It’s come to my attention that I am going to stay unconventional for the rest of my life, at least for my later 20s. Last month, I got offered a full-time role in one of Singapore’s leading financial education company. The pay was good, it was minimally bureaucratic and the learning curve wasn’t steep.
I just rebranded from MarcusSocial.Org to MarcusNeo.Com. The current growth strategy in place was limited only to organic traffic. I knew SEO needed some time to kick in on a new brand. Secondly, their major selling point was: there’s a lot of things you don’t know, there’s a lot for you to learn.
I’m a huge believer of investing in education and the right mentors in all areas of life from personal finance, fitness to relationships. In fact, the majority of my life successes came from investing in education and mentors. They certainly didn’t come from University lectures. In fact, I’ll go as far to ascertain that 90% of my successes arose externally of the academic world.
The appeal of settling down in a well-paying job and being ‘successful’ was there. I weighed the cost and benefits. I took up the offer.
On one end, I had lived a pretty unconventional life during my earlier 20s. I had both failed and excelled in academic settings. From the drudgery of accounting lectures to rising to the occasion in pearly academic settings in Berkeley. Other than my own novel dating life, I’ve also been and immersed myself in multiple cultures and countries. Solo.
I had also failed horrendously in business: going for a year straight without any income in business to making my first sale, having repeated clients and being paid for consulting projects.
I concluded by injecting some stability in my life, I could benefit from it. If you add in my Mum’s delight that I got offered a handsome paying job despite my academic track record, I dived straight in. Marcus finally got a job, he’s grown up!
The parameters of the job also made sense initially. The premise was that if I delivered on the quality of work, I was able to be location mobile for up to three days a week. That made sense to me as a budding entrepreneur.
I was also looking into paid strategies to scale my own projects at that point in time. The full-time compensation merely meant I had extra ammunition.
In hindsight, did I really need the extra ammunition? Not really. However, it definitely gave me some confidence to start spending. I also found myself spending far before I received my first compensation. I was buying time and experience. The results may not be statistically significant, however, through a small sample size, I made the conclusion that the potential upside of paid advertising is huge.
Sooner than later, I found myself adopting an employee’s mindset to efficiency. I started looking to game the system. I felt that I was looking to attend company events I arguably didn’t need to be in order to get day offs for myself. The long commute to and fro between home and office didn’t make sense either. I also felt that the company could streamline their work process from the editorial level to the execution level to make everything a lot more efficient.
Hence, I desired a clear answer as to when I could start working on the 2/3 ratio basis, which was part of the contract anyway. However, they didn’t seem quite interested in kick-starting that initiative that quickly and I was given a time frame of 3- 5 months. I also knew I had abided by the rules and met the quality of work desired for the first month. I just needed a clearer answer.
The request for a clearer timeline morphed into a philosophical debate into my commitment to the company.
I, of course, refuted.
The First Principles Argument
The major debate was that you can’t be full time in one arena and yet be full time in another arena. Yes, you can’t have two wives. However, if in the arena of business in similar verticals, I’ll argue that you can.
One example is Elon Musk. He uses the first principle’s approach: using fundamental principles in physics, engineering to build multiple companies solving different problems. I consider him ‘full time’ in different companies.
I value mobility a lot. It helps me keep fit, sound smart on Facebook, travel, experience, execute, think, read and master multiple disciplines in my life. They work in an interconnected ecosystem and builds onto one another.
I’m probably the rare few that can debate you passionately on the efficient market theory, bang my head to rock music and then outbox you in 5 round boxing match.
I wasn’t an A student in school. In school, you’re measured by your ability to memorize and ability to regurgitate. The more you stuff into your head, the better your results.
However, through the years, I got good at the art of learning. I am a fast learner. This is accomplished by observing the first principle’s approach. The art of scientific thinking: boiling things down to its fundamentals and working your way up from there.
So, I debated that I can commit to two companies at the same time and can treat both of them as full-time work. However, they argued that you can’t commit to two companies simultaneously.
Now, if you boil things down to the fundamentals… what really… IS full-time work defined by? The number of hours you spent in the office or the accomplishment of your tasks at hand? There is a multitude of ways to define full time and part-time work. The variables are not fixed.
In general, I have flourished in instances that do not have much bureaucracy. This was how I acquired multiple skillsets on my own, and run everything as a one-man show. I didn’t need any degrees, special business knowledge, multi-millionaire partners or expensive offices. I merely boiled things down to the fundamentals: is it possible?
Now, you may think I’m a show-off. However, the first principles approach is actually an extremely useful way to define how you work and how you set incentives for yourself and others.
I’ll use one of my favourite case studies: Federal Express. (Openly stealing from Charlie Munger)
They solved a productivity problem by setting the right incentives. They had a problem getting parcel delivery on time. They solved it by compensating people according to their work accomplished, as opposed to the number of hours at work.
This is why I argued that the 9-5 is inefficient. There’s also research suggesting that our ability to do deep work is only 3 hours a day. There’s a lot of wastage in between. However, for some inane human norm, we seem to think hours translates to quality of work.
If there’s something I’m really good at. It’s exploiting fundamental human gaps. I used this approach to negotiate myself out of many crappy circumstances. In my NS days, everyone had a fixed way of doing things: you need to curry favours with the boss to get your way. Since I was such a handsome fuck, my boss didn’t like me, and I couldn’t curry any favours.
The majority of my peers persuaded me to sit tight and play within the system. They lamented:‘It cannot be done, it’s just like that for years’. They told me this the system that has been around for decades.
Is that true or false? If I had used the first principles approach: it probably isn’t. The system is not set in stone. I eventually got frustrated and flipped the system on its ass. It almost cost me a court-martial, but, hell, it was well worth the effort.
Now. Back to the storyline. They gave me a choice: you either commit fully and tune down your commitments outside of the company, or change the current working relationship to a contractor model.
Initially, I was extremely upset. I felt that they didn’t truly understand both the value and potential of valueI could contribute to their company after the first month. Even though I wasn’t exactly working extremely hard for them, I was working extremely smart for them: helping them spot biases, refining their business model and questioning long-held systematic processes.
I also had future plans. They could leverage on my business results in my own projects, and come up with a new product down the line in the near future. There was an unlimited upside. They had the numbers, I had the temperament and the boldness. They could give me stability, I could take them to where they’re supposed to be.
You had this bold, disagreeable, hardworking young man working in your business at a fixed fee and you didn’t utilize him to the furthest extent.
I might be wrong of course.
Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed working with them. They are humble, grounded and hardworking individuals. They built their success from the ground up. I enjoy working with people like that. They aren’t puffed up like the ones that inherited family wealth.
Finally, both parties made a decision that it’s more equitable for us to redefine our working relationship.
Life, Adventure and Unconventionality
I was surprised at how quick I made the decision to move forward. That signalled to me that I am still an adventurer at heart and a long-term commitment to a company wasn’t part of my near-term goals.
There are itches that I still like to scratch. There’s a psychology degree hanging by the side, there’s a bunch of other countries to jump on a plane to and there are also dating and life coachingprograms to run.
One can only sigh at the brevity of life!
Nonetheless, I have grown from this experience. Every parting of ways leaves an opportunity to grow.