What I’ve learned working at Starbucks

When people hear that I used to work at Starbucks, they’re surprised, even shocked. They ask me if I’m joking, convinced that I’m the last person that would ever take that kind of job.

And I used to brush it off too. I’d be embarrassed and say that that past isn’t really worth mentioning.

But that’s where I was wrong.

A past, no matter how embarrassing you think it is, is a part of who you are as a person and a part of who you’ll become. A past, no matter how insignificant you think it is, will have influenced your decisions in life at some level whether or not you realize it. A past no matter what is always worth mentioning because there’s always a story to be told, a lesson to be learned.

It was the summer right after high school. I had applied to my local community college and figured I’d get a job somewhere so I could pay the bills while working on my startup. On a whim, I took up a friend’s recommendation and applied at the Starbucks I had frequented often in the past.

The application and interview process was surprisingly easy. Just a few simple questions to answer and I was hired.

Work was straightforward, but tedious and of a repetitive nature. Grab a cub, press a button, steam some milk, serve. Repeat. On most days, that’s all you’d do — make drink after drink all the way until the end of your shift. There was never any thinking to be done, other than trying to remember if the syrup was already added. It was all just about following instructions.

I worked at Starbucks close to half a year before I quit. When I left, I didn’t even give two weeks prior notice; I just decided at the spur-of-the-moment to tell the manager one night that I no longer wanted to work there.
I had had enough.
I no longer wanted to work at a place I wasn’t passionate about, that felt stagnant with no opportunities to grow.
I no longer wanted to work at a place where the culture consisted of drama and gossip.
I no longer wanted to work at a place where I couldn’t learn anything.

If you ask me what I’ve learned by working at Starbucks, it’ll be the realization of never wanting to work at that kind of job again. It’ll be the realization that I won’t be satisfied ever until I find a job where my growth won’t be limited realistically in a mere three to five years. It’ll be the realization that the kind of job I want is one that’ll challenge me and make me feel as if I’m accomplishing something, a job that I’m passionate about.

The experience at Starbucks has been crucial to the success I’ve had and will continue to do so towards my future because it’s a constant reminder to never set my sights too low, to never lower the expectations I have for myself so I can push myself to do more, and achieve more.

Working at Starbucks was a turning point in my career; it gave me perspective. I was tired of waking up at 4:45AM, all for the sake of making beverage after beverage for people who’d never truly care. I was tired of being stuck at a job that taught me nothing and gave me no hope for potential growth. It made me realize that I sought more from myself, and made me realize that I didn’t want to live like this, that this wasn’t fulfilling for me. It made me realize that there are better things I could be doing with my time.

Starbucks also taught me about optimism. I had been too optimistic in my own abilities; I had believed I was capable of both working close to full-time while running a full-time startup. It was silly, a mere pipe dream. By the time my shift had ended and feet were aching, I was already too tired to work on anything else. The progress I made on my startup that year was less than the progress I had made in any of the months after quitting.

When people ask me about that part of my past, I don’t hide it anymore. I don’t brush it off, disregard it. It’s a part of who I am, and who I’ll become. My past is the key to my future.

It’s important to realize that every piece of your past can be considered worthwhile, impactful to your development as a person. Every mistake, every victory you’ve made is a part of who you are. Your past reflects the experiences you’ve been through, the lessons you’ve learned, the knowledge you’ve gained. Every opportunity you’ve taken or missed determines the very progress you’ve made in life. Without a past, we’d be no one. We wouldn’t have a story to tell.

Our past teaches us to learn from our mistakes, to celebrate the struggles we’ve overcome and to find joy in exceeding the limits we set. No matter what your past is like, no matter the hardships you’ve been through, no matter the fortunes you’ve been given, there’s always a lesson to be learned from our pasts. Someone who struggles through hardships learn to grow resistance towards obstacles; they gain persistence and become determined to succeed. Someone who’s lived life spoiled will eventually learn to experience the harsh difficulties of the world; their past will then become a constant reminder for them to never take things for granted and to put in the effort.

