2015, Amy Winehouse, birthdays, career, dogs, pet death, right path, San Francisco, time

What Amy Winehouse Taught Me About Turning 27

Every time August comes around, I have that “Woah, my birthday is soon,” realization. This year, the “Woah” wasn’t like the ones that preceded my 16th or 20th. This one, coming before my 27th, hit more like, “Oh.”

How boring a number it is, 27.

Initially, I attempted to find reasons it was special. Things like:

  • 27 is the official start to my late twenties
  • The last time my birthday was on a Friday, it was my 21st

I was like a sports reporter with interesting statistics that predict nothing. I eventually dropped it.

A week into August, I visited an Amy Winehouse exhibit curated by her brother Alex. In his introductory wall text, he writes,

“This is not a shrine or a memorial to someone who has died. […] Babies are born, people get married, they get old (should they live so long), and then they die. […] This is a snapshot of a girl who was, to her deepest core, simply a little Jewish kid from North London with big talent.”

Alex wants us to accept that during her time in this world, though unconventionally short, his sister lived, loved, and struggled, as we all do in some way, at some point, for some length of time.

Amy was 27 when she died.

The text reminded me of my earlier quest to make some random number special. It encouraged me to consider that perhaps no age, no time in our lives, is objectively meaningful.

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appreciation, experiences, habit, health, San Francisco, time

How to Make the Most of Your Time, Most of The Time

“5 weeks? Where are you going to go?”

“5 weeks? Oh yeah, definitely travel.”

“5 weeks? Aren’t you going anywhere?”

I recently left my product management role at a tech startup. When I started two years ago, the need for my role was desperate, and I was asked to join almost immediately after receiving the offer. I was excited to do so and what followed was a non-stop, twenty-one month sprint (Figuratively. Literally our sprints were each two weeks.). While I learned and grew immeasurably, I knew that when I finally did part ways with the company, I would need some time to recuperate. Continue reading

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blavity, change, Crossroads Cafe, Foreword, friendship, meaningfulness, Medium, Nevada, Nick Kristof, San Francisco, time

How Little Things Create Big Change

Three years ago, I was assigned to mentor a remarkable individual. She was entering the leadership program I had recently completed.

Our conversations started as obligatory 1:1s during which we covered a list of topics (and I grappled with the self-inflicted pressure of providing life-changing advice). Somewhere along the way, these meetings changed. They no longer materialized from recurring calendar invitations but instead from a genuine desire for one another’s company. Our relationship transformed from one of professional commitment to one of mutual mentorship. Of friendship.

Though the change in our relationship came naturally, it didn’t happen immediately. It took time. It took little things bike rides and homemade brunch. Little drops in the bucket like being dependable and making an effort. The transformation from acquaintance to friend is not an easy one, but it’s well worth it.

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contentment, exercise, gym, nike training club, quality, quantity, time

“A sad soul can kill you quicker than a germ.” -John Steinbeck

I didn’t consciously think about exercising until I was twenty-two. It’s not because I have really good metabolism, because I don’t. My life was just inherently active before that. I swam; I played soccer; I danced. But one month after starting my post-college desk job, I was already panicking about my stationary lifestyle. You could say that it was my delayed teenage-girl freak-out.

On my first visit to the gym, I hopped on a cardio machine and tried to decide between all the buttons. I finally pressed “Quickstart” and went for thirty minutes. You’re supposed to do thirty minutes of cardio, right? It was the most boring thirty minutes of my life. How do 25-minute soccer halves fly by so quickly? And why didn’t I sweat? I sweat after a five-minute dance routine!

Once off the machine, I found a stack of yoga mats on a shelf in the corner. I rolled one out and got on my back. I wanted to do “ab work,” of which I only knew sit-ups, really. Head back, lifting from my abs not my neck, I sat up then lowered myself back down. One. Repeat. I remembered once overhearing a conversation in college: “You look great!” one girl told another. “Thanks,” the fit one replied. “I do 100 crunches a day.”

I went for 100.

30 minutes of cardio and 100 sit-ups complete, I left the gym feeling no different from when I entered. I told myself it would take time, but on the bright side, I could now say, “I worked out today!” I crossed healthy lifestyle off my mental list.

