The Person I Want To Be

I came back from a week trip to New York last night. I go about every two months, and each time I make the trip, I'm amazed at how steady friends and family are progressing. Growing. Advancing on in their lives. An engagement here, a job promotion there, a new house, new apartment, new hairstyle, diet, hobby, child. Achievements and disappointments, life events both big and small. And I think it's because of the 2-month cadence of my visits that make the growth itself seem meaningful - not too great that the changes are dramatic, not so incremental that I don't notice the difference. It's a great feeling to watch your friends continue to become great people. It's also hard not to reflect on your own life.

The mini-jet lag of an east coast trip normally doesn't bother me. I basically get to oversleep by a couple hours and still get into the office at 9 AM. Today, I woke up at 6. No big deal, keep sleeping. I couldn't. I knew that I should take the opportunity while it presented itself to get to the gym early, seeding two habits that I had been wanting to establish for sometime. On occasion I've been able to get to the gym semi-regularly (read: once every 2-3 days) and sure there have been stretches of weeks that I can keep up a 7 AM wakeup, but inevitably my schedule reverts to my norm: 9 AM, no gym. Health and discipline replaced by comfort and comfort food.

There's a big difference in the person I am and the person I want to be. It's not a sad thing, and I'm not writing this to be a 90's pop ballad, but it's true and it's something that's sort of hard for me to admit (transparency and openness being on the list of things I'd like to be much better at). It's the kind of thinking that occurs to me in a big wave every New Year's Day and after my birthday (the two dates being two weeks apart, creating a nice layered effect) and customarily results in me signing up for a half-marathon or class that I entirely regret.

I hate running. It's a tangent, but I thought I'd put it out there. 

There are a lot of reasons why I'm not the person I want to be. Personal prioritization, genetics, lifestyle, upbringing, philosophy, etc. Somethings I don't have control over (I've gracefully accepted I'm not growing any taller), and somethings I do exercise control over, but are so ingrained in who I am that it's hard to change. Take speaking to authority figures for example: as a first generation asian-american, I learned early on to respect and defer to those in perceived power positions. I struggled with this when I first started working as a management consultant, often feeling panicked in high-profile meetings with senior clients or partners. I couldn't help it - I actually feel my body reacting to those situations (dry mouth, rapid heart beat, and the inability to think clearly). Time and practice eventually helped me deal with it better, but to this day it's still something I struggle with. 

Then there are things that I have full control over, but just choose not to do. These are the qualities in the person that I want to be. They haven't really changed for sometime. Since keeping to myself has so far yielded no results, I'm going to try putting them out in the open. At the very least, it'll help with item number one and two. 

The Person I Want To Be...

  • Is transparent about both successes and failures in life. Most importantly failures and things that didn't go quite so well.
  • Is open about sharing with others and allows himself to be vulnerable.
  • Makes time for people and health. It's been very easy to prioritize the actions that bring instant impact in life, which generally means working another hour, but that typically comes at the consequence of relationships and personal health. 
  • Does meaningful things both in work and in life. One of the things that you tend to notice working on a startup is that in the early days (i.e. right now) it's easy to be led down product tangents. Sometimes this is a good thing, as you're honing in on the real value proposition for customers, but sometimes you find yourself so far gone from your original vision that it's hard to recognize why it is you're working on what you're working on. Anyways, the person I want to be always is clear on why he's doing what he's doing.

Another way you could read this list is "Characteristics I'm not great at". I suppose all we can ever expect of ourselves is to keep trying, and when something doesn't work, try something else. Anyways, I'm going to work at it. 

No one read or edited this. Forgive my syntactical and style errors. I wanted to finish and publish this quickly so I could make it to the gym. 

Social Pressure and Startups

Last night, my good friend Nick made a gentle reminder that I hadn't published anything yet this week. So today, before doing anything else important, I sat myself down in front of the computer with a cup of coffee to write. The knowledge that even one person in the world is going to notice if I don't write this week was enough to pressure me in not putting it off. 

Social pressure is a very powerful force. Most of our regular behaviors are formed and reinforced by social pressure - brushing our teeth, dressing well, holding the door open for others, and saying "please", "thank you, and "I'm sorry". Social pressure forces us to act our best, even when we're tired and really don't want to go to another charity event and make small talk. As social creatures, we're generally grossly concerned with how we're perceived by others, and social pressure stems from that fear of being perceived as a lesser person than we're expected to be.

It's interesting how startups have been able to leverage social pressure to influence human behavior. Kiva Zip uses social pressure to offer 0% interest rate lending using what they call social collateral, requiring borrowers to invite people in their network to lend a portion of their loan: "By requiring borrowers to invite 15 of their friends and family to lend to them, we take social collateral in the form of these relationships between borrowers and their social networks."

Similarly, apps like RunKeeper are using peer pressure to help users meet exercise goals. By tracking in real-time the frequency, duration, and intensity of a user's workout, these apps provide additional social incentives for users to push themselves - similar to running alongside a friend or performing on stage. If you slack, everyone can tell.

