What We Owe to Each Other

Late in the evening, there are several things that periodically crept to my mind. And this particular thing, actually affects how I see the world, that leads to affecting how should I live my life. Sounds corny right, but this happens to me for quite some time.

I think that there’s a paradox, or call it as I will, a battle in everybody’s mind, on how selfish they must be. I personally believe, most people are selfish. That’s human nature right. Of course ancient history always say that human beings progressed this far is due to our collective efforts in grouping into tribes and staying together. Back then we needed to work together and helped each other in a geographically bounded communities. Now, we coordinate our efforts through families and corporations. But if we look at the individuals, we see that people work together knowing that it benefits their individual selves. It provides reassurance and protection, that the individual’s own survival, depends on the group’s survival.

When I look in our modern world. I observe that people are still selfish (or getting more selfish) whether we noticed it or not. I see that many people have big homes, but more people around them live in slums and constantly thinking on whether they are able to put stuffs on their dinner plate every night. It is people’s individual right to own properties and accrue wealth, but I see no way how this benefits the society; in which they, the individuals, actually live in.

I see, so many times, a grandma is waiting for a bus (an outdated and now rarely to be seen mode of transport) to arrive and carry her home. She is old and just finished her day of being a merchant at the nearby traditional market. I don’t know why. From hundreds of individuals passing her by in their cars and motorcycles, nobody offered her a ride. They barely noticed. Of course. Why bother.

Sometimes it sickens me, but being the person I am right now, I regret saying that I am actually among those individuals. Sigh. Do we actually owe each other?

Maudy and Optimism

In the past few days, my social media timelines and conversations around me revolved around Maudy Ayunda. And unlike any other chit-chats on the life of celebrities, this time was something very positive. She was admitted into Harvard and Stanford for her graduate study. This caught me off guard, not because I undermined her chances of going there, but her willingness of going there.

She was already privileged, and already had anything that she could ever wanted.

What striked me the most is that she doesn’t feel complacent about her life at all. A life that other people might dream of. She already had a world-class bachelor’s degree from Oxford University, established herself as one of the leading singer and actress in Indonesia, and even her image of being a public figure were showered with flowers.

What is she trying to achieve? I don’t know, probably something noble and important.

It is very common for people who had already achieved so much as Maudy, to settle down, to enjoy life, to gain more fame, probably. But she chose something that is less tangible and vaguely more long term; getting an education. An education, the best one the world can offer her.

And let’s stop talking about the privilege that she already had, and let’s not discount the hard work that she had put in achieving all of these. Let’s talk about ourselves. We, as people who aren’t as privileged as she is, and as people who haven’t achieved even a small bite of what she had, must keep on being optimistic. The gap that we need to close, betwen what we are now and what we are capable of, is still very wide. We need to work way way harder, and we need to think way way smarter.

I am optimistic about what my life will be. Not because I am naiive. Not because being optimistic is easy. But because, in a strictly utilitarian sense, being optimistic actually benefits me. It made me see a better path ahead of me. It made my life more bearable, even enjoyable. It made me try things that I wouldn’t even dare, had I been more negative towards my life. I was an optimists, and it had served me well.

I don’t see the value of being a skeptic or of being a person who always say the negative aspects of things.

Of course, being optimistic is not the same as being delusional. I need to be aware about myself, and be fully rational about what’s possible and what’s not.

And then it comes to people. In my life, at least recently, it is much more fulfilling to be circled with people who don’t constantly make me think that I am not good enough, to have friends who spreads positivity around me, liften up my mood, and slow down my heart beat.

Positivity. Optimism. A peace of mind. Will probably lead me to places I aspire to be, just like Maudy’s.


Hypergrowth and Being an Early Employee

I was stumbled upon reading a passage from Elad Gil’s High Growth Handbook that discusses how early employees can scale. I am currently an early employee at a startup that I consider to be high-growth, we were founded only one and half years ago but now employ hundreds of people.

“Early employees who are humble enough to realize they can learn from fresh blood can grow with the company and use it as a personal platform for their own learning and impact.”
– Elad Gil

Elad suggests that early employees must be humble enough and must optimize for learning from the new but more experienced peers. I then asked Aswin and Angky (our co-founders) on how early employees like me could scale along with the company, not just being eventually replaced by more senior folks. Aswin’s answers perplexed me, but I couldn’t agree more.

“Well, companies grow way faster than people could possibly grow. The equation just doesn’t make any sense. There’s no way around that.”

We could try as hard as we could, but the math, the biology, and the wirings on our brain just say it won’t work. I also recently read an article on First Round regarding the laws of startup physics, arguing that:

1) Companies grow exponentially
2) Humans grow linearly

And in a fast-growing startup, the double-edged truth would be:

1) If the company grows as it should
2) It will outgrow many of its people

If those are the premises, what should we as employees (especially early employees) do? Beware that this will not always be the case, companies can stagnate or just go on a death spiral. Meaning employees will grow faster, and eventually leave the company to pursue other opportunities.

