Smelting Yourself

Smelting Yourself

While driving towards home with my family, my younger sister asked me (to make sure I don’t fall asleep), “What is your New Year’s Resolution?“. I paused to think, then replied “I don’t have one and don’t believe in it“.

Explaining further, I told her that changing ourselves should not be tied to a specific date or time. We can start changing ourselves the moment we determine that it is the best course of action.

I do understand the logic behind New Year’s Resolutions: the new number on your calendar is a daily reminder of the things you promised yourself at the start of the year. However, if you find yourself procrastinating on those changes and saying, “I’ll just wait until the new year comes around”, then that is not a good habit. read more

Should you take an online course?

Should you take an online course?

The internet can be used as an effective learning platform, usually done through an online course. One of the most commonly-touted advantages of an online course is convenience and accessibility. The ability to study a material in your own time at any place sounds amazing indeed!

I enrolled in an online course offered by the University of California, Berkeley called Foundations of Data Science. This is an actual university course that they converted into an online course format. As the topic of data science interests me, I decided to give it a shot.

The course is composed of three parts with each part lasting for 5 weeks. To learn the material, you need to watch video lectures about a topic every week. A free online book is also available to supplement the video materials. At the end of the week, you need to finish a practical test (laboratory) using a Jupyter Notebook.

After 4 months, I have successfully completed the course. Here are some things that I learned about my experience completing an online course.

Technology is wonderful

As this is my first time taking an online course of any kind, I was wondering how they can assess what I have learned. Surprisingly, technology has advanced far enough to make it easy for teachers to assess students online.

In the data science course, we use Jupyter Notebooks to run examples and to take exams. This is basically a web application that allows you to run Python code in the browser and display the results in real-time. This allows the student to experiment using actual code and actual data without installing Python or any additional software on the computer.

The web application also allows teachers to use auto-grading software to assess the student’s exams. This means that they no longer need to manually check each individual student and instead the application handles it for them automatically.

The best part of this is everything is done in a web browser! For students, this means ease of use and accessibility. A modern web browser is an integral part of computers nowadays, and having it as a web application means that students can learn and take exams anytime and anywhere that has an internet connection.

Paying for it has advantages

One dilemma that I encountered when I was enrolling for the course is whether to purchase a certificate or just do it for free. The course is also offered for free to the public so there is an option to learn the same things without paying for anything.

Online course providers list several reasons why you might want to pay for the course. Main reasons are to support the teachers and making sure the service is running smoothly. For me however, I opted to pay for the course due to the following:

  • Motivation – unless you are a self-disciplined autodidact, there will be times when you will not feel like studying or taking exams for the week. Paying for the service helped me to curb this feeling by thinking about the money that I spent. I admit that this helped me more than anything to push through the end of the course. Looking back, if I had taken the course for free, I would have quit mid-way as I don’t have that many “chips on the table”.
  • Verified Certificate – another reason for me to pay for the course is that they offer a “verified” certification for completing the course. This will allow me to link the certificate in my resume or my portfolio and an external service can verify my accomplishment.
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    Do what you don’t want to do

    Do what you don’t want to do

    I learned a trick in life, and that is to do what you don’t want to do. Picture this: you wake up one morning and its time to go to the gym. You look outside and saw that it is raining hard. The air is cool and you want to go back to sleep. Finally you decide that you don’t feel like going out right now and you will just go tomorrow. Sounds familiar?

    What you don’t want to do

    We all experience times when we plan to do something but a minor inconvenience happens and we suddenly feel like no longer doing it. Oftentimes not doing the things we plan does not affect our life significantly. But it may influence how we view obstacles in the future.

    As we discussed in the Consistency Beats Intensity philosophy, success is not a random event or just “luck”. Instead it is the result of small, deliberate actions that compound over time. These small, deliberate actions are what we experience every day. Our decision on how we deal with these events will determine our future no matter how insignificant they may seem today.

    Excuse as the default

    I believe that if you don’t feel like doing a task, that is just what your default mind tells you. Have you thought that the same feeling might the universe’s signal that it needs to be done and it is important?

    It is natural for us to be lazy and want to exert the least amount of effort to go through the day. However, if we always follow that natural instinct, then we will also reap the default rewards for our actions. If we want to be successful (no matter what your definition is), you need to fight that natural urge to procrastinate and instead push forward in the task.

    Dealing with excuses

    One habit that I do is to try to catch myself once I start having these thoughts.

