Every time you’re at a party or any other kind of social gathering, you bump into someone new and almost invariably, they’ll ask you some variant of the following question that has formed the backbone of small talk and the bane of existence for many of us:
“What do you do?”
Talk about a loaded question.
Depending on your answer, this person is going to decide whether or not they’re going to bother pursuing a conversation with you, or listen to you with their eyes glazed over before politely having to attend to a life-threatening emergency.
There are so many possible implications that may arise from this question. They’re deciding if you’re of a high enough status, how much attention to give you, trying to determine your net worth, your ideas and values etc.
I’ve always had trouble answering this question, because I’m never doing the same thing for very long. Sure, I’ve been a student for many years on end, but I certainly don’t want to be defined as a student!
Now, let’s create an imaginary member of our society, Generic Jimmy.
Let’s give Generic Jimmy a profession that sounds quite dull on the surface, or perhaps one that really is quite dull.
Let’s make Jimmy an accountant.
While he doesn’t usually jump out of bed, excited to go to work, perhaps Jimmy has played a vital role in protecting the endangered species of birds in his area, or maybe he enjoys tinkering with classic cars in his backyard in the evenings. What should he say when asked about what it is he does?
There’s a lot more to each person than what they’re (usually) forced to do in order to survive in our society.
So, what should we do instead?
What to Say/Ask Instead
If you are the one asking:
I’d suggest that you skip the “what do you do?” and use this question instead:
What are your personal projects?
It’s an elegant question that does two things.
One, it allows the recipient of this question to talk about the things they love doing, especially if it does not relate to their professional life. It gets to the root of what they are truly interested in, rather than forcing them to talk about what they have to do for work.
Two, if they don’t know what you mean, they’ll probably ask you, and that leads to a conversation in itself!
I’ve tried this a few times myself and it works wonders. Instead of the dreaded small talk, this question shifts the conversation into an engaging and interesting topic, where both participants are able to understand and get to know each other, and get to the heart of what truly interests them.
If you are the one answering:
Now for the tricky bit. If you’re on the receiving end of this question, you can turn this to your advantage and pose a counter question. So it’ll look something like this:
A: So uhh.. (staring into wine glass, attempting to come up with an innovative question) What do you do?
You: Well, I could talk about work, I’m a/an (fill in the blank), but that’s quite boring. I do have a few personal projects that I’m involved in.
I’m willing to bet that they’ll ask about your personal projects.
But What About That Other Question?
There’s a chance they’ll ask you “What do you do for a living?“, in which case you’re positively screwed.
Okay, not really. For almost any question, you can be creative and try to sidestep the question, but my suggestion is to simply answer the question, and casually redirect them later by asking them about their personal projects instead. That way, you steer them to a topic in which you both actually have an interest in.
What about you? How would you like to be defined? Or better yet, what are your personal projects? I’d love to see your answers in the comments!
A curious thing happens when you start tracking your happiness. In fact, for me, it was more than that.
It began with a simple routine of recording my happiness levels every day. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, but soon enough (and I’m not exaggerating when I say this), my life started changing.
I’ve now been tracking my happiness for exactly 258 days.
What’s happened in that time?
1. I Became More Mindful Overall
As a person, I tend to be inside my head quite a lot and I often find myself lost in my thoughts.
After I started writing about my daily habits, my emotional state, and my daily activities, I noticed a couple of improvements:
First, I became aware of changes in my mood and what was causing the changes.
I started dealing with people a lot better. For instance, I realised that sometimes I would get snappy at people because of something completely unrelated, so when I felt that happening, I could dial it back.
Once I became aware of this, I was able to manage my response in most situations and remind myself not to make any rash decisions or say something I wouldn’t be able to take back.
2. I Could Learn From My Mistakes
Around the time I started tracking my happiness, I was trapped in a toxic relationship. I didn’t realise it at the time though, so I kept trying my best to fix things, not realising that my girlfriend did not want our relationship to improve.
Looking back, there were many warning signs: The verbal abuse, the deception, irresponsibility and lack of mutual respect. I ignored many of these signs because I wanted the relationship to work.
During this period, my happiness data indicated that I was at an all time low. Even though it was clear that it was this relationship that was causing it, I couldn’t bring myself to leave.
You can see it quite clearly in these two charts of the the worst two months:
The charts of the worst months of 2017
Quite a number of bad days in November.
Those huge dips were very significant periods and are actually the reason I became more aware of the problems in my life, and that I needed to deal with them.
You can also see how erratic my emotional state was at the time. Certainly not what you’d want to see, and are clear warning bells.
Those high points on the chart occurred only when I was staying elsewhere or hanging out with other friends and didn’t have to deal with the strain of my relationship.
Eventually, I reached my breaking point and left her for good. I had also been living in an extremely pessimistic environment up until then, and I left that too. My happiness levels started shooting upwards and began to stabilise.
Take a look at the difference in the months immediately after I made these changes – December, 2017 and January, 2018:
It’s quite clear that the levels have stabilised in comparison to the previous months.
Looking back on my journal from that period, it astounds me that I allowed myself to stay in that situation for so long. I could see from the way I was writing about my experiences at the time that I was completely blind to the real issues in my life and wasn’t thinking rationally.
The ability to look back and review my own thoughts provides a unique insight into the workings of my own mind at a certain point in time, and enables me to see how much I’ve changed since then. It’s almost freaky, how different I was back then.
I think if you attempt this, it will be very interesting to look back on your past self and be able to read about your own thoughts. You might be surprised at the fact that you can hardly recognise yourself.
3. I Could Better Understand Other People
It’s strange, but I’ve found that the key to understanding other people, is to first understand yourself.
Yeah, I know that sounds like I pulled it out of a fortune cookie, but noticing my own behaviour helped me become more in tune with how other people might be feeling.
If people were behaving strangely or being short with me, I was more aware that they could have many things on their plate, and that almost always,their behaviour wasn’t personal at all.
Just recently, I was having some trouble with a close friend. Our friendship had taken a strange turn and we hadn’t spoken to each other in a while although nothing obvious had happened to drive a wedge between us.
