I have never met anyone who strongly loves or hates vanilla. You often find people who love cappuccino flavour and hate blueberry, or love pina colada and hate lemon ’n lime, but vanilla doesn’t evoke strong emotions at all. It is a passionless flavour that is just ignored.
No one goes to a restaurant and orders a $5 vanilla scoop, let alone a $25 vanilla dessert. But it is almost always there. From the base of your dessert to the topping on your chocolate cake. A flavour that is everywhere yet no one wants to pay for it when given the choice.
If I look back at my adult life, let’s say for the past 15 years, and people I have met in these years, from school buddies to university batch-mates to workplace colleagues, I see a striking pattern.
The Vanilla Pattern: Everyone Trying To Be Like Everyone Else.
19 out of 20 people you see around you are vanillas. They are passionless flavours flowing with the masses. Neither hated, nor loved. They are everywhere but go unnoticed.
Maybe even you. Are you a vanilla as well? Let’s see.
Did you choose engineering or arts in university because everyone you know was going for it as well? Did you take that supply chain management or IT job in that MNC because that was paying you a slightly above average monthly salary? Or maybe you took out a 12-month membership of a gym last year, because suddenly everyone had started sharing fitness-related posts on facebook, only to realise that you have only gone to gym 12 days in a year?
But these are once in a while decisions, you ask.
Yes, they are, but what about these:
- You eating lunch with same colleagues every day talking about how retarded Trump is for the 109th time that month?
- You not approaching that girl sitting across you in a cafe because you know your friends will make fun of you?
- You playing cards or DOTA every night from 9pm to 12am with your friends escaping life and then going to bed dreading waking up tomorrow to go to work?
- You hitting bar after work everyday to discuss office gossips at first, and then when you are 2 beers down, to discuss what great shit you will do one imaginary day in a fictional future?
Or the big one:
- You not leaving the job you hate to follow your passion because you fear failing and being judged by everyone around you?
If you are part of this, it is time to recognise The Vanilla Pattern.
The Vanilla Pattern: Everyone Trying To Be Like Everyone Else
Like vanilla flavour, you are a replaceable asset in your job, in your friend’s circle, or maybe even in your relationship, because remember, vanilla doesn’t evoke strong emotions. There is just too much supply of vanilla in the world. Have you ever been to an ice-cream parlour to find out they are running out of stock on vanilla that night?
How do you NOT become a vanilla?
This brings me to the main point of this post. How do you become a flavour that is rare and commands high value? How do you become a Germanchokolatekake.. or my favourite flavour Tutti Fruitty (we all have our guilty pleasures!)?
I know there is a shit ton of material written on this subject, TED talks have been given, and almost every self-help guru has a coaching course on it. But since I can never be a self-help guru, and this blog’s philosophy is to make free content better than other people’s paid content, I am going to share just one hack with you that has profoundly changed my life and of so many people in my circle.
It is to recognise and accept the fact that You Are The Average Of 5 People You Spend Most Time With.
This quote might have passed through your eyes (or newsfeed) before. It’s a famous one after all. But it doesn’t mean anything unless you take a pause and reflect back on your life for the past 10 years. Do it now.
Close your eyes and visualise where were you 10 years ago? Were you in a college or school, or just starting your first job? Who were the people you were spending most time with? What were your activities, interests, and habits?
Then 7 years ago. What were you doing then? 5 years ago? 2 years ago? Now?
Don’t rush. Really think about it. Go beyond just physical people in your surroundings. Who were / are the authors whose books your were / are reading? Entrepreneurs whose journeys you were / are obsessed with? Or TV personalities, singers, or actors?
At any point in time, there are roughly about 5 people (could be 4 or 6 as well) that are shaping us. These 5 people can keep on changing depending on what stage of life we are in.
The problem is that since 19 out of 20 people are vanillas, chances are you are surrounded by 3-4 vanillas in your circle of top 5. I have certainly been. Several times in the past 10 years.
But you know what were the periods of highest growth in my life? When (unknowingly and by good fortune) I either became a part of a group of non-vanillas or became so obsessed with a famous public personality that I completely adopted his character for that period in my life. I will give you 3 examples of the latter.
But before that, if there is one takeaway you should run away from this post, it is that you need to pick and choose your top 5 people that you spend most of your time with. At this point in your life, you can’t have your environment choose your company.
It’s ok if the person you most admire in office is from another department and 2 years senior to you. You have to make an effort to develop a connection with him and ditch lunches with your colleagues. Your colleagues will start gossiping about you behind your back, but that is what vanillas do. They will get bored after a while, so you don’t need to give two fucks about it.
