Ep. 5 – It won’t go as planned

Set goals, but don’t hold on to them so tightly that you miss an opportunity you hadn’t planned for.

Whenever I interact with the CEO, my favorite question is : did you plan for this? Is this the role that you intended to pursue years ago?

Was this your goal? And the response that I have consistently gotten back is — no, this is not what I had planned. The follow-up question is: would you have it any other way? And the reply always is no, I would not. I would not have it any other way.

Today was no different, when I sat down with the CEO of a regional company that’s locally based, and we were discussing the process of setting goals. What kind of relationship to have with goals given the experiences that he articulated and that other CEOs that I’ve spoken with have articulated.

And the conclusion was this — set goals, but hold them loosely. Pursue them, but don’t hold to it so tightly that you miss out on opportunity, you miss out on what could be that you didn’t anticipate. This brings back the point that I spoke of previously. You need to set a lane. You need to make a decision of the path that you’re going to go down. If you are to be excellent, if you are to be expert in your field, choose a lane. And all along the way, learn your craft. Learn the subject matter. Work hard, set goals and be flexible along the way.

This brings me to another point that I mentioned previously — the quote from Warren Buffett. I previously said that he asked for you to choose your top 25 things that you’d like to accomplish, goals that you’d like to accomplish in this life, and said that you needed to split that list into two categories — the top five, and then the remaining of the 25. I said that out of the five you need to choose the top two and ignore the rest at all costs.

Ignore the other three out of the top five. I misspoke. It’s take your top five and everything else that remains — the other 20 — are those you must avoid at all costs in order to actually get your top five done in life. So a brief correction.

Next, regarding this conversation I had this morning. We finished off by saying — you know, we should do this again sometime. Maybe in a month or two, we’ll grab coffee. I want to share a trick, a tip, to make sure that I am intentional about following up with people regularly. I have my list of contacts that I’ve steadily built up over the years. One of the great features built into the Reminders app for the iPhone, and I’m sure plenty of other reminders apps for Android or other platforms, is you can set up recurring reminders so you don’t need particular software for managing client relations.

You don’t need an advanced app — you can use the app built into your phone to set a recurring reminder connected with a contact, that says every however many days remind me to reach out to this person, to see how they’re doing. Give them a call, and see if they can meet up for coffee or something along those lines — to make sure that you are regularly keeping up with your contacts.

So immediately after the meeting I set up a reminder, a recurring reminder. This is what I do for all of those who I set these reminders with — remind me 42 days from now. We said a month, two months — I just picked a standard number. It’s been the case across my contacts, across this list of reminders. 42 days, remind me.

And so 42 days from now, that’s what I’m going to do — I’m going to reach back out, and maybe we’ll be able to have coffee again. Doing this for the last few years has resulted in maintaining relationships that otherwise would have fallen by the wayside. It’s the kind of contact that you have left in your calendar, or left in your contact book, that it’s there but years go by and for some reason you need to reach back. Reach out to them, or you want to chat with them. You reach out, have a conversation, and it’s a bit jarring for the other person receiving the call. Who are you? Why are you calling me now of all times?

It’s an important practice to put in place to regularly keep up with your contacts. The next thing is now that I’ve made a few recordings I’ve started to make notes of what I want to discuss for the next recording. I don’t have a massive list of all of the things that I want to discuss, all of the points that I want to hit, a curriculum, or a plan for step-by-step-by-step I’m going to walk through this area of business, or this characteristic of hard work, or this insight into managing responsibilities.

It’s not like that — there’s something going on with me, something that I’m dealing with that’s happening in my personal professional life, or something that I’m interested in, and I’m drawing insights from those experiences that I want to document. I’ve found this phenomenon, I found this experience similar when writing blogs. For a long time I said I have these ideas — I’m not sure how to articulate them, but I’ve got an idea and I’m going to eventually write it down. I’m going to post this, but just it’s not the right time. I’m not ready yet or I don’t have the time to do it.

At some point I thought — you know I really don’t know what to write, but if only I knew the right thing to post, then I would. I had general ideas but nothing specific. And so it took years of saying this, similar to with this recording — it took years of saying this before I finally was fed up, and said: that’s it, I’m going to write something. And it started with writing that was a compilation of data, rather than offering any insight. And then a review on a language learning product.

