My guest today is an entrepreneur and a doctor. He works at a hospital in Sydney, Australia and is a co-founder of a startup that produces and sells socks for good causes. He’s lived in various locations around the world pursuing an internship at the European Office of the World Health Organization. Recently he gave a talk at TedX on the subject of selfishness. As a good Aussie he loves his pet wombat, drinks Fosters, and hunts crocodiles in the outback. Dear listeners, I give you Hassan Ahmad!
We talked about Australia’s wildlife, growing up in rural outback, partying with DJ dad, boarding school, becoming a doctor, world travels, entrepreneurship, giving a TED talk, and social media influence.
- Conscious Step, Socks That Change the World
- To Save the World, Let’s Be More Selfish by Hassan Ahmad at TEDxUNSW (YouTube)
H: Thank you for the very kind and more or less accurate introduction, Vasily. I can say that one of those three activities in terms of Australia is pretty on point. I think I’ll just leave it up to the listeners to guess which one it is.
V: Guess which animal or drink you have an affinity for.
H: Yeah, that’s right. That’s right.
V: But do you see a lot of animals around your house that are native to Australia?
H: Yeah, well. As you mentioned I’m currently based in Sydney at the moment which is the largest city in Australia of a population of about 4 million. Most of the interesting wildlife gets driven out to the edges of the city. So, you’re just left with bugs that freak out a lot of tourists. But where I grew up in far-off Queensland on an 88-acre property, one of the great things about growing up there was the wildlife that was literally on your doorstep. You would just walk out the veranda in the morning and there would be bush-turkeys at your feet or there would be wallabies there. And if you went to have a look, you could see the tree kangaroos and the big pythons. Lots of great stories in my childhood about run-ins with wildlife along the way. When you grow up with it, it is just there all the time, and you don’t realize that other people don’t have problems with snakes in their beds and spiders in their toilets. Until you travel a bit more and see American tourists freak out over cockroaches.
V: So, growing up in Australia trains you to be more accepting of animals and insects?
H: I think so. I think it’s been useful in my travels. You find yourself in fairly strange locations sometimes with exposure to the elements. South-east Asia probably comes to mind. Knowing that there’s nothing that crawl on me in the night that can be worse than eight of the ten most venomous snakes in the world and blood spiders. It helps you relax a little bit more.
V: I can see that. I once went to San Diego Zoo and I saw the entire line-up of Australian animals and I was like this is some kind of alien animal kingdom. I didn’t know all those existed. I didn’t know there were so many kangaroo-like animals that are smaller in the middle, large…
H: Yeah, it’s interesting. I guess because of the geographic isolation of Australia you have this very large and diverse environment in which you have the evolution of a lot of animals which are very different from what a lot of people have seen around the world and it’s funny. They had, I’m not exactly sure how long ago – 15 000 years or 50 000 years, mega flora and mega fauna. They had wombats the size of cars and kangaroos that were 10 feet tall and they had no natural predators, because there was just nothing there that would kill them until the indigenous Australians came down from the islands north. And they just ate them all, because they were very easy and very delicious prey that would not run anywhere when they turned up and threw spears at them.
V: So, they were all furry dinosaurs?
H: Basically. Like huge, huge. No defence against the human spear. So, they were all eaten.
V: You grew up in a small village-like place? Or what was it like a small town?
H: Yeah, it’s a rural town in far-off Queensland which is a state in Australia. Probably about four hours from the nearest MacDonald’s or cinema.
V: Not in a big city.
H: No. Yeah, exactly. About 2 000 people. So, yeah, very rural.
V: Were you gradually exposed to larger urban areas?
H: Yeah, I really was and I am glad that it happened like that. I went to school in this really small town and would have trips to the nearest city once or twice a year throughout my youth. And I was like going to the big city of Cairns, which is like 150 000 people, and then I went there for the last three years of boarding school which was a really great experience and exposed me a little bit more to culture and the big city experience. From there I moved to Sydney for university. It was another step up and from there went out and lived in various cities around the world. The most recent and largest being New York. I think the gradual step up as I got older was good, because I would not have been ready to go from a really small town to a really large one just off the bat. I think it really helps you appreciate more as you go along.
V: Do you think you can pick up on the differences between people who grew up in huge cities and yourself and peers of your hometown?
