journal/

on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

Focus and starting my own snowball

I finished reading Snowball a few days ago, one of the quotes that struck me was,

“What factor did people feel was the most important in getting to where they’d gotten in life? And I said, ‘Focus,’ And Bill said the same thing.”

I thought to myself, if I am to narrow my focus in pursuing my goals, what defines the focus? What are the boundaries for that focus? I have an interest and curiousity in a wide variety of areas, but if I have to pick my battles, what would be the battles I want to pick?

I give myself a rough timeline of twenty years to try accomplish what I want. Between now and two decades later, I could get a whole lot done, or nothing much, if I were to be too careful or not careful enough. I don’t believe in making grand plans because in life nothing works out according to plan, at least for mine. I want to have some sort of an outline, a grounding basis, a mission or an objective, then live life organically according to that.

But this I know for sure, if I try to take on everything I care about, it will be goal suicide, because there is really a whole lot of issues I care about. Plenty of people take on one single cause for their entire lives to achieve very little visible progress (because a lot of invisible work needs to be done before visible progress can be made), much less multiple causes.

I don’t have an answer for myself yet, but at the very least I have started to think about it. Snowball tries to convey Buffett’s the concept of compounding interest, not really for money, but for whatever we choose to take on in life. We have to start rolling a small little ball right now, and hope that in years to come it will gather enough momentum.

What is my little snowball like?

Well, I could share my list here for a start, and see where I stand after some time. This list has not changed over the past few years actually:

One

I want people to understand more the co-relation between mental illnesses and creativity. I started to look at my mind very differently especially since I have read Lincoln’s  Melancholy. Exploring the idea that having a melancholic mind may actually be a powerful driver for achieving our goals in life was key to my own transformation. I wonder if there could be an effective way of bringing this exploration to people who suffer from chronic mood disorders.

How do I make more people see and understand that everything is a double-edged sword. Once we understand this basic concept, it is tremendously self-empowering to come to a realization that it is our very own choice on how we choose to weld that sword.

Two

Closely related to the above, I really want to do everything I can to make education more progressive. I am not sure how exactly I am going to go about doing it, but I know for sure that the education systems right now are considerably broken. I know of countless people whose natural curiosity and enthusiasm for learning as a child was gradually smothered as they went through school (at least in Asia), especially if you learn differently from other people. I have also known people who have had the blessing to go through either home-schooling or amazing progressive schools, and it was very much reflected in their personalities, confidence and polymathic knowledge.

I often wonder how different would I have been, if I have been encouraged to learn what I am truly interested in. Instead of spending years of my life going through the pain of feeling less because I have issues with memory retention. I do not learn by trying to memorize facts, instead I learn by either doing through trial and error, or simply organically sponging information I am curious about.

Also on my mind is providing access to quality education and giving everybody in this world a right to educate themselves. Yes, there are people in this world who are not allowed to educate themselves.

Three

I would like for more weird people to embrace their weirdness. I have seen so many talented people drown their own gifts in sorrow and substances, because they have been made to feel less because they are just not like anyone else, which is the irony. If you are not like anyone else, it is a strength, not a weakness. Why do we marginalize people who stick out, perhaps like a sore thumb, but with careful nurturing, who knows who they could become?

I believe people who are not comfortable with their own individuality develop chronic illnesses, if not chronic mental illnesses, because it is just so self-destructive to not love yourself. So it self-perpetuates issue number 1 above. It could be triggered or exacerbated by issue number 2.

Looking at my little snowball

Now that I have tried to explicit write about it, it becomes clear to me that what I thought were disparate issues are basically one vicious cycle I am trying to break. I care about a lot more, like animal welfare, minority discrimination, equal rights for all, stopping war, which you could argue would benefit from the ripple effects of the above. If we bring more young ones up to critically think, understand their place and privilege in this world, accept and love themselves for who they are, wouldn’t we develop a more compassionate and empathetic humanity?

Starting small

I have this untested thought that it is the most effective and efficient to effect change from where we are. I am writing and curating a collection on Medium titled, “Change the world with lines of code”. I haven’t fully thought about how to narrow my focus down to the root issues I care about, but right now I am relentless about nudging people, especially those of us who work in tech, that we have incredible power to make a difference:

“It used to be that in order to reach more people than you could talk to in a day, you had to be rich and famous and powerful, be a celebrity, a politician, a CEO, but that’s not true today. Now ordinary people have voice, not just those of us lucky to go to HBS, but anyone with access to Facebook, Twitter, a mobile phone. This is disrupting traditional power structures and leveling traditional hierarchy. Voice and power are shifting from institutions to individuals, from the historically powerful to the historically powerless, and all of this is happening so much faster than I could have imagined when I was sitting where you are today and Mark Zuckerberg was 11 years old.” – Sheryl Sandberg, HBS

Eventually I hope to distill these ideas into some comprehensible deck and speak about it. I think when we belong to the tech community, we already have more privilege and gifts than a lot of people in this world. Most of us have already won the Ovarian Lottery.

Could we do more to elevate the less privileged? Could we at least try to consider that the only selfish way to make a livable, sustainable world to live in, is to make everyone’s lives better?

I want more people to understand their individual power to be the change they want to see. Be it writing, engineering or design.

There is no time for me to be less than serious

Being serious can be a lonely experience. I will not lie, at times I wish I could be less serious in order to feel less alone.

