Hello Brits!

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I was checking my Alexa rank today, wondering what sort of influence people might think I have as a blogger and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I’m ranking in the UK! If you’re not familiar with Alexa ranks, it basically tells you how trafficked your website is. So the number is telling you that you’re in the top ## of active websites.

I typically hover in the 2 million mark globally and 700-800k in the US. Two years ago, I was randomly ranking in Turkey at around 100k (with 60,491 as my best). Since then I haven’t ranked in a foreign country as far as I know. But today, what a cool thing to see that nearly HALF my traffic is from the UK and I’m 177,368th in line.

alexa rank 2.10.16

Most US-based bloggers will see at least 80% of their traffic come from the US, so there must be something in the air to make all these Brits visit my site. Pretty cool and a fun little fact to make me smile. If I ever find myself focusing on building my blog more, I’ll aim to bring my global rank back down below 1 million. The best I ever had was 884,613 two years ago (whoa, on Panda’s birthday, I just noticed :)). My best US rank was 180,889 about a month before that. I’d love to beat those numbers again one day. It’s fun to see traffic grow and watch the ranks improve!

So wherever you are, I’d love to see you stick around.

Do it for yourself

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After watching the Macklemore interview at TEDxPortland and hearing his parting words about not letting perfection stop you from starting, it made me think about creation. Humans are drawn to creating things, whether crafts or art or even ideas. Maybe you’re a musician or a knitter, a woodworker or a mathematician. In each, you may feel the pressure to perform well again and again. It’s easy to overthink the result you want and intimidate yourself from even trying.

If you set out to craft the perfect song, sweater, cabinet, or statistical equation, you will likely get very discouraged along the way. Does it mean you shouldn’t try? For fear of producing complete junk, you might convince yourself you’re not good enough. But if it’s something you want, something you crave – then give it a shot. You might find that you do suck. You might have many restarts and edits. That’s really the price of improvement though.

Even the best out there have times where they do not like what they produce. The difference is that for the love of the craft, of the art they produce, they keep pushing forward. And with that they see incremental improvements. Nobody can produce amazing new pieces every time. Creativity takes honing and skills take practice.

Beyond that, even if you aren’t that great, as long as it fulfils your heart, I think it’s still worth it. The experience of doing your craft or art will be immensely rewarding in itself when it’s what you love. No one can take that away from you. Sometimes you should do it just to do it. It may never become what you make a living from and you may never get that good at it, but what matters is what you get out of it. The pleasure, the feeling of accomplishment, the wonderful memories – those are worth more. If you love it, do it for yourself.

For me, this blog is one thing that I choose to do for myself. I don’t consider myself to be a great writer, but I enjoy sharing my thoughts, experiences, memories, and more. There are times I post something wondering if the writing was completely awful and if I should share it at all. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter; I’m drawn to blogging and it brings me a sense of accomplishment no matter how well I might be doing it. It’s not that I don’t want more readers… it’s just that I would rather produce what I like and not feel pressured to do things a certain way to gain more readership. So I focus on what I enjoy and hope that it provides value to others. If not, it at least pleases me.

So don’t hold yourself back from something you truly enjoy doing! Go do it for yourself. 🙂

The thoughts that hold us back

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What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

I’ve been watching a lot of Sheryl Sandberg and almost every speech is about that. Empowering yourself by stripping away fear and facing it head on. Identifying what it is that you’re afraid to do, then going and doing it.

What I’ve wanted to do for a long time is discuss some of the internal challenges that we face at my company. There have been a lot of things going on that are far from ideal and it makes me wonder if those running the company are not aware of these things or if they don’t find it a priority. I want to at least bring it up so it’s in their conscious, if it’s not already. And if it is, I’d like to convince them that these issues I’ve noticed are important.

Sheryl’s message of leaning in made me think about some of the thoughts and beliefs that hold me back from the things I want to do. One of the saddest things is the people in my life who don’t get it. Time and time again, the people I’ve told have said, “Don’t do it.”

The message is clear. Don’t bring up issues in the workplace, you’ll look like a whiner. Don’t open up a line of communication lest they think you’re out to get them. Don’t put your job in jeopardy. Don’t say anything. Don’t do it.

