Good Destination, Bad Directions

I turn 30 today (happy birthday to me, right?). Aging tends to force reflection. It gives cause to think back on decisions – the good, the bad, and the ugly. If we’re smart, that reflection offers lessons to help us improve ourselves over time.

Here’s one big lesson I’ve been meditating on:

Having the proper destination in mind does not validate your route to it.

Life is a series of goals. We make subsequent decisions in relation to our goals. Often we do the best that we can with the information we have.

But we don’t always have the best information. Nor do we always have the best of intentions. (Thought even when we do have good intentions, sometimes we’re bad at selecting the proper means.)

Still, with our limited knowledge, we aim at the highest, best goals we can fathom (if we are wise), and we dedicate ourselves to manifesting those into reality.

Except we’re not always great at bringing our ideas to life. Not to the level of perfection we all likely aspire to.

We choose our goals. Then we choose the route that we believe is most likely to get us there. Hopefully, most efficiently.

Sometimes, though, we choose the right goal but the wrong route. Which makes it incredibly difficult to see our own errors.

It can often feel like “selecting your goal” is the most difficult part of personal development. But that’s rarely true. Choosing a target is easier than hitting it.

But when you take special care in selecting which targets to aim at with your scarce resources, and you finally determine one that’s worthwhile – it can give you a sense of absolution about the means you select for getting there.

Choosing a good destination does not let you off the hook for using bad directions, though.

Even honorable goals are overshadowed by unworthy means.

The work isn’t done once you choose your target. You must also take special care as you work toward it, to ensure that you’re not allowing a desirable “end” is to justify bad means.

Knowledge Proxies

The world continues to increase in complexity. On average, we’re poorly equipped to handle this.

Our iPhones and Google empower us to “fact check” and “research” on the fly. While non-stop streams of propaganda (oops – I mean social media) color our opinions.

I often wonder if our perception of knowledge deludes us to our ignorance.

For instance, I know that I’m still fascinated on a regular basis about how abysmally little I know about the world around me. Even the simple stuff. Including things I feel like I know a lot about.

It’s honestly incredible people don’t regularly break down from the sheer overload of complexity in our world.

But beyond my ability to ask other people and observe, I’m limited to my own experience. Maybe other people are much smarter than me. (If I was a dick, I’d add a line here, like “But I doubt it.”) Or maybe most people find bliss in ignorance.

Regardless of how other people experience the world, what chance does a guy like me (who wants to “win” at life) stand at maneuvering through all the complexity? Without wasting my best years sticking my nose inside every textbook within reach.

Facing Down Ignorance

One thing I’ve learned is that I don’t know much about much – even the stuff I think I know a lot about. Re-reading that sentence reminds me of the infamous Mark Twain quote:

“What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Mark Twain

But nobody likes to be a know-nothing (especially not me). So we do our best when we face situations where we risk exposing our incompetence.

There’s the “fake-it ’til you make it” crowd. Which I now consider myself expatriated from. Basically you just feign competence. Some people do this for posture’s sake. They’re not bothered by the truth of their own ignorance. Others do it to survive – believing firmly in their own ability to hustle and learn so fast they overcome their ignorance before they’re found out (this was me).

Either way, you can only fake it so many times before you’re eventually found out. This isn’t a long-term winning strategy, even if offers temporary gains.

Of course, there are other options too.

The abhorrent “I don’t know” camp comes to mind. This camp accepts the truth of reality agnostically. Whenever you encounter something novel, you admit the truth. “I don’t know.” Of course, that “I don’t know” could mean blind acceptance of your ignorance. Or it could be the fuel to your fire to acquire new information (this is the part of the camp I prefer to inhabit).

But we just can’t learn about everything. There’s simply not enough time.

So, how do we cope with an ever-increasingly complex world, with our ever-finite base of knowledge?

Here’s one potential solution: I like to call it the “knowledge proxy.”

The Knowledge Proxy

I want to tell you a story first before I tell you about knowledge proxies.

For those who don’t already know, one of my guilty pleasures is wine. I love it. Every aspect. I love to drink it. Smell it. Read about it. Learn about it. The history surrounding it. The drama of it. The scandals. The culture. The traditions. The formality. And maybe most of all is that wine demands its own pound of flesh from you before you can truly appreciate all that it has to offer. It’s one of those rare few things left in life that has an extremely high barrier to entry that even money can’t overcome.

