Monday, August 9, 2010

Building Mental Toughness

Lewis Pugh, an environmentalist, swimmer, and motivational speaker, recently swam across an ice-cold lake on Mount Everest, the first person ever to do so. Afterwards, he gave a talk at TEDglobal about his experiences and the different challenges that he had to overcome in order to obtain such a difficult feat. He also talks about the environmental aspects of his accomplishment, but I'm less interested in those, and more interested in the mental toughness that it takes to accomplish a mission like this. It's amazing to me the things that people can accomplish when they truly devote all of their energy to a given task. For example, take the ultra-marathon runners in Born to Run. Or Jessica Watson, the 16-yr old Australian girl that sailed around the world. Or Jordan Romero, the 13 yr old Mount Everest climber. Or even the poor family in rural India that continue to survive on a day to day basis. And the list goes on and on.

But what if you don't have that mental toughness? Is it something that naturally comes to someone or is it something that you have to find, nourish, and develop? Although I'm sure there are some natural hereditary aspects, I think a lot of it comes through personal growth and development. It comes through consistent training and development of the mental aspect of any physical change, and this is something that can still be developed, even at a later stage in life.

What's the key to building mental toughness? There are tons of self-proclaimed mental toughness experts that might say this or that, but in my opinion, there are 2 key elements.

1) Small Wins. No one is going to run a marathon, climb mount everest, sail the ocean, or anything else, in a day. Small, consistent wins build mental confidence and ensure the ability to persist in a tough situation.

2) Small wins outside your comfort zone. In the beginning, baby steps are important. But take a baby step outside of your personal level of comfort, and succeed, and it will feel a world's different. Continue to grow and develop (small steps not giant leaps) and eventually you will be on an entire mental ability all together.

By focusing on these two elements, a person's mental toughness and their inner ability to persist, and even thrive, in tough situations will grow tenfold.

(An additional tip that I'm personally a fan of but that doesn't necessarily work for all people is to read stories about others. I love reading and hearing other people's stories about persistence, determination, and mental toughness. It makes me feel that if they can do it, then I can to.)

Friday, August 6, 2010

America's 5 step plan

Jeffrey Sachs, considered by many to be one of the top economists of our time, recently wrote a Financial Times editorial on what he believed to be the solution to America's current issues. He initiates his solutions by first criticizing American politicians (Democrats and Republics both) for having a very short-term vision for financial stability. He says that while Americans were exhausted from a decade of over spending on consumer items, the government promoted more spending (i.e. on cars and houses). Contrarily, the government needed to promote long-term, sustainable growth, as opposed to a quick, rapid turnaround. According to Sachs, by focusing on investments for the long-term, instead of a focus on short-term consumer buys, the US and the west will get back to a time of sustained development.

He continues on to lay out his 5 step plan as to how the US can get back to this focus of long-term, sustainable investments.

Step 1) This has been mentioned many times before, but a continued focus on investment in clean energy, and the upgrading of a new national power grid. Instead of using the cap and trade system (or emission trading) that has been talked about before, Sachs suggests to use guaranteed clean energy price subsidies that will be financed through rising carbon taxes.

Step 2) A 10-yr program of infrastructure redevelopment. Things such as new high-speed rail systems, new water and waste treatment facilities, and new highways should be the focus. This should be financed with a combination of contributions from the Federal government, local governments, and private institutions.

Step 3) Higher public spending for education. And not at the elementary level as others have mentioned, but rather at the secondary, vocation, and bachelor degree levels. This is to re-teach individuals that have been struck hard by unemployment, and to train and develop the younger generation for the future.

Step 4) Boost infrastructure exports to Africa and other developing countries. I'm not sure how significant of an impact this would make but Sachs believes that there are huge benefits to be had, such as increased exports, increased African development, and increased international goodwill and stability.

Step 5) A 5-yr plan to reduce the budget deficit to sustainable levels. He lists a couple ways to do this like cutting defense cuts by leaving Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as cutting back on weapons development. He also includes increasing taxes on Wall Street profits and bonuses, and high-end marginal tax rates, and potentially even adding a value added tax.

Although in theory this 5-step plan seems like an accurate way for America to get back on the growth plan, I don't think the implementation of this plan is realistic. Party politics plays too large of a role in the American economy, and with parties continually changing every 2 years, it's hard to come up with a 5 or 10 year plan to revitalize America. That being said, if the US doesn't get over party politics and look, together, towards the future, then it's only a matter of time until we'll all be looking back together saying "What if?" and more importantly, "What now?"

