OBC Digest #3

January 9th, 2012

Money comes with a cost.

Buying new running shoes doesn’t make you a runner, and buying $200 running shoes definitely doesn’t make you a great runner: Spend on who you are, not who you want to be.

Happiness is just 13 easy steps away. :)

I am really fast

April 29th, 2010

Below is my entry into the Sprint’s Blaze Across America with 4g contest. Entrants were asked to write a 150+ word essay on what they can do very fast. What I wrote is very much in the spirit of OBC:

I am really fast in offering unsolicited advice, lightning-quick in forming a critical opinion, and speedy to point out when people are wrong. In other words, I’m an older brother to 7 siblings.

For the last 25 years or so, I’ve been rushing to judgment, and making decisions on the fly. When there’s a crowd of 7 kids to be controlled, it doesn’t matter what the call is, as long as it’s made fast and enacted even faster. Fight broke out over the remote? Take it away, and pick what you want to watch. Chores being done poorly? Explain that they can do it your way, or their way and then your way. Everyone wants ice cream? Pick the best “sad puppy eyes”-looking one to lobby the parents.

Not being under the same roof any more, the power of my influence has diminished a bit. Thankfully, though, everyone’s plugged in. I can monitor Facebook profiles, send emails, call or text. School/work/relationship advice is hard to argue against, when it comes with supporting links. Approval or correction is now carried out via comments. No one is too far or too busy to get a piece of my mind.

I can only imagine how much more effective my brothering could become with HTC EVO 4G. 4G-speed, HTC’s Sense UI, front-facing camera?! Finally, I won’t have to rely on emoticons to convey my disapproval of whatever silly thing they decided to do now!

OBC Digest #2

April 16th, 2010

Jesse, the guy who came up with YNAB, a budgeting/money-management software I’ve been using for 3 years now, writes about seeing things as they really are.  Anyone who marries personal finance and The Matrix is a winner in my book. :)

10 things a child should see his/her father do, via Art of Manliness.  Whether or not you grew up with a father who demonstrated these actions/habits, it’s clear they play an important role in how you view him.

Another great list, by Flexo of Consumerism Commentary, talks about the 10 things that children (and adults) need to understand about money.

Scoop the Air Out of a Jar

November 20th, 2009

Imagine a large glass jar standing in front of you.  It’s filled with air – that is its “natural” state.  It will continue to be filled with air indefinitely, unless someone comes along and tries to scoop that air out.  People (and everything they’re involved in) have “natural” states like that – we call it “just the way things are” or “that’s just how i am.” Our habits and actions tend to stay the same, unless we decide to change them.

Jar, full of air

How would you go about removing the air out of this jar, if you wanted to change its ‘natural’ state?  Skipping right past the low-tech solution of using an actual scoop, you could place a high-powered fan right above the jar, turn it on and hope that the stream of forced air takes some of the jar air with it.  And this works, somewhat: the air pressure in the jar will be reduced, there will be less actual air in there.  Trouble is, though, not all of the air is removed and the air will go back to its original volume as soon as the fan is shut off.

People tend to do this, when they get fed up with their natural state: they stir up a storm of complaints, possible solutions, and grandiose promises.  Phrases like “Enough!”, “Starting today, things are going to change around here!”, and “From now on, no more [...]!” are used.  But what is the end result?  Just a lot of hot air moving around.  The winds of change die down, and we get back to our usual way of being.  Sure, course of history has been changed when proclamations like that have been backed up by actions, but in an overwhelming majority of the cases, this just does not happen.

Another way to get the air out of our jar is to attach a funnel of the same width as the jar’s opening, and attach a vacuum hose to the funnel.  Then just turn on the vacuum, suck all the air out, and seal the jar off.  Done deal, right?  Not quite.  Firstly, the vacuum is at the mercy of even the smallest leak in the seal, and if the jar is mishandled in any way, the seal threatens to fly off, letting all the air back in.  Then we’re back to square one.  Secondly, to make sure the air doesn’t get back in, the jar probably gets put away and out of reach.  Thirdly, the jar is no longer serving its true purpose – it contains nothing!

