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Do these 5 Things for a Healthier Diet!

It is a new year and like many of us you are probably resetting your goal and repeat the same resolution from last year – lose weight. The pandemic has such a profound impact on everyone’s life that following a strict diet is almost close to impossible. All of us are constantly worry about getting the virus or what to cook for the next meal.

If you are like most Americans who are trying to lose weight but just could not get on the right track, well let just say you are not alone. Before the pandemic there are a lot of temptations that seem to get the better of us. Knee deep in the pandemic, all we worry about is what not getting infected whenever we go out food shopping.

Here I highlight several things you can change right away without breaking the bank. If you do them correctly, you are one step closer to reaching your goal. These 5 things that you should do right away are not revolutionary; you are likely heard of them but just didn’t think they matter.

Remove all Sugary Drink

Yes, you read and heard of this multiple times. Sugar is an evil invention that has caused all kinds of chronic disease in the country. It is perhaps the number one killer in America. The most obvious disease is diabetes, which ultimately lead to obesity and heart disease. Some of the drinks include soda, iced tea, drinks in a cans and even the Starbuck’s Frappucino should be avoided at all cost. A can of 12 oz coke has 39 gram of sugar, which is the recommended daily sugar intake for an adult male.

Instead of drinking a can of coke or a iced tea, go for hot tea (without sweatener). Nowadays there are all kinds of tea that will fit all kinds of taste. If you are not into the traditional tea, then try out fruit tea. Tea is know to have antioxidant that may boost our immune system and even ward off cancer and heart disease.

Pick any tea as long as it is tea

Don’t Use Sweeteners! Use Honey Instead

On the same subject of sugar, if you are counting calories there are 16 of them in 1 teaspoon of sugar. Depends on individuals, we burn up to 2,000 calories in a day naturally. So a few teaspoons of sugar can be burned by end of day. However, sugar creates a problem for those who have are not able to metabolize glucose correctly. Many food companies cashed in on the diet craze and start to offer sweeteners such as saccharin, aspartame and sucralose. Instead of using processed sugar cane, these food additives became a direct replacement for those who are calorie conscious. While there are no real studies to corelate sweeteners with risk on our health, you should avoid it at all cost. Instead of using artificial sweeteners use honey instead.

Reduce Red Meat, Eat Fish Instead

There are studies shown that meat is carcinogen, particularly those that are processed. Eating small portion occasionally should not have detrimental effect on our health. To meet your new year goal I suggest that you reducing red meat in your diet and eat more fish. Certain fish (particularly Mackerel) prevents heart disease and may lower diabetes. Salmon is known to contain good fat and tuna improves our immune system and encourage weight loss. If you are not into fishes, they replace red meat with white meat such as chicken.

Eat Colorful Vegetables

Eating just green leafy vegetable gets really boring quickly. By just limiting to greens, you are also limiting to certain vitamin. One option is to have a variety of different colorful vegetables such as carrots or sweet peppers. Colorful vegetables actually contains a lot of vitamin C and helps promote our immune system and also encourage weight loss. However, be mindful how you eat your vegetables. Eating salad is considered eating vegetables, but adding “heavy” dressing such as ceasar or thousand island defeat the purpose of keeping a healthy diet. Always select dressings that does not have cream, cheese or sugar. Consider dressings that are sour such as balsamic vinaigrette.

Skip the Desserts

I was born and raised in Asia. Eating sweets or desserts after meal was not common and my wife and I continue this way once we have our family. If you travel to South East Asian countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand or even Japan you hardly see overweight people. After meal most Asians would just drink tea or anything warm. They do not eat cakes or desserts that are usually contains a lot of sugar. Most Americans tend to eat desserts after meal. After a fulfilling meal, eating cake or pies just add more calories that require our bodies to metabolize. To burn off the extra calories will require additional 2 hours of exercise. However, we usually opt to just sit on the sofa and watch TV for the next 2 hours.

Dieting is difficult but with some determination (and exercise) getting rid some of the weight should not be difficult. So start small by taking these 5 steps now.

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Getting Funds for Investment (part 3)

It’s great that our financial market system is set-up to allow everyone the opportunity to build wealth. All the investment vehicles were tried and tested; some were more successful while some failed. We all know the financial market, particularly the stock market is made for the wealthy so getting the funds to invest is not a problem. But what about the 99% of us?

No More Coffee
No More Coffee!

We all received all kinds of advise on what to do with our money. Buy a house, invest in stocks, or maybe even invest in baseball cards. All of these require the funds (or disposable income) in order for them to become reality. Disposable income is defined as income remaining after deduction of taxes and other mandatory charges, available to be spent or saved as one wishes.

