Archive | life RSS feed for this section

Self-check

27 Feb

It’s February, and the 31 days in your new year failed to make a blip. I don’t remember what I did last week let alone yesterday. Some weeks fall into auto-pilot mode and you become so comfortable that the days are pleasant enough, but for the most part uneventful. Good habits have its merits, but when I hit a plateau I start to wonder what’s missing. The act of going through the motions is like a spell that needs more than just a little self-awareness to snap out of.

Examining your track record and accomplishments in the last few years might draw a long pause. Maybe that raise justified your hard work. Maybe that presentation was impressive. There is no grade to prove it and everything is relative. You kind of have to gauge your ability but knowing yourself, maybe you are not actively aware or trying. You might say you’re just average or perhaps smart. But are you? Have you seen yourself lately pushed to your limit? What’s stopping you from becoming stronger, better than what you’re capable of?

I know the daily grind can stymie thoughts of self-growth, and yet it begs you to re-evaluate. If you look at your life a few years from now and it feels uninspired, you must ask yourself why.

When days become forgettable, the benign sign of monotony has set in. The lulls lead to complacency and opportunities remain unnoticed. Life feels almost too comfortable or easy, and restlessness grows. I take it as a warning. After an honest self-check, I get back to working harder than I normally do. I try to challenge myself again and recover purposeful thoughts. Life shouldn’t pass as ordinary because it’s not.

Ch-ch-changes.

12 Nov

I’m a big fan of change. Or at least the thought of it. Not the unexpected and sudden kind, but the kind you initiate yourself. The type that gets you motivated and presents new challenges within reach. The changes I like are the ones that are self-motivated when you finally act on important decisions.

I fall in the camp that believes lasting change happens in small increments. We practice little by little daily until it eventually becomes the norm. Baby steps make the change easier to adopt and help build our confidence. I suppose easing myself into it is one way of fooling myself that change isn’t difficult.

But looking back, I realize some of the bigger changes brought about the biggest lessons in my life. They were also among the best.

Moving to a new state was among them. I pretty much didn’t know anybody. I was starting a new job and leaving a lot of baggage behind. The new scenery was welcomed, but the huge adjustments that followed brought about some really tough experiences. I saw a new side to myself, how vulnerable I allowed myself to be and yet how perseverant I was. I was a much more hopeful and independent person than I realized. I don’t believe these new thoughts would ever have come about any other way.

I liken it to those moments when we discover and learn something about ourselves after being tested and stretched to our limits. Much like those people who endure the rollercoaster ride of losing weight on TV shows like the Biggest Loser, your strength comes from being able to adapt to those huge changes. Those intense situations bring out the best and worst sides of yourself, but a test of whether you learn from it or succumb to it.

As I’ve fallen into a comfortable routine these days, I wonder if I’ve become adverse to big changes. Is it just another phase in life or does it become harder as we get older? Is there a time and place for change, big or small, that’s necessary in our lives?

I think so, but our capacity for change dictates that. Sometimes the biggest changes transform you in a short period of time.

These days I would draw up plans, dwell on them, thinking they could lead to something big and exciting. A lot of times I would shelve the plans away. At this point in my life, I’ve gotten hesitant about change, but am reminding myself to weigh the experience over the outcome. I wouldn’t know unless I acted on it. It may be well worth it, maybe more than I realize.

My future travels

5 Nov

How do you travel?

I just returned from a trip to Prague and Budapest and unlike my past travels I traveled mostly alone and did the least amount of planning on this trip. I actually did next to no planning besides finding a place to stay.

I decided to take a break from the usual Trip advisor and Lonely Planet route. I felt a new approach was warranted. I could start my own off-beaten track and experience something less predictable. So my plan was to stay away from all organized activities. Routine I can always go back to at work. Maybe this new spontaneity would make travel more exciting and inspiring as it should be.

It’s interesting to watch people on vacation especially those who have a hard time unplugging from work. Reality back at home interrupts vacation or any semblance of it. Some fill all sorts of activities during the day to maximize their stay. They love coming up with detailed itineraries and executing them like a project at work. They have to see x # of monuments and go to all the Michelin star restaurants. It sounds more of a to-do list than a leisurely time. Others join tours to help do the planning for them which is actually great, but I wonder if it encourages people to explore further or just feel content about “seeing everything” in that 3 hour tour? (FYI, I actually really like tours, but I’ve grown dependent on them it seems.)