H: I think so. I feel that if you grew up in a small town you can always move to the city and become domesticated, so to speak. So you can move to Sydney and move to New York and fairly well fit in there and become familiar and comfortable with the culture and the social norms which might be a little different from a small town. But you retain the understanding and the values that come from living in smaller, rural towns and the community feel, the connection to the people around you and the environment in some case. But I think it is harder to go the other way, certainly while you are younger, you don’t sort of grow up in New York City and move to rural Kansas and fit in really well immediately.
V: I think those people miss the big city and they’re bitter for a while.
V: They can’t wait to go back to places where they have pizza around the corner.
H: That’s right. The benchmark is set for the convenience of the city and it’s hard to be satisfied with less.
V: I remember you told me that your dad was a DJ.
V: Did you go to any parties with your dad as a teenager?
H: I try to go back to the first party I went to with my dad. So, I didn’t grow up with him. I saw him intermittently as a teenager and I was less interested in that kind of lifestyle of music or parties in general until I became a bit older and finished high school and then after that it was awesome. Now I was able to go out with my dad to the mad events in Amsterdam and he knows that place really well. I went to some amazing underground parties there. In Australia, I remember we went to this bush doofs which are these raves that they have in the middle of the bush for a couple of days. And I haven’t been to one of these before and we were walking through this crowd and I couldn’t believe it, because we couldn’t walk two metres without someone being “Oh, what’s up!”. I swear everyone at this festival knew my dad who was this old hippie DJ dude. And I was just amazed.
V: What’s his DJ name?
H: I think his DJ name was Saffix. I am actually seeing him tonight. He is flying in from Melbourne. So, I’ll have to… I’m pretty sure that’s it.
V: It’s good to go down the memory lane.
H: Yeah, that’s right.
V: I used to be an active DJ. I am able to, but I don’t pursue it. I think it was the same genre as your dad, psy-trance.
V: I can totally imagine his vibe and knowing him at festivals. I can imagine that. There were some men and women of my parents’ age at those festivals. And they would always amaze me and inspire me. I’m like I want to keep doing that when I am their age.
H: It’s impressive that he can just live that lifestyle and live in that community for so long. But I guess once you find your community or family, wherever it is, there is no reason to really leave. If that’s what really makes you happy and people you connect with.
V: You took quite a different path from your dad and now you are a doctor.
H: Entirely so. So they tell me.
V: I’m not a doctor. I just play one on TV. So how did you become a doctor and what does it take in Australia to become one?
H: So, the system here is in a bit in a transition in the moment, moving towards the American model in terms of the way they setup the degree. So, you have an undergraduate degree of some kind, be Arts or Science, and then you’ll apply for postgraduate which is about four years. So, three-year undergraduate before your postgraduate. Seven years all up. I went to the University of New South Wales which is an undergraduate degree. So, you come straight in after high school and it’s six years. Which is good, because once you are in, you’re in. I think I was probably one of the first in my family, if not the first, to go to university. And it was the decision that my mum made to send me to boarding school. Sort of put me in an environment where it is more competitive, I think. I had the educational opportunities to do well.
V: Boarding school was a bit like boot camp style?
H: It’s not so big in the States. Basically you go there and you just live at school. And it’s actually awesome. I thought I would hate it. But I went there and it actually was some of the best years of my life. You go there and you’re living in this huge dormitory with all your mates. You’re living with 30 of your best mates and if you’re not, then you will become that. So, you just become incredibly close to these people in a way that only living with people and going through various nonsense of high school and homework.
V: It had the usual issues of bullying and clicks and stuff like that? Or was it pretty friendly?
H: Yeah, no it was pretty good. Because in Australia you grow up and you see the American kind of high school stereotypes. You have the big cafeteria and the jocks all sitting together and the cheerleaders sitting together. And it wasn’t like that. So for start, it was an all boys’ school. So, that unfortunately removes all the cheerleaders immediately. But, it was a pretty good setup, because we had our sister school would come and they lived with us. They lived on campus and then in day they would go away and do their learning at their school. So, it was great. You would have your masculine learning in the day uninterrupted by the feminine wiles of young 16-year-old women. And then in the night-time they come back and you dine with them and you learn those social skills and don’t become a bit stunted as result. So, it was really good. It was a lot less clicky. It was a city, but it was still fairly rural. So, you have a lot of guys come in from properties and you have a lot of boys from the islands. So, it was a pretty good mix of people with not a lot of elitism at all.
