Success and Failure is a matter of perception

We are raised to think that success and failure can easily be classified as black and white. At best, for most of us, the two are considered grey. Success or failure is only as such if perceived that way. To me, the only way you can truly classify what is success or failure is when you truly understand yourself and what you want out of life.

 

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Change the way you think – what the hell does that mean?

Last night as I was jogging to prepare for my 10k run this upcoming weekend, I couldn’t take my mind off of what it meant to change the way we think. We hear an see it all the time from motivational speakers, books, audios, and YouTube videos. These preachers say that change starts with the mind, and we gravitates towards whatever it is that our mind thinks about on a consistent basis.

Its almost like telling an obese person “hey you need to lose weight.” Duh, of course. Or, “you need to change your diet.” Again, another duh, of course. It takes a little more than blunt comments to do the obvious. An obese person needs to sit down, likely with someone they trust, and seriously evaluate their eating habits, and decide where the small changes can start, which will then lead to bigger changes that will ultimately make it seem like the desired results were an overnight success.

So when someone says, change the way you think, this is what I perceive the break down to be. First, to break it down one level further – stop thinking about the things that hold you back, and focus more on the things that will move your forward. But this is still too generic, it has to be broken down further. But it’s okay – this is still one step closer than the original statement.

So now what? You could ask  yourself what you want, and work from there, but I think it makes more sense to first think about what you DON’T want. Why? Simply because at this very moment, you want to be somewhere that you are not. This is happening because the thought patterns are holding you from taking the first step in the right direction.

What is it that we don’t want? Actually it’s still kind of a blur. The way to think about it is, your brain is like a fixed sized bedroom. There’s only so much space that you can work with, so you have to pick and choose what to put in, but it’s just as important to think about what not to put in.

You’re room might already have some stuff in there, and you need to clear out some things before you can bring in the new, even if you don’t know what the new stuff is yet. What you do know first, is that there isn’t enough space and some things have to go. You can think of your brain as working the same way with this analogy.

So enough of the theoretical jibber jabber – what’s an example? Well, I can tell you about some of the things I use to spend a lot of time thinking about, and while it may not have seemed like a bad thing, really had no significance in my life. Those thoughts aren’t wrong just for the sake of being wrong – they’re wrong because it is blocking room for the other thoughts that really matter. For instance, like some of my friends, I used to bitch a lot about gasoline prices. When a gallon raises by 10 cents, people act like hell had frozen over (much like I had). So your brain mentally starts doing a few things:

  1. Complain about the price
  2. Complain about oil companies taking advantage of the small guys
  3. Think about how much to pour in the tank in case you find a cheaper station later
  4. Text or call your friend to complain about steps 1 and 2
  5. Spend time looking/driving for a cheap gas station
  6. Ask your friend if they know which station is cheap
  7. Post about it on Facebook/Twitter, or whatever social network is cool at the time
  8. If you find a cheaper station, you spend time thinking about how proud of yourself you are

Of the 8 things I listed above – you probably are guilty of some if not most of those things. Here’s a reality check – I bet most people, without the big SUVs, fill up about 10 gallons or so, maybe 13 in some occasions. This means those people end up paying anywhere in total from $1 to $1.30 more than what they are used to paying. Stop and pause for a second…why is this such a big deal? Because of principles? Bullshit…this is an utter waste of brain power. Moreover, if you happen to find a gas station that had cheaper gasoline, you’ll spend more time thinking about how you found such a great deal. You probably saved at most $0.50 – yep, tons to celebrate!!!!

You guys get the point – I could easily bring up at least a dozen more similar things that occupy your mind and prevent you from focusing on the things that matter. Like how you got “jipped” at Quizno’s because the sandwich guy was cheap on the lettuce and tomatoes. Or how you paid $1 more on a loaf of bread after finding out it was on sale the next day. Or how the slumlord found a way to withhold $50 from your security deposit for damage you swore was there to begin with (I know $50 can be a lot to some people, so remember, this is all relative). My major point is – there are a lot of things we spend time thinking about that, in the bigger scheme of things, really don’t matter.

So as a first step, when someone says change the way to think, clear out the clutter first! The cluttering thoughts are examples that I described above. If you have friends or colleagues that consume their brain power with these types of thoughts, you know what needs to be done. Spend less time with them. Notice I didn’t say cut off – just spend less time.

There is a bit more to this process, and it goes beyond the little things I described above. It will also include outsourcing things that requires more time than what your time is worth. Like fully washing your car by yourself. Honestly, if you can spare $10, it’s better to let someone else wash and vacuum your car for you. If for some reason you are saying it costs more than $10, how much more? $3 more? It’s still worth it.

The idea here is that you need to take some time off, and alone if necessary, to look through the things you spend so much time thinking about. Then start pushing out the clutter so that you start thinking about the right things. Hence, you will finally take the first step in changing the way you think.

