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

 

 

Beyond the Grave (2019 Edition)

Not even a month ago, I was throwing around creative ideas with one of my best friends Imon. From our incredibly weird icebreaker questions to the wide variety of activities that we partake in, nothing is really off the table when it comes to outlandish ideas.

That night particularly we discussed creating a posthumous form of media that would communicate some sort of message to the people we left behind should we surprisingly be wiped from life here on earth. This was ironically before the hysteria and seriousness of Covid-19 became as apparent as it is now.

We talked about how our youth might have prevented us from being as honest, grateful, or genuine as we might have been if we knew our time was rapidly coming to a close. We thought it would be a novel concept to reflect at the end of one year and to write a “good-bye” of sorts that would only release if we died that following year. After some development, we decided it would be an interesting concept to release the previous year’s message if we lived through the next, kind of like a “forced honesty accountability session.”

For some reason, I couldn’t fall asleep tonight, and I felt that this post needed to be written. So without further ado: Paul from Beyond the Grave: the 2019 Edition.


Fear Itself:

I’ve spent a lot of my life afraid. From the fear of the dark to the fear of failure, it seems that fear has driven the majority of my decisions.

Oftentimes my fear of how far gone I was stunted my own growth and healing because I refused to acknowledge that there was something that I needed to address.

There have been so many personal demons that I have remained quiet about for so long for fear of rejection. That lie that “if people knew what you did, they could never look at you ever again.”

How often that lie has repeated in my head, holding me in a constant state of limbo. As I held the secrets deep inside, the sickness festered and slowly destroyed me.

Rest and peace were nowhere to be found as anxiety and depression sucked the life out of me.

It is so painfully ironic. We cling to our darkness and secrets as if they will keep us safe if they stay hidden, yet late at night, when no one is awake, that is the exact same time when we stare into the abyss and believe the lies that our own secretiveness breeds.

There is this misconception that “special” people need to go to therapy because they can’t handle their own emotions.

Or that they are weak.

Or some other ridiculous stigma-ridden statement that discourages it.

Just drug up and suck it up right?

If I was to die in 2020, I would want you to know, that as a human being, one of the best decisions you can make, is to get professional help to walk you through processing your life.

All of our lives are filled with trauma. We have all experienced valid physical, emotional, and spiritual hurts that we have had to learn to somehow deal with. Some of us have healed, but the vast majority of us have gotten really good at hiding pain and pretending that problems don’t exist.

Therapy is no panacea (a fancy word that means a solve all or a wonder cure), but wouldn’t you like to get to know who you are better than you already do?

For so much of my life, I preferred getting to know why some girl that I thought was cute did what she did rather than understanding why I did what I did.

I talk about this concept to some degree in As Yourself but basically, how can we adequately love those around us if we do not love ourselves? And how can we love ourselves if we don’t know ourselves?

I have learned so much about showing myself grace, how events in the past have shaped how I think and react to the world, and how my pain/hurt/anger/frustration/thoughts are valid.

I’ve experienced so much healing and reconciliation in relationships, but the greatest benefit has been the ability to look into the mirror and not hate myself while continually extending myself grace for each new day. The process is by no means easy, but healing is SO much better than temporary fixes and negative coping mechanisms.

Because eventually, the buzz wears off, we come down from the high, and the people closest to us aren’t accessible for some reason and we are left alone to face our biggest opponent: ourselves.


Alone: Enter the Porn Pandemic

I remember sitting in the high school youth group as boys split from girls as special speakers talked to each gender separately about “sexual purity.”

I remember stumbling upon pornography abandoned by a previous tenant in an apartment that we stayed in for a very short stint right before high school.

I remember how natural curiosity led to an obsession with a medium that I thought didn’t hurt anyone.

I distinctly remember how when the stress came in full force during college, how I failed out of engineering because I wasn’t sleeping.

What a tangled web porn weaves.

I grew up in church, wasn’t abused as a kid, and had quite a normal childhood.

How did I get to this point?

I am so alone. If people knew…

They can’t- must never find out.

This will be my little secret.


Oh, how I’ve wanted to write on this subject.

Oh, but what a hypocrite I would be, to write on a subject that I don’t yet have under control.

But, for those of you who do struggle, be encouraged for you are indeed not alone.


In the last decade and a half, pornography has become so much more accessible. What used to be age-restricted in certain video stores or confined to the pages of magazines now fits in our pockets for free. Studies are still discovering the full effects of this cheap counterfeit of meaningful relationships, but the data keeps rolling in about how harmful it really is.

I’m not talking harmful as in “bad or immoral behavior,” I mean literal re-wiring of your brain and your perception of intimacy bad.

Outside of that, the drug-like endorphin-abusing nature of porn requires a higher level of potency to maintain the same high. Which means just like physical drugs, porn consumption will LITERALLY never leave us satisfied because we will continue to escalate our consumption to maintain the same high. The links between gender violence and porn have time and time again been shown to exist. Racism and sexism get a free pass in the porn genre for some reason. But I mean we already know this. (for more information on the harmful effects of pornography check out this organization called “Fight the New Drug” or do what I did, and listen to their podcast “Consider Before Consuming“)


One of the things that discouraged me most about porn was the fact that there was no one to talk to about it.

