Define Successful.

My daily procrastination. My daily scroll down the newsfeed.

And there it is, the life status assessment of the day: “The bad habits you should give up if you want to be successful,” attached to a soothing photo of women doing what appears to be some form of yoga in hot springs. What success. Somehow the image does evoke a soothing “I’ve got my shit together and that’s why I have the time to be doing yoga in a hot spring” success. What life awareness.

The title is provocative only in that I can’t help but get defensive – define successful. Successful presumably means vastly different things to different people. I’d be hard-pressed to accept that success defined only by the number of commas printed on my bank account statement would mean success to me in 20 years, though it may for someone else. Likely success in this case is meant to be generic, to be whatever success means to the reader. But then, in that case, would the advice in the article ever be relevant to a person’s own so-called barriers to success? It’s bound to be a list of all the traits that a normal person can’t possibly give up if they are defined by exactly that. Normal. But I take the bait.

It’s a list. I skim through the bolded text – that’s the important bit. Yes, the little tidbits of wisdom that I can say I’ve absorbed for the day, a day unwasted. Except that I reach the end and feel that I haven’t been enlightened. There is nothing new that I can add to my hoarded treasure trove of forsaken goals on my way to a seemingly unreachable “success”.

I’m generally healthy. I go to the gym. I do things. I plan for the long-term. I take opportunities – not only the small ones I like to think. I very much take responsibility for what happens next. Perhaps too much so. I know that learning takes effort, and that I have the discretion to make that learning happen. I don’t believe that it’ll happen overnight. In fact, I’d be disappointed if it did. I gave up perfectionism long ago – I’m told failure is supposed to be healthy. I’ll keep going with that for my own sanity. I’ve learned that to be really efficient, I cannot – cannot – multi-task. I don’t need to control everything – again, my goal is sanity. Okay, I admit, I’m working on not saying yes to everything. I’m improving. I’ve most definitely given up on toxic people, just ask my friends. The real ones. Okay, I’ll make another concession. My need to be liked still hangs around, but I can’t say I’m in it for mass appeal. Dependency on television doesn’t seem to exist. In fact, the opposite seems to be the problem in my ability to be a normal social human being.

So is there anything in there? I’ll admit, a few were borderline. But for the most part, I’d say that I’m pretty satisfied in my ability to say that I effectively don’t have any of these “bad habits”. So what do I do now? If these are all that I need to give up to be successful, by my own definition, why does the path to success seem so obscure? Perhaps it’s more of a question of reaching that satisfactory definition of success. At this point, it’s more probable that I’ll never reach it simply because I’ll never be able to define it. When will I feel that I’ve “made it”? Maybe that’s a list worth reading.

PC

Social movements begin with an objection to the status quo, initiated by a perception that something is wrong. Rarely is it mild resistance or silent individual demonstration. Others, the critical masses, most tangibly grasp these objections when defiance is loud. That’s when they become movements, and become change, become revolutionary. When the words are strong, when you feel them, feel their force – not only the passion of their emissary, but the potency of the words themselves.

History is witness to this power, particularly that of words written. The written word molds, shapes, and reshapes history to its purposes and perspectives. The words continue beyond the time of their mediums. But the “new” perspectives, the provocative tales of what really happened, are hailed as revolutionary. This provocativeness usually comes with some lack of political correctness. They depict what was happening to the real people like you and me – the part that you and I would actually care about because that would be us. That is us.

The ideas behind historical movements or social change seem obvious today. At that time and place, they were not. In fact, they seemed wrong. They seemed outrageous. This repeated re-realization leads me to ask what’s “wrong” today. When do we know something is wrong? When are provocative ideas valid? When should we call it out? When are we allowed to? When should we strive to be politically incorrect? When should we defy loud through the written word – or otherwise?

I am the reigning queen of PC. It’s been bred into me as an Asian, and as an American – a double whammy. It’s not my place to disagree. Or if I do, I’m going to let you share your flawed perspective to your own detriment without my own comment or interjection. A commiserating nod will do.

But when is it necessary to be politically incorrect? When does this interminable effort to maintain political correctness become censorship? When does political incorrectness become a tool for constructive provocation, debate, and progress? At the far end, when do we condemn without tolerance? When should we? When do we condemn without empathy and understanding, clearly demarcating that this something is wrong? When do we force political correctness to the wayside to get to the flesh and bone of the matter? When do we reign it in? And when do we leave it at the door to make way for something else?

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.

Loud.

“Konichiwa.”

