Busy with a Purpose

Photo by MD_JERRY on Unsplash

2022 is gone. And like every new year, 2023 begins with many making their resolutions. Some would suggest this is a waste. Instead of resolving to do something in the future, they would advise us to already be moving ahead with our plans, to be already engaged in our goals rather than waiting for the new year to make some momentous change to our lives. Though I agree to some extent and actively work throughout the year to improve, I like the age-old tradition of making resolutions at the beginning of the year. It is a time for me to look back on the year, a time to look back at the goals I achieved and the ones still lacking, and a time to look ahead and consider whether my one-year goals are still in alignment with my big-picture three and ten-year goals.

Go to the ant, O sluggard, study her ways and learn wisdom;

For though she has no chief, no commander or rule,

She procures her food in the summer, stores up her provisions in the harvest.

Proverbs 6:6-8

The above passage may be one of my favorite proverbs. It is a reminder to get up and get going, to get busy with life’s purpose. The ant isn’t lying about, chilling in the mound to some Netflix. No, she is busy. She is living her purpose. And on the face of this proverb, the message is clear: get busy.

Busy is nice. It is a sign of industriousness and productivity. Your parents, boss, teacher, and maybe even your spouse want to see you busy. To be busy is to be engaged, to be getting stuff done, and to be putting those little check marks in the box. But Solomon doesn’t tell us to be busy in  this proverb. Instead, he tells us to study the ways of the ant and to learn wisdom.

Past, present, and future. Here is the wisdom of the ant.

Past: Remember your training and learn from your mistakes.

Today’s ant is a product of countless generations of ants. Encoded in the ant’s genetics are the basics: food, shelter, and community. Mistakes made by previous generations have become the blueprints for survival today. Mistakes made by the young ant are corrected by the colony.

We have the basics given to us by our ancestors. And no matter how technologically advanced we have become; we should not dismiss the legacy for survival and success passed down to us by those who went before us. We must take these lessons to heart and learn from both the good and the bad. In addition, we must learn from our own mistakes. There is nothing wrong with failure if we learn from the experience. Through learning, failures become the catalyst for success.

Present: Complete the task at hand.

What does the ant do in the present? Whatever is the task at hand. The past was a learning tool. The future doesn’t matter if the work today is not completed. The ant is either working on the community center (mound) or scouting/gathering food. He gets in formation and starts marching. Survival tomorrow depends on the actions of today.

Being present is one of my greatest challenges. I love reminiscing about the past. Preparing for the future gets me excited. But neither gets the work done today, especially with all the distractions our modern world presents to us. If we can’t stay present, then our tasks remain incomplete, our productivity grinds to a halt. The ant doesn’t stay in bed because he got a bad night of sleep. He doesn’t hang out in the mound because he doesn’t feel like going out. Instead, the ant gets busy.

Future: Busy with a purpose.

Is the ant busy for the sake of being busy? Not a chance. The ant’s tasks are in alignment with future objectives. Gather in the summer to prepare for the winter.

The wisdom of the ant: Get busy with daily tasks that meet the plan’s objectives. Plan, then execute. Busy, with a purpose.

It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?

Henry David Thoreau

The New Year really is no different than any other time of the year. It is a time to get busy. But as Thoreau asks, what are we busy about? To be busy about fitness without a plan will never generate the desired results. To be busy at the office without a focus will ultimately bring the business to ruin. Arrows are designed to hit their intended targets. But if we never aim at a target, those arrows become ineffective and useless. It is not enough to be busy. We must have a purpose for our busy-ness.

We, the Sculptors

Candi Sambisari

In 2003, I saw my first Hindu temple in Indonesia. From the horizon, I couldn’t see anything. But standing at the edge of the complex, I could look down and see the whole structure. It looked like the builders created it from top to bottom, excavating and carving the solid stone beneath their feet. I was amazed at the beauty and complexity. I was amazed at the genius of the designer.

I have always loved looking at the old marble statues of antiquity. I can’t imagine the foresight and skill it took for Michelangelo to create his David from a solid block of marble that he chiseled away until he completed the image from his mind. The temple at Sambisari was no different only on a much larger scale.

Sculpture by Escultor Victor Hugo Yañez Piña

Many of us have seen the above image. Personally, I find it to be one of the most powerful impressions of what is possible. From the beginning, we see a misshapen lump of mass. Yet in the mind’s eye of the man inside is a vision of what could be. it is a vision so clear and so vivid to him. Tirelessly, he carves away the parts of him that is neither desired nor needed. This he will do until he can achieve the image he desires.

