An Antidote to Helplessness

I have three windows open, but I’d be lying if I said I could see clearly right now. Each window features so many tabs that the tightly packed icons have been rendered nearly indistinguishable. It’s a decent reflection of my frenetic brain state these last few days.

Many of our lives — mine included — were upended these last two weeks. We went from commuting to our offices to cordoning off “home offices” inside cramped apartments, and from rarely giving thought to hand washing to doing so every chance we get for fear of hurting ourselves and others around us. Those are just two of the most obvious behavioral changes we’ve had to make.

It’s a testament to our ability to adapt that so many of us found normalcy in shifting swiftly to remote work, living in lockdown, and taking self-quarantine measures. For me, however, it only heightens an awareness of the invisible lines that divide the privileged and the less so. If I’m being honest, I feel guilty and insecure. Because while I continue to work with little business continuity risk, I have a parent whose small business was forced to close, friends who have been furloughed, and family and friends left to unduly risk their lives as healthcare practitioners.

Thankfully, times of crisis have a funny way of bringing things into focus. Amidst my guilt and fear, I am also hopeful. Before us is an unprecedented opportunity to take care of each other, to prioritize our loved ones, and to give back to our communities. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the headlines and feeling small and worried that you’re not doing enough, you’re not alone. We have a long way to go before this pandemic subsides, and an even longer time before our global economy regains its footing. But instead of giving into helplessness, I’m choosing hope and the effective actions that rise from it. 

If you’re asking yourself, “How can I make a difference when so many things are broken?” start small. Even one text saying, “How’s it going? Thinking of you.” can brighten someone’s whole day in trying times. Here is a shortlist of actions I’ve taken and been inspired by as antidotes to helplessness, one tiny act of kindness at a time. If any of them move you and you are in a position of privilege, I encourage you to give (or anything similar). In moments like these, even the smallest acts of compassion will have ripple effects.


🙏 Support your community and beyond

  • My younger sister is a nurse at one of the most preeminent cancer hospitals in the U.S. Two weeks ago, her floor was designated the coronavirus floor, so for now and the foreseeable future, she is on the frontlines of coronavirus care without the requisite masks and personal protective equipment (PPE). We can do our part by (1) not hoarding them for ourselves and (2) donating to organizations like shipping and logistics startup Flexport to support the sourcing and transport of these critical supplies. Mask a Hero NY is also helping connect those who can donate mask supplies with hospital workers in need.  
  • Volunteer to serve meals to our sick, elderly, and vulnerable. In San Francisco, there are great organizations like Meals on Wheels, Project Open Hand, or any of the number of non-profits or food banks listed here, all of which need volunteers, supplies, or funds.
  • There may never be a better time to foster a shelter pet. Is this to help a precious dog or for me to get emotional support? Why not both, and I’m certainly keeping my fingers crossed to hear back from San Francisco’s SPCA and Muttville.

🤝 Find strength in solidarity

  • Throw a virtual party. Finding ways to connect is more important than ever, given social isolation and loneliness can lead to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions. South Korea popularized virtually eating together, and self quarantine shouldn’t stop you from having all sorts of virtual get togethers: happy hour, playing Catan together, or even celebrating your birthday (🎉, Lee!). For those in San Francisco and beyond, I’ll be hosting another virtual block party hosted on Icebreaker soon! Message me here if you’d like to join.
  • Practice #PhysicallyDistantSociallyClose by joining new tribes. Redditers were way ahead of us when it comes to finding hyper-connected online communities revolving around niche interests. A few places to get started:
    • Join a Book Club (built by the avid readers and builders behind Highlighter)
    • Quarantine Together (supported by the wonderful InterIntellect community)
    • Check out Instagram Live videos by your favorite Influencers. I’ve had tons of fun joining Jessica Olie for yoga practice, tuning into friends’ Live sessions featuring their personal passions like baking and tarot reading, and sending love to local SF choreographers who are making the most of this quarantine by hosting their own IG Live dance classes (In fact, now is a great opportunity to take online classes from teachers and choreographers all over the world who wouldn’t normally offer them.)

