Archive for the ‘Advice’ Tag

Core Skillset

That's business coffee

Random Observation/Comment #257: “Life does flash before your eyes when you die. It’s called living.” Health and happiness.

Let’s be honest – I’ll always be an engineer and a geek.  Nothing can undo what Cooper, A.I., robotics, and Anime has done to me.  But there’s something that I felt was missing from my bottle cap collection and food photography obsession – physical communication.  Haha, I kid. Luckily, as with any weakness, I sought to squash it by throwing myself in the deep end and seeing if I could float.

After some research and personal trial-and-error, I’ve narrowed down a few skillsets that anyone of almost any profession, should possess:

  • Consider the Business Strategy – When you think about a project, always remember the bigger picture and know why you’re doing it.  Take some sort of ownership instead of just being a contributor. Every team member can have great ideas, and they shouldn’t just think of these solutions from a narrow and detailed perspective.
  • Communication – If you don’t convey the message, and convey it clearly, who will? I can’t read your mind… Deliver a clear message and be able to speak, not politically, but diplomatically.
  • Critical Thinking – With any project, show that you’ve given it some thought and approached the problem from all angles to solve the problem.  Show your work.
  • Manage and Lead Change – “Change is the only constant.” Take the opportunities to fill the gaps. Trust me – the initiative always helps.
  • Develop others and delegate work – Don’t just be a manager of tasks, but also be a good mentor that considers their team as friends looking out for each other’s best interests. It’s important to be able to also develop other leaders and expand your skillset without feeling threatened.
  • Understand Financial Metrics – It’s not necessary to know everything about finance, but at least know some basic things like Return on Investment and Benefit Cost Ratios because everything dealing with corporations and business will boil down to something financial.  Be able to think from a business perspective and speak that abstracted managerial language.

I think out of all of these, communication is by far the most important.  It’s probably the broadest one that applies to almost everything in life.  If you can speak without financial jargon, speak without technical lingo, and speak without BS, then you’ll find a nice middle ground where you relate to your audience.

Step in their shoes, use analogies, and then convey, not just features, benefits, dollars, advantages, etc – but convey the personalized solution.  Once you can see that person’s value system, then you’ll be able to speak their language and connect.  Obviously, everyone is different, and you can’t just bucket people into personalities, but just be observant and listen.

Now that you’re aware of it, just practice. Explain a database to a grandmother.  Explain a CD player to a child born in 2000.  Explain quantum mechanics to a psychology major.  Explain love to anyone.

~See Lemons Improve

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Dear Dad: How to Retire

Open the window to new possibilities

Random Observation/Comment #254:   “Oh, how time seems to sneak by… Babies you once held in your arms can now teach you how to use facebook. “  –Clemens Wan 1/12/11

Dad, I sometimes forget that you and Mom are not super heroes with the power of knowing everything.  I sometimes forget that your current phase of life is the first time you’ve encountered it.  Just because you can tell me so much about the path growing up, doesn’t mean you know what should happen next when you’ve raised kids and look for the next steps.  In fact, it must be very weird looking at your past accomplishments and trying to evaluate your life.  I know it’s not so easy when most of the memories are chopped up into holidays and free Sunday afternoons to get some of your own time where you read some news or took a day-time nap.

But regardless, there are enough mediocre memories throughout your life to make the good memories extra “good.”  There is enough of a routine to really highlight those incredible moments of pride and happiness.  I hope you hadn’t followed the routine too closely to have time pass by too quickly.  Work has always been something you selfishly slaved away with to keep the family afloat.  And the truth is that the family thinks you need a vacation.  You’ve spent all this time in America saving money, but for what reason? Yes, you can say that you did it for your kids, but we’re all grown up now. Didn’t you invest in 401k to take it out later?  I think now is a good later.  And if you think some of the money will help us buy our first house, don’t you know you’ve already given us the best gift?  It was the gift of a great childhood and awesome supportive parents.

You’ve always taught me and Angus to work hard and be responsible so that we wouldn’t have to worry about working so hard later on.  As the black sheep, of course, I’ve always chosen the fun path and never worried about that whole financial stability part, but I know that the only reason I could do this was because you spent the past 35 years supporting the family and really being the best father.  You taught your kids to be clever, not just smart. You taught us to think from all angles to tackle all problems.  You taught us to learn from our own mistakes and especially mistakes that you’ve made in the past.  And we’ve grown. We’ve experienced. We’ve lived gratefully with the gift that you and Mom gave us.  It is now the time to check off this accomplishment and go to the next.

Whenever I think about getting old, I always think about the Bucket List.  It inspires me to keep goals in check, and make sure every year moving forward is a productive one.  The advice I can give for retirement is to sit down and write down these goals.  Whether it’s being able to travel Europe or fix the house, now is the best time to plan it.  Share the list with me and Angus and we’ll make it happen.

