I’ve always hated the distinction between introverts and extroverts because I never could identify with either side. The accepted school of thought is that a person is either one or the other, without any middle ground.
According to Myers Briggs, perhaps the most widely popular and accepted personality test, extroverts are action oriented, seek breadth of knowledge and influence, prefer frequent interaction, and get energy from spending time with people while introverts are thought oriented, seek depth of knowledge and influence, prefer more substantial interaction, and get their energy from spending time alone.
However, contrary to the binary choices provided by Myers Briggs, I’ve realized that extroversion/introversion is a spectrum, like a person’s height.
All of my life, I’ve had people (family, close friends, teachers, counselors) tell me different things. Some would say I was an introvert, and others would say that I was an extrovert. To different people I seemed to be different things.
After browsing the web and looking at a few more resources and doing some reflection, I came across a term called the ambivert, and finally felt understood by a personality test. I am very much an ambivert. There seems to be very little written about ambiverts, (Evernote isn’t even recognizing it as a word) so here are my thoughts.
Ambiverts sit on the spectrum of social interaction right in between the introverts and extroverts. Ambiverts love spending time with people, but get tired after spending too much time around people. Ambiverts are also very capable of doing things alone, but spending an entire day alone can suck them into a depressed, unproductive mood.
Ambiverts love interacting with people, but in a very purposeful way. Ambiverts can have extremely animated and interactive conversations, or mellow and meditative ones. Ambiverts will defend both their personal time as well as their social time.
Ambiverts process information best when they process internally and externally. Ambiverts need time and space to process things on their own, but they also need people who they can trust to process things with externally. In order for ambiverts to fully process information, they usually need both.
Ambiverts seek breadth of knowledge and influence, but dive deep when they are truly passionate. Ambiverts can be thought or action oriented, depending on the situation, but they are also oftentimes both.
The challenge for ambiverts is finding one thing to stick with. Because ambiverts do well socially and individually, it’s easy for an ambivert to become the jack of all trades, having knowledge in many different areas but not necessarily an expert an any of them.
Ambiverts tend to do well adapting to any situation that they are placed in, whether it be a loud social scene or a secluded environment.
However, no matter if you identify as an extrovert, introvert, or ambivert, don’t let a personality test define how you think about yourself. Figuring out how you work best for yourself is much more helpful than any test.
What do you think? Where would you put yourself on the spectrum?
Recently, as a part of a Pathways general body meeting, I got to meet the man who started the organization. Pathways, an incubator that is an organization at the University of California San Diego, helps connect students with ideas for companies with financial resources as well as mentoring.
Christopher Yin, a recent graduate from UCSD, has thoroughly thought through concepts and principles about startups, entrepreneurship, and other business practices. Being an entrepreneur who has taken big risks, the things that he has to say are undoubtedly fascinating, at the very least.
After nearly three hours of listening to Chris, here are my main takeaways.
Advice is mostly useless – Being someone who is constantly reading blogs online, watching talks and reading books, this challenged my notion of content consumption. The point is, you can’t take another person’s life and make it your own. The people, places, and circumstances will always be different no matter what, and blindly following the path that another person took makes absolutely no sense. Learn to make your own decisions based on what you know, not solely what other people tell you.
Find the one thing to go after – Don’t be a jack of all trades. Chris, being the entrepreneur who had every finger in a different company, realized that trying to do everything gave him nothing to show for anything. Trying to do a million different things left Chris with a very mediocre skill set in a large number of fields. The takeaway here is to focus on one thing at a time, and become significant and influential in that area.
Test the market – Your idea will never survive first contact with the market. The market will always respond contrary to your expectations, forcing you to change and refine your plans and ideas as time goes on. What actually happens will always turn out differently than what you envisioned. The only way to know how the market will respond is to step out and begin developing and testing your idea.
Don’t be tempted by opportunities that aren’t for you – Sometimes you will get an offer that looks appealing, but does not align with your life purpose, goals, and passions. Don’t get suckered into taking an opportunity that is not truly what you want to do. Focus on what you want to do as soon as possible, because the opportunity cost of switching gets higher the longer you wait. Dropping everything to create something new is much easier in your teens than in your thirties.
Do what you love to do – It’s easy to settle for mediocrity and get patted on the back for making conservative choices. But being yourself and standing out is much more fulfilling than being someone else and fitting in. Standing out is a risk, but so is fitting in.
