The Price of Zig-Zagging: 6-Year Lag

Most people choose not to walk on the road to success. They sit at the crossroads and wait for success to come to them. They will wait for their whole lives and not find it.

Others walk only to give up half way. They rest at the side and never resume their journey. They too will never reach success.

That leaves us with the few. The few who fights through the inertia every day and takes one step forward, another step forward, and then another one. They get tired. Their body aches. They travel alone. And yet, they get up the next day to resume their travels.

I’m speaking to them. The few.

There are two paths in life. That of an arrow or that of water. It does not matter which one you choose, as long as you walk.

The path of the arrow is straight and narrow. You have a goal and everything you do is to achieve that goal. People on this path have mentors to lead them when they’re young. Think of the legacy craft — passed down from one generation to the next.

The dad painted all his life. He then taught his son how to paint. The son — immerse in painting since birth — excels and becomes famous. Then he teaches his son. And so on and so forth.

Picasso traveled the path of the arrow.

The path of the water zig-zags. Water flows here and there, going where the path takes them. You don’t have a goal. You have no mentor. So you seek your own path.

You try a little bit of this, then a little bit of that. You come up with your own conclusions. You find your own mentors. By trial and error, you realize your destiny.

Colonel Sanders traveled the path of the water.

The Road I’ve Taken

I lived an unconventional life.

I studied business in high school and college. I started an e-commerce store, which then failed. I worked in public accounting. I went back to school to get my basic education in science. I transitioned into medicine and became a physician. I started a website. Then I learned copywriting and turned my site into a profitable business and passive source of income. I left medicine. I published non-fiction books.

And then I pivoted to something else (which I will reveal in the future).

Safe to say, I traveled the path of water. I tried everything that interested me. I zig-zagged through life and am quickly reaching the destination known as success.

The one constant thing in my life: re-invention.

Yet, I feel uneasy because I wonder if zig-zagging through life pushed me back compared to where I could have been. In my estimation, I am 6 years behind to where I would be if I traveled the path of the arrow.

Knowing what I know now, and if I traveled the straight path, I would have worked in a job for $200,000 a year — 6 years ago. Six years behind means missing out on $1,200,000.

Was 6 Years in the Wilderness Worth $1,200,000?

I constantly ask myself I made the right choice by exploring, experimenting, and chasing after my curiosity. To answer the question, I made a list of what I’ve accomplished in the so-called unproductive years, starting with the most harmful and ending with the most beneficial:

1. Computer games. I was addicted to gaming, spending 13 hours or more glued to the computer. I wasted 5,000 to 6,000 hours. What a waste of time. Imagine if I spent those hours building up a skill instead, like writing. I weaned off of gaming throughout my first year of medical school. I learned my lesson well. These day, I don’t go near games. It doesn’t matter if my peers game. I won’t. I never played League of Legends, Clash of Clans, or Pokémon GO.

Verdict: life-wasting

2. Building foundational science knowledge. I enrolled in community college and took courses in biology, physics, chemistry, and organic chemistry. I did this for two years part-time. They were helpful for boosting my GPA and for passing the MCAT. But in medical school and beyond, I had no need for basic science knowledge.

Verdict: neutral

3. Accounting. I spent 4 years at a public accounting firm. I learned how to create financial statements. I learned about tax laws. I learned how to interview clients. And I acquired confidence when interacting with VIPs — business owners, CEOs, and those in top echelon of society.

The things I’ve learned in accounting still apply to my life today. First, I prepare my own tax returns. It saves me a few hundred dollars in tax preparation fees and by ensuring I get all the tax savings I am legally entitled too. Second, I carried over the skill of interviewing clients to interviewing patients. Third, I am not intimidated by those who have accomplished much because I’ve interacted with them for years. The experience helped me keep cool when answering to the higher ups.

However, I suspect that my accounting knowledge won’t pay off massively until a decade or so from now when my business will be spitting out massive money.

Verdict: possibly life-changing

4. Investing. When I wasn’t gaming, working out, or hanging out, I spent my free time investing. I read everything I could about it. I combed through financial statements and created financial models. When I found something suitable, I then invested with my own money.

Every year, I learned a bit more. I did this for 9 years straight and reached an investing epiphany. I even wrote a book about it.

Everyone should invest. I still invest. But you don’t see the awesome power of compounded returns until you have massive amounts of money.

Let’s just say when massive amounts of money come my way, I know how to multiply it. This is the key of never having to work again.