V: So, even playing field?
H: Basically. It was a sports school. And so the guys that were on the rugby team… but at the same time it also valued people that did well in academics and people that did well in music. So, I was actually really lucky, because it could have gone any way.
V: Cool. So that prepared you for a more serious education?
H: Yeah. That’s right.
V: So, when you graduated you travelled the world a little bit. Where did you go?
H: Yes, so I finished high school and got good grades and went in medicine, because that’s what you do. And so I was pretty young at the time and went straight down to Sydney. And then after one year of uni, I took my first kind of around the world trip. I met a guy from the University of Virginia, a frat guy, who came on an exchange. Became really good mates with him and then at some stage it was like… Do you want to come and live in this frat house for a bit? Come visit. And, again going back to all those visions I had fraternity living in American colleges I was like hell yeah, I have to do that. And I think with around the world tickets, at least at the time, you had to get three locations. First, I went to the Alps in France. My friend’s dad had a little taxi company there. So I went to stay there and that was awesome. My first exposure to European culture which is this whole other depth of culture and history. That was really great. You just don’t get that, there’s not that depth of culture in Australia. There’s not that history. There’s not that refinement. I think I still am very enamoured with European culture as a result of that. Then I went to Virginia and stayed at this guy’s frat house. I went there during rush or whatever. Where all the new guys that want to join the frat go to all the different houses and party and go through all these ridiculous events and then they all pledged. It was hilarious.
V: Was it like in the movies?
H: It really was. They got these room full of all the new guys, blindfolded them and had recording at static and they just cranked it up and left the guys in the room for four hours. And every now and then, some guy would walk in there, they made them think that there was always a guy in there, and he would open the door and just yell at them. And then close and come downstairs. Everyone would pissed themselves laughing. And then…
V: So this was hazing?
H: Yeah, it was hazing. And the one moment they bring them down the stairs and make them think that something terrible was going to happen, but it didn’t. It was really entertaining. That was good fun. And then I went over to London and I was supposed to meet up with a friend of mine, but she bailed on me. So, I just end up going to a hostel. And I was only like 17 at the time. I was pretty miserable, because it was the first time that I was by myself anywhere. And then just manned up, went to the hostel bar and met a bunch of people as you do. You travel around with people that you probably would not have otherwise met or spend time with. Yeah, so that was my first travel experience at the tender age of 17. And it was only up from there.
V: That’s a good story. That’s more than most people can say they have experienced at that age.
V: You have covered a lot of ground. Are you an active entrepreneur right now or is it a little bit in the past?
H: Yes, so I am absolutely still active. It is much harder, though, when you are working a full-time job, as you can imagine. So, after I finished university I moved to New York with my co-founder and we started a company called Conscious Step. Which is, as you mentioned, we make socially conscious socks. So we partner each different sock design with a different non-profit partner and there’s an impact associated with each pair. So, you buy a pair and it will donate two books or another pair will plant 20 trees. Yeah, we did a crowdfunding campaign during my last year in university and we pulled it off. I remember this day was a pretty big day. I got the results from my final exams that I passed and we also finished our crowdfunding campaign. I remember just skipping down the street. It was a good day.
V: So you had the choice. You could move on with your doctor career or you could continue with the start-up?
H: Exactly right. It really put it in contrast ’cause there were these two decisions that would really take me in very separate directions. Luckily, you had two years before you had to start working in a hospital and up until that point one of the lessons I learnt was just by putting yourself out there, making extreme decisions, decisions that would seem extreme to a lot of other people, generally resulted in the richer experiences and the most growth. I was like screw it. Let’s go to New York and work on socks. And obviously you have to hedge your bets and you have litigate your risks a little bit. If it was do that and never ever come back to medicine, I probably would not have done it. But I was lucky enough to have the situation where I could go and do that for two years and then come back. Which is precisely what has happened. So, I’ve been back in Australia working now for 12 months and have been working on Conscious Step in the spare time between that. Still staying actively involved, but it is much harder as anyone who is doing something on the side I am sure can…
V: Right. During that time we met in New York.
H: That’s right.
V: And you had… You were in the survival mode, right?
V: You kept very positive appearances…
V: But it wasn’t all that peachy.
