Simplicity

“In JKD, one does not accumulate but eliminate. It is not daily increase but daily decrease. The height of cultivation always runs to simplicity. Before I studied the art, a punch to me was just like a punch, a kick just like a kick. After I learned the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick no longer a kick. Now that I’ve understood the art, a punch is just like a punch, a kick just like a kick. The height of cultivation is really nothing special. It is merely simplicity; the ability to express the utmost with the minimum. It is the halfway cultivation that leads to ornamentation. Jeet Kune-Do is basically a sophisticated fighting style stripped to its essentials.”

Source

I don’t practice martial arts. There was a point in the past where I trained with my college roommate, but that was short lived. In his quote, Bruce Lee is describing one of the fundamental philosophies behind Jeet Kune-Do, but he is actually touching on a more fundemental aspect of the mind.

Sophistication comes from simplicity. Sophistication doesn’t need to be complicated. I believe in this, but I didn’t quite know how to put it words until reading this quote from Bruce Lee. It came partially from my habit of being lazy. But it’s not lazy-ness in the bad sense – I still have goals I want and will achieve, but I always prefaced it by thinking to myself – what’s the most quickest, efficient, and sustainable way of getting there? What’s the least complicated way of doing this? What’s the minimum amount I need to do in order to achieve the desired results? Complicating things only complicates your life, so why bother?

During my day to day activities outside of work, this is a fairly powerful state of mind. Not long ago, I realized several things:

  1. I could do more with less
  2. I could be happy with less
  3. Having more only made things complicated
  4. Doing or having fewer things of quality makes a bigger impact than have more quantity of lesser quality (the latter results in #3)

Simplifying aspects of my life lead to more self-awareness; which forced me to look more closely at myself. Whether it be my thoughts, actions, habits, etc…, simplifying my life allowed me to focus on the process of continuing growth.

Obviously I wouldn’t know if this is what Bruce Lee had intended to communicate, but I can say for certain that his JKD is meant to help an individual understand themselves more and help them grow, which ultimately will allow a human being to truly express him/herself. The body follows the mind, so it only makes sense to start at the mind.

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Thankful for Life

Since I only see my parents during the weekend, I rarely have a chance to have deep and moving conversations with my mom. Earlier tonight after we had our Thanksgiving meal, my mom asked me what the meaning of Thanksgiving was all about. I couldn’t give her a direct translation of the word, but instead I gave her examples of the kind of appreciation shown by people during this holiday.

By doing so, my mom shared an old memory of the family back when we had just immigrated to the United States. We were so poor, and like many of our relatives and friends that came over, we lived off welfare and food stamps, while my parents worked the most low paying jobs that even typical Americans probably didn’t know existed. We never ate out, always ate in, and only bought food that was on sale.

But, despite all this, culturally my parents could never neglect the Chinese Lunar New Year. Every year, just before the new year began, my parents took us on a trip to Chinatown to buy a brand new set of clothes. For me it was always a new shirt, new pants, and new shoes if needed. I always had a haircut as well. We always had to be presentable because the new year was a new start. It was time to let go of any difficult past (notice I did not say forget) and move on to a blissful future.

My parents were forced to rethink what was most important for the family. We didn’t have much, but my parents decided on how to make the most of what they had. I was too young and naive to understand how poor we really were. Each day I had more than enough food to eat, and my parents took us to the park to play. I had friends and ate ice cream that my grandma bought for me after school. As far as I was concerned, life seemed great. Looking back, I know this is what my parents wanted. They wished for my sisters and I to focus on a better future, and not be disrupted by a troubled past. Everything was relative. I never knew I was poor because my parents did their best to make sure we didn’t feel poor. It was only when I left for college that I genuinely realized how tough and difficult life was for my parents. Things had to be shielded from us in order for us to focus on our studies.

Mom had to think hard and chose what made sense. It became clear that during the toughest times, we learn and ultimately understand ourselves much more. This makes sense because we’re forced to lay everything out – everything that we thought was important to us, and only choose a few things to keep. We also realized that we didn’t need much to be happy. Happiness is a result of learning how to appreciate what we have and not continuously wonder how much happier we could be if we had more.

