Reflections from Singapore and Seoul Trip

Ion Chibzii from Chisinau. , Moldova.“Pending” (1968).

  1. Maybe my mum is right, I am destined to be single
    • My requirements are too high and I don’t have a strong desire to find a partner. Was chatting with the 1st lady I ever fell in love with (and arguably the most in love with compared to any ladies I’ve ever liked) and the discussion made it depressingly clear that the probability I find a partner is extremely low.
      • Forget about all my detailed checklists anymore, I realize there’s only 3 things I look for in a partner that truly matters, which is I need someone who is conceptually smart, has strong empathy and respects my time. But let’s be honest, finding people with any of the three is hard enough, let alone all three
      • I don’t have a strong desire to find a partner due to me having too much fun with seeing friends and doing my interests
      • The lady said she lucked out when I asked her for tips as a fellow INFJ on how she found her strong fit (current fiancé). Considering I’m the type of person who’s lucked out in friendships, career and finances, I cannot fathom how I can have as much luck in the romantic relationship department (there must be reversion to the mean of luck somehow, either in other areas of my life or later on in life). A low success rate in compatibility plus a low desire and thus focus to source strong fits means logically speaking I’m very unlikely to find a partner that’s good enough to entice me, let alone who’s also interested in me
    • I’m too complex. My good friend said that I’m too multi-dimensional, introverted while extroverted, emotional yet rational and systematic but also flexible. Any person who is purely one-sided would have a hard time dealing with me because of how much I’ve developed both sides of the MBTI spectrum (besides N/S, where I’m purely N)
    • I get really bored very fast due to my vast interests. I realized through this trip that there’s a reason why I need variety in meetups with friends, and that’s because I just haven’t really met anyone in this world that’s fascinating enough to not bore me after spending lots of time together. I need to see a variety of friends because I have too many interests (investing, psychology, decision making, rap, comedy, film making, philosophy, history, politics, economy, energy (environment), poker, soccer etc.), because there’s just no one person who can chat intensively on that many topics with me
  2. I really want to prioritize on friendships for now
    • Was sharing with the 1st lady I ever fell in love with that if I ever move to a new city, the 1st thing I’d do is try to meet different friends (lest I die of boredom due to my vast interests) rather than find a partner. The rationale is simple in investing terms
      • Friends (if filtered properly) are low risk and average to good (occasionally great) return investment opportunities
      • Partners (even after proper filtering) are high risk and below average to great return investment opportunities (worst part is I’ve never found a lady who gave me average returns, let alone good to great returns, just way more emotional headaches that doesn’t warrant the effort)
      • In the ideal world where I had infinite time, I’d go for the Partners route because I only need to succeed once. But if I were to move to a new city where I had a finite time period of 2-3 years there, for my mental sanity, it’s probably prudent to build a network of variety of friends instead of concentrating time and energy on just one or a few potentially high risk opportunities that might end up just being zeros by the end of my stay, which I cannot afford. There’s a reason why venture capitalists spread their bets so much, it’s because in order to find the unicorns (1 billion USD valuations) they need to survive the risk of failure by minimizing the damage each failure of betting would cause them
      • Also even if I were to find an ideal partner, the struggle between finding enough time to meet a variety of friends to keep me sane and giving enough time and energy to maintain the relationship with my partner is going to be so difficult
    • I really don’t want to go through the headache of caring so much about someone anymore (or maybe because it’s too recent). I seem to always care more about the other person rather than vice versa whenever I like someone and go for it, and I don’t think I’ve ever been truly happy in those relationships. If I don’t want these types of relationships bad, if these types of relationships make me more upset than happy in general, it doesn’t make sense to proactively look for these types of relationships anymore. Only if the other person wants it bad would I consider, since then turning up my commitment level is not a question at all since I have plenty of commitment in my makeup if I want a relationship to work
  3. I’m surprised I’m still pissed off as hell when I’m reminded of people I used to really care about who disappoint me multiple times. There’s a point in me that’s just pissed off on why I still care and just wants to let go
  4. My biggest motivation in life is to have the ability to really don’t give a fuck without any of the repercussions really affecting my survival. It’s what driven most of my biggest decisions in life, and thankfully I’m on the right track
  5. I’m quite ruthless these days. Spending so much studying rationality and decision making and applying it in investing and poker has made me very good at cutting losses if I realize I made a mistake, but sometimes I find myself a bit too trigger happy with cutting loose relationships or objects
  6. I’ve pretty much figured out what my next steps are in terms of priority outside of work once Feb 1st starts (in chronological order):
    1. Secure a 2nd hand car
    2. Convert international driving license to Swiss driving license
    3. Find St Gallen University German courses to attend during weekday evenings (at least 1), and ramp up frequency if I can handle it without affecting #2 priority
    4. Go to Zurich / Munich during weekends and join Standard German speaking / learning meet up groups
    5. After 1-2 months I should be able to figure out where I want to live (Buchs / St Gallen), then I make my move for house hunting. In the meantime I’d rather stay in a hotel which is cheaper than renting a normal house whilst it gives me optionality
    6. Depending on my assessment by 1-2 months of living in Switzerland, I’ll really learn to cook tasty food if I realize I enjoy or feel the need of inviting people over to my house or joining food parties in the area
    7. Once I’m at conversational level of German (can understand 80% of a customer visit in German speaking countries), I will spend more time during weekdays / weekends joining interest based meet ups and youth hostels in nearby areas to aggressively broaden my network of friends
    8. Start learning French using italki and Duolingo until I’m at conversational level of French. It makes sense just because France is my 2nd largest market, I have basic level of French, and French is 1 of the 2 official languages of Canada (hint: I’m Canadian)
  7. In terms of work, I’m prepared to deal with the 3 month idiot curve by working ~50-55 hours / week in the 1st 3 months. My next line manager has put lots of faith and beared lots of risk hiring me, so I want to make sure I’m not a liability  and become a very productive member of his team by the end of the 3rd month. That’s the least I could do to repay him
  8. I cannot fathom why I’m so lucky to have so many loving and kind friends in my life
  9. I’m starting to love the process of making videos more and more. It’s really fun to come up with a video idea and then find a song (or vice versa), storyboard, plan out all the resources you need, execute and possibly ask for assistance from friends during execution, edit and then wrap up the video idea
  10. I’m starting to worry if I’m spending too much money and that this becomes a habit
  11. Making the effort to visit cities that have 2+ friends is totally worth it (USA here I come very soon, haha)

Email#1 – What to expect

[I will copy and paste the English version of emails from a financial advising monthly email project I’m doing for my friends every month’s 1st Monday after the 1st weekend. If you want to subscribe, click here.]

(Image by Matt @ PEK from Taipei, Taiwan (Expectation) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Thanks for the trust and interest in my monthly email project, I really appreciate it and it means a lot to me!! As Warren Buffett once said, “It’s so much fun when you’re trusted and worthy of trust.” I will do everything I can to ensure that that trust is warranted.