It took me a while, but I eventually decided to give them a call and find out what was going on. In just two minutes, the entire issue was cleared up! It turns out that our friendship wasn’t the problem at all, it was something personal that they were going through, so I did what I could to support them and our communication significantly improved.
Most of all, I think I learned to be more understanding and patient with others, rather than taking things personally and unnecessarily escalating things.
4. The Process of Writing Helps Me Deal With Issues
A lot of the time, people tend to find themselves in a chaotic head space when they have a lot on their plate, and I am no exception.
I found that writing about my emotional state and describing issues in detail forces me to confront them and take the time to deconstruct each problem. This usually allows me to understand the issue, and that calms the chaos in my head. It’s almost like clearing the RAM in your system.
Observing a problem seems to have the effect of making it lose its grip on me. I’m not the only one who believes this: Jordan Peterson, a well-known clinical psychologist, talks about this phenomenon and encourages the process of writing as a way to deal with unresolved issues.
I also noticed that meditation helped a lot in maintaining balance in my life. When I took a long break from meditation, my happiness levels were a little lower and tended to be more erratic.
The Strongest Link to Happiness
I started looking into the factors that affected my happiness and noticed that for me, idleness is a major cause of unhappiness. I don’t like spending my day watching tv shows, for example. I’m far happier when I’m engaged in various activities.
This is why I’ve started working on so many experiments and challenges. They are engaging and make me feel much happier. In fact, I’ve written about My Blueprint to Happiness as a result of these observations.
A major factor that leads to happiness for me is the quality of the relationships I have with people. The number of people do not matter as much as the strength of the bond I have with them.
I’ll leave you with this study conducted by Harvard and you can tell me what you think! In fact, I encourage you to try tracking happiness yourself and see what your findings are.
Here’s One For You:
As time passes, do you think we’re essentially the same people? Or are we completely different individuals? What is it that makes you, well, you?
My latest experiment is something a little different from the regular kind that I’ve been doing. This one is particularly meaningful to me because I think it is one of a few things that have completely changed my mind and my perspective on such a large component of life.
Experiment: Delete Facebook from my phone, shift Instagram to my “app graveyard” (the name I’ve given to the last page on my phone), and place all other forms of social media like Snapchat and Reddit into a folder where I’ll be less likely to compulsively open it.
Note: I still need to use Instagram to post updates on my challenges, but I won’t use it for anything else like scrolling through the feed or using the endless Discover page.
We’re Addicted to Our Phones
The real question is why?
I imagine it’s because we’re trying desperately to distract ourselves from a reality that we can hardly bear. In fact, if I asked you to stop using your smartphone and disconnect from the internet for just a week, there’s a good chance you’d hate it. That’s because you’d be stuck in reality with no form of escape.
I wouldn’t blame you, I’m just the same. My reliance on these technologies is just as serious as the next person.
“If I can’t use my phone, what on earth do I do instead?”
There are reasons for this intense addictive behaviour. According to Johann Hari1, we’re searching desperately for connection in a world that’s becoming more disconnected every day. Paradoxically, this habit of searching for connection online is ruining our ability to connect with people in the real world.
The worst part? This addiction is by design.
Here’s a great explanation by an ex Google employee about how apps are designed to be addictive:
Think about that for a second. That little fire emoji with the 100 next to it is literally there to make you addicted and to encourage you spend more time on Snapchat.
It’s part of what Tristan calls persuasive psychology, unethically being used to induce people like us to spend more time on these apps.
I get that this sounds very conspiracy theorist-like, but there’s a logical explanation to why companies would want to do this: The longer you spend on their app, the more money they are likely to make.
Is the Cost Worth it?
I’m in the generation that saw the explosion in the usage of smartphones and the rise of the older crowd yelling out warnings about the dangers of addiction to social media. I didn’t pay any attention of course. I considered them to be out of touch and afraid of technology, unable to understand the benefits of these great devices.
Not anymore. I was definitely wrong about that.
To highlight the effect of disconnection, let me ask you this:
How many friends can you truly confide in, and trust to have your back when it counts?
The number of people saying there is no one with whom they discuss important matters nearly tripled.
This study was conducted in the US and they’re not citing social media as a factor at all, but the point is about us having less close relationships in general, and these forms of addictive social media certainly does not appear to be helping our cause.
In fact, they seemed to be designed without any regard for the effects on mental health or development.
Why is this Happening?
I’d say it’s because we’re unhappy with the state of our lives, and we use our devices and social media as a way to distract ourselves. This desire to stay connected exists because we feel more alone than ever before.
We have larger houses, with more rooms in it than people. Our families rarely have dinner together, and when they do, it’s in front of the television of some other kind of device. We work more hours in a week, and constantly feel anxious and unfulfilled. These are just some potential reasons for this phenomenon.
If we look at work, for instance, a staggering 85% of employees are not engaged or actively disengaged at workaccording to Gallup.
It appears to me that most of us seem to detest our work lives, so we distract ourselves while we can, to forget that we have to spend the next ten, maybe twelve hours at a job that’s completely unsatisfying.
And don’t forget about the dreaded commute to and from work. Now there’s another reason to be consumed by your smartphone.
We then reward ourselves for having to slog through work by purchasing stuff. First it’s a huge TV with a surround sound system, then it’s a car, then a new house, and then a new phone, more clothes, expensive watches, and so on. We consume to fill the void.
For the younger folk, they grew up with technology in their hands. However, as you’ll hear from the talk by Adam Alter below, the people who work in tech rarely allow their children access to these devices. A little odd, don’t you think?
Every single year, I’ve noticed that any organisation, society, student accommodation or anything group based (that I’ve been a part of) has been deteriorating.
There are less activities, members are less involved or interested, there are declining rates of participation, and at the student accommodation I was living at, people no longer eat together and bond in the common areas.
Instead, there is a sharp uptick in isolation, depression and other mental health issues. My theory is that this is a symptom of the same larger issue that I alluded to above, but since this post is in the context of smartphones and social media, I’ll focus on these as the main factors.
I believe that the increased reliance on smartphones and social media to interact mainly online is detrimental to our ability to socialise and form those meaningful bonds with people in the real world.
