adolescence, adulthood, beauty, growing up, insecurity, television

How Cable Television Secured All My Adolescent Insecurities

http://img11.deviantart.net/7431/i/2012/095/6/4/wishbone_press_photo___robin_hood_by_the_toy_chest-d4v4vmi.pngMy family didn’t get cable television until I was in the sixth grade. Until then, I resented my parents for depriving me of this simple luxury. It was unfair to me that all my friends could enjoy a buffet of television options whenever they wanted while I had limited choices which included weekly airings of Wishbone and Full House. 

I didn’t realize it then, but the lack of options made it so that television was never part of my routine and rarely my first choice for entertainment. Instead, I’d opt for writing stories or doing art projects (leaf pressing, stone polishing, sand designs and anything else sold in a D-I-Y kit at Target). Family time around the television was similarly sparse, and occurred only after we’d exhausted other post-dinner group activities like board games or going for a walk.

These television alternatives always served their purpose in entertaining me. At the end of any of my self-directed episodes of fun, I was completely beside myself with happiness. I walked away satisfied.

I still remember the miraculous day that I returned from school to learn the miraculous news: we had cable. It was like a dream come true and I imagined that now, by association, my life would be just like a sitcom, with lots of laughter, superficial beauty, and whatever “perfect” was supposed to be. I spent that Friday night binge watching shows on The Disney Channel.

Over the next few weeks, I was slowly sucked in by the characters and worlds that I considered to be analog to me and my current or aspirational life. I couldn’t wait to experience high school, college, and adulthood in the ways these characters did.

But by the end of high school, my appreciation for television had taken an inexplicable turn. At the end of an episode of most anything, I felt not entertained, but empty. It was back to reality, and a reality that was more and more distant from what I saw on television. I was stressed about academics, intimidated by social dynamics, nervous about my future, and uncomfortable in my own skin. Immersing myself in episodes of perfect families, perfect friends, perfect students, perfect bodies, perfect skin, and perfect comforts for even characters that were supposed to be “struggling,” only reminded me of what I was not. Though most of their worries and problems could be solved within a thirty-minute episode, all mine were only aggravated during that time.

Finally, I did what my pre-cable self could have never imagined possible: I effectively stopped watching television. Though I misinterpreted the reason back then (I told myself I just didn’t have time), I now realize that it was because television made me feel insecure about every aspect of my life, from my body to my day-to-day experiences.

To this day, I don’t feel compelled to watch television and follow only countable shows. The Office was one in college, and now it’s The Mindy Project. There are several unsurprising reasons it makes the short list including the fact that I find her laugh-out-loud hilarious and that I identify with her given our shared ethnicities.

But the main, and more subtle reason, is that she has established herself as a human off-screen. Be it through her open admissions about the importance of hard work or via her raw and authentic instagram, she is unlike many celebrities and lifebloggers out there who rarely break the fourth wall.

And it’s not just other celebrities. I’ve increasingly noticed the seemingly curated life I, and all of us, share on our various social networks. We don’t necessarily deserve all the blame, as these platforms tempt us with opportunities to filter the world around us and compete for recognition via likes, making it easier than ever for us to portray our lives as the ones we see in media. They encourage us to live lives of self-compsure and photographic exposure.

Mindy’s transparency is refreshing and in some ways, has helped me begin to build an adult appreciation for television and its entertainment value (ignoring for a moment that her show doesn’t actually appear on conventional television).

Though I often worry about the ways in which social media and technology will affect current and future generations of insecure adolescents (and adults), people like Mindy make me hopeful about the ways these channels enable humans to connect at the most fundamental levels.

