A lot has taken place over the last 6 months. I’ve decided share some of the thinking I’ve been doing. Writing this has also been helpful for me as I process my thoughts.

For context, I have recently left Proximity Designs (the “Updates” section has more info), which has provided me with more time to reflect on some of life’s big questions.

 

Challenging my Faith

I’ve realized that I’ve gone through most of life so far without engaging with my faith in Christianity on a deeper level (beyond the routine of weekly church services and daily prayers). Having left Proximity, I’ve used my increased amount of flexibility now to carve out time for digging into some of these issues. This reflection has always been fueled by my conversations with my Christian friends here in Yangon, as well as listening to a number of sermons by a Presbyterian pastor in New York City called Tim Keller.

Examples of some of the big questions:

  • How do I feel about the Catholic church and practices like praying to Mary and the saints?
  • How do I feel about evolution and the Bible?
  • Why is there evil in a world created by a loving God?
  • Are we saved by God’s grace or are we saved by our own works/deeds?
  • Why am I a Christian and not Buddhist, an Atheist, a Muslim, a Jew, etc.?

Exploring these questions has included taking a deeper reading of the Bible, speaking with fellow Christians, and reading/listening to third party commentary.

 

What does it mean to be a Christian?

I think up until recently I would have said that being a Christian means (in the simplest of terms):

  • Loving Jesus
  • Loving your neighbor as yourself

I think this is fundamental in being a Christian, but I think there is a danger of believing that it is my own actions of loving that grants me salvation.

What I’ve been struggling with is the concept of “grace,” which I hadn’t fully appreciate in the past. To be honest, I’m not sure I even really knew what it meant.

Grace: the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. [New Oxford American Dictionary. My bolding.]

Essentially, this would mean that I am saved by nothing of my own doing.

So, the crux is this: Do I honestly believe that I can’t be my own savior in this world? Can I fully admit to the brokenness of human nature, in me and all others, and admit that I cannot fix it by my own actions?

What is it that I truly believe I can only overcome with God’s grace? Is it the idol of seeking soulful fulfillment in “the perfect job,” “the perfect wife,” the amount of money I make, etc. (“success” and possessions of this world)? Is it being a slave to my anxieties (wanting the perfect self)? Is it being handcuffed to the desire of approval (desiring societal acceptance above all else)? I think understanding that is a precursor to deeply understanding and acknowledging the need for God’s grace.

Accepting this, and living as a Christian, does not mean that life will magically become a breeze (perhaps even the contrary is the result). However, I think it could be an incredibly liberating path to live fully in this world, knowing that although we have all sinned (and do sin, and will sin) and are deserving of God’s wrath, we nonetheless have access to the gift of unconditional love and salvation.

Note: This discussion of “grace as a gift from God without any of our own actions” gets tricky when you think about free will and our having the capacity to accept/reject the offer of grace (but that the ability to accept God’s grace is because of God in the first place). This gets metaphysical with an all-knowing God that exists outside the confines of time — I’ve been working to wrap my mind around this.

 

Now what about work?

I have been trying to reflect on a few different areas to guide my career planning.

  1. Ability: am I equipped to tackle the challenge?
  2. Affinity: am I interested?
  3. Opportunity: is there a challenge that needs tackling?

[I took this framework from one of Tim Keller’s sermons: Discovering your Spiritual Gifts]

1. Ability

Although one could argue that affinity trumps ability, I think it’s critical to understand my gifts, so I’ll start with that.

Fortunately, I was able to dig out a Four Capabilities Assessment that I had carried out in August 2012 (just before entering business school).

I had asked for feedback from 10 individuals that I had worked with in the past (spread across my jobs in investment banking and private equity, as well as my time working on the development project in Thailand).

What did they have to say?

  • Strongest areas:
    • Ethical behavior
    • Demonstrating passion
  • Comments on strengths:
    • Passionate
    • Personable
    • Perseverant
  • Weakest areas:
    • Clarifying thought processes and ways that conclusions were reached
    • Building relationships/trust internally
  • Comments
    • Lack of assertion
    • Difficulty in motivating others
    • Not seeing the big picture (not looking beyond the task at hand)

Ok, so what is my takeaway from this? Well, my passion seems to be a huge gift and something that sets me apart. On the flipside, I lack some critical leadership components, particularly around building strong relationships with others.

Now, what can I layer on this from Proximity? Well, my passion is still there, I’ve built up the ability to assert myself, and I think I’ve substantially enhanced my communication ability (leading to the wind-down of Proximity’s consumer energy business). With that said, I still stepped on other people’s toes, so the business-relationship component, at the very least, still needs substantial work.

So this is helpful from a character-building perspective, but what about a broader set of gifts (beyond passion) that I can consider?

Looking back at life, what are some of the big trends I see?

  • Thriving in cross-cultural situations
    • Working with down syndrome child at summer camp
    • Translating for Hispanics at Blockbuster
    • Meeting two incredible Chinese friends in Hong Kong
    • Building friendships during training in London
    • Two Eastern European students becoming close Colby friends
    • First trip to Warm Heart in Thailand
    • Cultural involvement at Sloan
    • Second trip to Warm Heart in Thailand
    • Work in Myanmar
  • Faith in situations that seem unlikely to be positive/feasible
    • Starting the Colby Student Investment Association
    • Working at an investment bank in NYC
    • Launching NGO initiative in Thailand
    • Acceptance to MIT Sloan
  • Writing/communication
    • Verbal subject aptitude throughout school and standardized tests
    • Poetry writing competition
    • Public speaking skills (e.g. church)
    • Student council presidency campaign at Colby
    • Communications teaching assistant at MIT Sloan

So, summing this all up, in my life I have demonstrated an ability to exude passion and enthusiasm, connecting with incredibly different people, and throwing myself headlong into situations that seemed to have unlikely positive outcomes, using my ability to communicate as a catalyst for these things.

