Tradeoffs, Theory of CA applied to real-life

Written on 23rd August 2018

A mentor said this to me years ago, and this phrase has been stuck in my head.

How do I become the best version of myself?

I turned 30 this year and I have been wanting to post a reflective piece of what I’ve learnt from my experiences so far in the last decade.


I’ll start off with something that I think might be what is both my strength and weakness - understanding the concept of trade-offs, applied to real-life.

Each of us have 24 hours a day, and truly - time is the resource that we have that everyone has in equal amounts. How efficiently we make use of this time is another question.

Most of us multi-task, and many of us are good at multi-tasking. Many of us are also bad at multi-tasking. Whether or not we are good or bad at multi-tasking, we need to recognise what we are able to juggle efficiently at each point, and decide if it might be worth to drop something.

Here’s a list of things that any of us might be trying to juggle at the same time

Family, Friends, Studies, Work, Kids, Personal Development, Health, Leisure, Sleep & Mental/Emotional Health.

Recognising our constraints, and whether we are able to carry out all of our functions efficiently and effectively is an important question we ought to ask ourselves.

Maybe you could do 8 things, but what if you do 8 and you do all of them terribly and some people suffer as a consequence of that? How about try doing 6 well and drop 1 and outsource 1 (if possible)

I have been suffering from daily migraines for the last 3 years or so and my neurologist said it can't be helped given the amount of things I’m juggling - and so my health is clearly at risk.

He shared with me in the early years of his kids, he ‘outsourced’ the parenting job to nannies on weekdays and only bring his kids back home during the weekends. Now this does sound like what some of our parents used to do. (and perhaps some parents still do so now). This is not something that I am fully willing to do but I accept that I may have to take on a reduced role in parenting if I were to focus on doing my job the best way that I understand. This however also means that my wife will have to take on a bigger role in parenting to offset my absence.

I think many of us struggle with this - understanding the concept of trade-offs. It is important for us to acknowledge our constraints and recognise them, so that we can take a more objective view, evaluate if perhaps we could outsource certain functions and ‘outcomes’ could potentially improve.

“The Theory of Comparative Advantage” applied to real-life & the importance of being focused

This is really a re-hash on the above point on trade-offs applied in another sense.

A few years ago, I was managing a team of tutors and one of my best Chemistry tutors wanted to leave tutoring for good. I was shocked because he has been one of the finest tutors I’ve met so far and would have likely done well if he had continued as a tutor. He told me that he was going into something else - an online marketing business. More importantly he said that he wanted to be focused, he could be doing both his business and tutoring at the same time but he wouldn’t have been able to focus on building his business the best way he could. I was impressed.

Today, my friend has become kind of top-in-his-game in his industry and I am immensely proud. He was right, and his efforts did pay off.

He could have been a great Chemistry tutor, but now he’s top in what he's doing.

It is important to be focused.

This is one of my difficulties and I’m still learning how to do better.

On parenting

I’m now a father of two and it has been a roller-coaster ride. I only have 2 years of experience in parenting and I probably have lots to learn but here are my struggles with parenting

To give your kids what you can or to throw them into the deep end of the pool?

This is not an easy question at all! I am in a fortunate position where I am able to provide my child what I think they need and I’ll probably be able to give my child decent healthcare and education. I am willing to work my a** off to ensure that they have everything.

Let’s take a step back - do I really want to do that? No, it’s not about whether I want to do that - it’s more about whether ‘by giving your child the best - are you really giving them their best shot at life?’

I personally think that, you will be doing your child no favour if you were to give them everything in life. Then again, the typical mindset of parents are, if I don’t give them the best I can, what is the purpose of all the hard work?

I think for one to learn to be strong, to be independent & to pick up after oneself & more importantly to learn resilience - that needs to be adversity. If our children are so sheltered and well-protected and given everything, then how do we let them learn these things?

Simply put - if you don’t let your child fail, how will they learn?

But how many parents are willing to let their child fail, and let them figure out on their own - why did they fail, and let them figure out on their own - how to pick themselves up after they fail?

I don’t have an answer to these so I guess this is work in progress. I have a feeling that I’m already doing better with my 2nd child on this as opposed to my first child.

Being a role-model

I think children pick-up a lot from their parents. If you have a bad temper, you drive like a maniac, you eat garbage - these are things that your child would likely pick up from you.

I’m talking about myself by the way. I have a bad temper and I’m trying to bring that down, and I think over the years there are some improvements. I no longer drive like a maniac - this is for sure. I still eat garbage. My son eats garbage too. (at 2.5 years old -.-)

We thus have a responsibility towards our children, to be role-models for them.

Don’t have double standards - if you expect your child to have certain values, make sure you subscribe to them. Don’t tell your child to do something that you can’t do.

On compartmentalisation

This is a tremendously valuable skill - the ability to compartmentalise the different aspects of your life and not letting an adverse event in one aspect of your life affect the other.

This is easier said than done by the way.