Whatever you do, though, don’t put “the company” thought on the list because it’s a waste of youth.  Spend the money on a nice vacation instead.  Pick up a hobby and reach the less work-focused goals.  This is kind of like a mid-life crisis, but you’re actually encouraged to feel young.

If you ever run out of ideas, here are a few of mine that are relevant to you. I have taken into account health concerns and areas of interest.

  • Travel more into the city with Mom
  • Travel around Europe with Mom
  • Take more cruises and taste different types of food
  • Collect postcards and send them to me and Angus during your trips
  • Get better at ping pong so we can buy a table
  • Drive more cars by renting them by hourly rate. (Alt: Buy GTA5 with a steering wheel set-up and play some video games on the weekend)
  • Start playing mah jong again
  • Go fishing with Terry in the summer
  • Hold shabu shabu parties more often
  • Go to cooking school and cook Mom a meal
  • Learn Mandarin better
  • Get in touch with old friends and visit them

As always, health and happiness.

~See Lemons See Parents Happier

Early Career Advice Part 2

A budding something... like early career advice

Random Observation/Comment #249: I’m surprised at how much career advice is out there for people, but how few people actually take it seriously. Seriously, this advice is helpful…

After speaking to my personal board of directors (a.k.a. family, friends, and mentors) about career advice, I had gathered more very useful information about career development that I feel should be shared.  Surprisingly, there’s not much overlap, so I’ll just append it to the previous list.

5. Your personal brand management – maintaining a reputation and self-marketing. Think before you speak and keep a “can-do” attitude. Be conscious of all conversations and be sure to actively go out and tell people you do things.  Project your ideas in a mature way and practice the elevator pitch to be able to tell people your goals. If you have a solid and consistent perception by all coworkers, then they will think about you when opportunities arise.  This can be summarized with one quote: “Closed mouths don’t get fed.”

6. Performance. Although self-marketing is important, you have to also be good at what you do.  Remember WINE: Work, Integrity, Network, and Excellence.  All of these should be pretty straightforward.  For life in general, just say what you mean, mean what you say, do what you say, and deliver what you promise.  Keep yourself transparent and don’t fake those multiple personalities tailored to specific people.  This will build trust and also improve your personal brand.  Also, staying consistent will ensure that everyone knows who you are and what to expect from you. If you start off strong – you better stay that way or else any slacking will be a disappointment in comparison.

7. Change management. Change can be very scary, but it should also be seen as an exciting opportunity to see how you act outside of your comfort zone. Change should be embraced.  “Those that stand in front of change get run over.” Also, if you can fill a vacuum in times of change, it will be a huge growth opportunity for you.

8. (Although this is already emphasized enough) Network, Network, Network. Obviously, networking is important. Almost all opportunities that just “land in your lap” are because you know someone and you were able to project your personal brand onto them and make a positive impression. If you do this consistently enough and seek for new opportunities, then it will make your life much easier.  Other methods of finding networking possibilities include, professional networks, NGOs, clubs with similar interests, and going out with your team/vendors for drinks.

9. Mentor filtering and categorization. Once you meet someone of interest at the networking events above, follow up with coffee and enter them into your circle of people to go to for advice. It’s a great idea to categorize your mentors into something realistic, like: life advisor (anything and everything), strategic career (3-5 year plans with career), tactical career (1-2 years career), problem solver (immediate analysis), comfort food (someone that makes you feel good about your situation), and news update (someone to keep in touch with to get the best out of their niche).  Not everyone will be your best friend (they just don’t have the time for that), but maybe they could help you in these specific categories. It is possible that your best friends should fit into all of these categories.

10. The long term plan? How would you answer someone in HR asking you, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”  I answered: “My goals have changed annually, as I think they should, because life should be reassessed on a consistent basis.  However, the thought process I use in making these decisions have always stayed consistent to my principles, and have always improved with additional feedback.”  Now that I think about it, this answer was just avoiding the question but plugging in my overall view of life. I was happy with this answer, though.  It at least makes the company know that I’m not a sheep and I’m always putting the company in check at the same time. I have my level of loyalty, but it’s always important to take into account personal factors.

I hope this advice is useful. At the end of the day, it’s really all about experience.  Keep an open mind and continue to learn about your niche, your peers, your managers, your friends, and yourself.

~See Lemons Expand

Early Career Advice

The Blue Sky Vision

Random Observation/Comment #247:  When a hobby becomes stale, the best way to handle it is to find take small steps to reinvigorate your passion towards it.  Take it one step at a time and it will come back.

There are four main things that I learned from the past 9 months of working.  I feel like not sharing it would be unfair for those just starting off.  I will keep the entry sweet and simple.

