Top 5 things I learned in the last 5 years
In this post I will share the top 5 things I learned in the last half-decade, in no particular order.
Loosely inspired by multiple posts on this topic, with one example being this Ryan Holiday post
- 1. Say yes to what expands my comfort zone
- 2. Don’t care too much about structural “rules”
- 3. Don’t bite off more than I can chew
- 4. People are more important than the abstract
- 5. Health is a prerequisite to accomplishing any goal
1. Say yes to what expands my comfort zone
I believe that what has led me to my successes in data science and game development is my flexibility to explore and push my comfort zone. I created opportunities for myself in these fields, despite having no experience, by simply showing up and rolling with the punches in unfamiliar environments.
One way I put it is to “do the difficult thing”. Having said “yes” to opportunities that were way outside of my comfort zone, and subsequently overcoming them, gave me confidence I could overcome the next difficult situation, and the next after that, in an infinite cycle.
For example, I could have chosen to go to university in Taiwan, where I did middle school and high school. Making the less “easy” choice to return to Canada instead, where I had zero family and friends, was perhaps counterintuitive.
Overcoming these (self-imposed) difficulties gave me confidence that setbacks such as failing exams, were easy to bounce back from, in comparison. This is like how after playing a video game on a high difficulty (e.g. Hell on Earth), going back to a normal difficulty is less of a struggle.
To sum up: I’m glad I learned to seek out and say yes to situations that expand my comfort zone, even if there is a perfectly viable solution within my comfort zone. This has led me to success in many areas, because after overcoming one difficult thing, it builds confidence that the next difficult thing I face in the future will be turn out alright.
2. Don’t care too much about structural “rules”
I often receive questions on how to enter the data science field. After all, I have written a lot on the topic in the hopes to help, since I was in those folks’ shoes just a few years ago.
In my writing, what I encourage is to not focus so much on rules-based questions, such as “which exact courses to take” or “which program must I do”. The reason being, I myself came from a less straightforward path, having majored in economics for both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and founding a profitable video game studio as a hobby.
The nature of building a career path is that no rulebook exists with a 100% success rate. Otherwise, everyone would be deterministically guaranteed to achieve the same result as long as they follow the exact same steps, which clearly is not the case in reality. People’s backgrounds and interests vary too much.
So what I learned is to think critically about “rules”, and throw out ones that don’t work based on my own background. Using the example of when I began my career in data science, I prepared for interviews in a way that would highlight my strengths and make up for where I had less experience.
For data science, I’ve written about how you can do this type of tailored self-assessment for your own skillset. Note that this is written in a way it’s not blanket advice, but in a way people can create their own rules based on their situation. Regardless of the career or area of study, this type of thinking can be applied.
To sum up: People accidentally limit their own potential by taking conventional “rules” too seriously. What I’ve learned is to mix and match between conventional “rules” and different approaches based on my own experience. Critical thinking is the key here.
3. Don’t bite off more than I can chew
This is one point that I’m still working on. With good deep work techniques, I completed a portion of my master’s degree while working full time, and also built my video game studio on the weekends. However, true to the spirit of this being a “what I learned in the last 5 years” post, once I hit the magical age, 25 years old, this type of behavior started to take too much of a toll on me, no matter how good my time management is. Alas, youth is wasted on the young!
Additionally, I’ve learned that saying no sooner rather than later might work out better. One example is when I streamed my game development process for a while, not breaking the chain for many weeks. However, this wasn’t really creating value for me, and I paused the experiment.
However, I feel that for future experiments of new “verticals” (this blog is one that succeeded!), I need to kill what’s not working more quickly, and not keeping it going half-heartedly as it might take away from my efforts in other projects.
4. People are more important than the abstract
I’ve learned this in different ways throughout the years.
Spending a large portion of my free time making friends in university and joining many extracurriculars still helps me immensely years later, both emotionally and mentally. I am grateful for my support system, as it’s often an underrated aspect of one’s health and wellbeing. These relationships also help in other ways - for example I don’t need to get a hotel when I visit San Francisco, Seattle, or New York. Several close friends have moved there and I’ve always had a place to stay. Job referrals are also a bonus.
The second part is about family. I didn’t spend much time with my family during my teenage years. A lot of what drove me to do well in my education in that period stemmed from wanting to be free from societal, heteronormative beliefs. Now that I am a better place in regard to financial independence, it’s been easier to try to mend the past together, and for over 2 years now I’ve had a call with my family each weekend. The effort has been worth it.
Human relationships are what makes life interesting. I will (try to) not make the mistake of letting go of something good that I have, in pursuit of something abstract.
5. Health is a prerequisite to accomplishing any goal
Until I turned 24, or 25, I had no issue with pulling all-nighters and partying till the morning. All the while, I excelled in schoolwork and my extracurriculars, including the early work on my video game studio. As I mentioned above, alas, youth is wasted on the young! Suddenly, once I hit my mid-twenties, pushing myself like that was too physically strenuous.
Now, I have a structured daily schedule, and do daily exercises that help me maintain my fitness even during the pandemic.
I still need to remind myself now and then to eat healthier, and that without my health, I wouldn’t be able to accomplish all my goals. My daily routines ensure that even if I’ve lost track of time binging video games, that I still do my daily minimum exercise. This in turn guarantees a sufficient minimum level of energy, and not a “crash and burn” situation.
When I plan for the future, I often take some time for retrospection. These 5 lessons I’ve learned from the past few years stood out to me, and holding onto these lessons will help me in my pursuits in the years to come. I hope that some of these might resonate with you, and I encourage you to think about important lessons you’ve learned lately as well.