The 4 agreements

I know about “The 4 agreements” around 3 years ago, in a cab. I was leading a private tour to Ha Long bay and on the way to airport, I asked my guest:

“Can you tell me what is the book that changed your life?

He smiled at that question and suggested me one and only book. “It sounds so simple”, I thought. I was looking for something more sophisicated so I decided to ignore his book recomendation and never actually read the book beyond a summary.

Until today. :). It’s still a simple book that can’t compare with the philosophy shelf, yet there’s nothing I can oppose.

Below are some extracts from chapter 2 – “Don’t make assumptions“.



Các nguồn tìm ebook tiếng anh miễn phí

Dưới đây là 1 số nguồn tìm ebook tiếng anh miễn phí, đơn giản và nhanh gọn:

1. Google keyword:

Gõ pdf + tên sách
Gõ torrent + tên sách
Sau đó chuyển sách sang định dạng epub hoặc mobi (có 1 số trang web giúp convert miễn phí, vd:

2. Project Gutenberg


Được thành lập năm 1971,  Project Gutenberg là 1 trong những thư viện sách kinh điển nổi tiếng nhất với hơn 40,000 đầu mục ở nhiều định dạng. Chi phí tạo ebook và duy trì web khá khủng song những người thành lập vẫn sống tốt nhờ có các nhà tài trợ.
Về phía độc giả, web được thiết kế rất thân thiện với nhu cầu người dùng, phân loại theo các tiêu chí: thể loại, tác giả, ngôn ngữ. Mảng mạnh của site này là các sách triết học và văn học kinh điển.

3. Social Media


Hiện tại 1 nhóm khá ổn trên FB là “Hội chia sẻ & tìm kiếm Ebooks“, tuy nhiên nhóm chưa thực sự năng nổ trong việc trao đổi sách mà hiệu quả hơn trong việc mua/ bán/ đổi Kindle. Lượng thành viên ở thời điểm hiện tại (4/2018) là hơn 2000 người.
Trong trường hợp nếu không biết nên đọc sách gì, không nên lên các trang chung chung để hỏi vì trình độ đọc của 1 độc giả trung bình khá thấp và kể cả có khá cao thì cũng là những ý kiến chủ quan. Tốt nhất nên kết hợp Goodread Recommendations với 1 số trang như Gutenberg hay Quora để cho mình những gợi ý tốt nhất từ những tổ hợp ý kiến đã phân loại.


Man’s search for meaning

“Man’s search for meaning” was given to our office after a long day. Coming back  after riding in Mekong, I asked Van upon seeing a new stack of books on the table.

– Wow, whose books are these?
– Steve’s. We can read them.

Scrolling through the bunch, I chose for myself the thinnest one for the sake of…fea
sibility. With the cover of a candle lighting in the dark and an ambitious name, the book gave an impression of being overrated, or at least religious. I read through a few pages and put it back to the shell, like what I do with almost anything else in life – abrupt, broken and unfinished.


Not until Paul came to Saigon did I took it out again to discuss over a cafe. “It is a great book”, Mary Croy said. Or at least something similar. Written by a survival in Nazi concentration camp and a psychoanalyst – Victor Frank, the book describes and analizes psychological reactions, emotional turmoil of the author and his friends after being robbed away everything step by step.

They are herded as naked sub-human beings for a long period of time in extremely limited space, lack of food, heavy repetitive workload, no hope and no real identity.

In that particular time of history, how did the prisoners cope to find the meaning in life?

Buchenwald Survivors, 1945

The book is divided in two parts, the later part is less interesting and more focused on logotherapy as a method, yet in general, it is a vivid depiction of emotional battle of normal people in an abnormal context, when all set of values are challenged. How can they, and us, see the meaning of life in a seemingly hopeless and pointless concept?

Despite contrast in the time and context used in the book, we can, for once, imagine ourselves in their shoes and feel a special emotion journey actually experienced by an articulate mind-reader and professional psychologist.


