The multicultural equivalent of wealth

I grew up in a gated mining town where I was isolated from the world. Because of the mining company, the public school attended had better facilities than most public schools in my country. There were plenty of textbooks. There was a library full of books. The schools had everything.

I felt safe to walk through the streets at night because of the street lights. Since permits were required to enter the town, there were fewer people coming in town. This, for us, meant lower crime rates.

During my teenage years, my mother went back to university to further her education. Since she lived in a small apartment near her university campus, I went to live with my grandparents in their village. I attended a local junior secondary school (junior high) which was different from where I grew up. First, the classes were larger, and the buildings were rundown from years of vandalism. My new peers borrowed everything, pencils, sharpeners, anything. Most of them could not afford uniforms and had to bear the harsh winters since the principal did not approve of anything that was not the school uniform.

It made me uncomfortable to see people struggling while I had everything I needed for school. It was a shock. We were all around the same age, yet there was a wisdom in some of my peers’ faces. They had experienced more hardships than I could ever imagine. It made me feel spoilt. And I quickly grew out of the selfish, only child mindset and learned how to share my resources.

In addition to this, my grandparents lived near a bus rank (bus station). There was a constant bustle, with people either living or coming into the small village. There were constant attacks. Thefts. Harassments. The crime rate was high. At one instance, a young woman escaped her assailants by running straight into our house since the door was open. My grandfather kept it open because he wanted fresh air. This prompted my grandfather to put locks on the gates. I became paranoid. Every time I walked in the streets, I looked behind me to check if someone was following me. It was probably my own footsteps.

By luck, I ended up in a private school for my senior secondary school years, the equivalent of high school. I was in boarding school, so I was gated in again. I was safe from the outside world. I could walk freely within those gates. I could wear what I wanted within those gates. I felt lucky within those gates.

I was around “rich kids” during those years. They are not the selfish people who tv likes to portray, they just grew up having more. At times, I found myself longing for the things they had and their ability to travel the world. I was impressionable. I forgot about how lucky I was and how far I had come.

That school opened a lot of doors for me.

Now I live Australia. I attend the University of Queensland on a scholarship. My monthly allowance greatly exceeds the minimum wage of people who live in back home.  The university is amazing, advanced. Everyone has a laptop. Everyone has a phone. The internet is fast. Everything is fast. It is a normal way of life for people around me, they are used to it.

Here, I can walk in the street as late as 12 am, from the school library, and feel safe enough to walk, at a normal pace, from the bus stop to my apartment. Nothing is in the dark.

There is a sense of wisdom at having experienced this change. I was content. Now I feel lucky. I keep reminding myself to be grateful and to appreciate where I am. I keep reminding myself not to get used to it. Not because I feel as if it will not last. I never want to forget to be thankful.

 

 

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The Black Friday trap

It is always a good idea to avoid the stores during the Black Friday sales. I have to back myself up, so please listen to what I have to say.

I know Black Friday has its merits. It has those attractive discounts that make christmas shopping more affordable. I do not deny that. Black Friday is the day where we all get those expensive shoes that we have been eyeing. That good quality belt we can’t really afford.

However, some of us do not have long shopping lists. We do not have things we have been waiting all year to buy. We have no plans. No budgets. Yet, we stroll through the mall (or shopping centre, depending on where you are from) and find ourselves buying everything because it is cheaper. We end up spending more than we planned.

For those without plans, please stay home. Avoid regrets. Avoid impulse buys. Be smart.

What I learned when I let go of a bad investment

When the value of my investment went below the minimum amount I had set for myself, I was unable to let go. I watched for almost a week as the value plummeted until I had lost almost $50. It may not seem like a lot of money to a lot of people, but for a student who is starting out in this world, I felt the loss. I wasted a lot of time begging the screen to show me an upward trend instead of taking action.

I have always prided myself in being aloof. Almost detached and unaffected by a lot of things that bother a lot of my peers. Yet, I attached a lot of value to an abstract asset. One that I had not held for a very long time.

A contradictory, disruptive, thought I keep having is that I have to get used to losing money in order to make it in the end. That I should have waited the momentary blip out. That I should have tolerated the discomfort of seeing my balance going down. How can I train myself to be a ruthless, within reason, risk-taker?

The “test your risk tolerance” quizzes show me that I am more conservative than I am risky. There is a reason that I do not read horoscopes. They shape me even if the rational side of me knows they are worded to apply to anyone. No offence to the believers. I regret taking those tests.

As an autodidact of stoicism, I have been trying to accept the things that I cannot control in order to achieve the greatest possible control over my emotions and thoughts in order to  survive this world. I had no idea a test of my impulses would come too soon.

 

The art of thinking clearly

Reading The Art of Thinking Clearly: Better Thinking, Better Decisions was eye-opening for me in a lot of ways. I realised that it is absurd to try to rid myself of all kinds of emotions and impulses when making decisions. It is impossible to do that therefore chasing this obsession is futile. Emotion will always be the dominant part of my character. The best I can do is study stoicism.

I felt reprimanded after reading the first chapter. When I started investing, I had high hopes that my success rate would be quick and easy. That I was smart enough to succeed in this world. My arrogance has been knocked down a few notches after being reminded that I have “overestimated the probability of my success”. It was hard to read about the “cemetery”.  A place where failed investors who are just as hard-working and as ambitious as I am may end up regardless of how dedicated they may be.

The book is not as cynical as the previous paragraph makes it seem. It serves as a reminder to appreciate the successes that I have and to always remember that I have come far compared to how I was in the past. He calls to my attention the fact that the more successful people get, the more dissatisfied they are with what they have. As we succeed in life, we tend to compare ourselves to people who may be light years ahead of us and forget far we have come to achieve all that we have.

Additionally, I learned a lot about the human flaws and how we can live with them by just being aware that they exist. I have to have awareness that I am biased and fallible. I have to accept the fact that I am shaped by a lot of things out of my control, evolution, the way I grew up etc. It prompted me to borrow Daniel Kahneman, Paul Slovik and Amos Tvesrky’s Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases from the university library because it sparked a new interest on human behaviour.

What I loved about this book is that the author did not claim to have come to some conclusion on how we can better ourselves. I did not want to spoil this book so I barely scratched the  surface. There is more to learn. It is perfect for people who are obsessed with cognitive science too. Like I told my friends, this is not a self-help book!

 

Fear of being classified

I have been reading a lot about different types of investors, value investors, growth investors, income investors etc. They all have their merits; however, I have this itch inside me that does not want to be compartmentalised, classified and put into a small box that I cannot break free from. Is there a word for this?

I want to be a bit of everything. A combination of two or more things. Or have a strategy for each goal I have. However, many people (and by people, I mean the authors of the articles I read) tell me that I have to master one or two things instead of being mediocre doing 10 things. That I have to stick to one strategy, master it and that this will result in success. They make a lot of sense; however, I have this urge to rebel against everything they say.

A colleague once told me I would lose interest in art and culture once I started working and focusing on my engineering career. I make it a point to go to my favourite philosophy section every time I go to a book store. Moreover, my interests outside of university are far removed from engineering. I feel the need to prove him wrong.

I’m not completely stupid in the fact that I will completely ignore the advice. This is the beauty of the internet. I do not need to pay for university to learn from the wisdom of the world. The downside of the internet is there are a lot of articles for and against the same subject. For instance, one article may be titled “Reasons to go gluten-free” and another article may be titled “Why gluten is not the enemy”. What or whom do I believe?

I just believe these should not be rigid. If a strategy does not work for me I am not going to stick to it. Besides, there is a chance that through trial and error, I will find a strategy that works for me. Lady Luck, please be on my side.