The paradox of “Normal”

Last week I got a haircut because I wanted to look normal again.

I had been growing out my hair for nearly 6-months, as I had largely been confined in my home since the world decided to roll over and disturb the peace of what many of us considered “normal.”

And, that same week, I decided to pick up a book and start reading again. A book about humanity now sits by my nightstand, and a book about Love sits next to my laptop desktop.

I then had a much-needed reunion with some of my best friends from high school – our bi-annual reunion, as I “normally” spend 10 months of the year outside of Canada. Yet, during high school, I would spend 8-hours a day with these people.

Because, last year this time, what was considered normal to me was reading one book a week, getting my hair cut every 3-weeks, traveling the world, performing magic, and writing daily.

I want my life to go back to “Normal.”

But for the past 6-months, while I grew out my hair, I had to adjust to a new type of normal as I battled my health concerns and not to mention all things considered with how the rest of 2020 has been going.

And so, while I progress towards my past “normal” life, what I’ve begun to realize is that the true paradox is assuming that “normal” exists in the first place.

When I was 14, “normal” meant waking up at 4:30 AM to train basketball for 2 hours with at the time my best friend, before going to class, followed by 2 hours of musical theatre rehearsal, followed by basketball team practice, and getting home at 9 PM to self-study four AP courses. In university, “normal” meant waking up 5-minutes before classes started and stumbling over to the business building while somehow managing to grab an ice-coffee so I could stay awake before my afternoon nap.

I have gone through phases where “normal” meant I felt fat. To phases where I was used to having 6-pack abs. To phases where physical fitness wasn’t even on my agenda.

For the past 6-months, “normal” meant being quarantined at home like a couch potato and suffering as I thought about how much life I was missing out on. I wanted to see the world. Two years ago, around this time, I had traveled to four different countries in the summer.

My hair was so long that it could cover the entire length of my face down to my chin. So yes. I cut my hair – finally – because I wanted it to go back to normal.

But normal doesn’t exist.

As much as I want to go back to the way things are, it is better that I soon realize that there is nothing I can do to escape reality.

Whether it be the way my physical health adapts, or my mental health, or my relationships with family, friends, with society, it is all a misunderstanding that normal is something we can actually achieve.

My life will never be able to go back to normal because I’ve experienced new things; I’ve seen society change. I evolve – for better or worse – and I’ve made new relationships, forged new contracts with the universe. Each of us has a unique version of what “normal” is.

I miss the days of being 12 and having no worries.

I miss spending time with my best friends.

I miss the “normal” of my childhood friends who I’ve mostly lost contact with.

But I can’t dwell on something that doesn’t exist.

So here’s to forging a life worth living, writing about, thinking about, remembering, missing, and let’s forget the normal life.

I want an extraordinary life.

I want to close with one of my favorite poems, which might shed some light on these paradoxes I am battling.

Paradox – Sarah Kay
When I am inside writing,
all I can think about is how I should be outside living.
When I am outside living,
all I can do is notice all there is to write about.
When I read about love, I think I should be out loving.
When I love, I think I need to read more.
I am stumbling in pursuit of grace,
I hunt patience with a vengeance.
On the mornings when my brother’s tired muscles
held to the pillow, my father used to tell him,
For every moment you aren’t playing basketball,
someone else is on the court practicing.
I spend most of my time wondering
if I should be somewhere else.
So instead, I have learned to shape the words thank you
with my first breath each morning, my last breath every night.
When the last breath comes, at least I will know I was grateful
for all the places I was so sure I was not supposed to be.
All those places I made it to,
all the loves I held, all the words I wrote.
And even if it is just for one moment,
I know I will be exactly where I am supposed to be.

Stop specializing: I am my own niche

For years I’ve thought that the way to truly be successful and influential in your field(s) was to specialize – experts would always best Jack of all trades, masters of none.

Yet I quickly realized I had so many interests, genuine passions, for so many different fields that didn’t necessarily coordinate well together.

In high school, I’d be deeply interested in chemistry and math classes and how the world worked, my favorite class still was acting, and yet I received the top English award.

After class, I’d balance basketball practice with musical theatre rehearsals and violin orchestra practice. I constantly wondered whether I was spreading myself too thin, and I also realized I was never truly able to be the best in any one field.

I ended up dropping the basketball team out of lack of dedication, I felt like an imposter leading my high school strings orchestra as concertmaster for 3-years, and when I played Scar in Lion King I couldn’t help but have a lingering feeling of regret that I sacrificed basketball to sing. Why couldn’t I be like Troy Bolton?

Now I am at another semi-crossroads.

Am I the magician?

The philosopher, daily blogger?

Will I work on Wall Street and run a hedge fund, trading stocks, and options?

Or will I dive into academic economic research and cure poverty – my all-time goal?

