Happy New Year.

I have a confession to make. While I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, I know what I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be my parents. My parents are wonderful in their own ways. There is no question about it. But every time I come home, the semblance of tranquility, and the feeling that everything is okay, is frayed at the edges. Home is tinged with a despondency that can be overwhelming. Perhaps this is accentuated by the holidays with its tendency to force appearances of levity and leisure.

My life has been dominated by money and its value – what you can afford to do and to have. Its not what my parents intended, I’m sure. But when every decision is made with the underlying crux being money, it becomes hard to ignore. With each choice, you can see the balances gathering weight. Of course, this is for good reason and done with the best intentions. After all, we want to be able to eat next month. It just has a number of consequences. Chronic financial stress can be some of the worst kind.

The value of money in my life was reaffirmed this holiday, when my mom, to ensure that I understood the “value” of our gifts, told us their cost. It made me sad. Why should value be understood based on its price? The worst part is that it worked. I did consider the gift in a different light. I couldn’t decide whether to be disgusted with myself or with the entire societal construct of arbitrary values assigned to things. I have to find solace in the idea that society’s value is placed on the creativity and innovation of the designer who created the product. It makes the situation a little better.

Knowing that that money could have been spent in different ways didn’t do much to help the matter. But this is something that is important to her. She forgets that not everyone is as excited about Dior and Chanel and Gucci and St. Laurent at the expense of other things. This is not to say that I’m not appreciative in the slightest. I am. That it simply makes her so happy to be able to give us these things is enough. I just wish it wasn’t bookended by worries about the mortgage, about school loans, about from where the next paycheck is coming, or about how retirement will even be possible.

For my mom, presentation was and is everything. My dad has his own brand.

Self-comparison is a plague that this generation finds difficult to escape, according to all of the criticisms of generation Y and millennials and our obsession with social media. But I’d say that we only have more public opportunities for it. Past generations, without the Internet, only have the privilege of keeping it contained and concealed. Except from their kids.

For my dad, when something is wrong, it has nothing to do with him. It is the fault of something else. Always. Someone has done something wrong, made something of poor quality, is deficit in their way of thinking about the world. There is a comment to be made, some criticism that places oneself among the highest order because this type of criticism inherently self-aggrandizes. It’s a distinctive kind. And one that often discredits the person doing the criticizing.

Of course, it’s an issue of self-esteem, confidence, and happiness. Everyone believes that she’d be happier if something were in some way different. It makes me sad to see this in my parents and passed off to my siblings. There’s an acceptance that it’s normal to point out the “deficiencies” of other people. Yet, above all, it’s the constant negativity that hacks away at my own happiness. Why should we dwell on the faults of others when there are plenty of our own to attend to? There is no need. I’m convinced that it can only be damaging.

As a kid, I found one household the escape of the other. Today, I find my own house is my escape from that whole world, hundreds of miles away. I love coming home, especially for the holidays, but it has become a particular type of draining. The stress can be debilitating. I’m tired of hearing about unhappiness and feeling helpless to fill its absence. I unexpectedly often find myself looking forward to walking the hallways of my house alone with only my work on my mind.

I don’t want to be my parents when I grow up. I don’t want to be overwhelmed by stress or dwell on negativity. I want to be happy and spread happiness. I want to make my own choices that aren’t dictated by money and status, but for the joy of it. Well, that’s the dream, isn’t it? I like to think that I’ve learned a bit about the world in my short 25 years. The understanding that I don’t know everything makes it all the more intriguing and exciting. But I truly believe that much of all this ideal of achieving happiness has to do with attitude. And I’m resolved to realize this existence.

Happy Holidays. Happy New Year.

Santa Slays (my bank account)

Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the most entrapped by the confines of the constructed aesthetic of them all?

This was supposed to be a holiday post, rife with warm fuzzies induced by being enveloped in the warmth of family, home cooked goodness, shiny lights and a lot of general happiness, sponsored in part by Lindt. But I procrastinated, and the bright shiny twinkle lights quickly morphed into frenzied sale signs and general excess, still sponsored in part by Lindt. While I’m generally able to avoid the post-christmas affirmation of why capitalism still reigns, this year I had to tiptoe into the churches of Adam Smith, guided by the invisible hand and the not-so-invisible masses. My reasons for joining the chorus of devouts this year made me self aware of how much I buy into buying concepts/ personality improvements through “things.”