Everywhere you look, you can see people plugged in, connected to their devices as they commute, utterly oblivious to the person sitting next to them. Earphones in, eyes glued to the screen, they immerse themselves into the online world.
You’ve probably seen this yourself: People going to dinner and not speaking a word to each other as they scroll through their news feeds, sending texts to people who aren’t even at the table.
Yet, people can’t pull themselves away.
Imagine having to have a conversation with the person who’s there with you at dinner, without checking your phone once.
Imagine having to sit at a dining table with the family and have a conversation over dinner, without watching TV or using your phone.
These are nightmare situations for a lot of people, which is very unfortunate. This is what I mean when I say that our need to stay connected with others online is disconnecting us.
Have you ever noticed how Netflix recommends shows you’re likely to watch and Amazon recommends items you’re likely to buy? These are examples of how machine learning is being used to understand our habits so that they can best hook us in with recommendations they know we’ll be likely to click on.
Some of these findings, like in the TED talk by Adam Alter above, indicate that smartphone use is not always negative. There are positive effects of course, but it also appears that these come from a very small number of applications that we use, while we spend most of our time on the apps that make us feel horrible.
The main goal of this post is not to discourage the use of your phone entirely, but raise awareness of how you can be affected and to make choices based on your own research.
Over the next few posts that I make, you may notice a theme. It’s reflecting a change of sorts that I’m going through about my own personal values and beliefs and my worldview.
It’s based strongly on the research I’ve been doing over the past few months and I’d like to share my findings with you as I figure out the implications for myself. I’m hoping to make it a discussion and to hear from you about these findings. Stick around for the upcoming posts.
Would you disconnect from social media and your smartphone? Why or why not?
1 Although Hari has been the subject of intense criticism for his previous conduct, I think the point he makes about disconnection is still valid. Aside from his own credibility that is in doubt, the argument he makes seems to make sense.
Hugo is the author of TrackingHappiness.com, and a civil engineer with an infectious passion for life! He’s agreed to share a very personal and profound learning experience with us in this post. Enjoy!
Hitting Rock Bottom: How Tracking Happiness Can Help
One of the most miserable periods of my life started when I hopped on a flight to Kuwait. I knew I was entering a “challenging” period, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It was only going to be 5 weeks, but man, those 5 weeks took a big hit on me.
I am writing this while re-reading some of the journal entries in my happiness tracking journal. It is clear to me now how badly this period influenced my happiness. I want to show you exactly how my happiness took a tumble.
You see, I have tracked my happiness during this entire period in Kuwait and thus have the opportunity to reflect on this brief episode. I want to show you how this period started as a fresh new challenge but ended up as a miserable chapter of my life. I’m going to show you some of my happiness tracking journal entries in chronological order, just so you can see how I slipped down to a state of despair.
Let’s start with the beginning! This is how my journal in Kuwait started, on the 18th of January 2015.
Day 1, happiness rating: 8,25
“Hello Kuwait! I just landed in my apartment and finally have some time to catch up. The flight was alright, my nerves were okay. This is my first night ever in the Middle East. How exciting. When the plane landed, I couldn’t help but think “Where the #$%! am I” for a moment.
So far so good. The apartment is nice, I’ve got a big bedroom with WiFi. Nice. There’s soooo much sand here. Insane. I hope I’ll be able to run outside after work.
I’ve got my alarm set for 06:00 tomorrow. It’s going to be tough. But I’m super excited! The next adventure starts here, right now. Tomorrow is day 1 of 33 or something. It’s going to be alright. Going to bed now. Adios!”
Day 1 was a good day!
Let me explain: I was sent to Kuwait to work on a huge project for my employer, a big marine contractor. I had never been to the Middle East, and this was my first assignment abroad. I was super excited to work hard and enjoy the project. In fact, I was actually looking forward to my very first day!
But when that next day arrived, I wasn’t so excited anymore.
My First Day in Kuwait
Day 2, happiness rating: 7,00
“First day was OK, but that’s all…
My colleagues are alright. The office is nice. And my desk is fine. But man, these hours suck.
Breakfast was fine. Lunch was awesome. Dinner was terrible. I don’t know… I guess today was alright. I just have to figure out how I’m going to find my pace with the project. It’s going to be a busy time.
Skyped with my girlfriend, which was nice. My apartment is still nice. I want to prove myself to my colleagues. Going to bed now. The alarm is set for 6:00 again. !@#$ me… Bye!
My first day on the job was OK, as you can read from my journal entry. But you may have noticed that I’m already a lot less confident in my writing. It looks like my optimistic energy pretty much evaporated overnight. You see, I was going to work at least 12 hours every day, for the next 5 weeks. I knew it was going to be tough.
I was hoping my work would actually be a source of energy, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was actually very demanding.
I quickly forced myself into a rhythm of working, working, working, eating, skyping, spending an hour on something that would actually be relaxing, going to bed way too late, sleeping way too little, cursing my alarm clock the next morning, and repeat.
That repetition resulted in the complete loss of my energy.
Spending another day offshore on one of the vessels.
After 1 week, my happiness journal looked quite depressing already:
Day 8, happiness rating: 4.50
“I survived my first week in Kuwait. Hurray. Today was fine, despite the sleep deprivation. Woke up feeling extremely tired, but coffee pulled me through. The work today was alright. Better than expected actually, but still exhausting.
When I got back to the apartment I skyped with my girlfriend. But man, that sucked. We got into an argument, which seems impossible to fix over a shitty Skype connection. It absolutely killed whatever was left of my energy and mood. !@#$ this sh*t.
I just want to go to bed now. I don’t want to be tired again tomorrow. Hell, I just wanna go home. Where the !@#$ are my hobbies?
Just going to bed now, so this period will be over sooner. Cheers.”
Boy, that escalated quickly. Right?
So I continued to live and work in Kuwait. The project progressed at a fast pace and it was always busy. Work sucked up all my energy. My days were long and my personal life suffered because of it.
I left my apartment at 6:30, worked from 07:00 to at least 19:00, and was back in at around 20:00. No matter how much I liked my actual job, I eventually got exhausted from it. It was unpreventable, I think.
