Language precision

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , ,

If you speak more than one language, how do you feel when you speak the languages that are not your primary one?

I’ve always been a proud Mandarin and English speaker, with native proficiency in both. I started off speaking Chinese as a child, then learned English when I immigrated before I turned 4. Around the age of 5, my grandmother came to visit and taught a Chinese class in our living room. When I was 8, my parents sent me to China for a year, where I attended school and was immersed in the culture and language. That helped my Mandarin a lot! I came back with stronger language skills and would return to China during summer breaks up until middle school. Meanwhile, I had been attending Chinese school since 4th grade or so.

In high school, all that dwindled as I focused on my classes, extracurriculars, and preparing for college. My junior year, I had moved from New York to California and could not find a suitable Chinese school in the area. My education in Mandarin was paused until I took a class in college. Since then, it’s been 10 years! Unbelievable. I only speak Chinese for a few hours a year now and I find myself more and more shy about it.

One of the things I was proudest of as a child was my near flawless accent. I sounded basically like a native Chinese person and did not have the accent that many of my peers had. But after years of dormancy, my language skills have been slipping. I’m perfectly fine to use Chinese when I’m in China, but in the states I often use English when Mandarin would have worked. A few days ago, I suddenly realized that this was totally silly. I’ve been trying to speak to myself in my head to practice. I didn’t want those speaking to me to judge any misuse of phrases or slight pronunciation variations I might have.

But you know what? It doesn’t matter. They don’t care if I’m fresh from China or born here. In fact, I’ve always found that Chinese people get really excited when they see that I can converse with them in the language they are more comfortable with. It doesn’t matter if I stumble over reading Chinese or if I use slang that give away some of my background. I hear plenty of people speaking English with poor grammar and strong accents, but the only way to get better is to keep going. I’m going to take the same eagerness to practice Chinese that I have when speaking to my mom and extend that to any others who understand me. Screw speaking “perfect” Mandarin! Pretty soon, I might speak far too little if I chase too high a standard.

Crunch time

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , ,

Yikes, my first b-school applications are due in one week! I’ve spent a TON of time soul-searching, reflecting, reading, listening, and thinking. I hope I’ve been able to distill my essence into a potent little package that will come across well in my essays. I’m trying to wrap those up soon so I can also do a revamp of my resume before uploading that and completing the other aspects of each app. This is really nerve-wracking!! Luckily, I have a five-day weekend to focus and work through many of the details.

I’ll mostly be offline in the coming days, but I should have time to fit in a post or two. After that, I’m thinking of bringing back more of my journaling days. I miss being able to look back on any day in my life and knowing what happened. Panda and I were trying to rehash what we did over the Christmas weekend and things were already a little fuzzy. I don’t like that feeling, so perhaps I’ll incorporate more daily life stuff into my posts here. We’ll see! Right now I’m reserving most brain power for putting my best foot forward in my applications!!

A preference for not so social media

laelene Posted in general blog

Whoa, has it really been five days since my last post?! I almost never go this long without something. I guess I was a bit too busy with life, what with a holiday party, white elephant exchange, and potluck happening at work. Without even realizing it, these days have zoomed right past me and I can hardly believe it.

While I haven’t exactly been offline in any sense, I have been a bit of a lone wolf in my activities. Watching educational videos, reading articles, playing games on my tablet… none of these require anyone else to participate with me, and so I’ve lost a bit of touch with the world. When I have Panda and the cats at home, I hardly need much else. In fact, I haven’t even opened my laptop in days! Out of sight, out of mind.

This reminds me of when my journaling dwindled at the end of college. As hectic as college was, it wasn’t until I met Panda and was thoroughly engulfed in spending time with him that I stopped writing in my daily journal. After 13 years, I let my digital “journal” replacement (this blog) take over and I no longer write in a physical notebook. At times I miss those days, but it sure was time-consuming.

Life for me is a fine balance of enjoying the experiences and recording them. I’m far too sentimental to completely give up taking photos and noting what I’ve done or thought, but if I get too obsessed with that I’m not living enough. Are you like me too?

Or are you the type who goes out, does things, and relies on memories? I’ve never been great at remembering everything that happened, probably because so much happened in my life. When you move every 3 years or so, there’s a lot to remember. Just basic info like where I’ve lived, the schools I’ve attended, the people I’ve known – each of these adds up quickly when there are so many. I think it’s easier when you’ve lived the same place and known the same people for most of your life, because all that information overlaps. If I didn’t write these down, I’d likely have forgotten them all by now.

I was very excited when social media first exploded, because it allowed me to reconnect with many of my childhood friends, who I’d long lost touch with. But with hundreds of loose connections, I don’t feel a strong need to engage consistently (or at all) most of the time. In fact, I only check my social media accounts a few times a month. I’ll go through periods where I pick it up again, but then it’s back to old habits, not paying attention.