The question is how does anyone come up with the extra money when there are multitude of expense items that require our attention. I have the same challenges every month for the last 20 years. On top of the mortgage payment, there are utilities bills, groceries expenses and unexpected expenses. Over the years I learned of a few tricks that have helped me to come up with enough liquid asset that allow me to put some of them in investments. I hope this blog will help anyone who just started to earn wages to think about their future and how to come up with enough liquid asset to invest.

There are myriad of articles already exist out there showing strategies how to save money. I may repeat some of them here but mostly I will focus on how to prioritize the savings so much so that you don’t even know you are saving money. There will be some efforts and sacrifices made but they are for the benefits of your future. Thus, I would highly recommend that would consider some of methods in this blog.

Automatic Investment in 401k Retirement Fund

Most medium size and large companies offer 401k to their retirements. Some would offer the plan while others would match your contribution. If your companies offer matching contribution, you will want to max out the contribution and get the “free” money. The money you save in the retirement plan will continue to grow as long as the market continues to grow. The money you save in the plan will never go into deficit if you plan to withdraw it when you retire.

What happens if you have emergency need of cash? You can borrow against the retirement plan and repay it within certain period. If you fail to pay back the loan, you will need to pay a penalty and a hefty tax bill. Hence, any money you save in the retirement plan is considered “untouchable”. The good news is it will continue to grow and you never have to worry about it.

Annual Bonus and Tax Refund

At the end of every calendar year most companies will award bonus to their employees. Certain companies such as investment banks could award bonuses in the hundreds of thousands while some small companies would only give a few hundred dollars. While these are free monies, they are never actually “free” because they are usually taxed at a higher bracket.

Americans who start to earn wages are required by law to pay income tax to the federal and state governments. If you plan your tax correctly and input W4 appropriately, you should be able to get tax refund. Most Americans think the tax refund is a big payout and it is free. Instead of saving the refund, they will go on a spending spree. Tax that is being refunded to you is not free but your very own money. It is merely an over payment of taxes the previous year and the governments are just paying you back.

Instead of spending the bonus or tax refund, put them in a high-yield savings account, save them in emergency fund or invest them in either Roth IRA or traditional IRA. Better yet, if you have extra liquid assets available buy reputable equity stocks that pay dividends. These stocks will continue to generate passive income.

Automatic Deposit

Once you started working, most companies would encourage their employees to set-up a bank account because the wages would be automatically direct deposit to the bank. There are hardly any companies would pay wages in cash to cut administrative cost. Banks today are quite sophisticated in helping customers managing their money. On top of deposits, withdrawals and paying bills, most banks has a feature called “automatic transfer”. Everyone should use this feature to set up a periodic automatic transfer the wages you earn to a separate account. For example, after budgeting all my expenses, I was able to transfer $150 every pay period from my checking to my money market account. Instead of performing this task manually, I set up an automatic task that will transfer the funds twice a month. This method becomes so ingrained in my monthly budget that I hardly see the money but I know it is there should I ever need it.

A Penny Save is a Penny Earned

This is an old saying that is still true today. However, for this example, I’m not referring to saving your hard earned money in a savings account, which hardly pays any interest. I am referring to the actual pennies and changes you receive after a purchase. When we go our purchase anything with cash, it is extremely likely we will have changes in many denominations. And I can assure you that these coins will never be used again because they are real inconvenience and heavy to carry around. Save these coins in a container at home. Believe it or not in no time the coins will add up. Before the pandemic hit, my coins could easily amount to over $100 in 3 months. Once a year bring the coins to the bank and transfer it to an investment account.

Shop Smartly

Ever wonder why the brick and mortar stores are closing as fast as dead flies? Because more and more people are now shopping online. The benefit of purchasing online is it allows us as consumers to shop smartly. Apps today, such as Amazon or the Honey, enable us to look for deals before making any purchase. In turn, they allow us to save.

My family makes a lot of purchases online. If we find something that we like in the stores, we usually do not purchase the items right away. We would search Amazon to look for ratings and the price. The ratings will let us know if the items are reliable or if the price is right. This method allows us to cut our spending drastically. Another benefit is by not buying the item immediately allows to reconsider if the item is needed. It makes us question the need and want of the item thus further saving more money.

Eating Out

Eating out is one of the biggest expenses of any household. We are paying a price for the convenience of not cooking. My family used to eat out at least 4 nights a week. We gradually reduce it to 2 nights a week. The Coronavirus pandemic totally eliminate any chances of us eating out and I see our monthly expenses reduced by a third. Because of this I’ve been able to move the money that we did not use to the stocks.