1.  Learn like a sponge. As with all new hires from college, you are cheap labor. They hired you because you are passionate and hard-working with a likable personality that had shined through in the interview.  Mentors teach you (at least in some way) because they feel that level of accomplishment in passing on useful information.  Managers are (in some ways) trained to cut you some slack and be patient with the learning curve. This is always the case, and before gaining experience, it’s not a bad idea to take advantage of your position by asking stupid questions and making mistakes.  Acting confident and knowing stuff is a plus, but acting like you know everything and dealing poorly with work politics is disastrous. However you approach it is in your own style, but just be sure to learn along the way.

2. Jump around and explore. A brilliant man once said (and probably still says this) “The world is your oyster.”  There are so many different opportunities in this world and it is in your best interest to continue learning about what is available.  A good job will keep you happy and lead you with a carrot while you continue to produce useful content.  A great career will keep you challenged and make you stretch your comfort level to learn new things. An amazing life will make you jump for joy to get to work and do what you love doing because you’re so damn good at it. Underlying idea is that you keep an open-mind because money doesn’t really matter.

3. Be realistic and be consistent with deliveries without burning out. Burning out is probably the worst things to happen to someone. It happened to me at Cooper once, and I needed a year and a half of “finding myself” to get back into it – well, I guess burning out wasn’t that bad.  Anyway, when you work 8-9 hours a day, there is a limit.  You can be a top performer and still walk around and make friends.  Actually – it’s probably more important to walk around and chat with people around you so people don’t think you make them look bad.  Office politics is crucial and it doesn’t hurt to take a lighter load. There’s always more work to be done, so even if you finish quickly, they’ll just pile more on top of you.

4. Work for someone you like. Before you know the answer to this, you need to know the person you work for. Go out for drinks and network with those around you. See them outside of the working light and just ask them about hobbies and career paths. Treat your co-workers like your friends and it will go a long way.  If you don’t respect your boss, then that bad taste in your mouth will just make life that much worse. Also remember that it’s difficult to be a manager and it should be a two-way system. You should talk to your boss (or bosses) on a daily basis and make sure they know you’re still: 1) alive and 2) happy.  If they see you smile and you really mean it, then it’s a good indication that you’re not looking for employment elsewhere.  It also doesn’t hurt to trust your mentors and speak to them frankly (in an appropriate way).  Mentors, in this new light, have always given me relevant advice (which may sometimes be useful).

The truth is that work should be fun. I’m too young to have stress. Keep your hobbies separate from work and stay active.  Do some restaurant reviewing and read a book.  Read my blog.

~See Lemons Jump into a Career

Guiding My Career Choices: From Soldier to Worker

Temporarily caged?

Random Observation/Comment #242: The month-long gap of writing was a test to see how much I could get done when I didn’t write.  The answer, surprisingly, is that I didn’t do anything – well, that’s not true, but I didn’t get as much as I wanted done.  I didn’t know this before, but writing in a blog about what I’m going to do is actually the thing that starts me doing things.  I needed to read that sentence over again to make sure it was right.  Yes.  I am dependent on this writing to clear my mind of all the woes in my ever-growing mind, and basically do a core-dump of my random ideas on how to improve my life.  Without this, I just think about doing things, and I never make the first step to do them.  Knowing this, changes everything… I will address this in the next entry.

For the past 6 months, my underlying belief of this life has been challenged.  The philosophy that I had so desperately formed to make sense of this world – the guidelines that kept me under control and tied to a close-knit community – all of it was shaken by the foundation by a different perspective.  It was a perspective that I had remembered so clearly, yet since I had once looked at the world this way, I had to lean in closer to make sure my choice was right for me.

Let’s start from the beginning: I was a soldier.  I followed orders from my parents and made them proud every step of the way.  From honor societies in high school to graduating as an engineer, I always performed for that greater purpose: my parents’ pride.  All I wanted was for them to accept my strides forward and tell me I was doing a great job.  All I wanted was to see their eyes welt up with tears of joy to see their son achieve great things.

The base for all of this still holds true to my roots, but the difference is: I am no longer a soldier.  You see, my parents had graduated me from that status and told me to follow another goal.  They told me to do what makes me happy, always stay healthy, and remember the importance of community.  As a soldier taking orders for 21 years, I felt confused and lost without a path to follow.  I had perfected the act of following a path, but I had never learned how to make my own.  In fact, the goals for me all sounded strange because none of them mentioned money or success.

They didn’t want me to be a soldier, yet I knew no other path so I tried different things and always just looked back to see their reaction and approval.  Everything I did was accepted with a nod and a smile.  So… now what?  The pressure to meet expectations for reaching the best of the best had faded.  So, I did what everyone else in my situation would do: I looked at my peers to seek their advice and their opinion.  As I asked them, it seemed that my level of acceptance had shifted to another party. Now, all I wanted was their acceptance and their envy.  I wanted a level of respect from them and an overall higher status in this stratified society.

