Category Archives: 30 Things

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Start with the End in Mind

“I have an idea. Let’s play a game. A puzzle game. Or maybe a numbers game? How about a word game? Or a scavenger hunt?”

On my twenty-ninth birthday, I published the first post of the “A Number of Things” series on my blog, and I continued to post one every eleven days for twenty-nine more times. The original idea of the series was to conduct a “social experiment” (an item on my “Before 30” list) where I post my thoughts on certain topics, embed hidden puzzles in the posts, and have the audience participate and work together to solve puzzles while using my posts as a springboard to learn about one another’s approach to life.

In short, my goal was to connect with the world. I wanted to develop both a relationship between the audience and me as the content creator and a relationship among the audience members to discuss the content and to collaborate on solving the puzzles.

Like most of my goals, I started with the end in mind, and worked backwards to figure out the details, timeline, and the amount of work and planning I would need to do. Typically, it’s the most logical and efficient way to accomplish goals.

For this goal and this project, I knew that I wanted to 1) share thirty posts regarding my approach and philosophy to life as I see it at the moment, 2) plant clues to puzzles for the audience to find and try to solve, and 3) enhance both my posts and the clues by accompanying them with something visual and creative.

I started creating posts with the sincerest of intentions, but by the third post, I quickly realized that I may have bitten off more than I could chew. Creating each post took a lot of time from my day-to-day life. To raise the level of complexity and planning that it needed to be a world-connecting-fuzzy-feeling-creating project would take even more work than I could afford. Still, I had many reasons to continue with the project, and even though I just started at the time and had a long way to go, it was subconsciously important enough for me to see it through.

Fortunately, the three things I knew I wanted to do (thirty posts, hidden puzzles, and visual pieces) addressed other smaller goals I had. So I pivoted a little bit and readjusted my plan based on those new smaller goals so the project could be more manageable. So in that sense, starting with the end in mind proved effective in that it allowed me to use what I originally planned, and then repurpose them for similar goals if necessary, all without needing to start over or give up.

Looking back, the series captured a good collection of my ideas about life, and it proved out numerous design experiments I wanted to try. Even though I knew from the first post that the topic of this post would be “Start with the end in mind.”, I was for a large part (as I mentioned in the second post) making it up as I went. As a result, the journey was both trying and delightful at times.

Yet for many reasons, I’m glad I did it, and I must be grateful for the way that I did. I had a grand and ambitious idea, and I ran with it. Fortunately, it was the type of project where I could start from the end and work backwards to build out a plan. But if I encounter projects where planning backwards feel impractical, I can always take another of my own advice: start somewhere.

See

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29.

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Lists Can Drive Me Or Can Numb Me

Before 30 List

Right before I turned 27, I created a list called “30 Things to do Before Ivan Turns 30″. It was in part a response to the advice given by people over 30 for what twenty-somethings should do and what they wish they had done at that age. Some of things I came up with for my list were based on my pursuit of the positive, blissful feelings I had when I read about or see images for for the places I wanted to visit and the activities I wanted to do.

Through this list, I did many things that I was quite proud of. One of the first items I completed was dancing in a flash mob, which required me to step out of my comfort zone (even to join the group in the first place!). I checked off two things on the list by taking a solo train trip across the country and visited New York for the first time. Using that as a practice run, I then traveled around the world by myself in what I nicknamed “Little Big Trip”, visiting twelve places in nine countries and hitting eight things on the “Before 30” list in six weeks, including seeing the aurora borealis (northern lights) and walking on the Great Wall of China. I still look back at the experience from time to time with awe and surreality, amazed that I actually pulled off something like this.

Age is Just a Number

At the same time, as I was completing many items on the list, I had trouble feeling those blissful emotions that I was expecting. I thought that dancing in a flash mob would feel as joyful and perfect as I did watching it; instead, I was often preoccupied with hitting the right steps at the right time. When I visited Tokyo on my Little Big Trip, I thought I would become absorbed into the Japanese culture and explore the city like a local, but I was only there for four days and I knew a very small amount of Japanese. As a result, it made me feel a little out of place.

