Happy Leap Day!

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I know it’s not a true holiday, but it sure feels like it should be. Today was one of the quietest days at the office, with a surprising number of people leaving early. Tomorrow are primary elections so a lot of kids are home and it’ll likely be another quiet day at the office.

In the future, I hope that I’ll be at a company where we can celebrate Leap Day by encouraging people to get one more day of trying something new. I mean, it’s only once every fortyear…

I celebrated with a colleague by taking advantage of Melting Pot’s $29 4-course deal. We saved over $10 each! It was great to slowly enjoy our meal and chat about all sorts of random things. Wouldn’t it be nice to get an extra day here and there to enjoy quality time with others?

So what did you do on this Leap Day?

How many places have you lived?

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Seems like an innocent question, no? And for most, it’s pretty simple to answer.

But for me, it requires some clarifying: what do you consider a place? A town, a region, an actual building/unit? And what do you mean by “lived?” A place you consider a home? A place you spent a certain amount of time at? A place where you had a bed?

See for me, each of those results in a different answer. This question is laden with possible answers, much like the similar “Where are you from?” Things aren’t so straightforward when there are moves abound in your life. In different contexts, I use different ways of identifying with a place I’ve been. For example, Penn State University at State College in Pennsylvania, where we lived on Apple street in two graduate apartments. I choose to use any of the five potential ways to identify with that part of my life depending on what I’m connecting with. Is it the memory of fishing with my dad in the first apartment? The cooking I remember my mom doing and the teaching I remember my grandma doing in the second apartment? Is it the fact that Pennsylvania was the first area we lived in (in America) and because of that we had Amish friends who invited us to their home Christmas? Is it that we’d enjoy delicious ice cream and I enjoyed perusing the cool gemstone exhibit at the university? The one I connect least with is State College, but it comes up when discussing connections to cities.

So the next time you ask someone about the places they’ve lived, pay attention to how they express themselves. Do they talk about the general area, perhaps by country/state/province? Do they instead focus on the actual city, or even the town? These are interesting clues to which part of their experiences and memories they connect with more strongly. And when you answer the questions, consider how you feel most comfortable discussing it. You might learn more about yourself than you had paid attention to before.

In case you’re curious, here’s my tally…

If a place is a town: Shenyang, Jieshou, State College, Topeka, Ballwin, Brewster, Valencia, Westwood, York, Singapore (Clementi?), El Segundo, Centreville, Chantilly. 13

If a place is a region: Northeastern China, Anhui Province, Pennsylvania, Topeka, St. Louis, New York/Connecticut, the Greater Los Angeles area, Northern UK, Singapore, Northern Virginia/DC Metro. 10

If a place is a building or unit: dozens! Laolao’s home, Nainai’s home, Apple St. grad housing, across the street housing, Topeka townhouse, Topeka house, Laolao’s new place, St. Louis apartment, St. Louis house, Connecticut hotel, New York house, Valencia apartment, Valencia house, first year dorm, second year dorm, UK dorm, summer apartment, fourth year dorm, summer dorm, final quarter apartment, Singaporean friend’s, Singaporean coworker’s, Panda’s apartment, Panda’s summer dorm, El Segundo apartment, Virginia apartment, and Virginia condo. 27

If lived means where I’ve considered home: Shenyang, Jieshou, Penn State, Topeka, St. Louis, New York, LA, and Virginia. 8

If lived means where I’ve spent more than 6 months: Shenyang, Jieshou, State College, Topeka, St. Louis, New York, Valencia, Westwood, York, El Segundo, Centreville, and Chantilly. 12

If lived means where I’ve had to be since I couldn’t crash elsewhere: I’d say that pretty much is exactly the same as the building interpretation of “place” as mentioned above. 27 again

Of course, different combinations of the “place” and “lived” concepts yield different results. I went with what I felt most comfortable with. What would your lists look like?

Zooming time

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I don’t know what is going on, but my sense of time recently has been all out of wack. Was it already two days ago that I last posted? I feel like it’s been a blink of the eye. The hours at night always seem that way, yet the daytime hours drag. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was blogging?

Ooooh! I just realized that the clock is after midnight…

Well I guess this is a sign that I’m too tired to be up much longer. At least I know I’m not completely crazy. Nonetheless, time does feel very odd these days. Too fast yet too slow all at once. You ever feel that?

Wounded soul

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wounded soul poem

The sadness in his eyes…

Hidden behind a veil of indifference

Yet —

Deep in his wounded soul

A broken heart

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?


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. 🙂

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