Take everything people say with a grain of salt – Most of the time, people will share what worked for them and how they got to where they are today. But don’t just blindly accept everything they say as your own. Just because something worked for them doesn’t mean it was the best choice. Learn to challenge everything that people say, not in a cynical but a genuinely inquisitive way.
Everything you can learn in a class can be learned on the web – The value in school is not in the academics or in the learning. Anyone and everyone can learn to code online. Anyone and Everyone can look up resources on literally anything online. Schools are for teaching discipline, learning how to interact and deal with other human beings, and learning how to think. It’s a lot easier to test a new idea within a college community because everyone is always right around you.
Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know - One of the big challenges in working with startup companies is getting recognized by more established companies. Even if you have no idea what you’re doing, be confident in you do, and do the best work you possibly can. People will also recognize your drive, energy, and motivation to succeed.
Work with the smartest people you know – Find the smartest people you know, and work with them to produce something amazing. Do everything in your power to collaborate with them.
Think for yourself – School, culture, and tradition will always tell you what to think. The challenge is to listen to what other people have to say, but think for yourself and ultimately make your own decisions. Intentionally or not, people will occasionally say things that are twisted, incorrect, or with ulterior motives. The best thing that you can do (even while reading this list) is to think for yourself.
Connection today is more powerful than it has ever been before.
On a daily basis, thousands of tweets fill my stream, hundreds of posts fill my feed, countless emails fill my inbox, new TED talks are uploaded, and all my favorite blogs have new updates. While the access to and amount of information is incredible, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with it all.
But the reality is that you don’t have to be up to date with everything that is happening in order to make a dent in the world. Being well informed has little correlation with the impact they have.
It’s tempting to want to follow every single blog and news source in the world to see what other people are up to. It feels good to know what has been done and what has not. But the truth is, it’s easier to listen to something than it is to do something.
The effectiveness of the content that is consumed depends not only on the content itself, but the space and context that it is consumed. Reading a news article without actually doing anything about it makes the news merely informative entertainment.
In designer’s terms, negative space refers to the space around and between the subject of an image or design element. It’s often the white or blank space that subtly adds meaning and significance to the positive space, or the subjects in focus.
When it comes to acquiring new information, the negative space between information that you consume matters just as much as the information you consume. The negative space is what allows you to process and synthesize your own thoughts about the content you are taking in.
There’s nothing wrong with reading every single business book in the world. There’s nothing wrong with keeping yourself updated with every blog post someone puts out. But there comes a point where you can no longer be merely a consumer.
Take time after reading an article or book and ask yourself what it actually means to you. Let the new ideas spin gears in your head and inspire you to actually do something. It helps to regularly block out input from information sources, and organize your own thoughts in the negative space.
I spend about 25 percent of my day looking at a computer screen. I also spend about 37.4 percent of my day fighting luchadors. One of those statements is false, but illustrates the unique power of the Internet. In the past decade, all different types of media have been finding a digital counterpart to be distributed online, causing changes in the fabric of human interaction that have never been faced before. The Internet gives platform, although a very different kind, to anyone who wishes to speak, regardless of what they have to say.
Take knowledge for instance. Never before have so many people had access to so much free information through a little device in their pocket. Hyperlinking has become the new way of hyperwarping through different thoughts and ideas.
But as a computer science major in the year 2013, I can’t help but wonder what effect technology will have on people’s knowledge and understanding. Some claim that relying on technology to instantly and effortlessly answer questions makes people dumber. In a recent talk by Ken Jennings, the reigning jeopardy champion, he shares about how he feels when IBM’s supercomputer named Watson rendered him obsolete.
However, despite the images of robot apocalypse and other futuristic ideas portrayed by movies and novels, the future doesn’t have look like that. Technology is not something that should be feared, but understood.
Technology is fluid in the sense that it is always changing, and the person who understands how to use it has an advantage over the person who doesn’t. Being tech savvy means knowing how to creatively use technology to build new platforms and present new perspectives. Being tech savvy then, by definition, is a tendency to bend the rules, and even break them under some occasions. It means adding a whole other dimension of thinking and communication to life, one that is virtually limitless.
Of course, that means that people must remain knowledgeable enough about technology so that they can use the technology instead of the technology using them. Google shouldn’t be seen as a life force, but merely a supplement. The moment that people assume that technology is smarter than them is the moment that we resign ourselves to a place of servitude.
The only way that technology will make people dumber is if people use it as a substitute to learning instead of a supplement.