I am going to use eating at a sushi restaurant as an example of price comparison. A roll of California roll at a restaurant costs between $5 to $8. On a sushi night, I would spend less than $15 in ingredients and make about 20 rolls of sushi. If I buy 20 rolls of sushi at a restaurant will probably cost me about $150 (taxes and tips included). That’s a $135 in savings!

No Gourmet Coffee

Prior to the pandemic hit I would see literally 20 to 30 people waiting for their coffee at Starbucks coffee. The prices for a beverage range from $3 to $8. There is a perception that Starbucks coffee are better then regular coffee and people are willing to pay premium for a cup of coffee. However, what people don’t realize that the coffee that they are getting is a big chunk of their monthly expenses. For example, using an average of $4 a cup of coffee you will have to pay about $120 a month to satisfy your cravings. Starbucks now offer k-cup coffee that you can make at home and they usually cost less than $1. That’s a $90 a month in saving that you can use to invest in.

I could go on forever to find funds to invest. At the end it is up to each one of us to take the initiatives to start saving and less spending. I am interested to hear from you of any other tips that work for you and help savings for the future.

Extracurricular Activities Are Overrated

When my kids were growing up my wife and I were always under pressure to follow the other school parents to be “soccer mom” or “soccer dad”. Whenever we were around with other parents we constantly heard stories of how busy they were busing their children around for sports.

In addition to that the elementary schools at my town always encourage the students to join school music band or choir singing. These activities continue to be important activities as the students move to middle school and high school. Unfortunately, I have to say all these activities are a waste of time. Before you jump up and down disagreeing my statement I want to lay out several reasons as they will not have any impact on your children future.

My assessment is based on my observation, experience as well as what I read over the years. Obviously not all activities are useless. Some universities and colleges, particularly certain ivy league schools do look at some of these activities as prerequisites for admission. Usually this applies to only certain exceptional students.

Time and Money Waste

A lot of these activities are not cheap. There is always a fee or monthly expense. Besides that you need to think about the gas you will need to drive them around. The most important waste of all is time. Each activity can last up to 2 hours and we all know time is money. Take soccer practice as an example. To be good at soccer, a 8th grader will need to attend at least 2 soccer practices a week and each can go for 2 hours. During any tournament or game, it could be 2 to 4 hours. And the parents will need to sacrifice by taking time off just to drive them around. Once the children past high-school, none of the experience gained will be useful because when they are in college not one professor will care about their soccer games. When they start looking for a job, not one employer would ask about these activities.

Extra Activities mean Less Important Activities

Believe it or not, in order to excel in today’s world you need to be really good in one field. Using computer field as an example, you need to know a lot of this subject. Not only you need to learn the programming language of today, you need to be also well versed with current technology. Without these knowledge, sitting in front of a hiring manager would be very challenging. I can tell you that the hiring manager would not ask about the soccer game you won when you were in 8th grade. Attending to these extracurricular activity means you have less time to learn anything else.

Children has Finite Energy

Children may have a lot of energy during a soccer practice or game over the weekend but they are likely collapse because lack of sleep or too tired to do anything else right immediately after the game. Most children around the teenage age requires a lot of energy as part of growing up. Putting them in sport activities may starve their bodies of required nutrients for their bodies to grow properly. As an example, one of our family friends has a daughter who runs in the track and very active in soccer. However, she is extremely thin and small for her age when she is compared to her peers.

Teamwork is Overrated

One of the biggest opponent of these activities are it instill teamwork values in them. Unfortunately, this term is overrated. Teamwork is not something you can learn by joining just a sport game. Teamwork is something you learn by being around a group of people aiming for the same objectives. In other words, you learn it during school projects, participating in a club or being a spectator in a game. I learned that teamwork is importing when I started working full-time. However, it is not often being used because everyone of us have assigned role in an organization. So often than not, the work is so segregated that the moniker “teamwork” is only used on the piece of paper but rarely practiced.

Education is More Important

What happens if the children spend all their waking hours participating in these activities but rarely allow them time to study. The end result is their grade may suffer. They may show up on trophy cups or school papers but when they continue to fail in all their classes, they may not be able to attend any higher education to pursue their dreams. My son’s girlfriend is an exceptional case. She is really good in her soccer and track. Additionally, she continues to do well at school. However, she rarely has any free time to do anything else.

My wife and I never pushed our 3 grown children to join any activities. And they turn up fine. My son will be graduating from Rutgers University with good grades and he will be working as an intern with Amazon AWS in the summer. That was the ultimate litmus test that I seeked for that confirmed my assessment is correct.

