Break the Rules

I can see why most people are afraid to steer away from the herd. It’s much easier to stay with the herd because it’s not lonely, and the physical presence of someone else on the same path gives us a sense of relief that it’s OK to keep walking in this direction. But this has a way of distracting us from our own inner voice – because it’s constantly clouded by the noise of others.

Occasionally the pain from my foot (I recently had surgery and currently recovering) distracts me, but each day it crosses my mind. I second guess myself, wondering if I made the right decision. Did breaking the rules make sense? Was it smart to not have something else lined up before jumping off the ship?

Then I came across this video of a complete CGI remake of Bruce Lee. Sometimes inspiration can be found in places you may not know.

 

What is Maturity? Shoes in the House

I think this is kind of a loaded question. What it means will depend on perspective, context, and even cultural background. So one blanket definition doesn’t quite fit here. There has to be some context around what the question is really addressing.

It’s something on my mind and I felt I needed to write it out. Per our live-in landlord, there is a no shoe policy in the house. The official tenants in the house all happen to be Chinese, so we have a cultural preference for this. Its a rule that all residents and guests must follow. Besides for household respect, it’s a hygienic thing. Who knows where the shoes have been. It could have stepped on mud, urine, feces, spit, throw up, etc. Would you want your barefoot (or even your expensive shoes) walking on top of a floor that has that filth on there?

Now the landlord has a boyfriend that practically lives in the house, and yes he knows the rules. He decided it was OK to wear his shoes all over the recently mopped floor today. It bothered me when I saw that, but I chose not to say anything because it isn’t my house. In fact, if the landlord decided to change the rules, it’s fine by me. I just don’t want to be walking barefoot in the house or cleaning the floors if someone else is going to walk in with their shoes. If shoes are OK, then I’ll wear my shoes. So I deferred it to the landlord, and he said he’d take care of it by telling his boyfriend. After he sent the message to his boyfriend, the guy practically snapped, but not in front of me. He was right below my window that happened to be open. He raised his voice. He was angry that I didn’t tell him directly because he was “right there.” And I suppose there are some relationship issues because he was also angry that after being gone for a week, that was the only thing the landlord would say to him. His reaction showed his level of maturity. This is what I am getting at.

I get his point, I could have just told him directly. But I’m not a confrontational guy, plus I only rent a room, not the entire house. I don’t wear shoes into my room, but if the landlord is OK with shoes in other parts of the house, that’s really OK – that means I’ll just wear my shoes and take it off before entering my room. Even if I was a confrontational guy, I am not responsible for enforcing rules to guests of the landlord. 

Plus, this guy already knew the no shoe rule. He just suddenly felt the rules didn’t apply to him. The mature thing for him to do is just stop wearing shoes in the house and not make a scene. The rule is clear and he knows it. Also, I don’t need an apology – I don’t care for it. But he needs to be more mature in handling these things. What mature person throws a tantrum after being told not to wear shoes in the house? Maybe it was a respect issue, since I didn’t say it to him in person.

Comments? Thoughts? I’d like to read some other opinions on these silly domestic issues. In this particular case, I think maturity is defined as keeping a calm composure, understanding he made a mistake, make the changes, and move on.

One Of Those Cool Nights

With the amount of flexible time given back to me due to unemployment, it’s easier to just get out there and look at the world with a different set of eyes. I remember when I was still working my busy job, if I went out I wasn’t really enjoying the moment. I would either think about how I’m glad it’s Friday, or worried about what needs to happen when I go in Monday. It’s like my body went for a night out, but my mind didn’t follow along.

Earlier tonight my buddy brought one of his friends to join us at a bar. Luckily I was able to quickly strike up a conversation with her because we went to the same university. But that wasn’t the key topic. We got excited talking about furniture. That’s right, furniture – you’re probably sitting on one as you’re reading this.

I’ve always had an innate fascination with how businesses work. All of the intense details of a business operation spark my interest – even down to how she worked the delivery and transportation of furniture. We talked about how she made an effort to improve perceived value of a sofa and love seat. How is it possible that she can make a $50 love seat sell for $1300? From which cities did the best stuff come from? Is bullshit literally what made you the extra $1000?

It was fascinating because…well this is simply what I find fascinating. Had I not needed to take a restroom break, the conversation might have continued for so much longer. It was nice that I learned a lot from her, but ultimately what made this conversation so good was that I connected with someone on a very non-superficial level. She talked about something she loved to do, and it became something I loved to discuss with her. In other words, I had a chance to understand somebody based on who they are.

The night was exhilarating to say the least – just because I managed to have a deep connection with someone. Seriously, this is what life is about.

Work-Life Balance: It’s Up to You, not the Employer

A lot of companies like to list work life balance as one of their core benefits. “Work for us and we’ll make sure that your life is balanced and not completely all about work” – I’m sure you’ve read this slogan on all the websites you’ve read before applying for a job (if you haven’t been reading about the companies you want to work for, better start now!).

