Three Life Lessons From: My first job

When I graduated from school, I had no clue what my occupation would be. I spent six months applying to 30+ jobs in software before getting one interview.

While I was applying, I worked part time as a waiter at a local restaurant. I learned some valuable things there:

1. A transaction is an exchange of value, but value comes in many forms. In a restaurant, a customer pays for more than food. They pay to relax. They pay to choose what they want. Or, they pay to not need to choose. They pay to feel empowered. This lesson is important because I am now more open-minded about why people pay for things. People don’t just pay for a widget. They get value from how that widget makes them feel.

2. Empathy leads to a glass half full perspective. Opening my first wine bottle at a table was the most nerve-wracking thing ever. My hands shook as I spilled wine on the table. Another time, I tripped while walking a tray of water glasses out to the patio. The whole thing drenched a man with his kids. But in both cases, instead of responding with anger, the customers gave empathy. They were patient and understanding. They didn’t dig their nails into the obvious mistake I had made. I actually ended up having nicer, longer conversations with them. On the other hand, there were other customers who found any tiny thing about which to complain. They treated me like a servant to deliver their messages to the kitchen and get some free meals. These people went in with negativity and dragged everyone through the mud to fill their agenda. These people were simply forgettable.

3. The boss sets the tone in a business. The general manager dictated the sentiment of the employees. When he cracked open a bottle of scotch to celebrate after a busy Saturday, the mood was high. When he snapped at waiters for their mistakes, everyone else got tense and bickered at each other. The engine driving us to work came from the culture we shared. This culture came from mostly the tone of the boss.

In the end, restaurant work was not for me. I ended up working at another restaurant part time a few years later, which took my learnings to a whole different level.

Throwback to aphorisms from Bali, part 3

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Personal protection has always been cool – Bali, 2019

During this unique time, I’m missing the freedom to explore, among other things. Travel is an escape from the mundane routine. This is a throwback to our escape to Bali last summer for part 3 of the lessons we learned.

A little tip goes a long way

Money from the West goes far in some other countries. People work hard everywhere. Leave a healthy tip when you’re pleased with the service. Remember that while you’re on vacation, residents are still working. They deserve to know when you appreciate good service.

“Nothing can be built higher than the coconut tree”

There is a fascinating concept that states no building can exceed the height of a coconut tree. Apparently, this isn’t completely true. But it’s a nice story that’s been around for so long because it would make sense if it were true. Regardless, there is a deep respect for nature on Bali.

A store is a home

Often, vendors live and sell in one place. You’ll find the whole family in the store sometimes. Treat it with respect, buy something, and play with the kids. It’ll make their day.

Bali and Indonesia went through some shit

The tsunami absolutely wrecked the island. The debris and leftover destruction are still there. But the Balinese rebuild stronger and continue living with honor.

There is no fee for any ATM withdrawal

Seriously, every ATM we withdrew from did not charge us a fee. My wallet supports whatever program enabled this to happen.

You’re not obligated to buy from a vendor even if you feel like it

This is like the tug of guilt you feel when you walk out of a store without buying anything. Vendors will ask you to take a “quick look, but no need to buy.” They know that looking makes you more likely to buy. Your act of compliance makes you more likely to comply with a future request coming soon: “Why not just buy one?” Then later, “Why not buy another?”

If a universe can be imagined, then it exists

There are many possibilities out there.

Looking back to look forward: What matters to me from my past


Photo by matthew Feeney on Unsplash

Someone once said that the life flashing before your eyes is what really matters to you. So what really matters to me right now in this COVID-19 crisis? What will I remember about this time? I’m a thinker, so conceptualizing the lessons from this period of my life will take time. As a way to get me there, I am looking back on what formed me to this day. In each case, I’ll outline three things I learned and why they are relevant today.


Until high school, I always ended up doing new things but didn’t know why. Why did I do certain things and not other things? Video games? I did that. Writing poetry? I didn’t do that. I could imagine myself writing poetry, but why didn’t I?

In my high school years, I started differentiating between the first step and the second step. I first imagined a world in which I did something as before. Next, I added step two: try that thing. I made active choices to expand my breadth of experience. I started out small, stepping a bit out of my comfort zone one inch at a time. Soon, my experimenting exploded into new experiences everywhere. I set myself on a track of openmindedness without limits.

I could imagine a world pranking band camp with my buddies. So, one step led to another by tricksters sneaking to the school overnight and rearranging the letters on a school sign to “GO SUCK COLON.”

