Mar 29, 2009

Re-evaluate Your Network of People

This is the second time for me to be laid off, so it's based on two separate experiences when I say this: Being laid off helps to shake your network of people, both personal and professional, allowing you to reconnect with the ones that really matter and fade out the ones that don't. You almost don't need to do anything except telling everyone that you are laid off: you then just sit and wait to see who shows up at your door and who stops showing up.

We all tend to accumulate things--books, DVDs, pens, online IDs, or even relationships. And even if they were all good and relevant when added to the collection, they may not be still good and relevant today. Some of them might have been useless and unnecessary from the beginning. (I already have a lifetime supply of pens, but somehow I can't seem to stop getting more.)

So it's not a bad idea to clean up every once in a while. But while it's not so complicated to sort and discard unnecessary books and CDs, it's usually not that easy to clean up your relationships --unless you are laid off and people around you do the clean up for you.

I was fascinated by this process the first time it happened. It was very insightful because my guess wasn't always correct. Not everyone that I considered close to me stayed on; while some that I didn't stepped up. And after the shake, I felt happier and more secure, knowing that the ones left in my circle really cared about me. It also became easier because my time and attention didn't need to be spread out so thin anymore. It became manageable and actually worth managing.

As I go through yet another shake up, I'm finding another element, too. It's adding new ones to my circle. I don't know how many of them would actually stay on for a long haul, but one thing that I can say is that these are the ones who opened up to me when I'm jobless and nameless. It's kind of like making friends while in college: no agenda, no taking advantages, just because. Maybe not quite that good, but it definitely beats being friendly with coworkers that you can't personally respect.

I have to add this to my list of advantages being laid off. Most definitely.

Mar 26, 2009

Possible Sweet Spot

I'm spending more and more time doing that translation volunteer work. I'm having such a fun that I can't help it. I forget time reading about a wide variety of green initiatives in Japan, get really into learning about each topic (which is necessary to actually translate the content), and become completely engrossed in finding a perfect matching word to translate to and composing a sentence that mirrors the original one.

It got to the point where I finally developed an inflammation of tendon sheath (De Quervan's Syndrome). It was so bad that I couldn't make my left arm to type at all yesterday. It probably has to do with working at my dining table rather than at proper work desk, going back and forth between English and Japanese, and just doing too much typing. They say I need to rest my arm to let it heal for now - which I'm kind of doing reluctantly (I'm try to make this post short, if I can help it).

But anyway, as I tried to "rest", all this is starting to make me wonder if this can possibly be my sweet spot. I mean, I've been getting up in the morning looking forward to work and forget time while doing it. I'm using my skills and talent, and I'm fulfilling my purpose by help promoting green awareness. Ability to make a living is the only factor missing here.

So I'm contemplating and researching whether it's possible to do the same kind of stuff in a paid environment. Not sure if there's a market for it, but it's worth exploring, right? Somebody once told me that you should never say 'there's nothing that I really want to do with my life.' She said you should instead say 'there's got to be something that I really want to do with my life' because the act of making that statement actually helps you find what you want to do with your life.

Right now, I'm feeling pretty lucky just for finding this possibility.

Mar 23, 2009

Purpose, Passion, and Gift to Consider to Find the Sweet Spot

Right after I got laid off, I took a self-assessment test to understand myself in order to help figure out my direction. It was a behavioral test that analyzed my work style and interest to suggest types of works that I'd be successful doing. It was interesting because it made me aware what work environment suited me. It was also rather insightful to be told what I really liked doing.

But the assessment didn't take "purpose" - the cause(s) that you cared about - into consideration. It only looked at "passion" - what you love doing - and "gift" - your talent and skills. And even those are assessed in a limited context: what's typical at work place and what you currently exhibit.

So learning a framework for thinking all three elements together was intriguing and encouraging. Dave Pollard says that everyone asks the question "What am I going to do?" at various times in their lives and careers, though it often goes unanswered. And he further points out that those who found the answers to this question are the people who love getting up in the morning to go to work, work hard and long hours, and still don't think that they are actually "working".

In fact, all the explanations written to describe how using your gift without having a passion for it or seeing a purpose in it can leave you frustrated or how using your gift where you have your passion but not seeing any purpose can makes you feel unappreciated really clarified why I wasn't so happy with my previous work. Or why you can get "addicted" to these unhappy work environment. And I'm starting to really see that I was mistaken to think that doing what you love or cared really made a difference.

Another "a-ha"moment that I had by reading this book was that I may not know all my gifts or passions. Like the translation work that I'm finding to be enjoyable, you never know until you do something new. As Pollard mentions, this finding-the-sweet-spot exercise, therefore, isn't something that you do once; it's an iterative process tweaking based on your personal change as well as market change.

Something to think about.

