The Original Inspiration
A common saying amongst creatives is that nothing is original. If nothing is original, then who or what inspired the original artists?
Its the oceans, the forests, the mountains, the waterfall, the animals. Nature is the original inspiration.
Art imitates nature after all.
If you’re ever feeling uninspired take a walk in a forest, visit the beach, camp in a national forest, and you’ll see what inspired the original artists.
The Most Genuine Person on the Internet
Being genuine on the internet is hard.
Part of the difficulty is that it’s easy to fall into the status game trap. Additionally, publishing anxiety is real and we are our own harshest critic. When we do see authenticity on the internet, it stands out like a flower growing through concrete.
Derek Sivers is one of those people. He’s one of the most genuine, accessible, and generous people on the internet. I’ve been following him for a few years now and he’s done nothing but impress me. Here are a few examples:
He cold emails people with small audiences (this was pre-gumroad Sahil) expressing his gratitude without expecting anything in return.
He announced his book, sold all copies, then a few weeks later announced that he’s giving all the money away.
I’ll admit, it made me ridiculously happy to make $250,000. I was expecting way less than that, so it was a big surprise. I had a spring in my step for days.
Then I thought about what to do with the money. There’s nothing I want to buy. Should I put it in an investment account? Eh. For what purpose? I don’t want more money.
So, I decided to donate it to charity.
He sends emails like this.
Subject: James - are you real?
Hi James -
You signed up for my private email list at https://sive.rs/
… but since you’ve never replied, I can’t tell if you’re a real person.
Please reply to this email and say anything, ideally something about yourself like where you are in the world. Or feel free to ask any question.
(I read and reply to all. This part isn’t automated. It’s just me.)
If you don’t reply, I’ll assume you’re not getting this, and delete this email from my system.
Derek is truly one of a kind.
For me, he’s a north star on how I want to be as an internet citizen.
The Polymath Advantage
These notes were taken as apart of Salman Ansari’s The Polymath Advantage Workshop
Specialization in Society
- With the industrial revolution came the need for increased productivity and efficiency. This lead to division of labor. Here, a worker specializes on a specific task, and work in that same role for an extended period of time.
- What is the cost of specialization?
- Career growth is a train. “Climbing the corporate ladder.”
- Freelancing is disincentivized. Freelancing lacks job security and stability.
- Work is tied to identity.
- Taking the polymath path is difficult. Society wants to fit you in a box and you won’t fit that mold.
- The irony is that we are being asked to specialize in an environment that’s constantly changing.
- In order to keep up with the world of 2050, you will need not merely to invent new ideas and products — you will above all need to reinvent yourself again and again. —Yuval Noah Harari
- Polymaths engage in extended learning across disparate fields, and apply their learnings to connect ideas and solve problems in unique ways. By nature, they’re well suited to thrive in a constantly changing environment.
The Polymath Approach
- Breadth vs Depth
Modern Day Polymaths
- Leonardo Da Vinci is the mascot of polymaths. And while Leo Da Vinci is awesome, he lived in the 1500s
- A few of my favorite modern day polymaths:
- Derek Sivers. Worked as a circus performer. Then a musician (even touring with Ryuichi Sakamoto). Founded and sold his company, CDBaby (then donated all the money). Currently, he’s a writer and book publisher.
- Hank and John Greene. Between the two of them they are content creators (they created the Crash Course Channel). Both have written NYT bestsellers including John Greene’s The Fault in Our Stars), they founded business and events including VidCon. They also make and produce music.
- John Moffat. Started as a painter. Learned relativity by borrowing books from the library. First person admitted to Cambridge PhD program without an undergrad degree. Currently a professor at UofT.
Am I polymath? Forget the labels. Embrace the principles.
The Polymath Advantage
- Differentiation. At a certain point, it’s difficult to get really good at something without deliberate practice and hours of effort. But when you start to learn other skills, the intersection of those skills make you more competent holistically.
- Inner Purpose and Ikigai
- Freedom of Identity. Your identity is diversified, rather than focused on one thing. Diversification of identity leads to resilience. However, the question, “what do you do?” becomes hard to answer.
- It’s fun. The polymath path allows you to chase your curiosities.
