Great reminders for clustered and busy minds

I came across a couple of things that I absolutely believe are great reminders and lessons in life, especially when our mind is often distracted by the deluge of daily information, and clustered with hours at work.

The better measure of success

When I was a kid or even in my 20s, success was solely associated with money and title. Because how success is measured is personally subjective, that approach must still ring true to some. That’s perfectly fine. But it’s important to keep in mind that it’s NOT the only approach. Liz and Mollie created a graphic below to demonstrate another point of view on success. And I agree with it. Whenever you compare yourself to another person’s title or net worth, it’s important to keep in mind that they are only two small slices of the whole pie. There are other aspects that are as, if not more, important than Title and Money. Would you still trade for bigger Title & Salary slices if the other shrank significantly? Would Title and Salary still mean as much if you hated what you do, got sick often, had bad sleep most of the time and never had time for your hobbies?

If there is anything that I want to add to the pie, it’s relationship. Relationship with friends or loved ones is highly important and it requires time and attention, both of which are limited resources, to cultivate. Sometimes, not “having a life” may be what it takes to achieve professional success and I applaud those who are willing to make that sacrifice. But personally I am at a point of my life where surrounding myself with friends, family, my cat and my girlfriend sits firmly at the top of my agenda. Hence, it’s pretty pointless to compare my situation with others’. And it’s often pointless to make any comparisons, to begin with.

Title 1: How we’re taught to measure success. Image: A pie diagram showing two equal parts, Salary and Job Title.

Title 2:
A better measure. Image: A pie diagram showing more segments, which in increasing sizes are Job Title, Salary, Free Time, Liking What You Do, Physical Health and Mental Health.

Twitter handle in top right: @lizandmollie

The Dunning Kruger Effect

The Dunning Kruger Effect is a bias in which people mistakenly overestimate their ability at something. Barry Ritholtz had a graphic that succinctly illustrates the Effect

The Dunning-Kruger Effect
Source: Barry Ritholtz

The world’s problems are often complicated, multi-faceted and, in my opinion, can hardly be fully explained in most cases. Should the federal government provide the economic stimulus package to help out citizens in need or should it be aware of the potential federal debt and inflation? Which one outweighs the other at this moment? Would action or lack of it result in a worse scenario for the US? I don’t think anybody can say for sure. Additionally, people in Western countries, especially in the US, often claim that democracy is the best societal form. But is it? Given what is happening with voter restrictions, the spread of misinformation, the dysfunction of Congress, the income inequality and the long lines at food banks, is it really definitively better than what happens in Vietnam, Singapore or China, countries that are essentially authoritarian? Financially speaking, can anyone explain why Bitcoin has risen leaps and bounds in the last few years? What are the underlying rationales for its rise or fall?

I understand that there are scenarios where we need to “fake it till we make it”, as in we demonstrate a high level of confidence than what our competence can back up. In interviews for a new job, how can an outsider applicant be sure that he or she will do a better job than an internal candidate? How can a person be confident in succeeding in a new industry or a new environment? Yet, all of us sell ourselves hard in interviews all the time. In entrepreneurship, investors pour plenty of money in startups and make expensive bets that these startups will be able to cash all the checks that they claim they can write. I am not naive enough to think that confidence doesn’t play a role in our society.

However, if one is serious about intellectual curiosity, it’s important to beware of the Dunning-Kruger Effect and avoid overconfidence when one is not competently ready. The tricky parts are to know where one is on the curve and how to move to the right of the x-axis. Everybody has their own method. Mine include 1/constantly remembering that in most cases, nobody really knows what is going on, 2/ reading everyday to keep myself as informed as I possibly can and 3/ writing things down. The act of writing my thoughts down really helps. Often, the end result is much better than my initial thought, regardless of whether it is good enough to thousands of people out there.

