Book: The courage to be disliked

I spent some time thinking about what I should write first in 2019. Instead of some predictions, I decided to write a bit about the book that influenced me greatly in 2018 – The courage to be disliked. I am reading it for the second time and believe that by writing about it here, it will stick longer in my memory and can be beneficial in 2019 for those who happen to read this post. Here we go.

Avoid the victim mentality

According to the author and Alfred Adler, the psychologist and philosopher, even though we can’t change what happened in the past, our past should not dictate our happiness and future or should not be an excuse for our unhappiness. In layman’s terms, we should not have the victim mentality regarding our past or what we were born with. For instance, even if you are born in a poor family or short, it should not be the source of your unhappiness or you shouldn’t use it to say that causes your failures in life.

Adlerian psychology is a psychology of courage. Your unhappiness cannot be blamed on your past or your environment. And it isn’t that you lack competence. You just lack courage. One might say you are lacking in the courage to be happy.

One tries to get rid of one’s feeling of inferiority and keep moving forward. One’s never satisfied with one’s present situation – even if it’s just a single step, one wants to make progress. One wants to be happier. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the state of this kind of feeling of inferiority. There are; however, people who lose the courage to take a single step forward, who cannot accept the fact that the situation can be changed by making realistic efforts. People who, before even doing anything, simply give up and say things like “I’m not good enough anyway” or “Even if I tried, I wouldn’t stand a chance”.

Anger

You did not fly into a rage and then start shouting. It is solely that you got angry so that you could shout. In other words, in order to fulfill the goal of shouting, you created the emotion of anger.

In a word, anger is a tool that can be taken out as needed. It can be put away the moment the phone rings, and pulled out again after one hangs up. The mother isn’t yelling in anger she cannot control. She is simply using the anger to overpower her daughter with a loud voice and thereby assert her opinions.

Love yourself

“I’m sure that no one would want to get involved with a guy as warped as me”. I am sure you understand this already. Why do you dislike yourself? Why do you focus only on your shortcomings, and why have you decided to not start liking yourself? It’s because you are overly afraid of being disliked by other people and getting hurt in your interpersonal relationships.

A healthy feeling of inferiority is not something that comes from comparing oneself to others; it comes from one’s comparison with one’s ideal self.

Avoid the fabricated superiority complex

One makes a show of being on good terms with a powerful person. By doing that, one lets it be known that one is special. Behaviors like misrepresenting one’s work experience or excessive allegiance to particular brands of clothing are forms of giving authority and probably also have aspects of the superiority complex. In each case, it isn’t that the “I” is actually superior or special. It is only that one is making the “I” look superior by linking it to authority. In short, it’s a fabricated feeling of superiority.

There’s the kind of person who likes to boast about his achievements. Someone who clings to his past glory and is always recounting memories of the time when his light shone brightest. Those who go so far as to boast about things out loud actually have no confidence in themselves. As Adler clearly indicates, “The one who boasts does so only out of a feeling of inferiority”…those who make themselves look bigger on borrowed power are essentially living according to other people’s value systems – they are living other people’s lives.

Separation of tasks

All you can do with regard to your own life is choose the best path that you believe in. On the other hand, what kind of judgment do other people pass on that choice? That is the task of other people, and is not a matter you can do anything about.

You are worried about other people looking at you. You are worried about being judged by other people. That’s why you are constantly craving recognition from others. Now, why are you worried about other people looking at you, anyway? Adlerian psychology has an easy answer. You haven’t done the separation of tasks yet. You assume that even things that should be other people’s tasks are your own. Remember the words of the grandmother: “You’re the only one who’s worried how you look”. What other people think when they see your face – that is the task of other people and is not something you have any control over.

Those are the main lessons I picked up from the first half of the book. They really hit home with me and changed my perspective in 2018. Of course, there are many more lessons and nuances, but the above stood out for me. Others might do for you. If you find them helpful, give the book a try. You’ll likely find more interesting insights from the book which will be helpful to your growth in 2019 and beyond.