But there is no time for me to be less serious.

When we realize there is so much that we can do and should do in this world, coupled with the fragility of life itself, the understanding that 50 years of human life is not short and not yet that long, there is really no time to be less serious.

I have no idea when my mental faculties or physical abilities will be taken away from me. I live with a conscious awareness that they can be taken away from me anytime. I have been there before. Not too long ago, I lost the ability to function, to think, to appreciate beauty.

I was given a gift, a gift of life, made possible by the gift of an artificial death.

Death itself does not scare me. It is the idea of being physically alive but feeling no sense of life in any cell of my body, that scares me. I am serious about my sleeping patterns, because I was not able to sleep for a long, long time before. I am serious about what I eat, because messing up my diet could mean unwanted implications on my physical energy. I am serious about what I think, because I understand that mental energy is finite, so why waste it on meaningless thoughts? I am serious about protecting my alone time, because I have experienced what happens when I am over-exposed to people.

So to many people, I may seem like a kill-joy, awkwardly excusing myself out of parties and social gatherings. I need to be home before 9pm because I need to sleep at 10pm. There’s no room for negotiation because you have no idea how terrifying can insomnia be to someone who has coped with it for all her life.

I am scared and I have anxiety like anyone else. The curse that comes with being serious with relentless idealism, is the feeling of being misunderstood all the time. I am serious, but I am not cynical. I am brimming with an incurable passion for how humanity can be. I cannot be cynical, because it was the love given to me by humanity which lifted me out of my artificial death. I am only alive because I am convinced that we can be better. I understand one simple thing:

How the world functions is very disconnected from what the world truly wants. 

I don’t buy into cynicism. I believe we can continue to make history and not repeat it. I believe in order to solve the world’s problems we need to have faith in the basic premise of humanity. It is not that the problems are difficult to solve, it is that we are just too jaded to believe human beings are capable of living up to their promise.

I feel out of place, because I believe in the promise of humanity. Isn’t that ridiculous? Because I am not as jaded, cynical, negative, numb? Because I believe that we all have a responsibility to contribute to the greater good, that I have strong opinions towards time-wasters like social gaming, that I believe in the idea of a good government to forward human progress, that I truly believe that all of us think we want mass approval but what we truly need are authentic connections?

I keep telling people morbid stories like the one about the two AI pioneers who killed themselves because they believe nobody would ever understand their ideas enough in their lifetimes in order for them to work on them. What good is a life when you are unable to work on the ideas you believe in?

In order to keep working on ideas I believe in so that I can keep myself alive, I have to find the strength within myself to be able to be truly authentic. I have to stand fearlessly with both my feet planted on the ground even if the world thinks I am naive. If being naive means having the courage and faith to believe in the promise of humanity, so be it.

There needs to be a discernment between being swayed because someone is making a convincing argument and being swayed because we don’t want to upset the status quo.

I check and re-check my personal motivations when I act on something. Am I doing it because I really believe in it, or because I am doing it for the fear of losing status quo?

Will I have the strength to push something forward knowing it is the right thing to do, even if it means I may risk losing everything that is important to me?

For having that strength is the difference between the person I am now, and the person I want to become.

I have no time to be less serious, because I am doing a disservice to the gift of life if I take it less seriously.

Why I wrote “The power of your writing” & other afterthoughts

Writing is my first love. But that was not the reason why I wrote “The power of your writing”. I wrote that post because throughout my life I have been significantly touched by people’s stories, I have witnessed how other people’s lives are impacted by stories, I have felt and touched the power of words. More significantly, I have experienced the power of my own writing through all those times I channeled my pain, joy, healing, anger into these words and saw how they in turn, transformed me.

I live, because I wrote.

I feel a lot more comfortable writing my fragmented thoughts and jumbled emotions in this personal journal, fully vulnerable and unedited, than to write a post that I so very much want to craft for more people, simply because to me it was one of the most important messages I ever had to carry. You could choose to identify with my writing here or not, it is very personal and I understand it is not everyone’s cup of tea. But I truly believed in the power of your writing – it is really important to me that I was writing something that would be able to equal my belief in you. I needed to write something that spoke to you, that would make some of you bring up a writing screen, empowered by nobody but yourself.

It was such a difficult post to write, because of the weight I pinned on it myself. The idea to write that post didn’t come to me recently, it was something that has been sitting at the back of my mind for years. I never had the courage nor the platform to write it.

Certain things have to be set in place before there is a tipping point for any decision. I fell in love with Medium (yes this was before I even saw the possibility of working there) and at the same time, there was a small but growing community at helpmewrite. I signed up for helpmewrite only recently, because I was too, guilty of the idea that I write mostly because my words have to come spontaneously to me, I was not sure if being compelled to write by people voting on ideas was even my thing.

Truth be told, it is still not my thing. I still choose to write because I need to, that most of the time I have a subject matter so important to me that I will start disintegrating if I didn’t write it. I still do not care whether people think it is worth publishing or not. The fact that I care about something myself is enough for me to write.

However, because people were voting on the idea, I received notifications through my email that people wanted to read “The power of writing”. It was not the number of notifications I received per se, it was that these dripping notifications served as a persistent reminder that I should give life to this post.

