Whenever you can help, do and do it kindly

I am working in the Marketing Analytics for a big private bank in America. I didn’t work in the banking industry before. The learning curve is really high. I have to learn not only the products and the terminologies, but also the data, the tools we use to extract data for different products (mortgage, loans, credit cards) and programming language (SAS, SQL). Having been here for some weeks, I still have a lot to learn. My manager told me that he expected me to be comfortable with what we do in at least 6 months and one year is a normal timeline.

Today, I was asking one of my teammates about a specific product and campaign at the bank. Even though it was around 4:30pm on a Friday when there were only two of us left in the office, he patiently explained to me and went over and beyond to show the code he did and what the code meant. In the end, he told me of his experience in his previous company where he was also trying to learn his way around like I am and he was discouraged since his former colleagues didn’t seem eager to teach him. He said their attitude made him try not to bother them and ask questions, unless he really really had to. The experience taught him to really take the time to help out others properly.

It’s sad when somebody doesn’t feel like asking you for help even when that somebody really needs help. Reaching out for assistance isn’t easy. In my opinion, it takes a little bit of courage as nobody wants to appear vulnerable, inferior or incompetent in a professional environment. If you can help out, please do. If you are busy at the time, schedule another time or point to another source of information. Nonetheless, don’t try to explain a complex issue in 1-2 minutes and abruptly leave and say: I am so busy, I don’t have time for this. It makes things even worse. It’s humiliating to the other person.

One of the most important things I have learned growing up is that you show your true color more when you deal with people who are inferior, less unfortunate than you, not when you deal with people superior to you. Plus, I don’t think anybody can be good at anything without once having a mentor or help along the way.

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.

A podcast on the importance of sleep

I wrote about the book: Why We Sleep before. If you are interested in the subject, yet don’t find the time or the motivation to dive into the pages, you can get the gist of the book at the podcast series here. If you care about your health and brain, I urge you to have a listen.

One of the things I would like to call out here is the unhealthy practice of boasting how little sleep one has in public. Some folks tend to take their deprivation of sleep as a badge of honor. I used to be the same. There was a time before I graduated when I lived on coffee and sweet, to keep myself awake. And I talked about that to my friends with a little bit of pride. However, I learned that it was stupid of me. I was killing my brain and myself. The author is right in calling BS on the “sleep is for the weak. You can have all the sleep after you die” notion.

One of my goals in 2019 is to form the habit of sleeping 7-8 hours a night. Admittedly, I have failed spectacularly so far in the year. There is a lot of work to do…

Lyft stock down by 12% and some thoughts on investing

After popping up 8% on the first day of its IPO last Friday, Lyft’s stock dropped by almost 12% today. That’s what I find baffling about the stock market. How much of the business could change in the span of 4 days? I haven’t encountered news that could justify the drop of that size. What changed? Will it go further down tomorrow? Or will it shoot back up again? And by how much? I literally have zero idea.

Charlie Munger once said that if you want to make money by buying low, you have to know when to sell high and it’s hard. Given what I have seen so hard, he is right. You don’t know when it is “high” enough to satisfy your own greed. Some may say that determining an intrinsic value of business by discounted cash flow (DCF) will be helpful in knowing when to buy and when to sell. That’s true, but DCF itself isn’t an easy and straightforward practice. It’s really hard. Here in this clip (around 6:50), Charle (not sure if he was 100% serious) mentioned that he never once saw Warren Buffett do a DCF. Plus, a renowned expert in valuation, Aswath Damodaran, admitted that he missed the mark way off when he tried to value Uber in 2014. I once participated in an M&A competition with three of my close friends. In the course leading up to the contest and the contest itself, we had to do quite a few valuation with DCFs. The method involves a lot of assumptions and it’s more art than science. Each company requires a different approach and almost no valuation is the same. If an expert such as Professor Damodaran struggled to get it right, what are the odds of ordinary folks nailing it? My money is on the “not very high” bet.

I don’t know a perfect method in investing, but I agree with Warren Buffett that buying or selling on prices is not investing. I’d recommend these two books if you are interested in life advice and investing. Poor Charlie’s Almanack and The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for The Thoughtful Investor. If you have time, read more from Charlie Munger. He is really a wealth of wisdom. Plus, you can read financial reports (SEC filings of the companies) or S-1 if companies are filing to go public and subscribe to Seekingalpha.com or Yahoo.com to read the transcript of their earning calls. Plenty of useful information can be had from such sources.

I have my own reasons to invest in the companies in my small portfolio and if I go bust, at least I will learn a ton about business and go out on my own terms.

Deadlines and leadership

I came across this insightful and engaging read from a PhD in clinical psychology on the impact of deadlines and leadership. If you care about these two issues, I urge you to have a read.

