How can I help?

For people in need of help
“How can I help?”
can be an overwhelming
question.

Instead,
listen and inquire deeply.

To unearth
their unconscious concerns.

Respect creatively.

To make value
from their unappreciated concerns.

Request permission.

Before sharing the load
of those specific concerns.

Be honest.

Enough to share
your own struggles.

And most importantly,
follow up.

Soon,
the need to ask
“How can I help?”
will vanish.

Trade vs Business

One dictionary says,
business
is “the practice
of making one’s living
by engaging in commerce.”

The same dictionary says
trade
is “the action
of buying and selling
goods and services.”

When we first found our companies,
we tend to do business,
because we want
to make our living.

But after a while,
there often comes a point
where we forget to inquire
into the meaning and value
of living,
as we stop doing business
and start trading,
in pursuit of an image
of life.

Beginner’s Mindset

Those of us
who started our companies
with nothing more
than “I want this!”
often lost our way
when we started wanting
things others say we should want
or things we assumed others wanted.

It was often
not until we got near the death
of our companies
and had to face
either those to whom we are indebted
or those whom we had to let go,
that we were forced
to return to the simple question
“What do I want?”

A question often misunderstood
as an expression of greed
or selfishness,
when in fact,
it can be the fuel
for the most empathic expression.

An expression that can provide value
to our customers,
partners,
employees,
shareholders
family
and ourselves.

An expression
born out
of a beginner’s mindset.

The Dark Side

A CTO once told me
that he had asked his CEO
“How many times have you wanted to fire me?”
to which the CEO replied,
“7.”

The CTO said his empathy realized instantly
as he knew the CEO was honest.
How did the CTO know?
Because he himself could count 5 times
when he thought he’d be fired.

Sincere honesty
can inspire the realization of empathy
in the prepared mind.

Unfortunately,
so much moral correctness
is published in leadership books,
that sincere honesty often seems unacceptable.

If you have employees,
there may have been times
when you experienced a deeply-rooted,
ferocious,
yet silent anger
accompanying a sudden urge
to fire them.

This is normal.

If you were surprised by your dark side,
this is expected.

The dark side is dark,
not because it’s “bad” or “wrong,”
but because we couldn’t see it.

When our dark side becomes visible,
it’s tempting to pretend we didn’t see it,
to leave it in darkness,
which can make things worse,
until we learn the choice
to respect our dark side
without admiration.

When Do We Mature?

Child psychologist Lewis Lipsitt once said
“We mature, when what we once assumed to know
takes on more subtlety and nuance,
thus changes in meaning.”

The word “making art” used to mean
Being stubborn or egocentric
enough to get away with bullshit.

So I used to despise art.

But after 4 years of realizing empathy with artists,
the word changed in meaning to
Letting go of our ego
to learn from others
on how to uncover & express our sincere honesty.

Words necessarily change in meaning as we mature.

Words like
parenting & leadership
will change in meaning
as we mature
as parents & leaders.

So will words like
children,
engineers,
millennials,
or marketing and sales.

This is no coincidence.

Forty One

On Sunday, I turned 41.

I’ve been told that in “Korean age” I’m 42.

There’s something interesting about reflecting on what happened in the past after I have had a 10+year distance from it.

In my 20s, I listened to a lot of computer scientists’ inspiring lectures. They were world-famous, which gave their words that much more weight. In hindsight, it would have been one thing to learn of their views and to appreciate them for what they were (i.e. views) while quite another to be persuaded by them. For better or for worse, I leaned toward the latter.

In hindsight, there were a few critical reasons why their views had such a big impact on me.

  1. The vision they portrayed were of a revolutionary caliber with a moral framing of “saving the world.”I have a need to rebel against authority and the status quo. Their vision fulfilled that need. I could not refuse being part of the rebellion—especially if it was framed as a way to save the world.
  2. Their views also made me feel understood and accepted.Having lived my whole life as a third culture kid, I’d been looking for this feeling from mother/father figures for a long time. When I didn’t get it from my parents, I was ecstatic to get it elsewhere, even if it were from total strangers.
  3. Finally, I was under the impression that someone had the answer to life.I considered life to be a problem to be solved, and thought that if I can only find that person who has the solution to life, I’d have figured it all out. It just so happened that these computer scientists sounded so confident that I couldn’t help but assume they knew the solution to this problem called life.

All throughout my 20s, my tendency to hyper-empathize with these influential figures grew larger. As a result, I now understand my 20s as a phase of living their lives not mine. It wouldn’t be until I turn 30 that I realize how easy it is to confuse living someone else’s life with living our own.

Then at the age of 29, I received a challenge. A bewildering challenge at that. One that made no sense. An artist I met at a computer science conference challenged me to go to art school. It seemed like a crazy and irrational idea. Especially because I thought so little of art at the time. I was a man of science, engineering, and design science. Art, I thought, was fluffy, useless, bullshit. In fact, you may have noticed that I put the word “science” next to the word “design” a la Buckminster Fuller, as if to imply that the word design alone was somehow not good enough. “Why would a man of science, engineering, and design science stoop so low as to study art?” was the kind of thought I had back then. (Arrogant much?)

It took me over a year since receiving this challenge of conducting my own, *ahem* scientific, experiments and to gradually build the trust & respect necessary to empathize with artists. When I finally did, it also became clear that this was a challenge I could not refuse. I had to answer the challenge. Why? Because I realized that not answering the challenge meant continuing to live someone else’s life.

Living someone else’s life of rebellion didn’t give me a sense of comfort, but it did give me a sense of safety and that ever-so-desirable feeling that what I’m doing was “important work” that “mattered.” Yet, for better or for worse, I was no longer interested in safety or mattering. I was now interested in being honest with myself in ways I had never been. I was willing to break myself wide open to find out what the hell was inside me instead of continuing to chase after something outside of me because an influential figure had persuaded me into thinking that it was the right thing to do.

For better or for worse, that’s precisely what art and my 30s offered me. It forced me to face my deepest & darkest fears. It crushed every little belief and assumption I had developed over the years. It shook me to my core and took me places I’m both horrified and grateful to have been.

To be clear, I do not recommend this to anyone. I’ll spare you the details for now as I’m not quite ready to write about them just yet. Maybe give me another 10 years.

Above all, I say all this to set myself up to say “thank you” to all those who have stuck by my side throughout my 30s. That’s it really. Because it is through your grace that I’m still alive today both psychologically and physically. I will never forget that.

You know who you are.

May you stay beautiful, always.

with warmth and curiosity,

slim

 

photo credit to Sue Langford