Skin in The Game – a Wise Heuristic to Live Life

By Marcus Neo | Journals

Apr 19

One of the best reads in 2018 and one that you should pick up is ‘Skin in The Game’ by Nassim Taleb. In the personal development world, there are many charlatans, from dating coaches aren’t constantly out in the field, to personal development gurus, to self-declared wealth coaches that never made a cent in their life.

I once declared that most business degrees are pointless, at least the more academic one. In my previous degree curriculum, I was made to calculate alpha, beta and gamma (academic finance) and if you reverse engineer the process of investors (with a track record), these variables are barely used. I do think accounting is helpful, however, I wasn’t too competent at it and I left. I was pretty convinced that academics wasn’t my strong suit until I did an exchange program at UC Berkeley, that left me with 2 Bs and an A.

I was pretty happy with my results and I decided to enroll into a part-time psychology program in Singapore, to compliment my interests in personal growth backed with scientific validity. However, after a year in, I’m at crossroads once again. Culture and curriculum make a whole lot of different.

In Berkeley, the assignments were split up into multiple parts and it wasn’t to examinations focused. I also had one purpose and one purpose only, that was to get good grades. I didn’t have to worry about putting food on the table. Hence, I excelled in that particular environment.

Meritocracy and Mobility

This brings me back to my Junior College and Secondary school days. I wasn’t too interested in differential equations when I was worried about if I could put food on the table. I am going make a political statement in a dating advice blog, it’s my blog, who cares? If you’re worried about putting food on the table, your priority isn’t learning differentiation equations. My family faced bankruptcy in my teens, and I was more concerned about if whatever I learned in the curriculum was going to be applicable in the real world. Singapore (or any other meritocratic society) prides itself for being meritocratic. However, I’ll like to suggest otherwise. Great upbringing and family environment put you way ahead.

Life is unfair, meritocracy is an ideal.

I once published a commentary on Channel News Asia that Singaporeans aren’t capable of making emotionally independent decisions because of our influence from society and our parents. I am doubling down on this stance as I make further progress (and aim to) in my financial life. If you had a conditional relationship with your parents, then you’re probably forced to make decisions because if you don’t, they’ll either kick you out of the house, or they’ll withdraw financial support.

Let me relate this back to dating, if you’re looking to get good at this, you need to distance yourself with your parents. If you have a toxic relationship with them, then move out. I know, rent isn’t exactly cheap in Singapore, however, if you’re employed, you can make it work. If you don’t draw enough pay, then get a sales based job, and move out.

This is your relationship life you’re talking about, do whatever it takes to make you succeed. I emptied half my bank account as a 21-year-old to get mentorship, that’s how badly I wanted it.

Skin in The Game

However, in Singapore, it’s a different ball game.

I’m running a business with expenditure, month after month and it’s difficult to split my focus into academic excellence. I remembered that back in the day when my family had financial issues. I wasn’t least bit interested in books at all. I was only interested in philosophy, scientific inquiry when I started reading up on evolutionary theories on how to attract women. Nassim Taleb only got interested in statistics when he dived into wall street. He termed this skin in the game. He also attacks academic institutions profusely, calling them charlatans a multiple of times.

Couple of months ago, I got into a squabble with my younger brother. He was overtly proud of his local University business degree. I then simply told him, have you made your first dollar in business? He had nothing to add and deflected the question.

Okay, admittedly, I enrolled in psychology not because I was interested, but because of stylistic reasons. I desired the bragging rights. However, these days, I’m looking for substance over style, not to mention that the way in which the curriculum replied a lot on rote learning. I refused to memorize and regurgitate content that can be Googled in a couple of minutes.

Just in Time Information and Mobility

I found myself disinterested in my positive psychology module. Firstly, it had zero application to what I wanted to do in life.

They made it far worse by trying to get me to memorize the theories and also the names of the people that wrote those theories. It appears I didn’t learn my lesson from my Junior College days, I’m entirely not interested in rote learning. I can’t do it. It’s close to impossible and the Singaporean education system is hugely based around that. To make things worst, you’re forced to study virtues and then regurgitate that on an examination sheet. In Taleb’s words, don’t be a library rat, it’s far more important to lead a life of courage than to read it in a library textbook.

If you can’t tell by now, I’m convinced that the academic route, minimally in Singapore, isn’t right for me. I’m also used to researching psychology theories by either Googling or reading a book from the library if I’m looking to clarify a concept. One of my friends termed this ‘just in time information’.

The majority of people (including me) focuses on the wrong things at the wrong time. If you’re looking to start a business, learning to acquire your first customers is your first step, not signing up for a business degree. If you’re looking to better your dating life, learning to approach your first girl is going to be your first step and not worrying about the hundreds of other moving parts.

Okay, that’s a good rant. If you’ll excuse me, I have some decisions to make.


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About the Author

Marcus Neo is an entrepreneur and coach. Enjoys writing about dating, relationship, business, and psychology. Introvert yet extrovert. Likes martial arts and music, but never got around to the latter.

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