Shopping list:

  • organic, handmade shampoo: I’m kind of an “environmentalist,”
  • Economist subscription: who is on top of current issues as a pseudo intellectual,
  • amazing boots: while remaining fashionable,
  • lipstick: and pretty too,
  • cocoa powder: maintaining hobbies like baking,
  • acrylic paint: and art,
  • sheet music: and being generally well-rounded,
  • ski goggles: even almost athletic,
  • Puma tights: and sexy too,
  • Victoria’s Secret: … but really.

There’s a great deal of irony in the paradox inherent in individualistic societies: be special but conform. And one of the most prominent ways we know how to do that is through our credit cards. My lifelong, low-dose exposure to that paradox and other fallouts of capitalism have made it so that I have to consciously compete with the impulse to buy my way out of feeling sad or mad or generally uncomfortable.

In some ways, I don’t think it’s all that wrong to buy things to support yourself on the journey of what you want to do and be and think etc, but when you fall into that bizarre cycle of constant retail therapy, shit gets scary, and you quickly develop a warped vision of what matters. The days post-Christmas are just such a concentrated dose of that vision that one can’t help but think about how much it affects us all on a more regular basis.

I’m best at resisting the twinkling promises of consumerist impulses (or rather not even feeling them) when I’m at my most comfortable and confident- the most “at home” in my own skin. But being far from people I consider home tends to compromise that strength. Given that it’s a new year and all, finding different ways to stay home away from home (i.e. centred and confident and comfortable) is going to be a priority, with perhaps the side-effect of giving my credit card some much-needed vacation time. Except for maybe for food. Girl’s gotta eat.

Sent from my iPhone. <– ha.

To Do: Merge Worlds

I recently took a trip back to New York City. The trip had multiple purposes. One, I missed New York. I missed my friends and the life that I had there, however brief it was. Two, I wanted to maintain connections with my former organization and maybe make some new ones. Three, I wanted needed a vacation.

For the past nine months, I’d lived in San Francisco. It’s become one of my favorite cities. It’s often compared to New York. Apart from the fact that they make up opposite metropolitan centers on each coast, I’m not entirely sure why they’re so often compared. To me, the comparison isn’t justifiable.

I was there for a week. I fell easily back into the routine of long hours, post-work drinks, late-night trains, date nights, and bottomless brunch. Days were long. I was moving forward, getting relevant work done, and on the whole, a productive member of society that also had a rich social life. Yay, me. Perhaps these were the feelings that I’d missed.

I loved my trip back, but it also highlighted how much I’ve changed in only a year. It highlighted the extremes to which one’s environment shapes one’s thoughts and way of thinking. Maybe it’s the barrage of data and technology in San Francisco and what money and success means here compared to New York that makes the distinction so palpable.

In San Francisco, the conversation revolves around technology: engineering, coding, machine learning; data: data systems, integration, visualization; startup culture: entrepreneurship, innovation, connections, capital. Now, I realize that a life in New York means many different things to many different people, but mine is and was about being part of an international city. My world turned for global policy and world politics, the goings-on of the United Nations, who was coming to the US, and what it meant in the world. Relevant issues were defined as what we were doing about the refugee crisis, what was happening in the Congo, Syria, Lebanon, and the Ukraine, what you thought about it, what should be done, and the role you and others played. It’s not that these issues are forgotten in San Francisco. It’s just that discussion of them is often diminished by news of the most recent Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and what that means for society and private companies. And while these happenings too are important, the inherent differences between them are compelling.

I went back to New York with a mindset dominated by the accepted importance of data, tech, and startup culture. In New York, I encountered my old self – one for which the significance of these concepts were only peripheral. For that time, I forgot everything I was aiming to pursue in San Francisco. But the San Francisco influence clearly affected the way that I thought about and responded to old friends’ conversation around the usual international development issues.

What alarmed me the most is that I only realized these changes when I returned to the West Coast. It wasn’t until I pulled myself out of that environment that I realized its impact, that other places are consumed by different worlds. It highlighted and re-emphasized a few things for me.

  1. Make conscious choices about your environment – friends, work, and culture – because it will shape you and your life.
  2. Your world is small. Don’t forget that your present and its concerns are often only small elements of others’ worlds.
  3. Seek out new experiences and new places, but revisit the old ones. Don’t forget to reflect on them and recognize how you’ve changed as a result.

My task now is to effectively integrate and balance these perspectives for innovation and impact. These are experiences that make each of our views unique and relevant. So how do I make mine tangibly relevant? That still remains to be seen.