Acting from Within

In the past few years, I’ve made good progress in acquiring assets to ensure retirement for my parents and pay for foreseen upcoming bills. On the surface it seems I am doing this for someone else and not for me – it’s as if I’m sacrificing my needs and wants to take care of someone else. I’ve been asked, “Brian, when will you do something for yourself?”

When that question is first asked, there is an underlying assumption that I don’t want to do it, or at least forcing myself to do something that normally wouldn’t happen. This simply means the question is posed from the perspective of the other person, and not my perspective. And it understandably looks that way. I am putting in my own money to fund the investment, but I am not really reaping any of the monetary benefits on the ROI. However, there is more to it than just the monetary ROI. When I first embarked on this journey a few years back, I thought this journey came from a need, but it didn’t take long to realize it was just as much a need as it is my own desire.

There’s a saying that joy is actually found in the journey and not the destination itself. Initially I never thought of this journey as being fun or exciting, but I was certain I would reap a sense of satisfaction in the process. This has especially been true, and more so recently as I am closely approaching a major milestone of my plan. But the journey quickly became fun and exciting because in the process I’ve learned more about myself. Likewise, I am slowly starting to acquire a peace of mind with my parents’ retirement. So now looking back in hindsight, I have in fact taken this journey for myself. It’s obvious now because I’ve realized I have followed my heart, and did not simply do what I thought I was supposed to do. In essence, this journey never felt like a chore. I acted on my own inner desire to walk this path.

I also know that this is only the beginning of more exciting things to come, because in the process of doing this, I’ve:

  1. Strengthen my investment skills
  2. Brought more joy and optimism to my loved ones
  3. Become more humble by starting from scratch again
  4. Gained new perspective and question myself on where to go next – this in essence means I am actively participating in life and not simply following a blueprint set forth by someone else

There’s many more, but I think you get the idea.

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Let go of the unessential

In the past few months, my heart has dealt with much discomfort and it still continues on today. A combination of work, emotional stress, and pressure gives me random moments of anger and anxiety. It’s not crazy in the sense that I lose control of myself, but it can become so overbearing that I need a moment to take multiple deep breaths to allow the pain to slowly subside.

I spent a lot of time trying to counter the discomfort by doing fun things I enjoy. Running, weight training, reading, food adventures, real estate…that’s just to name a few. It helps, but only for a short while. Then I recalled this quote from Bruce Lee:

“It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.”

It became clear that I was going about this the wrong way. I need to think and confront this problem, but not let myself become obsessed. I need to find a way to let go of the problem – having good times just to distract me from the problem isn’t the true solution.

A simple analogy is spoiled milk. When milk is spoiled, anyone with common sense will throw it out. You can add sugar, food coloring, and whatever else you want to mask the smelly odor and bad taste, but it doesn’t change that underneath it all bad milk exists, no matter how hard we try to counter it with good stuff. Spoiled milk is simply bad, so it only makes sense to throw it out.

But tossing away pain in our heart is not as easy as throwing away spoiled milk. We have to learn to let go. The anger only exists because I choose to let it bother me.

Never Lose Sight

Despite any level of successful milestones accomplished so far, fear still has a way of coming back to haunt me. The one thought that continuously reoccurs is whether or not I chose to the right path to accomplish my goals. The reason being that the path isn’t completely clear, but I believe that I can still make it to the end of the journey.

Despite the fear of whether or not the right path was chosen, I find comfort in my recollection of a chapter from Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich. One of his passages more or less says that successful people are not as concerned of whether or not they chose the right way of attaining their goals. What they are clear of are the goals they wish to achieve. They aren’t concerned about picking the wrong way, because they choose to fix mistakes and make adjustments as they move along. In other words, for any obstacles and setbacks they may encounter along way, they will find a way to overcome.

With each problem we solve, our minds become stronger and more agile. In fact, part of the fun is realizing how much you’ve managed to overcome during your journey. The amount of joy we have, no matter how much or how little, becomes a catalyst for pushing us further until we attain what we wish for.

With this recollection, I remind myself that I shouldn’t be so concerned about whether or not I chose the right way, it’s more important that I am not indecisive and do not lose sight of what it is I want. Obstacles will present itself, and problems will never go away – our reaction is what counts most.