The best thing we have other than our future is our past because it’s the best guide we have in obtaining the life we want. It teaches us exactly what we need to know, what to avoid, what to focus on, who to care about, what works and what doesn’t. It’s our pilot, our compass; it’s what we’ll use to drive ourselves forward. Without it, we couldn’t be anywhere or be anyone at all.

The next time you’re embarrassed about a part of your past, don’t. Embrace it and rejoice it in, even if it’s for the sake of the lesson learned. The future is built on your past, one step at a time.

“The past is your lesson. The present is your gift. The future is your motivation.” — Anonymous

The one thing that hurts your reputation the most

It was Friday night. A group of us had gotten together after the conference to connect over dinner in San Francisco. I had gone to the conference with a friend and as soon as we said our goodbyes to the other attendees after dinner, I asked him a question that had been bugging me for the greater part of the night.

I asked:

“Earlier when we were all talking about X, how come you pretended to know about it when you didn’t and started giving advice? Couldn’t you just have told them that you didn’t know enough to comment?

He had lied, multiple times during the conversations that happened that night about knowing a topic he knew nothing about. Worse, people were convinced of his lie; people had genuinely asked him for advice, advice he wasn’t qualified to give.

He responded:

Yeah, I’m not sure to be honest. I just kind of froze and didn’t want to look weak or anything so I just went along with it. No worries though, I’ll go home and learn about it so I’ll be better prepared the next time.

When you say those kind of words and take that kind of stance, you shirk responsibility. Responsibility for intentionally misleading people, responsibility for your reputation and responsibility for your self-growth.

It sounds like like a simple mistake; one that could be overlooked, but the consequences are much more deeper than imagined.

The very moment you claim knowledge that’s not yours, you’re subconciouly telling your brain that you already know the answer, that there’s no need for further research because you’ve already understood the topic enough to advise people on it. When your brain is being reinforced with the positive signals given by people who praise you because they think you know the answer, there’s no further motivation to continue learning. There’s no more reason to seek out the correct answer. Claiming to research more into the topic afterwards at that point is at most an empty promise probably used to placate any lingering feelings of self-guilt.

The very moment you claim knowledge that’s not yours, you’re causing harm to the very people asking you for advice. You’re taking their sincerity for granted and throwing it on the ground before trampling over it. You’re taking their respect for you and betraying their goodwill towards you. You’re risking their wellbeing, their family’s wellbeing and their company’s wellbeing by giving them advice that you’re unqualified to give, which come worse case scenario, might cause them to lose everything they’ve worked for. All for the sake of satisfying your ego.

The very moment you claim knowledge that’s not yours, you’re destroying the trust that others have placed in you. You’re destroying the reputation you’ve built. People are smart; they’re observant. When there comes a day that they realize you’ve been lying to them, giving them advice you’re not qualified to give, they’re going to blame you for wasting their time and the consequences from having listened to your advice. They’re going to lose trust in you and at that point, your reputation and any reputation you might’ve initially gained from pretending to know will have all washed down the drain, disintegrated into nothingness.

When you pretend you’re knowledgeable in a topic you’re not, you’re hurting the very people who’ve confided in you for advice, who’ve given you their trust and betraying that very trust. You’re damaging your reputation and allowing yourself to be possibly branded as a liar who’s naive, insecure and lacking in self-confidence to not even have the courage to admit not knowing something. You’re limiting your self-growth and potential to learn more, to be more educated and well-versed in a multitude of topics.

It sounds like like a simple mistake; one that could be overlooked, but the consequences are much more deeper than imagined. There’s never any reason to lie and pretend to know something that you don’t. When you pretend that you know something, you’re just being irresponsible.

I’m sorry, Mom and Dad.

For as long as I can remember, my parents have been eating at the same restaurant almost every single day. They go there because they like the food, the ambience, the vibe — it reminds them of Hong Kong, of a past they’re familiar with. I used to like the restaurant too, until I started hating it for the lack of change. It was always the same cuisine, the same food made by the same chefs, served by the same waiters and I was sick of it.

