Things that matter

There are plenty of things that matter to me. Some are important while others, not so much. Perhaps the most important one is to be happy and live a good life. Aside from that, here are some of the things that matter in no particular order.

The freedom to choose my own adventure and explore. Despite being lost and directionless for so many years, I have to say, this is something I highly value. Everyone should have the right to live by their own rules, but most people don’t exercise that right. Instead, they fell for the trap of living someone else’s life.

Setting high standards and striving for excellence. I’ve always had high standards for myself and although I don’t think I’m a perfectionist, I’m probably not that different from one. This isn’t about setting high expectations for myself, it’s just that I want to be the best that I can be. If you don’t strive hard for what you want, are you sure you really want it in the first place?

The desire to seek out the truth and understand things. Learning has always been a huge part of my life, ever since I started school, I’ve been learning new things left and right day after day. It’s only after leaving academia that I realize how much I miss learning.

Social connections and interactions. I’ve always been an introvert and a lot of people think I’m just shy, but in reality, I just lack the experience. Most of the time, I like engaging in one to one conversations and talk deeply about something without interruptions. Group conversations are my weakness, I always end up listening and taking it all in while everyone tries their hardest to interrupt one another.

Passing the torch and teach the others. The sharing of knowledge is what got us to where we are today and it is what drives our progress. It’s because of all the accumulated knowledge that we have what we have. So we all have a role in this, teaching is something central to our survival and even when you think there’s nothing you can teach, there’s always something you can teach.

Giving proper care and respect. Caring is very important but it always has to be done both ways. Care is what makes you feel appreciated and care is the thing that helps you in your time of need. You can’t just demand care and not give any. It’s very hard to get others to care but it’s very easy to get them to stop caring. The same applies to trust and respect.

A fair and just world. Though we might have different skin colors, we are all born as human beings. Though we might have different cultures and believe in different things, we are all just trying to survive and live a good life. The world isn’t fair, I get that. But that’s not an excuse to tolerate discrimination against those who are different.

Making a difference and leaving my mark on the world. Perhaps you might question why it’s important to make my mark on the world given our insignificance. Earth is just a tiny tiny speck of dust in the vastness of space and even then, the competition is 7 billion as of now. With odds like that, why strive to make my mark? Simple, because I want to give my life meaning, something worth pursuing, that’s all.

I’m sure there’s plenty of others as well but as a high-level overview, I think that covers most of it. Tomorrow, I’ll try to go one level deeper and write about the things that need fixing, and perhaps the wants and needs of specific people or groups of people involved as well, regarding these matters.

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On being lost and directionless

It’s not that I’m lost, it’s just that I don’t know where I’m going. You can’t be lost if you don’t have a destination in mind, right? Be forever wandering out there somewhere, floating in the midst of the world, working directionlessly towards an ever-changing goal. That is what I’ve been doing for most of my life.

Most people had dreams and aspirations when they were young, but only when they were young. Once these cute little kids grew up, they start hiding their dreams under their mattress, embarrassed to show it to the world the way they did before. Crushed by the expectations of reality, most dreams never see the light of day. That is the curse most people put on themselves when they grow up.

Throughout the years of mental conditioning done by both schools and society, we have cultivated generations after generations of kids who are afraid of failure, kids who can only do what they are told to, and kids who try their hardest to fit in for fear of being different.

And so, the dreams of wanting to be an actor/dancer/sailor? Too unconventional, it’s much safer to earn a degree and get an office job. Isn’t that what most parents want their child to do? Get a good and stable office job at a reputable company and get paid a fixed and reliable salary every month.

But what about the dreams under the mattress? Has it been long forgotten and given up long before it even has a chance to sprout? Permanently overwritten by the years of mental conditioning and trying to fit in? Without these dreams, aren’t they all just mindless office workers toiling away their hours at an office job they don’t really care about.

It’s so easy to feel lost and not know where to go next. Aim for a promotion, you say? What does that offer? I get to do more work and hold more responsibility for stuff that I don’t really care about and doesn’t bring joy to my life? No thanks, I’d rather not climb that ladder just because…

Where else can I go? I don’t know, isn’t that up to me to figure out? Until I have a destination in mind, I can’t go anywhere other than wander around aimlessly. Perhaps that’s exactly what I should do, wander aimlessly and see where I end up at. But so far, how has that been serving me?

Perhaps it’s time to dig out that dusty old dream under my mattress. But then again, I’m not who I was some ten or twenty years ago. Heck, I’m not even who I was a mere three or five years ago. What makes me think that dusty old dream is still relevant? In a way, it’s nothing more than a missed opportunity, an opportunity I didn’t pursue when I had the chance to. All because I didn’t want to risk doing something I wasn’t told, all because I was afraid to stand out.

And here I stand, more than a quarter century deep in life, still lost and uncertain as to where I want to go and what I want to do. Sure, I have new dreams and aspirations, but I’ve always been dabbling, never really committing. My interests kept on changing like the seasons every year, never once settling for something. Perhaps that’s just who I am and I’m still trying to figure things out.

