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I write about intergenerational wellness and rebuilding my relationship with my parents at the Dear Mom Dear Dad publication 👇

Articles

Here are some of my best articles on topics like: intergenerational wellness, entrepreneurship, and inner work.

Rebuilding my relationship with my parents through weekly peer coaching

Four humans committed to showing up for our parents

Hi friend! 👋 I want to introduce you to the next chapter of rebuilding my relationship with my parents, which has been the most impactful and transformative work of my adult life: The Parent Project 👵 👴

TL;DR We are four humans, committed to showing up for our aging parents each week in the ways we have always wanted — working through our past traumas, rewriting the beliefs that no longer serve us, and learning to love and be loved by our parents. Join us live each week as we reflect on our conversations and coach each other through one of the most challenging and rewarding journeys of our lives. 🙏

For over ten years, I didn’t have a good relationship with my parents. We never talked beyond small, transactional exchanges every day. When we got on the phone, I often couldn’t wait to end the conversation and return to my life.

Even though I was an endlessly joyful person around my friends, colleagues, and strangers, I was cranky and short-tempered at home. My parents were the only people I took my stress and frustration out on, making the smallest things they did, excuses for me to be annoyed. I lashed out at them for caring too much about me.

They didn’t deserve any of it, and there was nothing I felt more guilty about for over a decade.

In August 2018, I wrote a letter to my parents owning up to the years I treated them poorly. I read it to them over the phone and cried my heart out. I had a lot of work to do, but it was as if the doors to the rest of my life opened up.

parentsarehuman.com

By November 2019, I co-created a bilingual connection card game with my parents called Parents Are Human to help other immigrant families have the kinds of heart-to-heart conversations that transformed our relationship. I hugged both my parents every morning for more than a year. It’s one of the things we looked forward to most each day.

Now, two years later, I feel like I can talk to my parents about almost anything. I’m currently helping my dad brainstorm ways to have a second career doing something he loves post-retirement. He is actually taking my advice now on how to improve his health. My parents do yoga together daily. I’m learning Chinese from my mom, and we’re discussing Lao Tzu’s ancient Chinese philosophy. We blow kisses to each other at the end of our weekly Zoom calls.

Most importantly, I’m now able to catch myself anytime a trigger comes up. Yes, I still get annoyed at things my parents do and say, but I can turn those internal feelings around faster and faster. When my frustration shows from time to time, I get to own up to my reaction in those moments and apologize consciously. Each time this happens, we get a little closer as a family. To my amazement, my parents will now often reflect on their behavior and habits in return. We’re getting better at communicating together.

With my beloved soul family Brandon LeeKimberly Han, and partner Tong-Tong Li, we have committed ourselves to talk with our parents weekly, asking at least one of the Parents Are Human card game questions. Once a week, we come together and discuss what came up for us during our interactions with our parents, the lessons we’re learning, and the inevitable challenges we face.

We’ve been recording and publishing our sessions on The Parent Project Facebook page. We’re here to showcase the heart and soul of building intergenerational wellness and hopefully inspire more open conversations about what it means to rebuild our relationship with our parents when we become adults.

Thank you for your support. It has been an honor of a lifetime to share this never-ending journey with you.

With love,
Joe


A List of Core Beliefs: This is who I am in 25 bullets

The views I choose to hold about myself, others, and the world

I just turned 25.

I feel like the luckiest person to be in love with the life I have. If I died tomorrow, I would leave in peace, proud of the person I have become.

For my birthday, I reflected on where I am in my inner journey through my core beliefs.

Over the years, I learned the hard way just how powerful my beliefs can be. These views that I hold about myself, other people, and the world are the invisible threads stitching my reality together. They are not facts, but rather the lens from which I view everything through. They color my existence. They are often blind spots that are the root cause of my suffering.

“Our thoughts and feelings, our actions and reactions, respond not to the world as it actually is — for we never know reality directly — but to the world as we believe it to be.”

— James E. Alcock

The most important lesson I’ve learned is that my beliefs are choices that I make. Whether I’ve selected these beliefs consciously or unconsciously, I ultimately get to choose different beliefs as I outgrow old ones.

I have the power to give myself the gift of true freedom by confronting and releasing myself from the outdated beliefs that no longer serve me. I get to take full responsibility for their consequences and have a say in who I am being and becoming at every stage in life.

Here are the beliefs that most accurately represents who I am today and what I have learned in my 25 years of being alive. I look forward to looking back on these and seeing how much they will change.


My Core Beliefs

  1. Love is the highest goal and greatest ability that exists within me.
  2. Love can be present wherever I go, the more I share, the more I have.
  3. Every human being has the infinite potential to achieve the impossible.
  4. All I need is this moment to be happy, nothing more, nothing less.
  5. Above all else, my relationships give me the deepest fulfillment in life.
  6. Every wisdom tradition has value; I grow by respecting them equally.
  7. Happiness comes from reacting the same to both success and failure.
  8. The way I do one thing reflects the way I do everything.
  9. Work is a journey of transformation, a way to achieve my fullest self.
  10. A company makes an impact on its employees more than anyone else.
  11. The highest purpose for an organization is to spread its culture.
  12. My purpose is to plant trees under whose shade I do not expect to sit.
  13. The stories I tell myself and hold onto, define my existence.
  14. My childhood and upbringing have dictated my default ways of being.
  15. The relationship I have with my parents shows up everywhere.
  16. The art of growing up is learning to let go of the baggage from my past.
  17. I am deeply interconnected with everyone on this beautiful planet.
  18. There is endless strength in vulnerability and power in tenderness.
  19. My words can create and destroy worlds; I must choose them wisely.
  20. Love is a function of communication, which is everything I do.
  21. The skill of listening is far more important than speaking.
  22. The skill of unlearning is far more important than learning.
  23. What I wish to give to others, I must first give to myself.
  24. The greatest gift to give someone is the space to be fully themselves.
  25. I am 100% responsible for how these beliefs impact my life and others.

To everyone I have been able to share this beautiful life with—thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am eternally grateful.


Dear Mom: I will never yell at you again for giving me too much food

A letter to my mom to honor her love language

I didn’t always have a good relationship with my mom. In fact, for over a decade, the only connection I had with her was when we interacted around food. Instead of trying to understand her love, I often took out my stress and frustration on her. I was a jerk to the person who loved me the most, and there was nothing that caused me more guilt than this.

In August of 2018, I started on a journey to get to know my parents. I owned that I was entirely responsible for our lack of a relationship. I began by asking them meaningful questions to get to know them that eventually made their way into the Parents Are Human card game. I started to learn who they were, one story at a time.

When I asked her the first question in the game, “What was your favorite food growing up?” (你小时候最爱吃什么?), we talked for two hours about her childhood experiences. I began to understand my mom’s love language of food, and it forever changed the way I saw who she was.

Here is the letter I wrote to her this Mother’s Day to honor her beautiful love.


Dear Mom,

I love you. It’s Mother’s Day today, and this year, I wanted to share with you one of the most important lessons you’ve taught me about love. I can’t believe it took over ten years and a card game for me to understand your love language. I finally get it, and all I want to do is share it with the world.