This has been my own personal vision for myself. In the beginning of my fitness journey, I was holding onto a large amount of undesirable mass. However, in my mind, I had a vision of something entirely different. Therefore, I began to shape and chisel away. I am not where I want to be yet, but I am working on it. Someday, I will finish this sculpture.

We are all sculptors and painters, and our material is our own flesh and blood and bones.

Henry David Thoreau

We have all heard that our body is a temple. To build that temple, we must imagine what the final product will look like. Once we have a vision, we can make the plans and then do the work. It is up to us to decide how spectacular and beautiful we want it to be. We are the sculptors.

Goals and What You Become

The sun is going down, but it doesn’t prevent Alec from kicking the ball. Every weekday, it is the same scenario. School in the in morning, followed by soccer immediately after his homework is done. On the weekends, it is soccer all day with the occasional break for food. Sometimes, he will even bring his iPad outside, watch tutorials, and then go practice what he just watched. Even after his soccer games, he will come home and continue practicing.

When asked what his goals were, Alec responded by saying he wanted to be a better dribbler, passer, shooter, and teammate. Essentially, he wants to be a complete player able to contribute to the success of his team. Well, if that is the case there is only one solution.

Octavius Augustus said, “Practice is the master of all things.” I can’t count how many times I have said this to him in his nine years of life. And yet, I am still amazed by his dedication. He has found something he loves that he wants to get better at. Therefore, he practices at every opportunity he gets. If this is the monster I have created, then I am one proud monster papa.

What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.

Henry David Thoreau

No doubt, Alec would love to be a great soccer player. I hope he does as it would be the fruit of his labor. But just because he works hard at something, it doesn’t mean he will always get the rewards he hopes for. Such is the nature of life! The rewards are nice, yet there is something greater. What does he become by going through the process?

There is nothing like the feeling of achieving a goal, especially if it is challenging. We always seem to have goals. However as soon as we achieve them, we often move directly on to the next goal, sometimes without even a pause. But every time we cross that milestone, we begin the journey as someone with more knowledge and wisdom, one that is battle-tested and experienced. We become something greater through the process of striving toward hard things.

Alec is developing skills beyond the soccer field. He is learning what it means to be both a leader and a follower. As the players move upon the field like pieces on a chess board, he is learning tactics and on-the-spot adjustments. He is developing quicker reaction times and improving his decision-making skills. He is developing his mind, heart, and body. He is becoming something new that he will be able to take with him into any new endeavor he chooses to pursue.


Feature photo by Ronnie Overgoor on Unsplash

The Rules of Fools

We have entered a stage in world history where we are governed by the most ridiculous rules. Most of these rules are implemented for our own “good” by the government. But that is not all, we are also governed on the standards of what is socially acceptable.

In the old days, this determination was established by your community. Today, it is determined by corporations, i.e., tech companies. What you say and do, if it is not deemed appropriate or in accordance with the ideals of the mob, will result in your silence. Your voice could be cancelled. At the worst, depending on how inappropriate you are considered, much more could be cancelled. And it is not just what you did today or yesterday, it could go as far back as your childhood.

Any fool can make a rule -and every fool will mind it.

Henry David Thoreau

New rules come out every day. Will you blindly go along with the masses and acquiesce? Or will you use the discernment and understanding God has given you to question the validity of the rule?


Feature photo by Mindspace Studio on Unsplash

A Simple What-If

It begins with a “what-if.” What if I choose to do this or that? What would be the outcome?

From the “what-if” comes the choice. The choice is all about the work involved and the value gained.

We are all presented with the what-if’s and the subsequent choices. It does not matter our stations in life or the environment in which we live. It is the same with our age -it does not matter.

Anybody can what-if the possibilities of a new future. Anybody can make the choice to act based on that what-if.

According to Thoreau, the ability to elevate one’s life by a what-if and a choice is an unquestionable fact. For a moment, let it sink in. A better future can await us. Ask the question. Consider the possibilities. Make the choice.

I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. -Henry David Thoreau

Your Own Personal Treasure Island

There are a few quotes that have always resonated with me. Thoreau had a good one about us only hitting at what we aim at. Therefore, he said, we should aim at something high even though we might fail immediately. Mix his words with Les Brown’s quote about shooting for the moon. If we do not make it to the moon, he said, at least we might land among the stars. I spend a good amount of time considering my aim in life. I also spend an equal amount of time considering the consequences of missing that mark.

