The Challenge of Progress

It’s incredibly difficult to feel consistently drawn to the same future goal. 

When you want something really bad and go after it with everything you have, it changes you.

As you change, your goals do too.

Goals that once seemed so big, hairy, and audacious they’d eat you alive now seem tame, familiar, and small.

As you approach your goals, you will often outgrow them, or lose interest in them for want of a novel and more interesting goal.

You grow. Your goals grow. 

It took me awhile to recognize this pattern. At first I mistakenly assumed my goals would continue to expand in proportion to my own growth.

But that’s not really how it happens.

It’s more like you begin to converge more with your goals. Rather than growing in size or stature, you and your goals begin to grow in harmony.

At least, if you take the process seriously.

It’s not that your goals grow in magnitude. But that they grow in unique and interesting ways you never before imagined.

Goals are more like ivy than trees. Both start as small sprouts, then take different trajectories.

Trees ascend vertically. Ivy expands in every direction.

Curiosity and action are like photosynthesis. 

You may start out fixated on a particular point. That particular point takes apical dominance over everything else.

But something else catches your fancy, and you divert resources in a new interesting direction.

You are not a tree. You’re like ivy. 

You start by thinking you want to grow in one general direction. But as your interests, experience, relationships, and curiosity expand in that direction, it opens up new horizons for growth.

Suddenly, growth becomes non-linear. Both directionally and in magnitude

Your growth offshoots in a new direct. Your path branches. You grow into a new patch of soil where the sun shines a little brighter, where the water is more abundant, and growth explodes.

What started as incremental growth becomes exponential.

And if you’re persistent, this process repeats itself until it becomes impossible to identify the origin point of that first little sprout.

It’s a messy but beautiful process. 

The Purifying Effect of Fatherhood

Everything changed the moment she wrapped her tiny little fingers around mine.

I knew it meant trouble. But I miscalculated. 

There’s the typical kind of trouble you expect when you’re a first-time dad with a baby girl. 

You know you’re totally and completely fucked in the sense that you’ve now got two girls who you’ll do absolutely anything and everything for. Two girls you’re charged to protect and provide for. Two girls who now occupy the center of your universe. That’s a pretty strong gravitational pull.

Then there’s the financial kind of trouble. You expect having a kid to be expensive. But a daughter? A daughter with a diamond birthstone, nonetheless? Dollar signs flash through your head. You’re in trouble, buddy, I told myself.

Of course there’s the longer-term trouble, too. The kind of trouble that convinces you to go out and buy a new gun and an enormous amount of ammunition, just so you can start practicing carving teenage boys’ names into bullets. Just thinking about it makes my skin crawl.

There’s all sorts of trouble you start worrying about when you become a new dad. I’m sure it’s true for dads of little boys, too. Even if the kind of trouble they anticipate differs.

But for all the obvious troubles I knew were headed my way the very first moment I saw my little girl look up at me with her tiny blue-orb eyes, there was another kind of trouble I hadn’t anticipated.

The trouble of God. 

I felt a kind of gnawing in my chest the moment I saw those two pink lines. I figure it was something akin to learning you’re the recipient of a gift you couldn’t possibly afford. A gift you do not deserve.

Days passed. Weeks passed. The gnawing persisted.

“You’re going to be a dad,” you tell yourself. “A girl dad.” “Are you up for the challenge?”

You want to know what repentance feels like? If that doesn’t make you rethink every sin you’ve ever committed then I don’t know what will. 

The way a newborn daughter looks at you – even before she knows who or what she’s looking at – it nearly leveled me. 

You see those two little eyes gazing up at you and all you think is, “I’m going to be her hero. I want to be her hero. I want to be worthy to be considered her hero.”

Your life flashes before your eyes. You think of all the courageous acts of your life summed together. All of the major achievements. All of the acts that fill you with pride. The moment you feel worthy of being her hero. 

But it passes.

