Five years ago, as a high school senior, I was applying to read Economics at universities in the UK. Even with the predicted grade of A*A*A*A A for Further Maths, Maths, Chemistry, Economics and Physics, a senior leadership position in the school Student Union, a 8.5/9 score in IELTS and two medals in mathematics competitions, I did not dare to apply to Cambridge.
I did not even attempt to apply to Cambridge because I thought I was not good enough.
There are two sides to every stories in life: there is a good reason; and there is a real reason. This is the politically correct version I have told people about why I did not apply to Cambridge “I needed a change of environment and thought London would be a better fit.” It is of course true – I had been living in Cambridge for two years of high school by then because my high school also happened to be located in Cambridge.
Now, that is the good reason – a reason that sells, or looks good on paper. However, the real reason is because I did not have the audacity to believe that I am enough. This belief of the 17-year-old Mai makes no sense whatsoever to the now-22-year-old Mai. How different would my life be if I even attempt to at least pursuing the opportunity? At the time, I did not master the art of “being enough” – an art that took me almost 5 years of my life to slowly realise.
As one of the most important lessons I have learnt, I am glad to have realised the significance of “being enough”. The true perception of “enough” is not only the key to maximising performance, but also confidence, self-fulfilment, inner peace and real happiness.
“Enough” in performance: 80/20 Principle – do the minimum to achieve the maximum
I was introduced to the the 80–20 rule (also known as Pareto principle) from reading Economics at university. Pareto principle states that 80 percent of your outcomes come from 20 percent of your inputs. At first, I underestimated the importance of it, similar to how I overlooked many other statistical Economics theories. Not until I started working extensively, did I see its real life applications and the way it profoundly changed my work outcome.
The reason why this principle is important is because you, as many other human do, have a finite amount of time and energy. On average, you’d have 16 hours being awake every day, or 10 possibly productive hours after subtracting the time for “personal maintenance” activities such as meals, showers and commutes. The output of these 10 hours is subject to a Law of Diminishing Returns, where at a certain plateau point x, the marginal rate of increase in the output is zero. Beyond this point, the more you try, the less you’d get back: This plateau point is the “enough” point.
For a prolonged period of time in the past, I was the slave of myself. I wanted to have more, and achieved more; therefore I planned more and expected more, which in turn drove me to do more. If I could not achieve everything I set out to do or expected, I became anxious and dissatisfied with my own performance. This expectation beyond my capacity consumed me and diminished my own ability to realise that plateau point.
This mindset of mine changed when I started working. I listened to a respected female senior colleague speaking in a conference.
“Over the years, I realise that in this place, we always have more work than all of us can handle. If you want more work, we will always have more work for you. However, slaving yourself is not why you are here. It is not what we hire you for. Set your limit to achieve the best efficiency. Believe in yourself that what you do have been enough, and tell yourself it is alright to go home early.”, said she.
At the time, her revelation made me seriously think about my approach to believing in “enough”. Let me tell you a key secret – a simple but profound secret, that changed my life.
All of your anxiety in life arises from your own expectation.
Every sadness comes from an unmet expectation. Every anxiety comes from the anticipation of a negative outcome. If you want to perform at your peak, learn more about yourself to find out your ‘plateau point’; and don’t let anxiety get in your way. If you want to fix your anxious feeling, fix your own expectation. It will take a lot of time and attention to yourself to correctly estimate where that ‘plateau point’ is.
If you are often like me in the past, believing that you have not done enough, try the 80/20 principle. One of the habits I tried to slowly cure my “anxiety for more” was that every time I set out 5 things to do, I focus on doing only one – the most important thing – very well. When I am done with the most important thing, I take a break and reward myself. If I have more time, I then move on to the rest; however, if I don’t finish those, it is alright because I have done what I set out to do. I have done enough.
More secrets to adhere to this principle can be found in this book: The 80/20 Principle: The Secret of Achieving More with Less Your actions do not result in equal outcomes. By doing the minimum of what gives you the maximum outcome, you have brought yourself the most important commodities: Peace.
“Enough” in life: Remove redundancies and dependencies
One of my most significant goals in my twenties is to remove all dependencies. It does sound simple, doesn’t it? I strive everyday to remove all the dependencies of mine on people, on things I consume, on high income, on social titles and others’ expectations and opinions. The list goes on. It has been really effective in the construction of my own satisfaction and happiness. By being independent from consumerism, I am not driven by higher income and not slave myself to my own greed. By being independent from people, I am not emotionally attached or contribute my values to the presence of another human-being. By having no dependency, you are self sufficient to your own well being. You, yourself, are enough.
Three weeks ago, I had one of the best Sunday I have ever had in a long time. I set myself doing just one thing on that day; and I completed it well. For the rest of the Sunday, I enjoyed peace of mind, a calm day and the joy of achievement. I recalled the worry-free life of being a kid. This brought me to question why I had to be so rushed in every other weekend, when I had different appointments to meet 6-8 different people in one day. I was constantly on the run from one meeting to another with the anxiety of being late.
I then realised I did not have to do that to myself. The majority of the activities on my planners are not essential and will not result in outcome that last for months or years. I concluded that I can achieve peace of mind by removing the redundancies.
When you remove redundant consumptions and redundant activities, you have the ability to focus on what is the most important. Redundancies and Dependencies are the key distractions to the belief of “being enough”.
That concludes this article – I probably have written enough 🙂
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 Karl –
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thank you, mai le! I see myself in this post.
this article is so true and wise! thank you so much for sharing Mai xx
Thank you for your sharing. I have read almost all of your articles and they are all helpful for my work, my life and my self-reflection. Looking forward to many more articles 🙂
I really enjoy reading your articles. Thank you.