Like Versus Good

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I still keep in touch with my former students. One interesting young man, who is less than 9 years old, would chat with me from time to time. I thought it would be insightful to share our conversation, since it is in every parent’s interest to teach their kids the best. Here is, essentially what we discussed:


“Max, do you know what you are good at? Or what you like to do?” I asked.


“I am good at baseball,” he said.


“How do you know you are good at baseball?”


“Because I like it.”


“What does your coach say?”


“My coach said I learn very fast. By the way, I am not like the other boys on the team. They are from Taiwan, they are good at baseball. Their dads taught them how to play baseball since they were little. But I am from Shanghai, so my parents didn't even know anything about baseball. I had to start from zero.”


“Let’s understand the difference between like and good. When you like doing something, you have pleasure doing it. Sometimes you feel pain when you don’t want to do it.

When you’re good at something, you feel neither pleasure nor pain, but you keep doing it, and make progress. More often than not, you progress faster than others. In other words, when you are good at something, what you feel is irrelevant.

In terms of how you learn, when you’re good at what you do, there is very little benefit learning from others. Everything you need is already inside your head. But it is dormant. Sleeping. It needs to be waken up.

When you have natural abilities, the skills you gained are from your Self. They are from within.”


“When l am swimming, l sometimes think l hate the coach, or think it is very boring. l almost didn't like swimming. But l kept doing it and didn't give up. Now l have pleasure doing it. But sometimes when l play piano, l felt nothing even though no one taught me since.”


“It takes time for someone to realize their talent. And once the talent emerges, usually it is identified by someone else. You may find that what you’re good at doesn’t match with what you’ve hoped for. Nevertheless, you’ve found it.”


“Did you find your own talent? Who identified it?”


“No, I didn’t discover my talent. The kids showed it to me. The moment I feel this is my talent then it becomes a like. Good means you have no feeling towards it.”


Sometimes it is difficult for people to identify what they like versus what they are good at.

One thing is for sure, when you like something, you’re chasing after it. You do it because of feeling. This creates contradiction between pleasure and pain.

Honestly though, what you like is irrelevant, unless it can be used to help others.

Someone who is good at a particular skill is recognized because of his or her effort in helping other people fulfilling their needs. In the process, this individual changed their lives.

In the end, it doesn’t matter who you are. What matters is:

  • What you do.
  • The people you help.
  • What people need from you.
  • The way you changed people’s lives.

You do not selfishly declare your talent. Someone will help you recognize it.

Getting Ahead

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We get these questions a lot from the enterprising young. It’s a very intelligent question: You look at some old guy who’s rich and you ask,

“How can I become like you, except faster?”

Spend each day trying to be a little wiser than you were when you woke up. Discharge your duties faithfully and well. Step by step you get ahead, but not necessarily in fast spurts. But you build discipline by preparing for fast spurts… Slug it out one inch at a time, day by day, at the end of the day – if you live long enough – most people get what they deserve.

— Charlie Munger, a multi-billionaire fellow, and Warren Buffet’s business partner.


I always teach my students to think one - sometimes two - step(s) ahead of their peers.

One may say: “I want to do such and such. I’ll get good grades, go to a good school, and do what I want.” That’s great! Do you have a plan? 

Everyone is able to get good grades and attend good schools. But few possess the ability to get ahead.

 

You’re 10 years old 

 

While your classmates are studying hard to get good grades and competing for the best middle schools, you’re already interning the profession of your interest. You’ve built a website and put out your work for the world to see. Believe it or not, a website is the new resume. Forget building a C/V. It’s yesterday. You want to put YOUR website on all your college and work applications.

By the time you’re almost finish with high school, you’ve set your direction. And your friends? Well, they’re studying day and night. That is the only thing they do.

While your friends are touring famous colleges, you’ve found a mentor. You’re learning a lot from him. Soon, he offers you a part-time job.


You’re 20 years old


Your friends are out partying every weekend. Not you! You’re busy starting a side project, and slowly turning that into a business.

After college, your friends are scouting for jobs. You don’t need one, because you work for yourself. You’ve earned your independence.

