The Startup Series, Part 3: Everyone Please Calm Down (We're All In Process)

At Co.tribute, we go through whiteboard markers like there’s no tomorrow. I have countless pictures on my phone containing lists that we’ve made, notes from brainstorming sessions, and campaign execution plans (because for some reason I feel the need to take 10 of the exact same photo every time we erase anything). We LIVE on our whiteboards. In fact, my team and I recently started writing on our own window because we got tired of constantly walking over to the board in the conference room (which is a torturous 20 feet away). Sometimes you have to tilt your head at a strange angle to read things and your neck starts to hurt, but it makes us seem cool and creative - so I’ve decided it’s worth it.

Often, the window starts to look pretty chaotic. It’s full of abbreviations, random arrows, and complex diagrams. Sometimes I arrive in the morning and read a note that I wrote the day before, only to realize that it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. But regardless, I love that messy and complicated window because it perfectly represents the sweet chaos of good things that are in process.

The window is full of our goals, dreams, and plans. It’s full of amazing and terrible ideas. We’re constantly learning new lessons, and every week we erase some of the stuff we’ve finished, re-organize what’s left on the list, and keep pushing forward. All the while, we keep our eyes on the goals we wrote out in the top right corner – and we celebrate every time we get a little closer. We enjoy the thrill of the journey, because we’re on it together – and because we know we’re headed somewhere that’s going to be even more epic, more beautiful, and more fulfilling than where we are now.

**Not the actual window (just a cool hipster one I found)

**Not the actual window (just a cool hipster one I found)

I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships after writing about why we need each other. Some friends and I have been reading through Mere Christianity by CS Lewis (one of my all-time favorites), and we just got to the sections about forgiveness, marriage, sex, pride, and love. The whole book is incredible, but this part in particular cuts straight to the heart. It’s all about the hard stuff – loving people when they hurt you, seeing the best in others, thinking of yourself less, and staying committed when the emotions aren’t there. It’s everything we’ve heard before, but need to hear over and over and over again – because we so easily forget.

It’s easy to forget these things because we’re constantly fed the lie that relationships should be easy. They’re supposed to be fun, picture-perfect, and simple. They’re supposed to look more like an organized, color-coded spreadsheet than an overcrowded whiteboard. But in spite of what the media and Instagram tries to tell us, deep down I think we know the truth: that when you authentically connect with people, things often get complicated.

This isn’t exactly new information – most of us have grown up being told, especially in the church, that relationships are hard. We’re warned about how difficult marriage is, we’re told that we need to forgive, and we get the fact that as broken people, we’re going to hurt each other. We have countless books, seminars, and Buzzfeed articles on how to navigate conflict and set good boundaries (some more helpful than others). Apparently Biola even has a new chapel series on the best way to DTR.

What I think we don’t focus on enough, though, is the fact that sometimes in spite of your best efforts to go through all the “right” steps, things remain just a little more messy than you want them to be. And as long as we’re headed in the right direction together – as long as we keep our eyes on the goal – the messiness is more than okay, and we should all just try to calm down about it.

Of course, if you’re in an abusive or emotionally unhealthy relationship, it’s wise to remove yourself from it. It’s important to choose well when you’re surrounding yourself with people, because you will become like them. What I’m referring to here is the idea that being in process is actually normal – and if we stop being so afraid of it, if we stop panicking every time we have a difficult conversation or an awkward encounter – perhaps we could find a little more freedom to enjoy the journey, and all the chaos that it brings, without living in fear.

But how exactly are we supposed to do this?

As it does with most things of this nature, I’m pretty sure that the solution starts internally. When I realize that I myself am always going to be in process, it frees me up to let others be in the same boat. And if we’re all in the same boat, we might as well relax and have fun while we’re on it together.

I’d like to propose two ways to start:

  • Constantly keep our own needs for grace in view: and in doing so, humble ourselves enough to relate to those around us. This doesn’t mean that we’ll always agree, but it does mean that we’ll be less quick to judge or criticize because we’re aware of our own weaknesses.
  • Keep our eyes on the ultimate goal, which is not to be “right” or to figure out the formula for easy relationships. It is to love people authentically, and point them towards a Love that is more fierce and patient and unconditional than ours could ever be. When this is the goal, all the little things that would typically offend us start to slowly fade away.

The most well-researched series of tips on conflict resolution will never work for me if I don’t realize that I myself am broken – and that in this life, I always will be.