The last 2-3 years of my life has really been crazy. We’ve had many bad brushes with health, with death, with drama & with crazy people as well. We’ve had the most unfortunate events happen to us. I said ‘we’ here because I think my wife has gone through the same things I had.

I’ve always had been able to compartmentalise parts of my life. I don’t bring my personal emotions into my work. I don’t let bad things that happen to me affect how I am teaching my students. Even in the worst of times, I’ve always picked myself up, headed to work, and continue doing what I need to do.

There was a period I wasn’t coping well and I seemed to have momentarily lost this ability to compartmentalise and all hell broke loose for me and mentally I was very drained.

Talking to a mentor, and sitting down to properly rationalise - allowed me to pick myself up and slowly regain the skill of compartmentalisation.

It is important for us to do this. Take a problem, put your feelings aside, and deal with what you need to deal with at a present moment. Now this is not the same as escaping from your problems. Some people put their problems away in a box and pretending that it doesn’t exist - this is not what I’m talking about.

A chat with a friend who was helping me with videography earlier this year shared this with me - he said “be in the now - deal with what you need to deal with at this particular point in time, deal with nothing else except for this. come back to deal with something else when the time comes to deal with something else”.

In other words, if you are spending time with your kids, spend time with your kids. If you are working, give your fullest attention to doing your best at work.

On managing relationships

In economics, we learn that individuals are self-interested creatures and are looking to maximise one’s interests.

I find that my principles in life deviate slightly from the above because, my beliefs are based on the below mentioned

  1. Maximise your self-interest but do not undermine others’ interests while doing so (maximising your self interest doesn’t have to necessarily come at the expense of others)

  2. Sometimes, maximising others’ interest can end up maximising your interest in the long term (but it might be hard for people to see that)

I try my best to follow those sets of rules, but I do not necessarily communicate the reasons I do what I do and I do not believe in wasting time to do so.

What does this mean?

More than often, I operate in a way that would not maximise my self interests because it would harm others’ interest. What I do instead would be a compromise where I don’t maximise my interest, but I maximise collective interest (which sometimes come at an opportunity cost to me).

However, most people subscribe to this belief that everybody is only looking out for their self-interest, they may think that I’m doing the same. (which most of the time I’m not - as I've mentioned, when there is a decision where I can either choose to maximise my self interest or a collective interest, I will always choose the latter).

Sometimes - this can be painful, because while you know that what you are in fact doing, is because you are operating in their interest, but because you see no point in communication (because you think that’s no point since most people will already have the pre-conceived notion that all human beings are self-interested)

End of the day - sometimes I am misunderstood. I’ve come to realised that there is nothing I much I can do about this but to manage my own expectations. If you want to do something, and you would likely be misunderstood for doing so - then you have to live with being misunderstood.

On friendships

Good friends are important and these friends are often made when you are down and have nothing. These are the same friends that will be there for you when you are down.

I don’t have many friends, and I don’t actively work on maintaining too many friendships.(part of the trade-offs I’ve accepted from above)

Good friends are there to support you when you are down. Good friends do not shy away from criticism if they think they need to step in to intervene when you are being destructive. Good friends don’t give a s*** if you like what they say.

“Working at becoming the best version of yourself”

Back to the phrase that started this post.

What is working at becoming the best version of yourself?

There is a blind chase that many of us are after. We all want to be ‘successful’, but what defines success? Wealth? Fame? Power? Well those are the standard things, but I believe in this more - “becoming the best version of yourself”

Being the best version of yourself really means to be the best that you can be in every role you play until you know you have reached a level that you know there can be no more progress that you can make - and there is where you find new challenges and move on.

For myself, it means improving my lesson delivery as a tutor, learning to be a good father, being a better friend & also my working on my personal & professional development.

Stepping outside your comfort zone

Day in day out, most of us repeat the same functions and do the same thing over and over again. Doing the same thing till it becomes easy to do, till you are really great at doing it.

A mentor once told me - once you have perfected something, you should tear everything down, and rebuild, relearn and do it even better in a different way.

I think that in the domain of tutoring, I’m doing something right, and I’m doing something well. This year, actually, just recently - I’ve decided to abandon ALL of the things I’m used to doing and build something I deem revolutionary from scratch.

If we want to be better, we need to be willing to torture ourselves.

Progressive steps

If your objective is to become fit, and if your objective was to pass 2.4km at IPPT, I have a solution for you.

Run 1km everyday this week

Run 1.1km everyday next week.

Run 1.2km everyday the week after next.

A few weeks down the road, 2.4km suddenly becomes a breeze. Interestingly, I picked this up from my army days, and applied this principle to many things I do. Right now I’m building something a little everyday and I know in a couple of years time - I will have something to show.

Be willing to learn from those better than yourself

Lastly, again, recognise your constraints, recognise your strengths and weaknesses - be willing to learn from those who can do better than you

At 30 years - I strive to be better at 40 than I am at 30. This is the whole reason for writing this post.

This post is dedicated to my wife today on our 10 years dating anniversary - someone who always encourages me to be the best I can be, to friends who have always been there for me and to mentors who have been teaching me.