As I made progress in my Before 30 list and continued to feel underwhelmed with the things I had completed, I asked myself why I really wanted to do the things on the list. Even though I knew this going in, I realized that the list is mostly arbitrary and tying it to an age deadline made little sense. The phrase “Age is just a number” also came to mind and I suddenly felt conflicted to continue with the list because the phrase implies that age is a state of mind, and people’s mental age is more powerful and important than their chronological or biological age, so they should be able to do whatever they want at whatever chronological age they want. While I support this line of thinking, I also believe that people’s biological makeup and physical age play a role in how old they feel mentally, so a fifty-year-old person feeling like a twenty-five-year-old mentally would still probably have physical limitations that prevent them from enjoying a whitewater rafting trip as much as a chronological twenty-five-year-old would. And that pulls me back to the original premise, taking advice from older people for things I should do while in my twenties.

Value of Bucket Lists

I remember hearing Oprah, one of my life guides since my mid-twenties, say that she doesn’t believe in bucket lists (though in other interviews she still seemed to have a short list of things she wanted to accomplish.) The way I interpret her approach is that instead of making a list of things to do sometime between now and when she dies, she would seize any opportunity to do them as soon as she could.

Similarly, I learned that instead of thinking that I must do everything on the list before I turn 30, I should use it as a reflection of my goals and priorities and as an idea bank to either do the original thirty things on the list or do something that embodies the same spirit, whichever I felt was doable and compelling. Therefore, whether I complete the list becomes less important; it’s about moving with urgency and taking advantage of any opportunity that come my way. Acting with urgency also prevents me from the overanalyzing and over-planning that lead me to lose interest over time and building up the hype and expectations for something that would consequently underwhelm me.

Lists in General

I usually start a list when I needed to clear my mind or to remember multiple things for later. Surprisingly, it’s subconsciously therapeutic. It makes me feel like everything is under control, like I’m making progress, and that motivates me to continue working. And if that list is a checklist, it’s practically twice as fun because I would have the pleasure to check it off when done. That’s why I enjoy making lists.

However, the momentum and excitement from making lists can also lead me to go overboard, adding more items and subcategories, making them longer and more complex. This becomes a problem when I go back to review or reference them. Long, multi-level lists are hard to quickly scan through and intimidating to tackle, causing me to want to put it off until “I have more time.”

With my Before 30 list, even though completing some of the items left me feeling underwhelmed, the experiences were still rewarding and led me to new opportunities. While dancing in a flash mob may have been less heart-warming than I thought, being in the flash mob group allowed me to make so many cool new friends to socialize with and check out other activities and events in the area. Even though zip-lining felt less thrilling than I imagined, it opened up my mind to try other outdoor activities and find a sport that could potentially give me the thrill I was seeking. And most significantly, while having been to six of the seven continents felt just like another day of traveling, the trip itself was the experience of a lifetime, and it infected me with the travel bug, and sparking ideas for other itineraries and travel styles hopefully for the near future.

Lists are useful to get things done, and there’s probably a set of best practices somewhere that would make it work most efficiently and effectively. But ultimately, with or without them, what matters is the drive one needs to make things happen to live their best lives.

See

3, 7, 8, 9, 10, 14, 16, 27, 30.

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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.

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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

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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

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The Serenity Prayer is For Everyone

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” –A version of the Serenity Prayer

I’m not religious, nor am I in AA, but I find this quote very valuable in my life.

Serenity

Before I discovered this quote, I thought I could do everything, and that I should do everything. I thought that I could make the world a better place if I solve everyone’s problems for them and give them advice before they had to ask. I thought that if I could dissect past incidents of rejections, failures, and embarrassment enough times and replay them in my head in different ways, I could suddenly find a nugget of validation that would turn the story around in my favor and vindicate me. I thought that if I was more skilled, more hard-working, with the proper tools and correct time estimates, I could always complete everything perfectly and on time.

