on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

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. 😉

What keeps me awake at night

Lately I have wondered if I have gotten too serious for my own good. Somebody asked me what I do in my spare time, expecting some hobbies to be recited in return, and I answered, “I contemplate on my life”. Lol.

I personally think I am a ridiculous joke many a time, because I look at the mirror and wonder which part of me has it in her to have big dreams? I am my hardest critic, self-doubt is a familiar visitor when I sleep at night.

I treat people with the same seriousness and honesty, new people included, and I have wondered if I should tone myself down a little. I just want to be authentic, that authenticity includes being the raw, vulnerable, emotional self that I am, but most people are not used to it.

When things get tough, I retreat. I retreat to a little corner and read. It has been a predictable pattern so far, I seek most comfort and inspiration in the books telling stories of politicians – Lincoln, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela, the Obamas. They all have something in common, they made incredible tradeoffs and personal sacrifices, sometimes questionable decisions, to work towards a cause they believe in.

When I think of the tradeoffs I have made, they seem to amount to nothing. I think of the possible tradeoffs I have to make, and I wonder if I have it in me to make them?

I too, want to work towards a world I want to live in. I do not have much clarity how, at least not yet. But the desire has been bubbling in me for the longest time and when things get tough, it is what that keeps me going. That setbacks do not matter as long as I keep my dream alive. I try to think of the small ways I can contribute, but I do not stop thinking of how I can eventually be in a position to do so on a maximized scale.

I am 32 this year, there are plenty of times I do feel age catching up on me. I question myself, if I already feel slower and older now, what do I really have in me that will allow me to endure the marathon ahead? I start to mentally list people who only found their way in their 40s and I start to feel more encouraged.

I give myself a timeline of 20 years, starting now. In two decades time, assuming I am still alive, I will be 52. It is an age whereby there is still a high possibility of being mobile and still having some best years ahead. It is a realistic timeline – I have covered so much distance in the past two years, who would know what are the possibilities in store for me if I multiply that 10 times?

Only if I keep myself on my toes all the time.

I stumble and I fall. Rinse and repeat. It is not how many times I stumble but how many times I want to pick myself up. At the end of each cycle, do I give up, or do I try again? I choose to try again, despite not even having the basic belief in myself sometimes. I should at least try.

Perhaps people find it difficult to understand why I have to contemplate so much on my life, why do I have to be so serious? I find it hard to explain to most people, I really do not see the incentive in living otherwise. Having an ordinary life does not interest me. Having an extraordinary life does not interest me too. But having an extraordinary effort despite being ordinary vastly drives me on.

I consider myself to be broken, in some ways I have been damaged, just like anybody else. In societal standards there is really nothing extraordinary about me. I could list plenty of points in my life when things simply went wrong and should have gone wrong. I should have rightfully been a blip in the universe.

But still I managed to carve out an extraordinary story for myself. And it makes me wonder, what if more ordinary people out there, with no seemingly natural advantages in this world, have the courage to live more extraordinarily?


turning 32 & my wish for this world

I seem to have made a habit of writing reflective birthday posts in recent years and I would very much to like to carry on the tradition. While new year posts seemed to be more milestone focused, my birthday posts were mainly posts of self-reflection.

I am spending today in contemplative solitude and silence, I was never really into celebrating anything anyway. If anything, the anniversary of my birth serves as a constant reminder for me to reflect upon on my personal growth and why I was given life 32 years ago.

At 30 I have found myself, at 31 I discovered the meaning of life, at 32 this year, I am learning that finding myself and the meaning of life is only a small step towards a long and winding road ahead. If I compare myself to a computer game, it is as though my character took this long while to be trained in order to acquire enough XP so that I can embark on real challenges. Game on.

I am reminded of this quote by Steve Jobs I read a couple of days ago, that people misunderstand that having a great idea is 90% of the work, but the magic actually lies in the process of execution. Nobody really sees the nitty gritty details that goes into an execution. They do not see the tradeoffs.

Great ideas come by easy, so do great ambitions. Having the belief and the perseverance to see things though, is a whole different matter. Having the persistence and the patience to get people to buy into your ideas, takes the game to a whole different level. People stop playing games because they run out of patience to go through difficult challenges over and over again. You get worn out over time and you question why you bother in the first place. Life, is the same.