One implication is that if you have a different point of view than some authority voices out there who have a better reputation, a brand name or a celebrity mark on social media, it doesn’t mean that you’re wrong and they are always right. I am a fan of Twitter as I learn a lot from the people on it, but I am often taken back by claims that some experts make with startling confidence. For instance, some chastised the AB5 law in California as a disaster, but recently the top court in UK forced Uber to recognize drivers as employees and the company followed suit, pointing out that the extra expenses would not raise fare. In another instance, some experts called GDPR a disaster as it would help incumbents like Google or Facebook and reduce competition. Well, the WSJ yesterday said that Amazon, Google and Facebook are now responsible for 90% of the US’s digital ad market. The US doesn’t have GDPR, yet there is a triopoly. Also, it’s difficult for me to believe that analysts think that they can run companies better than insiders who have a lot more information. Yet, I have seen many who make declarations with overwhelming confidence on social media all the time.

We’re nobodies in the grand scheme of things

A couple of days ago, Business Insider published a picture of the Milky Way, which took a Finnish astrophotographer 12 long years to put together. Just look at the magnificence and grandness of the picture below

When viewed from outer space, we will look extremely small, like a peck of dust on Earth. Imagine how would you describe each of us when Earth itself looks extremely small in the Milky Way? Microscopic is the best adjective I can come up with, but that doesn’t even come close to doing the scenario justice. Plus, most of us don’t make it past 100 years of age. Yet, the Earth is millions of years old and the Milky Way is much much older than that. What if there is a civilization out there that is so advanced that our current one looks like BC to them? Whenever I think about life from this perspective, it’s easy to get me grounded. And that often helps with avoidance of the Dunning-Kruger Effect or of the thinking that success is just about money and title.

Book Review – Think Again: The Power Of Knowing What You Don’t Know

The title gives away much of what the book is all about. Although it doesn’t reveal any groundbreaking fact or insight that no other books has, Think Again is a helpful reminder that we all need to re-evaluate our thinking and our life regularly.

Adam Grant is a professor at Wharton School of The University of Pennsylvania and majors in organizational psychology. In addition to penning several books, including Think Again, he received his tenure at the age of 28, authored many papers and research in his field, and was the highest ranked professor at Wharton from 2012 to 2018. In terms of credibility, there shouldn’t be much to worry about. Back to the book itself. The tenet of Think Again is to encourage readers to think like a scientist with a great deal of humility. To think like a scientist, we need to avoid being too invested in our own opinions. As scientists usually possess a healthy dose of doubt and tend to review formed opinions regularly with concrete data and new facts, that’s what Adam Grant wants us to do. Whatever we learned needs to be revisited and, if necessary, unlearned. The world becomes increasingly complicated. Virtually all the issues that we discuss in our life are multi-faceted and complex; which requires constant investigation and evolution of thinking when new data and theses come up. Yet, many of us, including myself, succumb to mental laziness. We get stuck in the way we think and the opinions we formed in the long past. Changing our minds is often accompanied by admitting that we were wrong and that we made mistakes. Such an admission can be unpleasant and is not what many of us are willing to do. But Adam Grant, using academic research, argues that we must do the hard thing and constantly challenge/review our opinions, for our own benefits.

About a decade ago, when I was fresh out of school, I held beliefs that would make me ashamed now. Back then, success in life was to get a job at a big company, to have a fancy title and to have a lot of money. That success, in turn, would make me happy. Three years into my career, I got depressed. I resigned from a job that paid me well at the time, took almost two months’ sabbatical and accepted a job in a much smaller job market. My life got better. I learned more about the holes and the shortcomings in my thinking which evolved a bit, but there was still a lot of room for improvement. I was still haunted by the idea of pursuing my passion and figuring out the one thing that I should do in my life, like many of us are by all the self-help books and the speeches by the lucky ones such as Steve Jobs. It took me years to finally be at peace with not knowing what I was born to do in this world. Instead, I am happy with being healthy, working towards a future life with my girlfriend and having the freedom that my parents don’t have. Whether that state of mind will persist in the future remains to be seen. But I guess that’s in line with what Adam Grant talks about in the book.

All in all, a nice read for the weekend. It is simple to digest, but the lessons it brings can be profound. Really recommend it.