The important thing is that, as someone who is broken, I enter into community with other broken people who are forever committed to growth, forgiveness, humility, and love. As long as we’re all crystal clear on the goals – in this case, healthy relationships, deeper connection, and lives that honor Christ – all the stuff in between will fall into place. It will get frustrating and exhausting at times, and it might become more messy than we want it to be, but in the end it will turn out to be the most amazing adventure.

The Startup Series, Part 2: Why We Need Each Other

I really love the word “immersed.” I realized this last week while listening to an incredibly heart-wrenching but lovely Reply All episode. In it, a father (and video-game creator) whose son was diagnosed with brain cancer designed a series of immersive virtual experiences that reflected his journey. The vignettes were put together as a way for people outside the family to enter into their journey – to understand the helplessness and longing that they felt as they watched their son’s health decline. I’ll probably lose it if I try to explain more, so you’ll just have to listen to the podcast – but it’s an incredible story of love and sacrifice.

Being immersed means to be involved deeply. To be wholly and completely plunged in, submerged, and covered. It’s a gorgeous and overwhelming thought all at once.

When you work at a startup, immersion is the perfect way to describe the experience. You run into obstacles often. You’re completely immersed in running tests, solving problems, hitting goals, making coffee runs, and Googling things. You’re trying to build something that’s never been created before (at least, not in the exact same way), and as a result, you have no choice but to try everything you can think of and learn as you go. Sometimes you think you have a great subject line, and then you test it only to find that 1 person opened the email (and that person was your boss). And sometimes you try one that turns out to have a 95% open rate, so you start putting it on everything (even if the email isn’t about that subject). It’s exhilarating and exciting and so much fun. But it can also make you want to curl up under your desk in the fetal position every once in awhile, because it’s hard.

A couple of weeks ago I was dwelling on the idea of patience (both in the workplace and outside of it) - and I came to a point where I wondered what we’re supposed to do when we just don’t have any more left in the tank. What do we do when we feel like we’re literally at the end of our rope? It’s a heavy thought, and one that I think we like to brush under the rug sometimes. We like to pretend that we’re never really in that dark of a place – but the reality is that we live in a broken world, and sooner or later we all reach a point where it feels like everything is just melting around us. Things we thought were certain aren’t anymore, and we’re not sure which direction to turn. Relational stress, spiritual struggles, career challenges, health issues…the list is endless. We live in a time and space where good and evil exist side by side. Not with equal power, of course – we know how the story ends – but with an equal weight and an equal level of visibility in our hearts and minds.

Every one of us is completely immersed in the human experience -  one of joy, beauty, pain, frustration, and ultimately, a deep longing for a place we can call home.

I think that’s where the answer lies, or part of it anyway. We are in this together. And we need each other.

At work, I know that I cannot achieve my goals without the help of my team. I could write the greatest ebook ever (maybe), but no one would want to read it if I didn’t have a great graphic designer to make it look good. My team and I could bring in hundreds of leads, but if the Sales team isn’t there to close them, they’re worth nothing. For someone who’s pretty independent, these are hard truths to accept, but they must be accepted. If I try to do life on my own, it may go well for a bit, but eventually things will break down – and eventually I will break down.

There are many moments when I need to remind myself that it’s okay to ask for help – it’s okay to say I don’t know how to do this, you’re better at it than I am, or I’m just having a really overwhelming day. And how often do I allow others the space to ask for my help? How often do I truly make myself available and take on the burdens of others – regardless of how much time and energy it will cost me?

The reality is, nothing will cost me more than believing that I don’t need others and that they don’t need me.

As I’ve been wrestling through some things over the last few weeks, I’ve been deeply moved by the people in my life who choose to enter in and say, I am here in this with you. There are few words more powerful, more kind, more generous and life-giving than these.

Bearing another’s burden is an act of love and sacrifice in which we say to someone in pain (much like Ruth), wherever you choose to go, and whatever you choose to do, I will be by your side. It’s more than a quick, I’ll pray for you, don’t worry, everything will be fine. It’s an intentional position that must be chosen. A place of steadfast loyalty, a place of “entering in.” A place in which we say to one another, I don’t understand this either, but I’m not going anywhere. I’m not overwhelmed or scared by your struggle – and you will never be left alone. It is the truest form of friendship and the greatest reflection of His love for us.

Just as He chose to be immersed in our world so that He could empathize with and rescue us, we too immerse ourselves in one another’s lives. And in this process, we find strength. 