I have learned that life does not unravel in spectacular fashion once I have found myself. I had the naivety to believe that once I have found myself and my meaning, everything will fall into place. I was very wrong. It only opened my eyes to the gigantic mess I have to navigate through in order to have a stake in my dreams. Life gets harder, not easier. Like a game. You do not go through easier levels as you complete each one. It gets more difficult because that is how you will know how how far you have come along as a human being.

I am starting to take a very sombre approach to life now, once I understood that the magic we see in this world did not come by because “the universe consipred to do so”. It is because certain human beings continuously make difficult choices to see things through. The privilege some of us have in life, just to be able to live in a first world country and not having to go through war, is only made possible by individuals fighting the impossible dream. Liberty and rights, no matter how much we take for granted now, no matter how often we seem to talk about sexism in tech, we tend to forget that it is only decades ago that women are not allowed to vote.

I still believe in the magic of the universe, but the magic I believe in now is not all hunky dory with golden sparkles. The magic I believe in requires the conviction and courage of many people. The universe can conspire to help us, sure, but the difficult choices still have to be made. The tradeoffs and the heartbreaks still have to be chosen.

I have learned that life has to exist in paradoxes and contradictions. That sometimes loving something means having the courage to let it go. That holding on may seem selfish in retrospective. That losing a game may mean winning in the long term. That walking slower can mean finishing the race earlier. That acceptance may not mean resignation.

I have come to accept that life will always be full of trials and tribulations. That sometimes it is simply better to go with the present flow instead of stubbornly hanging on to a rock. But other times perhaps it is worth injuring yourself holding on to some rocks if going with the flow means losing your sense of self. There are no correct answers. No proper directions. We can only hope to try our best, that whether we stumble or fly, win or lose, our effort will mean something to this world some day.

Unlike many people I know, I do not wish to live forever, nor do I have an obsession of staying young and keeping my age a secret. Inversely I am proud of my age and I am grateful to embrace the fragility of life. I do not work this hard because I want to leave my name in history. In fact plenty of times I question my own motivations. What is it that I really want, out of this life?

I guess for now, on this day, my answer will be: I am fighting for many others to have a chance to feel alive. There will always be shit happening, there will always be hurt, I do not believe in a utopian world because I think an imperfect world is necessary for people to experience what it means to be alive. But I do believe that everyone should have a fighting chance to live life feeling alive. To have a chance to be a contributor to this world.

The beauty of life doesn’t lie in a perfect fairy tale, but the continued desire to struggle for better even with all that imperfections. I do not have the audacity to dream of ending wars or poverty. I only wish for creators to have more opportunities to create. That their self-worth will not stem from their ability to shut down their dreams.

Why does it matter to me anyway? That more people have more opportunities to create? That they do not pursue career paths deemed worthy only by social expectations? I guess I have experienced that magic, the magic only made possible by stubborn people not afraid to make a hundred tradeoffs, I have seen what can be possible by sheer human will and determination. And selfishly, I want to experience more of it. To experience the fruits of other people’s imagination and audacity, it is one of the greatest joys in life.

I am typing this with my MacBook Air, made possible by the vision of the people at Apple. I am privileged and enabled today only because there were others before me who fought for my rights and made tools for me to use. I am only able to experience what it means to have the liberty to create and have a chance to fight for my own dreams because of such people.

I think it is only right for us, borne of the later generations, to try as hard, if not harder, so that the ones of even later generations will not inherit a world devoid of magic.

For my birthday today, I do not wish for a perfect world, or even world peace. I wish for a world, with endless possibilities, enriched by the limitless imaginations of her people.

The audacity to dream

I tell people my dreams – that I hope in a decade or two, I’ll be somewhat involved in politics, improve the education system, change the way people feel about mental health and hopefully, fund economically unviable social initiatives that would give a return of investment in intangible forms.

Apart from a close-knitted circle of friends who share similar dreams, I typically get that look of sympathy from people’s faces that almost spells D-E-L-U-S-I-O-N. I am used to it by now. I no longer feel bad, neither do I feel undermined. I have come to accept that everyone operates within a different framework and I don’t have to take it so personally that they do not share mine.