H: No, it wasn’t.
V: So, what are some ways that you can share with listeners that you used to survive in this very expensive city?
H: I had a lot of $1 pizza. I will probably pay for that later in life.
V: God bless dollar pizza.
H: Yeah, look. It was really hard. You knew me then. You saw where I was living. Yeah, it was really tough man. People say a lot about New York City. It’s one of those experiences that doesn’t really mean much until you go there and experience it yourself. I think the hardship that seems to be common with so many of people’s experiences of New York is really what gives it that texture. And what really gives people that positive associations with it. It is such an amazing city with infinite opportunity and regardless of what you into. Any kind of music or culture or entrepreneurship. Any miniature facet of any of those things. There’s something there. There is a community there of people. But at the same time, the city is filled with people that go there to make it to experience these things and it is hard to get work there. And it is ridiculously, ridiculously expensive.
You went through all this yourself, obviously you still are, but, when I was there I was in a start-up. Just doing very early stages and it wasn’t making enough money to pay us. So, had to work a part-time job on the side whilst still trying to make it with this start-up, but also just to afford day-to-day living which was really hard.
I think with all these experiences of this hardship stack up on each other, it’s when it’s really hard. When you had your first New York winter, you don’t have the correct clothes. You don’t have enough money to buy those clothes. You’re living in some crappy little apartment with four other dudes. Living with cats that just shit everywhere. You have to get up in the morning and get on the G train along with a million other people. Travel 45 minutes to midtown. Get off and then you’re literally at Times Square, which is just the armpit of the universe, fighting with people on the way. You get to work at 9 o’clock and you are already just exhausted. And then you might swipe your Metro card and you got no money on it. And you’re like this is not what I need right now. But it’s looking back on all those that I think build the character. I am not rushing to experience those things again, but it really was great.
V: It’s both good and not so good memories?
H: That’s right. Yeah. Absolutely right.
V: If you put it in reverse and have someone like you survive on the cheap in Sydney. Would it be very different?
H: That’s a very good question. I have been thinking about that a lot. Sydney is very expensive as well. I don’t think it is as expensive as New York, but it is very comparable.
V: If you have no money?
H: Yeah, if you have no money it really sucks. I am lucky to be in better financial position now as I have started working, but I think the answer is, no. I think it is easier to live here on less money. There’s less stuff to do. Right. So, in New York there’s a million different free things which are awesome to go to. Just yesterday we were driving with my co-founder through Pitt Street Mall which is the densest part of Sydney. This is the most population dense part of Sydney, and arguably Australia, and that is probably what you would see in Bed-Stuy at 4 am on Saturday night.
It’s not Times Square. I think the density of people and the fact that it’s a lot more relaxed here and little things. The public transport is clean and new. People aren’t as stressed out. The weather is really good. You have access to beaches. And people, there’s not that hustle attitude which is a negative in some instances. If you’re trying to start a company, I wouldn’t say Sydney is the best place for it. But in terms of your mental well-being and happiness, trying to live on not much money. I would say it is easy to do in Sydney.
V: And you think it’s easier to connect with people who are less hustle orientated?
H: Yeah, I think so. A lot people come to Sydney to enjoy the weather, to enjoy the beaches. There’s a massive backpacker population here. Everyone comes here and they live in Bondi or they live in Coochie. They go there to experience the beach, as opposed to New York. People go there to make it as an actor or as a businessman. These are literally opposite ends of the spectrum.
V: You don’t mind working 12-hour work days or longer in New York. They kind of sign up for it and happily do this for a couple of years at least. Can’t imagine people doing it in Sydney.
H: No, that’s not to say there isn’t people working hard here, not at all. But it makes it easier. There’s less of a vibe that encourages that here again by virtue of the good weather and the more laid-back vibe of Australia generally.
V: So, soon after you came back somehow you managed to give a TED talk in Australia. I was very impressed. So, tell us a little bit about what that experience was like and how did you choose the topic.
H: So, it was TEDxUNSW, so that was my university. My university had decided to host the TEDx. Just because I had been so active in the university community over the years as an entrepreneur going to as many events as I could. Sort of not making a name for myself, but just being there all the time and going to these events and going to various pitching competitions. By the time Conscious Step pulled through, I have been at the university in an entrepreneurial position for seven years. That was how they found me. They just knew me. Somebody asked the guy who ran the entrepreneurship department there and he’s go chat to Hassan he has done various pitching competitions and public speaking before.