Anyway, when I first fell in love with wine I knew very little about the subject. Which can be daunting. And expensive. But when you don’t have much money and you want to learn about something relatively pricey, you’ve got to learn how to place your bets effectively.

Which is exactly what I did when I made an accidental discovery. I take pictures of every bottle I drink that I enjoy. I take notes (even if only mental). At some point I noticed that two bottles I drank both carried the same note on the back – “Imported by Kermit Lynch.” (Who is a famous wine merchant, though I didn’t know it at the time.)

This became a beacon for me. When I didn’t know about a bottle and there was nothing around to help, rather than relying on my own limited supply of knowledge, I looked to the label. If I saw “Imported by Kermit Lynch” I read it as an endorsement – almost like insurance against buying a bad bottle.

It was not a perfect solution. But it did act as a filter. When you’re facing thousands of possible choices, sometimes all you need is a good filter. Rather than picking from among thousands, I found myself picking among dozens.

That’s a knowledge proxy.

Using Proxies to Navigate the World

Proxies, by definition, are simply a substitute. They do not fully protect you against your own ignorance. But they certainly can offer a hedge.

We all use them all the time already. Anytime we take a recommendation from someone. Or even when we rely on our own biases – after all, that’s really what biases are, anyway. They’re just shortcuts. Proxies for actual knowledge.

Proxies by themselves do not perfectly describe or define the world around us. But they can be useful in reducing the complexity enough that our simple ape brains can more effectively manage it.

But, just like anything else, proxies can be prone to error – especially if you’re using some other person’s opinion as a proxy for your own decision-making.

So tread with caution. Though here’s one tip, if I may.

Avoid Single Points of Failure

Having insufficient knowledge of a subject does not get you off the hook for making decisions. But it sure does increase the danger to you.

This is how people get taken advantage of. And if you’re a stupid person, I pity you. Unless of course, you’re stupid by choice. In which case, half of me envies you. And the other half wonders how you’ve survived this long.

Anyway, back to the point here.

Whenever you have insufficient knowledge, relying on a single proxy increases the risk of a bad decision. Because you’ve created a single point of failure.

I’ll repurpose the wine scenario to illustrate what I mean by this.

Let’s suppose for a moment that the “imported by” feature had been a bad proxy for selecting wine. Maybe I’d gotten lucky the first few times. What if I’d been wrong though, and more often than not it represented low-quality wines? That sure would’ve been sour grapes, huh?

While I my knowledge was limited, it sufficed. But as I learned more, I began to add additional layers of proxies.

Rather than rely solely on the “Imported by” proxy, I also began to catalogue the particular regions, grape varietals, and producers I enjoyed.

So I could confidently navigate a wine shop or wine menu by looking for multiple data points – multiple proxies.

If a bottle boasted, “Imported by” + “Desirable grape varietal” + “Region I’ve enjoyed”, then I could be reasonably confident about my selection – and thereby increase the bet I was willing to take (i.e. My willingness to spend more money on a particular bottle increases as my confidence in the selection does.)

The same thing is true in our day to day lives. This is the power of second opinions at work.

Proxies, by themselves, do not excuse us from responsibility for making decisions. They simply help us catalog the world around us when we don’t have all the information.

The more proxies you have, the more boldly you can navigate into uncharted territory. Of course, you can always supplement proxies with your own learnings, too.

But learning how to use proxies – and then layer multiple levels – that can be a true super power in an increasingly complex world.

Forward Locomotion When Lacking Information

It’s a challenge making decisions when you don’t have all the facts.

The old adage, “Do the best you can with what you’ve got”, is a nice, but hardly comforting sentiment.

After all, not just any decision will do. We want to make decisions that advance us toward something – some idealized future state or goal.

Some things that help me:

First, gain as much clarity as you can about the end destination. Describe this better state intimately if you can.

Use that description to imagine your path forward from where you are.

Who must you become to achieve this vision?

What must you do?

And equally important – who must you avoid becoming? What must you not do?

The answers to those questions determine your guardrails.

On one hand, you’ve defined your ideal and components of it.

On the other, you’ve defined a set of activities and behaviors which will either increase the difficulty of or altogether disqualify you from reaching your goal. Which is often easier than listing out the activities and behaviors that will help you.

In between those two states are behaviors and activities that could help you advance – or not – but won’t hurt your progress.

