The paradox of modern day pursuits

You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire.” – Seneca

There is one great paradox and irony that most of us face everyday. Some of us don’t even think it’s a problem.

In life, two things take up most of our time – our work and everything else.

I say that because we often get carried away with our prioritization over work at times when we should not.


I came this realization after two instances.

The first was when my manager asked me why I was working so unusually late. I said “to increase my chances of success.”
And that’s when she replied: “Work will never end. You can complete it today but there will always be more tomorrow.”

The second time was after meeting a friend of mine and finding his spending habits bizarre — he would spend frugally on himself and spend lavishly on those he holds dear. I eventually came to realize that his form of happiness is in making other people happy, the same way I derive pleasure from having my work recognized.

The truth is, we spend our waking hours in pursuit of wealth or to be productive. We feel the need to make sure our time is of utility – if not for financial rewards, then for personal convenience in the future.

We know that the work will never end. Or put it this way – we know the work will always be available if we so choose to pick it up again.

But can the same be said of our family and friends?

We can always “resume” work, the same way we can always collect more property and be the bearer of more titles.

But we can’t say the same for our loved ones as they may not always be around.

To put bluntly, they all have an expiration date — and the pursuit of property and productivity does not.


Too often we hear of the old man who regrets not spending more time with his children when they were younger because he was busy working.

Or that all too familiar feeling of living alone in a house stuffed with toys, but feeling empty inside and lonely.

I agree that it is far too simplistic to have a conclusion such as “money can’t buy happiness”.
It can buy comfort in the beginning, and happiness up to a point (according to Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, the optimal number is $75,000 a year) and satisfaction from then on.

We need money for survival and we should work for it.
But don’t lose sight of the reason why you are doing it in the first place.


Spend time with your loved ones and show them you love them. It doesn’t have to take hours, it just has to take thought.

Like a soldier heading off to battle, get your affairs in order at home so you can be at peace when you leave to carry out your duties.


On minimalism and books

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

What is Minimalism

There are many definitions of minimalism out there. Some more extreme (see Fumio Sasaki) than others, some more relaxed than others.

The Minimalists tried to distill minimalism into a single question:
How might your life be better if you owned fewer material possessions?

By and large, minimalism first requires you to confront your relationship with your material possessions. And later with the other areas in your life like your career, family and friends.

Some of the example questions you can start asking today are:
Do you really need that many clothes? How many of them do you actually use regularly?
Do you really need that many shoes? Would it be worth the hassle if you bring all them if you were to travel?
Do you really need to buy that new book from your favourite author? Are you willing to buy it again after you lost it?

I see minimalism on a macro level as examining your material needs.

For example, why do you feel the need to hold onto your old school club t-shirts if you haven’t worn them in years?What is it about it that you truly miss if you were to lose it?
Would you go out of your way to find another one somewhere if you lost it?

By the way, the best test I have found when it comes to paring down your possessions is:

“Would you go out of your way to buy it again if you lost it?”

If it doesn’t pass the test, it means it’s not a true need.


Minimalism and Books

To best illustrate my journey with minimalism, I would have to draw on my personal experience with books.

I got onto the personal growth train mid last year and have spent close to RM1500 on books. Far more than the average person but of course, much lower than the ideal voracious reader I wanted to become.

I kept feeling the need to buy the books I was supposed to have. The classics like the Art of War and Think and Grow Rich. The bestsellers that regularly get reviewed by YouTubers like the 48 Laws of Power and Rich Dad Poor Dad.

I kept buying and reading. It was enriching, don’t get me wrong. But the physical books kept pilling up and for some odd reason, whenever I viewed my bookshelf, I viewed it as something I ought to do rather than something I want to do.

I realized most of my beliefs about collecting books came from two ideas I got early on in my personal development journey:
1) The difference between rich people and poor people is that the rich have a library while the poor have a TV.
2) Most success literature talks about successful people and CEOs reading an average of 50 books a year (1 a week).

