Ableist Culture

Scientific American published an excellent article on Trump being an extreme example of the ableist culture in the US.

It was a grotesque sight: the president of the United States preening from the White House balcony, his mask pulled defiantly off his face, able to infect anyone around him with the novel coronavirus. He had just been released from Walter Reed hospital, after he’d tweeted that we shouldn’t “be afraid of COVID” or “let it dominate your life”—as if it hadn’t already killed more than 200,000 people in the United States alone.

If you encountered the coronavirus, had “good genes,” and were just plain strong enough, Trump seemed to be saying, you wouldn’t have to be like the one million sad, weak losers around the globe who let the virus beat them.

We laud people who “overcome” their disabilities and deride people who live with them, even as this pandemic has taught us that we need mutual aid and interdependence. This ableist culture that glorifies “beating” and “getting over” sickness has ushered in the grotesque carnival we are witnessing now in the White House.

The single word that encapsulates these problems is lame. While lame is clinically defined  as a body part with impaired mobility, “That’s so lame” is tossed about as a pejorative constantly—because what could be more disgusting and useless than legs that can’t walk?

Source: Scientific American

The disdain for getting help from others

I feel like every time I hear about expanding social safety nets or giving aid, even unemployment aid during Covid-19, in the US, the word “Socialism” comes up and so do all the nasty associations. From what I observe, grinding yourself to success is glorified as strong while receiving help is perceived as weak.

The idea that we are responsible for our own fate is not wrong. I buy into that too. Every time I run into a roadblock in life, I look at myself first and wonder what I could have done better instead of placing blame on others. But I didn’t get through college without help. Nor did I land a full time job and a working visa all by myself. I got help. From families, friends and others. Bill Gates was lucky enough to go to the one school in the US that had a computer at the time; which planted the seed for extraordinary success later in his life. He would be the first to admit that he couldn’t do all that he has done alone. Warren Buffett repeatedly admits that he is lucky to be born when he was, and as a white male. Talk to any decent and truthful people and they’ll tell you that their success derives so much from luck.

Then why are we looking down on those who just need a little help to get their life together?

There are folks born with the odds greatly stacked against them such as disabilities, livelihood destroyed in a natural disaster or living in an under-developed area. In those cases, there is no question that we should extend as much help as possible. There are others who are in a bind because of poor decisions. Nonetheless, past mistakes or decisions shouldn’t rid oneself of a chance at redemption or assistance. If a 50-year-old coal miner lost his job because the industry contracted and didn’t have much saving due to poor personal finance, is it his fault for not having a sound strategy in his life? Yeah, perhaps. But should the government give him some help in the form of unemployment assistance or job training & placement? Absolutely. Because of these two main reasons: 1/ We live in a society where folks should help one another better. And if you don’t give help directly, at least don’t ridicule others for getting help. & 2/ you could be on the receiving end yourself.

A fellow Vietnamese once told me that he hated Indians because Indians helped one another land all doctor job opportunities that should have been his. When I asked what he would have felt if the shoe had been on the other foot, he stumbled. Politicians, especially those from the right wing, often argue that social safety nets make people lazy, but these politicians have no problem giving companies tax cuts to bail them out or give them a leg up, even though we have never seen a trickle down economics work, like ever.

I think a very good antidote to the disdain that our society has towards assistance to the people in need is that each and every of us should ask ourselves: what if that was me?

Language matters

Like the article says, language matters. The words we use matter. I sometimes joke to my friends that they shouldn’t act like a girl or that they should man up. I also use the word “lame” to describe a few others. While I consider myself a feminist and someone having respect towards people, in some cases I was being sexist, in others I was just straight up ignorant. I need to get better. Reading this article is a wake-up call for me. I should have known it earlier, but I am glad I identified the issue.

Changing a culture is immensely difficult and time-consuming. How long did it take us to get where we are today in terms of our position towards slavery and gender equality? But it has to start somewhere and now is just as good a time as any.