Extracurricular activities may help build characters but in a lot of times behavior starts at home through family values. Personally I believe children should be allowed to explore on their free time. Some may find interests in building cars while some may enjoy helping local community by volunteering. Children should not be defined how successful they are in scoring goals until they are too exhausted to do anything else.

Raising Good and Responsible Next Generation

This subject is always up for debate and there are no right or wrong answers. Only bad ones. I have always stick to certain values when I start raising my kids and there are certain times I doubt if I’m doing the right things.

I am Asian born and raised in South East Asia. Hence, there are certain values instilled in me growing up by my parents and what I observed. These values are filtered and now build within my wife and me. Obviously these values are being passed down to my kids, of whom my eldest son is now considered an adult as he will be hitting the major milestone.

It is very difficult to compare and contrast one tradition over another. I can’t say Asian culture is better than Western culture or vise versa. All I can say is when we raise good responsible generation we need to use common sense.

I had good feedback over the weekend from my son when I was giving him a haircut. After this year he will graduate from Rutgers and get ready to head out on his own. Prior to that he will be heading to the West at Seatle for his internship. He told me that what I have telling him over the last years were really good suggestions and he thanked me for everything I taught him.

Being Financial Responsible

I’ve been teaching my kids of being financial responsible. While our family never shy away on spending money but we never spend lavishly. For example, we don’t rush out to but the newest gadgets or the newest cars. We spend what we can afford. And we don’t consider brand name items as must have – we go to WalMart when we can because we now we usually get good deals. Two months ago my son told me that he wanted to buy the latest BMW once he got a job. However, he told me that he no longer consider that option because he realized that the monthly car payment of $1,000 per month is too much and the money can be well spend on other important things.

Take Ownership of Self

When my kids were growing up my wife and I would check on their well beings every moment. As they grow older around middle school we started to relax a bit. As my son started to attend Rutgers I told him that I will no longer check on his education. In those years I been telling them that if they don’t take charge of their future, the only option for them to support themselves is by working McDonald’s. Having worked at a fast food restaurant during high school, my son had the experience that working in this industry is not sustainable. Now he aspires to be a software engineer and work for Amazon (he will be an intern at Amazon in Seatle).

Education is Important

Good education leads to success

Both my wife and I are not the typical Asians who want perfect grades. We let our kids experience the American values as much as we could by letting them have freedom on how they study. At the same time, we stress the importance of having good education as we believe this is the only way to get good job and may lead to good life. While some may debate that this is the wrong message to send, it is still unfortunately very true today. My son noticed this too as he found better opportunity while studying at Rutgers. He realized that some of his friends from high school who are not doing well at school are struggling – one of his friends even drop out of college and joined the Navy because he was just doing badly at the local college.

Don’t Spoon Feed – Use Force Feed

I remember the time when my son asked me to buy him a car when he turned 18. Obviously, I refused. He said he needed a car to travel to Rutgers for his education. I told him that he would be using my wife’s car but he was not allowed to use the car for hanging out with his friends. While that seems excessive he agreed to it. The only way for him to be able to use the car hanging out is to buy his own car. And that goes back to being financial responsible – because of the added pressure of financing and insurance he realized the stress of being able to afford for the car. I was surprised that he thanked me – he told me that if I’ve given his the car when the turned 18 he would not be where he is today. He has seen some of his friends who received a car for their birthdays turn out to be losers today as they have no concept of value and what is right or wrong.

Family Values

Our family of five has been very close. Whenever possible we always do things together and celebrate all milestones together. For this reason we never fight. Some may argue that some arguments or disagreements are healthy; I personally disagree. Arguments can escalate quickly and not everyone can forgive and forget easily. Our family likes to joke around and even when we have disagreements they tend to go away really quickly because we downplay them through laughter. As an example, my oldest son will be 21 this summer and all the years with his younger brother who is 3 years apart only had a verbal spat once. All my kids have strong bonds and continue to have good relationship with each other.

Every parent always worries what is the right thing to do or how to raise kids. While there are help books or various advice you could seek from friends or relatives every situation and every family is different. For me having hearing from my son that I’ve been doing things right is a good pat on the back and that I’ve done what I set out to do – by being a good parent and raise good and responsible kids.

Why Diet is More Important than Exercise!

The Covid-19 pandemic has a tremendous impact on everyone across the world. It is unfortunate for those who lost their lives to this horrible virus. It also upended a lot of lives for those who are still living.

I have been fortunate that I was able to continue to support my family by working remotely. This was as a result of how my company, HSBC, tackles the pandemic in the most unusual way. With the exception of those on the retail bank and the back-end system support, almost 99% of the employees were sent home to work.

