Things I learned at 26

© Bill Watterson

It was a rainy day in late 2018, I was enjoying a cafe with one of my most delightful friends: anh Vu — a former Googler, now currently working at Facebook, and always busy man. What a profile! But what truly urged me to meet up with him was his personal project whose stories I always love to listen to: Ourlovequest. That was also when my company reached the third year of operation, stress and anxiety had been striking frequently, things went up and down on daily basis, people came and gone, as Ben Horowitz famously put it “the two key characteristics of entrepreneurs are brilliance and courage” I had never felt more related those days. You have friends that you choose to meet at good time, and those to meet at bad time. Anh Vu is both; 2 hours coffee-ing with him definitely brightened up my day.

During one of those meet-ups, something interesting emerged.

As we only meet about 2–3 times a year, there was a whole lot of stuffs to share. One of those million tiny things is a quote that I once heard from one of my employees, which is originally told by her father.

“Be more knowledgeable to be more tolerant”

That simple saying struck anh Vu as hard as the way it engraved in my mind the first time I heard it. He opened his bag, took out a notebook and a fountain pen to jot down the phrase. I could see he had many ink colors in the notebook, which made it quite fascinating. He then introduced it as the “What I’ve learned today” notebook. I had always been a heavy note-taker, but only for information-processing and meeting recording. Anh Vu’s notebook inspired me to create a new virtual Notebook in my Evernote — which I have been showing my friends time after time until today. The notebook is named “Learning” — or a way of appreciating what life happened everyday, and how I contemplate it.

Until September 1st, my notebook has had 162 notes, marked by the day they created. There are 16 of them that I count as most important for my 26.

  • Building a business is basically like solving an equation, with a large but finite number of unknowns. The initial equation is your original company model. Then the CEO’s job during the company growing is to form more equations to support the finding of the unknowns, or at least to control the range of those.
  • An expert is just a better data processor. Even artists are not exception. Better artists process a bigger amount of raw data and experience in a more thorough manner. Meanwhile, the amateurs could only process ready-made data from others or surface data, which cause them to be a copycat or to just remain mediocre.
  • Knowledge is vast but finite, and finite but vast. This is the first tactic to perceive when you embark on learning something new.
  • Develop a system to organize the information and knowledge you gain. It can be as simple as a set of highlight pen. (I presented my close college teacher a book along with my favorite Stabilo Boss)
  • Learn acceptance. I was always thinking about/ pursuing courage and persistence, but when things fell apart, when the most important people have gone, everything misaligned, and you slipped to the valley of despair, learn acceptance — my father told me.
  • Learn actively, listen actively, read actively, live actively. React to the world is important, don’t just absorb it.
  • Most important changes in life happened in the form of a shift in perspective, not the changes in objective factors. I heard about this idea years ago, but it’s one of the things you could only understand when you seriously contemplate it. A few days after I wrote this note, one of my mid-aged friend said something similar when we had a drink: “Có phải do ta chưa đặt đúng “chân tình” cho (điều đó)”, he then laughed as he chugged his beer.
  • Learn to allocate your mind power in every situation to gain the best result. “Allocation” is the key; we people have different mental and physical limit, but we all have limits. So optimize “when” to do “what” with “who” is truly an important key to get things done right while avoiding burnout. And this is often underrated in this fast moving society.
  • “Being heard” is one of the most mundane and essential needs of human. Mark Manson stated in “The Subtle Art of not giving a F*ck” that old people have too few f*ck left to give, their lives turn boring, so sometimes they have the tendency to be irrationally aggressive and petty just to get attention, to be heard. I found that some old people love to talk to specific youngsters, some of whom are my millennial friends, those who can listen properly.
  • Be kind, be a good listener. And don’t just listen. Process the data, talk back, react, find the sweet spot between superficial acquaintance and a dogmatic advisor. Lots of people seem not to open up easily, or maybe it’s you who didn’t have the right way of listening.
  • “Things could be “bad” and become “better” at the same time. Trust the process”. I learned this while reading “Factfulness” by Hans Rosling. “Bad and Better” is the term he used to discuss what’s really happening around the world, including poverty, healthcare, terrorism and many other fields. This may be the strongest statement of the book, the last thing a phenomenon statistician and world health physician taught the world in the last years of his life. You could apply this idea into every aspect of your daily life. It helped me give one of my key employees a heads-up in the darkest hours of his work and his personal life.
  • One action represents hundreds of though and thousands of beliefs.
  • Reading = Forced Meditation. I learned this from a video of Max Joseph, a young enthusiastic movie director, close friend of Casey Neistat, interviewing Dr. Ruth J. Simmons — president of Brown University.
  • 5% of the world lies in what you could see. 95% lies in the connections between them.
  • There are moments when you want to learn something. In critical time, forcing yourself to learn something is okay, skimming self-help books is okay, hurriedly watching hours of Youtube how-to is okay. But for pure enjoyment, I believe there are right moments when the touch point between you and an aspect of life just happened naturally. I learned this from a talk with Mr. Nam — one of the founders of FPT, and now runs a physical and also an online university.
  • Re-reading is beautiful, especially when you do it right after you finish the book — I learned this from Shane Parrish — the founder of Farnam Street. Also, It’s critically helpful to read the biography of the author, the preface and the author’s note before reading any book.

I’m a big fan of Ryan Holiday — the prominent influencer who “leading the charge for Stoicism” in Silicon Valley, the VP of Marketing at American Apparel at the age of 24, and the bestselling author behind lots of awesome reads, includes Conspiracy — “the “Art of war” of the 21st century”. Ryan starts writing down his life lessons at the age of 26, which is quite an interesting coincidence to my case.
Things do not always turn out to be good, but I would wish peacefulness to anyone who has the gut to watch the adversity approaching.

to my girlfriend — X.Lan, thank you for helping me translate my words, my view, and my feeling about life throughout the years.

Nam, Sep 2nd 2019, no rain yet.




Lifetime learner. I also make drawing and run a small company

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Lifetime learner. I also make drawing and run a small company

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