Absolute Necessities of Building Up

Last updated: August 17, 2019

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Previously I talked about things that you should avoid if you want to build up. Now I will talk about things you must do. Life is complicated, and you can rarely be good just one thing, and everything else will follow along. You do need to have one or few things which you're good at and make it your job, but there are multiple things of which you should have at least basic knowledge, and that's what I want to talk about.

1. Read

In AboutMe I mentioned that most of the ideas in this blog are not my own: it's ideas I learned, applied, and found useful. I learned most of these ideas from books. Books are one of the greatest things invented by humanity. It's the most efficient way to pick brains of some of the smartest people in the world for a very affordable price.

I try to read every day, for about half an hour to an hour. Recently I've also been practicing what I call "deep reading", meaning reading a book slowly, in a distraction-free environment, and with two highlighters.

I use Amazon for book reviews to see the strengths and weaknesses of the books. Amazon can also recommend similar books, which might be very useful. But at the end of the day, just read the book. Even if you get a single useful idea from a book, it's worth the time and money. You can check out Library to see with which books you should start.

Right now, I have the privilege of being able to buy pretty much any book that I can think of, but that was not always the case. $15 can mean a lot of for some people. Check out the local library if there's one near you: they probably have the book you want, and you might also find other exciting books. If you cannot afford a book, pirate the electronic version. Buy it later when you can. Pirating is a crime, and it's morally wrong. But I believe that if you pirate knowledge, you're only improving the world, so it's not a zero-sum game. Also, people who pirate books are probably not the author's customers, so it's just free advertising. I pirated books when I couldn't afford them. It might also worth writing the author asking for a free copy, but most authors are busy, so don't count on getting a response.

2. Work Out and Eat Well

I grew up thinking that being strong and healthy and being smart are orthogonal skills: one can be athletic, but dumb, and one can be smart, but not athletic. I was so wrong. My path to building up started with realizing that I was in bad physical shape, and I needed to improve it to increase my overall well-being. I was doing it for balance: I had a university degree, and a job, so I thought I am "ahead" on that regard, so I should "catch up" in athleticism. What I did was right, but my reason was not wholly correct.

Working out isn't only about your physical health - it dramatically influences your mental health too. When you're physically active and in shape, your heart works better and delivers more nutrients to your brain, and more nutrients mean better performance. It's as simple as that. Working out dramatically improves your mental well-being and confidence. You get a better posture, you walk straight, and your body just feels better. Even if you're knowledge worker, being in good physical health will improve your work and overall lifestyle.

I got hooked into working out and lifting weights when I saw the video from Arnold Schwarzenegger, where he talks about how lifting weights and getting the "pump" is an orgasmic feeling. It is! Right now, my workouts involve two parts: martial arts and lifting weights. I lift weights to build muscles, which means being in shape and looking good. It might sound vain, but don't ignore the good looking aspect, since it will give you positive reinforcement to continue working out. I do martial arts for overall health, mental relaxation, and to learn skills. Knowing that you can fight is a great feeling. I think that makes Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu an especially potent form of the martial art: it's a great feeling when you know that you can take down someone much larger and stronger.

Nutrition is an integral part of health. Just like a sports car cannot run on bad quality gas, you should have a healthy diet if you want your body and mind run well. There are tons of diets out there, but I don't strictly follow any. I only stay away from food that I mentioned in Forbidden Fruits and overall aim for Paleo diet, meaning heavier on meat and vegetables, and staying away from processed food.

3. Be Organized

You cannot build up if you don't know over what you're building up. You need to know what things you have, where are they, and why you have them. I understood the importance of being organized when I was moving to a different city after my undergrad, and had to keep track of where things are. This included keeping track of all my paperwork for my work permit in Germany.

The main goal of being organized is the peace of mind. A corollary to this is that your organization system must be simple. If you're spending a lot of mental power to maintain your system, you're probably doing it wrong. At some points, I had some crazy schemes of structuring my documents, but I could not find things as fast as I hoped I would. So I simplified my system.

There are three main areas where you need to be organized: things, documents, finances.

Being organized with things means you know where your belongings are, and you don't have stuff you don't need. I moved a lot of apartments, and my parents lived far away, so I couldn't store my stuff with them. So now whenever I buy something, I keep in mind that I'll have to move it.

Organized documents mean you know where your documents are, which documents you have, and you have secure online backup. One trick I have for this is to scan, store, and throw away documents I don't need to have in a physical form. The last thing you want is to have a mountain of paperwork, where you can't find anything.

Being financially organized means you know how much income you have and what are your expenses. Living below your means, not having bad debt, and not wasting money on things you don't need.

4. Learn

I put this section separate from "Read" because there are more ways of learning besides reading. Online courses, articles, blog posts, etc.

Here are some skills to learn:

  • Computer/programming skills. Nowadays we're surrounded by technology and computers, and that's not going to change anytime soon. I might be a bit biased because I'm a software engineer, but I think everyone should know the essentials of IT security and programming. We all have to use computers one way or another, or we'll miss out on the great conveniences it provides. Communicating with friends and family, online shopping, online banking, you name it. Knowing IT security is necessary so that you don't get hacked, and your information or privacy is not compromised. That means being able to keep using the conveniences mentioned above. Programming is writing out instructions for the computer to perform. The biggest reason for an average person to learn to program is to know what computers are capable of, and what is not possible. I recommend learning Python since it is designed to be easy to learn. But at the same time, it's powerful enough to be popular and be used by many tech companies. I also recommend learning version control systems, such as Git or Mercurial. These are powerful technologies, which will also help you organize your information. This brings it to another technology you should learn: the cloud. For most people, it means knowing how to use and using cloud drives, such as Google Drive or Dropbox. All of my files and relevant information is backed up online, meaning I will not lose data if my computers are damaged. For most of us, data on our computers is what's valuable to us, so we have to make sure we protect it. For non-tech people, I'd recommend staying away from web programming. It might seem cool initially because you can quickly set up websites, but web programming is very complicated. JavaScript is not the most user-friendly language, and there is a massive pile of technologies developed on top of it. It will be more efficient for you to hire someone to do that for you instead of learning it yourself.

  • Business, financial, and accounting skills. Growing up in post-communism taught me a lot about being careful with my money and not spending it on things I don't need. But I had a lot of catching up to do to figure out how financial systems work in developed countries: credit cards, bank accounts, taxes, retirement, and later how to create and run a company. Figuring out credit cards was especially important in the US. Credit history matters a lot here, and you can get a lot of cool stuff if you use right credit cards. The same applies to know airline and hotel points systems. It's also essential to understand the basics of economics, accounting, and finance. Some knowledge of macro-economics is necessary to understand how the global economy works. Knowledge of microeconomics will help you to make better decisions. Learning the idea of opportunity cost helped me save a lot of time!

  • Social skills. I grew up mostly introverted, and just like with fitness, I thought I wouldn't need it much. I was wrong again. Whether you like it or not, you'll have to deal with people. Both good and bad people. In my case, having lived in 4 countries, I had to also deal with people from different cultures with very different backgrounds. Fortunately, you can learn how to do this. You can learn how to interact with them, how to have empathy, how to work with people, and how to negotiate.

  • Writing and presentation skills. Your knowledge is useless if other people can't use it. Writing and presentation are how you communicate your knowledge to others, benefitting both yourself and other people. Unfortunately, I grew up in a school system where there wasn't much emphasis on creative or analytical writing and presenting your ideas, so I had a lot of catching up to do. Learn proper grammar, improve your vocabulary, and take writing classes if you can. Learn the difference between creative and business writing. Learn how to present your ideas clearly and effectively confidently.