  • “I don’t feel like going to the gym today because of X excuse (weather is gloomy, my back is aching a bit, I have a little bit of a headache).”  – I spend extra effort to make sure I go to they gym even if its later than usual.
  • “Tomorrow will be the day that I write. Today I have a writer’s block and I can’t think of any ideas!” – Opening up my editor and trying to write a single sentence, whatever is floating on my mind, helps a lot. I often find that this single sentence is the catalyst to get me to write several paragraphs in one sitting!
  • “How can I love this person when he/she did something bad to me?” – I try to gather up forgiveness in my heart and focus on the good things about the person rather than the bad ones.
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    Keep Moving

    Keep Moving

    One night after a few bottles of beer, a friend asked me about finding your passion or mission in life: “Do you search for it or does it just stumble towards you one day?“. I said to him that I think it will eventually stumble on you, but in order for this to happen, you need to keep moving.

    Where are you are going?

    Steve Jobs once said in a speech:

    You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.

    I have confirmed this as well and I am pretty sure you can too if you think about it. Imagine yourself 10 years ago. Back then I resigned from my first job, depressed, without any significant savings, not knowing what I want to do with my life. Forward to 10 years and now I have a beautiful family, work that I love, and a good financial foundation.

    Looking back, I had no idea that the actions that I took then will land me in where I am today. I left my first job only to find that its difficult for me to find another job that will use my previous experience. That prompted me to “start fresh” again and went to software development. This led me into a string of jobs and opportunities that eventually resulted in a time-independent, fully remote work where I have a significant impact in the company. Along my journey I also met my future wife and new lifelong friends.

    During those years when I was switching jobs it certainly did not feel like premeditated actions. I am just going through the flow, taking in changes and opportunities as they arrive. There is no thought on what may happen in the future or if what I am doing is right or wrong.

    Being “Lucky”

    When we hear about someone who landed a good career, won a prize in a game or a contest, we often say “that person is lucky!“. What is luck anyway? According to a dictionary definition:

    luck (noun) – success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.

    Note that the definition says that it is only apparently brought by chance, which means that it may not be the whole truth. On the surface, these successes or failures seem to just happen randomly on the individual but as we think about and analyze the situation, their actions did have a significant impact on their “luck”.

    Like a roll of the dice, you can’t expect the outcome to be exactly what you want it to be. You have to roll it a couple of times (often more than you want) before you finally get the result that you desire.

    Other people may seem to be “lucky” and get their results in just one or two rolls. But you may never know the number of rolls they have already done in other games that you were not in.

    Searching

    Instead of just aimlessly wandering around, hoping to find your destiny, wouldn’t it be better to just search for it?

    Searching for something triggers unconscious biases. If you search long and hard for something, you may find it eventually. However, the results that you get are greatly affected by your mindset.

    Let’s say you are madly in love with someone, or have been through a break-up. Suddenly the world seems to constantly remind you of the other person. The radio suddenly plays your song. You play a random game and one of the characters has the same name of the other person, and so on. In reality these events are just normal occurrences, but since your mind is fixated on the other person, anything that remotely reminds you of him/her gets front seat in your head.

    If you want to convince yourself that you want a certain path, you actually don’t need convincing at all.

    Letting it go

    Instead of actively searching, I think it is better to just let life unfold. Trying hard to aim and grasp at something sometimes result in tragedy. This may sound fatalistic, but it is better for your mind if you learn to let go and let the events happen as they should be.

    If you suddenly have an opportunity in life, don’t think too much about it. If your gut tells you to move forward, then take the opportunity. It may result in a failure, but when you look back decades from now, that opportunity may be the key to land you where you want to be.

    To see opportunities, you cannot just lie down and wait for the universe to hand your destiny to you. Opportunities (and “luck”) happen only to people who are moving. Even if you can’t see any obvious signs of an opportunity right now, continue where you are on. Continue working at your job. Continue doing what life has been giving to you right now. Eventually, a path will open up to you but you need to keep moving to see that path.

     

    For weeks I have been struggling on what to post this month. I have been thinking of topics that I want to write about but I can’t seem to get any ideas. Then one random night with a friend solved my problem when he asked the question: “Do you search for it or does it just stumble towards you one day?“.

    Photo by David Marcu on Unsplash

    Live in Day-tight Compartments

    Live in Day-tight Compartments

    After reading Dale Carnegie’s book How to stop worrying and start living, one concept stuck with me in the end: learning how to live in day-tight compartments. This is one of the main concepts discussed in the book that enables us to reduce worrying. However I think this can be used in a wider scope than just a remedy to worry.

    Dale Carnegie is also the author of one of my most recommended books, How to win friends and influence people. So when I found out that he also wrote a book about worrying and anxiety, I knew that I am going to learn a lot. The concept of living in day-tight compartments was actually discussed in the very first chapter, but this idea was the most influential for me. If you feel like you do not have the time to read the whole book (which is just an excuse), give the first chapter a chance and you will not be disappointed.