This contrasts what most of us were taught in school. I remember before starting a test, professors used to worn us that if we didn’t think through a question first, we would end up going down the wrong path for the solution. With the limited amount of time we had, if we spent too much time going down the wrong path, we’d lose time to back track. With the way professors warned us, the implication came off as: if we choose the wrong method, we’re doomed to failure. This will cast fear onto students and consequently cause indecisiveness through anxiety.

I agree that parts of this is true. We only have a limited amount of time to solve the problem (such as limited amount of time in life to achieve our goals), but here’s another way of looking at it: every minute spent not working through the problem is a path down to the wrong answer. A blank page is the same as a wrong answer – this is certain.

There is balance to thinking things through and taking action. To me it makes sense to trust our gut instinct, but if anytime along the way we realize it’s wrong, make the change as soon as possible and keep pushing towards solving the problem.

I think it makes more sense for our scholastic leaders to spend less time warning us about taking the wrong path, and more time teaching us how to react if we happen to make a mistake. Because chances are, when the mistake is made, the right answer becomes way more obvious.

Stirring the Pot

I remember not long ago when my heart was broken by a woman I genuinely wanted to marry. I won’t get into the details, but in my mind, I felt I had found the person that would complement my life. I wanted to work extra hard because of her. Things just seemed to make sense. But when the engagement didn’t happen, it felt as if my life started spinning endlessly. Needless to say, I entered a painful period of depression.

Another time this happened was during my fifth year of college, when I was applying for post-graduation full time work. I thought I had the perfect resume to get hired – a respectable degree backed by Fortune 500 company experiences. There was just no way things could fall through. But I was wrong…by the time Fall hiring had ended, I had nothing to show for it. I had entered another period of uncertainty in my life.

Each problem was different, but what was consistent is the result: in each case, I was forced to re-think the direction in which my life was heading. Granted, it was extremely painful in most cases. However, what was most important was it forced me to re-think whether it would have actually made sense if those problems never happened. Did the chosen path actually make sense, or did I simply do what I thought should be done?

For instance, when I got rejected from all the job interviews, I started another internship, and subsequently took some time off to study abroad in China. I took a long hard look at where my career was headed. It delayed my graduation, but in hindsight it was one of the best decisions I made. Because after taking time to reflect on what happened, my goals had more purpose and meaning, as opposed to having goals just for the sake of having it. When goals have real conviction, it all of a sudden appears to be more easier to obtain. It’s not actually any easier, what changed was my attitude: I decided to not let any obstacle get in my way. The feeling was very exhilarating.

As for love, my breakup made me realize it was okay to want things for myself. Naturally I am more of a giver than taker, but it was almost a necessity to want things for myself – the reason being that balance in life was necessary. My partner and I need to live for each other, it can’t be a one way street.

These two instances are only a few of the many times that setbacks made me realize there was something bigger I needed to see. But what I appreciate most is each one forced me to take a deeper look inside myself. The result was a better understanding of myself and a new appreciation for life.

One thing to remember is that, even when a pot’s content is stirred and disrupted, eventually it’ll stop and be calm again. Everything in the pot will land in a different spot, but will be more balanced. The disruption is only temporary and the only result is clarity.

Executing the Plan

I clearly understand now why people make plans. Because one thing is for sure – executing and succeeding on the plan is a feeling like none other. I can remember it like yesterday when I made trips out to Starbucks at night to put together my real estate business plan. At the time, I was hopeful but yet doubtful at the same time. I didn’t know how to judge if the plan was even realistic. Who was I to call myself a self-proclaimed investor? All that was certain at the time was I had a Lenovo laptop in front of me, and a Starbucks tall-size plain coffee on the same table to sip on. That’s how I started and it was up to me to make it happen.

I recall spending my time and money roaming through different cities on weekends to get a feel for what was going on. I checked out party cities, hick towns, the boonies, beach cities, and many others. It was never clear what was the right decision. In school, if you didn’t make the right decision on a test, you’d be penalized. But in life…it doesn’t work that way – the penalty comes from not making a decision. When you don’t decide, you’re stuck. When you’re stuck, you no longer move forward.

