I’ve been watching Terrace House on Netflix (both the original set in Japan and its Hawaiian counterpart Aloha State) and it made some realize something: I mostly have my shit together. For those not in the know, Terrace House is a show where they throw 3 girls and 3 guys into a furnished house without a script, i.e. reality television. Witnessing a bunch of 18-30yo millennials bumbling their way through life and romance is fun. I think reality TV is so addictive because humans are naturally social and voyeuristic. My excuse for watching reality TV is that I am learning social skills. Disclaimer: reality TV is something that should be consumed in small amounts (as it probably has the ability to make you dumber and/or more prone to seeking drama in your life).
Reflecting back on my youth and studying some of my peers, I realized that some people could probably use some nudges to optimize themselves. I write this blog post to convey all the advice I’ve collated in the past several years of being a working professional in the tech industry. My sources range from personal experience, feedback from mentors, books I’ve read, and random internet articles. I hope you enjoy.
- Be organized. If you have never heard of GTD, today is your lucky day. I am an atheist, but if I had to subscribe to a religion, GTD would be it. I never read the book by David Allen, but rather I stumbled upon a related and possibly subset philosophy called Inbox Zero one day, which led me down the rabbit hole. To achieve this task-based lifestyle, I personally use Google Inbox and Google Calendar. Doctor appointments, chilling with friends, weekend trips – everything gets logged. I hold myself to a stringent standard of never missing a deadline or meeting. I mean, who should if you’re organized?
- Be responsive. Eric Schmidt of Google talked about some rules for emailing but this one stood out for me. How many emails have you sent that went into the abyss? How did that make you feel? Perhaps you were wondering if your email was eaten by a spam filter, if your target recipient is way too busy, or if they simply did not care enough to reply. Side note: if it’s the last reason, it’s still unprofessional not to respond. Please take the minute to give the recipient an answer if some action was requested. Psychologists have proven that uncertainty causes more pain than the known bad. When you get that email and you’re too busy, just let them know it might be a while before you get back to them because of X. If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t ignore it; just reply saying you don’t know. If an email needs to be processed after the weekend, schedule it to reappear then. You’ll be surprised as more people come to you seeking collaboration simply because you’re more responsive and thus reliable. The best part of this responsive style? It meshes perfectly with Inbox Zero.
- Make S.M.A.R.T. goals. Make realistic goals with a deadline so you are held accountable. Easy example: instead of saying you’re going to lose weight by summertime, aim to lose 10 pounds by June 1st. From that measurable goal, you can break your goal into sub-goals. If it’s January 1st, that means you need to lose 2 pounds per month. That means 0.5 pounds per week. 1 pound is roughly equivalent to 3500 calories so that means reducing your caloric intake by 1750 calories per week – basically, a bacon cheeseburger, side of fries, and some beers.
- Use empathy. This is a big one for me. I studied psychology 101 in college where we learned about mirror neurons but I feel like perhaps mine don’t fire all the time, haha. I highly recommend reading some of Dr. Travis Bradberry‘s writing. As I’ve improved my capacity for empathy, so has my life improved. Being able to understand your fellow humans is important in seeking resolution to conflicts in any scenario. While some of my success in life has been due to hard work, my success would not have been enabled if not for those emotional connections with people. A promotion? Good relationship with my manager. Happy girlfriend? Able to validate her feelings rather than winning the argument. Getting propped up by coworkers? Caring about their work AND LIFE struggles.
- Keep your work-life balance. I forget where I read this, but it was a humorous quip that gets to the point: nobody ever says on their deathbed that they wished they had worked more. I live by the credo that we should work to live, not live to work. Your job will always be there demanding more, especially in corporate America where they will take as much as you give. A good work-life balance not only allows you to perform at your best at work, but in all aspects of life – and to do so in a sustainable fashion. A side note: if your job sucks, find a new one because it’s never worth it to stay unhappy.
- Your health is top priority. When I injured my lower back, I came to realize how much I took my health for granted. Youth fades, beauty fades, and health fades as well. Be extremely cautious whenever you trade health for something else. Sure, you could pull off that all-nighter to “finish” studying or get some more work done on your project. At what cost though? Perhaps you just took off an hour off your life. Not that significant, right? Think long term. Those lost hours will stack up. Let’s throw money into the equation: would you trade your health for additional financial compensation? Let’s say you can double your salary tomorrow, but you’ll be overweight and riddled with self-inflicted diseases like hypertension and high cholesterol? While no one sees the extreme form of this question, they are faced with it every single working day. Don’t trade your health away.
- Keep your finances in check. The average American is in a boatload of debt. Don’t be one of them. I understand that modern society is a giant clusterfuck because the gap between the wealthy and the impoverished is still growing. Socioeconomics aside, make smart decisions regarding your money. The world population is only going to increase meaning the world’s resources are only going to become scarcer. If you are not using a money management tool like Mint, you should start right now. I personally use Pocketsmith.
- Always be learning. The common advice is to keep reading books. As I am a tech dude, I understand if you think reading text off thin pieces of wood is antiquated so I am okay if you get your information from electronic devices as long as some of it is in long form. That means for every 9 memes, you best be reading an article of substance. Think of the content you consume as junk food versus veggies. Your brain will not thrive (or perhaps even survive) if you keep feeding it junk food.
- Buy less stuff. Aside from the fact that consuming less will save the environment, it will yield you more happiness. By having less stuff, you will appreciate what you have more. It is definitely cliche but financial success and materialism won’t give you that life you’ve always dreamed about. Look on Quora for answers from wealthy people on what life is like; life is not greener on the other side, it’s just different. Humans are ridiculously adaptable creatures, and you will adapt to your new wealth and your happiness will plateau. The 2 biggest sources for this nugget of wisdom is Marie Kondo’s book about tidying up and a documentary on Minimalism. If you want to buy something, buy memories by going on vacations and taking pictures and videos.
- Remember that we’re all humans. This seems like a ridiculous piece of advice, right? I am telling you it is not. I’ve spent years studying and troubleshooting computer systems. Obviously that has suggested me to think about each human as one giant complex system that runs on a multitude of algorithms. While it’s useful to break people down into components for the purposes of troubleshooting, most of us aren’t doctors and we should be viewing our friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors as whole living entities – each with moods, emotions, stories, dreams, and social connections. Once you’re able to recognize this fact and embrace it, you’ll start to connect with others and that’s when magic happens. You start unlocking happiness (hello primate brain wired for social interaction!) and other rewards, such as increased compensation at work. We’re raised from childhood saying we need to hit all these milestones in order to achieve success: graduate from high school, college, earn top grades, etc. Try as hard as you want to be the best in the world technically. Be that genius asshole. Be that shining star in whatever department you’re in. The truth is: no one cares. If you go back to kindergarten, you’ll find all you need to do well in the world, and that’s to play nice with others. I’ve wrestled with this paradox for many years: why isn’t the merit-based system the ideal one? Why is it not working? Well, it all comes down to the fact that the weak link in the chain is us humans, subject to unconscious biases. You will view people you like in a better light, and thus reward them more with whatever resources you have. I’m not saying to go out there and be a ruthless manipulator (see point #4) but play the politics game a bit; hell, you may even have fun along the way.