Monday, August 2, 2010

The LA Public Transport Dilemna

I recently read an article the other day about the Los Angeles public transportation system - it went something along the lines of, "Public transport in LA is horrible, and needs to be fixed". Yes, very informative indeed. I think at this point the citizens of LA have either decided that public transport needs to be fixed immediately or that public transport is unnecessary, and that driving cars is sufficient. But for one of the largest cities in the world, with one of the largest tourist revenues, to not have an adequate public transportation system is absolutely ludicrous. Bangkok, Jakarta, and Tokyo all have larger populations, just as large of a city, and are still able to implement at least a basic, rudimentary transit system. LA doesn't even have that. The worst part isn't even that LA doesn't have a transit system, but that the city doesn't even seem to be trying. There have been talks about developing a new metro system, but due to budget issues, those plans continue to be pushed further back and don't seem to be happening anytime soon. For one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world, the lack of accessible public transportation is highly disappointing.

Ok, ok so LA has a bad public transit system, but it's never had a good transit system, so why get mad now? Well, I recently read a report about a new, green public transit concept in Beijing. A virtual double decker bus that will ride literally on top of the current freeway system. Huh? Yeah, I was confused too. Imagine a double decker train, with the entire first level hollowed out, so that previous traffic can still continue. They're calling it a "straddling bus".


To top all that, the entire bus (or train, or whatever you want to call it) will run on only electric and solar energy, will be able to hit speeds upwards of 60 km/hr, and will be able to carry approximately 1200 to 1400 passengers. And that's not even my favorite part. How long will the entire thing take to develop? 1 YEAR!! Los Angeles couldn't even produce a blueprint for a standard bus system in one corner of one part of town in one year, yet alone develop a brand-new, paradigm-shifting system such as the one that Beijing will shortly be implementing.

And after all that, people still wonder if the future is really in Asia or not...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Could Facebook become its own nation?

I recently read an article in the Economist that tried to compare Facebook to a sovereign government. It says that Facebook, if it were considered a nation, would have the third-largest population in the world, behind only India and China. After the population comparison though, the similarities begin to dissipate. Facebook has no police force, no actual physical land to defend, no rights for citizens, and so on. But it’s an interesting idea nonetheless.

201030IRC860.gifThere have been arguments in the past that as the future moves on, people will no longer-be governed by contemporary governments, but rather by multi-national corporations. These corporations will become so vast and so powerful, that they essentially will control what governments say, creating their own set of preferences in place of what the government already has. Let's take Google and China for example. If Google was able to influence enough change in China in order to get China to minimize their censorship, then one could say that Google has larger influence over Chinese government than China themselves. This would only be in one particular aspect of governmental rule, but the fact of the situation still remains the same. Of course, this is a far way away, but there are still other circumstances in which this could be applied.

Let’s get back to Facebook. The Economist article also mentions a discussion that British Prime Minister David Cameron and Mark Zuckerberg recently had (check it out here). Recently-appointed Cameron wanted to create more transparency and more citizenry participation into his new government, and he was consulting with Zuckerberg on how Facebook can contribute to this. The potential implications could be massive. What if voting no longer took place in the polls, but on Facebook itself? What if you could have real-time discussions, with people on the other side of the country, as people vote? This is of course years away but Facebook is one of the few available platforms in which such wide-ranging discussion could realistically occur and actually make an impact.

And this wouldn’t be this first time that Facebook has played a role in politics. After all, Facebook, among with the rest of it’s social networking brethren, was one of the main reasons that Obama became elected. Without Facebook as a platform to unite a major foundation of Obama supporters, it would have been interesting to see if Obama would have been able to create the success that he did.

There is one major advantage that Facebook, Google, and other multi-nationals have: how do you defend against them? If any of these corporations get that big, then how can a sovereign nation defend their agenda from the overpowering influence of these corporations? They could try to block them, only enraging the public, human right’s activists, and a plethora of other people and organizations. There isn’t really an adequate “defense”, meaning that as Facebook gets bigger and bigger, so does it’s influence over government. So although Facebook might never become a sovereign nation, it, for all intents and purposes, could have more power than one.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Next Emerging Market: China's Porn Industry

Ok, so I realize that this might come off as a joke, but I'm actually slightly serious about this. There was a recent article that I came across that said that some internet porn sites have started to become accessible in China. The article itself is pretty funny, with people mentioning that they happened to "stumble" across the sites, and that they surely weren't users or anything. There was even "a 29-year-old employee at a state-owned logistics company who did not want to be identified because he surfs for porn on business trips." How dare him!! But really, what does this actually mean for China? Most stats for the porn industry are rather vague, there are some interesting one that could be an indicator:

· According to Nielsen net ratings, more than a quarter of Internet users accessed an adult Web site in January 2010.

· America's porn industry is worth an estimated $14 billion.

· 72% of porn viewers are men (I so would have thought this was higher).