Isn’t this another way we try to change our natural state?  We start saying ‘No’ to things like certain foods, TV, bad spending habits, etc.  And when it gets harder, we grit our teeth and say ‘No!’ louder.  Eventually, the pressure of resisting gets to be so much (a leak develops) that we cave in, and with a bang!  There are a few who are strong enough to keep saying ‘No’ for years, but those are the kinds of people who don’t have the time to enjoy life – most of their energy goes to controlling the vacuum.

By now you probably realize what the easiest way to scoop the air out of the jar is – and if you’ve had the answer all along, kudos!  You fill the jar up with water, all the way to the top.  Instead of blowing or sucking the air out, all the while worrying about it sneaking or rushing back in, you simply replace it.  Except for the occasional tiny bubble here and there, there’s no air anywhere in the jar.  It can’t come back  – the space is occupied by something heavier and thicker.  And the kicker is that the jar is now serving it’s true purpose – holding something!

Anything that you want to achieve – financial independence or just living within your means, becoming an athlete or just getting to a healthy body-fat percentage, achieving success in public or private sector, or just being the go-to person in personal or professional life – all of that can be done by replacing the bad habits or poor practices with good and effective ones.  Resisting and being on the defensive – not doing – is always harder than taking action and being proactive – doing something.

Open up the faucet, and start filling up your jar, even if a drop at a time. Start being more active, set up automatic contributions to a savings account, show up a little earlier to work, say yes to socializing, implement just one of the Scrooge Strategy tips!  Before you know it, the negative things in your life will fall by the wayside, because doing the good things will be keeping you busy.

OBC Digest #1

September 29th, 2009

Instead of inundating friends and family with emails, I’m going to start gathering interesting links into posts. Hey, all the cool bloggers are doing it! ;)   Most of these will probably be something a friend sent me. I’m fortunate enough to have plenty of smart and interesting friends.

The first link is from The Simple Dollar, a blog I’ve been reading for at least 2 years. Trent zeros in on a poignant truth – a tendency to treat sports equipment purchases as winning ‘half the battle.’ In reality, the battle hasn’t even started – you’re just out of a chunk of cash, and there’s less space in your residence.

Second link, also from The Simple Dollar, talks about how trying to be rich, just like trying to be famous or wise, is a loosing game. You might even wind up looking like a buffoon – there aren’t many more funny/sad images than somebody who only thinks they are rich or famous or wise. Do what you do, do it well, and fame and/or fortune might follow.

When we have kids, one of the things I’m eagerly looking forward to is teaching them life skills, so that they can take care of themseves.  It pretty sad to see a young person,  on their own for the first time in his/her life, not being able to do basic things like preparing food or doing laundry.  Boys seem to struggle with this more than girls.  In that spirit,  Prime magazine’s Six Supposedly Feminine Skills That Every Man Should Master is a great start.

There’s No Business Like People Business

September 9th, 2009

Take a look at this (mostly complete) list of industries, courtesy of Monster.com:

  • Accounting
  • Advertising
  • Aerospace and Defense
  • Agriculture/Forestry
  • Architectural and Design
  • Automotive and Parts Manufacturing
  • Automotive Sales
  • Banking
  • Biotechnology/Pharmaceuticals
  • Broadcasting, Music and Film
  • Business Services
  • Computer Hardware
  • Computer Software
  • Computer/IT Services
  • Construction
  • Education
  • Energy and Utilities
  • Entertainment Venues
  • Financial Services
  • Food and Beverage Production
  • Government and Military
  • Healthcare Services
  • Hotels and Lodging
  • Insurance
  • Internet Services
  • Law Enforcement
  • Legal Services
  • Metals and Minerals
  • Nonprofit Charitable Org
  • Performing and Fine Arts
  • Personal and Household Services
  • Printing and Publishing
  • Real Estate/Property Management
  • Rental Services
  • Restaurant/Food Services
  • Retail
  • Security and Surveillance
  • Sports and Physical Recreation
  • Staffing/Employment Agencies
  • Telecommunications Services
  • Transport and Storage
  • Travel
  • Waste Management
  • Trade/Import-Export

Do you see any industry in that list that would not require interaction with people? And since this list encompasses pretty much all the jobs that are out there, can you, therefore, think of any job that would not involve interaction with people? Dealing with their moods and idiosyncrasies, understanding them, relating to them and spending time with them? There are probably a few non-people jobs out there, but the percentage is incredibly low.