This view of life is what drives our economy.  We see shit we want because other people have them.  I can’t deny that I still don’t follow this line of thought when I see new gadgets that come out every month (I just want to pimp out my daily routine so badly!).  Yet, the things I want are actually not that expensive.  It also makes me wonder what I would do if I had everything I wanted.  I don’t think I would feel complete at all.  There would probably always be something more that I needed to complete my collection.  Plus, my neighbor would probably one-up me with that bigger screen TV and make me wonder if it were about time to get a new one.

This key idea troubled me:  I needed to make money because I wanted to buy things that I thought I needed because I was hanging around other people that made money.  Climbing the status tower is fine, but your expectations keep rising to reaching the status above you.  This vicious cycle makes me believe that one day; you’ll find yourself alone at the top.  Well, you’re either at the top, or you’re disappointed that you can’t reach the next status.  Hopefully, you’ll be happy and you’ll stop, but greed is not something you can fulfill.  The more you feed it, the more it wants and the more you’ll sacrifice to get it.

What I’ve found with wealth (in the sense of monetary wealth) is that people tend to spend money on things they don’t need.  Of course, what I think they need and what they think they need is very subjective.  Some people think they need to own three houses while living in a small studio in NYC and working 80-hour weeks to afford the mortgages: fantastic.  What I wonder is: what if I just need less?  Will that make me less ambitious?  Will I be ill-motivated to reach any higher?  Does being content make the mind stale and boring?

All of these questions formulated into a philosophy that actually fit into my parents’ new goals for me: happiness, health, and community.  So many people objectively see success by salary, the size of their estate, or the number of cars they own.  That’s so… old school.  I would think in our modern day and age, we would measure success differently.  What about overall happiness, health, and community?

Your career can be selfishly geared towards making money.  Many people do it because they associate the money with happiness.  There are some careers that sacrifice happiness in the short term in order to benefit in the long term with money or status.  You may be surprised at this next sentence: I don’t think there is anything wrong with this thinking at all.  I fully support making short term sacrifices for long term goals, but one criterion must hold true: You must believe in what you do.  If you just do it for the money, you’ll never make it.

What my parents really wanted to tell me is: Do what you’re good at and do what you love.  If this makes you happy then your career is not work.  If you constantly need a work-life balance, it means you’re trying to escape work.  If you’re learning new things everyday and you believe your sacrifice will be worth it in the end (which is also very subjective), take the risk – we’re so young.

~See Lemons Love Work

The Social Butterfly Follow-up

my bovine network

Random Observation/Comment #241: Panel speakers at leadership forums have the most badass introductions.  These leaders have led a fruitful life with a never-ending path towards greatness, family, and – generally – more ridiculously cool stuff.  I am in full admiration, and my mouth’s “wow” expression is hurting my jaw.  New Goal: In 3 years, my introduction will make others’ jaws hurt.

In my previous entry, I offered a short mental process within a networking setting that can be used to help open people into a comfortable topic.  It involves some sneaky injections of random comments, but after a few exchanges of ideas, a common ground can eventually be reached.  If you’re lucky, you can form a mutually beneficial relationship through a short conversation – plus, it removes many awkward silences.  Always keep in mind that people are very enthusiastic to share their opinions and help others because it flatters them and makes them feel warm and fuzzy inside.

This whole idea of networking started with being interested in people’s stories.  You must be engaged and bring your personal ideas to the table to be an interesting audience.  Chances are, this person has told the story many times, but his/her joy is to be able to see different reactions and reflections from the story. I don’t think he/she practices it in the mirror, so it doesn’t make sense to act like one.  Once you’re interested in the story, everything flows better and your motive is no longer to pick and choose your resource from someone, but rather to just learn with an open mind.

This entry, however, is about what to do afterwards.  There is a big difference between networking and pimping.  Pimping is basically using your contact as a resource with only your own interests in mind.  It’s easy to see when someone is pimping.  It often leaves a bad taste in my mouth when I notice it.

Consider the following scenario: you’re a manager and you’ve recently been to a networking event and met an analyst.  He chats with you and writes a nice follow-up email.  A year passes by and you start to forget this character.  Sometimes you’re sad because you thought you made a good impression as a mentor, but he didn’t wind up picking you or looking to you for advice.  Then, all of a sudden, he starts talking to you again like he had been on vacation for a year.  You may be flattered that someone is talking to you and reaching out to you for advice, but the relationship is unfair and imbalanced.  There’s no give and take in your eyes because all you seem to be is a tool.  (This could be interpreted out of context for other relationships as well.)

Let’s take it back to reality where you’re the analyst and you probably warrant no privileges to abuse contacts.  Especially in an early career position, do you want to give that impression?  Do you think you’re sneaky enough to have it go unnoticed?  Those random networking contacts don’t have any obligations to help you and I’d be surprised if they even match the name to the face after a few months.