Eventually, during my teenage years, I went through a rebellious stage and stopped going to the restaurant completely. I’d say heartless, irrational words like I wish I weren’t Chinese, or mock my parents for always being predictable and old-fashioned. I’d argue back whenever I could and look down on the traditions I felt were forced on me. I insulted their beliefs. I disrespected their efforts in raising me. I rejected their teachings, convinced of their lack of understanding towards me and discredited the very culture in which I was brought up. Everything I shouldn’t have done, I did, all for the sake of spiting them and challenging their authority.

Looking back now, it’s silly to see the person I once was. It’s hard to imagine myself that way, a person so reckless, so naive and so blindly unaware of the sacrifices my parents made. It’s hard to believe how much time has already passed and how it’s only now that I realize the mistakes I’ve made.

I wish I could go back.
It terrifies me knowing that my parents aren’t as young as they used to be. They don’t show it, but I can tell. They’ve grown older, more thin and more frail. Their originally black hair being quietly overwhelmed by shades of gray. Their bodies weaker, more susceptible to cold and tiredness.

I wish I had more time.
If they ask me now to go with them to their favorite restaurant, I’d go without hesitation. I’d be sick of the never-changing food, but I’d still go because it’s now that I’ve realized that sometimes, it’s not about what you don’t like, but what you value more. What I value more, what I cherish is the opportunity to spend more time with my parents no matter the occasion, no matter the location. What I value more is being able to see the satisfaction my parents get from eating the food they enjoy and are familiar with. What I value more now is the happiness they get from being able to share with me the very sense of familiarity they get from frequenting that restaurant.

Life wasn’t easy growing up. My parents did everything they could to provide for me, giving me a life worth living for, giving me the opportunity to learn and giving me support in following my dreams. I am everything I am because of them. I am who I am because of them. So what’s a little bit of sacrifice on my part if it genuinely makes them happy? For all that they’ve done, for the unconditional love and support they’ve given me, for all the times they never gave up on me even when I was a spoiled brat, they deserve their happiness. They’re entitled to it. They’re entitled to their choice of restaurant. To me, eating food that I don’t particularly like is a small sacrifice to make when compared to the sacrifices my parents have made in all the years they’ve spent raising me.

And I understand where they’re coming from. When you grow older, you hold on to your beliefs, your values, your traditions and habits differently. My parents have spent their lives fighting for stability in constantly changing times, in a world far away from what was once their home in a culture vastly different from the ones they were brought up in. To my parents, the restaurant with it’s never-changing food and it’s ambience is the best reminder of their past. It’s the representation of their values, traditions and habits they’ve held.

My generation is different. Everything is even more volatile and ever-evolving than theirs had been. Most of the traditions and culture my parents have tried to pass down to be have already been long forgotten. But despite all that, despite having forgotten, I’m thankful for the one thing that hasn’t been forgotten: the importance of family. If there’s anything I can pass down to my future children, my future generation, it’s that.

Mom, dad, it’s taken me a while but I’ve finally grown up. I love you both. Thanks for always having been there for me.

Dealing With Past Regrets

There’s a loving couple I know. They’ve been married for decades, have kids and rarely argue. Occasionally though, they do get into arguments — the wife getting angry at the husband for whatever reason and the argument intensifies and tempers flare, the wife usually brings up the past and all the regrets it holds. She talks of how things would’ve been different had her husband listened to her advice, of how things used to be, of how different decisions could’ve been made.

Listening to her, I start to realize a problem that most of us have. We dwell too often on the past, and focus on the what if’s and if only’s instead of our future and the possibilities that it holds. We talk about the past because it’s easy; it’s certain, unlike our future.

That’s where we often get stuck. We’re so lost in the failures of our past that we forget that new opportunities lie only within the present.

We can’t change the past; the past will always be just that — the past.

There’s a story about a Taiwanese-Japanese entrepreneur who made it during World War II. He had quite an eye for business; everything he invested in returned profits. Months after months, he expanded his businesses and eventually even landed a deal with the Japanese government to start manufacturing engine parts.

The future was optimistic. Until one day, he was arrested. Upon noticing missing inventory at one of his factories, he went to the police to ask for help. The police blamed him and arrested him and put him in a military prison where he was starved and tortured for 45 days.

By the time he had finally been released, the war had ended and his businesses destroyed.

