What kind of person do you want to be?

If you read Fast companies and envy the Silicon Valley entrepreneur at fancy lunches, raising 25 million dollars deal and selling companies in record time. You better be there because you need those conversations.

If on the other hand, you hang out with people who are running soup kitchens. Or you hang out with people who are counselling. Or people who are getting deep into what it means to be human. Chances are, the business you build is going to be more human.

Certainly. Choose your circle and it will change what you dream about, what you notice and what you engage with.

If you hang out with people who are going really slow because they don’t want to make a mistake. Well, you’re not going to make mistakes, but you’re going to go really slow.

On the other hand, if you hang out with people who are going really fast and have figured out that the mistakes aren’t going to kill them. The next time you see them and you haven’t made any mistakes, you are going to be embarrassed.

Who you choose is entirely up to you. There are many happy, smart and successful people. It takes work to find them, help them and support them. The kind of work that pays dividends. The kind that you’ll remember on your deathbed.

Choose your circle. Choose your outcome.


P.S. If resources are limited, you can find these people in books, articles and interviews. They can hardly replace actual interaction, but they might just be better than the jealous cousin.

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The photo is taken at the beach in Hualien, Taiwan on a road trip with new friends from the hostel.

That would be you.

Last week, I went to a documentary film screening of Dieter Rams, a famous product designer. It was followed by a panel discussion with difficult questions that touch the nerves of the audience.

How do you balance minimalism and capitalism? How do you persuade the client to embrace minimalism? How do you implement these design philosophy in the real world?

There was no straight easy answer from the people on stage.

The ones who should be seeing this documentary were not here.

Social media is so addictive. Lawmakers are not acting fast enough. The takeaway packaging is still plastic.

We broke into smaller groups and continued the discussion over drinks.

I threw around some ideas. Should we delete our apps? Should we start a petition? Can we buy your friend a Spork?

The more ideas I gave, the more problems I received.  My roommate accepted being slapped in the face by her boyfriend. The small town people in India don’t watch enough TED videos. Coconuts are wrapped in plastic film.   

Well, perhaps you don’t really want to solve these problems. Perhaps we just want to talk about them.

Because perhaps the answer starts with you. Not someone else, you. You need to put yourself on the hook. Each one of us needs to.

Do you really care enough about the problems to sacrifice your money, your wit and your convenience to claim those problems and take ownership of them? 

Because the alternative is easy. It is to hide. It is to blow up these problems, so big that it doesn’t involve us. It is to blame other people. It is to find more fault than solutions.

It is perhaps harder, and more generous when we change ourselves before telling the world how they should act. To change one person then change the world. And because real change happens only when you decide to take the first step. Not them, it’s you.

Consider when we noticed ourselves faulting the world, perhaps it is better for everyone if we use that momentum and be a part of the solution.

Thanks Roshni and Roslyn for editing help.

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The photo was taken at Ban Heng Long Trading, a local wood shop where I go to replace the door of the Little Free Libary.

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.

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”.

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.

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.

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.

6 years ago, I was an admin clerk in an army camp.

To be honest, it could have been a great job but I landed with the wrong Company Sergeant Major: I stayed in-camp while watching my clerk friends go home every day. In case you are wondering, the computer was not connected to any internet and my only luxury was a “dumb” Nokia phone. I made a total of $500 each month. That life, for 2 years.

Somehow, I managed to save $10,000 while moonlighting on the weekend. I used that money and backpacked around the world for a year. It changed my life. (I highly recommend everyone to do that once in their life.)

After coming home, I took my interest in wedding planning and started a studio, Beautiful Gatherings. One thing led to another, I became one of the top 10 wedding planners in Singapore and now, I run an animation studio.

I thought an appropriate end of this chapter would be to share 10 lessons I learned along this journey (More on the chapter-ending next.)

Stop Growing my Business

I once interviewed a hospitality mogul. After the interview, he said to me: “Bryan, I’m so jealous of you. You can just take off anytime and travel anywhere”.

Did he felt trapped by the business of his own making?

It made me reflect: “What the most important point of the business?”

It is to produce capital. The capital to do what I love to do. Period.

How much? It is $5,000 a month for me.

How about you? Everyone should have a different number because we are in different situation. Do you know what is enough for you?

But what if you love what you do?

Then why not do it for free? There is less pressure anyway.

Don’t let the business become the golden handcuffs.

Do It For Free (or Charge in Full)

“I only have a small budget.”

These are dreadful words for any professional freelancer.

Because let’s face it, I hate feeling that I need to lower my rates. I enter a negotiation with a friend that I genuinely want to help.

What if I give a big discount and they demand the world?

Don’t negotiate – it’s a lose-lose situation.

