journal/

on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

Distance and darkness

It has been almost a year since I was last back in Singapore, or any part of Asia. If left to my own devices, I might have never consciously chosen to leave San Francisco. As much as I love San Francisco, I have to honestly admit, any type of comfort is poisonous.

The more we love something, the tighter we hold on to it, the easier it becomes to lose it. Ironically, being in love with San Francisco has made me gradually lose touch with the adventurous risk-taker spirit which has brought me there in the first place.

How do I learn to love something only in the now, understanding in order for love to truly flourish I will need to love it as an independent entity myself, that if I start to lose myself in anything, I will lose my capacity to love? The best love I can give to any place or anyone, is to love fully as my true self, that I will seek to add to it rather than to merge into it.

They say a whole is greater than a sum of its parts, I am slowly learning to see this statement holds true when the parts are unique pieces with their own strengths and weaknesses, not when they are all made to be the same. When we never leave places or people we lose the ability to look in from the outside. To gain other perspectives from another viewpoint, another vantage.

Being away from things that I love allows me to understand the true quality of my love for these things. Do I love something out of habit, out of some subconscious need, or out of some psychological blackhole? Do I want to be part of something because I need to feel a sense of belonging, or do I believe I have something to contribute?

Am I your friend because I am lonely and need company, or because I truly value our connection for the combined dynamic it brings to both of us?

The world is full of blurred lines and it is exceedingly easy to live in auto-pilot mode, never to question our own true motives or agenda for pursuing certain things. I find myself in a true state of joy when I deeply understand why I do what I do, why I love what I love, and why I am who I am.

These moments are rare. Most of the time I get confused with the person I think people expect me to be and the person I really want to be. Then it gets more confusing when I really want to be my own person and yet be malleable enough to evolve.

These are times when I need to remember to quieten down, tap into my inner-reserves and ask myself, is whatever I am doing, in line with my inner purpose and values?

Being back brings out a shadow side of me that makes me extremely uncomfortable. For too much of a long while I had been used to living in a space only full of unbridled positivity and light. Over here, it is difficult for me to retain such a state of mind when I can’t be blinded to what I observe and feel.

The natural instinct is to disown that shadow side, to be in denial of everything that represents the dark, to be overwhelmingly positive despite my true feelings. I have grown to a point where I find it extremely hypocritical to display a positive attitude when I simply do not feel that way. As I age I am slowly understanding that there has to be a natural balance between the yin and the yang, the dark and the light.

This trip home has given me the time and space to reflect. To truly miss what I have had, to understand what is important to me, to have an even higher sense of urgency than before. Yet I do not wish to mistake urgency with relentless, mindless acts of doing, that sometimes there needs to be nothing in order to have something, that we forget our minds need time to do background processing.

I am slowly learning, I take one step forward and three steps backwards, but I hope what will make a difference is my willingness to introspect and to be painfully aware of my own mortality, that true beauty exists in the transience of everything.

Trying to prolong a moment that only wants to pass, trying to outlive an expiry date, not embracing the natural evolution of life, will only bring unneccessary pain and disappointment; but if we can embrace the transient quality of life, perhaps one day we can finally experience the pure, undiluted joy of what it means to be alive.

The courage to let go of something precious, to truly live

I have a one post per weekend writing habit going on, and for the past 3 weeks I’ve written on Medium. For a long while I thought I was never going to be back here writing again, till I somewhat realized that there is just some attraction to writing in an environment where I really do not have to care how I write, if I had anything specific to say, if anybody cared to read. This space still acts like a public journal and it should always be, a place where I can simply write organically about my thoughts without stopping for form and structure.

It seems pretty evident to me that I wrote on Medium basically still unfiltered and mostly unedited, but I usually had something really specific I wanted to write about. A topic that had probably brewed long enough in my head for it to be more or less a semi-permanent (semi, because I will always want my thoughts to evolve) thought, whereas over here, I seem to be documenting transient, ephemeral thoughts and memories.

There is something comforting about chronology that I love, from time to time I visit my old blogs and rediscover my journey all over again, truly reliving how much I have grown, how far I have travelled.

On the other hand, there is also tremendous value in recording ideas which have no obvious time-stamp attached to it – I think they should both co-exist and they are not mutually exclusive. There is some long-form writing that I write on Medium which I know will never get mass-appreciation, those are mostly stories, not ideas, and I really like them having a place to live.

Essays, stories, ideas on Medium; journal-like time-specific entries over here.

The main purpose of writing here is to capture a slice of my psyche in time, I suppose.

I am learning to question my own assumptions about myself a lot. Or some pre-conceived notions based on my old self which are no longer serving me, but I forget to let go of them. I have begun to question my own perception of something which I have perceived to be “the best”. I am slowly learning that there is no such thing as “the best”, only perhaps “the best in any given time perceived by the observer”. I question if I am too attached to certain parts of my own identity, potentially neglecting the possibilities I may grow into someone else. Or it could be having a old dream realized, only to discover I may not want that dream anymore.

When we have come so far to attain something we think we have always wanted, there is this danger of holding on too much to it, over-protecting it, putting it on a undeserved pedestal. Sometimes that particular thing, idea or situation may no longer serve us, but because it was so hard to get there, it seems absurd to contemplate letting go.

