Change or Reconfirmation?

I’m noticing a pattern with some of my friends, same age as me, that are approaching 30 or are past 30 years old, but are not yet married.

A former classmate and current friend of mine has lived in Thailand for more than a year, and has decided to get into Thailand politics. Prior to this, he was a software engineer in the states. He started out in the defense industry at a small company in California that eventually got bought out by Raytheon. He was paid well, did his job well, and garnered high respects from managers and his colleagues. But then he got tired of the politics, incompetent management, bad coding practices…just to name a few. He felt those were the reasons why he didn’t enjoy going to work anymore. He decided a new job would solve the problem. He found a new position at a start up company in Michigan. 10 months later he was let go – perhaps even fired. He got along with his coworkers, but he didn’t fit into the culture. He didn’t like drinking. He wasn’t used to the code structure used by the company. Eventually the big boss decided he wasn’t a good fit for the company in the long term. When he was let go, it hurt. He felt like a failure. His parents couldn’t understand what went wrong. Without getting into too much detail, he decided that he needed to get away for a while, so he went to Thailand to try business and also help run his parents’ business. But that year was not about business – it became a year of self-exploration, almost like a journey within himself, i.e., self-evaluation. Eventually, he accepted that he no longer enjoyed his line of work, regardless of the company he was at. He decided that he could only fool himself for so long before everything came tumbling down. Turns out, being let go was one of the best things that ever happened to him, because he ended up reinventing himself. But in the process of reinventing himself, all he simply did was accept himself for who he was, and stopped living a life that he thought he should be living.

Today I had the pleasure of catching up with a former co-intern from Citibank. I happened to bump into him this past Friday at a local Starbucks in Beverly Hills, while I was out with my clients on a day trip. I quickly exchanged phone numbers with him since I didn’t have time to speak with him. Turns out, like me, he switched jobs a few times. He started at a large media company, and then eventually moved over to a major social media company. Later, he decided he needed a change. He thought changing companies, but within the same line of work, would solve the problem. He’s now at a startup, still working as a software engineer. The job is great: awesome pay and flexible work hours (he also works from home). However, he told me that he realized nothing had changed in how he felt. It was clear he needed a real change, so now he’s looking into purchasing some kind of retail business or sandwich shop. Yep, a total change. He doesn’t want to stay in software engineering anymore, it just didn’t feel right for him. He wants to start fresh in something else.

When both of these friends described their thought process and emotions that led them to where they are today, it only confirmed one thing – I’m in the same boat. I did the same thing they did. I thought changing jobs was the answer – but it wasn’t. My new job is great on paper. It is more than most could ask for: the pay is great, the hours are flexible, and the politics is nearly non-existent. My coworkers only focus on doing good work for clients. I told myself, before leaving my last job, this was what I needed. I got it now, but it only felt right for a short while before things came tumbling down again. In addition, my outside investments are performing well. With these tough economic times, most people would do anything to be in my position. But yet with me, something still feels terribly wrong – hence I’m leaning towards taking a six month break to let my mind sort things out. I simply don’t know any other way to do this.

But one thing I can say for sure – it’s not that I need to find something else to do. Granted, yes I do feel less confident about my current career. What I need the time off for is to sort things out and decide if I really do need a change or I am actually doing what I want to do. Hence, it can either be a change or a reconfirmation of my current path. I don’t mind if I return home and decide to get back into the same profession, as long as I feel confident again that it’s the right path. Simply put, I need to bet on myself for once, and not be too hung up on what society’s blueprint has drawn out for me.

It’s comforting to know I am not alone.

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Working Hard Is For Yourself

During my experiences of working full time for several years, I’ve noticed that those who have become jaded have decided to stop working hard because they see no point – no rewards or recognition for any of the extra effort and hours to do a good job. For a short while, I did buy into it. From this perspective, it almost makes completes sense. You work hard because you expect to be rewarded fairly in return. Very few will disagree with this. However, before you decide to go down this route, I warn you it’ll be more detrimental than beneficial for you. For example, I’ve seen many people that stopped working hard for several years, became complacent, and spend most of their time at work browsing the internet. It may seem fine for several years, but then the worst happens: you get fired or laid off, and only come to learn that you’ve fallen terribly behind with the current demands of the market. Don’t let this happen.

You have to change the mindset. First, you’re not working hard for the boss. You’re working hard for yourself. This is the first and foremost mindset to hold on to. Yes, you are doing work that your boss is asking you to do. You work for your boss to satisfy him/her, and you work hard because you want to impress and get that promotion, or get that big raise. But take a step back – working hard is a habit, and it’s your habit. It’s been said that bad habits are hard to break, but good habits are also tough to bring back. You have to understand that having a good habit of working hard is a blessing. It’s something that no one can take from you. The moment you give in and tell yourself that you’ll do less because there’s no point in doing more, you’ve started the downward spiral of breaking a good habit and starting a bad one.

