Monthly Archives: May 2015

28

img1875

It’s All Relative

Time

A well-known rule, at least to me, is to avoid going grocery shopping hungry. I often end up buying more food than I should. And once I’ve gotten something in my stomach, I have buyer’s remorse for getting so much food.

It often boggles my mind how time alone can change how a person feels both physically and mentally. Around the time astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson was hosting the reboot of the show Cosmos, I found this piece of artwork online done in chalk by a duo of design students who called themselves Dangerdust, illustrating one of Dr. Tyson’s quotes: “The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.” The piece was so aesthetically and poetically beautiful that I wanted to get poster to hang in my home. But at the time I was also in the process of decluttering my life, trying to live with less things and being very selective about what I have in my home, like this poster.

Aware of my tendencies to impulse-buy sometimes, I actually managed to resist the urge and instead set a one-month reminder to see if I still wanted to get the poster by then. A month later, with a bit of mental and emotional distance, I realized that while I still really liked the piece, I continued to have trouble justifying the purchase. As a compromise, instead of buying it and putting it on my living room wall, I pinned it on my virtual wall on Pinterest so I can look at it whenever and wherever I want, while enjoying one less item in my home.

Space

I had been fascinated with astronomy at a young age, learning about how the Earth’s tilted axis creates the seasons and how the moon’s revolution around the Earth results in the phases. My knowledge of astronomy expanded throughout the years to learn about the solar system, galaxies and the universe (along with a bunch of laws, properties, and theories that sort of went over my head). The universe is a very very very big place, and that is an offensive understatement. I’m always taken aback when I’m reminded of the incomprehensible scale of our universe when I revisit Carl Sagan’s reflections on “Pale Blue Dot” or rewatch the Eames’ “Powers of Ten.”

The line from “Pale Blue Dot” that got me the most was: “Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.” It definitively put in perspective our roles in life and in the universe. In fact, it liberated me from my responsibilities and obligations in life (to a certain extent), and I felt more free to do whatever I want.

Powers of Ten:

Size of Earth and the sun compared to largest known star (among many other things):

Tech

After working for more than five long years in a video game company in the tech hub of San Francisco, I took a leave of absence and traveled around the world. While abroad, when I told people where I work, I tried to reference things they may have heard of, like FarmVille and Words With Friends. But people rarely knew what I was talking about. While understandable, It’s still a bit disorienting to realize that the product I have poured my time and hard work into and supposedly has some market share worldwide actually has little recognition by people in those parts of the world.

Environment

As a person of science, based on the evidence experts have presented over the years, I strongly believe that global warming/climate change is real (regardless of the name it is given). I am very interested in doing what I can to lead an environmentally sustainable life. Recycling, composting, taking public transit, using energy-saving light bulbs, conserving water, automating bill pay to reduce paper mail (and worries), and being very selective about material purchases are some of the low-hanging fruit that I believe a lot of people can do.

But that is only my belief. Based on their beliefs and priorities, some people may care more, some may care less, and some may be actively against it. As a result, they do whatever aligns with those beliefs and priorities: living completely sustainably and carbon-neutral, being eco-friendly only when it’s convenient and affordable, or letting their bottom line dictate their decisions, regardless of the welfare of the planet.

Civil Rights

Similarly, I believe in and support equal rights for people of all kinds and identities. However, beyond voting and independent boycott, I have yet to do much to show my support. Still, there are varying levels of support that people can give. In addition to beliefs and priorities, people’s personalities play a role in their behaviors. Some supporters are very active, practicing their First Amendment right to assembly and free speech and speaking out against injustice and discrimination in everyday social situations. Some, like me, are more quiet, studying the situations, and making small, calculated moves.

Personal Improvement

By my late twenties, many moments and events in my life led me to let go of my need to be perfect and instead to focus on “becoming better.” I stopped constantly thinking in binary terms, like good vs bad and right vs wrong, because I realized that rarely is something 100% good or bad, etc. So instead, I learned to look at situations and judge things on a scale, determining what worked well and what could improve. I would compare it to past experiences, and evaluate its importance against the big picture. This method gives me more opportunities to learn and grow than the black-and-white approach, where I might restart the process from scratch, throwing away the mistakes along with any progress that I could have built upon.

