Advice to Young People, The Lies I Tell Myself¶
I'm really not qualified to give advice. But enough people DM'd me on Twitter, so here it is. I don't have to answer the same question over and over again. After some more editing I realised that I am actually writing this for my younger sister Katherine.
Don't read this if you're seeking a nuanced perspective
These are simply the lies I tell myself to keep on living my life in good faith. I'm not saying this is the right way to do things. I'm just saying this is how I did things. I will do my best to color my advice with my own experiences, but I'm not going to pretend that the suffering and the privilege I've experienced is universal.
You'll notice that I use the word "choosing" frequently. I genuinely believe that we are always making choices and that we have the ability to choose. Choosing can be terrifying because it means we are accountable for our decisions, and there are infinite options before us. It is also frightening because once we have made a decision, we must live with it, it is the death of optionality. But I believe that choosing is the only way to live authentically.
Existential Despair: A feeling of hopelessness rooted in the existentialist belief that life lacks inherent meaning. This despair arises from the realization of one's absolute freedom and the responsibility for creating one's own essence and purpose.
Anguish: In existentialism, anguish is the emotional response to recognizing the vastness of one's freedom and the accompanying responsibility for one's actions. It involves the realization that each decision shapes one's essence and affects others, leading to a deep sense of moral responsibility.
There's a joke I once heard about a philosopher. Before going to bed, he wonders if he will be thirsty during the night. So, he goes to the kitchen and places two cups beside his bed: one filled with water and the other left empty, just in case he doesn't want any water.
How to Be Lucky¶
You make your own luck. There's a great experiment that I can't cite, but it has stuck in my mind since I was a child. They identified people as lucky and unlucky, and asked them to count the number of photographs in a newspaper. The unlucky people took a long time to count the photographs, while the lucky people took a very short time. The reason is that the unlucky people were so focused on counting the photographs that they missed the giant text that said, "Stop counting, there are 43 photographs in this newspaper."
What I took away from this experiment was the idea that it might not be the case that lucky people and unlucky people have different opportunities, but rather that their field of perception is wider. Lucky people can actually see the opportunities. A lucky person and an unlucky person might meet the same businessman, but they might talk about different things. One could be presented with or ask for an opportunity that the unlucky person doesn't even see as possible.
I often ask myself, "Okay, I'm focused on getting X, but let's not forget to read the headlines."
How to Get a Job¶
I've never gotten a job by applying to it. It's always been referrals or someone reaching out to me. So honestly, my resume is shit compared to my peers. I'm terrible at interviewing, and I've never done leetcode. This is not a brag; it's just not my style. Am I a nepo baby? I don't know. Was I a morale hire? I'm pretty disagreeable. Was it merit? Also not sure.
Very few people get a job on merit alone. You have to be a big fish in a big pond. That's like IOI, top 1% in your class, etc. That's just... Sort by grades and interview? That's hard. You literally have to be the best. I say what I say knowing that you've already worked hard, knowing that you've already put in the sweat, but understanding that the next 10% or the next 5% of improvement is going to be much more difficult, than focusing on being a better person. And that I want you make a conscious of the trade-offs you make between these 'soft' and 'hard' skills.
When I hire someone, I simply want to know that they are capable of taking charge of their own life. It's quite common for people to DM me saying, "Hey man, how can I help you?" However, I often find that they haven't put any effort into thinking about it. I usually ignore such messages unless I truly believe they can provide assistance.
Links that are everywhere on my digital footprint
There have been many times people will DM me offering to help while I am writing a blog post. I'll link the blog PR and say 'let me know what you think'. No comments, and then I get ghosted?
How to Reach Out
Do not send me anything longer than you would send to a crush. Some people email me six-paragraph essays about the time they saved a cat from a tree.
I find the most effective way to get someone's attention is to simply give, just like in dating. Hey, I noticed that you read this book on your website. I think you'd like this book too; it's pretty short, etc. Oh, I noticed some tests were failing in your repository. I fixed them for you. Hey! I've added some examples to the codebase. Do you have any feedback?
There are so many little ways to get people's attention that aren't self-centered. I do this with my consulting too. During the first call, my only goal is to tell you everything I think could help your business. I don't care if you hire me or not. I just want to help. And as it turns out, this leads me to the next part.
