Struggling to find the right balance

These days, I often find myself in the middle of these dilemmas:

Work on the weekends or enjoy the summer

Some recommend that to get ahead of others, you work on the weekends or when others are not. The logic makes sense. If you work properly, the more hours are put in, the better you should become. Yet, there is another side of me that wants to enjoy this beautiful summer. Midwest winter is hard. It’s unpredictable, it’s cold, it’s winter and it’s lengthy. Summer days are long in demand, but shorter in supply. I constantly struggle to choose which path I should follow in this regard

Set ambitious goals or stay relaxed and spontaneous

I used to be a goal-setting & future-oriented kind of a guy, yet I have worked to be more spontaneous and scale back my obsession with goal setting. It was good till I reflected upon what has been achieved for the first 6 months of the year and what lies ahead in the other 6. I found myself lacking. I found myself becoming a bit complacent. The urge to stay spontaneous and in the moment is still there, but perhaps I should mix it with some ambitious goals to give myself a push. The question is: what constitutes the right balance?

Sleep more or do more

Besides my day job, I commit myself to regular reading, working out, exploring the city, meeting new people and side projects such as this blog. Sometimes, travel sneaks into the to-do list like a thief as well. What I want to do keeps growing and growing while time doesn’t. As a fan of the Why We Sleep book, I understand the importance of sufficient sleep. I do want to sleep at least 8 hours a day, but I also want to do as much as possible when youth is still on my side. If I want an easy life later on, I need to work hard now. But as Matthew Walker, the author of Why We Sleep, said: once you lose sleep time, there is no way to get it back.

These questions and dilemmas need answering and solving quickly. The longer I have them unsolved and unanswered, the more time will be lost. Yet it’s not easy. Not easy to make a decision without full information. Or not easy to live with the consequences. Either way, I need to find a balance soon.

Passport, Signal of Trust and Credibility

A new ranking by a Singapore-based consulting firm saw Vietnamese passport climb up a few positions compared to last year, even though it still belongs to the bottom tier. As of this year, Vietnamese citizens can travel to 61 countries where there is no visa requirement or visas can be issued upon arrival.

What does a passport signal actually?

It signals to the destination countries how trustworthy, credible and civil the passport holder is likely going to be. For instance, a US passport holder can travel to more than 100 countries without visa restrictions since being a US citizen signals that he or she comes with the credibility of the US as a nation. Meanwhile, since Vietnam is a poor country with less credibility, the citizens can only travel to 61 countries visa-free.

That’s on a macro level.

However, I have lived in 3 Western countries and traveled to more than 10 different nations without any blemish on my civil profile, not even a parking ticket. My personal track record should be sufficient for other countries to trust me. Instead, a Nebraskan who never boards a plane before can go to Canada tomorrow without a visa while I will have to apply for one and next-day trips are, hence, out of question.

The asymmetry of information and the lack of credibility of a nation that cascades down to its citizens create a lot of problems and inconvenience for some individuals.

I wish there would be a blockchain-based system in which past records are impossible to alter unless perpetrators like to waste a huge amount of computing power, information is secure and everybody can access. That way, credibility can be assessed on an individual level, not a national one.

By the way, if you are fortunate enough to be born with a powerful passport, do travel. Don’t take it for granted. Explore the world and have some compassion towards less fortunate others. Just like me, many wish to travel freely, but can’t.

Why I blog

One of my goals in 2019 is to write often and specifically, have at least 200 published blog posts when the year closes its curtains. So far I have been on track to meet the target. As I look back at the last 8 months of consistent blogging, this endeavor has brought to me so much more than I anticipated.

