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.

Reflection

It’s been a while since I’ve written, and I do wonder if anyone ever reads what I write. But regardless I find that WordPress can be very theuraputic for me, especially when I need to get something off my chest.

Over the past few months, during my quiet times my mind has naturally been pondering about what makes me happy. Not to say that I didn’t care to think about it before, but it never quite occured to me to put much thought into it. My only conlusion was that I was indeed happy before, but something is missing now that is preventing me from finding my own happiness.

Like others, I first thought it had to do with not making enough money. Despite hearing the ever popular phrase, “money doesn’t make you happy,” my mind still drifted towards this direction. Year after year I made more money, sometimes little, sometimes much more. At first it seemed like I was happy, but only after it was all said and done, I realized it was more of the initial thrill. This was the case with my investment properties. The first one was great, but each subsequent one, even though the return was much better, were not giving me the same sense of satisfaction.

Then I thought maybe I needed a life partner or at least a committed relationship. Now I have a girlfriend, and she does bring great joy to my life. However, something is still missing. She cannot be the source of my happiness – she has to be the person I want to share my happiness with. However, I don’t have that happiness at the moment to share with her.

My next guess is almost certain – I’m not finding the same satisfaction in my career as I once did. I remember 6 years back when I started my job, it felt like one of the most happiest times of my life. I had less money then, didn’t have any investments, and nor did I have a girlfriend. But I did find satisfaction in what I did each day in the office. I came in and my job was to make things better – that plain and simple. It did hit me today: now I am being asked simply to make things work (even if we’re worse off), instead of making things work better. I won’t get into the details, but like most large companies it boils down to corporate politics.

I certainly know now that a change in my career is needed – whether it be from my own actions or not, continuing down the same path won’t get better. And what’s so different now is the change must come from me. From grade school to college, change was the norm and unavoidable. We constantly changed classes, met new classmates, and found new internships. Things were always fresh and always new – but we take it for granted because it came to us and was something we HAD to do. It’s different now because for most of us, we go in everyday to the same desk and coworkers, and while there are changes, it’s minimal compared to what we experienced during our younger years.

I have some plans in place, and I’ll update more as I move along.

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.