You keep doing what you love and save up most of your income. Meanwhile, your friends are having fun. They share pictures flying first class and lavishing on expensive foods. They drift in their happiness. Not you! Because you remember what your teacher said: “Nothing is permanent.” You understand it is easy to be pleasant when life flows along like a song. But the person worthwhile is the one who can smile when life goes dead wrong.


You’re 30 years old


You keep working. You invest consistently over the years. You DO NOT own depreciating assets, eat at Michelin star restaurants, or fly first class.

Instead, you put your money in undervalued properties across the globe. You build a portfolio of passive income. You travel on a budget. You stay the course, because you love your work.

After working for more than a decade, you want to start planting your legacy so other people will remember you. You decide to write a book. You don’t care whether or not it will be a best-seller, because you’ve already made your fortune.

Oh, did we forget about your friends? Well..they’re still working the same jobs. Some have bigger responsibilities. They’re only motivated by money, so the anxiety over mortgage and kid’s expensive school tuition haunts them every day.

You reach out to one. Sadly, he doesn’t listen. He’s been conditioned to associate money with success since he was young. He believes in climbing this imaginary social hierarchy - more money, more happiness. Little did he know, people who have more money usually have bigger problems than those who have far less. In other words, the two are the same.

You’ve been listening to your teacher. You understand happiness is something you have internally, not from something external. Your friends don’t listen. They think you’re in another world. It doesn’t matter. Because happiness is something you have to understand by your Self.


You’re 40 years old


You finished writing your book. There is a publisher willing to help deliver your message across the world. You receive a small royalty, that’s okay, you’re not worried. You don’t need the money. Don’t forget, you’ve made your fortune somewhere else. You’re not the starving and desperate writer who needs his book to be published.

Finally, you think it’s time to close this chapter of your life and begin a new one. You want to start your own family. You sold your current business and become financially independent.

Your off-shore real estate investments have grown tremendously. You sold some, then bought a small country house in New Zealand. You’re thinking of starting a new career there as a part-time writer.

Your son is getting bigger. It’s time for him to start school. You put him NOT in the best schools, but in diverse schools. You teach him adversity. You spend this decade mentoring your son. You instill ideal, moral, value, wisdom. You help define HIS direction.

Meanwhile, your friends are working hard. They constantly carp about not having any time for themselves and their children. They become ignorant. As a result, their children are neglected.

When it’s winter in New Zealand, you fly back to the United States, and put your son in summer school. You would do the opposite when winter comes in the Northern Hemisphere. Who likes freezing weather and snow anyway? Sometimes you miss the winter feeling, so you stay put until spring arrives. After all, you’re free.


You’re 50 years old


Your son is in college. You finally have more time to do the things you want. Your past experience allows you to start a consulting business. You build a long list of clientele. The business gradually grows.

Your son graduates from college. He started his own company from his dorm room. Like father, like son. He’s independent and starts his own family. You’re the proudest dad in the world.

Many of your son’s friends are jobless. The job market is overly saturated. They have no solution but to keep on competing, because that is the way society conditions their minds. Worse, few have become suicidal.


You’re 60 years old


You’ve been working on your farmhouse. It gets beautiful day by day.

You’re planting your own foods. Sometimes your granddaughter comes to visit. You’d take her out fishing on the lake in your backyard. You’d cook together with her. You’d also go hiking with your son when he’s not so busy with work. You’re healthier than ever.

Your friends just finished paying-off their mortgages. Some are still working. Others are waiting to receive retirement benefits.

The economy enters into a recession. The stock market plunges. Your high school buddy dies of a heart attack because he lost half his investment portfolio. You also lost substantially, but you’ve been listening to your teacher. You stay detached. You go back to doing what you love. You’re not like your friend who spent his entire life not doing what he wanted on the bet he could buy his freedom later.

This is the time to seek higher spirituality in you. It is the perfect moment to find peace and balance with nature.


You’re 70 years old


You spend time mostly cooking, reading, and writing. Sometimes a publisher calls to offer a book deal. You’d take on the job when you still have the sac.

Your granddaughter’s all grown-up. She’d come visit you from time to time. She loves chatting and asking you for advice.

Sometimes you would get bored. You'd reach out to old friends. Unfortunately, most of them are struck with an incurable disease or have passed away. Few of them are still alive, but their health slowly deteriorates.