These are the philosophies that hold me back. They give me pause whenever I want to stand up for what I believe in. I’m not exactly afraid of losing my job, if that would actually happen (which I honestly don’t think would). So what am I afraid of?

It’s actually not that my family and friends will think of me differently. It’s that they’ve given me doubt as to whether I’ll be able to express myself and communicate what I’m trying to effectively. Because I believe that if it comes out right, my company will see that I care about improving it, that I want to do that. I’m not pointing out problems I’ve experienced just to complain about it, but because I want to work on a way forward. Yet I can see that this intention can easily be misconstrued and it sort of happened before.

So I’m afraid of how lightly I might need to tread. Will I inadvertently set off a landmine even as I seek a clear path to something better? I know in theory what I’d like to share, but I can’t control how it will be interpreted. That’s the greatest danger. But instead of pointing out all the reasons not to, I wish my loved ones would support me and brainstorm with me. What I need is allies, not contrarians.

If you have any thoughts that are holding you back, do whatever you need to give yourself permission to do what you want. I’ve wanted to do this for so long that I know I will regret it if I don’t. Now it’s off to drafting notes and practicing what I might say. I’ve got to be true to myself.

No such thing as a weakness

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You know, with all the evaluation I’ve done of myself recently, I kept coming to the topic of strengths and weaknesses. I’ve come to think that there aren’t actually strengths and weaknesses out there. A strength or a weakness tends to be thought of as a trait. But to me, they are skills you are better or worse at. (This is a similar idea to flatsides, as laid out by Wistia.)

“I’m great at communicating,” you might say. Then you have probably spent time working on how you express yourself. If you’re not a strong communicator, you probably haven’t practiced extensively.

You can have skills that are underdeveloped and those that are overdeveloped. Everything ends up being on a sliding scale of more or less. Each person’s interpretation of where the scale tips from good to bad is at a different spot. In addition, regardless of your level of skill at any one thing, it simultaneously means good and bad things. Different people manage to interpret the “goodness” of these skills differently.

For example, let’s say you’re very detail-oriented. As a strength, that’s great when you need to proofread documents or measure things or be accurate in calculations. As a weakness, it may mean you are very nit-picky with people and get caught up in the minutia so you forget to consider the big picture. While some people may admire your ability for precision and accuracy, others might find it tedious to have every little thing critiqued or pointed out.

On the other hand, if you’re not detail-oriented at all, you may well be thinking in a larger scope. You might be the type of person who sees how the pieces connect, or your energy is focused on creating something new without putting a microscope to every idea. Ultimately doesn’t it come down to how far out or in you choose to zoom your focus? Someone more zoomed in may notice minor changes while someone more zoomed out may notice more patterns.

Each skill can be useful in its own place.

I can see pros and cons in just about every scenario: someone who is boisterous can be seen as wonderfully sociable or awfully obnoxious; someone who is often doing things for others might be seen as generous or nosing into others’ business; someone who is empathetic could be seen as kindhearted or overly emotional…

So I believe that weaknesses are merely strengths we haven’t harnessed (or are even a strength in hiding). Each speaks to a skill that you have more or less of. So strengths are really skills that we’ve developed more and weaknesses are skills that we haven’t developed much, if at all. And even strengths are weaknesses from another light, and vice versa. That’s why I imagine skills as a bit of a seesaw, with two traits on either side.

Let’s say there’s a seesaw about the skill “talking,” with loud on one end and quiet on the other. As you move closer towards loud, you get further from quiet. Positive interpretations include things like noticeable and energetic. Negative interpretations include things like rowdy and disruptive. Then as you move closer towards quiet, you see a shift to positive interpretations like pensive and polite, negative interpretations like invisible and unapproachable.

It may be the case that none of these interpretations are true! But that’s how I envision skills. A spectrum where more of something is less of something else and there is no absolute good or bad. You choose where you want to fall along the way, depending on your personality and values. Similarly, that colors how you interpret the very skills of others.

So what this comes down to is the idea that any skill can be developed and the ones you choose to focus on reflect who you are. You might have a so-called weakness, but your strength probably lies elsewhere. If you feel like you should improve the skill involved, work on it! But if you feel like that’s who you want to be, then don’t feel the pressure to change. We won’t all be good at everything and be everything to everyone.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that being authentic to yourself unlocks your potential. It frees you to be the most awesome version of yourself! So don’t worry about “weaknesses” – think about if it’s a skill you want to improve. It may very well be one that doesn’t jive with you and you can embrace that. The beauty of humanity is our variation and our choices to be so, don’t you think?