💸 Pay it forward

  • For food deliveries or groceries, tip generously. Before local stores and my laundromat closed, I purchased gift cards to use for when they re-open. You can still support local businesses by purchasing gift cards here, here, and here (last one is for SF only).
  • Those who are already the most vulnerable will be disproportionately hit by this economic lockdown. These are the individuals and families without a financial safety net, the ability to WFH, without safe homes, access to affordable health care or education, etc. While our government leaders, economists, and lawmakers debate an economic stimulus, if you’re able, a few organizations worth checking out and supporting:
    • The One Fair Wage Emergency Fund provides cash assistance to service workers.
    • Donate the money you would have spent on your daily commute or coffee habit to Cancel Corona, a collection of nonprofits supporting the communities hurt by coronavirus. 
    • My friend Lyndsey wrote up her own helpful guide on all the ways you can pay it forward (and stay sane).

💕 Take care of yourself

  • With limitations on being outside, it’s important to be intentional about getting enough movement in your day to maintain both physical strength and mental acuity. Tons of gyms have started to release online classes, but here are two of my favorite free workout resources:
    • Melissa Wood Health for short-but-tough workouts using only your own body weight. She offers a 7-day free trial and a few free flows on her YouTube.
    • HIIT workouts courtesy of former Australian Pole Vaulter Amanda Bisk will have you working up a sweat.
  • Introverts, rejoice! Want a new book to read? Here are my recommendations. Need something new to watch? Binge watch your celebrity hero on MasterClass. Need a moment of distraction-free productivity?  Try FocusMate or Focused. Been meaning to brush up on your cooking skills? Why not try a new covid-19-ready recipe or learn all 59 ways to cook an egg. Want to learn a new instrument and support out-of-work musicians? Check out MaestroMatch.

Nothing is too small, and every donation of our time, money, and mindshare counts. Thank you to the many friends who inspired me to give and to continue giving. That said, we’re only scratching the surface of what will require massive action from our local and federal governments.

In the meantime, “you are more powerful than you think.” So let me know in what ways you’re giving back, other ways I may be able to contribute or highlight other efforts big or small, and our collective efforts will help strengthen and rebuild our communities.

And since I have you: If you’re healthy, stay healthy. Call your loved ones. Wash your hands. Be kind.

💕

Special thank you to Jen, Mason, and Phillip for reading earlier drafts, and to the friends who moved me with their ways of giving back during this crisis: Roy, Lisa, Aleka, Shawn, Nitin, Paula, Noah, and many others.

 

Uncovering the Dots

This was originally posted on my Medium page. While I’m quite loyal to WordPress, I’m testing out several different publishing platforms for a better understanding of each one’s pros and cons (particularly with respect to user experience and engagement). Apologies in advance for anyone who has already read this.

It’s impossible to connect the dots if they have yet to be discovered.

I’ve never been one for Netflix, but over the last few months, I’ve applied the art of binging to podcast listening. There are a plethora of great ones in the audial ether, but a recent episode of Exponent hit home with respect to Ben and James’s notion that maintaining optionality upfront allows the discovery of focus down the road. The reason? While having general direction can be a guiding force, becoming too prematurely focused on an exact plan can blind you from recognizing opportunity when it arises.

Like Ben, I spent the early months of my undergraduate career trying to meticulously plan every class and schedule for the next four years. I took the necessary courses to earn my degree in Cognitive Psychology and Math-Econ, but in the process, I took a slew of courses with no obvious reason that ended up being some of the most impactful. These were often unrelated to my majors and didn’t fulfill any prereqs, but I took them because I wanted exposure to interesting topics and people. In doing so, I experienced incredible discourse in classes like Christian Environmental Ethics, Politics of Whiteness, and James Joyce Literature that directly contributed to a formative and enriching education.

By forgoing micromanagement and focusing on taking engaging, intellectually stimulating courses, I explored new disciplines that allowed me to discover new interests. Takeaways on intersectionality in my political science classes became applicable to perspectives on economic behavior or on human factors. I learned what did and didn’t inspire me largely by stumbling upon a wide array of these topics, and it ultimately helped me make connections that previously were not readily evident.