Sure, that might be useful at the abstract planning level. But what about decisions in isolation?

Here’s another tip that works for me:

When considering a decision, don’t ask “Will” this help me? Rather, ask “Could” this help me?

Language matters. “Will” offers determinate outcomes. It closes off your mind from possibilities. While asking “could” activates your creative faculties.

The truth of the matter is that you’ll almost never be able to predict definitively how one choice might play out over time. (Within reason, of course, you can safely assume how eating a bottle of rat poison might impact your fate.)

Occasionally, you’ll be forced to choose among two options. Both may seem positive. But you may be uncertain which one will help you more.

Here’s what I recommend:

Don’t lose too much sleep over the decision. Early in your life and career, say yes to everything that’s not a hell no. If one decision excites you more (or challenges you more), pick that.

As you gain more leverage, you can adapt this to say no to everything that’s not a hell yes.

Rather than fret over the relative value of two decisions, focus more on avoiding stuff you hate.

So long as you are moving in a direction away from what you hate – and away from behaviors that disqualify you from your “end prize” – then you can safely advance with confidence.

Our Beliefs Shape Our Reality

When is the last time you changed your mind about something important?

What a challenging question, right?

I think so.

I wrestle with this question frequently.

First, because I reckon if my beliefs aren’t evolving over time, then I’m probably not learning enough. Which means I’m destined to remain in my ignorance.

Second, because it’s useful to encounter new information that challenges our present beliefs. Even if new information doesn’t change our minds, it can shore up gaps in our thinking – and that’s worth its weight it gold.

In other words, our beliefs shouldn’t go left unchecked for too long. Sometimes it’s not new information we need, though.

Often, we need a literal crucible to test our beliefs – or shatter them altogether.

Feedback Loops for Your Beliefs

When you believe something to be true, and allow that belief to govern your behavior, if you are attentive, you’ll collect market feedback about your beliefs as they’re acted out.

That feedback does not always come in perfectly translated form, though. Occasionally it can take shape in dastardly consequences – or even delightful surprises.

But this market feedback component is useful, because it allows us to become more aware of reality.

Absent this feedback loop, our beliefs really don’t matter much. At least, to the extent that accurate beliefs enable us to better cope with reality.

The Foundation of Beliefs

The purpose of beliefs, in my opinion, rests on a fantasy that a “better state” exists. That state exists in the future, and access to that better state depends on my conduct.

If I conduct myself properly, eventually, I can access and enjoy this better state.

But if I do not conduct myself properly, then I will forfeit my eligibility to ever experience that better state.

Just because this better state only exists as fantasy in the present, does not make it untrue. It simply means that until I can access it, that it does not, in reality, exist for me (yet).

Hence, the importance of developing beliefs that serve as a roadmap to the better state.

Proper conduct moves me closer. Improper conduct moves me farther away.

My beliefs govern my conduct. My ever-changing proximity to the perceived better state signals the appropriateness of my conduct.

As I act out my beliefs, the resulting change in proximity to my desired better state alerts me to the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of my beliefs – as a roadmap toward my idealized better state.

This feedback loop provides useful information.

First, about the appropriateness of my beliefs as a set of directions for achieving my desired aim. If the directions are incorrect, I’ll end up in a different destination than intended.

Second, with enough effort, I may discover errors about my idealized better state. Perhaps it’s not all that I once chalked it up to be. In this case, maybe I don’t need to alter my beliefs, but adapt the fantasy to something more appropriate.

Adapting Our Own Hierarchies

This ebb and flow between our beliefs and the reality we create as a result of acting them out is part of the beauty of the great human drama.

We rarely – if ever – have complete information. The best we can do is respond to the incentive structures we encounter.

Sure, we can create new fantasies. But behind every fantasy, there is some truth – if not, at the very least, the hope of some higher truth we can’t yet articulate or prove.

Sometimes our beliefs are directed toward undetectable aims to those around us. This does not validate negative market feedback, nor does it invalidate our beliefs.

Then again, sometimes our beliefs are not only ineffective, they’re downright inaccurate portrayals of reality (physically manifested or fantasized).

We don’t have perfect information. So the idea of holding permanent, never-changing beliefs has always seemed a bit like psychosis to me.

