The ultimate shortcut in life, and why you shouldn’t take it.

the quiet achiever


the quiet achiever

lost in Pyrmont

Yesterday evening I was walking in Pyrmont, going to an event. Being unfamiliar with the streets, I was lost between Pyrmont St and Harris St. I had to climb up the hill, and then go down to get to the right place. While I was thinking about that I might be late for the event, there happened a pleasant surprise – I run into my big boss.

She’s on her way home. She’s surprised but happy to see me there. We had a pleasant conversation. It’s precious to me because she’s a really busy person – so busy that you feel wrong to hijack her for a chat in the office. I feel lucky to see her after work on the street. And I feel fortunate that I went a long way. If I have taken the perfect path, I would have missed out on that interaction.

A Chinese celebrity once mentioned in a talk show that he doesn’t like GPS. Although it is very useful when you have to get directly from point A to point B, it ruined all the pleasant surprises you might encounter along your journey. Unfortunately, we are living in a world that value highly of efficiency.

Everyone is looking for shortcuts – in universities, at work or even with relationships. It’s too slow to go out and meet real people. How about we just swipe left and right to find the perfect partner? In the last century, all the inventions and scientific discoveries are associated with persistence and hard work. In this century, however, the theme of innovation is about who can find a shortcut first.

the shortcuts sellers

I have a friend who’s in the accounting training business. He sells short-courses, each cost a couple of thousand dollars, to accounting graduates and junior accountants. Here’s how he sells these courses.

He hires big company senior accountants, analysts or even CFOs sometimes. These “successful” accountants came into my friend’s classroom and talked to the young people who are dreaming of having the same jobs one day. Then my friend analyses the “secrets” and “shortcuts” in these successful role model careers.

He often gives some away as bates. Then when the young accountants are hooked, he names a very reasonable price – they are reasonable, because – if you truly believe that following other people’s “secrets” and “shortcuts” can help you double your income in 12 months, then ten thousand dollar is a good investment.

While I don’t wholly agree with his product, I do consider him a friend. He’s a hilarious person, and one of the pioneers in this industry. He’s a smart guy. I once told him that “I don’t believe in these crap. They won’t work.” You know what he said?

“Yes I know”, he said, “But I have to tell people what they want to hear.”

Indeed, many people believe in shortcuts. They just want to pay the money and get their results. It’s not only in the training industry. It’s the same in most beauty salons. People become so blind, especially after they made the payment. They even instantly feel the improvements – resulted from their own dilution.

Running fast is pointless in a Marathon game

My father was really successful in his early career. He’s leading over 2,000 employees at my age. In his early 40s, he was transferred by the communist party from a regional city to Beijing. Based on that trajectory, you could even imagine he might land in the CPC central committee in a decade.

But, apparently, that didn’t happen in a decade. Nor did it happen in two decades. My father’s career plateaued when he moved to Beijing. He could not go much further. Of course, there are many reasons that my father’s career stopped rocketing in Beijing. Here’s one reason that I believe is the most critical contributor in the early days. He was too fast in the beginning.

Contra to most stories showed in Hollywood movies – our lives are not collections of exciting moments, where things run fast one frame after another with intriguing subtitles and exciting background music. It’s a marathon with traps and obstacles here and there. The worst part – there’s usually no one cheering for you along the way, but often people are laughing at you when you fall.

Even your most close family members – they can not truly understand your feelings and pressures at work. I feel sorry for my father. First running at light speed on a high way, then suddenly slowing down. It must be hard. But I’m proud that he drove the rest of his professional journey safely. Many of my father’s peers are now in jail – because they thought they discovered the shortcuts to significant personal wealth.

The boy who took the shortcut

I always remembered the boy in my high school who committed suicide. I remember what I was thinking there – “Wow”, I said to myself, “he took the shortcut”.

Life is a marathon, the destination is death. I know it sounds pessimistic, but its a fact. Do you really want to rush to the end? Or do you prefer to enjoy the views along the way? It’s the story of the movie “Click”. If you fast forward to the end – even you had a full life – what difference does it make, comparing to suicide?

It’s also true that some days of our lives are so hard or so dull, that you just want to fast forward. I get that. I have no interest to re-live those bad days in my life neither. But without those days in my life, I don’t have a complete story that I can feel proud of. Nor would I have much to look forward to in the future.

The pain and joy in your life are relative. Without one, the other one won’t exist. Both pain and joy give people hope – hope for a more pleasant future, or that the happy days never go away. For those who think they have lost all the hope, it is understandable they choose to take the ultimate shortcut in life.

Why you should ignore all the shortcuts

Everyone has a different journey. Victory belongs to those who eventually arrive at their own destinations. Therefore, there’s no point admiring other people’s success. In particular, there’s no point trying to figure out other people’s shortcuts. More likely than not, they are not applicable to you.

So, what should you do if you feel that you are late to the game? I think the answer is – you are not late at all. One funny thing that we human beings do is that we like to compare. We compare our own achievements with our peers, income with our colleagues, even marks of our children with those of neighbors.

When we look at their social media feeds, we see a Hollywood movie. It’s a collection of best moments in their lives: when they land in a new job; when they go to Europe; when they do fine dining and when their children got a high distinction somewhere.

The things they definitely don’t show you is when they feel frustrated with their job or had a fight with their partner, or when their children pissed them off so badly that they wish they never had them. Occasionally people post something like “it’s 10pm I just finished work”. They are just showing off. “Look how hard I work!”

I can almost guarantee anyone this: even you most admired role model in life – if you have seen their full picture, you do not want to take their shortcuts – and the idea of paying for it will appear to be ridiculous too.

Final words

The only real competition you have in your life is between yourself and yourself. I never cared that my audit career only started when I was 31 instead of 21. All I cared about, is that I can do audit better than I could yesterday. And when I only compare myself with myself, there’s really no shortcuts in that game.

And more importantly than that, I know the ten years of delay of the beginning of my career – or the career break I took to write a book, they didn’t slow me down – not at all. Every piece of experience counts in my life. I’m not rushing to the final destination. Therefore I won’t miss any beautiful scenes in my life, nor lose any wonderful people like you – thank you for reading my article.