I recognize that not everyone has access to the same networking opportunities, and the traditional job application process can be a valid and necessary path for many. But social media when used correctly is a great way to get a opportunity
Be the Plumber¶
When my toilet is overflowing with shit and my wife is about to come home in 2 hours, and I find a plumber, the plumber does not go, "OMG, thank you for this opportunity." They are past that. They know that you're in a pinch, and they know that what they have is valuable. They know they are here to solve MY problem. Hiring is the same way. This is why people want to hire senior folks because there's some trust.
But ultimately, you have to understand that unless there's some tremendous tax break and positive EV, the people who are hiring NEED HELP. Your job is to help them solve the problem or find the problem to solve. You're here to solve my problem; you're not here to collect charity work.
Be Someone People Want to Work With¶
If your metric for working somewhere is being someone people want to work with, it turns out skill is not the highest metric. I've seen people get hired because they're fun to be around. If you want to be the smartest person, then yeah, good grades and being the smartest person in the room is a good metric. But if you want to get a job, "man, you're great to be around" is a very strong metric. This is obviously conditional on skill, and you should obviously focus on skills acquisition.
If I hired you, don't insult me by having impostor syndrome. I hired you because I think you can solve my problem. I didn't hire you to compare you to other plumbers (I might), but at the end of the day, you must just think I have shit taste and that you've somehow tricked me into thinking you're good when you're an impostor? Right?
That said, it's advised that junior people seek out teams which prioritize a high degree of psychological safety.
If you don't believe in yourself, believe in me that believes in you.
How to Be Good at Many Things¶
I think too many people reading this are mostly pursuing intellectual activities, but I'm mostly gonna focus on using analogies of personal physical fitness to describe how I think about this kind of stuff.
In the beginning, you're gonna have a noob gains, just an act of practicing is going to be enough to make improvements. You're gonna be so weak and out of shape that if you wait, it's gonna be cardio, and if you run, you're gonna get stronger. And it's gonna be months or years of seeing progress just by showing up every day and doing anything. You're just gonna be making progress. Maybe you're also "gifted" and so things come easier to you, but there's gonna be a time when things change.
Cost of Being a Champion¶
The story I tell myself is one where Travis Stevens talks about what it takes to be a judo champion. Something along the lines of "You think you want to be a champion until you meet someone who truly knows they want to be a champion." Replace "champion" with "comedian," "boxer," "founder," and so on.
Do you realize what it takes to be a judo champion?
You need to sacrifice relationships, break some fingers, go through an ACL tear, and even get a concussion before fighting for the Olympics. You have to endure injuries and wonder if your career is over. You have to get the flu right before nationals and fight through it. And if you lose, you have to refrain from making excuses. That's incredibly challenging, and it's perfectly acceptable to choose not to pursue that path.
Once you start hitting a plateau, can you just start thinking about progressive overload and making sure what you're doing is facing difficulty at some consistent rate, but ultimately this is just to get you over and through some of these spots. At some point in the future, how much better you get will just be a function of how badly you want it and how much you enjoy the act.
How to identify the champ
I remember that video where they were asking this Olympic weightlifter what matters more talent or hard work. And he said something along the lines of. "At the national level, everyone is talented, but when you by the time you go to the olympics hard work is the only thing that matters, there are many injuries and challenges, and the people who get it are the people who want it the most"
On Season and Off Season¶
I think a lot of people ask me specifically about this question because I do so many things. I'm a martial artist, assistant, free diver, blah blah blah blah blah. I don't think I'm a leader at any of these things, but I do think I'm elite at learning. And just like there is an off-season and on-season for sports, I think there's an off-season and on-season for learning. And I think that's the most important thing to understand.
At some point, cardio will hurt your strength gains. At some point, strength gains will hurt your cardio. At some point, you're gonna have to choose between being a powerlifter or a marathon runner. And that's okay. You can always come back to it. But I think the most important thing is to understand that you can't be good at everything all the time. And that's okay. You can always come back to it.
How to Be Confident¶
I am a deeply insecure person, and I think my therapist would probably agree that I have low self-esteem. But I am confident just the same. I believe it's important to understand that confidence is the ability to believe despite feeling uneasy.
Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather taking action despite the fear.
