Hello! I don’t know if you’ve noticed but I haven’t written or posted anything on the blog for the past three months. Now, don’t worry! I’m not dead and I have no plans on ending the blog. However, I do want to make changes to the blog in the coming year.
First, some housecleaning. I’ve been a lot more focused on work. I’ve been trying out different types of work and seeing what works. If you haven’t heard there’s been a Great Resignation going on, at least in the US. A lot of people quit their current jobs, rethinking their priorities, their values, and what truly matters in their lives. For me, I’ve been focused on wealth creation, how to get wealthy, what wealth is, and what to do with that wealth. I want to make a living for myself, but I also want to help my family, my friends, and my community. I’ve been trying (and failing) to find the right opportunities and figuring what works for me and what makes me happy. I won’t get too specific here, but I have an incoming part-time job to help supplement the other job I have. I’m taking risks, doing something new, and seeing what works. When you’re in your 20s, you’re allowed to make risks.
But back to the main topic, the fate of this blog. I still want to give general life advice and tips on how to live, but expect fewer articles on them from now on. I don’t have the time to do the research and write the deep dives on subjects where there’s already plenty written about. There’s already plenty of creators out there who have written plenty on health and well-being.
That’s another thing that’s been on my mind recently. There is a giant amount of content out there. More content out there than there has ever been in human history. There are so many content creators out there – from Youtubers to Twitch streamers, to podcasters, to artists, writers and many more out there. With so much fighting for our attention, there’s bound to be stuff that’ll slip through the cracks and not get noticed. The world has plenty of creators and a ton of consumers. But what about curators? There are very few people out there willing to dig through the digital trash gunking up the internet and find hidden gems.
So what I’ll be doing from now on is share some of the most interesting content I found and use this blog to promote it. I’ll still write articles, but expect me to showcase stuff that I either enjoyed, made me think, or is worth your time. This will be experimental and expect the scheduling to be inconsistent. But we will work this out.
Thanks to the people who read my blog posts, I appreciate the feedback and views. I want to continue blogging and writing in general. I apologize once again for taking a while with my blog posts. I promise that I won’t spam your feeds with blog posts all the time, just a few blog posts every now and again. If you want to help me, all you have to is share my blog posts to others and leave any comments. I would greatly appreciate that. Not gonna lie, I went through some struggles this year, but I’m able to overcome them. Cheers to the New Year!
One of the things I’ve been doing is listening. By that, I mean, being more aware of sounds and filtering out the noise, both figuratively and literally. I’ve been consuming far less visual mediums like television and film and a lot more podcasts, audiobooks, and albums. There are a few reasons why I’ve been doing this.
The first thing is that I want to be a better listener. In terms of the career path I’m going towards, building relationships, and experiencing life in general, being good at listening is key. I have always been more of a listener than a talker, but I don’t want to just listen passively. I want to truly understand what other people are saying. Getting to know them, understanding the tone of their voice, and pay attention to the stuff that matters and tuning out the noise.
Last year, I practiced a form of meditation. Not the meditation where you close your eyes and OHM for forty minutes. I practiced the kind where I took out all distractions. I had my laptop turned off, my phone silent downstairs, TV screens black, and I observed the sounds, both from the outside world and inside my own head. I noticed a lot more noises that I never paid attention to. I heard the roaring engines of cars, the buzzing of drills and the whirrings of helicopters. I also heard the chirping of birds, the gusts of winds, and echoes of windchimes. It was the first time in an incredibly long time where I became a lot more attentive of what I heard inside and outside my own home. This was also the time where I could finetune my observations and examinations of my own mind. I asked questions of what it means to exist, what am I good at, what do I truly value, what are my ethics, and what do I want out of life. I was at a moment where I met myself at the crossroads of living. I was listening to myself. This was the time where I managed to cut out the noise, listen to the world and to listen to myself. In a way, that’s how you can describe meditation.
Another big reason is because I want to develop a greater appreciation towards music. While I do have my own personal playlist of songs that I enjoy (which I will not show yet because I don’t want you to judge me over my taste in music!), I don’t actually listen to albums all that much and I do feel like I’m missing out in a lot of great music out there. Plus, lately I’ve been feeling out of touch with modern music and I hate feeling this out of touch so I’ve been forcing myself to listening more. I’ve been dividing my time listening to both parts of top 40 radio and classic albums.
In my youth, a lot of my music taste came from both the contemporary top 40 radio stations and the old VH1 Top 100 countdowns and I Love The Decades series back in the 2000s. I didn’t have my own Spotify account until 2018 when they bundled it with a college. Nowadays, Spotify is my main way of listening to music and podcasts, as with a lot of people these days. I have expressed interest in having my own record player and collecting vinyl records, however.
I’ve listened to the discographies of Talking Heads, Frank Ocean’s Blonde, Tyler the Creator’s Flower Boy and Igor, Anthrax’s Among the Living, and other miscellaneous pieces of music. Normally, I have a generalized taste in music, but I definitely have a preference towards alternative rock. If I like a song and I want to hear it again and again, then I keep it on my playlist. I have always enjoyed music, but I want to better listen to music and notice more of the subtleties and nuances of what I listen to.
When it comes to listening to music, I notice first the vocal delivery and lyrics of a song, if they exist of course. Recently, I’ve been picking out the instrumentation of a song and how it’s layered and how the components come together in a given track. I also notice the beat and melody whenever I listen to a song as well. I have a much deeper appreciation when it comes to production and sampling and how well a piece of music is well-produced, and subsequently when something is not well-produced. I wouldn’t call myself all that knowledgeable when it comes to music theory, but I’m starting to pick up the nuances of whatever I listen to.
And that brings me another reason why I’ve been focusing so much on listening: nuance. When it comes to listening, it’s not just what you say but how you say it. The tone of voice, the way the sentences are structured, and how certain words are emphasized are just as important, if not more so, as saying them. I’ve been honing more of my attention towards the accents used, the way something is said versus the way something is written, and the tone being used in a given conversation. Listening is a key skill in a lot of jobs, especially when it comes to sales and customer service.
But how does one become a better listener? What skills can you develop when it comes to listening? These tips can be useful when it comes to becoming better at listening.
The first tip is to avoid distractions. If you want to better understand someone, you need to remove the barriers getting in the way of truly getting someone. That distraction can be your phone, it can be a deadline for a project, it can be a noisy environment littered with distractions left and right. There are many ways to deal with these distractions: put the phone on silent, complete that project right away, go to a better environment where you know nothing can distract you. The less barriers you have to deal with, the better you can converse with someone that needs to be heard. You can’t listen to someone if you don’t give them your undivided attention first.
Distractions aren’t just from the external environment, they can also come from within. Am I distracted by the inner monologue inside my head? Am I distracted by the unrealistic expectation of whatever I’m listening to? Having a mind that is clear is just as important as having a room that is free of anything distracting. What is needed when it comes to listening is serious concentration, and that takes up cognitive space. Treat your mind like a cup, you can’t gain anything if the cup is already filled up. You need to empty the cup in order to gain something new. Whether it’s instructions, commands, or just a simple, everyday conversation, you need to have a mind free of clutter first.
Another important tip is to ask: why am I listening in the first place? What is my intention when it comes to picking up what someone is saying. Otherwise, why listen in the first place? If you’re listening to a loved one, are you really paying attention to what they’re saying? They can be expressing their love, asking whose turn it is to wash the dishes, or who gets to pay the takeout tonight. Most people only want to hear what they want to hear, they let their own biases and ego get the best of them, and that often leads to trouble. We waste time and energy listening to conversations we don’t want to listen to because they bother us, disturb us, or makes us uncomfortable. When it comes to listening, you have to remember why you want to listen in the first place. Establish your why to make sure the conversation you have with someone, whether it’s your friend, family member, co-worker, or whoever it is, know that they’re being heard.
When you establish your intentions for listening, now comes picking up the cues. Start noticing the tone of their voice, how the words are said. Which words are being emphasized? What emotion are they trying to convey? How are the vowels and consonants stressed in order for the messenger to make their point? If the voice of the person is high-pitched, it could mean anger or fear. If the voice is monotone, it might mean they’re bored and show no interest to what is happening. A low energy tone could also mean sadness, or even depression. Identify the emotion being expressed and that’ll help you better listen to someone, especially if they’ve something on their mind.
This is also where you start providing small verbal encouragements and brief pauses. Saying “right,” “correct,” or “does that make sense” help ensure that the person you’re talking to is paying attention to what you’re saying and in turn help you pay attention as well. And after you say these verbal encouragements, this is where you give out the brief pauses. We’ve all been in that situation where we just can’t stop talking and everyone loses track of what’s being said. This is where you give brief pit stop towards what you’re saying, so the conversation keeps going smoothly. These techniques are small but they go a long way with building rapport.