    What does living in day-tight compartments mean anyway?  This term was first coined by Sir William Osler based on a quote that changed his life:

    It is not our goal to see what lies dimly in the distance but to do what clearly lies at hand. – Thomas Carlisle

    The Past and the Future

    People have a natural tendency to try and see what is going to happen in the future. We are naturally curious and gifted with analytic thinking. We plan the things we want to do in the future, or are even able to “go back in time” by accessing memory from what happened in the past.

    Thinking about the future often results in worrying that the outcome of things will not go the way we plan. We also worry that there is something that is going to happen that will change the course of our lives.  In the same vein, people also think a lot about what has happened in the past, wondering why it happened, why it happened to them, and wondering how things today could have been different if the past did not happen the way it did.

    Both of these, being anxious about the future and revisiting what happened in the past, are not helpful at all. The past is already gone and cannot be changed, and the future cannot be fully determined no matter how much we try.

    Living in day-tight compartments means that we only think about and focus on the current day. In a compartment, the walls on the left and the right side are closed, meaning we cannot see or go through them. This is the same as time: we cannot go back to the past or see the future. The only thing that matters and what we can control is only what happens within the compartment, in the present moment.

    One example that the book gave about this concept is a story about a lady whose husband had died and she is now facing financial difficulty. Because of this heavy burden, she dreaded life and constantly feels overwhelmed. She worried how she can pay the bills, how to keep the car payments, and other related problems.

    She found a job that requires her to travel to different places and she thought that going out will help her forget about her troubles, but it doesn’t seem to help. Eventually she discovered the concept of living one day at a time when she saw a sentence in an article:

    Every day is a new life to a wise man.

    She pasted that sentence in the windshield of her car that she uses for work. Every single day reminded her to forget about the yesterday and not think of tomorrow. She found that it was not so hard to live only one day at a time.

    A personal decision

    This new year I decided that I will apply this principle in my life. I have been studying Stoicism for the past few years, and this definitely fits in what I would like to have as a philosophy of life.

    I see myself as a planner and an organizer. I have a tendency to have a plan on what I am going to do for the rest of the day, the week, and the month. What often happens though is that unexpected, uncontrollable circumstances come in and disrupt the perfect plan that I have in my mind. When this happens, I become agitated, frustrated, and stressed.

    I found that this kind of thinking is counterproductive. There are times when everything goes according to plan, and I feel happy when this happens. However, the negative feelings I experience when things do not go my way seem to be stronger than the positive feelings when they do. Because of this I find it more useful not to be so attached to the plan in the future.

    We cannot predict what will happen in the future. Even if we think we have total control of the situation, circumstances may change, people may change their minds, the environment may not cooperate, and so on. These things are outside our control but they have a direct impact on what is happening in our lives. It is a foolish endeavor to be affected by things that we have no choice or control on.

    Living in day-tight compartments forces me to stop thinking ahead of the current day. The only important time is the time I am living in the present.

    Personally, I now think of this at the start of the day: my life will end when I sleep. This may sound morbid or too fatalistic, but it helps me to regain my perspective in life: that tomorrow is not guaranteed. And so my decisions throughout the day, how I treat others, how I appreciate the moment, anchor on the thought that it will all be over when I fall asleep.

    Is planning for the future bad?

    This does not mean that planning for the future is a bad idea and should not be done. We should definitely plan for the future:

    • Save money for a child’s needs
    • Save money for retirement
    • Purchase an insurance plan for unexpected situations
    • Think on ways to improve our health and well-being

    The bad thing is to be obsessed with what is going to happen in the next day, the next week, or next month. Being anxious about things in the future produces unnecessary stress in the present. These stresses sometimes even become the agents themselves in making the future become what we are anxious about.

    We need to plan and set up things in the present for events in the future. However, after that we need to let go and not to worry about the things that are going to happen. We will find that most of the events in the future are things that we do not have any control, so worrying about them will not yield anything beneficial. Most of the time, these events that we fear most do not actually happen, so we are essentially wasting our lives worrying for nothing.

    The Present Day is Enough

    In the book How to stop worrying and start living, Dale Carnegie gave two examples from the Bible that shows that only the present day is enough. Jesus said this about worrying and being present:

    Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. – Matthew 6:34 NIV

    And in the Lord’s prayer there is one verse that makes us think:

    Give us today our daily bread. – Matthew 6:11 NIV

    Dale Carnegie reasoned that Jesus did not pray about tomorrow’s bread, or complain about the stale bread from yesterday. The only request is for today’s bread.

    This is a good thing for us to think about. The only life we have is the present moment, the only day we have is the present day. We need to strive to live the best life we have today.

    Max Lucado wrote a good mantra for living one day at a time:
    I choose joy.
    I choose peace. I will live forgiven.
    I choose patience—Rather than complain that the wait is too long, I’ll thank God for a moment to pray.
    I choose kindness—for that’s how God has treated me.
    I choose goodness.

    I choose faithfulness read more