So one Sunday morning, I sat down to write “The power of writing”, though I altered the title to, “The power of your writing”. One additional word, such an incredible difference to me. I do not want to end up writing a post that speaks about the benefits of writing, everyone knows writing is a good thing to do. But not enough people know that writing is an amazing thing to do, for yourself.

I didn’t have an outline, I would be honest. I had no idea what I was going to write except that I very much believed in what I was going to write with every single bit of my heart. I closed my eyes, told myself I would trust the process, that all that really mattered was that I wrote with nothing but my heart.

I came up with the main body of the post in that same afternoon, feeling really uncertain whether something I wrote in one sitting without much edits (I typically write and publish everything in one sitting) would be accessible enough. I sent the unfinished post to two people I felt would understand why it meant so much to me. The post came back with some suggested edits and that I should publish it.

I sent it to the “supporters” at helpmewrite, some of them left me wonderful notes on my Medium draft post, which helped tip me further. I let the post sit in my drafts for another full week, before I sat down on another Sunday afternoon to give it an once-over edit.

It was the second Sunday afternoon that truly birthed the post. The first Sunday I wrote the essence of it with what came to me, the second Sunday I slowly gave it life by touching every single word I wrote with my heart. The final draft that went out really wasn’t much different from the first, but it was that I re-read and re-wrote certain parts of it with such intent and love – when I finally hit publish, it was not a post I was uncertain of, it was a post I knew I wrote with all of me.

At that point, it didn’t matter anymore if anyone would read it or resonate with it. I gave it all of me that I could possibly summon and that was the best I could do for something I loved so much. I gave it my all, if that wasn’t enough, it was enough for me to answer to myself that I did everything I could.

So I don’t have Google Analytics or anything else on this site. I have a very serendipitous attitude towards my writing. If people would read what I write, that would be nice. If they don’t, well, I can’t force a connection that was not meant to happen.

But “The power of your writing” was different for me. It was not so much the validation to my writing that I was seeking, but the validation to my belief in the idea that I was seeking. I believe that everyone has something to write, wants to write, and will feel the power of their own writing if they would even start. That if everyone share what they wrote, the world would be a much better place, for we will get to know each other as human beings with stories to tell, with all that makes us worthy of being human.

We are human not because we’re the most intelligent species, we are human because we are capable of writing our own stories, in every manner of what this means.

The post did really well statistics wise, way beyond my wildest expectations, but it was not the numbers that gave me so much heart in what I do.

It was reactions like these:

I told myself that if the post could encourage just 5 people to start writing – the keyword is “start”, I would gladly die in the next second as a very happy soul. If you would read the notes people left on the post & the tweets in reaction to it, perhaps you may get an inkling why this means so much to me.

I write to live, I live to write; I write because I love the highest ideal of what humanity can be.

p.s. yes, over here you get the unedited emo me writing about myself, over at Medium you get the edited version of me who writes primarily about you.

Two years since I first fell in love with you, San Francisco

I spent this morning reading through my entries on this online journal and was reminded that I wrote milestone posts for my first and second month living in San Francisco. I thought it would be an opportune time to write another one, to reflect upon between then and now.

It has been 7 months since I officially moved to this city. And I just realized it has been almost exactly 2 years since I first stepped foot in her.

And I am still overwhelmingly in love with her, if not more than before. I met Patrick for coffee last week, in a lot of ways he is my human milestone marker for San Francisco too as he was officially my first friend from San Francisco. Throughout the past two years he has seen me go through ups and downs, he knows how crazy things have been for me. So when I tell people how ridiculous my life has been for the past two years and they are in disbelief, I have Patrick as a human testament to my journey.

Even how our friendship was formed was typically very SF-ish. I was supposed to meet him for an interview, the interview didn’t happen for some other reason, decided to meet for coffee anyway. We went to Golden Gate Park, sat in an empty stadium and bonded over introversion, design satires and a common vision for the future.

I met him a week into my first trip here in 2011 and I told him I loved the city. I met him again last week and he asked me again, if I still loved her. We both knew that was a redundant question as he could see it on my face. And for me, it was very meaningful to see the happiness on his face for me, because he knew whatever hopes I shared with him when he first met me, has materialized on a stupendous level, two years later.

I told him then, all I wanted was to live in San Francisco and pursue meaningful work at a company I believed in.

It sounded so simple, but only a few people knew how much it truly entailed for me to be here now.

And that is why I am still tremendously in a spectrum of constant gratitude, every single second, 7 months later. There are people I have met who moved here on a whim because they could, because it was easy for them to be here, it is also easy to take it all for granted.

It took so much out of me to be here again, that even till now, I still go into moments when I freeze, take in my surroundings and try to truly comprehend my actual physical location. Till today, I can hardly believe I am in the city I love. They say you don’t realize how important something is to you until you have lost it. I have spent an entire year last year when every single day I wished I could be here but I couldn’t, so it is impossible for me to have a less than serious relationship with San Francisco. I know my time here is limited, so I wake up every day feeling like I need to cherish every single moment I can place my footsteps in this city.

I have been sleeping at 10ish pm and waking up naturally before 6am, so 2 years later from the day I stopped having chronic insomnia, I am happy to report that I am still not having insomnia, in fact, I have levelled up, because now I am officially an early-riser. I have no idea how I organically transformed from a nocturnal creature having insomnia to an early-riser with no trouble sleeping now.

