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I found the following while I was searching for some inspiration today.  We all need inspiration, but inspiration is especially important when we are facing difficulties in our lives.  I happen to be going through some rough patches in my life right now, and I found the story very uplifting.  I hope it will be the same for you:

I took my text from a little book called The Missing Piece by Shel Silverstein, which I can describe only as a fairly tale for adults.  It tells the story of a circle that was missing a piece.  A large triangular wedge had been cut out of it.  The circle wanted to be whole with nothing missing, so it went around looking for its missing piece.  But because it was incomplete and therefore could roll only very slowly, it admired the flowers along the way.  It chatted with worms.  It enjoyed the sunshine.  It found lots of different pieces, but none of them fit.  So it left them all by the side of the road and kept on searching.

Then one day the circle found a piece that fit perfectly.  It was so happy.  Now it could be whole, with nothing missing.  It incorporated the missing piece into itself and began to roll.  Now that it was a perfect circle, it could roll very fast, too fast to notice the flowers or talk to the worms.  When it realized how different the world seemed when it rolled so quickly, it stopped, left its found piece by the side of the road and rolled slowly away.

The lesson of the story, I suggested, was that in some strange sense we are more whole when we are missing something.  The man who has everything is in some ways a poor man.  He will never know what it feels like to yearn, to hope, to nourish his soul with the dream of something better.  He will never know the experience of having someone who loves him give him something he has always wanted and never had.

There is a wholeness about the person who has come to terms with his limitations, who has been brave enough to let go of his unrealistic dreams and not feel like a failure for doing so.

Source:  Kushner, Harold S.  “You Don’t Have to be Perfect.”  Reader’s Digest May 1997: 167-68.

Somebody once asked me for my reading list. I’ve already shared some of my favorites on this blog by quoting them in my posts, but I thought I would share some of my recent favorite books that may not have made it to my blog. Here is a list of books that are lying around in my abode — which means I read them often enough that they are not yet shelved. They are not in any particular order:

  1. The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge. Science used to teach us that our brains don’t change much once we are past the formative years near our infancy and toddler years. That is no longer the case, and Dr. Doidge introduced the idea of neuroplasticity in this book with case studies of the astonishing changes in people’s brain structure caused by simply changing their thoughts. It’s an incredibly powerful book because it showcases the absolute power of positive thinking and introduces principles we can all use to change ourselves.
  2. Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini. This book presents the six universal principles of persuasion and teaches one how to use them to become a skilled persuader as well as how to defend yourself against them. Whether we like it or not, our lives are full of opportunities to persuade and be persuaded, sometimes even without our knowledge that the act of persuasion is happening. This book explains some of the principles behind the negotiation tactics I’ve learned in the past, and it’s been definitely been a big help in my career so far.
  3. Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Ever wonder why some ideas survive while others die? This book highlights the six key qualities of an idea that is made to stick. This is one book I not only read from cover to cover, I made sticky notes of the ideas presented all throughout the book for easy reference in the future. This book is hands-down one of the best marketing textbooks out there, yet it reads like a novel. It’s a must-read, in my opinion, for all marketers.
  4. Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. We like to think we are all rational beings, but consider these questions: why do our headaches persist after taking a one-cent aspirin but disappear when we take a 50-cent aspirin? Or how did we ever start spending $5 on a cup of coffee when, just a few years ago, we used to pay less than a dollar? The ideas presented this book form the basis of behavioral economics, and I don’t think anybody does it better or more scientifically than Dr. Ariely. This book is full of engaging insights that I simply had to finish it on my flight to Asia recently!
  5. The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. This book isn’t for everybody; it’s for those who want power, or in my case, want to arm oneself against power. It distilled three thousand years of history of power into forty-eight well explained laws. It’s also not meant to be read from cover to cover in one sitting. I use it more as a reference book to remind myself of the power that exist in my life.
  6. Good to Great by Jim Collins. A Buddhist once said to me, this is a book full of Buddhist principles disguised as a business book. With what little knowledge I do have of Buddhism, I tend to agree. The book was written about great company management, but I find the principles equally applicable to our everyday lives. In fact, I reference the book regularly on how to live a happy and fulfilling life, something that seems very far removed from the original application of the book yet isn’t.
  7. Mindset, The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. This book has only one concept, and that is the power of our mindset. It is a serious yet practical book and a book that reinforces what I’ve always known (that rigid thinking benefits no one and that a change of mind is always possible) but don’t always practice. If you don’t already practice the growth mindset, this book will change your life for the better. The books is broken down by application to parenting, business, school, and interpersonal relationships. Highly recommended!
  8. Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. Unlike most of my readings, this book isn’t about human psychology. Instead, it’s about how to effectively present ideas to others through pictures and illustration. This is not a how-to methodology book; rather, it presents an approach, a direction, and a philosophy to presentation. What I love most about the book is how it changed my way of presentation preparation. I don’t yet practice everything the book teaches, but I have already noticed the impact the book has on my presentation at work.
  9. Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. I don’t think this book needs any introduction. What I love most about the book is the entertaining aspect of the writing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used the riddles and stories presented in this book in my social conversations. THAT itself is worth the cost of the book (although I got it for free through work). This is also the book that introduced me to behavioral economics and redefined the way I view the world.
  10. Strengthsfinder 2.0 by Tom Rath. This is not a book to be read from cover to cover. Rather, the book will help reveal your talents that, when applied appropriately, will change the way you look at yourself and the world around you. This is also the book that steered me away from fixing my shortcomings to developing my strengths instead. Overall, this book probably changed my life more than any other book I’ve read in the past few years.