The idea of having a physical library was hammered even further when I discovered that my two main influences for writing and thinking (Ryan Holiday and Farnam Street Blog) wrote extensively on their views of having a personal library and even an anti-library.

Ryan’s personal library.

As I’m writing this, I have about 50 books in my collection, most of them popular non-fiction titles.

But when I decided to run the titles through my “minimalist framework” which was –

What books would I buy again if I lost them and what books would I gladly bring around with me if I were to travel the world with a single carry-on backpack?

The answer I came to surprised me — almost none of them.

The same way there is a distinction between the best movies you seen and your personal favourite movies, there were a lot of the “best” books I’ve read on my shelf but only a handful of favourites. Not to mention that I would not buy them again if I lost them in a fire or something. In other words, I wouldn’t miss them.

My personal library

I have since parred down my collection to 12 books. And I intend to pare them down even more to pass the “single carry-on backpack” test.


The Real Reason Why You Are Holding On To Your Stuff

“We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others, that in the end, we become disguised to ourselves.” – François de La Rochefoucauld

I have to admit that in relation to my books. One of the reasons I felt the need to hold onto them was to signal to other people that I was a learned person. That I was studious and curious. That I was smart.

Fumio Sasaki, the extreme minimalist I mentioned earlier, had a similar notion with his possessions, particularly DVDs and his photography gear.

When he was younger, he would take up “someday hobbies” – hobbies he would have time for someday. At one point he was super interested in photography that he converted one of his rooms into a darkroom.

But he stopped doing it a while and yet he didn’t take the set-up down.

The same went to his DVD collection and his home theater system, which he also rarely uses anymore.

He realized that the reason he didn’t want to get rid of it was because he trying to maintain his identity as the cool guy. The movie guy. The photography guy.

I was trying to be the book guy, when what I really should be aiming for is the well-read guy.

The point wasn’t to look smart but to be smart.


Is there something in your life that you are holding onto to impress other people?

On envy: stop comparing yourself

envy - stop comparing yourself

“Nothing in this world can so violently distort a man’s judgment than the sight of his neighbour getting rich.” — J.P. Morgan

I’m a horrible person.

The other day I was scrolling through Facebook (not because I needed to know to what my friends were up to, but to entertain myself out of my boredom.)

I saw my friends celebrating their successes, some are travelling around Europe.

Did it make me admire them?


I envied them. I was jealous.

And quickly I moved to look at my other friends who I deem to have a more ordinary life or at least one that looks less desirable than mine.

But I always catch myself and ask: Why am I feeling this way? Where does this come from?

With this, I started looking for answers and I can’t help but share what I found. Enjoy.


Envy Makes You (Very) Irrational

Back in 1995, researchers from Harvard asked students/staff which they preferred:

  • Earning $75,000 a year when everyone else around them makes $100,000.
  • Earning $50,000 a year when everyone else around them makes $25,000.

Prices of goods and services would be the same in both cases.  So a higher salary really meant being able to own a nicer home or a nicer car.

50% chose option 2, leaving $25,000 on the table, just to avoid earning less than their neighbours.

This makes absolutely no sense, but it is an accurate determinant as to whether one measures their success only to themselves or relative to others. It is nothing more than social comparison.

Think about it – much of our self-definition comes from comparison with others. We can’t define ourselves as great singers, if there is no one else around who sings worse than we do. Qualities like intelligence, beauty and skills are relative and thus when we compare poorly in comparison to our peers, our self-esteem suffers.

We experience envy when the quality we feel inferior about threatens our self-concept. We may not even be aware that we are lacking a particular quality, but the object of our envy heightens our awareness of our deprivation.

For example: Do you feel envy when you see a great diver at the Olympics? Probably not, because, for most of us, success at diving isn’t a core part of our self-concept. But let’s say you were a competitive diver — might you feel a little envious if you saw someone much better than you competing at the Olympics? (Aristotle wrote about this long time ago  – “We envy those who are near us in time, place, age or reputation.“)

Thus, envy of others is always a reflection of something we feel about ourselves. We’re not rich enough, or smart enough, or beautiful enough; we don’t have enough possessions, enough attention, enough success.