Growing up, you always showered me with love, but I couldn’t see it. I was too busy running away from my problems to be there for you. But you were always there doing everything you could to support me—cooking, cleaning, serving me with your entire heart. You made sacrifices every chance you could, so I could live the life of my dreams, the one you never got to have.

Instead of making time for you to hear about your life, I kept pushing you away. I thought the way I lived my life was right. I believed so firmly that I was busy making an impact on the world when all I was doing was being selfish and ignoring the one person who loved me more than anyone else. I took your love and actions for granted, and there was nothing I felt more guilty about.

Even though I was the most joyful person around my friends, colleagues, and even strangers, I was cranky, annoyed, and short-tempered at home. I took my stress and frustration out on you for years, making the smallest things that you did excuses for me to be annoyed. I lashed out at you for caring too much about me. You didn’t deserve any of it.

I finally get it, Mom. Behind all of those things that I yelled at you for, you were showing me your tender, selfless, everlasting love.

Whenever you cooked way too much food for us to eat, you were showing us your dearest love. When you were little, food was the most precious thing there was. You ate the same flour and water paste every day until you were fourteen years old. People were so hungry they ate the leaves and bark off of trees. The best days were when your whole family could share a single egg.

When the government unfairly put your dad in prison and took away your family’s rations, you survived only because of the generosity of your neighbors and family friends. People risked their livelihood to make sure you didn’t starve, and that’s why you treasure making food for others so much. You spend countless hours every week baking for other families because that’s the way you get to share your love with the world. It’s the best way you know how to live—to feed the people around you.

I see now that whenever you put too much food on my plate, bring perfectly cut fruit into my room, and give me the freshest food while eating leftovers yourself, you are saying I love you. I know that in our Chinese culture, we almost never say those words out loud. But I know that you’ve been saying that to me every day through your actions.

Food is your love language. It is beautiful beyond words.

I own up to all the moments I didn’t say I love you back by accepting your care and affection with open arms. I am committed to being a son who can love you with my whole heart and accept you for who you are. I know that I can’t undo what I did in the past. I can only choose how I talk to you, respond to your actions, and love you from now on. That is my promise.

Thank you for putting up with me all the times I raised my voice when I didn’t have to, for seeing past my behavior when I didn’t see past yours, and for showing me what it truly means to live a life in service of others.

Thank you for overfilling my plate all those years because it has overfilled my soul. You are the source of my inspiration for the person I want to be. Because of you, I have a lifetime of love to share with others.

So today, I want to celebrate the day you became a mother, the day you almost died for me. I want to celebrate all the overfilled plates, stomachs, and hearts with the boundless love that only a mother could give. I will never forget it.

Thank you for giving me life, Mom. I love you so much.

All my love,

Joseph


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Mom’s 60th Birthday this year!

This piece is from a series called Dear Mom, Dear Dad, a collection of stories, letters, poems, and essays that embody the Asian American family experience.

Email stories@parentsarehuman.com to share your story.

Published by Parents Are Human ❤️


Dear Founder: Our childhood shapes the kind of companies we build

Unraveling how my life reflected my deepest fears

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In middle school, a few kids always teamed up at recess to make sure I never won any of the games we played. I dreaded foursquare, wall ball, and tetherball. Nobody ever wanted to be on my team during PE Class. The harder I tried, the more they laughed and teased me when I lost. Even the person who I thought was my “best friend” became one of the bullies. I felt more alone than ever.

I learned much later in life that we all adopt specific strategies, character traits, and behaviors to cope with the experiences we go through as children. These are the false stories and beliefs we created to survive our childhood when things don’t go our way.

The story that I told myself was that I wasn’t accepted because I wasn’t good enough at anything. I believed that I needed to be successful above all else; otherwise, no one would like me.

This story ruled my life for the next ten years. Winning became everything throughout my teens and early twenties.

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For half a decade, I trained and competed in fencing for 300+ days each year. I was relentless. I poured my heart and soul into athletics because I thought that it could be my liberation from the pains of my childhood.

At some point, you could say that I started “winning” from the outside. I represented the United States in seven World Cups in France, Poland, Hungary, Germany, and Italy. I competed in regional and national tournaments every month and brought home over fifty medals, eight of which were from nationals.

But I wasn’t thriving; I was surviving. I strived to do well, but not because I genuinely loved playing the sport. I worked ridiculously hard because fencing was my central source of self-esteem. My results determined my entire sense of identity and self-worth, which made competitions some of the most stressful times of my life.

Losing during a tournament felt like the end of the world. Even after bringing home gold, the feelings of happiness would only last a few days before I began worrying about the next competition. There was a void in my life that no medal could ever seem to fill.

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When I was in college, the approaching end of my fencing career gave me tremendous existential angst. Who would I be without this sport?

I looked for something else to pour my heart and soul into once again. But what? I knew I needed to get a job, but I had tasted what it was like to be among the best in the world at something. My ego pushed me towards the idea of running my own company. I didn’t want to get an entry-level job like my peers. I wanted to be the CEO.

So the startup bug bit me when I was 20 years old. The idea that I could invent something that millions would use enchanted me. It would be my life’s work, and everyone will know me for it. Winning medals no longer cut it. I wanted to win startup competitions, be on the cover of magazines, and make the Under 30 lists. I tried to change the world, all by myself.

Oh, yes, I started “winning” from the outside. Inc. Magazine hailed us as one of the top emerging companies in the US and then in the world, and my face was one of five on the front cover. We presented in front of global leaders at the World Trade Center and the New York Stock Exchange. We checked all the boxes — graduated from an accelerator program, received several grants, won an award, and raised funding twice. Above all, we had paying customers.

On the outside, it looked like I was living the young entrepreneur’s dream. But deep down, it was the same survival game as my fencing career. I strived to do well, but not because I genuinely wanted to make a difference in the lives of others, even though that’s what I kept telling myself. I worked 100+ hour weeks because my company was my central source of self-esteem. How good the company looked determined my entire sense of identity and self-worth. I did everything I could to ensure that we looked as if we were continually winning. Yes, even at the expense of everyone’s quality of life and ignoring the most critical questions of the business. My sole focus was on attaining more external success.

After two years, the house of cards fell. We built a product based on assumptions of the market need, with little material proof that organizations would pay the amount we projected.

With the help of my coach at the time, Tom Collopy, I was able to finally see that continuing to pour money into the company wasn’t a responsible thing to do. Tom guided me compassionately towards one of the hardest realizations of my life: the business I started wasn’t a sustainable one. I had to tell my entire team that I couldn’t continue paying them.

For the next year and a half, I felt more stuck than ever, in a dark hole of shame, feeling like a complete failure.

It was the wake-up call of my life.

I finally had the chance to confront the fears and stories that had driven my life. Here is what I learned about how my childhood had influenced the way I lived my life and how I ultimately ran the company I started.

A life of quiet desperation

We are all quietly coping with deep inner struggles. We work desperately to try and fill a complex, seemingly inexpressible void. We try to fill it with things such as money, possessions, and accolades. We value these because we’ve convinced ourselves that they will make us happy. When they don’t, we seek more of them instead of digging up the root cause of our unhappiness.