A note about the book:

This book is about finding the sweet spot, finding like-minded partners, and finding business that can fulfil your sweet spot. I found the first part of this book very insightful and helpful, but I didn't find the other two too useful. They all sounded wonderful in theory, but not much of them sounded practical to me (although you might find them practical). He has a website that supposedly facilitate meeting your ideal partners and sharing business ideas, but it's not completely up and running as of 3/23/09. I wasn't impressed with that. So if you are curious about this book, don't just go to Amazon and buy it - I'd suggest you go to a book store to actually scan the content before buying it.

Mar 20, 2009

Switching off for Earth Hour

I know this isn't directly related to being unemployed and searching for new life direction, but since supporting what's good for this planet is one of my principles that guide my life, I'm going to use this space to endorse Earth Hour.

Learning about environmental issues is something that I was able to start doing a lot more in the past couple of months; so in a way, I guess I can say that my wanting to advocate something like this (as opposed to being eco-friendly only on my own) is a part of life progress that I'm making. I am still writing my other blog, too, although it's still not very organized and I haven't found a clear direction with it. But what counts is the progress, not perfection, so I guess I'll keep going to see what happens.

And by the way, thinking about a lot bigger issue like global warming and world population does put my own situation into perspective - small and temporary.

Mar 18, 2009

Job Hunting Still Slow: In a Meanwhile...Part 2

Besides doing some networking and finding out that it's not too bad when you do it in the area you are really interested in, I'm also doing some volunteer work, also in the field that I'm interested in.

The organization is called Japan For Sustainability. They basically gather information about green initiatives happening in Japan and report them out to the world. There is a team of volunteers researching and reporting on what's going on to generate articles in Japanese, while another team translate them into English. There's also a team translating feedbacks coming all over the world into Japanese to publish, and several other teams doing things like maintaining the website and doing promoting. It's all done by volunteers, and given the site gets 100,000 visits per month, it's doing pretty well. I found out about them at the Eco-Products Expo in Tokyo, and they recruited me to do translation work.

Anyway, so I've been spending a lot of time translating since beginning of February. And, like a lot of other things that I've been doing, it has proved to be quite interesting experience.

First of all, it's giving me an opportunity to work people in Japan. I've been living in the States for such a long time (with very little opportunity to interact with other Japanese folks), and I have never worked in this kind of Japanese setting. I knew, of course, how different it was going to be compared to working in an American setting, but even so find this experience interesting. I feel like I'm getting some kind of rehabilitation to be introduced back to Japanese society. I don't know if going back to Japan to settle is something that I'd do anytime soon, but hey, I should stay open for any possibility, right?

Second, I'm finding out that I enjoy translation work. I had never done any formal translation work before, and I wasn't particularly considering start doing it, either. I agreed to do some volunteer work to help promote green initiatives, and the work involved just happened to be translation. I had no idea that I was going to enjoy it so much. I always loved reading and writing, but selecting words or phrases that perfectly match to the original writing is really fascinating me. Sometimes it seems like a great puzzle, sometimes like an art. You might think that you already know what you enjoy and what you don't, but you really never know what else you like until you try out something new.

And finally, it's interesting because I'm reading about something that I'm already interested in: green initiatives. I think it has to do with the fact that Japan is much more homogeneous, but often initiatives get implemented and be adopted fairly quickly in Japan. So green initiatives in general, I'd say, is a bit more advanced than in the States. And learning about them is quite encouraging and interesting.

Yes, it's true I make no money doing this, but so far it's been definitely worth it. I highly recommend taking the opportunity and doing something new, just to see what else you might like doing.

Mar 16, 2009

Eat Foods to Be Healthy: Taking Advantage of Time that I Have

As I mentioned in Looking at Positives While Being Unemployed, my health has been improving since I got let go from my previous job. I knew that the one of the reasons for this improvement had to be with the change in diet that I went through. I eat more vegetables and fruits. I cook more (and I do more of them from scratch), all because I now actually have the time and energy to devote.

But what I didn't know for sure was exactly what part of this change was doing me good. I mean, I had always been conscious about what to eat. I read books like Foods That Harm Foods That Heal, and made sure that I was taking supplements. If I didn't have foods that contained, say, enough calcium, I'd take calcium supplement.

In Defense of Food demystified this for me. I guess the theory behind it - whole foods are better for you than processed foods - isn't anything new, but the details that Micheal Pollan provides in this book make it clearer why processed foods will never be competition to whole foods. He shows how following nutritionism doesn't work and how western diet (product of nutritionism) is doing some damage to us.

Nutritional science is based only on what they can measure: the nutrition has to be known and measurable. There are probably many unknown micro nutrients that simply aren't considered. In addition, nutritional science tend to focus on one nutrient at a time, rather than looking at synergy among multiple nutrients. Any food created based on this nutritionism approach would be ignoring these facts. Processed foods, with some nutrients added or subtracted, therefore, won't provide same benefits as whole foods.