Now, my goals span beyond one night of debauchery. I’m finding that there are many worlds in which I can imagine myself. Could I build that bookshelf? Yes, but it looks hard. Still, try it to see if you can. I still experiment today by imagining and then trying.

Learning how to socialize:

I was timid for most of my life until high school. Then, I finally found myself in certain social groups that were familiar. I could not navigate a classroom or gymnasium full of random people. But I started seeing the same teammates on sports teams and pushing ourselves through pain for dozens of hours every week. I opened myself up to them and formed the strongest friendships.

The way to socialize in new situations came down finding familiarity in new situations: new people, new places, new conversation topics. The way I succeed is by latching onto the things I find familiar, finding comfort in that feeling, and then opening myself up to the newness around me. Certainly, the way to succeed is to recollect myself in the familiar but not to stay there, because that’s boring to others.

  • Colleague I know in a group of strangers? When in doubt, comment on a shared memory.
  • New place but something looks the same? When in doubt, comment on what it reminds me of.
  • New topic? Learn it to satisfy my curiosity with the purpose to incorporate it into my worldview. Then share my own experience when I can segue the topic to something similar.


One day the librarian threatened to kick me out of the library before class started because I was not working. As a way to impress my friends there, I turned to the closest bookshelf, picked the first book that caught my attention, and set it down on the table. “I’m reading.”

Luck had it that I chose a bright red paperback copy of Engels’ and Marx’s The Communist Manifesto.

For the following few weeks, I walked around with that book in my backpack, fully owning it. Just before I entered the library each day, I pulled the book out of my bag and held it out to walk past the librarian’s front desk.

During those weeks I learned that self-confidence comes from ownership. I fully owned my choice to be reading The Communist Manifesto and even got into debates with the librarian about its ideas. With every interaction, I gained confidence.

Thus, my Confidence Manifesto is taking and fully owning the choices I make. Confidence could be based on experience or could be based on delusion, or many other things. But I learned that confidence is a choice that is within my power: more specifically, a series of choices that align my actions together into a common thread.

Today, I actively base my confidence in relevant experience rather than randomness. I am more certain of my ability to drive a car than a plane. But should I somehow wake up as the pilot of a plane careening toward the earth and everyone is trembling in fear, I have two choices. Tremble, letting fear drown me. Or, have some confidence and try my best to fly the thing and maybe succeed.


Things may be new right now. But I can imagine myself surviving like this. So watch I Am Legend and let’s try it.

Everything may feel different. Latch onto familiarity to enter the chaos.

The librarian is kicking us out. Grab a book and let’s dive in.

Aphorisms from Bali – Part 2

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Jatiluwih Rice Terrace


Here’s part two of the things we learned in Bali on our honeymoon; enjoy!


Learn how to say thank you and greetings

Sometimes it’s the little things that make it easy to connect to other people. This is an easy way to turn from tourist to friend. Get by on smiles and gestures. Then, use a translator app for everything else. “Terimah kasih!”

Follow the sunset… and the sunrise

Looking for something fun to do? Find the best place to watch the sunset or sunrise. Chances are, you’ll find someone else doing the same.

Know when to turn back

Especially when climbing a dangerous, wet, dark mountain without a trail and without other people.

Don’t dive while sick

Then again, Bali has some of the best diving around, and you can see manta rays. But, the pressure you feel is no joke once you reach a few meters underwater. You have to unlearn some of the basic instincts of survival. If you freak out and you’re 10m underwater, you must surface slowly, not quickly.

Learn how international business runs

It’s fascinating how the real estate market works in Bali, as it is so popular for tourists and ex-pats to settle down. Similarly, there’s a lot of education focused on hospitality since there are plenty of opportunities in the service industry there. Careful though, because you should still only invest in what you know. There are no consistent get-rich-quick opportunities in reality.

Fresh is best

There’s nothing as renewing as sipping on a fresh coconut. And the fish is best eaten when it’s still on ice from the morning. Bananas have a real shape – hint: they’re actually quite small when they aren’t genetically modified to look like a girthy school bus.

Bali is a reminder that you should be increasing your healthspan, not just your lifespan

Most advice is bad, potentially including mine. But this is important. Fill your life with meaning and spirit rather than extending the cold, dead shuffle. Allow me to generalize to say that Balinese have figured this out. They work hard when they work, but they value family, relaxation, and conversation for the meaning of it.