Henry David Thoreau calls this living a life of “quiet desperation”—something he says the majority of us live. I certainly did.

I convinced myself that more medals and more accolades would bring me the fulfillment I was craving. If I just work harder, then I will achieve all that I want to achieve, and my life will be complete. I deceived myself into thinking that I was making progress by finding bigger and bigger temporary fixes.

But the truth is, nothing on the outside will ever bring you lasting fulfillment. A sense of completeness can only be nurtured from within, with what you have today. When you feel incomplete, it is time to dive within to dig up the root of your unhappiness. When you feel stuck, it is time to uncover the fears, insecurities, and false stories that have been driving your life.

Embarking on this journey was the most important thing I ever did for myself.

The fear that was the root of my unhappiness

When I met Kwiri Yang, I had just reached the depths of my despair — I was lost and didn’t know what to do after my company didn’t work out. She was a successful serial entrepreneur, so I asked her for guidance. Instead of comforting me, she started to ask me the hard questions. She had a tremendous amount of wisdom and compassion for what I was going through because she had experienced the same pains. Kwiri eventually invited me to join her in starting her fifth company, where she would continue to coach me and impart her wisdom.

Over the next year and a half, she guided me out of the dark place I was in by giving me space to dive into and process my pains fully. She encouraged me to go through personal development programs designed to help me unravel my internal struggles.

The priceless gift she gave me through her leadership is best summarized by what Jerry Colonna calls radical self-inquiry: “a process by which self-deception becomes so skillfully and compassionately exposed that there’s no mask that can hide us anymore.”

Kwiri regularly shared the lessons that she’d learned from confronting her shadows. She made it the norm to discuss our fears, insecurities, and the masks we wore to protect ourselves. We held each other accountable for shedding those masks and letting go of the beliefs that no longer served us.

Kwiri’s radical tough love was a mirror through which I saw the lie I’d been telling myself since middle school:

If I achieve enough — win enough medals, start a successful enough company — then all the people I feared who would not like or accept me because I wasn’t good enough at anything would love me forever.

I thought that this belief served me. It was an incredible motivator. It was my driving force for so many years.

This belief, I discovered, was the root of my unhappiness. The accolades created a facade of security and belonging that temporarily filled the void in my heart. Chasing them led me down the same unfulfilling paths.

If I didn’t confront this head-on, I knew that I would spend the rest of my days running away from this fear of not being good enough.

Most importantly, I began to see how these shadows from my childhood had shaped me into a particular kind of founder who led from fear. I started noticing how this fear became the foundation of the company I built.

A company and culture built from fear

Nobody has ever been born wanting to be a lousy boss, colleague, partner, or friend. We only become that person when we try to put on a mask pretending that our most deeply-rooted fears don’t exist.

Life inherently creates baggage, and it shows up everywhere, whether you take responsibility for it or not. The art of growing up is learning what baggage we’re holding onto, and how to let it go gracefully.

If we don’t unpack the baggage that we carry — go on an inward journey to unravel the pain, resentment, and shame from our past — we will project it onto the people in our lives. We will unconsciously ask our families, partners, and colleagues to carry it for us.

As Parker Palmer says:

The darkness that we carry within ourselves [is] the ultimate source of the shadows that we project onto other people. If we do not understand that the enemy is within, we will find a thousand ways of making someone “out there” into the enemy, becoming leaders who oppress rather than liberate others.

When I started my first company, I hadn’t done any of the inner work. I was suddenly a CEO without any of the tools, experience, or self-awareness to grasp the impact I had on the people I hired. So even though I was able to lead a team to build a revenue-generating business, the environment I created was light-years away from one that I would be proud of.

I led from a place of fear that others would think that I wasn’t a good enough entrepreneur.

Here are some of my reflections from the impact it had:

On the business

My fear: People would think I wasn’t a good enough entrepreneur.
Impact: I focused more energy on making sure the business looked good through fast/impressive wins rather than testing our riskiest business assumptions. I avoided asking all the hard questions.

  • More impressive (free) users vs. satisfied paying customers
  • More new accounts vs. more active users
  • More data points we could report vs. higher NPS scores
  • Raising & spending more money vs. making more money
  • More features launched vs. more customer engagement
  • Hiring more people vs. more wins from our existing team
  • Fancier technology vs. better proof of the viability of the business

On the culture

My fear: People would think I wasn’t a good enough entrepreneur.
Impact:
 I created a culture that was in service of maintaining an image of success rather than a working environment that people loved and grew in.

  • I worked 14-hour days, nights, weekends, and holidays and expected that my team does the same, rather than prioritizing rest and recovery.
  • I talked at everyone, telling them how I saw things, instead of listening to people’s thoughts and needs.
  • I labeled unhappy employees as “not a good fit”, instead of asking myself how the work environment I created could have caused their unhappiness.
  • I praised skill and results over character and integrity.
  • I placed blame on others, situations, and circumstances instead of taking responsibility for them.
  • I defended myself, my ideas, and my decisions instead of being open, curious, and committed to learning how I can be a better leader, teammate, and friend.

I started a company without confronting the baggage from my childhood, and it showed up everywhere—lessons for a lifetime.

“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” – Carl Jung

Transforming pain into purpose

This pilgrimage was not an easy one for me. There were countless days where I struggled to get out of bed in the morning, dreading to do work because I didn’t know why I was doing work anymore. There were moments when I questioned whether I was doing the right thing; I had so much passion sprinting towards these external achievements. Why did I give all of that up? It was as if I had lost my most reliable source of motivation to run faster and faster each day.

Little did I know, I needed to stand still in my pain to discover a purpose more valuable and everlasting than any external measure of success: helping others find a sense of belonging at work.

My deepest pain from what middle school denied me, transformed into my highest purpose for the organizations that I start and serve in my lifetime. Creating spaces of love, safety, and belonging is the core of who I am as a founder, leader, and friend.

I hope that in sharing this that you too will embark on this journey and rediscover who you are. Nobody can say that they had a perfect childhood. I certainly can’t. What I can say is that beneath all the muck are the keys that will unshackle you from your past. You will emerge knowing what your greatest gifts are, what your purpose is, and who you wish to be for the people in your life. You will come out more capable than ever to serve the organizations that you start and run in your lifetime.

So talk to a coach, boss, therapist, colleague, friend, or family member about your childhood. Make it a routine to reflect on what fears you are running away from and what stories are still running your life. Commit to unlearning the habits that no longer serve you. Then share those lessons with everyone. It’s how you inspire the people around you to do the same.

This pilgrimage is the opportunity of a lifetime to know yourself better than ever and transform your deepest pain into your most profound purpose. Don’t wait. Work on it today. Work on it like your life depends on it… it does.

With love,

Joseph


A 3-part email template that helped me leave my comfort zone and start a company in college

This is a guide for you to start something right now

“There comes a time in every life when the past recedes and the future opens. It’s that moment when you turn to face the unknown. Some will turn back to what they already know. Some will walk straight ahead into uncertainty. I can’t tell you which one is right. But I can tell you which one is more fun.” — Phil H. Knight


In his book, The Untethered Soul, Michael A. Singer describes two clear-cut ways to live:

  1. You can devote your life to staying within your comfort zone by making sure everything fits within your mental model of the world
  2. Or you can devote your life to freeing yourself from the limits of your model

To understand this better, he uses the example of an invisible electric fence. As someone who loves dogs (and cats!), I found this analogy a bit… shocking. But that’s exactly why it stuck with me.

