TOBY NG

Lessons of 2023

Intro - A Year of Courage

"Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat"

Fortune favours the brave. It does because you are creating opportunities for yourself. It doesn't mean that everything will go the way you want, but at least you will get feedback on how to proceed. This information makes a difference because having feedback is better than having to make predictions in place of it. But getting feedback often takes courage. It's not that courageous people aren't afraid of things. It's just that they take action despite their fears. That is the definition of courage.

There have been a lot of challenges this year, but also many opportunities. I saw a lot of people posting their lessons of 2023 and their hopes of 2024. Although it may just be my algorithm at work, it's a great thing to see because I hope to learn from the lessons of others, and to be inspired by their aspirations this year. I've also been doing this for a few years now, so I will share my own too.

Management Analytics

I've wanted to learn more about data for a long time now, and getting the opportunity to do a Master's degree in Management Analytics has been incredible. I would like to acknowledge that this opportunity came from the partnership between Game Plan and Smith School of Business, and express my gratitude for helping Canadian athletes with transitioning into new careers. The program helped me develop broad technical skills in data analytics, data science, and machine learning, and I hope to sharpen my skills with personal projects and start a new job this year.

I came into the program as the weakest overall on my team, but when I finished, I was still the weakest overall on my team! That simply meant that we all grew and developed new skills. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for all that I have learned, but this isn't a competition with other people. In badminton, I see this all the time when players are trying so hard to be better than someone else in a short period of time. Even though it's been a year, it's not that long of a time to produce significant changes. You might see a difference if someone completely stops, but as we continue to improve, we must remember that other people are improving too. So if you go oversees to train, that's great, but don't think that people at home aren't training either. Maybe their training isn't the same as yours, but it doesn't mean that they aren't improving too.

This is why it's better to ensure consistent habits over longer periods of time. The differences won't be seen until later, much like the effects of diet and exercise (or lack thereof). So continuing to apply what I've learned into tasks and projects will allow me to keep learning and sharpen my skillset moving forwards. It also helps to consider yourself a beginner, or the weakest person in the group, because you have to constantly push yourself to keep up. It's a fine balance of doing projects to hone your skills and to revisit foundational knowledge to develop a deeper understanding of things. I do hope to learn more about artificial intelligence and find a career in that space in the future.

But don't believe what I say. Rather, see if I consistently do the things I need to do to get there. Talk is cheap, although the results are often asymmetrical. Saying nice things to people and encouraging them still requires action that takes effort: an uphill grind. However, saying bad things about people is far more damaging because that snowballs downhill and can even pick up momentum. In other words, it is far easier to push someone down a hill than up one. That leads to another important lesson this year.

Boundaries

I have always been mindful of people's boundaries, and although a small group of people may not believe me, I have evidence that supports my claim. You can still disagree though, because it is your right to believe what you want to believe. Some people may choose to disregard evidence and follow their "feelings". I'm not one of those people.

I have always been more relaxed regarding my own boundaries because I try to not take things personally and consider intentions (Hanlon's Razor comes to mind). However, I'm only human, so I have limited patience. I won't stand for anyone who supports something against me. If you publicly support anything that suggests false allegations against me, we can't be friends. It's that simple.

In fact, we can't be friends because it gives me evidence that these people will jump ship and turn on you irregardless of the truth. They take someone's opinion, without evidence, and they judge you. If you truly think that's what people do, that's not always true. That's what people who can't think for themselves do. A lesson from Douglas Murray last year on his podcast with Chris Williamson is that it is okay not to have an opinion on something you don't know anything about. I mean, if you really wanted to know, you could ask me, then feel free to make your judgement after you have the facts. If you still think I'm wrong, that's fine too. I'm still waiting for someone to convince me through a rational process that I was wrong. And if I'm not wrong, then there's nothing to learn except one thing: some people just cannot be helped.

Mentoring

A common theme that came up a lot this year was the difference between helping versus saving someone. I would like to think I am trying to be helpful, and when questioning if I ever thought I was "saving" someone, I don't think I ever did. At least how I define "saving" would be that if you do not take action, then there would be serious consequences of inaction. Helping, on the other hand, would simply lead to an alternate set of outcomes. Saving also seems like a significant act done in a very brief moment of time, whereas helping would be smaller acts consistently done over a longer period of time. By this definition, I am no savior. I just want to be helpful.