Can you really lose if your aim is in the right direction? I don’t think so, and well, it reminds me of something Bruce Lee said: “A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.”  These are some very encouraging words from Thoreau, Brown, and Lee. And though I do take a small amount of comfort in remembering them, missing the mark is still missing the mark.

There are a few things in this life that I feel called to do. Failure to do them, I believe, would haunt me into my next existence. And these are things that I do not do for the gold or the glory. Yet by achieving them, I believe I would find more wealth than on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

An aim in life is the only fortune worth finding.

Robert Louis Stevenson

I remember my land navigation classes from the Army. You plot out your destination on the map and figure out how you are going to get there. You pull out your compass and find the direction you need to go. Sometimes obstacles get in the way, and you find yourself deviating off the path. Once you realize this, you adjust your aim and correct your course. The journey might seem never-ending. At times, it might seem impossible, but we have no choice to keep going. Keep aiming and adjusting because the rewards are too great. In fact, it is the only fortune worth finding.

You Alive?

One of the tragedies of war is the extinguishing of young lives. After reading Cornwell’s Waterloo, I was appalled at how careless some of the leaders were with the lives of those underneath their command. Even when they knew their tactics were doomed to fail, they proceeded anyway at the expense of thousands of young boys still in their teenage years.

A child is a blank slate with so much potential. To die at a young age never experiencing the joys and trials of life could be one of the most calamitous mishaps in this world. Sad are those robbed of life without ever knowing what it was like to live.

When it is time to die, let us not discover that we never lived. –Henry David Thoreau

Possibly even more tragic is to go through life having never really lived. Time runs whether or not we are paying attention to it. We only get so much. And when it is gone, it is gone forever. To waste it is to throw away a gift more precious than any wealth one could imagine.

At the end of the day, can you say you used the time you were given to the best of your abilities? Did you muster up the courage to tackle the day, or did you choose to spend it on activities that were designed to pass the time? We must learn to pass our days intenton living, not existing. Don’t be the person lying on your deathbed, regretting that you wasted the one thing that you could never get back. Time.

Stop Dreaming for Others; Live My Own Dream

I can coach Alec in wrestling and show him all the things he could do better. I can tell him to go hard, go fast, and to have a killer attitude. The technique and the skill will come in time, so what is the problem? He hasn’t yet made the mental and emotional connection. He can force himself to do all the exercises, even when he is tired. It is a testament to his mental toughness that separates him from many of the other boys. But when it is time to wrestle, he is a different person. He is unsure and slow. He lacks confidence. I hope there will come a time when he will get tired of being rolled around and beat. But as much as I am hoping for this change to come soon, it will not come until he is ready.

I can suggest to others that their health should be a priority. Chances are they know it already. But until they decide that it is important to them, nothing will improve. I can hope for the health of others. I can help them if they ask for it. But no matter how much I want it for them, I cannot force good health upon them. They will have to choose it for themselves. Hopefully, they will choose it, before it is too late.

A potential business idea was brought up. It was sitting on the backburner of someone’s mind for over a year, before it resurfaced into the forefront. As with all prospects, it is much easier to see the positives rather than the negatives. I think it is a good idea and has the potential to be profitable. I would like to strike while the iron of enthusiasm is still hot. But it wouldn’t be my business. I would just be there to help and maybe offer a few suggestions. If it was my idea and business, I would make it a priority. Can I make it a priority for the others involved? As much as I would like to, I can’t. They would have to decide for themselves what their commitment and investment would be.

To spot the possibilities in the lives of others seems easy. I wish them the best and am quick to point out where they could improve. I mean well, but there is a problem. Who wants someone else always giving them suggestions about how much better their lives could be if they just changed one or two things? I know I don’t always receive such messages well. Instead I go into defense mode and question the legitimacy of the ones offering unsolicited advice. As I am always trying to improve, this is a bad policy to have. Those giving me advice are well-meaning and are offering up suggestions that they believe will help me. In this regard, we are no different.

As I consider where I can help others, I need to take a good look at my own situation. There are objectives, that if completed, I believe will have a positive impact on my future. I know what the objectives are, but I have not completed them yet. Why not? What is holding me back? It is time to take Thoreau’s words to heart:

 Go confidently in the direction of your dreams and live the life you have imagined.

