5 key lessons I’ve learned in my half 20s: (5) Life Learning

Actively growing up is a wonderful process.  Something just occurs miraculously and so naturally in your mind when you try to catch the reflections and lessons as time passes by.  I learn to cut the craps and live a much simpler life.  I see the why and the essential-whats beyond the old whats (and the crap whats) that are always the upper, obvious part of the ice berg.  My experience goes through bolder moments with stronger decisions made, more doing with shorter processes.  More value created with less resources wasted as by-products of inefficiency and uncertainty.  More importantly, the part of the jouney ahead that I can see, many improvements are awaiting be made:  bad habits to eliminate, aspects of life to strengthen, and different ways of doing old things.

Categories:  Life
Time of realization:  Early 2015
On Ventures:  CEO of NTS Partners

Learning with excessive dedication and strong attitude

There is a myth that lazy people get more things done in shorter time so that they can stay idle.  Life teaches me that to make a difference, you go to the max of your productivity, squeeze it with continuously improving efficiency and discruptive productivity hacks, then work harder than everyone else.  By this, you create an edge by two dimensions: you work way smarter and you work more.  And this is the work’s interest rate with compounding power: time goes side by side with your mastery.  Let’s get it straight: you cannot climb Everest in leisure time with a few days of preparation.

The three dominant themes that we shared at VI Group for young and ambitious professionals are: smart, hard working, and willing to learn.  You’ll see only smart is the pre-requisite, hard working and willing to learn are the effort put forth and go hand in hand.  More to note, smart is a commodity that, in today’s environment, is priced cheaply.  The equation itself becomes: excessive dedication, and strong attitude.  Education may be stopped at university, especially for industries where practical experiences are more valued.  However, learning doesn’t stop at university and indeed doesn’t count much there also.  One of the first awkward moments in my professional life is that my university transcript has never been read.  From Day One of my university life I have studied hard and graduated with a prominent position.  But it never payoffs the way I initially expected it to be: by making an advantage on job applying.  Weird enough, from Day One of founding my company, NTS Partners, I have also never looked into university transcript from any of my team members.  Maybe adaptability, coping with new problems, and dealing with off-the-book issues are where the value stored.  That’s why looking into this perspective, strong attitude team members with excessive dedication is valueable: they have a ground and an engine for the learning process that continuosly takes place that makes their “value” appreciates as time goes by instead of being depreciated by reducing agility and youth-ambition as age and family catch by.

Time as life’s currency

A major part of my learning experience involves with being sensitive with time.  Time is life’s currency and involuntarily continuous spending is the way it is designed that truly.make.every.second.counts.  Time dimension can change a lot of core life perspectives and change the whole idea of learning all-around.  Coming back to the statement above on lazy person, the myth goes as lazy person, in order to avoid doing work, would find a smarter way to do things and it saves time.  However, the mental lazy person doesn’t mean to go any where far and create anything substantial that’s why let’s through him away.  Still, the idea is valid: before working harder, work smarter.  And not only work just marginally smarter, find hacks and discruptive ways of doing things that save substantial time.

Now let’s press forward with failure: failure is inevitable but the core thing to deal with failure is to standing up and continue fighting, not to learn from mistakes.  Of course we learn from mistakes but mistakes don’t teach us much besides avoid repeating old mistakes.  Indeed, human kind is built around what works, rather than improving from failures.  The process is: you do it, fail, you do it again differently, fail, and you do it again differently, it somewhat works, then you press on what works and marginally improves on what works.  One day, critical mass hits around what works and you have a transformational result.  The idea is the early you find things that works the more time you save, because learning from what works is more valuable than learning from what doesn’t work.  It’s like mining a gold mine: going around where doesn’t have gold doesn’t get you anywhere.

Lastly, time forces me to think critically on what matters.  Such as family is the best thing that has ever happened to my life and what my company is trying to achieve is what gets me wake up excitingly every single morning.  Everything else becomes lower in priority.  It is so simple but so striking that defending the line that I draw on the sand can be both so rewarding and difficult.  Life is so tempting and pull you in all directions.  Knowing which way to go is a difficult personal quest and focus on going on the journey requires sacrifices because time is the rarest resource and need to be particularly well managed.  Learning to live a simpler and deeper lifestyle is one of my awaking experience.  Throwing off non-matter things, making less decisions but try making each of the decision lasts as long as possible (so you don’t spend time remaking that decision), creating less and more concentrated solutions are my notable learning experience along the way.

Practicing Reflection

So how to develop a life-long learning habit?  The brain needs reenforcements to take ideas from the air to its short-term memory side (that will fade away quickly), and then to long-term memory side.  Therefore in order to make learning counts, bad news is we have to repeat learning the same lessons over again to make sure it stays neatly in the brain.  Most (maybe up to 80% of more) of what we expose today is forgotten tomorrow as the brain can only recall in details of what just happen within 24 hours in its short-term side of the memory.  Good news is our lives are way leaner by forgetting things, but bad news is if you don’t force yourself to learn everyday, most of what you learn today will be forgotten damn quickly.  Therefore, I set aside 5 minutes everyday to just breath and rethink about what happened, what I screw up, what should I do better, and what I want to put into my brain and carry forward.  I note down the ideas in a notebook, everyday (someday you’ll realize you learn pretty much of nothing, but that’s fine), and call it Daily Reflection.

But daily reminding is not enough for the brain to put things from short-term memory to long-term memory.  Weekly enforcement is needed to continue bridging between the two types of memories.  On every Saturday morning, before working, I spend 15 minutes to go through the calendar and task lists of what I have done the past week, who I met, what damage that I created, and think on what should I do better, and what I want to carry from my Daily Reflection to Weekly level.  I note down the Weekly Reflection list into my notebook.  Writing is a great way to reenforce at the next level and truly catch the ideas down.

Every last Saturday of the month, I’ll go through the calendar of the past month and my Reflection notes, thinking on what lessons I continue to dig deeper on Monthly level.  Note it down and call it Monthly Reflection.  Monthly Reflection sometimes takes me up to one hour in private contemplation.

Finally, every year big learning event waiting at Yearly level: Yearly Reflection.  It will be impossible to go through task level on yearly level as I have thousands of them.  But calendar is possible.  I’ll go through major achievements and failures within the year, review all wounds and scars, re-read all notes from the past year and making some policies for changes in the next year.  It is great to plan for the next year from this point also.  Normal time for Yearly Reflection is at least 3 hours in private contemplation.

Reflection Table

This system is easy to set up but need discipline to make it a habit.  It works well for me since 2012, through sometimes life is too hectic to keep all things staight and continuous, but just go back and cover the missing time.  Don’t give up on building yourself what you want.

So, in short, what is my biggest lesson for 2014?  It is: Let’s cut the craps and get into the essentials.

7:25 PM – February 8th 2015, Seoul, South Korea


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