You’re 80 years old


Your body slows down. You feel a tremendous difference. You become less active. However, you still meditate and practice tai-chi every morning. You’ve gradually become disengaged from your Self. You realize the end is near, but you’re ready to move to the other side. This is the beginning of your journey into death.

 

You’re 90 years old

 

You’re one lucky individual to be able to live this long. Your lifetime investment on health has indeed paid off. Congratulations!

 

I just told you a story that ANYONE can achieve.

You don’t need to be Elon Musk or a trust fund baby.

You can do everything you want to do. You just need the foresight and patience.

Let me make a list.

Here’s what young people need to do if they want to get ahead:

  1. Start very early.
  2. Focus on mastering “LIFE” skills.
  3. Think independently.
  4. Do your work and always invest.
  5. Stay the course.

“At the end of the day - if you live long enough,” Charlie Munger said, “most people get what they deserve.”

Making money is easy as long as you are intelligent enough to know how.

But what do you value more than money?

Life is uncertain. Death is certain.

What’s your number? The amount of money you would need to simply walk away and live. Everybody has a number and it is usually an exact number. So what’s yours? Find it. Achieve it. Live it. Because you’re not going to live forever.

Finding Talent Through the Pretense of Accident

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Each morning, usually after my routine, I go to my desk and pull out two small notebooks. In the first one - a small diary book - I write one sentence about the day that just passed. In the other, a black moleskine, I journal two to three pages about what I did yesterday, any notable occurrences, and some lines about any thoughts, feelings, desires I have, or important things I need to keep tabs on.

When I'm finished, I study what I've written. I do this with free intelligence. By observing. This is very meditative in itself. The whole ritual takes about 15 minutes. By the time I'm done, I am centered, I am calm, and most importantly, I am primed to do the actual work by which I make a living.

While I don't usually share my private writing, this particular journal has insights for students and parents who wish to learn how to pursue a talent early and avoid learning irrelevant skills along the way. You're welcome.

 

February 5, 2018


The best thing about what I do is, I get to communicate with my students on any topic. This would be impossible to do in a formal school setting. When students are old enough to understand, and have acquired the ability to think and communicate proficiently, I usually engage them in serious life talks. One student said she wants to be a dentist. So I gave her my recent essay on “Expectation Versus Reality”. You know, the one about choosing a profession on the basis of income alone will only lead to trouble when the outcome doesn’t equal to the desired expectations. Yeah, that one.

Of course as a fifth grader, she didn’t fully understand the story, so I had to make sure she does. Then I asked, “Do you remember the student who wants to become a teacher, but feels she can’t start teaching because she’s still in school and is not old enough to do so?”

“Yeah, but how can I try being a dentist?” she intelligently replied.

“Very good question,” I said. Dental school will teach what you need to become a proficient doctor - how to pull an aching tooth, straighten someone's teeth, or fix their broken jaw. But the school will not teach you what you need to do or will go through after you finish school. The school doesn’t care about your happiness. It doesn’t care if you can or can’t get a job, what you will go through with other dentists, how you compete to get patients, and everything else. Until one day, you realize you have to accept the struggle, because that’s what you've been trained to do. It is that, or you do something entirely different. But most people wouldn't start something new. They already have too many responsibilities.”

“How do you know all this?” she continued.

“Because I’ve done it!” I replied. Like many young Americans, I had multiple jobs. Some I did for the money, but the more important jobs were the ones that gave me experiences. I’ve worked with my uncle who is a dentist. I volunteered at a hospital. I've taught special kids and veterans. I was a coach. I followed my parents’ advice for choosing a profession. I even did what I ‘thought’ at the time would be making money. And given those experiences, I didn't find what I want until I reached 30 years old. So you need to somehow find a way to expose yourself to the profession. You won’t find a dentist who is willing to welcome kids with open arms. But you have to keep looking.”

“I’ve been a patient before and I’ve seen how the dentist works,” she said with a chuckle.

