Primo Levi wrote in If This Is A Man on being good:

However little sense there may be in trying to specify why I, rather than thousands of others, managed to survive the test, I believe that it was really due to Lorenzo that I am alive today; and not so much for his material aid, as for his having constantly reminded me by his presence, by his natural and plain manner of being good, that there still existed a just world outside our own, something and someone still pure and whole, not corrupt, not savage, extraneous to hatred and terror; something difficult to define, a remote possibility of good, but for which it was worth surviving.

The personages in these pages are not men. Their humanity is buried, or they themselves have buried it, under an offence received or inflicted on someone else. The evil and insane SS men, the Kapos, the politicals, the criminals, the prominents, great and small, down to the indifferent slave Häftlinge, all the grades of the mad hierarchy created by the Germans paradoxically fraternized in a uniform internal desolation.

But Lorenzo was a man; his humanity was pure and uncontaminated, he was outside this world of negation. Thanks to Lorenzo, I managed not to forget that I myself was a man.

What I Want for the Rest of My 24-year-old Life

Recently, I quit my job, ended my lease and traveled to another country. I was not living a happy life in the first two months after I turned 24. I guess part of that has something to do with me starting a new job right after I graduated, without giving much thought to this important transition in life. Graduation means transitioning from a student to an independent individual who has to figure out how to stand on her own feet in this world. I had been working in a real job for a year in 2015 and 2016 outside of school, and I had thought of myself as an independent adult long before I graduated. However, the idea of “I will go back to the University later” had kept me in a certain mindset that I could do whatever I want and spent all the money I had without thinking too much about the future until I graduate.

I didn’t give enough thought about what kind of life I wanted to live and quickly jumped into a job that took the majority of my time and energy right after graduation. Three months into the job, I realized this is not something that I wanted for my life. My life sucked, and because of the 1-year work experience immigration requirement, I also felt trapped in this life because I might have to stay in this job for at least a year. All of that has caused me severe depressions because I lost hope in building a better life.

I booked a long trip earlier this year starting end of April because I wanted some dramatic changes in life to make it better. However, traveling isn’t the right solution at all, because my problem is not with where I am living. It is with what I am doing with my time.

Then I chose to solve the problem itself – quitting my job and freeing up my time so that I can spend time on things I really want to do – starting my own business and building a life I want to live.

After working in 2 different jobs that I had taken seriously, I finally gave up on this thing called employment. I have always known that there is something fundamentally wrong with employment because there is no perfect job that’s created just for me to enable that exciting life I want to live. Because work is such an important part of my life (yes I am a workaholic), I can’t stand giving up control on a large part of my life and let someone else defines what my work entails.

Before figuring out what I want for my life, at least I know now what I don’t want for it.

Finding out what I want for my life is a huge subject, and I am not expecting to solve this question anytime soon (I might never be able to finish the process of discovering the life I want). However, I can at least write up about what I want for the rest of my 24-year-old life. I have nine and a half month left until I turn 25 – an age that stands for maturity in life as I always think of (of course you can have a different opinion on that, but that’s how I feel about milestones in life, not 30 but 25).

1. Run my own business as an independent individual or in a team.

Four things that are are important to me, which lead to the thought that running my own business is a necessary part of building a good life:

  1. Freedom –  Be flexible in choosing what, how, when and where to work. The ability to say NO to project I don’t want to work on or money I don’t want to make.
  2. Reward –  Be responsible for the outcome and be rewarded equitably for it. The ability to negotiate the price for the value I can bring to the table is important.
  3. Creation – Build a product or service from nothing. Create a system that works. Find a solution that solves problems.
  4. Impact – Serve my clients well. Deliver value to people that I care about.

2. Keep learning about the fundamentals of how to be a human being

  1. Learn about myself. Learn about what I’m good at or not good at; what I like or don’t like; what drives me and what disappoints me; what makes me excited and what makes me bored; why I am here and what I stand for.
  2. Learn about my relationship with other people – how to make friends with people from a different background; how to empathize and be deeply connected to others; how to be interested in others and to draw other people to me; how to be inspired and inspire others.
  3. Learn about my relationship with the world – who I am in different social contexts; how the social environment influence me and how I change the environment; the wisdom of life and the fundamental principles of how the world works.

3. Design and build a life I enjoy living

  1. Draw from my learnings from point #2 above, intentionally find solutions that make things work, habits that make me happy and decisions or goals that lead to a life I’m passionate about living
  2. Build and keep healthy relationships with important people whom I enjoy spending time with, whom I can share my successes and issues with, whom I can rely on and be willing to support unconditionally, whom I care about deeply and whom I can share my life with. It includes family and best friends. I’m lucky to say that I have at least three such good friends.
  3. Connect with interesting new people or new things. I want to influence and be influenced, inspire and be inspired, interest and be interested.