It’s ok if the person you have the best connection in college with is not from your batch or course. Just because you sit in lectures with your vanilla friends, doesn’t mean you are entitled to spend your evenings with them as well.
It’s even ok if people in your top 5 are not even in the same city or country. We are living in the age of social fucking media and FaceTime. 3 people in my top 5 are now not in Australia. But every week, we get on detailed video calls to discuss progress for the week, and discuss life!
Fun Fact: I have a Facebook Messenger Group with two very close friends. It’s called ‘Co-Founders of Life’ (the name was conjured up during a smoky night of which all of us have little memories). But that one group has helped all three us to literally be on top of life for the past one year.
And the best part is, once you start surrounding yourself with non-vanillas, you will see that you are naturally attracting all the A-league flavours towards you.
You might be asking yourself now, ‘Do I have access to any A-league people in my circle? What if everyone I know is just flowing with the tide?’
The hack I would use in this situation is to raise myself up first so that I naturally start attracting A-league people. And how would I do that? By diving into the life of my idols so much that I start adopting their characteristics and applying them. Let me share 3 such examples with you from my life.
- Steve Jobs Horcrux
Back in 2011, I became the President of a little known organization called ASEANpreneurs. It was a student-entrepreneur society of the universities in Southeast Asian countries, and headquartered in National University of Singapore (where I went to college). It was in it’s 4th year of operation and university authorities were considering closing it down because of it being a financially unsustainable model.
That same year, my all time favourite Steve Jobs passed away. 3 weeks later, I stumbled upon his recently published biography by Walter Isaacson. I vividly remember it was for $39, and I worked 6 hours extra at university’s library, shelving books, at $6.5/hour, to buy it.
For the next 2 weeks, I was in my dorm room, reading and sleeping on that book. I became obsessed with Jobs. His vision, leadership style, personality, and self-belief. After reading the book, I almost felt that a part of him is living in me and I can think like him.
For the next 2 months, I evolved as a leader. Became my own version of Jobs. 8 months later, ASEANpreneurs was the largest student-entrepreneur society of the region, with $45000 in revenue, a team of 33 country managers running local chapters, and magazines in 10 different languages talking about us.
That period bagged me multiple awards and posters around the campus, of Asia’s #1 ranked university, for the next 2 years. ASEANpreneurs later got acquired by Red Dot Ventures.
- Obsession with Mark Zuckerberg
Zuckerberg, for me, had just been another successful entrepreneur running a gazillion dollar company. But since he started doing his yearly experiments, I became extremely interested in following him. In 2016, he decided to run 365 miles in 365 days. That was the perfect inspiration for me.
I joined and became an active member of his Year of Running facebook group, bought my Fitbit, and vowed to do it with him.
All this time, my self-talk was that Zuckerberg, who is running half a dozen billion dollar plus projects, have a family life, and an active public life flying from one country to another, can take time out to do it, then what excuse do I have?
That obsession led me to read everything there is ever written about him, and hear everything he has ever said on the planet internet. I became (still am) obsessed with him.
At the end of 2015, I couldn’t even run a 2km without panting like a fucking cow. By the end of 2016, I had completed a Triathlon and a Spartan Beast (21km in mountains with 35 obstacles) in the top 20%.
- Redefining Life Goals with Tim Ferriss
I discovered Tim Ferriss, for the first time, a few years ago through 4-Hour Workweek. I didn’t like the book much so didn’t follow him. But a couple of years ago, I rediscovered him through his Podcasts (The Tim Ferriss Show) largely because I was interested in the guests he interviews.
Over the next few months, I acquired hundreds of hours of audio content from Tim. Every day while commuting to office from home and back to home, I had my earphones play his content. Every night, after turning off the blue screens, I listened to his podcast before going to bed. Through that, I started to understand his life’s philosophy and his work.
At this stage in my life, I was working full-time on 2 different careers. Learning skills, playing sports, doing fitness experiments, and all the other things I talk about in this blog, were just hobbies. It was obsession with Tim that made me realise that I need to structure all of it and share it with the world.
On 1st Jan 2016, while I was in a bus to Bangkok after diving at Koh Tao, Gulf of Thailand, I first started journalling my experiences and experiments. 18 months later, 30-Day Experiment went live.
Everything we do in life – our work, our thoughts, our goals – are nothing but an average of 5 people we spend our most time with or follow obsessively.
So have I become a Tutti Fruitty or a Germanchokolatekake (pronounced: German-chocolate-cake) in true sense? I would like to believe so.
What I’m sure of, though, is that I’m not a vanilla anymore. Are you?
Email me at [email protected] to share your experiences.
I read every email!