The final and most important thing when it comes to listening is body language. Pay attention to your poster. Do your shoulder point high up to the ceiling? Or do they slouch? If you want to give the signal that you’re actually listening then eye contact is a must. To make sure you’re making eye contact, you have to make sure your head is facing the speaker, inclined towards them. And make sure your close towards the speaker. Not too close where you’re invading their personal space, but close enough to make sure you can hear them.
There’s obviously a lot more when it comes to body language, such as arm and leg positions, body gestures, facial expressions, and what they all mean. Right not, I’m giving you the bare minimum, the basic knowledge when it comes to body language while listening. I am not an expert when it comes body language by any accounts. These are all basic social skills everyone should know.
Listening is a basic skill everyone should know but can actually take a lot of time to master. Listening takes a serious lifetime, and it’s all a matter of putting the needs of someone else over your own. It’s a transference of feelings, the act of sacrificing your time for another, and the willingness to hear the other side. Humans are social creatures and to quote the Stoic philosopher Epictetus “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” It’s an essential skill when it comes to carving out a career, building relationships, finding love, and helping out your community. Listening to others is truly a part of what makes us human.
One day, when I was busy browsing my email, I read a notification and it was talking about Google Career classes. Classes where you can spend less than six months learning skills, watching videos, and doing assignments on a subject that you want to take. I’ve done online classes in the past, mostly college courses on history and English, subjects that can easily be done in an online course. I have had familiarity going to a slightly-outdated browser, clicking on assignments where the answers were less about choosing the right answer and more about your interpretation about X event. Those were the classes I excelled at in college and having it all online made it easier for me. I clicked on a video and the specific course I was interested in the most was Project Management. I never had any experience running programs or being a software engineer. However, I was a psychology major and the college I was at placed heavy emphasis on Industrial/Organizational Psychology, which is a fancy way of saying psychology in the workplace. I ultimately decided to give the course a shot and try the free trial.
Fast forward to four months later. I was going through a job transition, I had no real plan, I was freewheeling it like I was descending through a mountain. Although I haven’t gotten all of my work graded yet (more on that later), I can safely say I’m finished with my entire online course on Project Management. If you’re completely new to Project Management and online courses in general, it’s an online course worth pursuing.
The content itself always felt easy-to-understand and I never felt confused and it never felt overly-complicated. While I was familiar to some of the ideas introduced, other ideas I was not too familiar with. I didn’t understand how to manage risks, being aware of scope creep, or how to use project methodologies such as Agile or Scrum prior to this course. I was amazed not only when I understood them, but when I also realized how applicable the skills are when it comes to other fields of work and towards other domains in life. Every time I had to take a quiz, the quizzes were all based on the concepts you learned, what they mean, and how you apply them in a real-life scenario. The learning material all felt approachable and that I understood what the course wanted from me, even when I didn’t get it right the first time.
What made learning the material better were the instructors. I liked how the instructors were all employees of Google who all had experience in the respective fields, whether it was project manager, program manager, or senior developer. They showed parts of where they came from and how they got into their fields, they all showed what they learned and how they got their expertise, and the advice felt practical and understandable. The instructors presented themselves in videos that ranged from 2-8 minutes and they never felt like they dragged on for too long. Plus, they intermittently paused the video so they could ask questions to see if you were paying attention. You could also save notes and add your writings if you wanted add something to make you better remember the material, which is neat. All of the videos looked presentable and instructors felt very professional.
After the videos, they usually had readings right after. The readings helped further expand and explain the concepts described in the videos. The readings also had links to other articles and readings if you want to further explore the world of project management.
Of course, it wouldn’t be an online course without tests. The fortunate part is that the tests are all incredibly easy. They just test on what you just read or watched. The threshold to pass is about 80%. If you go below that, you just try again. You’ll get feedback on what you missed and you can apply that to get the answers right the second time around. The real bulk of the assignments, however, are the activities. The activities are examples of what a project manager usually does. The activities range from creating a schedule, writing emails, setting up a project charter, assigning risks, and much more. There are also peer-graded assignments, activities where you submit them and have them graded by at least people. This is where I have some criticisms, however. Although the guidelines for passing the assignments are easy, it takes a long time for someone to actually grade the assignments. I don’t know if it’s the algorithm not properly giving my assignment to someone for grading or something like that, but I would’ve preferred a discussion board where I can submit my assignment and have someone choose to grade my assignment. There are issues with that, of course, but I personally would’ve preferred that.
Beyond that, I had a great time with this online course. It’s a great course if you have no prior experience with project management, like me. The helpful instructors, well-constructed videos and readings, and assignments designed to test and apply your knowledge into a field whose skills can be transferable to other fields make it an easy recommendation. If you’re looking to expand your skillset into an everchanging landscape, I highly recommend the course.
When you get stuck at home for a year and a half, everyone gets that yearning to travel. Prior to writing this blog post, I spent the last two months studying up to get my insurance license and training to be an insurance agent. All of that training has made me creatively sterile. I haven’t had that much inspiration writing blog posts, painting, or any other types of endeavors. I was also losing enthusiasm and I needed to take a break for a while and I needed someplace far to go. With everyone traveling this summer, it was about time to travel myself.
My family and I went to one of our cousin’s houses just near Chicago. I have never gone to the American Midwest before, and I have been itching to explore more of the states besides the West Coast or Hawaii. The airplane ride lasted about 5 hours, which is a relatively short flight. I brought my laptop, multiple chargers, and two books by sci-fi author Andy Weir, The Martian and his more recent Project Hail Mary (coincidentally, the main character of the Martian, Mark Watney, happens to be from Chicago). My extended family are nice people, but I could hardly understand them!
I contacted an Uber driver and went from the airport to Gurney, a suburbs that’s on the edge of Wisconsin. My family and I chatted with our Uber driver. He happened to be a native of Chicago. We talked about best places to go in Chicago, best food, what it means to be American, LGBTQ, Instacart, school, and places we’ve been to. He and his family revealed to us he’s been all over North America. His family came from New York and was raised in Virginia. He’s traveled to parts of the American Southwest such as Texas and Georgia and to the Midwest besides Illinois such as Michigan and Wisconsin. Compared to my travel experience, he’s clearly seen more of the Eastern and Southwestern parts of the US. You can learn a lot more about the world just by traveling to it and seeing it yourself. Just more things to add to the bucket list.
The first and most noteworthy travel destination that my family and I went to was the Chicago Botanical Gardens.
The whole place was home to millions of plants. Acres and acres of grass and greenery. When I hopped on the touring bus, the tour guide showed off her impressive knowledge of the ecology, the history and the logistics of handling of such a massive garden. The land was separated into different islands. One island was a Japanese garden, heavily influenced by the cultivation practices of Zen Buddhism and ancient Japan. There were very few, if any, man-made structures on the gardens. I could only catch the garden from a distance but it was as beautiful as looking at a postcard of a place far from home. Another island was where the rivers were surrounded by giant trees and river lilies where the butterflies swarmed and the sounds of birds chirped as they raised their flock in elaborate birdhouses that resembled exotic penthouses in the sky.
There are only so many words I could describe the greenery, the flowers and the shrubbery that filled up the botanical gardens of Chicago. But another aspect I noticed about the botanical gardens, and indeed the rest of my trip to Chicago, was that it takes a lot of people and an entire community to take care of this gigantic garden. There were thousands of staff that has to take of the flowers, gardeners that made sure the food was right both for the animals of the park and for us as well. There were scientists and botanists that no doubt studied the cultivation and growth of the plants and how to properly raise them and take care of them like a child. It’s an operation that requires a lot of logistics to both plant these vital resources and to take care of them so they can be enjoyed by future generations, and I imagine there’s a lot of staff both enthusiastic of both studying nature and taking care of it. It reminds me very much of how Mark Watney took care of his garden of potatoes when he was on the rusting planet of Mars.
Both in connection and contrast to the Chicago Botanical Garden was my first trip to the city itself. The city itself was an urban jungle made of steel, glass, and concrete. The story of Chicago is intertwined with the story of America itself. There are three main characters in the story of Chicago: the people of Chicago, the the architecture, and Lake Michigan. I took a ferry ride that toured the river canal, and I was amazed at the height of the buildings. Manmade towers sculpted by the hands of its workers, many of whom come from different backgrounds and countries. English, African, French, German, Spanish, Haitian, Hispanic, Asian, Polish, Greek; the city of Chicago is well known for the ethnic diversity of its people. An example of this would be its name: Chicago. Where did that word come from? There are many theories but the official theory and the one I got from the tour guide was that it’s an Indian word that originated from its major crops: stinky onions. In other word, Chicago is the stinky onion to New York City’s big apple! Who’s crying now?
That’s another thing I want to talk about: the tour guides. I enjoyed having the tour guides share their knowledge on their domains. I was especially impressed when I learned more about the history of the city, the materials used to build the architecture, the ecology of the forests and rivers and the history behind that, and people behind the architecture.