The invisible electric fence

Imagine for a moment that you’re a dog. You’re the living definition of joy — running, jumping, and exploring every nook and cranny. You dash outside and just when you thought you could explore what’s beyond the yard — ZAP! — discomfort courses through your body and you stop dead in your tracks.

As it turns out, you’ve discovered a limit to where you can run. Every time you reach that limit you get a shock. And it hurts.

Now that you know what these shocks feel like, you experience fear and discomfort whenever you approach the edges. You feel insecure because you find that the edges are everywhere. And now it’s a depressing day because even though you used to roam free, you decide you’ll never try to leave the yard again.

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Photo from Charles Deluvio

This is your life

Even though we’re not actually experiencing any electric shocks as humans, we each deal with something similar and all too real — our comfort zone. In our minds, we roam around a familiar and well-trodden yard. And whether we’re aware of it or not, the edges of that yard guide our decisions every day.

When we hit these edges we feel all the feelings we don’t want to feel: afraid, alone, anxious, guilty, insecure, overwhelmed, rejected, sad, self-conscious, weak. We pull back from the discomfort. We try to find safety. We stop trying.

Going beyond

Imagine yourself as that dog again, but this time, you’re determined to be free. You sit right there at the edge of the yard where your electric collar starts vibrating, and you refuse to back off. Every minute you are inching forward a bit more, getting used to the feeling.

Eventually, you’ll get out. As long as you’re ready and willing to handle the discomfort, there’s not a chance in the world that you won’t. You’ll realize that your collar can’t hurt you, it’s just uncomfortable.

Instead of fighting to stay within your comfort zone, what if you saw that these edges actually point your way to freedom?

Like a trained athlete, you know exactly how to handle the moment as soon as you come up against an edge — you relax, lean in, and push through.

If you’re willing to go beyond your comfort zone you’ll be free to go anywhere. You’ll never stop pushing past your limits instead of just “getting by” or surviving the next day. You’ll confront all the feelings you don’t want to feel. You’ll start connecting, creating, learning, and failing.

You’ll be free to experience all of life.

A tool for stepping through

For 9 years, I competed in a sport called fencing (ironic, I know). I experienced some of my highest highs and lowest lows competing around the world. By my junior year in college, however, I was in the depths of an existential crisis — I wanted to put the time I spent training towards something that would improve people’s quality of life. I wanted to build something much greater than myself, but I was terrified of all the edges I would come up against. I was afraid of who I would have to become.

I was that sad dog, fumbling for months, feeling like an impostor and stewing in my own doubts. What I finally did that allowed me to leave my comfort zone and start my first company was to take my proverbial hat and throw it over the fence. As the saying goes, I committed myself to the task so that there was no backing out. I had no choice but to follow through.

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Photo from John Kitsteiner

Every month I sent out a 3-part email to people in my life listing out:

  1. What I’d been up to
  2. What my goals were with a timeline
  3. What I needed help with

Then I made sure to keep in touch with new connections through this email to both keep myself accountable and ask others for help. This list grew from 5 to 300 people within 1.5 years with the velocity of work and progress it created. The more people I emailed, the more powerful the motivation.

By publicly stating what I was going to work on and what goals I was aiming to hit, I was able to create painful consequences for not producing results or achieving something monumental. In order to not give up, to not stop trying, I had to go beyond my comfort zone.

I wasn’t sure that I could reach my goals each time, but I was motivated more than ever to challenge myself and find a way to push through to the other side. I found that often times, it’s the commitment that creates the solution. Having prominent investors, entrepreneurs, athletes, and industry leaders on the list only made the effect stronger.

The email template

So here it is, the email template that changed my life. I hope it changes yours too:


Hi,

I was wondering if you wanted to be on my [Frequency] update email list (please feel free to say no). This is the way I keep myself accountable and also keep in touch with important people who have helped me with [Project]. I’m very grateful for your advice and support.

[Project/Company Name] [Month] [Year] Progress Update

Major Goals Accomplished (Last [# Weeks/Months])

  • For each section, write 3–5 bullet points (maximum).
  • Avoid going over a single email line for each bullet (1–2 sentences).
  • Were you able to accomplish the goals you set for yourself last month?
  • Did you have any unexpected wins?
  • Be honest, precise, and proud of the hard work you’ve done.

Major Goals to Accomplish (Next [# Weeks/Months])

  • With new clarity for your next steps, set new goals for yourself and a timeline for which you want to accomplish those goals.
  • If you’re lacking clarity, write questions you will answer by your next update.
  • Set goals that require going out of your comfort zone to reach.
  • If you only set goals that you know you can reach, then nothing has to change in your life.
  • If you commit to a goal that you currently cannot or don’t know how to reach then you will have to change in order to become the person who can do it.

Needs

  • What do you need help with right now in order to accomplish your goals?
  • This section is the lifeblood of your email, make it bold and a different color.
  • It allows people to engage in what you’re up to and connect you with others.
  • Personalize this section to what’s relevant to the individuals you are emailing.

Thank you so much for reading. I really appreciate being able to share these goals and challenges. Let me know if I can help you in any way.

With gratitude,

[You]


Why this works

I recommend this template because of a few reasons:

  1. A simple conversation starter
    I found that adding my monthly update emails to the bottom of initial email interactions with people was a fantastic conversation starter. It was a simple, quick read to get someone up to speed about what I’m working on and how far along I am.
  2. Regular updates cultivate relationships
    Regularity has a powerful psychological impact. Whether it’s to family and friends, or to investors and advisors, consistent updates keep your work front of mind. By being open about what I was dealing with and learning, I was also able to help others who were going through similar challenges.
  3. Seeing the power of asking for help
    Too often, we stop ourselves from asking for help out of fear of being judged, looking bad, and convincing ourselves that we don’t need it. I’ve been completely and utterly blown away each time by the sheer generosity of the people around me. Relationships are never numbers, but I trust that you will read this as encouragement: These updates consistently had 80%+ open rates and 20%+ response rates.
  4. Self-discipline + progress = gratitude & inspiration
    I want your inbox to be flooded with countless words of support, advice, and connections because you have so much to offer the world. Don’t wait to start because I guarantee that if you put yourself up for the challenge and lean into your edges, incredible things will happen. You will meet people who will change your life again and again. Their endless love and support will remind you that we’re all in this together, spinning on a planet in the middle of nowhere. You will feel a new profound sense of gratitude that will push you to work harder and give more back to your community. And in the process, you will inspire others, so that they may find the same.

“Try new things, step out of your comfort zone, take risks, do things in ways you’ve never done them before, ask for help, surround yourself with self-actualized people, become obsessed with the fact that you have one go-round on this planet as the you that is you, and realize how precious and important it is not to squander that.”—Jen Sincero


One last thing…

Thank you so much for reading this. If you liked this article, share it with someone who might benefit from reading it too. Best of luck and add me to your email update list: hello@joejlam.com

I’d love to read your progress updates and I can’t wait to see who you become.


