One of the most memorable talks I've heard was by Rick Warren, a Christian pastor, best selling author and TED TALK speaker. In his TED talk, he posed the following questions: "What's in your hand?", "What are you going to do with what is given to you?" What you hold in your hands is a symbol of your identity, your job and status. For example, a NBA player has a basketball in his hand and it represents his identity, income level and influence in the society.
After graduating from college, I plunged into the corporate world. I worked most of my waking hours until kids entered my life. I never really got the chance to wonder because I was that good kid who was schooled to aim for good grades, attend the best college and graduate with a job that can pay the bills. I was the typical Asian kid that parents praised, at the cost of exploring and discovering who I am. Hence, it was almost impossible to answer the questions that Rick Warren posed because deep down, my many years of career in Marketing really didn't define me.
The past twelve months felt like I was catching up on myself. I finally realized that without a grounded belief of how I see myself in this world, which has to come from the inside, I end up banging heads on things that wouldn't last. If I were to answer the questions today, I can finally tell you that what I have in my hands are deeper understanding of how society shapes us and what many of us lost in the process. The seven years of struggle to uncover my unfiltered identity has inspired me to help others to tune in to the silent 95%, to reclaim your authentic self.
The documentary, Innsaei by Hrund Gunnsteinsdottir, is now one of my favorites on Netflix. InnSæi is an Icelandic word that means the "sea from within" or "to see within." The film talks about how in a world filled with external noises and distractions, we're losing our ability to sense our inner selves and trust our intuitions to make decisions. As Bill George of Harvard Kennedy School explains, we're living in a left (brain) hemisphere world dominated by logic. The intuitions that our ancestors used to rely on for discoveries and innovation are vastly replaced by information and data.
The story of the Polynesian Navigators was a great example of the power of intuitions. For generations, the Polynesian Navigators have relied on their instincts to explore the vast unknown. They had to fully emerge themselves in the experience to sense, observe and conquer the dangerous sea. Using all their senses, they gained a deep understanding of the stars, the waves, the wind and even reflections on the clouds, which gave clues to whether or not there's land ahead. There were no modern technology but stick maps that documented their knowledge from explorations to past on to the next generation.
An average brain weighs about three pounds and neuroscience has shown that only 5% or fewer of it are used consciously in our day to day. Cognitive activities that relate to decisions, emotions and behaviors make up that portion. My own recent encounter leads me to believe that the memories that we "lose" are not always lost. They have been stored and buried in the untapped 95% waiting for us to retrieve through intuition.
I was at a birthday party about a month ago and saw a woman in her 40's looking very familiar. After hearing others call her name, I was convinced that I know of her. I then walked up to her asking her where we might have met before. We compared notes such as where we went to college, friend circles, places we lived but nothing jumped out. I spent the entire night wrecking my brains trying to figure out where this person may have showed up in my life. On the car ride home, I thought back on her answers and found one familiarity, which was the city that she used to live. I then connected with my best friend overseas who I used to spend our High School summers teaching English, at a school her aunt owned. It was located in the same city that the woman mentioned where she's from. Luck has it that her aunt called as we exchanged messages on Facebook. After some questions and validations, I became convinced she was one of the helpers who I met during one of the summer breaks. After finding her contact on a friend's Facebook directory, I reached out and confirmed. It was in fact the same person. Digging through 25 years of memory really drove me crazy but my intuition was so strong that I had to have an answer.
As much as we live in a society based on logic, rationale and hard facts, there are large amounts of silent communications happening from within that we're not tuned into. Sometimes it takes asking the right questions, other times it requires you to look within and trust your instincts. Our intuitions give us access to the years of experience, creativity and wisdom in life, made possible by the millions of connected neurons everyday. The next time you're faced with a difficulty, challenge yourself to take courage and trust your instincts.
Trusting intuition is in a way like taking a leap of faith and “if you don’t leap, you’ll never know what it’s like to fly.” (Guy Finley)
I've always been curious as to why new innovation and entrepreneurship tend to rise from the U.S. and lag in Asian countries like Taiwan, China and Singapore, where they consistently rank much higher in math and other academic performances. The lack of leadership in K-12 education on a global scale has not hindered the U.S. from being the center of technological breakthroughs and new discoveries. Reading Carol Dweck's book, Mindset, has led me to believe that perhaps it has much to do with the type of mindset a culture breeds. Asian culture, particularly Chinese speaking countries, tend to cultivate fixed mindsets. People who think with a fixed mindset believe we are born with certain fixed traits, we're either a genius or not. They let failures define potentials and often judge one's ability base on intelligence shown during a moment in time.
In the Chinese culture, kids are often evaluated and praised for their smarts and how quick one can find answers to problems. This keeps children from dreaming big as they are discouraged from "wasting time" reaching for the impossible. I think it's not a coincidence that under that kind of environment, the founders of leading corporations often come from the disadvantaged. They were less afraid to risk and "lose face." Although the tendency to label children are common even in the U.S.; i.e. determining giftedness of kids using test scores, it's not as prevalent and ingrained in the Western society as one would experience in the East.
Fixed mindset seems to also correspond with the degree of superstition one holds. Part religious, many people in the Chinese culture believe that fate is determined at birth. From naming your child to marriage decisions, fortune tellers can play a big part in the process. Instead of trusting one's own intuition, many look to guru's to make decisions for them. It's not that I don't believe in the possibility of the supernatural but I think what is dangerous is the mindset that comes with believing in fate. The idea that we have no power to change course when faced with difficulties is what sets apart those who give up from those who persevere. Even if psychics can predict the future, the "adjacent possible" has shown us that at any given time, our next move can alter the choices we face and hence, change the course of life.