My early career trajectory reflects the same exploratory strategy, and I’ve prioritized taking on roles that continue to expose me to great teams and new skills that may yield emergent growth opportunities. And over the years, I’ve begun to narrow the aperture. In particular, a recent deep dive into User Experience Design crystallized the niche I had been seeking but couldn’t define. My sales stint at a major retailer and my current role in financial technology had taught me the importance of having functional, usable, and beautiful products, but UX principles taught me how to apply those product attributes around solving user problems.

I’m not sure if I would have come across the concepts of UX Design/Product Thinking had I not been persistent about learning and pursuing my random interests. In which case, I wouldn’t have been able to put a name to what I now feel confident immersing myself into. There is still so much more to learn, but with healthy doses of gumption and curiosity by my side, I can’t wait.

A Year in Retrospective

This post has been a long time coming. I recently “celebrated” my first one-year work-versary, and with the completion of my first triathlon, I now actually have time to collect and organize my disparate thoughts.

A little over a year ago, I graduated university and started my first full-time job in New York. Despite having grown up near New York and being familiar with the city, it was thrilling to be a part of a new culture: the post-grad newly employed crowd where the days are long, the nights are longer, and we seem to share the mantra, “work hard, play harder.” The first six months were marked by the steep learning curve that accompanies a new job, outings with old and new friends, and a surprisingly successful hunt for a NYC apartment (thank you, Craigslist – I’m serious).

The latter eight months have not been dramatically different, yet further reflection suggests that I’ve undergone a tremendously different sort of learning curve – one that has contributed to my own self-discovery and development. I’m sure these aren’t profoundly new revelations, but they are the most significant takeaways that I have recognized and hope to build upon as I continue growing, both personally and professionally.

1. Time is the most valuable commodity – Prioritization is key

In a sense, time is the great equalizer. Everyone has the same number of hours in a day to accomplish whatever goals you have. I acquiesce that some of us are privileged with certain affordances that provide us some liberties with respect to time management, but ultimately, I do my best to avoid wasting mine. Whether that means waking up a few hours earlier or choosing one activity over another, certain trade offs are made in the prioritization process. And most of the time, they aren’t sacrifices so long as you can determine that such time is spent doing something meaningful and worthwhile for yourself.

2. Create the social capital you want to be around

We spend a lot of time at work, and then when we’re not at work, we’re trying to catch up with friends or meet new people. Fostering relationships and establishing a network are integral pieces to success so surround yourself with individuals who have aspirational qualities and from whom you’ll learn and be challenged. I am fortunate to be able to call some of the most interesting, intellectual, and engaging people my friends and co-workers. They expose me to new disciplines and hobbies, and we’re able to learn from each other.

In optimizing the social capital around me, I’ve found it also eliminates negativity. Maudlin conversations are rarely constructive or productive. With banalities set aside, we can explore each others’ interests more deeply and derive a greater conversational experience, which in turn, expands our own knowledge bases.

3. Learn to love your own company

It’s easy to get caught up in the constant movement that is New York. There are meetings to attend, people to meet; yet the revolving door of human interaction can be exhausting (or maybe that’s the introvert in me speaking). Similar to unplugging, taking time to be on your own to decompress and clear your head is highly therapeutic. It helps hone in on what you really need/want versus what you think you need/want. I recently took a week long solo trip to Italy and thoroughly enjoyed having the time to answer to no one but myself. There is a distinction between being alone and feeling lonely, and in extinguishing the external din, you’ll find being alone can be incredibly liberating. So don’t fear the occasional dinner alone or solo weekend getaway – you might just find some much needed clarity.

Pieces of Home

The very first one I can remember was white. It was followed by a quintessential red one, a metallic one tarnished with age, and then a wooden one that always leaked after a fresh rain fall. My latest one is also white, weathered from its years in the throes of nature.

A new mailbox always signaled a new set of neighbours and friends. With each change of zip code, a host of novelties surely followed. My nomadic childhood instilled a knack for assimilating seamlessly into shifting environments. And while adaptation to transition became second-nature, lapses out of my comfort zone were always triggered by a singular question that, ironically, was a constant across every new environment in which I found myself.