While I was perusing my daily reading, a thought crossed my mind about just how schizophrenic we as a (American) culture has become. On the one hand, we preach hard work — work hard, and your dream will come true. In fact, that’s part of what living the American Dream is all about. America is the land of opportunity — if you put your heart and sweat into things, you can make anything happen. On the other hand, we actively scoff at hard work. How many times have we labeled somebody as “smart”, “talented”, or “a natural”? By using words that relate more to innate abilities than hard work, we are in essence telling others that we value talent more than attempt, high IQ over effort.

But the reality is, success consists of a small part luck and innate abilities and a big part of work and planning. I like the list of Element of Success posted by Trent at The Simple Dollar. Of the seven items on the list, only two are elements outside of our immediate control — natural talent, and luck/opportunity. As Thomas Edison once said (and yes, somebody like Edison would know that it’s true since he’s achieved what most of us only dreamed of), “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”

As I thought further on this topic, it dawned on me that this kind of thinking spans more than just the way we think of success. More often than not, we frown upon any kind of synthetic, non-natural approach to obtaining most things in life. For example, do you know that we value natural happiness (i.e. I am happy because I have what I really want) over synthetic happiness (i.e. I can’t always have what I want so I will settle for second best)? But have you ever stopped and asked yourself, “Is one form of happiness better or worse than the other?” If you have, you will find that the answer is a BIG FAT NO. If you don’t believe me, check out the talk by Prof. Dan Gilbert of Harvard for validation.

So why do we behave this way? Why do we preach hard work on the one hand and scoff at work hard on the other? Why do we value natural happiness over synthetic ones? I think the answer lies in our egos. We preach hard work because we want to believe that we, too, can achieve greatness. But we scoff at the actual work to achieve greatness because if it were to really take hard work then we aren’t that smart or special at all. After all, if you are truly talented, everything should come to you effortlessly, right? Similarly, we value natural happiness because that kind of joy is obtained effortlessly. Synthetic happiness, on the other hand, is a consolation prize and only second best.

By the way, not everybody thinks this way. In particular, those who have the growth mindset actually embrace hard work because they believe it is only through hard work that one can achieve and stay at the front of the pack. Similarly, people with growth mindset would also be the first to embrace synthetic happiness because they realize ultimate happiness is a state of mind, not the result of any external circumstances. As long as you feel happy, it doesn’t really matter whether it comes in a natural or a synthetic form.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me what you think — do you agree or disagree with any of the content of this post? Please leave them in the comment.

Most, if not all, of us have woken up from a dream one time or another in our lives. Some of my dreams were actually quite pleasant, but it’s the nightmares that I remember the most. My most memorable dream was the one I had when I was a sophomore in college.

I was one of the many (and I do mean MANY) pre-medical students studying for the Organic Chemistry mid-term. If you were/are also a pre-med student, you would know that Organic Chemistry was THE “weed-out the weak students” pre-med class. In other words, they made it as hard as possible so that they could flunk out as many of the students as possible. The medical-school hopefuls studied and prayed hard around test times to ensure they passed the class lest the dream of becoming a doctor would soon evaporate into thin air.

I remember it was a Thursday night, and it was raining. I only had about ten hours left to prep before my exam at 8:30am the next morning. I must have fallen asleep at my desk because the next thing I knew, I was being chased by molecules! The molecules were larger than life. In fact, the one that was running me down must have stood at least ten feet tall. The dream was so vivid I remember counting the number of carbons and hydrogens and thought to myself, “I am being chased by benzene!! Quick, I need to tell somebody benzene is chasing me so that they can report it to the police!”

Right as benzene was crushing me, I woke up in cold sweat! THANK GOODNESS it was only a dream! If I were to die of benzene poisoning, I sure hope it wasn’t because I was crushed by one!

Fast forward to today, I should thank my dream for my passing the exam and the class with flying colors. Why? According to this article, my dream was the result of my brain acting in overdrive to help me learn the materials. If only I had known that back in the days, I would have slept more and not felt guilty about it! If you are studying for an exam now, you should definitely take a nap every so often! It’s good for your body, soul, and exam score!

Ever wonder what pops up when people search for your name? I do a sanity check every so often by typing my own name into Google to see what shows up. None of the results are bad (so far) although some of them are outdated. I do that to see what people, especially potential employers, can find out about me in advance of our meeting. If you don’t already google yourself, I highly encourage you to do so. Some of the results may surprise you.

But if you are lazy, you can use CV Gadget instead. CV Gadgets is a neat little gadget I discovered today that aggregates all the possible search results from various sources into one page with expandable/collapsable widgets. It’s supposed to include all the sites that HR may use to screen job applicants, so this may come in handy for your next job search.

When I input my name, I found some expected results along with some interesting ones. For example, under “Images” were four pictures — one woman and three men, and none of them is me! And under “Blogs”, it returned three results (but I only have one blog). And instead of listing my blog, it listed somebody else’s blog who pinged back to one of my posts.

In any event, I think you should definitely give it a shot. At the very least, the results are entertaining! Happy Friday, everybody!

August 2008
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