And immediately you find yourself reliving all the moments you missed the mark. All the instances you messed up big time. All the mistakes you ever made. Even the not-so-bad ones.

“What would she think of her daddy then?”

Somewhere in the thick of the self-imposed psychological warfare a thought eventually emerges.

I never want to lose the way she looks at me. Like I’m perfect exactly the way I am. It’s almost as if she looks at me with the eyes of Christ.

And you realize what it means to receive a gift you could never deserve. 

Not through all your merits. Not through the endless attempt to ensure the good you commit outweighs the bad. Not through any action.

But through grace alone. Undeserved grace. Bought and paid for through the ultimate sacrifice of a Father – the sacrifice of his child.

For me.

When I look into my daughter’s eyes, I see the man I want to be. Not for her. Not even just for me. But to pay respect to the Giver of a gift I could never deserve.

Creative Pressure

It’s easy to fall into an expectations trap as a content creator.

That you must only put out complete works that represent the highest and best form of your abilities.

But that’s not how creativity happens.

Many of my best ideas started as messy unformed phrases years ago.

They picked up substance over years and through experiences that brought them to life.

As a creator, your ideas evolve as you do.

I’ve got a decade worth of notes saved in my phone. I like to read through them for the perspective they offer.

Am I still the same person as I used to be? Have I grown? What have I changed my mind about? Have my beliefs evolved? What believes have I discarded? Has my life stage changed my perspective?

Sharing your work with an audience can deceive you about the true nature of your creative capacity.

I do not create for an audience. I create for myself. Because I must.

Because there are jumbled thoughts and words that must break free; that must fall upon the page first in a disorganized fashion, and then later in a more coherent shape.

Creating anything requires tangling with chaos and attempting that very-near-impossible task of attempting to bring order to it. Even if victory only means bringing order to your own life.

That’s why I create – to unify my thinking so I can better integrate the knowledge I’ve consumed in order that I might apply it to improve my life and the world around me.

It’s sort of a messy process of interacting with ideas, attempting to grasp them, to get to their essence, then regurgitate them into more digestible snippets.

The first drafts are rarely pretty. Even if you sometimes share those with the world.

But you can’t get to the final drafts without those crucial first drafts.

When I spent too much time creating for an audience – rather than for the sheer need to endure the creative process – my work suffers.

The quality may still be high. But if feels artificial. Hollow. Soulless.

Not because there’s not some truth embedded into it. There may be.

But it feels more like performance than expression. More like replication than creation.

Like I’m replicating art, rather than creating it.

I write often about personal and professional development. Not because the world needs another essay on personal and professional development.

But because I need to endure the focused creative process one more time – to sit and contemplate how to live. To grapple with the challenges of existence. To codify my own values in order that I might better live them out.

In that regard, I create because of the change it requires. When creating, change is the price of admission. But creating for an audience only charges matinée prices.

There is no short cut to creating great work – the kind of work that’s worthy of the admiration of an audience.

Do the work because it must be done.

Indeterminate Growth and Your Environment

Did you know some species of plants and animals continue to grow until they die? It’s referred to as indeterminate growth.

Indeterminate growers do not have a genetically predetermined growth apex. So long as conditions in their environment remain favorable, they will survive and continue to increase in size.

Some popular examples include tomato plants, grapevines, lizards, goldfish, and a wide variety of other plants and animals.

But the conditions for their growth must remain favorable – otherwise, these species will stop growing or die.

Take goldfish, for instance. If you’ve ever had a pet goldfish, maybe you’ve witnessed this.

Assuming favorable conditions – i.e. food, water quality, etc. – a goldfish will grow in line with the size of its container.

Small bowl? Small goldfish. Large pond? Large goldfish.

Environment matters. But so does innate potential.

Not all species are indeterminate growers. Put a terminate grower into a larger pond, and once it reaches its natural biological size, it will stop growing.

The environment may impact its longevity. Or its quality of life. Or its likelihood to thrive.

Terminate growers have a fixed growth potential, regardless of their environment. But indeterminate growers will continue to expand to the size of their environment.

