A life guided by "Yes"

Reasons why life should always have more yeses than nos.

As I get older and hopefully wiser, I begin to think a lot about the philosophical foundation that people knowingly or unknowingly live by. The sort of foundation that influences how we see, think and react to the world is something that we often don’t question because it comes naturally — but it is nevertheless interesting.

The perspectives we all individually hold are all different. Even the perception we have of ourselves is different from how others perceive us. Similarly, there are no two people in the world that views you the exact same. I find that fascinating.

And so, when I look back and do a retro on what value or foundation that essentially guided me to the present, I took a step back and really thought about it. But like most things, everything is much simpler than I initially thought. My life philosophy I’m about to bestow upon you (aha) is not that complex and truth be told, it is probably not that original. But again, something to nibble on.

For myself, I try to wake up every day and live by the philosophy that:

Life should always have more yeses than nos.

Why? Because of many reasons — many of which I’ll probably not have a chance to write about in detail here but I got my top four.

1. Minimizing regret.

The idea of “minimizing regret” is relatively simple: if I want to do it and if I will regret not doing it in the future then I should do it. Whether it is asking a girl out on a date, starting a company or even just eating that delicious Big Mac combo at 3 o’clock in the morning, I use this “minimizing regret” guide as the bedrock to a lot of my life decisions — big or small.

I didn’t one day wake up with this thought and decided to forever integrate it into my underpinning decision-making process. The credit goes to nonetheless the one-and-only Jeff Bezos. He coined this philosophy “The Regret Minimization Framework” and I love it.

I knew that when I was 80 I was not going to regret having tried this. I was not going to regret trying to participate in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a really big deal. I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not ever having tried. — Jeff Bezos

Aly Juma wrote a medium blog post about Bezo’s perspective so definitely go check that out when you get the chance.

I like the concept not because it makes me run away from all the real responsibilities this unforgiving world has bestowed upon me as an adult but because it makes me ask the question “why the f*ck not?”. As vulgar as that sounds, I find asking myself “why the f*ck not” has been essential to me growing as a person. Why the f*ck not ask the girl of your dreams out? Why the f*ck not ride an alligator? Why the f*ck not?

It’s probably important to note that you don’t have to add “f*ck” in your framework but it definitely adds that extra kick.

And sure, things don’t always work out in our favour — I get it. Your crush might crush your heart and the alligator might bite your feet off. I really do get it. But here’s another way of looking at it — when I’m in my death bed about to walk towards the light, I’m not going to regret having done the things I have done or gloom over the risks I have taken (unless the risk was what got me in the death bed but let’s not worry about that). What I’m going to regret is not doing the things I wanted to do when I wanted to do them. A life of regret is something I fear — and something I aim to minimize.

Because why the f*ck not?

2. Grow your box.

When I was a kid, I realized that the world was very keen on stereotypes and categorizing individuals. People love to generalize people and put them in a box. You do this so you must be that. And maybe it’s my emphatically large ego, I hated being defined and placed in a metaphorical box.

And this hatred of the box was born at a pretty young age. In elementary school, I played for every sports team that was available. From basketball to track, baseball to wrestling, you name it I played it. I even did cross-country when I had a bad case of asthma. Because I was so into sports, a lot of my classmates and even teachers just assumed I was dumb. So I took the extra effort, studied and made sure I did well academically. And also became the captain of our school’s checker’s club four years in a row. I’m not going to even try to be subtle, I’m definitely bragging aha.

But jokes aside — as I got older, I realized that society will always try to put you in a box. I get it. It’s human nature. My goal is not to change that normal human behaviour but to just make it hard for people to define my box.

I’m an Asian male in tech who goes to the University of Waterloo and spends most of his time in Silicon Valley building apps. I’m not sure how familiar you (the reader) might be with this particular industry but the point is — I’m not what you call an anomaly in the space.

So I make an effort to get out of my “box” — both physically and mentally. Whether it is travelling to odd and far out places, questioning why I am doing the things I am doing, or simply just getting out of my comfort zone, I actively aim to do the most random of things and go on impromptu adventures.

And in the end, even if I don’t enjoy the consequences of my spontaneity, usually I can get a chuckle or two out of it.

For my nerds out there, another way of looking at the concept of “growing your box” is by looking at it as if your life was just a very complex and large neural network. Every different thing that you do is like an input layer (i.e. layer 1) which will result in unique experiences (i.e. hidden layer) and from that, you produce an output layer which will be more sophisticated with more input layers.