To keep me on track with those 3 most important things I want for the next nine and a half month, I will ask myself three questions every day before I go to sleep:

1. What did I do today that contributes to building a good life? (solutions/habits/decisions, relationships, new people or things)

2. What did I do today that contributes to building a sustainable business and how does that impact Freedom, Reward, Creation, and Impact I mentioned above?

3. What did I do today that helped me learn and grow as a human being? (what did I learn about myself, my relationship with others, and the world?)

I hope I can be ready to turn 25 on Feb 15th, 2018 by sticking to those 3 things I want for 24. Thanks for reading and please feel free to share your thoughts with me 🙂

 

 

 

Richard Semler on Asking Whys, An Empty Bucket List, and Being Present

In Episode #299 of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, Tim had a very interesting conversation with Ricardo Semler. During this 2-hour long podcast, Ricardo shared his stories, his business philosophy and his wisdom of life.

I spent 4 hours listening to it twice yesterday because there were so many good points to think about in this podcast. Here are some interesting points I’d like to share:

Asking 3 “Whys”

When he makes decisions, he asks “whys” 3 times to understand whether doing something is truly essential or not. When you ask 3 “whys” on things you want to do, you usually get down to the bottom of your reasons. For example, if I ask myself, why do I want to build a great business with great products? Because I want to bring value and have a positive impact on other people’s life. Why do I want to have a positive impact on other people’s life? Because I want to contribute to something bigger than myself and make the world a better place. And why do I want that? Because I can’t stand being useless and not contribute to moving humankind forward during my lifetime. By asking 3 “whys”, you get to see that the essential things you want to do eventually come down to your core beliefs and principles. It’s about being who you are.

It all comes down to philosophy

When he was teaching MIT MBA school, the recommended readings he gave his students are all philosophy books instead of business approach books. He used to read one of Franz Kafka’s work Before the Law to his students.

You are of 100% importance to your own life

He mentioned “you are of 100% importance to your own life” multiple times during the interview. No matter who or what you think you care so much about, you are the most important thing to yourself. If a speck of dust falls into your eye and you’re tearing like crazy, you can’t care about anything else other than getting the dust out of your eye at that moment. If you die, nothing else is left for you to care about. You see that “you are of 100% importance to your life” is not a selfish belief but a simple truth.

Fun facts

He burnt all of the books, awards, interview videos that relate to his past achievements when he turned 50 for two reasons: first is that he doesn’t need them for his ego anymore; second he doesn’t want his kids to think of their father as a “bigger than life” figure and have to live under this burden.

He has an empty bucket list. Instead, he has built certain processes that he loves to repeat doing again and again. He sets aside every Monday and Thursday for nothing else rather than what he really wants to do on that day.

He has been writing a book in his head for the past 2 years but he is hesitant to actually write that down because he doesn’t want to get caught up in his own promise to make this book successful.

On time and being present

He mentioned when people are comparing opportunities, they often measure them and think about which opportunity is the best to go after but forget that they have another option, which is not to pursue any of them but getting free time instead.

He thinks the meaning of life is to enjoy the passage of time. It’s so simple yet so hard to do. No matter what you have achieved in the past and what you are looking forward to in the future, you only live in the present. The only true success you can achieve is enjoying the moment. That moment will eventually become the past and a building block of your history, but a “good time in the past” is the kind of success that can never be taken away from you, not like fame or money. If he can put up a message to millions of people around the world via billboards, he will write down “Now” on there.

On social constraints and wisdom

His favorite documentary is Up Series. The documentary followed the lives of fourteen British children since 1964, when they were seven years old, for a span of 49 years until they were 56. His take away from the documentary:”In general, your chance of changing walks of life, changing class, changing the path from what context which you started with is a very very rare situation.” Thus, “the wonderful life is not in rising all the time until you’re at the top. There is nothing interesting at the top. It just seems absolutely wonderful when you’re looking from the bottom.”

If he can teach grade 9 kids in an economically disadvantaged area in the US, he wants to inspire them with the accumulated wisdom of humankind. “What I try to do most with them was to get them to realize the magic of the accumulated wisdom of humankind and that poking at this magic of what we’ve been able to do and think all this time, all the rest will take care of themselves.” He used teaching grade 6 kids about Einstein’s theory of relativity as an example. “This kind of stuff is to me what unlocks the whole possibility for people to think, boy, I can be anything do anything, etc. Because they’re looking at the magical response of what life looks like, what we’ve learned all along to this date and that is the key they can eventually use to free themselves.”

You can go to Tim Ferriss website to listen to this podcast and find relevant notes. Ricard also hosts his own podcast channel LeadWise about “challenging assumptions and changing the way we live and work”, which I am planning to check out soon.