What I got better at in 2018

First of all, 2018 has been an eventful year. There are a lot to be concerned about in the past 12 months, but there are also plenty to be thankful for and optimistic about. I came across an article that summarized how the world became a better place in 2018. Highly recommended.

Personally, the following are what I got better at in 2018

Javascript

I didn’t write a single Javascript line of code before August 2018. That; however, changed during the course of 4 months. My MIS Capstone project forced to work mostly with Javascript as I was responsible for data visualization piece of the project.

Python

From January to December, I had courses in which I had to use Python every single month. Hence, I am much more comfortable with the language now than I was in 2017 in different ways, from data analysis, data cleaning and writing functions in the back end.

GitHub

I am still a bit frustrated and annoyed by GitHub. As somebody with a background in business, GitHub can be annoyingly user-unfriendly at times. But the Capstone project taught me a lot more on how to use branches, set up the origin URL and push code more efficiently.

Reading books

This year, I have read arguably the most impactful and best books in my life. 16 books were read in 2018, but I didn’t finish all of them. In the past, I was determined to go cover to cover for every book, but this year, I let loose. For some books, I stopped reading whenever I thought that I got the gist of it and that the rest of the book was just anecdotes and examples. It’s a better use of my time.

Knowledge in enterprise IT

12 months of working, reading and learning in the industry gave me a better handle on what was going on. The fact that I haven’t been fired from my job at a Managed Service Provider is proof of that. But there is a lot to learn and the IT field moves dizzyingly fast that getting complacent or listless isn’t an option.

Compassion and control of my emotions

I used to be angry, hot-headed and very impatient. Over the course of 12 months, I sought feedback from folks around me and received positive comments on my improvement. I still feel the urge to do things fast and speed things up, but I have a better control over my Hulk now than I did.

Blogging

I was more committed to this blog than I had ever been. I reached my goal of having the 100th blog post published in 2018. At least I could say there is an improvement in this area in 2018 than in previous years.

B2B Marketing

My working experience was mostly in B2C space. Since August 2017, I have been working in a B2B company and as a result, have learned a great deal about B2B marketing. For the past year, I learned much more about HubSpot, Salesforce, Webinar making, content marketing strategy and so on. Hopefully in 2019, I will get more experience in webinars and podcast as well. We’ll see

Honorable mentions: playing pool and cutting my own hair

It’s much easier to list what I got better at than to list what I am still lacking. There are just too many and we don’t have the time and space for that! Coming to 2019, I really look forward to learning more things or the same things but with more depth. Let’s see in about 8760 hours what I have to share again.

Podcast: Russell Brand and Candace Owens

A friend recommended to me the interview below that featured Russell Brand and Candace Owens. Even though I still have 17 minutes to go, I think I have enough to say a couple of things about it.

Extremisms

From my perspectives, the two people in the clip came from two opposite extreme positions in a variety of topics, whether it was about the role of governments, the entitlement mindset, socialism, capitalism… The issue with coming from an extreme position is that it is too generalizing and often times it is right in a few scenarios. Take socialism. Candace cited multiple times Venezuela as the proof of socialism as a failed social system. On the other hand, Nordic countries have thrived in the past decades because of governments and societies that are more socialist than capitalist. Yet, such cases are conveniently ignored when critics of socialism take a stage and voice their criticisms.

Decentralization vs Centralization

Decentralization has become increasingly popular nowadays whether you talk about governments or cryptocurrency. Fans of decentralization don’t hesitate to criticize governments and centralization. Don’t get me wrong. A lot of governments fail at their jobs and deserve criticisms. Essentially, governments are run by human-beings and we are naturally flawed. We tend to succumb to excessive greed and thirst for power. That’s why we need checks and balance.

Nonetheless, centralization has been there for centuries. And it happened that way for a reason. If it were so bad, why wouldn’t something like centralization happen earlier? We may have the technology in what powers bitcoin or cryptocurrency to actually have a shot at scaled decentralization. When that will happen remains unclear, but I am amazed at the tendency to dismantle completely centralization by some crypto fans.

