Quotes, April 2014

Quotes or passages from books that I found inspiring or interesting this month.

Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.
-Leo Tolstoy

Nobody ever died of discomfort, yet living in the name of comfort has killed more ideas, more opportunities, more actions, and more growth than everything else combined.
-T. Harv Eker

Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won’t make us happier.
-Randy Pausch

[more…]

Just as breathing exercises help integrate body and mind, writing is a kind of psycho-neural muscular activity which helps bridge and integrate the conscious and subconscious minds. Writing distills, crystallizes and clarifies thought and helps berak the whole into parts.
-Stephen R. Covey

Vulnerability is the path of true human connection and becoming a truly attractive person. As psychologist Robert Glover says, “Humans are attracted to each other’s rough edges.” Show your rough edges. Stop trying to be perfect. Expose yourself and share yourself without inhibition. Take the rejections and lumps and move on because you’re a bigger and stronger man.
-Mark Manson

Because I don’t live in either my past or my future. I’m interested only in the present. If you can concentrate always on the present you’ll be a happy man. Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we’re living right now.
-Paul Coelho, The Alchemist

I have no use whatsoever for projections or forecasts. They create an illusion of apparent precision. The more meticulous they are, the more concerned you should be. We never look at projections, but we care very much about, and look very deeply at, track records. I do not understand why any buyer of a business looks at a bunch of projections put together by a seller or his agent. You can almost say that it’s naive to think that those projections have any utility whatsoever.
-Warren Buffett

The unconscious mind is a terrific solver of complex problems when the conscious mind is busy elsewhere or, perhaps better yet, not overtaxed at all.
-Dutch psychologists

The best part of college is that you could become whatever you wanted to become, but most people just do what they think they must.
-Seth Godin

It is a painful thing to look at your own trouble and know that you yourself and no one else has made it.
-Sophocles

Don’t Lose Your Inner Child

In high school, I started a forum for an online game I was playing called Silkroad Online. I was 13 and naive. I had no concept of failure, just a desire to create something. It was simple fun. I loved the game, had complete control of a site, and my username had a bold red title. As (beginner’s) luck would have it, the site eventually became quite large. At its peak, we had just shy of 10,000 registered members. But 14-year old me made a host of dumb executive mistakes. The biggest mistake was trusting the wrong person. He backstabbed me, hacked the site, deleted my account, and eventually shut the forum down. I still remember coming home that day from school, realizing my “admin” account had been deleted, and being locked out of my own website that I had painstakingly built. I didn’t know what to do, I had no one to talk to or ask for help, and in the end, it had been my own fault. I tried to get it back, but there was nothing to be done. I let it go.

[more…]

Despite this “failure,” the experience taught me a few lessons. For one, it was my first entrepreneurial venture. I did manage to make a decent amount of money. In fact, I remember the first time I was contacted by someone who wanted to advertise on my site. He offered to buy a banner ad for $50/month. I was ecstatic and amazed that someone would be willing to pay me money, and all I’d have to do was insert a few lines of code.  Second, I learned a lot about search engine optimization, HTML, and a number of other related things which have come in use. And of course, I also learned about the dark side of human nature.

But what I find most interesting when I look back on this experience is the fact that I had no hesitations about starting. I was bright-eyed and eager to simply create something. I had no fear of failure or cared about what others thought. While I made a number of mistakes, they didn’t overshadow the rest of my accomplishments. The fact that I got started put me immediately ahead. I started before I was ready, and was learning on the way.

It’s this kind of child-like innocence and naive “just do it” attitude that we seem to lose as we grow older. We worry about failing, “what-if scenarios,” reasons we’re unqualified or unprepared, and most of all, what others will think of us when we do fail. We get caught up in our own minds and an unrelenting “analysis paralysis” that scraps ideas before they’re even tested.

Society is realizing more and more that children display all the qualities we need to thrive in today’s world: creativity, courage, enthusiasm, and an unlimited imagination. It’s important we don’t lose sight of this inner child. I’m not afraid to admit that I probably have. But I’m working on finding him again. We may just need that kind of innocence to create anything meaningful, or to simply get started. Sometimes, getting to the starting line proves just as much as getting to the finish line.