So, it is interesting how that opportunity arouse. It is not something that I could have sought out. It happened, because I have just been there for seven years. I just kept turning up and just kept being around. It really just fell into my lap which was amazing. I am sure probably everyone here that’s listening, that’s interested in TED talks, posed with the question they would probably ask themselves if I was to give a TED talk, or any kind of talk, what would I speak about?
And it’s hard, because the bar is so high. Not only do you want to give a technically good presentation, but you want to talk about something that’s interesting. And with the Internet now, social media and YouTube, it’s a medium for anyone to say anything. So, it almost feels like everything has been said. I didn’t want to talk about the same old tired do-good-for-the-world-because-it’s-good kind of thing. I was speaking to university students, so I wanted it to be relevant to them.
What are the things that really drive people to choose various career paths and pursuits? And, as you can imagine, there’s been a lot of scientific evidence on it. And it really comes down to money, prestige, the opinion others have of you and of the position and then enjoyment of the work itself and fulfilment. Within the doing good sector which involves charity and any kind of work that has a purpose to it that improves the planet, people are very hesitant to talk about selfish motivations in the same breath as something that does good for others. No one wants to say, it’s dirty to say I went into charity because I wanted to make money. Because it just doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t sit with us well. But at the end of the day, if we want to get more people working within these sectors working towards solving these problems, we just need to be real about what it is that motivates people and like I said we know what motivates people. Money motivates people. Prestige motivates people. And so I spoke about how working within the realm of social good can actually pay you well. And it can be very prestigious. You look at people like Elon Musk now who’s changing the world with solar power, renewable energy, electric cars. That’s now revered. It is not just some hippie craziness as it probably was five years ago. So, that’s what I made my talk on.
V: How does the term selfishness that is controversial in itself tie into all that?
H: Well, I think it is referring to the idea that what are your selfish desires. Because we cannot pretend, but we can focus on being selfless. But that’s not a very good way to motivate people into a career. At the end of the day we are selfish animals. It’s not because we are inherently evil people. It’s because 50 000 years of biology and being selfish has gotten us here. So we are motivated by moving ourselves forward, accumulating resources, achieving status. And rather than fight that, maybe temper it? But rather than fighting it, acknowledging it and then making a good case for working in social good can satisfy those selfish desires and make you happy as a result.
So, yeah, that was really what that was referring to. It’s looking inwards towards what you honestly want for yourself, knowing that it is what motivates you and then putting that in the context of social good and social understanding that you can have a career in that area that will satisfy your selfish desires and make you happy.
V: It connects with the business a little bit as well that you have. You buy good-looking socks, but you’re also helping. A good cause you’re giving. Someone will plant trees on your behalf or something.
H: I never really thought of that, but you’re absolutely right. That’s what that is. It is a selfish desire to look good and feel good, but at the same time helping other people.
V: I have one pair of your socks and this is the only socks that make me think, oh there’s some kind of cause behind them. The others they do not have a story attached to them. They might have a story, but this I know has a reach into the world that needs support.
H: You’ll need more than one pair. I will have to send you some more.
V: Or I can selflessly purchase them and not wait for the handout.
H: That’s right.
V: I much prefer a hookup since I have the direct channel.
H: That’s true
V: I guess along the same lines I had a question here about what message would you like to spread in the world, if you had a massive reach and you could influence people’s thoughts, views?
H: It’s a good question. I guess it is a similar question that I posed myself with the TEDx. I think it’s really that appealing to people’s generosity is not going to help solve the world’s problems, because at the end of the day there’s a lot of problems stacking up day after day after day.
We are more exposed to them now with media and the Internet, but it is also by virtue of there’s just more problems. And so I am just thinking about what we can do to solve those and make sure that we have a future, the planet has a future. I think it’s being honest with ourselves. You can satisfy everything you want to achieve. You can satisfy your own desires, the top level of Maslow’s hierarchy – self-actualization, I think it is. You can achieve everything that you want to achieve selflessly for yourself and become the greatest person that you can be. But if you can do that towards the direction of helping the planet then that is sort of the ultimate. Because even if you look at all the richest people in the world – the Bill Gates, the Warrent Buffets – what do they do after they have made millions of dollars? They turn around and they put it into charity or they put in into some kind of social good which sort of tells me that money is not the be-all and end-all. They must have this feeling that I need to do something good with it. So…
V: Thankfully. They are not all evil.
