How to Get Out of the Rut and Stay Out

I finished James Altucher’s book “Choose Yourself” in two sittings. It’s a powerful and life-changing book. There is no question about that. You should go buy one right now. It’s only $4.99. Better yet, James will refund your money once you prove that you’ve read the book. I think that’s awesome. I’ve already emailed him my receipt and when the money is refunded, I’m going to buy another one and gift it to someone. Do you want one? Tell me in the comment.

If you have ever felt stuck, desperate, not sure what the hell you’re doing (like I had.)

If you have have lost sleep every night, and occasionally when you did manage to fall asleep for a few hours, woke up halfway through, stared into the darkness and mentally freaked out by an anxiety attack (like I did.)

If you have ever had a growing sense of pointlessness, restlessness, and always wondering if there is something else, somewhere else, someone else you would rather be/do/date (like I have.)

This is the book to get. It’s not magic. It’s not the Secret. James shared his personal experiences of falling in and out of the bottomless pit multiple times and how he got himself out of it every time. It’s so true, so real (and sometimes so heartwrenchingly honest) that you can’t help but feel like YOUR situation isn’t at all as bad as you think it is. Then you’d realize that it doesn’t cost you anything, you don’t lose anything when you try out his Daily Practice.

I’m still in the rut. But I don’t feel hopeless and powerless. In fact, I’ve never felt more optimistic about the future and about the unquestionable victory of my journey (and I’m still in the rabbit hole!)

If you don’t even want to buy the book (even though you’ll get a refund once you’ve finished reading it), go read this and this. Really, to change your life, that’s all you need.

Chances are, if you are reading this, you are included in my daily practice of gratitude. So if you’re up early tomorrow, know that I’ll be sending you great thoughts!

Vipassana 2012: Insights and Reflections (Part 1: The Chronicle)

Never be complete, I say stop being perfect, I say let… lets evolve, let the chips fall where they may. — Tyler Durden

This post is only almost 1000 words long. Choose your favorite beverage (a lot of it) and settle down as I take you through my journey to the world of vipassana. Credits and introduction will be given at the end of the post. Actually, the post title is misleading. This is more of a chronicle than insights and reflections. I guess the lessons will come in the next post.

Day 0: December 19 2012

Tony and I got to Hope and we stopped for lunch. The entire time to Hope and while lunching, we debated about going to Merritt. It was snowing hard outside and I’ve never driven through the Coquihalla in the winter. The conversation mostly revolved around me telling Tony “I don’t want to you put into any kind of danger” and Tony replied back sarcastically “Don’t worry, if I die I’ll visit you at the meditation centre.” As we got up to pay for the meals, I looked outside at the pouring snow piling on the road and our van and concluded firmly “nope, I’m calling this off.” I sensed a tiny bit of reluctant relief from Tony.

We got into a car and Tony answered a phone call on his cell. I sat in silence staring at the space in front of me. I thought about Tony and his safety driving back alone from the centre. If anything were to happened to him, I’d feel horrible for the rest of my life. But I wouldn’t know about it until after I’ve finished the 10-day course. He’d be long gone by then. So it’s right not to go. I can reschedule this in the summer when it’s sunny. It’ll be easy driving to Merritt then I can even do it myself.

Then I felt this regret growing in me. If I don’t go this time, I won’t ever do it. This is possibly the only chance I got. And I need this. I need to figure this out. I need to know what to do next with my life. I’ve just quit my job. Not long before that, I broke up the relationship that lasted for almost 3 years and moved out of the apartment I’ve lived for the past 4 years. I’ve given up everything (or so I thought at that point.) So I am free to do whatever now. Vipassana was going to be the place that I define what “whatever” is. It’ll be perfect timing: meditate through the Christmas season (December 19 – 30), I’ll be fresh and enlightened to embark on the new adventures awaiting in the new life I’ll be leading. With this thought, I told Tony as he hang up the phone: “Tony, let’s go. I gotta do this.” He complied without saying a word.