Verdict: life-changing

5. Writing. I wrote somewhat consistently starting second year of medical school. Then during the third year, I learned copywriting. I turned my words into a sales force which makes me money while I sleep. Then I did the unthinkable.

I left medical residency and pursued writing full-time. I wrote at a breath-taking pace. My life consisted of writing and gym. It was like a writing residency. I published 3 or 4 books that year.

I learned how to write books, instead of articles. I learned how to transition from the first chapter to last to reach a satisfying conclusion. I learned how to proof-read and edit better.

I applied extremely deliberate practice and my skill improved. But I paid a terrible price. I burned out from writing and I stopped. Writing for 8 hours each day for months tends to burn you out.

During my months off, I took long strolls and contemplated on life. I had enough money in to live a simple life without working again. I did not want to write, but I could not pull myself away from it. So I came up with a solution:

Learn how to write stories.

Up to this time, I wrote what I like to read — non-fiction. But I realized that a good writer has the skills of copywriter and storyteller. If I wrote non-fiction, I will eventually run out of things to write about. But if I wrote stories, I can write forever.

And anyways, the market for fiction is much bigger than that for non-fiction. People prefer to be entertained than to be educated. (Another copywriting tip.)

So I immersed myself in books on how to write stories. I went through 10 or more serious books. I lost count.

I watched movies and TV shows — not only for entertainment, but with a critical eye on dialogue, plot, and character arc.

I analyzed why I liked certain stories more than others.

Then I picked up the digital pen. I applied my new-found knowledge and wrote stories. I emerged from the ash better than I have died.

I found one of my passions: writing. I will do this for the rest of my life. Maybe not as frequently as before, but I could never give it up.

Will writing bring me a lot of money? Possibly, especially since I can expect to live for another 50 years. Each work I publish will be another source of passive income.

Will writing establish my legacy? Definitely.

Verdict: life-changing

6. Reading. College was a waste of time. However, during senior year, I did one thing which turned my life around: I read through a book because I wanted to, not because I had to. The book wasn’t even that good. But the seemingly insignificant act changed my life forever. It triggered an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.

In college, I spent the majority of time playing computer games. Once I had a taste of reading, I phased out gaming for reading. The transition was a battle. There would be days when I did nothing but read. Then there would be months when I did nothing but game.

But I always turned back to reading. Reading opened new worlds. Reading expanded my mind. Reading gave me the power to jump fields — from accounting to medicine to entrepreneurship to writing.

It helped me find the philosopher’s stone and to create wealth out of nothing.

Verdict: extremely life-changing

Was the 6 years in the wilderness worth a pre-tax opportunity cost of $1,200,000?

I think so.

If I traveled the path of the arrow, I would have been a one-trick pony — pulling in a salary of $200,000 per year. The job is very secure, so I could have the job for my lifetime.

Since I traveled the path of the water, I acquired life-altering skills in exchange. But you don’t see the true value of the skills until years or decades later.

If you compare who I was right out of college to my well-accomplished peers when they finished college, they won. They graduated from Ivy League schools. I graduated from a state school. They had the impressive internships and high-paying jobs. I had a crappy internship and no job (since I dove head-first into entrepreneurship).

But if you compare who I am today to the same peers, we may be on even terms. They pull in more money than me for the moment, but I have more potential. They climbed further up the ladder, but I accomplished more.

And in 3 years, my income will exceed theirs. Guaranteed.

And in 20 years, there will be no competition. The returns of my skills would have compounded and I will be an “overnight” success. Investments. Business empires. Legacy.

I play the long-term game. And acquiring skills is a long-term game.

A Blue-Collar Boy Has Big Dreams

One of my good friends has a humble beginning. He grew up in a blue-collar family.

Since high school, he dreamt of being a doctor. He shared his dreams, but no one thought he could do it.

His friends told him, “You’re never going to make it.” After all, he was just a boy in blue-collar family. No one leaves the small town.

He told his teacher, “Medicine will be a stepping stone to something bigger and better.”

The teacher laughed at his face. For most people, getting into medicine was the end-goal. Who was this poor kid with his impossible dreams?

But my friend was hungry. He busted his butt, burning the midnight oil in Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts.

He got into medical school. He graduated medical school. He’s on track to accomplishing his dreams.

He told his story with anger toward his naysayers. He couldn’t forgive them and blotted them out of his life.

I said, “Keep it up and you’re going to make it. Because I think exactly the same way.”

Then we talked about the possibilities of the future. Of wagyu beef. Of premium cigars. And of empires.

Never rest.

For more about the road to success and the straight way vs the zig-zag way, read The Simple Guide to Becoming Rich.

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