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?

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.

What I usually do when I start a new job

Starting a new job is an adventure and a challenge. There are so many new variables with which you must familiarize yourself: new colleagues, new cultures, new ways of doing things, new knowledge, know industries and new required skillsets, just to name a few. Below are a few things I tend to do to help myself navigate through the first few months on the job

  • Work hard. A bit obvious heh? Starting a new job means that you start behind almost everyone one else in the team. If you want to take on new responsibilities and advance in the future, put in a couple of hours before 8am or after 5pm on workdays and on the weekends. Once you have a solid footing on the job, you can take your foot off the gas pedal a bit. Personally, I prefer not working too much unless I really have to; which is usually the case whenever I start a new job. If the job is technical such as programming, hone your coding skills by reading others’ code or complete online classes. If the job is more qualitative such as digital marketing for retail, read about digital marketing tools, concepts, metrics and the industry.
  • Verify your work privately first. It’s important to have a round of validation first on whatever you are about to publish with other teams. Have your teammates preferably, and perhaps your boss help you validate your work internally. It’s better than to go back and forth, wasting the credibility you might have
  • Ask questions and take notes. Ask a lot of questions in the first two months. People understand that you are new and are lenient to your mistake as well as willing to answer questions that would become basic knowledge in a while. At the same time, take meticulous notes. Though understanding and lenient, your colleagues don’t want to repeat what they already said multiple times. I strive not to ask the same questions more than twice. Everyone will be pleased to see you spend effort on jotting down notes.
  • Request challenging projects. I am tasked with three difficult projects at work now even though I have been four months on the job and in this industry. Even though they are a bit scary since I don’t want to look stupid, having to work on real challenging projects enables me to learn a lot more about not only programming in SQL Server, SAS, but also retail banking data which is by no means straightforward or easy. I read somewhere a quote that goes like this or to some extent: mountains are always high and daunting. The only way to conquer them is to actually climb them.

Hope whatever I have to share here helps and if you have anything else to share from your personal experience, feel free to leave a note in the comment section. Enjoy the rest of the weekend.

Having more by wanting less

I was talking to a friend who kept telling me that she didn’t have enough time for all she wanted to do: translation work, teaching, preparing curriculum, researching for PhD program and running a business of multiple AirBnb listings. Many of us have the same issue: day time job, workout, cooking, eating, socializing, reading, side projects, family, friends, 8 hours of sleep, transportation, you name it.

The 24 hour allocation every day isn’t going to change. The more we want to do and complete, the more we feel that there isn’t enough time. If time isn’t going to expand, I believe that the solution to this issue is to want less. If we decrease the number of activities, we’ll have more free time on hand.

The concept can be applied to personal finance as well. I came across a report on how Americans incur more debt for weddings

The Washington Post reports that these companies—amongst them Prosper, Upstart, and Earnest—are offering five-figure-plus loans with up to 30% interest. Unlike other types of personal loans (which, in 2019, typically have interest rates between 5% and 36%, according to personal finance site Value Penguin), these loans are specifically for brides and grooms to help pay for their special day.

According to the Post, these lenders say that, already in 2019, they have issued up to four times as many “wedding loans” as they did last year for couples paying for their own weddings.

What’s driving this trend? It seems to be the confluence of several different factors. First, the majority of those taking out wedding loans are millennials, a demographic that is under substantially more financial pressure than previous generations. Millennials are spending more money on things like education (or, rather, paying off student debt), healthcare, and rent; their average net worth is $8,000, 34% less than Americans of the same age 20 years ago. That leaves a lot less money to spend on extravagant nuptials.

On top of that, the average cost of a wedding is rapidly rising. According the Brides‘ 2018 American Wedding Study, a wedding in 2017 cost around $27,000. A year later, in 2018, that number nearly doubled to $44,000.

Adding to that cost is the so-called “wedding tax,” the premium that party vendors—such as photographers, caterers, and florists—place on a product or service when its meant for a wedding.

Young Americans are racking up debt for Instagrammable weddings

A colleague of mine once shared his financial concerns about his upcoming baby and wedding. Apparently, he would have to care about paying for the wedding, the baby’s birth, a new car as his current one isn’t friendly to babies and day care. All of them are significant expenses. In many cases, many of us have only one income and a lot more expenses. As the number of expenses increase, the disposable income left shrinks and debts can rack up. Either we have to grow more income sources or expenses have to be cut down so that there is more free money in case of emergencies and more freedom. Obviously, having a secondary or third income besides a day job is more difficult than eliminating unnecessary expenses. So again, to have more, we should want less

Half Year Progress Reflection

We are already past the middle of June; which means that half of the year 2019 was gone. Blink your eyes and you’ll look at 2019 in the rear mirror soon. I took a walk today to do some thinking and reflect on what happened in the first 6 months of the year. So far, I have had some ups and downs. Let’s talk about the ups

  • I managed to get my dad to visit the US, his first overseas trip ever. I was in awe when I saw the outside world for the first time at the age of 19. I can’t imagine his feelings when he did at the age of 60
  • I joined a wonderful team and company. My teammates are excellent in their abilities and, more importantly, manners. They have been nothing, but helpful to a new guy with little experience in the banking industry. My paperwork has been luckily smooth so far. Yayyyy!
  • I have been pretty consistent in maintaining this blog. So far this year, I have written 135 blog posts, well ahead of my goal of 200 blog posts at the end of the year. Since January, the traffic has been doggedly increasing with last month as the new high. Though it is somewhat positive, maintaining a habit is more important
  • I think so far I have done a decent job of keeping myself from stress. Being able to take long walks, exercise, do some reading or travel at will is awesome
  • Except for a few nights that I could count on one hand, I have largely stayed away from alcohol

But I still have a lot of work to do:

  • I still don’t get 8 hours of sleep every night. Getting even 7 hours is rare enough
  • On average, I frequent the gym less often than I did in the same period last year. On top of that, my addiction to and increased consumption of ice cream have added a few pounds (7 to be exact) to my body
  • I made some bad calls in investing, including bad timing and missed opportunities (Zoom, for instance)
  • 8 books have been read so far. I went for 3 months in a row without finishing a book and it needs to be changed
  • My circle of local friends hasn’t changed much compared to 2018; which is a pity. I feel that I still face the same struggle integrating into American culture and making American friends as I did in 2018. Additionally, I don’t venture much outside of my comfort zone
  • Lastly, I was a bit reckless in expenses for the past 3 months. The increase in expenses comes mostly from my urge to explore all restaurants in town and my dad’s visit to US.

Overall, I would give my first half of the year a solid 6.5. It’s below a C and I’ll need to up it to at least a B in 6 months’ time. How did you rate yours?

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.