In the meantime, I lost access to all my hobbies when I was in Kuwait. I suddenly had no guitar to play on at night, no more friends or girlfriend to have fun with, no more video games to take my mind off the work, you get the idea. I lost access to the biggest sources of my happiness.
In fact, my relationship actually turned into a negative happiness factor as a result of this long distance thing.
The town I was staying in wasn’t so bad, actually! I quite liked the view from the rooftop of my apartment building.
Fighting Sleep Deprivation
I made another very big mistake during this time: I forgot to prioritise my sleep.
You see, after getting back to the apartment at around 20:00, I still felt like I wanted to do stuff I actually enjoyed. Stuff like watching a series, doing some exercise or just walking outside.
But I also wanted to Skype with my girlfriend, have dinner and take a shower.
Before I knew it, it was already past midnight. Sh*t…
This happened just about every single day. I worked over 12 hours every day, while sleeping way too little. It eventually caused me to burn out, even though I was only in Kuwait for a total of 5 weeks.
“I’m shattered. I have never felt as depressed as I do today. What a miserable feeling.
I can’t keep up with this. I’m completely unhappy, and consciously counting down every second of every day. I wanna go home. I’m going crazy here. It’s a miserable lifestyle.
I can’t believe how anyone would voluntarily want to live this kind of life. !@#$ this project. !@#$ my employer. I’d rather not work at all, then to have this job for the rest of my life. It’s unbearable.
I’ve got no passions. No enjoyment. No fulfillment. I honestly don’t think I laughed even once this week.
I’m going to watch a series now (The Walking Dead has started again). And then I’m going to sleep. These days are worthless.
Just Whatsapped with a friend I met in New Zealand, and it makes me think back of that wonderful country. I had such fun during that time.
I cannot think of ANYTHING more interesting to say… I just hate it here.
Message to future self: Don’t you EVER romanticise this period, you idiot! Don’t ever say that this wasn’t so bad after all. You DON’T want this, and you are absolutely MISERABLE!
Hence the 3.0, the worst happiness rating ever..”.
That shitty day happened almost 3,5 years ago, and I still remember it like it was yesterday. Maybe because I have direct access to my mind during that time via my happiness tracking journal?
Anyway, I still hear my younger self loud and clear: I’m never EVER going to romanticize this period. No way.
The Power of Tracking Happiness
You see, that’s part of the power of tracking happiness.
Everybody romanticizes periods of their lives every once in a while. I have done it myself as well. But this is dangerous. Having access to your personal happiness ratings allows you to relive every period of your life, whether it was a good or bad period.
I still know damn well how much that brief period in Kuwait sucked. And for that I am very thankful these days.
Why is this important?
Because I can use this knowledge to steer my life in the best direction possible!
Ever since those 5 miserable weeks, I have tried my best to not get myself into a similar situation again. And when I did eventually have to work on another project abroad, I made damn sure that I had a better plan.
The work itself in Kuwait was tough. But I made some pretty bad mistakes that were unrelated to my work that made this period even worse. I neglected my sleep, my long-distance relationship was way too bumpy and I had none of my hobbies with me.
By tracking happiness, I knew exactly what I needed to do in order to improve a new “challenge” like this.
And that’s what I did. During my next “challenge” abroad, I made sure that I got sufficient sleep, had a hobby that I could enjoy while not at work and that my relationship had no communication issues. These decisions allow me to be much happier with the work I do, since I simply cannot control everything.
I used the knowledge from my happiness tracking journal to improve my life.
And that’s the reason why I think tracking happiness is in itself an extremely powerful tool. Not only is it fun, it actually allows you to steer your life in the best direction possible!
Hugo is the creator of TrackingHappiness.com, a site about tracking the things that influence your happiness in order to steer your life in the best direction possible. He loves spending time with his girlfriend, running, playing music and looking at nerdy data.
Hey guys! It’s time to give you an update on the Python Challenge that I mentioned previously. I’m happy to say that it was a success and I learned some very interesting things while doing it!
I was initially planning to learn Python within twelve weeks. It ended up only taking two (but I kept working on it for the remaining ten weeks anyway), and would have probably taken a week if I had put in more effort.
Let me clarify though, learning Python in a week is definitely possible if you only want to learn the basic programming concepts and ideas. Being a proficient user will take a lot longer, but a week or two is enough to code a few simple programs.
This was my first proper attempt at learning to program (not including a horrible failed attempt at MATLAB a few years ago), so it was all quite new to me. Perhaps the most surprising thing to me was that I found coding to be to be very creative in nature!
We usually think of coding as being logical and strict, but perhaps counterintuitively, there is actually a lot more art involved than you might expect. Once I really started getting into it, I started to understand how code could be described as “elegant” and even beautiful, but we’ll leave that explanation for another time!
Why Start With Python?
Python is such an easy language to learn. It’s been described as being easy enough for a child to read so when I saw that, I immediately thought to myself “That’s what I need”.
The syntax (or structure) is very simple, and you don’t have to worry about missing a semicolon or some of the other finer detail that exists in a lot of other languages. It reads like English, and it’s a great (possibly even the best) first language to learn because you only need to focus on the logic and basic concepts, and not worry too much about the syntax.
That being said, it’s an incredibly powerful language and is commonly used in the fields of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning. This factor, combined with its simplicity, is probably the reason for its explosion in popularity.
Once you’ve learned Python, learning other languages will become remarkably easy, because the logic for all of them is the same and the only real difference is in its syntax (there are larger differences like libraries for example, but that’s beyond the scope of the challenge).
So it might look slightly different, but the concept is essentially the same. Let me show you what I mean. I’ve included two examples of code that are simply used to make the computer display “Hello!”:
In Python, there aren’t any curly braces before and after every block of code, nor are there semicolons at the end of each line. Also, System.out.println(“Hello!“) from Java has been simplified to just print(“Hello!”) in Python!
You can also see that they’re both very similar. That’s what I meant when I said that the concept is basically the same, it’s just the little things in the structure that are slightly different between the languages.
Sources That I Used and Recommendations
I started learning Python on Udacity’s platform (before the price hike), but knowing what I do now, I wouldn’t have started there at all.