But over time, I realized many things:

  • Because I know how to solve my problems better than other people do, other people would likewise know how to solve their problems better than I do. Therefore, it would be intrusive to get in other people’s business without them asking.
  • Until a time machine is invented, the past is permanent; whatever happened happened. I can either dwell on it and feel helpless, or learn from it and do better next time. And experience proves that doing the latter is more productive and more healthy.
  • Since 1) some things in life matter more to me than others, 2) some things require a higher standard of quality than others, and 3) the amount of time that I have left in life is less than the time it takes to do these things at the same high standard of quality, logic and math would prove that I simply cannot do it all. Therefore, I must choose and prioritize by what is important to me and what needs to be done well. Everything else, I will only give enough attention to get the job done to keep things going.

In addition to other people, the past, and limitations of everyday circumstances, I also realized that I cannot change biology and genetics, the weather (short term), laws of physics, time, and death.

Courage

Somewhere in my mid-twenties, the combination of becoming more independent as a young adult and soaking up all the empowering messages from successful people like Oprah led me to take more control of my life. From my mind to my body, I examined every part of my life that I could improve so I could increase my chances for success: my attitude (always try to find the positive in situations), my emotions (identity the root causes of my feelings and neutralize them if they’re hindering me or recreate them if they’re helping me), my health (eliminate as much processed foods as possible, isolate foods that upset my body, and make time for exercise), and my actions (be aware that I, and only I, always have the power to decide what I do next). In just a few years, all of these realizations physically and psychologically transformed my life.

I used to be very rigid and stubborn, but since it dawned on me that the only thing I can change and have control over is myself, I actually became more flexible and forgiving when responding to any external force in the universe, including and especially other people.

Wisdom

At the same time, I admit that there still remain parts of the stubbornness (or “determination” depending on how you want to put it) that makes me me. I’m still figuring out where to draw the line between things that I can and cannot change. My exercise routine, for example, has evolved over the years as I learned more about the science and techniques on fitness. But even with the best routine, how likely will I reach my goals? Are my goals aligned to what I’m physiologically capable of? Are their limitations to my body type and genetics that make it more difficult?

Also, I am aware that I cannot change time, but I still have the tendency to underestimate how much of it I need to get things done. I often have a backlog of things I wanted to complete, if only I had enough time. But whenever I do have a chunk of time to myself, I often procrastinate and put it off, especially if the tasks seem difficult. What sort of mental and behavioral changes do I need to make so I can feel like I am doing everything I’m supposed to without feeling behind? Should I improve my working habits to minimize procrastination? Should I make peace with the fact that many of my backlog items will forever stay in the backlog, and that I should drop them?

Finally, I still want to make an impact in the world by changing everyone’s lives for the better, but I want to avoid intruding into other people’s business. When I see someone having a difficult time, regardless that they’re a friend or stranger, I quickly think of ways to help them, or at least how I would like to be helped in that situation. But who am I to judge someone’s state of being or their story based on the few seconds that I’ve witnessed, even if it’s someone I know? I know there is a right time and a wrong time to offer help, but I’d like to be better at knowing when exactly that is. It depends on the person, as well; some people readily welcome help, while others are more sensitive to being perceived as weak or would prefer to figure things out on their own.

I suppose I could initiate a dialogue and begin a relationship with the person, get a better understanding of their situation, and then offer help as necessary. That is probably where I need to improve my interpersonal communication skills. Maybe then would I know how to tell the difference between people learning to be self-sufficient and people needing help.

See

6, 7, 8, 9, 17, 18, 21, 22, 24, 26.

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Relationships Are Valuable.

Relationships are hard work, especially for introverts like me. By relationships, I mean the ones with friends, family, co-workers, strangers, and significant others, so pretty much everybody. I can get by in most relationships; I follow social norms, I can read enough nonverbal cues and subtexts to understand what other people want to say, and I can ask for help or make plans with others when I need to. But there is definitely room for improvement.

My natural introvert preference is to do as many things by myself as possible. It’s quite satisfying to be self-sufficient, especially when I accomplish major goals by myself. I also prefer this because it reduces risks and dependencies to just one person: me, and I can usually count on myself to make things happen and in the way that I want. From there, the only other thing I need is good internet access.

