Tag: growth mindset

Advice to my 20-year-old self

Advice to my 20-year-old self

In my early 20s, I remember asking older folks a bunch of questions. Trying to pick up some guiding principles for decision-making. Choosing the ‘right’ university, career and on how to manage money.

Fast forward a decade later, these are advice I wish I have heard back in my early 20s.

Try many things

Yen Liow of Aravt Global shared, “In your twenties, go try a lot of things. Skill up in your thirties. And in your forties, go for it and do everything, if you can, quicker.

Don’t be too obsessed with finding the ‘correct’ job. Or be influenced by peers gunning for the ‘glamorous jobs’. It is normal to not know what to do, to not want to be a consultant, investment banker or lawyer.

Your make-up is different from your peers. Turn inwards and listen to your heart. Let that lead you and try many different things — internships, side hustles, co-curricular activities, etc.

Spend your twenties understanding what work makes you tick and what turns you off.

80,000 working hours

We all have about 80,000 working hours in the course of our life. More importantly, work out how best to spend the 80,000 working hours, and reflect on what you’re doing at the moment.

You may be focusing on micro-optimization, ‘How can I ace my exams and build up my CV?’. But what you should spend more time thinking about is macro-optimization, “What are actually my ultimate goals in life, and how can I optimize toward them?”

Work backwards from there.

We spend at least 5% of our 2 weeks vacation planning for the vacation on how to spend that 95% of our time. It seems reasonable given that we would like to have a fulfilling vacation that energizes us.

If we did that with our careers, that would be 4,000 hours, or about 2 working years. And this is a pretty legitimate thing to do, spending this amount of time trying to work out how we should be spending the rest of our life.

A good guiding principle is that the biggest predictor of job satisfaction is mentally engaging work. It’s the nature of the job itself — whether it provides a lot of variety, gives good feedback, exercise autonomy, contributes to the world, is it actually meaningful, and does it allow you to exercise a skill that you’ve developed?

It’s never too late

Often times when embarking on new projects, many will tell you that it has been done before. That the market is too saturated. It is too competitive and what makes you think you can do it?

Do it anyway.

What matters is that you have not done it before. You never know where this project will lead you. New ideas, connections and opportunities will arise from taking action.

Before Facebook was MySpace, Google was Yahoo, Apple was Blackberry and Netflix was Blockbuster. Our lives would be drastically different if people stop trying when ‘it has been done before’.

Longevity is key to a good life

Borrowing this phrase from Shoban, a superb physiotherapist and friend who helped me recover from my ACL operation. Shoban also recommended the book ‘Why We Sleep’ by Matthew Walker which changed the way I view sleep.

You can read Bill Gate’s review of the book here.

We live in a culture where we carry our ability to get by on very little sleep as a badge of honor. As though having very little sleep symbolizes work ethic, toughness, or some other virtue. In fact, it’s a total failure of priorities and lack of self-respect.

The same goes for training through pain. Our culture frames it as a pre-requisite to attaining greatness. When injured, focus on recovering. Equally important, include mobility exercises and corrective exercises into your routine.

As Naval Ravikant says “When you’re healthy you have 10000 needs, but when you’re sick you only have one need.”

Beware the perils of success

“The problems of failure are hard. The problems of success can be harder, because nobody warns you about them.

Neil Gaiman

I strongly recommend you to watch the writer Neil Gaiman’s 2012 graduation keynote address.

There is a lot of advice on how to deal with failure. Not so much on how to deal with success. However, success can also make you miserable.

The tabloids are nothing short of wealthy Hong Kong families suing each other. Or successful celebrities committing suicide.

Despite having insurmountable success and wealth which could last many generations, they were unfulfilled.

Make sure you pause and reflect on success, be it big or small. Decide if this is what you really want to do.

Never mistake achievement for fulfillment.

Be prepared to fail

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

J.K. Rowling

Uncertainty and the prospect of failure can be very scary noises in the shadows. Most people will choose unhappiness over uncertainty.

Be prepared to fail. That’s how you are going to expand yourself and grow. If you are not failing at things, you are not pushing your limitations. You’ll be living a cautious life on a path that you know is guaranteed to likely work.

Failing and learning is how you’re going to expand and grow. It will bring out the potential within you.

What we fear most is usually what we need to do most.

A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have. Resolve to do one thing you fear every day.

Financial Independence

Don’t forget to live in the present.

Your early experience with money problems will cause you to dwell excessively on the past and worry excessively about the future. Measuring life by wealth alone will not lead to a fulfilling life (refer to above ‘Beware the problems of success’).