But what does seem like a more appropriate, useful line of thinking, is the idea our beliefs evolve over time –both expanding and contracting as we identify gaps and cull impurities in our understanding.

A Tale of Two Religions (In 560 characters or less)

Part 1

As they approached the sacred place the child gazed at his father, bewildered.

“But I don’t understand why.”

“We must never forsake tradition,” came the father’s reproach, “for without it, we are nothing.”

Then, without another word, he flung himself over the cliff.


Part 2

“Are you sure this is the last of them?” The hunkered man paused as the leader spoke.

A wisp of smoke rose. He shuffled his hands, quicker now.

“We’ll erase the last memory of their way of life, my liege.”

A spear struck the ground. An onlooking battalion began to chant.


The end.

Dissatisfied Patience As the Key To Navigating Your Early Career

“I’m going to be the VP of Marketing.”

I could feel the tension in the room build before the words even finished leaving my lips. Sitting across the table from me was the guy who’d been hired to lead sales and marketing. He’d just asked a probing question about where I saw myself in the future.

I was 24 years old – and the low man on the totem pole of a company I’d been at less than 9 months. With one sentence, I’d thrown out the window all office social norms, niceties, and any reverence for ‘the way things are done.’

At the time I had no way of knowing how many challenges that single conversation would later create for me. I was young. Ambitious. Relentless. On occasion, reckless. But I was out to get mine. And no one could stand in my way.

Full of Piss and Vinegar

Like a young buck with a chip on his shoulder. That was me for the the better part of my early 20s. And admittedly, from time to time still is.

I walked with the air of a swagger I’d not yet earned. It was less of entitlement and more of conviction. An unshakeable belief in myself and my ability to win. Like a young fighter eager to touch gloves with the reigning champ.

But, like many a young fighter, I learned the hard way – it doesn’t matter how hard you punch in the first round of a 12-round match. A career, like a boxing match, is a game of endurance.

I made a lot of mistakes early in my career that can be attributed directly back to my youth. My eagerness. My ego. My impatience.

I wanted to be recognized for what I knew I could become. Before I’d proven it. And that’s a tough sales pitch no matter how good you are.

You Are Your Greatest Opponent

Ambition travels with a lot of baggage. Especially in the early days. Left unchecked, it breeds a weird kind of schizophrenic paranoia.

It breeds doubt. Anxiety. Pressure. And a laundry list of conspiracy theories:

  • Is somebody else doing better than me?
  • Should I be farther along than I am?
  • Could I be working harder than I am? Longer hours?
  • Do other people know how hard I’m working?
  • Is my contribution known and evident?
  • Am I getting credit for my efforts?
  • Should I be making more money?
  • Am I being taken advantage of?
  • Is my title impressive enough?
  • Do my coworkers respect me?
  • Am I a fraud?

Imposter syndrome is a function of pretending to be something you’ve not yet fully become. It’s natural in any transition period. But mostly it wastes precious energy. It redirects mental and physical resources toward perpetuating myths rather than converting those into value in reality.

I learned that the hard way.

A Better Coping Mechanism

Along the way I picked up several valuable lessons. Here’s one of them:

Opportunities come easier when you’re doing good work and paying close attention – than when you’re trying to convince people to create them for you.

At several points in time, my work became a cry for attention. I’d go above and beyond simply because I believed it to be my best way to get noticed. It was not about doing good for the sake of good work. It was a shell game.

I learned that working to get noticed is a passive approach to creating opportunities for yourself. It’s manipulative. Both to yourself and the person you hope to convince. It screams “I’ll do good work when I want something.” But there are only so many carrots you can dangle in front of someone before you run out of carrots.

Instead, I discovered a different approach. It’s offered me more satisfaction, more control, and more opportunities than I can count.

The secret lies in approaching life with a dissatisfied patience.

Ever since I discovered this mindset, I’ve been happier. More fulfilled. More content. More deliberate. And not surprisingly, more effective at creating opportunities.

How To Practice Dissatisfied Patience

Instead of worrying about opportunities outside my control, I try to focus on the present circumstances.

  • What opportunities do I have to improve things I already have domain over?
  • Is there a way to improve a process to free up more time?
  • Are there any ongoing problems I have the ability to solve – for myself or for others?
  • What activities do not require anyone else’s permission?
  • How could I take [X project] to the next level?

In other words, I try to shift the focus from future uncertainty to a local present. Instead of worrying about what I think I could become, I focus on what I can do to do my very best here and now.