So what do I want to achieve with this project? I want to achieve two things:

  • Monthly update on valuation of US stock market
  • Food for thought on personal finance (a hugely underrated topic in the topic of wealth preservation / growth) and of course investing

As this is the first email in hopefully a very long list of future emails, besides giving everyone a monthly update on valuation of US stock market, I want to explore thoroughly why I strongly favor incorporating valuation into investing in index funds, why this is the only strategy so far that I am comfortable in recommending to friends, and what I’m going to do to ensure my interests are aligned with yours regarding this strategy (hint: I’m going to put money where my mouth is).

So before you doze off, let me go straight to the monthly update on valuation of US stock market and what the actionable implications are. If you are still interested, then you can proceed to read on to hopefully learn a thing or two about why I only recommend such a strategy for friends.

[Monthly update on valuation of US stock market]

So how does the US stock market’s valuation look like? You are in luck, because for the 1st time since April this year [1] you can finally find the US stock market undervalued enough to start buying.
Market Value - 5Nov2016.PNG
The US stock market is currently 4% undervalued (I will explain in next month’s email why I use Morningstar’s Market Fair Value for valuation purposes), which using my formula of X% undervaluation X2, means you should invest 8% of money you can invest in (exclude emergency fund money [2]).
Bob #1.PNG
So let’s use imaginary Bob as an example of how this works:
As you can see, Bob has $10,000 in net worth (for simplicity sake, let’s assume it’s all in cash), but he has $3,000 in his emergency fund because his monthly expenses is $1,000, so all in all his investable fund has only $7,000.

Since the US stock market is 4% undervalued, he should at most invest only 8% of his $7,000 in the S&P 500 Index ETF (stock code is 3140 in Hong Kong stock exchange).

One thing to note is, if the “should invest ($)” is less than $6,250, wait until the “should invest (%)” is big enough that your “should invest ($)” is greater than $6,250 before you invest. This is to ensure that commissions you pay for buying stocks doesn’t kill your returns [3].

[Food for thought on personal finance and investing]

So let’s refer to the 3 points I wanted to make about this investment strategy:

  • Why do I strongly favor incorporating valuation into investing in index funds
  • Why this is the only strategy so far that I am comfortable in recommending to friends
  • What I’m going to do to ensure my interests are aligned with yours regarding this strategy

Why do I strongly favor incorporating valuation into investing in index funds

Warren Buffett once commented that “Among the various propositions offered to you, if you invested in a very low-cost index fund — where you don’t put the money in at one time, but average in over 10 years — you’ll do better than 90% of people who start investing at the same time.

And the reason why you shouldn’t put the money in at one time? You don’t want this to happen to you:
Nikkei Lost Decades.PNG
This is the stock price of Nikkei 225 (Japan stock market), and as you can see, if you had put all your money into the Nikkei 225 in 1990, even 26 years later you would’ve still lost money.

And the reason? Valuations were nose-bleedingly high, with investors willing to pay prices which would give them only 1.7% yield [4] (in comparison, you could’ve bought super safe 10 year US treasury bonds at 8% yield).

I’m a strong believer in the power of investing in index funds, but there are times where even index funds aren’t the best choice and it would be prudent to just stay in cash. This is why I take valuation very seriously.

Why this is the only strategy so far that I am comfortable in recommending to friends

Successful investing requires two elements:

  • An investing strategy that works (eg. Investing in index funds)
  • Being able to stick to the investing strategy through thick and thin

And timing your entry into the US stock market through valuation is one great way to ensure you are able to stick to the investing plan through thick and thin.

Let me talk about why being able to stick to the investing plan through thick and thin is important before I delve into why this strategy makes it easier for you to stick to the investing plan through thick and thin.

A study by Barron’s and Morningstar showed that even though the best performing mutual funds had 18+% return / year, investors who bought funds on average had -11% return / year.

Investors performance hurt by jumping in and out.PNG
The reason? Investors bought when performance was good but sold when performance was bad, which meant that because of mean reversion, they bought precisely when performance most likely would turn bad and sold precisely when performance most likely would turn good.
Don’t be that kind of investor. Once you’ve bought an index fund at a good price, hold it until you really need the money and thus must sell, because on average over a 5 year holding period, if you were out of the market for 30 days where stocks had their biggest gains, a theoretical $100,000 would have turned from $341,722 to a mere $153,792 [5]. Don’t jump in and out of the US stock market unnecessarily lest you want to miss out on your best paydays.

And so how does this strategy of gradually entering the US stock market based on valuation help you better stick to the investing strategy through thick and thin?

The keyword is this: Cash.

The number one reason why investors aren’t able to stick to an investing strategy through thick and thin is that psychologically speaking, the pain you feel from losses are much more than the joy you feel from gains [6].

By virtue of following this investment strategy, you will hold cash (and lots of it relative to your net worth) for long periods of time because the US stock market is never always on bargain sale. What this implies is that if the US stock market does drop 10%, 20% or even 50%, while everyone is panicking because they are fully invested, you would feel much more calm as the bulk of your portfolio is in cash and thus doesn’t get as hurt by the drops.

In the ideal case, not only you gain from the benefit of being calm while everyone panicks because of the amount of cash you’re holding, you will definitely beat the majority of the people who end up being on panic sell mode, and also perform better than people who are 100% invested in the US stock market (and have nerves of steel to still hold onto their investments even during a 2008-2009-esque 50% price drop) because you avoid the huge drops that are hugely detrimental to your investment returns [7]. In the worst case, you match or slightly undeperform the US stock market, but you have the peace of mind and ability to stick to the investment strategy through thick and thin.

What I’m going to do to ensure my interests are aligned with yours regarding this strategy

I’m a strong believer that you should prioritize advice where the person giving the advice has skin in the game. The reason is simple: if I were to give you advice which I follow myself, I better make sure it’s some good advice lest I get screwed over by the quality of my own advice.

So here’s my commitment to all of you: I will follow my own formula of X% under-valuation X2, I will show a monthly snapshot of my portfolio as proof that I put my money where my mouth is, and if I ever do sell the S&P 500 for non-investment reasons, I will disclose in the monthly emails.

This shows how much I believe in my own advice, and ensures that I will do my best to ensure the advice is good, do my best to update the advice if needed to make it better, and if the advice hurts everyone I will hurt as much as you do.

[Closing Remarks]

So I think that’s enough information for the 1st email. I hope none of you are dying from information overload… And I hope this email was informative and helpful 🙂

For next month’s food for thought, I want to explore on the topic of valuation so that in the event that I die or am unable to issue monthly emails anymore, you can independently make a judgment of when to enter the US stock market yourself through simple understandings of valuation. After all, my goal is to let you be equipped with the knowledge to make better financial decisions, and if one day you don’t need me anymore to make good financial decisions, that means I’ve succeeded.