“Where are you from?”

It’s an innocuous question provided in an assortment of iterations that challenges us to define home. Being the new kid in town, if I answered with New Jersey, there was always a follow up, “Right, but where are you from from?,” with the expectation that I would answer with my birthplace Seoul, South Korea. Neither of these answers are untrue, but I have rarely attributed home to any one physical location solely by virtue of it being my birthplace or my post’s return address.

Home is reminiscent of ancestry, of family, of a childhood brick house, or perhaps of our first campus dorm room. Even more so, it is evocative of familiarity, of safety, and of solace. Home, for me, is less a physical construct and more an emotional attachment;  a sense of belonging and worthiness, without the need for justification or validation. With such liberty, I am able to discover a little piece of home at every turn, from the most ephemeral to the most enduring.

Home lingers in the comfortable silence of an aimless drive with my younger sister in the passenger seat, or in the unbridled enthusiasm emanating from the voice of a distant friend over the phone. I’ve found it while learning of the dramatic childhood travails of a chess-playing Englishman, or while counting stars lying on the speckled shores of Cádiz, Spain. It’s where I can get lost in the adventures of a lightning scarred wizard and his best friends. Where I fell in love with a logophile with a kindred love for obscure, extraordinary words; who embodies the warmth of sun in wintertime.

Home is where I feel most free; where I am allowed to love and be loved purely and ceaselessly. It is the reason why the colours of the mailboxes have always been and remain irrelevant. 

An Acute Precipice

It’s been over a week since my undergraduate career came to close, but the tears I expected have yet to find me. They were absent during Senior Week, Commencement, and even when I moved out of my house. Granted I’m not one prone to tears, but I thought the goodbye’s and see you later’s with friends would leave me with a lump in my throat and terrible disquiet.

Then I spent the week after commencement surrounded by friends, hanging out at the beach, and the idea of no longer being a college kid could not have felt more removed. Being in each others’ company, laughing at old memories and inside jokes, I never felt more alive and content. When I finally left for home, I was worried of crashing from this high and of being swallowed by the anxiety that nothing would ever be the same. Instead I’ve been home, and in lieu of any tears, I’m keenly aware of the state of limbo in which I find myself.

My diploma definitively tells me that I’ve completed one integral chapter of my life, but my mind and heart still crave the closeness and sense of home uniquely provided during my college career. I know I am prepared to take on the adult world with ferocity, but I have moments of crippling doubt that I am not ready. I know that the friends who matter will remain by our sides regardless of distance or time, but the fear that we will all drift apart come busy work schedules and real-world responsibilities exists. And I know that the best years of our lives are yet to come, but I dread that growing up means losing my youthful spontaneity and sense of adventure. The dichotomy between what I know to be true and my irrational future concerns leaves me on an acute precipice off which I am not ready to leap…not just yet at least.

With every end there is a new beginning, but no one ever talks about the brief moment in between; where you are supposed to and allowed to grieve for the finality of one stage before the next follows. Without a doubt I am incredibly excited for the future in all its novelty and uncertainty, but for the time being I remain in limbo. I don’t want to rush into the future headfirst without allowing myself the proper reflection for what has been and what is to come. I don’t want to be on this precipice for long but I will remain here long enough to find closure before stepping into uncharted waters. In doing so, I am finding comfort in celebrating the old and embracing the new at my own pace.

The Very Nature of Relationships

Every day, we are faced with an immeasurable number of choices. They range from the innocuous, “What should I eat for breakfast?” to the more significant ones that revolve around our hopes and fears. Amidst our daily grind, we engage in conversation and connect with others to form relationships. Sometimes, we’re lucky enough to find someone with whom we feel comfortable enough to share those aforementioned hopes and fears. We’re able to form special bonds that allow us to share our hearts with another.