Confusing urgency for importance

“The deadline is tomorrow, we need to pull an all-nighter!” Sound all the alarm bells, we need to start sprinting. It’s now or never, are we gonna make it? This is urgent!

It’s very easy to confuse urgency for importance. It’s not. Just because it’s urgent, it doesn’t mean we have to drop everything and go go go! We have a choice, we can be civil and act professionally. We can say “No, this isn’t important.”

If it was so important, why didn’t anyone do anything long before the deadline is even in sight? Why did we wait until the last minute before panicking and finally taking action? We reap what we sow and sometimes, you just gotta be brave enough to accept it. Accept that it’s not really that important and let it go. It’s a mistake, we should’ve seen that coming.

Unless it’s both urgent and important, it shouldn’t justify asking someone to drop everything and go. Society likes to celebrate the heroes, the people who save us from certain doom. The team that worked tirelessly 24 hours a day, just to solve the power outage crisis at the power plant and prevent a city-wide blackout. We love to applaud people like those.

But we forget that there’s another group of heroes, the people who managed to prevent such a crisis in the first place. The people who were properly maintaining the power plant and made sure everything is in good working condition. The people who noticed and fixed the potential problems long before they have any time to grow into a crisis. The people who did the boring and unattractive job of attending to important things before they become urgent. These people deserve a lot more credit than you think, and yet, they are often forgotten by society.

The next time something urgent pops up, ask yourself, is this really important? What have I been neglecting for this issue to suddenly pop up? Is it worth paying the price of dropping everything just to attend this?

Respect the weights

A few days ago, I nonchalantly picked up my 16kg kettlebell and did a few kettlebell snatches. It’s been a few months since I last did a full proper workout so perhaps I was a bit dull in my movements. I still had it in me though, and I could felt the familiar strain on my body, it’s just that my form could be better I guess.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve already gotten used to the weight since I don’t treat it with as much caution as I did when I first bought it. So what happened earlier was that, when I was casually passing the weight from one hand to another, my hand accidentally slipped and dropped the kettlebell. Luckily, my other hand managed to catch it in the nick of time, before it fell too far away, which is good.

Had I not caught it in the nick of time, that 16kg kettlebell would’ve fallen right on my left foot, and you don’t want a 16kg weight to hit squarely on your left foot, or your toes, or any foot for that matter. Imagine the world of pain you’re gonna feel from the impact, all the fractured bones, and whatnot.

At that moment, I felt very relieved. Grateful, for being able to catch the weight in time. And it was at that moment, I imagined the universe splitting into two and a parallel universe was born. One where I wasn’t so lucky and didn’t catch the weight in time. One where it landed squarely on my left foot and has the potential to change my life forever.

I love my left foot and I wouldn’t want to see it harmed in any way. I’m sure you do too. And so, I paused for a while, put the kettlebell down and had a short timeout. Weight training is dangerous. Respect the weights and treat them with caution and you will be glad you did lest you accidentally hurt yourself badly.

It’s easy to forget that when you’ve trained with it a thousand times or when you’re used to handling the weights regularly. It’s easy to forget because accidents rarely happen. But all it takes is one accidental slip, one momentary lapse of concentration, and things could take a turn for the worse.

 

The temptation to do everything yourself

Sometimes, it is very tempting to want to do everything yourself. It’s faster because you can start right away instead of looking for people and trying to squeeze into their schedule. It’s cheaper because the cost is essentially zero dollars, just add your own hours. And you also feel more productive, instead of simply waiting for someone else to finish the job, you are actively doing it yourself.

But is it worth it? Are you skilled enough to do the task? How long do you have to spend learning something just to do it properly? Do you need the work to be professional? Put it another way, is your job to actually do the work yourself? Or is your job to get the work done in the best possible way? Those are two completely different things.

A video game programmer’s job is to write the code for the game. Her job is not to deal with character design or create fancy visual effects, that’s the job of the visual artist. Sure, she can try to do everything herself. But, the quality of her work wouldn’t be as great as it could have been had she outsourced parts of her work to experts and specialists. Which begs the question, is her job to do all the work herself, or is it to get the job done in the best possible way?

You wouldn’t want the CEO of a company to fix IT issues, deal with customer service and after-sales, or manage the inventory. Her time is better spent elsewhere on the stuff she’s good at. Leading and managing the organization, coming up with strategies on how to grow and improve, defining the direction the business should pursue, and so on. All the other stuff? Outsource it, hire either freelancers or employees to do them.

The same applies even when you’re trying to organize a fundraiser. It’s very very very tempting to just get volunteers to do everything and reduce the overhead by as much as possible. But what are you trying to achieve here? Your goal isn’t to do everything yourself, your goal isn’t to reduce costs, your goal is to raise the highest amount of funds possible.

You could organize a simple fundraiser, a bake sale maybe, get a few volunteers to help sell cakes at the local park. All proceedings go to the fundraiser and the overhead is simply paying for the cake ingredients, cardboard booths, and some flyers to advertise the event. Perhaps you managed to raise $100 and only pay $5 as overhead. Net earnings, $95.