Understanding flow is something that no one taught me when I was younger, and only have I recently been thinking about. Flow, in this article, is defined as the zone of productivity when a person gives their complete, undivided attention to an activity, often to the point of losing track of time, and occasionally even other human needs (sleep, food, restroom breaks).
A friend recently sent me an email asking if breaking activities into one hour chunks was an effective way to be productive. Essentially, he was proposing a modified version of the pomodoro technique, which some people swear by.
However, an aspect that stands out about the pomodoro technique and similar techniques is the rigid time frame that can potentially end up interrupting flow. The reason the pomodoro technique works is because it is using time as a physical and tangible inspiration to become more productive.
Having an external motivator like time is often necessary, especially under circumstances where the activity at hand is not the most appealing, or you would otherwise have no desire to do the activity.
After I realized that something like the pomodoro technique was a way to inspire flow, I decided I would rather figure out a way to directly get into flow and maintain flow rather than using a measurement of time to inspire productivity.
The unfortunate truth is that relying on a time keeping device to manage your productivity can potentially train a person to value a length of time over productivity and creativity. And unfortunately, that’s exactly how the school system is set up with class and break periods.
Everyone at some point in their life has experienced flow without restraint from time, as those are the experiences when you lose track of time.
Getting into flow looks different for each person and looks different for each activity, but their are a couple of common attributes to every flow state.
- People in a flow state aren’t easily distracted – When a person gives their undivided attention to something, nothing can easily distract them from what they are doing. Thus, finding an environment without distraction is generally helpful to maintain flow, but is not necessary if flow is strong enough.
- People in a flow state generally do things faster – People who are highly focused in on learning something new generally learn a lot faster and a lot better. If information is coming in faster, it generally requires a much higher state of focus in order to comprehend and process all of it as it comes in. Driving a car at 120 mph definitely requires more focus than driving a car at 20 mph.
- People in a flow state care about the activity they are doing and understand why they are doing it – Also known as driven by an internal passion or bigger picture, flow states are usually accompanied by a somewhat deep desire to accomplish something. Therefore, a good place to start to get into a high level of focus is to figure out why you are doing something, and then dig even deeper.
Here are also some interesting stories on flow if you’re interested – Steven Kotler – Hacking Flow & Ultimate Human Potential at SuperheroYou.
But of course, understanding how flow works is only a piece to productivity, and learning how to implement flow into a healthy physical and emotional lifestyle is a whole other topic.
The answer is not that children have a greater capacity for learning, as this is just a naive excuse for not uncovering the deeper issues.
The playground: a place where kids play with each other, learning how to communicate, run, have fun, and dream. It was the place I spent hours catching butterflies, looking at flowers, staring at clouds, and climbing trees. It was the place where I made my first friends, played my first basketball game, and fell off the slide.
But somewhere along the line, I traded in the playground for a textbook.
In middle school, I remember waking up at 7 in the morning, turning on my computer, and exploring the internet, playing games, learning how to code, or learning how to do photo manipulation because I was utterly fascinated with what I was exploring. I found such joy in learning things because everything seemed so new, so fresh, so unexplored, and I could learn about anything and everything my heart desired to know.
I found myself immersed in graphics, design, photography, web, and music to the point where I would spend all my spare time browsing web tutorials, talking to people, maintaining my website, recording music, or anything else that I felt like learning.
Children are able to learn much faster because their learning is natural and they haven’t fallen into the rigid structure that we call school. Children have a tendency to explore and question things, because of utter fascination with the world around them. They haven’t been taught frameworks of Cornell notes, scientific method, Socratic method, grade point average, or other systems that we have been forced to use in school.
To every young child, a desire to learn is given by default. Only after years of school do questions turn from “Why is the sky blue?” to “Will this be on the exam?”
I never took a formal class on web development. All my understanding of web development has come from building websites with the help of some friends. And ironically, I can remember details of PHP code that I learned on my own four years ago much more clearly than what was on the midterm I took last week.
Children are creative. We can either allow them to think for themselves through their innate creativity, or endlessly spend money and time trying to teach them how we think. One of these methods is a low cost way that creates a diverse, innovative world, while the other is an expensive, time consuming process that tries to force everyone to be the same.
Children take learning as a part of daily life, while adults see learning as a textbook in a classroom. Children see learning as a playground, a sandbox where they can create whatever they want.
And as I grew up, I had to fight against the current of conformity by regularly exploring topics that no one made me explore in to keep my childhood curiosity. I developed methods of minimizing my time spent on schoolwork in order to maximize my self-directed learning time by taking control of my own time, instead of allowing external systems control my time.
