Whirling Thoughts

Chewing, swishing, and spitting thoughts out. Personal blog of Nicholas Chan.

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How to Pick an Internship? Raise Your Ceiling.

During my internship hunt this summer, I received two very enticing offers. The first was to go work with RBC Amplify, an intrapreneurship program in RBC, where you would work in a multi-faceted team to build a new product for RBC.

The second offer was with Clearbanc for a growth marketing position.

Here’s the catch.

RBC would pay me nearly double what I would be earning at Clearbanc. I would be taking a significant pay cut to work at Clearbanc, a fast growing fintech startup.

It was a tough decision.

My friends thought I was insane. My parents didn’t say anything perse, but implied that I should be trying to earn as much money as possible.

I chose to go work for Clearbanc.

There were two key principles that drove me to this.

Optimize for learning

Whenever I need to make decisions, I like to consult some friends who are more experienced and are doing what I want to be doing. The first piece of advice that was offered to me was that, if I could afford to take on the opportunity, then I should optimize for learning.

What I took away is that when you focus on learning skills in the present, you will do better in the long term. If I can significantly improve my growth marketing skillset at Clearbanc, I will be able to take those skills and either demand more at my next job or better monetize a future venture.

At Clerabanc, there were some “green flags’ that I liked. Visionary leadership in Michele and Andrew. My boss, who has experience exploding growth for several startups. The role, which was focused on data-driven growth tactics vs brand building. A promise from the team that I would be able to take charge and lead my own project during my term.

In short, a wealth of mentors doing what I want to be doing, learning the skills that I want to learn, and the autonomy to accelerate that learning by taking the lead of a project of my choosing.

Raising your ceiling

Where do I want to be in the next ten years? Or if there isn’t anything specific, what is a hunch of where you want to be in the next 10 years. Then…. how do you want to get there?

For me, a dream would be to be working on my own ventures, either as a startup founder or an early employee at a startup. I would also love to have side income coming in from projects.

I did some research on RBC amplify. I was asking myself: “where do the interns of the company end up after their internship?” I then wanted to compare my findings with Clearbanc.

At RBC, it appeared that many of the interns there ended up… working for RBC. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s not where I want to be in 10 years nor will it help me accomplish my goals. A large company like that focuses a lot more on their processes vs getting stuff done. That’s not going to make me a very qualified founder or an attractive first employee.

At Clearbanc? Oh boy. I followed the career paths of new employees. People who have gone from customer service positions to launching new markets in Australia. Employees going from an entry campus recruiter position to…head of people?

Heck, my own recruiter got promoted in the 4 month span that I met her. One day, I received an email that she was being promoted into a more strategic HR role. Good for her.

If I am looking for explosive growth, then Clearbanc was the winner by a far margin.

Ending Thoughts

As students, let’s all try to be a little bit more strategic about our career choices. Think in the long term and ask yourself if you will learn what you want to learn to meet your goals. Raise your ceiling, don’t settle.

Stay Safe

Bye. Have a great day. See you later.

These words are embedded in the fabric of our daily interactions. They are words that tend to be taken for granted. We rarely think much about these daily platitudes. They go in one ear and out the other.

I’ve noticed a jarring shift in how people have been ending conversations recently. “Stay safe” has become one of the most common ways to send off a friend, acquaintance or loved one.

I find it quite dark. Would be great if we could just get back to “have a great day!”.

“Stay safe” shows how the fear of the virus and its consequences have begun to dominate our psyche. Over time, the influence of the virus has started to seep into benign conversations as a constant reminder of its lingering threat.

Stay safe, because if you’re not careful you could get sick.

Stay safe, because the virus has made it dangerous to go outside.

Stay safe, because after we leave this video call, I hope nothing happens to you. I won’t be able to tell until we call next.

Stay safe, because the world has gone mad. Toilet paper and canned food has flown off the shelves.

Stay safe, because if we don’t flatten the curve, we are going to be the next Italy, Iran, or China.

Stay safe, because if you hurt yourself or get sick for another reason, it’s a terrible time to be going to the hospital.

Stay safe, because I care about you. I hope everything will turn ok.

Stay safe.


Covid-19 has wrecked havoc on the world. It is a critical time for all governments as they deal with the urgent medical and economic situation.

