"We will develop and cultivate the liberation of mind by lovingkindness -- make it our vehicle, make it our basis, stabilize it, exercise ourselves in it, and fully perfect it." The Buddha

Saturday, March 28, 2020

My Message to Young People

Credit: Forbes

This article is dedicated to five special Vietnamese university students who I have the honor of sponsoring. You know who you are. You all have such bright futures ahead of you. Let your dreams be big.

The reason why I'm writing this article is because my friend Nhung, who is really smart, suggested I write it for young people to assist them during these difficult times. I don't give advice unless someone asks, and given who would benefit, I am eager to share what I know. I've made enough mistakes so others don't have to. What you will read below is something I would advise myself if I were young or to my own son or daughter. As always, it is written with much love.

There are four areas I will discuss today: family, friends, school, and work.

Before I go through each of them in detail, I want to highlight the most important and fundamental principle of success that applies across all four of those areas: managing your emotions.

Do not underestimate your emotions. The moment you believe you can control your emotions is the moment they take over. Treat your emotions like formidable enemies. You must actively seek to understand how you feel at all times and what that emotion is making you do, especially toward acts that you don't want to do.

At the same time, there is nothing wrong about feeling a certain way. As human beings, what you feel is perfectly natural. You cannot deny how you feel inside. However, it is how you respond and act on the outside that's relevant. Therefore, the best way to combat a negative emotion is to be aware of it. Pinpoint the moment you feel hurt, angry, or sad. By being constantly self-aware, it is like wearing a protective armor in battle. You might feel the stress and pressure of battle, but at your core you remain intact because you haven't done anything harmful to yourself or to others.

"Those angry will be happy again, and those wrathful will be cheerful again, but a destroyed nation cannot exist again, the dead cannot be brought back to life." Sun Tzu

When you say or do the wrong thing because of a negative emotion, it is difficult to repair the damage. There are times it is practically impossible to remedy a situation. I hope by now you can see that much human grief can be tied to our own actions, not necessarily the evil actions of others. Many people worry too much about what others do. That's a futile exercise. It causes anxiety based on things outside of your control. Your worry never goes away if you let such an unhealthy habit fester. Instead, focus more on your own actions. Fortunately, that worry isn't too bad because at least you can control how you act.

Just about the only emotion that hasn't led me astray has been love. With love, even when I'm wrong initially, I am invariably right in the end. I often have regrets whenever I act with hate or selfishness. In contrast, I never have any regrets whenever I act with love. A few people have called me naive but I smile and continue being who I want to be. What they don't know is there are other people who side with me and feel the same way I feel. Those people are immensely kind, and not surprisingly, they are also very successful. They think big and aren't petty. Ironically, the more they give, the more is given to them. Yet they give not because they expect benefits for themselves in return. They give because giving is the benefit. That's why you'll see me express love in many places here at Cuong.com. Love is a mark of strength. When you have love in your heart, you are in a strong position. Love is the foundation of who I am, and who I strive to remain in the future.

Indeed, I do understand the tremendous hurt you feel when people yell or laugh at you. I understand how angry you feel when someone takes advantage of you. I understand how sad and lonely you feel when nobody seems to support you. I understand the feeling of lashing out and giving up. I understand all these feelings because I have felt them in my life, and sometimes I still do. But I don't act on my strong emotions, since I know strong feelings rarely reflect reality.

For example, whenever I feel angry, I refuse to immediately decide or act. I know my emotion has taken over and I am behaving irrationally. I tell myself I can be angry later! If even the great philosopher Plato couldn't control himself during a fit of rage, thereby delegating decisions to his friend Speusippus, what makes us mere mortals more capable? I know all too well my limitations. Instead, I behave based on my goals, where I want to go, how I want to shape my world. That takes clear thinking and deliberate strategy, i.e., making the most of what I have, even if it's very little. Few beneficial things happen by luck, or at least we shouldn't depend on it. Only gamblers rely on luck. The casinos rely on their business strategies. Guess who wins in the end? If I want clean dishes, I cannot depend on them to be washed by a promising politician or some fortuitous cosmic event. I will have to roll up my sleeves and wash them myself with perhaps others joining in later.

You can do the same thing as I do, too, since I will tell you something crucial that is 100 percent true. You are already special. You were born special. It's inherent in you. No matter where you are in comparison to others -- what you look like, how much you own, who you know -- you are here on this earth for a reason. Fate brought you here. From your ancestors since the beginning of time to you at the present moment. Thousands upon thousands of years of being tested and surviving have brought you here. It's incredible, really. A few people can try, but they can't take away your immeasurable value as a human being. To me, you are much too important to think small and negative. You deserve only big thoughts because you can decide right now to make a more positive impact on your life.