That feels like a layup for an inspirational message:

If you want to thrive, plant yourself in an environment with favorable conditions and enough space for your growth.

Nectar and Thorns

Roses have thorns. Pineapples have spikes.

Maybe the best things in life are protected by a pointed exterior.

If you want to extract the sweetest juice from life, perhaps you must first tangle with danger.

You must advance beyond the thorns.

Perhaps, too, this offers a clue about the Heaven’s Residence.

That the sweetest fruit of life does grow on comfortable vines. But on vines that struggle.

Could thorns be simple clues that you’re onto something?

Rather than seeking easy life, maybe there is magic in seeking out the struggle.

Scope of Impact

Would you rather help 100 people make their lives 10x better or help 1,000 people make their lives 1x better?

That’s a challenge you’ll have to wrestle with if you ever start a business. Whether you put it in those terms or not.

Every business has natural constraints.

Your constraint might be time. For someone else’s business, it might be talent or expertise. For another business, it might be an economic equation. Or a combination of all of the above.

Constraints provide the limiting function of your ability to make an impact.

Because resources are limited, you must make decisions about where you allocate them. You must accept some tradeoffs as favorable compared to others, and accept the opportunity cost.

But when it comes to scope of impact, it’s also a matter of more than resources. Your disposition also matters.

Would you prefer to have a sizable impact on a small group of people, or a modest impact on a large group of people?

Something to ponder if you’re motivated by making an impact.

Gratitude and Giving Back

Have you ever heard this idiom?

Like a turtle on a fence post – you didn’t get there by yourself.

Does anyone really get where they’re at by themselves? I’m not sure.

What I do know is that I’ve had a long line of benefactors whose investment in my life of their time, knowledge, and resources have helped put me on my path.

It’s definitely a dopamine hit to acknowledge gratitude for my own selfish benefit. But I’ve found it’s even better to give back.

Sure, there’s a sort of self-interested-ness in helping others in need. I’m not sure it’s possible to voluntarily help someone without benefiting yourself. (Queue your best SBF Effective Altruism joke.)

But the benefit can go both ways.

Recently I reached out to a few major influences on me in high school to let them know how much I appreciated their impact on my life. The small act provided a sense of conviction that I can – and therefore should – do more to give back.

Which is something I’ve struggled with in recent years.

I’ve always aspired to [be able to] give back in a meaningful way. In a way that makes a monumental positive impact. Not to be showy. But to improve the world we inhabit.

Except I’ve struggled with the idea because I’m not at a point in my life or financial journey where I can donate libraries or schools or hospital wings. Maybe I never will be.

But it begs to question – what’s the threshold for generosity in order to make an impact?

I doubt it’s as high it sometimes seems to me. Maybe you can make a meaningful difference giving only a few bucks or a few hours of your time.

As I’ve been pondering this a memory resurfaced from high school.

We had a big convention out of state for a school organization. The school had a budget for only a fixed amount of students. So not everyone could go, unless they could raise the extra money to cover their way.

Somehow a few alumni caught wind of a couple of students who were going to miss out. So they cut checks to cover the costs.

No questions asked. No grand gestures. Just a clearly identified need within their capability, and a desire to fill it.

It probably didn’t require more than a few hundred bucks. But their generosity was timely and maximally impactful for the couple students it directly benefitted.

Indirectly, the story stuck with me. So that small gesture is still paying dividends.

Perhaps it’s easier to have a big impact than it often feels. Identify a need within your capabilities and fill it.

Advice in a Vacuum

When most people ask for career advice, they’re really asking for happiness advice.

They’re rarely only trying to ascend a professional hierarchy. Most people usually want to know how to succeed professionally, and be happy in their personal lives.

It’s important when you’re approached for advice to understand what people are looking for before spewing generic nonsense.

What gets you to the top of the mountain quickest (professionally speaking) may bear a cost you’re not worth paying.