For example, one of the buildings was actually a speakeasy used by Al Capone exactly 100 years ago. There was also a period of time where there was rapid industrialization between the 1890s and 1929. By the time the Stock Market Crash of 1929 happened no new buildings were built until after the Second World War. After that, architects carved out and built what they planned during the interim of time. The ferry ride of Chicago was a lot like traveling through time and seeing how the architecture has changed and what styles and movements inspired the design, all of them ranging from modernist to neoclassical to art deco to brutalist.
One of my favorite stories involving one of the buildings was where back in the 70s, architects were obsessed with making black box-styled modernist buildings.
Eventually, the architects got tired of making black box modernist buildings. They wanted to show that they had creative ideas. They wanted to show they could more than just the same black box modernist over and over again. They wanted to innovate. What innovative building did they construct instead? The answer is a white box building!
There were plenty of other buildings I shot as well. One had a reflective glass that showed a mirror image of the ferry. Another had an actual map of Chicago. Another was an abandoned smoke stack used as a remnant of Chicago’s industrial past. Another was in the style of the king and queen chess pieces. Another was a building used as a filming location set dress as Batman’s headquarters.
The ferry ride in Chicago was in many ways a story of how people immigrated, how to innovate and overcome economic, social and environmental hardship, and what it means to be a city.
One of my favorite places I visited was the Art Institute of Chicago. Although I only visited a small portion of the museum, I had a very full, artful experience. The first and my most favorite part of the museum was the artwork dedicated to the 19th century. I was impressed by the well-known, heavy-hitter artists they had on display. Rodin, Manet, Monet, Morisot, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, Cezanne, van Gogh, and many other had their art on display and it was all original and one-of-a-kind. The subjects ranged from still lives of fruits and plates, beautiful vistas of roses and lilies, portraits of people ranging from military generals to slaves turned revolutionaries, abstract expressions of waves, depictions of war and love, famous biblical stories and Greek myths adapted into paintings, and, of course, naked women. It was like going to an art gallery from The Goldfinch, minus the terrorist bombing. I genuinely felt like a kid in a candy store, using my eyes to observe the diverse color palettes, the superb usage of space and symmetry, and the exotic brushwork used throughout the paintings. I only explored what felt like the tip of the iceberg when it came to the art displayed, and I took even less pictures during my visit. Here’s a handful of the pictures I took.
When it comes to visiting a new place, one of the things you should absolutely do is to try out the local cuisine. The city of Chicago is of course well-known for two of its signature dishes: their Deep Dish Pizza and the Chicago Hot Dog. First up is their Deep Dish Pizza.
The restaurant I got this deep dish pizza from was Giordano’s. It’s a pizzeria that I ate at the Navy Pier, one of the first major locations in Chicago. I ordered the Chicago Classic, a deep dish pizza stuffed with pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers, and onions. The most notable thing when I took my first bite was the cheese. It was incredibly gooey and very stringy. Whenever I took a bite, the pizza left a trail of its cheese in its wake. Indeed, the cheese was the main highlight of the pizza, its freshness and its combination with the tomato sauce makes eating this pizza worth it. I thoroughly enjoyed the Wisconsin-style mozzarella and on top of a pizza crust layered with tomato sauce, it made the pizza divine. It more than makes up for the toppings stuffed inside the cheese. When I tried tasting the toppings together, I felt they blended in and tasted like chunks made to compliment the cheese. I couldn’t taste the toppings individually and they had no distinction from each other. If I had to order another deep dish pizza from Chicago, I would just have the cheese alone.
In direct contrast with the Chicago Deep Dish Pizza was the signature Chicago Hot Dog.
I got the Chicago hot dog from one of the food stands near one of the museums I visited. Its served with a poppy seed bun and on top of the beef sausage was yellow mustard, onions, relish, tomato slices, sport peppers, a dill pickle spear, and a dash of celery salt. The number of toppings made it sound like pizza toppings than hot dog toppings. It’s just as stuffed as the deep dish pizza. But unlike the deep dish pizza I had, I tasted what the toppings had to offer, and these are toppings I wouldn’t normally have on a hot dog or any food for that matter, and I felt that the toppings enhanced the dish. The hot dog had the right balance of sweet and spicy, a lot of it thanks to the pickle spear and sports peppers, and I ate it with as much of the toppings as I possibly could because it was not only was it one of the best food I ate in Chicago, it was one of the best hot dogs I ate period. It’s a hot dog I would love to eat again and again.
There’s a lot I could talk about in terms of where I visited in Chicago. I visited Millennium Park and the Bean sculpture. I visited the Shedd Aquarium and took a ton of photos of the fish, crustaceans, sea mammals and other marine life. I even visited the front gates of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippin. But I don’t want to make this blog post longer than it already is, so instead I’m going to give you the three biggest lessons I learned while visiting Chicago.
The Value of Uber Drivers
This was the first trip I realized how great it is to have Uber drivers. Having an app on your phone where you choose where you want to go and where you want to be picked up, and how quick it is to put all of that information in made it easier and more fun to travel Chicago. More importantly, though, during those rides, we were able to learn a lot more about the people behind those rides. Beyond talking about the best food and locales in Chicago, we learned about the personal lives of these drivers. We had discussions on pets, career prospects, and the freedom and flexibility of being an Uber driver. I met about five different Uber drivers and I gleaned a lot of information during that trip. I even made a long-term connection with one of the drivers and I consider him a friend to my family.
It made me realize how important it is to make meaningful connections, especially with random strangers. Doing contract work as an Uber driver is a lot like running your own business, and one of the most important things you can do to ensure that business stays afloat is to make long-term connections with your prospects. It’s one thing to have an algorithm determine who your prospects are, it’s an entirely different thing to build a long-term relationship with them. Contacting Uber drivers, having them pick you up, looking around the city, and having them act as your companions made traveling to Chicago a much richer experience.
2. The Importance of Interconnectedness
What makes a city a city? Some say it’s all about the architecture. Others say it’s the economy, stupid. Others say it’s the people. For me, it’s all about the interconnectedness of all these factors. Chicago is a great example of a city where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
As I’ve mentioned before, the story of Chicago is really the story of its people, the architecture, and Lake Michigan. One of the most infamous events in Chicago is the Great Fire of Chicago in 1871. It was a devastating event that killed 300 people and cost by today’s standards $4.7 billion. The event was a lesson in that if you want to build a city you need to build structures that are safe and are of high quality to withstand fires, have citizens well-informed about the dangers of fires and how to protect themselves and you need to take care of the nature, whether it’s the trees or the rivers. The rivers back then were heavily polluted with oil and garbage and they no doubt worsened the fire conditions. You have to take care of the rivers and ensure it’s healthy for everyone for future generations. It’s the job of firefighters, architects, engineers, scientists, local government, and citizens to ensure everyone lives safely and happily. Cities are a reflection of how we are interconnected as a community.
3. Traveling rejuvenates the spirit
Going full circle, prior to the the trip I was creatively exhausted. I needed new sights, new inspiration, new ways of seeing the world. There’s always this urge, this desire, this feeling of going somewhere new. Whether it’s traveling because you want that creative inspiration, traveling because you want to meet new people, traveling because you want to see, touch, smell, hear, or taste the world, or traveling because “why the hell not?” we all want to take a break from the mundane and go somewhere new.
There are times where we are lost. We have no idea where our lives are going. We have no idea what school to go to. No idea what our job should. No idea who we should love. Or how to live. Or what to think. Or how we should spend our time. Or where to live. But sometimes, we want to be lost. Sometimes it’s best to live life without following the trail. Sometimes, it’s up to us to make that trail.
Maybe that’s why travel is so satisfying. Going to Chicago made me appreciate the effort it takes to build and manage a city. It made me appreciate the hospitality of my extended family. It made me grateful that I have such a large extended family across the states and beyond. It made me realize that I’m not alone in this world. Chicago is a wonderful city with a very rich history, awe-inducing architecture, and wonderfully diverse people. I’m glad I traveled there.
Throughout the year, I have learned many lessons. Whether it was through reading books, listening to audiobooks and podcasts, or taking online courses, the biggest lesson I have learned is that you never stop learning. It has been over a year since I graduated college and by the time you’re reading this, I will be 25 years old (yes, I’m already starting to feel like an old man in a young person’s body), and yet, I have never stopped learning.
I have made changes in my life ranging from small, incremental ones such as spending time to read each night to major ones such as quitting my first job in exchange for a risky, yet more rewarding one. Every decision we make, big or small, affects not only yourself but the world around you, whether it’s your family, your co-workers, your clients, or your community. The one thing to realize is that life is school and school is life. There will be times where you will fail. There will be times where you make mistakes and errors that you will look back in hindsight and say, “man, I was really stupid back then.” And there will be times where you learn something and you will ask why didn’t I learn that earlier in my life. Each life is different, and yet, all of us go through the same struggles, the same worries, and the same concerns throughout life. No matter where you go in life, your mind must always be willing to learn new things.
