15 Ways I’m Unique

I recently read Y Combinator co-founder Jessica Livingston’s post on how to Grow The Puzzle Around You. It describes in beautiful detail her unique, often behind-the-scenes contributions to the enormously successful startup generator, and her journey to becoming a non-traditional technology investor.

In the conclusion, it implores the reader to “write down” your truly unique qualities – “and don’t edit [them].” That is, ignore the temptation to add positive/negative labels to each, and instead focus on the rock-bottom truth in the features themselves.

Because, what’s important is understanding yourself, so you’re then in a better position to leverage your unique strengths for the benefit of others. The overall goal is to "puzzle fit around you” as the title says, but to do that, in my reading, you first must have a solid understanding of yourself at the metaphorical center.

So, here goes:

  1. I can’t stand it when anyone – a boss, a client, a teacher, a call center representative, a lawyer, (previously) a parent, (very occasionally) my wife – tells me what I “have” to do, directly or implicitly. I don’t have to do anything, and can’t stand appeals to authority. I am proudly, fiercely independent.
  2. When I am focused on something, I can ignore everything else around me until it’s done – for hours, days, weeks, months. I’ve done this to finish my award-winning dissertation 2 months early, to get a job in data science without any formal training in it, to get into Stanford’s MS in CS without much formal training in it, to win $100k+ business deals, and to write 100k+ view blog posts.
  3. I can be extremely impatient. I believe that if something isn’t a priority to do some aspect of it now, it will never get done. I tend to expect this same level of focus out of others, even though they might not share this. Relatedly, I have a terrible short-term memory – I write down all my daily tasks lest I forget them – and my impatience may have developed as a coping mechanism for this. 🤷‍♂️
  4. I can jump from topic to topic quickly and easily. I’ve studied with my full passion for months to years of my life the following subjects: law, finance, renewable energy, Javascript, Python, data science, and Final Fantasy Tactics.
  5. I am a careful observer. I can often pick up on certain details others ignore (in a slide, presentation, plan, analysis) and generally have a good radar for people’s motivations and unspoken feelings.
  6. I need to have a long-term (e.g. one- to five-year) plan. If I feel something I’m doing isn’t progressing towards a goal in that plan, I will quickly drop it. To others, this can appear callous or impulsive, but to me, I merely changed my objective function. Relatedly, I prefer realistic timelines to aspirational ones, and can also sometimes struggle to bring my goals into imperfect reality.
  7. I am extremely routine-oriented. My routines ground me, keep me connected to my long-term goals on a day-to-day basis, and when I don’t follow them, I can quickly slip into anxiousness and sadness. I currently practice intermittent fasting, regular afternoon walks & workouts, no deep meetings before 11a, evening debrief time with my wife, and I haven’t drank a drop of alcohol in 3 years.
  8. I am self-confident. If someone else can do it, I can do it.
  9. I am a precise communicator. I likely can come off as pedantic or inflexible because of this, but I really just want to know what others mean and value the unity clarity creates. Relatedly, I love drinking deeply from good books to see the world through someone else’s perspective and dip into their knowledge.1
  10. I value my time and will spend money to get more time. I value my time between $250-$1000/hour depending on how onerous I find the task, with tax/legal issues at the highest end of that range.
  11. I am a chameleon. I can adapt to my surroundings and often even alter my goals and values to match those around me. After moving to Southeast Asia about 5 years ago, I feel more at home here than I ever did in the US. When my daughter was born, I was initially stilted and unsure around her, now I see it as a beautiful, creative outlet and truly unique gift.
  12. I am extremely sensitive to taste, smell, and noise. I can detect when our cook has changed my brand of milk, soy sauce, ketchup, or burger supplier. I can smell my daughter’s dirty diapers before anyone else in the household. I wear noise-cancelling headphones for 8-10h per day to focus while working.
  13. When I commit, I care and I deliver. I am comfortable to be accountable for important, long-term responsibilities (that I sign up for) and have reaped the benefits of doing this over the past 5 years as I’ve developed a strong professional reputation in my field. When I realized that my daughter is a gift, not a task, I immediately started dreaming up and planning all that we’ll learn and experience together.
  14. I generally can’t help but be honest and transparent, even if it’s not the most considerate or optimal thing to do. I struggle with and ruminate over even small white lies that might create points of future misunderstanding.
  15. I really care about the people I manage. I had bad experiences with my first few managers and know how painful and damaging it was to have seemingly utterly uncaring, difficult-to-talk-to bosses. At times, my impatience can trump this, but, whenever I have the time, I will take the extra step to mentor and guide those around me.

Oh, and while you’re here, I’ll share one more that I’ve somehow always known and yet only recently re-discovered:

If you have any comments on this, don’t hesitate to reach out!

1 Some recent favorites include: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, High Output Management, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Team of Rivals, and How to Hide an Empire. I may do a whole post on this in the future!

2 Hence this blog. Thanks for stopping by.


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