Obviously, this also has impact on my family lives. Prior to the pandemic, all of us have all kinds of activities outside of our home. One of them is going to gym to get the required exercise. With the onset of the infection, everything was shut down including our township gym. Now that everything has been easing, the gym began to open up last year.

Since the early 2020 I stopped going to the gym and one of my biggest worries is that I will not be able to continue with my fitness routine. The net effect was I would gain weight and started to lose muscle mass that I worked so hard for.

Earlier this month as the Omnicron variant of the Covid-19 began to subside, I started going to the gym again. Immediately I noticed that I did not lose much of my muscle mass. The only problem is my muscle was not able to do the intense exercise that I used to do. It appears that I would need to retrain my muscle again. After a few sessions I was able to regain 80% of the muscle power I lost.

I started to ponder the question if going to the gym was useful. Don’t get me wrong, getting enough exercise will help in many ways. But if we are stuck in the bind as it clearly demonstrated in the last 2 years, getting the exercise may not that important.

In the 2 years working at home I rarely go out to get the required exercise. Twice a week I would spend a total of 2 hours working on my core. The rest of the time I spent in front of the laptop and eating.

I knew from beginning that I would have to change my lifestyle dramatically. Being passive at home can have major negative impact on my health. With that in mind I made sure that I continue to eat healthy. I am not a believer of sticking to the green or non-carbohydrate diet. I am a believer of balance diet.

For the past 2 years I would cook for the family using the balance concept. Every meal will have some green vegetables, rice for carbohydrate, and one or two portion of white meat. Once a week we will have red meat such as beef. The most important of all is to cut down on sugar intake. Other than juices for my kids, my beverage options are coffee, tea and water.

The results speak for themselves. My blood test results did not show any negative spike and my weight has been constant. Additionally, I did not experience any lack of energy in the 2 years cooped at home.

While this is in no way a scientific proven claim, my personal experience showed that a proper diet is way more important that having completed 6 hours of gym every week.

Trust and Respect – Between Manager and Employee

Photo by Kraken Images on Pexels.com

I have been in the management level for over 10 years now and one thing I learn over the years when it comes to getting things done is the importance of “Trust and Respect”. From my experience the trust and respect of manager place over the employees are more important than the other way round.

The old way of managing employees whereby employees must “kau tau” to managers is a thing of the past. This was true several decades ago when employees must show their loyalty to the companies they work for by following the orders of management. Nowadays, most resumes of job seekers are 2 pages long because on average they change jobs within 2 years.

In the new ways of working, there are more and more employees working remotely. Getting things done do not involve face to face meeting – everything is done through Zoom or other forms of teleconferencing. The question is how do you get the work done when you are not looking over the shoulders of the employees. Building trust and respecting each other are the answers.

One of the most difficult things to do when it comes to managing employees is building trust but it takes time. To start you need to hire the right person and the person has to be dependable. The same person will also need to be able to get work done with limited management. However, the ability of the employees could be stunted if management does not trust the employees and continue to micro-managing the work.

On the other hand the employees also need to demonstrate that they are dependable and be able to work with minimal supervision. The best way for the employee to achieve this is by taking ownership of the project or task assigned and complete it within budget or timeline. And needless to say that this takes time depending on the size of the organization. Employees in small companies or departments can achieve this within relatively short time. On the other hand, large companies do require more time.

In my previous job I had to manage a small team to redesign the reporting tool for the department. I was given the task as I inherited the reporting task for the Internal Audit function. Prior to that most work was done in Excel and it is usually prone to errors. The reporting tool I created was so well received that I expanded the reporting function. As the tool grew, the reporting tool became bloated. Having put a team together, I assigned tasks to different members of the team. As I delegated the tasks I learned to trust the work that was completed by each member. And in turn, the team members learn to trust me.

Once you build the trust, there should also be respect involved. Trust can only go so far if there is no respect for one another. The respect I am referring to is that everyone is different and there should be an understanding that each and everyone work differently. Additionally everyone has different circumstances why they work. Some may work to support a family while some may work for a very different reason.

I recall several years ago when I started working in my current job the manager I worked for tend to have a short temper. I’ve known him for a number of years but never work with him. As I get to know him more I realized that he is a very difficult person to work for. Not only he has short temper, I found out that he was sexist as well. My current subordinate used to work for him. She has a family and has different priorities than this manager. The manager always questioned the ability of this subordinate and verbally abused her multiple times. Obviously the exchange became heated up to a point a complaint was filed with Human Resources by the subordinate.

After the manager was fired, I took on the role of supervising the subordinate. As I got to know her more, I realized that not only we had a lot in common she can do good work if given the opportunity. As I place more reliance on her I gave her full reign of her work and let her take ownership of her work. Today she is an important member of the team and has earned praise among others through her work. She has thought me that if given the opportunity, with trust and respect positive things can be achieved.