Rebuilding my relationship with my parents through weekly peer coaching

Four humans committed to showing up for our parents

Hi friend! 👋 I want to introduce you to the next chapter of rebuilding my relationship with my parents, which has been the most impactful and transformative work of my adult life: The Parent Project 👵 👴

TL;DR We are four humans, committed to showing up for our aging parents each week in the ways we have always wanted — working through our past traumas, rewriting the beliefs that no longer serve us, and learning to love and be loved by our parents. Join us live each week as we reflect on our conversations and coach each other through one of the most challenging and rewarding journeys of our lives. 🙏

For over ten years, I didn’t have a good relationship with my parents. We never talked beyond small, transactional exchanges every day. When we got on the phone, I often couldn’t wait to end the conversation and return to my life.

Even though I was an endlessly joyful person around my friends, colleagues, and strangers, I was cranky and short-tempered at home. My parents were the only people I took my stress and frustration out on, making the smallest things they did, excuses for me to be annoyed. I lashed out at them for caring too much about me.

They didn’t deserve any of it, and there was nothing I felt more guilty about for over a decade.

In August 2018, I wrote a letter to my parents owning up to the years I treated them poorly. I read it to them over the phone and cried my heart out. I had a lot of work to do, but it was as if the doors to the rest of my life opened up.

parentsarehuman.com

By November 2019, I co-created a bilingual connection card game with my parents called Parents Are Human to help other immigrant families have the kinds of heart-to-heart conversations that transformed our relationship. I hugged both my parents every morning for more than a year. It’s one of the things we looked forward to most each day.

Now, two years later, I feel like I can talk to my parents about almost anything. I’m currently helping my dad brainstorm ways to have a second career doing something he loves post-retirement. He is actually taking my advice now on how to improve his health. My parents do yoga together daily. I’m learning Chinese from my mom, and we’re discussing Lao Tzu’s ancient Chinese philosophy. We blow kisses to each other at the end of our weekly Zoom calls.

Most importantly, I’m now able to catch myself anytime a trigger comes up. Yes, I still get annoyed at things my parents do and say, but I can turn those internal feelings around faster and faster. When my frustration shows from time to time, I get to own up to my reaction in those moments and apologize consciously. Each time this happens, we get a little closer as a family. To my amazement, my parents will now often reflect on their behavior and habits in return. We’re getting better at communicating together.

With my beloved soul family Brandon LeeKimberly Han, and partner Tong-Tong Li, we have committed ourselves to talk with our parents weekly, asking at least one of the Parents Are Human card game questions. Once a week, we come together and discuss what came up for us during our interactions with our parents, the lessons we’re learning, and the inevitable challenges we face.

We’ve been recording and publishing our sessions on The Parent Project Facebook page. We’re here to showcase the heart and soul of building intergenerational wellness and hopefully inspire more open conversations about what it means to rebuild our relationship with our parents when we become adults.

Thank you for your support. It has been an honor of a lifetime to share this never-ending journey with you.

With love,
Joe


A List of Core Beliefs: This is who I am in 25 bullets

The views I choose to hold about myself, others, and the world

I just turned 25.

I feel like the luckiest person to be in love with the life I have. If I died tomorrow, I would leave in peace, proud of the person I have become.

For my birthday, I reflected on where I am in my inner journey through my core beliefs.

Over the years, I learned the hard way just how powerful my beliefs can be. These views that I hold about myself, other people, and the world are the invisible threads stitching my reality together. They are not facts, but rather the lens from which I view everything through. They color my existence. They are often blind spots that are the root cause of my suffering.

“Our thoughts and feelings, our actions and reactions, respond not to the world as it actually is — for we never know reality directly — but to the world as we believe it to be.”

— James E. Alcock

The most important lesson I’ve learned is that my beliefs are choices that I make. Whether I’ve selected these beliefs consciously or unconsciously, I ultimately get to choose different beliefs as I outgrow old ones.

I have the power to give myself the gift of true freedom by confronting and releasing myself from the outdated beliefs that no longer serve me. I get to take full responsibility for their consequences and have a say in who I am being and becoming at every stage in life.

Here are the beliefs that most accurately represents who I am today and what I have learned in my 25 years of being alive. I look forward to looking back on these and seeing how much they will change.


My Core Beliefs

  1. Love is the highest goal and greatest ability that exists within me.
  2. Love can be present wherever I go, the more I share, the more I have.
  3. Every human being has the infinite potential to achieve the impossible.
  4. All I need is this moment to be happy, nothing more, nothing less.
  5. Above all else, my relationships give me the deepest fulfillment in life.
  6. Every wisdom tradition has value; I grow by respecting them equally.
  7. Happiness comes from reacting the same to both success and failure.
  8. The way I do one thing reflects the way I do everything.
  9. Work is a journey of transformation, a way to achieve my fullest self.
  10. A company makes an impact on its employees more than anyone else.
  11. The highest purpose for an organization is to spread its culture.
  12. My purpose is to plant trees under whose shade I do not expect to sit.
  13. The stories I tell myself and hold onto, define my existence.
  14. My childhood and upbringing have dictated my default ways of being.
  15. The relationship I have with my parents shows up everywhere.
  16. The art of growing up is learning to let go of the baggage from my past.
  17. I am deeply interconnected with everyone on this beautiful planet.
  18. There is endless strength in vulnerability and power in tenderness.
  19. My words can create and destroy worlds; I must choose them wisely.
  20. Love is a function of communication, which is everything I do.
  21. The skill of listening is far more important than speaking.
  22. The skill of unlearning is far more important than learning.
  23. What I wish to give to others, I must first give to myself.
  24. The greatest gift to give someone is the space to be fully themselves.
  25. I am 100% responsible for how these beliefs impact my life and others.

To everyone I have been able to share this beautiful life with—thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am eternally grateful.


Dear Mom: I will never yell at you again for giving me too much food

A letter to my mom to honor her love language

I didn’t always have a good relationship with my mom. In fact, for over a decade, the only connection I had with her was when we interacted around food. Instead of trying to understand her love, I often took out my stress and frustration on her. I was a jerk to the person who loved me the most, and there was nothing that caused me more guilt than this.

In August of 2018, I started on a journey to get to know my parents. I owned that I was entirely responsible for our lack of a relationship. I began by asking them meaningful questions to get to know them that eventually made their way into the Parents Are Human card game. I started to learn who they were, one story at a time.

When I asked her the first question in the game, “What was your favorite food growing up?” (你小时候最爱吃什么?), we talked for two hours about her childhood experiences. I began to understand my mom’s love language of food, and it forever changed the way I saw who she was.

Here is the letter I wrote to her this Mother’s Day to honor her beautiful love.


Dear Mom,

I love you. It’s Mother’s Day today, and this year, I wanted to share with you one of the most important lessons you’ve taught me about love. I can’t believe it took over ten years and a card game for me to understand your love language. I finally get it, and all I want to do is share it with the world.

