5 things I wish I learned/knew sooner than later

What do you wish you knew sooner or later? I ask myself that question all the time. Here is what I came up with for myself.

Know how to curate what to read and how to read

A popular and widely cited stat reads that 90% of the world’s data is generated in the last two years. Regardless of the figures, I think the premise is true. We encounter a lot of information and data every day. News, social media, photos that we take, tweets that we write, new movies or shows that streamers release, songs that artists launch. The deluge of information makes it incredibly challenging for a person to know what information to absorb and from what source. There are days when I spend hours reading and there are days when I get information fatigue. What makes it more tricky and challenging is misinformation. It’s harder than ever to distinguish between accurate information and false information. The accuracy is only just relative, depending on how you look at things. For instance, somebody may claim that the government did a good job with the economy prior to Covid because the stock market hit all time highs and unemployment rate was rate. Well, that may be true, but it’s only part of the story. There are other serious issues to look at including but not limited to federal budget, minimum wages or income inequality. When you take those into account, the assessment won’t look as rosy. Additionally, while there is value in being informed in many areas, specialization into a few may serve you better. It would be valuable for us to learn how to curate what to read, how to read and how to say “no” to information.

No one knows everything all the time

Because we are overwhelmed by a lot of information every, as mentioned above, it makes everyone prone to mistakes in judgement. Hence, even established authorities in certain areas become wrong at times. Legendary investors lost money. Famous economists erred on their predictions. Analysts screwed up on assumptions and evaluations. Scientists’ claims were challenged and debunked. We often associate previous successes with the ability to be right all the time or successes in one area with knowledge in other areas. That often is not true. One tech founder that may succeed in building a billion dollar firm can make disastrously wrong claims on biology or sociology or even in other business areas such as fast food, hospitality or energy.

To figure out when an authority with credibility errs is tricky. How often do you read a scientific article from The Lancet and question it immediately? How often do you read a report from World Bank and pick it apart detail by detail? Or do you share them first? Past track record and credibility help, but they don’t guarantee accuracy all the time. Hence, although it’s good to respect and appreciate greatness, I think it’s valuable to learn to think for ourselves and be vigilant.

Focus. Focus. Focus

I sometimes have to stop myself from multitasking. Modern societies have trained us to constantly want to multitask. We have all been there. Listening to music or podcasts during work. Putting on radio while driving. Chatting while studying at night or doing homework. It’s incredibly difficult to stay completely immune from distractions. I don’t believe anyone can do that. Nonetheless, it is extremely helpful and valuable to learn to be “in the zone” more, even for just a few hours every day to do deep work. I do believe that the more a person can do so, the more he or she can succeed

Learn to write

I think writing is as important, if not more important, than coding which is touted as something we all should learn as early as possible. The ability to communicate in writing, even in the form of an email, a report or an article, is essential nowadays. First, writing is a form of communication with others. A well-written piece can carry a message effectively and there can only be good things coming from effective communication. Second, writing is thinking. When thoughts go into words, we think about the thoughts at hand more. We pick apart every aspect of our thoughts more to make them more refined. So when you come across some good content, it mostly comes from a vigorous thinking process beforehand. It’s not a coincidence that Jeff Bezos replaces the use of Power Points at Amazon with a 6-page memo. Therefore, learning to write is highly important

Learn to different yourself

Whatever you want to do, it’s impossible that you are the first or only person in the world to do it. If you want to launch a cryptocurrency hedge fund, there are hundreds out there. If you want to launch a newsletter, there are thousands already in the market. If you want to build an Asian eatery in the local community, it’s impossible that there is none already in operations. Modern societies and technological advances make it easier than ever to launch individual ventures. At the same time, it’s also exceedingly challenging to stand out from the crowd. What I think can make each of us stand out are individual uniqueness and work ethic. Nobody in the world can beat you at being you. Each of us has a different unbringing, life experience and personality. Infusing that uniqueness into our work, I believe, can make us stand out more. For instance, millions of people can speak English. If you speak English, it’s nothing special. If you add a foreign language such as Japanese, it narrows down the competition. If you add another such as Latin or a special specialty such as flying a commercial jet, it narrows down the competition even more. The chance of standing out from the crowd is now higher. Hence, capitalizing on our unique experience, personality and perspective can be very useful.

The second piece is work ethic. Even if you have all the talent in the world, it means nothing if you don’t put in the work. Athletes like Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Michael Jordan, Cristiano Ronaldo put in hours of work every day even after achieving success and fame. If you don’t have genius-level talent, like most of us, the ability to put in 12-15 hours of work a day will differentiate you from a lot of folks that are not willing to work beyond the required 8 hours. On the other hand, even if you work long hours every day, yet you don’t have a factor that can help differentiate you from others, it doesn’t mean anything. That’s why thousands of blue collar workers who work two or three jobs a day are not as famous or rich as others. The work they do deserves respect, but it is nothing different from the work of hundreds of thousands of others.

Learning about your uniqueness, deploying it and working hard is important and the sooner one does it, the better.

Learn to avoid jealousy and self-pity

I believe it is tremendously important to learn about controlling jealousy and self-pity early in life. Everyone in the world should be happy. Life is too short not to. Though we differ from one another in the things that make us tick, there are a few common factors that contribute to happiness such as being healthy, avoiding jealousy or feeling sorry for yourself all the time. While they seem obvious, they all require practice and learning. If you sit on the couch on the time and eat fast food every day, chances are that you won’t be healthy. If you don’t purposefully train your mind not to be jealous of others or compare yourself to others, chances are you may not be able to do it. If you are trapped in self-pity and don’t make effort to get out of that trap, how can you? I grew up in Asia where your parents subject you to comparison with other kids all the time. If you get a 9 out of 10 from a school assignment after putting in a lot of work, you may still be scolded if other kids get 10. I was trained and wired to be jealous as a kid. I worked really hard in the past few years to escape from that and I make concerted effort every day to stay away from the jealousy and self-pity. Does it make me completely happy? No, because there are other factors at play: work, family, relationship, goals. But it surely helps me not be unhappy.

What do you wish you learned/knew sooner than later?