Instead of ending this article with a bow like every thirty-minute television sitcom episode, I’ll instead leave you with one way in which Mindy’s life is exactly like the one I live, and am living at this very moment:

https://instagram.com/p/8QcB9zJQ_C/?taken-by=mindykaling

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being yourself, growing up, hellastorm, holidays, needs, personal growth, product management, reflection, storm, wants, wants vs needs, yoga

The Gift You Need to Get Yourself This Holiday…Whether You Want It Or Not

Last Wednesday, I rushed off to the grocery store after work. I ran through a minimal grocery list in my head: “What are the most basic items you need for the storm?” I asked myself. My plan wasn’t a unique one. Lines of people extended from the registers far into the aisles, their baskets filled not with kombucha and kale, but with water and matches. I whizzed through the market crossing items off my list, eager to get in line then get home.On a normal day, my grocery trip consists of restocking the staples, but also lingering through the aisles, wondering if I should finally get ingredients for that recipe I’ve been wanting to try or whether I should consider a new snack. As the sights and smells go to my head, it becomes less and less clear what I need and what I want.

Wednesday night was different. The urgency of the situation obviated the difference between my storm-needs and fair-weather-wants. Besides a pre-storm grocery list, I distinguish between wants and needs  — other people’s wants and needs, that is — on a daily basis. As a product manager, my main responsibility is to identify what people absolutely need and what would just be nice to have. And in most situations, I reliably make the determination.Where I thrive in my job, I flounder in my personal life. Despite the daily practice (and Mother Nature’s occasional test), I struggle to identify my personal needs versus wants.

The problem is that I never learned how to tell the difference. 

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adulthood, alone time, ambition, belonging, birthdays, family, growing up, turning 26, writing

4 Things I Couldn’t Admit To Myself Until I Turned 25

I turn 26 this week.

In some ways, twenty-five flew by with little to report. But in others, it transformed me:

I got to know the person I will spend the rest of my life with.

While this is unsurprising given my age, it is surprising given that I do not have a significant other.

The last fifteen months comprise the longest I have been in the same place with the same job ever. Because my world was too-frequently-changing before (semester to semester, rotation to rotation, city to city), because I myself was changing too frequently before, and perhaps because I fundamentally was too young to understand — and accept — them before, twenty-five was my first opportunity to recognize key qualities about this person I see and spend time with every single day.

This person is me.

***
4 Things I am Finally Old Enough to Know (and Admit) About Myself:

1. I crave alone time

Growing up, I had an extra-curricular obligation almost everyday, including weekends. Between my activities and homework, I always had a reason to reject social invitations if I didn’t want to hang out. I was never avoiding anyone specific, though. My dance team and coursework served the same purpose in college, and soon after graduating, I voluntarily undertook a book-writing project which mandated hours of undistributed focus.

These artificial reasons for being “busy,” were actually my need to spend time alone, doing things that I enjoy, just, by myself. It felt abnormal to say, “I want alone time,” especially because I never heard anyone say it to me.

Sometime during twenty-five, a switch flipped. I started to identify my need for this special time and went so far as to plan it into my life (mostly weekends). I aggressively defend alone time. It recharges me for future social interaction. Notably, it is not always productive. Sometimes I just want to sit on my couch, alone, on a Saturday night, and watch a television airing of The Parent Trap (even if it’s the Lindsay Lohan version) for the millionth time.

And though I occasionally slip into the need to rationalize it (work, errands, fatigue), I have finally come to terms with saying “I need alone time,” without caring how my statement will be received.

2. I am not superhuman

Earlier this year, I wrote an article on Medium that, by some stroke of luck, went viral. Wanting to make the most of the magic before it wore off, I immediately took on multiple simultaneous writing projects: Going for a double-hitter on Medium, submitting variations of my article to publications, enrolling in a writing course, maintaining my personal blog, and starting to write for a non-profit.

All this on top of an actual job.

For the next two months, thinking about writing, a historically therapeutic hobby for me, filled me with insurmountable stress.

The pieces I wrote during this time were haphazard. After two good-but-not-great Medium articles, two rejections from VentureBeat, two rejections from children’s book publishers, and a draft returned to me with more red than black, I finally stepped back.

Though its virality will always puzzle me, that article’s strength came from the fact that it was my sole focus when it was being created (outside of work). I put a lot of (very awake) brain and heart into it — without working on seven other articles at the same time.