Leap of Faith

Whenever someone asks me for advice on investing, I can usually come up with a few pointers and encouragement to help them get started. Usually we talk about reasons, goals, and methods for investing. When I explain it, it seems so simple and easy, but when the conversation ends, they are still too scared to act. What I can never promise is a guarantee. There is no guarantee that they can make money, nor is there a guarantee that the investment will not go sour. I end up telling them that despite any amount research done prior to taking action, it boils down to believing in yourself and taking a leap of faith. It’s this last part that scares people away.

I can imagine why this would happen. I cannot recall a class during my days in high school and college that had this question as a problem:

If you were given $10, how would you turn it into $20? (for a return of 100%)

It’s a simple question, but not a single class ever posed this question during class, in homework, or a test. But yet you are told to do some of the hardest things – find a complicated derivative or integral, solve for differential equations, read a book with an absurdly confusing writing style, and my favorite: transform a time domain equation to a frequency domain equation. Seriously, what the heck does this even mean?

What it means is not important. What’s important is that you figured out how to do these things, otherwise you would not have satisfied your requirements to pass the class and ultimately obtain a college degree.

Here’s another way to look at it: In college, on your first day of class, there was no guarantee that you would pass the class. You didn’t have any prior knowledge of what was taught in the class other than the course title you read when registering for it. You even paid for the class knowing very well that you could fail. If you failed, you’d have to take it again next semester, which meant you had to pay AGAIN for that class. Regardless of whether you wanted to do it or felt you had to do it, you paid for a class knowing you didn’t have a guaranteed chance of passing. But either way, you had believed in yourself because you told yourself you had to pass this class in order to get your college degree. That was enough to push yourself. This means there was a point where you believed you could succeed at something and you had taken that leap of faith to make it happen.

When you look at it this way, how is it different from taking a chance with investing? You could try your first investment, and if it fails, you’ll learn why you failed. It only makes sense to try again because the second time around you’ll be smarter than you were to begin with. Just like if you failed a class the first time, you’d probably pass it the second time around because you would be aware of where you made your mistakes during the first time around. You understood the pain of failing so you made sure it didn’t happen again. But would this drive and motivation have come if didn’t understand what it was like to fail?

Investments are virtually no different from take a college course for the first time. In fact, I would argue to say that investing is likely easier to learn provided that you are willing to see where you made your mistake and learn from it. Investing has an advantage in the sense that tons of research material readily available before you take the leap. A class is worse…you probably never did a Google search on your course first – you simply took it because you had to. Once you got started, you were determined to pass. Action was taken and you told yourself you had to succeed.

Bottom line: there’s no reason that investments cannot be approached in the same manner as taking a new college course.

Smart, not harder

Smart, not harder.

In 11th grade, my AP chemistry teacher grilled this into our heads. She was all about finding clever ways to achieve the same results. I can recall that her exams generally appeared hard to answer – it would seem that for each question a page’s worth of work was needed to come to a final answer. But then she’d only prove us wrong (naturally since she wrote the test), after each exam she’d go over the question and solve the problem in 3 steps max. I mean, seriously, she just made it so obvious. Here’s the silly thing – all of her questions were ALWAYS designed this way. Yet each time we tackled a question, we’d used the hardest approach, but in hindsight that each problem always had two ways to solve it: a smarter way, and a harder way. It took a while before I realized that the approach to solving a problem matters more than the process of solving it. The process is after the fact. The solution is there when the best approach is determined.

Granted, tests are generally high in stress and we don’t have much time to complete the test – which then leads us to use the first approach that comes to mind without putting too much thought into it, in which case is almost always the harder way. The same approach applied to many tests I took in college. I remember on a Operating System midterm, I received full credit on a question because I drew one line to the right picture. There was a smart path and hard path, luckily I managed to find the smart path.

It’s as simple as this: we have to start convincing ourselves that things don’t always have to be overly complicated in order to to succeed. Of course complication is subjective; what is hard to one person may not seem so bad to another. But that’s really the point, isn’t it? When you find something that isn’t so hard to you, but yet is difficult for others, it means you’ve found something that you’re really good at, but many others are not. In which case, wouldn’t it make sense to focus on what you’re good at? Because there’s a better chance you’ll figure out a smarter and more clever way of doing it.