I understand all measures being taken and agree that they are necessary. With travel bans in place and the virus lurking around every corner, it is impossible to decry any measure as too extreme.

As a result of them, my exchange in Singapore has been cut short, and I have returned home for the rest of the winter semester.

This is disappointing. The year was supposed unfurl as one of adventure. One filled with joy and discovery and new friends. One where I would go to the far ends of the world treasure hunting for stories and new experiences; a wealth to be shared with friends and family upon my triumphant return.

I am all the poorer for it.

Hitting The Gym – Beyond The Looks

Short and simple post.

I’m sure that I am not the only one who believes that there is a lot more to the gym than simply trying to stay fit and look good. There are certain psychological benefits and advantages which I find going to the gym helps with.


Going to the gym on a regular basis reinforces the concept of consistency. There are certainly days where the bed is just a little too comfortable and you’re tired. But those are the days where it is even more important to gather some willpower and go.

This practice of being consistent and mastering the ability to create willpower has effects which spillover into other areas of life. Writing is one of them. Coding is another. Reading is another. There are always going to be some excuses, but having the ability to say “damn it, I’ll do it” over and over again allows me to continue pursuing consistency in those areas.

Process Orientation

Working out at the gym is a long term game. No one is going to jump 50 pounds in strength within a day. Reaching higher levels of strength and fitness revolves around the acceptance of focusing on slowly ramping up weight and focusing on good technique. Maintaining a reasonably healthy diet also helps.

This has reoriented myself away from expecting results quickly. Instead, I reflect on workouts and appreciate the slow and steady progress that I am making. The extra rep. The extra 5lbs I can handle.

Looking at other activities through this lens is extremely helpful for my impatient soul. Coding? Every time I go to a hackathon, I always make some huge, time-consuming mistakes and don’t accomplish what I set out to do. Yet in the long-run, I notice that I have not made the same mistakes twice, have built foundational knowledge, and have been able to help and explain to others. It’s a painful process, but rewarding.

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Cold Shower Mindset

There are a lot of things that need to be done on any given day. For me, I always want to be able to actually wake up, get some exercise in, do some writing, read a book, polish up my Spanish, and the list goes on. Then there’s the matter of actually doing work for the business.

The most significant challenge to all of this is simply getting started.

I’m sure that I am not the only one who has experienced that sinking feeling of dread when first starting a task. Your body drags a little, your mind starts thinking of all the other places it would rather be, and voila, procrastination is born.

It becomes all too tempting to open up Facebook for a quick check. All of a sudden, you might have to check your email or find a snack. For me, my go to excuse is that  I find the sudden urge to become an informed global citizen and go on a whirlwind of reading. I’ll become an expert on something obscure like North Korean and American relationships only to come back and realize that I still have a mountain load of work to do.

Unfortunately, there is simply no easy solution to this problem. Otherwise, I would go out and be the most productive being on Earth. You would see blog posts being churned out at every hour, a growing list of completed books, and for once in my life, I would be able to check everything off my to-do list.

I hate to-do lists.

But for me, I think that at the end of the day, there’s a certain mindset that needs to be cultivated. One where you have the urge to just tackle every item on your to do list. I mean conquer them. Kill them off. Vanquish them with a check mark.

My way of practicing that mindset is to take a cold shower.

Why? Because the first second in a cold shower is hell. Without fail.

Jumping Into A Cold Shower Kills (In A Good Way)

When the cold water hits your head, it’s like an electric shock. Goosebumps erupt instantaneously all over my skin, and the adrenaline starts coursing through my veins. The cold also kickstarts my ability to see the future. It’s always sort of fuzzy to make out, but I usually notice high probability that hypothermia lies in my immediate future.

That initial shock lasts only about a second.

Then it’s all smooth sailing. I really enjoy the feeling of a cold shower. As it turns out, ice cold water being dunked on your head is one of the most refreshing things in the world.

Every time I walk out of a cold shower, I feel turbocharged. On a good day, I feel alive and ready to conquer the world. On a bad day, I’m now wide awake and can avoid drinking coffee.

Just like a cold shower, it never helps to delay and ease into many tasks. Opening the blog, then going off to read the news instead of writing is just like trying to slowly ease my way into a cold shower. It just prolongs my misery, and it delays my happiness.