However, despite this underlying faith, I have struggled in exuding assertiveness and confidence (perhaps from a fear of committing), failing to effectively rally others, and have at times slipped into a tunnel-view mindset that limits my ability to grasp the big picture.

Finally, it’s important to note that my prior work experience, and the fact that I received a Master’s in Business Administration, provides me with a set of skills around critical thinking, analysis, and general business acumen.

2. Affinity

I’ve thought a lot about this, and for me different things pique my interest at different points in life. However, I’ve been trying to consider the concept of “affinity” versus the concept of “interest.”

  • Affinity: a spontaneous or natural liking or sympathy for someone or something.
  • Interest: the state of wanting to know or learn about something or someone.

[Source: New Oxford American Dictionary. Bolding is mine.]

I’m trying to hone in on affinities if possible, as I’m assuming that will provide a stronger long-term foundation (versus “hobbies” or “obligations”). To get to those, I’m trying and cut right to the two extremes. What, for me, elicits exuberant joy, and what elicits intense grief.

On the “joy” side of the spectrum: Interaction with people

  • I almost went with “Imagination/Creativity,” and I think that is a big part of my joy, but I think it’s more of a fleeting joy. For example, sitting down to watch a movie, unboxing a video game, snuggling up with a good book, making a video, or working on a sketch are all nice, but they seem fleeting and leave almost a sense of emptiness afterward if I throw too much of myself into them (particularly if doing them alone). Technology is also an interest area, as well as the the process of building something new (e.g. in entrepreneurship), but I think these are more means to an end (the end being the change/impact).
  • When it comes to people, I feel supercharged. I love working in teams, less because it’s more efficient or productive and more because it’s being around, and a part of, others. I love brainstorming with others, creating things with others, adventuring with others, and digging into life’s big questions with others. I love bridging cultural divides.

On the “grief” side of the spectrum: People who are trapped

  • Other phrases one could use to describe this might be “human rights” or “injustices.” However, something about people who are trapped just pierces me to the core. While I was at Sloan, I learned about the situation in North Korea and immediately felt a massive pull to try and help do something about it. After my job at Proximity started to tail off, it was the plight of the Rakhine Muslims that grabbed me. Just the other day I was reading about the flood of refugees into Europe, and again it absolutely crushed me. Even something as simple as my friends wanting to stay and work in the U.S., but faced with deportation back to their home countries, really gets to me (I experienced this through friends both at Colby and at MIT).
  • I’ve had substantial pulls in the past to other things: investment banking (for the knowledge, the city, wearing suits, etc.) and entrepreneurship (for the excitement of seeing something I helped create grow and come to life). I’d like to think each new “pull” that I feel in my life builds upon the others; each a piece of a puzzle that brings more clarity with time. Can I layer my current affinities on top of a knowledge-generating experience and the chance to see a creation come to life?
  • For the record, I also considered going with “clean energy.” However, my concern here is the risk of the “sense of duty” argument. I think this is a massive problem, and I think there are incredible people working on clean energy, but I resonate more to the plight of those who have been broken by evil in this world.

Am I simply focusing on the obvious? A reaction everyone feels to these broad topics of “people” and “injustices”? Maybe, but after many hours of thought, that’s what I have for now. Perhaps the potential is in pairing these reactions with my other gifts.

3. Opportunity

Before I jump into opportunities, I’d like to highlight an example that I first heard through Tim Keller and then read directly: Leaf by Niggle written by J.R.R. Tolkien. In this story, a man named Niggle becomes consumed by his work, trying to create the perfect masterpiece: a panting of a tree, forest in the background, and further in the distance mountains in front of a setting sun. Upon his journey (to the afterlife), the only piece remaining of the painting in this world is a single leaf; however, in the afterlife the painting comes to life and becomes a splendorous creation through God.

I think it’s valuable not to become obsessed with creating the “masterpiece” (e.g. changing the world!). If I get a really nice leaf done in my lifetime, then I should be happy with that (easier said than done!). I see a tension in trying to balance this with the ambition of thinking big and creating big change (although maybe even this “big” change is just a leaf in the grand scheme of things). I can’t say that I have the answer.

So, where are the opportunities where my abilities (passion/enthusiasm, bridging cultural divides, tackling situations that seem to have unlikely positive outcomes, and tapping into my communication and business skills) align with my affinities (interaction with people and helping people facing dire situations)?

This is where I need to do more work to see where these opportunities lie and see if I truly resonate with what I find. I am also trying to remember to see the big picture and consider whether there are certain near-term opportunities that lead to longer-term goals.

For now, I happen to be about a one hour flight away from a massive human rights atrocity, and getting involved there is something I am exploring (in particular, investigating the the concept of using business as a means of fostering reconciliation).

 

You made it!

If you’re still reading this, you’ve made it to the end of this reflection post. I can’t read the future, but this reflection is an attempt to try and be mindful in this discernment process. Unfortunately I don’t have a nicely packed conclusion for you all on my next steps. I need to continue praying, reflecting, researching, and experimenting. I hope you find the transparency to be helpful in understanding some of my thoughts.

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