Growing up, you always showered me with love, but I couldn’t see it. I was too busy running away from my problems to be there for you. But you were always there doing everything you could to support me—cooking, cleaning, serving me with your entire heart. You made sacrifices every chance you could, so I could live the life of my dreams, the one you never got to have.

Instead of making time for you to hear about your life, I kept pushing you away. I thought the way I lived my life was right. I believed so firmly that I was busy making an impact on the world when all I was doing was being selfish and ignoring the one person who loved me more than anyone else. I took your love and actions for granted, and there was nothing I felt more guilty about.

Even though I was the most joyful person around my friends, colleagues, and even strangers, I was cranky, annoyed, and short-tempered at home. I took my stress and frustration out on you for years, making the smallest things that you did excuses for me to be annoyed. I lashed out at you for caring too much about me. You didn’t deserve any of it.

I finally get it, Mom. Behind all of those things that I yelled at you for, you were showing me your tender, selfless, everlasting love.

Whenever you cooked way too much food for us to eat, you were showing us your dearest love. When you were little, food was the most precious thing there was. You ate the same flour and water paste every day until you were fourteen years old. People were so hungry they ate the leaves and bark off of trees. The best days were when your whole family could share a single egg.

When the government unfairly put your dad in prison and took away your family’s rations, you survived only because of the generosity of your neighbors and family friends. People risked their livelihood to make sure you didn’t starve, and that’s why you treasure making food for others so much. You spend countless hours every week baking for other families because that’s the way you get to share your love with the world. It’s the best way you know how to live—to feed the people around you.

I see now that whenever you put too much food on my plate, bring perfectly cut fruit into my room, and give me the freshest food while eating leftovers yourself, you are saying I love you. I know that in our Chinese culture, we almost never say those words out loud. But I know that you’ve been saying that to me every day through your actions.

Food is your love language. It is beautiful beyond words.

I own up to all the moments I didn’t say I love you back by accepting your care and affection with open arms. I am committed to being a son who can love you with my whole heart and accept you for who you are. I know that I can’t undo what I did in the past. I can only choose how I talk to you, respond to your actions, and love you from now on. That is my promise.

Thank you for putting up with me all the times I raised my voice when I didn’t have to, for seeing past my behavior when I didn’t see past yours, and for showing me what it truly means to live a life in service of others.

Thank you for overfilling my plate all those years because it has overfilled my soul. You are the source of my inspiration for the person I want to be. Because of you, I have a lifetime of love to share with others.

So today, I want to celebrate the day you became a mother, the day you almost died for me. I want to celebrate all the overfilled plates, stomachs, and hearts with the boundless love that only a mother could give. I will never forget it.

Thank you for giving me life, Mom. I love you so much.

All my love,

Joseph


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Mom’s 60th Birthday this year!

This piece is from a series called Dear Mom, Dear Dad, a collection of stories, letters, poems, and essays that embody the Asian American family experience.

Email stories@parentsarehuman.com to share your story.

Published by Parents Are Human ❤️


Dear Founder: Our childhood shapes the kind of companies we build

Unraveling how my life reflected my deepest fears

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In middle school, a few kids always teamed up at recess to make sure I never won any of the games we played. I dreaded foursquare, wall ball, and tetherball. Nobody ever wanted to be on my team during PE Class. The harder I tried, the more they laughed and teased me when I lost. Even the person who I thought was my “best friend” became one of the bullies. I felt more alone than ever.

I learned much later in life that we all adopt specific strategies, character traits, and behaviors to cope with the experiences we go through as children. These are the false stories and beliefs we created to survive our childhood when things don’t go our way.

The story that I told myself was that I wasn’t accepted because I wasn’t good enough at anything. I believed that I needed to be successful above all else; otherwise, no one would like me.

This story ruled my life for the next ten years. Winning became everything throughout my teens and early twenties.

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For half a decade, I trained and competed in fencing for 300+ days each year. I was relentless. I poured my heart and soul into athletics because I thought that it could be my liberation from the pains of my childhood.

At some point, you could say that I started “winning” from the outside. I represented the United States in seven World Cups in France, Poland, Hungary, Germany, and Italy. I competed in regional and national tournaments every month and brought home over fifty medals, eight of which were from nationals.

But I wasn’t thriving; I was surviving. I strived to do well, but not because I genuinely loved playing the sport. I worked ridiculously hard because fencing was my central source of self-esteem. My results determined my entire sense of identity and self-worth, which made competitions some of the most stressful times of my life.

Losing during a tournament felt like the end of the world. Even after bringing home gold, the feelings of happiness would only last a few days before I began worrying about the next competition. There was a void in my life that no medal could ever seem to fill.

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When I was in college, the approaching end of my fencing career gave me tremendous existential angst. Who would I be without this sport?

I looked for something else to pour my heart and soul into once again. But what? I knew I needed to get a job, but I had tasted what it was like to be among the best in the world at something. My ego pushed me towards the idea of running my own company. I didn’t want to get an entry-level job like my peers. I wanted to be the CEO.

So the startup bug bit me when I was 20 years old. The idea that I could invent something that millions would use enchanted me. It would be my life’s work, and everyone will know me for it. Winning medals no longer cut it. I wanted to win startup competitions, be on the cover of magazines, and make the Under 30 lists. I tried to change the world, all by myself.

Oh, yes, I started “winning” from the outside. Inc. Magazine hailed us as one of the top emerging companies in the US and then in the world, and my face was one of five on the front cover. We presented in front of global leaders at the World Trade Center and the New York Stock Exchange. We checked all the boxes — graduated from an accelerator program, received several grants, won an award, and raised funding twice. Above all, we had paying customers.

On the outside, it looked like I was living the young entrepreneur’s dream. But deep down, it was the same survival game as my fencing career. I strived to do well, but not because I genuinely wanted to make a difference in the lives of others, even though that’s what I kept telling myself. I worked 100+ hour weeks because my company was my central source of self-esteem. How good the company looked determined my entire sense of identity and self-worth. I did everything I could to ensure that we looked as if we were continually winning. Yes, even at the expense of everyone’s quality of life and ignoring the most critical questions of the business. My sole focus was on attaining more external success.

After two years, the house of cards fell. We built a product based on assumptions of the market need, with little material proof that organizations would pay the amount we projected.

With the help of my coach at the time, Tom Collopy, I was able to finally see that continuing to pour money into the company wasn’t a responsible thing to do. Tom guided me compassionately towards one of the hardest realizations of my life: the business I started wasn’t a sustainable one. I had to tell my entire team that I couldn’t continue paying them.

For the next year and a half, I felt more stuck than ever, in a dark hole of shame, feeling like a complete failure.

It was the wake-up call of my life.

I finally had the chance to confront the fears and stories that had driven my life. Here is what I learned about how my childhood had influenced the way I lived my life and how I ultimately ran the company I started.

A life of quiet desperation

We are all quietly coping with deep inner struggles. We work desperately to try and fill a complex, seemingly inexpressible void. We try to fill it with things such as money, possessions, and accolades. We value these because we’ve convinced ourselves that they will make us happy. When they don’t, we seek more of them instead of digging up the root cause of our unhappiness.

Henry David Thoreau calls this living a life of “quiet desperation”—something he says the majority of us live. I certainly did.

