Tuesday, November 1, 2016

What I wish I knew when I was younger . . . practice integrity

When you can't see where you're going, it's important to know
where True North is. 
Dear Alex, Lyle, and Christian and others:

During my days away, in far far away lands, I've been thinking about what I wish I knew when I was younger. I'm going to try to write three lessons I wish I knew when I was in college that I had to learn the hard way. Here's the first one.

If I could go back in time and change things, I would drive home the point that it's more important to do the right thing, even when it costs you, even when it costs you big. Isn't that what integrity is really all about?

Growing up, especially with a Korean father who demanded success, it was always stressed to me that merit, recognition, fame, and victory were the most important thing and that my self-worth was based on that. On some level, it's not bad to be driven, and men must be proud of their works and achievement. We can't give birth; so who are we if we don't have merit and achieve. But there are limits.

So, that kind of value isn't a bad thing on it's own, but eventually, I came to a point, where short cuts are presented for quick results. And that pressure builds and builds in you. And the fires and pressures, I assure you, will test the core integrity of your being.

I seen it so often in premedical students, whose immigrant parents told them they had to be a doctor. Some just couldn't compete. And I saw others, cheat and almost get kicked out of school. Once, I was in a class, where the student stole a microscope for lab and studied at home. He was destined for a great dental school, but then he was barred from acceptance. In his mind, at that point in time, he believed while no one was watching, he wouldn't get caught. But he did.

My own personal failures didn't involve cheating, but it involved making bad decisions and choices. It also had me putting relationships second. (If I could also go back in time, I wish I could've deepened my relationships with my college classmates too.)

Those failings I think became evident in a national interview I had. I just bombed it. And it was a big deal for UCLA that I was even selected. And I bombed it. And I think, I caved into the pressure of wanting to win, instead of doing what was really important.

In the end, fear took control. I had a pesky inner voice that said if I didn't win, I'd have no future. Looking back that was a lie. And, I listened to it.

Then, none of my future plans panned out. No wonder why the Scriptures say: "There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death." (Proverbs 14:12 NIV) A simpler way to put it, is this: What you see, isn't what you get.

And the whole saga forced me to have a conversation with myself and see the deeply flawed values of my life. In time, those values had to die and new ones had to be awakened.

Driving home that point, the other day, I read a great quote by Peter Drucker, the great business managements scholar. He said, "Communication aiming to convert demands surrender." And that's exactly what I had to do: Die to my dreams, die to my beliefs, and finally, to die to myself. (The entire process is a lifelong discipline that I think I'll always wrestle with, and I don't know if I'll win every one of those battles with myself.)

So, if I could take it back, I'd tell myself: You do your best, and that's all you could do. Never, ever, ever, compromise yourself. (Of course, that's easier said than done.) And don't worry about the future; today has enough worries of its own.

I hope this helps.

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