A good habit of working hard is what takes you places. I don’t mean to suggest that you should keep working hard for a boss that will only, as a result, give you more work and not acknowledge you. That would be like banging your head on a wall and hoping it will stop hurting at some point. My suggestion is that you keep this good habit and if you start to notice you are in an environment where this good habit could be destroyed, you’ve got to make a change for yourself. Change your boss. Change your environment. Find a way to put yourself in a place where working hard is genuinely recognized and rewarded. Again, understand that working hard will get you far, as long as you are proactive about putting yourself at a place where it can happen.

Cutting Down On Meat

I thought it would be a good idea to be vegetarian this year, but then quickly realized it may not be a good idea to some of the folks around me. So instead, I decided to cut down on meat consumption. Of course, I need some hard rules to follow to make this happen. Just saying “cut down on meat” is too ambiguous. I’ve broken it down into separate scenarios as to how I will handle meat consumption.

At home with my parents:

  • OK to eat meat, but in small quantities
  • Consume larger ratio of veggies

Food packaged from mom:

  • Meat is OK to take if she prepared a lot, but do not take a large portion

Eating on my own:

  • No Meat

Eating with my girlfriend:

  • Encourage her to cook less meat and more tofu
  • But it is OK to eat meat if she cooks it
  • Use similar approach as with my parents

Eating out with friends or coworkers:

  • OK to eat meat if there isn’t any vegetarian entrees available, otherwise always order vegetarian
  • Pick fish over meat if available

Items that are OK to consume:

  • Eggs
  • Meat broth, but without meat

Did I miss a scenario? Leave a comment and keep me honest!

2013 Resolutions

Here is my list, broken down into different categories:

For Myself:

  • Complete at least two major projects at work
  • Jog a 10k marathon
  • Reduce my waist size to fit size 34 pants

For the Community:

  • Participate in at least one Habitat for Humanity project

For my Parents:

  • Buy a house

For my GF:

  • Surprise her more

Exercising The Mind

meditation

Almost six years ago I took the initiative to learn Mandarin by signing up for online one-on-one video conference courses. For about $120/month, Each week I had anywhere between four to five sessions of class, each lasting one hour. At the time I didn’t know if what I was doing had any practical application. My Mandarin was only improving enough to speak as a foreigner. It would take a long time to learn enough to use it in business or at work, but even then I wasn’t making any plans to change my career. I started learning Mandarin out of pure interest and enjoyment.

An ex-girlfriend of mine, one that was fluent in Mandarin, bluntly said to me if I didn’t have a practical use for learning Mandarin, such as for work, I was wasting my time. She also said it in a condescending tone. I didn’t really care, but her reaction was typical of most. It’s common to only take action and learn certain things because we have a clear use for it in the future. We learn math because it’s a life long needed skill. We learn our local language so that we can communicate effectively with others and enter the work force. We learn about history so that we don’t make mistakes from the past. We learn science so that we understand why our environment is the way it is. But sometimes, it’s just because we need to pass this class to move onto another class. Either way, there is usually a clear reason as to why we learn something, regardless of whether we agree with it or not.

I continued studying Mandarin after work despite the comments, positive or negative from my peers, for about another two years. Flash forward six years later, as I am driving back to my parents, this past memory surfaced again (hence I am writing this blog post) – and it hit me. It’s clear and simple: mental exercise. Irregardless of surface reasons, the reason for any kind of learning, is to exercise our mind so that it doesn’t become stagnant and dull. A stagnant and dull mind leads to one dreadful result: complacency.

Our mind works just like our body. Getting started with physical exercise is the challenge. Many of us have trouble starting. When you get home, it’s much easier to turn on the TV, open a bag of potato chips, and vegetate on the sofa for several hours before taking a shower and getting ready for bed. But when you do get started, i.e., arrive at the gym or suit up and go outside, its not so difficult to continue and finish the workout. Likewise, our mind works the same way. Thinking about doing homework, or learning something brand new, seems like such a mountain to climb. Wouldn’t it just be easier to turn on the high definition TV and PlayStation 3?  Opening up a book to learn about financial derivatives seems like such a daunting task.

But here lies the problem. Just like exercising, the longer we put off learning (the equivalent of exercising the mind), the harder it is later to start, and the easier it is to use the same or similar excuse to justify why it’s OK to start next next time. When we stop physical exercise, our body starts to slow down. Our heart beat changes. Our legs get tired faster. We start preferring the elevator instead of the stairs. We end up wanting to drive instead of walk even though the destination is only a few blocks away. When we stop learning, we start thinking slower. We prefer old methods out of habit instead of doing things better. Reading becomes harder to comprehend. Our conversations are no longer as sharp. Our writing starts lacking real depth. And for older folks, our skills become outdated and we are less relevant in the work force.

What we learn is not as important as the process of learning. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying learn something that you find intolerable. What I am saying is, fundamentally speaking, the action of learning is what keeps our mind sharp. Physical exercise works in a similar manner. We don’t have to do the same exercise as our friends, just as long as you do exercise. Some prefer jogging instead of biking and vice versa. Either way, both will help you burn calories. So with learning, learn what you want to learn, but always remember that the process of learning is the key idea. What you choose to learn is entirely up to you.

