05.26.16

stories

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:03 pm by Administrator

one of the things I most love about working with my boss is her stories. she has all these great stories about people she’s worked with over her past forty-five years in management and executive leadership. she particularly likes to tell me about the great moments that she witnessed—times when she was part of a turnaround or when a leader she admired did something bold and unorthodox. the stories fascinate me because they give me insight into the qualities—sometimes very unique qualities—that enable people to succeed against all odds.

today, i was hitting a lull in my workday and feeling particularly tired right before i sat down with her for a 1:1. we hit a point in our conversation when she alluded to something a former boss of hers had done to align his team, and of course she took the opportunity to tell me the full context of the situation and what this person had done to shake things up. it was fascinating, and i realized as she was talking that i was feeling progressively less and less tired. there was something about the story that was invigorating me; more fundamentally, i could recognize that there was something about the story that was enabling me to sublimate my fatigue and my frustrations related to my work.

when i reflected later on the effect of her storytelling on me, i realized something basic about myself—that the joy of work for me lies not in what i accomplish but rather in what i prove about myself. when i hear these stories about successful leaders, i don’t really care much about the long-term payoffs of what they accomplished; i like hearing about how their work gave them a chance to express what was uniquely interesting and influential about themselves. that inspires me, because it reminds me that my work gives me the chance to discover what is most powerful and interesting about me.

immediately, i made a connection to my experience of the Christian religion as well. it may sound very strange for me to say this, but for me the story of Christianity is really the story of lives redeemed and fulfilled by God. i find it fascinating how the experience of God turned Moses into the leader that he became; i love meditating on how David’s experiences as a warrior and a king helped him to recognize his unique gifts and his intimate connection with God. to me, God is an implied character of the Bible, but He is not the main character at all. the main characters are men like Jesus, David, Moses, and Jonah; and the power of this religion lies not in what these people have revealed about God but rather what the experience of God has revealed about these people. for a 4 like me, life is all about what we come to understand about ourselves through our relationships with others.

for me, leadership is first and foremost about authentic self-expression, made complete through relationships with others. and i can say the very same thing about being a follower of Christ. being a Christian is first and foremost about my authentic spiritual self-revelation, made perfect through my communion with Christ and His church. i emphasize this self-reference not because i believe that the purpose of my religion is my glorification (even though this is very essential to my concept of the spiritual walk). rather, because i understand that i cannot live with myself through all eternity, i see the redemption and sublimation of myself as the essence of my spirituality; and i view Heaven as self-loss—and transcendent identity

05.23.16

pride

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:00 am by Administrator

beneath a harsh sun, i am manning
the middle of ocean boulevard,
just a few friends to my left and to my right
and beyond them on both sides
an army of onlookers. a megaphone barks.
we step forward, into the crossfire of eyes.

i hear a shout. i turn, half-expecting
a twisted face, an incriminating finger
but no—it’s just a hipster with undercut
blonde hair, skipping across the street
breaking past a barrier that isn’t there,
to give me a high-five.

it’s like marching into battle, except
there’s nothing to fight—not the black woman
with oversized sunglasses, smiling at me through the sun,
not the toddlers decked in beads, waddling out into the street
half-restrained by laughing young parents with tattoos
running down their outstretched arms.

it’s not even a battle as we pass the half-dozen relics
left over from the years of raging banners and bible verses.
they yell and wave signs. we wave and blow bubbles
in their direction. and the music at our backs,
from the towering bus piloted by dancing warriors,
rolls beneath me and over those men like a surging tide.

and yet, it is not hard to imagine.
once, a man kissed another man on this street
and on both sides people leaned in to jeer.
men in uniform held the line against pressing,
seething waves of humanity, curling but not breaking
over this hallowed bed of the sea.

today, across an avenue so wide,
my children dance from one side to the other.
the world stretches before me and behind,
to the horizon and to the sea, glittering
like distant memories, and i lay claim
to the double yellow line, all the way to the end

05.18.16

mentorship

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:21 pm by Administrator

recently, the most surprising thing happened to me at work. I got a meeting invite from someone I know at the company whom I don’t ordinarily work with. the title of the meeting was “Coaching Session”. there was a brief description for the meeting, indicating that this person wanted me to coach him on how to give feedback. this had never happened to me before. I assumed that the person was being compelled to do this as part of a personal development plan or something like that.

when I met with him, it turned out that he’d personally requested the meeting because he’d voluntarily surveyed his direct reports to understand where he could personally improve as their supervisor, and he’d discovered through their feedback that he needed to get better at giving them constructive feedback. someone on his team had advised him to get coaching on this from me, and so he’d just gone ahead and made the appointment for us to meet. and so there it was; I was sitting across from him in his office realizing that it was time for me to coach him on something that I didn’t know I was particularly good at.