I don’t have the answer, but I think I’ve come up with a path: I am my own niche

Specialization worked in the days of Henry Ford assembly lines, and yes it still works today too

But there’s something to be said about the creativity of bringing in interdisciplinary skills and disciplines

The most recent book I’ve been reading dives deeper into this concept of Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.

Steve Jobs famously cited his Chinese calligraphy class for giving him the inspiration for pioneering Apples typography and design

Roger Federer didn’t specialize in tennis until much later than his peers, and in fact, might have learned towards soccer at one point in his childhood

And Lindt chocolate brought together dark chocolate and spices to create something new, unique, and not necessarily specialized but surely special

There’s ultimately nothing wrong with specialization, and equally nothing wrong with having a broad range of skills.

I hope to find a balance between both practices so that I can further build bridges between philosophy and business.

slow and steady, sustainability, and space travel

It’s been over a month since my last post and I wanted to just get back into the game after my hiatus

The latest topic I’ve found interesting is space colonization and environmental sustainability on Earth

Of course, climate change and sustainability is a top issue for humanity and is perhaps the greatest challenge of the 21st century. I say perhaps because depending on where you live, climate change is on different degrees of importance. Even in America, climate change and global warming will vary in importance depending on the economic cycle. In a recession, society is more worried about the economy, job stability, and standard of living. While when America is in economic growth, there is more worry about the future, thus global warming and climate change become more of an important social issue (as it is now).

For developing countries, trying to survive the next day / few years, and getting out of poverty and maintaining economic stability is more important than climate change. We see this with China, which for decades sacrificed the environment to grow their economy. China is still the largest user of coal, but are now in we see a massive transition phase in China — they are now the largest producers and users of electric vehicles and green energy sources.

If we don’t make massive sustainability changes, we will eventually pass the point of no return in terms of destroying Earth’s environment and resources.

However, economists and social science predictors cannot factor in the growth of technology, and that is another aspect of potentially fixing the environment problem: space travel.

Perhaps we can find solutions for resources through space investigation. And of course, space colonization may prove a potential solution in the future. Keep an eye on Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.

 

trying to do too much

I often feel like I am trying to do too much

  1. Teaching assistant for microeconomics
  2. Trying to write a book
  3. running two blogs
  4. a podcast
  5. 19 credits semester
  6. one independent study class
  7. side research for Upenn Wharton conference

Today I added two more things:

I am now trying to start a Pan-Asian Chapter at Villanova, and I am also now signed up to tutor the executive MBA class in introductory economics.

Other days, when I am sitting on the couch watching Netflix, I feel like I am not doing enough.

It’s a weird balance. Does balance exist for me?

results and hard work

I’ve considered myself a hard worker for a while now

I remember getting up at 4:30 AM to practice two hours of basketball before school started because after school I would have 2-hours of rehearsal for musical theatre and I’d be too tired to play basketball then.

I wanted to balance both basketball and theatre as well as maintain top grades.

At Villanova, I’ve constantly taken a full-credit load because I want to learn as much as possible given the fixed costs of my semester tuition.

But I have not necessarily been seeing the results of my ‘hard work’

Which makes me come to two conclusions:

  1. I am either unlucky / the universe is unfair, or:
  2. I need to work harder

Option 1 I can’t control.

Option 2 I can, which means it’s time to amp it up and keep going. I haven’t burned out yet, I’m just getting started.

Necessary and destructive happiness

Happiness is a just discrimination between what is necessary, destructive, neither necessary nor destructive, and what is necessary and destructive

We need the necessary essentials: food water shelter

We should avoid the destrutcgive: violence hatred and corruption

There are things that are necessary but also can be destructive: the oil industry, corporations, and burning the Amazon forest (for economic growth for Brazil)

But happiness is having a surplus of things that are neither necessary nor destructive because those things are often the best

Air conditioning is neither necessary nor destructive, but I often find myself the happiest when I am able to sit on a comfy couch in a well-AC’d room in the summer, eating take-out sushi and watching Netflix with my dear friends and family i care most avout

undervalued investing

I feel undervalued by society

whether or not I am justified in that feeling is for discussion another time

but in general value investing theory, you are taught to invest in undervalued stocks and companies

so now is the time for me to dive deep into personal investments

academics, career, physical & mental health, passions, creativity, knowledge

time for me to invest as much as I can into myself

undervalued investments pay the biggest dividends

Misinformed, my opinion on opinions

I respect the right for everyone to have an opinion.

I also support freedom of speech.

But if your opinion is either:

  1. Not founded on any information, data, research, etc.
  2. Founded on false information, propaganda, etc.

Then you need to willing to accept that your opinion is flawed.

I have an opinion on almost everything, most of them are flawed. For example, I have an opinion on 50 Shades of Grey, in that there is a general negative connotation towards the book.