When I stopped waving my hand around like a madman hoping to get called on, and instead just focused on doing good work, I discovered I got called on a lot more often.

This did not mean losing the fire in my belly to do more, to be more, or to achieve more. Instead it meant channeling it – so that if and when an opportunity does present itself, I’d not only be ready, but I’d be the obvious choice.

How To Increase the Likelihood of Your Desired Outcome

There’s no such thing as a sure deal. But you can almost always increase the likelihood of your desired outcome.

Consider a simple example for starters: Your monthly bills amount to $1,000. You’d like to cover these costs because you enjoy the comforts of having a roof over your head and food on your table. You recognize an income would enable you achieve your desired outcome.

So you acquire a full-time job that pays $15 per hour ($600/week or $2,500/month). The job does not guarantee your outcome. You still must show up and successfully administer those responsibilities the job requires. Both earning the job opportunity and doing the job both increase the likelihood of achieving your desired outcome.

Begin with the End in Mind

The surest way to achieve what you want in life is to start by defining it. Unless or until you have a sure aim, you waste energy by moving without definite direction.

Start by identifying the outcome you desire. Then work backwards.

In the example above, identifying a desired outcome is easy. You have bills which will be due each month. And you know the exact amount you need to succeed: $1,000 per month.

By defining your specific desired outcome, you’ve set the boundaries.

Define the Range of Probable Inputs

Beginning with your desired outcome sets the parameters you must work within to achieve success. Coming upon $1,000 before your bills are due this month becomes your “floor.” Any set of activities which leads to at least $1,000 per month will satisfy your desired outcome. Any set of activities which leads to less than $1,000 is out of the question.

Setting the floor allows you to eliminate “null” inputs – activities which will not satisfy your desired outcome. For instance, a null outcome would be working only one part-time job that pays $8/hour. The activity will advance you toward your goal but by itself will not satisfy your goal. So you can eliminate it as a possibility.

Setting the floor also enables you to draw a boundary around “negative” inputs – activities which will reduce the likelihood of your desired outcome. For example, increasing your monthly expenses by $1,000 is a negative input. You can eliminate activities that work against your goal.

Reduce Uncontrollable Variables

Within the scope of activities that lead to $1,000 per month, you have a lot of options. Some jobs may even offer the possibility of far more.

But what you’re after is certainty. What set of activities is most likely to achieve your desired outcome. In considering all the different possibilities, you also want to identify those which offer the fewest unknown or uncontrollable variables.

For instance, you may discover a job opportunity which promises $25 per hour of pay. On the surface this seems like a great input to consider. But if after a closer look you learn the opportunity offers wildly unpredictable hours and no guaranteed minimum – you cannot be certain this activity will increase the likelihood of your success.

You’re not just looking for possible success. You want inputs which offer you a highly probable, repeatable outcome. So you can eliminate any set of activities that do not guarantee the opportunity of at least $1,000 per month.

Test, Observe, and Adjust

As the saying goes, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” There will almost always be more than one path in front of you which offers high probability of achieving your desired outcome.

Keep this in mind as you work toward your desired outcome. If you come across a set of activities that allows you to achieve your desired outcome more efficiently, or offers you more satisfaction in the process, take it.

The more you practice working backwards from your goal, the more effective you will become at filtering activities that increase the likelihood of your success from those which do not.

At any given point in time, you’ll likely have more than one desired outcome in mind – each with varying priority. When this happens, you can evaluate each desired outcome and activity sets in isolation – or, you could redefine the parameters: only consider activities which satisfy all your desired outcomes.

Just remember, it all starts with defining the outcome (or outcomes) you want. Then work backwards.

A Head Full of Bouncy Balls

Reading a book is a lot like tossing a bouncy ball inside a racketball court. Except this court acts more like a vacuum. And once in motion, a ball will remain in motion, changing course only upon impact.

Introducing new ideas is like adding more bouncy balls to the cage. Each new book increases the count of hurtling projectiles by one. And so on.

Eventually, with all those balls a-bouncing, collision becomes inevitable. Two different ideas collide, each exerting an impact upon the other. And this event fundamentally alters the original course of both projectiles.

When Ideas Collide

When you only have a few balls bouncing, collisions happen less frequently. If you don’t increase the number of bouncy balls, the ideas you introduce first will remain constant longer.

