Tag: growth

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.

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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.
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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!

My Investing Framework

My Investing Framework

I started my investing journey around 14 years ago, after reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad. The idea of acquiring income-producing assets resonated and I have since started consuming books after books and resources on the web regarding investing. Today, I focus mainly on growing companies with a wide moat and great management in place.

Looking back on my investing journey, I first started out using a mix of fundamental and technical analysis. I was thrilled when I saw gains of 30% to 50% within a short time frame of 6 to 12 months. It got me to dive deeper into the subject and I subsequently learned about deep value investing, buying companies so cheap, that I could make 30% to 50% if the company was liquidated.

However, those were one-off returns and I was lucky that some of my early investments turned out okay.

Technical analysis paints a nice story as to why the share price moved up, down or consolidate (sideways). It is impossible to be consistently right on the patterns and I find myself questioning “What does historical price movement has got to do with the future and is it reflective of business fundamentals?”

Deep value investing, otherwise also known as cigar-butt style investing is as its name sounds, it gives you one last puff. Once the stock revalues upwards, it will be sold off and we will have to hunt for the next idea. Deep value stocks are often cheap for a very good reason. Usually, they are either facing structural decline or they are in a cyclical industry. Both of which could be adverse to your wallet. And nobody knows when the stock will revalue, waiting for the stock revaluation is like watching the paint dry.

In order for me to build up wealth, I switch my approach to looking for companies with a wide moat and can continuously reinvest its earnings at a high clip. The book 100 Baggers by Chris Mayer illustrate this approach the best, quality companies that have a long runway are able to continuously reinvest for growth.

This brings me to the 2 basic rules of compounding:

  1. The longer you let it work, the bigger its impact – time, not rate of return, is the most important factor in the compounding formula
  2. If you lose big money even a few times in your compounding journey, you will not receive its benefits, even in the long run (Google Long-Term Capital Management for example.)

“Rule No. 1: Never lose money. Rule No. 2: Never forget rule No. 1.”

Warren Buffett

With that in mind, the following are the list of filters I learnt and apply over the years to steadily compound my wealth:

1. Do I understand the business?

Value investing require us to be able to reasonably assess the intrinsic value of a company. Companies with complicated business models or accounts would go straight into the “too hard” pile. As Warren Buffett puts it “I don’t look to jump over 7-foot bars: I look around for 1-foot bars I can step over.”

There are plenty of companies with a simple business model which has generated above-market returns over the years. Names like Starbucks, Google and Monster Beverage should be familiar to many and easily understood.

2. Does the company have a wide moat?

Moats are what protects the company’s profits from its competitors and wide moats enable a company to generate a high return on capital. A company’s moat is either widening or narrowing. Here I am looking for companies who are continuously investing to widen the moat and focus on the long term outlook of the company.

Companies such as Amazon and Monster beverage have delivered >100x returns for their shareholders as they were willing to sacrifice short-term results and focus on widening their moat.

3. Is the company able to reinvest at high returns?

I prefer companies that do not issue dividends and is able to sustainably reinvest its earnings at above 15% returns. For compounding to work its magic, the company should have a long runway for growth. I look for companies whose revenue are small relative to the potential market.

For example, Facebook currently captures approximately 20% of the global digital advertising market and the digital market is expected to grow 12% per annum over the next 5 years.

4. Does the company generate high Free Cash Flow?

Not all earnings are created equal. Charlie Munger once joked about his friend John Anderson’s construction equipment business at Berkshire’s AGM. The company makes 12% return on capital yearly, shows a profit every year but there is never any cash. The profits are all the metals sitting in the yard. In order to keep going, the cash is constantly ploughed back into the business and there’s neither growth nor cash for the shareholders.

I look for companies that are able to generate high Return on Tangible Assets (ROTA) of at least 20%. A company that shows high ROTA is able to bring in income with relatively little assets.

In Warren Buffet’s 2019 shareholder letter, he highlighted that the companies Berkshire owns typically earn more than 20% on the net tangible equity required to run their businesses without employing excessive levels of debt.

5. Competent and Shareholder Friendly Management

“Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it’s true. If you hire somebody without [integrity], you really want them to be dumb and lazy.”

Warren Buffett

Here I am looking for management who are great capital allocators, open communicators and preferably with significant skin in the game. Judging management is really more of an art than science, here are some key indicators I look out for:

  • Ownership – Do the executives & directors have a stake? For this I look at the portion of net worth the management has that is tied up to the company’s stock. The classic example is Warren Buffett with more than 90% of his net worth in Berkshire Hathaway!
  • Insider Trading – As Peter Lynch says, insider buys only if they feel that the stock price is going to increase!
  • Remuneration – Is there an agency problem? Is management excessively remunerated compared to net income of the company and is it exorbitant compared to competitors? I will also look at their remuneration structure, are they compensated for long-term capital allocation skills or short term results (e.g. next year’s EPS growth)?
  • Capital Allocation – Based on their past records, have they generated at least a dollar for every dollar retained in the business?
  • Related Party Transactions – Red flag that warrants further investigation if its a significant percentage.
  • Shareholder Letters – Are they frank in their annual letter to shareholders, highlighting both success and failures. I regard Warren Buffett from Berkshire and Ronnie Chan from Hang Lung as the gold standard in this area.

As minority shareholders, we are passive in deciding how a company is managed and run. Here, we must select competent management with a demonstrated interest for shareholders to generate positive returns for us as shareholders.

While not perfect, this investment framework has helped me pick up high quality companies over the year that would compound my wealth steadily. As Peter Lynch says “In this business, if you’re good, you’re right six times out of ten. You’re never going to be right nine times out of ten.”

P.S. Below is an advert on Wall Street Journal posted by Warren Buffett back in 1986 which outlines his filter for investments. Enjoy!