Right In Front Of You

Have you ever lost something valuable to you, only to discover that said item was actually in a super obvious and super visible place the whole time?

It’s always a little embarassing to have a friend or family member find what you were looking for in a matter of seconds after you might have spent hours looking for it.

I’ve found over the past few years, that this simple example of stressing over something that is so easily solvable, is so often the daily plight many of us face:

We toil and strive and cope and go in these big circles, all the while saying that we wish that we could break out of these cycles. And yet, the whole time, the answer is right there, staring us in the face.


Everybody Needs Healing

Someone said today, “Everybody needs healing,” and I think if more of us believed this, we’d have a lot healthier of a world. There is this negative stigma around being hurt, being broken, or needing help and so we generally try to be as “strong” as we can be.

We play the comparison game and gauge our own health relative to those other people we know who have got way bigger problems than we do. It’s dumb.

I spent so many years pretending to be okay.

It was the religious and “put-together” thing to do.

I lived a double life just so that those around me would think that I was some person who didn’t have problems. Some morally upstanding person who was above the self-destructive tendencies of the human condition.

But in the end, the only person I fooled was myself.

When we aren’t honest with others about who we are and what we struggle with, we choose to live in the dark.

And strange and poisonous things grow because of the secrets that we keep in the dark.


Investing in Community

We tend to celebrate our victories in public and grieve our shortcomings in private. The irony is that we don’t need community as badly in good times as we do in bad times. And yet, we still tend to isolate when it comes to struggling with our vices.

My journey with pornography is something I’ve written about countless times, but it’s a prime example of how things we allow to thrive in the dark can eventually sabotage the rest of our lives.

For me personally there were a ton of factors that helped me walk on the road of recovery. However, I think the most clear turning point came from when I shared about it with my best friend and then decided to dig deeper as to the reason why I didn’t want to consume pornography anymore.

But this isn’t just relevant for porn addicts. I think it’s very important that we invest in a few friendships that go beyond getting drinks after work, swapping gossip about our mutual friends, or only being honest when under the influence of something. Friendships that go deeper than the surface level of celebration and “I’m fine.”

It can be so hard to do this.

Because the kind of friendships that I’m talking about can tragically backfire. I’m talking about a bare-your-soul, authentic, and intentional friendship in which your dirty laundry is aired for those select few who are in this circle. It’s uncomfortable and it doesn’t happen by accident.

But when the rip tides of life catch you off-guard, community can be the difference between you surviving and you being even further isolated.

True friends can help you get back to shore, but if you don’t invest in them, there’s nothing to hold onto when that wave pulls your feet off of the ground that you were standing on.


Step by Step

I owe so much of my own personal growth to my therapist who stewarded her authority and influence well, in order to make a safe space for me to process and to heal.

From day one, she told me: “Remember, growth is not linear.”

So often, we try these cookie cutter, cold turkey approaches to dealing with our vices. When we fail to meet our unrealistic goals, we go into a nosedive and end up as bad or worse than before. When fear and control are our motivators, can we actually do anything but fail?

I think we often look for panaceas or things that will solve all of our problems as quickly as possible… like a get rich quick scheme. But in doing this, we neglect the “why” behind why we are doing what we are doing.

We end up treating symptoms instead of the underlying roots of our compulsive behaviors.

We take things out of our lives without replacing those things with healthier options.

We erroneously believe that healthiness is equivalent to perfection and we throw up our hands and give up when we fail.

This kind of approach is only socially acceptable in the context of addictive or compulsive behavior recovery.

In any other context it would be absolutely preposterous to expect people not to fail and flounder a bit before experimenting and then eventually succeeding.

Think about working out and riding a bicycle.

If your muscles never failed when working out, that would technically mean that you were not destroying your muscles and rebuilding them, and therefore you would not be growing or getting stronger.

And for the most part, most people learn to balance from the sensation of what it feels like to fall. Riding a bike consists of riding the edge of “almost falling” to the right or to the left.