Last August, I started this blog as a medium to practice what I learned, share my opinion in my own way to give back, create a healthy habit and build up my self-confidence. Fast forward to now:

  1. I have learned a lot more along the way. To really write about something, first I need to know what I am going to write about. I read more quarterly/annual reports, earning call transcripts, industry reports, long blog posts, you know, the boring stuff to many of my peers. I listen to more podcasts, interviews. I read more books. I analyze reported numbers by companies more. And it leads to a lot learning; which fits the name of this blog.
  2. I enjoy the process. Writing is such a pleasant experience to me nowadays that I often really look forward to it as a highlight of my day, especially when I have a long day at work. Anne Lamott said it best: “Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do – the actual act of writing – turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”
  3. I feel much more confident about blogging now than when I first started. Not because I am an expert now. I still have a long way to go. But I believe it is because of the practice. Blogging often helps me reduce my self-doubt and shyness bit by bit and gives my confidence a little boost. Even though the progress is nothing earth-shattering, as long as I don’t stand still, I am happy.
  4. I came to realization that this blog gradually is becoming a collection of my notes, a bookmarking tool, a mind-refresher. Sometimes, I come back to remind myself of some highlights in a book I read, of some code I wrote and of something that I jogged down. Instead of carrying an actual notebook which would be challenging to categorize and search, I know where to find what I need with just a few key strokes.

I came across a post by M.G. Siegler that really hit home to me:

Imagine the humiliation of putting yourself out there and zero people caring because zero people saw it. I know a lot of people feel this way when they start doing something with regard to content on the internet — I applied it to blogging, but I imagine it’s the exact same story with recording videos for YouTube, starting a podcast, etc. Just keep at it.

This is, of course, easier said than done. It takes time to do anything, no matter the type of content you’re focused on. The good news is that even if the audience doesn’t show up at first, the work pays off in other ways. Namely, you’ll get better at what you’re doing.

I look back at some of my early blog posts and cringe. They were awful. I was foolish. But I kept going and the posts got less awful and less foolish (this statement is subject to review in another decade). I honestly think the worst thing that could have happened was getting a large audience from day one. I wouldn’t have been ready for it (even if I thought I was).

And so again, the advice is simply to keep at it. Even if the next post gets zero readers too. And the next one. Eventually, zero turns to one and then one to two and then you’re off to the races.

M.G. Siegler

I know the feeling of having zero people view what you wrote all too well. Part of it is I don’t advertise it. I put a link to my blog on my Instagram profile, LinkedIn profile and in my resume. That’s it. I don’t actively post on Facebook or tweet about it whenever I publish. I am doing this for me first and foremost, not to be validated by others. Plus, I know I am not ready. Even though this blog has gained traction in the last few months , I am still on my way from zero to one. Good news is that I am willing to keep at it.

Don’t judge a person for his/her broken English

I had lunch with a friend whom I met in college today. It has been a while since we met and the meet was pleasant. In addition to catching up with what the other was doing, we touched upon what would seem to be quite a deep topic for lunch, but you could tell that we were close enough to open up on it.

Long story short, I told him the last time we met that I somehow felt looked down up on by Americans because I am Asian, because I don’t look big enough and because I don’t speak English like a native speaker. I have been trying hard since I was 16 and I wish I could, but the fact is that even though I speak the language well enough to get me a job and two Master’s degrees, I don’t talk like a native speaker.

The friend brought it back today. He talked about his encounter with a French engineer who uprooted his life back home to come to America to have a better career and life. The French guy doesn’t speak English well, said my friend, but my friend admired the courage taken to go to a foreign country alone, as he once told me. My friend said that the biggest lesson he had in the last few years was to learn that it wasn’t easy for others to come to the US and that no matter how good or bad someone’s English is, the effort to speak the language is already admirable and it shouldn’t be the basis on which judgement is passed.

As an immigrant, of course, I understand the sentiment, yet it is great to hear it from my friend. But if I have to be honest, I don’t use my inability to speak English natively as an excuse. To me, if I succeed, good. I did put in the work, but I was lucky as well. If I fail, well I was just not good enough. Coming here to study and work is a game. I chose to participate in that game and it just doesn’t make sense to say that my failure is justified because the rules are not in my favor. Nonetheless, I am happy to hear that from my friend and proud to have him as a friend.