Those who do, I am extremely grateful for. Have you ever liked something so ridiculous that you are convinced nobody but you appreciates it? And when one day you find just one other soul who feels the same way, even if you do not know who the hell is this person, you feel an inexplicable connection to him or her? That is how I feel when I meet people who understands my world view. They are hard to come by, and they are extremely precious to me.

I guess this is an important part of the reason why I love being in the Valley. The density of such people are arguably much higher than anywhere else in the world. This is the community of people who doesn’t bat an eyelid when they talk about launching spacecraft like the SpaceX. Compared to launching spaceships, I think my dreams are relatively minuscule.

Sometimes I question myself too. Are my dreams too lofty, too impossible, too hard to achieve? But I honestly believe, if we choose to dream, the dreams might as well be audacious, isn’t it? That is why they are called dreams. By the time reality knocks it into shape, it is probably half of that dream left, so the boundaries have to set bigger in the first place. It leaves us half of a dream that we can be happy and proud of.

My dreams are like my north-star. They are my guiding light. Each time I have to make a difficult decision, the first question I ask is, would this decision be aligned with my dreams, my purpose? When I have to make tradeoffs and sacrifices, I ask myself, are they worth it in relation to my dreams?

These dreams, they put everything into perspective. The pain of separation from my loved ones I have to endure seems bearable when I put it in relation to my dreams. Walking on such a path is extremely lonely and tiring, we get misunderstood all the time, we may seem detached and aloof from the rest of the world. That relentless pursuit can potentially hurt the people around you, there is a innate understanding that there could be a tradeoff in terms of personal happiness with the hope of longer lasting impact.

Pursuing audacious dreams – they are a gamble. There is no guarantee of returns, the percentage of a win is extremely small, there is almost no timeline to rely upon. It could take a decade, it could take a lifetime of waiting with no finishing line in sight. Sometimes we put in all that blood, tears and sweat with no visible returns, but in hope that perhaps a baton could be passed on to the next generation.

So why have audacious dreams?

Because humanity has always made giant leaps of progress with seemingly impossible dreams made by people. Because I cannot quantify or reconcile my own existence with anything less. For me, it is almost like a drug. I need to have these audacious dreams to feel alive. Without them, I am as good as dead. I cannot picture an existence whereby I go through the motions of everyday life without something to dream upon.

That is the almost sad truth, for me. I have to dream audaciously in order to keep myself alive. Because I am afraid to feel like I am living for nothing in particular. Because I am fearful to wake up with a sense of dread, that I have nothing to look forward to. Because I am paranoid of looking back at my existence and not being able to feel like I have at least tried to reach for the stars. I don’t want to be on my deathbed and all I can remember is going to work and knocking off work, everyday with the same clockwork routine. That scares the hell out of me.

I am writing this to remind my future self, in case one day I forget why I have these audacious dreams. That I am able to write this post and talk about my huge dreams, with that persistent light in my eyes. That desire to feel passionately alive, the immense amount of love I feel for this world, buoyed by my lofty dreams.

Perhaps one day, my little gamble could pay off. But if it doesn’t, I must have at least tried to roll the dice. There is nothing worse than being plagued by a lifetime of what-could-have-been-s.

Sayulita: remembering & accepting the path

The unexpected opportunity to take a vacation came by, I took it, because the traveler in me never resists a vacation.

So here I am in Sayulita, Mexico. I expected myself to be sipping a coconut on the beach, looking at waves, but I found myself in a strangely contemplative mood since I’ve gotten here. I look around, instead of beauty I see poverty, despite Sayulita being pretty developed compared to other Mexican towns.

Having travelled in South-east Asia a lot I am used to beach towns like this, so I am uncertain why this time it feels so disconcerting to me. Is it the sudden contrast between San Francisco and Sayulita that knocked me off? I am careful not to feel too self-righteous because despite the apparent poverty of the people, perhaps they are happier than those of us in richer cities. Or not.

I am keenly sensitive to the energies of physical locations, I remember having no such uncomfortable feelings being in Thailand, but I also remember feeling this strange discomfort in Ho Chi Minh.

I actually feel bad for remotely enjoying myself as a tourist. An extremely privileged one, despite whatever I truly think of my situation. At times like these I feel bad for pursuing self-fulfillment, when people are struggling just to feed themselves.