This hit me hard, because during all of 2011 and more than half of 2012, I had essentially stopped learning in my job. I even stopped enriching my investment skills – I was only re-using methodologies I learned in previous years that worked, but given the current economic situation, my methods could be outdated. I noticed I wasn’t as effective in planning for projects. I couldn’t analyze problems as quickly as I used to. My solutions were not nearly as clever as they once were. My decisions started to lack real conviction.

But I had quit my job last year, found a new one, and realized how far behind at I had fell. However, because the new job pushed me to work smarter, now I realize how quickly I am picking myself up again. I worked and worked to get myself up to speed. That’s when this memory of Mandarin crept up in my mind. During the years in which I was learning Mandarin, I had done many other things. Some were unexpected, and some were planned. But I recall that when I was exercising my mind the most, that was when my life felt very fulfilling and confident. I wasn’t scared. I was brave in doing new things even if I risked falling flat on my face. In other words, I felt invincible and saw failure as only a small bump on the road.

So my major resolution for this year is to keep learning. That means reading books. Writing more blogs and carefully proofreading each one. Change my routine tasks by finding new ways to do the same thing. Fix things around the house myself instead of hiring someone (when reasonable). Continue practicing Vipassana. Plus much more. You get the idea 🙂

Good Bye 2012 – You Taught Me A Lot

January 1, 2013 – at this point in the day many people are still recovering from a long night of partying and drinking. But there are a handful of others that managed to avoid the craziness of NYE, and wake up early enough this morning to catch a decent brunch.

The fact that today is the first day of the new year doesn’t make it any different than December 31st of last year. Today simply has a different label than yesterday, and probably some extra sales at the local shopping mall. But it matters in the sense that it provides us with a mental way of measuring and starting “anew” by reflecting on the old and thinking of what to do today and here on.

The Good of 2012:
I started a new job later in the third quarter. I received a significantly higher salary, but that was far from the goal. I left my previous job of 6 years and 4 months that was filled with many good memories, but unfortunately I had to leave with rather bitter ones. Realistically I probably should have left 5 years into it, but I struggled with letting go of the past, which in turn led me to suffer longer than I would have preferred. But I only came to this realization after the last painful year and a half – that in itself made it more worthwhile. The reason being that it was a learning and self-reflection period. I eventually realized one of the many reasons that many of us choose to stay miserable is because of an attachment to the past. A good past makes us hopeful that current conditions are only temporary and things will improve soon enough, i.e go back to the way it was. For me, it was hardly the case. But there is a difference in leaving without thinking about this versus taking the time to understand why you did what you had to do, but at a deeper level. It helped me understand myself more and realize how my thought patterns manifest into the actions I take on a daily basis. In other words, I left my old world with more depth coming into the new world. If I left my old job after seeing something more superficial, such as not getting paid enough, I would not have learned as much as I should have. We should take action not for material reasons, but instead at times when we reach a deeper understanding about ourselves.

The Bad of 2012:
Compared to previous years, 2012 was almost a total 180 in that I hit many financial disasters. My investments hit a snag with longer than expected vacancies, maintenance costs, remodeling costs, and banks that couldn’t make up their mind with anything. Likewise, I was served with my first speeding ticket ever. The ticket fine was high, plus I needed to pay the county for the privilege to take traffic school, and pay the traffic school to take the course. At the end of the day, I basically donated money to the city because of a crooked cop that only gave out tickets to men and let the women go off easily.

The money problems only added salt to the wound because generally speaking I just had an off year (with the exception of finding the new job). Emotionally I wasn’t there most of the time. My heart didn’t have the drive and ambition to push the limits as I had in previous years. Fear crept through my mind more often than I would have liked. For the most part, I had played it safe this year. But it’s ok – we can’t be running all the time, sometimes a brisk walk is what we need in order to jump start the next run.

 

The Lessons of 2012:
When times are tough and things don’t find a way to work themselves out quicker than we are accustomed to, our only choice left is to find a positive way to handle more downs than ups. This essentially comes down to what works for the individual person. At first I usually found ways to take my mind off the matter – this meant exercising, hitting up the night life, and short get away trips. In the end, it didn’t work out so well because the issues were too overwhelming and few found a way to work itself out (sometimes when a problem stopped in one part of my life, a similar problem rose in another part of my life, hence it didn’t “work itself out” in my mind). I was left with only one option and that was to really deal with it. I had to mentally tell myself things would be ok, take deep breaths of meditation on a regular basis, and always keep my mind focused on what to do next to solve the problem. I had to understand that problems will come and go, but what’s most important is how we react and take action when it arises. There’s no way to prepare for anything that may happen to you at any given day, week, month, or year. But what we do have control over is what do I do now, and what do I do next.

Peace out everyone. My next post will be my plans for this upcoming year.