It started off so small, and it wasn’t what I anticipated years back. It wasn’t this well articulated, well written piece of short form literature that I could boast about — but it was something, and it was mine. I posted it and I found that as I was writing, as I was putting in the hours trying to create a post, ideas came to me. I began to get ideas of what I could write about in the future and I started documenting those. And it all led to me writing more posts, and as I wrote more posts that led to me getting more ideas.

This is happening with this recording. I have place to write notes of ideas of what I can talk about whenever I have a new idea, I write it down, and it’s compounding. The more I record, the exponentially more ideas I get. If you’re saying to yourself: I just need that great idea. I just need this. I just need something, and then I will be… It’s not true. It was with writing that I began to formulate this notion that what you don’t do today you won’t do tomorrow. If you are waiting for something to take place, if you are waiting for something to change in your life, or something to change around you, within you, before you will begin something — realize, most likely, you’re lying to yourself. You will not in fact accomplish anything that way. These goals that you loosely hold as to what you are going to do with your life, what practices you are going to implement, what you’re going to create — these things. If you’re not doing those things today, or if you’re not doing that which is going to be part of a sequence of events that lead you to this goal, you’re not going to get there.

And so now I have this list that’s starting to be a little overwhelming because it’s not organized and every idea doesn’t lead into the next, and I’m not sure how I’m going to weave this into another recording, because like today I initially had an idea of what I would discuss.

This was yesterday. Yesterday I initially had an idea of what I would discuss today. And then today started happening. And I had met with the CEO and I experienced more life and I had more ideas and I just started discussing those and they don’t relate back to these ideas that I had for today. So now I have this backlog. I’m starting to get a backlog of ideas of things to talk about where before I started I had nothing. I had no list, and now I have it and I’m not sure what to do with it. So I’m going to attempt to go down this list and talk about some of the things on here that I’m convinced will be lost if I don’t talk about them now. And this is the first one.

There is a strategy within Project Management, a methodology referred to as agile — agile project management, as opposed to a waterfall approach. Those two are often contrasted. In agile project management, you have small iterative deliverables for a project, contrasted with waterfall whereby you work for an extended period of time to create a single deliverable where it’s all or nothing.

Say you have one year to complete a project and with the waterfall approach you will not have anything until it’s the end of the year. And by the time you hit the end of the year then you have a fully functioning completed project. Whereas with agile project management you create goals, you create steps all along the way — deliverables that build on top of each other. Iterative. They build on top of one another, so that way each step along the way you have a product, but along the way as time goes by you are adding on to that product. And this allows you to be more — here’s the word — agile. Because just like if you’re agile with your feet, you are more quickly able to pivot, to adjust direction, to change course, to tweak what you’re doing. That’s the idea of this strategy — that lightness to your approach.

And so there’s a way that you can apply this to how you live your life. One of the pieces of advice that I’ve received fairly consistently when trying to pin down that goal to pursue, is someone will say to me — find somebody that you admire. Find somebody in a company that is working a particular role, that has a title or a role or responsibility that you’re interested in. Do research on this person. See what steps led them to where they are today, and then reverse engineering. This is something that you can apply when setting up your own goals. Instead of having this all or nothing approach, it can be interspersed with deliverables, where every period of time, every segment of time, you can re-evaluate and see what you’ve done, what you’ve accomplished and modify where to go from there.

The next is bootstrapping a project. Right now I’m creating these audio recordings. You may have an interest in creating YouTube videos. You may want to create a web application or software. A mobile app. You may want to design some incredible furniture, or build a commercial property. Whatever your idea is, whatever you want to create — what I’ve been doing with this recording, and what you may be able to apply to what you’re doing, is focus on your core competency and outsource the rest. Reach out to others who are more talented or have a particular core competency besides what you have, that will ultimately save time and resources if you hire them for a role rather than you learning it yourself.

There was a time where I thought that I need to learn how to mix. I need to learn how to properly mix and master audio. I need to be able to be the graphic artist who is going to create the graphics for any kind of podcast or for a brand. Additionally I need to be a skilled photographer too, and videographer, to create the media that’s going to surround the brand which will surround the product.