I think this applies to many virtues. So I'll only talk about my own experience with confidence. My confidence simply comes from taking action. I know I outwork everyone around me, even if I have no talent. I know I'm willing to make sacrifices, and I know I can focus my energy on a specific goal. Why? Because I've done it so many times in my life.
Confidence is the memory of success
When I started doing jiu-jitsu, I trained hard five days a week. Every training session was challenging, but it also meant that whenever I went to a new gym or a competition, I knew I could handle it. I had already been through tough situations, and I knew I could overcome them again.
When I started freediving, I swam for an hour every day, six days a week. At the end of each workout, I would practice my breathing routines and apnea training. By the end of my training session, I could swim 80 meters in a pool without taking a breath and hold my breath for 4 ½ minutes. This was important because I knew that during my diving trip, the longest distance I would have to swim was 45 meters and the longest breath-hold would be 2 ½ minutes. By the time I went on my diving trip, I felt relaxed and ready to enjoy the water. I knew I could do it because I had already accomplished it.
Hitting 30m for the first time
My personal record for the deepest dive I've done on a single breath is 30m. It was not a very fast dive, so I ended up being underwater for 3 ½ minutes. But how did I feel at the time?
- 3.5 minutes is a minute shorter than my personal best, so I knew I could do it.
- During the 10-minute rest before the dive, the goal was to lower my heart rate and relax. I was so relaxed that I fell asleep in the water for 10 minutes, and my heart rate was 43 bpm. I woke up, took the last few breaths, and went down.
People don't believe this, but my talk at the AI Summit was actually my first public speaking experience. It has over 120k views on YouTube. I was so nervous that I basically blacked out and didn't eat all day until the talk. I have no recollection of the day, and I had so much adrenaline that I was shivering before I got up on stage. Leading up to the talk, I rehearsed it for about two hours each day in the past three days. By the time I got on stage, the words just flowed out of me. I had rehearsed the speech standing up, wearing the same jacket, about 20 times in the past month. I knew I could do it because I had already done it.
In order to keep doing the reps in the past 3 months I've been relentlessly trying to find podcasts to speak on to keep doing the reps and practicing.
The theme is consistent throughout. I don't think it's the only way to gain confidence, as there could be some delusion at play. But I have simply shown myself, over the past 15 years, that I can overcome difficult challenges and do them repeatedly..
Practice more than you play, confidence is the memory of success¶
The Greatest Gift You Can Give Yourself¶
The greatest gift you can give yourself is the gift of being enough.
In the short term, you would be much happier if you accepted and admitted to yourself that the reason you don't have what you want is simply because you do not want it badly enough. The sooner you accept that, the happier you'll be. Then the next question is: Do you want to be happy or do you want to achieve what you want? It's not the last question, but it definitely is the next question.
I used to hate writing. I was always incredibly insecure about it. English is my second language, and I was often told that I would never be a good writer because I am an immigrant. I scored poorly on the writing section of the SATs. In fact, I failed the entrance English exam at Waterloo and had to rewrite an English essay, or else I would have been kicked out of college in the first week.
This is my first piece of writing
I've run a bunch of technical blog posts, but this is the first time I'm really speaking from my heart. This whole article took me about an hour to write using speech to text. I almost didn't write this, but then I realized that if it even helped one person feel a little less anxious for one day it would've been positive.
It wasn't until November 2023 that I truly appreciated the power of writing. Writing helps me stop dwelling on the same thoughts repeatedly. Moreover, when someone asks for advice, I can simply share a link instead of repeating myself. I have found writing to be incredibly valuable because if someone is not willing to read it, they won't benefit from it. The worst outcome is not having written anything at all; it is failing to help someone who could have benefited from it. I have found that writing is a great way to help others while helping myself exorcise the thoughts from my mind and make room for new ones.
Do It Scared¶
I believe many young people struggle with the insecurity of being intelligent. They often feel the need to prove their intelligence by overthinking, excessively planning, and acquiring knowledge before taking action. However, this approach is a waste of time. The more you research, the more you realize how little you actually know. Instead, you just have to do it, even if you're scared.
Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life.
The theory is for analysis; it is not for action.
When you learn to draw, just draw what you see. And when we get an art education, the theory simply gives us the language to describe our tastes. The challenge I'm giving myself this year is to learn the trumpet without learning any music theory. I'm just going to play with it like a child. I'm just going to listen to a lot of music and try to make those sounds that I like.