Some of these relationships help us understand the unique experience of falling in love. For the most part, discovering and being able to love is incredible. The problem arises when we begin to question love’s toll on our lives. We wonder if we will have the time and effort to make a relationship successful or we spend too much time worrying about the consequences of a relationship not working out. Worst of all, we simply wonder if it will be worthwhile – if it will be worth the potential heartache or if it is worth the energy to care for another before ourselves.

The thing is, relationships, by their very nature, are distractions. They’re often time-consuming, mentally taxing, and emotionally trying. However, relationships are distractions we choose to have. 

Yes, they can be emotionally, mentally, and even physically demanding, and to create and preserve relationships is not always the most ideal decision. Yet we choose to include such relationships in our lives because they provide opportunities to connect and value someone else’s happiness over our own. We make the executive choice in our lives to make those attachments because with them, we can enjoy the rare pleasure of discovering the world together, growing together, and experiencing life together.

The timing is never right and on occasion there are seemingly insurmountable odds against making that connection. But at the end of the day, it’s a matter of how much you value that relationship and how much you’re willing to sacrifice in order to ensure its success.

Spring Intentions

Today was the first day in a long time that made me feel as though spring is truly on its way. I’ve never really been spring’s biggest fan (blame it on the impending and inevitable three weeks of seasonal allergies), but given the last few months of bitter cold and icy winter, I felt a genuine sense of relief and joy for today’s balmy weather.

Naturally, the transition into spring engenders images of rebirth, rejuvenation, and an overall lightness of being. In an effort to embrace that sense of freshness and novelty, I am focusing on a handful of spring intentions; not so much resolutions, but more everyday decisions I hope to be mindful of.

Connect without reservations
It’s easy to assume that everyone is so busy and lost in their own lifestyles that they can’t possible have time to sit down for tea or grab lunch. It’s even easier to believe that everyone around you is leading a more vibrant, interesting life than yours, which happens to be filled with far too many marathon viewings on Netflix. When everyone starts to feel that way, it makes it hard to reach out and make connections because you already anticipate rejection. Instead, I want to reacquaint myself with old friends, make new ones, and incorporate more meaningful connections often.

Unplug
Last week, I spent a week in Jamaica with some of my closest friends. Considering we were in a different country and that all of our friends were with each other, most of us didn’t have access to texting, checking emails, and using social media. Going a full week without using any web medium was difficult at first, but after a few days, I realized how much more time I had when I wasn’t spending hours on the internet or checking my phone. Obviously being back at school means I need to use my phone and laptop, but I hope to unplug more frequently and reap all its benefits.

Create with my hands
I do my best to get my share of physical activity on a regular basis, but there is something very unique and satisfying about engaging your hands in an activity. Kneading cookie dough, gardening, or even just tossing around a baseball. These activities target your hands and work the intricate muscles within them. Try any one of them; it definitely beats typing away at a keyboard.

The Greatest Lesson My Dad Ever Taught Me

When I was around 12 years old, a friend of mine asked me why my dad wasn’t around much. She found it curious that he wasn’t ever home for dinner. At the time, I didn’t think too much about her query and honestly answered, “Oh, he’s just at work.” Looking back, I think she assumed my parents were divorced, or that, like many other Asian American immigrants, my father still worked abroad while our family immigrated to the States. Truth was that I was so accustomed to not seeing my dad at dinner that it didn’t occur to me that most of my friends came together with their families at the end of the day to eat. For me, the routine I associated with Dad was him coming to find me at the end of the day to dole out sage advice, only to be met with my impatience to return to homework and Disney shows.

As a small business owner from Seoul, my dad is the embodiment of the classic American dream. He moved our family to the States 15 years ago in hopes of greater success and a better education for my sister and me, and to say that my father has worked hard to secure such a future would be a gross understatement – the man gets up at 8am and leaves for work half an hour later and comes home roughly around 9 or 10pm. Every day (including weekends) is a twelve plus hour work day, yet for a majority of my life, I failed to recognize the significance of my father’s dedication to take time at the end of his long day to offer guidance or reiterate a new life lesson. I oftentimes dreaded our talks – they felt contrite and I couldn’t understand how his perspective would guide me through my teenage problems. To be honest, I underestimated his capacity to understand what it would be like to grow up as an ambiguous 1.5 Generation adolescent. And so I tuned him out and didn’t even try to hide my agitation when he knocked on my door or sat beside me in front of the Tv for another life lesson.