Tips for Staying Sane
- Build a strong foundation. For Salman, being an engineer gives him a foundational pursuit to fall back on. This serves a role and provides the resources and stability to pursue other interests.
- Energy management. Understand what gives you energy and what drains your energy.
- Rotate and hibernate. We feel bad when we aren’t able to keep pursuing a project. But it’s perfectly normal to hibernate a project and work on a different one, then return to that project later. This can give us a renewed sense of energy.
- Leaving space for serendipity.
- Define success on your own terms. This prevents comparisons. I can compare myself with someone whose a better engineer, but maybe that person is specilizaing and has put in way more time.
- Find others on the same path. The polymath path can be lonely, find others on the same journey.
When you’re young, you make your habits. When you’re old, your habits make you.
In Good Habits are Defensible, I claim that habits can be a personal moat. Habits take patience to build and they give you more time, energy and knowledge. These benefits compound over time and thus building a body of habits can be your competitve edge.
But not all habits are the same.
I like to categorize a few habits as foundational. A foundational habit provides disproportionate value to many areas of life and lays the ground work to build other habits. Here are examples of a few foundational habits:
Whether you’re young or old, it’s never too late to start building foundational habits. Your future self will thank you.
I remember the day the WHO sounded the alarm and NBA canceled its first NBA game marking the official start of the pandemic.
I remember reading news about the development of the vaccine. It couldn’t come soon enough
I remember when Ontario commenced the rollout of the vaccine. Finally, a light at the end of the tunnel.
Today, I received my first dose of the Moderna vaccine. I’m grateful that I live in a country that’s first in line to receive the vaccines, but I understand that not everyone is as lucky as I am.
In this piece from the NYT, it mentions that 600 million people have been at least partially vaccinated meaning that over 7 billion still have not. Over half of all available doses have gone to just one-seventh of the world’s population specifically to western countries. The implications are that poorer countries face the prospect of years of suffering.
In response, the WHO initiated the COVAX program aimed at equitable access to covid-19 vaccines. As their website says, “With a fast-moving pandemic, no one is safe, unless everyone is safe.” Hopefully we can put this pandemic behind us soon.
How Much I Studied (Winter 2021)
In previous semesters, I experimented with tracking my studying time using Toggl. It took some getting used to, but once it became a habit it was second nature.
Going into the past semester, my goal was to get at least a 75% average while studying around 40 hours a week. Tracking my studying time brought awareness and intentionality to how I study while meeting my goals.
It also gave me some interesting data too. But first, here’s a bit of context:
- Winter 2021 was my 3B term in Computer Engineering at the University of Waterloo
- First day of classes was on January 11th and my final exam was on April 23rd
- I took the following courses:
- Operating Systems (ECE 350)
- Database Design (ECE 356)
- Computer Networking (ECE 358)
- Electricity and Magentism (ECE 106)
- Engineering Economics (ECE 390)
How much I studied overall
How much I studied during the Winter 2021 Semester
- 532h 43m
- 117h 38m (ECE 106)
- 139h 43m (ECE 350)
- 136h 30m (ECE 356)
- 68h 54m (ECE 358)
- 64h 13m (ECE 390)
- 5h 42m (Admin)
The amount of hours spent on each course gives you some indication of its difficulty. Operating Systems had some of the most difficult and time consuming labs I’ve ever taken. However, they were still manageable given that we were to do them in groups of four.
Databases was more time consuming than it was difficult. It was also the most disorganized course I’ve taken.
It’s also interesting to note that I spent more time on Databases/OS then both Computer Networking and Economics combined.
How much I studied overall (weekly view). Can you tell when I wrote my midterms and finals?
On average, I spent 37 hours per week studying and achieved a higher average than I was aiming for.
My busiest week was April 5-11, the last week of classes
The final lab for Operating systems was due this week. I had final projects also due in Engineering Economics, Physics, and Databases.
Here’s what my daily schedule looked like during that week
Most of my waking hours this week was spent on coursework.
Writing for Career Advancement
There’s many different motivations for someone to start writing:
- Writing for Passion
- Writing for Profit
- Writing for Advancement
As for myself, I first got into writing for personal development. I heard that writing was one of the best ways to clarify my thinking and explore my thoughts. After more than a year of writing everyday, I can attest that it’s indeed true. Writing is the most valuable thing I do, it’s the foundation of my personal development.