Without going too deeply into this subject which deserves its own discussion, we can summarize the concept of helpfulness using Adam Grant's "Give and Take" principles. I simply want to help where I can, without taking a loss of my own (i.e. an "otherish" giver). Each person has their own levels of wants and needs, so this is largely defined by the individual. I find that it is nice to be helpful and I find meaning in doing so where I can. I can't help everyone (nor can I save anyone), but it's doing the most with what I have. I also want to define the difference between coaching and mentoring: coaching would be more of a professional service, whereas mentoring is less formal. If I'm mentoring, I can choose who I want to help. I can have my favourites, because I am optimizing for who might benefit the most from my help. However, it's not that I don't give people a chance. It's just that most people don't ask to begin with. Fortune favours the brave.

Friendship

I spent the little free time I had this year reading manga, watching anime, and only gamed a little bit once my program was done in December. It's quite remarkable how many story arcs contain friendship as a core theme. Some of my favourites from this year were Monogatari (anime/manga), Hell's Paradise (manga/anime), Zom 100 (manga/anime), Lycoris Recoil (anime), Spy x Family S2 (anime/manga), RWBY Vol 9 (animated), and NieR Replicant (game). I think the underlying theme is to cherish your friendships while you can, but understand that real life doesn't always work the same way. Often, we are all so lost in our own worlds that we end up reacting to things and keep putting things off until later. But too often, later never comes.

Given many story arcs, it's also quite common to see all the different plot twists, where supposed friends were actually enemies, and initial enemies were simply misunderstood friends that make meaningful contributions at the end of the story. Most of the time, I wanted to continue the story progression to determine what happens next. But there were also points near the end where I wanted to stop, because once you're at the end, it's over.

Knowing when something will end changes our perspective, but in life, most things end unexpectedly. How differently might we treat people if we knew it would be the last time we'd see them? That's why there is such importance in respecting "death". Many of us fear it, but to respect the fact that things come to an end should give greater meaning to the time we have. As Derren Brown discussed in his book "Happy", if we lived forever, nothing would matter because you could always do it later. But it's precisely because there is a finite opportunity to do something, it gives it much greater meaning because the opportunity may not return.

Reflection - Was I Brave Enough?

I had a good year, but of course it could always be better. There were things I should have spoken up about which I didn't, but temperance is its own virtue. Without discipline, excessive courage would simply be rashness. Although it is good to act in the face of fear, sometimes your fears are correct in providing caution from acting. An example that we discussed earlier is judging something without evidence. When people jump on a bandwagon and are wrong, are they accountable to themselves? Doesn't seem like it. They just hope it goes away so they don't have to take responsibility. That's the opposite of bravery. If you truly stand up for your beliefs, you also have to stand up to the consequences when you are wrong.

However, it's also important to not apologize if you didn't do anything wrong. After reflecting on the past, I have nothing to apologize for. I did the best with what I had, I tried to make a tough situation better, and I stand by the available evidence. I have no regrets about trying to help others in their lives through badminton, and I will continue to do so with the people that respect my efforts. Bravery requires temperance, because taking action all the time is simply rashness. There's a difference between being disagreeable and confrontational. Be brave enough to disagree, but don't be rash and become confrontational about it. Depending on the situation, sometimes it is better to let a fire burn itself out. Wisdom helps here.

This Year - A Year of Learning and Wisdom

Although you might be wondering why I would dedicate a year to learning after I finish a Master's degree, it's actually quite simple. Now I have a better idea of what I want to learn and skills I want to develop, and I can take the time to develop the skills I'm interested in. This rarely applies when you're in school, as you cover a broad range of topics most of the time, and most of them not all that interesting. For simplicity, we can say that school has given me a lot of knowledge, but I need to develop more experience before it becomes wisdom. However, courage is still required so that I can take proper action and not worry about the small failures that are necessary in developing and acquiring new skills. I'm also looking for new career opportunities and it is both exciting and scary, all at the same time.

I also hope to write a bit more this year. Writing really helps with clarifying my thinking, so I will have to put in the work and minimize the use of large language models (LLMs), which is ironic because we might now be able to get answers faster than we can understand them. But, let's give it a year and I'll get back to you on that.

All the best in 2024!

TLDR Version:

1) Have the courage to create opportunities and learn from feedback, including from mistakes.


2) Keep a beginner's mindset so that you can focus on consistent growth over time instead of competition with others.


3) It's okay to not have an opinion on something you know nothing about.


4) You cannot save people, but you can help them as long as you don't incur a greater loss.


5) Temperance moderates courage to prevent rashness, to allow for the accumulation of wisdom, which is when knowledge and experience combine.

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