Accomplished and To Accomplish

Once in a while, I look at my life and notice how many things I have accomplished compared to my peers and in the eyes of my family. But very quickly I would compare myself to the world and notice many more great, inspiring things that I have yet to try, explore, and complete. If I focus only in the former, I may get too complacent. If i focus only in the latter, I may set myself up for disappointment. Instead, I look at both sides and get a good sense of where I stand in the grand scheme of things. When I feel defeated for failing at something new, I remind myself how far I’ve come; when I bask in my glory for too long, I remind myself to “get back to work.”

It’s All Relative

Time can extinguish excitement, heal wounds, torture impatience, and romanticize nostalgia. We are the temporal and physical mayflies of the universe. What I value most may be worthless to others. One person’s paradise may be another person’s livelihood. I have done much and well so far, but I can do more and better.

See

7, 17, 21, 26, 29.

27

img1050

Simplicity is Freedom

Simplifying for Efficiency

I learned about Getting Things Done through a SXSW podcast near the end of my college career. Being obsessed with organization and eagered to begin the next chapter of my life, I quickly adopted the system and have used it ever since.

Getting Things Done, or GTD, is a task management methodology created by David Allen that helps people manage every piece of incoming information, thought, and idea in order to achieve whatever they want to achieve. Instead of requiring the use of a dedicated tool or software, GTD is a set of principles that can fit different people’s particular task-management style; it could be set up with just a pen and paper, or it could live exclusively in a virtual environment, or it can be a mixture of both.

I am practically evangelical about GTD, even though I have yet to fully master it, as I had gone through multiple reincarnations of the system. I usually start with high hopes and create a sophisticated system to ensure I am functioning as best as I could. Inevitably, managing the system becomes a chore, leading me to revert to my old ways, slowly becoming unproductive, and then motivating me to start the GTD system back up again. With each generation, though, I learn a little from my previous attempt and resist setting up more functionalities than I typically need, like filling out project templates for every medium-to-large project I do and manually recording my weekly progress that I rarely retrospectively review anyway. With every GTD reboot, I aimed to simplify my system a little more, learning from past mistakes and avoiding overcomplicating the process.

Simplifying for Productivity

One GTD principle I find valuable is to break an action item down to smaller items if I seemed to be stuck or hesitating to begin. A task usually stalls when the goal is unclear or if it involves multiple steps that I have yet to realize or define. So what I often do when I hear myself say, “I’m not ready to do this yet” or “I don’t want to do this”, I asked myself a series of consecutive “Why?” questions to get to the real reasons I have yet to start on the task. To some people, a task like “Replace an old pair of shoes” involves just going to a shoe store and try out shoes they like. But for me, I would need to answer a list of my own questions, like “Why do I need new shoes?”, “Do I just want the same pair or different?”, “How different?”, “In what occasions do I want to wear these?”. These questions would help break down the task, defining my goals for the new shoes, setting a budget, researching different stores online, reading reviews, generating a shortlist of shoes available in my area to check out, and mapping out an itinerary for a half-day where I can try on the shoes. And if after a half-day of shoe shopping I still come home empty-handed, the process semi-starts again with more research, reviews, etc.

This may seem excessive, but it’s valuable and actually fun to ask myself “Why” and in the process learn about my own motivations and desires towards certain things in my life. And practically speaking, breaking down into actionable subtasks lowers mental hurdles and allows me to make progress quicker. And if during the “Why” questioning process, I have a lot of difficulty answering meaningfully, most likely the thing I wanted to do came from a passing feeling and had low priority, in which case I should drop or ignore it, and move on.

Simplifying for Mobility

As I entered my late twenties, I realized I needed to travel more. It would’ve been nice to travel with friends, but I was also okay traveling by myself. I just had to be careful and watch my own back and my own things. For this reason, I wanted to travel light.

I traveled many times with just one carry-on, and each time presented different needs. For a surf trip I needed an extra swim suit, for a “New Year’s in New York” trip I needed extra boots and nice New Year’s outfit, for a Little Big Trip around the world, I need ultra-versatile, quick-drying, lightweight clothing that work for a wide range of climates and occasions. Regardless of the needs, they all lead to the same problem: I always want to bring more than I can fit in the luggage.