Eventually, I came to really enjoy writing for writing’s sake. Writing gives me a feeling of fulfillment and joy that I haven’t felt in years. But as I continue to grow, it’s important to constantly experiment and reinvent myself.
Part of the magic of writing is its versatility, I can apply it to enhance any area of my life. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of writing to advance my career. I’m also lucky that I’m in an industry and a career path that I genuinely enjoy. Especially, since I’m still early in my career, writing for advancement is an option that combines my career interests with my knack for writing.
More to be announced on a later date.
Simple, Not Easy
Writing everyday is simple. Just write down your thoughts everyday.
Meditating is simple. Just sit down and observe your thoughts for 10 minutes.
Waking up early is simple. Just sleep earlier the night before.
These things are all simple, but not easy. Those are two very different things.
7 Second Rule
Sometimes I’ll be working on an essay or an assignment problem and if I get frustrated for just half a second, my reflex is to check my phone or go on social media. Next thing I know, I spent 20 minutes on Twitter and made zero progress on my work.
This behavior is automatic. Boredom or frustration is the trigger, checking my phone or social media is the routine, and dopamine is the reward.
One way I interrupt this routine is with the seven second rule.
If the source of the distraction is more than seven seconds away from me, for example my phone is in a different room or I block websites on my laptop, then I can break the habit loop.
Everyone knows that using the same password on every account is a terrible idea.
I’ve known this all along, yet I’ve used the same password for my bank account, social media, school accounts, and government websites for nearly a decade.
It’s a miracle that I didn’t get hacked yet. But I shouldn’t wait until my accounts get compromised to take action.
It’s long overdue, but today I finally got around to using a password manager. Password managers store your login information for all the websites you use. These passwords are encrypted with a master password which is the only one to remember.
From a friend’s recommendation, I used Bitwarden, a free open source password manager that has a clean and user friendly interface. It took around 2 hours to store all my passwords on Bitwarden but it’s well worth the time.
For anyone that doesn’t use a password manager, get one as soon as you can.
Everything is Obvious in Retrospect
One of my favorite YouTube channels as of late is James Scholz. He studies for 12 hours a day and livestreams his sessions daily so you can study with him. He also has a discord server where students from all over the world study together.
I’ve been in remote school since last summer and one of the biggest problems that my friends and I face is finding motivation and staying disciplined on such a flexible schedule. Given the pandemic has forced students everywhere into remote school, an idea like this seems so obvious in retrospect.
But the iron rule in history is that what looks obvious in retrospect was far from obvious at the time. Transformative technologies like the internet and mobile phones seemed inevitable but their use cases were non-obvious at first. The same will likely be true when we read about covid-19 in the history books decades from now, yet the pandemic happened recent enough for all of us to remember our shock when this became a worldwide catastrophe.
What does a post-covid world look like? How will blockchain and crypto technologies change the world? Will America fall this century? These are important questions, with non-obvious answers. Maybe a few decades from now, I can return to these questions and say their answer is obvious in hindsight.
Truth be told, I’ve never understood poetry. I know I’m just ignorant to the art form but I find it cryptic and hard to understand. Though I’m sure there’s a profound beauty to it.
Earlier today, I came across an ad for Rupi Kaur’s live show this Friday, I registered immediately. I haven’t read much of her work (though I helped develop her original website), but she’s one of the few modern poets I know of.
Part of me is just curious, maybe then I’ll experience the magic of poetry.
Revitalizing and Protecting Your Spirit
Who are the people, ideas, and books that magnify your spirit? Find them, hold on to them, and visit them often. Use them not only as a remedy once spiritual malaise has already infected your vitality but as a vaccine administered while you are healthy to protect your radiance. - Brain Pickings
With our culture’s emphasis on productivity and distraction, it’s easy to forget about who we are, our values, and what’s important to us.
Whenever I feel as if I’m losing myself there’s a few pieces I turn to help revitalize my spirit. Even when my spirits vibrant I’ll read these pieces as a reminder of what’s important.