Have you decided? Are you ready to act? Let's go through the positive actions below that you can make in the four areas of your life: family, friends, school, and work. They are sensible ideas that had helped me considerably in the real world. They have given me leverage, advantage, and strength. Consider them not as all-encompassing but rather starting points. Think and ponder on how they relate to your life. Pick and choose what are most useful to you.

FAMILY

Unlike many things in life, you can't choose your biological family. Sadly or happily, you're stuck with them.

There are essentially three types of parents. First, there are cruel parents. Second, there are supportive parents. Third, there are mediocre parents, which range between cruelty and support.

If you have cruel parents, you are not alone. I've spoken with many young people who experienced physical and/or psychological abuse. Understand you have tremendous worth. You deserve the same respect and consideration as anyone else. If possible, seek help from a reputable organization that could assist not only you but also your abusive parents. They need help as much as you do. No matter how your cruel parents frame the situation, the abuse you experience isn't your fault. They are the adults. They should know better. As a parent myself, I can tell you they have no excuse for hurting you. They can have financial problems. They can have drinking problems. They can have gambling problems. They can have drug addiction problems. It doesn't matter. Nothing justifies their behavior. Them abusing you doesn't make their situation any better. Unfortunately abusive parents were likely abused themselves when they were young. They think abuse is normal. It is not normal.

If you have supportive parents, listen to them. You don't have to agree with everything they say, but simply listen. Reserve judgment and truly consider what they have to offer. Older people certainly don't have all the answers, but for those who are experienced and truly care about you and your well-being, they deserve your attention. I remember when I was young, I thought I knew everything. I never really thought myself as a child. I always saw myself as an adult. But I had blind spots. I couldn't see the full picture in many situations. If you have parents who love you, they are trying to protect you from harm they might have experienced themselves when they were young. Perhaps if you feel strongly about something, you may want to move forward, but always be cognizant of what your caring parents said while you are trying to make your way in the world. With time and prudence, you might discover the benefits of their advice, saving you from much grief along your life's path.

If you have mediocre parents, separate what is useful and what is not. Mediocre parents aren't bad but they're not good either. Seek the good in them and ignore the bad, as long as it's not abusive. What most mediocre parents need is your love. They are on the cusp of being supportive parents. They simply need a little push to see the importance of their job as parents.

The above applies to your guardian or older siblings as well.

FRIENDS

This matter is tricky. It's tricky because I know what I was like when I was young when it comes to friends. It's hard being alone. As social beings, we long for friends. But sometimes, the friends we accidentally meet are friends who aren't healthy for us, yet we continue to meet up with them because we don't want to be loners. So what I will say below will require you to have faith in me, and hopefully you will see why my suggestions make sense.

Imagine you are going shopping for shoes. Do you go to any shoe store, pick out the pair of shoes that looks good, and buy it immediately? No. You first have to request the right size from the store clerk. Then even when you have your hands on the right size, you need to try on those shoes to make sure they're comfortable. You're smart so you will put on both shoes and walk around for a little bit before finally purchasing the shoes.

Friends are like shoes. Certainly, you need friends like you need shoes. But not all friends fit you well, and many don't fit you at all. Be as selective with your friends as you are your shoes, if not more so, because friends affect your mood and motivations. They can affect how you view life itself.

Strangely enough, the "cool" kids aren't normally the kind of friends you want. Being cool is being aloof; it's the opposite of caring. A person who doesn't care is someone you don't want as your friend, no matter how popular they seem to be. To me, popularity and $5 will only get you a cup of coffee.

Therefore, if someone doesn't seem right for you, then continue to seek for someone who does. When you can't find the shoes that fit you, you don't stop, do you? In our modern world, there are millions of people within your reach. The odds work in your favor! So have patience. As you are trying to find one good pair of shoes, you are trying to find one or just a few good friends. Seek quality over quantity. You're not trying to find perfection, simply individuals who truly understand you and you understand them.

Interestingly, good marriages are comprised of good friends. Romance comes and goes, but love and friendship are forever. In short, friends support each other, and more specifically, each other's life goals. If they cannot, then they are mere acquaintances. On the internet, what social media calls your "friends" aren't all your friends. They are mostly acquaintances. They are not going to support you when the relationship doesn't benefit them. You don't have to get rid of your acquaintances, just keep them at arm's length.  Acquaintances are part of life, but they are not like friends, who are much rarer, and will be there for you even when you cannot return the favor. It's not that acquaintances can't eventually become friends later -- much like how mediocre parents can become supportive parents later -- but for the time being, they are more like colleagues and associates, not friends. Friends love and promote you on a personal level, and you feel the same way about them.