Earlier in the year, I looked up an online seminar for one of the Grow With Google classes. The class was on Project Management. While I have taken online classes before, I have never taken a full online course on Project Management, nor have I had any full experience with any kind of management before. In the months since, I planned out my time carefully on when and how long I should take each segment of the class. I always preferred taking my classes in one long continuous stretch in order to learn more effectively and to give me enough time to meet the deadlines.
Another major thing I’ve learned: the importance of managing your time. We spend 1/3rd of our day sleeping, 1/3rd of our day working and the rest of that 1/3rd to ourselves. It can be daunting to figure out how to spend that time wisely, especially when there’s an abundance of things that can waste your time such as video games or Youtube videos. I have to constantly ask myself what I want to do with my time and what I want to learn about. The cool thing about the internet is that there is so much content to learn from. In my previous job, the problem with the kids I worked with wasn’t what they were learning, it was having the willingness to learn. There’s so much to learn from but there’s a scarcity of wanting to learn. It’s important to always stay curious.
I experimented with the different times to study, ranging from early in the morning to late afternoon to at night. I also practiced studying in different parts of my house and got a good feel of how well I did with learning. The environment plays an important role when it comes to building good habits, and it’s hard to build or maintain them in a toxic environment. Learning is a rhythmic, controllable routine that requires serious time blocking and attention. There’s always something new to learn, no matter your age or how many degrees you have.
What is the best way to learn? Some people say they prefer learning through the wide dimensions of a textbook. Others would rather get their learning through bite-size, easy-to-understand videos such as TedX. The truth is, it all depends on what you’re trying to learn. You’re not going to learn how to drive a car if you don’t know how to get behind the wheel first. You’re not going to learn how to sell something if you don’t meet with someone face-to-face and convince them why your product is superior to the competition. You’re not going to learn how to write that epic fantasy novel if you don’t spend your time on Microsoft Word and turn your imagination into words on a computer screen. This is all pointing to the fact that the best way to learn is to do. You can spend your time theorizing and intellectualizing in pursuit of getting your MBAs and your PhDs, but have you put any of those ideas into practice?
Another important concept when it comes to learning is accountability. Learning is by no means a one-way street. In fact, you are more likely to recall information better if you explain the concepts you just learned to someone else. If you want to improve your learning, find an accountability buddy. It can be a close friend, a family member, or an online community from Discord. Have your accountability buddy set clear expectations of the learning objectives, test your knowledge and explanations constantly, and give feedback on what your strong points are and what you need to work on. Accountability also helps you take on ownership when you learn. Without accountability, you don’t take responsibility for what you learn, and without that responsibility, then you don’t succeed on what it is what you’re trying to learn. Keep yourself accountable, and you’ll reap the rewards of learning.
Finally, the last point I want to make is that learning is a constant process. There’s always new things to learn no matter your subject. Whether it’s physics, mathematics, biology, medicine, or any other subject, new discoveries are made all the time. Knowledge creation and the creative process is what separates the human from all the other animals. Have time to pause and contemplate what you’ve just learned. Every day is a chance to learn something new. Sometimes that requires unlearning and relearning ideas, concepts, and techniques in order to fully understand something.
Remember that learning is best enjoyed as a reward in and of itself. Don’t just learn something because you want to impress someone or for the social approval of others. You don’t learn a language such as Spanish because you want to impress people at a bar. You learn a language in order to better communicate yourself with people who are different from you. Learning about something helps you expand your worldview, challenge your beliefs, and further your understanding of the world.
I write this blog post as I am done studying up on the state license exam for insurance. I have spent an entire month studying up on the laws, ethics, business, history, and details of how insurance, specifically life and health, work. Prior to that, I had little to no knowledge of how insurance works, the laws and regulations, and the amount of knowledge needed to work as a life insurance agent. I spent a lot of time blocking parts of my day to quiz myself, review the concepts, and to truly understand how to work in the insurance industry. While I am by no means an expert, I can say I have a lot more knowledge now than I did back then about insurance. And I can imagine that I will be learning a whole lot more once I get into the field and start negotiating with customers.
Learning is a journey. Sometimes the destination is clear and sometimes it’s not. What matters is the journey itself.
It wasn’t easy finding a new job. The risks, the roadblocks, the rejections, it was a raw experience. I applied to a multitude of jobs, ranging from behavioral therapists to online tutor. There were jobs I wanted to be a part of but couldn’t because of location reasons, there was no way I was willing to drive 30 miles to travel from one location to the other, back and forth for the majority of the week. I had interviews lined up only for them to suddenly be cancelled because some other highly-qualified candidate was more worthy to the position. I didn’t know how long this job search was going to take. I even signed up for unemployment benefits. But my hiring manager was willing to roll the dice on me and hire me. I still need to take online classes for certification and take an exam, but my job is now secure.
The job search lasted for over two weeks. Beyond the job search, I took some online classes, went back to my exercise routine, and spent more time to reflect. It felt both strenuous and rejuvenating at the same time. There were a lot of things I learned from searching for a new job. This is what I learned.
Have a thick skin: During the job search, I had to deal with plenty of rejection. And my new job? It also deals with a lot of rejection as well. There’s a very good chance that in the first job you apply to, the employer will reject you, despite the cover letter detailing how your the right fit for the job, despite the phone interview explaining your qualifications, despite answering all the standard questions when it comes to face-to-face interview. It’s important not to quit. Never settle for less. You need to pick yourself back up and try again. You better develop a thick skin during the process. It can take awhile.
Pick the job that fits your qualities: This should be an obvious one. But at the same time, there were plenty of job applications that said I needed X number of years of experience or I need to be familiar with Y software. It’s clear that I’m still very much new to the world of employment and that I need to develop that experience and demonstrate those abilities if you really want to get those highly coveted career positions. At the same time, you don’t want to pick up a job where A. anyone can train you and B. anyone can replace you. That’s not going to be great long-term and you may not get the things you want such as a flexible schedule or a level of autonomy. You have to pick a job that you’re actually competent in. If you need help in this, I recommend establishing your Circle of Competence. Build up your skills and knowledge and use that to build the life you want.
Think “What Problem Do I Want To Solve?”: Instead of thinking about it in terms of how much profit you want to make, adopt a problem-solver’s mindset and ask how can I use my skills and abilities to solve a problem. For example, how can I use my knowledge of AI and software development to tackle climate change? How can I use my skills as a carpenter to build more houses for the homeless? How can I use my communication and interpersonal skills to establish better relations between neighboring communities? Not only will this mindset help solve major issues, you can also make a profit as a side effect for helping solve a problem.
Emphasize Building Skills and Knowledge Over Passion: In recent years, there seems to have been a big shift away from developing a passion more towards skill building and specific knowledge. People such as Cal Newport, Dawn Graham, and Naval Ravikant have all emphasized finding your good at and perfecting it over something you have a passion about it. As a personal example, I have always been a big art aficionado, as I have noted in a previous blog post. But just because I love art doesn’t mean I should make a career out of it or that I should get paid for it. Arts and crafts is more of a hobby than it is a job. Once it is a job, I start thinking about it in terms of success and failure, making a profit and it becomes more like work. Just because something is your hobby doesn’t mean it should be your job. Not only that, you also have to think about how transferable your skills are. If you over-specialize, then you lock yourself out to bigger opportunities. If you want to build the life that you want, build the rare, valuable skills that make you hard to ignore.
Live Below Your Means: Finally, one of the most important things I learned was how to manage my money and spend it on the things that matter. Every dollar you spend is a reflection of the things you value the most. Over the course of my previous job, I focused a lot on saving money and building up reserves on my savings account. Every dollar you save will build up over time once you build up those financial habits and be smart with your money. To me, that meant living below your means: going through long periods of time where you don’t spend money on anything that isn’t essential. Looking at my purchases, what I valued was learning, family, community and wellness. I always took a close look at tracking what I was spending and I was mindful where my money went to. When it comes to spending, much like a lot of things in life, less is more.
By the time you’re reading this, I have already spent a large chunk of my time studying up and getting ready for my insurance exam. I have never worked in sales before, let alone in the insurance market. But I’ve also heard about how lucrative it is, how flexible the scheduling is, and the ways you can impact the lives of many people. To me, that’s an exciting opportunity. It’s a risky business, but I’m willing to roll the dice and open myself to new paths. It’s a chance I’m willing to make.
You might recall that I made a post about working with kids. That was back when I was in the honeymoon phase of my job. It was wonderful. I enjoyed working with the kids, I trained myself to be happy while working, learned how to be part of the workforce and was grateful I was able to find work in a raging pandemic. I was able to turn the tide of my misfortune of being college grad in May 2020.
But then 2021 hit, and I was going through changes. I made reading a priority this year (I’ve managed to read 16 books in five months btw) and my views started to shift. I listened to podcasts and videos on how to build a successful career, the importance of developing rare and valuable skills and knowledge, and did more market research. I realized that my job as a behavioral coach wasn’t as satisfying as I thought it was going to be. I realized how replaceable my job was, that there was little chance I was going to advance in my entry-level job, that the education field was changing to become more decentralized and online. More and more people were switching to homeschooling, especially during the pandemic and cultural changes. Combined with my changing views on how schools and education should be, I knew what I had to do. I had to have the courage to do it.