Working environment is very different today as compared to previous years. Employees have as much say as managers of their work and career. As managers we should trust employees to work and at the same time we need to earn their trust as well. While it is hard to believe both managers and and employees have equal footings within an organization. The only differences are that managers have more responsibilities and are usually get paid more.

Avoid Protein Supplement When Workout

Should you take this?

Have you ever seen those photos of fitness stars with chiseled body? And have you ever wished that you could achieve the same as you start working out? I know I was.

Three years ago as I started joining the local gym I started to look at other ways to achieve the dream body. Naturally I went with supplement nutrition to speed up the process. One of the most common supplements is the protein supplement. They usually come in powder form when you just add water. Mix it well and just drink it.

After a year of workout and consuming the supplement I realized that I feel myself a lot stronger and heavier. Looking at the mirror I realized that I look more buff. Unfortunately, that was the image I see on the outside. On the inside is a different story.

When I went to my doctor for my annual physical I was told that my blood results are less than ideal. Even though I look healthy on the outside my organs such as liver and kidneys are not. During the entire year of working out I did not change my diet other than adding protein supplement.

After realizing how the protein supplement has a negative side effect on my body I decided to stop using it. It has been 2 years since I last using protein supplement my blood test results have return back to normal. While I can’t be conclusive if the protein supplement is actually causing health side effects my quick experiment definitely suggest this hypothesis.

I am not a nutritionist and I am not here to make any recommendations. However, if you are new to working out and if you want to maintain a healthy diet I would suggest avoiding any health supplement such as protein powder. Looking at the ingredients, most protein powder contains sucralose and other artificial ingredients which are bad for our body. And as for nutrition facts, it contains high amount of calories and ingredients that may cause increase in cholesterol.

In addition to the above there are news where several bodybuilders who died from too much protein. One of them was a bodybuilder who died from protein overdose. And there are others such as a bodybuilder who died unexpectedly. While it is inconclusive, here is another bodybuilder who died in her sleep. All of these individuals were relatively healthy and they probably consume a lot of the protein powder to supplement their workout regime.

In my further research, there is an article that talks about the serious side effects of protein powder. This article also answers some of the side effects that I experienced.

If you are working out I suggest that you rely on the natural food and the diet to provide you the necessary nutrition. Adding supplements such as protein powder may help but we need to be careful as the ingredients in this supplements may be toxic and cause problems in the long run.

Mentoring and Networking to a Successful Career

I am an introvert person and naturally reaching out to people to talk is not an easy task for me. As I started working professionally I realized that if I want to climb the career ladder I need to be able to connect with others. Naturally as I started to talk to communicate I began to create the bridge and build a network of professionals.

I never considered networking as an important factor until recently after attending a leadership program last year. The second module of the training discussed the importance of networking. Before I attended the training I always incorrectly believed that networking is only for extroverts who excel in talking with all types of people. However, I was very surprised to hear that 80% of the attendees of the program proclaimed that they are introverts.

The question is why is networking important in the career world? The answer is a lot. For one, most of us do not work in silo; in most cases we are required to work with others in order to complete a task. Most important projects require a team and within a team there would be a group of people with different expertise to work on the project. Imagine building a rocket with a team consists of engineers, technicians and scientists, astrologists, etc.

We network all the time it just that we don’t realize. For example when we pick up the phone to call someone from another department to discuss an issue we are actually opening a channel to network. Or the meeting that we attended with the suppliers on how to implement a new system – that is also part of networking. We communicate with other parties to get things done and to achieve the ultimate outcome.

How do you create the network? The most important aspect is create a positive impression throughout the entire exchange. Creating frictions on the other hand will have an opposite effect. In addition to building good impression we need to reinforce the network by continue to have constant exchange. If for some reason that you lost the connection over the years, a simple catch up will instantly rebuild the network.

One of the mindset that we need to change about networking is it is not about needing something in return. We should not use our networks because we are looking for a job. It creates a wall of dishonesty and may have a negative effect on the relationship. For the past year I change my approach and reaching out to the past connections to catch up. Instead of asking for something in return I do a wellness check.

It is important to note that not all networking will result in positive return. We should treat networking as a long term investment. As you invest more time and effort in this activity, like all investments will create a positive return whether through better career advancement or getting things done.

Skills You Need for Successful Career in the Business World

I have been working professionally in the financial world for more than 20 years. While I would not categorize that I am “extremely” successful (or I would have been a CEO of a large company by now) I would consider myself as an “A” employee.