The Startup Series, Part 1: When You Don't Have the Patience to Develop Patience

 

Every week, my Marketing team and I do a cheesy but wonderful exercise we affectionately call Pow Wow-How-Chow (actually, I’m not sure if the rest of the team thinks of it affectionately, but I somehow convinced them to do it). I can’t remember exactly when I learned this exercise, but I’m pretty sure it was the brainchild of my dear friend, Erin Farley. In college, Erin and I were part of a team that facilitated small groups and leadership development on campus at UCI. Sometimes it was a challenge to get the conversation flowing with new groups, so we had to get creative. The rule of #PWHC (no one hash tags it yet, but I’m hoping to make it a thing) is that you have to share the following with your group:

  • Pow: The most challenging thing you've experienced in the past week.
  • Wow: The most fun or encouraging thing you've experienced in the past week.
  • How: What you've been learning over the past week.
  • Chow: The best thing you've eaten in the past week.

The great thing about #PWHC is that it helps you connect with your teammates on a deeper level than you might in normal small talk. Also, it rhymes.

We end up talking about everything – our to-do list for the week, new ideas we want to test, accomplishments to celebrate, and the best place to get Thai food. But my favorite part of those meetings is the How. I’ve always loved to learn, so I just drink in all the information that’s shared – the new level of self-awareness, the interesting new email technique, or the insightful book recommendation. It’s kind of the best. 

We’ve learned a lot of lessons in the past year, and I think many of them are transferable to life outside of the startup world. I realized that I should probably start documenting them somewhere, and this seemed like as good a place as any to do it. So, I introduce to you The Startup Series: a stream of posts in which I’ll talk about things my team and I learn together – and how they might be applicable to relationships, career paths, spirituality, and who knows what else. Throughout the process, I would love to hear from you guys about what you’re learning as well. Today I’ll touch on the first topic, patience, briefly. Other ideas I’ve been thinking about include: 

  • Learning how to say no and make time for what matters
  • Understanding your own strengths and weaknesses
  • Figuring out how to discuss sensitive topics
  • Why you should eat breakfast (hint: if you don’t, your stomach will growl loudly and obnoxiously during your morning meetings)

So. Let’s get to it. Over the past several months, one of the things I’ve consistently been learning is how to be patient. To be honest, when someone tells me to be patient, my first response is to get seriously annoyed. I’m generally the type of person who likes to keep things moving. My pet peeves include people who walk slowly in front of me, getting put on hold during phone calls, and being told by amazon that my package won’t arrive for a week (this happened yesterday and I’m still a little mad about it). I live life at a fast pace, and any time things get even a little monotonous, I start to panic. But if there’s anything that working at an early-stage tech company teaches you, it’s that good things take time – and that the time itself, if invested properly, is always worth it.

Patience, at its core, is the ability to tolerate delay or struggle without complaining or becoming irritated.

It’s the ability to be diligent and faithful, even when you’re not seeing immediate tangible results.

The tricky thing about patience is that it has to be developed - and that in itself takes patience. While some personality types might be more naturally longsuffering, no one wants to go through a lot of hard work or pain without seeing some fruit. It’s natural for us to get frustrated when things don’t go as planned, and when we give in to the frustration, it can cause us not to do the very thing that could help us.

 Which is to just keep going.

This might sound like an overly simplified solution – and perhaps it is. But one thing I’ve found is that when I push past the frustration, the anger, and the exhaustion so that I can keep trying – I always find a renewed level of energy and focus. The key, I think, to developing a diligent and faithful spirit over the long haul, is to resolve that whatever happens, you’re not going to give up. You might need to take a break here and there, and you might need to ask for help sometimes (or in my case, almost every day). And that’s more than okay. But if you’ve decided deep down that you’re not going to abandon what you're working towards, you’ll find that each time you hit a snag, you learn a little more and you feel a little less discouraged. You start to realize that you’re developing a muscle – one that becomes stronger every time it’s exercised, and one that will become incredibly valuable for the ups and downs of life.

There’s obviously so much more to explore here. What do you do when you feel like you can’t keep going? What do you when people around you don’t share the same commitment to developing patience? What if you legitimately feel like you need to change direction? I’ll be processing these questions, and hope to have some thoughts written down soon. In the meantime, let’s resolve together that we’re just not going to give up. Even when we’re tired.

We can figure out the rest down the road – but for now, I think that’s enough.

Always Be Yourself, Unless You Can Be Beyonce

If you clicked on this in disbelief, all I can say is that I warned you: I was only 75% joking about the Beyonce thing.