“If you’re a scientist by trade, rethinking is fundamental to your profession. You’re paid to be constantly aware of the limits of your understanding. You’re expected to doubt what you know, be curious about what you don’t know, and update your views based on new data. In the past century alone, the application of scientific principles has led to dramatic progress. Biological scientists discovered penicillin. Rocket scientists sent us to the moon. Computer scientists built the internet. But being a scientist is not just a profession. It’s a frame of mind—a mode of thinking that differs from preaching, prosecuting, and politicking”

“Mental horsepower doesn’t guarantee mental dexterity. No matter how much brainpower you have, if you lack the motivation to change your mind, you’ll miss many occasions to think again. Research reveals that the higher you score on an IQ test, the more likely you are to fall for stereotypes, because you’re faster at recognizing patterns. And recent experiments suggest that the smarter you are, the more you might struggle to update your beliefs.”

Excerpt From: Adam Grant. “Think Again.” Apple Books.

“In preacher mode, changing our minds is a mark of moral weakness; in scientist mode, it’s a sign of intellectual integrity. In prosecutor mode, allowing ourselves to be persuaded is admitting defeat; in scientist mode, it’s a step toward the truth. In politician mode, we flip-flop in response to carrots and sticks; in scientist mode, we shift in the face of sharper logic and stronger data.”

Excerpt From: Adam Grant. “Think Again.” Apple Books.

“When we lack the knowledge and skills to achieve excellence, we sometimes lack the knowledge and skills to judge excellence. This insight should immediately put your favorite confident ignoramuses in their place. Before we poke fun at them, though, it’s worth remembering that we all have moments when we are them.

We’re all novices at many things, but we’re not always blind to that fact. We tend to overestimate ourselves on desirable skills, like the ability to carry on a riveting conversation. We’re also prone to overconfidence in situations where it’s easy to confuse experience for expertise, like driving, typing, trivia, and managing emotions. Yet we underestimate ourselves when we can easily recognize that we lack experience—like painting, driving a race car, and rapidly reciting the alphabet backward. Absolute beginners rarely fall into the Dunning-Kruger trap. If you don’t know a thing about football, you probably don’t walk around believing you know more than the coach.”

“It’s when we progress from novice to amateur that we become overconfident. A bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. In too many domains of our lives, we never gain enough expertise to question our opinions or discover what we don’t know. We have just enough information to feel self-assured about making pronouncements and passing judgment, failing to realize that we’ve climbed to the top of Mount Stupid without making it over to the other side.”

Excerpt From: Adam Grant. “Think Again.” Apple Books.

“Arrogance is ignorance plus conviction,” blogger Tim Urban explains. “While humility is a permeable filter that absorbs life experience and converts it into knowledge and wisdom, arrogance is a rubber shield that life experience simply bounces off of. Humility is often misunderstood. It’s not a matter of having low self-confidence. One of the Latin roots of humility means “from the earth.” It’s about being grounded—recognizing that we’re flawed and fallible. Confidence is a measure of how much you believe in yourself. Evidence shows that’s distinct from how much you believe in your methods. You can be confident in your ability to achieve a goal in the future while maintaining the humility to question whether you have the right tools in the present. That’s the sweet spot of confidence.”

“Beware of getting stranded at the summit of Mount Stupid. Don’t confuse confidence with competence. The Dunning-Kruger effect is a good reminder that the better you think you are, the greater the risk that you’re overestimating yourself—and the greater the odds that you’ll stop improving. To prevent overconfidence in your knowledge, reflect on how well you can explain a given subject.”

Excerpt From: Adam Grant. “Think Again.” Apple Books.
Excerpt From: Adam Grant. “Think Again.” Apple Books.

“One possibility is that when we’re searching for happiness, we get too busy evaluating life to actually experience it. Instead of savoring our moments of joy, we ruminate about why our lives aren’t more joyful. A second likely culprit is that we spend too much time striving for peak happiness, overlooking the fact that happiness depends more on the frequency of positive emotions than their intensity.”

“At work and in life, the best we can do is plan for what we want to learn and contribute over the next year or two, and stay open to what might come next. To adapt an analogy from E. L. Doctorow, writing out a plan for your life “is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Excerpt From: Adam Grant. “Think Again.” Apple Books.