You can learn Python for free using many other resources, especially YouTube! They are quite comprehensive and are more than enough to learn the basics.
An excellent course that I found is Al Sweigart’s Automate the Boring Stuff which is an online textbook that is free of charge!
If you’re a visual learner, he’s also made a video course that is well worth the money. On Udemy, I think it’s $50 but you can use the following link to get it for just $10: Automate the Boring Stuff With Python Programming . This video course is where he walks you through the material and shows you exactly how it works.
If you’re unsure, the first 10 videos are available for free on his YouTube channel.
One thing I’d like to mention is that Automate the Boring Stuff is great especially if you’re just interested in writing code to make practical programs that you’ll actually use even if you aren’t planning to become a programmer.
Programs I’ve Built
I’ve coded a few simple programs in Python to test my understanding of the concepts:
The classic Hangman game
Guess the Number
A madlibs generator
A simple password generator.
There are probably higher level coders who will scoff at these, but a surprising number of others are more than willing to lend you a hand and take the time to explain things to you.
If you’re interested to see what I’ve built, you can access the all of the code on My GitHub Page.
Most Important Takeaway From this Challenge
When learning something for the first time, it seems very alien, but I found that things suddenly fell into place once my brain made those connections. That’s the “aha!” moment when everything suddenly clicks!
Don’t feel discouraged if it all seems too difficult and confusing at first!
Use the 20 hour rule and I can pretty much guarantee you’re going to find that you can learn Python too.
Coding can actually be fun. I know, I know, I sound like a total nerd, but it’s true and I have to accept that that statement will always sound super dorky.
Meditation was quite helpful to stay fresh, and to clear the mind when trying to come up with different solutions.
Using the Pomodoro technique was really useful here to stay alert and retain what I was learning!
One Basic Misconception I Had About Learning to Code
I used to imagine programmers as people who could sit at their computer and be in complete control, speedily typing out lines of code, hitting enter and sitting back while they watched it execute.
While this does happen some of the time, the reality is a little different. Most coders spend a lot of time figuring out how to solve their problem and get themselves “unstuck”. A lot of the time, they refer to online forums like StackOverflow or a similar site to ask for help or refer to someone else’s solved question.
At first, this might not sounds like much fun at all, I mean, who enjoyed being stuck on a math question in high school right?
Soon though (and quite early on in your learning process), you’ll find yourself working through some extremely interesting problems that you’ll actually enjoy working out.
What I’m Working On Next
I’m still working on the French in 12 Weeks challenge, and I’ll be back very soon to update you on that.
My next challenge however, will be a little different! I’m planning to start an online 30-day challenge to learn to draw, and I’m hoping you’ll join in! I’ll create a hashtag so everyone who wants to participate can upload their progress on any social media.
I’m planning to use Steve Huston’s Beginner Head Drawing course New Masters Academy to complete my portrait challenge, but you are more than welcome to use any resource that you like!
As always, I enjoy hearing from you, so leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts on this!
Here’s a question I found quite interesting because I, along with countless others, have been in the same situation:
Why won’t anyone hire me? I’ve applied to over 30 jobs and have not had any luck. Am I doing something wrong, or is this normal?
It can be very frustrating, but it is quite normal.
That being said, there are a couple of thing you can do to improve your odds of being noticed by recruiters and hiring managers.
I’ve included a couple of links to videos by Ramit Sethi that I hope you will find helpful.
The first one will give you some ideas on how you can improve your CV/resume, while the second will show you the value of doing your research and how you can walk in to an interview, fully prepared to capture the attention of your interviewers.
I’d like to add some of my own tips:
Always reframe your cover letter in terms of howyou can provide value to their company. Remember, companies aren’t interested in you—they’re interested in themselves, so you need to show them how you can fulfil their needs. This applies to answering interview questions too!
None of that “Dear Hiring Manager” nonsense in your cover letters. Always address your letter with the name of the recruiter or hiring manager. If you don’t know their name, call them up and find out. I cannot stress this enough. This also gives you the added advantage of standing out!
After you’ve made your application, wait a couple of days, and then follow up on your application with a phone call to the company. This demonstrates your level of interest and effort.
I’d like to add a little more to this answer for your benefit.
What to do if you have no prior job experience?
“I need to find a job, but it requires experience. How do I get experience, without having a job?”
Sound familiar? It’s quite the catch-22 isn’t it?
There is a way to get around this though, and here are some of my recommendations:
Highlight your standout achievements
Not easy for everyone, but if you have any, you can use these in place of job experience. It helps employers see you as an achiever.
For example, if you’ve done well outside of academics, you can highlight your role as the secretary of a university society and include your achievements while serving on the board of directors.
Include your portfolio
If you’ve done anything at all that could be showcased using a portfolio, please jump on the opportunity. To be frank, it’s probably more important than almost anything else that you can put on your CV or resume, simply because it shows exactly what you are capable of.
It’s one thing to list things down, but if employers can see how you’ve demonstrated your work, it can go a long way. This is especially great if you’ve done something like computer science or something creative, but it could work for almost anything: academic writing, journals or publications, a blog, your personal website etc.
Work for free
If you can afford to sustain yourself, this can be an extremely good option to get some experience to put on your CV. Working for free is also an opportunity to build a network, learn the trade and also gives you some great talking points during an interview.
If you have any suggestions or ideas, please feel free to share them in the comments below!
If you’re reading this, there might still be hope.
If you’re thinking of studying finance in the hopes of becoming a day trader or working with investments, please do yourself a huge favour and read this article before you leap headfirst into one of the worst career decisions possible.
This post is going to be quite specific, so if you’re not thinking of doing this, I won’t blame you for skipping this one, although there may be some similarities with your field!
Now that I’ve come out on the other side, I feel as if it is my duty to tell everyone I know that they need to do their research and be sure that the finance qualification is relevant to what they want to do.
This is of course, opinion based on my own experience, and whether you agree or disagree with me, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments!
If I could have written a letter to my earlier self, this is probably what it would look like:
First of all, congratulations! The future version of you has completed a five year double major in commerce, and now has a near-worthless degree!
Not quite what you were expecting?
