Only 3% of this decade left

We are a few hours away from saying goodbye to August and welcoming September. If we split a year into three parts and look at the second decade of this century as a whole, around 97% of it is already gone.

It was like yesterday that I hit the beginning of my 20s. Now I am almost heading towards the magical 30. The last decade has seen me study abroad in Finland, Canada and now the US, and go back & work in Vietnam. I used to be a hot-headed rash dude with a severe lack of patience and a poisonous ego. Though I believe I got better, I am still a work in process and there is indeed a lot to be done.

I used to place a lot of value on titles and income. Now, being healthy and free to choose matters a whole lot more.

I used to love going to parties and getting drunk with friends. Now, a quiet uneventful night to work and think means a lot more.

I’d like to believe that I became wiser than when I was 20. Wiser, not still wise yet. Wisdom comes from experience which comes from decisions and usually painful regrets. The older I am, the more I believe that you come to appreciate certain lessons only at a certain phase in your life. If you had told me to focus more on inner peace and happiness instead of flashy materialistic things when I was fresh out of college, I wouldn’t have listened as much as I do now. Nor would I have appreciated the value of patience as much. It’s like you come to understand a book better only when you are older.

Ideally, I would prefer the same amount of gained wisdom with fewer painful regrets. Sometimes, it’s hard to get over some moments when I ponder “what ifs”. Still, if I have to measure the progress I made as a human-being over the last decade, a positive number is still better than a negative one or a zero. At least, there is that.

Summer is crawling to a close. A pity since I enjoy the energy, warmth and light. I am ready for what awaits in the remaining months of this decade and for the next. I hope it will be good. I am not sure I can say I am ready for Midwestern winter.

Almond Milk or Soy Milk

Looking for a tasty and nutritious drink besides cow’s milk and store-bought juice. 90% of which is made from concentrate, I decided to do some research on almond milk and soy milk to see which one is the better choice.

One of the benefits of these two choices is that they are great for those who want to lose weight. Both almond and soy milk contain little saturated fat, sugar or calories.

Source: Healthline

Unfortunately, neither of them naturally contain much calcium, though store-bought milk can be calcium-fortified.

Compared to almond milk, soy milk is richer in nutrition, especially protein (the stereotype that almond milk is a good source of protein is false) and more environmentally friendly as soy requires less water than almond.

Soy milk is allegedly related to weakened fertility in men. A Harvard study in 2009 reported that soy milk consumption might have detrimental effects on male fertility.

The soy study was part of a long-term investigation of environmental factors and fertility. The subjects were 99 male partners of sub-fertile couples. Each man had a medical evaluation and complete semen analysis, and each provided a detailed three-month dietary history that evaluated 15 soy-based foods, ranging from tofu and tempeh to soy milk, veggie burgers, and “energy bars” containing soy protein.

The study found that the men who consumed the most soy had the lowest sperm counts. And it didn’t take much soy to do the trick — as little as one portion every other day was linked to a reduction in sperm count. All in all, the men who ate the most soy had counts that averaged 41 million fewer sperm per cubic milliliter than men who ate the least. The impact was greatest in overweight men, and the results remained valid after age, smoking, alcohol, caffeine, body mass index, and the time between specimen collection and the preceding ejaculation were taken into account.

Harvard Medical School

However, the view was challenged by a study by Harvard School of Public Health in 2015 and another study in 2010. A definite conclusion on the matter remains to be determined. Given all the factors above, soy milk looks to be the winner in this contest.

Reading

If you just happen to read this blog of mine for a bit, you’ll know I like to read. Reading is fun and powerful. I learned English and still do from reading, including vocabulary, grammar, nuances, connotation and just how words can be put together. I am still miserable at it, so that’s why I keep reading.

Also, reading expands my horizon and reminds me of how lucky I am. Non-fiction books such as self-help or just pure business reads are incredibly helpful in becoming a better business person or just a better person. Accounts on life in North Korea, Africa or the gender discrimination in Middle East boost my compassion and appreciation for what I have.

I believe strongly that we all should embrace reading. And to give you some motivation, here is a tweet I thankfully came across this morning

Source: Jelani Cobb

I shared it with a friend and his first response was ‘Damn. No excuse’. Indeed, there isn’t.

