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10 Ultimate Lessons I Have Learnt in 2015


Every year-end, I write a post about the 10 ultimate lessons I have learnt throughout the year. This is the third sequel to the 10 lessons I have learnt in 2014 and in 2013.

Shout-out : 

  • Some lessons here may have already been obvious to you. That probably means you are a bit further ahead of me in the Department of Life. 🙂

1.     About being right: “You need to get it right. Not casually right, but completely and 100% right. The reason why we get paid more than other professions and other firms is NOT because we are better than others, but because we don’t do things that are 99% right. We ensure everything we produce and every action we take are 100% right ALL THE TIME. Your pay premium is because of that 1%. It does not take more intelligence and superiority, but only more diligence and integrity, to be right. If all of us in finance do things of only 99% right all the time then 2008 will happen again. This is not optional but mandatory. We can’t be casually right. We have to be definitely right in what we do and the things we produce.” This is one of the most important lesson I was taught personally that shapes my analyst years.

2.     Learning meditation: A friend introduced me to the concept of guided meditation through the app “Headspace”. I self-diagnosed with ADHD, which means my brain has attention-deficit issues. In general, it is really difficult for me to focus. Learning meditation on my own is impossible. Guided meditation is much easier for my brain to handle. It has helped me to focus better, helped to achieve peace and also cleared my mind for better thought process. If you have watched Sherlock Holmes and got to know of his “mind palace”, meditation helps me achieve near that state.

3.     Not speaking every thought in my head: I once told a friend of my concern that my thoughts were too transparent with others. I am too expressive, predictive and lack of that degree of sophistication, maturity and elegance. My friend told me  “The key to adulthood is not to speak everything in your head”. I realised this was true at that point, but the significance of this advice was only recognised  in several occasions later. Speaking too much of your thoughts is like playing a poker hand and revealing your cards at the same time. From then on,  I tried put in a lot more effort to be less vocal and listen more. However, trying to speak less was very difficult to me personally. As mentioned earlier, my brain is influenced by ADHD, which means if I try to think silently in my head, my thought are usually disrupted and distracted. It became apparent to me that I love speaking or writing because that is when I can think in a coherent, uninterrupted way. Therefore, I was looking for months for some solutions where I can speak to myself in order to think and keep these thoughts organised.

After a long search without results, I decided to build something myself for my own needs (Hence the disappearance for the past month). I build a free speech-to-text voice journal app which automatically transcribes my voice recordings into texts and beautifully organises them in a journal. I have been using the app for some time and have accumulated a decent voice diary of my thoughts. I now can speak my thoughts out loud without revealing too much to others, and can review these thoughts myself in an organised way. To thank you, my readers, I will be releasing my work for free in a few weeks on App Store. Join to know when my work is released. 

4. Foster my senses and take care of myself: It took me 22 years to slowly attend to myself. I neglected self-care until my twenties with constant chases for spiritual and intellectual growth. It was rather appealing to live like a rebel or a free-spirited idealist “Why would I need those girly acts like having a night time skincare routine when I can use my time to save the world?” It takes years to realise that such idealism was wrong and pretentious. I missed out the strong association between my physical self and the spiritual self by thinking my spiritual self was who I solely am. Part of this was attributed to my strong belief in René Descartes – “I think therefore I am”. Not until my body screamed for attentions after some sickness, I realised everything would not have mattered if my physical senses were not sharp enough to experiences life. Since then, I started recording my physical activity and sleep using a Fitbit!  It is now apparent to me that if I want to change the world, I need to start being at my best capacity, both physically and mentally, to both think and act.

5.     “F-all” days are important: I used to be one of those people who fully booked her weekends with 5-8 meetings and social invitations. I used to be one of those people who are scared of “doing nothing”. The anxiety arose when I kept count of the output and constantly questioned myself “What have I done today?” When I felt it was not enough, a voice constantly screamed inside my head. “I cannot be doing nothing! I must do something!”.

Ms Genius once asked me “What did you do in your free time as a child?”. “I drew, wrote poems and read.”, said I. She continued “Do you still do it now?”. That was when it struck me that adulthood had deprived me of the hobbies that fostered myself as a person. Striving for social acceptance made me negate the time spent on my own doing something that is not “commercially useful”. This realisation forced me to spend a solid period of 2 months in the summer of 2015 not actively meeting people during the weekends, but only just invest time in  activities with myself.

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog post on the value and importance of being alone. I found the time spent with myself in solitude is key to unwind and unload any negative energy. I was too busy with other people and distracted from getting to know the one person in the world I should definitely know: myself. After this 2 month period, I learnt to relieve my anxiety of doing nothing and have a “f-all” day every week or two – because “doing nothing” is not optional, it is essential.

6.     Source of Motivation and Defeating Procrastination: People who know me are often amazed by my execution mode, when I get an extremely significant amount of work done in a relatively short period of time. In such mode, I always get things done promptly and well. As a result, others can trust on my reliability, which has helped me very much advance in life.

I am often asked how I can endure not to procrastinate. This question has been difficult for me to answer because it was very vague to my understanding how this attitude of mine has developed. Only until recently, the source of my motivation slowly made sense to me and hence I am now able to answer this question.

In my opinion, motivations come from two sources: “Wants” or “Fears”. You are motivated to do something when you want something or are fearful of something. It is now clear how I always get things done. When there is an opportunity for procrastination to arise, I immediately use either my wants or fears to extinguish it.

