3 stories on knowing yourself better and life attitude
It was a little bit sad looking out of the window from my seat on the 24th floor in the Park Avenue Plaza building. It was raining badly in the morning when I came in; it was almost freezing when I went to lunch with my lovely Chinese colleagues; yet 5 seconds ago, it suddenly cleared up and it was all sunny. The windows almost felt like non-existent.
But it was sad because I am leaving NY, though only for 3 months. Yes I am going to Hong Kong for a short-term assignment which is a great opportunity and I look forward to the new adventures, discoveries, and I am excited about what else about people, culture, business and life I may be able to share with you. The past few weeks have been hectic with all the logistics and responsibility transfers, and of course, a lot of late night calls with Asia. But at this point, I felt calm. A little bit sad, yet calm.
I am not sure how frequent I will be able to write while I am working out of Hong Kong. I am under the impression that I will be working crazy hours given that’s the only reason they want me there. But before I embark on my new journey I want to leave with you a few stories which I have experienced recently. I thought about naming these under “self-improvement” or “peace of mind” or even “pursuit of happiness in life”, but when I started writing I realized it all comes down to — knowing yourself better, and especially your attitude when you respond to unexpected things in life.
It’s challenging, but it’s not that hard.
Do one thing that scares you every day
It was a Wednesday and I just came back from Delaware with our clients for a day trip to our data center. I have 2 hours to kill before Mary Poppins, so I marched into Borders trying to finish Liar’s Poker, and then another book caught my eyes: The 4-hour Work Week. I heard a lot about this book from my friends and I used the next hour flipping through the pages and I’m pretty happy with what I am reading, and I think Tim Ferriss does offer people a sweet DEAL (Definition, Elimination, Automation & Liberation).
But I want to share with you a few other lines in this book that actually provoked me in a much more fundamental and profound way:
- Success can be measured in the number of uncomfortable conversations you are willing to have.
- Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
- One of the most universal causes of self doubt and depression is: trying to impress people you don’t even like.
To me these lines are formidable. And the most inspiring story Tim told is on how he motivated college kids to reach out to wildly famous people like Bill Gates, Eric Schmidt, and George W. Bush; and how to get over the insecurity and embarrassment and the fear of being rejected.
It can be done, if you are a cheerleader for yourself. I remember those old days when I was dreadful (being a first-year analyst only a few months into the firm) of making phone calls to the portfolio managers (all MDs, obviously). That’s not so long ago. But it was behind me now.
I walked into the kitchen the other day and bumped into one of the senior MDs at a parallel division. It was awkward, I hardly ever worked with him except for one meeting and it was really brief and I almost had this weird impression that he is kind of scary. A few seconds later, the following words came out of my mouth, “Hey I worked with you a few months ago on XXX and I am actually on this same floor. I just got to know I am going to HK for a few months for an assignment…”
“Oh that’s really great”, he said, “my nephew is there, he just graduated from college. I will let him contact you.” And of course, I offered to take him out and introduce him to my friends. When I came back to my seat and a few minutes later, this MD magically appeared in front of my desk, “by the way, XXX team is expanding their capabilities in HK, you should reach out to JC,” then he threw me a booklet, “this is a very focused discussion on the business, all you need to know is in there”. And before I can even open my month to respond with an honest “thank you”, he walked away.
But he did turn around and leave me with one sentence before he took off, “hey not a big deal, that’s what friends do”.
~~~The more you reach out to other people, the more people will reach out to you.
There is a mirror in the heart of everything
We were doing our super day debriefing over lunch the other day. Honestly I didn’t like anyone I met with that morning. None of them were articulate enough, in my opinion, to be client-facing. Then one of my colleagues suggested me to talk to Peter (not real name) in the afternoon: “I really just want you to test how good his mandarin is. But I have to warn you he talks a LOT and he’s quite aggressive, so you should really just come out strong right in the beginning.”
So I took a look at his resume and I noticed two things. Most recent internship at XXX capital in China whose founder is a Yale alum I happen to know. 1 minute into the interview I threw out a few names, and he had this face that he was probably already crushed on the inside…So my job is done establishing my solid position for the next 40 minutes and the rest of the conversation went surprisingly well.
Amazingly I felt I can actually genuinely connect with him. We shared a lot of common background. He is a good kid, has a very unique view of the world, hard working, eager to learn, and I can totally see him as a successful sales person. And finally I decided to pull the card to ask a fun question, “So why is South Park listed on your resume…I mean, some part of the show is funny, but it’s just so bloody…but honestly? On your resume?”