One last message to take to 2021

As I was having my morning coffee today, I came across this email from Ryan Holiday, who is a fantastic writer and somebody that you should subscribe to, I couldn’t help, but think that this message below is an important one to take to 2021:

One of the best pieces of advice from Seneca was actually pretty simple. “Each day,” he told Lucilius, you should “acquire something that will fortify you against poverty, against death, indeed against other misfortunes, as well.” Just one thing. One nugget. This is the way to improvement: Incremental, consistent, humble, persistent work. Your business, your book, your career, your body—it doesn’t matter—you build them with little things, day after day.  Epictetus called it fueling the habit bonfire. The filmmaker, entrepreneur, author, former governor of California, professional bodybuilder, and father of five Arnold Schwarzenegger gave a similar prescription for people trying to stay strong and sane during this pandemic: “Just as long as you do something every day, that is the important thing.” Whether it’s from Seneca or Epictetus or Arnold, good advice is good advice and truth is truth. One thing a day adds up. One step at a time is all it takes. You just gotta do it. And the sooner you start, the better you’ll feel… and be. 

In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about something he calls “The Plateau of Latent Potential.”  This plateau can be likened to bamboo, which spends its first five years building extensive root systems underground before exploding 90 feet into the air within six weeks. Or to an ice cube, which will only begin to melt once the surrounding temperature hits 32 degrees (or the resulting water that only boils at 212 degrees). Just because it sometimes takes longer than we’d like to see the results of our efforts doesn’t mean that our efforts are going to waste. In fact, most of the important work—the build up—won’t seem like it’s amounting to anything, but of course it is. Plutarch tells the story of Lampis, a wealthy ship-owner who was asked how he accumulated his fortune. “The greater part came quite easily,” Lampis supposedly answered, “but the first, smaller part took time and effort.” Any goal we have will take time and effort to accomplish, and beginning it will most likely be harder than finishing. But we have to keep going, because habits and hard work compound. Remember always that greatness takes time. Most importantly, remember what Zeno said: that greatness “is realized by small steps, but is truly no small thing.”

Source: Ryan Holiday

It took me back to what has happened in my life since I came to the US 4 years ago. I came here with just around $4,000 in my pocket, a computer, a graduate assistantship at University of Omaha, Nebraska and a desire to have a better life. Initially, I rented a room in a house that was about 15 minutes of walk or a couple of bus stops from my university campus and had 5-6 other tenants. I hadn’t known how to drive and didn’t have enough money to buy a car or to learn how to so. My sole income at the time was the $1,200 stipend from the school. Nothing else. After rent, food and everything else, I managed to have just about $300 in savings. Nothing much, but I got by.

Public transportation in Omaha is spotty and leaves much to be desired. I used to ride bus #2 to school and that bus runs once every 15 minutes during the weekdays before 6pm. After 6PM, it runs more slowly at once-every-30-minute frequency. On the weekends and especially Sundays, buses in Omaha either stop or run at a very low frequency. In the fall, missing a bus wasn’t that big of a deal because I could comfortably walk to school. In the harsh winter of Omaha when streets were slippery, I often had to watch the bus schedule closely so I wouldn’t miss it. For groceries, it was a bigger challenge. I used bus #18 to go to Walmart, which has arguably the cheapest groceries. The bus runs once every 30 minutes, so to save time, I had to game it out before hand what I needed to buy and how to leave Walmart just in time to catch the bus. Besides school and grocery trips, it was a bit tricky and time-consuming to go anywhere with buses around here without wasting precious money on Uber/Lyft, money that I didn’t have much at the time.

The following summer, I had to find a job. My school stipend wasn’t available during the summer when I didn’t have to work at school. Luckily I got a 10-week internship at one of the eCommerce companies in Omaha. But I knew that I would have to line up the next job after the internship to gain more experience here in the US and make more money. As an international student, you’re not allowed, as far as I know, to have an internship during the first school year. You can have a 20-hour/week job after the first year and luckily a graduate assistantship at school on top of that. So I got an internship at a managed service provider in Omaha on top of my job at school. That earned me more money. The catch was that I had to work 40 hours a week and completed 4-5 courses a semester, since I wanted to graduate as early as possible. I graduated in December 2018 and landed my current permanent job in Feb 2019. Had I graduated a year later, I would likely have been jobless because of Covid.