H: That’s right. And that tells me that in order to be happy there must be some element of I need do good for other people. I think it is just that. The message that you can help yourself and help others at the same time.
V: Like put an oxygen mask on yourself first and then help your child.
H: That’s a great analogy. I should have used it.
V: I’ve heard it somewhere. But it always fits in with this.
H: That is really good. I liked that a lot.
V: This is the justifiable selfishness. Right?
H: That’s right! It really is. It doesn’t sit well with people for some reason. It just doesn’t. But hopefully we can get over that, because I think that is the best way to move forward.
V: So, what are you working on in terms of personal development and what would you like to improve about your lifestyle at the moment?
H: It’s a question I have asked myself pretty recently with the New Year. I am no big New Year’s resolution guy, but it’s a good opportunity to take stock of things. So, one of the big things is meditation and this is something that comes up again and again with a lot of people. It is so funny, because if you look at meditation it’s literally 5-10 minutes a day of sitting there and doing nothing. You can do it anywhere, you don’t need any equipment, you don’t need any specialized skills and the evidence of the benefits are just more and more – improved concentration, improved sleep, less stress, less anxiety. Who doesn’t want that from 10 minutes a day sitting there? Yet, it is so hard.
V: Tell me about it.
H: You know what I mean?
H: I have struggled myself for so long. And so, I look at that and that’s probably the greatest place of leverage. If I can just get this sorted out. So, I guess my big thing this year is I went and bought a $30 app. And I was I put $30 in this app, so I am definitely going to use it now, otherwise I am going to be pissed at myself for doing this. So, at the night-time I just come back and have a recorded guided meditation. I wasn’t into the guided meditation thing, but I do it because it gives me structure and I wouldn’t do it without it. So, that’s one thing.
V: Have you had a successful week every day?
H: I have. At the moment it is tough as well because I have just started this seven- day-on-seven-day-off rooster. But I had been pretty good this week. I have done three out of the last four days which I am pretty happy about. The thing with meditation is that it needs to… by the sounds of it, you probably need to be doing 20 minutes a day every day. And at that stage you are going to get the benefits and that sounds like, oh my God, I would never be able to do that, but that is what I want to build up towards. I think that is a priority for me this year.
V: I had a small pact with myself. I am learning Spanish. I’ve been learning Spanish recently. So, I get guided meditation recordings in Spanish. So, I’ve been doing both. I tried it a couple of times.
H: That’s amazing!
V: I understand 50% of what the guy is saying.
H: That is amazing! That’s incredible. I love that! I love that!
V: I just can’t stop hacking life.
H: Everywhere. All aspects. That’s really cool. Yeah, so I’ve doing that. I’ve got this full-time medicine thing which is about 40 hours a week, give or take. And I really want to still make meaningful contributions to the business which is still growing which is great. But really getting out, but really working hard, being really industrious and very productive is something that has been an on-going challenge for me and I just continue to struggle and I wonder if it’s even possible. It is trying to ring out 50, 60, 70 hours of productive weeks.
V: It’s too warm in Sydney. The weather is too nice.
H: It’s true. I’ve got to go to the beach. I can’t help it. So, and that’s what I am really interested in. How do I come back at the end of the day and after a huge draining day and put in another good hour or two. How do I do that and also find the motivation to go to the gym? I just started pursuing ju-jitsu as well, so that’s been really cool. But finding time to do all that… Am I being unrealistic? Am I just going to be dissatisfied with myself, continually letting myself down? At the same time, if I want to achieve what I want to achieve here, I need to have more output.
V: There’s no way around it, right? If you want to hit certain methods.
H: There’s no way around it. That’s right. You can optimize and you can hack, but the one finite thing is the time and how do I use that time better. It just comes down to sheer willpower sometimes. I am not sure what it is. It was easier when you were just full-time doing something. That was what New York was so great for. You throw yourself into the deep end and you just go, because there’s nothing else to do. But it’s so much harder when you have this job which is fairly satisfying in itself and gives you the financial means. To then hustle on top of that is a lot harder. I am trying to do that actually. Have you come across that struggle yourself? Or spoken to any people that have good insight into that?
