Millennial ENTP struggles

Read all posts about being an ENTP

As a female ENTP, I am a reasonably uncommon breed. It’s not that I think that Myers-Briggs cracked some super important code – I don’t believe the “science” behind it, it’s a little horoscopy, but it is consistent – and they managed to describe certain things with impressive precision. It has been described elsewhere, but I will keep calling it ENTP for clarity.

Having millennial restlessness superimposed on ENTP-ness is tough. In a world where doing one thing really well gets rewarded exponentially well, it’s also scary. I remember being a medical student and shadowing teams in St. James’ Hospital. After a difficult thyroid surgery, I was waiting for the next case and observing the wonderful Professor T., a well-known Dublin Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) surgeon, reading the newspaper in between two surgeries. I was wondering what he was thinking.

I just imagined life as an ENT surgeon: day in and day out taking out tonsils, resecting thyroids and realigning nasal septa – by choice!

I don’t think I could do it. Thank God there are people who can. I respect it hugely and I fully understand we need it. Indeed, if he was even more specialised – and only ever did tonsils, let’s say, that would be even better for the patients. But what would it be like for him? How can one continue to find new facets to something like a standard surgery? He didn’t strike me as the type who couldn’t wait to go home. There must have been something there for him that was clearly missing for me.I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was Barbara Sher reviewAs you know, I have a strong dislike for self-help books. However, one of my favourite social media personalities (she’s Russian, so she may not be super interesting to the reader), reads Barbara Sher and specifically recommended a book called I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was. The name did resonate with me. I never thought that a book like this would interest Maria. Maria left her job in – I think – publishing soon after she started to found her own beauty business. She’s married to a serial entrepreneur. Together they make an impressive couple: I think they started with quite little and now they’re running a few interesting ventures – and there’re babies everywhere. It would seem that she knows exactly what she wants. Apparently not.

Once again, it reminds me of how pointless it is making inferences about other people’s lives. Anyway, I am currently reading the book.

It’s not as cringy as I had expected. I skipped a few chapters that seem to bear no connection to me. However, Chapter 6 relates directly to ENTPs, without calling them that.

Sher describes people who want to try everything, to understand how everything works, who feel that by dedicating oneself to X, you are tragically missing out on Y.

Sher argues that our biggest problem here is the belief that there is very little time to do everything, hence, we hysterically push ourselves into a niche hoping that it will fit. I completely agree that that’s true. At the same time, while Mrs. Sher may have an interesting point, I wonder how it related to the exact opposite point made by the Stoics. They argued that one of the worst things you can do is assume that there’s lots of time.

I think the resolution of this dilemma is obvious. Advice is meaningless without context. It’s like those men who teach about business always say: Never underestimate your opponent. For this advice to be useful for me, I have to multiply it by -1. Never overestimate your opponent. [Obviously there are limitations here, but it is a more useful heuristic given my world view.] The bottom line is that it’s impossible to know the beliefs and assumptions of your readers. That’s why therapy works, but self-help books don’t. It’s all in the context.

If you’re reading this and you are an ENTP kind of person, don’t think that time is completely against you. I think we are prone to be hyperaware of some realities like the merciless passage of time – but we get stupefied by lists and all of these endless techniques on how to get organised. We’re already organised. We’re not distracted. We’re aware of the dangers of endless distraction. However, banning ourselves from pursuing them is just against our nature.

With this in mind, Sher recommends to write out the 10 lives that you will you could live. My list includes that of a retail investor, a philosopher, a psychiatrist, a blogger, a painter among others. Her argument is powerful: look at the list and see what can be done in 20 minutes a day – or just occasionally. I underlined this:

“Don’t dedicate yourself to poetry. Write poems.”

This thought was also brought up in a different context in Steven Pressfield’s War of Art and the less interesting Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. As it stands, I already feel a lot of pressure from society to be able to say “I am X.” A doctor, a management consultant, a journalist – whatever. It makes no sense to add to this pressure by imposing my own restrictions. Furthermore, most of the time, it’s just a way to romanticise what one’s doing. If I like it, I will do it. Labels just aren’t for ENTPs. Of course, it’s not just ENTPs. Richard Branson and Elon Musk don’t have to explain their meandering interests to anyone – because they’ve already won.

In a world that likes to label people, it takes courage – and yields tremendous benefit to remain unlabelled.

If you are an ENTP, or this feels like the story of your life – leave a comment – let’s be friends ❤

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Relentless transparency

Small business entrepreneurship is a tough game, especially if you are being yourself and trying to create something that is genuinely of value to other people, not reselling iPhone covers or slimming pills.