So that mindset that comes with a cold shower? That’s what I need to incorporate into the rest of my life. Just grit my teeth, deal with the immediate shock and pain, and then enjoy that blissful feeling of completion after.


Losing My Cell Phone, A Modern Detox

How Do You Lose a Phone?

*Yawn. Stumbling out of a tour bus with a stomach full of buffet food, drooping eyes, and sore legs from my adventure on a glacier, I initiated my routine four pocket check. It’s a tradition where I play airport security and pat myself down to make sure I still have all my belongings.

Pocket 1: Camera? Check.

Pocket 2: Wallet? Check

Pocket 3: Phone? Check

Pocket 4: Headphones and Miscellaneous Receipts? Check

Satisfied with the results of my thorough analysis,  I waved goodbye to the driver (See ya later bro), and watched the white van tear away. Where was I? No clue. No big deal. After all, Google maps is there to bail me out of everything.

So pulling out my phon-* wait. Where’s my phone?

Pocket 1: Camera? Check.

Pocket 2: Wallet? Check

Pocket 3: Battery Pack (not phone)? Check

Pocket 4: Headphones and Miscellaneous Receipts? Check

What the heck?

But I knew that I just had my phone. A few short minutes before falling asleep, I was conquering monsters using my elven defense towers, rendering havoc among the necromancers and flying vampires (playing kingdom rush)

Yes. I left my phone on the tour van.

No. I have not recovered my phone yet.

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Why School Doesn’t Help You Find Answers (and what does)

What is 2+2? 4. What year did World War 2 end? 1945.

There are all questions where there is a very clear, predefined answer. They are answers that are easy to find. They are based in very clear and simple facts.

This is what our school system is really good at teaching. How to work within a predefined questions. We to solve problems that we know should have an answer.

That’s a good thing for our basic academic knowledge. It’s important to to be able to perform basic math, have an understanding of history, or even be able to respond to questions about Shakespeare in a “clear and concise manner” (being analytical and forming thoughts).

The only (big) problem that I see with this is that in real life, when you aren’t studying from the textbooks, your problems aren’t going to have such simple predefined answers. They usually will fail to pass what I call the “Google Test”. You won’t be able to Google the answer.

These problems are more similar to something like “how to get a job”, “how to deal with people”, “how to invest your money”, and etc. If you try and Google the answers to some of these questions, you will see a wide range of opinions and information without any clear, predefined answer. You have to work within chaos.


I am very passionate about education. To me,education is about learning new and practical skills and constantly becoming a better version of myself. It’s about learning how to answer all the tough questions that will inevitably come up during the span of my life.

Education = Learning How To Find Answers

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Slowly and Deliberately Trying To Become a Baller


Hands down, that is one of my favourite sounds. When you shoot a ball that just gracefully arcs into the net, managing to just miss hitting the rim.

For those of you who don’t see me embarrassing myself on the court during lunch time, I have this new fascination with basketball. It’s a sport that I never got around to playing when I was a kid because I didn’t really want to be friends with those “athletes”.

But basketball is something that I just want to get better at. I feel it’s something that can help you get closer with a lot of guys, it’s lots of fun, and it’s pretty good exercise. One of the biggest things that were stopping me from picking it up was my fear of getting embarrassed by other people, but sometime last year, I just stopped caring about that, and started joining a few games.

I would say that since I’ve started, I’ve gotten a lot better. So good, that I can make 10% of my shots. When people are picking teams, I won’t get picked last. Occasionally, my teammates will pass me the ball 🙂

I’ve also reduced the number of embarrassing blocks, “ankle breakers”, and terrible shots from maybe like 7 a game to one or two. Progress!

As a tangent, one question that I always love to ask people when I go and interview them is “What is your superpower”. I don’t ask to get the stupid answers like “I can shoot lasers out of my eyes” or “I can breathe underwater”, but to really understand what these people believe to be their defining strengths. Some good answers that I’ve heard before include:

  • Connecting people with each other and making “magic” happen
  • Empowering others to be the best version of themselves
  • Being Creative and Executing on Ideas

I would like to think that my own superpower is learning quickly, and a belief that if I set my mind to it, I can learn anything that I want to. Including something like basketball. I feel that a lot of that has to do with how I approach practicing, learning, and getting better.