[1] This assumes that you buy on the Monday following the 1st weekend of the month, which is the release schedule of this monthly email project
[2] My advice for emergency fund money has always been to keep at least 3-6 months of living expenses in cash for emergencies. I personally keep 6+ months of living expenses in cash for emergencies.
[3] Costs is the only component of investment return you can control, so being as cost efficient as possible is crucial to your investment success. The $6,250 figure comes from the fact that at most you should allow for your costs in investing to be 0.5% / year since that’s the lower end of annual costs you can get from most funds. Assuming you hold the stocks for at least 5 years, the Vanguard S&P 500 Index ETF‘s annual costs is 0.18% / year, and most banks charge minimum $100 / stock purchase, then that means you can afford to pay $100 commissions for a $6,250+ stock purchase since that amounts to 0.32% annual costs / year if you hold the stocks for 5 years, which means on aggregate your costs over 5 years is 0.5% / year.
[4] The P/E ratio was 60 times earnings, which meant that in an ideal world where you were the owner of the company and could pull out 100% earnings out of the company every year, it would take you 60 years (!!!) to get back your money, thus 1.7% yield (100 / 60).
[5] One Up On Wall Street: How To Use What You Already  To Make Money In – Peter Lynch (Location 303 of 6290)
[6] The human mind is designed to survive, so if you are feeling pain from losses from investment, it is equivalent to the brain of threats like running out of food, so your brain is tempted to cut losses and run so that you can survive another day. This is a temptation you need to train yourself out of, not something most people naturally can just emotionally disconnect from.
[7] It’s far easier to lose money than win money percentage wise in investing. 10% loss means you need 11% to break-even, 20% loss means you 25% to break-even, 33% loss means you need 50% to break-even, 50% loss means you need 100% break-even.

[Disclaimer] Not advice. No offer. Do not rely. May lose value. Risky. Conflicts hidden/obscured

Lots of things to explore, not enough time

By Thamizhpparithi Maari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Since my last post, a lot of dust has settled emotionally and in results from the 2 big decisions I made. Unfortunately I still can’t disclose details as of now.

However, what I can disclose is that I’ve found myself running out of time for all the different things I really want to explore.

What are the things I really want to explore?

  • Film making (cinematography, and eventually other aspects of film making, like directing, writing, background music, sound effects etc.)
  • Financial Advising for family / friends
  • Teaching ToK
  • Stand-up comedy
  • Counseling

Film making

I don’t think I’ve really disclosed this to a lot of people, but I’ve actually co-directed two videos for my company. One was for internal purposes so I unfortunately can’t share to the public space, but one is for external purposes which I hopefully can share in the next 2-3 months once my company posts it on official social media channels.

And one of the pleasant surprises was that it stirred up an interest in film making that I never realized I had before.

One pleasure that I’ve always had but never really shared with anyone is studying what constitutes good film (eg. Every Frame A Picture, the nerdwriter, Sam and Niko), exploring topics like themes, camera angles, color grading, writing, storyboard, sound effects, music, use of off camera movement, use of on camera movement etc.

What both projects did for me was really give me a taste of putting what I learnt from all those videos about what constitutes good film into action, and it was really fun.

And the reason why it was fun? Good film is damn hard to make since it involves so many moving parts (see all the topics mentioned above). And that’s what’s interesting to me, because not only the challenge is interesting, I also like the fact that it involves so many moving parts since I like enjoying multiple interests at the same time rather than focus on just one aspect (eg. photography, storytelling, music).

From the get go I already have a few video ideas in mind, but I’m only seriously exploring 2. One involves a song called “Home” by Explosions In The Sky, and the other another song called “Opera#2” by Vitas. I’ll leave the details of “Home” and “Opera#2” in a separate post as this post is more focused on the different interests that I can’t seem to find time to manage.

Financial Advising for family / friends

One other thing I usually do in my spare time when I talk to friends is advise them on how to manage their personal finances and invest the money.

Personal finance and investing has always been something I love to think about ever since I started self-funding my tertiary education, and even more so when I almost went bankrupt on my self-funding journey. So to see my friends struggling, I naturally like to share my knowledge and experiences as a lot of their challenges I’ve already faced or thought about before.

What’s surprising is that something that I just casually brought up from time to time with friends has manifested into a more time consuming project since now I’ve got quite a list of friends who want to be on a monthly mailing list that essentially guides them on how to invest.

And I really feel the weight of responsibility in this, since a lot of questions start popping up, which is what should be the format of this monthly mailing list, what content should be in this monthly mailing list, how do I incorporate the step by step instructions in this monthly mailing list, how do I remind my friends about the importance of the personal finance aspect for their financial planning besides investing.

I’ve got a vague idea what I’d do, but I haven’t really hammered out the details yet, and I think that’s going to be another post for another day.

Teaching ToK

Teaching Theory of Knowledge (epistemology course that’s compulsory in International Baccalaureate program) has never occurred to me until one day I was having dinner with my ToK teacher.

Anyone who knows me knows that my interests are very broad, and I read and think about how to synthesize all the big ideas from different disciplines into multiple frameworks which allows me to reduce psychological biases and improve my decision making and forecasting skills.

So when my ToK teacher saw glimpses of my multi-disciplinary thinking that I’ve acquired since high school, he immediately told me that I was destined to teach ToK, since ToK is all about the different areas of knowledge, how people know and factors that transcend individual ways of knowing and areas of knowledge.

And I must say, the idea was very tempting to me.

I’ve always been told that I’m pretty good at breaking down complex concepts and explaining it to people, I’ve always loved multi-disciplinary thinking, I love people, I love to see the meaning behind my work, and to have a stamp of approval from my ToK teacher who’s the Asian representative for the International Baccalaureate curriculum committee really made me think that maybe I really can do this.

But of course for now I’ll put this idea in the back burner as I’m having too much fun with my current career. I will however not rule out this option as a possibility, and who knows what would be in store for me for this path.

Stand-up Comedy

Another thing that I rarely share with people is my love for stand-up comedy. I’ve watched multiple shows (even on repeat) of well known or unknown stand-up comics, I’ve watched live shows of stand-up comedy, and I love watching interviews of stand-up comics sharing how they think, what they think comedy is all about, and how to get better at comedy (which if you have an hour to kill and are interested, I highly recommend the group interview / chat session called “Talking Funny” involving Louis CK, Jerry Seinfeld, Ricky Jervais and Chris Rock).

But interestingly enough, for all my love of stand-up comedy (I’ve had it since Secondary), I’ve only done one live stand-up comedy routine.

It was actually really fun sitting down and just thinking about a theme, and then coming up with the different stories that all tied to that one theme so that there was not only structure, but just laughter all through the routine.

And I’ve actually kept practicing and honing my comedic timing and material ever since. Ask anyone who has had a conversation with me, and if they enjoy humor and the setting’s not formal, I guarantee you I’ve made them laugh. And I mean real laughter, not laugh at your lame jokes just because that’s the pilot thing to do.

And having done this over and over again has given me so much feedback over the years that I just know when a great comedic timing is coming or not whenever I have a conversation with someone. Essentially I’ve been doing more improv comedy rather than stand-up comedy.

But I really wonder why I never pursued stand-up comedy considering how much I love the art form and how much I love practicing the art of comedy. Not having an English speaking audience isn’t really an excuse anymore considering there’s a English Hong Kong comedy club called TakeOut Comedy that has open mic nights every week.

It would be interesting if I explored this as well.