If you want to network effectively, you have to offer your knowledge, skill sets, connections, and opinions.  If there so happens to be the chance that there is no possible intersects, you probably shouldn’t have given out your business card or reach out to them to just disappoint them.  It’s not always quantity – it’s also the quality.   Would you rather have 20 good friends or 3 best friends?

I think people, in general, are quite selfish – it’s not a bad thing; people just naturally worry about themselves before thinking to a larger audience.  Hopefully that selfishness grows to close friends and family, and eventually affects a small niche in the community, but when shit hits the fan with stress, there’s pretty much just you and your cluttered problems/responsibilities.

I bring this up because you grow in a relationship (whether professional or personal) by taking time to consider other people’s responsibilities and agenda.  Honestly, the best way to follow-up is to actually treat this person as a friend.  It’s simple: you think of their interests and contact them when you see something that they might be interested in.  You remember their workplace and hobbies, and then you bring it up if something reminds you of them.  For example, if I see beef jerky, I automatically think about my friend Jake.  In the networking case, when I hear about wine tasting events, I actually have 4 people on the top of my head that would be interested.  Even though they probably won’t make it, people like to be invited.

~See Lemons Follow-up

The Social Butterfly

Pins all around

Random Observation/Comment #240: Every event is a networking event.  I’m not the typical engineer with pocket protectors, protractors, and graphing calculators available in my utility belt (although my phone, can do all of those).  I rather wear a smile and chit-chat about random things to work on a closer relationship (Relater on StrengthFinder!).  Some people say it’s a waste of time and I’m spreading myself too thin with people and hobbies, but I’m genuinely interested in what I can learn from both.

I network with the purpose of understanding stories.  To me, these stories are all data statistics of how to live life.  If I hear something cool or badass, I may very well change my path to include it.  It may start off with career options, but this concept mostly applies with experiences, such as studying abroad and climbing mountains.  There were so many goals that I added to my list simply because I heard someone talk about it at a mixer – “Wow, you went skydiving last week? Where do I sign up?”  The rest of the conversation basically lets me uncover the subtle issues of reaching that goal.  I don’t think I’m using people for their experiences, but I do take interest in some of the weirdest stories.  I am not good enough to do everything, but at least I can live vicariously and pick the important things that I’d like to see with my own eyes.

There is no formula on how to network, but if it is to become engaged in an interesting conversation, I usually have to relate it back to something in my life or honestly take interest in doing these things for myself in the future.  This is the typical workflow of my brain during a conversation:

  1. Small talk about conventional topics and share random things on my mind/fits the situation (e.g. current events, culture, traveling, etc)
  2. Stay aware of person’s interest and try to give broad examples to fish around for person to engage (i.e. include little bits of information off topic to see if they latch on. Common topics include technology interests, career plans, video games, etc).
  3. If an interesting topic is found, let the person lead at his comfort and pace.  Absorb relevant opinions and make observations along the way.
    1. When appropriate, relate to the topic with own stories.
    2. Show understanding of the topic by recapping or giving another example from personal experiences.
  4. If the story relates to the person’s career or path, then let him/her explain the details of his current title and ask for some methodology to his mentality of success.
    1. In terms of career, always keep in mind that people take different approaches to success.  Some people really know what they want (or at least they think they do), while others just go with the flow. Adjust accordingly with your crowd.
  5. Usually, I step back and evaluate other people’s experiences with two questions: A) Is it cool enough and B) Is it possible?
  6. Once those priorities fit, I dive deeper in the research to find the process and the shortcuts that can be taken based on his/her mistake.

I’ve found this methodology of approaching people quite useful for casual bar conversations, but within a business networking setting, I more closely focus on my outside hobbies, past education, and interests within news that relates to the business.  In most cases, I only use this to get the ball rolling.  If the person is already spewing relevant advice, I wouldn’t need to change the subject.  It is difficult to pick a person’s brain in a short period of time if you don’t provide them with a short background though. Although we’re not talking about our day-to-day mess, it’s all relevant to show your attitude towards life.  I would expect someone aiming for higher positions to not only be interested in the business, but to have the will to learn about new aspects of the world in current events and culture.

In a very short amount of time, it is essential to continuously reinforce your character, personality, perspective of life, and values while keeping the conversation fluent.  Without explicitly saying that you’re a well-rounded person, you could speak of your hobbies with passion and have people make their own conclusions.

After a large number of conversations with random people, I’ve learned that people (including myself) love to impart advice on others. If they know something well, they would not mind giving you their personal experiences in those areas.  To me, I feel like I wish I knew the things that I know now back then, so when I see someone in one of my similar situations, it’s just common courtesy to give them the opinion.  What the person does with this data is outside of my responsibility, but if I didn’t offer it to them, to me it’s like sitting in a dirty seat on a train and then not warning someone else about to sit in it that it’s dirty.