But I keep on having to remind myself, that only when one truly acquires self-empowerment can one barely try to empower other people, or help others with their own self-empowerment journey. My instinct tells me to give up all my first world comforts and live as a nomad, because it seems like that is the only way I can feel somewhat equal to less privileged people. Yet I ask myself, what real impact would it make?

Despite my hippie roots I am strangely ambitious, only because on an intellectual level, this ridiculous ambition seems to be the most efficient manner of creating the impact I want. When I look myself in the mirror I see a still extremely vulnerable soul struggling with self-confidence issues, and I feel the disconnect between my ambition and my self. I almost mock myself for being so ridiculously ambitious, but in my soul I understand that I must have my guiding north-star, no matter how distant it is right now.

If I were to even try, why aim for less?

It is hard. Plenty of times I crave for a simple existence. A little place to call home, surrounded by the people I love, with grateful contentment. The irony is that no matter how I feel and think, this seemingly simple existence feels almost selfish. Everyday I feel the call of my purpose, imagined or not. It is extremely painful for me to give up my emotional attachment to my desire for a simple life, but even more painful when I do not answer that call.

Right from the very start, I am aware of the trade offs I have to make. Everyday it is a conscious choice to make these trade offs. Do I want a simple, fuss-free, existence for myself? Yes. Do I want to leave the people who love me? No. But can I ignore my calling?

To give a brutally honest answer? I have tried to ignore it, but failed. I tried to ignore it because it seemed easier that way. Only to hear my soul drowning a little bit each day.

What is the probability of me attaining my ambition? Very low. What are the chances I’ll stumble, fall and have to live with my heart broken in a thousand pieces? Really high.

But I must at least try. If I can’t ignore the call of my purpose, I must at least try to answer it, the very best way I can figure out how to, or perhaps live through a series of pathetic attempts, but still an attempt nonetheless.

I look at the massive ocean at Sayulita. I feel a timeless connection to the waters. It gives me a surreal reminder why I am here. I let out a huge sigh, understanding and accepting the way things are even though I sense plenty of pain for myself ahead. This is what I’ve signed up for, out of my own free will. I know myself. I would still rather die trying with a broken heart and a fatigued soul, than to have it another way.

There is just no way, in absolute terms, I can ignore the painfully beautiful connection and empathy I feel to this world.


one step forward, two step backwards

I picked up running a while ago. It was the cheapest, lowest maintenance exercise I could think of, without having to pay any gym fees or buy expensive equipment.

The first time I ran, I did it for less than 3 minutes before feeling like I was going to have a heart attack. I guess I should expect it since I don’t remember working my heart at all for the past 1.5 decades? Murakami only started running when he was 33, and he remained a daily runner (yearly marathoner + triathlete) till today, so I remain hopeful.

I started running once a week, every Sunday, then I slowly added the count, at the peak of it, I was running 3x a day, progressing from running less than a mile, to almost 2 miles, non-stop.

I was going to write an epic blog post of how I conquered my lifelong dislike of running, till I stopped running two weeks ago. The ‘time of the month’ arrived, I felt too drained to run, so I broke my own momentum of running 3x a week.

Breaking that momentum was more impactful than I thought it would be, the comedian Seinfield even has a phrase coined for it, called “breaking the chain”. I lost my momentum and in turn I lost my motivation to keep on running.

I could have and would have (based on my old self) started to be the greatest wet blanket to myself and gave up running altogether. It wasn’t only the physical impact of running itself, it had a strong mental impact on me. I was training my endurance, and by breaking my momentum, psychologically I went down the whole spiral of blaming myself for not having enough will. And it could go on and on, for an indefinite amount of time, wearing myself down subconsciously.

That is the recurring theme of the things I try and want to do. Be it an exercise, a side project or whatever. I make great strides forward with a limitless optimism, then I stumble and fall, most of the time I don’t get back into trying again because I convince myself that I am not strong enough. Or this is just “not me”.

Then, the epiphany. That it doesn’t matter how many strides I take backwards, how many times I stumble, how many times I break my momentum. As long as I am willing to try again, to move forward again, that is all that matters.