we ended up having an interesting conversation about all kinds of things: personal growth, management style, personality, and the culture of our company. it was a terrific conversation, in fact, because it was so thoroughly unusual. I don’t usually have the time or opportunity to meet one on one with people in other departments just to talk about personal growth and leadership. when the impromptu meeting was over an hour later, I’d imparted very little wisdom but gained much from my colleague. here was a guy who was genuinely motivated to change, to improve, and to grow, and he was willing to start conversations about his areas of weakness with anyone who might have meaningful advice to offer him. when is the last time I ever did something like that? I was truly impressed.

it’s not that I don’t recognize my own personal need for growth or that i’m uninterested in seeking the coaching of others. the trouble in my case is that I don’t make it a consistent priority for myself. there are seasons of my life when i’m interested in getting frank, incisive feedback—particularly when I’ve failed at something or when i’m new to a team. but much of the time, i’m living in the flow of life, and i’m not truly aware of myself and how i’m changing in that flow. this blog is one means by which I maintain some consistent level of self-evaluation and self-examination. but if i’m honest with myself, I will admit that I do not write this blog in order to examine myself; I write to vent, because i’m continually burdened with intense emotions that force me into chronic preoccupation. I could learn a lot about myself if I actually took the time to go back and reflect on my entries—but I very rarely ever do this. there’s a lot of ugliness in what I put out there through this blog; in fact, I think this blog is disproportionately the projection of what I cannot tolerate about myself.

I know for a darn fact that I’ve got a lot of areas where I need some serious coaching. I need to be better organized. I need to prepare more for meetings. I need to be more respectful of my commitments to people; I flake out of meetings when I know I can fly under the radar. I’m bad at routine work, which I often find monotonous. I take it personally when others downplay the importance of things I prioritize. I get angry about things that I don’t have to take personally. I struggle to maintain long-term perspective. I have to spend a lot of energy on controlling my feelings, keeping well-rested, and maintaining myself so that I don’t burn-out; and even then, I don’t consistently do a good job of this.

anyways, there are people I can learn from, but when I think about those people, I realize that I rarely have personal conversations with them. I don’t know how they would react to having a meeting with me where the focus is on my style and my leadership abilities. would that freak them out? would that freak me out? it’s probably the bold move I need to make, and I didn’t realize I needed to make it until someone made that bold move and involved me in it. if i’m serious about excellence in organizations (and apparently that is in my job description now), then I have to get serious about getting coaching and mentorship anywhere and everywhere I can find it.

note to self (if I ever come back to read this entry again)

05.09.16

honor

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:35 pm by Administrator

i look back on an entry like the one i posted right before this one, and i can’t help but feel disappointed by it. but there it is—there’s the latent side of me poisoned by memory, inflicted by some racism against my own kind, and incapable of relinquishing a certain idea of what separates me from others. it is a seed that was planted in my childhood, an idea that the greatest danger lies in the power i give to someone else who may mislead me.

i was contemplating these things while in a time of worship at my church yesterday, and i felt an inner voice prompting me to consider these things.

when you dishonor the people that i place in your care, how does it honor me?

these were stinging words. i had to hold them for a while before i could respond. i responded by searching myself—and considering the fact that i rarely show honor for anything i disagree with. in truth, when i honor something, it is very obvious, but more often i express dishonor of things, and in this i am rarely subtle. it’s in my blood and in my temperament to attack and to undermine those things that i consider to be arbitrary and false. and society is full of those things. the rituals of community do so often feel empty to me.

and so i replied, to the voice in my mind:

i grieve my pride. i honor only myself. forgive me. let me show my love for you by honoring what you have given me—even when those things cause me insult or pain.

in times like these, my thoughts return to Moses at the Desert of Zin, where he raged against his people—a stiff-necked, frustrating people that he had struggled to lead for forty heartbreaking years. to bring water from the rock, he struck it with his staff, as a demonstration of his anger, and God rebuked him for it and denied him the opportunity to step foot in the promised land. i sometimes wonder if this moment of weakness was tragic, nothing more than a mistake made in the moment of passion. over time, i have come to think differently—that in fact at the moment Moses struck that rock, he had had his fill of life and could bear no more of it. he had gone as far as he could with his people; and to go any farther with them would have been to his exhaustion and to their dishonor.

to contrast this epic moment with the very peak of Moses’s leadership—the moment upon Sinai when Moses successfully advocated for his people in the face of God’s terrible anger—is to illuminate the very quality that God most keenly treasures in His chosen man. God delighted in Moses’s steadfast defense of his people, and when Moses was no longer capable of this, God blessed him by relieving him of that responsibility. as it was mercy for man to shorten his years upon the earth, so was it the mercy of God to bring an end to Moses’s watch when He did.

what delighted God about Moses, in other words, was Moses’s capacity to honor the Israelites as God’s chosen people, despite the frustrations, bitter feelings, and failed dreams he experienced on their account.

i reflected on this as i drove to work this morning and considered myself—the feeling, fretting, and so frequently failing man that i am. i cannot help but judge others. i instinctively resist the experience of community. i hold fast to what is mine and struggle to forgive. for me, the remembrance of King David is so often instructive. here was a man who struggled with vindictive passion his whole life, and yet what the Lord remembered David for was his dream—David’s dream of building a temple for Yahweh in the city of His people. honor, devotion, deep love—it was for these things, David’s heartfelt offering to God, that he was forgiven for his many terrible shortcomings and sins.