There is a theory (yet proven) that a body that's starved of critical nutrients will keep eating in the hope of obtaining them, counteracting the normal feeling of satiety after sufficient calories are eaten (they suspect that this may be a factor contributing to obese). I find it very interesting because I used to feel this a lot - wanting to eat something else when I'm already full -and wondered why.

Western diet is made largely out of those processed foods. And apparently there are many studies indicating that those who are used to eating own cultural/traditional diet become unhealthy as soon as they incorporate western diet. Similarly, there are studies where going back to traditional diet reverted people back to healthier state.

I can relate to this, too, as I had always experienced a temporary improvement of my health whenever I went back to Japan and ate our traditional foods for a period of time. Nutritionally speaking (as far as ones that are known), the difference couldn't have been that big for me, but nevertheless it worked every time. I now know why.

The book gives a lot more detail, plus suggestion as to what to actually do in an attempt to leave that nutritionism approach and western diet. Why not try since we have the time?

Mar 13, 2009

Job Hunting Still Slow; In a Meanwhile...

Since I had changed my approach to look for a job mostly in the local area about a month ago, I have been diligently working on that. It seems that my resume does get a better chance being actually viewed. But the problem is that there are very limited number of jobs that fits my background regardless of whether it's in the field that I want to go in or not. It's hard to find something to apply for. So things are still slow.

Meanwhile, I've been doing other stuff lately. One of them is to learn about local green activities. I came across an ad about a local green summit hosted by the city while looking for an open position there, and I thought: I have been learning what's happening globally and what I can do personally, but never thought of learning about local community initiatives. So I signed up and went, just to see what's going on.

I'm glad that I went. It was great just to be able to chat with people with same interest and I learned a lot. But besides learning about green activities in my community, I had a little epiphany moment there. I was chatting with people and then I kind of realized: I'm networking. I know, duh, right? But for someone who had always viewed networking as a kind of professional blind date with a string attached, this was an eye-opener. When it's something that you are really interested in, networking isn't a pain: it's just talking about what you are interested in with someone whom you didn't know before.

They say do what you love. And I thought I understood the concept - If you love what you do, you are likely to do a better job and excel, therefore, be more successful. But I never really felt that it would make much difference. I mean, I did fairly well with my past career. I was always able to give my 100% to whatever needed to be done, and I think I was pretty good at what I did. In fact, I think I'm capable of doing anything if I put my mind to it. And while it would be rather challenging to put my mind to it if I hated the job, I don't think I have to love it, either.

Schools, society, and work place (especially corporate world) train you to be strategic: be flexible, know when to be assertive, negotiate, and compromise. You learn those skills to survive, maybe even become very successful.

But maybe there's something more to it. And maybe I'm given a chance to experience it.

Mar 11, 2009

Focusing on What's in Front of You

This is something that I had always felt, a life principle that first came to my mind when I asked myself what I would say if I had to write "This I Believe". It's to focus on what's in front of you and give 100%. Because, well, what else would I do? Do nothing until something worth giving 100% of me to come along in some unknown future?

They say that you have to have goals and objectives; without them you aren't going anywhere. I don't believe that. Well, not always. Yes, if you know exactly where you want to go, you should definitely have specific goals and objectives so that you can systematically work your way towards that place you want to be. But it works only when you know exactly where you want to go. What if you don't know where you want to go? You are just stuck where you are now and not going anywhere until you make up your mind?

I think it's possible, and from my personal experience more interesting path, to go somewhere without knowing exactly where you are heading. It automatically happens when you just focus on what's in front of you, giving 100% of you to it. Life is really a full of surprises (who knew WSJ would find this blog??) and the odds of good surprises get really higher when you are mindful focusing what's in front of you. And when you embrace those surprise elements and keep going, you eventually find yourself standing somewhere; somewhere you'd never expected to be or didn't even know existed in the first place, but nonetheless interesting.

I don't know how many people are fortunate enough to know what they really want to be doing or where they really want to go. I know there are some, but I have a feeling that people who intuitively know what they are supposed to do with their lives are rare. Despite of that, I think we tend to believe that defining a goal has to always come first; we are taught that's the proper way to be successful. But forcing to conjure up "goals" when you couldn't have from your bottom of heart, isn't going to work out at the end of the day. Besides, why would you want to limit your possibilities that way?

So while I'm in this in-between place, I'm just going to focus on what comes in front of me.

Mar 9, 2009

What You'd Find on This Blog

I started to write this blog to organize my thoughts and to chronicle my progress. It helps me pay attention to things happening around me and how I feel. It helps me to think through things. It encourages me to keep going. So writing posts to be read by others hadn't really been my main focus. But I do wish that if anyone comes here to read my post, the person would find my posts useful.