V: There’s always a conflict. There’s always a dilemma. The crossroads of being nice to yourself and forgiving and not beat yourself up on the things that you’re missing out on in terms of productivity and achievements. On the other hand, it’s this hustle. You got to do it. You got to make lists, go down the lists, check things off and feel good about it. Really good.
And then once in a while, or fairly regularly, you hit the wall. It doesn’t matter if I have this or free time. It doesn’t matter. I just don’t want to do it. But it feels like for me, it’s a combination of rewarding myself for hard work with the stuff that I would have been doing had I been just slacking off. Give myself a little bit of that mindless entertainment or something. And realizing where my comfort zones are and pushing myself outside, not as much as I can, but enough to remind myself that I am self-aware. I know I get too comfortable then take a step outside of it and take a class in something that you’ve been wanting to do. Even it feels a pain to start from scratch. Get on with learning a language, or dance class or martial arts or something like that. And if it doesn’t work out as well as you thought it would, be OK with it. And always ask yourself, is it because I’m giving up too soon or is it because I have other priorities? And you never quite know the answer. It’s very difficult to stop comparing yourself to others who are super-high achievers. And part of the reason why I am doing this podcast is to show people that you don’t always have to listen and look at overachievers and measure your success and productivity by their standards, because it can be very daunting. I think a lot of people do plenty and they have interesting and fulfilling lives. Maybe sometimes they don’t realize that, but that’s the way it goes. Sometimes people tell me you’re doing so much. I don’t know, if you think that, I don’t think that.
H: Yeah, Yeah. It’s interesting to… I am pretty happy. Do you know what I mean? I have a work that is fulfilling. I earn enough to have a place that I am happy with and comfortable in. I have interesting people in my life. It’s like shit, I am pretty happy now. You ask yourself why grinding harder and harder and harder is just actually detracting from what I have in front of me which is actually pretty good. I think definitely there’s this, certainly in America as well. We put people on this pedestal, the Zuckerbergs and the Elon Musks, and they are on this pedestal. But I reckon if most of us lived a week in the life of them, we really would not want that.
V: Probably not.
H: Probably not. At the same time, it is really what is idolized. It is another thing that I am thinking about, hustling with.
V: We get shamed for not doing things a little bit harder. Not directly, but by this constant feed of posts on medium.com and popular posts on Twitter and Facebook.
H: Yeah, Yeah.
V: And how people engineer their external lives. What they post on social media surely makes a lot of people insecure.
V: I like to know people who achieved some crazy success in social media stuff, because I would like to know from an engineering standpoint how did it happen. How did it get so much attention and followers? But it’s not necessarily for everyone and I think the current virus of the mind is that people think they deserve that same level of attention for doing not so much.
H: I recently got a… I had like an old phone for ages and I just got the Nexus which is huge now. So I actually look at Instagram now and I never used to. And it just stresses me out. It saddens me just how it is just this vehicle for people’s vanity and it is really depressing. It really is. I don’t want to go down this track of thought I think. Everyone is guilty of it to some degree. I think again this comes back to some kind of biological imperative to pull ahead of the pack and achieve renown. Now you just have Instagram. It is just this picture into the most unsavory elements of the human condition. Maybe I am being a little harsh on…
V: There’s got to be something positive about it too. I am sure there’s plenty of inspirational stuff that people get from there. But I like how someone said, and I agree with that, that it hasn’t changed our behavior – the social media apps. It just exposed it on a massive scale.
H: Well, look you’re right. You’re right. Now you are having status updates about things which you would only think. And in the past you would think it. You would think, wow, I look really great in this whatever… or how great are my awesome six-pack abs. Which is sort of fine to keep in your mind and those kind of things can be helpful and move you along, but when you use it in a way to sort of attention whore. I don’t know. Like each to his own is fine, but it really feeds into this reliance on other people’s approval for your happiness. I think that’s a dangerous path to take down, because at the end of the day if you put your happiness into the hands of anything that’s not you, then you are not in charge of your happiness anymore.
V: Thanks so much for joining me here. And I hope people got a little bit more insight into what it is like to be an Australian in Australia and in other places in the world.
H: Yeah, it was great.
V: Thanks, Hassan.