Months later, despite regular gym visits and the same daily set, I didn’t look or feel any different. I was not obese, but I was not happy with my body either (if you say you don’t know this feeling, you are lying). It took time for me to figure it out, but with the help of Google, group classes, and well-informed peers, I started to understand why I wasn’t seeing results.

I had a gym routine, I just didn’t know how to effectively work out.

Among other activities, I now attend a biweekly Nike Training Class. Our instructor takes us through high-intensity athlete-inspired exercises like burpees (high school throwback) and split jumps. We spend no more than sixty seconds on a given exercise. “I don’t care how many you do,” our instructor will say, “you can do one, you can do one hundred. It doesn’t matter. But do each one well.” After each class, I’m at my personal best. This is the antithesis to my post-college routine from four years ago, when I was more concerned about arbitrary numbers.

What I know now, that I didn’t know then, is that effectiveness has nothing to do with the amount you do or the time you spend. It’s about the effort you put in and the quality of each movement.

A stationary lifestyle wasn’t the only thing I panicked about when I first started working. The other thing was Monday. Monday was this dreadful day when everyone asked about your weekend and talked about his. It was an opportunity to demonstrate but a glimmer of your non-work personality. I felt pressure to prove myself with these reports, much like when giving a work-related presentation. Unlike college where everyone “studied and went out” for the entirety of the weekend, people at the office one-upped each other with beach barbecues, epic hikes, wine-tasting, concerts, and weekend getaways. Everyone’s story sounded like a good one. Everyone’s but mine, that is.

I feared the Monday Report because I didn’t know how to describe my weekend for public appeal. Nobody knew how to respond; it was free small talk:

“I wrote.”

“Oh…cool.”

It took me many weekends experimenting with what sounded good versus what I really wanted to do to recognize that one person’s enriched weekend is very well another’s burnt daylight.

Last Sunday, I started my morning by doing yoga by our living room window, sun lightly roasting my back during vinyasa. I then cooked breakfast, one of my favorite activities. Later, I went to “writernoon” at a local coffee shop with two new writer-friends. I ended my day by making dinner with long-time friends at one of their beachside homes. Lying down to sleep, I smiled gratefully. I was productive. I was energized. I was lucky. I gave and received emotionally.

When asked about my weekend the next day, I would say nothing more than, “It was relaxing” and feel fine with my response. When you feel it in your bones, it is indescribable to others. Which is fine because it doesn’t need to be.

Just a week before, one of those long-time friends and I had breakfast together. We talked about deep-rooted fears, career plans, (important gossip), and social observations. Drawn in by our conversation, I lost any notion of time. At some point, we talked about our non-work lives. “I’m trying to be more careful with my time,” my friend mentioned. “Otherwise, you just lose yourself to back-to-back commitments without getting anything from them.”

Knowing that as I grow older, my life will only become more filled with undesired but necessary obligations, I’m training my emotional self now to be like my physical self. Less concerned about the the specific number of things I do during a period of time. Less bent out of shape when asked what I did. I’m focused on engaging deeply with activities from which I receive profound contentment. I’m weighing the value of what I give for what I get. Because I finally understand that it is impossible to be outwardly healthy without being inwardly happy.

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Cory Booker, failure, graduation, success, time

“Time is Galleons, little brother.” – J.K. Rowling

A few weeks ago, I attended my younger brother’s college graduation. As I watched him glide through the aisle of Old Campus cloaked in his cap and gown, I was swept over by the disbelief that comes with a mark of time passed: “Wow, is he done with college already? It feels like he just left!” While only somewhat unsettling in itself, the disbelief resulted in a more troublesome, existential worry for me: This means it’s been 3 years since I’ve graduated college. Where does the time go?

The final notes of Pomp and Circumstance were still floating like clouds above me when Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, New Jersey ascended the stage for his Commencement Address (it was phenomenal, and if you have 48:44 to spare, I highly recommend you watch it). In a nutshell, the speech was about vision. Setting your sights on where you’re going and taking care to make sure you’re moving in the right direction, but also, and maybe more importantly, seeing where you are right now, in this moment. In addition to being good at talking about vision, Cory must also have supernatural eyesight. Because in this very speech, he read my mind (and transformed my thoughts into more eloquent ones): “In life the days go by so slowly,” he proclaimed, “In life the days go by so slowly, but the years fly by.”