Reading the book “Man’s Search for Meaning” was life changing for me, as it opened my eyes to the world of logotherapy, and it showed me the power of what humans can endure when they have someone they love, something important to do, or if they see meaning in their suffering.

Personally I can relate to this as I still remember that moment when the 1st person I ever fell in love with told me during exam week that she thought I knew that she didn’t like me all along in the past 3 months of being madly in love with her. I just remember when I hung up the phone, I was alone in Beijing (parents were out of town), and I really felt like jumping off the window.

And I remember vividly that the moment I really wanted to jump off the window, I immediately thought of my mum, and I realized that if anything, I had to live on at least for my mum. And that immediately killed any thoughts of suicide then.

And funnily enough it was vice versa, because during the toughest emotional moments my mum had to endure, the thought of my sister and I was literally what pulled her through to endure.

So to me, logotherapy is something I strongly believe to work, and so counseling is an interesting option for me. I’ve gone through some very very tough moments emotionally in my life so it helps with the empathy part, I’ve always enjoyed guiding people to see a different perspective of their current situation and releasing them from their emotional dead corners, and just like what I mentioned above in “Teaching ToK”, I love people.

This option seems the farthest stretch to me though since logotherapy courses aren’t easy to find nor easy to enroll without any philosophy / psychology background in bachelor’s degree. But we’ll see.

Opening Pandora’s Box

By F.S. Church. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I realize there are things that still make me profoundly sad, and that shocked me considering how much Stoic calm has been part of me over the past year.

So a few things were brought up during the past few conversations I’ve had:

  • Almost no one ever asks me if I want to hang out or have lunch / dinner
  • Numerous reasons that led to me rarely disclosing how I really feel
  • The effect that the lady I led to Christ ending up committing suicide had on me
  • The near miss moments where I almost did commit suicide
  • At my time of need, how family was not family and how non-family was family
  • The anxiety of how my relationships will change in dynamic in the near future
  • The realiziation that time is really ticking now

Almost no one ever asks me if I want to hang out or have lunch / dinner

Memory is always fallible, but there’s only three people of all the people who also live in Hong Kong that I know who really proactively out of the blues asks me if I want to hang out or have lunch / dinner. That’s out of the 286 Facebook friends I have left from the original 550+ that have remained based on the simple criteria of we both would be willing to meet up if we’re nearby.

And that’s sad. Like really sad.

I mean, sure, I know that in life, the person who wants it more should take action, but when only 1% of your real friends that you still keep in touch with finds you to meet up rather than the other way around, it does hurt I must say. There is such a small statistical chance that it’s my friends’ problem when it’s such a drastic % of a relatively large sample size. Statistically it seems like I’m the problem.

Either I’m not approachable or I’m just never top of mind. I really don’t know the answer.

I don’t know, I’m just really hurt even though I shouldn’t be. Anyhow, I’m going to keep finding people to meet up because relationships are too important for me.

Numerous reasons that led to me rarely disclosing how I really feel

This really hurt as well.

Sure you can always say that having an introverted personality probably contributes to the tendency of rarely disclosing how I really feel (I almost never share publicly my successes, failures, happiness or sadness).

But I think it’s just the numerous times where I was feeling really down and I try to find someone to talk to, and then there’s just many cases where the person wasn’t the right person to talk to.

Majority of the cases are that the person I end up finding actually is feeling really down too, so I for some reason end up usually being the counseling role or I can’t even find that person at all as he / she is just not responding, with the latter being more common than not.

Another example is when someone offers to lend their shoulders to listen to you, but when you do share you realize it was just lip service and so you end up just never bothering to share since you won’t be taken seriously.

And another reason why I end up rarely disclosing is as an INFJ, emotions are very volatile. I could be feeling very down at one moment and then feel completely fine the next moment. So sometimes I don’t even bother to share because based on experience the feeling would expire soon anyways.

All in all this has led to the rather unhealthy habit of almost always processing emotions by myself.

The effect that the friend I led to Christ ending up committing suicide had on me and the near miss moments where I almost did commit suicide

For me, the reasons for disbelief are three-fold (one is purely emotional, one is half emotional half rational, and one is purely rational), but when I was recalling what happened to the friend I led to Christ who ended up committing suicide, I just knew at that moment that there must be at some level an effect of my friend’s suicide on my faith.

There just has to be.

And the reason I was recalling that episode of my life was because I was sharing with a friend how for those who are in depression and end up committing suicide, there’s not much you can do but just do your best to show care.

At the end of the day, objectively speaking, one person’s effect in preventing someone’s suicide is only so limited. This comment from my counselor was what really got me out of the self-induced guilt of feeling like there was blood on my hands when I absolutely could see that my friend was having smiling depression but I didn’t do much to care for fear of her thinking I was showing intentions beyond friendship.

Speaking from experience, I just remember how there were quite a few moments where just by pure luck, someone showed care and I stopped the thought of suicide when I was about to do or commit to anything serious.

I count my blessings everyday since being alive today and doing well is absolutely not taken for granted.

But those conversations really made me re-live those emotions, and it wasn’t pretty.

At my time of need, how family was not family and how non-family was family

Another topic that was brought up which I rarely like to think about are those moments when I was absolutely broke (had $7.18 in my bank account left) because I only planned to self-fund my tertiary education for the original 3 years, but ended up realizing I need to extend it for 1 more year for job hunting as I realized I wanted to do B2B marketing too late for my final year’s job hunting season.

I won’t delve too much into the details, but let’s just say that experience really changed my perception of what it means to be family, and who are really the most important people in my life.

But it just reminds me that forgiveness is never an one-off thing, it’s a continuous thing that you have to commit to yourself to do. And I just can’t.

The fear of how my relationships will change in dynamic in the near future

One of my biggest fears has always been this picture I had that I got from a prayer when I was still a Christian. It was me at 40-50 years old, sitting on a throne-like chair, with lots of success and wealth, but very alone.

To this day, this picture haunts the shit out of me because that’s absolutely not what I want in life.

As much as I admire the Steve Jobs or Elon Musks of the world, I absolutely don’t admire how they were as fathers. I’m not saying I want to be a father (I actually really don’t want to be), but when I look at them I always think to myself that sure they’ve achieve such extraordinary achievements in life, but to what avail?

If all you have left in life is just your career, to me that’s a failure, not a success. If you ever lose a career you can always theoretically have the chance to rebound. But relationships? That’s a different ball game.

So if relationships are the end game for me, I really fear how my relationships will change in the near future, which is related to the last point.

The realiziation that time is really ticking now

For a certain reason that I still can’t disclose, time is really ticking. And that uncertainty of how the relationships I treasure will get affected by this event that’s going to happen really deep down bothers me.

So ya, I’ve had a lot of heavy emotions to process in the past few days (and maybe upcoming few days too), but all in all I feel much better after really giving my feelings some structure and capturing it.

Weigh Pros and Cons and then Follow Your Instinct

By Dean Hochman from Overland Park, Kansas, U.S. (arrows) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

I read this article [1] that talked about how you should make decisions that utilized both your logic and instinct, where instead of mutually excluding each other from the decision, you should do a pros and cons list first, but then later on still go ahead to make a decision based on your instinct, because if your instinct compels you to make a decision over another even after a thorough logical analysis, it probably has some merit.