Well, it turns out that most proprietary trading firms (prop firms) react something like this to graduates with a finance qualification:
A finance grad! They shriek, waving their arms in terror. Another one! Quick, send them the automated email that says we’re impressed but don’t think they’ll be suitable for this role in particular, but we hope that they’ll apply for future roles!
Okay, I’ll admit, that’s not quite what they do, but in general, they’re not too keen on hiring finance graduates unless you have some serious quantitative skill, which you probably won’t learn from your degree.
Even in what would seem to be a traditionally finance-related career, companies are shunning finance graduates and opting instead for graduates in fields you wouldn’t even have considered as the competition!
Instead, they’re turning to engineers, mathematicians, computer scientists and physicists for positions that you should have been fully qualified for!
I know what you’re about to say (because I’m you):
“Wait, what? But why?”
Allow me, future Sanjay with 20/20 hindsight, to enlighten you.
Companies are well aware that finance graduates are basically irrelevant in today’s ultra-competitive business world, but it’s not entirely the students’ fault.
Graduates are leaving universities armed with a degree that equips them with a blunt dagger, to bring to a battle that is largely fought with the latest in drone technology. And there you are, outclassed and outgunned.
Why am I saying this? When you’re studying a finance degree in today’s world, the universities you study at are still largely living in the 18th century, when Microsoft Excel was all the rage and possessing knowledge of this single program was the gold standard.
They’re still proudly confusing students with irrelevant theories that will remain impractical and unused throughout their future careers.
Future you once asked a lecturer why we were learning material that isn’t applicable in the working world. He said: “Because we don’t have anything else to teach you.” That essentially sums up most commerce degrees.
The nature of the coursework means that students never develop critical thinking and problem solving skills that employers value so highly.
My personal favourite is when universities attempt to pass off common sense knowledge as an almost biblical revelation.
To tell you the truth, the most practical and useful business knowledge can be gained by simply visiting a book store and purchasing any of the bestsellers in the field. You can learn from people who’ve actually done it, rather than learning from a textbook written by an author who gained his knowledge from yet another textbook.
I daresay the knowledge you gain from that $14 paperback will be worth far more than any $70,000 commerce/business degree.
As a finance graduate, I am embarrassed to say that I would not have been able to explain to you the basics of how the stock market works or how a simple index fund could earn you returns. I had to figure that out for myself, from books and the internet.
To survive in the business world, graduates require technical skills, like mathematics, statistics and programming.Yet, universities somehow decided that they would shrug of this minordetail and allow graduates to enter the “real” world without any technical skill or practical training whatsoever.
The reality is that quantitive degrees are in demand, because employers value an integral skill above almost everything else: Problem solving.
Move over finance graduates, because the business world is being taken over by engineers, statisticians, mathematicians, physicists and computer scientists.
P.S. I would like to thank my (your future) friend Yoni for the discussion that became the inspiration for this post.
Does this apply to your field as well? Let me know what you think in the comments!
While I am talking about this in the context of my life, I do think that some of this could be applicable to you.
Since my tracking happiness post, I started thinking a lot about how much my life has improved over time, so I started putting together a compilation of all my thoughts, trying to document all the things that I believe led to the change.
I want to share with you how I got through some tough moments, a couple of key lessons that I learned along the way, and how I became a lot happier in my everyday life.
Think of this as a snapshot in time of where I am today. This is my ground zero, and from this point, I want to start challenging myself to start building upwards.
As always, I’d like to hear what you think about this and I’d also like to know about the kind of things you do that make you happy. Leave a comment and share your thoughts!
Let’s get into it.
Be selective with the people you spend time with
“You are the average of the five people you associate with most, so do not underestimate the effects of your pessimistic, unambitious, or disorganized friends. If someone isn’t making you stronger, they’re making you weaker.”
– Timothy Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek
This one is possibly one of the toughest things to do in practice.
The people you surround yourself with the most have an incredible impact on your personality, the choices you make, and even where you end up in life.
It’s extremely tricky because most of the time, you’ll be unaware that you’re surrounding yourself with the kind of people you should be avoiding.
How to know if you’re hanging out with the right people
Here are some questions I ask myself to figure out if my relationships with people are worth investing in:
Does their friendship consist of equal give and take?
Do they encourage me, and push me beyond my comfort zone?
Do they tell me when I’ve screwed up?
Can our friendship survive through tough periods?
Do they challenge me when I’m wrong?
Are they willing to put in the effort to maintain and build our relationship?
Obviously I don’t disqualify people based on these criteria alone. They’re more like guidelines that I would look at, and it could be different for you. What do you value in your relationships? Let me know in the comments.
Now let’s think about this for a second: If you lost everything, would you be able to turn to your friends?
If you’re trying to improve yourself, and your friends laugh at you or belittle you, they’re not your friends. If they don’t value you or your time, politely tell them to get stuffed, cut them off, and don’t look back.
I used to have friends who didn’t believe in me, ridiculed and laughed at me behind my back, and competed against me, always feeling the need to be ahead of me in some way, no matter how trivial the stakes. I didn’t need that kind of negativity in my life and all I had to do was walk away, so I did.
Today, I have friends who are willing to push me, encourage me, and believe in me even when I don’t. I have friends who respect me enough to tell me when I’ve messed up. I have friends who appreciate my time, value my friendship, and invest the same amount of effort (sometimes even more) that I put into my relationships with them.
This didn’t happen by accident, and it took many years to get to this point.
I chose to invest in these relationships. The hardest part is finding them, and the way you can do that is by being the friend you would want to have, to the people around you. Soon enough, you’ll know which ones are worth your time, and which aren’t.
When you surround yourself with great people, you can’t help but to want to be more like them. The effect is infectious: you start sharing ideas, working together, motivating each other and enjoying each others’ company a lot more, and it’s absolutely fantastic.
Great relationships are the real secret to happiness.
Investing in the wrong people
Sometimes it’ll take years before you find out that you’ve made a mistake. I like to think that it’s a price worth paying, because when you do find those who are worth it, it will make all the difference in the world.
You don’t always need a great deal of friends—it’s always far better to have a few great ones.
