Wantrepreneur Rehab : The Give and Take Paradox

Most people who chose the path of entrepreneurship often have a goal to achieve financial and career freedom, where they are their own bosses and nobody can tell them what to do. Often people thought entrepreneurship is about ‘profitability’ and ‘optimization’ meaning that they seek ways to make as much money as possible, using as little resources (time and capital) as possible. Many people chose entrepreneurship because they are tired of trading their time for money — they place extremely high value on their time and seek to maximize revenue per hour worked. Entrepreneur wannabes are also taught to adopt the beliefs that the world is abundant and there are plenty of people out there who are ready to give you money for your services, so you need not to work for one man. All these beliefs are of course useful to some degree, as they are necessary to propel you to leave your secure job and start a business. But all these beliefs combined are also very dangerous. If you are not careful, this entrepreneur-oriented belief system can get you stuck in wantrepreneurship state indefinitely.

Most media you consume will lure you to think that entrepreneurship is all about laying in a beach hammock, enjoying fans’ messages, and living the dream. Many will also create an illusion that success happens overnight and easily (remember that viral story of a kid who earn 1 million dollars selling a pixel on his website for one dollar each)? Stories like this receive lots of attention, because people want to believe that there’s an easy, rosy way to be rich. They create illusions that entrepreneurship is all about earning, enjoying the freedom, and the fun — spreading an imposter syndrome across the society of entrepreneurs.

The paradox is, to be a successful entrepreneur, most of what you do is not taking, it is giving. For most people, the first year of entrepreneurship is all about giving — providing services for almost free, spending lots of time and money to develop a product that nobody buys (yet), creating a large volume of content that nobody reads. The activities that a startup company has to do are often the most gruesome, labor-intensive, slave-like, scary-as-shit kinds of work. The labor of love in this context is more about labor than love. You earn very little or none at all per hour. If you are unlucky, you probably have to do it year in and year out with no beach hammock in sight. Most of the entrepreneur life is all about long hours in front boring Microsoft Word screen that nobody broadcasts. You are supposed to front-load all the grunt work and build an asset (web, audience, customer base) that you can reap the reward from it long-term.

Giving, if done consistently, can create a life-changing success in entrepreneurial ventures. Most people in the world want to take, you stand out easily by giving much more than most people. Entrepreneurship is the race to give. Through giving you can positively impact people and create a lasting relationship with them. In the book “Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success“, Adam Grant’s research shows that the world’s best leaders are mostly givers who expend their time and energy to focus on others’ needs, and in return they receive massive flow of information and connection which help their careers soar. (If you find it hard to believe that the magnitude of success depends on the magnitude of your giving, I recommend reading Adam’s book to get your mindset right).

The important point is if you focus on ‘taking’ during your entrepreneur journey, you just won’t get very far. Starting up is a long, gruesome journey of give, give, give and no take. There’s really no way to rush through the process. If your mind is in the freedom-frenzy, FU-boss-I-am-done-with-slavery mode, you will get bored with the hard work 5 minutes into it. The thing is you cannot cruise half-hearted through this process either. People are not stupid, if you just pretend to give with clear intention to extract as much juice from them as possible, they will see through you right away and they will leave. Once you have more money, you can choose to give capital instead of time during the startup process, but until you are Mr. Moneybags, there’s really no choice but to get off your ass and create value the slow and boring way.

Of course you cannot be rich by just giving everything away. You must love to give, but you also have to learn to give smartly (such as giving to the right people and scaling your contributions). However, if sacrificing isn’t one of your montras, you will find the road to success very difficult and you won’t see your business fly any time soon.

If you want to transform from wantrepreneur to entrepreneur, cultivate the love to give. The love to spread goodness and make awesome impacts on peoples’ life. Often times, giving is not the most glamorous activity, but you just have to love it, and realize that giving is the most productive thing you can possibly do to get rich.


Want to Escape the 9 to 5? Work for Yourself First

If you are like me as of a few months ago, you are running around all day trying to check off items on the to-do list. Every week, I wake up, rush to work, fill my day with meetings, and go home, yet feeling like I have accomplished almost nothing. Rinse and repeat for weeks and months.

Over time, these empty days eat away at my motivation to be my best self. My side projects are left untouched for weeks. I feel like I was completing other people’s to-do lists and working on other people’s agendas instead of making progress on my own goals.