Funnily enough, soon after reading that article, I made two big decisions within a very short time frame concurrently which were completely opposite to each other – one being a consensus between logic and instinct, the other adhering to instinct even after the logical analysis.

Either way, the commonality of both decisions involved lots of unwarranted fear, and my experience in life so far has taught me that where fear is way overblown, it’s usually the right decision. I think this was the crucial deciding factor to following my instincts for both decisions.

Without spilling any details on both decisions (they are still in process and have lots of details that have yet to finalize), I think there were a few interesting takeaways from both decisions.

For both decisions, having had the time to think through the pros and cons way ahead of time of making either decisions meant that when decision time came, I had an anchor to navigate the very rapid decision making.

For the big decision that had a consensus between logic and instinct, the need for follow-up came fast and furious. I got a huge status update on my big decision yesterday morning, and I realized that I needed to get confirmations from 3 different people within the next 2-3  days. So even though I was still processing all the excitement, nervousness and stress from getting the big status update, I had to very aggressively find opportunities to talk to those 3 different people about confirmations.

Each subsequent conversation actually got tougher and tougher to execute purely from an emotional point of view, since I was already overwhelmed with emotions from the big status update, so every time each follow-up conversations went well it just added even more emotions to my existing bucket of excitement, nervousness and stress. Thankfully over all these years of learning to override at certain critical moments my bodily reaction of wanting to slow things down and process, I got the job done. And I think without having done the detailed pros and cons beforehand while I was not being rushed really helped, because I could just trust my assessment that was done beforehand and just focus on the execution.

To a lesser extent, the same applied to my big decision that only adhered to instinct. I knew it was the right thing to do lest I end up regretting not taking action, and for the certain few vulnerable moments where I really start questioning myself, I just pushed onward knowing that action begets action, and more or less once you start things kicking you can’t stop. That helped me achieve significant progress to getting to where I want.

For the big decision that had a consensus between logic and instinct, it really showed me what a black swan would look like.

For someone who prides in having a probabilistic worldview, who incorporates probability into decision making all the time, and who shares with people the human flaw of under-estimating black swans and over-estimating regularity, I still found myself a little shook from this explosion of information, emotions and need to make multiple quick decisions.

To be fair, I probably dealt it much better than any version of me up to this point could’ve dealt with it, since in terms of results I absolutely nailed it. But in terms of emotions I’m just currently a wreck, as I’ve had sleepless nights since Tuesday just trying to process everything.

But now that these few days of frantic quick decisions have been done, the consequences are starting to emerge. The timeline of the consequences has been pushed earlier by potentially half a year, which put lots of plans I had in mind out of whack. In hindsight I should’ve prepared more for black swans like this, but I’m lucky that I already started with my preparations long time ago so that I’m not fully naked now that the tides are going out.

For the big decision that only adhered to instinct, the key deciding factors of going against my pros and cons was realizing that most of the cons needed verification before deciding they were truly cons and applying a regret-averse framework to the decision.

I actually delayed making the decision for months. My initial pros and cons analysis showed that going ahead with the decision would just lead to catastrophe down the road. And since I’ve always predominantly used a value investing philosophy of “avoid catastrophe risk and the upside will take care of itself”, it made sense to not proceed.

But recent conversation with my friend made me question my assessment of catastrophe risks. Essentially it was made very clear that my assessment were based on lots of assumptions that I didn’t even verify. It’s one thing to know for sure that pharma companies have the catastrophe risk of misstep in R&D pipeline that could cause a permanent fall of grace due to a beginning of a vicious cycle of lack of blockbusters which lead to lack of R&D and so forth, but it’s another thing to think that some risks are definitely catastrophe risks without even considering the possibility of workarounds / compromises.

So instead of being stuck in fantasy mode, it made me want to investigate the actual reality.

Also the fact that I looked at the decision from the perspective of my death bed to see if I would regret not making the decision showed a strong sign of potential regret, I figured I should go ahead since I can accept failure but not regret.


[1] I unfortunately can’t find the link of the article… It’s one of the few unfortunate incidents where I remember the article but can’t find the source anymore.

80/20 Examined on All Aspects of Life

By Everlong, Bkpsusmitaa [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

I talked about the need to enjoy the pleasures of life 20% of the time, so I wanted to thoroughly examine my life to ensure that for activities that mainly only brings pleasure, I can leave reasonable buffer for it.

Let’s start off with health.

For sleep, I will still aim for 8 hours of actual sleep (~9 hours of sleep time), since having enough sleep is the most crucial factor to physical and emotional healthiness. This one I can’t compromise with 20% of pleasure.

For food, I eat 21 meals a week, so my tolerance for bad food is 4 meals. Bad food is essentially anything that’s really processed.

For exercise, I aim to eventually be able to do 24 minutes of HIIT for 6 days a week. I see no need to compromise with 20% of pleasure since I love calisthenics and I really need to reduce my blood cholesterol. The reason for 144 minutes of HIIT a week is because the American Heart Association recommends at least 75 minutes of vigorous exercise / week, and the HIIT exercises I do are in 12 minute segments, so doing double the recommended minimum should help me optimize my physical fitness without eating into the time for other activities.

For solo time (as I’m an introvert), I will aim to have at least 20% of my waking hours reserved for solo time. That means for 105 hours a week, 21+ hours is spent alone to do whatever I want.

Let’s move onto relationships.

I will focus 80% of my socializing time on 20% of my friends, even after cutting our a significant portion of them from my life. That means of the 307 Facebook friends I currently have, I will focus on the 61 friends most of the time. As for the criteria of who would be the 20% I spend most of my energy on, it would be basically people who possess qualities I respect and admire, namely reasonable, open-minded, good tempered and graceful.

Regarding how much time I should spend on my friends, it would be the same for solo time, which is at least 20% of my waking hours. So for the 21+ hours I spend every week on relationships, 16.8+ hours is spent on my top 20% friends.

Next stop is financials.

For my budgeting, I will tolerate 20% of my budget for pleasure (thus I allow 25% expansion of budget on top of bare minimum expenses).

For positive budgeting surprises, I allow 20% of the positive surprise to go to my Regret Averse fund.

For investing, similar to time spent on solo time and friendships, I will spend at least 20% of waking hours to investing, with 80% of that time spent on researching on great companies worth buying and holding while 20% of that time is spent researching on companies that have decent moats at significant discounts to fair value.

Last stop is career.

I don’t think I have much of a choice but to yield at least 63 hours every week to work.

The only addition to my work would be to study at least 50XP every day on Duolingo for German.

Reflecting on “On Old Age” by Cicero

By Woodcut by unknown artist; book printed by Hieronymus Scotus; page scanned by Aristeas (Roman Eisele) from his own copy of the page. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As today’s my 24th birthday, I thought it appropriate to fast forward to my death bed to reflect on “On Old Age” by Cicero to provide insights on how I should conduct my life 24 years old onwards so that I can say I lived a good life.