Your job/career is one of the places where you’ll see Biggie #3 surface really fast. It’s all about other people and how you interact with, deal with, and treat them.  An incomplete list or reasons:

  1. It’s a widely accepted fact that likable people, i.e. people who are easy to relate to, do better in their jobs; books have been written about increasing your likeability
  2. In Trent’s excellent article about getting ahead at work, 10 out of 14 tactics have to do with relating to others
  3. If you’re difficult to deal with, the only way you’re staying around is if you are skilled in your craft or, if you’re well connected (once again, relationships!  ;) ).  But people will dislike you, and will simply put up with you.  If you have worked for any length of time, you probably know a person like that.
  4. It’s hard to achieve anything but the bare minimum if you don’t have the trust or support of your boss or coworkers
  5. Understanding the people you’re interacting with helps you “speak their language” – multiple tests like the DiSC Profile and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator are used by companies to help their employees understand how to better interact with one another
  6. People have feelings, moods, and ups and downs; the better you can read these, the better off you’ll be

#6 requires a bit of an elaboration:

So much talking is done about the “real world” and “being professional,” while we’re in school or just starting out, that we get caught in the trap of formulaic approach to people at work: show up at your cubicle, submit your report to the boss, answer a co-worker’s email, host a meeting, go home.  Co-workers and bosses are just other chess pieces, moving around the chessboard.  We tend to forget that every single person around us carries with them happiness or sadness or excitement or gloominess, and all of the baggage (good and bad) from the non-work hours gets hauled into the office every day.  Likewise, there are bad and good days, for a multitude of reasons.  Sometimes, the mood of a person or a whole group is relaxed, and other times, you get a sense that just one more straw will break the proverbial camel’s back.

As such, there are times to joke, and there are times to remain somber and business-like.  There are times to pull people aside and check in with them, and there are times to just get out of their way.  There are times when playing with whatever toy you got at Thinkgeek.com will be considered hilarious, and there are times when it will get you an appointment with HR.  No matter how professional people try to be, they are still people.  If you learn to be attuned to how they’re feeling or to read their mood, you will be much better equipped to deal with them.

In summary, to have a meaningful job, to create a great reputation, and to have achievements that are above basic expectations, you need to be able to relate to and deal with others well.  Reading Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People is a great first step.  To paraphrase a song once again, “there’s no people like ‘people’ people.”

4th anniversary

May 7th, 2009

Today, I have been married to my wife for 4 years.  It hasn’t been pure bliss, and there have been downright ugly moments.  We’ve been growing together, and growth hurts, especially when you get pruned. We’ve had to put up with each other and stare red-faced at our own shortcomings.  There have been fights and tears and tense silences.  So, why would I be happy about it and celebrate it?  Three reasons:

A. Because married life isn’t supposed to be easy: when Tom Hanks (as Jimmy Dugan) said “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.”, he must have been recalling Ecclesiastes’ writings.  Trying to live a trouble-free life is futile; the real joy comes not from absence of pain, but from knowledge that you’re facing whatever is coming your way as a team.

B. Because pain is weakness leaving the body, as the Marines say.  Struggles in a relationship make is stronger, if you’re committed to it.  Every misunderstanding or miscommunication is an opportunity to choose love instead of anger, self-denial instead of selfishness, forgiveness instead of bitterness.  Oftentimes, the only thing you have to go on is a promise you made to the other person.  Almost always, you can only see how much you have grown and improved as a person in the rear-view mirror.

C. Last, but most important – because of who my wife is: a wonderful woman whose admirable traits and characteristics I don’t mention nearly often enough.  A warm, charming, bubbly girl.  A dedicated friend.  A concerned, caring sister.  An intellect and a scholar.  A delicate, yet strong woman.  A daughter of God.  A loving person who will one day be an amazing mother.  Someone who has transformed me, but says that I’m still a ‘rough draft’ and that she needs a few more decades to complete the project.  She praises me, helps me, pushes me, encourages me, respects me, makes me laugh, and kicks my butt in any and all board games.  As we do this complicated 12-round cage-match tango routine through the sometime stormy, sometime calm seas of life, we’re becoming closer friends, confidants and soul-mates.  I look forward to spending every day of the rest of my life with you, honey.  I love you.