A video I made in a span of a year completely on my own.
Only within the last year was I able to put words to my mindset that I was so regularly living by. My childlike dreams and desires to learn things beyond what was required of me have given me the best adventures learning material I will never forget, unlike most of the lessons that were taught in classrooms.
My next dream is exactly that. To bring out the natural tendencies that children have to explore and learn, and to empower that rather than smother it. To encourage my ten year old self and the ten year olds in others to keep dreaming and exploring, and to never let go of that childlike passion.
I’m done with textbooks and scantrons. I’m going to go play in the playground.
I recently got together with an high school friend to put together a short article on college.
Even though more people than ever are receiving a higher education, there still hasn’t been a true democratization of college. This is ironic, because we have all the tools to make such a change. The biggest difference between the past and the present is how drastically communication has improved.
At this point, there are two visions of the future. One would continue down the path of escalation and hyper-individualism, where human beings steadily become more machinelike, starting from taking college prep courses in elementary school and ending with being hooked up to an IV at work, continually ingesting a cocktail of Adderall and Ritalin and other cognitive enhancers just to be able to hold onto your job. When everyone is struggling to place themselves above the rest, every man is an island, with no opportunity for collaboration.
In the Meta Learning section of The 4-Hour Chef by Tim Ferriss, he shows a graph which he calls the bipolar learning graph. Below is a quick replica of it.
This graph charts out the ups downs of each new thing that someone learns, allowing a person to anticipate how they are going to feel as they learn a new thing. Tim Ferriss uses it in his book to illustrate learning a new language, but the principles can be applied to practically anything.
Whenever someone first begins learning a new subject or skill, there will be a period of accelerated learning that brings a very satisfied feeling of learning in a very short amount of time. This part of the learning is related to the concept discussed in my previous post about the 80/20 rule, in which 80% of the material can be learned in 20% of the time, which explains why so much is learned so quickly in the beginning, making the learner feel very confident.
Shortly after learning the basics of a new language, skill, or subject, comes a point where a person begins to realize how difficult a new skill actually is, and has run out of the “beginner” material that is simple concepts and memorization. Additionally, at this point, the person realizes that they are no longer learning as quickly as they were before, dropping their confidence and morale a little bit. Regarding languages, this is the point where the person begins creating their own sentences and thoughts in the new language instead of using simple canned responses.
At some point later, the person’s learning confidence hits rock bottom, and the brain begins neurally adapting whatever it is they are learning, pulling it deeper than simple surface level memorization, working to allow the brain to do less thinking to accomplish the same tasks. It may be muscle memory or habit formation.
The graph then plateaus out to a place where the person is still using effort to learn, but it feels like they are not learning as quickly as they did in the beginning.
Then eventually, the person reaches the inflection point, which is casually referred to as the “click”, and the learning becomes easy and accelerates the person to fluency, or proficiency.
Using this bipolar learning graph, it is easy to predict various levels of confidence as a person learns a new subject, making it easier to prepare for what’s ahead and not get stuck or give up at a low point.
Regardless of the obvious flaws in the education system, most people still have to endure at least eighteen years of it, if not more.
I love challenging traditional notions that no one else challenges.
Take studying for example: It is nearly unanimously accepted that spending more time learning studying will make a person smarter.
But I believe that such thoughts are largely misguided. While counselors and teachers heavily emphasize the amount of time a student should be working on academic-related work, it is much more practical and effective to focus on what is actually beneficial to a person’s learning.
In my four years of high school, I picked up how to maximize results of the time I spent on academics, while retaining facts and exploring areas that were of interest to me.
I went to a nationally distinguished and highly competitive high school that sent students to every single Ivy League college.
And yet, while many of my peers spent hours and hours studying, I can probably count the number of times I actually sat down to study with one digit. And even despite studying only a fraction of the amount that my classmates studied, I maintained a solid 3.9 GPA in high school.
And with the extra time that I had, I focused my energy on actually learning thing that I cared about, such as web, graphic, circuit design, etc.
I’ve never believed in studying the way that most school teachers explained it. Don’t get me wrong, I love learning new things, and challenging myself to grow. But if you tell me that successful learning is found in patterns of reading, doing homework, and taking exams, you’ve been listening to what other people tell you too much.
True learning comes from an internal desire to expand your horizons. Such a desire can be manifested in a desire to take a class, go to school, etc, but is not limited to traditional means.
The most effective way to learn is have an internal passion and drive to learn it on your own. But most of the time, schools and educational systems do not give students enough freedom to allow students to learn completely in accordance to their passions.