I took a deep breath. “Well being a patient and an observer is different. When you’re a patient, you aren’t aware of the things going on around you. Imagine yourself sitting on a chair across the room from the dentist. You have a better view of how things work, what the dentist is saying, how he or she communicates, and so on. It gets better, when you're absolutely sure this is the right profession, you’ll start developing curiosity and creativity on almost everything. Of course this doesn't happen instantly. You won't feel it after a few visits. It builds gradually. Once you have this feeling, then you’ve found your purpose.”

“Uhh...,” she muttered. “But how can I do it?”

"That is your life homework. I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it. So find a way to start getting involved. Work something out with your parents. Anything. Just keep looking. What you don’t want is to be 18 years old and confused about which profession to pursue, and your only solution is to look at what other people have done well on, and pursue that instead. It will be a big mistake.

Every human beings have their own uniqueness. Their talent. It is your task to find that if you want your life to be fulfilled. It is not easy, and you may even realize that your talent does not produce the outcome you have wished for. But everyone has their talent, be it playing sports, doing research, painting, teaching, what have you.

Finding what you’re good at is entirely different from what people are actually doing. Parents teach their kids to learn new things and acquire a lot of skills. Unfortunately, talent is fostered from within. The little thing inside your head. It doesn’t come from something external. When you’re exploring something outside, then you’re only learning new skills. It doesn’t have anything to do with your talent.

That said, there is nothing wrong with learning new skills. When you're able to use them to help others, you’ll be making a decent living. But when you can develop the set of skills and combine your talent - you have the winning formula.

One may ask: what if our parents want us to become businessmen, engineers, and doctors? But that very question is what stirs you away from finding your talent. The more you are conditioned away from your talent, the more it withers away.

Your parents desire an imagined outcome for you. Ironically, this is the gift of parenting. But it is left to you to decide what you want to do.

In society it often seems that the expression of talent brings a person into conflict with certain conventions. For example, we have a long tradition of viewing the artist as an outsider. But actually he is much more sensitive, much more alert to beauty, to nature. Because he is expressing his talent.

Another may ask: can’t we be both a businessman and a painter? Now, do you see how your mind has been conditioned by your parents and society? They have conditioned you to conform. Of course you can. You can do as you please. But your life will never be fulfilled. Why? Because you are trapped in between the two.

You’ve probably heard the fable about a donkey who is standing halfway between a pile of hay and a bucket of water. He just keeps looking left to the hay, and right to the water, trying to decide. Hay or water, hay or water? He's unable to decide, so he eventually falls over and dies both of hunger and thirst. A donkey can't think of the future. If he did, he'd realize he could clearly go first to drink the water, then go eat the hay.

So my advice to this pretty young lady who wants to be a dentist is: don't be a donkey. If you don't start pursuing what it is you want to do and find out if it's really where you belong, then you'll never find it. Worse, you would do something your parents told you to because...,” I paused.

“You're dumber than the donkey!” she shouted with assurance.

“Even if somebody is born with a particular talent, that talent will usually remain latent if it is not fostered, honed and exercised,” said Yuval Noah Harari. “Not all people get the same chance to cultivate and refine their abilities. Whether or not they have such an opportunity will usually depend on their place within their society’s imagined hierarchy.”

​Expectation Versus Reality

Inspired by a true story.

So your son wants to be a doctor?

After high school...

He has to take the MCAT, he is 18 years old.

It helps if he enters a public institution. But if he matriculates at a private school, then be prepared to:

  1. Dig deep into your savings. You'll spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in the next seven to eight years.
  2. Liquidate your investments or sell your assets.
  3. If you have neither, then get ready to sell your house if you do not want your son to go broke halfway through medical school.

After medical school...

You're happy. He's finally a doctor and becomes the family crown jewel. Not so fast!

He must complete his residency. It's usually in the middle of nowhere and the reward is not worth it. You still need to support him financially.

Two years later...

The residency training is finished. You celebrate with a big party! Your son is 28 years old. You're happy and proud. He'll soon become independent. You start thinking about his spousal candidate. It’s time for him to build his own family. But that's not quite the whole story.