I’ve learned to plan less in travel. Going into this trip, I was fearful that I would miss out on some sights. I probably did, but the newness I felt strolling in the cities that came with no expectations made up for it immensely. I started relying on locals and fellow tourists more for advice, sources which couldn’t have been more current and reliable. It was a nice change having to decide where to go and what to do rather than a guide recommend the must-see sights. You do what interests you and not necessarily what the masses would like you to do. To me, this is an ideal travel situation, to be free to explore the city and creating your own unique experience.

Traveling without expectations and letting your mind and senses wander in your new surroundings is a travel experience I want. So I am planning to do the same the next time, just trusting my feelings and letting my instinct lead me on a fun ride.

Bucketlists

18 Sep

It’s something that many people have in common. I started writing them in college and it’s transformed over time as I crossed off a few items and my interests faded. Does your bucket list just keep getting longer? At the rate I’m going I will never reach the end. I’ve gone so far as making lists for each decade. As it gets more difficult to do certain things when I’m older I put the more physically demanding items on the immediate list, i.e. things I want to do now. Conversely, I have goals that would be impossible to achieve now because I don’t have the money, or feel like I’m not mature enough.

Running a marathon was one thing I crossed off my list and happily so. It made me consider a triathlon. Talking to other fitness fiends who were hooked on racing, the seed was already planted in my head. Ambition prodded me to do more races and take it to the next level. Now I’ve started swimming and in a few weeks I’m doing my second marathon.

So is a bucket list just the start? A guideline to get you motivated to do something ooh and ahh worthy? I realize that there is no end goal in sight. As great a feeling it is to show off an accomplishment, you’re just stepping into new territory. You might have a medal around your neck, but your mind is already thinking about improvements the next time around. You become a better competitor; you find new strength in your abilities.

I had an amazing first marathon and even though I can tell others I checked it off my bucket list, it was just the beginning. That’s what surprised me. I remember a runner telling me you should treat a marathon as a sport just like you would a football or baseball game. Putting it on a bucket list undermines the sport. It is true. For running and other pursuits.

Every goal reached can become more than a one-time thing. I get inspired daily, and my desires keep changing. A checklist is too static to reflect our dynamic lives. I hope I don’t stop when I know I can aim higher.

Post 9/11

12 Sep

Any American who experienced the tragedy of 9/11 can attest that day confounded expectation. I was completely dumbstruck. I was like many that went about their morning routine only to be disrupted by something so surreal. I remember heading to class that morning passing through the hallway dorm and seeing a gathering of friends standing, unmoving and staring at the TV. Not a person spoke. I quickly glanced at the TV and then in that moment of disbelief, tried to process what I was seeing. That moment of helplessness I think was felt all around. Every American and person living in the US stood still watching in horror.

I read an article following the victims – the ones who survived 9/11 or lost someone to 9/11. I sensed the anger and sorrow and felt it only to a degree, but never experienced the trauma. Feelings of guilt, injustice, and pain are the burden 9/11 victims carry each day. They certainly don’t forget. Some were lucky to be alive, others life was suddenly unfair.

I contemplate about the changes made since 9/11. The government established Homeland Security, invaded Iraq, and set on the mission to fight terrorism. They would remind the world that the US would rebuild again and become stronger from it. It has, but I wonder if we missed a bigger point.

The root cause was Islamic extremism. After 9/11, Muslims were suddenly labeled terrorists. More Americans reacted negatively to people with any seeming ties to the Middle East. Stereotypes were rampant. Discrimination was at full force. Perhaps it was nothing really new in America but it was more pronounced than ever. I started to think how I felt about people of different cultures of Middle eastern culture or otherwise. I am a minority, but I still grew up with certain stereotypes about other cultures too whether taught or learned by observation.

I realized how hard it is to change my belief system. A part of me wonders if I’m willing to change the way I think. Despite how open-minded I think I am, some beliefs still stick. Sometimes we grow up having misgivings about each other until we have experiences that tell us differently. Being quick to judge can easily fragment the community and cause conflict. In the aftermath of 9/11 am I helping with bridging the differences between cultures? In only a diverse nation like the US, we can maybe work towards changing those preconceived notions. I know that as truth is universal, freedom is not, and the freedom to uncover truth and dispel stereotypes is a real privilege, no less expected of us.