Well, they say true love transforms.

San Francisco and her people have transformed me in ways I could never have imagined. She taught me how to love myself, life and humanity. Through this love running the course of my veins, I am seeing the world, radically differently now.

Small tidbit. Running through my entries this morning, I found a little paragraph I wrote during New Year’s this year:

Meeting the founders of that startup was my inner-geek’s dream come true and I discovered through our conversations that I do not feel nervous or afraid at all if I truly believed in what i was sharing. I was passionate about making communication for humanity better, till today I believed it wasn’t exactly my work that led me to them, it was the way I was both obsessed and emotional with the idea of perpetuating change.

I smiled when I saw that snippet, because I wrote this on New Year’s, based on a memory of an event I had two years ago, way before I knew I was going to be at Medium. The bonus tidbit, if you have read so far. One of the founders mentioned in that little snippet, is actually who I am working for, today.

Life has an amazing way of surfacing opportunities in our paths if we have the courage and audacity to dream. Had I been satisfied with status quo and being realistic, I would have never bought that plane ticket to visit San Francisco, two years ago. I would never have even met Patrick for coffee because I would be so scared to venture out of my comfort zone.

I was a huge introvert, I had confidence issues, I was scared of meeting people, but I never lost sight of my dreams. I could be in doubt of my own abilities, but I was never in doubt of my intrinsic motivation, passion and purpose. When it is intrinsic, it never dies. I can almost never disown or hide it, because it shows up in everything I do and more tellingly, it shows up in my eyes.

How did I know what was I passionate about? I was and I am still, obsessed with it. By obsessed I mean, I cannot stop thinking about it. And if I ever talk about it, I can’t stop talking about it. It is hard to experience doubt when I feel it pulsating through my veins radiating from the core of my soul.

It makes me feel alive, and it is only possible because San Francisco made me discover what it means to be truly alive.

Two years on, I am still tremendously grateful. I am exceptionally grateful because now, I get to pursue not only meaningful work, but work that ties back to my original intrinsic passion and purpose. Every single day I go to work, I am astounded at how blessed I am, to be able to channel my energy and time in such a profound, meaningful manner.

Thank you, Universe.

And with how I typically end my other milestone posts, I will commit to always be reminding myself of the privilege I have been graciously given and I will be paying it forward in the best ways I can, for the rest of my life.

In pursuit of knowledge

I was browsing my facebook feed this morning when I came across a link that my friend Yu-mei has shared. I had goosebumps rising all over me while reading it and it provoked me into thinking about my younger self. Apart from the couple of years I wrote essays for my political science modules, I don’t think I spent much time thinking critically. At least not in the depth this young writer seemed to be at ease with.

Perhaps it is unfair to be so harsh on my younger self, for I have spent those years as part of a spiritual journey to find the meaning of my life. I wouldn’t have wanted it to be otherwise, on hindsight. There is the thought that one can possess intellectually, but having a spiritual core to process that thought is important to me as well.

So now the question is, at this point in my life, where I am slightly 2 months over 32, can I still pursue knowledge? Can I still fill up my soon-to-be middle-aged brain with all these complex thoughts and concepts by various thinkers throughout history and resurface with my sanity intact? Can I still develop my mind to process thought in multiple dimensions?

It is during recent years that coincided in my growing interest for a better humanity when I started to get painfully aware of how ignorant I am. My knowledge of history is extremely superficial, I never questioned the impact of colonization, I am only starting to learn how specific movements led to the evolution of societal culture.

While I hold idealistic, potentially naive ideas of how humanity can be, I find myself questioning – am I truly naive because I don’t understand the full complexity of the issues, or is my perceived naivety simply so because the majority says so? I find myself wanting to devour texts on economic theories, history, philosophy, politics because I needed context and a basis for my ideas. I will have no idea where they stand, if I didn’t know what was there before.

I watched this video interview of @ev last night, and he mentioned that if you’re trying to make something new that never existed before, there is no way of knowing how it would work or be successful, or how long or far it would take. He was referring to a product in the context of technology, but on the same parallel I was having an email exchange with a friend on Sugata Mitra. I told her when I first watched his talk (which is the TED prize winner for 2013) I cried my heart out.

I cried my heart out because this individual, had a beautiful idea in his mind and pursued the execution of the idea for decades of his life. We see him making a wildly successful talk at TED this year, but how many of us saw the prior decades of research which made a 20-minute talk possible?

What is that thing that drives someone to devote decades of his life with no way of knowing how it will turn out in 10-20 years time, to one idealistic idea?

This is an era of instant gratification. We no longer seem to hold any form of patience to see things out. Would individuals like Sugata Mitra cease to exist with the next few generations? Everything is about having a quick response, every idea needs to validate within a month, or perhaps in some rare case scenarios, a year. Sugata Mitra took more than a decade to fully validate his idea.

I have been a victim of instant gratification and social conditioning. The fact that I even question whether it makes sense for a 32 year old to pursue knowledge is a testament of that. Most of us are so obsessed with our age milestones, we spend so much time trying to retain our younger self, that we forget that we have an older self to nurture.

Who is the 40 year old do you want to be? I ask myself these days. I feel very optimistic that if I am now very conscious of what I want to do with my life, if I make a deliberate effort in the remaining 7 years 10 months to just better myself in the areas I choose to, I could have a good shot of becoming the 40 year old whom I want to be.