Setting the stage for what was to be a wildly uncomfortable 9 minutes of unwanted bar conversation, he inserted himself into our circle with a single sarcastic utterance of the word. It rolled off his tongue with the same casual ignorance of a Gwen Stefani song. There we were – four girls – three of which look vaguely “ethnic,” body language completely closed off to passer-bys, and yet here he was – entitled to have his say, to be heard, to be validated. “Made in Asia?” he states pointing to a couple of us. I’m immediately bored. I know this conversation by heart. And so does anyone who doesn’t look like they could’ve come to the Mayflower’s reunion. “Where are you from?” – Insert X predominantly-white-albeit- cultural-mosaic/ melting-pot-country – “No, but where are you from?” “Carbon, you asshole. I’m mostly Carbon.” But instead… “Oh well my parents are from Y-acceptably-non-white-country-that explains-my-complexion-my-dark- features–and-confirms-the asker’s need for a “different” tickbox.” Then the conversation goes down one of two paths. The asker either smiles knowingly, pleased with their keen eye, or he/she spews a series of invariably misguided facts/ question about country Y. There’s also a third path which is generally much more pleasant and leads to a real conversation about place and identity and culture and leaves both parties feeling enriched, but that conversation doesn’t often start with “but where are you from.” The uninvited guest last night didn’t stop there however. He went on to comment on the beauty of eyes that go like this, pulling at the side of his face, before carrying out a lengthy inquisition about our choice to live in a country that’s not our own.  

I’d been under the impression that passive aggressive, systemic, or otherwise discrete racism was the way to go in this day and age…

So why was this man so unbelievably inappropriate? And blatantly racist?

– Lack of exposure to multiculturalism? Maybe.

– One too many Vodka Cranberries? Possibly.

– A systemic, entrenched sense of entitlement to voice any and all opinions and to have them be deserving of acknowledgment? Definitely.

– The right to be loud and proud? Always.

At 7 years old, I learned that my ankles were too loud. I had been wearing white capris at the airport and my mother was chided by the security guard for raising a slut. I think he took the “never wear white after labour day” a little too heavily to heart. At 8, my hair became too loud and was tamed under a veil. At 9, we moved somewhere where my hair and ankles could sing, but my voice was only tolerated. I became quiet, polite, a model student. Eventually, because my parents are awesome, I found my voice again (albeit metaphorically given that I probably still need a microphone to be heard across the dinner table), but I’d been trained to use it carefully.

Nevermind the absurd racism, the “Konichiwa” greeter was imposing himself on us as a man and allowing himself to judge our looks, our lifestyles, our core. You would be hard-pressed to find a women who would make similar comments to a group of men regardless of lack of exposure to multiculturalism or too many vodka cranberries, whereas the reverse is so much more common. You could argue that it’s because men still feel they have to take on the role of pursuer, and that’s all he was doing. But no, it was so much more (read: less?) than that. It was aggressive, it was with a sense of ownership and entitlement, and it was entirely unresponsive to the reactions he was receiving.

We should all grow up believing that we are deserving of being loud and proud, but with a level of critical thought, kindness and reflection. Otherwise, the resulting cacophony from the chorus of imbeciles is enough to make the US congress sound like Chopin.

The Social (in)Significance of (Interesting) Hobbies

“So, what do you do for fun?” It is THE hated question of first-meeting-at-a-bar-small-talk questions. What do you mean, what do I do for fun?

It’s been a year since graduation. Everyone needs to have hobbies now – something that I spend my free time doing that’s different from everyone else and makes me interesting.

I begin crossing them off in my head – [Reading, lame. Puzzles, sad. Writing, “oh! What do you write about?” – uh no. Shopping, high maintenance. British crime dramas (yes, specifically British), embarrassing. Yoga, along with everyone else in San Francisco, Seattle, New York. Volunteer, self-righteous. I drink, semi-alcoholic? I can’t talk intelligently about cooking or baking. Politics is not typically appropriate to talk about in any setting let alone a bar, and neither is religion (and I’ve broken both those rules before), so nope. Making something up may make this conversation more interesting, but then I could probably never talk to you again because we know how badly I’d fail at maintaining anything I made up in the long-term. And now I’m starting to think that that may not be such a bad thing.]

“So, what do you do for fun?”

“Oh, you know. I just hang around, explore the city.”

Decidedly boring. But what did you expect me to say? That I farm tulips and socialize with my pet chicken on the weekends?? Or perhaps I happen to also be an amazing artist, so I spend my free time in studio? Or I can magically afford to travel regularly to exotic locales to work on perfecting my already perfect tan?

I have no more excuses in the form of – “oh, well, I’ve been busy studying this and that. I like to do this, but haven’t done it in awhile because school.” Somehow working towards the worthwhile personal goal of academic achievement lends itself to judgment less severe.

The fact of the matter is that I love my work. I spend a lot of time doing it. I also greatly enjoy spending my free time alone, probably more than the next person. I like being productive, and so spend my time (again, usually alone) working on pet projects that may or may not result in anything in particular. I like to read articles and take classes on nearly everything, but no, that does not somehow mean I could intelligently discuss Chinese art with you.

What could this someone in a bar do differently? Don’t require me to present my likes and dislikes on a silver platter, awaiting your judgment. There are plenty of other questions to answer and things to talk about that don’t require me to outline my Facebook profile of exceptional life events and ‘hobbies.’ You’re objective is to get to know me? It shouldn’t be so easy for that would only serve to relinquish the complexities that make each person intriguing. And where would the fun be in that?

So, if you want to ask me what I do for fun, don’t forget to bring me another drink.