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He's not a “real” doctor just yet. Why? Because:

  1. The average salary for a general practitioner (GP) is very small. The work hours are long.
  2. To get enough patients, he has to practice in the city. But there are many specialists with better qualification and experience than him.
  3. He could go into private practice. But then he's is no different than a company employee. It gets worse, he's making the clinic owners richer and receives only a small cut for himself.
  4. Work in a private hospital. As a GP he would be a class 3 doctor, under the sub-specialist and specialist doctors. Most would work in the emergency room. And every day he'll wonder if the “white coat” is really something worth to be proud of. The money is certainly not worth it. The workload is heavy. And the threat of malpractice lawsuit is highly probable. Nevertheless, it looks perfect! At least you can be proud that he works in a private hospital.
  5. Considering a public hospital? Well, the bigger the hospital, the more he doesn't count. Both the salary and remunerations are small.
  6. Of course he'd be very proud if you allow him to pursue his passion and join “Doctors Without Borders”. Especially if it's far inland. The more he's proud, the more he'll be appreciated. You'll see him uploading pictures caring for patients on a paddle boat. He'll share his passion on social media and tags you. Then your heart starts pounding. You're worried about his safety. You may think that his passion is equal to his income. Wrong! His income is less than an experienced urban nurse.
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With no other option, he decides to go back to school and become a specialist. Be prepared to wipe those tears. Because he needs your help, and not for the last time. Unfortunately, you are entering retirement. Your income alone is not enough and your savings are exhausted. The “doctor” needs to save up the money by himself.

And your in-laws? Disappointed! They never imagined marrying a doctor could actually become a burden. Reality doesn't seem to equal with expectations.

While your son is trying to earn money, he feels frustrated every day. After taxes and bills, there is very little left to save. His own children starts popping-out. They need to be fed. And don't forget the rent payment, otherwise he and his family will be evicted. You're also frustrated. Unfortunately, you're retired and helpless.

Let's go sideways for a moment. There are alternatives. First, your son gets a full scholarship. Sadly, there are more who can't than those who earn. If he's lucky, then it's worth it.

Second, he marries a wife with a good job, or better, she’s rich. Then the story would be a little different. They can work together to build his career as a doctor.

And third, what if he doesn't become a specialist? Eventually, on a “long enough” time frame, he would become independent. He'd be able to support his family and buy a house. He'd have enough money, but not rich.

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Back to the story...

Your son’s been working for three years and doesn't buy anything because he wants to save up and go back to school. He's 32 years old.

He moves to the city, tailors a new white coat, rents a house for two years, and “works” in a large education hospital.

You're proud. Finally, your son is working in a prestigious hospital. You'll share that moment on social media for sure. But wait! Evidently:

  1. Your son works day and night at the hospital with very little pay. After all, he is “going back to school”.
  2. He's at the hospital for almost 24 hours every day, and rarely sees you or his own family.
  3. The cost of living in the city is high. The wrinkles on his face are as vivid as yours.
  4. He often argues with his wife over small things. He's not earning enough money. Meanwhile, rent and grocery prices are increasing. He doesn't seem to care about his family. His commitment to the hospital is far more important. He's almost never home. When he is, he would either be lying on the couch or on the floor. You get closer to your grandchildren, because he “doesn’t care” about his own children. Your daughter-in-law carps a lot. She feels disappointed moving to the city, away from her friends. The white coat isn't earning any money! Sometimes your daughter-in-law thinks you're using the money, or perhaps you've become suspicious yourself about where the money is going. Is your son having an affair with another woman?
  5. On the third year, he feels stressed. The house contract runs out and he’s broke. He carps to you about it. You're confused. He starts borrowing money from relatives. Then realizes he can't payback the money. The whole family becomes suspicious. He's 35 years old and is increasingly tired by the day.
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At age 36 he finally finishes his “education”.

You're 70 years old.

You're happy, even though you're old. You're still hoping your son would make you happy in the coming years.

You pray that he keeps his job in town. It turns out you were wrong. He needs to finish his clinical fellowship for a year at a different hospital that's far away.

One year later... 

Your son is 37 years old now. He starts making BIG bucks. And you begin to think: “Finally, after twelve years of school he can start to help you and take care of his own family. What kind of education is this?”

After completing his clinical work, he starts looking for a job as a specialist in the city. Unfortunately, it's not easy to find a job as a specialist in a city hospital. Your son meets up with one of his colleague who offers him help. He's back with a murk on his face and says: The hospital has enough specialist.” Then you start reaching out to your own friends for connection. But you came up with nothing.