The crazies next door

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At work, we’ve had about half of the floor for the past two years and now we’re taking over the rest of it. It’s nice to have the place to ourselves and my colleagues and I were reminiscing about some of the strange folks who worked across the way.

For the most part, it seemed to be the bathroom behavior of the ladies that drew a lot of raised eyebrows from our office. For example, many of these ladies would take phone calls in the restroom. Didn’t matter if they were in a stall or just standing by the sinks, it was awkward. Who wants to walk in on a phone conversation and have to do your business?

Yeah.

I mean, I understand that they’re a more traditional office so they can’t take calls in their space, but there’s plenty of hallway and it’s not hard to hop on an elevator to stroll around the lobby or even outside. It got to the point where someone actually printed a sign to ask them to take their calls outside the restroom.

Then there was a random woman who would apparently bang her head on the wall, consistently and very much out in the open by the paper towel dispenser. I never actually ran into that situation, but two of my colleagues described it and one said that when she asked the woman if she was ok, she was ignored. Maybe this was some sort of trance? Again, not something that makes you comfortable walking into a restroom.

And then there were the grooming habits that went on in there, with folks washing their faces, brushing their teeth, flossing, or even applying nail polish. I don’t understand why any of these matters would be so urgent that you must do it midday at your office (usually around 2 pm). I mean, if it was at the end of the day, I can see how you might need to tidy up before going straight to an evening event. But when you’re still going to be sitting at the office for a few more hours, what is that really accomplishing?

Granted, these behaviors were certainly less odd, but the most uncomfortable was the flosser who would let things fly out of her mouth and never clean the sink area when she was done. Ick. For someone who seems to care about hygiene, that is not a very hygienic behavior.

And finally, for those who did take their calls in the hallway, there was always one girl who seemed to argue on every single call and have no qualms about airing her laundry (dirty or not). You’d think private conversations would either not be spoken so loudly or be taken somewhere out of the way. Alas, she did neither and nearly all of our office heard her complaints at one point or another. Yet another awkward situation to walk into and ignore.

Suffice it to say, we do not miss the oddballs in bathroom or hallway. Funny enough, they apparently found us odd. It seems that our choice of clothing – not business casual – was something for them to raise their eyebrows over. Good thing they don’t work out west! I can only imagine how they’d react to flip flops, hoodies, and board shorts if our everyday wear was strange to them. So I guess we’re all crazy in someone else’s eyes.

Tick tock

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Wow, I’m tired! I’ve been obsessively going through applications, reading and rereading everything I input to make sure it’s all accurate. So far three deadlines have passed and I’ve submitted four of six applications. I’ll send in one more tomorrow night and then the final one over the weekend! Oh my, I can’t believe it’s that time. Now I can’t wait to hear back, fingers crossed. I really feel like I have a good chance with the essays I put together and I hope that the admissions committees agree.

Each night I’ve had Panda review my final work to help catch minor typos and also give feedback on how strong my message is. I’ve made some modifications based on his reactions to parts of my applications that weren’t as strong and I feel really good about it all! I’ve worked really hard, read A TON, and incorporated everything I was learning and thinking into how I approached my applications. In a few short days I can breathe a sigh of relief that this stage is complete and I can put some more energy back into work and exercise.

If I don’t start hearing about interviews in about a month, I’ll be getting worried. Surely I’ll get a few! For now, I need sleep so I can finalize two more awesome applications. 🙂

Braindead

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Happy 2016! It’s a new year and I feel so out of touch with the season, what with El Nino making this winter very mild thus far. I’m looking forward to the first snow of the year and I think many others might be too, despite my coworkers who claim to hate it.

I’ve been heads down reading books to learn about business ideas and applying that towards my essays and applications. I just went through and typed alllllll the tedious bits to the applications, which took a lot longer than I expected! I’ll put together a post of things I learned and tips for anyone else who might be applying to schools. I guess it’s been so long that I forgot about some of the nuances.