One of the reasons it’s tough for me is that I don’t come from an environment where there are lot of entrepreneurs. In fact, it is kind of daunting that I am veering from the expected path. The internet is great in that it helps to find a lot of people, but it requires a lot of work to find the really great people.

One day quite a long time ago I came across a lovely lady who is super genuine. She has become somewhat of a role model. Her credo is relentless transparency. Sounds a bit like Ray Dalio’s radical transparency – and it’s as good through in an entirely different context. Her name is Jessi Kneeland.

She was then a fabulous fitness coach who showed the exact right techniques for the plank etc – I found her during my own HIIT love affair. She really stood out as she talked about fitness in the context of women’s lives. It seems that fitness is just one method for someone to work on their context – which seems to be what really interests Jessi. It seems like she’d been contemplating this risky yet perfectly brave and – in my opinion – right transition: she is going into being a coach who advises women digging way beyond the surface in issues like body image, anxiety, etc. She, in keeping with her transparency framework, is super honest about her own life. She shares her own lessons and stories rather than giving people a 7-step plan to unadulterated happiness for $99. Reading to her emails is a bit like reading a novel, only it’s real. It also lacks the sickening “think positively” aspect that many people in that space shovel. The fact that it is so uniquely female scared me at first, I steer clear of the man-hating vibe, but there’s none of that with Jessi. To anyone reading, male or female, have a look at Jessi’s Instagram or better yet join her email list to understand some of the problems women deal with but don’t usually talk about.

In a broader context, I think Jessi’s success can largely be put down to the way she uniquely combined hardcore fitness with a vulnerable but brilliantly feisty honest female vibe. I imagine it was super scary for her to open up that way to people on the internet. She’s the only person I’ve ever come across online who talks about the ugly stuff without being anonymous or distancing herself from it. Even her photos. I wonder if she’d ever thought: “What if my old English teacher finds this picture of me doing the warrior pose in a unflattering light that accentuates my cellulite?” These kind of thoughts bother me a lot – not that I am in this space, but the logic remains. The landing page of MailChimp currently says: “Being yourself makes all the difference.” It’s certainly the case with Jessi. She’s a real asset to the online world. I admire her bravery a lot and can’t recommend her enough.

There are of course ways of being an entrepreneur without making it so personal. However, the fact that being yourself is so valuable gives the rest of the community the confidence we sometimes really need.

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What the internet will look like in 10 years

Only about 40% of the world’s population have an internet connection today. The largest group are the Chinese with 0.72 bn users, but only 52% penetrance (i.e. only 52% of the Chinese population have access to the internet). With that, certain services are off-limits to ordinary Chinese people. The countries with the highest penetrance include rich European countries such as Iceland and Denmark (it’s cold and dark outside – so no wonder). Interestingly, the English speaking world – US, UK, Australia and so on – hover around 80-90%. This means, in Ireland for example, 1 in 5 people aren’t online. I find that hard to believe. [Source: Internet Live Stats]

As the internet becomes cheaper and more accessible, we are likely to see large influxes of users from India and China. With a population in India of nearly 1.4 bn the penetrance is only 35%. Indonesia, Brazil and Pakistan also have huge populations with relatively low penetrance.

While it would seem obvious that there is a huge part of the internet that I have never seen, I wonder what way the online world will change as more people join. Without any judgement on whether it is good or bad, the internet that I know is dominated by white English speaking people. I am also familiar with the Russian province of the web – it is much like the English one, only in Russian. They also lack certain services, such as eBay, etc. However, they replaced it with their own homegrown analogues.

The Economist recently said that for those who spend a lot of time in both China and the West, using online services from the West in like going back in time. WeChat is something else apparently. Musically is another Chinese creation and has taken the West by storm.

I wonder what the internet will be like in 10 years. I think there will be even more video – including through VR. My cousin recently came back from holidays and instead of showing me photos – showed me a bunch of 360 video clips. Video is taking over the world. In my own experience of Facebook advertising, the cost of a video ad versus a text ad is out by at least a factor of magnitude. I think that the West will lose some of it’s domination over the internet. If the next Facebook is from somewhere like Shanghai, it’ll be very interesting. It sounds silly, but the only thing that has really taken over the West that isn’t Western is Pokemon – at least in my echo chamber. The fact that it is so popular is a net gain for all of us. It carries with it a culture and a philosophy that’s a bit different. We’re a smaller population than India and China, so our network effect isn’t as strong. Having said that, there is not only freedom of speech – but freedom of what we choose to hear on the internet. A great example of this was seeing the reaction of those who though that Brexit and Trump were impossible. While the internet does result in what Taleb called a monoculture, it still allows for resonant echo chambers. Good or bad, they are a natural way to segment the internet. Probably though, more internet will mean more globalisation.