Here are a few of them:
Turning 24: Reflections from a Former Young Person
As of my birthday this past week, my Jordan year is officially over but now my Kobe year starts. One of the beautiful things of getting older is the wisdom and perspective that comes with age.
Generally speaking however, western society is ageist. Ageism is especially prevalent in tech culture, and even moreso on Twitter.
I used to take pride in being young . When older folks would ask me how old I am, I’d tell them my age as if to say, “Look at what I’m doing at only x years old.” I’d compare myself to my older peers and think that I still have time to surpass them.
But as I get older, and I’m past the point where I can flaunt my age, I see many younger people accomplishing more then I did when I was their age. Before, it was about being the best, it was about crushing the competition, it was all ego driven. Now, it’s about how I can inspire and pass on what I know to the next generation.
The true mark of a successful student-teacher relationship is if the student surpasses the teacher. As I’m starting to reach a point in my life where I’m a teacher, a role model, a mentor, this saying has taken on a whole new meaning for me. Though my best years are still ahead of me, it’s important for me to pay it forward to the next generation.
 Young and old are relative terms. Since I’m still an undergrad, many of my circles are in the 18-22 range.
Koboyashi Maru is a no-win training exercise in the Star Trek Universe given to all cadets at the Starfleet Academy. It’s primarily used to assess a cadet’s discipline, character and command capabilities when facing an impossible situation, as there is no (legitimate) strategy that will result in a successful outcome.
Here’s a description of the exercise:
The test primarily consisted of the cadet placed in command of a starship. The ship would soon receive a distress signal from the Kobayashi Maru, a civilian freighter within the Klingon Neutral Zone that had been heavily disabled. Being the only ship in range, the cadet usually either chose to withdraw from the rescue mission or enter the neutral zone and rescue the vessel in risk of violating the treaties. The ship would then be confronted by Klingon K’t’inga-class battle cruisers, which typically engaged in a firefight.
It was considered an absolute no-win scenario because it was virtually impossible for the cadet to simultaneously save the Kobayashi Maru, avoid a fight with the Klingons and escape from the neutral zone with the starship intact.
Despite the no-win scenario, Captain James Kirk was the first to defeat the Kobayashi Maru test.
How did he do it?
Before his third try, he reprogrammed the simulator so that it was possible to rescue the freighter.
Though some say that Kirk cheated, others say that he applied out of the box thinking to step out of the rules of the game and redefine it, thus winning the unwinnable game.
In any game, this is an opton that we have that we usually forget. That we can step out of the game and redefine the rules in our favor.
Crossing the Finish Line
Finishing up a school semester is always a sweet feeling. Every academic term feels like a mental marathon with a barrage of assignments, labs, tests, and recruiting to top it all off.
I just finished up my final exam for my 3B term a few hours ago. My brain’s fried and I’m using my last bits of mental energy to write this blog post.
I breathe a sigh of relief.
Another semester is over.
I live to fight another day…
Studying Deeper vs Studying Longer
Here’s a reminder for myself as I’m in the midst of exam season.
Hours of studying matters, but how deeply I’m focused when I’m studying matters just as much if not more.
Focus is a multiplier.
Quality of Focus
Weak - 1
Meh - 2
Good - 5
Great - 10
Monk Mode - 20
To estimate my studying output, multiply the quality of focus by number of hours studied.
I can study all week long but if I’m not focused it’s a waste of time.
I’m at my best when I’m studying a moderate amount with high focus.
You Are Not Your Job
Going to a career-focused university, I find a lot of my peers, and myself at one point, stake their self worth on their careers.
But there’s so much more to life than jobs.
Here’s an interesting thread from Julie Zhuo, former VP @ Facebook, about careers and identity.
When things get tough, some of us have a tendency to shut down. To handle the ordeal on our own. We don’t want to burden those around us.
But it’s when things get tough that we have to lean in.
But this is much easier said then done.
Understanding My Roots
Ethnically, I’m from the Philippines. But if someone asked me any questions about my roots I would have very little to say.
I know very little about the history. I don’t know much of the culture. I can barely speak the language. I don’t even think I’ve read a book by a Filipino author before.
Yet, understanding my origins means to understand myself.
And that’s worth learning about.
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