Humans accomplish more (and better) with less and I am no exception to that rule.

3. I am family-first

I lived at home for twenty-six months after graduating college. My parents assured me it would lighten the load of my student loans, but I was too naive to see that. I pitied myself for sacrificing “fun” and “youth” by not living in a glamorous city with “everyone else.” When I finally moved to San Francisco, I likened it to liberation from confinement.

For months after moving, visits home were accompanied by an uncomfortable anxiety of all that I was missing in the city. Hadn’t those twenty-six months been enough?

This past May, I went to dinner with a friend whose family was struggling through financial and health hardships. She expressed the difficulty of living so far from them. I listened, silently ashamed that I sometimes felt inconvenienced by the geographical proximity to mine.

One morning just a few weeks later, I was asked to come home for a family meeting. On this particular day, it meant begrudgingly rejecting an opportunity to spend time with a boy I liked. In that family meeting, however, I was irreplaceable.

My family’s need for me to be home persists, but the visits feel less mandatory. Instead, I voluntarily leave the city to spend evenings, weekends, and long weekends with my family, even if it means forgoing trips to Big Sur or wine country. I can’t be mentally present anywhere else when I know my family would benefit most from my physical presence.

When I lived at home, I believed I was happy and comfortable despite living with my parents. I was embarrassed to be living there. With perspective, I see this as childish. I feel adult enough now to accept how much my parents’ happiness fuels my own, and how lucky I am to live just a train ride away.

4. I want to belong

This was my first year living in San Francisco during Bay to Breakers. When non-friends asked me about my plans, I said that it “wasn’t my thing,” but that I “might do something with my friends.” I didn’t actually have plans or invitations to do anything, and this didn’t bother me — until the day of.

My neighborhood was part of the Bay to Breaker route. As I walked through and past groups of friends I was surprised to find myself wishing I was part of one of them (some more than others). I was an outsider, not just to a particular group of friends, but also to a shared city experience where, but for a day, rules and reality were ignored.

Facebook and Instagram were relentless, exposing groups of happy friends sharing the day together.

It wasn’t a fear of missing out (FOMO), but simply feeling left out (FLO?) despite my belief that this event was “not me.” That afternoon, when my hair stylist asked me if I participated in Bay To Breakers, I responded that “we” had enjoyed watching the crowds. There was no “we.” It was just me.

That was when I realized how even my strong sense of self and individuality needs to be one with the masses every now and then.

***

These lessons surely aren’t secrets to life and they likely aren’t unique to me. But they are definitely not applicable to everyone.

The most important “facts of life” are facts about yourself. You will spend the rest of your life with yourself — get to know each other.

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birthdays, family, growing up, life, psychology, self image, ten things about turning 25, turning 25

Ten Thoughts on Turning 25

I initially felt kind of weird about the fact that I’m turning 25 this year. Then I learned that California Raisins, Koosh Balls, and Photoshop are also celebrating quadranscentennials. And that changed everything. Here’s a mostly unordered, stream-of-consciousness-type list of things that come to mind when I think about the milestone.

10. The real world is only going to get more real

After receiving a 5 on my AP Psychology Exam, I, a hubristic college freshman, waived the recommended introductory psychology course in favor of a Neurology course. I wouldn’t be caught dead in THAT course, I thought to myself as my eyes glanced over “Psyc 101” in all its Courier New glory. I lasted 20 minutes in that Neurology course, for no other reason than that I didn’t think I would “do well” and get an A. I was scared it would be hard. That I would struggle. That I might fail. So I ran away to negligible consequence. It’s going to become harder and harder to run away. From unimaginable, undesired, and sometimes interesting conflicts, I’ll have no choice but to follow through to some semblance of a conclusion.

9. I am so old

A few days ago, my brother reportedly asked my dad, “Can you believe it? If Pepper were a human, she would be starting high school this year.” My dad looked back and responded, “Can you believe it? Your sister is going to be 25.” Even my dad thinks I’m old.