SCHOOL

School can be enjoyable if you look at it from the point of view of fine educational institutions: a place of exploration and learning.

The wrinkle is that the intention doesn't always translate during implementation. What they say isn't always what they do. There might be incompetent teachers who are difficult to understand. The books might not be very good. In those cases, my first step would be to change how I view the situation. What good can I still get from this? If there is little good, then if possible, change the class. But I caution that you don't give up so easily and try it out for a sufficient period of time. Only then would you have a better assessment of a seemingly bad situation.

At one of the universities I graduated from, the graduation rate was about 50 percent. Half of my classmates who started out with me failed. That statistic is deceiving, because from what I witnessed, most students who dropped out were smart -- we all had to pass difficult tests and had excellent grades in high school to be admitted into the university -- but they partied and wasted their time instead of trying and studying. They failed not because they weren't capable. They failed because they quit. Don't do what they did. By persevering through hardship and graduating, you will have more life options in the future. Having more options is a good thing. By graduating college, it doesn't only demonstrate you learned the subjects you studied but also your tenacity and strength to overcome adversity even when others had quit.

When I was in school, I excelled. But I had a secret. I had a superpower. No, my superpower wasn't that I'm smarter than everyone else. Rather, I employed the element of time. I had more time than all of my classmates because I prepared more than all of my classmates. I read chapters before they were assigned, studied for tests earlier, and started on projects months before they were due.  As a result, I understood what the teachers were talking about in lectures, and did exceptional well in projects and tests. It's not that complicated. I didn't do much more work than my classmates did. I simply did them earlier and over a longer period of time. While some of my classmates struggled because they didn't plan ahead, I sailed through my classes.

For example, most classes have syllabuses that go into great detail on what is required throughout the quarter or semester. Don't ignore that document. The teacher spent a lot of time on that syllabus, so you can bet he or she will use it. Read it carefully. Prepare and plan your path of excellence in this class. That preparation and planning mean the following:

1) Read all required materials as assigned in a timely manner. I know students who can do well in a class or two without reading but I have never met anyone who can do well in all classes without reading. It's impossible. Don't believe anyone who says he or she could. Why put yourself at a disadvantage? Read. Don't skimp on it or delay. Do yourself a favor and always read the book pages assigned.

2) When you know there is a project coming up, work on your project weeks in advance. If you know there is a test coming up, study for your test weeks in advance. That's right. Work on your project weeks before it is due. Study for your test weeks before it happens. As you gain new knowledge and review it constantly, that knowledge will be ingrained in you. Much of learning is repetition. The quality of your project will be noticeably better than others. The score of your test will be noticeably better than others. You are using the element of time to your advantage. Time is your superpower.

3) Memorization is inevitable in school. The trick I use is simple. Study it the first time. Do something completely different, like watching TV or playing soccer. Then study it again. Then do something else, like helping your mom wash the dishes. Afterwards, you study it yet again. You repeat this process as much as possible over several days. If you want to do well in your test, you can't do this enough. Hopefully you can see how this method helps your memory. But it requires that you strategically plan ahead. It's ineffective to use this method if you try to cram everything in the day before the test. Again, use the element of time to your advantage.

4) In the rare case you are still having problems understanding the lessons, don't be afraid to ask for your teacher's help after class. Ask for help as early as possible so that your lack of understanding can be resolved quickly. Be courteous and listen a lot more than you talk. Demonstrate consistently that you are trying your hardest to study and learn. Even in the absolute worst-case scenario where you fail all your tests, I have never heard of a teacher flunking a student trying his or her best.

5) Sleep before 10 o'clock at night. I did this throughout my college life. Study hard during the day, but no matter what fun you might have by staying past 10 p.m. with your family or friends, you will miss out on the incredible energy you would feel by sleeping earlier. You can drink coffee but don't think it is a good solution. I didn't drink coffee until many years after I graduated with my master's degree. I didn't need coffee. I had sufficient sleep. My alarm clock was a reminder, not an alarm. Because you have abundant energy from a good night's rest, you pay better attention to the teacher, understand better when reading the textbooks, and perform significantly better in tests. The gain is a lot more than the cost of having to go to bed earlier. Those one or two extra hours of sleep make a huge difference.