Why I want to always feel pain

Over the course of the past few weeks, I couldn’t stop feeling an immense sense of gratitude. I feel really, really lucky. I don’t think that I have gotten here only because of my own hard work. You can work really hard but that wouldn’t matter if there was nobody there to recognize it. Sometimes it is worse because the hard work that you do may not be typical hard work, it is work that goes behind the scenes, in-between the lines, riffs into the subconscious.

Sometimes all you need in your life is just for one person to believe in you. And having that person to me, is a combination of luck and timing. The teacher appears when the student is ready, the old cliche goes, but I often found this to be true in my life.

The key factor is, the student has to be ready, there has to be a sense of self-awareness that you desire more in your life. You could have the worst self-esteem in this world, but it would work as long as there is this little voice in your heart that knows you want more out of your life.

There are very special people in this world, who are able to recognize this little spark in other people. I have been incredibly blessed that I have met quite a few of these people in my life, because without them, I am not sure where I will be right now. Life wasn’t always kind to me, and I had spent my entire 20s almost believing that I will never live to see any light at the end of the tunnel.

But the key difference was, no matter how self-deprecating I might have been, there was always this little spark. The first person to recognize that was my dear friend Julia, whom I had met at my first job. She was the very first person who told me it was okay to be different. It is okay to be different. How simple is that statement but how many people have struggled with not knowing it. Last week I sent Julia an email, because I keep going over and over in my head, that she was the person who kept me alive in the first place. For years she was always there to listen to me whine about my life, somehow she displayed a tremendous amount of patience for me despite my incessant attempts to be in the victim mode.

She probably doesn’t understand the full entirety of her impact on my life, she always insisted that she didn’t do all that much for me, but it was precious to a 20 year old having existential issues. She didn’t simply have a few conversations with me, she stayed throughout my life for a good number of years, always reminding me that it is okay to be an individual and pursue what I want in life.

Pursuing what I want in my life. Something that is the very basis of humanity and the foundation of any individual, but it is made to feel like a crime in many societies and familial constructs. I was always made to feel less because of my intense desire to pursue what I want in my life. I didn’t know it back then, that my rebellious behavior was precisely because I took my life very seriously. My existential issues occurred because I didn’t feel right living like a herded sheep.

I didn’t like living back then, because I love life too much.

That was one of the biggest epiphanies I have made a couple of years ago and that set the stage for the person I am today. But I will never forget the pain I had felt all my life. Because that will drive me on for my life’s work. That because I will never forget the pain, I will also never forget the people who made it easier for me to carry on, and for all of that, I will always remind myself to be that person Julia once was for me, to other people I come across in my life now.

That me, of all people, will always remember how it feels like to feel less, to feel all the disappointment felt by all the people who cared for me simply because I was not the person they expect me to be, to feel all  that disapproval from authority figures, that shake of a head made by so many people because they measured me by conventional metrics.

That pain I will always carry with me, because now I will require it to identify others out there who were like me before. That sometimes all they need in life is for one person to believe in them. That not everybody is blessed with innate confidence and self-healing abilities. That there are plenty of people out there who require one other person to tip them over to what they are truly meant to do. That the people we are always so quick to reject from society, are exactly the people who would turn out to be beautiful, creative contributors if we give them the space to be.

If you have gone over the stories of all these exceptional human beings we see today, you will find a recurring pattern. Plenty of them went through a series of painful struggles, they were always misunderstood, but there was always someone who believed in them. Sometimes it is not enough, in cases of David Foster Wallace and Aaron Swartz, but there will always be people like Abraham Lincoln who channeled his pain into a greater purpose.

I look back at my life and here comes the ironic twist – I am absolutely grateful for all of that shit I went through. I would never be able to become the person I am, had I not gone through enough personal battles and crises. I wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to discover the graciousness of humanity because there were so many people who went out of their way to be kind to me in difficult situations. I wouldn’t have had the inner strength I possess now had I skipped those obstacles and endurance training. There is no way I can take anything for granted now because I came from such a bad place that I am simply lucky enough to be healthy and alive. Anything else is a huge bonus.

And this is the most important of all. I would not have developed the empathy and the ability to look at everything in multiple perspectives. Of all the gifts I have been given, this is the one that is the most precious to me – my empathy. Everything I do, stems from my empathy. I listen, I write, I design, I talk, I learn, I give, I cheer, I encourage, I nurture, I nudge, I do everything – with my empathy. And I believe that it has direct co-relation to the luck and positive outcomes I receive in life.

It also has direct co-relation to the pain I had received in my life. The pain I feel develops into this intense awareness of how other people feel. And you know what, that quality is absolutely important to my work, whether you want to refer my work as a professional designer, or my life’s work as a storyteller.

I will never, ever, want to lose my ability to feel pain, or to forget how it was like to feel so much pain earlier on in my life. It keeps me very grounded, it doesn’t allow me to be complacent, it makes me grateful for everything, I want to always have that intense awareness and I will consider it a huge handicap if I ever lose that ability.

Everything can be a blessing or a curse. It is up to you, to decide what you want it to be.

p.s. some people asked me why I don’t post these to Medium. The short answer is that I am writing these spontaneous spur-of-the-moment posts here and Medium contains more of my thought-out, edited long-form writing. It may or may not change in the future, I am still getting a feel on how I want it to be.