It’s only once you begin to introduce new ideas rapidly that the rate of collision begins to accelerate. When this happens – for better or worse – your original ideas become vulnerable to impact. It is no longer a matter of if your original ideas will face a collision, but when.

When ideas collide, it’s the idea that packs a greater force that carries more influence. By virtue of traveling at a greater velocity or bearing greater mass, some ideas delivers a more violent blows upon others. In some cases, those blows cause the deterioration of lesser ideas altogether. In other cases, the impact simply causes a slight alteration in course – for both ideas.

Collision As The Goal

I’ve heard it said before there are ‘no new ideas under the sun – only new combinations of old ideas.’ I believe this to be true.

And if it is true, the best way to increase the likelihood of two old ideas colliding to create a new, interesting combination is through consistent addition to the total number of different ideas bouncing around.

One sure way to increase the probability of unique collisions is to increase the total number of balls in play. But what if you not only want to ensure it eventually happens – you also want to reduce the amount of time it takes to happen? In that case, you could also introduce more balls more frequently.

With more balls colliding more frequently, the rate at which new, unique combinations of old ideas happen will increase. Not all collisions will be unique. And not all unique collisions will be useful. But that’s not really the point, is it?

You can’t often predict which unique combination of old ideas will fundamentally alter the course of the game. And you especially can’t appreciate new, unique combinations if you don’t also observe the impact of new ideas as they act upon others.

But if you’re deliberate about the balls you add and observant enough (and maybe a little lucky), you might just witness the collision of two ideas the world has been waiting for.

Or you could just sit back and enjoy the site of a bunch of bouncy balls flying through the sky, violently smashing into one another. (As far as consolation prizes go, that also sounds pretty cool. But what do I know, I’m just a guy talking about bouncy balls on the internet.)

Wrestling with God: My Lifelong Battle with Doubt

I haven’t been confident about what I believe for a long time.

Is God real? Does he love me? Has he spoken to me? Do I have a divine purpose?

It’s a problem I’ve wrestled with for years. The world pressures us to hold strong opinions about everything under the sun. And admitting I don’t know sucks.

But truth be told, when it comes to faith I just flat out do not know.

Longing for God

I want to believe. Honest. There are days when I long for God. To know there’s something bigger out there in the universe. Something divine. Something eternal.

But I’ve never been able to reconcile that longing.

Is it just residue from my church upbringing? Is it my own ambition – reaching for the unreachable? My pride – leading me to believe that I’m worthy of speaking with God? Is it legitimately the Holy Spirit at work in my life?

I see a peace of mind faith could bring. But blind faith just because it makes me feel better? That’s always felt like a cop out.

If I’m going to believe anything – I want to feel the conviction of its truth in my bones. And that’s where I’ve always struggled.

Evidence vs. Experience

Forget the science. I’ve read books. I’ve looked under all the rocks. There are convincing arguments on both sides.

But every argument misses something huge – the kind of validation that can only come through personal experience.

I can’t say with confidence I’ve ever experienced God.

No matter how bad I want to believe it. A skeptic inside challenges every possible encounter.

I know I’m not the first person to ever doubt my faith. Or fully renounce it for a spell. Even the lead singer of one of my teenage favorite bands recently came out with a startling announcement about his faith.

Maybe doubt is something anyone with faith struggles with from time to time. And maybe that’s part of the point, too. Hell, if it were easy, would it be worth it?

Still. Doubts aside, I’m after the truth. And I have to live on this earth either way.

Pascal’s Wager

A long time ago, my boy Blaise Pascal wrestled with the same dilemma. And he came up with a clever coping mechanism.

Pascal made a wager with the universe. I’ll paraphrase for you.

He argued that it makes sense to live like God exists – whether it’s true or not.

If we die to find out we were wrong, well, we sacrificed some material pleasures. Maybe a few good times. And overall, maybe saved ourselves from a lot of immorality.

But if we die to find out we were correct, well, then there’s an infinite gain to be had.

I like this wager. Really. It makes sense to me. Except I take one big issues with it. This wager leaves me wanting more. Here’s why:

I don’t want to live a life based on avoiding consequences. I want a life of abundance – a life in pursuit of purpose and truth. And I don’t want to give up parts of my life I enjoy just to avoid burning in hell some day.

