Rumena Zlatkova has been one of the most prolific and excellent commentors on this site and I've learned a lot from her and always been grateful for those insights. We started corresponding a bit by email recently, and there were some real gems of insights in her writing.
We were talking about work and advantages from having grown up in one culture and now living in another. Here's Rumena -
Yes, the skillset / mindset that you can develop having lived in Bulgaria and then moving to the UK is quite unique and gives you a very different perspective compared to the other people around you. For me, so far it's been very useful in identifying 'black holes' and things / aspects of society that I don't want to participate in - so having the perspective on why for example Bulgaria is a messy, unorderly place, while the UK is the most structured country I've been in so far, also gives some insight of why it's that and what purpose it's helping. I mean, in Bulgaria people always complain they are not taken care of by the country, that everything is left pretty much to the laws of the jungle (I don't know of you're familiar with any Eastern European country, but it's part of the culture there - maybe a little less harsh than what you've been describing about Mongolia), but that gives you the unique skillset of being an 'all-around' person (also because the country is poor, we don't 'hire' someone, we try to fix things ourselves). You don't just trust or 'buy in' what the State / or overpriced business is selling to you - and you know you have only yourself to rely on if you want something done. Whereas in the UK, people are so much taken care of, that they are too relaxed, and probably unadaptable. I'm guessing you can also relate to that coming from a country such as the USA, where most things come easily and you don't need to think too much (or that's what it looks like).
I thought that was interesting - observing that people feel like they're not taken care of, yet simultaneously don't have the resources and trust to get skilled professionals and get the benefits of a division of labor. I asked Rumena if I could share, she said yes and kindly shared some more insights -
Here is another point that might be of interest for you or your readers that I have been thinking about recently: individual vs. team work.
Question from a reader -
Kaizan (I believe this was the word encapsulating the concept that small but regular efforts both build momentum and create a larger effect)
You seem to have some of the best discipline and commitment I've seen in anyone. Quite frankly I have the toughest time fighting the urgency of the present for the promised windfalls of the future. Are there any tips you have for effectively depriving oneself now for greater long-term success? If you feel as though each small effort has no measurable impact, beyond the short-term perceived negative effects, how do you justify and reason that the long-term positive effects will come. E.g. how do you say "no I can't drink this coffee with milk in it because I'm avoiding carbs" or "I can't buy this interesting book because I'm trying to save" when the correlation between those individual events and the desired result (weight-control/savings) is unmeasurable?
I'm not sure the exact year, but somewhere around 2008 to 2010 I started thinking about why video games are so easy for people to get engaged in.
When you look at it objectively, a lot of video games are more difficult, more time-consuming, and more tedious than getting large real life successes.
Question from a reader -
You have maintained your commitment to being prolific which is made even more exceptional by the fact you are travelling around the world at the same time.
I realise your article on being prolific is about this, but accepting that I'm going to release a lot of crap before I realise something good is a tough wall to knock down. My biggest issue writing anything seems to be that it feel insufficent. Naturally no post I write has the length of Steve Yegge, the persuasiveness of Paul Graham, the content of Unqualified Reservations etc. etc. and while I can consciously accept this, there seems to be some mental block. How do you go "that's sufficient" and release it into the wild?
There's two basic approaches to being successful as a writer. The first, we could call the "Paul Graham / Derek Sivers" approach. This is where you explore a lot of ideas privately, go forward with the best ideas you have, and edit and polish the hell out of everything before you release it into the world. If you do this, and you've got talent as a writer, and you've got important ideas - then you're going to consistently only release masterpieces.
The second way is to just write a hell of a lot and know that a number of the things you write will turn out quite well, but your average quality level will be much lower. We could call this the "write every day no matter what" approach.
A while back, I had the good fortune to connect with Simon Payne who is one of the oustandingly cool and interesting guy. I know a lot of people want to do meaningful thins with their lives, but are scared to take risks. Simon saved a small amount of money and just jumped off into the void... and it worked. I hope his story inspires you like it does me, here's Simon -
My story begins when I decided to quit my job, sell most of my things and move to Philippines to study original martial art called Kali (also known as Escrima or Arnis). For those who doesn’t know it, it’s a kind of fencing but with rattan sticks. It’s an offensive, fast and extremely effective martial art. The training includes even fighting with steel blades, knives and many different weapons including bare hands. I’ve been studying the modern version of Escrima in Czech Republic for last 8 years and before that historical and sport fencing.
I've always had rich imagination and before arriving in the Philippines I assumed that everyone would know where to find where to find some Escrima schools. I dreamed about finding some old skilled grandmaster that would teach me.
I decided to travel to Davao City which is in the south of Philippines. I knew that my friend John will be there at the same time. I didn’t know him in person but that was my only contact. He was just starting a company there. Looking back at my decisions I obviously didn’t use my brain as much as other people would. If I did, I’d choose bigger city like Manila or Cebu which are well known for martial art schools.
I searched using pieces of information from web but it wasn’t helpful, most information were outdated or useless. I wandered the streets and asked people for any leads. Sometimes at night searching trough dark corners and shady streets where I felt uncomfortably insecure. Sometimes I’d find an abandoned gym where someone used to practice but they must have moved somewhere else.
"What if I'm wrong?"
--> A question I like, especially on very touchy and personal issues.
Your first thought will probably be to say, "Well, it'd be a good thing to do anyways!" ... because that's just what people tend to do when considering being wrong.