But my opinion is flawed because I have neither watched the movie, read the book, or done any prior research about what the story is about. I just simply have an opinion. I think everyone does.

However, if an advocate of the book/movie were to come up to me and be open to explaining the story and how there are beautiful nuances to the storytelling and creativity, I need to be completely willing to hear them out so I can better understand the situation.

In the same breath, if you have an opinion that is founded on false information (i.e. you read one source or you are a victim to propaganda) then you need to do a better job and understanding the topic through diverse sources, or else you fall into the spiraling trap of confirmation bias.

The best politicians and economists are not those that completely dismiss the other side. Instead, they understand many areas and try to utilize the best out of each perspective.

Full stop. I am a liberal. (Though, there are different left-right opinions regarding politics, economics, society, etc.)

But that doesn’t mean I support extremist liberal ideas, nor do I completely condemn all the ideas of the right.

I am a liberal (socially), but I respect capitalism and markets (more right-wing). I also believe in certain conservative approaches to tradition.

Full stop. I do not think Donald Trump is a good president. (Even though my opinion has no jurisdiction. I can Canadian, eh.).

I do not like many of the things Donald Trump says are does. But I’ve also done my research. And instead of condemning all the bad things he has done, I will point out the good things he has done:

  1. I believe that reducing the corporate tax rate in 2018 was a smart move on his part to help from billions of dollars worth of money back to America from overseas (Example: Apple)
  2. He is the only President willing to challenge China’s rising supreme power, which I believe can be a tactical move (however I do not necessarily agree with how he has approached the matter, nor his methods). I believe that China has had a bigger upside in trade with America and also has been a country known to curve around certain guidelines. However, I also believe that challenging China is roughly 20 years too late.
  3. Donald Trump has been active in trying to repair relationships between that of South Korea and North Korea.
  4. Donald Trump puts America first.

I remember back in 2016 when disliking Trump was an automatic response. It almost felt like “I hate Trump” could be a personality trait, just like my opinion on 50-Shades is. Yet, Trump had not become President yet, nor did we know what he planned to do, nor did many people actually understand his campaign. I personally believe that my opinion to dislike him is just a bit more grounded in information, having been a person who actively seeks to understand both sides of the situation. My opinion on 50 Shades of Grey? Not so grounded.

Opinions are powerful. And I respect people’s right to have them, and I believe sharing opinions is an even more powerful tool to incite debate and discussion.

I am still trying to understand how I can better understand people that fall into the first two categories (no information, or misinformed people).

Most of my opinions, as I mentioned, are flawed. But when I do have a strong opinion on something, I want people to know that I don’t carry that thought without any extensive research are thought on why I have that certain perspective. I want to know how I can help people understand the topics that I am passionate about. It is difficult for me to reach out to these types of people, and a part of me just wants to walk away and not debate with people who I know are clearly misinformed, but if I do that, I am afraid that my opinion will slowly die off. We live in a world of a sharing-digital era, and I’d feel remiss if I didn’t share my opinions.

If you see yourself having an opinion that is not based on information, I urge you to be open about someone helping you better understand the situation.

If you believe you are misinformed on an opinion, or that you only have on side of the story,, I urge you to seek out more diverse sources and talk to people more familiar with the matter.

So, does anyone want to explain to me why 50 Shades of Grey is a good story?

Winners and Losers: a cashless society

In Sweden, cash retail transactions have fallen 80%

Digital transactions in China have risen from 4% in the past 20 years to 34% in 2017.

A cashless society provides many benefits to society

Countries spend roughly 0.5% of their GDP managing physical cash

Consumers have better tracking of their money in digital forms, more convenience, and quicker and easier access to payments

Black market transactions dealt in cash will be strapped down

But consumers who value data privacy will also lose, as governments will likely use digital transactions as data

The poor and unbanked will lose out if cash is phased out

And society may become less democratic, with more power funneling towards institutions, governments, and financial corporations who control the digital system

 

Calculated risks

We make calculated risks every day – intuitively

How quickly can I jaywalk without getting hit by a car?

What if I run through a yellow light?

Eating spicy food

As I learn more about investing and trading, I’ve tried to apply those skills to life in terms of making calculated risks.

But not just intuitively. I love the idea of making decision matrices or weighing the options at hand.

My senior English thesis in High School was about the Paradox of Choice and how too many options in this world can put us in a state of paralysis of analysis. I found it interesting because I’ve used that knowledge to better my understanding of making – and going through with – certain decisions I make.

Of course, life offers many options. I chose Villanova over Toronto. I chose Economics over Finance. Every choice I make, I have to forsake something else due to opportunity cost.

But being too focused on opportunity cost may make your completely paralyzed and fail to actually make a decision.

And so there are two parts to being a great decision-maker: taking calculated risks (intuitively and planned), and making decisions and going through with them.

Being a great decision-maker. That is a strong skill to have.