I think the rise of successful entrepreneurs like Jack Ma, has started to shift mindsets among the new generation. Stories of his humble beginning as a working class English teacher and perseverance through countless rejections (including 10 from Harvard) are what the culture needs to break the generations of fixed beliefs that people have embraced.
All of us have the capacity to switch between growth and fixed mindset at anytime. It is a decision we make in the midst of an obstacle. Even someone who frequently thinks with a growth mindset can fall into a fixed mindset trap. For example, reacting on fear or a trauma from past experience. To avoid the trap, take more courage and be mindful of your intentions. Carol's research has shown that organizations with a growth mindset are more successful in performance and culture. When faced with difficulties, the leaders who lead with humility and work as a team are ultimately the ones who can turn the ship around, long run. They're never the lone wolf because their positive outlook and "we versus me" attitude will always earn them the trust and support they need to succeed.
In the first chapter of Steven Johnson's book, "Where Good Ideas Come From," he talks about "The Adjacent Possible," a phrase suggested by scientist Stuart Kauffman. It describes the idea that some life forms, such as a sunflower, are made possible by the series of events that have preceded and evolved (over billions of years) to achieve what it is today. Johnson then extends the concept to indicate that the adjacent possible therefore, "captures the limits and creative potentials of change and innovation." When we explore and push the boundary of what we're limited to, we lay down new building blocks that open doors to new combinations of ideas and possibilities.
Thinking about my own journey, it has been quite frustrating not knowing where I'm heading on this path to finding passion. Tonight's read gave me the encouragement I need to remain patient and focused on pushing the boundaries of my explorations. The more I branch out, the more rooms I'll enter and from there, I will find access to the right door to unlock. I have certainly experienced some of it from the number of books that I've read over the past year. I've read more in the last 12 months than my entire lifetime (aside from text books) and it certainly has opened up my perspective about many things. If you're in the same boat, keep pushing the envelope and put yourself in new environments to explore the adjacent possibles.
Behind every closed door is some dark secret that we don't talk about because we're afraid of judgments and misconceptions. Social media, particularly Facebook and Instagram, make things worse by projecting a mirage of perfect lives and images that many are trying to live up to. The curated social world strokes the egos of narcissists with "Likes" while depriving most, particularly the young, from the truth that we're all really just perfectly imperfect.
Three years ago, I started experiencing depression. It was the first time that I realized mental health issues are not just some disease for selected groups, it could happen to anyone. Until this day, I'm still battling with it. However, having suffer through the darkest moments, I learned the importance of detaching from our thoughts. Our mind really has a way of amplifying the positives and the negatives depending on the state of our mental health. On a good day, I'm content with life and hopeful for what the future holds. When darkness hits, I spiral down and become overwhelmed with negativity. Sometimes, I'm so beaten that all hopes are lost, even the desire to keep living. To survive through those moments, I now try to watch my mind play out the movie with equanimity and imagine the positivity that I'd experience on a good day.
Instead of only talking about the good, I hope people will also start sharing more of the not so good. It is by talking about both can we help each other be comfortable with who we are and realize sometimes it's all part of life. Each of our circumstances might be different but our common struggles can help serve as strength to one another. It takes courage to expose our vulnerabilities and I think it's time that we stop decorating the closet doors and start lighting up the darkness inside.
Everyone’s on a journey to strive for a successful life. Angela Duckworth, famous for her research on Grit, has talked about grit as a key factor in determining success. Her definition of grit is passion and perseverance and in her research, she has found that the people who are gritty are those who are most passionate about the work they do. Simply put, your passion drives perseverance, which we commonly hear from leaders like Jeff Bezo and Steve Jobs talk about. Find something you’re passionate about so you can overcome the extreme difficulties involved in your journey to become a successful entrepreneur.
Having taken in Angela’s findings and advice, whether it’s from her TED Talk, book or Udemy class, I begin to reflect back on my own paths. Unlike the individuals she talks about, I have a lot of trouble with sustained passion. My fire always go off as soon as I meet the low level goals that I set for myself. This ongoing observation has turned me to believe that not everyone will have a clear, sustained passion for something. Perhaps, for people like me, the spark of passions are like stepping stones we should follow in order for us to live out who we are. Since I can’t control the emotions and fire I have for a particular topic, measuring grit base on how long I can hold on to one passion doesn’t feel right. In particular, if unsustained passion suppose to make you less gritty, then how do I explain the efforts I’ve put in to graduate with honors and excel in the jobs I’ve held over 10 years of my corporate career.
Instead of being caught up on passion and perseverance, I decided to rework the formula and focus on the intrinsic success as a goal.
Q: Why is it important for me to live out my authentic self?
A: I believe if we’re not authentic to who we are meant to be, we can’t truly be content with life.
Q: Why do I think being authentic will bring more contentment in life?
A: If you are living out your authentic feelings, thoughts and beliefs, you’re more likely to avoid doing things and making decisions that are in conflict of who you are.
Q: Why is doing things in conflict of our authentic self a problem?
A: When you’re making choices in conflict of your emotions and thoughts, you’re preventing yourself from unfolding your inner talent and passion.
Q: Why is it so important to find a passion?
A: It is because our passions fuel the internal contentment and drive to propel us forward to excel in an area that brings purpose and meaning.
Q: What is finding purpose and meaning important?
A: It helps to bring closure to our life’s existence and the importance of it.