Day 1: December 20, 2012

The noble silence started since 8 pm last night. The hall, the kitchen, the rooms, and the meditation hall all filled with silence. How can silence be filling hey? Yeah, it’s deafening. It’s definitely there. Silence isn’t simply the complete absence of sound, as the dictionary and the scientists have it. Nowhere on earth (or space) is there a place where we can find the complete absence of sound. Well, maybe except this place. Even there, with complete removal from the outside noise, you will be acutely aware of your own body’s noise. That and not to mention your own mental chatter. Silence is an illusion until your ears and your mind are sharp enough to hear the never-ending sounds reside within you. But this is way to early for this understanding. Let me back up a little.

I woke up at 4:30 on day 1. Waking up early has never been a problem for me, especially if it’s an important day to wake up to. Staying up and alert is usually the troublesome part. But day 1 was easy. Sitting in the meditation hall with 50 other people, nothing but breathing sound and the occasional scratching noises, somehow is enjoyable in a weird way.  I found myself enjoying the apparent silence. It’s easy just to let myself drown in thoughts. Exactly what I needed, even though that’s not what I am supposed to do. I am supposed to focus on my in-breaths and out-breaths around my nose and my philtrum*, and nothing else, especially thinking. I’m supposed to just focus on breathing for an hour straight. Not easy, if you’ve ever tried for even 5 minutes. The first day was relatively easy because I had no trouble killing time by thinking. 10 – 12 hours of meditation a day went by pretty quickly when you only spent 1 or 2 hours meditating and the rest thinking. Yet, thinking is exactly what you need to NOT do if you want to meditate…

Also, imagine the first time you have to listen to a chanting and it’s in ancient Indian (pali). And for some unknown reasons, the chanter ends every sentence of the chanting with a disgust-able sound in his throat like he’s burping very lowly but uncontrollably. My very first thought (and I’m sure of a lot of the other people in the room) was “what the hell is this noise he’s making?”

But other than that, the first day was comparably easy.

Day 2: December 21, 2012

Day 2 was supposed to be a lot harder and a lot of people quit on day 2 (and day 6, apparently.) But it was also surprisingly easy for me to get through.

Day 3: December 22, 2012

Day 4: December 23, 2012

Day 5: December 24, 2012

Day 6: December 25, 2012

Day 7: December 26, 2012

Day 8: December 27, 2012

Day 9: December 28, 2012

Day 10: December 29, 2012

Day 11: December 30, 2012

Introductions and Credits


Vipassana on Ben’s blog

The anechoic chamber at Orfield Laboratories in South Minneapolis: I would do anything to have a 10-day retreat here.

(yep, that’s a word referring to the area below your nose and above the upper lip.)

On Parenting

Keep in mind that these are parenting thoughts from a less than 25 years old who doesn’t have kids yet!

The primary “wish” that parents have for kids is that kids will be successful, happy, and satisfied with their lives. (and perhaps rich so they can send their parents on an all inclusive boat trip for the rest of the parents lives :) The question then becomes: if my kid is successful and happy in his/her own way, will I be OK with that? Example: your kid is an artist who doesn’t make a lot of money – actually, she doesn’t make much money and on occasion doesn’t make ends meet. But she’s generally happy with her work and her lifestyle and she would not rather do anything else in the world but be an artist. This is vastly different than the sit-on-your-ass-all-day-to-watch-tv-and-facebooking kinda kids whose parents only wish is “if you would just get off your ass and get a job, any job!”

Or do you, the parents, have a picture in your mind of the perfect life your kids should have? Nice house, nice car, stable job, lots of grandchildren… I can safely assume that my parents want the latter, even though they won’t admit or even be aware of this secret wish.

There are two choices when it comes to parenting styles, finely put in Ben’s post:

If you want to guarantee your kid is not a fuck up and leads a productive and “successful” life, be totally overbearing and induce lots of stress early on. If you want to give your kid a chance to end up in the history books, give him a long leash and excessive freedom to explore, but be aware that with freedom comes risk — he could more easily get into drugs and alcohol, for example.

The primary “duty” of parents (aside from providing food & shelter) is “nurturing” in its purest sense. That is, helping your kids realize their fullest “potential”. Until kids have explored their own boundaries and experiences, nobody knows kids better than parents. The question to ask yourself as a parent is this:

Have I provided, directed, helped influence my kids to be the best they can be, given their abilities, circumstances, and life aspirations?