I talked to my supervisor and gave him my resignation letter. He was a little surprised, I think he was half-expecting me not to quit and half-expecting me to stay. Prior to giving the letter, I had feelings of uncertainty, fear, sadness, and a whole lot of other things going on in my head and in my stomach. Hours after, I still had those feelings. I needed time to go outside, alone with my thoughts, having that moment of mental solitude. I couldn’t have made this decision without having emotions involved. We’re human. It’s hard to make decisions without having our human side get in the way. And you know what, after thinking about it for awhile, I knew it was the right thing to do. I had to do it for my health, I had to do it for my time and I had to do it for my career growth. And I had to do it for the good of the company, the staff, the students and everyone else involved. I won’t give any names nor do I want to spite anyone specific, especially those who have undergone their own personal traumas.
If you’re still reading this and genuinely want to know some more context for this, I’ll get more into detail.
Why I quit my first job
There were a lot of things that factored into why I decided to quit. The first was lack of reward. I don’t mean just monetary reward, as in money. You don’t go into an entry-level job with a bachelor’s degree in psychology expecting a lot of money. What I mean is, as a behavioral coach you get to work with kids with a history of trauma. I knew right out of the gate who my clients were. The problem is, you can only do so much for them. My fellow behavioral coaches and I have to constantly prompt and reorient the kids to do their schoolwork, pay attention to the teachers through Google Classroom and motivate them to actually learn. Sometimes it worked, other times they just didn’t listen. You know the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” That was basically my entire job. I acted as a monitor for the kids’ behavior and while there were times when they complied with what I said to them, there were too many instances where we reached an impasse. Combined with not having the complete expertise of communicating with these kids, it felt like rolling the dice at a disadvantage.
Another reason was the actual therapy used. The training used for my job mainly focused on humanistic psychology, combined with trauma-informed care. Humanistic psychology was a school of thought founded by psychologist Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow (creator of the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) and emphasized that humans supersede the sum of their parts; they exist in a uniquely human context, and are aware and aware of being aware (i.e. they are conscious). They have the ability to make choices and therefore have responsibility. That they are intentional, aims at goals, and that they seek meaning, value, and creativity. When it comes to trauma survivors, especially those who are young, that sounds like a great idea. Humanistic psychology combined with trauma-informed care would be very effective for those type of clients.
In practice, however, the unit I worked for focused mainly on behaviorism instead. As a refresher, behaviorism is all about controlling stimuli, reinforcement, and environmental events. B.F. Skinner’s rats and boxes, Pavlov’s dogs and bells, and John B. Watson’s Little Albert experiments, and what have you. The staff and I watched over the kids’ behavior, assigned points on whether they were doing they’re their assignments, their activities, or participation, and sent them back to their dorms if they were not behaving well or if they had an off-day (hint: off-days were incredibly common, depending on the student.)
Without turning this into a debate about which therapy works best for what form of mental affliction or the ethical implications of which therapies one should use or whether any or all of these therapies have any real world applications and their reliability, the therapy I actually used was completely different from the one I was trained for. In fact, the online trainer said that we shouldn’t use points when it comes to treating these kids! The incongruence of that pestered me for too long and I felt there were better therapies for these kids compared to the company I worked with.
As a side note: another approach that I feel was lacking for the kids was 1. self-compassion and 2. the courage to be vulnerable. One memorable instance of these two traits being demonstrated was where one of the students had the courage to speak out on her personal issues and personal losses during an online seminar. It should be of no coincidence that she completed all of her schoolwork, graduated early, and left her program successfully. She is now back in Sacramento.
And that goes into my third main point: I wasn’t the right fit for the job. Looking back, I realized that how the company was managed didn’t fit with my approach of how I wanted to work with the kids. In this case, I was more hands-off. I let the kid figure out what the answers/interpretations are in the assignment and only assisted when it was needed. I follow the approach of Bruce Lee that “A teacher is never a giver of truth; he is a guide, a pointer to the truth that each student must find for himself.” It’s more evident in English and Art classes is more about knowing the rules before you can actually play around with them. That’s another problem I have with schools, there’s too much emphasis on defining terms and phrases, how to spell certain words correctly, knowing things versus understanding them. But the biggest problem to me wasn’t the content, it was the lack of motivation and focus to learn. The kids I worked with had a lack of engagement and interest with the material. You can’t learn anything if you don’t have the motivation and attention to learn.
I could go on and on about schooling, and how the pandemic has changed how we learned, and what should and should not be taught in a school, and the role of teachers and education in a societal level, but that feels more like a topic worth discussing in another blog post.
The point I’m making here is that the education field isn’t my thing. Considering how anyone can be a teacher in the digital age, and there’s many different sites dedicated towards learning such as Khan Academy and Udemy and Coursera and many other sites dedicated towards learning different skills and experience, I saw the writing on the wall and knew there was little chance of me moving ahead with my now-former job.
Lessons from my first job (and for quitting it):
No one’s first job will be their dream job. In fact, 71% of recent college grads stay for one year or less. Despite the challenges I had with my first job, there were things I did like about it. I liked the free food, I enjoyed the art projects, I enjoyed chatting with the fellow staff and kids, and when one of the kids actually did develop, it was an incredibly rewarding experience. I had a relatively short tenure, but I did learn a lot and I will use the skills and experience as a basis for my future endeavors. In addition to the lessons I learned when working with kids that posted last December, here’s what else I learned:
Communicate, communicate, communicate: Communication is the most important skill you can develop, especially in a job that’s filled with high stress and involves working with at-risk youth with a history of trauma. The job was heavy on communication, and the staff and I got into a lot of trouble and that was due to a breakdown of communication. I clearly need to work on communicating better. It’s a lifelong skill not just for work, but for your personal life as well.
Sometimes the hardest and best thing to do is to do nothing: When the staff and I returned to work one Monday, we were debriefed that something happened in the dorms. One of the kids was frustrated and attacked one of the unit staff. While he was attacking, another kid wanted to react and attack back. Ultimately though, he chose not to. The kid who attacked is out of the dorms and is probably in juvie now. The kid who chose not to attack suffered no repercussions. As a species, we’re biased towards actions. We always take notice of people who did something, whether heroic or villainous. But many of us don’t realize that sometimes, letting the situation play itself out and not trying to interfere would be the best option to take. It won’t always be the case, and indeed, if the situation is severe enough, taking the right course of action is the right thing to do. But if the kid who didn’t attack chose the fight back, then that kid would probably be in major trouble and suffer serious consequences, wouldn’t they. Sometimes, as tempting as it may be to do something, doing nothing is the right thing to do.
Embrace boredom: There were plenty of stretches in my work where all I did was just doing looking over the students and they just did their work. There were also times where I acted as gatekeeper to the front gate of where I worked at. You’re probably imagining right now how boring that it? While there were moments of boredom, over time, I ultimately embraced that and realized how surprisingly rewarding it can be to be alone with my own thoughts. Instead of constantly looking at my phone all the time, I let my own mind wander off and explore what I was thinking about. I realized I needed to have a relationship with my own mind and have it generate thoughts that were useful to me versus thoughts that were distracting. Embracing boredom made me a better thinker, a better planner, and a better creative.
Prepare to be flexible: There were plenty of the staff, myself included, had to be switched out from one classroom to the other. We were understaffed, so if one classroom was lacking a capable adult, then we transfer one to the other. When the situation arises, you’re going to have to be flexible. Kids who are freshmen in high school, are going to act differently compared to the seniors. Always be prepared and flexible.
Have a plan: When it came to everything, from certain students not making it to class, to group activities going wrong, to even quitting my job, I always had a plan in mind on what to do for the day, managing risks, and how to help the students. I always planned ahead, sometimes a week in advance, remaining optimistic in my abilities to handle the day-to-day operations, while also remaining rational and cautious with what possible events can occur. You always have power over how you respond to events, not the outside events themselves. It’s always a great idea to plan ahead.
Never let your emotions overwhelm you: The biggest misconception people have about me, especially when it comes my work, is that I’m unemotional or that I am too stoic. That can’t be further from the truth. I’ve always been, at least internally, an emotional person. I’ve just found ways to develop nerves of steel, and the job definitely helped me with that. While there were moments where I have cracked under pressure, over time like a gemstone resisting scratches, I managed to control my emotions and not the other way around. When I was planning on quitting, I felt a sense of anger over being written up for things I felt didn’t deserve a write-up, sadness over no longer seeing the relationships I made with the staff and kids, and anxiety over what job I should go for next and where my next paycheck could come from. Ultimately, I couldn’t let my emotions overwhelm my judgement and that there were ways I could circumvent what I would lose and that there is always something better in the horizon. If I was emotionally reactive, things would’ve turned out much differently and not for the better.