In both of these contexts, resilience and perseverance far outweigh any other trait.


Own Your Story

We are all messed up people in need of healing so…

Own your narrative.

Yes, admit you have a problem, but don’t stop there.

Be relentless in your pursuit of a healthier way to live.

Make amends with those who you have perhaps not purposefully hurt, but have hurt anyways.

Seek out reconciliation.

Seek out resources.

Talk about your struggles so that you can find others who have also struggled so that you can encourage one another.

Pride would have you isolate and impress upon others that you have no problems. In doing this, you will find no allies, because those around you will not offer support to someone who does not need or ask for it.

Humility and vulnerability on the other hand will attract allies to you, because in revealing the struggles that you have, countless others with the same weaknesses will constantly remind you that you aren’t alone.

It’s your life.

No one will come to encourage you that you need healing and restoration in your life.

It’s your personal choice to pursue that recovery process.


Together

In 2020 and 2021, I decided to write monthly emails to a group of friends who all struggled with pornography. We ranged in age, gender, and life stages but we were connected through our shared struggle. The idea was birthed from Fight the New Drug’s “No Porn November” campaign, but I wanted to journey with these friends for a period of time longer than just one month.

At the intersection of: processing my own experiences of sexual assault, understanding my personality and my need for community, learning about pornography and its effect on the brain, coming to terms with the people who I had hurt because of my out of control sexuality, and realizing that my identity was not defined by my behavior, I began to write these emails of encouragement to my friends.

Most of the time, no one wrote back.

But occasionally, a friend or two would share an experience they had which would encourage the rest of the group.

I realized partway through, that I was really writing to myself…

I was sharing stories, strategies, and things I was learning, but really, I was writing because I wanted to believe that we could recover. I wanted to believe that this was not another fool’s errand or failed attempt. And so I wrote to this group, because I hoped that one of us might succeed and prove that we weren’t lost causes.

During those two years, I think I ended up being the one who benefitted the most. Because, through sharing about my ups and downs on my journey of recovery, I was able to receive grace from my friends and encouragement to persevere.

Wherever you are and whatever you are facing, just remember, that you are never truly alone unless you choose to be alone. No man is an island, and we all desperately need to invest in community as we walk towards healthier versions of ourselves.

Don’t give up!

But also, don’t let pride prevent you from living an abundant life.

Life is too short to just survive!

Let’s thrive!

Modern Day Heroes

Night is falling, and an invisible electricity that far exceeds the anticipation before a concert, buzzes in the air. About fifty people bustle around near the entrance to the underground metro, setting up foldable tables, a manicure station, and streamers. The food vendors arrive and set up their cart with a huge rotating slab of barbecued pork. Teams of three with individually wrapped roses in their hands make their way into the surrounding blocks. Passerbys flash curious looks towards the throng of busy people setting up what looks like a party. A handful of volunteers look fearfully at the sky. Ominous rain clouds seem to promise rain within minutes.

The street corner you are on is in the middle of the red light district. The volunteer team is composed of churchgoers, those who work with the organization: El Pozo De Vida, visitors from other countries, and current and past beneficiaries of the organization. They are gathered to assist in throwing a Block Party in the middle of the red light district on the last Saturday of the month. Depressing and heavy is the atmosphere of the location where the party is hosted, and yet, throughout the night, the atmosphere changes. Somehow, this place that is so dark becomes this beacon of light.

The volunteers gather and throw this party, in hopes that those who are looked down upon or forgotten by society know that they are seen and worthy of being celebrated.

It doesn’t make sense, and to be honest, it sounds ridiculous and dangerous.

And it is.

But something happens on that corner that even I can’t explain.

It’s almost as if..

Heaven invades earth..

And the rules and economics that govern our world are flipped on their heads, if even, for just one night.


Ignorance Is Bliss

You know how sometimes as you are driving and exiting the five freeway, you’ll see a homeless person with a sign?