For example, I love writing. I love expressing my thoughts on a blog, and articulating what’s on my mind to the internet. I am genuinely interested in improving my skills as a writer, but the writing class required for my college makes me want to gouge my eyes out. Why? because the class puts me in a box, forces me to analyze poorly written articles that I have no interest in, and then expects me to pick a side and come up with arguments for it.
Children, when they are born, are naturally curious about the world around them. They want to learn about the mechanics of trains, cars, and planes, animals, or anything else they can see, hear, taste, touch, or smell. It only takes a decade of schooling to demotivate them from learning. They start dreading subjects because they are forced to memorize information and regurgitate it on an exam, and their genuine internal drive starts fading away.
Perhaps it would be most effective to avoid the education system altogether, if you’re an individual that is motivated and driven enough to learn things on your own. But for most of us, who are in school for a degree, or because we need classes, exams, and fear of failure to motivate us, here are some ways to readjust your mindset and allow yourself freedom to actually learn.
If you never want to spend an hour studying ever again, you have to focus on learning. You have to learn the material to the point where you are able to teach it to someone else. There were countless of times in high school when I walked into a class, and remembered upon walking into the class that there was an exam that day. Did I study the night before? No. Did I freak out because I didn’t study? No. Did I have a nervous breakdown? No. I sat down and aced the test.
I was able to maintain that habit throughout high school because I focused on learning the material as soon as it was taught, not waiting for an upcoming exam to force it all into my head. I let my mind connect different subjects together, seeing the big picture of how everything I was learning was connected to everything else. That way, I was always prepared for an exam, and never let fear serve as a motivator to learn.
Here’s the big catch. If you want to get more out of school, you have to care less about your grade. In fact, it would probably be the most advantageous to learning if you never saw your grade or numerical progress in a class. That way, instead of worrying you won’t get a good grade, you can focus on truly learning and understanding the material being taught. In fact, learning not to care about your grade will naturally relieve you from being as stressed, tired, and burnt out, allowing you to actually learn in a healthier mental state.
The 80/20 rule applies to learning as well. If you aren’t familiar with the 80/20 rule, it basically states that 20% of the input causes 80% of the output. Applied to learning, 20% of the effort will allow you to understand 80% of the material.
I believe that anybody can do this. Most people have difficulty unlearning everything they’ve been taught about how to study, thus hindering them from being motivated from a deeper, more effective place.
This is not to say that one way of studying is perfect for everyone. You will definitely have to experiment with circumstances, environments, and conditions that will help you learn best, or motivate you to learn best.
Take advantage of what you have. Just because you aren’t in a class doesn’t mean you can’t learn that subject. Just because your professor teaches math doesn’t mean you can’t ask them about art. Don’t feel boxed in by the suggestions of other people, learn to think outside the box and be as creative as you can.
The education system has always been focused on one thing: getting students to have more knowledge. Along with this goal comes many educational strategies. Homework, notes, quizzes, tests, labs, projects, grades, etc are all tools that are used by teachers in order to teach their students.
However, it is commonplace to hear students complain about homework, tests, or anything else their teacher assigns. Many of my peers consistently complain about the amount of work they receive from their teachers, and the pressure to do well from their parents.
I didn’t really think much about it until this year, when I took up two tutoring positions. It wasn’t until I began trying to help students that I realized how ineffective such assignments were to certain people. Sometimes, students just take the notes or do the homework for the sake of getting it finished, leading them to forcefully output work that resembles poor effort and little creativity. Such patterns causes students to hate attending school, and hate particular subjects in school.
And as I tried to help some of these students, another thing became clear. The naive and cheesy “try harder or study more” lecture produces negligible effect.
The problem the education system faces today, which is perhaps also a problem that it seems to be completely blind to, is that students simply aren’t motivated to actually learn the subjects at hand. Students today are motivated by a fear of failure, instilled in them by the people who preach that not going to college results in life without a home.
There are very few students I have met who truly have a passion to learn. Despite the fact that the people who truly passionate about what the learn may not receive the highest grades or get accepted into the top performing colleges, those are the people that I would put my money on for becoming the next wave of entrepreneurs and innovators.
Learn to appreciate the opportunities you have. Learn to ask questions and explore the subjects that you have access to, beyond what is required of you by the state. Because education is not there to turn young people into mindless, trivia cramming zombies, but a way for people to explore the universe around them. Learn to use the education system to accomplish your goals before you try to accomplish theirs.