I am now planning to practice these two things: to accelerate my learnings and to perform one level above my current role.

1. Accelerating my learnings

This is the immediate consequence that I need to do. It does not matter if the math doesn’t add up, but it still matters that I grow as fast as possible. Otherwise, I am at a disadvantage. I need to learn on the job, by talking to people both inside and outside the company, and from external resources such as books, articles, and even YouTube videos. It is not enough that I learn, I also need to practice what I learn. One of the reason why I started writing on this blog again is to hone my structured thinking and writing skills.

2. Performing one level above my current role

Performing at the level I am in will only lead to a comfort zone. It will be harder to fail and therefore it will be harder to grow. So I need to strecth myself into doing what’s beyond my current capability. Sometimes it will feel really uncomfortable and the success-to-failure ratio will be alarmingly low, but I guess this is the price. As time goes by, I will have my learnings, what’s now uncomfortable will then be a comfort zone, and I will need to find yet another challenge to keep growing.

Every person’s expectation and priority might be different. There’s nothing wrong if you are optimizing for a comfortable environment or stability as long as that’s what you want.

Okay, so, my opinion doesn’t necessarily reflect my employer’s, but if you are keen to face the challenge that I face day-to-day, we are hiring! 🙄

My Takes on Being Productive

In the last few months, I’ve been struggling to work more productively. No matter what work I do, I always feel that I’m not focused enough to do and finish it. When I’m doing software engineering works (e.g. writing codes, writing test, testing) I often feel a severe boredom in doing the tedious tasks. I don’t know. When I started doing programming, I was attracted to it and I could spend hours writing codes and tinkering whatever problems I found along the way. But lately, the thought of doing programming alone could destroy my mood. It’s like my passion into doing programming has been taken out of me.

Yes, that’s the extreme case. But I’m also struggling to do other tasks, especially my task as a student (e.g.: doing assignments, writing papers, writing reports, studying). I always wait until the last hours to do my task, then rushed to finish it, and in the end I regret that I didn’t start doing it earlier so that I have a better result. The only upside of this is, that I’m proud of being able to do so much work in a little time, although imperfect.

I also tried several solutions to cope with this disease of unproductivity, such as:

  1. Setting up Pomodoro timer. A Pomodoro timer lets you divide your time into chunks of 25 minutes, with 5 minutes of break in between. It helps me to focus and adding pressure on doing the task. This technique works better when you are not alone, so that someone can punish you when you are not following the timer.
  2. Trying different places to work. I tried working at several coffee shops lately. Although I have a super fast internet connection at home, I could hardly focus to work, the mood of home is to rest and have friendly conversations with my housemate. A different working environment could temporarily boost my mood, and most of the time, helps me to focus on finishing my work.
  3. Eliminate distractions. I used to have an app to block specific distractions on my laptop. In the middle of doing my work, there’s always an urge to open a new tab, and open Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/etc, and A LOT OF TIMES it happened unconsciously. By using this technique, theoretically I should be able to focus on my work without getting distracted. But the truth is, this method rarely works for me. In the end, I always open another website to distract myself, or even uninstalling the freaking app for good…

Sometimes I wonder how the hell I could go this far in my life, in my study, and in my career when I could hardly focus an hour to do the work I am supposed to do. But I’m learning, and always wanting to improve. Let me know if you have any technique to make you productive.

Freedom

You’re the entrepreneur of your life, you can decide what you’re going to do, what you’re going to prioritize. And you should never forget that you have a tremendous amount of freedom as it is to make these very basic decision on what you’re going to do with your life. (Peter Thiel)

These days everything you do, everything you dream of is being constantly watched by your surroundings. It feels like they have expectations on what you should accomplish, therefore based on their initial understanding of the world, they have expectations regarding what you should do to accomplish those matters. Any contrarian thoughts or actions against their idea is considered foolish, and/or against the law of nature.

In this postmaterialistic world, it is easy to succumb to those peer pressures. In a universe where every recognition is one click away, every criticism is one comment away, it is easy to fall prey on living a life where everyone is directing your desire, thus, your future. Nobody knows what you’re after except you, so ignoring what the world says might often works best for you in the long term. Even if you feel bad that nobody is noticing you, please stay true. Because if you feel that way, it means that you still put a great significance on what others have to say.

The thing is, you don’t have to follow everyone’s expectation. But be sure to exceed them in things that nobody else would figure out. There’s no single entity in this world that can actually stops you from making any kind of decision regarding yourself.[\]