Turned out I was the only person who even asked him this question. I am sure everyone noticed this on his resume, but probably they thought it’s not entirely appropriate to discuss “personal interest” at an interview. Anyway, the first few words that came out of his month were, “I know, many of my friends advised me to take that out, but I still decided to leave it there, because honestly I learned so much about human beings and how the society functions from that show! Though they are all kids and they do really weird things, but at the end of the day, each episode tells a fundamental story about being human, and isn’t it so relevant to who we are if not what we do, at all?”
The idea was refreshing. So I asked him to give me an example of such an episode, and he told me this episode based on Wal-Mart. Basically Wal-Mart invaded the little town and everyone started going to Wal-Mart to buy almost everything. The whole episode was trying to reinforce the idea that Wal-Mart is evil because it ruined all the other businesses in town and the kids wanted to find the “heart” of Wal-Mart and kill him. When they finally reached the “heart”, there was nothing in there except for a mirror.
I am sure you get the idea. Wal-Mart would not be evil if we humans are not so greedy and hungry for cheaper stuff. Wal-Mart was successful because we made it to be. This encounter and realization really made me seriously thinking. I thought about the fact that I lost two iPhones in the past few months (nothing to be proud of, for sure). I realized if I never went to the clubs those nights, I wouldn’t even have had a chance to lose them. To some extent, I was punished not just because I was not careful enough, but because I was probably at a place I shouldn’t really be at, that specific time.
One of my good friends always tells me: A is so sweet, B is so nice, C is so polite, while knowing A, B, C, I think they are just ordinary people who can be a total jerk from time to time. Then I realized they are all nice to my friend because my friend is nice to them!
We all have desires: desires to make more money, desires to be more successful, desires to attract more opposite sex, desires to look prettier, desires to own more luxury goods, desires to go out of control and nobody can constrain you, desires to be prestigious enough so you don’t need to worry about anything and you can even treat people really badly and they can do nothing about it!
While we understand there’s a mirror in our own heart, we forgot there’re mirrors in other people and other things’ hearts too.
Know your desires. Handle them, don’t let them handle you.
Incremental improvement won’t lead you anywhere
Perseverance is a virtue, yes and a lot of times people thought they are not at where they want to be because they didn’t try hard enough, or long enough. Maybe, but have you ever asked yourself the question: am I going toward the right direction? You’re hoping you are doing the right thing and it just takes time and effort to make it happen. No doubt about that. But is being persistent and thriving for a tiny bit of improvement every day the ONLY THING you can do?
The answer is NO for most cases, because incremental improvement usually won’t lead you anywhere. If your company has been operating in the same way for 20 years, I don’t see why using the same methodology and approach will really increase your efficiency or profitability, no matter how hard you try. If your relationship has been having problems on one or two issues over and over again, I don’t see, either, how using the exact same way (or maybe just in a more intense manner) to deal with it will lead to a better or different result with your partner.
Then the other day I heard a line which is enlightening to me. If the current approach in place is not really working and not good enough to help you achieve what you want to achieve, “you need a new system, a new structure, a completely different approach”.
Just because you have always been doing the same thing with the same process doesn’t mean it’s the best one, or the most efficient one, or the most effective one. The first step to experiment what exactly you are capable of is to shut down and let go what you already have and maybe quite comfortable with.
And if you have made up your mind to try something new, make sure you run a test drive. Divya Gugnani, the CEO of Behind the Burner who blends her long-time passion for culinary arts with her expertise in business ventures taught me a lesson the other day at the Womensphere summit: don’t ever come to my office and just talk about your start-up idea. I need to see something already, no matter how rusty they are I need to see something. VCs can then do their own calculation and judge how profitable the business could become. If you have absolutely nothing to show and everything’s still in the form of an “idea”, it’s simply not gonna work.
We have so many ideas already. There are so many dreamers; but we need doers.
From your own perspective, running a test drive is also extremely important because that’s the ONLY WAY to know if you are up for it in the long run. One of my good friends who have been in the US for more than 10 years recently decided to relocate to another country. After 3 months into his new job, he decided to quit. At some point we all have to run a reality check and a lot of times the outcomes are not that favorable.
If you can, run a test drive, and do it already.
If you don’t like what you see, go down another road.
Years from now you may be locked down in a job, a country, or in a marriage, with kids, and all kind of other circumstances. One day you may not be able to afford being flexible. So when you can, go for it.
And one day when you give up focusing on tiny little improvement in life and finally can discover what is really important to you. You may feel like the little girl in the following video which I would call The Game of Cards: You imagine being with clubs, spades, hearts and diamonds, you debate and debate and debate…only to realize you probably just want to be happy.
So my dear friends, I hope you see what I am seeing in yourself, and in life:
Know yourself, challenge yourself.
Know better, achieve bigger.
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