The desire to still take leaps of faith, to explore the unknown, to be open-minded to new ideas, to be vulnerable to people, no matter how many times I get hurt, how much pain I used to feel, how many times I have gotten lost, or had fallen flat on my face – that desire to experience life and constantly be willing to tear myself apart and put myself back together again: to me, that is key to experiencing life.

Perhaps I’ll lose interest in running again, for a thousand reasons I can think of. Maybe I’ll truly find another exercise that I can adequately sustain for longer periods. But it is the intent that matters to me. The intent to be a better human being, despite all my trials, tribulations and failures.

I would rather keep on trying and stumbling, keep on trying to eat better but end up bingeing, than to sit there, not wanting to change a thing.

It is the same as me telling people I want to change the world. They tell me it is impossible. But I rather try to do the impossible, than to accept everything is impossible and live life not daring greatly.

I am small now. I feel small now. But who knows? Just two years ago, I wouldn’t even contemplate setting my foot in San Francisco, much less to live here today.

The same goes with my side projects. I lose sight of them, I get busy, I neglect them for a long long while, but my heart never forgets them. I keep wanting to return to them, always.

The fire burns on brightly, even if I am my own wettest blanket.

what I’m truly passionate about

Over the past week, there was a series of random events which reminded me over and over again, what I am truly passionate about.

I started the week with attending Ignite Strata 2013, only because my boss Joyce was speaking. Being in a car from the city all the way to Santa Clara isn’t my idea of how I want to spend a weekday evening, but I kept telling myself to have an open mind. My natural tendency after a long day of work is to go straight home and recover and after a long week of work the same tendency occurs during the weekends and I prefer to stay at home, again.

I observed my own behavior pattern and I realised that if I left it up to my own natural tendencies, all I’ll do over here is to work and be home. There is nothing inherently wrong with it, but what used to excite me about being in San Francisco was the potential of the community I could meet. I wanted to meet more like-minded people, find out what they’re doing, tell them what I want to do, have osmoses of ideas, refine my own ideas, provide feedback to other people’s ideas. That was in my ideal, imagined world. I wanted to meet with people not only from the tech industry, but from the vibrant mis-mash of niche communities here. Craft, food, alternative healing, unicorns, writers, whatever.

But all I felt like doing apart from work was going home.

I actually staged a mental intervention for myself. I had to negotiate and patiently explain to myself that, if all I do is to move between work and home, I really would never meet anybody I want to meet. It is not rocket science to figure that out, but people really have no idea how deceptive our own minds can be.

I decided the only way to change that pattern is to pre-commit myself to events, whether I ‘felt like it’ or not. I am convinced that if I only did things whenever I ‘felt like it’, I would never amount to anything. This is a constant theme throughout interviews with accomplished people, especially authors. If they wrote only when they felt like it, they would never end up completing their books. It takes a tremendous amount of disciple and sheer focus to do something.

I am a great believer of random creativity and chaos, but we forget our lizard brains try to convince us to remain in our comfort zones. At least my brain does. I need outside stimulus to inspire internal creativity, but being an introvert I tread on the thin line of being over-stimulated and burning out. It is a fine balance I have to maintain and I don’t deny that many times I am simply afraid being overwhelmed all over again, so I developed the tendency of avoiding such situations.

There are always tradeoffs to be made, what is the point of keeping myself in pristine condition when I exist almost in a vacuum? In order to see the world I have to accept that plenty of times I will fall into some pit holes and I have to be okay with that. In order to meet new people I have to accept that I will have to put up with that feeling of being drained, as much as I really dislike it. You can’t find diamonds without mining through the earth.

So I decided to take that long drive to Santa Clara with my boss, well at least I didn’t have to drive. The string of talks were fascinating in their own ways, seeing how different people used various sets of data to their own scenarios, but it was one talk towards the end which gave me that feeling. That feeling I feel when I know that I was somehow meant to attend this event after all, even though I literally had to drag myself to it.

It was a talk by a Palantir engineer – he started by asking how many of us in the audience used our tech skills in philanthropy work? Now, if you knew me a little bit more, you would know I am writing a series of posts on Medium on how to change the world with lines of code. I have previously written on the same topic before on my old posterous blog, it is a topic that I am constantly revisiting over and over again. My angle may change, the context may change, but it has always been the same for me – I strongly believe that software can have a tremendous positive impact on the world.