Thankfully, a semblance of maturity decided to finally find me these last few years, and I have noticed how all of Dad’s talks have indelibly served me well throughout my college career. He stressed the importance of curiosity because even when a formal education ends, learning is a lifelong process. He warned me to work hard but to work even smarter because time is the most precious commodity and there is no excuse in wasting it. He reminded me to be brave and generous with my heart because no one ever became less happy from connecting with another human being. My dad has provided me with a wealth of knowledge, but amidst all of them, the greatest lesson he taught me was not in words but in action. 

Frankly, my dad never stops working. In the last fifteen years, I can count on my fingers the number of times he took a day off. When the Great Recession hit, my dad was forced to scale back his company and experience a dramatic decrease in profits. The economic downturn was hard for all families, and we were no exception. Family vacations, carefree back-yard barbecues, and flashy holiday gifts became things of the past and were replaced with worried arguments between my mom and dad and envelopes in the mail stamped with scary labels like “overdue” or “final notice.” During my high school years, I saw my dad grow greyer, older, and more tired than his age would suggest, yet the man never failed to wish me the one word that sums up his greatest lesson: “hwaiting”.

You see, hwaiting is the Korean word for “fighting” and commonly used as a form of encouragement or cheer. Beyond everything that he is already, my dad is the true embodiment of resilience. He began a new life in a new country all on his own, faced soaring success and crushing setbacks, yet remained optimistic and continues to fight for prosperity, not for himself but for those he loves. He endures failure but doesn’t allow it to distract him from achieving happiness, and he serves as a pillar for our family and friends with no ulterior expectations. For all these reasons and more, I no longer roll my eyes or sigh with impudent impatience at the prospect of our talks. I listen to his every word with humble enthusiasm, in awe of the incredible man I am lucky to call Dad.

Fearlessness as the Fountain of Youth

A few weeks ago, my friends and I went ice skating, and I distinctly remember the pinch of fear when I finished lacing up my skates and took that first step toward the ice. I hadn’t been in a rink in a few years, and despite my experience with figure skating as a little girl, it was still nerve wracking to walk onto the ice. Amazingly enough, my legs soon found a familiar balance and skating reminded me a little bit like recalling how to ride a bike. However, I definitely didn’t feel comfortable enough to be speeding around the rink at the same pace of all the little kids around me. It was amazing to see all the six and seven year olds race each other when they literally have sharp knives strapped to their feet. Toddlers were skating right past me and twirling around each other like it was the most natural thing in the world. What struck me most was how fearless they were of falling. While many of us held onto the sides of the rink, when one little girl did trip, she only giggled and waved off her concerned father before racing off to catch up to her friends. For her, falling was simply an unavoidable part of the overall skating experience, but she wasn’t going to let it ruin her enjoyment.

Juxtaposing the kids’ fearlessness against the nervousness of adults and older kids like me demonstrated the stark contrast in our attitudes toward life. As we grow older, we slowly begin to recognize the repercussions that come with failure. We become afraid of stepping outside of comfort zones for fear of being embarrassed or of losing something we care about. While adults continually over analyze the “what-if’s” and “what could be’s,” kids don’t worry about the future in the same way. They boldly plunge into their endeavors and if they fall, they simply get right back up.

Growing older is inevitable, and failure during our lifetimes is even more unavoidable. And while the wisdom that comes with growing older is something to truly look forward to, remaining youthful lies in reminding yourself to be fearless despite the unavoidable disasters. Being young at heart is to look upon challenges as opportunities to grow and learn rather than as obstacles. In this way we can combine the knowledge that comes with age with the wide-eyed fortitude of youth in an effort to ensure that we remain bold and unafraid to dream but have the good sense to use our judgement when executing our ideas. Failing will always be a terrifying experience, but if we remain fearful of it, we will never truly experience the rush of joy that comes with getting back up and realizing you can still move forward.