So here I was, Grade 11, I wanted to be baller. Some guy who could hold his own, help the team, and score. There is one small problem I have with playing basketball though. I’m short.

My friends are tall. One of them has freakishly long arms. Whenever I try and go for a layup, he takes a special form of pleasure in waiting under the net and slapping the balls out of my hands.


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Reflections, Gratitude, and a Short Year in Review

This blog has always been a place for me to write down all the stuff that have been bouncing around in my head. With my birthday just having passed, I thought it would be a good time to do a “year in review”! There’s been a lot of stuff that’s happened in the past year, that have really changed my life.

It’s crazy, because when I look back on all of it, I am blown away but how much can actually change within a year. It’s so easy to get caught up in all the small and insignificant day-to-day stuff without realizing all the progress you’ve made and experiences that you’ve shared.

So it just makes it all the more important for me to reflect on the entire year, both the good and the bad. Same as how you get caught up in all the small and useless things, you always seem to lose sight of all the good stuff that’s happened to you until you really sit down to appreciate it and express gratitude.

The Disappointing, the Bad, the Petty Terribleness

  • Broke my thumb, and missed out on an international competition, a competition i had been waking up early for, training a lot, and skipped a lot of fun for
  • Missed OFSAA, provincial school swim meet by 0.01 seconds in a relay event, looking up at the scoreboard broke me on the inside a little
  • Missed OFSAA, by 0.2 seconds in a 100m breaststroke event, I had cut close to 8 seconds since the year before, and I missed a turn that I had hit literally hundreds of time before
  • Didn’t meet my goals in DECA, which was to go to ICDC, an international competition in Anaheim, most of my good friends made it
  • Operating on 6 hours of sleep as stress filled my life, responsibilities started to pile up, and things seemed to spiral out of control. Distinctly remember crying in an English class

There were points during this year where it felt like absolutely nothing was going right. That I had gotten so unlucky, that I had worked so hard with nothing to show for it.

That’s a pretty dumb mindset to have. It’s negative. It sucks you into a dark hole that is so hard to escape. It shows how easy it is to lose sight of all the good things that have happened.

So here’s the counterpoint, the little thought experiment. What if I just forgot all the unlucky stuff that had happened to me this year. What if I only just focused on the good things that have happened?

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Being a Creative Non-artist, Non-musician, Non-Photographer Type Of Guy

One thing that I have always struggle with has been my lack of… artistic abilities. Even after taking art classes from Grade 1 all the way to Grade 9, I still struggle to sketch a stick figure. Musical instruments were something I enjoyed, but was never 100% passionate about. And singing? Let’s not talk about singing.

I think because I never enjoyed all of these art forms or forms of creative expression, I just resigned myself to thinking that I just wasn’t a creative person. That creativity was a gift that you win in the genetic lottery. Once I lost that lottery, I resigned myself to thinking that I would forever be stuck in this boring well of blandness where they toss all the stale popcorn and watered down oatmeal.

But my big realization of the past few months has really been that creativity is not an innate skill, but something that you constantly work at and improve. It’s a muscle that constantly has to be exercised, stretched, and pushed beyond it’s limits.

Why do I bring this up? There are two main reasons. The first one is that quite simply a lot of people believe that their creativity is just a fixed pool. It’s frustrating to see a lot of people limiting themselves like that and labelling themselves as “uncreative”. The second reason is that I truly believe that your creativity, innovation, and ingenuity is going to be the single most important skill to have in the future. Let’s dig into this a little more.

One of the biggest trends of today is artificial intelligence and machine learning. While your terminators are still (thankfully) a few miles away, artificial intelligence and machine learning have already started to slip into your life. Google uses AI. Facebook uses AI. Computers can look at pictures and tell you whether you are looking at a cat or a dog and what breed they are. Google translate is now machine learning based, and learns languages faster than any of us could possibly hope to achieve.

So what? Who cares?

Well it matters for the future. What makes you different from a computer? What makes you special? It used to be that we could say stuff like “I can play chess” or “I can tell you that picture is a monkey” or “I can drive a car”. Not anymore. Computers can do all of those things too. So what skills or voice or spark of creativity do you have that makes you different from a computer? The answer to that matters more and more, especially if the computers are getting smarter by the day.

The single biggest differentiator is creativity.

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