When I heard the question, my ears perked up, I sat straight up, my eyes almost doubled in size while waiting in anticipation. My mind was blown away when that engineer, with an official title as the “Philanthropy Lead”, showed us demos of how Palantir’s software was used to analyze big data in order to deliver humanitarian aid for disasters. To see this being demonstrated on that scale on something I fervently believed in was incredibly moving on a personal level for me.

I attended “Shut up and write!” in the Mission on Wednesday, a meetup I deliberately registered for, though I knew I still wouldn’t feel like going to after a long day of work, but I trusted myself to make it because I registered for it. I wrote my third post in the Medium series in that hour where everybody simply shut up and wrote. lol. They were mostly people writing their novels, I felt funny being almost the only person there writing a blog post, but what mattered was that silent sense of community. The subject is very close to my heart and I was very much afraid that I wouldn’t be able to convey my emotions, ideas and thoughts fully in that one hour effort. I published it anyway without spending too much time editing it, I simply had to believe in the iterative nature of ideas. At the very least I am putting something raw out to the world and hopefully feedback would return in some form, so that I can improve on it.

Simply being there at that meetup in a roomful of writers for only an hour was very reinvigorating for me.

Finally, on thursday, I saw a write up on the TED 2013 winner. He decided to put computers at rural Indian villages and found out that kids taught themselves complex concepts like DNA replication with no supervision or guidance. Again, I subconsciously sat up straight to read whatever I could find on him. I felt my pulse quicken, my cells come alive.

Time and time again, I just knew. These are the moments when I knew where my passion lies because I simply felt it in its truest form. That form it takes, it makes me feel my entire being is lighted up with fire.

These posts I write, they don’t receive much readership. To be extremely honest, most of the time I feel like I am writing to a vacuum and it does affect me. But I catch myself at these times and I gently remind myself over and over again, I am not writing for mass readership or spikes in numbers. I am writing in hope to connect to those who are on similar tangents. They are far and few in between, but again, it is a tradeoff I have to be willing to make.

Once in a very long while, I receive some feedback like this, and that alone makes everything worthwhile.

There are plenty of things in this world that we just have to trudge and carry on, no matter how seemingly remote is the possibility. Like how Ang Lee languished in years of obscurity before finally being recognised for his work.  I don’t seek recognition explicitly, though I admit sometimes I still have an ego like any human, but if I could somehow persuade more people to believe in their own inner potential to impact this world positively, I would really die a very happy person.

Creating sustainable change for myself

Being an introvert my natural tendency is to stay at home as much as I can. It is at odds with my curious personality, because ironically I thrive on having new experiences. It is difficult after a week of work, all I want to do is to recover at home, but I forget I am at my most inspired self when I acquire new experiences.

I drove over to Berkeley for the first time today. It was a day of firsts for me, first time driving over the bay bridge, first time visiting Berkeley. I was very intrigued by the vibe at Berkeley and I made myself a promise that I will be back to explore it further. Driving back to the bay bridge, I was awed by the sight of the bay while cruising along the highway. The bay area is truly very beautiful and I wonder how much beauty is there for me to see within the rest of California.

And I only drove over because there is some zipcar credit leftover for this month and I didn’t know what to do with it. I almost cancelled it last minute, because it is that time of the month and all I want to do is to lie on the bed and not move.

I was very glad that I made myself go out anyway because I caught myself smiling a lot while being out exploring today. It just reminded me that sometimes I just have to trick myself into doing things I think I don’t want to do. The battle between the inspired self and the lizard brain.

My new thing these days is to constantly learn how to set myself up for optimization. I don’t want to waste my time any further, so I want to know how I can maximize my time and my body. I take one step forward and two step backwards, and I can only tell myself that I have to keep the kaizen spirit alive. I have to be careful of trying to implement change into my life, because I tend to go towards the extreme and it ends up backfiring.

I wanted to lose some weight I gained over the festive season, so I made myself very conscious over what I ate. Which is fine, except in the end I felt so deprived and stressed out over thinking my food choices all the time, that I ended up pig-feasting for a week. It is not only the weight I am concerned about, I just wanted my body to be nourished and not stressed out with all that process food. But I ended up stressing my mind instead of my body because I kept stressing over what to eat.