I convinced myself that more medals and more accolades would bring me the fulfillment I was craving. If I just work harder, then I will achieve all that I want to achieve, and my life will be complete. I deceived myself into thinking that I was making progress by finding bigger and bigger temporary fixes.

But the truth is, nothing on the outside will ever bring you lasting fulfillment. A sense of completeness can only be nurtured from within, with what you have today. When you feel incomplete, it is time to dive within to dig up the root of your unhappiness. When you feel stuck, it is time to uncover the fears, insecurities, and false stories that have been driving your life.

Embarking on this journey was the most important thing I ever did for myself.

The fear that was the root of my unhappiness

When I met Kwiri Yang, I had just reached the depths of my despair — I was lost and didn’t know what to do after my company didn’t work out. She was a successful serial entrepreneur, so I asked her for guidance. Instead of comforting me, she started to ask me the hard questions. She had a tremendous amount of wisdom and compassion for what I was going through because she had experienced the same pains. Kwiri eventually invited me to join her in starting her fifth company, where she would continue to coach me and impart her wisdom.

Over the next year and a half, she guided me out of the dark place I was in by giving me space to dive into and process my pains fully. She encouraged me to go through personal development programs designed to help me unravel my internal struggles.

The priceless gift she gave me through her leadership is best summarized by what Jerry Colonna calls radical self-inquiry: “a process by which self-deception becomes so skillfully and compassionately exposed that there’s no mask that can hide us anymore.”

Kwiri regularly shared the lessons that she’d learned from confronting her shadows. She made it the norm to discuss our fears, insecurities, and the masks we wore to protect ourselves. We held each other accountable for shedding those masks and letting go of the beliefs that no longer served us.

Kwiri’s radical tough love was a mirror through which I saw the lie I’d been telling myself since middle school:

If I achieve enough — win enough medals, start a successful enough company — then all the people I feared who would not like or accept me because I wasn’t good enough at anything would love me forever.

I thought that this belief served me. It was an incredible motivator. It was my driving force for so many years.

This belief, I discovered, was the root of my unhappiness. The accolades created a facade of security and belonging that temporarily filled the void in my heart. Chasing them led me down the same unfulfilling paths.

If I didn’t confront this head-on, I knew that I would spend the rest of my days running away from this fear of not being good enough.

Most importantly, I began to see how these shadows from my childhood had shaped me into a particular kind of founder who led from fear. I started noticing how this fear became the foundation of the company I built.

A company and culture built from fear

Nobody has ever been born wanting to be a lousy boss, colleague, partner, or friend. We only become that person when we try to put on a mask pretending that our most deeply-rooted fears don’t exist.

Life inherently creates baggage, and it shows up everywhere, whether you take responsibility for it or not. The art of growing up is learning what baggage we’re holding onto, and how to let it go gracefully.

If we don’t unpack the baggage that we carry — go on an inward journey to unravel the pain, resentment, and shame from our past — we will project it onto the people in our lives. We will unconsciously ask our families, partners, and colleagues to carry it for us.

As Parker Palmer says:

The darkness that we carry within ourselves [is] the ultimate source of the shadows that we project onto other people. If we do not understand that the enemy is within, we will find a thousand ways of making someone “out there” into the enemy, becoming leaders who oppress rather than liberate others.

When I started my first company, I hadn’t done any of the inner work. I was suddenly a CEO without any of the tools, experience, or self-awareness to grasp the impact I had on the people I hired. So even though I was able to lead a team to build a revenue-generating business, the environment I created was light-years away from one that I would be proud of.

I led from a place of fear that others would think that I wasn’t a good enough entrepreneur.

Here are some of my reflections from the impact it had:

On the business

My fear: People would think I wasn’t a good enough entrepreneur.
Impact: I focused more energy on making sure the business looked good through fast/impressive wins rather than testing our riskiest business assumptions. I avoided asking all the hard questions.

  • More impressive (free) users vs. satisfied paying customers
  • More new accounts vs. more active users
  • More data points we could report vs. higher NPS scores
  • Raising & spending more money vs. making more money
  • More features launched vs. more customer engagement
  • Hiring more people vs. more wins from our existing team
  • Fancier technology vs. better proof of the viability of the business

On the culture

My fear: People would think I wasn’t a good enough entrepreneur.
Impact:
 I created a culture that was in service of maintaining an image of success rather than a working environment that people loved and grew in.

  • I worked 14-hour days, nights, weekends, and holidays and expected that my team does the same, rather than prioritizing rest and recovery.
  • I talked at everyone, telling them how I saw things, instead of listening to people’s thoughts and needs.
  • I labeled unhappy employees as “not a good fit”, instead of asking myself how the work environment I created could have caused their unhappiness.
  • I praised skill and results over character and integrity.
  • I placed blame on others, situations, and circumstances instead of taking responsibility for them.
  • I defended myself, my ideas, and my decisions instead of being open, curious, and committed to learning how I can be a better leader, teammate, and friend.

I started a company without confronting the baggage from my childhood, and it showed up everywhere—lessons for a lifetime.

“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” – Carl Jung

Transforming pain into purpose

This pilgrimage was not an easy one for me. There were countless days where I struggled to get out of bed in the morning, dreading to do work because I didn’t know why I was doing work anymore. There were moments when I questioned whether I was doing the right thing; I had so much passion sprinting towards these external achievements. Why did I give all of that up? It was as if I had lost my most reliable source of motivation to run faster and faster each day.

Little did I know, I needed to stand still in my pain to discover a purpose more valuable and everlasting than any external measure of success: helping others find a sense of belonging at work.

My deepest pain from what middle school denied me, transformed into my highest purpose for the organizations that I start and serve in my lifetime. Creating spaces of love, safety, and belonging is the core of who I am as a founder, leader, and friend.

I hope that in sharing this that you too will embark on this journey and rediscover who you are. Nobody can say that they had a perfect childhood. I certainly can’t. What I can say is that beneath all the muck are the keys that will unshackle you from your past. You will emerge knowing what your greatest gifts are, what your purpose is, and who you wish to be for the people in your life. You will come out more capable than ever to serve the organizations that you start and run in your lifetime.

So talk to a coach, boss, therapist, colleague, friend, or family member about your childhood. Make it a routine to reflect on what fears you are running away from and what stories are still running your life. Commit to unlearning the habits that no longer serve you. Then share those lessons with everyone. It’s how you inspire the people around you to do the same.

This pilgrimage is the opportunity of a lifetime to know yourself better than ever and transform your deepest pain into your most profound purpose. Don’t wait. Work on it today. Work on it like your life depends on it… it does.

With love,

Joseph


A 3-part email template that helped me leave my comfort zone and start a company in college

This is a guide for you to start something right now

“There comes a time in every life when the past recedes and the future opens. It’s that moment when you turn to face the unknown. Some will turn back to what they already know. Some will walk straight ahead into uncertainty. I can’t tell you which one is right. But I can tell you which one is more fun.” — Phil H. Knight


In his book, The Untethered Soul, Michael A. Singer describes two clear-cut ways to live:

  1. You can devote your life to staying within your comfort zone by making sure everything fits within your mental model of the world
  2. Or you can devote your life to freeing yourself from the limits of your model

To understand this better, he uses the example of an invisible electric fence. As someone who loves dogs (and cats!), I found this analogy a bit… shocking. But that’s exactly why it stuck with me.