Modern day women

8 Sep

I can’t help but think how lucky I am to live in this period where women before me have made inroads for my generation. It really is the decade of Superwomen. Not just Oprah. Everyday women around me are ambitious, driven and unashamed to be the breadwinner. If they end up more successful than their peers, the achievement speaks for itself. Success may not have been their intention, but a need to succeed was their right. The amazing thing is women are expressing that freedom more so than ever before. These ladies are surpassing people’s expectations even among women.

Kudos to the Hilary Clintons, Indar Nooyis and Carly Fiorinas of my time. These are women who have been criticized not just by men, but pretty much everybody. They cracked the corporate and political glass ceiling for the next generation of women. It’s important to remember they were pioneers much as they were popular during their run. Clinton will be remembered first for her quest for the 2008 presidential nomination, second as former First Lady and Secretary of State. Indar Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi, one of the few minority CEOs held up the multibillion company amidst the recession. Carly Fiorina, probably known for her acquisition of Compaq was also among the few female faces in the tech world.

It’s no surprise women like Clinton, Nooyi and Fiorina are often scrutinized much more than men. Especially women in high stature who are still quite the minority. A slip of tongue or misstep can ruin the credibility of some. And despite the Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann jokes, these are still very strong, fearless women. They are not just token female representatives. Regardless their ideology or track record; as a woman, I still admire them.

The more women shake up the political and corporate scene, the more doors they open. Interestingly, women are adapting to the changes just as men are. While some women may sacrifice home life for career pursuits, there are still committed stay-at-home moms who work just as hard. In the end, all women are different. They are not a one-note, but varied in motivations, interests and priorities. Somehow, the most successful women find balance without feeling one is undermining the other and that maybe their strongest asset.

However, as much as we like to praise the notion of the modern woman, statistics don’t reflect much of an equality between sexes. Equal pay is still yet to be realized. In the US Congress, women only occupy about 15% of seats. Among the Fortune 500 companies, there are about 14 female CEOs. In the science and engineering world, women are making strides as well but making few headlines on the news. Women abroad seem to be holding higher seats of power, such as Angela Merkel, German Chancellor of Germany. As much as we like to pride ourselves in opportunity in the US, we could probably do better. I speak for myself as well and maybe other women too. Is there a tendency for women to short change or second guess themselves? Women may lack in some areas just as men do, but new studies are showing women bring crucial skillsets to the workplace. In our workforce, talent is valuable and irreplaceable. We need talented people, man or woman, and we need to encourage them and support them. Especially women.

cupcakes and other fads

25 Aug

Someone enlighten me about the obsession with cupcakes. Among all the fads that I’ve witnessed growing up and they were strange (furbies, chia pets, need I say more?) this love for cupcakes is beyond me. It is to the point it actually kind of annoys me. What’s wrong with regular cake, I ask when people say they have cupcake cravings.

Yet, there are people so passionate about them they are quitting their day jobs and starting cupcakeries. Think Georgetown Cupcake and Crumbs. The public loves them and their business shows. Cupcake shops are as ubiquitous as burger joints these days and that is a huge feat. While carnivores salivate at the thought of a fresh piece of meat on the grill, people with a sweet tooth will line up for hours just for a bite of cake.

A sugar high is one thing, but other sweets besides a cupcake can achieve that. Cupcakes are hardly sophisticated based on my amateur baking skills. You achieve a level of smoothness to the cream and master moistness in the cake, but it seems hardly complicated. I’m no pastry chef, but I don’t think my palate is unrefined. Cupcakes are sugar on sugar just in different textures to put it bluntly. How are cupcakes any more special when in fact just less varied than cake?

I get the love for other foods like chocolate, wine and charcuterie, which are all wonderfully complex and sciences of their own. What is so lacking in a perfectly good cake that they need to miniaturize it? I hope the reason is more to it than individual servings. And I hope it’s not just hype for hype’s sake.

Where I live, people will line upwards of an hour for cupcakes. If you want to think of time better spent with that hour, let me assist you while I reason you out of that cupcake line. In one hour, you can actually cook a whole meal. In an hour you can fly from DC to Boston. In an hour you can put in good exercise or practice a hobby.

There are very few things I will line up hours for and they include lining up for Black Friday or lining up for the next Iphone. Even in the busiest hours of the Apple store if someone were to wait an hour to get service, people will leave. What compels someone to wait so long to get a simple sugar fix? Apparently a cupcake is worth it and that is what boggles my mind.