When you love people

Have you ever felt every single micro-second of your life was incredibly joyful, every cell in your body is in exhilarated excitement, every beat of your heart is filled with immense love, every inch of your soul is unbelievably grateful?

That has been me for the past two weeks.

People ask me, ‘how is it going?’ and I reply, ‘having the time of my life’.

Coming to San Francisco in 2011 was like realizing I am not the only alien on this planet, and since I’ve started work at Medium, it is almost like finding out that not only other aliens exist, but an entire bunch from the same planet is gathered together in the same room.

There is not enough words in the dictionary to describe how that truly feels, if you have ever felt alienated in some ways before in your life, simply because the way you look at life is simply different – then perhaps you may have an inkling of how I am feeling right now.

For the past two weeks I also had the opportunity to get to know some of the most amazing human beings I have ever met and listen to their stories. Each time someone tells me his or her story, I fall in love with humanity a little bit more. This is coming from the same person who wanted to be a hermit.

What I’ve learned so far just by listening to people telling stories, not only at Medium, but for the years leading up, that human beings possess extraordinary strength.

You have no idea the sheer number of people I have known who have gone through horrific incidents in their past and yet has risen above that, not only to become amazing people, but to demonstrate their ability to love people, even though they have been hurt badly by other people before.

Love people. How simple those words can be but how complex it is to execute. I have had the blessing to know someone who tries to shower love on every single person she comes across. And to be honest, I was taken aback at first. Taken aback, not because I doubted her sincerity in doing so, but because it was actually happening right before my eyes and my mind simply couldn’t compute that it was possible.

It was not too long ago that I seemed to live in a society that does a little eye-roll at the mention of any other human being apart from themselves.

How can someone like her possibly be so full of love and joy every single day?

So here’s what I have discovered for myself. The more I simply let go and love, the more I am surrounded by love. And I don’t mean love in a romantic sense. I am specifically referring to love in its truest sense, the love that has propelled humanity forward. That love you might have felt, when you watch people in the public service brave their lives during disasters. The pride that might have welled, to subconsciously feel that it is really amazing to be part of the human race that is capable of displaying so much courage.

And here is why. Or at least it is my reason why.

Being a human being, you have the conscious ability to choose love above everything else, even in the worst, darkest situations, you still have the free will to choose love. Your body and spirit can be broken by external factors, but there is no one else who can dictate whether you love or not.

When one is able to operate in that spectrum, for me this is where magic happens. Life becomes a state of flow, because you become aware of that indestructible power to choose. And when you exert that power, you may realize that anything is possible. And you start loving everybody freely and seeing their eyes light up, their bodies relax when they are in your presence. Because we, as human beings, have an innate capacity to feel love. We know it on a cosmic level when someone is radiating loving energy. You can attribute it to hormones and chemical reactions but there is no denying of it taking place.

I am not there yet. My journey is only beginning. I have experienced moments of it, that pure state of bliss. In fact, the past two weeks have been such, but being my cynical self which I am not afraid to display too, I have my doubts how long this ‘state of bliss’ is going to last.

But. I have the blessing of having such extraordinary people in my life, the people who have consistently chosen to love despite of and in spite of. And that is how I know how amazing it can be, because I have experienced the visible and visceral change, when other people come into their presence.

One of the best things to experience in life, is to see people’s faces light up. And many times all it takes is to take the effort to see them.

When you start to love people, you start to experience mass amounts of generosity. You suddenly become aware that there is so much love in this world. That through loving people you strengthen your own ability to touch people’s lives. Through touching people’s lives, you may learn that you are actually the one who’s being touched. That you think you’re giving, but you may discover all you’re doing is to redistribute energy. And when you expend that effort to redistribute energy, it has this uncanny way of coming back at you when you need it the most.

And one day, perhaps it may all come together in an epiphany. And it suddenly all becomes clear. You marvel at the beauty of life and along with it, comes with the intense desire to be fully alive.

What working at Medium truly means to me

I just completed my first full week working at Medium yesterday. For the past month or so, I have been thinking constantly on the full implications of having the opportunity to work at Medium. I don’t think it is possible to understand it all yet, but here’s what I think for now.

This has been nothing but short of an impossible journey for me to make.

Working at a startup like Medium is a dream come true for many designers but that is not the true impact for me. The true impact is when I consider, that if you told a girl who:

  • Had grappling confidence issues because of a complex emotional growing up process
  • Did badly in high school
  • Dropped out of college, twice
  • Drifted through eight companies for the first six years of her career with plenty of in-between periods when she spent months burnt out because of a relentless, unforgiving, soul-draining, purely profit-driven industry
  • Struggled with self-worth a lot because for the reasons above, she was made to feel unworthy warranting a place in society by the closest people in her life (and everyone else – Singapore is really serious about completing a certain set of checkboxes else you are made to feel as if you belong to the bottom of the so-called meritocracy. And because of the confidence issues mentioned above, she was not able to believe otherwise)
  • Contemplated the reason for her existence a lot
  • Found no meaning in life until a year ago
  • Developed a phobia of people so serious that she would refuse to meet anybody new for a period of four years
  • Only met her twitter friend (or any new person) for coffee for the first time four years ago
  • Would be extremely uncomfortable in face to face conversations where she peppered with tons of stuttering and awkward silences
  • Have a huge phobia of crowds
  • Even a bigger phobia of speaking in front of an audience

…that she would be working in San Francisco today, much less a startup like Medium, anybody would be like, you must be kidding me.