Steve Jobs’ excellent and iconic speech

I came across this speech from Steve Jobs and it’s absolutely amazing. It’s 20 minutes long and I urge you to have a listen. It’ll be worth your time and below are the reasons why I love it

  • When he returned to Apple, the company was weeks away from bankruptcy. Imagine one of the top 3 valuable companies right now, the Apple today, came so close to being bankrupt. That’s how dire the situation was. Steve talked about how he overhauled the entire product line, cutting it down from many to just four. It’s an example of Essentialism that I talked about. By focusing on the most important products, Apple not only avoided making consumers confused, but also directed resources to make sure those products were great, supply chain was great and marketing was great
  • Steve Jobs said that marketing is about values and who we are. I absolutely agree. People need to know who you are before they agree on any business transactions with you. At the end of the day, if they don’t know who you are, they unlikely will trust you. Without trust, can there be sustained relationships?

To me, marketing is about values. This is a very complicated world. This is a very noisy world. And we’re not gonna get a chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. So we have to be really clear about what we want them to know about us. Now, Apple, fortunately, is one of the half a dozen best brands in the world, right up there with Nike, Disney, Coke, Sony. It is one of the greats of the greats. Not just in this country, but all around the globe. Even a great brand needs investments and caring if it’s gonna retain its relevance and vitality. Apple brand has clearly suffer from neglect in this area in the last few years and we need to bring it back.

Source: Steve Jobs’ speech
  • The way he talked to the audience was so easy to understand. There was no jargon. There were no big words. Even if you don’t have much business background, you’ll still be able to follow him and what he was saying. It shows that he both understands really well his message and knows how to convey it. Plus, his casual outfit made the atmosphere friendly, relaxing and light; which I think helps his delivery. On a personal note, I have tried really hard on this blog to keep it simple. First of all, I don’t think I have the vocabulary to be a sophisticated writer, as a non-native speaker. Second of all, I want to be a good communicator like Steve. I still have a long way to go, but I don’t plan to change the current approach
  • The latter part of this clip features three best points from his commencement speech in Stanford in 2005. The first point is about how we need to have faith in something and how we can only connect the dots in our life looking backwards. The second point is to continuously look for what we love to do. The last point is about the importance of death in making life decisions. It again goes back to Essentialism that I mentioned early. We need to figure out what’s essential in life and have the courage to take actions.

My third story is about death. When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. 

yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Transcript from The Guardian

Beautiful and inspirational speech by John Bradley on being comfortable with yourself

John Bradley, who played Sam Tarly in Game of Thrones, had a beautiful inspirational speech on accepting himself and being comfortable with finding his own way through life. He used to feel shy and sorry about himself before Thrones, until the two Executive Directors chose him for a very important role in arguably the biggest TV show ever in history. They chose him because of his virtues or what he considered as his failures. I can relate to the shyness and the self-consciousness.

Like him, I often went to bed, thinking that when I woke up, some things about myself would be different. In the past, I got jealous of folks who were more famous and richer than me, especially my peers. The jealousy has been reduced over the past few years after digging into how to live a happier life and the harm of jealousy. Nonetheless, the trap of jealousy and self-consciousness is always there, lurking around and waiting to take over at any time. It’s a real constant struggle to keep it at bay. I am sure that I am not the only person with that struggle. It feels encouraging to hear from a real life case study, especially a famous celebrity bravely talk about it.

Lessons from Charlie Munger

I came across a few Charlie Munger-related resources. Even though he is 96, Charlie is still sharp. He is someone whose straightforward wisdom I admire a lot. There are a lot of people out there who strive to make simple points more complicated (think a narcissist like Taleb), but Charlie is somebody who can convey insightful lessons in a layman’s terms and a daily language. Another reason why I admire Charlie is that he doesn’t strive to show off his wealth. He doesn’t make headlines for being on a yacht or buying 20 Ferraris. If you are not familiar with Charlie yet, I highly recommend you read about him. He is someone admired globally, even by famous and rich folks.