Despite my dissatisfaction with my first, I have no regrets or ill-will towards anyone from my previous job. I’m grateful for them hiring me, especially during a pandemic, having vaccine priority since I was technically a frontline worker, and that I learned valuable skills, experience, and knowledge that will serve as a foundation for my future endeavors. I have enough money to survive for awhile, and besides, you can always get that back. The most important resources you can have are your time, the knowledge you gain, and the connections you make. I’ll always be thankful, and I hope I can search for better and brighter things.
I have always identified myself as a creative. When I was in high school working in the office, I always brought a gigantic notebook and used it to create my own stories, ranging from superhero parodies, giant mech stories, and animal allegories. When I was in community college, I started taking drawing and painting class, and made it a habit to cultivate my artistic side. I drew everything from basic shapes, amorphous blobs, animal forms, and human anatomy. I painted natural landscapes, abstract arts, and memento moris. I have made drawing a hobby for five years, painting four, and plenty of experience with narrative writing. And now, I took the plunge started writing this blog. Yet, I feel I’m only scratching the surface when it comes to being creative.
How was I able to start and maintain my artistic habits for so long?
No matter what artistic pursuit you’re trying to experience, I feel as there is one trait everyone should have when it comes to being creative, whether you’re an experienced, professional artist, or just starting from scratch. That one trait is curiosity.
We won’t go too deep into the research literature unto how curiosity works and the neuropsychology of it. What we’ll do in this blog post is making the case for curiosity and the ways you can harness it, whether you’re a lifelong learner or you want to practice it more in your own life.
What is Curiosity?
Do you ever remember the time you wanted to do something just for the sake of doing it? Whether it was taking a class on a subject you have no experience on or reading a random book at the library or learning a completely foreign language? You did something just because you wanted to experience it yourself? That’s what curiosity is.
Curiosity is the desire to try something new, to seek understanding, to gain knowledge on something, just for its own sake. According to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle and his widely influential work Nicomachean Ethics, he defines goodness as doing anything that gives you intrinsic meaning and value to you. Quote: “Every art and every inquiry, and similarly, every action and pursuit is thought to aim at some good, and for this reason, the good has been declared to be that at which all things aim.” Aristotle assumed that the highest form of good was desirable for itself, it is not desirable for the sake of some other good, and all other goods are desirable for its sake. All three of these characteristics can easily define curiosity and its widely applicable today as it has been thousands of years ago.
Despite this, however, not everyone viewed curiosity as a good thing. In many cultures and in certain time periods, especially the 20th century, you were punished for thinking differently. You had to fit in with the crowd, you had to follow the cultural script, you were another cog in the machine, another busy worker bee for the hive. But with internet age, all of that changed. There’s new ways of learning, new ways of experiencing, new ways of living, and new ways of being ahead of the crowd. Curiosity killed the cat, but it also brought it back to life.
In the relatively new digital economy, there are now many ways to generate revenue, often with no permission from a boss or employer. The price of this new economy, however, is that conventional worker jobs such as factory production, bank telling, and construction will be outsourced by advanced technology and overseas workers. In exchange, however, are new opportunities to be in careers that involve creativity, innovation, and high degrees of focus. Among many of the skills needed to survive and thrive in this new world, curiosity is an important one if you want to learn new things.
Of course, that’s just one reason to be curious. And that reason mostly applies to modern times. There are many other cases for being that can extend far beyond our time. If you want more convincing, continue reading.
The Cases for Being Curious
Think of some of the most innovative, creative advances in human history. Think of the most influential movements in philosophy and the arts. Think of the ways human beings have changed from living in huts hunting down wild animal and being hunted back, to modern, digital internet age. How did we get these advances and moved forward as a species?
That’s right! One of the answers is curiosity. Our paleolithic ancestors had to be curious enough to get out of their caves and explore the world. Navigate the uncertainty, fend off nasty threats, and build civilization. We wouldn’t have done that without the need to be curious. Everything from the ships we built, to the arts that were crafted to the phones we use, they wouldn’t be possible without curiosity.
Curiosity also keeps you above the competition. When it comes to learning a new skill, going forward in your career, starting in a new field, or just trying something new, you have to cultivate a curious mind. It’s easy to be curious when you’re young, but as you get older, you might get stuck. You can lose interest in the job that you currently work in. You can lose the fire and passion you have in a relationship. You can lose track and get left behind in a big, ever-changing, complicated world. The only way to keep up is maintain the curiosity mindset.
Finally, being curious is a part of having an enjoyable, meaningful life. There are a lot of unknowns in the world and a lot that we don’t know about. Unexplored ideas and places waiting to be discovered. Compared to the vastness of the cosmos, we’re just a tiny dot. But that doesn’t mean we have to stay in a rut and explore the possibilities. You can do anything in life as long as you’re curious. Yes, you’ll make mistakes and experience failures. Yes, it can be incredibly intimidating. But exploring something new always comes with rewards.
If you’re convinced and want to develop a curious mind, here are some tips on what you can do right now:
Figure out what you know – and what you don’t know
A common misconception is that you stop learning by the time you graduate college and get the prestigious honors and that handsome degree that shows you have some competence over the subject of your choice. That cannot be further from the truth. In fact, the day you really start learning is when you get out to the real world and get life experience. One study even suggests that only 27% of college graduates get a job that matches their degree. If you want to test out how much knowledge you really have over a subject, ask yourself what you know – and what don’t you know.
A great way to help answer that question better is to use a technique from well-known and celebrated nuclear physicist, Richard P. Feynman. Feynman was well-known to his peers and students as a highly curious character and he lived his life according to that character. One of his adventures was when he explained to his child the difference between knowing and understanding:
See that bird? It’s a brown-throated thrush, but in Germany it’s called a Halzenfugel, and in Chinese they call it a Chung Ling and even if you know all those names for it, you still know nothing about the bird. You only know something about people; what they call the bird. Now that thrush sings, and teaches its young to fly, and flies so many miles away during the summer across the country, and nobody knows how it finds its way.
The point he’s trying to make is that knowing the name of something isn’t the same as understanding what something is and does. A lot of us in school study the names and terms of things, but a lot of us don’t take away what they actually mean and how it’s applicable in a broader context, whether personally, socially or universally. Fortunately, Feynman devised his own technique named after himself, the Feynman technique. It consists of four steps:
1. When you learn something, learn its concept, not just its name.
2. Explain that concept in a way sixth-grader can understand it.
3. Identify the gaps of your explanation. You won’t get this the first time and that’s fine. Go back and understand the source better.
4. Simplify further and try again.
It’s not as easy as it sounds. And it shouldn’t be. This technique will help you challenge your knowledge and understanding of the world. It requires uncertainty, doubt, and discomfort. This is where the next step comes in.
Have the courage to admit that you’re a little wrong.
When it comes to examining your own beliefs, views, biases, opinions, ideas, and experiences, it involves a lot of admitting you can be wrong on something. Very few people want to admit they’re wrong on something and a lot of us want to portray confidence that we know a lot about subject, when the truth is there is a big mismatch over what you think you know and how much you actually know. But I think the biggest reason why people don’t want to admit they’re wrong is because they don’t want to have their identity threatened, especially they’re social and personal identity.
Imagine you’re part of a group and you have a friend that’s obsessed with being healthy. That friend always chooses the healthiest option for food and forces everyone to have that diet. One friend insults them for being “fat.” The health-obsessed friend laughs it off because that is not obviously not true and doesn’t identify as fat. But you yourself retorts and calls him bossy and dictatorial for forcing everyone to eat their diet. The health-obsessed friend is put-off and offended, because that is what that person is doing.
When it comes to identity, that identity can help you, but it can also harm you. The stronger you cling to that identity, the more likely everything will offend and harm you. The best solution is to shed that identity, whatever label you identify yourself. We all go through phases in life, much like how a moon goes through phases or how a caterpillar turns into a chrysalis and becomes a butterfly. If you want to shed that identity, you have to admit you’re wrong on some things.
Admitting you’re wrong about something can make you lose confidence and doubt everything you know, including yourself. But it can also lead to new discoveries, new ways at looking at the world, forge new identities, and meet different kinds of people. Have the courage to move forward and embrace the idea you might be a little wrong, because that’s the path towards being more right.
Branch out to different subjects
Once you’ve done the two steps, it’s time to get out of the comfort zone and branch out to different ideas and different subjects. Don’t just read more book, read books you normally don’t read. Don’t just listen to a podcast you normally listen to for entertainment, listen to an informative podcast where you absorb the information and process what you just listened to. Try different hobbies like writing, sketching, sewing, or any kind of artistic medium you’ve always wanted to try but never had the time to. I went from writing on a large notebook in the office, to drawing in community college, to painting, to typing short stories. Branch out to different ways of expressing yourself.
It’s easy to do the same thing over and over again, get used to the same method and technique and realize that you’re stuck creatively. When it comes to creativity, you have to be unconventional and embrace the discomfort of doing something new. It can feel off to build a new habit, feel unnatural and awkward develop it, but once you stick with it and it becomes a part of your routine, it’s incredibly rewarding and satisfying, and you get skills that can give you both a fulfilling job and a fulfilling life.