Reputation

As I am looking to buy a car, the last few days have been an arduous and time-consuming quest for finding the one that ticks all the boxes on paper. Online reviews were checked. Car reports were seen. Prices were compared. And of course, opinions from friends were sought after as well.

One thing that stands out to me is the reputation of Japanese cars. Deep down inside, I already have more trust in Japanese brands such as Toyota or Honda. As safety and durability are my highest priorities, Japanese brands stand a notch higher than others in my mind. My friends’ opinions align in that as well. The people I talked to all suggest that I look out for Toyota or Honda first, if possible.

What a great advantage to have! In a saturated market, trust and good will from customers are so valuable. Even if Japanese cars may cost me a bit more, I will be willing to spend a few more bucks because of that trust and good will. It may seem obvious now, but it is the fruit of years of work to build and maintain this image. Toyota and Honda don’t come out of nowhere and do nothing to enjoy this advantage.

It applies to humans too. We take up the words of some people faster and more assuredly than of others.

I have one professor in Finland before who used to work in Treasury. He told us in a class that if he recommended us, we could take his words to the bank. If I am to have that reputation and brand, I’ll need to put in the work, constantly, now and in the years and years to come.

Be smart when working with data

I was given a specific task at work to analyze some credit card data. After spending a few hours on the code and trying to process the data, I realized that the numbers didn’t match with the universal truth accepted around the company. Hence, if I had presented what I have, all the credibility would have gone out of the window in the first couple of slides.

The reason is that I jumped into retrieving this specific dataset too early, eagerly and ignorantly. There are many nuances and things that I still need to learn about the data and logics. What I should have done is to get a foundation data with very few criteria, verify it to make sure it is correct and work my way from that foundation down to a smaller subset by adding one criterion at a time.

If you pull a report from an established source like WSJ or cite an academic article published in a journal, their credibility helps yours. However, when you pull the data yourself and present insights mined from such data, ensuring that the data is accurate is paramount to the success of the analysis. One mishap shreds your credibility and trust in your analysis. That’s the hard part, or at least one of the hard parts of working with data.

I should have done better today, but I learned a lesson, a lesson that I hope will serve me well and that we won’t have to meet again.

Goal setting, self-comparison and happiness

Kylie Jenner, Mark Zuckerberg and Warren Buffett are American business icons and billionaires. The difference between them? Mark Zuckerberg and Kylie are former and current youngest self-made billionaires at 23 and 21 respectively while Warren Buffett’s reached 10 digits when he was in his 50s. 99% of his net worth came about after his 52nd birthday

Source: The 10X Entrepreneur

If your goal is to become a billionaire, would you consider yourself a failure or a success at the age of 45? Or if you become one at the age of 80, yet still have a hell lot of more money than thousands of people on Earth, will that still be a success?

Or just having enough to take care of yourself, your family and to have enough freedom to enjoy the life will be enough? If you make $100k a year while living in an inexpensive city like Omaha, will you be happy about it? Or will you feel jealous of those your age making $150k in California?

Setting goals is one of a proven methods to get things done and become a better version of yourself. Yet, the art of setting goals is, in my opinion, tricky. Too ambitious a goal will require more effort and time, sometimes leading to burnout, stress and the risk of missing out on a lot of what life has to offer. A goal that is set too low is unable to unlock full potentials and lead to under-achievement.

Often times, we tend to look to others as a yardstick to measure ourselves and our goals against. There is a fine thin line between purely comparing ourselves against others to know where we objectively are and jealousy which is detrimental to our mental and emotional health.

The intricate relationship between goal setting, comparison of yourself to others and happiness makes it more of an art than a science. I believe it’s not possible to have a formula or a mould that can be universally applied. Each person is different and hence so is how the person approaches this issue.