So, when I have made enough for the month and I want to help. I say this:

“Here are my usual rates. But I know you have a small budget, why don’t I do for free? It’s on me. You can repay me the next time:)“

This is professional. This saves time. This allows me to assume the posture of generosity.

Stop Selling, Start Caring

Smart people don’t want to be sold to. They want to be informed.

I used to work as a part-time emcee for many banks. My job was to gather the crowd for the financial advisor to “close the sales”. I was incentivised to “keep my mouth shut” while knowing another bank is offering a better plan.

Imagine that the client finding out…

The bank might have won the sale but definitely lost a client.

Today, my focus is to solve the client’s problem with the best possible solution. If I happen to provide the best solution, great. If not, I would advise a better solution, if that means recommending them to my competitors.

In a world full of salesmen, care cuts through the noise. And that is how I create recurring sales.

Fire my Clients

This is one of the hardest lessons that I need to learn as a business owner.

After spending a huge effort to win a client, I find out that he is a rare breed of energy-draining vampire.

I proceed and go into energy deficit – devising ways to end the job swiftly.

What is the fastest way? fire the client.

I even came up with a script to help me do so easier.

“I’m writing with a situation today.
As you know, back in September I agreed to create the video for Cama Beds. When I said yes, I fully believed I had the ability to do a great job.

In October, we had developed the vision for this video project. While I love the new vision, I don’t have ability and bandwidth to commit.

It pains me to say this, but I need to step down from this commitment. The project deserves an incredible team and I’m sorry I’m not able to deliver as I thought I could.

I apologise for causing the project an inconvenience and likely a delay. I will do a full refund and you can take what we’ve done together to a more experienced team.

Let me know if there are any questions I can answer or any other way I can support the project moving ahead.”

Sometimes, they are just not worth the money.

Give Questions, Not Answers

I am a compulsive problem solver. I even solve problems that people don’t want solving.

When running a small company, I have the solutions to most problems. But when I give the solution, people come back to me with similar problems.

Why? I believe our brain defaults to conserve energy. After the getting the solution, we stop thinking.

Now, I respond: “Would you like to walk me through on how you solve the problem? I’ll fill in the gaps.”

It’s hard to craft questions to poke holes at thinking and lead people to answers. It’s easier to give the answer, at the sacrifice of an opportunity to learn.

If you want to teach, questions are more powerful than answers.

Stop Selling the Humble Pie

“Oh no, I just got lucky.”

As a Chinese, I am taught by my parents to be humble.

But being humble is not helpful. It ends the conversation.

I’ve interviewed many guests in my podcast, and I learnt nothing from people shying away by being humble.

So today, when someone says, “Oh. You are so lucky. You have the freedom to travel all over the place.”

I reply, “No. I worked for it for the past year. I can show you how to do it if you are interested.”

They get to learn. I get to share. Everyone wins.

Stop Reading the News

Stop.

Think about a piece of news that has make your personal or professional life better? Is there any?

If it matters, would your friends have brought it to you?

This is the age of information overload. The power lies in consuming the right information.

And to develop this, we need to understand the idea of Circle of Control, versus Circle of Concern – a concept introduced by Steven Covey in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (A very wise man indeed.)

Beginner’s Circle of Control and Concern.
(Image from Mr Money Moustache)

The diagram shows all the things we care about. Sadly, we can only impact things very little. If we want to expand our Circle of Control, it is wise to use the time and develop some valuable skills and assets.

Today, I focus my attention on issues that are within my sphere of control – writing this article. It brings me happiness and hopefully some insights.

Make it Easy for People to Say “No”

When asking for a request, I will give people an easy out.

I want to work with thoughtful people and the first step is to be one.

Here are some examples to consider:

“Just floating up in case you missed it. Ignore if you are busy.“

“If you’d rather not because you have enough emails in your life, that’s totally cool too”

“I understand you are busy, I hate getting bugged too. If you are not keen, simply reply: ‘Thank you, I’m not interested’ ”.

This also allows me to be insistent while showing that I care.

People love to help others. Give them the opportunity to gracefully do so.

Let Go of Your Great Employee

Notice that great people change job roles in less than a year. The best-case scenario, 2 years. And, if you were to be honest, you would do that too.

If I want to work with great people; paying a fair wage is table-stake, I need something better. A joyful experience. An experience that consists of learning and growing.

At the end of a year, when your employee’s learning experience peaked. When they would be so good at the job that they find it boring. It’s time for a new challenge, and if I can’t provide that, I help them find a new environment.

This is also good HR strategy. Instead of praying that a good hire to stay forever, I plan for their grand departure. I get to assume the role of a good friend and in return, I hope they will do their best for me.