8. But I don’t have to be fifty (yet)

Shortly before my 22nd birthday, I “officially” accepted that I have a genetic predisposition to diabetes, given that my grandparents on both sides had and have the disease. I gave up a lot of delicious things that day, maybe too many: sugar in coffee, cereal, sandwiches when I could help it, any and all desserts, grapes, berries, peaches, the painful list goes on. A few weeks later, a friend of my dad came over for coffee. “I’ll just have it black,” he said. “I’ve given up milk. I’m vegan now.” “What?” My dad asked surprised. Having gone to college with this friend, my dad knew that this was an uncharacteristic move. “I’ve cut a lot out of my diet. It’s just not worth it.” My dad looked back at him while finding the right words. “Would you rather live unhappily for eighty years or happily for seventy five?”

7. I am the average of my friends

One memorable fourth grade recess, my friend Emily* created an imaginary person named Square (if only she had been into alternative payments). “Nobody likes Square,” she told us. What accompanied were off-putting stories which made Square a completely undesirable entity. A week after Square was conceived, Emily told me a secret. One of many secrets I wish I had never been told. “Square,” she said to me with that mature air that most nine-year-olds can only wish for, “is Gina.” Gina, one of the other girls in our group. I was shocked. Our group splintered into the Pro- and Anti-Square camps and what followed were frequent lunch-time meetings with our teacher who tirelessly tried to reconcile a disintegrating friendship. I’ve recently realized that I don’t have just one solid group of friends — and I mean that to be a good thing. Instead, I have little grouplets and sometimes even one-off friends that don’t know any of my other ones. But my gauge is no longer whether a person will get along with all the other people I know, whether I can fit a Square peg into a round hole, so to speak. The question is whether a person can raise me to new levels as a human being, while I reciprocate.

*Name changed to protect identity

6. I only want riches in people and experiences

Last December, I observed two people who love each other quite a lot turn on each other. It was over a seemingly temporary financial situation. The scene was emotionally gruesome and I’m sure the metaphorical scar tissue won’t heal for years. Just moments later, they came together over a family emergency. A trivial argument was replaced by a profound reminder of the unpredictables of life. It was, perhaps, the most beautiful scene I wish to have never witnessed. It is the things in this world — physical and metaphysical — that make people ugly. I want to be surrounded by people and experiences that make me beautiful.

5. I can do something about what I want to be when I grow up

Growing up, I knew of only two colleges: UC Berkeley and Stanford. There were countless nights on which I would lie awake staring at the ceiling wondering what would happen if I didn’t get into either. Will I just not go to college? Not being a child prodigy, no solution could come of the academic worries of my ten-year-old self. There’s something romantic about the notion that I am now at a prime intersection to take (or build) a more concrete path on which to meander towards my professional goals.

4. Though I’m finally comfortable in my own skin (most of the time)

Over the ten years that I learned piano, I played in approximately forty piano recitals. An upcoming piano recital was the proverbial dam separating what should have been the carefree days of my childhood. I couldn’t see past it, and at times, I wondered if I ever would. Surprisingly, the piano playing itself only half contributed to my anxiety. The other half was my negative body image. People were going to stare at me and only me for at least seven minutes. Would it look like I had a little food baby from the side? Are my fingers fat? My thighs look like elephants when they’re pressed against the bench. It would be a lie to say that I am now fully in love with my body all the time. But it’s fair to say that I accept and respect what I’ve been given.

3. I’m still redefining myself (or Ro 2.0)

A few weeks ago, I was discussing my recent mugging with someone. “It’s interesting,” I noted, “this is probably the first time that I haven’t relied heavily on my parents for something relatively big and disturbing in my life. There’s something about my wanting to just handle it on my own. And anyway, what can they do? Nobody can fix this.” She looked at me knowingly. “You know, I’m not at all implying that it’s good this happened to you, but given that it has, maybe there is an every-so-thin silver lining. Perhaps this is expediting your transition into your understanding of being an adult.” These are the years in which we define ourselves as individuals. We create our own images of ourselves, not that of a parent or later, of a spouse. At age three, I became a big sister, but looked like a big brother, no thanks to my haircut. Until a few years ago, when I imagined what I looked like, I saw myself with a boy-cut. Of late, I’ve been seeing a different me. It’s still a bit blurry, but I definitely see her longer hair blowing in the wind.