WORK

Unlike school, if you think about it, work is a place where they pay you to learn! It doesn't matter what you are doing at work, you are learning. When I was young making very little money cleaning windows, I learned.

One particular day when I rushed and sloppily cleaned the windows, my supervisor pulled me aside to tell me I was doing it all wrong.

"It's not a race," he said. "Clean them well."

He made me re-clean all the windows. Although I was initially upset about being reprimanded, I learned a valuable lesson that day. A job worth doing is a job worth doing well. Do it so well that people are impressed by your dedication. Do it so well that it impresses you! From big to small matters, you show pride in everything you do. The work you complete exudes excellence. You help a coworker in need even though it's not part of your job. You personally handwrite "thank you" cards to coworkers and outside associates whenever they help you. You brush your teeth after lunch. Don't think nobody notices because they do. Whether or not you literally wrote down your signature, your name is on everything you do at work. When superior quality is your standard, you will stand out from the rest. You will never be out of work no matter how bad the economy. Good people are always in high demand, especially during hard times. There will be a point in your career where your reputation precedes you, and that's a great place to be.

When you start out in your career, understand your place in the organization. Even though you try to do your best as an individual, you are nonetheless part of a team. Do your part to express what you know and educate other team members on what you know, but the final decision is up to your supervisor. Unless he or she is telling you to do something immoral or illegal, simply go along with it because the company has tasked him or her with that responsibility. Don't feel hurt. It's not personal. There might be constraints you are not aware of. Because you're part of a team, contribute where you can and leave the rest for others to do their parts as well.

All the while, learn. Learn everything there is to know about your job. Look for the best performers and those who command respect from many coworkers, not because of their title but because of their skill. Observe them, ask them questions, and listen to them. You might have better ideas later, but at this time, consider their ideas first. Later on, once you feel comfortable about your job performance, seek to understand the ins and outs of the company and how it conducts its business. Learn about the various processes and functions. How does the company go from customer order to final service or shipment? Keep updated on your company's industry news and understand how your company fits in that industry.

Like graduating from your school, there will be a point where you feel you can graduate from your company. You either move on to another company that offers you a better opportunity or you strike out on your own to form your own company. Either way, you will have a firm foundation and a bedrock of knowledge on how to succeed wherever your career takes you. By the way you talk and by the way you conduct yourself, others will clearly see you are different. They can see how you can help propel their company to a higher level. You are destined for bigger opportunities, but first you must humble yourself and learn the details of your job, including reading manuals and proper procedures. You cannot be a good leader unless you understand what it's like being a good follower.

This paragraph is something even some experts and professionals forget. But they forget it to their detriment. The purpose of business is to improve society. A company's purpose is to improve society. You're helping to make people's lives better. Everything else is secondary. As such, when you are in a company, you strive to do what's right for the company. That means taking care of employees and machinery that take care of customers. Profits will naturally follow. Don't let people pressure you into doing something immoral or illegal because even if you were to acquiesce to them, you won't get their respect anyway. They know what they're doing is wrong. In the past, there had been companies that tried to subvert the system and create short-term profit at the harm of society. But inevitably they are found out and quickly eliminated. These companies never last. The people in these companies who did things immorally and illegally didn't last either. Therefore, while you do things right (competency), also do the right things (integrity). You can always find another job, but you can't always find your soul once it's lost. Maybe not immediately, but with time, you will see the wisdom of your decision to do what's right.

Ultimately, I believe that whatever happens in your career is for the best. If a company fires you because you act with integrity, why do you want to stay and help that company? Only a good company with good people would have the wisdom to keep a good employee like you. That is the kind of company you want to work for and help grow. And once you are good enough, it is the kind of company you would create in the future.

CONCLUSION

So there you have it. Manage the family you're given. Manage your friendships. Manage your schoolwork. Manage your workplace. And most of all, manage your emotions. When you aren't managing your own life, someone else will, and often your interests aren't his or her top concern. There will be times when you wonder whether or not you will be successful. No need to worry about that. If you are reading these words, I assure you that you're already a success. And since you're already a success, what would a successful person like yourself do next? Hopefully what I discussed today provides you the first stepping stones. Future stepping stones are up to you. I have no doubt you will go far, because you inherently have what it takes to go far, as far as your heart desires. Big dreams belong to those with big hearts. ๐Ÿ’›

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"Irrigators channel waters; fletchers straighten arrows; carpenters shape wood; the wise master themselves." The Buddha