One of the major lessons I learned from my last job is that while employers advertise work-life balance, what they are really saying is, we won’t work you so much that you can’t find anytime for yourself. Seriously, that’s all it really is. Giving you gym time isn’t the balance – it’s your choice of going to gym during the off hours that makes the balance exist.

In my last job, I didn’t make good use of my after hours. I usually kept my work hours to no more than 9 hours a day, but when I left the office, my mind was still on work. I spent a considerable amount of time exercising, but I still couldn’t shake it off. Now that I’m taking a career break, it’s become clear that I didn’t use my off hours to do things I really looked forward to. I don’t mean seeing the boyfriend or girlfriend; I’m talking about personal and often solo activities that stirs up the intellectual mind.

Back in 2008 and 2009, I attended evening Chinese courses via Skype. I had a one-on-one instructor that essentially became a language partner on four to five evenings out of the week. I had homework assignments where I had to write short papers on topics I discussed during the previous class session. My Google Docs folder still contains the large number of Chinese written homework that basically contains diary entries (most of the topics in class revolved around how my day went). When considering class time and homework time, this consumed about 3 hours each day. This seems like a lot of time when considering how much time is left after a long day of work (5 hours, maybe?).

But you know what? At the time it never felt like work. I enjoyed writing the papers. The sessions I had each night became therapeutic in discussing the things that mattered and bothered me the most. It was like I had a distant and yet disconnected friend to share my thoughts, but I kept the intellectual engine rolling by forcing myself to use a language I was not comfortable with. Not long afterwards, I entered one of the most creative and action focused points in my 20’s (my investing career had taken off).

Somehow, these unnecessary learning sessions became a driving force in me to make changes in my financial life. I say unnecessary learning because there was no real practical purpose for me to learn Chinese. I live in America, and it’s OK not to speak Mandarin. But I threw practicality out the door. I learned because I wanted to. I just wanted to be better at speaking and writing Mandarin. The process of learning just became fun. I looked forward each night to going home and logging onto my computer to chat with my teacher. I liked how she provided criticism on my papers so that the next one would be better. Simply put: I just did something I enjoyed.

When I noticeably improved, it became a good excuse to visit Taiwan and China. I wanted to use my Mandarin skill with the locals. Good God, it was so much fun! And that was the key, I simply had fun. I made sure my life was balanced with the seriousness of work, but yet also with the light-heartedness of having fun and enjoying life.

But keep in mind – at the time this is specifically what made me click inside. We all have our own thing. At the time, learning Mandarin was fun to me. I didn’t mind the time spent on homework to get better. I just wanted to get better and followed my gut instincts. Suddenly my trips to Asia had more meaning, and that only fueled the desire to get better.

Ultimately, by the end of it, what I truly got out of it was a sense of conviction in myself. Suddenly things didn’t feel so hard anymore. If I could put my mind to it, it can happen. Learning Mandarin was proof of that. It was proof that I am capable. So now, what’s next to conquer? Lets make it happen.

So I encourage you to stretch and do something that’ll get that intellectual engine running. Don’t worry too much about whether it’ll be practical or make money for you. That’s the wrong way to go about it. Do it because you like it. You won’t regret it!

Investing: Emotions are half the Battle

One of my tenants is 23 days late with rent, and it isn’t the first time. Too bad the bank doesn’t allow me to extend the grace period for my mortgage to another 23 days. Life is tough, but hey, it happens. Do I want to scream at them? Yes, of course. How dare you live at my property and think it’s OK to pay 23 days late. I provide you with a roof, you provide me with a check. It’s that simple, why does there need to be any complications?

I got off the phone with my property manager this morning, and thankfully the tenant just paid today, so I should see the money in my account tomorrow. This experience reminded me once again one key aspect of investing: keeping the emotions in check despite whatever issues may come up.

Regardless of how smart you may be, if emotions take you over, rational logic is the first thing out of the door. We act out of fear that we’ll lose something. We panic, shake, and before you know it, we make a decision we regret. How many times have you sold a stock when you saw it going down?

I just kept it cool. I didn’t call and scream at the management team. I followed up politely. I know that the state laws here are in favor of the tenant. They know the laws and how to handle it so investors get the maximum returns. So ultimately, I know I chose them for a reason. The team has an innate sense of responsibility to their clients and they know their stuff, thus I trust that despite any situation they will do whatever is in their power to keep the assets profitable. And if there is a problem with the staff, all it takes is a phone call to the owner.

I could have easily lost it. It’s not uncommon for an inexperienced investor to call and scream at the management team. But what good is that? People don’t like to be treated horribly or unfairly. It’s important to give business partners a chance to do their jobs.

So if you ever feel an emotional urge to take drastic action on an investment that isn’t not performing as expected, take a step back and breath. It’ll be ok. Do things when you’re not agitated. Waiting one more day isn’t going to hurt. You did your homework and you knew this is a potential pitfall of your investment. Let the contingent plan take its course, because that’s why it’s there.