Positive vs. Negative Reinforcement

From a young age most of us are taught good behavior is rewarded and bad behavior is punished.

Real “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” type stuff.

Faith and religion aside – we’re supposed to do good and avoid bad. To follow rules. Keep in line. And do what we’re told. Or else.

But it’s precisely the “or else” that pisses me off. Especially when it comes to faith (as it’s often packaged).

I don’t like fear-based arguments for faith. To me its no different from the life insurance agent who throws your mortality in your face then whispers, “You’d want your family to be taken care of if you died, right?”

It’s predatory. It feels directionally incorrect. And truth be told, if that’s real faith, I’m not interested.

Because here’s why – I know I’m flawed. I will mess up. A lot. And if the expectation for messing up is damnation, then what’s the point? I’m already screwed.

Exploiting fear makes me resent the idea of faith even more. If faith is worth practicing at all then it’s got to be more than fire insurance, yanno? It’s got to be something that offers hope for more – something that offers a promise of rewards far greater than I could ever imagine.

A Game of Endurance

A few notable influences come to mind as I think more about my pursuit of faith.

The first is C.S. Lewis. The way he describes his discovery of faith has stuck with me through the years. His book Surprised By Joy offers what I believe to be an incredible insight. The discovery of a joy so strong, so good, so worthy – that he longed for it.

The second is Kahlil Gibran. In The Prophet he drops a hot take on joy and sorrow. Here it is:

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked…The deeper your sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you contain.”

I remember reading that for the first time and thinking to myself, “Yes! He gets it!” It describes the understanding I’ve developed from my own experience – that joy is a game of endurance. Not suffering for suffering’s sake. But enduring for the sake of unlocking even greater things than we know.

As Paul wrote, “Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

I’m also reminded of Job – which has forever been one of the most meaningful yet challenging passages of scripture for me.

I’ve always wrestled with the why behind Job’s story. Why would God deliberately allow one of his faithful servants to be set up to fail?

Maybe it was a sign of trust. Maybe it was God’s own display of faith. Or maybe God knew that only through enduring could Job fathom even greater joy than he previously knew. Whatever the case, I’ve always thought if faith is real then I want a faith like Job’s: “Shall we accept good from God and not adversity?”

(For another excellent read on the same notion of endurance, check out Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.)

The Chief End of Man

Other influences that come to mind – Christian Hedonism, as popularized by John Piper’s book Desiring God. (I’m thankful someone put this book in my hands at age 17 when I walked out of the church and never looked back.)

The idea of Christian Hedonism captures another fascinating point of view when I think about faith – Piper offers one single word change to a common accepted view about faith. And it’s a radical difference.

Traditional View: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Christian Hedonism: The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.

What a stark contrast, right? The traditional view conjures up an image of something entirely undesirable (at least to me)– a bunch of people sitting in church pews listening to sermons and singing hymns for all eternity. In other words, I always interpreted it as a call for self-limitation. That our highest and best exercise of faith is by restraining our impulses – by following rules and sacrificing everything as the cost of admission.

And I’ve always wrestled with that. Because if God is real…and we were made in His image…all entirely unique… then that’s not by accident, right? Maybe our highest and best exercise of faith is by discovering our uniqueness and leaning into it.

My good friend Isaac Morehouse paints it nicely in this post (which was also featured in a chapter of our book, Don’t Do Stuff You Hate):

“Christian’s purpose in life is to take delight in existence, and take delight in God delighting in them for being delighted. God created humans so that he could take pleasure in them, and seeing man take pleasure in life is what most pleased God.

I always associated the idea with a line from the movie Chariots of Fire, where the deeply religious Eric Liddell is chastised by his sister for missing church because he was running. He said, “When I run I feel His pleasure.” Not merely that Liddell was having a pleasurable experience himself, but that he felt the pleasure of God as he ran.”

Hedonism As Life Purpose, Isaac Morehouse

Unfathomable Abundance

There are so many other thoughts I have not catalogued here. But I had to get these words down. I’ve been wrestling with this issue for over a decade – and it’s intensified with age.

I want to know to truth. To understand my purpose. Or at least reach a conclusion I can carry with confidence.

Which brings me full circle. I’ve been reflecting more and more on how to build a life worth living. It’s a topic that constantly pesters me. And the issue of faith has been a constant undertone in my own narrative.

