Dear Friends Around the World:
Over the last nine months, my home city of Hong Kong has experienced an unprecedented wave of political protest, a feckless and uninspired government response, and now proximity to the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. While it’s at times been a tough environment, I have remained optimistic and have experienced a wave of productivity and creativity. Here are the seven ways I’ve stayed an optimist through this turbulent period:
1. Fewer Conferences, More 1:1’s: I’ve tried to turn the work from home thing to my advantage. When I reach out for a meeting, I ask people “Are you by chance also at risk of cabin fever?” Many busy people who used to say “How’s six weeks from next Wednesday?” now immediately reply with “How about lunch tomorrow?”
2. Taking Time to Get Personal: Those meet-ups have been longer and more interesting. Yesterday I met with a senior banker who is usually up and out the door in 30 minutes. This time we talked for 90 minutes and covered topics (books, movies, our relationship with our siblings) that we’d never before had time for.
3. Exercise Your Free Time: No doubt work has been slower, but the winter weather in Hong Kong (cool and dry) has been fantastic for running, hiking and tennis. As I write this, I’ve exercised for 15 of the last 16 days and on that one day off got a 90 minute massage. I’ve also made each run or hike at least 30 minutes longer than normal.
4. Nature Beats Conference Rooms: What the Japanese call Forest Bathing can lead to a de-cluttered brain and increased creativity. In fact, I wrote the first rough draft of this post on a two-hour hike while enjoying this inspiring view. A vigorous hike defeated a days-long writers block.
5. Perspective is Everything: I have tried to retain perspective by reminding myself that any inconveniences foisted upon a well-off expatriate like me are minor compared to those who don’t have access to world-class health care, a comfortable home to work out of, a gym where the equipment is being wiped down twice an hour, and the list goes on. Whinging about “first world problems” is counterproductive to one’s mental health and annoying to those around you.
6. Firing Up the Brain: Rather than over-investing in reading continuous newsfeeds (Pandemic! Trade Wars! Trump!), Amy and I have been stockpiling books, reading more than ever and even sharing out top recommendations with friends around the world. I’m in awe of how much great writing that’s out there, and next month’s newsletter will include the Top Three Books of Q1. Get excited, get very excited.
7. Play the Long Game: As I think about the future of this wonderful city, I remember the old adage “Never make a long-term bet against the people of Hong Kong”. Once upon a time, God threw a bunch of random rocks into the middle of the South China Sea, and those were populated by refugees who inherited a land with no natural resources. Through hard work, commitment to education that is second to none, and an open trade and investment environment, they’ve created one of the world’s most open, vibrant and competitive economies.
Hong Kong will rise again! Meantime, I’m trying to stay high on life. Hope that’s the same for you! As always, please drop me a line if you have comments, feedback or ideas to share! And if you encourage a few friends to join my newsletter that would be further cause for optimism.
All the best, John