And so it happened again, with nothing drawing me to my computer, so I got lost in other media online and forgot how long it’d been since I blogged. I try to blog 3-4 times a week, but I’ve lapsed a few times. I can hardly remember the days where I blogged daily! Granted, much of that time was when I was self-employed, so I had more time to focus on writing with greater flexibility in my schedule. I’ll have to decide the frequency that I can sustain and work to keep that going. It’s just so easy to get distracted by consuming content: books, TED Talks, business articles, even TV (which I typically don’t watch). Creation can be a lot of work, but it’s worth it.

When I dream, I don’t sleep well

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , ,

Every now and then I’ll remember a dream. It’s a pretty rare occurrence that I do not try to encourage.

Whereas many people seem to enjoy remembering a dream, or at least find my wacky ones interesting, I always hope that I can wake up with no memory of my mind’s nighttime escapades. It’s not that I don’t like remembering the dreams (though sometimes they are a bit nightmarish) – it’s just that it always seems to happen when I’m not sleeping well. So whether I dreamt because I didn’t sleep well or I didn’t feel like I slept well because I dreamt, it’s just not a good combo.

It started in my first year of college, when I decided to start writing down my dreams. I rarely remembered them, so it was pretty cool when I could. Not surprising, the more I wrote about them, the more I remembered them. It went pretty much as I expected. What I did not expect was the sheer exhaustion and lack of energy I felt from those endeavors. I was completely drained when I woke up and it only got worse. I had never noticed it because of the infrequency, but once I started to consistently wake up remembering my dreams, I quickly noticed that it was not good for my sleep.

So I stopped.

Now I’ve gone back to remembering perhaps a dream or two a year, and I like to keep it that way. For all the fantastical things that are happening in my mind at night, none of that is worth waking up unable to stay awake and function throughout the day. I’ll keep my dreams in lala land, thank you very much.

Do you have this problem too? Or do you recall your dreams with no effect of your awake life?

Travel marathon

laelene Posted in general blog

It’s been quite a couple of days, especially for Panda. I got a chance to rest up for Thanksgiving weekend, but he went to Vegas with his family and then we met up to drive to NorCal so I could do a school visit at Stanford GSB. The drive took 8 hours, due to construction and traffic! We arrived at the hotel at 3:30 am and got in about 4 hours of sleep before getting up and ready for the day.

After my scheduled meetings from 10-1, we quickly went back to the hotel and hit the road. Luckily, the drive back was much smoother and only took the expected 5.5 hours. I never want to stray too far from the 5 freeway again. The smaller roads are so cumbersome to get through and I was exhausted even as Panda helped drive the second half up.

My legs are swollen and sore, which will only get exaggerated on the plane ride. Traveling can be quite the activity! Too much stationary sitting is no good. Maybe I’ll sleep with my legs up to try to counteract the effects. I think I might want to get some compression socks in the future. I’m getting more sensitive to the physical constraints of travel as I get older.

So that was my extended vacation. What did you do for the long weekend?

Uncontainable Conscious Capitalism

laelene Posted in general blog, reviews

I just read the book Uncontainable by Kip Tindell, CEO of The Container Store, and found it to be a delightful read – or “yummy” as he would say. I had no idea that TCS was such a strong brand with an admirable corporate culture. After learning more, I wonder why I didn’t hear about their values sooner. With an employees-first view, they’ve made a successful business that thrives from the love they pour into their people. They don’t see business as a zero-sum game and believe that everyone can win. Yes, that means the business, its employees, its customers, and its stakeholders.

Most businesses do not operate that way, and it’s a pity. What TCS and other strong brands like Whole Foods, Southwest Airlines, and Panera Bread have done is what they termed Conscious Capitalism. They operate in a way that serves a higher purpose beyond profit and they do so by adhering to values that inspire better work (and thus leads to greater profitability). I like this idea, that making a profit is not a bad thing – money is not a bad thing. But that doesn’t mean we should be cutthroat and see everyone else’s wins as our losses. Quite the contrary: you can position yourself to be more successful by thinking of others and taking a more wholistic approach.

I absolutely believe this is a better way to do business, much like the triple bottom line idea of people, planet, and profit. These philosophies share the basic tenet that serving one’s interest can benefit others and doesn’t need to harm them. I really enjoyed reading about a success story that illustrates good business practices, particularly treating employees well. (Side note, I don’t like the term employee and team member seems too clunky. Any alternate suggestions?)

What I also enjoyed was how I felt like I could see Kip’s personality in his words. Some parts got repetitive when he shared the same idea again, but it felt like he had deep conviction and the tone was so accessible. I like his style and honesty. There are certainly some things I would do differently based on my own values, but they are nonetheless spades better than most any other company out there. I do hope his vision of a future where Conscious Capitalism is the normal way of business becomes a reality. I’ll certainly do my part.


laelene Posted in general blog

I didn’t want to continue blogging like nothing was happening in the world. The attacks in Paris are just too horrific to ignore and I still can’t believe it. That city has had to withstand so much this year and I feel for them.