On Norms

One thing that’s been on my mind lately is how much we don’t know. There are things we know we don’t know, and things we don’t know we don’t know. The latter is inevitably much greater than the former. 

When future generations look back at our time, what will they point to and say, “That’s absurd!”

For instance, when we look back at the 1500s, we can point to the absurdity of witch burning, lament how backwards society was back then, and wonder how humans could have been so naive to even consider such a ritual.

But for those that lived in that period, witch hunting and burning was completely natural. They were following what they knew, and society deemed such acts as normal. It was only with the advancement of education and a century-long struggle did people begin to poke their heads up and realize their beliefs may have been wrong.

[more…]

So what acts or thoughts of normalcy do we hold now that might be refuted and laughed at for their absurdity in the future? It is difficult to conjure up or fathom what these things may be, but the process of doing so is humbling so that we may perhaps avoid them or learn from our mistakes. A mark of the intelligent is the ability and proclivity to question the norm. Indeed, as F. Scott Fitzgerald has said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

I don’t have the answers to these questions either. What I do know is that it’ll be interesting to read how the history books write about our time.

I’ll end this post here for now, but I will probably add to it in the future when I’m not burdened by five exams.

The Fisherman and the Banker

A vacationing American businessman standing on the pier of a quaint coastal fishing village in southern Mexico watched as a small boat with just one young Mexican fisherman pulled into the dock. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. Enjoying the warmth of the early afternoon sun, the American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.

“How long did it take you to catch them?” the American casually asked.

“Oh, a few hours,” the Mexican fisherman replied.

“Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” the American businessman then asked.

The Mexican warmly replied, “With this I have more than enough to meet my family’s needs.”

The businessman then became serious, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

[more…]

Responding with a smile, the Mexican fisherman answered, “I sleep late, play with my children, watch ball games, and take siesta with my wife. Sometimes in the evenings I take a stroll into the village to see my friends, play the guitar, sing a few songs…”

The American businessman impatiently interrupted, “Look, I have an MBA from Harvard, and I can help you to be more profitable. You can start by fishing several hours longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra money, you can buy a bigger boat. With the additional income that larger boat will bring, before long you can buy a second boat, then a third one, and so on, until you have an entire fleet of fishing boats.”

Proud of his own sharp thinking, he excitedly elaborated a grand scheme which could bring even bigger profits, “Then, instead of selling your catch to a middleman you’ll be able to sell your fish directly to the processor, or even open your own cannery. Eventually, you could control the product, processing and distribution. You could leave this tiny coastal village and move to Mexico City, or possibly even Los Angeles or New York City, where you could even further expand your enterprise.”

Having never thought of such things, the Mexican fisherman asked, “But how long will all this take?”

After a rapid mental calculation, the Harvard MBA pronounced, “Probably about 15-20 years, maybe less if you work really hard.”

“And then what, señor?” asked the fisherman.

“Why, that’s the best part!” answered the businessman with a laugh. “When the time is right, you would sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions.”

“Millions? Really? What would I do with it all?” asked the young fisherman in disbelief.

The businessman boasted, “Then you could happily retire with all the money you’ve made. You could move to a quaint coastal fishing village where you could sleep late, play with your grandchildren, watch ball games, and take siesta with your wife. You could stroll to the village in the evenings where you could play the guitar and sing with your friends all you want.”

I first heard of this story a few years ago. There are a hundred different versions, but the message is universal.

In our pursuit of “success,” it can be easy to lose sight of what actually matters to us and get swept into the grind of living to work.

The traditional definition of success is characterized by money and power. But the pursuit and acquisition of both is like a drug. In the book How to Get Rich by billionaire Felix Dennis, he notes that one of his regrets is that he didn’t stop his pursuit for money earlier in his life. He wishes he had retired in his 30s to write poetry and plant trees, but the pull of success couldn’t keep him away. Not quitting cost him decades of his life, consummate stress, and, as he puts it, a debaucherous lifestyle.

The parable serves to remind us that money and power is never the end goal, only the means to the end.

What we truly want may simply be time and the freedom to live a happy and fulfilled life. It just might be closer than we think.