I believe it is a more efficient way between the two concepts at hand (centralization vs decentralization) to distribute resources and run societies. If there were no banks, how much less efficient would our societies be? If everybody had to keep his or her record and there were no trusted intermediary, how much more time and effort would be wasted to do what we normally do with government agencies and banks.

Additionally, many are concerned about growing influence of big corporations on our societies. Yet, without governments, who would be able to keep those corporations in check?

Conclusion

The interview itself is a refreshing one that features a civilized argument littered with disagreements. A rarity nowadays.

There are points from each side that I agree and disagree with. One of the things I have learned in the past two years is to have strong opinions and loosely held views. Or in layman’s terms, I avoid extreme positions. Particularly, regarding very complex issues such as socialism, centralization vs decentralization and macro-economics, just to name a few, I believe the extreme perspectives are even less accurate or helpful. You can’t tell me a government-led society won’t work when there is Singapore. You can’t tell me socialism won’t work when there are Nordic countries.

Each country is very different. One concept that works for one country is not guaranteed to work in others. Using one particular failure/success to dismiss/over-hype that concept is, in my opinion, not right. What is failing is the execution. Not the concepts. What matters is reality. Whatever works works, regardless of what it is called.

Thanksgiving

In Vietnam, we don’t have Thanksgiving and it’s not a big deal in Europe either. So it’s a new concept to me. Nonetheless, I feel very thankful to America and what I have had for the past 2.5 years. 

I came here for more education, especially on the technology side, and a chance at a better life and career. In about 4 weeks, this Vietnamese will graduate with no student loan whatsoever. It’s all thanks to the school and the opportunity it’s given me. 

My first internship in the US was at an e-commerce website based in Omaha. It was an SEO position. Though I knew conceptually what SEO was, I had had little experience in both SEO and e-commerce. Yet, they took a chance on me and while it lasted for 10-11 weeks only, I picked up something along the way that proved to be useful later on. 

My next internship that has been going on for 1.5 years is at a technology company. The position advertisement was labeled Graphic Design, but the job description sounded an awful lot like one of a marketer. I applied and got an interview. It went well and I got the job. My boss later told me that she and the VP of Sales and Marketing agreed that even though I wasn’t exactly what they were looking for (someone with more design skill) and they didn’t know yet how I could fit in, they determined that I would come on board. 

Plus, I have met some great folks at school and forged friendships that would last for years to come. 

So I am pretty thankful for everything America. 

Gratitude

If you get to know me these days, I have a tendency to go on and on about how much I am struggling between two Capstones and a job. I am not good at programming, but I have been hustling to write line after line of Javascript, Python and HTML. Hours and hours of being glued to my desk and sometimes the code didn’t work. Imagine that monumental amount of frustration.

This weekend, I am on a quick getaway trip to see a good friend from Belgium, who is in the US right now for business. So while on the planes and during layover, I have some time away from all the coding, Slack messages and fear that the code won’t work. Time to reflect.

Before this semester, I kept saying to whoever cared enough to ask: I can’t wait to graduate. 5 weeks from graduation, I am; however, often overwhelmed by the feeling of uncertainty. What will I do when I am no longer a student? Being an immigrant in the US these days is not easy or enjoyable. Finding a job and getting the paperwork to work is challenging, requiring quite a bit of luck. Even though I have a clean track record (I don’t even have speeding/parking ticket) and my employer indicates an intention of keeping me permanently, my fate rests entirely upon some stranger in the Department of Homeland Security. There is nothing else I can do, but to wait and pray.

There are things that I don’t like about the US. It’s normal. I don’t think there is anywhere I wholeheartedly like. But I have gained quite a lot here. I wouldn’t have learned about coding had I still stayed in Vietnam. Instead, I am able to write some code now to the point that I enjoy doing it. Who knows? Maybe it will lead me to a great opportunity one day.

