Things My Friends Have Taught Me: You have to make your own momentum.
Sometimes, life deals you a hand you don't want. Things happen differently than we expect them to; doors that we wanted open are shut. You can't always count on the world around you to be your personal cheerleader. Life is hard sometimes, but putting in the effort to make it beautiful pays back dividends.
You can't always choose your own circumstances, but you can always choose to keep moving forward through them. You have to actively seek meaning in your own life, because meaning is never arbitrarily handed to anyone. It's intentional.
In any pursuit, look for momentum within—not outside—yourself. When life deals you a tough hand, you'll have the strength of character to play through.
Keep reading for more on what I learned from my friend, Paul.
Paul is perhaps the quietest people person I know. He cares deeply about making communities welcoming and inclusive. He also spends much of his time building tools, designs, and solutions to make other peoples' lives easier.
He's overcome quite a few challenges and has built a beautiful life out of an unshakeable pursuit of his dreams.
His gratitude for successes small and large is honestly an inspiration. He treasures life deeply because the life he has today is something he worked very hard for.
Paul and I hopped on a video chat to record a 90-minute interview. In the interview, I asked him fifteen questions about the person he is today.
Here are few of his answers that I'd like to share with you.
Kait: What’s the most influential book you’ve ever read?
Paul: The Bible. That’s what I read most of the time. It’s more than just a book; it’s incredibly spiritual.
What I read mostly from the Bible is the book of Proverbs. That’s all about wisdom—wisdom about the way to live and the way to be. Specifically, the way to be with other people, and how to treat them. It’s the most profoundly influential book.
What I also find influential and inspirational are other books and stories about people. I’m especially fascinated by people, and I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to war stories.
I read this book called The Railway Man. It’s a true story about Eric Lomax, a guy who, in the second World War, was captured by the Japanese.
I admire people who have overcome things, those who give themselves to something bigger than them, those who give sacrificially.
He suffered and was tortured—all kinds of horrible stuff. He got what today we’d call PTSD. Years later, one of his fellow prisoners found out that one of the fellows who had tortured him was still alive, so he wanted to return to Singapore and enact some kind of revenge. In the end, he went back and actually found compassion for his torturer and he ended up forgiving the man for all the things he’d done to him. The Japanese guy had, all the while, recognized what he’d done and was spending his life trying to make amends and tell the story so it would never happen again.
It’s an incredible story of reconciliation after all the harm that was done. It was powerful. Those stories resonate with me because they remind me of what the Bible’s about—the reconciliation between people and God.
Tell me about an event in your life that shaped who you are as a person today. Why was it so transformative?
I had my own graphic design—web design—business for a while, and it was going really well for a number of years. When the recession happened, businesses were cutting budget and suddenly my customers couldn’t afford my services anymore. I went from having a really decent freelance business to one that was massively struggling.
I’m very good at persevering and overcoming challenges, but the question became, “Do I give this up or do I persevere?”. The point came when I recognized that enough was enough. I had to see that it was no longer sustainable. This thing that I brought to life had to die, and it literally felt like part of me had died with it. I had to let it go.
I remember walking through a park near where I was living at the time. I was praying, and felt like shouting, “Why?! Why is this happening to me?”. I was in that place of frustration, but I suddenly realized I had to let it go despite not knowing what was next. It was really difficult, but I knew that was the right thing.
I’m always challenged by people who are willing to put the comforts of home life away and get stuck into helping someone else in a desperately different situation.
I had to give up something that I’d put my heart and soul into. I had to trust God, and that was when I finally got an interview for a proper job. I thought it was an interview for a web designer position, but it turned out to be email design.
That experience really taught me who I should put my trust in. It reminded me to live my life every day putting my trust in God. It’s shaped my faith a lot. The Bible talks about faith being tested like silver. To get rid of the impurities in silver, you have to heat it up. It’s a bit like that, when life tests you, it’s getting rid of the impurities.
You’re reminded of where your foundations are. That’s a big part of my story.
Who do you admire?
I’m trying to think of just one name, but I think it’s actually just a type of person. I admire people who have overcome things, those who give themselves to something bigger than them, those who give sacrificially.
Eric Lomax, the guy from the Railway Man story. Nelson Mandela, who went through something tough and came out a bit taller on the other side. I was watching a film on the plane when I came over to the States. It was a true story about this woman who was a journalist. She went into war-torn countries to report on everything that was going on; bullets were flying by her, people were dying, but she did it because she wanted to tell a story. She put her life on the line to tell these stories.
In any situation, I think to myself, “it’s not going to beat me, this”.
I’m always challenged by people who see something on the news—some disaster happening—and then, next thing, they’re out doing something amazing because they want to make a difference and do something about it. They’re willing to put the comforts of home life away and get stuck into helping someone else in a desperately different situation.
Especially when you think to yourself, “Would I give up the comforts of home and just do that?”. It’s got to inspire you.
What inspires you?
I’m inspired by people and their great achievements. Stories, but specifically stories about overcoming. It all comes back to the same theme.
It’s so easy to take for granted things that you’re familiar with. Take, for example, the Boeing 747 aircraft. Lots of people have been able to fly on them, and since they’ve been around since the 60’s, they’re really a known part of modern culture.
I watched a documentary about how the 747 was made. Boeing actually had two projects going on at the same time. The “A” team was supposed to make a supersonic airline like the Concord, and that’s where Boeing was throwing all their money. The 747 team was actually the “B” team. It was just a side project that had to make its own way. They had obstacles and challenges (and a smaller budget), but in the end, they made the thing that actually flew!
That’s amazing! I love watching teams work together to achieve such big things. Back to stories. Back to people.
Tell me about your strengths.
I’m good at not giving up. At persisting. Whatever comes along, I am not just going to give up because something gets a bit tough. That may have come across in the article I wrote about epilepsy, but it plays out in lots of different ways and situations. In any situation, I think to myself, “it’s not going to beat me, this”.
To get rid of the impurities in silver, you have to heat it up. It’s a bit like that, when life tests you, it’s getting rid of the impurities.
I can be a perfectionist as well, but that one’s a bit of a double-edged sword. I get things done really well and thoroughly, but sometimes I labor over things for too long.
With my kids, I try to lead by example. As a parent, you’re forced to be a leader, and you can’t just talk the talk. You have to walk the talk, too. I try not to talk about things I haven’t experienced firsthand. I would have a really hard time talking about situations I haven’t lived out myself, so the stories I share all come from things I’ve “walked” before.
I saw something today about communication, and how only 10% of communication is your words. So 90% is your body language, your tone, your actions. How you are and how you live is ultimately a much greater teacher than anything you say, so I think it’s important to lead by example.
That’s something to ponder on, isn’t it?
More Things My Friends Have Taught Me Coming Soon