He started over anyways, this time investing in real estate. He found success again and before long, decided to expand into the food industry. He started selling sea salt by evaporating sea water he’d pay the neighborhood kids to collect for him.

Business expanded as usually and the future was looking bright, until he was arrested again. The American soldiers stationed in Japan at the time had arrested him on the charge of tax evasion for money he had been paying kids to collect sea water for him. Despite not being found guilty yet, he was still held in prison, this time for years. By the time he was released and all charges had been dropped, he had already lost everything he once owned.

He moved on to start a bank; the bank failed. Business after business were created but all of them met with the same result: failure.

Most people at this point in his circumstances would have already given up. They would’ve chalked it up to a series of unfortunate events and convince themselves that they wont be able to succeed and spend the rest of their lives looking back, full of regrets wishing they had done something differently.

But this man didn’t. He refused to stay in the past. He persisted despite all his failures. Eventually in 1958, he found success again as the founder of Nissan Food Products Co., Ltd.

He’s known as the inventor of instant noodles, instant ramen, and cup noodles. His name? Momofuku Ando.

Imagine for a moment — what would’ve happened had Momofuku Ando focused on his past instead of the present and the future? Had he been stuck on any of his past failures, he would’ve never succeeded. The Nissan food company, instant noodles and all its variations may very well never have existed today.

It’s important to learn from our past mistakes — the experience and knowledge helps us overcome new obstacles, but it’s more important to know when to let go and stop focusing on the regrets of the past.

“It took 48 years of my life for me to come up with the idea of instant noodles. Each and every event in the past is connected to the present by invisible threads.” — Momofuku Ando

Don’t be blinded by the past; focus on the future and its opportunities.

We’re Being Taught To Forget Our Passions

Growing up, every time I’d be at a buffet, my parents would tell me to avoid fillers and get only foods with the biggest bang for buck.

Sound familiar? We’re all told something similar one point or another as kids.

It makes sense. In a society where success of what we do is determined by its monetary value, it’s normal to make decisions that reflect that.

What we don’t realize is that by always choosing only the things that give us the best value, we’re losing ourselves in the process. We become caught in a cycle, day after day, week after week, working towards financial success without ever giving ourselves a chance to pursue our dreams. We lose sight of our passions, lose sight of the people we care about and lose sight of our dreams. We stop following our passion; we blame it on old age, missed opportunities and never-ending responsibilities when the reason all along is that we’ve been too preoccupied with how much money we’ll make, or how much money we can make.

We’ve let monetary success dictate our lives. Even when meeting new people, we’re more easily impressed by doctors, lawyers or successful entrepreneurs not because of the impact they’ve brought to society, but because of the symbolic ties their position has with monetary success.

Food choices at a buffet might seem innocent enough, but the impact is a lot deeper than imagined. If as kids, we’re already discouraged from choosing what we want to eat at a buffet because it doesn’t gives us the greatest value in return, how are we to grow up knowing we can follow our dreams? How are we to know that we can follow our passions?

Follow your own passion — not your parents, not your teachers — yours.

— Robert Ballard

Why only losers post on social media

It’s funny how social media works.

Whenever we see a photo of someone swimming in the clear blue waters of Maldives, a photo of friends skydiving across the endless sky, a photo of the most glamourous wedding ever, we can’t resist from liking that photo and giving it a thumbs up.

Most of us see it as a mere social signal to indicate our acknowledgement for having seen it, but it’s way beyond just that. The reason why we like the photos we see in our social media feeds is because they’re projections of the kind of lifestyle we want to have. They’re moments that overlap with our own illusions, something we can relate to and use as a metric in comparing our lifestyles against that of someone else’s.

What’s posted online is often an exaggeration, a meticulously curated process where photo after photo is deleted until the perfect one is found. Add in the editing and color grading, and viola! The illusion of the perfect lifestyle is created.

On a subconscious level, we all know that these photos have been edited to showcase the best moments of someone’s life. We realize it, but choose to disregard that fact because the truth is, we also do what everyone else is. We pose, we take photos out-of-context and exaggerate in order to create our very own best moments to compete with the moments of others.