My job teaches me a great deal about enterprise IT infrastructure. Without coming to the US, how could I have known about cloud computing, storage, next-generation firewalls, etc…? (sounds smart heh?). Trust me, I am a newbie with a mountain of knowledge to learn. It’s like Himalaya. It keeps rising higher and higher.

More importantly, I have met some incredible people while in the US. Some will still be my friends a few years from now. Three days ago, a friend from Germany that I met while in Omaha, texted me out of the blue on Whatsapp, saying: “Minh, how is it going? Closer to graduation? Just want to let you know that if you want to find a job in Germany, don’t hesitate to ask”. I made my day and days after that.

What I am trying to say is that I am grateful for what I have got during the last two and a half years. Has it all been perfect? No. But I am grateful for it.

I spent an illegal and unacceptable amount of time on debating with myself: if I could do it all over again, would I still come here? Trust me, such a debate could drain you. After all, I left behind everything I had up to August 2016 to come to the US. No friends, no family, all the professional credibility and network in Vietnam that would mean nothing , and a personal relationship that would be broken at some point.

But whenever I am not in a bad mood, at a low point, drunk or bone-tired because of work and school, I feel grateful to the US and all the people that I have come across. Really. Would I still do it? The answer is yes.

Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj & the man himself

I was told to watch Hasan Minhaj’s new show on Netflix called Patriot Act. If you don’t have a Netflix account, rest easy. The first three episodes are available on YouTube.

I like the show and Hasan. For some reasons, I am not a big fan of most of the late night comedy shows any more, except Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Celebrity interviews or games or only “anti-Trump” rhetoric that sometimes comes with lame jokes don’t engage me. I prefer learning something new from a show or a funny take on the current issues. So far, John Oliver and now Hasan deliver that in my opinion. While John Oliver has a knack for choosing overlooked issues in our society, Hasan is a masterful story-teller. He just sucks you in the story he is telling whether it is a story on his family after 9/11, his take on that John McCain debate during 2008 presidential debate, or his being bullied in high school.

I was in the gym today, listening to his commencement speech at high school. He told the story of him being bullied, of being rejected from his dream of playing basketball in high school and of how that forced him to comedy. I recommend listening to his speech. In the end, he got real.

“It doesn’t always get better. The world doesn’t care one bit about your dream. But if you keep working, you’ll find something that you are meant to do. You’ll eventually find where you are supposed to be. If you can’t get into the front door. Go through the side. If you can’t go through the side, go through the backyard. If you can’t go through the backyard, go through the window. No matter what. Never stop fighting through the pick”.

Or something along that line. He has other great interviews on YouTube, but I’ll let you discover them.

 

Midterms and why you should vote

I do discuss politics, but with my friends only or those who are open-minded enough to do it without engaging in a shouting match or escalating it to another level. I don’t want to talk politics on this blog because it’s a black hole. But today I want to.

Midterm ads

As the midterms are coming around the corner, I have seen more ads on YouTube. Mostly attack ads that are sponsored by  a candidate to attack his or her opponents. That’s pitiful. A lot of money is spent on attacking opponents. Instead, such money should have been spent in a more meaningful way.

Politics in America is about the extreme. It’s either one end of the stick or the other end. Nothing in between. It’s common to advance by attacking others. Meanwhile, plenty of important issues in our life go unnoticed or misunderstood by the public. Issues such as foreign policies, trade or healthcare are highly complicated and most of us don’t quite get them. Even if we understand, the compartmentalization and secrecy born out of how governments work in general, not just the US government, make information inaccessible and misunderstanding more palpable.

Call me an idealist, but if public servants as these politicians all claim to be want to serve the public, wouldn’t it benefit the public if they spent their money on educating their constituents on important issues, instead of attacking their opponents? I am not talking about last-minute vids when campaigns start. I am talking about a year-long constant effort on trying to help constituents understand issues more. It’s likely that they wouldn’t understand some highly highly complex issues anyway, but at least they would understand more what is going on. And that is the essence of serving the public.