· There are about 300 million internet users in China, with a population of 1.3 billion, 670 million of which are male.

If China starts incrementally allowing access to porn sites, this could have a great financial, as well as cultural effect on China. First, the financial impact seems more or less obvious. A lot of people + a lot of porn = a lot of money (yes, American education is truly spectacular). The cultural effects are less obvious. The first question that comes to mind is this: If restrictions are reduced on porn, then could they be reduced on other things as well? Could this lead to a potential change in the Chinese government's monitoring of the internet? If so, the human right's implications are momentous. The availability of information, whether its political, economical, or whatever else, could potentially lead to a different society altogether. It could open up a complete new avenue for bloggers, news sites, evangelists, etc, which in turn would also lead to greater access for marketers, advertisers, businesses, and so on. This could also lead to greater opportunities with international organizations. For example, imagine if Google didn't have to worry about censorship issues. This would, of course, take some time to fully develop, but the impact is still clear.

As this story develops, it will be interesting to see if this is a one-time occurrence, or if this will lead to a changing of the tide for China. After all, as one individual commented in the original article, "The more they restrict something, the more people pay attention." And if China feels that the internet is too open anyway and that restriction just isn't working, then who knows what could happen.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Earlier today, I was spending some time with my 6-year old niece, when an interesting thought came across my mind. I asked her what she wanted to be when she grows up, and her eyes beamed, a huge smile filled her face, and she shouted - "Makeup artist!" "Aaaahh yes, makeup artist, of course!" was the thought that filled my mind. And then I remembered a moment in first grade when I was asked to write about the same question. My answer was, with as much enthusiasm as my little niece, "professional football player!". Later, I wanted to be a doctor. Then a lawyer. Then I wanted to get in real estate. Then I wanted to be a sports agent. Then a recruiter. And well, now, I want to be an economist. Now that I think about it, I wonder how many times I've actually been asked that question - it's definitely way too many to count.

In society, especially American society, people are constantly pushed to look for the future. What do you want to do? Why? How will you get there? Will it be worth it when you get there? Are you sure when you get there, that that's really where you want to be? Starting in Kindergarten and asked every step of the way thereafter, these questions are always swarming the thoughts of growing minds. For some people, they pick a direction early in life and develop their entire life around that direction. For others, they don't decide until later in life, and some, maybe never at all. And of course, it's never solely a personal decision. It's a decision and a thought process that is influenced by hundreds of different outside sources - friends, family, tv, internet, etc.

Personally, I think Steve Jobs said it best in his Stanford graduation speech, which you can see here. Jobs speaks about how earlier in his life he was unsure of where he wanted to go or what he wanted to do - he hadn't picked his direction yet. He dabbled in this, including trying acid and living on an ashram in India, and tried out that, but none of it seemed to fit. In his speech, he says how looking back on his life, the path that he created for himself all seems to makes sense, but when he was younger, he had no idea the path that would form. Rather than create a plan, follow that plan, and execute that plan, which is what is told to millions of college graduates nationwide, he says to connect the dots looking backward. To, essentially, do what you want to do now, and then eventually everything will fall in to place.

So as many of my recent college graduates, myself included, continue to debate their futures, it's important to remember that as valuable as thinking about the future may be, it's more important to not lose focus on what you're doing now. And, lastly, as important as some might say it is to create a plan and follow that plan, I say do what Emerson said -

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

1 year blogging hiatus

Wow. It's been quite a while since I wrote a post on this blog. In fact, a lot has happened since my last post May 28, 2009. First, I graduated college - Woohoo! I think spent a month lying around my parent's house contemplating life and my future. I decided that the only rational thing to do was to continue that contemplating on the other side of the world in Australia, where I spent a month traveling from Sydney up the coast to Brisbane. Unfortunately, or fortunately, at this point I still had no idea as to where my future was headed, but I did have a slightly clearer picture than before. I knew that I wanted to go and teach abroad. There were many reasons for this, but the bottom line was that it was something that I am very interested in, it was something that I had the time and the availability to do, and lastly, it was something that financially was both reliable and rewarding. So, with that in mind, I embarked on an 8-month teaching English in Thailand adventure - which I jumped to a different blog to document After two months of semi-violent protests, 8 months of nocturnal parties, and hours of pondering later (o, and actually teaching), I finally arrived back in the US.

And that's that - a year in a paragraph. What next? Well, another month at home spending time with the family, then off to continue my education (definitely nothing to do with pushing off the real world). I do want to continue writing about Generation Y and careers, but I also want to expand this blog and additionally being to discuss larger economic and political issues as well. Ideally, the point will come when these two seemingly disparate ideas are able to merge together, but until that point, it's good to be back!