Last night I was watching my college’s football game, feeling bummed out that we ultimately lost. But in comparison to what happened in France, my perspective changed. Instead I am grateful that I was able to watch the game without fear of an attack. That my friends and fellow Bruins could rally at the Rose Bowl and be safe. I’m glad that we are not on lockdown and that we have not had attacks.

I can’t imagine what it’s like in Paris now. Certainly nothing like the amazing city we were in just a month ago. I’m fortunate we got to travel through Europe safely and I hope the Parisiens get their city back to normal soon. I know it can be a long, hard path. Americans have felt similarly for 14 years, but resilience will win out.

In honor of the souls lost and the brave people who helped the survivors, I wanted to pay tribute. It’s a small piece but I wanted to send goodwill out into the world wide web, from my little corner of it. We will stand united and we will overcome. <3 Vive La France

The creators, the inventors, the doers

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

I’ve always admired people who can make something. Maybe it’s gadgets or maybe it’s music. Maybe it’s art or maybe it’s crafts. It just amazes me when they can take their skills to produce an end result that we can use or enjoy again and again.

For years I wished I could be a creative. Come up with things, produce things that others would admire me for. In fact, recently I’ve been contemplating YouTube videos. Putting content out there that people could listen to and relate to, now that’s creation! I looked in admiration at all types of people who had found their passion as a child, couldn’t stop creating, and eventually followed a path to put out amazing things. “What about me?” I thought as I reflected on skills I wish I had, like making soap or cooking or singing or dancing.

Yet all this time, I never realized that I have been creating. This very blog, in fact.

For some reason, because it’s not something I can open up an Etsy shop for or record a video or audio file of, I never considered it creating. Why did I not see it earlier? This IS content, and truly one of the original forms. And I (*gasp*) am creating it! Whoa.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been writing for so much of my life that it became the norm. I don’t even notice all I’ve written. At 10 years old, I began keeping a daily journal. 13 years later, I stopped upon meeting Panda, but by then I had been blogging on the side. So then blogging started to take hold until it became the primary way I kept track of my life. I’d share thoughts and experiences and now it’s become a place for my memories. Whenever I want to share something with friends, I can easily do a search of the 2300+ entries on my blog to pull up a post. It’s very much a part of me and an extension of me.

This is what I’ve realized: I am creative. I write blog posts. I am inventive. I constantly think of new topics to share. I am a doer. I built and manage the website for it all.


On not feeling good enough

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , , ,

We all get to a point where we feel like a failure. Maybe you haven’t gotten there yet. But the longer you sail through life without smacking into a wall, the harder it will be to adjust and overcome.

That’s a lesson I learned the hard way.

Academically, life was pretty much a breeze up until high school. It got a bit tougher then, but I still graduated in the top 10% of the class (or was it 5%?). I got into a respectable college – UCLA – and began my undergraduate career. The first year, things were pretty good. I managed to get over a 3.5 GPA so I made the Dean’s Honor List and joined ALD/PES (the National Honor Societies). My second year, the grades slipped a bit. Perhaps I was distracted by pledging for my fraternity, AKPsi. My third year, I studied abroad in the UK and my grades kept going down. I figured that the different grading system and structure might have contributed. When I came back for my fourth year, the trend only continued. At this point I might have begun to realize that as classes got progressively harder, I wasn’t adapting.

It took me a long time to figure out what was happening. The lesson I learned about myself is that all those years of doing it on my own and having learning come easily did not prepare me to know how to handle adversity. In one of my last classes before graduating, I was actually afraid of failing the class. An absolutely scary prospect for someone who spent most of her education getting A’s. So in desperation, I asked my roommate for some help. She was also in the class and got the concepts way better than me. And you know what? She was able to explain things to me in a way that really helped my understanding! It was amazing.

Ironically, when I was younger, I tutored and mentored children. I did not realize the impact that could have had on them. I figured I was just helping out, spending some time with them and sharing some knowledge. It wasn’t until I was on the other side of the table that I learned the power of extra help. I’ve never been tutored in my life. I’ve never gone to the teacher for help. I can’t really remember truly engaging in a study group either. I thought study groups were for people to sit in the same area and do their own work. After over 15 years of schooling, I finally began to see the impact of having support.

It’s not like I didn’t know about support being out there. I just never associated it with myself. I had never learned how to reach out and use the resources out there. I hadn’t known to ask for help.

Is that strange? Am I alone in this? Or perhaps it is more commonly an Asian thing?