The invisible electric fence

Imagine for a moment that you’re a dog. You’re the living definition of joy — running, jumping, and exploring every nook and cranny. You dash outside and just when you thought you could explore what’s beyond the yard — ZAP! — discomfort courses through your body and you stop dead in your tracks.

As it turns out, you’ve discovered a limit to where you can run. Every time you reach that limit you get a shock. And it hurts.

Now that you know what these shocks feel like, you experience fear and discomfort whenever you approach the edges. You feel insecure because you find that the edges are everywhere. And now it’s a depressing day because even though you used to roam free, you decide you’ll never try to leave the yard again.

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Photo from Charles Deluvio

This is your life

Even though we’re not actually experiencing any electric shocks as humans, we each deal with something similar and all too real — our comfort zone. In our minds, we roam around a familiar and well-trodden yard. And whether we’re aware of it or not, the edges of that yard guide our decisions every day.

When we hit these edges we feel all the feelings we don’t want to feel: afraid, alone, anxious, guilty, insecure, overwhelmed, rejected, sad, self-conscious, weak. We pull back from the discomfort. We try to find safety. We stop trying.

Going beyond

Imagine yourself as that dog again, but this time, you’re determined to be free. You sit right there at the edge of the yard where your electric collar starts vibrating, and you refuse to back off. Every minute you are inching forward a bit more, getting used to the feeling.

Eventually, you’ll get out. As long as you’re ready and willing to handle the discomfort, there’s not a chance in the world that you won’t. You’ll realize that your collar can’t hurt you, it’s just uncomfortable.

Instead of fighting to stay within your comfort zone, what if you saw that these edges actually point your way to freedom?

Like a trained athlete, you know exactly how to handle the moment as soon as you come up against an edge — you relax, lean in, and push through.

If you’re willing to go beyond your comfort zone you’ll be free to go anywhere. You’ll never stop pushing past your limits instead of just “getting by” or surviving the next day. You’ll confront all the feelings you don’t want to feel. You’ll start connecting, creating, learning, and failing.

You’ll be free to experience all of life.

A tool for stepping through

For 9 years, I competed in a sport called fencing (ironic, I know). I experienced some of my highest highs and lowest lows competing around the world. By my junior year in college, however, I was in the depths of an existential crisis — I wanted to put the time I spent training towards something that would improve people’s quality of life. I wanted to build something much greater than myself, but I was terrified of all the edges I would come up against. I was afraid of who I would have to become.

I was that sad dog, fumbling for months, feeling like an impostor and stewing in my own doubts. What I finally did that allowed me to leave my comfort zone and start my first company was to take my proverbial hat and throw it over the fence. As the saying goes, I committed myself to the task so that there was no backing out. I had no choice but to follow through.

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Photo from John Kitsteiner

Every month I sent out a 3-part email to people in my life listing out:

  1. What I’d been up to
  2. What my goals were with a timeline
  3. What I needed help with

Then I made sure to keep in touch with new connections through this email to both keep myself accountable and ask others for help. This list grew from 5 to 300 people within 1.5 years with the velocity of work and progress it created. The more people I emailed, the more powerful the motivation.

By publicly stating what I was going to work on and what goals I was aiming to hit, I was able to create painful consequences for not producing results or achieving something monumental. In order to not give up, to not stop trying, I had to go beyond my comfort zone.

I wasn’t sure that I could reach my goals each time, but I was motivated more than ever to challenge myself and find a way to push through to the other side. I found that often times, it’s the commitment that creates the solution. Having prominent investors, entrepreneurs, athletes, and industry leaders on the list only made the effect stronger.

The email template

So here it is, the email template that changed my life. I hope it changes yours too:


Hi,

I was wondering if you wanted to be on my [Frequency] update email list (please feel free to say no). This is the way I keep myself accountable and also keep in touch with important people who have helped me with [Project]. I’m very grateful for your advice and support.

[Project/Company Name] [Month] [Year] Progress Update

Major Goals Accomplished (Last [# Weeks/Months])

  • For each section, write 3–5 bullet points (maximum).
  • Avoid going over a single email line for each bullet (1–2 sentences).
  • Were you able to accomplish the goals you set for yourself last month?
  • Did you have any unexpected wins?
  • Be honest, precise, and proud of the hard work you’ve done.

Major Goals to Accomplish (Next [# Weeks/Months])

  • With new clarity for your next steps, set new goals for yourself and a timeline for which you want to accomplish those goals.
  • If you’re lacking clarity, write questions you will answer by your next update.
  • Set goals that require going out of your comfort zone to reach.
  • If you only set goals that you know you can reach, then nothing has to change in your life.
  • If you commit to a goal that you currently cannot or don’t know how to reach then you will have to change in order to become the person who can do it.

Needs

  • What do you need help with right now in order to accomplish your goals?
  • This section is the lifeblood of your email, make it bold and a different color.
  • It allows people to engage in what you’re up to and connect you with others.
  • Personalize this section to what’s relevant to the individuals you are emailing.

Thank you so much for reading. I really appreciate being able to share these goals and challenges. Let me know if I can help you in any way.

With gratitude,

[You]


Why this works

I recommend this template because of a few reasons:

  1. A simple conversation starter
    I found that adding my monthly update emails to the bottom of initial email interactions with people was a fantastic conversation starter. It was a simple, quick read to get someone up to speed about what I’m working on and how far along I am.
  2. Regular updates cultivate relationships
    Regularity has a powerful psychological impact. Whether it’s to family and friends, or to investors and advisors, consistent updates keep your work front of mind. By being open about what I was dealing with and learning, I was also able to help others who were going through similar challenges.
  3. Seeing the power of asking for help
    Too often, we stop ourselves from asking for help out of fear of being judged, looking bad, and convincing ourselves that we don’t need it. I’ve been completely and utterly blown away each time by the sheer generosity of the people around me. Relationships are never numbers, but I trust that you will read this as encouragement: These updates consistently had 80%+ open rates and 20%+ response rates.
  4. Self-discipline + progress = gratitude & inspiration
    I want your inbox to be flooded with countless words of support, advice, and connections because you have so much to offer the world. Don’t wait to start because I guarantee that if you put yourself up for the challenge and lean into your edges, incredible things will happen. You will meet people who will change your life again and again. Their endless love and support will remind you that we’re all in this together, spinning on a planet in the middle of nowhere. You will feel a new profound sense of gratitude that will push you to work harder and give more back to your community. And in the process, you will inspire others, so that they may find the same.

“Try new things, step out of your comfort zone, take risks, do things in ways you’ve never done them before, ask for help, surround yourself with self-actualized people, become obsessed with the fact that you have one go-round on this planet as the you that is you, and realize how precious and important it is not to squander that.”—Jen Sincero


One last thing…

Thank you so much for reading this. If you liked this article, share it with someone who might benefit from reading it too. Best of luck and add me to your email update list: hello@joejlam.com

I’d love to read your progress updates and I can’t wait to see who you become.