(Interestingly, I stumbled across Arianna Huffington’s new book Thrive after I wrote this, which is all about redefining success in today’s world. Thought that was very coincidental and will be adding it to my reading list.)

The Power of Consistency

I’ve been in a rut and haven’t written anything recently. I blamed school and my lack of ideas, but when it came down to it, I just didn’t feel like writing.

I’ve fallen into the trap that ensnares so many others. How many times have you heard someone say, “I want to write, but I’m waiting for inspiration,” or “I want to get healthier, but I’m waiting for motivation to go to the gym.”

We all have goals we want to achieve, yet we only work towards them when it’s convenient. The problem with this mentality is that we find every possible excuse to not start.

It’s also the kind of thinking that separates the top performers from the rest.

[more…]

Professionals show up every day and do the work, whether they feel like it or not, regardless of inspiration or motivation. They do not allow life to get in the way. Amateurs sit and idle, hoping for that spark of creativity to jumpstart them.

Look at the schedules of elite athletes. American figure skater Dorothy Hamill’s day used to consist of waking up at dawn to skate, going to school, skating after school, eating dinner, and then skating for another two hours before bed. Her training days consisted of four hours of practicing compulsory figures, two hours of free skating, and then running through the short program and long program twice.

Despite the grueling daily grind and her lack of motivation some days, she somehow never missed a practice. She went on to win an Olympic Gold Medal at the age of 20.

Ask any successful writer what their daily routine looks like, and the one similarity you will find is that they write every day. The best writers wake up, don’t feel like writing, and write anyway.

In fact, not doing so is debilitating. In his memoir On Writing, Stephen King recalls what it was like to write again after an accident that prevented him for writing for several weeks.

The first five hundred words were uniquely terrifying — it was as if I’d never written anything before them in my life. All my old tricks seemed to have deserted me. I stepped from one word to the next like a very old man finding his way across a stream on a zigzag line of wet stones.

If one of the best writers lost his flair after being inactive for a few weeks, how can the rest of us expect to achieve our goals when we only work towards them sporadically?

The key to entering the echelon of top performers seems to be consistency.

Consistency is doing the work when no one else is watching. It’s continuing to take action day in and day out, even when you don’t see immediate results. It’s getting things done even when life gets in the way.

Which it inevitably will. There will be days when you feel like quitting and giving up. We all know this — it’s why New Year’s Resolutions so often fail. But it’s the people that grind it out during the low points that make it to the top. Regardless of industry or endeavor, the formula to succeed is the same.

As the old mantra goes, “no pain, no gain.”

The pain, however, is only temporary, while the benefits are long-lasting. No one ever regrets going for a run or reading twenty pages. You’re simply doing your future self a favor by remaining consistent and taking action.

Interestingly, despite my current inconsistency in writing, I fully appreciate the power of consistency in another aspect of my life: weightlifting. It’s become a habit so ingrained in my routine that something naturally pushes me off my chair and gets me to the gym, even after years of doing it. If I don’t exercise at least four times a week, I’ll not only feel physically ill, but also a profound sense of underachievement.

The way I developed my exercise habit was to systematize the process. It became a part of my day just like brushing my teeth —no willpower needed.

Here’s what I did:

1. Set a Strict Schedule
I followed a strict schedule of going to the gym Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays following a predetermined routine. I knew exactly what to do on each day and never missed a workout, even if I hadn’t slept or ate well. My philosophy was that a mediocre workout was better than no workout, and if I skipped the first day, it’d be easier to skip the next, and the next after that.

2. Stick to the Schedule for One Week
I followed the schedule exactly for one week, no ifs or buts. The key here is to do what you want without life getting in the way. After the week is over, repeat the schedule the next week. Eventually, you will become someone who works out, reads, or writes, or paints. When you identify with the action, your efforts will naturally become consistent.

The takeaway is that consistency leads to habits, which leads to action, which leads to improvement. It may seem insignificant, but over time these small efforts will accumulate into large wins.

As Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”


(As a result of writing this post, I’ve also decided to commit myself to a writing schedule. I will publish a new post every Monday for now and see how that goes.)

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