Share your curiosities
Curiosity is not a one-way street. Find people that willing to listen on what you’ve learned. The most obvious is your friends and family. You can share what you’ve learned on any of your social media. Feel free to discuss, debate, criticize, and synthesize whatever new information you’ve learned in your immediate social circle.
Once you’ve shared what you learned, expand. Find forums, communities, and online groups that also have knowledge on the topic. Feel free to ask how much experience they have, whether they’re experts or professionals on the topic or if they’re just starting out as well. Ask them about their credentials, how much they studied, how long it’s taken for them to gain their experience, and their thoughts and opinions on the subject. You’re more likely to stay curious if you’re part of a social group.
If you want to stay ahead in life, try new experiences, or just want to dig deeper and explore, curiosity is the number one trait to stay creative. Being curious is more advantageous when you learn at a young age, but anyone can curious. You just have to let the door open.
No matter what you’re trying to accomplish in life, whether it’s financial, relationships, self-improvement, or for any other reason, it’s not going to mean if you don’t know how to set them up properly or if you can actually achieve them.
One effective way to do this is to use SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time frame. Associated with management legend Peter Drucker and his concept of management by objectives, SMART goals are easy to remember, easy to set up way to better accomplish any kind of objective, whether it’s a big project you or your team is tackling, getting a new job, or just starting out in a new field.
We all have vague plans on what we want to do. We want to lose extra pounds. We want to read more books. We want to meditate more. Yet a lot of us don’t do them because we don’t how much weight we want to lose, we don’t know what books to read and where to read them, we don’t know where and when to meditate.
This is why when it comes to establishing goals, it’s best to be as specific possible. Maybe you want to lose 10 pounds in a month. Maybe you want to read 21 books by the end of the year. Maybe you want to meditate for at least 5 minutes before you sleep. You’ll notice with the examples provided that all of them have numbers attached to them. Attaching a number to your goals can be useful as they can be helpful with tracking metrics when it comes progressing to what you want to achieve.
We’ve talked about the “what” when it comes making your goals specific, but another important piece is the “where” and “when.” Much like real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. Where will you accomplish your goals and when will you do them? If you want to work out, you can find a designated work out spot like the backyard or garage and do them each day in the mornings. When you decide to exercise plays a role in your overall health.
None of this is going to matter, however, if you don’t answer the big question with your goals: why do you want to achieve this goal? The goal isn’t just to improve yourself, it’s also to take on the identity when working towards your goal. The goal isn’t to just to run more, it’s to be a runner. The goal isn’t just to read more, it’s to be a reader. The goal isn’t just to meditate more, it’s to be a meditator. Once you figure out why you want to achieve a goal and take on the identity of the goal you’re working towards, it’ll be both much easier and much more satisfying to achieve it.
How are you going to measure the progress you’re making towards your goal? Measuring the metrics is a great idea is because 1. It keeps you accountable when you are (and aren’t) making steps towards your goals and 2. It gives you a baseline of how much you’re doing. For example, you want to write a book and you want to measure how much you exactly write per day. This is where holding a habit-tracking journal comes in handy. You can use it to keep track of how many words you write in a single day and how far along you are towards that book. If you keep track of the number of words you write per week, you’ll see what your total average is. Then you can decide whether you want to maintain that average and treat writing like a marathon or dedicate some days to write a bit more like a sprint.
Measuring the metrics towards your goals, whether it number of words written, how many laps you ran, or calories lost, can give you the visual representation needed to see how far along you are. Measuring can also make working towards your goals much more satisfying. It can help push you through and make the strides needed not only to achieve whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish, but smash them as well. Once you hold yourself accountable and promise yourself to build the habits necessary to achieve your goals, it gives you the mindset to accomplish anything.
How do you know you can achieve this goal? Years ago I tried to doing the NaNoWriMo Challenge. My goal was to write a novel in the span of one month. For the first few days I was excited. I thought I had the motivation to write the first draft of an epic fantasy novel. But then, I had the pressures of college classes with upcoming deadlines, projects, and assignments. Combined with losing motivation and enthusiasm with the writing, that was when I knew I couldn’t complete NaNoWriMo Challenge in time. I failed.
When establishing goals, you have to know whether or not your goals are attainable. Do you have the time, skills, tools, habits, and motivation to accomplish them? Looking back, I failed because I didn’t properly time block which parts of the day will spent on college activities, which parts will be on free time and which parts will be spent on actually writing.
Achieving goals is a commitment; you have to make sacrifices, learn new skills, and find resources and people to help you achieve them. If you’re going to find time master a skill such as playing chess or writing a book, then you will need to find specific parts of your day to make time for those activities, and that requires quitting other things such as television or social media. You also need to find a community of people that share your goals and can help both keep you accountable towards your goals and encourage you achieve them.
Making your goals attainable can feel daunting. In fact, it should make you feel uncomfortable. That’s what happens when you’re trying to make some big change in your life. Making a change requires sacrifice and you’ll make trade-offs along the way. You’ll lose things, but you’ll also gain much more in the process. That’s what it takes to attain your goals.
When it comes to setting up goals, you shouldn’t chase them just for the sake of attaining them. They should be stepping stones for much bigger things in life. Going back to identity, the goals you set up should be reflective of the identity you want to form. If you chase goals that don’t reflect the identity you want to become, then you will lack the motivation to achieve them.
An exercise you can try to ensure your short-term goals line up with your long-term goals: think ahead 10-15 years and imagine what kind of life you want. It can be a new home, an ideal career, getting married, whatever you imagine. Now, work backwards and establish the goals that can push you in the right direction. This is how you know the goals you’re setting up are relevant to you.
Once you figure out what goal you want to chase and why it matters to you, it’ll make working towards them that much easier. Figure out what matters to you and cut out the excess.
Finally, when can you complete this goal? Having your goals time-bound is great for many reasons. One, it once again keeps you accountable. Imagine the last time you tried to set up a goal but kept delaying it over and over again until you just abandoned your goal. Saying you will complete x in y amount of time will help you keep track of completing them. I want to lose 20 pounds in two months. I want to read 21 books by the end of the year. I want to complete this project in six months. All of these great examples of making your goals timely.
Having time-bound goals is also great for setting up milestones. Whenever you pass a certain milestone, you can use that celebrate your wins with friends and loved ones and further motivate you to push further. Setting up milestones can also help set up expectations of what the scope, budget and tools you need to accomplish your goal right on time.
Be realistic when it comes to setting up your deadline. Will your goal be completed in a few days? A week? A month? Years? Decades? Consider the scope of your goal, whether you have the skills and resources to achieve them, and ask for a friend to help them out. Once you set the time, your SMART goals are ready to go.
Before continuing on with your SMART goals, be aware of these additional tips and avoid some of the pitfalls.
Write your goals down: to reiterate, putting your thoughts into paper is surprisingly powerful, whether it’s dealing with stress, finding meaning and purpose, and especially, goal setting. The same study mentioned also says that those who wrote their goals accomplished significantly more than those who don’t. The simple act of taking out a pencil and pen writing down what you want to accomplish is incredibly helpful as it’s a reminder of what you want, where you will complete them, how you will complete them, who will help you, why you want to complete them, and when it will be completed.
Don’t cheat yourself: this is understated, but incredibly important. Be honest with yourself not just on what the goals you’re setting up, but also how you accomplish. You can lose 10 pounds in a few weeks, which sounds great, but if you got that through starving yourself looking like a twig, then you have a problem. Remember, the purpose of SMART goals is to get you closer to the ideal life that you want. If you don’t enjoy the process taking small steps towards your goals, then you won’t enjoy being at the top of that peak.
SMART goals is a way to help better define and move towards what you want the most in life. It is by no means the only way to approach goal-setting, but I hope this gives you a better understanding of how to set yourself up for success, even when it’s by no means clear cut. It’s always good to have a plan, no matter where you go.
We all heard that story. That guy or gal that went from being dirt poor to being incredibly rich. With a lot of effort, ingenuity, and intelligence that person beats the odds and becomes a huge success. You’ve seen movies, TV shows, Youtube videos, books, podcasts and every medium imaginable tell that story. It’s a story we’re all familiar with.
But what if I tell you that we’re getting them all wrong?
Don’t get me wrong. All of us have this vague, human desire to be successful, despite how ambiguous all of that is. We all want that perfect car, perfect house, perfect job, perfect lover, perfect whatever. But life is not perfect. It never is. And neither are those success stories we keep getting spoon-fed in whatever TED Talk you’re listening to right now. Here is the problem, or rather, problems with success stories.
It Fails to Take Into Account Randomness and Probability
Imagine you work for a music label. You are looking to find the next big superstar musician. You search through the Billboard music charts. Do you decide to sign an artist that’s currently has a hit on the top 20? Or do you decide to look for “second-best” who is at 22-30 on the charts?