As we post more frequently, the photos we’ve carefully selected and manipulated becomes more than just a portrayal of the lifestyle we want to live in; it becomes our reality. We lose ourselves in this exaggerated, alternative version of our lives and struggle to maintain it because that’s how our friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances and even our friends’ friends already see us.

So we’re caught fueling, photo after photo, a never-ending lifestyle that becomes farther and farther from the truth. We become the very actors in our own movies, infatuated with the profile we’ve created for ourselves online and forget who we really are.

We lose ourselves, forget the ambition we’d once held in achieving our dreams and desires because in the fantasy lifestyle we’ve already built online, we’ll feel like we’ve already achieved them. Eventually, we stop paying attention and give up trying. Our dreams die and our goals remain unaccomplished.

Years later, we might regret it, but by then it’ll have been too late. We’ll have finally realized that everything we’ve posted can be nothing more than an exaggerated version of our lives, a dream. We’ll realize how fleeting the satisfaction we get from our likes and thumbs ups is compared to if we had actually achieved in real life, the version of the lifestyle we wanted.

The worst feeling ever is to realize that you haven’t progressed, grown for years because it’s then when you realize how much time you’ve wasted, time never to come back again, time that could’ve been better used to actually turn your dreams into reality.

If you still have what it takes to achieve your goals, the time is now, the moment in your hands. Make the change, put in the effort and turn the very lifestyle that has been a fantasy into a reality.

“The distance between your dreams and reality is called action.” — Anonymous

The reason why you shouldn’t trust what people say

Yesterday, I rented a scooter from my airbnb host. It was a fair price considering the other offers I received in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and more convenient than renting at a rental shop because I wouldn’t have to go out of my way to return it after the rental period.

Noticing the gasoline meter indicating a critically low amount of fuel, I asked my host directions to the nearest gas station. He looked confused and said not to worry about it and that I didn’t need it because he had his assistant fill up the fuel just the day before. He said the gasoline meter was ‘most likely broken’.

I went to the gas station anyways.

What I’ve realized, over the period of time I’ve been traveling, is that while people are generally good-willed, they sometimes give answers they’re not sure of when being put on the spot. Perhaps it’s a pride thing, not wanting to seem unsure when asked, or perhaps it’s them placing too much trust in the answers given to them by someone else.

In this case, my host might’ve placed too much trust towards his assistant. A twenty or so seconds before arriving at the gas station, my scooter ran out of gas. I had to manually push it to the gas station before I could fill up on gas.

It made me wonder: what if, I hadn’t gone directly to the gas station? I could’ve easily been stranded in the middle of nowhere waiting, under a hot scorching sun for my host to arrange a rescue. I could’ve missed a business meeting that couldn’t be missed. I could’ve run out of gas on my way up a steep slope and end up rolling backwards towards incoming traffic. Many things could’ve happened and it would’ve been because I took my host’s word that his assistant had filled up on gas the day before.

Sometimes it’s not about whether or not to trust someone. It’s about maintaining a healthy amount of skepticism towards promises made by people who’s reputation you know nothing about. It’s about taking extra effort and time to verify situations that are worth reconfirming and reasonably easy to do so. If all it takes is a quick check to see whether or not someone’s words can hold up, then why not? It’s easy for someone to say the wrong thing because they’re not the ones who’ll suffer the consequences. You are.

I experienced another similar situation at another airbnb rental, this time in Bali, Indonesia. My water supply was scheduled to be shut off for the greater part of the morning due to renovations being made to the neighboring villa, a process that would take three to four hours at most. Time quickly passed and upon realizing that I still didn’t have access to water, I contacted my host. It turned out that the contractor had forgotten to turn the water supply back on after he left. My airbnb host apologized and promised that the contractor was on his way and that water would then be restored, all within two hours.

I didn’t regain my water access until the very next morning.

My host, having asked the contractor to come back and fix the problem, had assumed her job to be done and went to sleep. The contractor who came and fixed the problem likewise assumed his job to be done and left, without checking to see if the problem had been fixed. It hadn’t.