It is hard to create sustainable change when I go from one extreme end to the other. I have to treat myself like a lean startup. Continuously experimenting what can be sustainable and what is only for the short term. I used to hate raw vegetables and I am not kidding when I say ‘hate’. It used to make me nauseous. But one day I ended up craving it. Instead of forcing myself to eat something I don’t like eating because it is nutritious, somehow a switch flipped in me and I ended up enjoying it.

The trick question is, how do I accumulate enough cue, response and reward such that I automatically crave good food or exercise without making myself feel like I am forcing myself to do it?

A few years ago when I first came into contact with a green smoothie, I would feel nauseous simply by looking at the greenish color of the smoothie. Despite friends telling me it is actually quite delicious, I didn’t want to touch it, much less drink an entire glass of it. I started making myself a green smoothie everyday a couple of weeks ago because I decided since I can’t make myself stop eating unhealthy food entirely, I’ll pile on the nutrition instead. It started of as something I chose to do because I thought I had to do it, but now I actually desire to have it every single day.

That is sustainable change for me. By not forcing it out of sheer brute will.

Plenty of times it happened almost like magic. I have no idea when along the way my mind starts associating pleasure with something I used to dislike. All I know is, I need to start tricking myself into starting it first and have very low expectations from it. I have to find some middle ground and start from there. For my green smoothies, I started with tons of sweet fruit just to offset the taste of greens, but I increasingly find myself liking the taste of raw greens more now, without the aid of too much sweet fruit.

For the other things I want to do, that’s how I need to approach it I guess. With a curious, experimental approach rather than being my own worst critic. What I’ve learned is that everyone is different with how triggers and responses work. Something that worked for a friend doesn’t mean it would work for me. We all have to find our own sweet spot.

There are tons of new things I would like to try out. I would like to create my own opportunities to meet more people, have more new experiences, learn new things. Spend a little more time on my side projects, learn new code frameworks, experiment a lot more with my work.

So much to do, so little time. Even so, I am continuously learning how to incorporate these into my life without overwhelming myself so much that I turn out so drained that I end up wanting to do nothing.

My new favorite word, sustainability.

San Francisco, two months on

I am not sure whether writing monthly anniversary posts on moving to a new city is typical. I think this is a way to remind myself never ever to take my time here for granted. Time flies by so quickly, two months may seem really short for most people but for me, it means that’s already two months out of the 2yrs+ my paperwork is good for. That’s almost like 10% of the time I can hypothetically be here has passed me by.

In some ways I appreciate myself for being so mindful of the time that is passing by, because every single day I wake up in this city is precious. My boss asked me whether San Francisco has met my expectations since I am no longer just a tourist or a passerby and I tell her it has exceeded mine.

I don’t really expect people to understand my bond to this city, the depth of my feelings for it cannot be adequately described in words. People may misunderstand I am hyping this place way more than it should be, but I love this city precisely because I know it is imperfect and yet still beautiful, to me.

To people this may be the tech mecca, gay heaven or hippie land, but for me it is where I have found life and found myself. I don’t know how to accurately describe how it feels like to feel dead for three decades of your life and then be given the gift of what it truly means to be alive.

I have never forgotten how I felt when I first took the BART out of SFO in July 2011 and saw the vast blue skies of San Francisco. It is here where I realised the immense potential of humanity and within, the human in me.

It has been two months since I’ve moved, and till today I still wake up and wonder to myself in amazement, “Am I really here?” It still seems so surreal.

It is a lifetime’s blessing to be able to live in a city you love beyond words. I pass by the same Victorian buildings on my commute between home and the office twice a day, each time I still feel a sense of awe and immense appreciation for the preserved architecture. I still grin widely when I am on any public transport with a enthusiastic, friendly driver. I still feel grateful when cars stop patiently and drivers smile for me to cross the roads, even when it is not in my favour.

I love being here and I am extremely grateful to be here. Come what may, I will still choose to live in every precious moment which can be gifted to me. I’ll never want to feel a sense of entitlement and I will constantly remind myself that it is a privilege to be here. That is why it is so important to me that not a day goes by like a blink, every day is a conscious, concerted effort of living and being alive, for me.

San Francisco, I knew I would always love you the moment I set my eyes on you.