“To get what you want, you have to deserve what you want. The world does not reward a bunch of undeserving people.”

“I think that realistic is probably a better word. The truth of the matter is that our abilities are not so high. And part of the reason for the successes we have had is I think we understand our limitations better than others. But I don’t that humility…”

“I have this friend who is really not very smart at all. He makes everybody explain things until he understands it…But he does have incredible patience. He doesn’t do anything unless he understands it. And he’s perfectly willing to have 5 years go by between deals. Meanwhile, you’d be surprised how rich how dumb man has become.”

So you can be pretty modest if you understand your own limitations. It’s better by far to be with a guy whose IQ is 130 who thinks it’s 128 than with a guy whose IQ is 190 who thinks it’s 250. The second guy is going to get into terrible trouble.

Operating within what’s prudent with your given hand and your given ability is just a financial knack. But I don’t call it humility. I call that enlightened greed.

Source: Twitter
Image
Source: Twitter

Move only when you have an advantage. It’s very basic. You have to understand the odds and have the discipline to bet only when the odds are in your favor. We just keep our heads down and handle the headwinds and tailwinds as best we can and take the result after a period of years

Source: Twitter

Tren compiled a ridiculous list of Charlie’s quotes over the years here

Blogging

The past 1.5 years of blogging has brought me immense joy and several lessons. It’s great to have an outlet for your own creativity and something to work on outside of the daily office hours. Like I confided to a good friend of mine: it made me feel alive at times. Small as it is, this little project of mine has made my life better and taught me the lessons, including the following:

It takes planning and effort to do the leg work

A research-oriented piece obviously demands a lot of reading, note-taking, planning, quoting, data-retrieving, data-processing, data visualization and writing such as this piece on Delta’s partnership or this on Delta’s effort to deliver stellar customer experience. Content that deals with a company’s financials requires a painstaking retrieval of data from the company’s financial statements. Some firms do a better job than others in releasing numbers in a user-friendly manner. Nonetheless, it is an ordeal to retrieve data and store it properly. Below is my Google drive that stores financial data of a few companies.

It’s tricky to overcome the “this is nothing special. Many talked about it already” mindset

“Why should I write about this? What would make what I have to say unique?”. Those are the questions I sometimes asked myself. The doubt delayed and at times killed the writing completely. I was trying to look for something unique or at least not talked about enough. The task is not easy. The Internet brings down barriers to information and allows everyone to voice his or her opinion. Unexplored topics come in short supply. Fortunately, I came to a realization that there are hundreds of books about just a certain subject, whether it is Civil War, World War II or Winston Churchill. I can build on top of the ones that came before me and add my own voice and perspective. It made the whole process easier. Plus, if you don’t have to write for a living, remember the whole thing is for yourself first.

It helps to identify sources of interesting and reliable information

It helps tremendously to get inspiration online. In addition to my friends and news outlets such as Hacker News, Wall Street Journal and companies’ SEC filings, Twitter has been a great source of ideas and materials. As long as you identify a few great Twitter users as inspiration, the platform is a gold mine for folks that cherish personal development. Some of my fav folks to follow include Horace Deliu, Modest Proposal, Neil Cybart and Ben Evans.

It is hard work to deliver great content consistently

Writing is already hard. Writing well is harder. Writing well consistently is much harder. There are days when the creativity juice abandons me. There are days when I don’t have any idea to write about. Plus, other commitments in life can stand in your way. To be able to write well consistently requires constant reading, constant exploration, insights, if possible, and a lot of hard work ranging from preparation, processing, visualization and the writing itself. Since I started to blog more often, I have had a whole new level of respect to folks that make a living out of writing. Not only do they have to do the hard work, but they also must overcome sporadic writer blocks and lethargy to honor the commitment to subscribers.

I still have a lot to learn about writing and delivering great content. I am willing to do the work and looking forward to continuing to do so in the future.