Because of their negligence and assumptions, neither of them had checked to see whether or not my water had been restored. Because of their actions, I bore the consequences as the victim and didn’t have access to water until the next day.

To be honest, I could’ve blamed them. I could’ve asked for compensation. I could’ve yelled at them, scolded them. But I didn’t, because it wouldn’t have done anything to change the situation that had already passed. There was no reason to make a fuss and cry over spoilt milk. Instead, I reflected. I looked back and realized that I was also to blame; I should’ve been more proactive in checking to see whether or not the water had been restored myself without relying on others. I should’ve asked the host to inform me when the problem had been fixed. I had been equally negligent in assuming my host and the contractor would check to see if the water had been restored.

When you have a say, a chance to make a difference in a situation that matters by double checking, go for it. Most people will never go out of their way to check whether or not your problems are fixed. Because it’s not directly their problem, they’re not going to put in the effort. When that happens, all you can do is rely on yourself, rely on your instincts, your ability to reassess and reconfirm to avoid the chances of being in a disadvantageous situation. We all have the ability, the capability to influence and affect the outcomes to our problems positively — it’s just a matter of whether or not we do.

Trust your instincts and ask questions. Trust people for who they are and how they act, but not always what they say. Determine the outcome you want, yourself.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” — George Bernard Shaw

How being a TV show addict ruined my life

I was hooked. I was addicted. I just couldn’t stop watching.

A TV show that I had only decided to watch on a whim after a friend’s recommendation quickly grew on me, and before I realized, took over my life. I started thinking about it often — at work, at gatherings, at dinner. I even dreamed about several times.

So I promised myself that I’d stop, that all I was going to do was just watch one more episode and end it there. As if. As if getting rid of an addiction could be as easy as that. Episode after episode, long after my promise, I kept watching. Episodes became seasons and I kept watching even when I grew tired of the predictable plots and repetitive acting.

When that TV show ended, I quickly found another one to ease the emptiness and continued fueling my addiction.

It wasn’t until months later that I finally found a way to break out of that addiction. Frustrated with my lack of control, tired of making excuses I knew were lies, I did one one thing I knew would ruin the entire experience of watching tv shows for me. I read the episode summaries of every episode I had not yet watched.

By reading the summaries, I lost any and all satisfaction I had of watching the tv show. The best part of the watching experience was ruined. I spoiled the entire series and lost all reason, motivation to continue watching. In a matter of minutes, I killed the addiction I had for months.

Since then, whenever someone tells me they seek change and come to me for advice, I share that story with them. That’s the method I teach. Out of the many who say they’ll try it, a few do, but most don’t. They say the method is too brutal, that it’s too extreme and ruin the joy of watching entirely for them.

But that’s exactly the point.

If you want change, you have to be prepared to sacrifice. You have to be prepared to give up on the things holding you back from the change you want. Saying you want to change is easy, but achieving it is hard. Most of us fail because we don’t make the sacrifices necessary. We don’t want to put in the time, the effort or the attention required to achieve our goals.

It’s not enough to talk about our resolutions, how we’re going to change, the goals we’ve set for ourselves and the accomplishments we’ll make but not put in the effort. It’s not enough to voice empty promises and give ourselves false hope without taking action. We need to do more to realize that change.

Some people ask me if I regret reading the episode summary of that tv show. They ask me if I regret the fact that I ruined the experience. I do. Once in a while, I look back and wish I could’ve had the satisfaction of finishing the tv show like everyone else.

But more often than not, I’m more thankful and grateful to myself for having made the choice I did because it’s given me far greater perspective and opportunity than had I not. It’s opened my eyes, given me realization that the habits in my life can be controlled and that I can do more than give myself false hope. It’s given me motivation to do more, to achieve more, to finally pursue my dreams and desires. And greatest of all, it’s given me conviction in my judgement to make necessary sacrifices.

People complain every day about not having the time to make a change. It’s not true at all. It’s not that they don’t have time, it’s that they’re unwilling to use that time to further their progress towards their goals. They’re just unwilling to sacrifice the time they have to build towards the change they want. What they don’t realize is that it’s never been about the time; it’s the lack of value they place towards the goals they want to achieve.