Desperate Times

Have you ever blamed your bad situation on fate? Something such as the stars not being aligned or your parents not giving you the correct genes? It is often easier to shift the blame to some happenstance rather than taking the onus on ourselves. For some of us, we are constantly looking over our shoulders waiting for the next bubble to burst. With it goes our social status, our finances, or even our health.  We become anxious about what may come tomorrow, and then we become resigned to the lot we are dealt, knowing it was our fate all along.

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. –Henry David Thoreau

As Thoreau says, the majority of us live with this quiet desperation. We roll with the current and idly let it lead us to whatever destination is ahead. Why would we do this? Because it is the easier path, one that keeps us within our comfort zone. But this comfort zone is a fantasy that will prevent us from ever finding true happiness. So instead we are content to float down the lazy river quietly until we meet our final destination.

I have come to a point in my life where my quiet desperation has become very loud in my mind. Maybe it is a mid-life crisis of realization that I have fallen well off the path I was hoping to go. I looked at all the markers of where I wanted to be (body, soul, and spirit) and did not like what I saw. My desperation began to grow knowing that time on this earth is limited, and my end is on the horizon. No longer could I be resigned to mediocrity, and so I had to begin the process of changing. A process that I hope will never end.

When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard. –Sun Tzu, The Art of War

When I first read Sun Tzu, I never understood why you wouldn’t cut off all chances for the enemy to escape. I thought the goal was total victory. But for the surrounding army in the dominant position fighting a surrounded enemy is dangerous and very costly. Why? What happens to an enemy that has no chance to escape? They don’t usually become resigned to their fate and just  fall upon their swords. No, they become desperate, and “in a desperate position, you must fight.” They fight even harder for the families they may never see again and for the comrades that stand in the ranks next to them. Life all of a sudden becomes very precious, and they hold it most dear.

Being in a desperate situation is not ideal, but there are positives that can be had from the situation. Desperate people committed to winning don’t give up. They find a way out. Oftentimes it is an unconventional way, one that has you swimming against the current to survive. But when life is precious and you realize that time is running out, you find not only a way to survive but a way to be victorious.

As I Stand Idly By

Sometimes I take a moment and reflect on my past and wonder how I got to where I am today. Where I am today is not where I want to be tomorrow. I am not in a bad place now, but could it be better?

I want to live my life so that my nights are not full of regrets. –David Herbert Lawrence

What are the things I regret the most as I look back upon my past? I would like to say it was just isolated incidences of making wrong choices, such as a moment of weakness or indecision that has always haunted me. Of course, those things have happened, but what I regret the most is the all the seemingly insignificant actions that led to those bigger mistakes. There were careless decisions I made that didn’t seem important at the time. But one decision leads to another, and eventually I found myself on a road that I didn’t intend to travel. What happens when you go down the wrong road? You are not where you are supposed to be. You are wasting time either trying to find a new route or backtracking back to the straight and narrow. Have you ever read John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress? It is a book that I am always thinking of. All the temptations are trying to pull you off the road. They don’t want you to reach your destination.

I look back on all the time I have wasted. Not the time lost backtracking, but the time I so carelessly threw away. I remember the days I didn’t have any plans and so I slept in. I watched a little television or played a few video games until a little became the whole day. At the end of the day, I told myself I would do better. The next day, I would do it all over again. I didn’t have much discipline then, and I was too blind and too young to care enough to change. It is sad when you don’t appreciate the precious little time we are given. Often it is not appreciated until you are old and wondering where the time has gone.

Live each day as it were the last day of your life because, so far, it is. –Richard John Colangelo

The regrets I contemplate are a reminder. They are also my biggest fear. I am on the road I want to be on, which means all my decisions, even the seemingly insignificant ones, are important. My fear is that I slide again into complacency justifying the occasional bad decision. If I allow even one, could it lead to more?

It is the complacency that I fear the most, the fear that I could once again take that small detour and then blindly cruise down a road farther and farther away from my destination. All it takes is settling into mediocrity. All it takes is choosing to idly stand by and not live life to the fullest each and every day.

It is disgraceful, instead of proceeding ahead, to be carried along, and then suddenly, amid the whirlpool of events, to ask in a dazed way: “How did I get into this condition?” –Seneca’s Letter #37: On Allegiance to Virtue