And what I found is that there are a lot of resources out there that allow you to unload some of the work that you put on yourself. So for example, I work as a software engineer now. I come from a background, or more recently I come from a background of web development. There are a number of things that you don’t need to do in web development on your own. There are libraries of code that you can access and implement into your page, into your site, or into your application. A great example of this is Google has their own package, their own library, of styles that automatically apply to a web site when you load a few links into your page. It’s called Materialize or Material UI, and it’s Google’s design language but then built into a package of code that you can then use yourself. It offloads a lot of the style choices, or the decision making for creating an aesthetically pleasing site, to a third party, and then you can focus on something else such as the functionality or the content of the site.

An example with this — take Twitter or blogging. Every post that I have has a picture associated with it. Where do I get those pictures? I could take myself, I could edit them myself — instead I go to on unsplash.com. Unsplash is a site where creators post high quality photos, that are under a Creative Commons zero license whereby they are almost entirely, if not entirely, free for personal use, for commercial use, for absolutely any application, modification etc. — they are available. And so for every blog post I find a corresponding photo and post that alongside.

I always attribute the author or attribute the creator, but I post it alongside the content. Similarly with Twitter — if ever I post something, I’m always attaching a photo. Additionally I get to tag Unsplash in it, I get a tag of the creator of the photo, and it’s a way of engaging more people in those posts. And with this audio if I create album artwork, or artwork to go alongside the recording, or if I create or if I have a photo that is going to be on profile pages throughout the Internet, throughout social media — that photo is probably going to come from Unsplash.

Another thing — I’m doing this recording, but it is getting cleaned up wonderfully. How?Outsourcing. There are people, there are freelancers around the world, who are ready and willing to do the work that you would spend hours and hours learning or trying to do yourself — that are happy to do the work for a great rate because they can complete it quickly because they’re proficient in it. It’s a division of labor.

I work full time. I am earning an income from that core competency and then I am able to purchase somebody’s labor to leverage their skill set, to leverage their core competency, in a way that is mutually beneficial to both of us. So I simply walk into the microphone and the position that I hired for on upwork.com was for somebody to master recording, to mix a recording, to remove gaps, to add an intro song. Also — Creative Commons, that song from betterwithmusic.com.

It’s royalty free music, where unless you are modifying the original clip you are able to use it commercially unless you are using it in film or in theater. There are some caveats to it, but generally you are able to use that music — so that’s where the song is from. I thought that I had to create it myself — I thought but I had to learn something from Adobe’s Creative Cloud Suite in order to be able to create some music to go alongside this podcast.

No, I’m not. It’s just being leveraged from somebody else. People who are happy to create this content and you’re free to leverage that content if it means you attribute the work to them. So that’s why for every one of these recordings, there are the attributions as to who was a part of this.

This all goes back to not wasting your time. Not wasting your life means whatever time you have, make the most of it. I have my core competency. I make the recordings, and then I don’t use my own time to do all of the work that can be offloaded to others, that I can hire others, or I can leverage others’ royalty free or Creative Commons work.

It allows me to be all the more intentional about reaching my goals or at least in the pursuit of those goals, in the pursuit of bettering myself, the pursuit of learning more, the pursuit of being excellent.

Next — there’s still more to the list — next, I’m going to describe what happens yesterday evening, because I have private language tutors. I spend between 20 and 30 hours per week with private language tutors. I use verbling.com and there are tutors from all across the world speaking all sorts of languages that are ready and willing to teach you for a particular rate.

And I decided that instead of spending one of my hours continuing to learn my primary language, continuing to learn the language that I’m focusing on now — instead of that — I’m going to message somebody to see if they’d be willing to chat with me about the language, culture and history of the country in which their language originates. And so I spoke with a native Czech speaker who’s in the States, who studied in Italy. Who’s from the Czech Republic — now the official English version is Czechi, I believe. But this person, from the Czech Republic, speaks Czech and is living in the United States. We had an hour long conversation about what it’s like to live in the Czech Republic. What it’s like to live in Prague. What are some cultural differences that you that you notice that stand out when you are in the Czech Republic compared to the United States? Where would you rather live, now that you’ve been in all these places? What are some features of the language that you like or don’t like? What’s the business culture like? What’s culturally understood, or what do people there generally associate with the best company to work for? What is this industry like working in? Is this a respectable workplace, is this a respectable place? The idea of respectable understood. These are questions that I was able to ask in the conversation and I didn’t have all of these on a list. These questions came up as we were dialoguing.

