This is the second post in a series of posts with the same theme: letters addressed to my younger self. These letters, written by an “older me,” would have helped me navigate some of the rough waters I faced during various phases of my life. They would’ve also helped me when I was faced with difficult decisions. Through these letters, I hope to impart some of my admittedly limited experience on my two wonderful children and, eventually, on their children. The first letter in the series was entitled, “On Accumulating Things.”
Dear 20-year-old self:
You’ll frequently hear and see two diametrically-opposed views on the topic of working hard.
On the one hand, you’ll experience the typical immigrant mentality of working hard now (or saving money now) to enjoy life later (or spend money later). It’s a difficult approach to live with as it delays gratification, potentially indefinitely, but, alas, the notion of investing in your future by taking the pain early will resonate with you.
On the other hand, you’ll see people who “live for the now”, who take life day-by-day and who seem to enjoy life so much more. Who knows how many days of life we’ll each have so it’s certainly difficult to argue with them. Delaying enjoyment indefinitely means a risk of having it never materialize. Here are three pieces of advice for you.
1. Make every day balanced: as with most difficult questions, the answer is a balance between the two poles. Work hard but make sure to blend in some time for yourself each day. Whether it’s exercise, morning coffee with friends, an evening drink after work, or a quick bike ride, you must make sure to prioritize time for “living for the now” on a daily or near-daily basis. Living from weekend-to-weekend or, worse yet, from vacation-to-vacation, is no way to live. However, working hard is what enables you to do those things while feeling confident that you’re constantly contributing to your progress and your future.
2. Make every day count: don’t oversleep your day away. Luckily for you, you’re not a fan of sleep. Don’t squander a day by doing nothing. Every day is a precious commodity that should be leveraged to the fullest extent possible. Sure, it’s OK to have some down time but, alas, there’s a difference between time used to actively regenerate or recharge yourself and time spent engrossed in nothingness. One way to ensure this is to make a habit of waking up well in advance of when you need to leave for the day; you can then spend the first thirty minutes of your morning “setting your intentions” by framing one or two things you’re going to make sure to achieve that day along with one or more “balance” activities that’ll ensure your day is a good one.
3. Maximize the moment: as you continue to gain responsibility, both professionally and personally, you’ll slowly get to the point where you forget what it’s like to single-task. When engaged in an activity, maximize your engagement in that activity to the fullest. Do your best to single-task. It’s not in your nature as you’ll constantly be accustomed to thinking about three things at once, especially as you become increasingly engrossed in your work. Put the phone down. Shut down your email. Forget about the things not relevant to your current activity or conversation. Most of the time, single-tasking is the most efficient way to getting something done; more importantly, if other humans are involved, it’s the most authentic way.
Your 40-year-old self