Now, this is my people policy.

Look for Blind Spots

I used to think I’m smart by asking: “What is the secret to success?”

It’s like getting the winning number to the lottery, only to find out it is not the same game.

On the flip side, most projects fail because of bad assumptions. Assuming that it would take less money, less time and less effort to do it. Assuming that the demand is enough, that it can gain a 1% market share or that the product is great.

The result: Failure.

A business plan merely is just a business guess.

Next time, instead of asking for magic bullets, ask for pitfalls, misconceptions and principles.

How About You

Entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey. When I started, I got tired of explaining the things I do and drifted away from friends. I was alone for a long time.

I hope this article gave you a leg-up on your journey (and explain a little of my crazy.)

Here’s are the key points:

  • Stop growing my business
  • Don’t negotiate (do it for free)
  • Stop selling, start caring
  • Give questions, not answer
  • Stop selling the humble pie
  • Stop reading the news
  • Make it easy for people to say “No”
  • Let Go of Your Great Employee
  • Fire my clients
  • Look for blind spots
What’s next

I’m flying to Austin to attend a bio-hacking event with Aubrey Marcus, then to Portland for the World Domination Summit.

If you are interested to join my journey of meta-learning, psychedelic experiences and other esoteric subjects – let’s keep in touch.

It’s easy to forget about things to be grateful. I used to go on a morning walk, like an old man, and go through a list that I’m grateful about in my life. Life goes on and I forgot all about it.

Last week, I met with my primary school teacher, Mr Au. Over the years, he had a couple of bad accidents. He is now in the midst of recovering from a surgery. He mentioned that every time that he moves his arms – pins and needles will be sent down his entire arm.

I asked him: “How do you feel now?”. He answered: “Much better”.

I replied: “Well, that’s great!”. He responded: “but I still feeling a little pain and I have to stretch every now and then”.

I noticed how he kept focusing on the pain. Why isn’t he happy with his progress? Wouldn’t he be healed with time?

It got me thinking that it is easy to forget about the good things that happened. My health, my relationship, having no debt, air to breath and so much more.

The easiest way to gain happiness is to want the things I already have. Yet, how easily I get used to the good things that happened and feel annoyed by the constant challenges that life has thrown at me.

My solution is a new habit: A Gratitude Practice. (For now, I go through a list of things that I’m grateful for and write them in the morning pages.)

I also feel that gratitude allows me to stop the hedonistic treadmill. I’m not saying to not to grow at all because I believe that growth is closely tied to happiness. The gratitude practice gives me space to think about what will truly make me happy and if that is sustainable.

One example is good food. I love to eat sweets. I can eat an entire tub of Ben and Jerry in an evening along with drinking all sorts of alcohol. If this continues in long run, I would fat ass. Hence, this way of living would be unsustainable.

Thank you for taking your time to read what I write.  If I know you in real life, thank you for being part of my life. Let’s remember to be grateful every day. Thank you for the challenges I’m facing, and the lessons I will learn from it.

Thank you, Tynan for inspiring this post.

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Let this post be the start of my gratitude experiment. I will check back in a year time.

The photo is the van I’ve bought for USD$1,500 and spend a month converting it into a camper.

I had an idea to live and work in a van.

I imagined all the nature that I would enjoy.

I gave my wedding studio away and spent the year building Sage Animation so that I could work from anywhere in the world.

In Oct, I flew to Las Vegas and bought a cargo van. I spent the next month building my own travelling home.

Randy lent me his tools. I found Nick and Alisa, who had just finished converting their van and they gave me great advice.

Every day, I would tell myself: “I can’t wait to finish this and finally be able to live my dreams.”

Finally, after a month, I drove out of Nevada and the adventures began.

I slept over at 24 Hours Fitness and went to the gym in the morning.

After, I would go to Starbucks and start working. After 2 hours, I was done working. I surfed the web, read inspiring articles and listened to podcasts.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Days passed. I felt depressed.

I never made it to the beach. I never felt compelled to visit nature.

So, I stayed with some old friends up in Oakland. I felt better.

I realised that I enjoy hanging with people and the van does not facilitate that.

Some people think that getting that new job will make them happy. But when they finally get it, they feel miserable. They don’t want to let it go because of the efforts they spent getting it.

We often forget why did we want it in the first place. Was it because it might make us feel good?

And this isn’t just about a new job. It could be a relationship, your new phone, a new hobby, certain clothes, places we live at.

It’s important to review our achieved dreams with our emotional state. We have a vision that we want to re-create. They’re hard to untangle from the result we really want. They become useless, and reasons to move on.

Do you have any old goals that weren’t as exciting as you thought it would be?

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