As I was learning more, new questions arose that I got to ask. And so the idea here is not go hire a language tutor so that way you can get some fun facts about a country or a language. It’s if you want to learn something, if you want perspective, there are experts that you can go to.

If you’re interested in languages, if you’re trying to decide which language to learn — there are teachers on this site and on plenty of other language teaching sites. There are people there who speak multiple languages, perhaps speak the same languages that you are interested in speaking, or deciding between, and can offer their own perspectives on what it was like for them to learn and what they found to be more practical or what they found to be more fulfilling, depending on what you are pursuing.

There are freelancers who are willing to critique your writing. There are freelancers who are willing critique your resume. There are freelancers who are willing to offer you professional advice to analyze anything about you, about what you’re doing, about what your goals are. They are able to offer their unique perspective or their professional perspective. Companies often hire consultants for better, or for worse.

You can hire a consultant as well. You as an individual can hire a consultant. Did that ever occur to you? It didn’t occur to me — up until a few months ago, where I thought I am having the hardest time trying to figure out how I can break into an industry. I’m having the hardest time deciding between which career to pursue. I’m having the hardest time trying to figure out whether I should pursue this language or another. So what did I do? I found experts in the field. LinkedIn. Indeed. freelancer.com, upwork.com. There are freelancers, there are professionals, there are consultants who are ready and willing to be hired to give you their expertise. They’re ready, waiting and willing to share with you their expertise.

Now you need to be able to afford that — it’s relatively inexpensive for me to hire a language tutor from around the world. Relatively inexpensive for me to hire a freelancer for mixing audio. It’s a bit more expensive to hire a consultant. So it’s important to be intentional about the questions that you bring to such conversations. And also important to be working, to be doing something. Instead of taking out a loan in order to interact with some of these individuals, work to save up to be able to take these opportunities to learn. And I didn’t pay to speak with the owner of this company. There are plenty of opportunities to speak, to get wisdom from people around you and in your local communities that you don’t need to pay for. You don’t need to pay for a consultation fee — but that is an option available to you. That is something that you can do. I had no idea about this a few months ago.

But it came from a desire to not waste time. A desire to make better use of my time and my efforts. Consider that. Stay focused. Don’t put off — rather what you don’t do today you won’t do tomorrow. If you have questions, don’t just hold onto them. Find answers. Seek after answers. Seek after the people who are going to give you answers. Don’t stop knocking on the door until it’s over.

Ep. 4 – There’s always a cost

To reach the top, choose your lane and have one clear focus.

There is a cost to being the jack of all trades. As I learn about experts in their respective fields, I continue to see how, and the intention of learning or becoming an expert in multiple things is not feasible. The time that I might spend becoming an expert in one field necessarily takes away from my time becoming an expert in the other.

You might think — well can’t I be an expert in two things? Can’t I spend my 10,000 hours in these two fields of study and become an expert in both? Because you don’t actually become an expert. You don’t actually become excellent. You don’t actually become the top in your field, the best of the best, when you split up your intentions in this way. You can’t serve two masters. To give an example, I was recently listening to a discussion from a gentleman who is an expert in Papyri. And he’s describing the nuances in a few characters, in a fragment of a text from the first century, of the second century, and explaining the significance of that subtle difference, explaining what that means by way of translation, and then explaining the consequences of that translation.

Listening to him describe his area of study I came to realize how faulty this idea that I’m going to be able to become an expert in classical studies while with it not being my vocation. I thought my profession can be one thing — I can continue on in software engineering, I can transition into quantitative finance, data science or something of the like, something of the sort. And then additionally, I can spend the rest of my time becoming this expert in classical languages or a classical language, such as Greek, Latin or Sanskrit.

So on one hand I am listening to this person give this talk, give this lecture on his recent study, and then at my office I’m studying Javascript frameworks, taking the study of this programming language and going a little bit more in-depth. I’ve had an interest in functional programming partly because of how it relates to the field of data science, and I started to look into how Javascript can be used functionally — how you can apply principles of functional programming to Javascript. And I found that there are some frameworks that make it easy to implement that kind of programming methodology, and I’m looking into these frameworks and reading forums about people talking about these frameworks and the nuances to them, and going more and more in-depth into this language. And then I realized — I can’t be an expert, or I won’t be the expert in my field, the top of my field.