So this is a little note for those who stumbled onto this blog to give some idea what kind of stuff might be found here.

  • Books - I love books. When I was working, most of the books that I read were novels that didn't require too much thinking. But now that I'm not always too tired, I'm reading a lot more non-fictions and learning brand new stuff. I can't get enough. And when I get wowed or inspired, I write about those books.
  • Inspiration - Some come from the books that I read, some come from what's happening around me. I try to write about them so that I can internalize them and think how I can apply in my life. Writing it help me not to let them slip away.
  • Life Direction - I think we all need to have life principles to live by. I've been thinking about my life mission and principles, and trying to make better sense of them by writing.
  • Self-Help - Having extra time on hand is a blessing, and I intend to take maximum advantage of it while it lasts. And I'm recording anything that can be considered useful to better myself.
  • Career - What to do to earn my living, whether it's going to be something that I can call career or not, is something that I'm working on daily basis without much progress. So most of my career related posts are about directions, work-life balance, etc. rather than job hunting per se.
  • Health - Health has been a major issue for me. Though I'm getting much better since I got freed from my work, I'm very conscious about how I can improve and maintain my health. So I write about things that I learn regarding this topic.
  • Update - These are just updates to my personal situation or the directions that I'm exploring.
Use the category link on the right to get to the section that's most relevant to you. If you find any of them useful, let me know. And for those in the same situation as I am, I advocate to take advantage of the extra time that you have to put your life into perspective.

Mar 8, 2009

The Core Principles That Guide Your Life

This I Believe is a National Public Radio series where individuals in all walks of life present a short essay, in a few hundred words only, describing the core principles that guide their life. I had heard more than a few of them on the radio and it always intrigued me because there are such a variety of beliefs out there guiding people's lives.

After reading eighty essays in this book, I was still awed by the wide range of personal convictions out there. While some stated more general and expected credos like "give" or "believe in god", there are some that live by very unique beliefs like "be cool to the pizza dudes" and "always go to the funeral". But the common thread among all those eighty essayists is that they all have own unique story behind what they believe in. It's not just what they were taught to live by; their beliefs are based on what they had experienced and internalized. The reason why their essays literary speak to me is that their beliefs are something that they had developed through living their lives.

It made me wonder what I would say if I had to write my own This I Believe essay. I think I'd have to give some thoughts to it. But Jay Allison, the host and curator of This I Believe, says:

Beliefs are choices. No one has authority over your personal beliefs. Your beliefs are in jeopardy only when you don't know what they are.

Do you know what yours are? What would you say if you were to write a This I Believe essay?

Mar 5, 2009

Difference Between Pleasure and Happiness

After I learned how brain needs new stimulus, I got curious. So as usual, I went looking for a book about brain. I picked Your Brain: The Missing Manual because it seemed comprehensive enough but not too technical that an ordinary person like me could enjoy reading. And it turned out to be a very interesting and entertaining book.

The book covers a wide range of topics related to brain, from the basic mechanisms to how perception or reasoning work and how brain develops. But the parts that interested me was how brain functions to reward and motivate us.

We feel pleasure when a part of brain called nucleus accumbens give electric stimulate. And the stimulate is issued when we achieve something that your brain considers as beneficial to your biological interests (i.e. being well fed, avoiding danger, procreating, etc.). But this stimulus is temporary - it dies off quickly. Moreover, the brain gets accustomed to new sources of pleasure, so you won't get the same level of pleasure effect for the second or third time. It makes sense if you think about, say, eating a piece of cake; the pleasure dies off once you finish eating it, and the second serving won't necessarily give you the same pleasure. The brain functions this way in order to keep motivating you to do what's needed for your biological needs.

So from the biological point of view, you cannot get happiness - more of a long term state of contentment and optimism - by working to stimulate your nucleus accumbens, which only give a you temporary pleasure. This is why materialistic pursuant doesn't make you happy. This isn't just an old saying; it's scientific.

So what could make you happy? What your brain wants is the state of relaxed indifference; we need to first realize that the definition of happiness is a zen-like state of mind that's homeostasis. We also need to understand that unhappiness is what makes world go around because it fuels motivation. So focusing on experience rather than end results is the key to feel happiness.

A lot of self-help books or individuals who made significant achievement say that it's the progress, not the perfection that's important, or it's how we get there that's more important. It's very interesting and also assuring that this type of notions is proven scientifically.

So we are all doing it right by treasuring the experience rather than the result. You can still pursue short-lived pleasures by putting yourself through disciplined self-deprivation (i.e. eat only a little bit of great food, engage in pleasurable activity only so often, etc.) or through continuously switching types of pleasure sources, but just don't expect that to make you happy.