Tired of that lifestyle, I started looking for ways to get more true productivity time in my day. Blogs about personal productivity often raved about rising up early, so that you always have some quiet time for a full breakfast, meditation, and journaling. Fantastic concepts! They usually talk about waking up at 5:30-6:00 to have an hour or two before you rush out the door. Well, how about waking up at 3 AM?

I am a morning person. My energy is at its peak right after I wake up. In my previous life, I’d wake up around 7 and rush right off to work, and I would spend my wonderful morning energy on morning meetings. What a waste! I wanted to have my whole morning free of distractions, but it’s impossible. I have client meetings, speaking commitments, classes to teach — stuff you cannot just reschedule and avoid.

So I created a new morning working shift! By waking up at 3 AM, I have at least 4 hours of free time with my best energy of the day. No emails, no phone calls, no disturbance. I spend that time working on my business, which is my most important goal. At first my body rebelled a little bit, either not wanting to get up or trying to jump to busy work instead of the high value items. But the key is that you convince yourself to do it regardless of the outcome. Just dive in and who cares if the product is only so-so, after just a little bit your body and mind will fall into the groove of the habit. Once the habit locks in and ‘everybody’ is on board, that’s when the real value can be created.

Then you ask, does it mean you work 12 hours a day? Essentially yes. Although the afternoon where my energy is most crappy, I’m usually in some meetings that require very little or no energy (those meetings where your boss is busy scrolling his phone). On days I don’t have any meetings, I usually spend my lunch hour working and clocking out at 4 PM. After all that I still have time to have nice dinner and relax a bit before going to bed at 7-8 PM.

As a result of this practice, I have 4 free high-energy morning hours everyday. I spend it on tasks that require the most energy, such as creating products, writing original content, and maintaining my business. I noticed massive improvements in my productivity on the items I care most about after changing my wake up time, and that’s when my side hustle really started to meaningfully expand.

If you want to escape from 9-5, make sure to work for yourself first. Try adjusting your schedule to give your side hustle the best block of your energy.

How to Accomplish Big Goals in Life

I used to think that goal accomplishing was about writing things on paper, making a plan, and having the discipline to work for it. This might be true in some sense. But my journey to accomplish my goals has led me to discover a deeper truth: that accomplishing a goal is not about discipline, it’s all about habit formation.

Why? Because your actions determine your outcomes in life, and about 40% of your day-to-day actions come from your habits. When actions become habits you do them effortlessly and frequently. These actions are easy for you and they become the definition of who you are. Consistent actions lead to big changes and over time dictate the major accomplishments of your life.

So I would argue that if you are looking to accomplish a goal, you should focus on forming habits that support the goal.

For example, if your goal is to lose some extra weight, your plan should be about making healthy behaviors becomes a part of who you are. This means moving and exercising should become easy and effortless to you. Fruits and vegetables should be something you reach out to unconsciously.

But how do we form such habits?

Recently, I discovered a series of wonderful books and blog posts about habit formation. Most of this revelation has come from James Clear at jamesclear.com. He’s an incredible author, who draws his insights from scientific studies, books, and historical case studies. I’ve been integrating principles he taught into my life. And the results have been incredible.

Here are some principles of habit formation that are so simple yet so eye-opening to me.

1. Start with a Tiny Action

When it comes to changing ourselves, we always come up with the most creative excuse. We always say ‘I want to change, but …’. Like ‘I want to exercise, but I am not in the mood.’ or ‘I want to study, but I am busy today.’

The start-small principle suggests that we commit to one very small change. So small you could not possibly reasonably say no.

For example, if you want to lose weight you might start with a commitment to do one squat a day. Yes, just one squat. The task takes so little time and energy that you have no excuse.

I’ve used this idea a lot for my own goals. For example, I wanted to build a successful business, which requires a lot of hard work. When I started, I only committed to doing one tiny action: that each day I would write down one business goal and spend two minutes getting started on that goal. The goal might be something like “Finish XYZ blog post” and then I’d spend two minutes writing on the blog post.