Heightened expectations

April 24th, 2009

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then would two contrasting pictures be worth two thousand words, because there’s two of them, or zero words, because they are opposites?  Maybe it’s still a thousand words, seeing as most people probably want their idioms free and clear of any math.

Ran across an interesting post on the Surf Report: a compare and contrast of fast food advertisements and how the actual food looks like. While an interesting peek into the world of advertising, capitalism, or even the American culture in general, it made me think of some other areas of life where advertising/expectations are quite different that the real thing.

  • Politics: politicians during campaign season vs. politicians in office
  • Marriage/relationships: courtship/engagement vs. actual married life

What are some others? Leave comments.

Random Thoughts

April 22nd, 2009

If all 5 restroom stalls are occupied, is that called a full house or a straight flush?

To anyone who’s looking at a new beginning, like school, career, job change, marriage, first child, etc.: be confident in what you know, what you can do, and who you are. Assume you know next to nothing, can’t do much, and aren’t that big of a deal.

You can usually tell how effective a group is by how loudly the opposing group is complaining.  The most straightforward example of this is interaction between political parties.

If you’re a guy and you get roped in by your woman into watching the 6-hour Pride and Prejudice, and this gets mentioned at some later point, here’s what you say to save face: “I watched it for the language.” Works every time. You’re welcome.

When I Grow Up, I Want to Be Like You

March 18th, 2009

Some time ago, I attended a function, and sat at the same table as a married couple that I have known for quite some time – going on 15 years.  I haven’t seen or talked to them as much in the last 10 years, because I live on the other side of the state, but still get birthday cards from them.  I have a very high opinion of them because they have devoted themselves to working with kids for several decades.  They are about my parents’ age, and I’ll refer to them as Mr. C and Mrs. C.

All right, back to that dinner.  We were at an 8-person table,  and this couple ended up being seated separately.  Mrs. C sat next to another woman, while Mr. C sat across the table, next to a different couple.  The function went on for quite some time, so there was plenty of time to observe everyone’s interactions.

The woman sitting next to Mrs. C took issue with the outfits of the guests, and would lean over to her every once in a while, and say something to that effect.  I couldn’t hear everything clearly, but the gist of her comments was that the outfits, especially the dresses, were not modest at all.  She quietly complained that modern fashion leave very little to the imagination, and that young people these days don’t seem to care modesty and propriety as much as they should.  What I remember better than the exchanges is the look on Mrs. C’s face.  With a somber expression, she leaned towards the woman, trying to hear over the noise of the crowd in the hall, and nodded slightly as she listened.

On the other side of the table, Mr. C was yucking it up with his neighbor, who was the closest thing to a cowboy that you can find in the Northeast.  I got the impression that Mr. C, purposely or not, was doing a very good job of mirroring this gentleman. While I missed most of their conversation, it was ongoing throughout the evening, and it seemed that the pseudo-cowboy was controlling it. What I remember from that is the heart-felt chuckling, the agreements on how good the steak was, and the overall friendly nature of Mr. C. It was easy to think that these two guys were buddies who were seated at the same table.

The function ended, the woman and the pseudo-cowboy went home, and so did Mr. and Mrs. C. Just another dinner in another function hall. And yet, I keep going back to that night in my mind. I’m guessing that when the woman left, she felt her opinion was heard, and she had talked to someone who understood where she was coming from. And I bet the cowboy gentleman thought he had a nice time chatting about food and sports and current events with a guy sitting next to him.

Mr. and Mrs. C’s stock went up with me that night, because they made the pleasant experiences possible for these two people. I’m sure Mrs. C hears from distraught parents about the choices that the younger generations are making. I’m sure she could have done without another helping of that, throughout dinner. And I’m sure that Mr. C, a well-educated man, would have much rather enjoyed an intellectual conversation about any number of topics, instead of shallow chit-chat. They, being guests of honor, could have made themselves busy elsewhere in the hall. They could have switched the topics of their respective conversations, and started talking about what was interesting to them.

But they did not. They selflessly yielded to other people, putting the interests of other first. An act of humility like that says a lot about a person’s character. Mr. and Mrs. C, when I grow up, I want to be like you.