Climbing up the career ladder sometimes is quite daunting as there are other employees who are vying for the same positions. After working for over than 20 years for two large multi-national corporations I learned that there are certain skills that are very essential. If you just graduated from college and aspire to work in the business world, I hope the following pointers will give you some idea how to have a successful career.

Technical Skills

I recall when I worked at Arthur Andersen 20 years ago that some of the Partners did not know how to use a computer and all of the Partners had executive assistant (or secretaries) who would assist them, taking notes and answering phone calls. If you step in a large corporations today you would rarely see secretaries and everyone would be using a computer or laptop. On top of knowing how to use a computer, it is given that 90% of business people use Microsoft Office Suite software. Certain positions would require specialized skills in certain software such as Tableau, or data mining tool.

Logical Thinking

I find that having logical thinking is an extremely important skill. You cannot attend a meeting without thinking logically. Upper management today are more agile and they expect results quickly. As such in order to more faster management expect each employee to be able to adjust to the environment and think how to best approach the challenge. If you read the IBM of the yesteryear, everyone would dress in blue and go with the flow because that was how it was done.

Time Management Skills

Managing time is as important as getting things done. At any given time, an employee can have up to 20 to-do items, including major projects and minor tasks. Without a good time management skill it could spell disaster if certain projects could not be completed on time. It is no longer that easy going into an office and tackle the questions and challenges one at a time. To be able to meet all the deadlines all employees are expected to juggle their responsibilities effectively.

Communication Skills

Every year we are required to complete a performance management review. This annual exercise is to gauge if we are meeting company and personal goals. I recall several reviews that I had with my manager where I was rated less than ideal. And the skill that held me back was having good communication. Since then I worked twice as hard to improve my skills through taking training in speaking and writing. Additionally I learned to read my email twice before sending it out to avoid having confusion in what I am trying to convey.

Listening Skills

I list listening skills different from communication skills because it is not easy master the listening skills. Yes, all of us know what listening entails but to be able to move up the ladder in the business world you need to know when to start listening and when to start speaking. It is very easy for us to interrupt the speaker because we make assumption of the message that is being conveyed. I’ve seen a few people who tend to jump in the conversation without allowing the speaker to stop. Not only this is rude but it could cause confusion on what message that we as listener are suppose to pick up.

People Skills

Do you know what is the major difference between a CEO and high school teacher? A successful CEO is able to connect with his/her employees and get things done. A high school teacher only cares about getting the lessons across and hopefully the students understand the contents. To be able to climb up the career ladder it is important that we are able to have good rapport with the people we work with. Living under the rock and work on the project alone can only go so far.

Continuous Improvement

The company I work for care of future skills and it continues to encourage employees to gain knowledge through training (in person and virtual). However, all those investments would be wasted if employees do not care to improve their skills. When I had my performance management with my manager 15 years ago I told my manager that I did not take any training because I did not have the time. My manager told me that, “I make the time.” That was the wake up call that I need to focus on myself my continue to make commitment to learn new skills. Today, when schedule permits I would take training focusing on Artificial Intelligence and Anti-Money Laundering.

What I list here is not an exhausted list of skills that you should focus on. Depends on certain professions certain skills are are more important that others. For example if you are in investment banks, having good math skill is as important as good listening skill. Or if you are in communications department, you are likely place people skill first and technical skill last.

Choosing the Right Drink is Important

Would you like a cup of tea?

Anytime we eat we usually have a drink next to us to water the food down. And believe it or not we rarely think twice of what to drink. What you choose to drink can have have impact on your health.

I remember vividly when I started working for my current employer 7 years ago I would get lunch at one of the delis or restaurants near my office. And my choice of drink was not the healthiest option. I would either go for a can of soda or some other sugary drink. I like most Americans found comfort chugging down a sugary and gassy drink. I never thought twice how much sugar I was consuming.

My wake up moment was after receiving my blood test results from my annual physical exam. My mother has diabetes and I always in denial that I would inherit her disease. Needless to say I was very surprised when my doctor told me that my glucose level is abnormal and I was considered pre-diabetic.

If I continued the way I was eating (with a can of soda) I was sure I would become diabetic in 2 years time. I came home after receiving the blood test results with a goal in mind – removing all sugary drink from my diet.

My biggest fear with that goal was “what should I drink going forward?”

It has been more than 6 years and I can tell you that the question is stupid and the fear was unfounded. Nowadays I rarely think twice what to drink because my options are very limited – water or tea. Soda and sugary drink are not in my vocabulary. The real challenge for me is what type of tea to drink?