Many times, I’ve heard forced conversations that aim for that comfort level and common theme because they treat these networking events like interviews.  Why? Why even think of interviews as their own separate category?  Are dates interviews? Is it an interview because you have a more defined purpose to the conversation?  Instead, I’d like to think of all interviews and dates as just casual conversations to form people’s characters in my mind.  Once you take away those obvious ploys to aim for the position (e.g. analyst or bf), there’s no reason to pretend or purposefully sell yourself.

On top of that, even if you get the position, it’s the interviewer’s responsibility (e.g. girl) to know whether or not you’re doing it in the long term or short term.  If you’re hired and you fool him/her with some false expectations, you’re just shooting yourself in the foot.  In the extreme case where you are actually under-qualified for the position, but you got it from selling yourself, you’ll probably suffer playing catch-up later on.

I guess I composed all of this because I can’t definitively say that I know what I want to do.  I’ve kept my options open by joining groups and getting all these random hobbies, but I’m still looking for more possibilities.  That’s where networking comes in – and not just to get connections in a sneaky way; it’s actually much more straight-forward: Tell me your story and share your experiences and conclusions with me.  I’m just taking life in every word, to the extent that it’s absurd.

~See Lemons Network

Enjoying the Process – Reaching Goals is Overrated

Is it worth it?

Random Observation/Comment #239: I am finding that more and more conversations with my peers have been focused on careers and happiness philosophies.  Why is everyone so lost at this age? Where am I?

At this particular stage of my life, my philosophy is the same as many of my peers – go with the flow and be happy along the way.  The interesting part, however, is that although the content of the thought may be the same, I feel like I am at a much later stage in my life.  I’m actually thinking more like a 55-year-old giving advice to my younger self to not waste life away, rather than an irrational 23-year-old spending an obscene amount of money in NYC.  Through the untrained eye, it may seem like the latter is true, but my excuses all lay within the former.

Let’s say, the goal in life is to insure the happiness and well-being of your close community (i.e. friends and family) in order to give yourself a purpose and position within this community.  We all want to be needed and remembered in some way, so what better way to do it than making people happy?  Although some people can be happy alone, I have come to terms with the fact that I am a social creature that feels lonely and weak without a social circle.  I feed off of my generosity to others because it makes me feel less disposable.  I am confident in what I provide to the community, and it’s not pathetic as to say that I want people to use me, but I do see a need to be accepted in some shape or form.  I’m strong enough to be different and unique, but probably not strong enough to be shunned by the rest of the world.

Anyway, if our goal is to be happy (which is not an unreasonable goal), we do a lot of planning and complete a lot of tasks to reach this goal.  We see so many things with a covetous eye because we think attaining such materials, positions, lifestyles, or whatever would take us to that happy state.  So with that goal in mind, we work hard and make sacrifices to reach that dream life or buy that flat screen TV.  And all along the way, we save money, work extra hours, and skim our life to make way for that new life with that big change.

Yet, once that goal is reached, that peak of happiness seems short-lived.  New goals appear or overlapping goals gain more interest once these things are crossed off the list.  Happiness turns to appreciation towards these possessions or situations, and things just get dull again until the next goal is reached.  What I see are long periods of sacrifice followed by short spikes in happiness.  That happiness or sense of accomplishment may be your moment of ecstasy to see all the hard work pay off, but new roles and responsibilities quickly take over as new challenges arise.

To me, this makes life a constant competition and an endless race.  You think you’re competing with your peers in order to have those moments to brag, or even just to keep up with their achievements and not lose your spot in the top 5, but once you reach the next level, your next level of peers will only bring you back to average.  Although anyone looking at you will say that you are anything but average, you’ll always think you’re mediocre because your ambition drives you further and further up.  But what is that final goal?  Is that race ever over?  When you die, did you win?

I am not saying this to make an excuse for laziness because I’m definitely not lazy.  I am not saying this to bash on ambition because I think an ambitious and career-driven person is essential to the hujman race having a future.  Actually, if it wasn’t for this ambition, capitalism and the open market would fail.  I am simply saying that some people are way too goal-oriented and therefore do not see the beauty of life along the way.  This was the most important thing I learned from my travels – the beauty of a simple life and the normalized standard of life.

I have a friend that claims that a vacation is not real life.  She claims that real life is filled with pain and disappointment; real life is supposed to be a struggle of sacrifices and hard work in order to reach higher standards; and real life is following the American dream of being that exception.  If that’s real life, than I rather stay dreaming.  I don’t understand why hard work means sacrifice if you’re working hard in something you’re genuinely interested in.  I don’t see why it’s wrong to be a cheerful person that hopes for the best and stays optimistic.  I don’t understand why people connect my current happiness with life as a lack of motivation to reach higher standards.