I might be weird, but I always do this thirty second evaluation of their attire and their shoes to gauge if they are actually in need. There’s that mental conversation where I ask, “Are they going to spend this money on drugs? Do I have some food in my car? Are they actually incapable of working?”

Usually what happens, is that my mental conversation takes too long, and the light turns green. I look apologetically at the person and then drive by.

The entire encounter is usually forgotten within minutes.

Our lives are filled with encounters like these.

There are obvious needs that we see, but we get lost in the “how to help” and we end up literally or metaphorically, driving by.

I mean… we can’t possibly be expected to help all these people…

I mean shouldn’t the government or some organization with more resources help this person?

Besides… we’re in the middle of a pandemic… It’s really the safety of myself and my family that is paramount and everything else must be secondary… right?


Living for the Weekend

It’s crazy how being alive and feeling alive can be so different.

Doesn’t it feel like sometimes we string together the moments in life that make us feel happy, while trying to ignore the broad majority of life that makes us feel dead inside?

For me personally, I filled the weekends with escape rooms, dinners, concerts, alcohol, trips, relationships, and whatever made me feel less miserable for a few days. I didn’t feel super enthusiastic at work, which is probably common. But the thing that was stranger than not really enjoying work, was this unending need to fill my free time with any number of distractions, so that I wouldn’t have time to be alone with my thoughts.

I was living for the weekend, but really, I was barely surviving the week so that I could distract myself with my weekend activities.

Behind the instagram stories and the cute photos we post, it sure feels like something is missing…

Have you ever drunkenly had your head on the toilet seat wondering if there is more to life than this cycle of trying to forget about your day to day?

I have.


Safely in the Boat

Ever since 2019, I’ve been flirting with this idea of packing up my things and moving to Mexico City.

Over the years, I donated two shirts for every shirt I bought. I made frequent trips to the Salvation Army and Goodwill as I slowly decreased my piles of junk.

Every time I visited Mexico City, I stayed just a little bit longer than the last time.

Sometimes I was tutoring, other times I was just an extra pair of hands doing whatever needed to be done.

Every time I came back to the states, I mentally traversed the path that would get me to stay in Mexico City, and every time, I found a reason to stay within the bounds of my comfort zone.

Obviously my suburban life wasn’t cutting it for me, but at least I knew what to expect.

If I didn’t know every single detail, how could I responsibly leave everything I knew, to go live in a country where I didn’t know the language, to work in a context I had never worked in before?

No.

It was better to stay in the tumultuously thrown but familiar confines of the boat.


Walking on the Water

This past June, I finally decided that it would be better to take the leap of faith and to move to CDMX rather than wondering or regretting for the rest of my life.

To some it might seem a little fast or impulsive, but in reality, this whole journey has been slow-cooking for years.

What initially held me back, was my job not going remote.

But after some thought (and some mezcal), I realized that maybe this season was about unlearning some of the guiding principles that I’ve lived my whole life by.

I’ve built my life around control and knowing the next ten steps…. but maybe, this season is here to help me to learn how to just take one step at a time.


A Gang of Misfits

One of the craziest things about being here in Mexico City is how crazy everyone is.

I use crazy in the sense that, people from wildly different backgrounds are here, standing in solidarity, against human trafficking.

A couple that paid off their debts using Dave Ramsey’s principles felt the need to sell everything they had to come here.

A young girl fresh out of university who decided to stay and work with the girls at the safehouse who is now married and still works with the same girls.

Two Brazilians who came with a team last year and decided to come back and to stay a while supporting the different projects.

A blue haired guy who used to work in churches who now hosts teams here while lighting up the room with his jokes (and his hair).

I mean I don’t have enough space or time to write about all of the members of this eclectic superhero team.

Natives and foreigners. Beneficiaries and students. Missionaries and social workers. Psychologists and entrepreneurs. Physical therapists and handymen.

In no other context, have I seen such a wide spread of talents, giftings, and personalities.

And yet, somehow , this group manages to laugh in the face of a social ill so depressing, that most people try to forget about it.