 

It started with a fog, and then a blocked passage

Things tend to clear it itself out when we give it more time to sink in. It makes sense now as I think back to what has happened so far in the last eight months. It was as if a huge cloud or fog was covering my vision. Whether I turned left, right, or back, everything looked confusing. Neither direction ever felt right. If I started on one path, I would only stop and start questioning whether the first step was in the right direction. I’d retrace my steps and rethink everything – but this only led to me back to start where I began. It was frustrating to say the least.

After the ten days were over, most of the fog had blown away. Things were now clearer than before, and at the very least I was able to make sense of where I was standing, and where the next step had to be. It didn’t make things easier, but it gave more clarity as to what had to happen next. Looking back at this point, its as if I saw an opening covered by a big rock. My gut told me that whatever was behind the big rock, was what I needed to chase after. That big rock was my job. I had to get out. I had to push out the big rock to see what else stood behind it. In essence, there was much more to see in the world, and much more waiting for me – just as long as I was willing to put in my own blood and sweat to create the path to walk.

But that big rock was not the end of it. After managing to push that big rock aside (finding a new job), I was presented with many more rocks of smaller size, but stacked together high enough to cover most of the path, and only let me have a small glimpse of what was ahead. But alas, the small gap was not enough. It was a like a light was shining from the other side through that gap, but there wasn’t enough space to know what was going on. All it could tell me was that I had to keep digging through and clearing out these new found rocks. Despite the laborious tasks ahead of me, I know that something extra special and worthwhile is waiting on the other side. One by one, piece by piece – the path will be laid out.

My recent negotiation – where I messed up

A few weeks ago I was looking for a room to rent. I found a place owned by a young guy, maybe just two years older than me. Initially, when I saw the place, I thought it would be a good match. We spoke briefly and emailed back and forth, agreeing to a security deposit equal to one months rent.

When we met to sign the lease agreement, he decided to add an extra $100 to the security deposit, as suggested by his colleagues, in case the tenant decided to skip out on rent and move out. I was infuriated because it wasn’t what we agreed to. I told him it was too much. He said I could pay in installments if that helped. I got more irritated because now he was implying that I couldn’t pay the money. I said what makes you think I’ll skip out on you? Needless to say, it became a bit uncomfortable, but we met half way at $50 and I paid him half of the security deposit to secure the place for next month. Despite a compromise on both sides, I left displeased, and actually wished I walked away. At this point it’s too late, as he has some of the security deposit. I kept thinking to myself, damn this guy is horrible. Says one thing then decides to try and pull a fast one on me before making the lease official.

After pondering for some time, it’s clear I could have found a more creative way of negotiating with him. The fact is, this landlord wasn’t trying to screw me over – this is his first property and attempt at being a landlord, so he naturally acted out of fear (much like I typically did 6 years ago when I started). He wasn’t targeting me specifically – he just wanted to be sure he was covered in case the tenant was bad. I could have easily turned it around if I had done this instead:

Me: Hey, why is the security deposit more than we had discussed?
Landlord: I was told by others to collect a little more than rent in case they decide to skip out.
Me: Oh I see. I can see where you are coming from, and that advice makes sense. However, we did discuss a smaller amount prior to me coming here. I think you’re asking me for too much.
Landlord: Well, you can pay in installments if that helps.
Me: It’s actually not the amount – I have the money, but I don’t think it’s necessarily fair given my good credit history. How about this: you can run a credit check on me, and also call as many references needed to make you comfortable.
Landlord: Okay….
Me: If you find a bad mark on my credit, or a reference says to be cautious about me, then by all means, I will agree to paying a higher security deposit so that you have a peace of mind, or you can find another tenant that meets all your criteria.

The landlord’s underlying concern was to protect himself in case someone screwed up him over. My underlying concern was someone was trying to pinch more dollars from me than was fair. It was never anything personal. There was an objective way to do this, by providing substantial evidence via best practices to showcase that I was a fair and reliable person, so that he could have a peace of mind agreeing to a lower security deposit. In the end, if I used this method I would have won.

Its okay…next time. lesson Learned!

Melt Down?

I wonder if a meltdown is what I’ve been feeling the last year, or possibly even longer.

Over the last 10 years, I’ve built myself into a particular niche of technology. During college, I studied Electrical Engineering, with a bit of computer science blended into it. I went through several years of circuit boards, programming logic, differential equations, and hundreds of ways to count. To add some extra padding to that, I interned at Fortune 500 companies as a software engineer, all of which allowed me to do meaningful work (meaning I didn’t get coffee for the boss). When it was all said and done, 5 job offers were on the table for me – and this was 5 months before I had been scheduled to graduate. I admit, it was a good feeling. I felt accomplished because all the restless nights had finally paid off. It gave both my parents a solid sense of relief because there was nothing to be worried about. As it appeared, I was set for life.