I felt like I didn’t and shouldn’t belong anywhere. But San Francisco made me feel like I belonged somewhere, for the first time in my life. That was in July 2011, and the personal transformation process began. I discovered the meaning of life for myself and through that I found a sense of purpose.

So what is my sense of purpose? I learned that what I really want to do, is to be a storyteller. Through recounting my own ridiculous story to various people of the past two years, I saw so many people’s eyes light up, as though if such a broken person can find some sort of equilibrium in her life, then perhaps they can, too.

Through encountering a spectrum of personal stories recounted by people from all walks of life, I felt my own eyes lighting up. Through the darkest times of my life I have relied on these stories to give me some sort of a light at the end of the tunnel. I have come across stories of people who have gone through death of their loved ones, pain, rape, war, or whatever horror that can happen to a human being – yet they survive, not only they survive, they do it brilliantly.

And for so many times in my life, I had to ask myself painfully and honestly, if these people can make their lives count, why can’t I?

Therein lies the true power of storytelling.

And why I spend the effort to write on this public journal.

So when I had the opportunity to work at Medium (which is another ridiculous story I hope to be able to tell one day), I grabbed it with both hands, legs included. Like seriously, to be able to merge my purpose and career into one? To be able to write endlessly at work and I don’t have to apologize for writing long essays? To try imagining how the future of digital storytelling can be, so that more incredible stories can impact people over and over again? To be in the same room every working day with people who made blogger, twitter, bootstrap, the list goes on…?

Working at Medium marks a personal milestone in my own story. That I was able to overcome so many personal issues to find some form of inner strength that I need to be able to work there. The inner strength was only made possible by me making the conscious decision to survive brilliantly , overcoming the odds and obstacles. That above all, I wish to weave a story I would be proud of, at my deathbed. That there are people in this world who sees me for who I truly am, that my perceived flaws are only the basis of my potential strengths. That there is someone who understands beyond this uncertain insecure facade, there is a heart that beats for the continued hope of a better humanity. That the drive, desire, motivation, intention and faith matters a lot more than anything else.

I feel very, very blessed and grateful. Scared too. But I have learned that I thrive best in great discomfort.

My first week was tremendously intense, intimidating and yet extremely fulfilling. One of the best feelings in life is to feel thoroughly used. There was nothing much left in me by the time I left work yesterday. I finished my day with standing in front of my new coworkers, all 40ish of them, telling them a little bit of myself.

With that, it seems like the girl whom had a crippling phobia of speaking in front of a crowd has a chance of being a real storyteller, after all.

Heartfelt gratitude to the bunch of people who witnessed my personal transformation through these years and who were there to tell me to hold on during those difficult times. It is always easy to find people to celebrate good times, but the ones who hung around when I needed lifting up – those are the truly precious ones. I am very blessed to have a bunch of those. And again, I will pay it forward.

Why I write

I should be blogging about flat design vs skeuomorphic design. Am kidding. Or not.

But I don’t. I have written a couple of design articles in the past, but innately I have always felt the urge the pour out my heart and soul into writing pieces like this. Fragmented pieces of my thoughts, feelings and ideas, sometimes introspective, many times questioning, other times vulnerable.

I think there are plenty of designers out there writing awesome articles about design, and I don’t think adding my 2 cents is going to make any dent in the universe. I don’t think I can contribute to better pieces that is already out there. Inversely, there are not many people, much less designers, who write authentically about themselves. I wish to add to that statistic instead. Life is so short, ultimately it is important to choose where to spend your energy.

I have been asked how do I keep to a point in my essays here. I replied that I don’t. I simply write and there shouldn’t be any rules because this is pointedly my journal. The point of keeping a journal is to write mainly for myself. To document my ideas, thoughts and feelings but I choose to share it publicly. Why? I guess I am a thought-voyeur, I learned so much from reading other people’s long-form writing about their thoughts that I thought perhaps someone would like to read mine. In any case even if nobody reads it I am fine, because the biggest benefit is when I read my own entries periodically. It has been an intriguing self-discovery process when I go back in time to read my own writing. Sometimes I do not recognize myself in my own writing. Other times I get reminded why I make certain choices in my life. Often it becomes a milestone marker, of how much I have come along so far.

Writing here feels lonely sometimes, I will admit that. There is a select bunch of people who faithfully reads every post I put out, and I appreciate them with all my heart. I would arguably gain a much larger following if I had chosen to blog about design instead, but instead I have made the conscious choice to write a bunch of posts that very few people will read. I am only but human and sometimes it is nice to get some echoes back you know? 😉 Yet once in a while, I receive an email from some random stranger, telling me how much he or she can relate to my writing, how much it has meant for them to discover another kindred soul out there. That through my personal struggles they empathize, through my wins they feel like they have some kind of hope.

That makes that loneliness worthwhile. It reminds me why I write. It makes me remember that what I really want is not mass approval but a deeper connection to a niche of fellow kindred souls. It is like friends in real-life. Do I want a huge social circle or do I want a handful who truly connects with me?