You're disappointed!

Finally, your son gets a job in a suburban hospital that doesn't have enough specialists. He leaves with your grandchildren who are already close to you. You begin to feel how lonely it is at home. You ask yourself: “Why is my son's destiny so different than others?”

Because:

  1. Their parents are already rich! They don't care about how much money their children make. The white coat represents a “status symbol” for the family.
  2. Their parents are doctors who own a private clinic and is affiliated with a major hospital. So their story would be a little different than yours.

We have our own destiny. And in the end, you realize “this is your destiny”.

I have no intention of stepping on some people's toes. I only wish that you would have a better judgement when it comes to deciding your child's career. Choosing a profession on the basis of income alone will lead to trouble when the outcome doesn’t equal to the desired expectations. That said, when someone decides to pursue a career in medicine, it should be done because of their devotion to helping other people. You can forget about the money, because it won't give you contentment.

It took me years to find what I wanted to do. I didn’t have a teacher to show me the way. I had to be brave, but also humble enough to accept whatever the outcome. Once I found it, I quickly realize that when you're in the right place, life is quite different. You develop a sense of purpose. Life is fulfilling every day. You feel invigorated doing something you truly love. Of course this concept is very hard to understand for people who haven't found their purpose, because if you've found yours, we would be having a friendly conversation over tea.

Perhaps, it would be wise if you'd help your child decide their chosen profession from what they are good at doing and also have the love for it. So let me ask you again, what is education to you?

Seek and you shall find. If you do not seek, how can you find what it is you are looking for?

Of course everyone is never on the same page. I hope not. Because if we are, there is nothing more to be said.

Symphony

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Seasons change. Trends change. And people change too.

 

It is the time to evolve. A time of transformation. To develop a new set of culture.

 

I turned thirty-five today. I'm enjoying my freedom. I'm happier, worthier, smarter, healthier, wealthier, more lovable, and a little wiser - I hope.

 

Over the years, I've managed to give a little something to myself: knowledge, skill, experience, love, wisdom.

 

I enjoy sharing as much as giving. 

 

Freedom from work 

 

Everyone is capable of doing hard work, but not everyone knows how to work smart. So from now on work smarter, not harder.

 

What are you good at? Find it. Because it will change your life.

 

People need your help. Your expertise. Your skills. The convergence between your talent and what others need from you is important if you want to make a living in the future.

 

Losers compete. Winners define their own category. Define yours and position yourself in the least crowded channel.

 

You're welcome.

 

Freedom from government 

 

A US passport is not the gold standard anymore. It's yesterday.

 

Think big and long-term.

 

Be a global citizen. Have multiple passports.

 

Plant your roots in multiple countries. Do business with many governments.

 

It's the key to freedom and opportunity.

 

Freedom from money 

 

What do you value more than money? Write them down.

 

For me,

 

Health

 

Family

 

Time

 

What's yours?

 

Freedom from conformity 

 

I love opposites. They attract. So I do exactly what other people do not.

 

I fast from technology and socializing.

 

Take a month off from social media; wait for a day before you reply a message; say “no” to your friends; travel alone; do things by yourself; go live in the mountain, cook, sleep, and be with no one but your self and mind.

 

Freedom from condition 

 

I made a list. I did them. Now it’s your turn.

 

- Start giving and sharing.

 

- Trim down your responsibilities.

 

- Let go of your attachments and desires.

 

Each is more difficult to do than the last. 

 

Good luck! 

 

Freedom from consumerism 

 

I minimize. I take pleasure in simple things.

 

Freedom has its cost. 

 

Freedom from thoughts 

 

Meditation. It is the end of thoughts.

 

What is my symphony? 

 

To be worthy, not respectable.

 

To study hard and think wisely, instead of doing work that is drudgery.

 

To be a world citizen, rather than confined to a single government.

 

To value love, health, and time.

 

To be wealthy, not rich.

 

To seek elegance rather than luxury; refinement rather than fashion.

 

To possess self-knowledge.

 

To live content with small means.

 

To be aware and be mindful of my surroundings.

 

And to be free of thoughts.

 

That is my symphony.