The Art of DeReconstruction

In a blog I wrote last year, I talked about how I had experienced this long season of deconstructing my faith and religion.

I was discouraged for a very long time, and try as I might, I couldn’t seem to find the answers I was looking for in the context that I was in.

I was jaded by the constant discord in the church (side note unrelated to the blog: I am just now realizing how ironic it is that the application Discord is called discord, when the word discord means disagreement).

If we weren’t arguing about worship song lyrics, we were arguing about which churches were the most “doctrinally sound.”

It seemed like a big competition for who could have the best lights and camera setups, or the biggest “outreaches” which were just big church services hosted in arenas.

I couldn’t understand why churches were investing so much money into a weekly program when there were real needs all around us. EVEN within the church, there are huge needs for mental health awareness, education, and restoration.

But no. We are more concerned with “I believe” hands, getting churchgoers to tithe, and small group to volunteer conversion rates.

The wildest thing about being here in Mexico City is that, completely on accident, my faith is being re-constructed. I would have been happy enough with coming here and just doing work that was addressing social ills.

But no.

I’ve conveniently found myself at the intersection of faith and action. I’ve finally found people who are acting on what they’ve read about. I’ve finally found modern day heroes who are applying kingdom principles from the Bible to address the social ills that we are facing. People who are leaving the ninety nine to find the one. People who have been absolutely transformed by something that is not of this world.

People who give their time, resources, and energy in order to do crazy things, like throw a party in the middle of the redlight district on a Saturday night.

I’ve finally found “religion that is pure and just that goes to widows and orphans in their distress.”

This isn’t a biography of David Livingstone, Amy Carmichael, Gladys Aylward, or George Mueller.

This is happening today in 2022.

We have a problem with toxic masculinity and so we made a campaign to raise awareness and educate people on machismo.

We saw that forced begging was a huge problem in the city that led to human trafficking. The founder didn’t just drive by… He felt that since there wouldn’t be begging in heaven, that there shouldn’t be begging here either. So we are currently running a campaign to encourage the lawmakers to draft new laws.

Whether it’s walking alongside and providing women with safe and sustainable alternatives to their work on the streets, or if it’s incubating beneficiaries and equipping them for their own businesses and dreams in the future, everything here is about restoring people’s dignity and walking alongside them in their journeys.

And you know what?

It’s not just the women that decide to leave their work on the streets that experience transformation.

Each one of us can’t help but be impacted and transformed by the work that is being done.


So Alive

Some people say, “don’t meet your heroes,” for fear of being disappointed.

I must say, that after the last few years, I have wholeheartedly agreed with this statement. It is better for me to be blissfully unaware of how human and flawed those I look up to are…

But.

Apparently this season of my life is about healing and restoration.

No person or organization is perfect and EPDV is no exception.

But there is something to be said about people who steward the authority, power, and influence they have in an appropriate and mature manner.

Never in my life have I felt more fulfilled, excited, or happy to be working.

We are moving the needle, and I wholeheartedly believe that we will keep fighting until the 40 million people who are being trafficked becomes 0.


The Invitation

Not everyone can pack up their lives and head into a context similar to the one I am in.

But! I hope that wherever you are, that you would find a renewed sense of purpose and that perhaps for the first time, you would feel a sense of hope. Hope that our world is not just destined to self-destruction and that we can indeed make a difference.

If you’d like to learn more about El Pozo de Vida and the work that is going on here in Mexico City, don’t hesitate to reach out. It might just change your life.

If you’d like to be updated on my journey please fill out this form to select the option(s) that work best for you!

If you are interested in financially supporting the work that I am doing here in Mexico City, you can find me at:

Venmo: lifeapaulling

Zelle: pauljoshuaho@gmail.com.

I am also in the process of setting up a donation portal through EPDV so I will update the information here when that is all squared away.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me thus far in every sense of that word.

Thank you to the friends who let me stay with them, the bosses who let me go on extended trips here, and the handful of friends who have supported financially. I could not do this without you, and I am SO grateful.

