more money? Of course, we all do. I’m just keeping it real here. But, what we aren’t real about is how to win in this area. In investing, winning is also about losing. Maybe you’ve lost money trying to invest, and you don’t want to touch the stock market. But I think there’s a reason for that. It’s the fact that you’re trying too hard to win. I know that sounds confusing. But let me explain. When I lost money in the market, often it happened because I was too afraid to lose money: anytime my stock or investment started losing money, I would sell. Then that investment would recover and appreciate, and I would feel terrible because I felt like I was missing out. So then I would buy back into that stock when the price was higher. Then it would go down again, and I would sell again because I was losing money. And that cycle kept happening. In short, I would try so hard to win that, at any moment when I was losing, I would try to save myself by getting out of the market out of fear of losing more money. Maybe you can relate. After reading books and reflecting on my countless mistakes, I realized that I needed to just buy and hold. But to do that, I had to get my head right. I had to be willing to lose my money, all of it if necessary, if I had a high conviction about a company. That’s when I started making money. To make money, you have to be willing to lose it.

Love is complex. And I don’t want to say that to make romantic relationships work, you just have to lose, because that’s not necessarily true. But it does help. I’ve seen it in my marriage. When I’m willing to die to myself for my wife, our relationship goes better. And, when I say “die to myself,” what I mean is that I’m willing to set my agenda, preferences, desires, etc. aside and let hers be higher, more important. That’s losing. And if you do that, you will win. Your love will grow. Now, I don’t mean for you to get abused. No, marriage or romantic relationship is a two-way street. So you need to tell the other person to treat you better if they are treating you like crap. But often, to engender love, love will feel like a one-way street. And you might be the roadkill sometimes. But your relationship will likely flourish.

And, in general, too many of us care too much. We live like we have something to lose. We strive to upgrade our cars, houses, jobs. And we are terrified of getting them taken away from us. But what we don’t see is that this race robs us of joy. When we care so much about our stuff and titles and money, keeping up with the Jones, we just end up living poorer lives. We lose.

It’s when we stop caring so much that we begin to live more richly. When we stop trying to make another buck, sacrificing time with loved ones, and start making sure they feel loved, we are richer. I mean, have you ever seen someone who seems to live so effortlessly, who doesn’t seem to have a care in the world? I don’t mean that they are careless. They just are not that burdened. They may not be the wealthiest person, but they have something money can’t buy. They are free. I’m not saying we should all become homeless people. But we all burden ourselves with things that just don’t matter that much. If that’s you, stop worrying about winning. In fact, be more willing to lose.

If you do, you’ll become a real winner.


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Silence: hearing the sounds of the soul

Silence. It’s one of the best things for us. Even so, for many, it’s scary.

So we surround ourselves with noise, TV going in the background or music streaming, podcasts playing, zoom meetings zooming. These days we have more noises than ever before. There are videos, shows, audiobooks, and on and on chattering in our ears all of the time. And that’s not mentioning the real people you may have on the phone or in the room with you. We live in a noisy world. It’s loud.

And that’s not the real issue. It’s this: the fact that we don’t allow for silence in our lives.

You see, silence lets us hear what’s important. It cuts through the noise. Without it, we can’t hear what we really need to hear: our inner voices. I’m not talking about the voices of a mentally ill person. No, these are the ones that make us better. They show us the way. They tell us who we are, who we can become.

Silence is about giving yourself the ability to hear your inner voice speak. In the quiet, we can hear the negative voices and correct them. We can understand what our conscience is actually saying to us. We can hear our souls sing. And, for those of you who believe in Jesus, like me, it’s in the silence where you often hear God.

I’m not saying you need to become a monk. You don’t need to go on a silent retreat where you have thirty-six hours of straight silence, without talking, walking in the woods barefoot in a robe. That would be nice but unnecessary.

What I’m saying is that you need to have some quietude programmed into your life. Whether it’s an hour or two once a week or some minutes a day, you should have some regularity where you seek and find quiet so that you can commune with those quieter voices that need to be heard.

And I’m not saying that this will solve all of your problems. It won’t. But it will make your life better. It will make you more self-aware. It will help you grow as a human.

It will help you hear the signal through the noise.


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When I made one of the biggest bets in my life

Sometimes you need to abandon plan b and go all in.

I recently read this 2013 article on Steve Job’s presentation of a lifetime. It was for the first iPhone. It was monumental, legendary, historic. Yet the article outlines all of the things that could have gone wrong (how the multitouch, making a call and surfing the web, messaging, etc. wasn’t working well). They had to get specialized cell service just for the presentation. It really shouldn’t have succeeded. It should have failed.

And usually, Jobs had a plan b for these types of presentations, having an out for himself. But not for this one. No. There was only plan a.