In business, the surest way to attract users/customers is to be helpful/useful to them. It should be the same here. Politicians wouldn’t need to be helpful for the public. They could do it for themselves. By making themselves a reliable source of information and knowledge on what matters in constituents’ lives, I believe politicians would find it easier to earn trust. Even if things go wrong, they could always say: hey, I have been telling you that we have to compromise in politics and things are not straightforward 9 out of 10 cases. That’s the truth, provided that these politicians are forthcoming and transparent.

Sadly, it is not the case.

The importance of voting

I have talked to a few folks in Nebraska. Some didn’t vote in 2016 because they didn’t like either candidate. Low turnout is not really that uncommon here. But I’d like to talk about what happens on tonight’s episode of Madam Secretary, a show I talked about in the past.

On this episode, the Secretary had to find a way to work with a dictator in Philippines to retrieve the bodies of dead American soldiers who died in, probably, WW2 (I don’t remember the show mentioning it clearly but it was 1945, so WW2 was my guess). The dictator refused to endorse the request to retrieve the bodies, unless America gave him money that would be used to buy weapons and suppress his citizens in the future. Some compromise would be required here.

Meanwhile, her daughter worked for a candidate who pledged to campaign on student loans as one of his principles. But he left it out of his agenda. Her daughter quit the campaign because of that. Listen to this clip to see how the Secretary taught her daughter on the importance of voting.

I was about to go to bed and like I said, politics is not what I like to talk about on this blog. Nonetheless, I figured I had to do this because it mattered. If you read this and are eligible to vote in a few days, do vote. Like the Secretary said, many died for you to be able to vote. And why wouldn’t you? It will affect your life for years to come. It will also affect the world for years to come. If your representative is a decisive vote on a bill that will affect other countries, imagine that.

Do a quick research on your representatives, senators, attorney generals or governors. Any position that is on the ballot. Chances are you won’t agree with everything a candidate has to offer, but it’s life and it may be because some compromise had been made and you don’t know about it. Nonetheless, do vote.

Book: The Messy Middle

The Messy Middle is a new book written by the founder of Behance, a networking platform for designers. He is now the Chief Product Officer at Adobe. The book reflects his bootstrapping years at Behance and great lessons on businesses, career and entrepreneurship. Even if you are not an entrepreneur (I am not), this book has some insights on how tough it is to be one and fantastic lessons on how to advance your career. The book may get a bit mundane as it progresses, but the good thing is that many small chapters aren’t related to one another and you can skip forward or move backward at will. No need to read it in order. Below are a few of my favorite passages:

On self-awareness

Self-awareness starts with the realization that when you’re at a peak or in a valley, you’re not your greatest self. Self-awareness means dispelling your sense of superiority and the myths that people believe about you.

Ultimately, self-awareness is about preserving sound judgement and keeping relatable and realistic. However big your project or ambition, your journey is nothing more than a sequence of decisions: You’re probably many decisions away from success, but always one decision away from failure. Clarity matters. The more aware you are of yourself and your surroundings, the more data you have to inform your decisions, and the more competitive you will be

On authenticity

Nobody remembers or is inspired by anything that fits in

I do the work I do because I have to. I can’t help it. I was born this way – I can’t be false to any man. I know what the current trends and moods are, but I can’t concern myself with them. I also can’t force myself (as many do) to make work that fits within the going commercial style. Trends change and I believe that is why my work is still relevant today, because I am the only one making work like mine.

The idea of being born “weird” means you have a gift – like being born a star athlete. It would a sin to deny my gift. My “weird” is powerful. It stands out. I know that it attracts some individuals and clients, and repels others. I have to be cool with that. I am not for everyone – just the sexy people. Like you.

And as American artist Sol LeWitt once advised, “Learn to say ‘fuck you’ to the world once in a while”. Do your thing.

On doing the hard work

There’s a reason so few people do hard work beyond their job description: It’s hard work. You run the risk of extending energy or falling behind in other pars of your life, but these are the costs of playing at the frontier and having the opportunity to lead something new. You’re either a cog in the system or a designer of new and better systems. Of course, if you aspire to transform your industry and leave a valuable mark in your world, you’ll challenge every system you find yourself confined by. When you see something wrong, take the initiative to fix it.

