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.

Book: Ego is The Enemy

It’s an amazing book. I read it this weekend and couldn’t put it down. The concept that Ryan Holiday discussed isn’t new. If you read enough self-help, chances are that you must have come across what he has to say before. Nonetheless, his writing is so good, clear and easy to digest. I took a lot of notes and below are just a few of them.

I learned about the detrimental influence of ego before. But over time, I drifted back to its claw and let it consume myself again.

I resisted silence. I succumbed to having to speak something all the time.

I based my happiness and self-esteem on the recognition, not the work itself.

I found myself lazy and complacent

I found myself in the “imaginary audience” like Ryan described.

This book is a timely and needed wake-up call. I am under no illusion that I’ll keep my ego in check from now on. I’ll need to revisit this book again in the future for sure. “Every day we must sweep”.

The performance artist Marina Abramovic puts it directly: “If you start believing in your greatness, it is the death of your creativity”

When we remove ego, we’re left with what is real. What replaces ego is humility, yes – but rock-hard humility and confidence. Whereas ego is artificial, this type of confidence can hold weight. Ego is stolen. Confidence is earned. Ego is self-anointed, its swagger is artifice. One is girding yourself, the other gaslighting. It’s the difference between potent and poisonous.

In fact, many valuable endeavors we undertake are painfully difficult, whether it’s coding a new startup or mastering a craft. But talking, talking is always easy.

We seem to think that silence is a sign of weakness. That being ignored is tantamount to death (and for the ego, this is true). So we talk, talk, talk as though our life depends on it. In actuality, silence is strength

If your purpose is something larger than you – to accomplish something, to prove something to yourself – then suddenly everything becomes both easier and more difficult. Easier in the sense that you know now what it is you need to do and what is important to you. The other “choices” wash away, as they aren’t really choices at all. They’re distractions. It’s about the doing, not the recognition.

Passion is form over function. Purpose is function, function, function. The critical work that you want to do will require your deliberation and consideration. Not passion. Not naïveté.

It’d be far better if you were intimidated by what lies ahead – humbled by its magnitude and determined to see it through regardless. Leave passion for the amateurs.

We don’t like thinking that someone is better than us. Or that we have a lot left to learn. We want to be done. We want to be ready. We’re busy and overburdened. For this reason, updating your appraisal of your talents in a downward direction is one of the most difficult things to do in life – but it is almost always a component of mastery.

As the psychology David Elkind has famously researched, adolescence is marked by a phenomenon known now as the “imaginary audience”. Even as adults, we’re susceptible to this fantasy during a harmless walk down the street. We plug in some headphones and all of a sudden there’s a soundtrack. We flip up our jacket collar and consider briefly how cool we must look. We replay the successful meeting we’re heading toward in our head. The crowds part as we pass. We’re fearless warriors, on our way to the top. That’s ego.

Living clearly and presently takes courage. Don’t live in the haze of the abstract. There’s no one to perform for. There is just work to be done and lessons to be learned, in all that is around us.

You will be unappreciated. You will be sabotaged. You will experience surprising failures. Your expectations will not be met. You will lose. You will fail.

How do you carry on then? How do you take pride in yourself and your work? John Wooden’s advice to his players says it: Change the definition of success.

In the end, the only way you can appreciate your progress is to stand on the edge of the hold you dug for yourself, look down inside it, and smile fondly at the bloody claw prints that marked your journey up the walls

He who will do anything to avoid failure will almost certainly do something worth of a failure. The only real failure is abandoning your principles. Killing what you love because you can’t bear to part from it is selfish and stupid. If your reputation can’t absorb a few blows, it wasn’t worth anything in the first place

He explained that training was like sweeping the floor. Just because we’ve done it once, doesn’t mean the floor is clean forever. Every day the dust comes back. Every day we must sweep

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.

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.