A fulfilled life is measured by the quality of your relationships, a satisfying career, and your ability to give back.

Iffy? I know. I’m still trying to figure this one out. Maybe 40 year old Thomas care to chime in?

It is not a weakness to appreciate what’s good about this moment. Stop and enjoy the view. Life is fragile. Appreciate every day that goes by without a major disaster.

Being busy

All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Blaise Pascal

When you ask anyone how they are doing, the most common response is “Busy, so busy!”

Most people are not busy, they are tired. Busyness is usually a choice, driven by anxiety. Being busy is like a drug that makes you feel important and sought-after.

The truth is many dread what they might have to face in its absence. When the curtain falls, anxiety and guilt sets in.

Being constantly “busy” serves as a hedge against emptiness, a kind of existential reassurance. After all, if we are always busy, completely booked, in demand every minute of the day, our life can’t possibly be silly or meaningless. Right?

All that noise, rush and stress seems engineered to drown out some fear lurking at the core of our lives.

Space and quiet are necessary for standing back from life and seeing it whole. For making unexpected connections and waiting for the random strikes of inspiration. Paradoxically, this is key for achieving breakthroughs in personal growth and creative work.

We now live in a world where we’re connected to everything except ourselves. Continue to set aside time for reading and reflecting. And read books that stood the test of time.

When people ask you ‘how’s it going?’ Make an effort to tell them what is actually happening or the project you are working on.


Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.

In my next post, I will be back to writing on investment topics!

If you’re enjoying the content so far, I’m sure you’ll find 3 Bullet Sunday helpful. As an extension to the regular posts, I send out weekly newsletters sharing timeless ideas on life and finance.

I do not share these content elsewhere.

Join others and subscribe to our newsletter today to receive a free investment checklist!

Becoming 30: Receiving a message from my younger self

Becoming 30: Receiving a message from my younger self

On 23 Jan 2020, I opened my inbox and read the subject title “WHAT’S NEXT?”

It was a delayed message sent by my younger self to pause and reflect. I set the delayed message years back when I got admitted into University and was awarded a scholarship.

Email of scholarship award back in 2012

Looking back at my journals, I was worried that I would lose my drive and hunger overtime after having mini-successes.

There were multiple questions my younger self wanted my present self to ponder:

Is this what you want to do?

What’s holding you back?

How can I overcome obstacles holding me back?

My early twenties

Through my growing up years, I have been always struggling to balance between 2 fears — the fear of cruising along my life and the fear of change.

That I may be settling for doing “just okay” because it has become comfortable. That I may let life escape past me, because I let my fear of change freeze me on my tracks.

But life is not long enough, for fear of change to take control.

There will always be very rational reasons why you shouldn’t leave a job that doesn’t excite you, a relationship that no longer works or to start saving and investing.

“The job market is bad.”

“I have invested too much into this, I can’t leave.”

“I don’t even have enough money to tide through this month.”

Underlying all these reasons are two fundamental cause — fear and homeostasis.

Fear

We fear the uncertainty that arises from change. Our mind is designed for survival. Fear is a natural response that helped our ancestors survive in the wild. In today’s world, this response if unregulated, can hold you back from living life to the fullest.

Certainty is the enemy of growth and perfectionism is a serial killer for joy, spontaneity and hope. The truth is we will never have clarity of our future. Fear and indecision are often the obstacles that prevent us from moving forward.

Ironically, the only way to work with fear is to take action. As Jack Canfield famously said, “everything you want in life is on the other side of fear.”

A question that I frequently reflect on is “What happens if I don’t do this?”

In many of his interviews, Jeff Bezos explained that our biggest regret in life usually stems from acts of omission. It is the paths not taken and they haunt us. Leaving us to wonder what would have happened.

When I’m 80 and reflecting back, I want to have minimized the number of regrets that I have in my life. And most of our regrets are acts of omission—the things we didn’t try, the paths untraveled. Those are the things that haunt us.

A life mainly guided by fear is a small, shrunken substitute for what it could have been.

That is not to say we should completely avoid fear. We should stop trying to overcome it, and work with it instead.

Fear is what protects and keeps us alive from dangerous situations.

But fear doesn’t know the difference between a genuinely dangerous situation and its irrational counterpart — casting self-doubt and raising anxiety.

Work with the irrational fear that is the culprit for causing anxiety and panic attacks.

In his TED Talk, Tim Ferriss shared that Fear-Setting is the most powerful exercise he does. Ferriss claimed it helped produced his biggest success, by allowing him to move onward despite fear and self-doubt.