05.04.16

the paradox paragon

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:18 am by Administrator

at some point for a lot of 4s, they make the transition from being OK with being different to being insistent on being different. it becomes a point of pride for them.

when i look back on the way i grew up, i was never victimized or seriously excluded by anyone; i was blessed to be able to go to school among relatively tolerant and even diverse company. even when i was different, i didn’t pay a cost for that difference, and in fact in a lot of situations i was rewarded for it. perhaps because of this, i didn’t make it a point to distinguish myself, as different as i always seemed to be. that did change though, at some point. it changed because of the korean church.

it started with those goddamned youth retreats. i still have vivid memories of the rides in the van—packed between kids, teased by the older boys, car-sick and dreading what was to come. and what was to come always happened as billed—marathon “praise” sessions, prayer sessions late into the night, agonizing insomnia in a cabin room shared by twenty other snoring, cavorting, practical-joke playing kids. there were two things i dreaded the most about those youth retreats: group skits (which were always profoundly humiliating) and the final night of altar calls and prostrations. i have at least half a dozen vivid and traumatic memories of sitting trapped in a dark corner surrounded by fifty to a hundred kids wailing, yelling in gibberish tongues, and writhing on the ground. people laid hands on me and tried to make me do things i was incapable of. i cried a lot. i cried because i wanted to go home. i cried because i couldn’t speak in tongues and because God didn’t love me. a few times i cried so hard that i popped a nosebleed and left a puddle of blood on the floor. so embarrassing.

there were kids who seemed to love those retreats. they were the kids whose parents beat them at home; they were the kids who loved the parent-less weekends with their best buddies. people always got saved at the retreats, and they were the same people that got saved every year at the retreats. and through it all, i never got the gift of tongues. all i got was the sense that i didn’t belong, over and over again. at one point, i decided that church retreats didn’t suck because i sucked; they sucked because they were fucking bullshit.

at my church, there was a korean youth pastor who showed overwhelming favoritism to boys of a particular ilk: guitar-playing, tongue-praying, korean-speaking guys who sang in the youth group band, went to all the saturday morning prayer sessions, and hung out at the youth pastor’s house. they got the send-off parties and the elaborate care packages when they graduated from high school. for a while, i tried to break into that group, thinking that it was what God wanted for me. but when i became a senior, it was like the youth pastor passed over me for the next class. i was too intellectual; i was too white; i wasn’t like the others. i went off to college, and there wasn’t a care package in the mail for me. i still remember that youth pastor like i remember all the youth retreats and revivals i went to when i was a kid. and i still remember hearing judas priest played in reverse so that i could hear the satanic lyrics: “sensuous walls… worship Satan”—a veritable indictment of all “secular music”. it was all part of the same grand concerted effort to make me submit to something inimical and dark and terribly corrupt. i never gave in.

years later, i intersected with some of the boys who’d given their lives to God at those retreats and revivals. a lot of them didn’t even believe in God anymore. these were the ones that God had baptized with His own spirit. but here i was—the kid crouched in the corner who couldn’t speak God’s language—and i couldn’t stop believing in Jesus.

i am not sure i’ve ever admitted this before: the scariest and most awful place for me in the world is a korean church. it is where i was systematically indoctrinated for years, in the hope that i might become a son of the church, redeemed by a faith in God, hard work, and the peculiar theology of the nondenominational revivalist Korean church. i escaped by refusing to conform.

the paradox paragon perhaps haunts me to this day. i can only abide in a community within which i am decidedly on the margin. and thus i am a non-latino working in a predominantly latino company. i am a gay-affirming pro-immigration liberal in a wealthy conservative church. i am a laker hater in a city that adores its basketball team. and i am happy to be on the margin in all of these situations because it’s where i’m safe. the understanding i share with others is that i will not try to become like them because i can’t and because i don’t want to. and i’m in my element when i’m interacting with others across that commonly understood boundary; it’s the hard and true line—whether drawn by my creed or the color of my skin—which says you can ask of me only what i’m willing to give you. the days when someone could put his hand on my head and pray a voice into my mind are long long gone. i go my own way because i have to; and in fact what makes me different is my gift to those that i choose to associate with.

i still get angry in my heart sometimes when i think back on those times. it is a wonder to me that i still go to church and that i still crave the magic of being part of a corporate worship experience. i think that’s God. the willingness to venture back into that place time and time again, despite all the prejudice, homophobia, child abuse, and ignorance i’ve witnessed there, is a reflection to me of the personal need within me that outweighs all other considerations. when i enter the place of worship, i cannot care less about who might stand between me and the presence of God; i defy those people and their errant beliefs, and i refuse to let them rob me of the thing they have misrepresented and defamed through all the years. even if it means that i cannot love what i am a part of, i give myself over to it, like a man locking himself into prison to escape a life of crime, because i too want to be counted, whatever that means