Friday, March 27, 2009

Trust yourself

People say one should always have a positive attitude and demeanour. Agreed. People also look at successful people and say, well, so and so was a positive person, hence he is successful.


How hard is it to be positive when one is successful? By that point, you can say anything you like. How about those who started off being positive, tried to remain upbeat despite less than positive circumstances, but still didn’t end up achieving the ideal outcome they wanted? Does positive attitudes really lead to success? I find it hard to believe that people can isolate 1 trait and pinpoint success down to 1 factor. A positive attitude definitely helps, but only in tangent with other attributes, will it be tangibly beneficial. One should always try to be positive, but when things are not going well and one finds one’s well of optimism is drying up, don’t let that turn into a domino effect.

When things are not running well, what does one do? Does one lose heart, lose hope? Well, one should trust oneself, right? That one is making the right decisions, have faith in oneself. As Eric Musselman says,
are you willing to bet on yourself? When the going gets tough, are you willing to bet on yourself? If you are a leader, you must be willing to bet on yourself – or else, how else will you influence others to follow you? Are you willing to place your money on your decision making skills? You never know what will happen. A lot of times you just make the best analysis you can with the given info you have, made the call, take a risk, and see what happens.

But we have to trust ourselves, and our instincts. As Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote Blink, said, we’ve got to trust ourselves and our instincts. Too often, people doubt and don’t trust themselves and their intuition, preferring instead to rely on so called logic and facts. But sometimes, our intuition is running completely opposite to what the logic is telling us. So what do we do? Is it that much harder to trust ourselves?

The value of hard work

I am going to draw again upon yet another parallel between sports and real life.

How many of you, in the course of your daily life, have encountered people more talented than you, but delivering mediocre performances, and vice versa? Are they luckier? Are they more ‘suited’ to something? Or are they simply more hard-working?

When I was growing up, various experiences led me to strongly believe that I was special, different, gifted, blessed, and more intelligent, could never fail and superior to other people. Of course, while growing up, these falsehoods were repeatedly asserted into me, and I lost that confidence, but remained much humbler of my capabilities and more respectful of others. However, eventually it dawned on me that there are others much more talented than me. And there was only 1 way to outperform the more naturally gifted than me in every arena: I had to outwork them.

Everyone has talent. What truly separates them is how hard they work. Michael Jordan was famous for having a practice regime that bordered on maniacal. Many can jump like him, shoot like him, drive like him, play O and D like him, but no one does it night in and night out, achieves the same level of stellar play on both ends of the court, and sustains it for as long as he does, and definitely not many people can reinvent themselves to remain dominant when their body starts to age. He did, and there was no blind luck involved. That is why he is the best.

When asked recently what makes someone a champion and not another, Arnold Schwarzenegger replied:

"It's drive. It's the will. There are certain people that grow up with a tremendous hunger and it's usually kids that have struggled when they were young. When you grow up comfortable and in peace and happiness, all those things will produce a very balanced person and a good person, but it will not create the will and determination and hunger that you need to be the best in the world."

The most successful people work hard. That’s the 1 constant. Their motivations might be different. Jordan grew up in a relatively financially comfortable family. His drive came from ego, wanting to be the best, and hating to lose. For Arnold, it was a relentless desire to be the best in the world. For others, it could be to escape an impoverished upbringing and to escape into a cushier future. It doesn’t matter the motivation. What is important is hard work.

After encountering
a recent reminder that the true differentiator between the successful and non-successful is how hard someone works, I have decided to dedicate myself more to my job, just to see what kind of benefits I will derive. In the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, he mentions that 1 of the success factors of successful people is that they have spent 10,000 hours honing their skills to become top performers in their field. After looking at the statistics of world class athletes and the years of experience after when they arrived at the peaks of their careers, the numbers bear out this argument. According to Gladwell, this argument holds up well when applied to Bill Gates, Tiger Woods, etc as well.

This runs totally counter to those financial people who thrive based on who can use the least time to swing the biggest deals. Which leads to integrity, principles and controls being compromised. Which leads to the current economic and financial crisis but hey, that’s a story for another day.

You are not a quitter

When is it time to quit? How do you decide whether or not to soldier on at something? In my previous job at EY, I was presented with the option of joining my present company. It was a tough decision, and being slightly indecisive and wishy-washy, I agonized over the decision.

We will never know whether we have made the right decision. Some we know immediately after we make it, like ordering a dish and finding out it tastes bad. Some needs middle term retrospective inspection. Some are long term, by which point the consequences could already have affected your entire life and it is too late and most of your life is gone.

They say for a woman, the most important decision is who they marry, and for a man, it lies in choosing his career.

Well, choosing who I marry is probably the most important thing in my life too, but since I already know the answer, the part left unanswered is my career.

There have been occasions that I have never felt gladder that I was out of EY. Yet there have been times that I have regretted deeply. What’s right, what’s wrong, how do we know? The only way we can be sure is if somehow we are able to view our life and see how it pans out had we taken this or that alternative route, just like the movie Sliding Doors with Gwyneth Paltrow.