Whatever the case, looking back at my college track record makes me feel pretty awful. Had I known how to empower myself with better learning, what would I have gotten? Could I have graduated with honors, with distinction? Panda’s college story tells almost the exact opposite story. He started off a little lower than me, but as he got into the upper division courses, he got better. He was hitting his stride with classes in his major that was really fit for him. I wasn’t finding the joy in diving deeper into my chosen majors. Maybe I should have double majored in something else. Maybe I should have majored and minored instead. But maybe it was that one factor all along, that I just didn’t know how to ask for help or how to identify when I needed it in the first place.

I’ve learned since then and I hope it’s not too late to apply that to my next academic pursuit. I still find it hard to reflect on how I’m doing and get help when I need it. Being aware of the issue is only half the battle. It takes a conscious effort to continually address it so it’s not neglected.

Now I certainly hope that you don’t have to face extreme adversity in your life. Yet by experiencing that low in life, you learn a lot and you grow from that. So in a way, I hope that you do face challenges, so you can build up your resiliency.

In fact, that reminds me of when Panda failed for the first time. It was a training program and he made a mistake that meant he didn’t pass the course. He had to do the whole program over again at a later date. I remember he called me sounding so dejected. He did not handle it well. The amount of stress and worry was far more than necessary, but I think because he hadn’t really experienced failure before that, he didn’t know how to deal with it. It just made him feel like he couldn’t do it at all. Luckily, we talked through it, did not let it get out of proportion, and built up his confidence again so he could pass the next time. It really takes experience to go through something like that and learn the hard-won lessons of how to be better.

So if you ever feel like you’re a failure or you’re not good enough, remind yourself of what you can learn by pushing through it and growing with it. The lessons from the experience will be more valuable than the ultimate outcome. That’s what I’m doing now as I apply for b-schools. It’s tough but it will be worth it!

A freezing office was killing our productivity

laelene Posted in general blog, lifestyle glimpses,Tags: , , ,

For months, the temperature of the office was almost a daily topic of discussion. It was always freezing for at least half of us, and a comfortable cool for the others. It got to the point where I had to wear at least two jackets in the office (which was pretty ridiculous considering it was blazing hot outside). Why waste all that energy to overcompensate for the external heat? Why does it always get SO cold in offices in the summer? It’s really counterproductive.

I would spend my days chugging hot water. The moment I stopped, I’d feel the numbing cold and have trouble focusing on anything else. It was dreadful to spend so much of my work hours uncomfortable and even in pain at times. Those of us who were cold were constantly thinking about how to stay warm, which couldn’t have been good for our productivity. I mean, I actually brought in a blanket that I put on my chair and wrapped around my legs when I worked. Many of us had little heaters at our desks as well, but after one blew a fuse, they weren’t allowed anymore.

Every couple of days, our office manager would call in the maintenance guys who would tell us everything was fine and the temperature was not abnormally low. Tell that to our icy cold hands. Finally, one day one of the sales folks joked about it being like a meat locker in the office – were we trying to keep raw meat from going bad? That sparked a discussion about how insanely cold it was and I shared an article about productivity in warmer temperatures. Some quotes from that article:

When our body’s temperature drops, we expend energy keeping ourselves warm, making less energy available for concentration, inspiration, and insight.

A forthcoming paper from researchers at UCLA even shows that brief exposure to warmer temperatures leads people to report higher job satisfaction.

When we experience warmth, we experience trust. And vice versa.

We know that cold temperatures worsen productivity. What new research is showing is that it can also corrode the quality of our relationships.

Great workplaces aren’t simply the product of good organizational policies. They emerge when employees connect with one another and form meaningful relationships that engender trust. What’s often overlooked is that connections don’t operate in a vacuum.

It seems obvious that the temperature of a restaurant or theater can alter our experience. So why do we continue to neglect it in the workplace?

It makes sense after all, since if you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the very basis of survival includes physiological needs. How could be possibly expect to be able to operate well in relationships and higher level thinking and work if we couldn’t even satisfy the innate need for body function? Obviously our resources would be redirected towards trying to alleviate that unmet need, not leaving much room for the work we were supposed to be doing.

After this rather lengthy discussion, complete with pictures of how people were piling on the layers to combat the cold, we finally got the thermostat changed. Suddenly, I could wear only one jacket, and a light one at that! Sometimes after drinking my mug of hot water I could even take off the jacket momentarily. It was amazing and immediately lifted the mood of all those who had been freezing before. Now temperature is hardly a consideration at work. Sometimes the office still feels cold, but not nearly as bad. Hopefully it will continue to stay at a steady 74 degrees or higher. Those who didn’t mind the cold before certainly don’t seem to be too hot in this new temperature.

I’m much happier and can actually focus on work without having to consider how to stay warm throughout the day. It’s pretty incredible that something pretty simple took so long to fix (and that it feels oh so rewarding). I no longer yearn to work from home just so I could feel my fingers when I type. Isn’t that glorious?

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