The same logic applies in other fields, such as professional sports and business. It’s easy to find an athlete scoring three-pointers three times in a row during tryouts but absolutely fail them in an actual exhibition, or invest in a potential start-up that makes it onto the list of Fortune’s 100 Fastest Growing Companies List but realize that the company you invested in is growing more slowly than the competition in the next year and ends up bankrupting the year after.
A lot of us don’t take into account randomness and probability. We don’t realize how incredibly low the chance is when it comes to wining the lottery or being accepted into a prestigious college like Harvard. We look at success stories and don’t ask ourselves how unlikely that person met the head of a big company or how lucky that person did when they won a game of pachinko. We always pay attention to the unlikely winners but never everyone else.
Continuing off of business, we always look at the fastest-growing, the most innovative, the most inventive, and of course, the most successful. A lot of us are inspired by budding entrepreneurs, a lot of whom don’t complete college, who go on to become CEOs of Fortune 500 companies who make it big, earn lots of money, go on television and radio experiences explaining how they made.
The reason why we don’t see these failures is because of survivorship bias. It’s where we only see the stories and assume that’s the whole story, without considering the stories of past failures. We often hear more about stories of success because they’re considered more attractive. But if we only consider stories of success, we forget the base rate of success and overestimate the odds of success.
While survivorship bias is the most common in business, it can be found elsewhere. A lot of people dream of being an athlete with the pedigree of a Roger Federer or a Lebron James, but it’s also incredibly hard to to get recognized by a major sports league and even harder to have a team sign you up and get sponsorship deals. A lot of us dream of creating that hit indie video game that charts Steam, but without garnering a level of hype, most of us end up dumping games in the storefront that nobody buys because no one has heard of it. A lot of us dream of being a best-selling author, but many of us just publish a book that only sells a few thousand copies.
The next time you look at a success story, think of all the people who tried to follow the formula of that person and failed. When it comes to success, many of us fail to take into account how difficult it is to succeed in that particular field.
3.It’s yet another form of procrastination
Imagine you have read all the best self-help books in the world, watched all the best TED Talks in the world, and listened to the best self-improvement podcasts in the world. You take to heart their advice, you get that burst of dopamine inside your brain, and you get a shock of motivational energy inside you. You feel like you’ve taken steps towards improving yourself. Except there’s only one problem.
You haven’t actually done anything.
We like hearing success stories because it feels good and we want to make improvements towards ourselves. As a result, we keep consuming more and more of these stories. But the truth is you haven’t done a single thing to hold yourself accountable and discipline yourself into changing yourself. It’s a term called “Action Faking:” the illusion of taking action just so you can impress others and fool people into thinking you’ve made changes to your life.
While there are many ways action faking can manifest itself, consuming success stories without thinking critically the steps taken towards getting that success, the obstacles blocking it, and the lessons from those stories, it’s basically another form of procrastination. You’re only distracting yourself from the unpleasantness and pain necessary from making the meaningful changes needed to becoming a better version of yourself.
Imagine you’re on Instagram. You scroll through your phone and you look at your friend’s profile. You notice all of their achievements, all of the places they’ve visited, the people they’ve met, the photos they’ve captured, and, of course, they’re successes. You admire your friend for all they’ve done.
But then you start comparing yourself to them. You stop appreciating what you have (your gifts, your talents, your own accomplishments and talents) and start noticing all the things you don’t have. This is where the social comparison starts.
Now let’s make on thing perfectly clear: I am not implying that using Instagram (or any other social media service, for that matter) is a bad thing. In fact, one study shows that browsing on Instagram can actually lower loneliness. That same study, however, shows that it can only lower loneliness if people were less inclined to perform social comparison. While the study has shown that using social networking sites can both decrease and increase loneliness, what moderates it is one’s tendency to commit to social comparison.
When it comes to social comparison, evaluating one’s own abilities and opinions by comparing themselves to others, this is a widespread idea in the social media age but by no means a new phenomenon. You can argue that it’s human nature to compare yourself to the rest of the members of your tribe. In fact, this is has turned into a measurable psychological construct that traces itself back to the 1950s, despite not being a thoroughly explored and studied.
When we focus only on what other people think of our abilities and opinions, we lose sight of our selves and what we really want in our lives. When we only look at other people’s successes, we obscure the bigger picture and forget that those successes only tell half the story. We lower our self-esteem and forget our own talents, our own strengths, our own values, our own struggles, and flaws. We lose our sense of selves and, ironically, feel more lonely and less social as a result.
As a species, we love stories and we can’t resist weaving the life of someone into a narrative. When it comes to explaining the success of start-ups, businesses and well-known entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates, we always try to explain their successes through the form of stories. It makes sense, how did these men rise to their meteoric size in terms of wealth and influence? One such pattern was how Jobs was adopted according to one of his biographies and how that motivated him to succeed and challenge preconceived notions of the world.
However, Jobs himself refuted that idea:
There’s some notion that because I was abandoned, I worked very hard so I could do well and make my parents wish they had me back, or some such nonsense, but that’s ridiculous […] Knowing I was adopted may have made me feel more independent, but I have never felt abandoned. I’ve always felt special. My parents made me feel special- Steve Jobs
This is a perfect example of narrative fallacy, the tendency to explain the complexities of the real world into oversimplified stories. The problem with this stories is that, as previously shown above, it fails to take into account randomness and probability. We omit certain details when it comes to a person’s supposed life story and make up new ones in order to explain away someone’s success.
The danger with this, of course, is that when you start imitating the patterns of success without taking into account all of the above problems, you’ll end up asking yourself “How am I not successful yet after following the tips from all the biographies I’ve read?”
What To Look For Instead
Now, I don’t want to completely poo-poo all over your parade. I’m not here trying to discourage you from living your best life or to abandon your dreams or to stop listening to success stories. What you need to do is to not only take into account randomness and probability or to stop procrastinating, but to also look for the real, tangible ways people can build success and to really start examining the ways people live their lives.
What to Look For #1: Habits and Routines
When it comes to success, we want it immediate. We want to win the lottery and win that million dollars. We want to perform at the stage with a thousand adoring fans. We want to create that business that everyone buys from and knows the name of. But we forget that success isn’t always instantaneous. More often than not, it’s the result of the habits and routines of that person.
A lot of successes weren’t overnight successes. They were the result of constantly fine-tuning they’re skills until they were incredibly good at it. Michael Jordan kept shooting hoops and practiced being good at it until coaches started to notice his talent. Jerry Seinfeld practiced his craft of telling jokes until he caught the attention of comedy clubs and network executives. Maya Angelou kept writing every single until her poetry gained the resonance of Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights icons.
The next time you read a book or listen to a podcast or watch a video on top-level performers, ask “What books did you read and how do you fit time into reading?” or “What is your morning routine like?” or “How does the creative process work?” Being incredibly good at something isn’t just being born to be good at something, it’s about building the habits and routines to perfect them to the point it becomes automatic.
What to Look For #2: Failure
Life is rarely, if ever, straightforward. Chances are, you’ve encountered failure in your life. There’s also a great chance that someone you look up to or inspire to has encountered failure too.
When we only look success, it gives us the optical illusion that we only look at our own failures and never the failures of others. More often than not, the opposite is true. That person has probably encountered many failures throughout their lives as well. We forget that for every successful free throw, there’s hundreds of failed shots. For every great book, there’s multiple revisions filled with typos, plot holes, and inconsistent characterization. For every good investment, there’s hundreds of failed businesses and stocks.
None of this is meant to discouraging. The opposite. Only when you learn how to fail first, you learn how to pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes and be one step closer towards achieving something worth the effort.
What to Look For #3: Values and Strengths
The final and most important thing to look for is what were they’re values and strengths. What were they good at and how did they perfect those strengths? What were the core values they were taught and how did they embody them?
As you can imagine, finding out what someone is good at involves a whole lot of failing at other things. Some people were just passionate at something and developed it over the course of their entire lives. Others were just bored their strengths started as a hobby. Many used their strengths as a creative outlet towards whatever pain they went through life and worked from there. Whatever the case, it’s important to pay close attention to how they got through life practicing their abilities to the point they became so good they couldn’t be ignored.
What’s more important, however, were their values. What ideals were they taught as a child? How did they exemplify those values throughout their lives? As soon as they found success, what did they do to establish they’re legacy? We all like stories of how someone rose from rags to riches, but without values such as compassion or generosity or charity, that same person gets consumed by their ego and they’ll lose those riches faster than they earned it. We all want to achieve our dreams, get rich, get famous, chase those likes and comments, but you need values in order to maintain that success and not let our own worst impulses consume us.
We all have role models in our lives, and while many of them are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, we use their lives as a compass for our own. But too many of us are fooled by randomness, look only at the successes and not the failures, procrastinate, focus only on what we don’t have and fixate on convenient narratives. To find success in our own lives, we need look past that. We need to look at the habits and routines, the failures and shortcomings, and the strengths and values in order to find the right path towards life.