A lot of people (
like these) successful in their fields tried quitting, but ultimately gave it another shot and ended up excelling. How many people gave up before becoming excellent? How many people would not have been had they given up? Are people who quit really ‘quitters’? Is there an unproportionately negative response and stigma to the term ‘quitter’? Based on the connotations to the meaning of the word, should the word even exist? How many people have slugged on with mediocre results because of the fear of being labelled a quitter?

When and how do I know whether it is time for me to move on?

And the end goal is...?

They say near death experiences changes your life.

I’m getting to the age now (mid twenties) where it is getting more and more imperative to find meaning in my life. To find a passion, a direction in my life, that can inspire me. I want a career that I enjoy, that I am good at, and that is reasonably financially rewarding. I need to make my plans now. What will I be doing in 2 years? In three years? Where will I be? Why will I be there? These are all questions that every man has to answer. We cannot drift aimlessly around in life, not knowing that we want, not knowing where we want to be, coz we will end up with nothing in nowhere. For men who intend to get married or who are in stable and long term relationships, such certainty of knowledge is only fair to the other party. Knowing what their man’s plans are, knowing that they are aligned with hers, gives the woman a sense of security and provides her with an anchor and a perspective and context from which she can develop her own plans and expectations.

The problem is that I don’t have much certainty yet. A lot of people are in the same boat as me, but that is scant consolation. I need to know what is it I want, and make a focussed, concentrated beeline for it, and not waver and beat around the bush wasting time. That will ensure that everything I do is accumulative and leading to my end goal. But what is my end goal?

Apple CEO
Steve Jobs, who has survived pancreatic cancer, had this to say in a commencement speech he gave at Stanford in 2005:
"No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be. Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."

I need to listen to my heart and intuition, and drown out all other noise, dig deep, and find out what I really want. Then, I can assure my partner, and we can both plan and align our lives to ensure that at the end of the day, we want and are working towards the same goals. That will give us a sense of security and peace, and allow us to happily feel that sacrifices are worth it, as we see ourselves inching closer to that professed joint goal.

Picking your moments

Often times, there are parallels to succeeding in sports and succeeding in life.

When in sports, we have to be able to ‘read’ situations. Situations in this case here means simply more than reading what is going on on-court, being able to read what kind of offensive and defensive schemes the opponent is trying to pull on you, and being able to react. You have to be able to sense and fear the mindset of your opponent as well. Is he intimidated? Is he selfish? Does he have a big ego? Will he be easily goaded into a 1 on 1 game, which is detrimental to his team? Is he disciplined and patient? These things translate into real consequences, and are as important as any physical or technical skills he may possess.

But the really useful skill to possess is
killer instinct. This separates the champions from the pretenders. When you face certain players and teams, and you start gaining an upper hand, you move in for the kill. You can sense and smell it. If you are leading, you don’t let up, don’t release the foot from the pedal and you don’t take it easier. You push harder, increase the score differential, and drive your scores up. This will squish the hope from your opponent, and persuade them to give up, because the going just got harder, and the journey to catch up just got that much harder. You don’t let your opponent hang around; you finish them off, step on their desire and mindset and make them not want to fight back. You want them to think that there is no chance and that they can’t be bothered to fight back.

Of course, in the real world, that is what businesses do. When you sense you are gaining an advantage on your opponent, when you feel that a certain law can be moulded to your advantage, you seize it, and you use it to differentiate yourself from the competition. You use it to squeeze them out of the marketplace.

You can also apply it to your individual work environment. If you think that you are on a roll, and that you have done some good work that you think might impress your manager, you should show it to him. I used to think this was blowing my own trumpet, but as I mature, I realize, how else is he supposed to know what I am up to? If I was a manager, I wouldn’t go up to each subordinate and ask him what he has done recently. I should know on a day to day basis what they do, but any initiative and new ideas they have or want to implement would be unknown to me. The onus is on them to bring to my attention their merits and achievements.

Hence if you feel that you have done some good work, go ahead and step up and show him. Demonstrate your capabilities, step on the pedal, and while his impression of you is improving, take advantage of that, and push some more. Don’t let up. Of course, it takes savvy to do this, as it is not just a matter of shoving your achievements down his throat. You have to know when to stop. But if done the right way, once you see an opening, seize it and imprint in your boss the fact that you are a capable person. You will be amazed at the positive difference it makes.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Minority Report

In the movie Minority Report with Tom Cruise, he had the ability to foresee who would become criminals in the future, and hence he'd arrest them first. I stumbled across an interesting article with a list of NBA players who have been arrested and charged before. It is an amazingly big list, with drugs/domestic abuse/drunk driving/carrying a weapon the most common charges.

If all these statistics could be analyzed across society, we could theoretically and statistically determine who are high probability future criminals, and monitor them closely. The only drawback is that this would make ME also a target, being young, male, and a baller.

There is no way to really tell who would become a criminal. Circumstances are fluid and dynamic, and circumstances really do determine our actions and fate. So if we could control our circumstances, knowing that our morals remain constant, that'd be the best way of ensuring we are getting the outcome we want.

Gosh, that might not make much sense. I'm tired, time to go home!