The strain of study and 40-hour work made me wonder at times what I was doing during my 2.5 years at the university. I felt frustrated and hopeless at times because I didn’t feel like my life was inching forward. I had to work a lot to reduce my jealousy and avoid comparing myself with others. Certainly, looking at my peers and their lives was a bit hard for me at some point. Fast forward to now, I have a job, my own apartment, a car and some savings. I am grateful whenever I reminisced wishing for a car while I was walking to school or on a bus to a grocery store in the middle of Omaha winter. On some winter days, I felt deeply hopeless and frustrated. Like my life wasn’t going anywhere and being here was a goddamn giant mistake. Harsh coldness, alone from family and friends and a feeling that whatever I was doing wasn’t leading anywhere. Obviously, I had no idea that the struggles were necessary for what was to come next. I just had faith, for absolutely no reason, that it would work out. Thankfully, so far, it has.

Another reason why I relate so much to Ryan’s quote is this blog. It’s called onepercentamonth because I want to have personal progress every month. Enough to feel that I am progressing gradually and consistently, but not too much to miss other funs that life has to offer. My other intention is that this is the getaway space for my thoughts, a place where I put thoughts to words to hone my thinking and my writing. I haven’t advertised this blog before, even on social media. I figure what is the point when fame isn’t what I am after here. Nonetheless, it’s good to see the blog’s growth. All traffic came from WordPress, word of mouth and the search engines. At first, there was little traffic. But I continued to toil at it and after two years, I could get traffic for the whole month of Jan 2019 in 2-3 days. My little blog is nothing compared to that of many other people, but it’s something that gives me comfort and joy. Plus, I could see the last two years as the plateau of Latent Potential for what it is now and hopefully what it is now is the buildup for something greater that will come in the future.

Those are my two stories which serve as concrete evidence for what Ryan said above. As 2020 is drawing to a close and I am sitting here, reminiscing the past and reflecting on what happened, I feel that this is an important lesson to take with to 2021. If you come across this entry, I wish you health, luck and happiness in the next 12 months. If you feel stuck at times in your life that nothing is progressing, I hope Ryan’s message and my life stories should help as a reminder that you’re likely paying the dues, that you are planting the seeds for future fruits, that you’re growing your own bamboo.

Until next time!

How much money you may be wasting on coffee shops?

We have all heard about the importance of savings. But what if we look at savings from another perspective? What if we look at how much potential earning excessive spending could cost each of us?

Take coffee consumption as an example. All credit to this Twitter user for inspiration to use coffee as an example. Many of us love to drink coffee every day, but a coffee from a branded or local indie shop can cost around $5-6 per cup. Depending on the consumption level, one person can spend a lot of money on drinking coffee outside per year.

Cups Per Week12345
Total Cost Per Week ($6/cup) (including tips) $              6  $            12  $            18  $            24  $            30 
Total Cost Per Year (52 weeks) $          312  $          624  $          936  $       1,248  $       1,560 

What if we substitute drinking coffee at a shop for drinking coffee at home? We all know that drinking coffee at home will save us a lot of money, but let’s run an experiment and find out approximately how much money can be saved. Here are two combos A) one 12oz bag of ground coffee that is in the cheap range and a French Press from IKEA that costs $9 and B) a slightly more expensive bag of coffee and a Metallisk at $20.