More importantly, how can we, modern human beings living in peace and fulfillment of basic needs, relate to the “meaning” mentioned in the book? As most of us have every basic things we need, is the void and vacuum of meaninglessness in modern life still relevant to the meaning in the book?


How can a normal person like me with music, earphones, ample portions of food, work to do and freedom to do so many things still feel meaningless?

The book has brought me through a special teleportation back in time and get into the mind of another human’s quest for meaning. In a seemingly hopeless and pointless absurd cut of human history.

Thinking, fast and slow

Part 1- (Priming effect)

“Money primed undergraduates also showed a greater preference for being alone. The general theme of these findings is that the idea of money primes individualism – a reluctance to be involved with others, to depend on others, or to accept demand from others, The psychologist who has done this remarkable research, Kathleen Vohs, has been laudably restrained in discussing the implications of her findings, leaving the task to her readers.

Her experiments are profound – her findings suggest that living with a culture that surrounds us with reminders of money may shape our behaviours and attitude in ways that we do not know about and of which we may not be proud. Some culture provide frequent reminders of respect, others constantly remind their members of God, and some societies prime obedience by large images of the Dear Leader.

Self Reliance

Once in a while there are books like “Self-reliance”. Its name mentioned several times in the past but I never stop to really dig deeper. With a cloudy head and no prior reading to get a sense of history or author autobiography context, “Self-Reliance” goes to my mind as raindrops flowing upon the leaves of mung bean trees, slowly glide then fall on the ground, drop by drop.

Sitting beside a public building near central port of Catba Island when it is getting dark, I absorb this huge lost in translation. Of the same language written but divided by context and knowledge background, I hold the e-reader device and stare at the words. Occasionally some sentences echo.

I will save them here before the momentum is gone.


“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion, it is easy in solitude to live after your own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude”.

This can be refered to the concept of peace and escapism, or the so-called Buddism that many follow yet a few understand.

A word mentioned repeatedly in the essay is non conformity. It sounds like a nice idea, yet

1. What is the difference between a nonconformist and a rebel?

2. If u don’t conform the outside world, does that mean u should conform the inside world? What is the inside world anyway but influence of interactions with outside world?



“The other terror. That scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we loath to disappoint them”.

“Speak what u think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradicts everything u said today”.


“When we have new perception, we shall gladly disburden the memory of its hoarded treasures as old rubbish”


Below are some reviews worth mentioning

  1. New York Times Review

“The larger problem with the essay, and its more lasting legacy as a cornerstone of the American identity, has been Emerson’s tacit endorsement of a radically self-centered worldview. It’s a lot like the Ptolemaic model of the planets that preceded Copernicus; the sun, the moon and the stars revolve around our portable reclining chairs, and whatever contradicts our right to harbor misconceptions — whether it be Birtherism, climate-science denial or the conviction that Trader Joe’s sells good food — is the prattle of the unenlightened majority and can be dismissed out of hand”


Good enough is enough

“This paragraph is too academic”

“Yes, it is from a research team of British Embassy”

“It is not very approachable, don’t you think?”

“That’s right. We should turn it into a more attractive story telling form”.

We still need to have some content first and something is better than nothing

Hmm, agree. Can polish it later

This is one of the conversations I had recently with my brother/ team member. Having all materials and ideas in mind, we are eager to bring out the best we can offer, turning things into a refined, perfect product. Nevetheless, with a perfect working setting and cooperative mindset, things still can jumble.

I believe that most of the time, momentum is more important than perfection. .


There is nothing wrong with chasing perfection. By focusing on details, we enhance customer experience. Twisting a bit in design or furniture part reflects the delicate taste of product developers.

New pottery set of Little Cat Ba for tradional set and hotpots

The thing is, we do not buy those pottery sets right from start. Before lovely pottery cups are there to be put on the table, there must be standard sets to serve customers. Starting with basics is the only way momentum is built to prosper.

