A new job

August 26th, 2016

I can’t say that there have been many times in my life where I have been so outwardly welcomed. Simply because of my interests and expertise. There’s a stroking of my ego, yes. But to feel like a valued part of a team is a rarity. I think this is why some people have difficulty leaving jobs. Maybe I finally understand now.

I can only remember few moments that are like these. Mostly in life transitions—like the move from Berkeley to Pittsburgh and the move back from Pittsburgh to the Bay Area. It’s those life transitions that you see the light. And this time, you think, that light is actually quite warm.

I rarely have seen that light, because day after day, I am grounded into cynicism. I often would walk into situations where people would glance at me and dismiss my expertise and skills. Then I would have to sell myself all over again. Or I would feel uncertain and I could feel the headaches overwhelm, pressing into my sides.

This is where I say that I look at the trees and it feels like the leaves are fluttering for me. Do they understand the beauty? Beyond the narcissism, hope comes and the light is so strong. So I hope this lasts.

An end of an era, a beginning of a new one

August 21st, 2016

Tomorrow, I begin a full time job, which is end to an era that began just over three years ago when I decided that I didn’t want to be bullied by big companies anymore. At least not the silicon valley style companies that pushed people around, like they were numbers.

I wanted to take control of my career. So I did by exploring projects that I wanted to do, throwing myself in uncertain situations, practicing skills that I was able to sell, giving talks, and just…well learning. Now I go back into a permanent position in a new team. I wonder what this all could mean.

A trick during a moment of back-and-forth stabs

August 3rd, 2016

Stop accusation. Stop saying “you did so and so, and I didn’t like it.” Not even “I feel insert emotion when so and so.”

Add “I understand that” and repeat what the other said in second person. “I understand that you are insert emotion when so and so.”

For me, it works wonders. Because I just want to be understood.

Checking my privilege…

August 2nd, 2016

With all the hubbub around privilege, sometimes I worry that I have some. It’s not that I am white. (I am Asian.) It’s not that I am male. (I am female.) But it’s this: I am a cis female born into a family of heterosexual parents living an upper middle class neighborhood.

And there’s this crazy thing: despite looking obviously Asian, I never was overtly aware of discrimination against being Asians. I didn’t witness any squinty eyes or the words “ching chong”. At least not directed toward me, but on TV and in books. That kind of stuff existed in a different world.

And there’s this other crazy thing: despite being female, I never was aware of any overt discrimination. Sure, there may have been subtle stuff that I wasn’t aware of…like salary, company culture fit, and expectations.

I came across an old journal entry from my sophomore year of college. In a moment of weakness, I turned a cold shoulder when close friends hurt me instead of figuring out the issues. I said something. They said something. To this day, I can’t remember what was exchanged or what had perpetuated the whole event. All I remember is standing in the middle of the street at 3 in the morning. The sky was dark, and the streets empty. We stared at each other in anger. One finally turned to the other and said, “She acts that way, because she’s rich.”

The two were unlike me. As daughters of a working class families, their college lives were dominated by a budget, constrained by financial aid. The three shared an apartment even smaller than mine. They arrived at college as the hope for their families to move beyond a working class life, a move toward attaining the American Dream. One told me that she feared riding the BART toward where I lived—”I am afraid of white people.” I pursed my lips and said nothing.

I am buoyed by the fact that I have a fallback plan. If I fall, I won’t fall onto concrete. I know that I will survive.

You are so interesting

August 1st, 2016

Sometimes I blurt out what I have been doing the last few years (the ice cream book thing, the whole intrepid exploring thing, the whole living in San Francisco for a long time thing), and strangers who barely know me suddenly say that I am the most interesting person.

I always thought the Dos Equis advertisements featuring the “most interesting man in the world” was so amusing. Because what he did, what he chose to do, and the stories that he could was what made him interesting. He took risks and never looked back. Regrets are not in his blood. Fear is not in his blood. Only courage, curiosity, and ambition survive in his vocabulary. He threw himself into tasks that nobody has ever done. He achieved greatness and all of that. But why is it interesting?