Be selective with what you spend your time on
I’ve wasted a lot of my downtime in the past, and while I still do to some extent, I’m trying to be more mindful of it. I used to waste hours playing video games and watching TV shows, and while people have given me the “it’s not wasted if you’re enjoying it” speech, I’ve come to believe that it’s not true.
I’ve realised that the hours spent playing mindless video games and doing nothing of value turned into a blur of years in which I neglected my family and the precious time I could have spent with them. I had a massive, unwelcome dose of reality when I heard this for the first time:
By the time you leave to college, you’ll have spent eighty to ninety percent of the time you’ll ever spend with your parents
That statement really put a fist through my gut.
I can’t remember where I heard that, I think it was a podcast, but Tim Urban posted a similar statement on his blog, Wait But Why, in the post: “The Tail End”:
“It turns out that when I graduated from high school, I had already used up 93% of my in-person parent time. I’m now enjoying the last 5% of that time. We’re in the tail end.”
It really puts things into perspective.
The next thing I noticed is that while I was enjoying myself with these mindless activities, they didn’t create any lasting happiness. The joy of playing a video game evaporated as soon as it was over, and TV shows had the same effect. In all those years, I had done nothing of any value.
It wasn’t until I had left home for university that I decided I’d had enough of wasting my time with things that added no value whatsoever to my life.
Working towards becoming a polymath
I banned myself from watching tv shows and quit playing video games and something interesting happened. I had to find stuff to do to fill up all this newfound time on my hands so I started picking up old hobbies like playing the guitar and reading books.
I also picked up new activities, like digital art, working out, creating short videos, writing short stories, and working on a couple of business ideas (which failed terribly, but I learned a whole lot from them so no regrets there).
I felt alive and happy, and I knew I was on to something. I kept doing this, but the bad habits picked up again after a while and I slipped back into my old ways. The change was dramatic, but I barely noticed it. I was back to wasting hours on games and TV shows. I gained weight, lost touch with friends and constantly felt like something wasn’t right.
The light bulb moment took ages to arrive, but when it finally did, my life turned around once again, and this time, I started this blog, worked on another business idea (which also went on to fail), finally learned to improvise on the guitar and became a better student and person in general.
I really hope the stuff I’m saying doesn’t come off as bragging, because the core message here is that I learned that I could get a lot of things done if I stopped wasting my time with short term pleasures.
I agree with the phrase “It’s not wasted if you’re enjoying it”, but only if you’re doing something worthwhile. Otherwise, it is wasted. Yes, I did miss the opportunity to become great at a video game and have my skills become the envy of all my friends, but years later, I can safely say that no one would have cared or remembered that today.
Choosing to spend my time well made me so much happier, and while it’s hard to do consistently, I think it’s worth the effort. I’d like to know what you think about this. Have you done something like this yourself? Have you noticed a difference in the quality of your life?
When I started tracking my happiness, I could see the change occurring over time, and quite rapidly. I could visually see the impact of the changes I was making, and it was quite reassuring. It would be awesome if I could hear from you and find out if this is true (or otherwise) for you too!
Play the long game
This one actually took a lot of pressure off my shoulders. I was having a crisis of confidence, not being able to achieve the things I was aiming for. I was getting nowhere with my beginner coding lessons, I was struggling to get a job I wanted, and I felt like I needed to figure things out right then and there.
What’s the rush?
That changed when I watched a Gary Vaynerchuk video, and he asked a very simple question: “What’s the rush?”
I started wondering, what was the rush? Who was I racing and competing against? The thousands of overnight success stories that the media is all too happy to wave in our faces? I’ve been obsessing on becoming a success as quickly as possible that I missed the entire point of getting there—enjoying the process, as Gary puts it.
He’s right, I do love the process. I love the work I put in, and I enjoy learning, improving, and achieving little milestones. The problem is, I forgot all about the process, and that’s when it stopped being fun.
I spend more time watching videos and reading books about becoming successful, that I haven’t done the one thing that’s actually required to get there: Doing the actual work. And that’s going to take time to show results.
Once I figured that out, I felt like my head cleared and I could just focus on keeping my head down and getting back to work on the things I love. Being part of the process is what keeps me feeling happy, because it gives me a strong sense of purpose and drive.
I’m in this for the long haul, and sometimes I have to remind myself that a huge part of success comes from being on the journey itself, and having the fortitude to keep going, especially in the moments when I want to give up.
Learning to be Consistent
This is the second thing I realised about playing the long game. Consistency is the key to doing anything well. Whether I’m trying to learn a new skill, work out, work on a project or a side business, or pretty much anything else, consistency in the long term provides the greatest return on time invested.
I’ve been playing the guitar since I was eight years old. Yet, there are people who started a year ago who are miles ahead of me in terms of skill.
The difference is that I was inconsistent. I would pick up the guitar once every few weeks or so, whereas they practiced every day.
I’m trying to learn from that mistake, and right now, I’m focusing on keeping my nose to the grindstone.
It’s time to play the long game.
How do you find the things you love doing?
I did this by trying many different things, figuring out which ones I enjoyed and then focusing on those. You’ll know you that you’re in the right activity/job/hobby if you experience the state of flow, or being “in the zone”, consistently over a period of time. It’s a state of energised focus, and time just slips away without you noticing.
In other words, it doesn’t really feel like work. Sometimes it might, especially when it gets challenging, but it’s work that you want to do.
Working on these kinds of activities or hobbies really helps me feel like I’ve spent the day well, as long as I do at least one these per day. For me, this can be anything from cooking, to practicing my (very beginner) coding skills.
“I don’t have the time.”
At first glance, it doesn’t seem like this excuse has anything to do with being happy, but I promise it’ll start making sense by the end of this post.
I was using this excuse all the time, and worse still, I had convinced myself it was true. At one point, I was having a conversation with Van, my close friend and training partner, and sometime during the chat, I pulled out the old reliable “I don’t have the time”. He responded with silence.
I’m not sure what it was, but that awkward silence made me realise that I was full of it. Maybe it was because for the first time, someone was actually challenging my excuse.
Somewhere inside, I knew I didn’t believe my own excuse. When I said “I don’t have the time”, what I really meant was “I’m not willing to sacrifice my comfort for this.”