Similarly, the balanced equation of “What will make me happiest, on net?” likely requires some small tradeoff between your personal professional life.

In other words, people rarely seek advice in a vacuum.

Most people are trying simultaneously to win – or at the very minimum, compete – at all the various game of life they play.

Attitude As the Linchpin of Life

I woke up this morning to trash scattered across my yard. Before I could become annoyed, I decided to pick it up.

“Today is going to be a good day,” I told myself.

I rarely set the bins out early, but last week the garbage trucks came by so early in the morning I missed them. Now I had two weeks of trash piled up, so I could not miss them again.

The trash bins spent the night on the curb. The wind blew open the lids. With the lids up, the winds scattered the trash.

It was too poetic to be anything but amused.

“No good deed goes unpunished,” I thought to myself with a smile as I picked up the trash.

With the trash problem solved, I returned to cooking breakfast.

Cooking breakfast is near the top of the list of things that bring me joy in the morning. It offers a creative outlet – a moment alone with my thoughts, my creative capacities, and my appetite.

This morning I cooked an egg scramble (which is my way of admitting I have not yet mastered the art of an omelet). I scrambled the eggs with with ham, spinach, green bell peppers, Roma tomatoes. Then devoured it.

Breakfast complete, I cleaned the kitchen. Washing dishes is not among my favorite pastimes, but cleaning up after making a meal with my own hands does offer a special kind of energy. It’s like the natural last step of a spiritual cycle.

While cleaning, I noticed a strange contour in the sole of my shoe. Perhaps I’d finally worn this set of Nikes into the ground.

Instead, I found a fresh mountain of dog poop affixed to the soles of both shoes. Shoes I’d been wearing inside the house while I marched around the kitchen cooking breakfast.

I’d picked the poop up while fetching the trash.

This time, I laughed. “Today is going to be a good day.”

I’d set this entire situation into motion a week ago when I missed the trash can. Then I doubled down on it the night before when I carelessly wheeled the bins to the curb. They were stuffed so full from two weeks of garbage the lids were simply waiting for a small gust to burst wide open.

Life is funny like that, sometimes. Almost like present day exists at the end of a continuum of past situations and decisions, stretching back to the beginning of your life.

After washing dishes, I marched around the house like I was investigating a crime scene, stopping only every so often to place another small sample of evidence into a plastic bag.

If you ever want to know how much exercise cooking requires, just step in dog poop some day before you cook breakfast.

With what felt like an endless breadcrumb trail of dog poop handled, I returned to my normal morning ritual.

I grabbed a book. Smiled. Then thought to myself.

“Today is going to be a good day.”

The Funeral Procession of Life

Do you ever find yourself feeling like the shadow of your former self has lingered in a certain space?

You probably encounter some version of this when you visit your parents’ home. Pictures of your younger self mock you from their frames with insults about who you’ve become. Or maybe you hear it in the whispers of crushed childhood dreams, calling out from you within the walls of your bedroom from long ago.

“Remember who you once aspired to be!” The voices feebly cry.

We leave a littered trail of former selves behind us when we advance on new horizons.

Maybe that’s part of growing up. That maturity isn’t so much about “becoming” an adult, as much as it is about killing the remnants of your childish self. Perhaps we’re born adults and childhood is a protective outer shell that wears away with time.

Still, I can’t help but feel the presence of that forgotten youth from time to time.

In certain spaces. 

In the melody of certain songs.

In the scent of certain seasons.

In the memories inspired by certain pictures and dust-covered trophies.

I cannot escape who I once was. Nor who I once aspired to become. Even if I wanted to, their voices cry out at me from their graves.

But I often wonder, are their voices getting stronger the farther I travel? Are my ears becoming more attuned to their cries as I age?

Sometimes I think it’s not that the ghosts of my former self are angry for dying. They just don’t want to be forgotten. They want their deaths to have meant something. 

And maybe we owe our own ghosts that much. To make this life mean something more than it would have meant, that we might bring meaning to their deaths.