If there is something we truly want, something we truly desire, nobody can stop us. We’ll work hard for it. We’ll do whatever it takes, make whatever sacrifices we need.Think about the last time we’ve stayed up for the sake of having a few more drinks with friends, to play a game or watch a movie? Did we complain, voice our regrets for having done so? No, because we’re willing to sacrifice our sleeping time for it. Its worth it to us because we place higher value towards the spending of time with friends and entertainment than we do our time for sleep.

I deliberately ruined my tv show watching experience because I knew I was addicted to it despite not wanting to admit it. I knew it was ruining my life and keeping me away from doing the things I enjoyed. The change I sought after was just to be in control of my life so I could learn to do more, to achieve more and build upon my dreams. It was a sacrifice I was willing to make because it was worth it to me, because the value I placed towards having a life I was proud of was more so than the enjoyment of watching tv shows.

All desires for change, all wishes to come true, all aspirations towards goals will require sacrifice. Sometimes it might be more than just time, as in my case. Sometimes it’ll be sleep, or having to limit the kind of foods you eat, or how much money you make. Sometimes it’ll even be at the cost of your pride, your reputation. It’s up to you how far you want to go, the kind of sacrifices you’re willing to make — just know that sacrifices are necessary. They’re necessary to set you on the right track, to break bad habits and build new ones. Without first breaking bad habits, you can’t build great ones because you’ll lack the energy, attention or the mental capacity to do so.

Life can be full of sacrifices, but how you get what you truly want and the reason why we feel such a sense of accomplishment when we achieve our goals. Because only the ones who have done so will find pride realizing the amount of effort and sacrifices made to achieve those goals.

“My belief is firm in a law of compensation. The true rewards are ever in proportion to the labour and sacrifices made.” — Nikola Tesla

If you’ve ever felt stuck in life, this post is for you

Having read Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck recently, I realized something I had noticed but had never thought about before. The book talks about how everyone has a choice, that everyone is making a choice whether or not they realize it. Manson stresses this point to give people the realization that they were the ones making these choices the entire time and perhaps as a way to find peace and solace knowing that we do have greater control over our lives than we had thought.

It’s shocking how much the concept of making a choice resonates with me. It’s something I’ve been conflicted over for the greater part of my life, while running startups and traveling. It’s also one of the most common complaints I hear from aspiring entrepreneurs who want to start their business or from the average Joe just looking to make a change but can’t.

It’s true that many people that believe they have no choice, no say in their lifestyles, their relationships, or their careers. They convince themselves that they’re stuck unable to move in a different direction besides forwards so they spend time complaining about the things they wish could be changed, things they wish they had.

It’s also true that sometimes it will feel like we have no choice, that we’re tied to our responsibilities and the expectations that others have of us. Sometimes we feel like we’re drowning in a never-ending cycle of a daily mundane life. Sometimes it feels like we have nothing to look forward to except afterwork hours and weekends.

Truest of all, however, is the fact that we do have a choice. We all do.

You might not feel like you have a choice and so you choose to follow that path, but that in itself is already a choice. You’ve made choices your entire life, who you choose to be with, the kind of job you do, the people you hang out with, what you eat, what you buy — these are all choices. These are all your choices.

You might not agree with some of these choices and perhaps feel as if these choices are forced, coerced upon you, but they’re still choices. If your partner/spouse chooses to eat a type of cuisine you dislike at a restaurant you hate and “forces” you to go, it’s still a choice. Either you choose not to go and make them upset, or you choose to go because you hold a greater importance towards how they feel than you do for food.

A woman who decides to travel even though she’s worried about her father’s health is making a choice. She makes the choice traveling because she knows if she doesn’t do it now, she’ll never get a better opportunity to rebuild her life after being separated from a 9 year relationship that left her heartbroken and stranded in China.

An aspiring entrepreneur wanting to start a business might have to give up on using social media for entertainment in order to start. He chooses not to give up on social media because he realizes he places far greater importance and value on his personal entertainment than he does towards the starting of a business.