First off, I should focus on improving my character everyday to be reasonable, open-minded, good tempered, and be graceful“For old men who are reasonable and neither cross-grained nor churlish find old age tolerable enough: whereas unreason and churlishness cause uneasiness at every time of life.”

Secondly, I need to focus on living a life of virtue, since “the arms best adapted to old age are culture and the active exercise of the virtues. For if they have been maintained at every period—if one has lived much as well as long—the harvest they produce is wonderful, not only because they never fail us even in our last days (though that in itself is supremely important), but also because the consciousness of a well-spent life and the recollection of many virtuous actions are exceedingly delightful.”

Since what constitutes a moral life is subjective depending on which school of thought, I’d like to define mine. For me, a life mixed between libertarian, Rawlsianism and utilitarian would be the ideal that I strive for. I strongly believe that everyone should be able to decide what they want to do with their body in life (libertarian), but in order for that to work, everyone needs to be economically sufficient enough to make choices out of free will rather than out of necessity, so for those who’ve won the ovarian lottery and thus possess aptitudes that are highly valued by society at this moment of time, these people need to give back to society whether through government tax or self-enforced tax (Rawlsianism and utilitarian). In the event that society faces upheaval that requires tough decisions in order to survive, personal liberties should be scarified if deemed as a temporary measure, but if the day comes that survival is impossible or extremely improbable, than personal liberties should be restored until the end of life.

The implications for me to living a life of virtue is thus this:

  • In everything that involves other people’s services, I must ensure to the best of my ability that the person is complying to service by self will rather than forced will.
  • Costs must be justified by benefits. When society or lives are not under serious threat, my stance is firmly on the side of people being able to do whatever they want with their bodies. If the ideal of personal liberties threatens existence, then no action or words should be enacted if the less than ideal existence is still pleasant and bearable in general.
  • I will try to be as tax efficient as possible (eg. Focus on capital gains rather than dividends to minimize tax impact of 30% dividend withholding tax), but not exploit loopholes to avoid paying taxes (eg. Not reporting income or setting up overseas entities for tax purposes). I will happily and promptly pay my taxes.
  • I will further self-tax my post-tax income based on Peter Singer’s The Life You Can Save calculator to ensure economic sufficiency can be effectively tackled in areas that aren’t reachable by government initiatives.
  • When investing, when it comes to long term holdings, I will only buy and hold stocks of companies that are good corporate citizens (tries their best to be fair to all stakeholders) and provide products / services that societies can’t live without. This ensures companies whose existence benefits society is rewarded accordingly by stock prices that are less likely to go down because I’m unwilling to sell.
  • Even though I will punch above my weight when it comes to giving back to society, my life is still my life, so I don’t owe it to society that every decision I make would optimize maximum compounded financial returns for society. As long as I fulfill above-weight class contributions, I can do whatever I want with my money as long as it doesn’t infringe on libertarian values (eg. purposefully buying products / services that further the agenda of slavery).

Thirdly, I will keep improving myself so that I can be of value to society. “The great affairs of life are not performed by physical strength, or activity, or nimbleness of body, but by deliberation, character, expression of opinion”, “Old men retain their intellects well enough, if only they keep their minds active and fully employed. Nor is that the case only with men of high position and great office: it applies equally to private life and peaceful pursuits” and “But this is enough to show you how, so far from being listless and sluggish, old age is even a busy time, always doing and attempting something, of course of the same nature as each man’s taste had been in the previous part of his life.”

Fourthly, I will do things that my body permits me to do at different seasons of life if I really want to do it and it doesn’t infringe on libertarian principles, and make sure I exercise regularly (eg. HIIT) to improve my chances of still being physically active into old age. “You should use what you have, and whatever you may chance to be doing, do it with all your might”, “For what is more charming than old age surrounded by the enthusiasm of youth? Shall we not allow old age even the strength to teach the young, to train and equip them for all the duties of life? And what can be a nobler employment?”, “The course of life is fixed, and nature admits of its being run but in one way, and only once; and to each part of our life there is something specially seasonable; so that the feebleness of children, as well as the high spirit of youth, the soberness of maturer years, and the ripe wisdom of old age—all have a certain natural advantage which should be secured in its proper season”, “Active exercise, therefore, and temperance can preserve some part of one’s former strength even in old age.”

Fifthly, I will enjoy the pleasures of life in moderation using the 80/20 principle, where I will only indulge in the pleasures of life 20% of the time to yield 80% of the fun. “No ore deadly curse than sensual pleasure has been inflicted on mankind by nature, to gratify which our wanton appetites are roused beyond all prudence or restraint… For when appetite is our master, there is no place for self-control; nor where pleasure reigns supreme can virtue hold its ground”, ” For pleasure hinders thought, is a foe to reason, and, so to speak, blinds the eyes of the mind. It is, moreover, entirely alien to virtue”, ” Nor was I, in fact, ever wont to measure my enjoyment even of these banquets by the physical pleasures they gave more than by the gathering and conversation of friends”, “What pleasures are there is feasts, games, or mistresses comparable to pleasures such as these? And they are all tastes, too, connected with learning, which in men of sense and good education grow with their growth.”

Sixthly, I shall live everyday of my life reminding myself of my mortality so that there’s urgency to live life to its fullest, but to not be afraid of death when the day comes. “Death, that is either to be totally disregarded, if it entirely extinguishes the soul, or is even to be desired, if it brings him where he is to exist forever. A third alternative, at any rate, cannot possibly be discovered. Why then should I be afraid if I am destined either not to be miserable after death or even to be happy? After all, who is such a fool as to feel certain—however young he may be—that he will be alive in the evening? Nay, that time of life has many more chances of death than ours”, “Now the harvest of old age is, as I have often said, the memory and rich store of blessings laid up in earlier life. Again, all things that accord with nature are to be counted as good. But what can be more in accordance with Nature than for old men to die?”

Investment Thesis – US Bancorp

Warren Buffett / Charlie Munger’s Four Filters + Risk Factors

  1. Understand the Business
  2. Enduring Competitive Advantages
  3. Able and Trustworthy Managers
  4. Risk Factors
  5. Bargain Price = Margin of Safety (I will not explore this as everyone should devise their own fair value)

1. Understand the Business

US Bancorp engages in 4 businesses:

2. Enduring Competitive Advantages

US Bancorp’s Competitive Advantages stem from the following sources:

  • Low Cost Efficiency Ratio
  • High Asset Quality
  • Well-Capitalized
  • Low Derivative Exposure

Low Cost Efficiency Ratio, High Asset Quality and Well-Capitalized constitutes a positive reinforcing cycle:

US Bancorp Business Model.png

By being cost efficient, US Bancorp is able to be well-capitalized (retaining liquid capital that isn’t lent out) whilst being profitable. This ensures US Bancorp can play in the game of lending to companies with great credit rating and only engage when the interest rates are good since US Bancorp would still be profitable even at the extremely low interest rates that US Bancorp can charge to these companies whilst US Bancorp can afford to not make loans if it doesn’t make business sense.

By statistics, companies with great credit rating default much less than those without, which thus builds resilience to profitability as US Bancorp is expected to keep raking in the net interest income regardless of economic cycle.