What I Learned from the History of the Universe

I recently came across Big History Project, an online interactive course about the history of the universe, about where everything came from. “Big History examines our past, explains our present, and imagines our future. It’s a story about us.”

I just got the chance to watch the first two chapters, “The Universe” and “Our Solar System & Earth”. It was mind-blowing. I am sharing three of my learnings with you in this article:

1. We are all made of stars.

The Star Formation part of the course remains my favorite. It explains this simple but magical thing: everything is made of stars.

During the first 380,000 years after the Big Bang, not much was going on in the universe. When the temperature drops to a low enough point, particles such as hydrogen and helium start to form. “Tiny imperfections. Little knots, wrinkles, and flaws will begin attracting nearby particles of matter. The clumps will grow, becoming more massive, and attracting more particles.” As the compacted clumps of hydrogen and helium increase in density, they will also heat up. With gravity further squeezing the center of the giant balls, their temperature rockets, and the stars light up.

“Burning at incredible levels, cranked to the extreme, a star will eventually consume all the hydrogen that powers its nuclear fusion. Then the star changes dramatically.” When the star runs out of energy from its core, it collapses. Its many outer layers fall inwards, and they slam with unimaginable force into the star’s center, creating new elements. With the force of gravity, new elements continue to form new stars, and new stars collapse and create new elements.

Since everything in the world is made of elements, and elements all came from collapsed stars, everything is made from stars, including you. Remember the story that says, when your ancestors died, they became stars in the sky? The stars are indeed your ancestors. The oldest living star we know was born around 13 billion years ago. Isn’t that amazing?

2. Increasing complexity is the theme of the universe.

Right after the Big Bang, the entire universe was filled mainly with space and two types of elements – hydrogen and helium. Billions of years after that, the Earth was born and settled into orbit around the Sun.

“Though Earth was neatly orbiting the Sun as a rocky mass four and a half billion years ago, no organism could survive there. Radiation from the recent supernova kept the planet extremely hot, its surface molten, and oxygen was non-existent.” Do you know how many years it takes for the Earth to become what it is like today (slightly polluted but still incredibly beautiful)? 4.543 billion years. 4.543 BILLION YEARS!

The Earth is 4.543 billion-year-old.
Image from Google Search

We all know what happens 4.543 billion years after the Earth was born – we human beings come into life, observing and studying all that history of the universe.

There is one theme that is consistent throughout the 13.8 billion-year history of the universe – increasing complexity. From simple to complex, to more complex, to even more complex than you can imagine. The human brain is one of the most complex structures in the universe. There are “100 trillion minimum number of neural connections, or synapses, in the human brain. That is at least 1,000 times the number of stars in our galaxy.” How complex is that?!

The complexity of the human brain has reached a point where we are conscious of our existence, we study where the universe came from, we learn about the environment around us, and we actively engage in changing things around us and making them even more complex! Look at the “stuff” around you, an incredible amount of human creations. We create materials, tools, books and even the Internet.

500 million years ago when jellyfish was the most advanced creature on the planet Earth, they never could have imagined what a creature could do if they have neural connections at least 1,000 times the number of stars in our galaxy (yes I’m talking about us human beings). If the universe keeps increasing its complexity, which I’m pretty sure it will, then 500 million years later, what will come out of it? We don’t know, and we cannot possibly imagine, just like how impossible it was for jellyfish to imagine what human beings can do. (If you’re interested in this jellyfish analogy, I’d recommend you to read Ishmael).

Still so proud of our achievements as human beings? Think again.

3. Anything good takes time.

At the beginning of the article, I wrote, “During the first 380,000 years after the Big Bang, not much was going on in the universe.” Yes, it took 380,000 years for the first particles to form, which was the beginning of all the matters.

How many years have you lived in the world? Our lifespan is not even worth mentioning compared to the long history of the universe. It took 13.7 billion years for this world we know to be built since the Big Bang, not to mention we don’t even know what was going on before the Big Bang.

I’m in my mid-20s now. I walk fast, work hard, and I expect good things to happen quickly. I am a typical hustler. But looking back on the history of the Universe, I realize that anything good takes time.

Time is invisible but necessary for anything good to happen, so be patient. Take your time seriously and spend it wisely. It’s the only resource you can’t get more than anyone else every day. I often doubt about this concept of “jobs” where you exchange your time for money. Since time is such a valuable thing, choose your job wisely too. If you can’t get anything good other than money out of a job, it might be time to start thinking about getting a more rewarding job where you can take satisfaction, learning, and growth into considerations.

Hope you enjoy reading it, and feel free to reach out or comment on the blog to share your thoughts.