There have been enough examples of little Chinese kids being forced to learn the piano for seven years, and the moment their parents stop taking them to class, they stop playing music. I think if you love the world and think it is beautiful, learning physics, for example, would not take away from that beauty it only adds to it. But if you study natural science without loving the natural world, you will only see the world as a machine. Which is just not that fun.
You are not your work¶
When I was in art school, one thing I discovered was that many people believed they were defined by the work they created. If their work wasn't good, they saw it as a reflection of their skill rather than a reflection of their taste, which was actually superior to their ability.
You are simply the person who created the work. You are a vessel, a medium for the work, but you are not the work itself.
The sooner you realize this, the easier it will be to share the work you have produced, receive feedback, develop your skills, and reflect on your taste.
Get Rid of Complexity¶
I think in the same way when making plans or building systems, the same insecurity of being intelligent leads to overthinking and overcomplicating a system, in the hope that the same complexity will be a proxy for intelligence. I think this is a mistake. The best systems are the simplest ones. Feynman's approach to physics is a great example of this. Famously, Einstein said that if you can't explain something simply, you don't understand it well enough. I think this is true for many things.
A Great Person is not Always a Good Person¶
Mike Tyson once said, "If you're favored by God, you're also favored by the devil." It's alright to strive for greatness, but it's equally important to choose goodness. Don't neglect your loved ones for work; time is fleeting. Appreciate people and sincerely express your love for them. Grief is the result of unexpressed love, and the key to avoiding grief is to love abundantly.
Some people claim they will grind for ten years and then relax once they find a partner or something similar, but I believe that's nonsense. You won't be able to do it suddenly without practice. Along your journey of hard work, you must consciously practice winding down and being a good person. Otherwise, you'll only address it after experiencing your first divorce.
I think fatherhood is a great example of this. I think a lot of people think that they can just be a good father when they have kids. But I think that's a mistake. I think you have to practice being a good father before you have kids. You have to practice being a good husband before you get married.
It might be easy to convince myself that a good father is able to take care of the family, but how many times was that an excuse to just work yourself to death is the father who can pay for piano lessons, truly a better man than the father, who can be present at the recital? I just don't think this is something that we can turn on and off so easily.
For a large part of my life, I held onto the belief that my purpose was to help and teach people. I believed in working hard, generating capital, and taking care of my partner, family, and so on. However, when I got injured, I had to confront the fact that I wasn't able to fulfill those responsibilities. I struggled with the realization that I couldn't work, produce, or take care of my partner and family. It made me question, "If the ox cannot plow, what is it good for?" This struggle consumed me during the latter half of my twenties.
It is crucial to start practicing self-love. While successful people may attribute their success to their struggles, I believe a significant part of it is simply coming to terms with those struggles. Each person's pain is maximum to them. You have already endured hardships. Seek success because you deserve it and learn to love yourself, rather than punishing yourself for not being good enough.
You deserve the life that you desire.
I used to write down "What would I do if I really loved myself?" Sometimes that's hard, especially for someone who has been through a lot of trauma. It can be difficult to even imagine what that would look like. Instead, I now use inverted thinking. What would I do if I really hated myself? What if I wanted myself to lose out as much as possible? What would I do?
- Stay home all day.
- If my friends don't ask to hang out, don't reach out to them out of fear of rejection.
- Don't ask the girl out.
- Never learn to talk to strangers.
- Work hard and make tons of money but die an unhappy old man with regrets.
- Neglect my health and my body.
- Never learn to cook.
- Be afraid to dance in public.
- Make excuses and believe other people are more talented than me.
- Never look at how far I've come and only focus on what I don't have.
Whatever it is, just do the opposite.
What are the mantras you've inhereted from others? How often are you chasing "The Dream" and not "Your Dream?". Really evaluate what you want and why you want it, and make sure your practice talking to yourself.
Happiness is the quality of thoughts
You don’t need to believe in yourself to be an artist, you just need to believe in your audience. To believe that it is important to communicate with them. Make sure that if your goal is to build an audience that you have some message to say. Otherwise it just gets hopeless. Celebrity is the cost you pay to deliver your message, celebrity is to be hated.