This then further drives / maintains the low cost efficiency ratio since as long as expenses don’t increase faster than growth of profits, the resilience in profitability allows for the profit side of profit / expense to drive / maintain the cost efficiency ratio down.

I further deem having a low derivative exposure to be another key competitive advantage. The reason is simple, it’s extremely hard to decipher the real value of derivatives on a balance sheet, so the more derivative exposure a bank has, the higher the catastrophe risk. Whilst competitors are potentially blowing up left and right, US Bancorp’s low derivative exposure allows it to stay profitable throughout economic cycles.

And when you look at the derivative exposure of the Top 5 US Banks in Asset Size, you’ll understand what I mean by US Bancorp having a low derivative exposure:

Rank – Bank – Asset Size – Derivative Exposure $ – Derivative Exposure X

1 – JPMorgan Chase – 2.42 trillion48.76 trillion – 20.1x

2 – Bank of America – 2.15 trillion40.20 trillion – 18.7x

3 – Citigroup – 1.77 trillion53.47 trillion – 30.2x

4 – Wells Fargo – 1.75 trillion5.83 trillion – 3.3x

5 – US Bancorp – 0.42 trillion0.18 trillion0.4x (!!!)

3. Able and Trustworthy Management

Ever since former CEO John F. Grundhofer brought Wells Fargo’s playbook of simple banking, disciplined loan underwriting, and low cost efficiency over to US Bancorp in 1990, he and his successor Richard Davis has been diligently focusing on 5 priorities only:

And the results demonstrate management’s ability, since US Bancorp is now the best US bank in terms of ROA, ROE, Cost Efficiency Ratio, and 2nd place in terms of Charge-Off Ratio.

US Bancorp’s track record also demonstrates management’s trustworthiness of focusing on its 5 priorities over the 20+ years as US Bancorp has stuck to growing 4 pretty much the same core businesses, driven down cost efficiency ratio to be the best, never exceeded 2.4% net-charge offs even during 2008=2009 financial crisis, improved credit rating to be the best, and kept all of the aforementioned metrics on target whilst acquiring many institutions.

4. Risk Factors

I find US Bancorp to be extremely low risk if risk is defined as destroying shareholder value.

There are however 2 ways I can see US Bancorp destroying shareholder value.

One way is if US Bancorp starts destroying shareholder value is if it abandons its current 5 priorities. As long as it suddenly decides to change direction in just one of the 5 priorities (eg. aggressively grow investment banking business or being less disciplined in cost control, asset quality, being well-capitalized and acquisitions), then the positive reinforcing cycle mentioned above will fall apart. The scary part of this is that any change in culture will be hard to observe, so being tipped off by a delay in deterioration of metrics could already be too late as there’s going to be a delay between cause and effect.

Another way is pure bad luck. US Bancorp for all its conservatism could still be ruined by large scale debt defaults since it is currently 9.8x leveraged [1]. This is always an inherent risk that comes with the banking business.

As a result of these two key risks, I would at most allocate a 1/3 position size to US Bancorp based on Charlie Munger’s diversification rule of “In the United States, a person or institution with almost all wealth invested, long term, in just three fine domestic corporations is securely rich“.


[1] Reference –

14.3% ROE and 1.46% ROA implies 9.8x leverage as only through that leverage is US Bancorp able to juice up returns from 1.46% to 14.3%.


Not advice. No offer. Do not rely. May lose value. Risky. Conflicts hidden/obscured. (Borrowed from Terrence Yang‘s Disclaimer on Quora)

Understanding US Bancorp – 1993 10-K

By Taber Andrew Bain from Richmond, VA, USA (US Bank  Uploaded by xnatedawgx) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

In 1993, First Bank (predecessor namesake to US Bancorp) had 181 banking locations and 24 non-banking offices in:

  • Minnesota (23% deposit share, rank #1)
  • Colorado (19% deposit share, rank #1)
  • Montana (14% deposit share, rank #1)
  • North Dakota (9% deposit share, rank #1)
  • South Dakota (5% deposit share, rank #2)
  • Wisconsin

Its Core Businesses are:

  • Retail and Community Banking (60.5% of Total Net Income from 56.12% in 1992)
  • Commercial Banking (28.1% of Total Net Income from 32.07% in 1992)
  • Trust and Investment (11.5% of Total Net Income from 11.81% in 1992)

What immediately stood out to me was the clarity of CEO John F. Grundhofer’s strategy, which  was to increase Market Share and Long Term Profitability through (in no particular order):

  • Growing Core Businesses
  • Being Disciplined in Cost Control
  • Being Disciplined in Asset Quality
  • Being Well-Capitalized
  • Being Conservative in Acquisitions Favorable in Location and Price

This seemed like taking a page from Wells Fargo’s playbook (simple banking, disciplined loan underwriting, low cost efficiency), and it’s not surprising consider John F. Grundhofer was Vice Chairman and Senior Executive Officer of Wells Fargo before being CEO of First Bank in 1990.

And taking a page from Wells Fargo’s low cost efficiency playbook really showed. In terms of Cost Control, John F. Grundhofer helped drive Cost Efficiency Ratio from nearly 80% (!!!) in 1989 to 59.8% by 1993 through:

  • Centralizing Bank Office
  • Standardizing Products
  • Investing in Technology
  • Re-Engineering Operations to Improve Productivity, Customer Service and Cross-Sell Ratio
  • Create Culture of Cost Control through Incentive System that Focuses on Relentless Cost Reduction, Strongly Encouraging Senior Management to Own 1x-5x Their Salary in Shares within 5 Years, and also Accountability of Expenses through Internal Fund Transfer Pricing System

The target set in 1993 was to reduce Cost Efficiency Ratio down to mid-50s within 2 years (1995) and eventually stay at low-50s. In comparison, 2015’s average Cost Efficiency Ratio of US Banks was 60.45% [1]. Overall, the Cost Efficiency Ratio of the different Core Businesses were:

In terms of Asset Quality, Non-Performing Assets was only 1.20% of Total Gross Loans. In comparison, 2015’s average Non-Performing Assets to Total Gross Loans of US Banks was 1.50% (as of 16th Jul 2016). To achieve this:

  • First Bank always evaluates its own credit risk through factors like evaluating composition of loan portfolio (as diversified as possible by industry classification, size and type of loan), level of allowance coverage, macroeconomic concerns (eg. level of debt in public / private sector), and effects of domestic / regional / international issues.
  • First Bank also manages credit through centralized credit policy and underwriting criteria whilst large loans or any loans that experience deterioration of credit quality is reviewed quarterly by management.
  • First Bank also has been decreasing exposure to Highly Leveraged Transactions (commercial loans involving buyout, recapitalization or acquisition of an existing business)

For Well-Capitalization, First Bank targeted and achieved Well-Capitalized status as defined by Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation of all bank subsidiaries [2]. It also had Provision for Credit Losses of 2.25%, 1.9x more than Non-Performing Assets to Total Gross Loans.

