Do Something

This past weekend, I was running behind schedule to go to the gym. It closes at 7pm, and at 6:30pm I hadn’t even left the house. It takes me about 15 minutes to walk there.

I had a decision to make: do I go to the gym, with about 15 minutes to do a workout, or do I give in and tell myself I’ll do it the next day?

It seems like a somewhat trivial decision at first glance. After all, missing one workout a week won’t make or break me.

But throughout our lives, these kinds of decisions occur thousands of times. The choices you make in these moments compound and can have an enormous impact in the long run. Sure, missing one workout won’t have much of an impact on my health or body. But that one workout missed just once a week amounts to 52 missed in a year. And hundreds missed in several years.

Plus, once you miss that first workout, you rationalize to yourself it’s OK to miss the next one. And then the next. When you accept that first excuse you tell yourself, it gets easier and easier to accept the next ones. You train yourself for complacency. You hold yourself accountable less and less.

Thus I think this seemingly trivial decision was, and is, very important.

So back to the story…at 6:35 pm, I finally left the house. Instead of walking there, like I usually do, I half-sprinted there. I got there in about 5 minutes. 6:40 pm.

When I walked in, the staff were already beginning to pack up. I handed the guy at the counter my card, to which he said, “Uh, you know we’re closing at 7, right?”

“Yeah. Going to do a quick workout.”

And I did. I superset all my exercises back-to-back-to-back. It wasn’t the workout that I had planned on doing, but I got it done nonetheless in about 20 minutes (Parkinson’s Law, anybody?).

Why do I think this story is important? Well, this decision is like a microcosm of a philosophy I try to apply in my life.

It’s called the do something principle: When faced with a choice between doing something and not, doing something is better than doing nothing.

It sounds so obvious it’s not even worth mentioning.

But it’s often the most obvious or trite advice – sayings we’ve heard millions of times they’ve lost their impact – that are actually the most powerful.

A mediocre workout is better than no workout at all.

Writing just 100 words a day is better than writing nothing at all.

Reading five pages a day is better than not reading at all.

Practising the piano for 10 minutes is better than not practising at all.

Again, obvious, right? Yet for many of us this principle is actually difficult to apply.

We look at starting something new and think that we immediately have to go from 0 to 100, otherwise there’s no point to doing it at all.

A friend of mine wanted to start running every night for half an hour. She bought all the right equipment and clothes to get started. But she eventually realized she couldn’t dedicate the full half hour she wanted to. She didn’t think there was a point to run for just ten minutes a night. So she gave up entirely.

So despite the obviousness of the concept, it’s a handy one to keep in mind. The next time you want to forgo your workout, or are procrastinating on something, just do something. You’ll be glad you did. And it’s infinitely better than doing nothing.

We’re All Trapped in Our Own Little Bubbles

We all live inside our own little bubbles, whether we know it or not.

Ask anyone with a university degree to estimate what % of people have a university degree, and they might say something like 70%. The reality is closer to 33%.

Ask a multi-millionaire what the average salary is, and he might say something like $80,000. The reality is closer to $40,000.

All we are is a mash-up of our past experiences and thoughts that have made us who we are today. The people we associate with mold us and influence us in subconscious ways we aren’t even aware of.

What we think we know is often just our perception of reality, not reality itself.

Something like 25% of recent graduates can’t find a job or are unemployed/underemployed. Yet all my friends have found jobs with ease. Many are working in top-tier jobs like investment banking or engineering clearing 6-figures out of undergrad.

Many of my friends aren’t even aware how bad the state of the economy is.

Some of my friends complain about high tuition costs; their parents pay $15K/year for them. Meanwhile, there are some kids who pay $40k/year out of pocket and will be $150k-200k in debt by the time they graduate.

We’re all in our own little bubbles, and yet most of us never realize it.

There are some people out there who believe in things so backward to the rest of us, we look at them as a lower species of intelligence. And yet, to them, that’s their life. It’s all they know, and it’s all their friends know. Their bubble has reinforced their beliefs over and over. To them, we’re the backwards and unenlightened ones.

This is why it makes no sense to look down on others for believing certain things, or behaving a certain way. Years and decades of conditioning will do that to you. You merely experienced a different set of circumstances growing up, and as a result are a different person.