The action is so small it cannot generate any kind of results by itself, but it eliminates the excuse. If I don’t have this commitment I might spend the whole day procrastinating and forgetting about my business. The thing is this tiny action gets me started on the right direction everyday. Most days, the two-minute task leads me to feel very into my goal and I end up spending hours working on my business without internal resistance. Some days, I am really really not in the mood, so I just do my two minutes thing and take a nap. It’s fine! Overall, I spend much more time on my business than I would if I hadn’t committed to start small.

2. The Domino Effect

I read about the domino effect in a blog post and never thought it would happen to me. The idea is when you engage when one small habit, that one habit will led you to pick up other related habits as well. For example, if your goal is to save money and you commit to drop a dollar bill in a box every day then after a few days you will start noticing yourself committing other money-saving actions like saying no to Star Bucks or checking out discount coupons before picking up some groceries.

It sounds like magic but it actually happened to me. After sticking to my two-minute commitment for a while, I started to want to do more business tasks, no matter how boring they seemed to me. I used to really hate writing blog posts (or at least getting started on the writing) and now writing just became another easy habit. Other routine business tasks that used to be difficult, like accounting and social media posting, are getting done too.

From my experience, the domino effect happens for many reasons. First, the tiny two-minute commitment led me to spend more time working on my business and improving all skills required. These tasks become easy to do, so they get done more.

Another more important reason is when you are forming a new habit you are trying to adopt a new identity. For example, I want to go from being too lazy to do business tasks to being a productive business person. I want to change the definition of myself. When I picked up one tiny habit, like doing business task for two  minutes everyday, I am proving to myself that I am now a productive business woman. When my brain buys into that new identity, it starts to adjust other behaviors to fit that identity. A productive business woman would not be afraid of writing and would do her accounting, right? So when my brain believes in the new identity, it has no problem gravitating to the right actions.

3. The Compound Effect

Many of you might be familiar with the concept of financial compound interest. If you start investing your money early on in life, earning small interest rate but reinvesting all of your interest too, your interest on that interest will in turn produce more return. Over a long period of time, your saving will grow so large you couldn’t believe.

I think the compound effect is so powerful in so many areas of our lives. For example, I taught myself to program and everyday I improved my programming skills bit by bit. Over the course of 10 years, my skill has become so good compared to my students who just began to learn programming. My coding speed and my ability to solve programming problems seem just god-like to them, but to me it’s just something I do and no big deal.

James Clear points out how the math of how compounding interest is an incredibly powerful force for personal development. If you improve yourself one percent every single day, in one year you will grow 37.78 times. Not percent, times!

For example, if you want to write a novel and you start on January 1 writing 100 words a day. Then each day you write 1% more words, so writing 101 words on Jan 2 and so forth. On December 31 you will be writing 3740 words per day. For the whole year, you will have written 367,834 words (that’s 1,471 pages)!

So start small and up your game just a tad at a time. The day-to-day improvement is so tiny you don’t even notice the difference, but the compounded result will always shock you.

For me, I’ve used this principle to improve on several fronts. For example, after sticking to two small habits for roughly two weeks, I add one or two new habits. I also extend the difficulty of my commitments, so the two-minute action gradually ramped up to 15 minutes action. This way I improve slowly but surely.

4. Focus on Consistency not Perfection

Before I started my daily commitment, I was afraid. I have started “I will do this thing daily” commitments many times in my life and most of them failed. In fact, most attempts never lasted more than 7 days.

The problem is I had a notion that if I miss a day I fail. My commitment always stopped the very first day I slipped. If I already failed, why would I carry on?

In the grand scheme of things missing one day doesn’t make any difference. If you manage to eat healthy breakfast 364 days out of 365 days, you will still accomplish your goal of being in shape. It’s the perfectionistic idea that you must not slip at all that was truly self-defeating and led you to miss the goal more than one day.

If you cannot be the person who performs your desired action everyday, that’s okay, at least strive to be a person who keeps saying “Yesterday doesn’t matter, let’s start again today”.

Last month, I lost enthusiasm for a moment and ignored some of my habits for 4 consecutive days. My response to that? Just picked it up where I left off. I focus tightly on how to make today count, rather than making the whole month perfect. This allowed me to check off 24 days out of 30 days, which is a huge improvement from my previous self. By allowing myself to fail without guilt, I also learned my patterns of failure and can better prevent them in the future.