Benefits of Having Relationships

Still, there are many cases when I need other people to accomplish goals. In professional (and personal) settings, for example, the more people I meet and get to know, the more opportunities there are to advance the careers and lives of both the people I meet and me. Another benefit for having people in our lives is to be able to experience something together, whether it is working under intense pressure at work, traveling in a foreign place, fighting on the battlefield, or even just being stuck in an elevator for a short period of time. One can do these things by themselves, but having others with them can make the experience less stressful, less overwhelming, less painful, and less scary.

Personally, I must admit that even after long periods of staying in, being self-sufficient, taking care of my own stuff, and being in my own head, I inevitably need to take a break and socialize with other human beings. Being exposed to other people’s thoughts after hearing only my own for a long time can be refreshing and even inspiring. Even for introverts, there has to be a balance between internal and external stimuli.

Another benefit to having good relationships is the satisfaction of bringing joy to others through giving and being kind. I remember the warm and fuzzy feeling I got during the holiday season when I gave my friends presents without expecting anything in return; it just felt good to give and to make others happy. It sort of validates my subconscious desire to become a better person.

Much to Learn

I am far from having the perfect, most successful relationships. There is still so much for me to learn about communication and managing my connections, both professionally and personally. I still need to find a balance between having enough “me time” and being social. And I need to muster more energy in me to be kind to more people and more often. It’s a lot of work, but I believe it’s worth it.

See

5, 9, 23, 25, 29.

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Always Keep Learning

Good Advice

By my senior year of college, I was beginning to keep up with the graphic design industry through blogs and podcasts. Occasionally, I would come across interviews of well-known designers talking about their design philosophies, including advice for new designers coming out of college. One advice that kept coming up from different designers was to always keep learning, even after school.

In their experience, sometimes newly graduated designers have the tendency to assume they know everything just because they completed their training at school and thought that they could take on any project and immediately excel at it. Even with just a few years of real-world experience myself, I would agree with the general sentiment as well. There is already so much I had discovered and experienced between graduation and now that I look at new grads the same way, sort of like how most adults feel about teenagers: foolish and naive. At the same time, I’m still relatively young (fortunately), so I’m sure more experienced professionals would probably feel similar about me (and rightly so).

So Many Things to Learn

Regardless of what stage you are in life, the important thing is to always have the appetite to learn. The subject matter could be an extension of what you studied or what your job needs, like new software and tools, or it could be a side passion of yours that you now have more time to explore, like cooking or new sports. It could even be as simple as consuming information, like following certain blogs, podcasts, or talks. Whatever it is, I believe that learning new things helps one become a more well-rounded member of society.

For me, since the last time I had been in school, I continued to teach myself programming languages, partly to set up my website for my career and partly for fun; I continued to work on improving my health by finding the right exercises and diet for my goals; I started learning new sports like surfing and snowboarding; I tried out different language learning programs in an attempt to be fluent in more foreign languages; and I explored my dancing abilities by joining local flash mob groups and performing in public spaces and planned events, including a wedding.

New Opportunities

The benefits of learning something new goes beyond just that thing you’re learning. It opens you up to opportunities to learn more things. Earlier in my college career, the teacher from one of my design classes shared with us a student discount for the subscription to the graphic design magazine Communication Arts. Subscribing to it led me to an article about the online personality Ze Frank. I became a fan of his creative, multimedia work, particularly his year-long vlog The Show. One of his episodes mentioned attending South by Southwest (SXSW), so I subscribed to the SXSW podcast and discovered a session covering the productivity methodology Getting Things Done (GTD). It revolutionized the way I work, and I now approach life with a better sense of purpose.

Also through Communication Arts, I encountered the article about Stefan Sagmeister’s class that focused on emotional connection through design. This helped shape the idea for the “thesis” project “Why Don’t We Care?” for one of my senior design classes. In the project, I also referenced Ze Frank and The Show.

At a higher level, I probably would have learned about some of these things in other ways, but it’s the progression of discoveries and the potential for serendipity that make this experience special and exciting. It also probably would have taken longer to discover.