Yes. I’ve been wrestling with all this. It’s an extremely personal issue. But recently I was struck by something new – a thought that has never before occurred to me.

I was standing in my kitchen. Normal day. When a thought came to mind:

“God is not trying to cheat you out of anything.”

It’s so simple it made me laugh. Honestly.

I think my notion of faith has always been at odds with religion. To me, faith has always been about breaking free. An act of liberation. Where religion is about constraint. Following rules. Dutiful sacrifice.

And maybe my views of religion have marred my views on faith. Who knows?

This is a continuous journey. And tough one. But that makes it worth it – regardless what I discover.

To be continued…

Decisions By Proxy

I got a new pair of roller blades for my 8th birthday.

Immediately, I begged dad to take me to the park. The street no longer presented a challenge.

Marching directly to the playground, I climbed up the steps to the tallest slide, slipped on my blades and stared toward the bottom.

“Should I do it?” I asked my dad.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea, Mitch,” he replied.

That’s all the encouragement I needed. I jumped to my feet and lurched forward.

The moment ended as quickly as it began. I ate it – hard. But at least I tried.

The experiment earned me several scrapes and an important lesson: bad outcomes hurt less when they result from your own decisions.

My dad and I laugh about that incident to this day. Still, I can’t help feeling a little pride. Yes – I made a reckless decision. But I made the decision.

Outsourcing Your Decision-Making

Contrast my example above with another story.

Several years ago, I worked in an office next to a warehouse. We shared street parking. Signs clearly marked the tow away zones. But we rarely saw them enforced.

On one occasion, a few new employees asked others if they ran a risk parking in the tow away zones. Some tenured employee told them they’d never seen a car towed – so the new folks parked there.

That afternoon the city towed their cars. The new employees acted outraged. What an injustice!

One requested reimbursement from the company for the incident. This confused me at first, but the longer I thought about it, the more it sank in.

This individual wasn’t mad just because of the car towing – he was also mad because he’d relied on someone else’s judgment to inform his decision. He saw the tow-away signs. But he made a calculated risk based on the information from what seemed like a credible source.

In short – he allowed someone else to make his decision for him. On that day, his proxy turned out wrong.

The individual felt justified in his outrage because he had a scapegoat upon whom he could blame-shift. Had he never asked anyone and chosen to park in the tow away zone, he would’ve bore full culpability.

Instead, by outsourcing his decision, he relived himself of responsibility for his poor decision.

Stuck Holding the Bag

We all rely on proxies to inform our decisions from time to time.

Consider product reviews as a small case and point. Or referrals from friends about the best dentist or auto-shop.

Still, we ultimately bear the cost if we act on the information and the choice turns out poorly.

What about the bigger decisions?

Like who to marry, whether or not to go to college, which company to work for, or which city to live in.

We all know people who’ve made decisions like this by proxy. Sometimes it works out. But when things go poorly, the person who provided information is rarely stuck holding the bag.

No – we have to live with the choices we make, even if we relied on information from someone else.

Skin in the Game

For big life decisions, I try to avoid advice from people without skin in the game. Sure, I’ll ask for movie referrals. But for the big stuff, I do my best to own my decisions.

If the choices blow up in my face, I have no on else to blame but myself.

Still, occasionally it’s useful to seek out third-party opinions – if even just to shock-test your ideas.

I’ve found over time that people who have no skin in the game as to the outcome tend to give advice based solely off their own experience. They don’t account for the arbitrage of their experience adjusted to yours.

People who have an actual investment in your outcomes, on the contrary, bear some of the risk if shit goes awry. I think something about that risk makes them simultaneously more affected, and more level-headed. They have to live with the weight of their opinion.

No – this does not mean you should fully outsource your decisions to them. But it does increase the odds that their advice is better suited for an outcome that’s good for you (not just them).

Proxies Don’t Pay

Whether you heed others’ advice or not rests on your own shoulders. When you request advice, you still get to choose what to do with it.

You’re never obligated to make decisions you don’t agree with. Don’t forget, you own the final say.

But, if and when you make a poor decision, if you relied on someone else’s faculties, remember: it’s you who has to bear the full cost.

Though they may “feel” guilty – you have to live the decision, not them.

So don’t be flippant. Proxies provide additional points of view. But they don’t have the power to make the call – you do.

Own your decisions. Even when you make bad ones. Don’t cede responsibility to anyone else.