The truth is that I still have the same goals as most people.  I set a lot of liberal-arts-type or experience-driven goals because there’s just a part of me that puts a negative association to money.  I’ve just found that money corrupts and I wouldn’t want to work hard to lose my foot on the ground.  In some ways, just being lucky enough to have a roof over my head with electricity and running water would be some level of corruption.  There’s already so much I take for granted in life, I don’t want the value of earning a dollar to be one of them.  I wouldn’t want to see myself spend ridiculous money on luxury things that I wouldn’t essentially need just because I have more money than I can spend.

Much of life’s pleasures are very inexpensive – Beer? Wine? Mashed Potatoes? Actually, much of what I hold dear cannot be bought with all the money in the world.  You can’t buy inside jokes with friends or family bonding moments.  Well, it’s not even that you wouldn’t be able to obtain new things, it’s the fact that you can’t turn back time to get the youth that you’ve seen slip away because you worried too much about life milestones.  You may be able to put a dollar value on your time right now, but you can’t return that money to take your time back.  I rather enjoy the process and reach whatever goal I reach.  If I don’t get there right away, at least I could say I tried my best and had something to remember.

It’s simple – I’m not competing with anyone in my life, and all that chasing will always be just that – chasing.  What you have will never be enough, and if you think you need to be sad today to be happy tomorrow, it’s just important to know that tomorrow is never today.  “Let’s just stop talking about living and start living.”

~See Lemons Emphasize the Process

The Daily Grind

mini peoples

Random Observation/Comment #236: I can write a whole article about how facebook status updates are a competition of being witty or clever while telling people what you’re doing.  I won’t, but I definitely can.

The daily grind has already somewhat settled.  From the job perspective, I am strategically making myself more and more useful and indispensable in my group by prying and solidifying parts in less mature projects.  I constantly talk with coworkers around me to get a better idea of what they do so I could compare the boringness of our daily routine and perhaps choose the lesser of two evils in the long run.  I deliberately spend time just walking around to give my wrists and my eyes a rest from that damn Outlook page.

Coffee in the morning is mandatory.  By 3PM, I desperately need a nap, so I drink my second cup of coffee to stop myself from dosing off at my desk.  “Oh, look; another meeting to take place in 15 minutes, I guess I will read a techcrunch article until then.”  “A conference call with London where I have no idea what they’re talking about and their weekly support updates don’t affect me – I wonder what techmeme has to say.” “That was such a satisfyingly well written email. Wait, let me add it to my to-do list and then immediately check it off to relive the feeling of being productive.”

Anyway, I can’t be stuck doing the work of someone else’s brain-child.  I’d always want to feed my own side projects and feel, not only the rush of giving it life, but the rush of seeing it grow.  The only way I see myself completing this work is by making this project my own and giving it my own little personal flair.  I think that’s the way it should be – not some business analyst telling a code-monkey to pump out these specific features.

I don’t want to see these brilliant people become box checkers or task crosser-outers.  I want to see them smile from their managers telling them that they’ll use their ideas for the next release, or have them excited to improve the program instead of just getting the work done.  It makes me sad to see their routine, and then scared at the thought that I could become one of them.  I don’t want to be infected… Are they already part of the living dead?  What is the point of living if you’re just a sheep? – A sheep at work pleasing your boss and then a sheep at home pleasing your partner.  It’s seeing lives like these that made me consider living in the mountains.

It’s not that I don’t like this job – I’m just used to a lot more excitement and pizzazz.  Based on my track-record of hiking around the world, I guess I’m not a person you would expect to sit at my desk and work on one project.  In fact, I think most people want me to write about the torture and agony of not having the choice to leave class and take a train to Prague on a whim (Yeah, life was good).  But the truth is, if I compare anything to those 6 months, I would be rightfully depressed and living in the past.  Fortunately, for me, those memories are just there to make me smile that they happened, and not sad that they’re not happening now.  The adventure is not looking back; it’s always been moving forward with time – and with that mentality, I do not hit my head on my keyboard and build monuments on my desk with office supplies (only when I can’t find bugs).

~See Lemons in a Daily Grind

Optimization time again

organized?

Random Observation/Comment #233: As a part of Project-Wean-Back-Into-Working, I needed a small side project to help me multitask with my larger project.  This happened to be writing a blog entry.  Unfortunately, this entry got out of control and became the focus of my attention, since it was fresh with my erect passion and fire.  It took a full day, but I fully suggest this “house-cleaning” to others because it will make the rest of your life online more efficient and convenient.

Twitter lists vs Google Reader vs Email subscriptions

We really shouldn’t be revisiting every website to get updated information anymore – that takes way too long and we’re way too advanced to be wasting our time doing more than scrolling through headlines.  If the technology is out there, why not use it?

I fixed my main feeds of information, and I actually couldn’t choose between emails, RSS feeds, and Twitter. Basically, I skim through emails for shopping, use Google Reader as a techmeme, and then check for random friends’ updates and links through Twitter.  However, in all cases, I’ve revamped the subscriptions and separated everything into their perspective organizational methods.  For emails, I used gmail labels.  For Google Reader, I’ve placed each subscription into subscription folders. And for Twitter, I made separate lists and cleaned the people that were just posting annoying things. Optimized.