Learning is Ongoing

It is worth noting that learning is always ongoing. New content may surface, existing information may become less important, and longstanding opinion may change. This is overall a good thing, because it usually means whatever you’re learning is improving itself, and by keeping up with it, you are improving as well.

This is important to me because 1) I often feel like I know the least out of everyone in most situation, and 2) I’m naturally curious and want to learn as much as I can about things that have the most of my attention. The fact that learning is ongoing sort of levels the playing field so those who are behind can try to catch up, and it helps satisfy my curiosity and feed my mind with more and newer content.

See

2, 3, 7, 11.

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Complaining is Silly. Either Act or Forget.

Stefan Sagmeister

Near the end of my college career, I learned about the designer Stefan Sagmeister. He quickly became one of my favorite designers, as his work was bold, thoughtful, emotionally rich, and perfectly radical. It was practically the opposite to my approach and sensibilities in design, which is why he has since been my inspiration and motivation to experiment and to think outside my own little box. In 2008, he published a book (or a volume of booklets) called Things I Have Learned In My Life So Far, creatively illustrating and writing about his life learnings. One of the learnings that really caught my attention was “Complaining is silly. Either act or forget.” It made a significant impact in how I react to external events. Paired with the goal to be positive (both in my post-college job search and just in life), I managed to take back the energy and time I wasted passive-aggressively tweeting and Facebook-posting rants and cynical notes, and used it proactively to resolve problems in my life.

When to Forget

Whenever I feel the urge to complain or vent to someone or via social media, I pause and ask if 1) it’s worth telling someone, as in whether telling that person or the public would realistically change the situation, and 2) the thing I want to complain about really matters to me or if it’s just a momentary frustration that would pass in a few hours or days. First of all, I rarely post anything negative on social media anymore because I believe that when a person is being negative, it affects the mood of the people around them. So I try to avoid doing that unless it’s absolutely necessary or urgent. And since social media is rarely a medium to express absolutely necessary or urgent information, I’ve made it a rule to only post neutral or positive things.

If I determine that complaining about something leads to very little change in the situation, I would drop the topic and “forget” it. For example, on my commute to and from work, unpleasant things occasionally occur, whether it’s a conflict between two people or it’s the way certain passengers behave differently from the social norm. In the moment, I would come up with scenarios for how I would respond if I was in the conflict. Then I would want to share that with my friends and coworkers at the next possible opportunity (ex. “Good morning! Oh my god, these two people were fighting on the bus on my way to work. One was being really rude, and the other person was trying to reason with him. If it was me, I would’ve told that person off…”) That’s when I would pause and realize how sharing this piece of information results in very little benefit for my friends or coworkers, for me, and for the public transportation system. Ultimately, what we would get is another story about negative experience of riding the bus. Unless I plan to lead a reform or awareness campaign in social etiquette on public transit or something, I believe it’s better to just drop the subject and move on to talking about things I care more about.

When to Act

When things actually do matter, like at work, it’s harder to “forget” them when they bother us. Working in a fast-pace environment, I encounter a lot of changes in plans, much to my preference instead to set a simple goal and work straight towards it. So when a project direction shifts or a deadline is shortened, my immediate thoughts would generally be negative, and I would want to vent to my peers. But instead of complaining or ignoring the problem (“forgetting”), my inherent drive to do well, especially in my career, suddenly leads me to be very pragmatic (“act”) and run through the list of potential questions to solutions in my head (“Are we sure we need to do this?” “What have I already done that I can salvage for this?” “Can I even take this on?” “How should we reprioritize to make it work?”) This helps me stay ahead of the situation and gives me as much control as possible.

Now and Plans for the Near Future

Of course, this is all work in progress. I am still learning and trying to become better with this approach every day. It may actually be nice to bond with friends and coworkers over a trivial story about a bus ride. And it may literally be a life-changing move when someone begins a conversation with a friend after seeing their cryptic tweet. Would complaining be considered silly in these situations? There are still fine lines I need to discover and learn about.