I’ll leave you with a phrase that has quickly become one of my favorites:

Whatever season you are in right now, no matter how dark it might be, “no te rindas” or “don’t give up.”

Much love and I hope to see you soon over some tacos here in the city 😉

Beyond A Reasonable Doubt

It’s three in the afternoon.

You’ve been in the jury lounge for the better part of the day.

You and the forty other people lucky enough to be summoned on this sunny July day.

Having vacated the courthouse twenty minutes ago, after the judge said that the court would make their final decisions on the jury in about ten minutes, you flip to the next page in R. F. Kuang’s Dragon Republic.

One of the court administrators steps to the podium at the front of the room and begins to read a list of names.

Your name is the second one read.

You get up even though you aren’t sure if this means you were selected or dismissed.

You take the elevator up to the tenth and final floor with thirteen other people, the judge congratulates you on your selection, and you all swear in.

The opening statements begin, and life as you know it changes… if only for a few weeks.


All Rise:

This was how the stage was set for my three weeks of jury service. I got to deliberate on a jury of fourteen civilians as we were presented with a federal criminal case.

Each day before we walked into the court room and as each recess finished, the courtroom clerk would say, “all rise” as we filed into our seats. At the opening of the door, all the attorneys, the defendant, and everyone else stood up as we entered or exited.

A few seconds later, the judge would enter, and we would remain standing until she gave us permission to be seated.

It was a strange feeling to be presented to for three weeks.

It was stranger to be unable to ask questions.

Like viewers on the opposite side of the tv screen, we watched the Netflix Special of the U.S. Government vs. Serge Obukhoff in gory detail.

A weight of responsibility permeated that court house and we carried that weight alone as we were instructed to speak of the details of this case to no one (not even other jurors). It consumed our waking hours and made it into many of our dreams, as we oscillated between guilty and not guilty opinions.


Objection Your Honor:

Perhaps one of the most annoying parts of sitting in that courthouse, was our relative ignorance of courtroom verbiage.

We were instructed not to research anything in regards to court proceedings or vocabulary, and so as attorney after attorney said things like: Objection: relevance, Objection: Leading, Objection: 503, Objection: Asked and Answered, Objection: Lack of Foundation, Objection: Speculation, or when the Judge said: “overruled” or “sustained” or “it has been stricken from the record” we were just confused.

I was definitely familiar with Viola Davis saying “Objection your honor, prosecution is badgering the witness,” in her role as Annalise Keating in How to Get Away With Murder, but this was the first time I was able to see attorneys make objections in real life.

As the days turned into weeks, I began to understand how much of a chess game the attorneys were playing with their choice of witnesses and their objections.

As jurors, we were to only take into account information that was not stricken from the record. And if the judge sustained an objection, it meant that we were to disregard that question and any potential answers that the witness gave to that question.

In many ways, the attorneys were sketching caricatures of the witnesses and shaping what we saw by the usage of their objections.

It was fascinating, and I caught myself smiling and having Eureka moments when I was able to see the strategy of what some of the attorneys were doing a few steps before they carried it out.

As a funny aside, I also wished I had a personal judge at my house so that I could say “objection your honor, relevance” whenever I got into arguments with my mother.


Only the Truth, The Whole Truth, & Nothing But the Truth

Of the seventeen witnesses that testified, a good third of them either had immunity, had entered plea deals, or were currently in prison.

The day that all of us walked in and the witness was already at the stand in handcuffs with a guard present, we all were taken aback.

We had heard of this guy in the previous days, and if anything was crystal clear in this case, it was that he was a criminal genius mastermind.

As I sat and watched these regular people with checkered pasts testify, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of pity. Some of them seemed genuinely sorry that they had profited off of the ignorance of others. Others clearly lacked any remorse.

Before any of the witnesses was allowed to take the stand, they had to swear that they would only tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. But even so, the defense attorneys made sure to remind us jurors of all the times that some of these witnesses had lied under oath.