Start by writing the thing that makes you uncomfortable on the top as the title. Split the page into 3 columns.

  1. In the first column: Define your nightmare, the absolute worst that could happen if you did what you are considering. What doubt, fears, and “what-ifs” pop up as you consider the big changes you can—or need—to make? Envision them in painstaking detail. Would it be the end of your life? What would be the permanent impact, if any, on a scale of 1–10? Are these things really permanent? How likely do you think it is that they would actually happen?
  2. In the second column: List down the actions you could take today to reduce the likelihood of these events occurring.
  3. In the last column: Identify what steps could you take to repair the damage or get things back on the upswing, even if temporarily? Chances are, it’s easier than you imagine. How could you get things back under control?

By practicing Fear-Setting, it helps us rationalize our fears and use it as a tool for fulfilling our goals.

Homeostasis

Backsliding is a universal experience. Everyone resists significant change, no matter it’s for the worse or for the better. Our body, brain, and behavior have a built-in tendency to stay within narrow limits and snap back when changed.

As George Leonard discusses in his book Mastery, this condition of equilibrium, this resistance to change, is called homeostasis.

The simplest example of homeostasis can be found in your home heating system. The thermostat on the wall senses the room temperature; when the temperature on a winter’s day drops below the level you’ve set, the thermostat sends an electrical signal that turns the heater on. The heater completes the loop by sending heat to the room in which the thermostat is located. When the room temperature reaches the level you’ve set, the thermostat sends an electrical signal back to the heater, turning it off, thus maintaining homeostasis. Keeping a room at the right temperature takes only one feedback loop. Keeping even the simplest single-celled organism alive and well takes thousands. And maintaining a human being in a state of homeostasis takes billions of interweaving electrochemical signals pulsing in the brain, rushing along nerve fibers, coursing through the bloodstream. One example: each of us has about 150,000 tiny thermostats in the form of nerve endings close to the surface of the skin that are sensitive to the loss of heat from our bodies, and another sixteen thousand or so a little deeper in the skin that alert us to the entry of heat from without.

An even more sensitive thermostat resides in the hypothalamus at the base of the brain, close to branches of the main artery that brings blood from the heart to the head. This thermostat can pick up even the tiniest change of temperature in the blood. When you start getting cold, these thermostats signal the sweat glands, pores, and small blood vessels near the surface of the body to close down. Glandular activity and muscle tension cause you to shiver in order to produce more heat, and your senses send a very clear message to your brain, leading you to keep moving, to put on more clothes, to cuddle closer to someone, to seek shelter, or to build a fire.

After years of not exercising, your body regards a sedentary life as normal. The beginning of change, even if it is for the better, is interpreted as a threat.

Let’s say, for instance, that for the last twenty years—ever since high school, in fact—you’ve been almost entirely sedentary. Now most of your friends are working out, and you figure that if you can’t beat the fitness revolution, you’ll join it. Buying the tights and running shoes is fun, and so are the first few steps as you start jogging on the high school track near your house. Then, about a third of the way around the first lap, something terrible happens. Maybe you’re suddenly sick to your stomach. Maybe you’re dizzy. Maybe there’s a strange, panicky feeling in your chest. Maybe you’re going to die.

No, you’re going to die. What’s more, the particular sensations you’re feeling probably aren’t significant in themselves. What you’re really getting is a homeostatic alarm signal—bells clanging, lights flashing. Warning! Warning!  Significant changes in respiration, heart rate, metabolism. Whatever you’re doing, stop doing it immediately. Homeostasis, remember, doesn’t distinguish between what you would call change for the better and change for the worse. It resists all change. After twenty years without exercise, your body regards a sedentary style of life as “normal”; the beginning of a change for the better is interpreted as a threat. So you walk slowly back to your car, figuring you’ll look around for some other revolution to join.

Homeostasis is not entirely negative. It keeps systems alive and well. Our bodies wouldn’t work without it, nor would our social systems.

The problem is that homeostasis, like fear, is undirected and does not have a “value system” — it doesn’t keep what’s good and reject what’s bad.

It is up to us to work with homeostasis.