In other words, the increased variations of input layers will cultivate a more refined neural network. Similarly, the more diverse your life experiences may be, the more sophisticated you as a person will become.

I might have completely butchered this neural network analogy but hey, you get the point.

And my idea of growing out of your box is not to encourage you to just do random things to get your mom worried nor is it for your friends to call you a weirdo.

The point of “growing out your box” is to 1) question what you are actively doing and not doing, and 2) to not place yourself in a metaphorical box.

You are ultimately in control of your life.

3. Content but not comfortable.

Probably my favourite life quote yet. Content, as in to always be happy with where you are and what got — but not comfortable, as in to never stop challenging yourself to thrive.

I believe what makes this world so interesting is the fact that it is so big and filled with adventures waiting for you and me to discover. And with adventures, there will always be challenges. Sometimes, the challenges come to you and sometimes, you have to seek them out but it is those challenges that keep our lives from being mundane.

Unexpected challenges like your parent’s declining health are not things you can control and probably not something you eagerly await to overcome but challenges, like starting a business, mastering a new sport or going to a party when you’re borderline anti-social, are things within your control. And ultimately, these challenges often start with saying “yes”.

And this area is where I’ll admit that I’m quite privileged.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have been raised in a ridiculously supportive family. My dad was a businessman who somehow turned a corner store into a coffee shop, department store and travel visa centre — all in one. My mom was behind him all the way. Maybe that was also why we were always broke aha.

And so I grew up with the idea that if I wanted to go out on a limb and do something different, my family will have my back. In high school, I started a t-shirt printing business, sold Chinese knock-off watches, and held some kickass parties — for $5 per person. It was definitely a fun time.

And these were all different little challenges I was able to carry out that helped me prepare for bigger challenges as I got older. And I can’t thank my loved ones enough for that.

The main point here is to not only challenge yourself on the daily but to, more importantly, surround yourself with people who can challenge you.

I’ve been lucky to have found a great group of friends who are incredibly proactive in my life. I can’t stress the importance of having a strong group of friends enough because every so often, some of the challenges one will face in life — whether expected or unexpected, may be too big for one to bear on our own. It’s also more fun to do things with friends — am I right or am I right? Rhetorical. I am right.

On a serious note, when I look back at my lowest points in my very naive and early adult years, it was my close friends who picked me up and carried me forward. It was them who decided that they weren’t going to let me be comfortable laying on the floor — and I firmly believe that everyone’s mission should be to find friends like them.

I joke about it sometimes but I owe them my life.

Be content with what you have and grateful where you are but don’t settle for mediocrity. There is no shame in being satisfied with what you have now but it is doing yourself and the world a disservice if you don’t challenge yourself to reach your full potential.

4. Life is short.

Our lives are interesting because we are essentially operating on a countdown timer. Every second we use contemplating to do something or regretting why we didn’t is every second we lose — and can never get back.

As people, we constantly dread over events in the past and wish things happened differently. I’m absolutely no different. But knowing that I might leave the face of this earth at any time makes my decision-making process a heck of a lot easier. We often joke around that death is the only thing that is guaranteed in the world but it’s a truth that the earlier we accept, the earlier we can start truly living our lives.

My number of daily “yeses’ in life increased exponentially when I created two decision buckets in my mind; one bucket is for issues that I will still worry about if the doctor said I was dying in a month and the other bucket is for issues that I will not care about.

Obviously, life decisions and situations are a little bit more complex than two mental buckets but the better we get at differentiating them the more decisive we can be — thus more time we save. Bam. Efficiency. The reality is that we are operating on a limited timeline and the more we plague ourselves with the little stuff, the less time we get to live.

Life is as complicated as we want to make it and as simple as we want to see it.

And everyone’s life will always have inconvenient situational circumstances, responsibilities, and resource limitations and that is a shitty but real reality. But saying more “yeses” doesn’t mean that we must ignore them. Saying more “yeses” means that we take more appropriate and proactive steps to optimize what we as individuals want to do and grow. It has to start somewhere.

If there is anything you can take away from this little blog post is that next time an opportunity or interest presents itself in front of you, ask yourself why the f*ck not. If the reason to not do it is not sufficient then buckle up and say yes.

Thanks for reading.