The handcuffed guy I mentioned earlier, had actually lied under a previous plea deal and almost got away with stealing 1.6 million from the government. His bad behavior was indeed punished as the prosecution was swift to remind us in their re-direct examination. Another witness swore up and down on the lives of her children multiple times while talking to FBI agents, insisting that she was not guilty of anything.

This element of the case was probably the most drama infused aspect of the whole experience.

We were instructed to take the witness testimonies as evidence, but to also take into consideration their potential ulterior motives and biases. We were straight up told to weigh their testimonies with caution.

As we listened, I couldn’t help but draw a connection between the witnesses in the case, and the people in our lives who have ulterior motives and perhaps less than wholesome agendas that we allow to have full weight when it comes to speaking into our lives.

Perhaps we should weigh their words a little differently depending on how they have treated us in the past..


A Fiery Defense:

One of my personal favorite moments from the trial was after one of the witnesses alleged that the defendant had openly admitted to participating in the kickback scheme when being questioned by the prosecutor.

The defense attorney approached the podium for his cross examination, and vehemently defended his client while attacking the witness.

He stripped the witness of their credibility, asked clarifying questions regarding the exact circumstances that took place in this alleged exchange, and defended his client with such energy that you could hear the emotion in his voice.

That angry and infuriated tone that the defense attorney exhibited, combined with his aggressive body language is something that I will never forget.

The defense’s main goal was to highlight the manipulative nature of the head ringleader in order to show that the defendant was in fact tricked.

It reminded me of many times in my life where justice wasn’t served. There wasn’t clear evidence that I was guilty of whatever I was accused of, but I was punished anyways. Or the times when I was guilty of something because I was misled into it.

There’s definitely been plenty of times when I have knowingly broken rules, but to see a defense so passionate about defending their client, reminded me of how I see the person of Jesus.

I could write a whole blog about how the triune God exists in the courtroom with the judge, defense attorneys, and jury, but that’s a blog for another day.

I think I left the courtroom that day realizing that this kind of fiery defense is what I want to provide when speaking up for those who are voiceless or marginalized. Maybe I’m not an attorney, but I want the words that I say to be used in defense of those who are being targeted by the powers that be.


Reasonable Doubt:

On the second to last day of our service, as we were given our final instructions before deliberating, we were told that the defendant was to be innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

As jurors, we were able to see the indictment (basically a written list of what the defendant was accused of), but we were unable to see the potential punishments or sentences. This is because the jurors’ job is solely to find the defendant guilty or not guilty. The task of punishment is the judge’s job. And the “burden of proof” falls upon the prosecution.

After watching movies like Runaway Jury in high school history class, I thought deliberating would be more like a game of Mafia or Resistance.

While we did appoint a “foreperson” and the loudest voices did end up filling up a lot of the space, it was interesting to see how our gut feelings and intuition had nothing to do with our decision.

In fact, many of us had doubts that the defendant was completely oblivious to the criminal scheme that he happened to be a part of. However, our job was not to convict based upon a feeling or intuition. Our only job was to decide if the evidence produced by the prosecution found the defendant to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

And my gosh were there many many reasonable doubts.


Not Guilty:

I think the whole experience was encouraging in terms of the concept of being innocent until proven guilty, but on the flipside it was easy to see how this system could be abused and exploited for crimes where precautions were taken by the perpetrators.

At one point, after we had decided that the evidence found the defendant to be not guilty, I voiced this concern to my fellow jurors.

I said that I believed our evidence did not point to the defendant being guilty, but that for this exact reason, I was concerned that our justice system was not robust enough to handle instances in which abuse was ocurring but perhaps there was not a clear paper trail.

Obviously no justice system this side of life is perfect, as one of the jurors so matter of factly pointed out, but it still is a little disheartening to know that you could take a serial rapist to court, and he could still be found not guilty if concrete evidence that wasn’t just the word of his victim(s) wasn’t readily available.

I think it just taught me that justice and accountability really falls into the hands of normal civilians like your or me.