I think life is a lot like that, especially when it comes to decision making. Life is a bet. I don’t mean you’re going to the horse tracks and making wagers all of the time. What I mean is that we are all deciding on various opportunities and decisions. And each one is a wager. You can try to get a new job or make a change in your life, and each decision has risks and rewards, and they’re on a spectrum. And often, one option seems safer than the other. And choosing one over the other is betting. That is especially true when it comes to the big decisions in life. So, we are all making bets, more often than we may realize.

And, even playing it safe is a bet. If you don’t take risks and play everything in life safely is still betting. You’re playing the conservative hand, sure. But you’re also losing out on the possibilities or opportunities that only higher risks afford. There are possibly fewer bumps or losses or failures, yes. But, the safe bet is still a bet.

Now, I don’t think we should be making bets just to make one. No, that’s stupid. Risk in and of itself isn’t the point. That’s like dancing on the edge of a cliff just for the fun of it. Risk without respecting the risks, and not caring for the reward is just being dangerous. I don’t think you or anyone should do that.

Instead, there must be a goal and aim for the risks you take. You need to know the purpose of the bet and the risk involved. They need to be worth it. If you gamble something important, it must be for something better, greater, worth the ante. And if you’re betting, you might not have a plan b, but you should at least have a plan a.

For Jobs, he was, in a way, betting the future of his company. Apple hadn’t delivered anything new in an extended period, and people had been calling for a phone after the iPod’s iconic launch. Jobs was also announcing the launch of the AppleTV, but he believed he needed more. He needed the iPhone, which he was determined to deliver. And he did.

Over thirteen years later, Apple’s flagship product is still the iPhone, netting billions and billions of dollars and is arguably the most successful product ever. Yet, it started with a handful of partially working, glitchy prototypes in the hands of a man with a dream of making one of the greatest bets in his life. He went all in.

I think the biggest bet in my life was getting married. I was in my early thirties, and my future in-laws weren’t exactly my biggest fans during our engagement, and my fiancé was having doubts. We had even broken up during our engagement for a few days. I was terrified to tell you the truth. I had already experienced a broken engagement with another girl in my early twenties, and coming back from that took me about five years. And I wasn’t sure if I had the emotional resilience to recover from this engagement breaking. The likelihood of things working out between us at the time was uncertain. But after some prayer, I continued to feel the conviction to be with her. In fact, it grew. So I went all in. I wooed her with a romantic trip to Chicago and, afterwards, convinced her to meet with a therapist together. She was my plan a. And we made it to the altar.

Now, over ten years and two kids later, we’re stronger than we’ve ever been. We won.

What about you? What’s your plan a? If you don’t have one, form one. Dream a dream that you think is a stretch, might even consider silly, foolish. If the goal is about happiness, a healthy family, lifestyle, financial success, whatever, why not go for it? Why not abandon plan b? Make that bet. And who knows? You might win. Of course it’s not guaranteed.

But, if anything, you won’t just be alive.

You’ll have lived.


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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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Patience: the secret to growth

Growth is a winding, circuitous, and weird path. It’s rarely a straight line. It doesn’t go the way we expect nor want it to go. Sometimes it even means going backward before we begin moving forward. 

And that’s not necessarily the problem. It’s this. The problem is we often expect our growth to progress linearly, and when it doesn’t, we get disappointed, frustrated, upset.

That can lead us to slow down our growth no matter where it is, or, sadly, some of us even give up. That’s why we need to see growth differently.   

What I mean by “growth” is any activity in life like learning, gaining physical capabilities or skill or fitness or spiritual development, etc. I mean any area of life where a human can progress and get better. That bettering is growth. It’s you getting better. 

And, yes, it requires hard work. We need to challenge ourselves and try to do it. We all know that. But what we may not know is that it’s more than that. 

Sometimes we must realize that even after working hard, things don’t always work. Sometimes you will have setbacks that will cause depressions. Sometimes you will feel like an utter and complete failure. But you’re not. 

You see, your growth isn’t linear. You’re on the winding path of growing. And as long as you are still trying and working and learning, you are still on that path, no matter how you feel in the moment. Even if you’re failing, you’re not a failure; you’re just on the circuitous route toward success. 

And, this is when we need patience. It’s the secret weapon for growth. Stop looking at your progress in terms of days or, worse, hours. No, look at it in terms of years, and decades. That’s what it often takes to make real leaps of progress. When you have that mindset, you’ll be able to overcome the hiccups of the day, or the week, or the month, or even years. The mistakes you made or the shortcomings or the face-plants will be blips in the grand scheme of things.

If you’re patient, you’ll give yourself space and time to grow. 

And, before you know it, you’ll see a better you. 

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