I have found myself in these situations a few times in the past, because I am truly sentimental and I form attachments to things which I worked really hard for. To be fair, that’s a normal human behavior. The issue here is, I am not afraid of change at all, in fact, I really like change. Each time there is a drastic change in my life, I have only grown from strength to strength. If I could persuade or even remind myself to review my own life situation once in a while, I would probably be a lot more inclined to shake things up a lot more.

I do have a side of me that really likes comfort. I am really wary of this side of me. I try to be aware of it as much as I can, but comfort is well….comfortable and addicting. When we get used to something, we seem to lose our capacity to stretch ourselves. Have you seen shoes that doesn’t get worn anymore? They self disintegrate.

Sometimes there is a disconnect between my lizard-brain and my aspirational self. I feel upset when I feel uncomfortable, because there is a primal desire to be in comfort. But do not mistake being primal for being natural. I would say (for now) that it is a primal state to seek survival, but it is human nature to reach for potential. Some say because of the Maslow hierarchy of needs, we need to survive before we can reach our potential. I am not entirely sure of that, even though I have been through times when I have been so caught up with trying to survive, that I have absolutely no energy to think about aspirations.

But does that mean it is true? I will question it, because I do think there are some extraordinary human beings who can put aside their primal desires to survive and instead focus on their aspirations no matter how dire their circumstances are. I truly believe some of us skip the entire Maslow hierarchy and go straight to the top of self-actualization.

I try to ask myself on a consistent basis if where I am, who I am, what I do, whom I am with, is in line with my purpose. If it no longer the case, then I need to find the courage to let go. If I am still in a scenario whereby I think I am still in line with my purpose, am I maximizing it?

Sometimes I hold on too much to something precious to me, forgetting that it is like trying to grab hold of sand. I need to learn to enjoy the ebb and flow of the natural order of things, and remember that if I artificially try to constrain a space and time, I am not truly living the experience.

I have done so much to be here in San Francisco, and I am loving it so much, that the mere thought of returning to Singapore for 2 weeks is scaring me. Thinking of losing that 2 weeks when I am on a 3-year time limit doesn’t seem very appealing to me. I love this city so much that each time I think of traveling to other parts of the US, I really hesitate. I have never felt like this before, that I actually feel reluctant to travel.

I used to love traveling so much, that the above paragraph sounds entirely ridiculous.

This morning, for some unknown reason (which happens all the time), I was inspired to fill up my sayhi moments. Going through my iPhoto library was a nostalgic trip back in time. I slowly started to remember my thoughts and feelings during those moments, how much I’ve seen, how much I’ve experienced, which is reminding me of how much I have not seen, how much I have not experienced.

I had this idea that I could do all my traveling after my love affair with San Francisco.

But what if there is no “after”? Or what if, one day it is no longer in line with my purpose to be in San Francisco? Will I have the courage to leave her?

 

The power of 8 minutes

I have begun to instill a new habit for myself – which is to bring my kindle on my very short commute to work everyday. The BART ride is 8 minutes and initially I thought that is too short to get any proper reading done.

I proved myself wrong.

I wanted to make myself read even more, keeping in mind Warren Buffett’s statement that reading is like compound interest for knowledge, in addition to the strict daily 30m of reading I do before I go to bed. I was trying to think of ways to make reading more an actual sustainable habit that would automatically be part of my routine, so reading during my commute made a lot of sense, at least in theory.

Anyway, my newish mantra is that, there is no harm in trying, so I started to see how it feels like to read for 8m every single morning.

I was pleasantly surprised by the results, mostly the way I felt. First of all, I speed read, so within 8m I could read an average of 10 pages. Which could be an entire chapter for a lot of books.

Secondly, which is the more significant for me, choosing to read a book helps to block out all the distractions I could potentially have on the BART. I tend to either have very scattered, noisy thoughts or check my phone a lot. The implicit effect is, I tend to become immersed in what I was reading, even if it is just for a short 8m, my mind goes into a state very similar to what people experience in meditation.

The choice of book is really important. It ensures that the contemplation which will result for that 8m of reading is conducive for the rest of my day. I am put in this state almost the first thing in the morning, and it sets the tone for the rest of my day.

For example, this past week I have been reading a memoir of Iris Chang – yesterday I came across this quote in the book:

PLEASE believe in THE POWER OF ONE. One person can make an enormous difference in the world. One person—actually, one IDEA—can start a war, or end one, or subvert an entire power structure. One discovery can cure a disease or spawn new technology to benefit or annihilate the human race. You are ONE individual and can change millions of lives. Think big. Do not limit your vision and do not EVER compromise your dreams or ideals.

If you have read my writing on Medium, this is exactly what I have been passionate about advocating. Choosing to read on the BART first thing in the morning, being selective about the book I am reading, empowers me to use my mind to think deeply about the issues I care about, instead of thinking aimlessly about some random thought or some random tweet. The choice of thought is very specific and very conscious.

So when I came across that quote on my 8m commute yesterday, I felt a tingle down my spine and I am being reminded by the books I read, how much there is still to do in this world, how much has already been accomplished by some very determined individuals, how little time I have to waste, how much time I can actually maximize.

I still love checking twitter and watching tv of course, but that very deliberate 8m of choosing to frame my day in a certain way feels very empowering to me.

It is incredible to me how the way I choose to spend my 8 minutes of commute can alter my consciousness and the rest of the choices I make throughout the rest of the day, if not week.

I implore you to try doing the same, perhaps it may not even be reading, but it could be something you care about.

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.