It’s us calling people out on their toxic or hurtful behavior that creates a paper trail and gives future perpetrators a chance to change their ways early.

In that same vein, we play a large part in preventing the victims of tomorrow from ever becoming victims.

One of the driving factors behind the rationale with which I use to make my life choices and choose the causes I rally behind, is based upon this concept of stopping the cycle of trauma that I see.

By the time an issue has made it to the courtroom, we in many ways are too late. At that point we are deciding guilt…. not preventing trauma.

We’re reacting instead of preventing or being proactive.


Closing Arguments:

I look out into the world and I see immense beauty but I see this beauty juxtaposed with pain. We see hurt people hurting people, and we see cycles and patterns that seem too big to stop. We feel helpless as we see problems in our cities and across the ocean.

We numb ourselves up with our coping mechanisms and with our work and we stay busy building our little empires while doing our best to stay oblivious to the injustices around us.

It’s easier to say that something isn’t our problem because it doesn’t affect us rather than making it our problem.

So this is my call to action for you:

Outside of work and outside of your hobbies, find something, and make it your problem.

Is it raising awareness on climate change?

Is it less robust education for underserved populations?

Is it the discussion of race with youth?

Is it labor trafficking?

Is it cyber bullying?

Is it a lack of integrity or accountability within a sector you work in?

Is it a lack of vaccination information and education?

Whatever it might be, there are so many problems in our world today. They need people like us to be brainstorming and experimenting with ways to solve them.

It is way easier to sit back, critique, and cancel politicians, celebrities, and policymakers, than to do the hard work of trying to solve them.

Partner with organizations, do your own research, find others who are like minded, and don’t give up!

If things carry on the way that they always have, we will always be one step behind true justice: the crimes will already have been committed and the inequality will already exist.

This is an invitation to time travel: let’s start working today, so that our kids and the generations that follow can have a better present than we see presently.

It isn’t hopeless, and contrary to common belief, this doesn’t have to be “just the way that it is.”

Let’s go!

Permission to Fail

A few years ago, one of my friends introduced me to indoor bouldering. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the activity, bouldering is basically rock climbing without harnesses or ropes.

Contrary to what I thought, my ability to do pullups did not mean that I was automatically going to excel at this indoor activity. I remember going every month, bumming off of my friend’s guest pass, and usually going home with patches of skin missing from my hands.

I had an interesting problem when it came to bouldering: oftentimes when a few handholds away from the end of the route, I would panic, and begin to downclimb instead of using my energy to finish the climb. As my arms would fill with blood and become pumped, as I was ascending, a fear of falling would completely override any desire that I had to complete the ascent.

My friend was always super encouraging and would do her best to coach me on how to climb these fairly basic routes. And yet, most of the time, I’m ashamed to admit, that I couldn’t even hear her, over the sound of my internal thoughts telling me that I was incapable of finishing the route.

I remember watching Youtube videos and realizing that I was really just afraid of falling off of the wall. In fact, I would rather, embarrass myself and not even try to make it the last part of the way, than to try and fail.

I remember using one entire session trying to practice letting go of the wall at different parts to get over my fear of falling. But even then, that fear remained.


As I internally processed this fear of falling and failure I began to realize that this fear went beyond indoor bouldering.

One day, while wondering why I was so afraid of falling, I remembered a long erased memory. When I was maybe 10 or 11, I was rock climbing with a harness and the person who was supposed to be belaying me dropped me halfway down the wall before the rope caught me.

Suck it up, and get over it right? That happened a long time ago right?


Upon some further processing, I realized that due to childhood experiences and trauma I experienced in my life, I actually have a crippling fear of failing.

Most of my Asian friends can relate with bringing back 90-99% test scores, and still being told that ninety anything wasn’t 100%. I remember being homeschooled and writing and re-writing my papers until my teachers were satisfied with them. Somewhere in the high-performance environment, I completely lost the ability to create anything that wasn’t “perfect.”