For example, there is a worldly difference between “You need to become a lawyer/doctor/engineer” (insert an adult Asian face here) vs “What do you want to become when you grow up” (I don’t think I was ever asked this question :|). Actually, the more important question for parents is this:

Have I done enough to give room, to encourage, and to enable my kids to fully explore their interests? Have I really instilled in my kids the sense that they really can be who they WANT to be? And furthermore, have I done enough to motivate my kids to want to be who they want to be?

Example: One day you realized that your kid is 20 and you say this to your fellow parent friends:

He’s 20 years old and he’s playing games all day, doesn’t have a job, has no desire to get a job, and has no clue what to do with his life. Heck, he doesn’t even have the need to think about what to do with his life.

Then have you, the parents, been gently nudging your kids all his life toward this self-exploring process? Do your kids even know this is one of the most important things to do as a human-being? Do your kids even know there is a process?

So if your kid is for real 20 and in this situation, the safe thing to do is to tell your kids to pick a program at a university that he MIGHT be good at. Something safe, something stable and well-paying: nursing, doctor, lawyer, banker, teacher, etc.

Or you could tell your kid about the process of exploration. Heck, I wish my parents did this – I found it AFTER graduating from college!

Unbelievable Character

This post will be short.

If you feel stuck, don’t know what you “should do”, perhaps consider this. What if your job/mission/ultimate goal/whatever you want to call it, is to build yourself up to an unbelievable character? I don’t mean character as a fictional movie role kind of thing. But this way:


  1. The mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.
  2. The distinctive nature of something.
Instead of your friends saying that “you’re a nice/cool/awesome guy”, what if the people you meet say “that guy has an unbelievable character” about you?
Something to consider.

Learning Something vs Having Something

Are you interested in LEARNING some skill or just HAVING it? I have always wanted to be the bad-ass martial artist. But when it comes to LEARNING the martial arts, it didn’t happen. Bought a coupon for 30 days worth of unlimited martial art lessons, and I didn’t use it, until the very last day. I made some lame excuses not to go in, and tried to get a refund from SocialShopper (which I didn’t get :()

Still, “It would be cool/awesome if I am good at martial arts”.

The difference: some skills you are willing to put the efforts in to LEARN vs some skills you think would be cool to have (juggling, magic) but not really wanna put your efforts in. That’s like everyone wants to have more money. But not everyone wants to put in the time and effort to have more money.

Stop wasting time with the “it would be cool if I…” and spend more time with the “I actually enjoy learning/doing…”

I (used to) Lost Track Everyday and It’s not Good.

I have hundreds of “Read It Later” items that I saved to… read later. I have close to a thousand emails from various places I’ve signed up online. Not to mention ten of thousands RSS posts in my Google Reader inbox. Everyday, I would open these up and start to read. For about 10 minutes, I actually read. But after that, somehow unconsciously, my brain just thinks “holly shmucks. There are thousands to read.” And instead of actually reading the content, I start to skim, skip, save it for later. Instead of reading and learning from what I read, my task becomes cleaning out/”mark as read” my reading inboxes. Very different things.

After about an hour of not reading but cleaning out, I can barely remember what I read. Because I really didn’t read anything. Sometimes A lot of times, I saved for later the items that I had already saved for later. I lost track of what I was reading. And that’s not good. If I can’t remember what I read in the last hour, I haven’t read at all.

So I decided not to read the stuff in my inboxes anymore. For a while. Let them accumulate. When I really have time (and we know what this means :), never)  I will read them. Instead, I’m focusing on books. Most of stuff in the inboxes are just regurgitation of what’s already in books, anyway! And it’s working out better for me.

The (other) reason you went to college

An addendum to my original conclusions of why you (and I) went to college.

If someone told us that instead of going to business school, read these books. As you read these books, start your ventures and connect with people. Get together, start something, tell people about it, fail, do it again. That’s pretty much it. Actually, that’s better than just going to business school alone.

But probably 1% of us would actually succeed this way. The other reason we went to college is because we are terrible at being disciplined on our own. If there isn’t a class at 8:30 on Monday, we would be watching movies/partying on Sunday night. We went to college because we need the environment, we need someone to tell us what to do (textbooks), when to do it (attendance), and how to do it (grades and exams).