Let’s say I’m a programmer. And then I plan to stay a programmer. I won’t be at the top of my field if I’m not spending the time that I would otherwise be spending learning a classical language if I’m not dedicating that time to learning more about programming. There is so much depth that the more I look into these things. When I was in college, even after college, the more learning about different programming languages, it seemed to me that there were categories -different categories — of languages such as Python C, C++, C-Sharp, Objective-C, Java, Javascript, F-sharp. Different programming languages. And I thought — well I can learn a little bit, get the gist of it, and then if I learn general principles about programming I’ll be able to do well and I will be able to, just by virtue of having a job and putting these skills into practice each day I will be able to become extremely proficient at this. I’ll potentially be an expert.

And as I learn more, I’m seeing that that is far from the truth. It’s not the case that I can coast by and become this expert in programming. It needs to be what I eat, sleep and breathe in order for me to become that expert, for me to be able to learn the nuances, learn the depths of these frameworks and the underlying technologies that go into these languages. It takes a whole other level than what I’m currently doing.

And so when I think about this person giving the lecture on Papyri, and when I look into these programming frameworks, functional programming frameworks or Javascript I realize that I have to choose a lane. You will not be a master of anything if you are a jack of all trades. Not because you can’t work hard enough to become the master. No — it’s because you cannot dedicate time to becoming the top of your field in one area and also to another, because by virtue of being the top in your field, by virtue of being excellent, being the best, you necessarily have to choose a lane.

So that’s what I thought about today — choosing that lane. Not getting distracted by the various things that tugged at my interests. I’m getting you to see more and more of the value of something that I believe Warren Buffett said.

He suggested to somebody to take their top 20 to 25 things that they wanted to accomplish in life, and said OK — write them down, 20 or 25. And after he made that list the person was told — now narrow it down to five. Now once you have that list narrowed down to five, focus on the top two. And the other three avoid at any cost because they will necessarily prevent you from achieving the first.

Ep. 2 – You don’t start with perfection

It’s easy to look at what someone has accomplished and forget what it took to get there.

Don’t look at people excellent in their craft and think that in order to be successful, you need to replicate exactly what they’re doing.

Take the example of the many thriving YouTubers on the internet. Making videos is their job, and for the most part, their videos are of extremely high quality. They use high-end cameras, implement color grading, and manage to find the perfect music to complement their content. They seem to have the whole package — and confronted with this perfection, it’s easy to become paralyzed with doubt. It seems the only way to succeed is to be able to produce content as impressive as theirs — and that you can’t possibly begin unless you have all of the equipment this person has, or do all of the things that they do.

In the very same way, making a podcast has been a process punctuated with typical struggles of confidence. When I look back at my older recording, I am filled with frustration — it didn’t turn out how I had hoped. The audio isn’t clean, smooth or of particularly high quality. There wasn’t a script. The background noise is unpredictable. There are countless details that make it appear as a failure to me.

When this happens, I just have to remind myself — if I don’t do something today, I won’t be doing it tomorrow. Everyone has to start somewhere — and more importantly, the hard truth is that perfection doesn’t happen from the start. This is the case with all the people we might admire as being experts in their craft. More than likely, they started at the bottom, and slowly made improvements until their product was excellent.

Let’s return to the example of successful YouTubers. Many have been creating videos for years. However, all you have to do to break the sheen of perfection is look back at their first few videos and compare them to the more recent ones. You’ll notice a marked difference in the quality. These people have cultivated their skills over time. They had to start somewhere, however unprepared they may felt. Their subscriber base started from nothing. They all put out multiple videos before they knew anyone was watching, and slowly began to build his or her reputation by listening to feedback when the first few followers started taking notice.

This is what I think about in moments of uncertainty. I am going to persevere, continue recording, and putting out content regardless of who is listening or reading.

You don’t create perfectly refined content on your first attempt. Your very first video, article, podcast, animation or website is not going to be impeccable. It’s not going to be exactly how you want it to be, and it most likely won’t be an immediate success. It will continue to take work — but if you don’t start somewhere, you’ll never know what opportunities the future may hold. Don’t let the pursuit of perfection keep you from creating anything at all. My first podcast may have been less-than-impressive, but it’s all about progressing in steps. Today I took a step, and tomorrow I’ll take another.