For the compassion and humility, I have learned a great deal myself from learning technical topics such as coding and IT. I am always a believer in the notion that we all should try to find answers on our own first before asking questions or for help from others. It matters more to me that a person actually tried on his or her own first than whether he or she succeeded in finding the answer. But admittedly, I easily got irritated. I was arrogant. I got annoyed whenever I thought people asked too easy questions.

Since learning how to code, I have realized that I was…well, an asshole. Code is very binary. It either works or it doesn’t. There is nothing in between. When trying to find answers to my coding problems, I encountered numerous times guys who were better than me, but gave replies that asked more questions than answers. Some guys on StackOverflow or at school answered, but in a way that you couldn’t fathom unless a significant amount of time is spent on that or the person elaborated more.

When I was still an intern at an IT company, all the technical details and jargon floating around the office were initially another language to me. I had to, if I am honest, disturb some engineers in the office to help me understand even the basic concepts in their mind. I told them: “please speak English to me. I am dumb. Dumb it down for me”. I am glad that they did because it helped me tremendously then, now and in the future I believe.

Since then, I have learned the value of humility and compassion more. I have consciously made an effort to be very specific with words and visuals when helping others. I have consciously tried to be patient and understanding that the person processes information differently than I do and that I used to or still am in that position.

Humans of New York and Brandon Stanton

I am a big fan of Humans of New York. There are so many great stories told in just ordinary yet moving languages. Whenever I run into those stories, they just create beautiful moments in my days and lift the spirit a little bit. In the time when racism, lack of compassion and cynicism are dangerously present as our time now, stories like the one below offers a pure and beautiful break

Source: Humans of New York

I also recommend the interview between Tim Ferriss and the founder of Humans of New York. It’s an engaging and incredible interview shedding light on his story and the struggle he went through to have his photo project take off

Vietnamese Lunar New Year Holiday

Tomorrow will be the official start of the Lunar New Year holiday in Vietnam. It’ll be the third straight holiday that I have missed since I landed in the US 2.5 years ago. Time does fly, doesn’t it?

Contrary to what may be the conventional thinking, I personally don’t think Lunar New Year, or we call “Tet” in Vietnamese, isn’t a great time to visit for foreigners. Big cities will be seriously less crowded since folks go back to their hometown to spend quality time with their families. Meanwhile, folks who were born and raised in big cities such as myself will likely travel somewhere. Hence, big cities become boring and popular destinations become too annoying.

I’ll let you in a little secret. Tet is only truly great during the days leading up to the first day of the holiday. Families gather and hustle to decorate houses and prepare for the holiday. The sense of togetherness is greater than ever during the 365 days of sunsets of the year. After the first day, it’s just formalities and gift-changing for a few days before the normal life kicks in again. In the past, my family used to prepare marinated allium chinense in jars. But my grandmother, mother and aunts are now too occupied and old to do it. Time doesn’t spare anyone in its wake, does it? I missed that time. The tradition is no longer there and there is something missing during Tet.

Cách làm dưa kiệu ngon, trắng giòn, để lâu không hỏng
Source: sieungon

Personally, I like Tet. Growing up in the economic capital of Vietnam, I grow used to and sick of the terrible traffic in the city. 12 million people hustle every day to make ends meet. During Tet, the majority which is made of ambitious immigrants from poorer provinces go home to spend time with family, a privilege of which life strips them during the other 345 days of the year. Hence, traffic is much more pleasant during Tet and I like it.

This will be my 3rd consecutive time missing out on Tet since landing in America 2.5 years ago. This is not my first rodeo, but it sure doesn’t make it any easier. Anyway, I really hope 2019 will be better than it has been to me so far. The calendar will turn pages in about 22 hours. Finger fucking crossed!

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.