Flash forward 10 years later to the present (I’m 30 right now). I’ve been in the same field for more or less the last 10 years, but not always in the same capacity. I’ve also managed to attain a handful of cash flowing assets, more than what most people my age could achieve. But in regards to my job, when I started full time work 7 years ago, I stopped writing code. I spent more time as an analyst understanding the needs of the business and putting together specifications that would be handed off to software developers for creation. I actually liked it, because it put a bit more emphasis on my creative side, instead of just “cranking out code” like a machine. I also enjoyed the intimate interactions with my clients (most of them happen to be female, so maybe that had something to do with it). Because of this ability to work directly with clients, opportunities led me to 3 months in Europe, where I helped implement a new system to transform business automation at many countries in Europe. On paper, it just kept looking better and better.

At the end of 2010, I took time off for ankle surgery; to fix an accident that happened some time back. After the surgery, I didn’t do a whole lot of work for about 6 months. It took about 6 weeks before I could walk again, plus another few months for rehab. Right after, I took another month off to Taipei to test out the resilience of my repaired ankle.

After coming back, it seemed as if the foundation started cracking. My job didn’t bring the same excitement as it once did. The meetings seemed to drag more than usual. I couldn’t get myself to put together any sort of useful documentation. Reviewing documentation was even worse – the hired contractor had horrible grammar and rarely understood the requirements we gave her. My client and I started dreading the project we were assigned. I thought maybe my job lacked variety, so I decided to “look to the past” and revive my programming skills by taking a free online course for Python programming. However, that didn’t go well. The motivation just wasn’t there. I was feeling depressed and needed a way to cope with it.

I even tried pumping up my physical health. A few friends and I decided to start the Insanity workout. I thought this would help alleviate the depression. For a little while, it worked. I was continuously obsessed with perfecting the routine and getting the most out of the workout. We started a chat room to check in each day and discuss our progress. By the end of it, we all lost significant fat. But shortly after, I was hitting a new low. In fact, I was coping with my problem, but I never actually dealt with it.

Then I tried something completely different – I decided to take 10 days off to participate in a meditation retreat (I’ve blogged about this extensively before). It was very daring and very different. This choice was greeted with mixed reactions. Some were positive and encouraging. But most reacted with, “what the heck?” As if, something was terribly wrong with me.  Those with this reaction did have a perception of me, and most would call it positive: my resume was padded with academic and professional accolades. I graduated with a highly respected degree from a top tier public university. I had spent significant time as a student at highly praised companies, and landed a job at the world’s largest biotech company after graduation. I also seemingly had a great personal life, which included traveling to multiple countries for extended periods of time, to reflect on my past as well as prepare for what was to come. I acquired more assets than usual compared to peers my age. I spent time in Europe, traveling business class, to implement systems as part of a multi-million dollar project. On paper, things just looked so good. Nothing appeared to be dead end. At this point, it didn’t matter what others thought – this is my life, not theirs.

Meditation ended up being one of the best decisions I made, and I continue to practice it today. It didn’t solve my problems. Being centered, through meditation, gave my brain the ability to see the problem more clearly. It was still my choice as to how to attack the problem.

As of today, my conclusion is that I am melting down and something else is trying to grow out of me. I don’t know what it is yet. As of now, it’s a feeling that won’t go away. If I try to ignore it, it only gets worse, resulting in more depression. I’ve done my best to embrace it. One thing I’m accepting is that what I’ve done in the last 10 years is slowly being put to rest, and a new “me” is starting to emerge. I don’t expect many people to understand. Anything that I’ve done in the last 10 years that is perceived as success, is a kind of success. I’ve done things that our current society ranks as good success. Find a good job, build your assets, move up in the career ladder, and perhaps soon start a loving family (I haven’t done the latter yet). If you’ve noticed, I’ve been mostly using monetary wealth as a measurement of success throughout this post. There’s a voice inside of me that’s saying this isn’t my direction in life. It’s saying I cannot follow society’s blueprint of what it means to be successful. It doesn’t mean I won’t be wealthy, but it does mean that the current path isn’t the right journey. Its time to start clearing out the rocks and let new light shine – because a new journey is awaiting me on the other side.

So far I’ve been making incremental changes, hoping that the path will be clearer as I move along. When I switched jobs a few months ago, I thought that would solve the problem. I realized it was only one of many things I needed to do, because when I switched I started noticing the bigger picture. Now I am in the process of moving out of my home, in which I am living with tenants, to rent someone else’s room. I will be hiring a management company to manage the property on my behalf. I noticed that with each move I make, I’ve allowed my mind to worry about one less thing, thus opening up the hole to let more light shine in, and hopefully soon enough the hole will be big enough to light the new path.

Yes, I think it’s a meltdown. I’m melting down because something new has to be constructed. I just wish it wasn’t so painful. The learning and growth never ended in college…it was just the beginning.