Leonard lays out 5 guidelines on how to approach the issue:

  1. Be aware of homeostasis. Expect resistance and backslash. Don’t give up at the first sign of trouble. In fact, take it as a positive indication that your life is definitely changing.
  2. Negotiate with your resistance to change. Use pain as a guide to performance. Be willing to take one step back for every two forward, sometimes vice versa. Have the determination to keep pushing, but not without awareness. Pushing your way through despite the warning signals raises the possibility of backsliding.
  3. Develop a support system. It helps a great deal to have other people with whom you can share the joys and challenges of the change you’re making. The best support system involves people we have gone through or are going through a similar process.
  4. Follow a regular practice. When embarking on change, gain stability and comfort through a routine. Practicing some worthwhile activity, not so much for the sake of achieving an external goal as simply for its own sake.
  5. Dedicate yourself to lifelong learning. To learn is to change. The lifelong learner learns to deal with homeostasis because he is doing it all the time.
Image for post

Conclusion

I don’t think that me in my early twenties would expect myself to still have to work with fear. I probably expected that I would have my sh*t sorted out and all. But I have learned the need to respect and work with both fear and homeostasis. To embrace our flaws and acknowledge that while we will not be perfect, we can be better.


Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.

In my next post, I will be sharing advice I would like to give my younger self. These are lessons I have learned over the years which will be helpful to you. Especially if you are in your early twenties or going-through change.

If you’re enjoying the content so far, I’m sure you’ll find 3 Bullet Sunday helpful. As an extension to the regular posts, I send out weekly newsletters sharing timeless ideas on life and finance.

Join others and subscribe to our newsletter today to receive a free investment checklist!

Winning the ovarian lottery

Winning the ovarian lottery

If you are born into a “good” family, navigating adulthood is much easier. You can copy what your parents did and benefit from their connections. For kids who come up rough, even if they are bright – are going to face uphill challenges.

It is much tougher to figure out how to live, earn, love, parent, etc. People who manage to do so break the cycle and chart their future family history on a different course.

Winning the “ovarian lottery” is a term coined by Warren Buffett. Where he attributed much of his success to luck – by being conceived in the right place and the right time.

“The ovarian lottery is “the most important event in which you’ll ever participate,” Buffett continued. “It’s going to determine way more than what school you go to, how hard you work, all kinds of things.”

Warren E. Buffett, 1997 Berkshire Hathaway’s AGM

While luck plays a significant role in determining the probability of your success, there are actions we can take to put ourselves in a better position to chart our future.

With the internet and library, the tools for learning are abundant. With the desire to learn, I believe that today’s generation are in a better position to break the cycle than at any time in history.

Here are some of my experiences at doing so. While not perfect, I hope it is useful for you to build on my experience and chart your own future.

Unlearn bad money habits

Growing up, there were many concepts about money that I had to unlearn. And many more that I had to pick up. Here are some concepts which I had to unlearn:

Real wealth is not measured by how much you spend or how much material goods you own. Live life according to the inner scorecard. Your worth is not determined by what you own or your place in the social hierarchy.

“Wealth is having assets that earn money while you sleep: businesses, products, media, robots, investments, land. Wealth is for freedom, not conspicuous consumption.” – Naval

Investments are risky and should be avoided. Risk is the probability of losing money. With bank interest below 1% and inflation at 2 – 3%, not investing guarantees that you will “lose money”. Start learning how to invest. Indexing is a great way to start.

Insurances are a waste of money. The purpose of insurances is to protect against risks – death, terminal illness or crippling accidents. Many don’t feel a need for it because it offers no tangible benefit when all is well.

The main enemy of life is uncertainties. When life throws you a curveball in the form of a gigantic medical bill, insurance will protect you from suffering a gigantic setback.

The phrase “confirm make money!” Never believe anyone who says this or offers any get rich quick scheme. Always question the incentives and learn the potential downside of any investments.

“Over the years, a number of very smart people have learned the hard way that a long string of impressive numbers multiplied by a single zero always equals zero.

Warren E. Buffett

Property is a great investment, it will only go up! Many justify buying an expensive home as its an investment. Always think in terms of opportunity costs, could the money be better deployed elsewhere?

Retirement is still far away. Understand that compound interest is a function of time and returns. Start today. Just because the problem is further down the road does not make it less important.

Not all debts are bad. As a rule of thumb, debt taken to finance your education or home are alright. In fact, with interest rates at rock bottom, it’d be wise to have a longer loan tenure.

Pick up good money habits

Apart from unlearning the above, I found picking up the following concepts helpful:

Never fund today’s lifestyle with tomorrow’s income. Never take on debt to live an expensive lifestyle. Living modestly frees you to make appropriate choices.

Don’t do mathematically unsound things. Such as buying the lottery. The probability of each set of 4 numbers in the right order winning is 1 in 10,000. One person occasionally gets lucky and appear on the news. Many others don’t.