Some sacrifices are greater than others. People with children have to make a choice between spending less time with their children or their aspirations. People in abusive relationships must make a choice whether or not they’ll end it, risking being single again. People working in a job where they get no sense of satisfaction have to choose between the job or not getting paid.

The choice you make depends on you. There’s no right or wrong — it’s your choice and nobody can ever change that. But realize that because it’s your choice, a choice that you’ve made, you have little reason to complain. We make the choices we do because that’s where our values lie; it’s not that we don’t have a choice, it’s just that we’re unwilling to make the sacrifices we don’t want.

If you truly believe in something and determined to get it, you will succeed. Nobody can stop you. If you truly wish for change, it’s possible. It all boils down to choice, and you have one. You have a choice.

“Your life is a result of your choices. If you don’t like your life, it’s time to make some better choices.” — Anonymous

The secret to learning all skills and habits

It often comes surprising to me how many people find the way I cook astounding.

The other day, when I was in the midst of cooking dinner in the community kitchen of my apartment, a young mom came up to me and just started observing. She told me how she’d been cooking for years, but it was always under the guidance of a recipe found online or in a cookbook, unlike the spontaneous, seemingly reckless way of cooking I did.

She asked:

“How is it that you can cook like that without recipes? How do you figure out what to put in? What if things go wrong and it tastes terrible?”

My answer was simple.

“You just try it. If it tastes terrible, you’ll know not to make the same mistake again and eventually, you’ll learn to cook without a recipe.”

Unlike most people, I didn’t pick up cooking because it was fun or because it was something I was interested in learning. I picked it up because my parents would work late nights, and knowing that they were busy, I learned to cook on my own. It was first out of necessity that I learned, and then afterwards improved because it was useful in impressing girls.

I never had recipes to follow from — not like it mattered because I wouldn’t have had the money to buy ingredients anyways. I didn’t have any books, or a teacher to coach me, to guide me. Instead, I learned by experimenting. I would mix the oddest ingredients in the most senseless way possible and see if it was edible. Spoonfuls of garlic and chocolate, salt and grapefruit, vinegar and milk, whatever was available in the kitchen, I used to try and make something out of it.

From when I first started learning how to cook to where I am now, it’s taken an awfully long time, over a decade. It hasn’t always been easy. Most of my early cooking was horrendous, and cringeworthy just to think about. A dash of this and a pinch of that, most of my experiments resulted in smoking failure. It wasn’t until years later that I was finally able to miraculously start creating dishes that would actually be edible. It still looked like slop from a prison cell, but at the very least tasted decent and a lot better than expected.

I’ve spent a part of my life coaching people, giving consultation and advice and one of the most common questions I’ve gotten over the years has always been: How do I become X? or How do I do Y? Often times, it’s entrepreneurship related, sometimes it’s about wanting to pursue a career as a designer and once in a while has to do with cooking or traveling. The answer I give to all of those topics is more or less always the same: stop asking advice, stop reading about it in theory and just start doing it.

Many of us, when trying to pursue a new skill or building upon an existing one, rely too heavily on advice, books or just theoretical knowledge in general. We do it because we don’t like the uncertainty of not knowing what to do next, to learn next. We don’t like the feeling of being lost, of not having a guideline to follow. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to read other people’s past experiences and mistakes and learn from them in the form of advice or books — it’s just that beyond the basics, we won’t truly improve unless we rely on ourselves to do so.

If all we do is ask for advice and read, we’ll never succeed on our own because we’ll only have gotten as far as what we’ve read. We’ll never grow on our own and will be only limited to perhaps only knowledge that has already been outdated at the time of reading. If all we do is follow in the footsteps of the authors before us, we’ll have metaphorically chained ourselves up to the tree of wisdom. We’re safe because we’ll be chained to the tree, but forever limited in our freedom to explore the world and see things with a different perspective.

To truly learn, to truly be confident in your skills, it’s important to see beyond just what you’ve learned in theory but apply what you’ve learned through practical means and push the very limits of your understanding. Knowledge is easy to gain, but harder to apply and the hardest is gaining knowledge yourself through the very application of the knowledge you’ve obtained before.

“My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and he let me watch him do it.” — Clarence B. Kelland