I am usually baffled by all the fancy recommendations on how to be successful. To me, it’s very simple. First and foremost, don’t be an asshole. If you manage to do that, you already go a long long way. If you grow old and don’t realize you are an asshole to others or don’t have family or friends tell you that, you’ll have a bigger problem than your career.

Furthermore, in my book, leadership is not about age or title or years of experience. It is about nurturing others, being the last to take credit and and being the first to shoulder the blame. Otherwise, why would others put you in a position of authority? If a manager never grows you, doesn’t acknowledge your work and always places the blame on you, will you consider manager a good leader? Or will you just deride the person as someone that just happens to have authority over you?

In addition, I believe leaders should also have compassion and interpersonal skills. I remember the time when I was lucky enough to be in a managerial position in Vietnam. While I received positive feedback on being a leader, I admittedly failed spectacularly as managing my staff and firing one of them. The experience taught me how difficult it was to have leadership skills. It’s not just about “being the head of a team or an organization”. It’s about how you took a bullet for the team, how you nurtured your folks, how you shared the credit, how you managed the interpersonal relationships and how you dealt with difficult conversations.

I know I failed, at minimum, at two of those. But I would love to have a chance to be in a managerial position again, this time in the US.

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.

Even the greats don’t know it all

I usually take notes of interesting facts, less-known stories, great insights or exciting business ideas for later use. As I went through the notes today, a few interesting stories on Steve Jobs and Peter Thiel stood out. These two are legends in the startup, business and technology world. They are often looked up to as visionaries and outstanding business individuals. And they really are.

But they are not Gods. World-class brilliant as they are, they don’t have a crystal ball or have all the ideas all the time. In other words, they are just humans like us. This is not to downgrade them in any way. Just a reminder that we should learn with a grain of salt, even from the established legends, that it’s normal to make mistakes or miss the boat and that the luck of working with great colleagues/partners and being at the right place at the right time is hugely important.

Steve Jobs on iTunes

But Steve Jobs, of course, had a legendary stubborn streak of his own. Jobs had always conceived of the iPod as a way to sell more Apple computers. He was still married to the idea of the Mac as the digital hub, so he was reluctant to bring iTunes to Windows machines (and thus, the majority of computer users). “It was a really big argument for months,” Jobs recalled, “me against everyone else.” Jobs declared that Apple would do a Windows version of iTunes “over my dead body.” Only after Apple executives showed him business studies that proved Mac sales would be unaffected did Jobs capitulate, saying, “Screw it! I’m sick of listening to you assholes. Go do whatever the hell you want.”

From the book: How the Internet happened

Steve Jobs on App Store

The original, App Store-less iPhone was very much Steve Jobs’ platonic ideal of a closed and curated computing system, a perfect, hermetically sealed device. For several months after the iPhone’s launch, Jobs was actually vocally opposed to the very idea of an app store, refusing to let outside developers infect his perfect creation. He told the New York Times: “You don’t want your phone to be like a PC. The last thing you want is to have loaded three apps on your phone and then you go to make a call and it doesn’t work anymore. These are more like iPods than they are like computers.”

In the end, the battle to do an app store was a replay of the argument over opening up iTunes to Windows users a few years earlier. Just as before, everyone inside Apple wanted to do it, and Jobs kept saying no. But in the end, just as with iTunes, the result was the same. Jobs finally caved, telling those who had been haranguing him, “Oh, hell, just go for it and leave me alone!”

From the book: How the Internet happened

Peter Thiel on Facebook

In the interview below, Peter Thiel (around 7:20) admitted that he didn’t think Facebook was going to be as big as it turned out to be, claiming that he would have been happy with Facebook signing up only college students in the US.

Stories like these are not rare. If you know some, feel free to share in the comment.

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.

100th post in 2018

I don’t remember the exact time, but somewhere in the summer, I decided to put effort into this blog and resolve to have at least 100 posts at the end of 2018. At the time, I had around 20 something posts already. Not a tall order. Not an ambitious goal. But a goal to work on, to look forward to.

Fast forward, a few days from when the sun will finally set on 2018, I achieved the goal set a few months ago. But it’s just the start of a very long road. I set my sight on publishing 200 more posts in 2019 and more in the future.

The primary metric is the number of published posts, not the number of followers or likes. The purpose of this blog is an outlet of my expression, whether it is a coding tip, a book I enjoyed, something that happened in my life or an opinion on a topic. My goal is to get out of my shell more as well as to create a rewarding long-term habit. I have enjoyed the journey of getting to 100 posts as much as the feeling coming from reaching the milestone itself. Hence, I really look forward to writing more next year and beyond.

Finally, as 2019 is just around the corner, I wish everyone a great holiday break, fully charged before taking on the new challenges in 2019. In a non-stop world we are living in, it’s more important to have a slow period of time such as this time of the year.