Or, you could go big and hire a team of professionals, make the event a truly memorable experience, book a fancy location, splurge a bit on advertisements to really get the word out, ensure everything goes smoothly from buying the tickets all the way to parking space at the actual event. With all that, perhaps you’ve spent $400,000 as overhead?

What?! $400,000!? That’s crazy! I’d rather go with the bake sale! But what if this event managed to raise $1,000,000 with a net earning of $600,000. Would you have still preferred the bake sale?

I know it’s very tempting and very safe to just do everything yourself. It’s the natural reaction, we want to do things the cheapest way possible, and by default, that usually means hiring ourselves for the job.

But your goal shouldn’t be to do all the work yourself, your goal should be to get the work done in the best possible way. So before you start creating the visuals for your game, consider whether it’s worth hiring a visual artist to help you. Knowing all the trade-offs, what is the best way to get the work done?

Freelancers vs employees

Being an employee is appealing, isn’t it? Being paid a stable paycheck every month, having free health insurance, paid leaves and other benefits, and not having to worry about finding the next client or gig.

But hiring employees is bad for business. Think about it, your employees are paid a fixed amount every month, regardless of how they’re performing. As long as they put in the bare minimum to not get fired, they get to keep their monthly paycheck. Why would anyone be motivated to work hard in those circumstances? Why would anyone even feel like helping the company succeed?

And to make it worse, even if someone does pour their whole heart and soul into their work and generate huge value/revenue for the company, they still get paid the same amount. To get a bigger paycheck, they would have to keep giving their all for the whole year until their next performance review. Only then will they get a bigger bonus or higher increment, but that’s still dependent on their boss or how the company, as a whole, performs.

So you might work hard the whole year and still get paid the same amount because of “bad economy” or because you screwed up on that one assignment and made your boss look bad.

Simply put, the employee’s interest doesn’t align with the company’s interest. The company pays its employees a fixed amount and expects them to give their all. The company wants its employees to care enough to put in more hours, generate higher revenue and work for the company’s sake.

The employees feel like they’re mistreated. If they can only earn so much, and it’s not going to change anytime soon regardless of what they do, why bother? This is especially bad when companies try to cut cost and demand higher workloads from employees.

Is there a different model we can use? What about freelancers or independent contractors? People who are paid based on what they do and the work they produced. Isn’t that a better model? It’s cheaper, there’s no need to pay for benefits and there’s plenty of people to choose from.

Freelancers are also more motivated to work with you and are more interested in seeing you succeed. They are willing to help you grow your business because the more success you see, the likelier you will hire them again in the future.

Plus, if they can prove themselves and what they are worth, they can easily demand higher rates, rates which you will gladly pay because it’s worth it. Where else are you going o find such motivated people who can deliver such great results?

But of course, an independent contractor lives a hard life. It’s not easy finding clients, chasing payments, negotiating hourly rates, and so on. There’s also no benefits, no paid vacation time, no medical coverage, and probably the scariest of all, no steady paycheck.

So who would you rather hire, a freelancer or an employee? And who would you rather be, the freelancer or the employee?

No one wants you to fail

You walk up the stage, mic in hand, and stare at all those who have gathered. The spotlight beams in your face, you hear a few hush voices as your audience quiets down. Then, there’s silence. Everyone stares at you, waiting for you to speak, waiting to hear what you have to say, waiting for you to wow them with your speech. At that exact moment, what is going on inside your mind?

Public speaking can be said to be the number one fear for a lot of people, but it’s a fear that doesn’t make much sense. What is there to fear? Making a blunder? Stammering or having a panic attack in front of the crowd? Embarrassing yourself by saying something stupid? Failing to even say anything under the gaze of your audience?

That’s what you think, that’s how you feel, and that’s what goes inside your mind. But what about your audience? The dozens of people who showed up, the people who want to listen to your talk, have you ever stopped and consider what they’re thinking, how they’re feeling, and what goes inside their mind?

They are here because they want to hear what you have to say, they want you to deliver a great talk, and they want you to succeed. No one wants you to fail, no one shows up hoping that you would stammer, have stage fright, or just freeze on stage in front of everyone without being able to say anything.

Let me repeat that, no one shows up to your speech expecting you to fail. Otherwise, why would they even bother wasting their time showing up?

Try flipping things around a bit. Suppose you are asking a doctor for medical advice. You would expect the doctor to give you good advice, not stammer and freeze. For sure, you don’t want the doctor to have a panic attack, to not feel confident with their diagnosis, or show signs of impostor syndrome.

That’s also true for firefighters, CEOs, teachers, engineers, designers, programmers, zookeepers and so on. No one wants them to fail at what they’re doing. So as the person standing on stage, no one is expecting you to fail.

So why are you so worried? Why do you have such strong fears about public speaking when everyone is rooting for you? Is it because you’re afraid of not meeting their expectations? Is it because of impostor syndrome? Or are you afraid of success?

It’s as if the only person who wants you to fail is yourself. While everyone is rooting for you to succeed, you are rooting for failure. So stop worrying so much and go do what you have to do! Just go out there, mic in hand, eyes on the crowd, and talk. Say what you’ve set out to say, don’t worry so much about failing, and it will all work out somehow.