We all are attracted toward the things that we want to achieve. We want to be next to the person who has achieved the job that we want. We want to be present in the movie stars and bask in the glamor, their skill, their livelihood. Is that what is interesting?

Sometimes when I find myself next to someone who I deem interesting, I find myself looking in a way that makes my vision blurry. I am squinting, because in that blurriness, that interesting person is just another person. Who is a person if not for their character? The interesting parts is everything that they might have achieved due to luck and circumstance. But who are they? If they aren’t a full person of character, of loyalty, and of kindness?

Once I went to a book signing of a food celebrity that I adored. I became nervous in line as I held my book ready for him to sign. Each person was given a post it to fill with their name so he knew how to spell their name. But for me, I wanted to have our conversation be as productive as possible so I wrote my name and my entire background on my post it. Then I would ask my questions—how interesting he was to live in France, to have worked in fine dining kitchens, how was it like knowing all those famous chefs, were they that crazy? But then when I got to the front, I could see that he was overwhelmed. An introvert at heart. He was bearing through all this signing, because it’s what he needed to do to get a book out in the world. But of course, he wasn’t the charismatic type, not the talkative type. So I bared my smile and squinted, realizing that all he wanted was to express his ideas. Yes, having the audience made it better, but that’s not his joy. I felt guilty for being one of the overbearing fans, but in doing so, I saw that he was just a person. An interesting person perhaps. But just a person.

There’s something about us introverts

July 27th, 2016

Recently, I read that introverts have this quality: the ability to just stand there and have many people just tell you their life story.

It doesn’t always happen every day. But occasionally, when I ask someone out to lunch or coffee, I suddenly find myself hearing the deep dark secrets, the drama, and the trauma. It’s not that I don’t want to hear it, I do really. It’s that I wasn’t necessarily seeking it, but it appears suddenly on my lap.

On occasion, those people often remark that they haven’t been able to tell that story to many people, except me.

But I did nothing different except nod solemnly, almost eliciting those stories to fall out. Now, in no uncertain terms, do I ever share those stories, but I am sometimes shocked that they’re there, for me to hear.

I hear about the breakups, the sadness of parents, the terror of a former partner, and the ill family members. Maybe I question why I deserve to hear it. Because there are certainly moments when I am looking at a watch in my hand wondering when I can politely leave or when I can dish out my own story. But in those moments, I find that I can’t and I don’t want to share. It’s easier this way, I think, to hear and listen, because so few people actually do.

Core Memories

July 26th, 2016

What are your “core memories” (a la Inside Out)? a redditor asked yesterday.

I saw the post fly by on Facebook and intrigued, I clicked through the responses. What are the core memories that make us who we are. The moment that we decided to be something, to grow in that direction?

What was interesting is that all the core memories, quite naturally, fell in the happy category. The kind that builds bonds to family, friends, or home. These core memories must be the kind that one can repeat in detail with the words spoken, the sensory detail, and more.

I remember playing with my sister. We would build imaginary castles where our stuffed animal friends would join us high in the sky. They battled sure, but there we would be where we could play freely. We were the rescuers that took them from treacherous environments and brought them to a happy place with rainbows and excitement. I wonder if we could have stayed longer. Do our friends miss us? Do they remember?

Reality vs. Dream

July 19th, 2016

This is the dream: sleepful nights, happy friends and family, pushing through the challenges resulting in your version of success, good health, good shelter, well-fed, satisfied, sufficient

This is the reality: wakeful nights, instability among friends and family, unsurmountable challenges resulting in failure, poor health, risky shelter, imbalanced diet, dissatisfied, disenfranchised, inadequate

But without the dream, the reality is only the reality—a morose cold wind. With dream-colored glasses, reality becomes something so much more.

But there’s this inner performer

July 18th, 2016

I once told a counselor about how I couldn’t understand why I desired so much to be onstage. That when I watch a TED talk, watch a band perform, or watch a comedian, I am instantly compelled to be up there.

Because it doesn’t match my reserved, quiet personality.

“It’s because you want to express yourself,” she answered.