There will come a point when the internet will be replaced by something related, a bit like home phones and TVs were replaced by smartphones and social media. I wonder what way VR will come into our lives. Perhaps, I will be sitting in a set of slick glasses walking around a virtual Prado as my driverless car is going… Actually, I wonder where it will be going if I can get anywhere through VR and drones can deliver everything else to me.

what the internet will look like in 10 years

Fear kills creativity

Fear of failure comes in many different guises. For me, it is mostly the fear of being left all alone – abandoned, rejected, etc. I feel that most of my friends are conservative – not politically, but just in a first principles way – this is how we do things, and that’s it. For example, you can believe in all kinds of liberal values and still be set in your ways. True open-mindedness is incredibly rare.

It’s especially difficult to be creative when you have a lot of fear – especially fear that your work will be judged. Creativity only blossoms when we’re not in immediate danger. Fearing for one’s sense of self may as well be danger. I now understand why creatives get depressed reading comments. A thousand positive comments can be spoilt by one negative one.

I can’t even remember where I heard this, but someone has a rule: if this person – who just rejected me – isn’t going to cry at my funeral, their opinion doesn’t matter.

In a world interconnected by the internet and propagated so strongly by social validation, it is especially tough to constantly remind oneself to not care of what other’s think. I wonder if we would have ever known about people like Nietzsche and Schopenhauer if they did their work in an environment such as today’s. It is hard not to be tempted pander to the crowd when social media allows one to reach a wide audience through certain tricks with timing, the right content format (e.g. video seems to be taking over the world in 2016), etc.

I also have a fear of someone I know from ages ago googling me – and finding, well, I don’t know, this. With a name like mine, it’ll be a tough job telling them it’s some other woman, God only know who she is… And that they will think that this is nonsense. That this isn’t what I should be doing. Maybe my millennial hopping from area to area isn’t at all bad – I just feel that it is because I fear being judged. By who though?

There are two types of people: those who create and those who comment. Being yourself requires so much bravery. At the same time, what is the point of living if you’re not going to be yourself. If my friends aren’t going to like what I make, I will find a way to make friends with the people who do.

fear kills creativity

Time, Socrates and Taleb

N.N. Taleb has to be one of my favourite thinkers of our time. He has taken uncertainty – the root of all evil to so many people – and mathematically explained why it’s not such a bad things at all. In fact, in certain circumstances, we can benefit from uncertainty by being what he calls antifragile. WordPress just underlined this word in red, which is disappointing. It’s a concept that should spread widely.

He sometimes posts one liners on Facebook that then generate a lot of discussion. His most recent:

“The tragedy of our time is the monoculture of ideas: all ‘thinkers’ are forced to believe the same bullshit.”

Not that I am trying to meta-prove him wrong, but I disagree. It’s not the tragedy of our time. It has almost certainly always been that way. Ever since I first heard Socrates talking about youth, I’ve been highly sceptical of any remarks that proclaim that our time is somehow unique. Arguably one of the most powerful minds of all times said:

“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”

It’s quite fascinating really. You’d swear he was talking about the kids now – with their latest iPads. However, he said this sometime during 5th century BC.

It would be too sweeping a statement to say that nothing ever changes, but it’s fair to say that human nature remains fairly constant – which is what Taleb’s comment is addressing. I don’t think that that’s a pedantic reason to disagree with him. I think we’re so prone to see ourselves as unique and special that we forget to learn from history.

UPDATE: So I left a brief comment to this effect on Taleb’s post; my first time to do so. And then – he replied! He replied to only 2 comments of over a hundred (the other one exposed him as a Russian spy), so I feel a bit like the sensei at the top of the mountain talked back. His comment was: Globalisation. That’s an interesting take on it. On top of globalisation, there is also the internet – so the monoculture gets even stronger. I guess there is an interesting point arising out of this discussion: our propensity for herd mentality is made even worse by the internet. 

It’s difficult to meaningfully stand out when the way to get heard is through the network effect.

human nature doesn't change

Confessions of a career-switching millennial

I seem to never be able to shake the feeling that I am not doing what I should be doing. I always try to look for the lead domino – the most important thing I should be doing. I haven’t reached that extreme where I am stopped by perfectionism. I am aware of this trait and cognitively, I understand that done is better than perfect.

However, even when I am doing things – I nearly always feel that the part of my brain that is meta-analysing: is this really what I should be doing? What is the opportunity cost? What am I missing out on by being here? Obviously, when part of my RAM is taken up like this, I am less functional. In addition, it is quite the saboteur: it kills motivation.

confessions of a confused millenial

I am also very familiar with how it is possible to get nowhere fast. Execute brilliantly, get a brilliant result – but not the right result. It’s like not being quite sure where you are sailing to, working hard to get to a good place, arriving at a beautiful tropical island only to realise that you’re allergic to everything on it.