Ironically, this is the truth with everything else in life.  Take bodybuiding for example. Someone else has already figured out the way to success in bodybuilding: increase poundage with strict form. The path is simple (but not easy): pick the 5 or 6 best compound exercises, work hard at them with strict form and ever increasing the weights. Eat, sleep, rest plenty. That’s it. Someone figured this out decades ago. Yet, how many more workout programs, diet plans are popping up now and then. How many people actually stick to the simple path themselves, without having to join weight watcher programs, then rejoin and rejoin again?

The extension of lacking discipline is that we don’t tolerate uncertainty very well. We need approval and assurance. The idea of reading some books and trying to start a business right away seem too simple (but not easy.) We need entrepreneurial classes, world-class simulation studies, and Ph.Ds with credentials to judge us. Even more ironic, to be entrepreneurial is to be able to tolerate massive amount of uncertainty.

There you have it: lack of discipline and intolerance of uncertainty.

Secret to Blogging

Blogging is a way of expressing knowledge. If you find it hard to blog, maybe you’re stalling on learning new things.

When I first graduated from University, I was afraid to go to networking events. Because I wasn’t learning anything, nor was I doing anything interesting. I could no longer say “I’m studying this”. Up until that point, studying and college activities were everything that defined me – going to classes, being involved in clubs, excluding partying and doing other interesting things (like travelling and scuba-diving, which I’m going to do now!). So when I graduated, all of the commitments ended.

Now, as I start to read more and do more, ideas for blogging are everywhere. Whenever I get up and read in the morning, there’s 1 idea to blog about.

So the secret to blogging is to actually not to blog more, but do more, learn more, read more.

Study, Study, Study

To my father, my study is everything. Since kindergarten, his philosophy has always been: don’t worry about anything else in the world, focus on your study.
Don’t worry about money, family matters, playing, sometimes sleeping. It’s alway been like this through junior, senior highschool, university. His favorite quote for me was:

don’t sleep until you’ve finished your study, don’t play until you’ve studied enough (the Vietnamese version has better rhyme to it.)

Even now, as he hopes that I will take on a Master degree, it is still: studying is everything. Gotta do all the studying you can before worrying about working (in other words, don’t worry about living until you finish studying).

In many ways, this is how most Vietnamese parents think for their kids. In many ways, this is the result of communism. The hard working man doesn’t get the rewards he worked so hard to get. The governors, the power-controllers own the wealth. The scholars, the one with degrees, masters, PhDs at least have a comfortable life, not rich but more than enough to live. So unless you were born royal, your best chance of living comfortably is education.

As long as I live in Canada, the USA, etc though, this is not the only way of life – though many Asian parents keep this thinking when they moved to Canada or the US.

Espinosa quit Berkeley to work for Steve Jobs and helped create the Mac. There would never be another opportunity like that if he had kept studying. The point of studying is to be quick enough to realize the opportunity of a lifetime, and smart enough to make it come true. If your study prevents you from living, it’s counterproductive for your own good.

Running like A Business

If your department tells you that it’s running like a business (I’m talking to you, unionized workplaces), then you should ask your boss the following things:

  • How do we measure success?
  • Who is the highest performer in the department?
  • Who is the lowest performer in the department?
  • Who is the best salesperson? Does this person get more rewards than the less-than-best salesperson?
  • What happens to the lowest performers that don’t improve?
  • What do we do to measure customer satisfaction? (customer can be students, alumni, donors. Anything!)

If your boss can’t answer any of these questions, or gives you a funny answer, the department ISN’T running like a business. Most people think they are productive and have high emotional IQ – even though most of them aren’t. Similarly, some (unionized) workplaces proudly claim that they work like a business, and almost all of them don’t.

The real danger is when a department THINKS it runs like a business but doesn’t actually ACT so.

The place where I used to work: some people had flexible times. They could come in anytime without getting into trouble. But some other people didn’t get flexible times. And the people who got “royal treatment” weren’t the ones performing. Bad morale, and really bad satisfaction. There were no metrics to measure anything: sales, customer counts, customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction and productivity. Nothing. Yet it was running like a business. If it were, it would have been bankrupt long ago…