When you find yourself frustrated or critical, channel that energy into persistent creation. If it’s not your job, pursue it anyway. Do research, run tests, or draft white papers and presentations to prove your position, even if it’s on your own time. It’ll give you a sense of satisfaction that no amount of preordained tasks will.

A shared trait among entrepreneurs and innovators within big companies is defying prescribed roles. The future is drafted by people doing work they don’t have to do. You need to be one of those people and hire them, too. There is too much wonder and talking and too little doing. So don’t talk: do

On how difficult it is to stay positive when dealing with hardships of entrepreneurship. I am not an entrepreneur, but it’s something I feel relatable, as I believe many do.

When I think back to those lost years, I recall a constant somber loneliness, a suffering from the feeling that nobody else could relate. The struggle was further compounded by the optimism I had to exude to my team and potential customers and partners. My hope had to be minded deep beneath the surface of fear and reality. The juxtaposition of the intensity of a start-up and feeling invisible and despondent was soul crushing. Staying positive was exhausting, and there were times when I felt depressed.

Without a steady stream of rewards, you will feel empty. You must supplement this void with manufactured optimism. You will have to endure anonymity and a persistent state of frustration. You’ll have to generate a unique and intrinsic sense of belief in yourself as you manage the blows to your plan and ego.

 

Ecstasy after toiling

My background is mostly in marketing. It can get very subjective. What looks beautiful to you may not to others. Some copy that may sound appealing to you may not to others.

Coding is different. Either your code works the way you want it to or it has bugs or malfunctions. Unfortunately, coding is hard for me. Without a technical background, anything related to programming such as installing software, setting environment, missing a comma or colon and getting the code to work is hard for me. But at the same time, whenever I get some code to work as intended, I am overwhelmed by a burst of joy. A heavy dose of pride and fulfillment. Ecstasy after toiling.

In 2017, a few friends and I participated in an M&A case competition in Nebraska. We had to work long hours every day for 2 weeks for each round (there were two rounds). On top of our daily life and schoolwork. Only after we advanced in the 1st round were we allowed to go the other round. I remember in the first round, we put a lot of effort in our case and presentation. Every comma, dot, word or even the order of annotations were looked over. We finished our proposal at 2:30am, 6 hours away from the deadline after a marathon weekend. After we pressed the “send” button, the feelings were indescribably awesome. Full of pride and fulfillment. Whether we would win didn’t matter at the time at all. Ecstasy after toiling.

In the second round, we dropped the ball. We didn’t have the same level of effort and intensity. The day we submitted the 2nd proposal, nobody felt good. We actually fought between us because I didn’t feel the others put in enough effort.

We are often told to be patient. Things worth having take time. Or something along that line they usually say. The potential ecstasy at the end of the tunnel may give each of us the motivation to try harder and again the next day. But for sure the road is hard.

Positivity

Emilia Clarke “If you don’t succeed at first, laugh until you do”

I attended an OPT session at school last Friday as a mandatory requirement for students who want to have even a remote chance of having employment in the US. Basically those who are graduating will have to apply for OPT that can be 1 or 3 years long, depending on whether one’s degree is STEM or not. Students cannot apply 90 days before the deadline, but it may take from 3 to 5 months to get the EAD card. Graduate students need the card to be legally allowed to start working. There is no workaround. When I end my internship this December, there is 90% chance I will have to stay between jobs for a month. I have heard from a classmate of mine that her friend’s job offer got rescinded because her card took too long to arrive. I could see why that happened. That’s scary and frustrating. That’s the law here. There is nothing more an immigrant like me can do about it.

I have been abroad for a few years before the US. No place forced me to train myself to be positive and optimistic like the US. Some may praise my effort to make it to the US, the start. Later and if all goes well, some may praise for what I achieve here, the finish. But the middle is the tough unglamorous part that doesn’t get mentioned often. Until luck takes a look at each of us, well, laugh till it does then.