After several years of tea drinking I can say that I have been able to maintain my glucose level without resorting extreme measures such as using medicine. While my recent blood report did not show any significant improvements I was glad to find out that it did not get any worse. In order to lower the glucose level further, I need to remove all sugar and carbohydrates from my diet. That is something I will continue to work on.

Dieting not working? Maybe it’s not your fault!

Healthy options…not

Dieting is one of the worst conundrums of life. You know it is achievable but for some reason try as you might, it is much harder to reach. A lot of us ask the question why? I ask the same question everyday and trust me there is no direct answer. But I can tell you that the answers may not lie with you.

All of us need to buy groceries at least once a week and for 99% of us we get our source from one of the local food markets or supermarkets. My family is no different – we usually buy our groceries from local supermarket such as ShopRite or our local farm store. We do not have access to local farmers to get our vegetables or dairy.

So what are the main reasons that our dieting regime fails. This is a question that I ask quite often – in fact almost every weekend when I go grocery shopping.

Easy Access to Processed Food

I have been to multiple supermarkets around my neighborhood and all of them are organized in the same way. There are the fresh food aisle, beverage aisle, snack aisle and frozen food aisle to name a few. Without doing any factual calculation and using my local supermarket as an example, fresh food aisle only makes less than 20% of the products carried by the supermarket. My local supermarket is quite large with almost 24 aisles of food. The fresh food aisle including fruits only make less than 4 of them and that equals to about 17%. The less than ideal options such as snacks, cookies, frozen food and soda could easily cover 50% of the rest of the stores. My observations note that most shopping carts of most shoppers are filled with processed food rather than green vegetables.

Time Consuming to Prepare Food

Who doesn’t want to eat healthy food. The best way to get that is by cooking the food yourself. I’ve cooked for the family for years and I can tell you that I have to spend around an hour to cook a meal. On average I spend about 3 hours a day to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is so much easier to order outside or buy fast food from Mc Donalds or Burger King.

Restaurants May Not have Healthy Options

All of us eat out once a while but getting healthy meals from most restaurants may not be feasible. We know that tasty meal does not necessary mean healthy. The tasty steak that you just had is loaded with butter and fat. Or the amazing cheesecake that you ordered after the meal would not fit well in your diet. My family cooks at least 5 days a week to maintain a good diet. When we need to order out most restaurants do not offer good healthy options at all.

Keeping a healthy diet is a constant struggle. Sometimes it works and most of the time it doesn’t. Are we to blame if we are not able to maintain our diet? We need to be responsible for what we eat. However, at the same time if the conditions surrounding us do not condone positive impact on our diet it seems like a losing battle.

Don’t Buy Food Made from China

Eating food from different culture is exciting because you get to taste different type of food that you have otherwise never tasted before. My family always tried other cultures food when we get a chance. There are always surprises as well as disapointment.

My family is very much Asian and we love all types of Asian food. And to enjoy Asian food we either eat at restaurants or buy food from Asian market. However, there is one type of food that we avoid at all cost – any food items made from China.

Why?

Quite simply because of lack of food safety. China for years have been known to use non-food or even poisonous materials and mix them with food. Why would the food producers do such a thing? These unscrupulous producers would rather make more money by selling fake food than caring for consumers safety.

A recent article from USDA continues to find it challenging when it comes to importing food from China. The China government has set some food safety rules in recent years to combat this prevalent issue. However, the rules are hardly enforced due to lack of moral and continued bribery within Chinese government.

If you search YouTube for “China Food Safety” you will find a lot of videos on this subject. This begs the question – how wide is this issue is? Is it localized only in China or are the food being exported out of China to other countries. We will never know for sure because some of the fraud that was committed by China producers are so close to the real food that it is difficult to differentiate them. Did you know that honey can be faked?

So why take chances. When we go to the Asian market we avoid buying anything that is made in China.

Boxes and boxes of snacks all came from China at an Asian market.

Food producers use all kinds of color packaging to entice consumers but do not fall for them as the ingredients listed in the packaging can’t be trusted.

Seems simple ingredients being used with color packaging.

Luckily the US government required foreign producers to put where the products are made to protect consumer. For our family, that is the first thing we look for in any packaging.

Besides the “Product of China”, none of the other information can be trusted.

Believe it or not, probably 60% of the items sold in any Asian market are made in China. Identifying them is easy enough. I highly recommend that you choose food products make in Taiwan, Korea, Japan or even in the USA.

I could be generalizing all products made from China are harmful. However, until the moral of the China government has changed there is no reason to trust these products. Some of these products could be found cheaper than the products make from other countries. And perhaps therein lies the problem. To make money they need to sell cheap in large quantities. And to be able to make more money they use sub-par ingredients that are harmful.