Let Yourself Reflect and Go Through the Emotions

This past week I have spent a considerable amount of time at my condo sorting out old things. There weren’t a lot of things, but each item brought back a vivid memory from the past. Because of that, I couldn’t help but experience the emotions that emerged.

For example, I found an old dormitory group picture taken from my first year in college. I remember at the time I was so excited to finally be on my own. It was a combination of not knowing what to expect, and but also expecting something exciting was going to happen. I saw a picture of the Chinese girl I had a crush on – her name is Kristie. And there were so many other familiar faces – some of which I missed the opportunity to build long term relationships with. If I could go back now, I’d know what to do. But when reflecting back, the whole initial experience was so overwhelming that I really had no idea what to do first. There were so many places to meet people – classrooms, lecture halls, dormitory, campus clubs, etc. So much was happening at once that it was nearly impossible to keep up with everyone. But one thing that was clear out of all of this was what I felt at the time. I had entered an environment of uncertainty, but yet my mind and heart was fueled with optimism and hope for the future. I just had that general feeling that things were headed in the right direction.

I also found the journal I kept during my first visit to China. I participated in a summer study abroad program after finishing up an internship that took up my winter and spring quarter. It was the first time that I left the North America continent into Asia. I remember my mom saying to me in my native dialect: “it’s about time.” This was about 8 years ago. I opened the journal and read through the first few entries, which started on the day I took off from the airport. There was one major theme amongst the first few days I was in Shanghai – scared. I lost count of how many times I used that word. I had landed in a country in which I didn’t speak the national language. I couldn’t tell who was trying to rip me off because I wasn’t aware of the cultural nuances in Shanghai. I couldn’t even order food without help from a classmate. It was that bad, hence that scary for me. But now, I’ll fly to China or Taiwan without much hesitation and start mingling with the locals, even if my Chinese isn’t so great.

The important thing about going through the past is that it gives you a chance to evaluate yourself and see how much you’ve changed. This is more important than most people may realize. For one, it gives us a chance to appreciate what has happened. You’ll see that you’ve grown, but also that you’ve been fortunate to experience and grow into the mature person (hopefully) that you are today.

In a way, this self-reflection ends up allowing you to value yourself more. For example, my experience in China reflected how much I had broken out of my comfort zone back in college. My first year in college reminded me there was a point in my life, despite how naive I was, where I didn’t let fear get the best of me. I didn’t have any skills to offer the world at that point, but it never stopped me from pushing forward so that I could soon give back to the world.

Most people may try to simply pack up and move ASAP, but since I had time on my side, I decided to let myself feel what had to be felt. This gave me some closure as I move onto the next phase of my life.

Attitude reflects Leadership

If any of you have seen the movie Remember the Titans, Julius said to Gary (after a quick lecture by Gary), that attitude reflected leadership. When I saw this scene, I was in my first year in college  in the year 2000 and had borrowed the DVD from my Resident Assistant. It sounded profound, but honestly I had no context to how this actually felt.

Flash forward 12 years later – this scene had come to life in my workplace. If a CEO, CIO, or CFO (any of those C-suite guys) has a bad attitude, I’d say it’s actually expected and many workers at the lower levels of the corporate food chain won’t take it too close to heart, since especially those folks are so far disconnected from us for it to really matter. But when it’s your own manager, or one level of management up, their attitudes do directly affect us. And when the attitude has persisted for so long, it has a lasting effect on all the team members that becomes nearly impossible to reverse.

In some ways, I couldn’t really blame the guy, but he did manage to single handily demoralize his entire team. We rarely saw him, and communication became scarce. I recall the only emails I ever received from him were organizational changes (which were already sent to us to begin with by the corporate HR person, so it essentially just became spam) and reminders to complete required training so that his metrics would not look bad. His only motivation was to stay out of trouble and nothing more. But again, how can you really blame the guy? Not long prior he was stripped of his executive title and demoted. His 20+ years of service to the company that included successful enterprise wide projects and employee mentoring all of a sudden became irrelevant to his direct leaders. His own manager gave him no motivation to do his job.

So it never really started with him: it started at the highest level down to him, and eventually trickled to the guy that had to share his cubicle with another guy.

Eventually I had to leave and never regretted doing so. I wanted to find inspiration and motivation to do work. It felt like night and day when I started at a new company where I could see the passion lit in the CEO’s eyes. But ultimately the reason I accepted his offer over others is because I could tell he sincerely believed in the work he was doing. If anyone reading this happens to manage employees, think long and hard about the actions and words that come from you. Treat your employees well and reward them accordingly, because then they’ll resist any outside temptation to leave. Even a higher salary will rarely make a dent. But if you do otherwise, there will be many pre-paid taxis waiting outside along the sidewalk to scoop them away.