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.

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?

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.

I wish I hugged them

Today I had to say farewell to my co-workers as I leave for Hong Kong tomorrow

Because I switched departments half-way through my internship, I essentially had to say goodbye to two departments of people

Although short-lived, 3-weeks, I still got to know these people

And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a little sentimental

It’s the realization that people, humanity, all around the world, is beautiful

All of us, each living these lives, each pursuing individual goals, but together forming a community with other people doing their own sh*t

Hong Kong culture is not something I can say I am fully familiar with. And because I wasn’t sure of the etiquette, I didn’t get the feeling that a hug was appropriate.

But I wish I hugged them

I don’t know if I’ll ever see these people again.

But it’s the same as when I had to leave Singapore last year (where I did get to hug my co-workers before leaving)

3-weeks and I formed genuine connections. Doing this around the world makes me truly and fully love humanity.

This life is so beautiful.

Just make sure you hug the people you care about.

Add Oil, Hong Kong.

The fear of UBI

With the rise of AI and robotics, there is a lot of fear surrounding the job market and job losses in the developed world.

In Kai-Fu Lee’s book, AI superpowers, he mentions three potential solutions to the rise of AI

  1. Retraining people
  2. Shifting people (maybe 3-4 day work weeks?)
  3. A general minimum income, or universal basic income

He notes that although a UBI may be necessary, the fear is that the winners of the AI revolution will simply use UBI as a sedative for the real problem

The real problem is that with any revolution, particularly with the respects of technology and the digital era, the winners are becoming bigger winners in the economy.

Facebook has low or no marginal cost for pumping out ads

Advanced AI will be able to do more for less

And the rich will get richer, and instead of finding a solution, governments will put a “bandaid” called UBI for those that fall behind in the revolution

Which is why education is important. Which is why action is important.

a Universal basic income, no strings or restrictions attached, may have the issue of making society complacent.

He proposes instead to instead offer a societal standard income with criteria to meet.

For example:

  1. Educators, teachers
  2. Public workers, government workers
  3. Social workers
  4. those who contribute back to society in some way
  5. Meeting criteria of education and retraining programs

We don’t want to live in a world like Wall-E, where AI and robots are so advanced that humanity falls complacent, inactive

AI and robots will increase productivity. But humanity needs to continue running the race as well.

 

optimism

It’s easy to be a critic

It’s easy to be negative

When society sees someone going the road less traveled, or going a road that’s never been traveled, our instinct is to condemn the individual for being irrational

But realism and optimism are not polar opposites

In fact, a realistic optimist is the best type of person

They see an opportunity, and instead of simply dreaming about the potential, they actively take steps towards realizing that opportunity

But when someone is too optimistic, they are condemned, or criticized, or surrounded by negativity

Extreme optimism is powerful

But extreme optimism alone means you won’t get anything done. It’s okay to dream of being an NBA star one day. But if you aren’t practicing every day, taking care of your diet and health, and training your mindest as hard as you train your body, then it’s just irrational optimism.

Realistic optimism is unstoppable.

You train every day, you actively work towards your goals, and you are full of unbounded optimism and reach for your dreams.

Rational optimism is how you achieve goals.

Reach for the moon. Just be prepared to also build the rocket ship to get there.

going against the crowd

it’s hard

it’s really hard to go against the elephant in your head

elephants are huge

no one messes with them

and when they want something they’ll go for it

that is your mind

most of the time

but your rational self is sitting on top of the elephant

you can’t tame the elephant completely, but you can guide it with your reigns and nudge it in the right direction

in the long term, even a small nudge will take you in a completely different direction than just simply going straight

“Consider this. If you’re going somewhere and you’re off course by just one degree, after one foot, you’ll miss your target by 0.2 inches. Trivial, right? But what about as you get farther out?

  • After 100 yards, you’ll be off by 5.2 feet. Not huge, but noticeable.
  • After a mile, you’ll be off by 92.2 feet. One degree is starting to make a difference.
  • After traveling from San Francisco to L.A., you’ll be off by 6 miles.
  • If you were trying to get from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., you’d end up on the other side of Baltimore, 42.6 miles away.
  • Traveling around the globe from Washington, DC, you’d miss by 435 miles and end up in Boston.”

https://whitehatcrew.com/blog/a-mere-one-degree-difference/

will robots be better parents?

with the advancement of AI and robotic technology, one fear is the fear that robots will become better parents than humans

though no robot will ever be able to emulate true passionate emotion as humans are able to, the basic necessities of caring for a child can be easily replicated and be enhanced by robotic AI

robots won’t lash out at children

robots will be programmed to carefully care for the child

robots can be perfected to not make mistakes

robots can take the place as parent figure while the parents are working–although working for the child– the child may perceive the robot as a more caring figure due to the absence of the parents

sort of seems like a dystopian-future out of Black Mirror

but it’s a fear that is grounded

and it makes me question the necessary steps we need to take in order to ensure we don’t lose too much to the advancement of technology

even small steps towards habits that don’t completely depend on technology

maybe it’s good to put your phone at home once and a while

thoughts?