Either of these combos should be enough for a cup of coffee at home every day. For the sake of argument, let’s say every year a person needs 18 of these bags to have one cup of coffee a day. Combined, 18 bags of Dunkin Ground Coffee and the French Press will cost $120/year. Since we like to drink coffee with some milk, let’s throw in another $30 of milk and round it to $150/year. Here is how much drinking coffee at home would save a person:

Cups Per Week12345
Total Cost Per Year (52 weeks) $           312  $          624  $           936  $          1,248  $          1,560 
Total Cost Per Year From Combo A $           150  $          150  $           150  $             150  $             150 
Saving from Combo A $           162  $          474  $           786  $          1,098  $          1,410 

Over a long period of time, the compound interest will make these savings much more valuable in the future. Let’s look at four scenarios where the annual interest rate we can earn from these savings, whether it’s from a bank or investment in stocks or from dividends, is 3% to 10%

Cups Per Week12345
Total Cost Per Year (52 weeks) $           312  $          624  $           936  $          1,248  $          1,560 
Total Cost Per Year From Combo A $           150  $          150  $           150  $             150  $             150 
Saving from Combo A $           162  $          474  $           786  $          1,098  $          1,410 
Annual Rate at 3% $      12,215  $     35,740  $      59,265  $        82,791  $      106,316 
Annual Rate at 5% $      19,570  $     57,259  $      94,949  $      132,638  $      170,328 
Annual Rate at 7% $      32,341  $     94,627  $    156,913  $      219,199  $      281,486 
Annual Rate at 10% $      71,700  $   209,789  $    347,878  $      485,967  $      624,056 

Essentially, what the table above means is that drinking coffee at home using Combo A would save a person on a 3-cup-a-week routine more than $300,000 after 40 years at the annual rate of 10%. Even at a more moderate rate of 5%, it would still be around $100,000, a significant sum for most of us.

Here is what the savings would look like with Combo B and the same criteria

Cups Per Week12345
Total Cost Per Year (52 weeks) $           312  $          624  $           936  $          1,248  $          1,560 
Total Cost Per Year From Combo A $           200  $          200  $           200  $             200  $             200 
Saving from Combo A $           112  $          424  $           736  $          1,048  $          1,360 
Annual Rate at 3% $        8,445  $     31,970  $      55,495  $        79,021  $      102,546 
Annual Rate at 5% $      13,530  $     51,219  $      88,909  $      126,598  $      164,288 
Annual Rate at 7% $      22,359  $     84,645  $    146,931  $      209,218  $      271,504 
Annual Rate at 10% $      49,570  $   187,659  $    325,748  $      463,837  $      601,926 

From this example, there are two lessons. 1/ the compound interest is a powerful tool to learn and have in our favor. The sooner a person learns about it, the better and 2/ If a person is even only decent at maths and knows the power of compound interest, explaining savings in this manner could be more powerful than just talking about it. Personally, I wish my parents or teachers in Vietnam had taught me this when I was 15. I would have saved so much money from all the shenanigans and earned some from putting the money into an index fund or a high dividend yield stock.

You may argue that the scenarios are a bit extreme and that each of us should enjoy what life has to offer. Well, that may be right, but coffee isn’t our only sin, is it? How about regular food from Chipotle, the 5th streaming service of the month, the 20th bottle of perfume or the 15th pair of shoes? The point of this exercise isn’t to arrive at the exact figure, but to look at the opportunity cost of excessive current spending. A moderate control of spending and savings will help each of us save a lot of money, even after we enjoy the occasional delicacies.

FYI, here is a Future Value calculation I made, using Financial Calculators

Three important changes I made to my life during Covid-19

Like all of you, I saw my life changed suddenly and dramatically in March 2020. Omaha, where I currently reside, registered its first case and my company shortly sent us home to work. For a good reason. Since then, I have been in self-isolation, almost close to 9 months now, and it will not change any time soon as we were already told that we wouldn’t be back to the office until next summer. Unlike a lot people, I am alone in the US. I don’t have any family member to surround myself with. My girlfriend is in Vietnam, which has closed its borders since March as well. Alone and isolated in my own apartment, I got to make some changes and I did. Here are the biggest three that I want to share, in case they are useful somehow