Somehow this reminds me of Yoga on the beach session organized by Asia Outdoors. After 1,5 hours of practicing, I turned to the instructor

Yoga on the beach organized by Asia Outdoors with a real special vibe

“The lanterns are so beautiful. How do you make it”

Then not waiting for her to answer, I looked inside. I was struck to realize that those beautiful lanterns are made from very simple stuff and anyone can find, yet the effect is so impressive.



Because we can always turn the good into the great later.

Circle of influence and circle of control

Right now I am sitting on the bunk bed of my hostel typing.  My younger sister just sent me a video of some bubbling Korean young dancers, insisted

Sister, you must watch this. And do not forget to design a new profile pic for me to post in Facebook

At the same time, Millions of people are devoted to the flood disaster in Central Vietnam- where I was born.


50 meters away the Wat nearby is woken up after nap with chanting sound of monks stretching longer than usual. Nearly 60,000 people in this town have their heart put in the big Light Festival this evening. Together with outsiders like me, we are gonna be soaked in an incredible  holy, zen atmostphere.


My close friend is happy in his trip to Quan Lan island. Beach is clean, nature is inviting. He is screaming in tranquil and happiness.


All of those images come to my mind nearly at the same time. Different nuances of a big mosaic, broken pieces of an incomplete big picture. People are sad or happy depending on the extent of our concerns. I am sipping coffee, listening to music while hundreds of km away some relatives or friends of somebody I know are crying for having their house washed away in the disaster which gets worse every single year due to complex reasons.

This is just my little version of the world. There are some other people who feel much more. I will elaborate.

If right now I am having a cold, I will be lying deadly in bed, coughing, thinking about hot soup. Whatever happening in the world does not matter nor move me a little bit.

More than 1000km away, professor/ teacher Bui Van Nam Son was in a coffee talk with his student. Both are in a sad contemplative state, thinking about big questions, probably big questions related to Vietnam.


He is a pioneer in translating important philosophy books into Vietnamese and wrote his own book that can be considered Sophie’s world of Vietnam.

At an international level, anthropologists like Bill Gates are focusing on battling AIDS in South Africa.

What does all of this mean? Does that mean I should not be happy and excited for what is happening tonight? Does that mean I have obligation to care about people in Central Vietnam? In Vietnam language, we have an idiom saying

“ăn cơm nhà, vác tù và hàng tổng”

Roughly translated as “Soaking your nose in others’ business“.  This is a very shallow way of interpreting things, yet most of the time our ability to deal or affect all chaotic happening all around us is very limited.

Even though we do not live in a world of vacuum and everything is intedependent due to butterfly effect or ripple effects, our immediate acts can only influence a tiny part of it

Circle of influence and circle of control


To put it visually in a simple way, we can imagine our world as 2 circles. The big one is what happening around us, of which some are more aware than others.

But look closer, only the small circle inside is what we can influence. Right now, when I am typing this, 3 backpackers from Netherlands are coming and when they ask me wifi password, that is my immediate circle of influence.

I believe we should focus on our circle of influence but try to expand our circle of concern.

In his classic book, 7 habits of highly effective people, Stephen Covey puts it this way




Amazingly this time when I dig to read again, I realize there are so many things I missed. And this is just an easy to read book I have buried my face into many times. When things are relevant, it speaks so loudly.


Are you afraid of being copied?

Damn it, Paul Jarvis (who is one of my favorite bloggers) pushes minimalism to an annoying level. First he removed himself from Medium (there is not much traffic diversion in Medium anyway, unless u are already famous or write for the fun of it). If u wanna read his rare stuff, there is no choice but subscribe to his mailing list/ podcast. I have ignored his articles for a while, until today.

His new article is called “Copy me”, very interesting 🙂


Copy me
I’m not afraid of being copied.

I’m afraid of reaching a point where I’m no longer copied.