Envy Drives The World, Not Greed

“It’s not greed that drives the world, but envy.” — Warren Buffett

While ‘greed’ refers to an excessive desire to possess something, ‘envy’ is a desire to possess what the other person is possessing. And more often than not, greed is fueled by envy. A lot of times, we desire something simply because we see someone else enjoying it.

Everyone is here not just to make money, but to make more money than what the next person is making (the research earlier proves this). Comparison and competition is intense, creating a perfect recipe for envy.

Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s business partner, would go on to say:
“Envy has no upside. The idea of caring that someone is making money faster[than you are] is one of the deadly sins. Envy is a really stupid sin because it’s the only one you could never possibly have any fun at. There’s a lot of pain and no fun. Why would you want to get on the trolley?”

While a small pinch of envy is a positive motivator, a chronic comparison complex can ruin your life.  If you cannot control the ancient urge to measure your success against that of your peers, your happiness will always depend less on how much money you have than on how much money they have.  And that’s something you will never have any control over.


Two Types of Envy

It has been said that there are two types of envy – a good type and a bad type.

The first type is the feeling of inferiority that motivates a person to improve herself. This bias exerts its influence by framing the success of others as a learning opportunity for ourselves. It serves to inspire us to do more and be more than our current standing. Our envy leads us to imitate that hero in a quest for self-improvement.

The other type, though, is malicious envy, which motivates the envious to take good things away from others. To the malicious envier, ridding oneself of envy requires taking away from the other — the beautiful car or house should be stolen or damaged, the virtuous person corrupted or killed and the beautiful face of someone ruined or covered. The malicious envier believes that those things should be his rather than theirs. He, after all, deserves it more.


How to Deal With Envy

An important question remains: How should we deal with envy at a personal level?

The tip I’ve found the most effective comes from Naval Ravikant.

In his interview with Farnam Street, he said that when he was young, he grew up a poor kid.

He would be envious of his peers on the other side of the field living much better lives. This went onto his late twenties where despite he was making a lot of money, he was still constantly envious of those above him.

But then, he figured out something that gave him peace of mind. It was:

“You can’t cherry pick the things you envy so much about the other person. You would have to take a 180 degree swap with that person. (You would have to take her age, her family history, her struggles, her failures, her medical conditions, her pains, her parents, her friends, everything. And lose everything you have built and leave everyone you love behind.) And unless you are totally comfortable with that swap, you shouldn’t be envious.”

After all, it was their experience that shaped their lives.


In Closing

“Enjoy your own life without comparing it with that of another.” – Nicolas de Condorcet

Envy is a real pain in the ass that we deal with on a daily basis. It’s one of the main reasons I have avoided my news feeds on Facebook and Instagram. But I guess only time will tell before I’m fully comfortable accepting where I am and stop comparing myself to other people’s lives.

While I know, you can’t remove envy out of your life overnight, you can at least be aware of it when it happens and question your emotions.


I once heard somewhere before that happiness is wanting what you have. And I think that is a good place to start.

And in case you’re wondering how you can avoid being the source of envy for others? Aristotle had an answer: “The best way to avoid envy is to deserve the success you get.”


Mental Model: Bias from Envy and Jealousy by Farnam Street

The Fastest Way to Career Success

Clearing the Path

In his book, Ego Is The Enemy, author Ryan Holiday talks about what he calls “The Canvas Strategy.” It’s a popular concept among the personal development community. So popular in fact that its excerpt was featured in Tim Ferriss‘ book Tools of Titans.

The strategy was taken from the Romans. The Romans had a word for this type of person. They called them an “anteambulo” which means a person who cleared the path in front of their patron. If you are able to do that successfully, you will secure a fast and educational position.

In today’s lingo, it would translate to make others look good. But these four words “make others look good” make us cringe. It goes against the very essence of the “self made person” culture we are raised in. That everyone one of us is supposed to focus on ourselves and may the best man win.