On the one hand, you have church where there is this huge age difference between the teachers and the students and so the struggles and temptations of today are neither understood nor addressed. As if saying, “Sex is good, but don’t do it if you aren’t married” is adequate teaching to help a young person traverse the literal fucking minefield that is adolescence nowadays. And then second to premarital sex is the more closet offender, porn. Now porn is an even less discussed topic so CLEARLY, no one struggles with it. OR if it is, let’s simply treat the symptoms without getting to the root of the void that porn is attempting to fill.

Then, on the other hand, you have literally everyone else. And everyone else is JUST as confused as me. Media says sex is one thing, movies say relationships are another thing, and then we are being fed different narratives depending on who we are. “Porn is empowering,” “porn is degrading,” among all the other mixed messages that are being broadcasted.

Either way, you look at it, the topic is so taboo to discuss that many times we just don’t.


I remember the first time I told my college pastor about my porn problem. His response was a complete shock to my system as he hugged me and told me that I was more than this habit.

Over the years, I’ve become increasingly more transparent with what I struggle with, because I’ve realized that there is something strange that happens when secrets are exposed. It will differ from individual to individual, but I’ve realized that a lot of my triggers stem from much deeper fears of being alone or feeling out of control. Now instead of fighting a losing battle where I only treat the symptoms, I’m attempting to address the underlying reason why I consume what I consume.

I will say, that much of my ability to process the “why” behind a lot my vices has been aided immensely by the work that therapy has aided me in beginning.

If I was to die in 2020, I would want you to know these things I’ve learned:

  1. You aren’t alone. This is a huge issue. How the world addresses porn is going to determine how deep the social consequences in the future will be.
  2. Contrary to common belief, you do need community. Self will power will only get you so far. I’ve opened up to pastors and friends but I HIGHLY recommend talking about this with a professional LMFT. Most of us don’t realize that porn is the symptom of something deeper, and being able to talk with an unbiased professional about the steps you took to get to where you are is an absolute must.
  3. Transparency and talking about this elephant in the room is one of the keys to disarming its power over your life.

Grace, Hypocrisy, & Staying In Your Lane

Grace is an interesting concept.

I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand it, but I don’t think I began to understand it until I was in a position where I needed to be the recipient of grace.

I spent so much of my life being a “wholesome” kid, that even though I sang songs and heard sermons about how I did not and could not earn grace, I thought in my head that I had most definitely earned it. 

I’m way better than these heathens.


There is this really profound parable in the Bible that talks about this concept of grace and forgiveness. Basically, this one servant owes his boss a shit ton of money. We’re talking debt that makes a southern California residential mortgage look like chump change. After begging his boss to forgive the debt and miraculously having the debt forgiven, the servant returns home overjoyed.

He then goes to do what every person who has just had debt forgiven would do: he goes and demands this other servant who owes him something within the single-digit thousands of debt to pay him back in full. When the second servant asks for more time, the first servant has the second one thrown into prison.

When the boss hears about this, he throws the first guy into prison and it’s not a good time for him.

The point of the story, as I read it, is that we are often that first servant.

If you believe in God and His grace, then how can you not extend that same grace to those around you?

If you don’t believe in God, to fail to extend grace to those around you is to understate the grace you have been shown your whole life by family, friends, significant others, etc.


As I was training for the marathon in 2018, I went on a hike with some friends and the group decided to collectively sprint down the three-mile hike on the return trip. I had a feeling that this was NOT the best idea for me, but I decided to go along with the group anyways.

Literally, three seconds later, something got realllll fucked up in my knee, and I limped the whole rest of the way down that hike.

While painful, I learned a valuable lesson about going at my own pace and running my own race.

When race day came, I didn’t look at the speed or cadence of those around me. I knew my own body and I knew what pace I was going to be able to sustain and my one goal for that race was to finish it.

It would have been so dumb of me to offer running advice to other people running the race with me because it was just as foreign to me as it was to many of those I was running with.

If I was to die in 2020, I would want you to know this:

  1. Extend grace to others often because you have definitely been and will continue to be a recipient of grace throughout the course of your life.
  2. Stay in your lane, learn about yourself, know yourself, and don’t quit until you cross that finish line.

Life is temporary, and it is sobering to think that some of us need a pandemic to break out for us to realize that. Of the laundry list of strange things that I think about, death is actually a frequent topic.

In the 26, almost 27 years of my life I have been told about God, encountered Him myself and attempted to reconcile a good God with an imperfect church and a pain-filled world. I know without a doubt, that if it wasn’t for Him I literally would not be physically here to write this today. I should have been dead most likely by my own hand.

And yet, in His grace and His provision I am able to write this and to share with you what I hope is encouragement in some way. This same grace is extended to you from Him, no matter who you are, where you’ve been, or what you’ve done.

Covid-19 has made the temporary more obviously temporary and I hope that you take a second and evaluate what you value and who you are. Tell your family and friends “the things they already know.” Reconcile those long lost friendships. Don’t take anything for granted and don’t give in to the mass hysteria.

Peace, and hopefully we’ll get to the blog where I do the 2020 version!

 

-P