But dig a little deeper. What if you were really wrong? Like, not just the wrong course of action, but what if your whole idea of the setup and cause and effect and payoffs and long term consequences of your actions were flawed? What if you made a serious mistake somewhere in your evaluations, and you were going to get the opposite result of what you wanted? What if you got a horrific result?
History is obvious in retrospect, but sometimes it's also obvious going forwards. If Pol Pot had stopped and asked, "Hey, what if I'm wrong and it's actually a bad idea to kill everyone who speaks a foreign language, runs a business, is educated, or has a background as an urban professional? What if I'd be permanently destroying Khmer society instead of delivering it?"
I'm not much into "sizing people up" consciously - you'll generally get a feel for people, but I don't have any sort of training to pick up advanced little nuances that give insight into someone's character.
While most people stare blankly forwards at their shoes as they move through life, a few select people seem to have eyes that have a lot of awareness.
This "light of awareness" is actually an amazing predictor of curiosity, intelligence, and a person just being overall interesting.
What is it, exactly?
Yesterday, I wrote a post "Good With Money vs. Good With Resources," but I had a problem: The word resource is almost, but not quite correct to cover the space of idea I was talking about.
I meant something along the line of "factors that you can gain influence over, that once gained have some persistent quality, that you don't have complete control over, but rather there's some way the factor can provide feedback to you, that used appropriately can be useful" - and that comes pretty close to being a "resource," does it not?
Wikipedia has "resource" as thus - "A resource is any physical or virtual entity of limited availability that needs to be consumed to obtain a benefit from it. In most cases, commercial or even non-commercial factors require resource allocation through resource management. There are two types of resources; renewable and non-renewable."
Close! But not quite, as I was experiencing yesterday:
I also think the word “resource” isn’t the best particular word, since there’s a lot of things that are resource-like that aren’t really resources… obviously our relationships aren’t resources, but can also be invested in similar to a resource. You can go out of your way to do nice things for people who have done right by you, you can be thoughtful, you can go out of your way to travel to a place if someone you really admire is there.
I've been thinking about people who are "good with money" lately. Certainly, being "good with money" is superior to being "bad with money" - people who are bad with money spend a lot of their life in unnecessary stress. Generally, being "bad with money" would mean not being in control of your spending, having debt unnecessarily (if you're just carrying around a lump of debt, you only need to cut your spending in the short term to get rid of it, and then you can go back to your old spending levels debt free), and otherwise not managing their finances well.
Yet, "good with money" by itself doesn't predict success all that well. Oh, to be sure, it helps a lot. But we all know people who you'd call good with money who aren't successful in general.
I've been thinking on the reason why - and I think it's because money is only one of many resources. You've also assets, both securitized assets (stocks, bonds, real estate, whatever) and assets that are more intangible and impossible to buy/sell/trade as a security - more amorphous things like prestige, credentials, and of course, skills and experience.
I also think the word "resource" isn't the best particular word, since there's a lot of things that are resource-like that aren't really resources... obviously our relationships aren't resources, but can also be invested in similar to a resource. You can go out of your way to do nice things for people who have done right by you, you can be thoughtful, you can go out of your way to travel to a place if someone you really admire is there.
Being good with money guarantees none of the above.
Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow. After "Titan" about Rockefeller's life, Chernow became my favorite biographer.
Washington: A Life is another masterpiece by him.
It's always good to go through the histories of founders of great nations, and this is no different. Of particular note is that Chernow is as thorough as ever, going through Washington's business dealings and carefully noting his dress, horseback riding style, and the routes he took when campaigning both militarily or touring as a political leader.
The book drags sometimes - Chernow's hyper-thorough, which is fantastic except when you want the pace to pick up - but some of the details are really fantastic. I got some great ideas on dress, presentation, ethics, communication, building intelligence networks, recruiting, endurance, and diplomacy from the book. Also, the ending of the book is probably the most interesting - seeing how Washington and Hamilton modeled the Federalist platform loosely on British Imperialism was amazingly insightful. The points about state debt, finance, and taxation were fascinating.
Enjoyed this one quite a lot and feeling much more intelligent about early American affairs.
Making your first trip to East or Southeast Asia? Wondering where to go?
Okay, I've spent significant time in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. I can weigh in on those places for you. I haven't been to Macau, Laos, Burma, the Philippines, North Korea, or Indonesia yet - of them, I've heard great things about the Philippines and Indonesia in particular, but I can't comment.
So, some thoughts about every country -
Japan - Still the crown jewel of Asia, Japan has something for everyone. There's ancient and hyper-modern culture mixed all together. There's amazing technology, high levels of development, basically nonexistent crime, ridiculously high standards of quality and hygiene, and the people are friendly and polite. English isn't widely spoken, but the Japanese take being good hosts seriously and you'll be fine in any major city. You can find quite literally anything here - amazing camping and mountains and forests and oceans, or hyper-developed space-age districts in cities.
The downside of Japan - It's fucking expensive. Like, really really expensive. I hate spending money on eating and sleeping - every dollar I put into basic "staying alive" stuff is less money to be invested in commerce or philanthropy, or learning, or having unique experiences that are more interesting than... well, eating and sleeping. Yet, eating and sleeping is brutally expensive here. If you're not a veteran traveler and don't have friends here, you'll be hard pressed to spend less than $100/day in Japan. If you slum it hard, you can maybe get down to $50/day. Everything's ridiculously expensive, ranging from 400% to 2,000% higher than still-developing countries in Asia.