Automate, automate, automate. Have different accounts, for spending, saving and investing. Make the transfer of funds among accounts automated once your income is credited.

Focus first on building up your savings, then on investing. Your savings rate is going to matter much more than your investment returns at the start. A 100% return on $2,000 is $2,000 while a 2% return on $100,000 is also $2,000. Focus on cutting expenses and increasing your income first.

Invest like a business owner. Think about what kind of business you want to own for the long-term. Only buy something that you’d be perfectly happy to hold if the market shut down for 10 years.

Invest in high-quality compounders. Don’t focus only on income investing (i.e. dividends) or ‘cheap’ stocks, focus on total returns. I really wish I had known this one earlier. It pays well to study the following Munger quote:

‘Over the long term, it’s hard for a stock to earn a much better return that the business which underlies it earns. If the business earns six percent on capital over forty years and you hold it for that forty years, you’re not going to make much different than a six percent return – even if you originally buy it at a huge discount. Conversely, if a business earns eighteen percent on capital over twenty or thirty years, even if you pay an expensive looking price, you’ll end up with one hell of a result.’ 

Charlie T. Munger

Redesign your environment

We tend to construe that success is a product of our effort, motivation, and talent. These are characteristics certainly important. But over time, success is nearly impossible without supportive people at your side.

Never be the smartest person in the room. Hang out with people better than you, and you cannot help but improve. Have the humility to acknowledge that you don’t know everything and allow others to fill the gaps.

“Nothing, nothing at all, matters as much as bringing the right people into your life. They will teach you everything you need to know.”

Guy Spier

Be the person you want to attract. The best way to surround yourself with successful people is to uphold yourself to high standards. Buffett shared a useful mental model in 1998 with MBA students:

“Think for a moment that I granted you a right — you can buy 10% of one of your classmate’s earnings for the rest of their lifetime.”

The decision should be based on merit, Buffett advised, so it’d be unwise to pick the person with the highest IQ, the richest parents or the most energy.

“There’s nothing wrong with getting the highest grades in the class, but that isn’t going to be the quality that sets apart a big winner from the rest of the pack,” said Buffett.

He continued: “You’d probably pick the person who has leadership qualities, who is able to get others to carry out their interests. That would be the person who is generous, honest and gave credit to other people for their own ideas.

And here comes the hooker: In addition to this person, Buffett told the students they had to sell short another one of their classmates and pay 10% of what they do.

“You wouldn’t pick the person with the lowest IQ,” he said. “You’d think about the person who turned you off, the person who is egotistical, who is greedy, who cuts corners, who is slightly dishonest.

If you see any of those qualities in yourself, you can get rid of them. “It’s simply a question of which you decide,” he said.

Find role models and mentors in life. Choose the right people, then learn their behaviors, thinking, and processes.

Avoid anchoring effect when picking a partner. Studies have shown that children with a dysfunctional childhood are likely to pick partners and have a relationship that resembles their parents’. Be aware of the traits you are looking for in your partner.

Calibrating your mindset

Always read. A book is a person’s live-work condensed into its essence. Good books have the ability to shape your mind and change your life.

“The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries”

René Descartes

Develop the habit of writing. Writing forces you to engage with what you’re reading on a deeper level. Writing online can build your network and create opportunities for yourself.

“People who write a lot, also listen a lot. They also change their mind a lot. Not necessarily with new data, but sometimes re-analyzing the same data. They also work hard to disconfirm fundamental biases.”

Jeff Bezos

Learn to ask. Sometimes all we need to do is ask, and opportunities will be created – internships, careers, advice, etc.

The best way to overcome an addiction is to not start one. I have seen lives and relationships ruined by addiction to alcohol and gambling, and often they come hand-in-hand. While extreme to some, I have a rule to not touch either.

Take great care of your body. When you’re healthy you have 10,000 needs, but when you’re sick you only have one need. Have at least 7-8 hours of sleep. Exercise regularly and avoid sugar.

If you need tips on diet and working out, my buddy Kah Qi generates great content backed up by research papers. You can follow him on IG @kah.fitness or Youtube.

Conclusion

While some of us were less ‘lucky’ than others in the ovarian lottery, all of us have the opportunity to create our own luck. Because luck simply comes down to a series of choices. As the saying goes “chance favors the prepared mind.” Start inviting lady luck by learning about money, changing your environment and calibrating your mindset.

If you wish to follow along, do subscribe to our newsletter or like our Facebook page for updates!