I’ve always envied the people who didn’t struggle with this. However, at this point I realise that many of them oversimplified their problems. Engaging with uncertainty – including the uncertainty of one’s own mind is optional. A lot of the people who have this seemingly inalienable clarity simply ran away from uncertainty and are blissfully ignorant in their cocoon.

In a sense, I’ve experienced this clarity myself – I’ve always known where I wanted to live and that I want certain people around. These things always appeared kind of black and white to me – of course, I oversimplified. However, there’s a significant difference here: you can generally move quite easily. You can build new relationships relatively quickly too. And the thing that you dedicate your life to – that has a big lead time on it. It is also subject to a compounding effect. People who spend long periods of time doing something specific almost inevitably become exceptional at it. This also kind of means that if you don’t commit to one thing – you will never be quite good at anything. It’s a scary thought for any millennial.

As a millennial, I have already switched a couple of very different jobs – being a doctor, working in management consulting, a start-up, diverse small business projects – and I often do many of these things at the same time. The reason for switching was never a failure of any sort. What was it?

I think part of the reason is a kind of insatiable curiosity about real life. With formal education now taking not all out 20 years – and in my case it was very intense formal education, I have a feeling like there is so much out there I haven’t seen. I feel compelled to try things. Perhaps, I only have this insight due to the education I’ve received. I’m not quite sure.

Another reason was the feeling that something is missing. It always feels like I should have more ownership – and to be really able to put all my weight behind a project. Perhaps that’s why it feels like there has to be the one thing that I will do.

Things aren’t as I expected: being a doctor is quite different to how most people imagine it to be. What makes an office job good or bad also came as a complete surprise. Entrepreneurship isn’t something I considered remotely interesting, in fact I hadn’t considered it full stop when I was younger – it wasn’t quite as glamourised back then. Again – it turned out completely different to how I imagined it. As I keep learning that the only way to figure whether I will like doing something is to try it -how can I resist wanting to try it? This approach is congruent with the way traditional advertising doesn’t work with millennials: we have learnt not to trust what we’re told – at least in certain circumstances – and instead we rely on social proof, the next best thing after trying it yourself.

I think a lot of people prefer the comfort of certainty to the dangers of this journey – hence they stick with the thing they know. Why is it though that things aren’t as I expected? I doubt I am the only one. There seem to be a lot of informational asymmetries and a huge amount of erroneous preconceptions when it comes to younger people deciding what they will do. I know this because I am in touch with many of them in my education project. I wish we could dispel the myths that surround certain activities. At the same time, I know it’s impossible for a variety of real world reasons.

I guess we live in an age where the barriers of moving between careers are low enough so that those who want to brave those seas can do so, but high enough that we can’t quite see what we are getting into – so the only way to find out remains through experimentation.

UPDATE: Literally, minutes after posting this, I randomly ended up on LinkedIn – where I saw a chap I remembered from school change career. He’s one of the most intelligent people I know. He just went from M&A lawyer in a top firm to an iOs developer – also in a top firm. I think I know what’s on his mind.

why do millennials switch careers

The dangers of laser-like focus

Passion and focus are spoken about all the time. “You have to be passionate about what you’re doing, or it’s not right for you.” All the heroes of our time – mostly in tech – are known for their relentless focus on their passion. It probably culminates in the now near-mythological figure that is Steve Jobs.

the dangers of focus

I am highly distractible, but when it came to something I consider important – I’ve always been the kind of person who locks on – and that’s it. A certain degree of fanaticism was involved in many of the projects I pursued. When I was a medical student, the rest of the world didn’t exist outside of medicine. When I did HIIT, I really did it – stars in my eyes and all. Even this – I said I would blog every day.

In my experience, it’s a double edged sword. Focus is always avoiding the completeness of the present moment. We trade awareness for a hope of a better future. It’s still puzzling to me how one can be purely mindful and make plans, but our culture certainly tells us to make lots of them – and don’t forget the assorted to-do lists to go with it.

Even forgetting about mindfulness, focus is dangerous: focus on the wrong thing – and it’s a real problem. I’ve obsessed about the things that most girls obsess about: boys, weight, nice things. I am in my 20s, so it’s quite forgivable. Still, having the kind of personality that locks onto things, it’s tough to get out of a focus-rut once you are in it. It’s not OCD, but the word tormenting seems appropriate. My only medicine for this has been mindfulness – or a rude awakening from the real world. I much prefer the former.

For those of us who are super-focused, or those reading all of this advice to be laser-focused and wishing that they could be like that, remember that it comes at a price.

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