Combination of Cost Efficiency, Asset Quality and being Well-Capitalized meant that First Bank’s Net Interest Margin was 5.07%. In comparison, 1993’s average Net Interest Margin of US Banks was 4.51% [3].  At the same time, these factors helped First Bank improve its credit rating (Moody = A3 -> A2, S&P = A- -> A, Thomson Bankwatch (Fitch) = A+).

[Reference / Footnotes]

[1] (As of 16th July 2016) –

Couldn’t find data from 1992, so used 2015 as comparison

2015Q1 – 60.97%

2015 Q2 – 59.77%

2015 Q3 – 60.80%

2015 Q4 – 60.27%

[2] FDIC Well-Capitalization definition is:

  • Tier 1 Capital Ratio – >=6%
  • Total Risk-Based Capital Ratio – >=10%
  • Leverage Ratio – >=5%


1993 Q1 – 4.51%

1993 Q2 – 4.51%

1993 Q3 – 4.52%

1993 Q4 – 4.49%


I currently own US Bancorp (USB) stocks, and intend to keep increasing my position size of USB.


Not advice. No offer. Do not rely. May lose value. Risky. Conflicts hidden/obscured. (Borrowed from Terrence Yang‘s Disclaimer on Quora)

Catching Up with Friends Project

By NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona (NASA Image of the Day) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

So I’ve actually been on a secret project for a few weeks now where I’ve been filtering out my friends based on two criteria:

  • Is that person willing to meet up with me once a year if we’re geographically nearby?
  • Am I willing to meet up with that person once a year if we’re geographically nearby?

If any “friend” didn’t meet either criteria, I’d unfriend on Facebook.

The objective was to leave behind only real friends so that anytime I go through my Facebook timeline, every update was related to someone I really cared about.

This to me is the purpose of social media, which is a medium to let me better keep in touch with my friends.

And the learnings from this project have been quite profound:

  • I’m surprised by how many real friends I still have
    • I was half expecting my friends number to drop from 550+ to around 100-200, but right now I’ve drop to 361 (as of Jul 16th 2016) and the pace of unfriending has dropped significantly
  • It’s been a quite heart breaking experience too
    • There were quite a lot of friends when I glanced at their names and realized that we were quite tight before. Now quite a few of them had become quite distant due to my procrastination. Newton’s law of an object in motion stays in motion really applies in this situation when you the word replace “object” with “relationship”.
  • “If it’s to be, it’s up to me”
    • You can really filter out who really gives a damn about your relationship with them when you try to get an appointment with them. People who really want to see me maybe too busy at this moment of time, but they would always proactively propose future dates that might work out. People who don’t want to see you would either not reply you or just say something to the extent of “oh I’m busy”
  • I have OCD with people replying me within 48 hours
    • I’m not sure if it’s because I’m really self centered (people should respond to me!), I’m impatient (I want things to happen now!) or my professional habits spilling over to my personal life (48 hours is standard business etiquette! Oh wait, this is a personal interaction…), but it REALLY GETS INTO my nerves when people don’t reply me within 48 hours (actually I already start getting irritated if it doesn’t happen within 24 hours…). I’m really unsure if it’s just good etiquette to reply people within 48 hours unless your physically unable (dead, seriously ill, no internet connection etc.) or if I’m just being a dick (could simply be that I’m just a dick). But anyways, I do see a strong correlation with unfriending and people not replying me within 48 hours.
  • Many friends are actually going through tough times
    • But at the same time, it’s hard to discern if someone’s not replying you within 48 hours because they are physically unable, or if they’re going through a tough time. One thing that surprised me most was how many of my friends were going through tough times simultaneously. If it weren’t for me reaching out because of this secret project and really following up on people who weren’t responding, I really wonder how many friends have I overlooked or ignored when I could’ve lent emotional support? Or to put it more bluntly, how much of a friend am I?
  • I find myself to be very boring
    • Like boring for other people. I love investing and anything related to investing (psychology, history, sociology, economics, finance, engineering, maths etc.), and I’m always reading, thinking or learning about it, so it’s really exciting for me to talk about these topics, but I sometimes catch myself just always talking about the same topics over and over again. I had deja vu just now when a friend of mine kept talking about the same topic over and over again on the phone just now, which absolutely drove me a bit nuts. I’m surprised how many of my friends haven’t flipped their tables on me yet (Or maybe they have psychologically and are proactively avoiding me, which probably is why people don’t reply me within 48 hours :/).
  • I burn people out, like literally
    • I sometimes question if I’m too hardcore when it comes to relationships. I take every conversation quite seriously (unless it’s just a joke), so I’m always diligently replying or following up and always putting serious thought behind what I’m about to say. One example of burning someone out with my intensity was the girl I’ve been seeing, where she told me that she really tried to adopt this intense method of communication with me but ended up just burning out because of me and along with other things going on in her life. Thankfully we’re still friends, but any progression beyond friendship is definitely out of play.
  • I have a hard time being very close to people
    • Follow-up to my previous point, my intensity either makes people burn out or make people feel uncomfortable. Either way, reflecting upon my whole life so far, I’ve realized I’ve never had a “best friend” by conventional definition since I would always never hang out with the same people out of school / work. I’ve always just been too intense, which is why I end up needing personal time and my friends ending up burnt out.
  • It really sucks when people don’t reciprocate
    • This should’ve been a given, considering my aforementioned point, but it still stung. Each time. I still remember today where there was a friend who was going to Bangkok and very happily shared his / her boarding pass on Facebook. Seeing that the barcodes were explicitly shown (it actually contains a lot of information about you), I gently reminded him / her about the security risk of doing so and wished him / her a safe trip. He / she promptly covered up the barcodes with images and deleted my comment. I promptly unfriended him / her as well. Although this was an extreme case (1st case where not responding = unfriend), I just got pissed off how my suggestion was adopted, discarded and not thanked for.
  • It’s starting to get hard to keep in touch with people
    • Basically for any meet up I’ve had with friends in past few weeks, I’ve basically scheduled to meet up on a more regular basis. The good side is it meant I was consistently seeing friends I wanted to see, but the downside is that time and energy is just not on my side. As much as I love to socialize, I’m an introvert by nature, so I realized that at most I can only have 3 appointments every week lest I start burning out. And if I have 361 friends (maybe around 150 after taking out colleagues whom I see everyday and people who aren’t geographically nearby) and there’s 52 weeks in a year and my objective is to see my friends that are geographically close at least once a year, then my weekends have to be packed full since I will be overlapping with existing recurring appointments whom I would see more than once per year. So far I’m managing, but I need to really figure out a system to deal with this
  • Starting to compete with life’s other priorities
    • Related to the above point, but in terms of time and energy, being a good friend has meant that it’s been competing with health and work and giving up on family. Spending so much time going through annual reports and 10-Ks as part of my investing hobby is almost like a second job in a sense, which leaves so much less time to cultivate other interests or organize / join socializing activities. Also every time I have an appointment during the week, it absolutely wrecks that night’s sleep and possibly 2-3 more days of sleep as I just always get sleep deprived on the same night due to appointments always lasting until 9-10 pm. It starts making me question where I want my priorities to be.