Random late night thoughts of a 29-year-old

Struggling to sleep early and tired of reading, I thought about jotting down some opinions that I hold personally. And while I am at it, why not getting on the bandwagon of having as many thoughts as your age? Since I am 29 now, here are 29 thoughts on various topics that I have. I am not trying to give out hot takes. I am just bored and need to honor my commitment of regular writing

  1. The ability to focus and be consistent is among the greatest competitive advantages that one can have, especially in this age of technology
  2. We used to have more happiness with fewer materials in the past than now when we have so much more, but arguably much less happiness
  3. Slaves in the past had to exchange labor and hours for food, shelter and money. We now have to work for hours for food, shelter and money. What’s the difference? Only when we can survive without having to work will we stop being a modern slave. Know why we feel good during holidays and weekends? Because we are free
  4. There are a few universal truths. Besides that, no one really knows anything for a certainty. If you really think about it, many things fall into the “there is a fine thin line” category. They can always go either way
  5. Travel. Don’t just go to Paris or London. Go to Africa. Go to the poor neighborhoods without water in India. Go to areas in Vietnam where folks live under $2/day. You’d feel a whole lot better about your life
  6. Most people advertise their yearn for the truth, yet the majority don’t really want it
  7. To be impartial and free of bias, news outlets must stop featuring Opinions pieces and using words to stir emotions. Otherwise, they are just glorified biased blogs
  8. Mastering languages and knowing exactly which words to use and when is magically powerful. Only a few can
  9. The best way to keep yourself humble is to ask: if you were that good, why would you still be where you are now? Without a fat bank account, a household name, a hot spouse, a large villa and freedom to do what you want? See, easy to keep your feet on the ground
  10. Many hail and call for decentralization. If it were all well and good, what have we had for the past thousands of years? We must have done something right to be where we are now
  11. It’s easier now than ever to acquire a skill, but it’s also more challenging than ever to be competitive. For the exact same reason
  12. Folks who tweet “Unpopular thought/opinion/take” or whatever along that line care more about appearing contrarian than the message itself. Why? Which one comes first? The message or the “unpopular take” phrase?
  13. To be contrarian, first you have to be right and then you have to be different from everyone else. Usually, the determination is external. It’s strange to see many who self-proclaim to be contrarian
  14. Blue Ocean strategy is simply about finding your competitive advantage. As long as you find your edge, you’ll have already ended up in a blue ocean instead of a red one anyway
  15. The more diverse a society is, the less effective democracy is, compared to its theory
  16. It’s utterly unfair to force consumers to give out tips as part of workers’ compensation. Which part of handing a muffin over the counter deserves a tip?
  17. The more we own, the more responsibilities we bear. Be it a house, a kid, a company, a car. It’s queer to see many who yearn to be free strive to own so much
  18. The core concept of “American Dreams” isn’t exclusive to America. It was there long before America was born and will be after. The outrageous successes stemming from this country, technologies and special circumstances help populate the term “American Dreams”
  19. Don’t feel bad if you forget most of the books you read. We all do
  20. Given the chances, we will be happier if we feel we contribute to a community, if we belong to somewhere
  21. When I was young, I dreamed that my name would go on to be in a history book. I was silly. What’s good of all legacies if we are 6 feet underground and all left of us is dust?
  22. Gerrymandering, electoral college and lobbying make America’s claim of democracy overrated
  23. If you are famous, some people will defend your transgressions, even the most outrageous ones. Not so when you are a nobody. Humans are weird
  24. It’s utterly remarkable that humans physically inferior to other animals “rule” the planet. We can’t hold breath under water as long as other sea animals. We are essentially snails compared to horses or cheetahs. In terms of agility and quickness, we are nothing compared to monkeys. Yet, here we are
  25. Marriage is a form of increasing “switching costs”. People divorce all the time. Some end up in a nasty fashion even. If two people are committed enough, what’s the point of having to go through all the legalities and expenses related to weddings? Even a marriage can make folks think twice about a break-up, like any other switching costs, it doesn’t guarantee to work all the time
  26. Everyone lies. In some circumstances. In some fashion
  27. Equivalent to winning a lottery: being born healthy and full, getting along with your parents, finding great and honest friends, knowing what you want to do early, being born in one of the developed countries
  28. Humans are our worst enemies. Scientists didn’t invent dynamite or nuclear to kill in mass. Despite the advances, many die from not being able to afford insulin. Boeing risks a score of lives just to make money
  29. News outlets would save a lot of money by not having journalists in athletes’ faces EVERY day asking, in a lot of cases, very stupid questions. What’s really the odd of their saying something exclusive and worthwhile that wouldn’t be covered by other media?