Exercise more with The Body Coach TV

It’s not easy to stay fit and healthy while in isolation. Especially when you don’t like running. I understand all the health benefits of a regular run, but it’s just not for me. The gym had been closed for about 6 months and opened its doors again two months ago. However, I still don’t want to go to a place where sweating and sharing surfaces with other people are a norm. Those two things can quickly become ingredients of a Covid-19 nightmare. Hence, I needed to find a way to exercise effectively in my small apartment. Luckily, I found this great channel called “The Body Coach TV”. This channel is owned and developed by Joe Wick, a British fitness enthusiast. He regularly posts short workout clips that range from a few minutes to about 30 minutes. The workouts are either full body High Intensity Interval Training or specifically developed for a muscle group such as upper body, lower body or abs. Spend 20 minutes a day on one of these clips and you can easily burn 250 to 300 calories at least. I have been on a 2-day-training-1-day-off schedule for months and it has been going well so far. I feel good every day after a workout (not exactly the case 10-20 minutes right after) and my girlfriend complimented me on looking leaner. Give it a try. This is the clip I did today. It’s pretty intense, but good.

Recalibrate my eating and find my interest in cooking

Back in July, I came across a research on how our body consumed energy. Apparently, it turns out that we don’t need to eat twice a day to have enough energy to function, an assumption and a habit that I blindly followed for 20+ years. I decided to change my eating routine to only once a day, around late afternoon. For the rest of the day, I resort to healthy food with low carb such as avocados, cantaloupes, chia, soy milk and Greek Yogurt. Pine apples and nuts are sometimes included as well. White rice was replaced by red rice and select vegetables such as broccolis, mushrooms, carrots, asparagus, beans, okras or tomatoes are regulars. It was a bit tough in the beginning, but gradually I grew accustomed to the new diet, but still have enough energy for work and a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workout.

As a fan of matcha and coffee, I felt gutted for not being able to frequent local cafes any more. So I decided to invest in equipment to make matcha and coffee at home such as ground coffee, matcha powder, a small aluminum pitcher, an espresso maker from IKEA and a milk frother. If you consume 2-3 caffeine drinks a day like myself, I think you likely will save some money from not having to pay $5 for a latte.

Additionally, my interest in cooking shot up. Isolated at home and glued to my computer for hours a day, I sometimes feel restless and agitated. Besides a short workout, cooking relaxes me. Because I don’t want to invest too much money on kitchenware, my preference is simple recipes which require ordinary equipment from every kitchen, like this one:

I like Gordon Ramsay’s channel. He usually has great and short videos with instructions that an idiot like me can follow

Learn German

The next big change I made is to decide to learn German. With all the free time I have, I figure that I should learn something useful instead of just doom-scrolling on Twitter or surfing the Internet. After weighing all the pros and cons of the options such as a spoken language, an online degree or a coding language, I decided on German. It is the most spoken language in Europe, behind English. An acceptable command of German could open the door professionally for me to European markets later on, in case Trump won or something happens in the US. Since I already code like 5-6 hours a day at work, I don’t feel really like coding in my free time. An online degree just doesn’t excite me. So German it was! I found two very good resources: Germantogo.com and the Easy German channel on YouTube. With a 365-euro annual subscription, you can have access to on-demand video lessons from A1 to B1 and have any questions answered by Juliane, the owner of the site. It’s similar to having a private tutor, but virtually. I have been learning German for 4+ months with Juliane and totally enjoy it.

Meanwhile, Easy German is a YouTube channel which features short video clips through which German learners can improve listening and vocabulary. The Easy German team comes up with a topic question every week and interviews German native speakers on the streets. A casual setting brings the natural speaking pattern and choice of words. Plus, you can learn something about the German culture as well. If you want to learn German like I do, give those two sites a try. Below is a bit about me in German (show-off alert!!!)

Ich heiß Minh. Ich komme aus Vietnam, aber ich wohne in Omaha, Nebraska. Ich wohne seit 4 Jahren hier. Ich bin 30 Jahre alt. Ich spreche Vietnamesisch, Englisch und ein bisschen Deutsch. Ich lerne seit 4 Monaten Deutsch. Es ist eine schwierige Sprache, aber ich mag sie. Weil ich zu Hause bleiben muss, denke ich, dass ich etwas Neues lernen sollte. Warum nicht Deutsch? Ich arbeite in einer Bank in Omaha. Meine Hobbys sind Fußball, Basketball, Formel-1, Tennis, Lesen, Schreiben, Reisen und Kochen. Wer bist du? Was machst du?

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.