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I am not …. enough

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Mai Le

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Five years ago, as a high school senior, I applied to study Economics at universities in the UK. Despite having predicted grades of A* A* A* A* A in Further Maths, Maths, Chemistry, Economics, and Physics, a senior leadership position in the school Student Union, an 8.5/9 score in IELTS, and two medals from mathematics competitions, I did not dare apply to Cambridge.

I did not even attempt to apply to Cambridge because I believed I was not good enough.

Every story in life has two sides: a good reason and the real reason. The politically correct version of why I didn’t apply to Cambridge that I have told people is, “I needed a change of environment and thought London would be a better fit.” It’s partially true – I had been living in Cambridge for two years of high school by that point because my high school was located there. That is the good reason – a reason that sells, or looks good on paper. However, the real reason is that I lacked the audacity to believe I was enough. The belief of 17-year-old Mai baffles the now-22-year-old Mai. How different might my life have been if I had at least attempted to pursue the opportunity? At that time, I had not mastered the art of “being enough” – an art that has taken me nearly 5 years to slowly comprehend. As one of the most crucial lessons I have learned, I am glad to have realized the significance of “being enough.” The true perception of “enough” is not only the key to maximizing performance but also to confidence, self-fulfillment, inner peace, and genuine happiness.

“Enough” in Performance: The 80/20 Principle – Do the Minimum to Achieve the Maximum

I was introduced to the 80/20 rule (also known as the Pareto Principle) while studying Economics at university. The Pareto Principle states that 80 percent of your outcomes come from 20 percent of your inputs. Initially, I underestimated its importance, much like how I overlooked many other statistical Economics theories. Not until I began working extensively did I witness its real-life applications and the profound impact it had on my work outcomes. The principle is crucial because, like many others, you have a finite amount of time and energy. On average, you’re awake for 16 hours each day, or potentially 10 productive hours after subtracting time for “personal maintenance” activities such as meals, showers, and commutes. The output of these 10 hours is subject to the 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’ll achieve: This plateau point is the “enough” point. For a prolonged period in the past, I enslaved myself. I wanted, and thus achieved, more; consequently, I planned and expected more, which in turn drove me to do more. If I couldn’t 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 ability to realize that plateau point. My mindset changed when I started working and listened to a respected female senior colleague speak at a conference.

“Over the years, I’ve realized that in this place, we always have more work than any of us can handle. If you want more work, we will always have more for you. However, enslaving 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 has been enough, and tell yourself it is alright to go home early,” she said.

At that moment, her revelation made me seriously reconsider my approach to believing in “enough.” Let me share a key secret – a simple but profound secret, that changed my life.

All of your anxiety in life arises from your own expectations.

Every sadness comes from unmet expectations. Every anxiety comes from the anticipation of a negative outcome. If you want to perform at your peak, learn more about yourself to find your ‘plateau point’ and don’t let anxiety obstruct your path. If you wish to mitigate your anxious feelings, adjust your own expectations. It will require time and attention to accurately estimate where that ‘plateau point’ is. If you’re often like me in the past, believing that you haven’t done enough, try the 80/20 principle. One habit I adopted to slowly curb my “anxiety for more” was that every time I set out five things to do, I focused on accomplishing just one – the most crucial thing – very well. When I completed the most important task, I took a break and rewarded myself. If I had more time, I moved on to the rest; however, if I didn’t finish those, it was alright because I accomplished what I set out to do. I have done enough. More secrets adhering to this principle can be found in this book: The 80/20 Principle: The Secret of Achieving More with Less. Your actions do not yield equal outcomes. By doing the minimum that gives you the maximum outcome, you grant yourself the most vital commodities: Peace.

“Enough” in Life: Remove Redundancies and Dependencies

One of my most pivotal goals in my twenties is to eliminate all dependencies. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? Every day I strive to free myself from dependencies on people, the things I consume, a high income, social titles, and the expectations and opinions of others. The list is endless. This approach has been highly effective in constructing my own satisfaction and happiness. By being independent from consumerism, I am not driven by a higher income and do not enslave 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 for your own well-being. You, yourself, are enough. Three weeks ago, I had one of the most enjoyable Sundays in a long while. I committed myself to accomplishing just one thing that day, and I did it well. For the rest of the Sunday, I enjoyed peace of mind, a tranquil day, and the joy of achievement, recalling the worry-free life of being a kid. This led me to question why I had to rush every other weekend, running from one meeting to another with the anxiety of being late. I then realized I did not have to subject myself to that. The majority of activities on my planners are not essential and will not result in outcomes that last for months or years. I concluded that I could achieve peace of mind by removing redundancies. When you eliminate redundant consumptions and activities, you have the ability to focus on what is most important. Redundancies and dependencies are key distractions from the belief in “being enough.” That concludes this article – I have probably written enough 🙂

 

I’ve compiled over 300 cover letters from myself and colleagues at the Cover Letter Library. This exclusive collection features successful applications to premier investment banks, Big Four firms, and others. Discover more here.

Illustration by my friend Karl. Follow my updates on Instagram @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.

Comments

4 Comments

  1. Phuoc Tran

    thank you, mai le! I see myself in this post.

    Reply
  2. lan

    this article is so true and wise! thank you so much for sharing Mai xx

    Reply
  3. Duong

    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 🙂

    Reply
  4. Selen

    I really enjoy reading your articles. Thank you.

    Reply

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