Now, when I say make others look good, some of you would think it implies a lot of ass kissing and passing your credit to someone else that you don’t feel deserves it as much as you do.

But this isn’t so – it’s a mindset change. It goes from “slaving away my livelihood for someone else” to “giving my best to make others succeed which in turn will make me more successful.”

To quote Ryan himself:

… it’s finding the direction someone already intended to head and help them pack, freeing them up to focus on their strengths. The canvas strategy involves actively finding outlets for other people – in fact, actually making them better rather than simply looking so.

… In other words, discover opportunities to promote their creativity, find outlets and people for collaboration, and eliminate distractions that hinder their progress and focus. It is a rewarding and infinitely scalable power strategy.

The following are his 3 keys to the Canvas Strategy:

3 Keys:

1) Find new trains of thought to hand over for them to explore. Track down angles and contradictions and analogies that they can use. Ex: I was reading the biography of ______, I think you should look at it because there may be something you can do with the imagery.

2) Find outlets, people, associations, and connections. Cross wires to create new sparks. Ex: I know _________, and I think you two should talk. Have you thought about meeting ____?

3) Find inefficiencies and waste and redundancies. Identify leaks and patches to free up resources for new areas. Ex: You don’t need to do ___________ anymore, I have an idea for improving the process, let me try it so you can worry about something else.



There is a common saying that I constantly remind myself –

“If you are willing to make others successful, then you will be successful.”

This can be making your company more successful through exceeding your KPI’s, thus getting you promoted faster.

This can be making your friends more successful through introducing them to other people that would help them in their journey. People will eventually know of you and you will be talking to influencers as a result of word of mouth. You never know where it leads to. (Who doesn’t want to associate with someone who is proactive in their success?)

This can be making your clients more successful through delivering better products and services. My aim with this blog is to make you, my readers more successful, so that in turn, I will get my blog to read by even more people.

Remember, clear the path for others on their journey.



If you wish to listen to the excerpt on The Canvas Strategy in full audio form, click here.

How to Have a Great Day Everyday

I don’t know about you. But whenever Friday comes along, two things come to mind:

  1. Hooray! It’s the weekends! I can finally rest and be at ease (for about 2 days and 2 nights of all-you-can-sleep)
  2. Damnit! It’s the weekends already. Time sure flies and I don’t remember achieving what I set out to do or at least enjoyed myself.

Fridays are a constant reminder to me that life is not meant to be delayed. Or as Tim Ferriss would call “a deferred life.”

It seems irrational to slug it out for 5 days while hating the process so that you can finally give yourself permission to enjoy yourself on the weekends.

This post was written to provide food for thought for those 5 days.


Designing Your Life By The Day

The exercise is to learn how to design your ideal day.

What on earth does that mean?

It would mean to really think about what would make the day a great one for you.

Now, some of you may think – but to me, an ideal day is travelling the world and sipping Margaritas on the beach.

Fair dream. Fair goal, I would say.

But if it is not within reach right now, why be unhappy till then?


Now, just imagine how great your life would be like if you were able to identify what makes a great day for you that you can do right now?

You would be able to do it all over and over again 🙂


Here’s my list to give you some ideas:

  1. Sleep eight solid hours (or as much as I need)
  2. Have a good meal (home cooked food tastes awesome)
  3. Exercise and sweat
  4. Meditate for 20 minutes
  5. Have a mid day nap for 20 minutes
  6. Make others more successful (for my company, or for my readers of my blog)
  7. Have “present” time (watching a movie, dancing, reading, writing)
  8. Talk to a loved one
  9. Explore a different part of the city / Change environments


Having a checklist such as this will not make you instantly happy but it would serve as a reminder of what you can do in order to feel as though that you made the most out of your day.

One of the things I do every morning is to ask myself what would make today great.

As you can see, it doesn’t have to be a big thing. It can be a good lunch, exercising, watching a good movie or accomplishing something at work.