As life continued, I became painfully aware of the fact that I could never actually be perfect. UCI’s engineering program kicked my ass and I winded up on academic probation for two straight quarters, got kicked out of engineering, and scraped by miraculously by getting into the school of social sciences for business economics. In my relationships and friendships, I realized that I could not in fact always say the right things. In fact, I could never seem to be on everyone’s good side.

I chased approval from all the authority figures in my life and acceptance from all of those I cared about, yet I seemed to fall short every. single. time.

To a healthy person, who understood that perfection was a myth, this might have just been a minor setback, but to me who somehow believed that perfection was not only attainable but expected, this crushed me.

I sunk into despair and paralysis as I struggled to find fulfillment in a life where it was clear that I could not impress anyone nor myself.


After years of not pursuing what I was passionate about and not creating for fear of creating something subpar, I began a very long process of healing and trial and error.

A friend said that anyone could run a marathon.

I knew there was no way I could.

So I said that I was going to do it.

I trained for a year. I was inconsistent. I got injured multiple times. I struggled.

When the race day came, I walked half of the race.

But I finished.

What happened next was weird. I never believed in my wildest dreams that injury-prone, kicked from the track team twice Paul could even finish a 26.2 mile race.

So even though there was shame from having walked the second half due to knee pain, there was a weird sense of “at least I finished… I already accomplished more than I ever dreamed possible.”

This experience began to unravel my flawed perceptions of life and perfection. This began to rescue back my permission to fail and my permission to be less than perfect.


From that point on, I began to approach trials and challenges in a healthier way.

I began to realize that to fail is to be human.

We might strive for perfection, but perfect just does not exist.

I began to create again and I put out videos that were shaky, low quality, and not as good as the ones that popped up in my IG feed.

One day, when I was especially discouraged I texted this rapper I admire and asked him how he managed to motivate himself to create when he started out.

To my absolute surprise, he emailed me back this awesome email of encouragement of how we must create for ourselves and not for the approval of others. He said we can’t get better without putting out cringy content in order to learn and adapt. He went on to say that there will always be critics and that generally speaking, critics are those that are salty that they themselves can not create (or lack the bravery to create).


I was over the moon when I received the email, but after processing the whole concept a little more I realized something I had missed before:

God has blessed me from the beginning of my life with people who have believed in me and have encouraged me to create and to try. My fear of failure and consequent tendency towards paralysis was a coping mechanism that I used to try and cope with feeling like I was never good enough.

I am my own worst enemy.


This one goes out to all the self-proclaimed failures.

We didn’t meet their expectations.

Heck we didn’t meet our expectations.

Our dreams crashed and burned.

We are nowhere near where we said we would be at this point in time.

We are afraid to try because we are afraid to fail.

And so we sit and we spin and we go nowhere.

I believe in you!


One of the biggest lessons I learned from therapy, is that showing yourself grace is often one of the hardest but one of the most rewarding things you can ever do.

It turns out that you are incredible, and that when faced with failure or trials that seem insurmountable, you somehow find a way to adapt. 

But you can never adapt if you never fail and you can never fail if you never try.


“I’ve tried before… you don’t even know how many times… And all I’ve done is fail. Time after time after time”

After about mile 19 during the marathon, everything in my body screamed for me to stop. Muscles I did not know that I had literally spasmed in agony as each step felt like a jackhammer was ripping through my muscle and bone. Even as I was pathetically limping and walking alongside everyone else who was also limping along, the pain was almost overwhelming.

I remember that my thoughts went from, “I can make a decent time still” to “It’s okay if I walk, I can still finish” to “Oh God everything hurts, I don’t know if I can finish” to “I just need to put this foot in front of my other one”

Life has some seasons where we feel great and then there are the other seasons where it takes all of our efforts just to put one foot in front of the other.

Just keep moving!

Don’t give up! You can do this!

In the words of one of my favorite fictitious characters, “Life ain’t about how hard you can hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.”

Close your eyes.

Take a deep breath.

And.

Keep walking.

 

Best,

pH