My failures in the last year

Holidays are the time for reflection and thinking forward. I have had some ups and downs over the past year. While it is tempting to write about what I achieve, which is by no means numerous, I prefer writing about what I failed at and what I can improve on in the near future.

Insufficient focus

Like many others, I succumbed to the constant distractions in our daily life. News, friends, entertainment, TV shows, sports, music, you name it. I wasn’t as focused as I should be. The amount of deep work time wasn’t as much as I would like it to be. It definitely sits at the top of my personal to-do list this year and moving forward.

Gained weight

When do you think you would spend more time in the gym: while working 20 hours at school, 20 hours as an intern at work and taking a Dual Master’s degree or after you graduate and have only your full-time position? For me, it’s the former! I know, shame on me. I did manage to spend less time in the gym for the past year than when I was still in school. The consequence? 12 more pounds was gained. Clothes became tighter. Confidence was sapped.

Lost control of expenses

The second half of 2019 witnessed arguably my wort self in terms of personal finance. Some expenses were inevitable such as learning to drive, buying a car and paying for accompanying costs such as insurance, car washes and maintenance. What worried me was my reckless spending on booze, unnecessary dining and excessively expensive coffee while I could have free coffee from work and my own building. Since my H1B status limits what I can earn in addition to my full time job, the failure to save money effectively was pretty embarrassing on my part.

Missed calls on the stock market

Apple stock stood at $142 on 3rd January 2019 after Tim Cook’s letter to announce a revised guidance. I didn’t load up on the stock. 12 months later, the stock is around $290 today. It’s just one of the few examples of how my indecision hurt me financially. I did have some stocks in my portfolio that didn’ perform as expected. However, the disappointment with such stocks didn’t eat me up as much as the regret over indecision. Lesson learned.

Lack of sales skills

I am not good at sales. Emphatically not good enough. I ought to be better at selling my ideas, my opinions, my work and myself. At the end of the day, we humans interact with one another and having decent sales skills can be helpful in my career and personal life.

Dearth of volunteering work

I need to start involving in the local community more. It’s not a high bar when the total number of volunteering hours l accrued this year is a grand zero.

I may sit here at this time next year and write about the same failures again. I do plan to work on some, if not all, of them in the next 366 days. Regardless, I do want to keep myself honest and accountable.

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.

Book: Wandering by Hermann Hesse

Wandering by Hermann Hesse is a short yet fantastic read. When life’s uncertainties keep piling up and your mind is exhausted by all the distractions, it is a surreal feeling to read this book and imagine being open up to the nature the way that the author was. His lyrical writing is magnificent.

But I smile, and not only with my mouth. I smile with my soul, with my eyes, with my whole skin, and I offer these countrysides, whose fragrances drift up to me, different senses than those I had before, more delicate, more silent, more finely honed, better practiced, and more grateful. Everything belongs to me more than ever before, it speaks to me more richly and with hundreds of nuances. My yearning no longer paints dreamy colors across the veiled distances, my eyes are satisfied with what exists, because they have learned to see. The world has become lovelier than before.

The world has become lovelier. I am alone, and I don’t suffer from my loneliness. I don’t want life to be anything other than what it is. I am ready to let myself be baked in the sun till I am done. I am eager to ripen. I am ready to die, ready to be born again. The world has become lovelier.

Wandering – Hermann Hesse

Soft rain, summer rain

Whispers from bushes, whispers from trees.

Oh, how lovely and full of blessing

To dream and be satisfied.

———————————

I was so long in the outer brightness,

I am not used to this upheaval:

Being at home in my own soul,

Never to be led elsewhere.

———————————

I want nothing, I long for nothing,

I hum gently the sounds of childhood,

And I reach home astounded

In the warm beauty of dreams.

———————————

Heart, how torn you are,

How blessed to plow down blindly,

To think nothing, to know nothing,

Only to breathe, only to feel.”

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.