2. Some of the best is yet to come

As I was driving him home from Tahoe yesterday, my brother started a sentence with, “Are you going to raise your kids by saying…” Being a parent is nowhere in my foreseeable future, but contemplating my answer to him made me realize how much more there is to come. A second life, practically. It’s kind of exhilarating.

1. And I’m kind of excited about it

All said and done, it’s happening this week. I may as well get on board.

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balance, dance, exercise, growing up, rosa parks, Steve Jobs, twenty-something

“Don’t confuse symmetry with balance.” -Tom Robbins

If you’ve ever watched a toddler try to walk across a room, you know that it’s a comical scene. As this new walker waddles the distance, each step is taken with extreme caution and deliberate thought. The child is hilariously focused on matching each right-step with the left. Once in a while, he’ll get too ambitious and try to run, which of course, lands him on the floor with that deer-in-headlights acceptance of inevitability. Then it’s back up again to reinstate the purposeful balance.

As we walked to dinner two nights ago, my brother and I discussed Steve Jobs’ early-day diets and their possible link with the pancreatic cancer that ended his life. Now I have way too many friends in med school to speculate on this topic of which I know very little, but I do have the Isaacson-researched account of Steve’s illness. After experimenting with 2-day fruit fasts, Steve in his self-diagnosed “typical nutso way” started fasting for weeks or more. While these fasts are meant to detoxify, they can actually do long-term harm. Though these fasts may not cause cancer, they overwork the pancreas causing osteoporosis or even heart failure.

When I first met him a few years ago, I recognized that one of my friends had the most stringent exercise and diet regimens I had ever witnessed. In fact, I was sometimes embarrassed to eat in front of him or see him at the gym for fear of his judgment. A few months ago, I learned that he was on crutches. What happened?!” I asked, imagining some freak-accident involving mountain climbing or a marathon race. “My knee had been bothering me for a year. I was just ignoring it.” Needless to say, being on crutches, away from what he loved to do most (be active) has left him with an abundance of time to introspect. Recently, he told me, “You know, I’ve realized I went way to far with my exercising. I used to work out every single day, even when I didn’t feel like I could. Even when a day of rest would have been more beneficial to me.”

Yesterday, my friend and I were strolling to the park. “Today is so gorgeous,” she said as she took in the moment. “What am I doing with my life?” I asked as I crumbled into a slew of questions and worries about every aspect of my life. My friend didn’t interrupt. I guess she has known me long enough to just let me get everything out before trying to knock any sense into me. When I finally paused for a breath, she responded matter-of-factly, “I think you need to start writing again. Now that you’re done with your book you have too much time to think.” “Maybe you’re right.” “I’m definitely right.”

Later in the evening, I went to a dance show called “Courage.” Deeply moved by the 2011 tsunami in Japan, the dancer choreographed an entire show based on human resilience, from Rosa Parks’ struggle with segregation to an ancient temple dancer’s determination to maintain the purity of her art against corruption. In what turned out to be a somewhat metaphysical representation of the theme, I found the show to be a powerful demonstration of courage not because of the stories depicted, but because of the internal and external balance the dancer exuded as she swept across the stage. At some level, courage is the ability to restore balance.

One of the most difficult aspects of young adulthood is finding your own balance, regardless of artificial, semantic balance around you. Semantic balances like “a black world and a white world,” “drive and laziness,” or “fruits and fat.” We want so badly to sprint towards that word with the positive connotation, but it’s when we achieve inner balance that we will find ourselves enveloped with the courage to pursue what we believe to be meaningful and the resilience to fight back against what we don’t believe in. Forget sprinting. Go forth and teach yourself how to walk again.

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