When I finally made a decision to pick the cities to invest in, I no longer thought of it as whether or not I chose the correct cities. I saw it this way: I made a choice, and it’s up to me to make it the correct choice. Making the choice is a big step, but far from the last. Throughout the last two years this was so evident because although I picked a city I felt was correct, 80% of the homes I saw were incorrect. So a decision isn’t considered right or wrong persay, it’s really a matter of whether you choose to make it suit your needs. It makes sense why it’s common to hear that the cards dealt to you in life is mostly insignificant – it’s how you play with the cards dealt to you.

When I chose the cities, the cards were dealt to me. But if I didn’t play those cards right, the decision could easily have been the worst one. If anything, the only thing I see as being correct is choosing to trust in yourself to make your life is fulfilling as possible.

Success Revolves around Habits in Lifestyle

From afar, many people think success comes because a person is smart. Given what I’ve seen, I think it is hardly the case in most situations. I’ve read many books and talked to several people who I would consider successful. Usually they have a great family, make lots of money, and are genuinely happy. It takes time to build this all up, but it starts with good habits, which in turn formulate your lifestyle to aim for your most important goals in life.

For instance, when I notice people who try to lose weight, they develop habits that contribute to this goal. They start exercising intensely on a regular basis, usually at least 4 days a week. They change the snacks they eat – instead of a bag of chips they munch on carrots or bananas. They start to eat daily balanced meals composed of good nutrition, proteins, fibers, and whatever else a nutritionist would advise them to do. But most importantly, they measure themselves against their goals – in which case that means getting on that scale at least once a week to see if progress is made. It’s simple, because if there is no progress, it means they need to make more changes to their habits, which again leads to a chance in their lifestyle. They never lose sight of what they want, and they will continue to safely change and modify what is necessary to reach that end goal.

Switching Gears

Earlier tonight I was reading an article in the December issue of Entrepreneur magazine about how people were bootstrapping a business while working a full-time corporate job. The interviewer focused on different aspects of bootstrapping a business, but the part that caught my interest is where the interviewee talked about switching gears – which is the part when you switch to focusing on your side business after you are leaving your job for the day.

It’s actually not so easy. I would venture to say that most people sort of shut down and turn to more leisurely or physically active activities after work. For instance, running and weightlifting at the gym is common after an eight-hour day at the office. Some will prefer a more leisurely activity such as coming home and eating dinner in front of the TV. Or given the bleak economic times, some will flock to happy hour to pick up the good deals on appetizers and drinks. The bigger picture is that these activities are not really conducive to a side business, these are more or less ways to de-stress and disconnect from work for the remainder of the evening.

So you can see why it’s not as easy as it sounds to just “switch gears” after you get off work. But it got me to reflect on what made it possible for me to switch gears and put on my business/investment cap once it was time to clock out. I can’t recall exactly what I was thinking at the time, but I can remember how I felt and acted.

The cap actually never came off. At work all I could think about was looking at new listings and submitting offers. I would get so excited when an email notification popped up. I didn’t see junk mail, what I saw was new opportunity. Granted, if you’re super busy at work it can be difficult to keep the cap on. I eventually became very good at my job, to the point where I could perform well without much effort. I am NOT AT ALL suggesting to slack off at work in order to do the side stuff.

It felt like an adventure. Whenever I saw an address in a neighborhood that I didn’t recognize, I wanted to tour the neighborhood at night right away. It also gave me an excuse to go on a food adventure because I always found a random cafe or restaurant in that neighborhood to eat at. Which then gave me an opportunity to ask questions because the workers most likely knew what the area was like. I drove around the neighborhood with a different mindset. I started noticing things I didn’t notice before. I paid attention to my emotional reactions. For example, how did I feel as I drove through the neighborhood? Did I feel safe to park my car and get out? Is it somewhere I would jog at night? How old are the people who walk out late at night? Are there Christmas decorations (if it happens to be close to December)? My brain started working in different ways and it acted as a stimulus for me. In other words, it became exciting.

I had business associates that were just as excited as I was. Granted they have their own businesses and are out to make money as well, their energy and enthusiasm kept fueling me. It definitely pays to be surrounded by the right kind of people. If it not for them, I may have eventually grown tired of the search since it would take about 50 tries before something actually went through.

There has to be something that will make you click. Find it, create a plan, and act on it! There’s no excuse!