Once in a while I go into paralysis, because blogging has become such a act of personal branding, that I can’t help but feel like I do not want my professional peers to think less of me because I write less-than-flattering stuff about myself. It seems like some industry standard to project some sort of image just to meet certain expectations. Time and again I tell myself, if I have worked so hard professionally to have some moderate success in my work and yet I am still afraid to be myself, what gives for other people who did not have access to opportunities like me? Would they have to live in whatever closet they are in, forever?

I am writing in hope that someone out there could perhaps derive from all my little stories that it is okay to be honest, imperfect, vulnerable and yet have a good shot at the game of life. If I want to be the change I want to see in this world, then writing here is the start. I want to be blunt, I would like to bare my soul, I would like to admit all my fears and insecurities. I want to be as authentic as possible because I truly believe the world will be a much better place if less people are afraid to be who they are. But I cannot be a hypocrite and say that is the world I want to live in, and yet only write about the good things in my life.

You see, that is precisely what I am against. I am against the glossy magazine covers of seemingly perfect people, or the glorification of wins. Winning is not pretty at all, but we like to cover up all the pain and sacrifices. Not many people talk about the loneliness, the burnouts, or the relationships destroyed. Or the self-doubt that plague our consciousness, no matter how many wins one can have. Being unable to talk about our flaws and weaknesses is contributing to a society rewarding superficial successes. It perpetuates a vicious cycle of people being unable to express themselves which leads to too many painful repercussions.

I cannot guarantee that there is anything to derive from my posts, or that my writing would be coherent, neither can I promise quality or substance, but I can assure you that I will always try my best to bare my soul in my writing, if that counts for something. I hope to always have the courage to be able to share my journey here with you and to be able to reconcile the tradeoffs I have to make in order to write this way.

With every post I manage to publish, I feel as if I am edging a little closer to being more comfortable in my own skin, slowly but surely. With every word I write, I am honoring my intentions by letting them move freely in cyberspace.

Disobeying the lizard brain

I am the happiest when I feel fulfilled.

Since I seem to have such a great sense of self-awareness, my life should be all meaningful and zen right? Well, the brain does not work that way apparently. I think we spend a lifetime fighting instincts that have been hard-wired into our DNA for the sake of survival, along with all the traumatic experiences accumulated while growing up.

Survive, the lizard brain says, forgetting that we’re now living in the 21st century where we will not die tomorrow if we eat less carbs. Seek comfort and security, I am told, well to be fair, not only from my lizard brain, but by the Asian society I belong to as well. This advice has been dished out to me on such a consistent basis that it seems to be my default mechanism even if on an intellectual level I know what is truly good for me.

It is fascinating, the human brain. We think we learn from past experiences but we sort of don’t. All my past experiences have been nothing but conclusive that I decay when I pursue comfort and security, but like an addiction or a genetic impulse, I continue to gravitate towards it unconsciously. I thrive on new experiences, adventure, rollercoasters, I am at my happiest, most alive, most creative when I am engaged with life, therefore my choices should have been on automatic-pilot to choose the thrill instead of the safety, right?

Not really. Fighting against what has been programmed into me for the past few decades is really hard, I will be honest about that. There is this very human part of me who wants to be surrounded by my loved ones and create a nest with someone I love, lead a simple life and farm my own food. When I was a child, my life goal was to be a hermit. That is how much I desire to be away from the madness of modern society.

It is ironic that I ended up falling in love with tech, where we’re bombarded by as much noise as possible on a micro-second basis. I am constantly swinging between my love for the promise of creative empowerment brought by tech and my love for solitude and nature.

But perhaps I am starting to entertain the thought that I may not crave solitude as much as I am seeking to escape from inauthenticity. I have always believed myself to dislike human to human interaction (yes that’s probably why I prefer human-computer interaction), only to slowly realize that it isn’t human to human interaction that I dislike, but it is the inauthentic interaction that takes place in most social settings that I dislike.

My old self keeps thinking, how wonderful it would be if I could go on a long vacation, just so I can stop thinking for a while. And the moment arrived when I realized, I don’t actually like having vacations for the sake of vacations, what I really want is to have the mind space to think about things that are meaningful to me.

It suddenly occurred to me that the best vacation I can take, is to be fully immersed and engaged with work that I love. If the purpose of taking a vacation is to recharge, I find the most energy from stimulating work and conversations. I need to unwind still, but that’s because energy needs to be discharged before it can be recharged again.

Perhaps it is a fallacy of my old self that I needed to be in non-motion in order to recharge. I think that holds true if I am unable to receive the stimulation I need and instead I am charged with negative energy. That is when I need to go into recovery mode just to have a reset.

There is only so much I can do with epiphanies, real-world application into the daily grind of life is hard. I have this hypothesis that I will be a lot more energized if I can somewhat insert the right amount of stimulating activity in my day to day life, but my lizard brain keeps telling me otherwise. For years I believed I must rest a lot if I want to have random spurts of creativity, but what if that is a fallacy as well? What if creativity is not as random as most people think it is, but it is actually sustained, intelligent discipline mixed with conscious, deliberate surrendering?

Well, I am glad I am not the only one with lizard brain issues. The first step to progress is awareness, I suppose. It is amazing how much of what I think I need is not what I truly need.

I am not sure if I am going to win the battle, but I need to start somewhere. 😉