Celebrity is to be hated
Twitter is a place where low status people can feel like high status people. I think the Internet is basically summarized by those words. For most of the people who are fighting online the Internet might be the only place where they have a sense of control. When you approach it from a point of sympathy, even getting hate online is an opportunity to be grateful for the real life friendships that you have, and the digital communities that you've built.
Isolation is the gift, all others are a test of your endurance¶
Really value your time alone. It is the only time you can truly see yourself. It is the only time you can truly hear yourself. Isolation is time not only away from people, but also media.
I believe success truly comes from being yourself, but if you're always surrounded by others the influence is too strong. But if you can truely live in the isolation, you'll be like a still pond. When others project their image onto you, you'll be able to see the ripples clearly.
The world is a mirror¶
The only language you have to describe the world is with your own perception. The world is a mirror. Often your fear of judgement might stem from your own judgement of others.
Jason goes to the gym
I used to be afraid of going to the gym because I was afraid of being judged. I was so focused on the idea of the right workout and the right form. If I went to the gym alone, I would just think, "Wow, people must think I'm so weak. I can barely squat the bar. I'm so lanky." I would look at the fat guy or the skinny guy and think, "Man, they are just like me, clueless."
Looking back at that time, I had so much judgment of others, but it was really just a reflection of my own judgment of myself. I was so afraid of being judged, but I was the one judging myself the most.
Fast forward 5 years, everyone I see coming into the gym is trying to improve their health. I don't think the same way. I look at these people and think, "Wow, they are so much braver than me. I see them coming consistently, and I can see they are getting results. Good for them! Oh, wow, they are bringing their friends. Awesome."
The world looks different when you fix your own perception.
You are a mirror¶
In the same way that the world is a mirror, you are a mirror. You are a mirror to others. When you accept this you also realize that you are not responsible for others. The people who are negative to you are usually miserable themselves. The sooner you realize this the easier it is to let go of the negativity.
Pessimists Are Losers¶
You impress nobody except yourself when you're a pessimist. It doesn't make you a better friend. It does not make you cool and edgy. It does not make you seem smarter just because you can be critical of everything. The world is neither inherently against you nor for you, so believing one or the other is in bad faith.
“He who blames others has a long way to go on his journey. He who blames himself is halfway there. He who blames no one has arrived.”
I think pessimism as a survival mechanism is great, its the alertness that warns us potential outcomes we do not want. It's a way to protect yourself. People are also more able to find problems than solutions. It's a good exercise to understand if that energy is productive, can this critique of the work improve the work? Or is it just a way to feel superior or to get sympathy?
All cruelty stems from weakness, Happiness is the quality of thought
Let Go of Anticipation¶
Here's a story about how regular people and Buddhist monks anticipated the future. They put both of them into an MRI and told them they were going to get shocked at some random time in the future. What they found was that regular people would have an anxious baseline response minutes before they were going to get shocked, but when they did, it was only slightly higher than the baseline.
The monks, however, had no resting anxious anticipatory response. There was no overactive brain activity until the moment of the shock. But when they did feel the shock, it was much higher than the group of regular people. They felt more pain!
The lesson I learned from this is that anticipation likely dampens the sensations at the moment life happens, but at the cost dampening the joy as well, while creating a contraction in the present moment. This relates to the pessimism bit. You might think you're winning because you believe the pain was lessened by expecting the worse, but you also lose because you were in anticipation the entire time. On the same token letting go of anticipation of success also allows you to enjoy the moment more, the pressure to succeed is equally a contraction.
You were just a child¶
Stuck with me for a bit. I looked at all the stupid things I had done in the past, and all the things that happened to me that I didn't understand. Then someone said to me "you were just a child" and it was honestly the most liberating thing I've ever heard. I was just a child. I didn't know any better. I didn't know.
You suffered for no reason. You were just a child.
Now, you also have to realize that this applies to everyone else too. Its everyone's first time being a person, including your parents.
Attention is a Gift¶
The most valuable thing you can give someone is your attention. Talk about the things you love, spend time with the people you love, and give your attention wisely. As I said before, grief is the result of unexpressed love, and the key to avoiding grief is to love abundantly, especially yourself.
So attend to the things that matter, and make sure to spend your arrogance while you're still young.