So with that, I will leave you pretty quickly today so I can rest for one more day. I’m not ready for work again, what with all my applications due in the next week! It’s so surreal that I’m at that point and will soon have no applications to work on. That means I’ll have more energy to read all the books I want though. 🙂

Three decades

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1985 – The year I was born. My dad had left China to go to grad school at Penn State. Not much else happened since it was quickly a new year!

1986 – The year my mom left to join my dad at Penn State.

1987 – The year I was raised by my grandparents and extended family. Of course I have little recollection of this, except for a vague memory of my grandma chasing me around the sandbox trying to feed me rice.

1988 – The year my future husband was born! Little did I know that there was this boy on the other side of the world.

1989 – The year I immigrated to reunite with my parents, who were basically strangers to me at that point.

1990 – The year I was studied by education grad students at Penn State as part of my child care. My mom even clipped an article about the research with a picture of me in it. I remember they had really awesome ice cream for a special event each year and I thought the minerals display was magical because the stones all seemed to glow in the dark.

1991 – The year we moved to Kansas and I started kindergarten. I learned that I was really good at memorizing the Peter Rabbit play. I believe this was also the year that my mom made me an awesome lion mane from yarn, so I could be a lion in a play.

1992 – The year we moved from a townhouse to a house house and I changed schools. This was just the beginning of being the new kid at many places!

1993 – The year I made my first best friend, who was a year younger than me. I loved going to her house to do something crafty like those baked art things. I believe this was also the year my dad got in a really bad car accident and I drew him a picture of us and our pet snapping turtle, which he had caught fishing at the lake.

1994 – The year my parents sent me back to China to stay with my other grandma for a year. I went to class with my cousin, who’s a year older than me, and was basically lost in most topics except for English (where I was far too advanced). I ended up never going to third grade in either China or the US. My language skills improved immensely according to my parents, though I feel I’ve always been pretty good! 😛

1995 – The year I returned to Kansas and went on to fourth grade as if I never left the school district. I had a special tutor who taught me cursive because that was really the one thing I missed in third grade. So I’m really good with cursive (if you can tell the difference between the Q and Z then you probably are too), yet who even uses it? I journaled in cursive for awhile just to keep practicing. Speaking of, this is the year I started my daily journal because I reeeeally wanted a diary that was being sold at the Scholastic Book Fair and my dad made me promise to write in it every day. Little did he know I’d keep doing that for 13 years, even when he and my mom would figuratively roll their eyes and question why I spent so much time doing it.

1996 – The year we moved to Missouri because my dad decided to leave his local government job and move to the private sector. I was doing well in school, so I was chosen to be a traffic monitor for the kindergarteners and I got to miss part of class each day to walk the kids to the buses. I think I still have the silver badge and orange belt I wore. I played a Native American in a school play about Lewis & Clark. Around this time I got my first cat Tom/Mimi in Kansas and then Jerriey in Missouri.

1997 – The year I had a pseudo boyfriend over the summer (this guy I had a major crush on who I told on the bus the last day of school – was started calling each other and I walked to his house to take walks with him and his bouncy ball). I started middle school that fall (and maybe this is TMI but I got my period after two years wondering when this whole puberty thing would hit). I think this is when we found a Chinese school for me to start attending on the weekends. Or maybe it was the following year?

1998 – The year I moved during winter break and the only time my education was split in the winter rather than the summer. My first half of seventh grade was in Missouri and my second half was in New York. This led to some incongruency in the classes I was taking and what I learned. At this point, I had chosen French for my foreign language after testing out Japanese, Spanish, and I think German. My school in Missouri had us learn all four language options in 6th grade so we could better choose one to continue with in 7th.

1999 – The year I settled in New York, found friends with a group of girls, and decided to join track & field. This was the stage when I decided that of my three career options, I most liked businesswoman. The other two options were doctor or engineer. I don’t know if my parents said this to me or I inferred that they’d want one of those. Well, this is when my dream to get an MBA was born! We got Jerriey a friend, my third cat Simon.

2000 – The year we all thought Y2K would shut down the world, so my parents and I went to Times Square for NYE to watch what would happen… and of course nothing did. Alas, it was still historic! I started high school and joined the founding swim team as well as NJROTC.