Is that really my way of expression? As writing (or even blogging) has always been my preferred form of expression. It’s not that I want to be the light of the party all the time. I want to have a defined moment, a defined act to be stage. I want to be the star.

Public speaking, like for many, has always been terrifying for me. Witness how nobody in class could hear me speak when I gave a presentation—my voice was tiny and terrified. But I would give it my best with a clear idea of what I wanted to present. I never wanted to be like the “quiet people” who I always perceived as lacking ideas. Or is it that I believe that the loudest, as common in American culture, is the one who grabs the attention and express themselves?

By the time I got to graduate school, my fear of public speaking had subdued. I had accepted the fact that fear was unnecessary (although fear of being judged was another thing of in itself). Somehow I had made the decision that everybody was terrified of public speaking and those who actually attempted speaking, I realized that I could be no worse than them. It might be a superiority complex, but I really believed that the worst thing that anybody could do was say nothing at all.

So when an opportunity popped up for me to host the ice cream eating contest at the ice cream festival, I jumped for it. Sure, it offered an opportunity to promote my book. But even though the spirit of the ice cream eating contest was bad taste and also conflicted with the mission of my book (my recommendation is to have GREAT ice cream in moderate amounts; to travel far and wide to experience those scoops where taste not volume prevails), I wanted to do it. I had admired George Shea from Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on Fourth of July for some time and that’s exactly what thought that I would do.

So I prepped. Writing lines. I studied announcers. I brainstormed quotes. And then when the time came when the food park owner handed me the microphone (after I did the “test test” check), I began. I couldn’t match George Shea on my first time as emcee. And yes, I bolted to my backup instead of giving color commentary. But once the competitive eating began, I found myself screaming and yelling. What is cheering and egging competitors if you can’t be heard. And the crazy thing is, people could barely see me over the tops of heads, I felt like it was awesome. Nobody staring at me. Just everybody hearing a shrill voice announcing the winners of the 2016 ice cream eating contest.

A rich inner life

July 13th, 2016

For most of my life, I always believed that everyone was like me. With the common saying “walk a mile in someone’s shoes”, so I would imagine myself in their shoes—whether it was too big or too small, i would imagine. I would see myself thinking, examining, imagining. Yes, I would suspend judgement, but sometimes I couldn’t understand how others don’t think the way I do.

They say that my personality is one that has a rich inner life. Yet what does that mean? That inside my head explosions of color, dreams, and life live? If that’s the case, does that mean that others don’t have rich inner lives? That their inner lives are devoid of color and brightness? That their inner lives are so empty? But it doesn’t matter, because they are already happy.

What I love doing is thinking playing with hypothetical situations or imagine the stories of other people. Some call it a thought exercise. But sit me down in an airport and this is what happens. I watch the couple walk toward the terminal and think that perhaps they are going on a vacation, but perhaps they weren’t quite happy about it, that one had to use up all their PTO and the other demanded that they needed to spend time together and viola, that’s how they are like on this trip. Or perhaps it’s the trio on the other side of the line. They are visiting family, but this time, the visit isn’t just a visit. It’s because the woman’s aunt who she knew as a child but started to drift as an adult has started a steep decline toward death. This is the game that I play in my head, poking my mind into all the possible unknowns.

Or the problems that rest on my shoulders. I examine them almost immediately. Because I must in order to reach some reasonable solution in the short term otherwise the anxiety would explode into panic and headaches. I think about why an event coordinator hasn’t gotten back to me. I think about how to exert responsibility as a tenant so that my landlord doesn’t come around knocking. I think about how to make use of all the fresh produce resting in my refrigerator. I think about the games I must play, the email that I must answer, the unfinished conversations on Facebook, my prejudices and biases that are getting in the way, and finally whether I can ever organize my room in a respectable fashion. I think about all of this as I sit at my desk running through a list that numbers in the hundreds. Sometimes just by thinking through all of this, a sense of relief moves through my body. It’s ok, I think, it’s ok.

I think differently. I always have. Occasionally, it bothers me. Especially when people start to admire it. But in the end, all I want is to be me and understood.