There is still a lot of room in the startup ecosystem to use social pressure as a feature. When done correctly, social pressure is a powerful motivator to help users develop good habits. With advancements in Internet of Things and quantified self, bountiful data on user behavior, and increasingly better access to a person's social network, there are huge opportunities to fine-tune how we leverage social pressure in new technologies so that all of us can live up to the person our mothers wanted us to be.

Perfect is the Enemy of Productive

One of my 2015 goals was to write at least once per week, and by the second week I had already failed. To my credit, I had written a very rough incomplete draft, but felt it wasn't good enough to publish. So I kept putting it off, and by the time I remembered, it was already the third (this) week.

I failed, and I failed early.

It finally took a 3-hour flight with no in-flight entertainment to force me to write this week. I was hampered by the idea of perfection, which was now out of my reach; that somehow because I messed up on the 2nd week, the goal of writing once per week was no longer worth striving for. Not being able to say "I wrote at least once per week for all of 2015" had made the endeavor of writing regularly not worth pursuing. And I realize this happens quite often in my life:

  • Giving up on running after a multi-day streak is broken
  • Starting a game over because the beginning wasn't perfect
  • Eating less healthy after a junk-food weekend ruins a diet

The idea of perfection is powerful. We elevate sports figures that pitch a flawless game or complete a season without a loss. We celebrate perfection in the media and teach kids to strive for perfection in school. Similarly, we put extra focus on aspects of our own lives that have the chance to attain perfection. 

Obsessively striving for perfection has two side effects. First, in trying to be perfect, we often get stuck on something that just isn't quite right. Take writing essays as an example - often I get stuck just trying to think of a good title or an enticing introductory sentence. And as many of us do when stuck, I turn to distractions and eventually forget altogether about the original task. 

The second side effect is that by trying to perfect every detail, we are likely to be less happy about the end result. Studies on people with maximizing tendencies have shown them to be less happy, to have lower self esteem, and to be more likely depressed. Part of the reason is that by setting very high expectations (i.e. perfection) on the outset, the results never quite match expectations. As Warren Buffet famously said on the secret to happiness: "it's not looks, nor intelligence, nor money — it's low expectations."

This isn't to say that perfection is a bad thing. Obsession over perfection has led to some of the greatest works in history. The key perhaps is to focus that perfection on just one thing, whatever is the most important element of our lives (or in context for entrepreneurs, your startup).

For everything else, we should learn to accept 'good enough' and satisfice. Satisficing (combination of satisfy and suffice) is a decision-making heuristic requiring us to determine an acceptable threshold and work until we find an acceptable solution. Satisfice requires a little bit of pre-work in thinking about the acceptable threshold, but can help us get on to the more important decisions - like the 'just one thing' that needs to be perfect. The President only wears kinds of 2 suits (one gray, one blue), both of which meet the acceptable threshold for being presidential, so that he can move on and make more important decisions. Similarly, in our own lives, the less time we spend trying to maximize every detail, the more we can focus on what's important.

Perfect is the enemy of productive. 

And as for this post, well it's not perfect, but it'll satisfice.

Thank you to Nick Hong, Han Jin, Neil Sharma, and Cathryn Chen for reading and providing feedback

Spending More Time With Family

The summer before my freshman year of college, I counted down the days in anticipation to leave home. I wanted freedom, and finally, after 18 long years, I had it within reach. And while I was genuinely sad to leave, I was also excited about being on my own for the first time. New friends, new faces, new experiences, and no more restraints on how to live life.

When that first Thanksgiving break came, I remember the dread of visiting home. My new life was at college now, with the people and experiences that I had grown close to that semester. Even though I missed my parents and old friends, I spent most of that break wishing I were back - back to my new life, back to what I thought was important. As school life got busier, mixed in with internships, relationships, and the general freneticism of life in New York, visiting family became a lesser and lesser priority. There were several Thanksgivings and Christmases when I'd go on trips with friends instead of visiting home and seeing family.  

As the years have gone on, people have come and gone in my life: friends, girlfriends, bosses, coworkers, teachers, students, the list goes on. I've changed schools, jobs, and even coasts. The more things change, the more I appreciate and love the one constant in my life: family. Each time I visit home, I know that I'll be welcomed with the same trust, care and unconditional love that only your family can have for you. All of the losses, mistakes, and worries weighing on my shoulders disappear the moment I step inside the house, and my family cares only that I'm home - nothing else.

The older I get, the more I cherish time spent at home and especially so now that I live on the other side of the country. I don't think I've been the easiest child to my parents, but they've never cared about that and knowing that makes me want to try harder at spending time with them in the future. The past few years have gone by in a blur, between work, travel, and relationships, and I don't want to ever regret not having spent more time with my parents.

Today is the first day of 2015, exactly two weeks away from my 27th birthday and over 8 years since that first day of college. I have written down a list of 10 goals I'm driven to accomplish this year. I'm determined to complete them all, but none more so than #1:

Thanks to Yang He and Cathy Chen for reading and providing feedback