This is why traveling with only one carry-on is an excellent exercise in figuring out what is important, both on the practical, trip level and the philosophical, “life” level. A common advice I hear on the Internet is that if you’re bring something “just in case,” you can probably leave it at home instead, and buy it at the destination if I really needed it. After a couple of times doing this, I began to realize that there is actually little that I really need, both on the trip and in life; everything else is a “nice to have” or “comfort” item. Having only one luggage allows me to be flexible, move quickly, and change plans at a moment’s notice because for the duration of your trip, your entire life is on your back. It also gives me less items to worry about, especially during transit.

Simplifying is Complicated

Being simple is often difficult. I adopted Getting Things Done because I literally wanted to get things done (and faster). The flexibility of the system led me to, for better or worse, experiment with task management styles, figuring out what works and what I could do without, simplifying with each reincarnation. But it takes time, experience, and trial-and-error. Ideally, I would like technology to reach a point where my task management system would just be something implemented in my brain, and the most important, appropriate thing I should be doing at any given moment has already been automagically defined, processed and filtered, entering into my consciousness right when I need it. But until then, I will continue to find the most simple but still valuable version of GTD that I can sustain using.

When I get ready for a trip, my imagination takes over and I think of all the things I could and want to do and therefore may need to bring. But I realized with each trip I take that I usually ended up taking it easy and decided to do less, which means some of the gear I brought would go untouched. So with each new trip, I try to be strict about each item I bring and ask my future vacationing self if I would really use it.

I had to do that with my six-week world trip, when the things I originally wanted to bring was over the capacity of my carry-on by half or even by one. I had to systematically fill the bag with the essential items first, and then one by one select the “nice to have” or “comfort” items to add to my bag. I made some sacrifices with a few pieces of clothing, meaning I had to wash my clothes on the trip more often. In the end, it worked out pretty well; I practically used everything I brought. If i had brought all the things I wanted to bring, carrying two bags instead of one, it would’ve been harder for me to maneuver at certain parts of my trip, and i would’ve enjoyed it less. Simplifying my “life,” in the form of my luggage, definitely yielded me more freedom to experience as much of the world as it can offer.

See

16, 23, 29

26

img225

Everyone Functions Differently

  • I am the son of Chinese families. The first half of my childhood I lived in China, and the other half in the United States.
  • I am an introvert. I enjoy staying in more often than going out.
  • I am probably somewhere between an ectomorph and a mesomorph. It takes more effort to gain any muscle mass.
  • I care a lot about my health. I listen to my body, I eat as cleanly as I can, I make time for exercise, and I make sure I get enough sleep.
  • I am a visual person, definitely more so than verbal or auditory. I enjoy watching a movie more than reading a book or attending a concert.
  • I consider myself a mix of left- and right-brained. I love when things are organized, logical, and methodical, but I also enjoy being different, innovative, and expressive.
  • I probably have color-graphemic synesthesia, where I associate each number and letter to a color. For example, the letter E is solid brown, and the number 2 is a warm yellow.
  • I am fascinated by languages, their history and grammar. I’d love to learn and be fluent in as many as I can.
  • I am a man of science. It comforts me to have something I can absolutely depend on in life: the objective laws of physics and math.
  • I am fascinated by new technologies and I embrace it for how it can improve the world. I am still waiting for a mind-powered virtual assistant.
  • I save as much as I can for retirement. But I also make sure I can live happily now.
  • I am an optimist. I believe that living with a positive attitude has a higher chance of success and happiness.

The specific combination of these things (and more) make up who I am. One change would mean a slightly different approach to life, would lead to different decisions and consequences, and would therefore create a different person. There are a lot of combinations possible, and more than seven billions of them (unique ones) exist in the world.

Everyone has their story, their motivations, and their philosophies. They often do what they think is right for them, but it may be perceived by others as wrong. While the concept of right and wrong is a much larger philosophical discussion, the fact remains that everyone functions differently. The more of us who can understand and become conscious of this, the more peaceful, I believe, and less conflicts our world would get.

But then again, that’s only what I think; that’s how I function.

See

4, 10, 18, 21, 25, 28, 29