By definition, everything we know in life revolves around us. How we perceive things. How we interact with others and situations. By all accounts, the world does seemingly revolve around us. It’s important we realize this – to look beyond our little bubbles – and learn to see things as they really are, not how we think or want them to be.

Advice for Incoming College Students

I felt like answering a question on Quora about what you’d tell someone about to start college. Here it is, reproduced below.

This is what I’d tell my sister, who’s about to start college in the fall this year. Note that I haven’t read any of the previous answers so as to not influence my own, so forgive me if I’ve repeated anything.

1. Good grades ARE important.
The people who harp about how GPAs don’t matter are (usually) the same people who land mediocre jobs or no jobs out of school. Besides, why would you not put your best foot forward and gain an advantage over others if you have the chance to? That being said, 3.7 is often good enough; I wouldn’t kill myself to obtain an extra 0.1 or beyond. Spend that extra time developing other skills, learning new hobbies, and meeting interesting people.

2. Actively find and make amazing friends – which includes your professors.
I believe one of the most important reasons for going to college these days is the network that you build during those years. You may not know it now, but that person in your first year frosh group or your dorm mate can turn out to be a very important person later on. They may become an eventual business partner (see: Peter Thiel & Reid Hoffman, Mark Zuckerberg & Eduardo Saverin, etc.) or a future spouse. You may be tempted like I was to stay inside on Thursday/Friday nights, but don’t fall into the trap of complacency. Do something scary at least once a week and try to have a conversation with at least one new person a week.

The difference between college and high school is you won’t see the same people in every class. You won’t know the names of most of the people you see, nor will you ever even get a chance to speak a word to them. So it’s up to you to actively find and meet people you want to be friends with. Note that you shouldn’t limit yourself to the people in your classes or even in your year. Once you leave the confines of college, anyway, you’ll realize that it’s only during school years that your friends are exclusively people your age. Get used to making friends with people older and younger than you.

3. Be very careful about your ideologies.
At 18, despite thinking you know everything, you’re still *very* easily influenced. You’re bright-eyed and hopeful, and may have lofty dreams of fighting for social justice and becoming an activist for what you believe in. It’s admirable but just be careful. There’s a great article here: “Everything is problematic” | The McGill Daily about one student’s experience with political activism and how it almost ruined her.

I’m not going to go too much into it here, but the key is to keep an open mind and not become too affiliated with any group. It is very easy to get peer pressured into becoming someone you are not, fighting an “us” versus “them” battle that leads nowhere. Focus on what you can control, and how you react to things.

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Does Chinese Parenting Produce Great Kids?

Chinese parenting is great at producing skilled and compliant knowledge workers, but it utterly fails to produce children who can achieve greatness, remake industries, or come up with disruptive innovation.  All the Chinese-American people I know who now perform at the highest levels – both creatively and technically – either achieved this without being driven to it by their parents (ask Niniane Wang about her upbringing) or in rebellion against the paths their parents set out for them (see Tony Hsieh http://www.businessinsider.com/tony-hsieh-life-before-zappos-2010-10).  The others – the skilled and compliant mediocre – make superb employees for the truly great, and if that is what their parents consider “successful,” then that’s exactly what they’ll get.

This quote comes from here, where Yishan Wong gives his take on whether Chinese mothers are superior.

It’s a fascinating response, and it can probably be generalized to most types of Asian parenting. What’s more, I fully agree with his view.

To give some background on Yishan and why his statement should hold some weight, he’s worked at PayPal, Facebook, Square, Sunfire, and reddit. All of his roles culminated in Manager/Director/CEO status. In short, he’s worked with and managed a lot of employees. He’s written broadly about the hiring process, the secret to career success, and a thousand other answers on Quora.

He’s also Chinese-American himself, and was the recipient of the type of Chinese “Tiger” parenting he describes as producing compliant and mediocre employees. But what has made him so successful in the traditional definition of the word is not because of, but rather despite, overbearing parenting methods.

While his parents pushed him to learn the piano and speak Chinese, they largely left him alone when it came to computers and gave him some lee-way to have a social life. As a result, he was able to pursue his passion of computers, an in-demand, lucrative career, while developing strong communication skills.

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