Gmail labels

It’s pretty obvious that I’m a big Google fan.  I mean, who isn’t (besides the paranoid people that think they’re going to take over the world)?  I’ve found their services spread across almost anything I would do online.  Although I didn’t go far enough as to completely switch to Google for everything, I am still in awe at how advanced their email system is compared to others.

One of my favorite things to have is labels.  As an organizational freak-of-nature, I must make sure things are separated so they can be easily found later on (plus, my email inbox is always so colorful with all those pretty labels).  It started with labeling for each university class so I could easily search through, for example, humanities reading assignments. After the class was completed, I’d add a “ZZ” before the label so it wouldn’t come up at the top when I’m trying to apply labels (since they show alphabetically).  But later on, this organization evolved into labeling as if it was a list or RSS feed. Even quick subscriptions are all categorized into Work, Cooper stuff, Traveling, Just FB (so I could filter by this label, select all, and then delete all of those notifications quickly), Social networks, food events, Shopping, Others, and a few other less important ones.  It doesn’t take any time to continuously update this because of Gmail filters.

Gmail filters

Gmail filters are immensely useful to automate the organization process.  In the top of Gmail, next to the search bar, there’s a “create a filter” button. Here, you could enter information for filtering from/to, subject, has words, and doesn’t have words. (Hint: The search feature will also recognize “@blah.com” and return all emails from that server.)  Once you filter the emails with these criteria, you can basically do all the email actions to them (skip inbox, mark as read, star, apply labels, forward to email, delete, or never send to spam).  I specifically use this for applying labels and starring, but I can see where “never sending to spam” action for certain addresses would be useful.

Gmail contacts condensed

Every email address you type in is saved as an “Other Contacts” so you can retrieve this email address as an auto-complete suggestion.  When I looked at my contacts list, I found that I only had less than 50 “My Contacts” compared to the 600+ “Other Contacts.”  Blasphemy! I spent about an hour doing it, but now all the contacts are perfect and also include phone numbers.  Since the iPhone syncs with the contacts list in Gmail, it only makes sense to keep one continuously updated.  Most importantly, I won’t need to post Facebook requests to resend numbers if/when I change phones.

Google Calendar

This Calendar is genius. The only downfall with the iPhone is the inability to connect with it and send Notifications and alerts the same way it does with the normal calendar.  This is actually one of the main reasons I want to switch to the Android mobile OS – it will help fuse everything into the mobile device.  Screw you, Apple, and your proprietary shit. What if I don’t want to use your Apple-only USB charger?!?

Anyway, the Calendar syncs with tasks easily and it gives me a nice platform to share the calendar with friends and family.  I don’t know if bands do this, but they should: post your tour dates on a Google Calendar so I could just follow it.  I mean, there’s a way to search for the public Calendars, right? Yes: Holidays, Sports, and More. Fantastic. They should probably also sync this with Facebook birthdays (even though they have it with My Contact’s birthdays).  Actually, they should probably sync Facebook profiles to Gmail contacts already (which would have made that hour a complete waste, but whatever).

The most interesting use of Google Calendar was something I heard from my work colleague. He said that him and his wife would update the calendar with their children’s extracurricular events, and then mark on the calendar who would “Own” the task (ie. do the driving/babysitting).  Yay for IT people and our innovative usage of technology!

Google Tasks

Crossing things off of this task list make me so happy.  Sometimes I write little things there so I could just cross them off and feel productive. “Make reservations to dinner with friends” – Check! “Eat dinner with friends” – Check! “Chew food before swallowing” – Check!  Anyway, the task list is available in Chrome as an extension, viewable from the Calendar page, and viewable as a widget from Gmail and iGoogle.

Facebook application blocking

The Facebook news feed is getting out of control.  Too many people play stupid FarmVille, MafiaWars, or whatever Facebook applications that update their status with accomplishments.  Hide >> Block Application. Win.

Chrome bookmark syncs

As a Google user, I, of course, use the Chrome web browser.  Although it isn’t as advanced as Firefox with extensions, it is making its headway and I find it much cleaner.  Plus, it’s Google. I personally like the bookmark syncing feature, which saves the bookmarks into Google Docs as a separate folder. If I’m using a different computer, I could easily log into my Google account and retrieve my bookmarks from the documents.

Digsby

I’ve only started using this site recently, but I’ve found it tremendously useful for its Global Status update feature and the combination of IM clients. There are plenty of other services similar to this, which consolidates multiple social networks, but this one seems to be working well.  All it needs now is Facebook chat and Skype, and it will replace much of my browser functionality.

It’s obvious that I’m just being anal about certain things, but I find that these little improvements will overall save time.  Does this count as being a neat freak?  Can’t you just call me an engineer?

~See Lemons Revamped