Most people aim to motivate themselves using their wants. However, the majority of us react more intensely to fears than our wants. Fear is therefore a really effective instrument for motivation. For example, if you fear you will miss the interview tomorrow if you don’t wake up on-time, it is almost certain that you will wake up hours earlier than your usual wake-up time. Same for assignment submissions or exams – if you are fearful enough, you will get it done on time and well. Mastering the art of creating “artificial fears” is essentially generating the eternal source for motivation. Of course there needs to be a strong emotional control in place to avoid this artificial fear to develop into anxiety, which is where meditation helps to bring me back to calmness.

In short, my secret is that I alternate between wants and fears to motivate myself. The result is excellent.

7. It only brings more good deeds when I strive to talk to strangers. A goal of mine in 2015 was to talk to as many strangers as I can. I have practised this throughout the year. I talked to all Uber drivers when I was on the ride with them. I talked to waiters and waitresses. I talked to people at train stations or waiting areas. It has only brought me good deeds so far. I get much better service, more friends, better conversations and learn amazing new things about another human being in the least expected occasions.

8. Eternal sense of security, self love and trust in myself. This year brought me the best gift of my life – the eternal sense of security and self-love. I became completely detached to dependencies on other people and removed all insecurities about myself. I believe this eternal sense of security may have started from this TED talk. I relate to it a lot because I share similar childhood experiences with the speaker. Right now it is not so clear to me how this gift came to me and developed throughout the past year. I will give it more thoughts and write about this process another post.

9. Personal investments: I have read that on average, millionaires have 7 sources of income. They are:

  • Earned Income – Money that you earn by doing something e.g. salary.
  • Profit – Money that you earn by selling something for more than it costs you to make.
  • Interest – Money you get as a result of lending your money to someone else to use.
  • Dividend Income – Money that you get as a return on shares of a company you own.
  • Rental Income – Money that you get as a result of renting out an asset that you have.
  • Capital Gains – Money that you get as a result of increase in value of an asset that you own.
  • Royalties – Money you get as a result of letting someone use your products, ideas, or processes.

So far I have tried to acquired some income from 3 out of these 7 streams. 2016 will be the year of learning to venture in the other 4 streams.

10.     Making optimal choices: One piece of the childhood memories that boldly imprinted in my mind was the first time I saw traffic lights in Hanoi. I grew up in a small village in another province in Vietnam. Only until my first time visiting Hanoi did I saw roads with traffic lights.  With excitement, I observed the pace of the traffic going through the series of conseMerriweather traffic lights. My realisation was that the people who managed to get slightly ahead of our car at a few traffic lights went multiple times further ahead when the light changed, and were out of our sight at a fraction of time.

Such observation of a kid did not sound ground-breaking to you, but it was almost life-changing to me. My naive mind concluded at that time “If I want to move fast, first and gone, I got to be the first at every traffic light.” The incidence of traffic lights made me believe that every time I am stopped or have set-backs in life, I always need to be at a position to be ready to go faster than everyone else “when lights change” and overcome the next “traffic lights” faster.

This “philosophy” has developed into an attitude of making optimal choices. It is difficult for me to understand how many people are contented with making sub-optimal choices. Even in every day actions, I observe many people who make sub-optimal choices like accepting average education, do what they are told and do not ask questions, accepting an average job, talking about average topics like dating, diet, clothes, gossips of other people, choosing a boyfriend/girlfriend that deteriorate their life quality, watching instead of reading or soaking their brains with low-quality content. Maybe many people are not aware that the choices of where they position their car in front of the traffic lights can determine how far they can go. Making great choices is like everything else in life, which requires “practice” and “learning”. I believe if I do not train to make good every-day choices, I will not be able to make good choices in turbulent times of my life.

Allow the fake mathematician me to illustrate to you using the graph below. Imagine the series of optimal choices, subject to your life constraints (e.g. income, age or location), lies along the oval curve. The outcome to you and your life is the integral of your choices, or the area under the graph. If you make an infinite amount of choices (very close to each other) that are all optimal (lies along this curve), you maximise your outcome subject to constraints. This is usually not possible as human do not make infinite amount of choices nor that all of them will be optimal. Therefore, your outcome will instead look similar to the blue or yellow area.


Sketch of Mai’s “Optimal Choice” theory

Show-case here in blue is the one who make slightly better, and consistently better, choices than their yellow counterpart. They get more out of life, and well be gone when the next “traffic lights” comes.

I have collected over 100 of myself and my friends’ cover letters and published it at Cover Letter Library to help you. This member-only library includes successful cover letters from people who secured jobs at all major investment banks, big 4 firms and other. Check it out 🙂 


Illustration by my friend at ANML Studio. Check out her IG and support by buying her art @anmlstudio

I am also active on Instagram too! Follow me @official.mai.le 

Written by Mai Le

My name is Mai. I am originally from Vietnam. After my university years at LSE, I worked in investment banking at Goldman Sachs. After a wonderful time there, I started several of my own business as well as helping others on theirs. I've always been building communities and businesses for as long as I can remember, and absolutely thrilled to see others enjoy what I've built.


1 Comment

  1. Trang

    Some same lessons as yours :).
    Your articles always inspire me a lot, tks :P.


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