But for the most part, so far, it’s made a positive impact on my life; I find that I have more pleasant and stress-free moments, simply by reducing the number of times I let myself get angry and worked up over something I should have forgotten instead. As a result, I have more time and energy to act and focus on things that I enjoy.

This philosophy has worked out so well for me that I would love for others to adopt it. But another philosophy of mine is preventing it: I believe that how I live is my business and mine alone, and the same goes for other people. So as annoying as I find other people’s complaints to be, telling them to stop complaining disrespects their personalities. Until I figure out a way to act respectfully, all I can do now is to distance myself from them as much as I need, hide their posts from social media, and make my philosophy available in my space (here) and hope they stumble upon it.

Practically speaking, it can be more tough to actively tell people about “my approach”, especially when I have yet to fully prove that it works in normal social environments. For example, there are many complicated and controversial issues in American culture. It is sometimes said that silence to a social issue equals agreement with the status quo, while any action from sympathizers and supporters may mean detracting from the goals of the movement and worsen the situation. What’s left is the dissent, loudly and angrily pointing out the issue. But since acting and forgetting are out of the question, who am I then to advocate for suppressing the dissent?

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18, 25, 26

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What I Do Reflects My Priorities

In my final quarter of college, I took a general exercise biology class taught by two professors. A lot of the material went over my head, but one of the things that I actually retained was the advice to make time to exercise. This simple tip actually shifted my thinking about exercise and goals in general that I eventually adapted it to apply to other areas of my life.

An A-ha Moment

The professors explained: we often tell ourselves or say in conversations that we should or want to exercise but we have yet to do it because we “don’t have time.” They argued, however, that instead of “having” time to do something, the problem is in “making” time; we don’t make time for it. We make time to watch TV or go out with friends, but we fail to make time to exercise, and yet we say or know that it’s important to us. If it’s really important to us, instead of just talking about it, we would find a way to make it happen. How we spend our time shows what’s important to us; what we do reflects our priorities.

Once I realized that, I became very conscious every time I started thinking and using the phrase, “I don’t have time.” Soon after, I stopped thinking that way altogether and shifted my energy to examine why I have yet to exercise and what’s holding me back. Even though it still took me a series of mental and physical hurdles to get back to the gym on a regular basis, knowing that my priorities control my behavior allowed me to start being more responsible for my life and make changes.

Applying the Mindset

When I first started regularly going to the gym, I would only go if I completed that workday’s tasks. On days when things at work ran a little long, I would still try to go to the gym a little later, but it would either delay the rest of my evening’s routine or shorten my workout session to stay on schedule. Either way, I would be bummed. And if I kept my regular gym schedule and put off work until after the gym or the next day, I would feel guilty for putting my personal goals before my work.

What I realized over time is that there will always be work to do, and most of it can wait until the following day, therefore I should head to the gym at my “mentally scheduled” time. Sticking to that schedule, I found, is important to me.

I also realized that exercise actually benefits my work. First, exercise is a great stress reliever. Second, I often come up with solutions to work problems at the gym, when I am away from the desk and my mind has a chance to take a break and get unstuck. Realizing this made it easier to justify sticking to my personal schedule at work and take time out of the day to work on myself. While work is important, I must place more value on my mental, physical, and spiritual health. “I don’t have time for exercise.” just says the opposite. The only acceptable solution in my mind is to make time.

Beyond Exercise

Using the same strategy, I have since been reevaluating everything I do in life. I removed habits that contribute little to my goals, and I added ones that are vital to them. For example, even though I’m a bit of a night owl and I get a surge of energy after I get home from work, I set a goal to go to bed earlier so I can get a full night’s sleep and help improve my body, mind, and spirit. Socially, I learned to be more selective with attending events and gatherings to achieve a better balance between developing valuable relationships and getting enough personal time for myself. At work, I customized my environment using software to help minimize distractions by receiving only notifications that I need and to work on my health at work with reminders to take regular breaks from the computer.

These habits will change and adapt in the future. They may be small adjustments or major overhauls, but the fundamental philosophy driving them will be the same: I will make time for things that are important to me.

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5, 6, 17, 22, 23.