2001 – The year I took 11 classes – one on Monday nights, two alternated days, and the other either were during the remaining 8 class periods in the day. I did not have a lunch period (is that still legal?) so I’d grab something right before ROTC class. Usually a sandwich or Gatorade and Rice Krispies. Yeah, I’ve always had a penchant for junk food. One Tuesday morning, I was in math when the principal came in and said something to our teacher. I remember she was young and a strawberry blonde type. The shock on her face as she told us about the Twin Towers did not help me grasp the situation. I think she cried. We were all so stunned and in the next class, we just huddled and watched the TV looping awful footage. One of my classmates found out his aunt had died and many others weren’t sure of their impact. One of the planes must have flown right over our area just an hour earlier. I was grateful my mom was home and my dad was on business. We waited as the buses came to take us all home and then we sat glued to the TV, watching the same horrific scenes. I later learned that my mom felt she got lucky because she had nearly taken a job in one of the towers. Meanwhile, my dad had heard the plane flying way too low over his hotel on its way to the Pentagon. Closer calls than I ever expected, but thankfully still plenty out of the way for us all.

2002 – The year my parents and I moved from New York to California and I felt miserable. I did not like this new state at all and I was forced to choose between track and swimming. Swimming won out because my dad’s coworker had a daughter on the team. I also had to switch to AFJROTC because there was no Navy unit in the area. Luckily, I got to keep all my ribbons so I ended up having more than anyone else!

2003 – The year I learned that I was deterred by guys who showed interest in me. When my crush asked me to winter formal, I balked and never liked him again. I felt awful, but we reconciled and now he’s married to one of my best friend’s sister. I also had a foray into Christianity, but it turns out my “faith” was a feeling I couldn’t figure out and it was actually my feelings for said crush. Simon got lost while out playing and we never saw him again. 🙁

2004 – The year I graduated high school and started college at UCLA! I had the longest summer since we were the last school to start and I ended up joining Facebook to get a head start on making friends.

2005 – The year I interned on a movie, Wristcutters. I mean, it’s LA. I did enjoy it, but didn’t feel the need to make a career of it.

2006 – The year I pledged AKPsi and then interned at Smith Barney for the summer before moving to the UK to study abroad.

2007 – The year I absolutely loved being abroad, making international friends and living such a different lifestyle. I returned after a year and attended Monster DLP before interning at UCLA Live! and working as a product demonstrator (more about those jobs if you like).

2008 – The year I met Panda, became an Orientation Counselor, and graduated from UCLA. <3 Jerriey had been moved to Beijing with my parents and he died while we were on vacation in Cancun. </3

2009 – The year I moved to Singapore for a stint out there that was my first job out of college. When I returned in the fall, I interned for Opportunity Green and really got into sustainability.

2010 – The year I got my first “real” full-time, salaried job. I stayed with Panda in his apartment by UCLA most of the time and got to stay close to Bruin life.

2011 – The year I moved close to work and began to take yoga. Panda moved out to the greater DC area, though he was able to visit almost once a month. I got Missy and Molly!

2012 – The year I quit my job and decided to strike out on my own. I didn’t have much opportunity for growth at work, so they had kind of seen it coming. I was also struggling with not being able to see Panda as much anymore (he was traveling less) and I had long wanted to be an entrepreneur.

2013 – The year I transitioned from self-employment back to working at a company and officially moved out east. I learned that my entrepreneurial bug is something best satisfied with a co-founder. Solo work is so very lonely and not the type of environment I find invigorating. Panda got his Master’s degree and proposed to me on commencement day! We then found our dream condo and got the keys in December.

2014 – The year Panda and I got married with a simple ceremony at the courthouse with my parents, his parents, and his brother as witnesses. We’re not much for hoo ha. Early in the year, we moved into our first home and got Smokey from the shelter.

2015 – The year Panda and I had our 1-year anniversary “wedding” celebration with some extended family: my aunt and cousins and his uncle, aunt, and cousin. In January, I flew Missy from LA so she could live with us and Smokey would have a fur sister.

And that brings me to my 30th! This is the only time in my life when the dates match my age: on the 29th, I was 29 and on the 30th, I was 30. Fun, huh? Or am I just a numbers nerd? Whatever the case, I hear the 30’s are a time when you get into a rhythm of life and become more in tune with who you are. I certainly hope that I make good progress towards my goals and better understanding myself. I plan on making 2016 the year I went off to start my MBA. And there will be so much awesomeness to follow. 🙂

Language precision

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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

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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!!

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