Free isn’t free

Here is a free newsletter. It’s free. You should sign up for it.
But what about the email that you give in exchange?
But what about receiving junk that you don’t need?
But what about the spending everyday deleting that email?

There is a free ice-cream giveaway. It’s free. You should go get it.
But what about the calories you will gain?
But what about the time you spent waiting in line?
But what about the uncomfortableness when someone comes to harass you about their latest product?

On the contrary, air is free. It’s everywhere. You use it every day. You can’t pay for it even if you want to.

Just because something is free doesn’t mean it’s worth it. It is our job to understand the people you seek to change. The calculation that people make in their head. This is what it means to empathise. The seductive of free might be an easy way to get people to consider but it’s never a way to delight them.

Before demanding that people should do it because it’s free, ask yourself if it’s worth it. For you and for them.

The photo was taken at the Wonderland exhibition, ArtScience Museum Singapore.

True Understanding

When you search the dictionary for money, this is what you get.

  • Any circulating medium of exchange, including coins, paper money, and demand deposits.
    paper money.
  • Gold, silver, or other metal in pieces of convenient form stamped by public authority and issued
  • As a medium of exchange and measure of value.

But what could also be money?

Money is a store of value.
Money is a unit of account.
Money is the flow of power.
Money is a story.
Money is also the root of all evil (and this is also untrue).

True understanding is not just about what the dictionary says – that is just one of many ways to understand.

True understanding is built from the basic with an unbroken chain of logic. It is about how things relate to each other.

Someone who uses a lot of fancy words is just really good at human naming things. It is the mark of a charlatan to teach simple things in complicated ways. It is the mark of a wise to teach complicated things in simple words.


The photo was taken at Jo’s Cafe along South Congress in Austin, Texas. If you are there, go to the back of the cafe to find the owner’s favourite quote: “Don’t break your tenderness”.

The Right Idea

People mistakenly believe that being right is enough. A good idea is all it takes. Hi, I have a good idea. I am right. Follow me.

In the 1800s, Ignaz Semmelweis could have been the man of his time. Ignaz found that hand-washing reduced mortality to below 1%. “Hey, I’m right. You’re wrong. Follow me.”

Some doctors were offended at the suggestion that they should wash their hands. His ideas were rejected by the medical community. He suffered a nervous breakdown and was committed to an asylum, where he died at age 47.

Aaron Swartz is the co-founder of Reddit. He could have been the hero of our times. He helped develop the RSS feed and Creative Commons – he helped shape the internet. When JSTOR is impending the academic world, he doesn’t like it and starts hacking away. Too bad for him, he got caught. In the midst of sentencing, he hanged himself.

A righteous idea is scary. You are in a danger exactly because you are doing the right thing. In your eyes, you see a major error, but to others, you are rejecting their way of life. You will be hated, not just by one person, but often by a great many. That hatred is so strong it has caused those great figures to be shunned, abused, murdered and in one famous instance, nailed to a cross.

Know that if you are looking to plant an idea, make an impact, and change the culture – it might take you a lifetime. Make sure it is something worthwhile for you to be unhappy about for a very long time. You learn from the past, from those who have done it, then maybe, just maybe you might have a shot at it.

Good luck.


The photo was taken in a community garden at San Francisco – where I found the castle using geocaching.

Happiness and Success

You don’t need to look very far to realise that the correlation between happiness and success isn’t what you might’ve guessed.

It’s super rare to bump into millionaires who are happy. They can buy all the things they want. Yet we see many who kill themselves, even with money in the bank.

In fact, accquiring things almost never gives us happiness because we stop desiring it immediately. The things become part of our life; we forget about it. We move on and look for the next thing to desire.

And almost as rare, are the people in poverty who are depressed. The kids in Thailand and Cambodia playing in the dirty river, are some of the happiest kids I’ve ever seen in my life.

What we are taught in school is a linear direction of desire. Good grades, great college, a high paying job, a car, a partner, and a house.

What happens when you get to the top? Maybe a bigger house? More friends; cooler friends?

If you want to find happiness, there are two questions:

1) What is happiness to you?

2) Is that sustainable?

External things are unrelated, except for one reason: have enough till you’re comfortable. The thrill of a next level disappears quickly, but the pain of not getting what you want lasts a very long time.


The photo was taken in Manazura, Japan – where I learnt the design code of the town.

Keep a Small Identity

Years ago, I was 23 years old, I had nothing under my belt – no companies, no money, no rings (still none). But, I had a dream. I wanted to run my own wedding planning studio.

I spent months to decide on a business name, design a logo, and make a website. It’s done, it’s called Beautiful Gatherings.

I had to convince people to trust me with the most important day of their life, their wedding. And pay me for it.

I can’t tell them my gender – every other person in the business is the opposite sex.

I can’t tell them my age – they would think I’m too young.

I can’t tell them I’m not married – they would think I don’t have experience.

So, I came up with the idea to keep a goatee. It worked, it gave me confidence. This is me, Bryan the wedding planner with the goatee.

I became one of the top 10 wedding planners in town.

Onwards, I proceeded to give the wedding studio away, founded an animation studio, started a podcast, and a Youtube channel.

At 28 years old, I want to start dating. So, I sought advice from my female friend. She told me to shave off the goatee.

I said to myself, “Not the goatee! I love it, I became a great wedding planner because of it.”

I asked another friend. And another. They all said the same thing.

So, I shaved it off grudgingly.

I finally realised that it’s an identity that I’ve been defending but it is no longer serving its purpose. I have no reason to keep my goatee, it became useless. What got me here is stopping me from getting me there. I had to keep my identity small. The plan is to hold on to as few things as possible.

Do you have an identity or label that you are holding on and it is holding you back?


The photo was taken in at a house party where I was couchsurfing in Oakland, California.

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