The second post after you share that you’re starting a blog is a bit nerve-wracking. I realized after that first one that I have no idea what I’m doing. A few people asked me, “What are you going to be writing about?” to which I promptly responded, “Shoot. I have no idea. Why did I even start this blog to begin with? What the hell was I thinking?!” General panic ensued, until I got some unexpected help from The Queen. Queen B, that is. 

I was perusing Etsy for a print to add to my (incredibly basic) wall of inspiration, when I came across this. 

It killed me. Mostly because it’s hilarious (and true), but also because the sentiment is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I’ve found myself in a frenzy trying to do the right thing, say the right thing, and be the right person (whatever that means) in so many situations. I’ve found myself striving and straining, desperately trying to maintain a version of myself that's smart enough, funny enough, and hard working enough. Sounds fun, right?

Regardless of who we are and what we do, we're all plagued by a few simple questions. Am I loved? Am I accepted? Am I worthy of other people’s attention and appreciation? These are the questions that keep us up at night and cause us to dye our hair weird colors sometimes. They're the questions that cause us to date people that aren’t good for us, wear clothes that don’t fit us right, and get tattoos that we regret in a few years (don’t worry Mom, I didn’t get one – yet). And yet, instead of throwing these horribly destructive questions out the window, we keep circling them – over and over and over again, until we’re so tired that we don’t know who we are anymore. We let our true selves become shadowed and clouded over, because we’re afraid that if someone knew what they looked like, they just wouldn’t want to stay.

photo-1432836431433-925d3cc0a5cd.jpeg

The ridiculous thing about this is that when someone accepts a distorted and carefully curated version of me, they’re not really accepting ME. So the amount of joy and the depth of connection I get to experience decreases as a result of all my striving.

In one of my favorite books from this past year, Scary Close, Donald Miller writes, "It costs personal fear to be authentic, but the reward is integrity -- and by that I mean a soul fully integrated, no difference between his act and his actual person. Having integrity is about being the same person on the inside that we are on the outside, and if we don't have integrity, life becomes exhausting."

I love this because it reminds me that when I’m exhausted, perhaps I should check to see whether I’m really being myself. Am I embracing the person that God created me to be – with all of my gifts, dreams, weaknesses and failures? Am I allowing that person to be seen and known by the world? Or am I trying to put together a version of myself that might be more appealing to certain people, in a desperate attempt to find some rest?

As often as I possibly can, I want to choose to be real with myself and others. I want to be the kind of person that accepts people no matter where they’re at or what they’re going through – because I think if we were all a little more genuine, we might find a little more peace.

Unless, of course, we could somehow all be like Beyonce.

 

Why I Decided to Start a Blog (In a Nutshell)

So. This is happening. I'm blogging. And you might be wondering why: why now, what for, and what about? To be honest, I'm still figuring out the answer to all of those questions. All I know is that I've felt a bit of a pull to create this for a few months, and it's taken me that long to work up the courage to do it. I even had to tell a few people that I knew would ask me about it, just to make sure I didn't chicken out.

Why was I afraid? It's just a blog. It shouldn't matter what people think of my writing style, my design, or my opinions. But it does sometimes. And for while, I didn't think anyone needed another blog to read. After all, there are literally thousands out there - you can find a blog dedicated to anything from Spanish cooking to dolphin training to soap operas (I may have telenovelas on the mind due to my recent Jane the Virgin marathon). It's pretty easy to find one that fits what you're interested in, and I really didn't think it mattered if I added my voice to the mix. But I think when we decide our stories don't matter, we start to live a little differently - a little less vibrantly, a little less bravely, and a lot more safely. 

For me, that process happened in a painful way and I stopped creating things for awhile. I stopped living openly because I was scared. This year, I want things to be different. I want to live as if my stories matter, and I want to share them. I hope you'll do the same. Regardless of what your medium is, and regardless of what your story is, NO ONE else has the same one. No one can shine a light into the same places that you can. So let's embrace the vulnerability, the thrill, and the joy of being known without letting fear hold us back.

The name of this blog comes from a song by one of my all-time favorite bands, Future of Forestry. It's what I want my life to look like: bold, underlined, and italicized (maybe with some clip art thrown in every once in awhile). I don't want it to look like a scribble or a vague note. We were made in the image of a creative, passionate, and purposeful God - and I want my life to look like His. Figuring out what that means is a journey, and I hope this can become a space where we process it all together.

If you've read this far, thank you. Let's be brave this year.

Sam