In the foundational anecdote of his speech, Booker explains that he was once friends with a young, misguided boy who lived in his apartment building. While at first he mentored him and helped recalculate his route, Booker got busy with his election campaign and with becoming big and important. He toured around town and once back in his apartment each night, was too tired to do anything else. He passed the boy in his hallway every night. It was only when he was attending this boy’s funeral, only after this boy was killed in a gang-related incident, that Booker saw how plowing towards his grand success had only opened his door to failure. A failure that made him too ashamed to get out of bed in the morning. Something we all take for granted everyday. It’s the small acts of kindness in your everyday, he explains, not the vague pursuit of something big and important, that matters in the end.

The next time you start a new job, try a little experiment: Keep a journal to record every time someone tells you what day you’re on. My hypothesis is that your journal will get the most action on Day 1. “Wow! Day 1! Welcome,” they’ll say as your manager parades you around the office. “Still surviving Day 1?” someone will ask as you walk to lunch. And, just as you’re packing up to leave, you’ll get the obligatory, “We’re so happy to have you here. I hope you had a great first day.” You’ll probably fill up an entire page (especially if you’re handwriting is like mine) on Day 1. And then you’ll probably have a lot of action in Week 1. “Day 3, huh?” someone will ask in the kitchen. “Good ol’ day 4,” someone will say as she washes her hands at the sink next to you in the bathroom. And then, there will be the celebratory clink of Day 5. Maybe someone will recognize your first month, you’ll note your first year, and then, well, all bets are off. Until, Year 5 or something.

My brother’s graduation came a few days after I started a new job, making me that person who starts her new job then takes time off before she gets her first paycheck. While I wouldn’t have missed my brother’s college graduation for the world, I was extremely nervous about the number of days of work I would be missing when I had been there so few days to begin with. I tried to minimize them as much as possible. So much so that I woke up at 12 AM PST to catch a 4 AM PST flight to get back in to San Francisco at 1:30 PM and go straight into work. But it was only (lucky) Day 13 and I didn’t want it to slip away.

At the beginning of June, I was in a meeting when someone looked at me and said, “What is this? Week 4 for you?” I didn’t know off the top of my head. Weeks had already flown by.

Every morning, I throw a piece of bread in the toaster after going to the gym. While the bread gets toasty, I stop everything — my response to that email, unloading those last few dishes, reading riveting status updates — in order to prepare for the toast’s arrival into the world. While the bread is in the toaster I take out my peanut butter, a plate, and a butter knife and wait by the toaster so that the moment, the exact precise moment the toast enters the world, I can snatch it and start slathering on the peanut butter.

There is a certain art to being able to create a perfect slice of peanut butter toast. One which involves painting the peanut butter onto your toast while it holds maximum toaster heat. This is when most of the peanut butter will melt, but a thin layer will remain at room-temperature consistency. If you miss the window, the toast cools and the peanut butter doesn’t spread or stick as well. It’s kind of like this.

When I miss the peanutbuttertunity, it is typically for something that could have waited, something like typing one last sentence of an email. It’s never worth it. There’s nothing worse than poorly-spread, room-temperature peanut butter on a cold piece of toast, especially when you only allot yourself one chance a day, and the next opportunity isn’t for another twenty four hours. An eternity, if you ask a fruit-fly. I eat my peanut butter toast at 8:30 every morning, and I spend longer eating it than I do entire meals during the rest of the day.

I am not suggesting that my (really odd) guilty pleasure is a Cory-Booker-daily-small-act-of-kindness. It’s a metaphor. There is no reason why Day 1 should be any more important than Day 36 than Day 100. Or why the moments in each of those days should trudge by. It’s up to us to create the specific moments in each day that stand out to us, as banal as they might be to others. It’s when you give up the opportunity to create markers in your everyday that you admit defeat to time. That you wave goodbye as the years fly by. Find something small in your each of your days and transform it into something hugely, deeply, intrinsically rewarding. Not to fall too far into college mode, but as Keats so succinctly put it, “Life is but a day.”

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