When I was mostly doing web design, I’d find a site or two a week that had ripped off my designs or code. With my writing, every week or so I find (or am told about) an article that’s basically just a copy/paste of something I’ve written. I’ve even found courses that are basically a duplicate of something I already teach.

I know from experience and the number of emails I get about this that creative folks worry about their ideas being copied or stolen and want to know what measures to take to prevent it.

Sorry: you can’t prevent others from copying or stealing your ideas.

Well, you can, but that means never sharing those ideas with anyone else, never publishing anything and never putting any work whatsoever out into the world.

The act of sharing your work, your ideas, your thoughts, your expertise, inherently opens you up to being copied. If even one other person reads or watches or consumes what you’ve made, there’s a possibility that your work will be ripped off.

What do I do about being copied?

Nothing. Nada. Not a damn thing. Ever. I honestly don’t give even one single fuck about my work being copied. First, because that’d require a lot of energy on my part to hunt it down and deal with it, when I’d rather be focused on making things. Second, in the nearly two decades I’ve spent putting work and ideas out onto the internet, exactly zero copycats or ripoffs have ever accomplished anything. What I mean by that is this:

If your work is copied, that person is not only stealing from you, they’re stealing from themselves too. Their “shortcut” ignores their audience, their expertise, their research, and their creativity. That’s why it’ll never amount to what you’ve created.

Another important thing to note is that by putting yourself and your work out there, you’re showing the world your work. If it gets copied, what will most likely happen is that all those people who saw your work first will a) let you know your work has been copied and b) tell the offender they’re a thief. In that case, you don’t have to do or say anything.

Being copied is typically more of a threat to your mental state than your revenue stream. Sure, it hurts when you see that someone ripped off your hard work. And, sure, you might want to get revenge or sue or publicly shame that person. But, more than likely, what was copied won’t suffer—it’ll still sell, it’ll still be the real deal, it’ll still be your work.

I’m not suggesting rolling over and playing dead either. You can trademark and copyright what’s yours or even pursue legal action against theft of your intellectual property. But you have to consider if it’s worth it – financially (those things can cost a lot of money) and more importantly if it’s mentally worth it when you could be spending your time making new things.

The copycat will never see any real benefit from passing off your work as their own. So you might as well not waste your time dwelling on it or them.

You know what can’t be copied easily or quickly? Your skills, your integrity, your commitment to your work and your connection to the audience you serve.

PS: after proofreading this a few times, I realized I copied myself, since I wrote about this same topic years ago. Luckily, I still feel the exact same way.


What to learn from this article?

Well, this rings a bell with a chapter written by Jason Fried in his book called “Rework” which explains the principle behind it. Paul Jarvis wrote 3 sentences on it, let’s see what Jason got to say.


So both of them come to the conclusion that we don’t need to be afraid of copying because

  1. We are wasting our energy
  2. The copycats take the shortcuts and therefore will never be as good as the original.
  3. It is passive learning (if it can  be called learning at all)

However, on the other hand, are we aware how much we copy from each other everyday? What is the line between “copying” and “getting influence”? Or everything is a remix? 😉


P/S: After a year I found out that working on resonance is very important. Evernote app and writing are two ways to get stronger mental connection and resonance. Things stick easier and can be recalled faster, following the 80/20 rule. There are now even more reasons to stick to writing. Here are some of my sharings on benefits of writing and how to write better on some specific categories.

Keep writing everyone !

“Don’t be a hero”

pomodoro 1
Pomodoro Technique Illustrated, page 52
Reword- Jason Fried, page 12

Above are extratcs of two books about work and producvity. One is intuitive advice from an experienced entrepreneur, another is a chapter elaborating Pomodoro single-tasking mindset. They met for a moment in an echo chamber.

“Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the days. They just use it up. the real hero is alredy home because she figured out a faster way to get things done”



And yes, Bob Marley  did not say such a thing 🙂