I went to school, I was working construction, I was working out five hours a day, I was taking acting classes from 8 o’clock at night to 12 midnight. I was doing all of those things. I wanted to make sure that out of the 24 hours of the day, that I don’t waste one single hour. Those hours were too precious.
That quote is from an interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger. That’s how he used to spend his 24 hours. That’s also why he won the Mr. Olympia championship seven times in a row. Can you honestly say that you’re not wasting a single hour of your day?
I can’t, but I’m trying to get there.
The reason I’m quoting Arnold, is because he is the definition of a polymath. According to his Wikipedia page, he’s an actor, producer, businessman, investor, author, philanthropist, activist, politician, and former professional bodybuilder.
He achieved all this by pushing himself well beyond his comfort zone and making the most of the time he had available.
I, on the other hand, have been coddling myself. Eventually, I had to tell myself that if I’m not willing to put in the work, if I’m not willing to sacrifice my short term comfort, then I need to be able to look at myself in the mirror and tell myself that I deserve to be stuck where I am.
This is where I am now:
I’m working on my fitness, learning to code, working on developing a couple of business ideas, improving my relationships with people, along with a couple of smaller goals that you can read about on my Now page. Of course, I expect to fail along the way—none of these things are easy—but I’m going to keep at it.
I’m sharing this publicly because I wan’t to challenge myself. I want some form of accountability, so that the next time you see me in person, I’m going to be an improved version of myself. Now, if I don’t achieve my goals, I’ll be publicly humiliated. How’s that for incentive?
Avoiding discomfort guarantees unhappiness
If you’re wondering how anyone could possibly feel happier by pushing themselves to their limit, spending every moment of their day honing their craft, challenging themselves, and going flat out to work on dreams they may never achieve, you’re not alone.
I often wondered why anyone would choose to work that hard when they could sit back and binge-watch Netflix instead.
I now believe that the way to feeling happier and more satisfied with life is a little counter-intuitive for most people: Seeking out discomfort.
Bear with me.
If you don’t push yourself out of your comfort zone, you’re left feeling unfulfilled. Consider working out—if you don’t push yourself until it hurts to the point that you want to quit, your body simply doesn’t get stronger. Anything less than that is your comfort zone.
This is true for pretty much anything. Take relationships: If you don’t approach that cute guy or girl because it’s outside of your comfort zone, you’ll get nowhere.
Seeking out that discomfort and putting yourself out there is what gets you results, and that eventually builds confidence, a sense of self-worth and achievement, and happiness.
Sharing this post so everyone can see my mistakes and my failures is definitely outside my comfort zone, but I’m doing it because I’m hoping that by sharing this, I can help at least one person. If I can do that, then to me, that’s a resounding success.
Discomfort is partly why I think more people should aspire to be polymaths. It’s far from easy, and there’s a lot of work involved, but while the idea of picking up new skills and spending time learning about new things can seem daunting, you’d be surprised at how much better you’ll feel with yourself.
In fact, I’d say that doing these things can and will significantly improve your overall satisfaction with life.
How badly do you want this?
Eric Thomas once shared a story that contained one of my favourite quotes of all time. I listened to this years ago, and it had such a profound impact on me. Here’s the video if you want to watch it yourself (it’s so worth it):
At the end of the story, he says:
When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you’ll be successful.
Have you ever started something, feeling pumped up only to give up a couple of days later? That’s happened to me so many times, and each time it’s because I didn’t want it bad enough. Now, whenever I feel like quitting, I remember this speech, and ask I myself, “How badly do I want this?”.
Positive self-talk is one of the greatest tools you have, because when no one else is around, you’ve got your back. Maybe a little ironically, your greatest enemy is also yourself, because there will always be that voice in your head telling you to give up. That’s when the positive self-talk can really come in handy, to be the opposing voice that keeps you going.
I’ve been through many different public speaking scenarios and there have been moments where I froze, forgot my speech or story halfway through, said something stupid, embarrassed myself, and got laughed at. When I was up on that stage, I had only my own voice to tell me to keep going, battling the little one that was telling me to run off stage and hide.
Taking a moment to be grateful
There’s a reason why a person can have a roof over their head, running water, unlimited food, access to the internet, transportation, safety, community, a healthy body, youthfulness, and somehow still manage to beunhappy. It’s a lack of a gratitude, and a lack of perspective.
If you’re reading this, you probably own the device that’s enabling you to do so. That alone makes you more fortunate that you can possibly imagine. How often do you stop to consider that? If you’re like me, probably not very often, and if that’s the case, let’s work on that.
You can’t be happy if you can’t appreciate what you already have, and sadly, most people don’t and never will. They’re too busy being consumed with what they don’t have, and that’s why they will never have enough.
Think about this for a second, if you achieve a goal or receive something new, how long does that great feeling last? How long do you feel a sense of gratitude? Usually, it fades away quickly and then it’s time to start chasing the next high, and then the next.
In my opinion, chasing happiness is a pointless exercise if you aren’t grateful for what you already have, because no matter what you achieve and how high you climb, the destination will never be good enough to satisfy you.
Here’s to us
I want you to live not just a good life, but a great one. I want you to be able to say that you are truly happy with your life, and mean it. That’s why I’m sharing all of this with you, in the hopes that you will gain something from it, and find your own happiness.
One of the reasons I started writing this blog is because I wanted you to be able to see the steps that I have taken, and the mistakes I’ve made and will continue to make. If you think anything I’ve said above is flat out wrong or if you want to make suggestions, please let me know. I’m more than happy to learn from you and accept criticism.
I’ve had many moments where I felt like I was going nowhere in life, just doing the same, routine things and living the same day over and over. I spent a lot of time feeling stuck. I constantly felt unfulfilled, lethargic, and deflated, because everything seemed completely monotonous.
I think the truth is, I had only myself to blame for feeling that way. I was choosing to feel sorry for myself rather than take action and do something about it.
Thankfully, I don’t feel that way anymore. I’m challenging myself to live the best life I can live. I can look at my own life right now and honestly say that I have a great one, andI couldn’t be more grateful for being able to say that.