Showing posts with label Inspirtation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Inspirtation. Show all posts

Jul 12, 2009

Perspective on Money

In case you already know what you like doing but don't quite have a courage to focus on it because you think it won't be financially comfortable, I want to share what I had discovered after I had given up steady (well, as long as you aren't laid off one day all of a sudden) paychecks.

Money becomes less of a concern when you are doing what you really enjoy.

I know this doesn't sound like a new discovery. In fact, I've heard this many times from many sources before. I'm sure you have, too. But I did not completely understand this until I actually started to do what I liked. And when I understood it, it was like realizing there there was another dimension of world. I could not believe that it had always existed and I never noticed it.

I don't much care for owning things. I usually find shopping as a necessary chore rather than leisurely activity. So money isn't important to me in that sense. But still, it was something that I needed to buy convenience and security, build retirement fund, and pay bills. I was busy and I needed to buy “time” by paying for services or convenient goods. So much was at risk (or so I felt) that I needed additional insurance and emergency funds. And since I couldn't stand continue working, I needed to build my retirement fund--ASAP. I felt that I couldn't afford getting less than what I was making.

I had my reasons for wanting to get more, too. Often, it was difficult to assess real value of my work –projects getting killed by executives with no apparent reasons, being told to do something without explanations, not getting any feedback on my work, etc. In that environment, salary was something that I used to measured my value in a corporate world while bonus quantified my performance. I wanted a higher score and assurance that I was doing something that was meaningful, at least to the company who paid me.

It's different now. The biggest difference is that I no longer feel that I need to build my retirement fund as soon as possible. In fact, I almost feel that I don't need a retirement fund at all; I might actually want to continue working until the day I die. How about that? Who would have thought that I'd feel this way?

Another change in my perspective is that I no longer feel that everything is at risk and I have be prepared for all conceivable emergencies. My health, which was horrible and expensive to maintain when I was working my corporate job, has been improving and I'm gaining back enough confidence to consider switching to a high deductible insurance and open an HSA account.

And of course, I no longer have that need to measure my value and performance by salary and bonus.

I had suspected that my medical expenses would be reduced if I stopped putting myself in such a stressful environment, but I had never imagined the total effect of choosing what I liked doing over steady paychecks to be so dramatic.

You never know until you actually experience it. You should give it a try.

May 20, 2009

Do Something Because That's What You Want

Looking back, I think there was only one time when I made a life decision because that was what I wanted. I was maybe 15 years old, and that decision was to live abroad while I was still a teenager.

I was scared to just grow up and being molded into something that the adults considered a "decent member of society." I wasn't sure if I was crazy or the island country that I lived in was crazy. I needed to see if this was the way it worked in other countries. Plus, I needed to get a hell out of there. There was no "it will be a great experience" or "it'll look great on my resume"-type of agenda. And it wasn't like anyone suggested that I go live abroad, or I happened to encounter an opportunity to go abroad. There was absolutely nobody who'd support me with that idea. But I made it happen -- just because that's what I wanted. I just wanted it for myself.

So I came to the States when I was 17. But since then, I hadn't made any life decision just because I wanted it. They were made based on whether 1) it was something I needed to do in order to achieve certain goal, whether it was a degree or a career, 2) someone suggested and it seemed a good idea, 3) an opportunity presented itself and there was no reason not to take it, or 4) I knew it was going to make someone happy.

I don't think there's anything wrong with the way I made most of my life decisions. In fact, I firmly believe that by being open to what happens to you (even though you never asked for it) you get to experience something unique and awesome that you wouldn't have thought of yourself in a million years.

But what I recently realized is that you have to do something every once in a while just because that's what you want. Something that you just want to "do" regardless of consequences. Why? Because it gives you a completely different perspective of life. It makes you happy in a way that you were happy when you were a child and played all day.

I'm now pursuing translation as a way to make my living, because I just want to "do" it (and I can't hold other jobs if I wanted to do it in a way I want to, so I'll try to make money while doing what I want in order to avoid needing another job). I'm happy. It reminded me of the time I was trying to go outside of Japan to see what it was like out there. Maybe I'll fail, maybe I'll change my mind, maybe this is ridiculous. But you know what? I don't care.

I used to envy people who knew what they wanted to do with their lives. I used to think I didn't have anything that I felt so strongly about. But I now know that you should never ever give up on finding something, because it makes HUGE difference when you find it.

Well, so I guess this is the end of my "rethinking life after being laid off" period.

Thank you for those who visited here or left a message for me. It was great.

I'm not sure what I want to do with this blog. I'll give some thoughts and write one more post to let you know. If you have any suggestion, let me know.

If you are still unemployed and searching what you want to do, don't ever, ever, give up.
Do what you love.

May 6, 2009

Experience to Know What You Already Understand

It's been a while since I wrote my last post. It's not that I had forgotten about this blog. It's just I couldn't organize my thoughts well enough to write a post. I mentioned in a previous post that I got an interview and said I'd either get it or I'd learn something about myself. That was the reason why I didn't know what to write for a long time.

No, I did not get the job. But oh-my-god, did I learn and realize about myself. Seriously, I see the "after-the-event" me different from the "before-the-event" me. It's hard to explain this to others. If someone tells you his near-death experience or her experience in become a mom, you'd understand it as an event described, but you'd never actually "know" how it is, right? You can read books and books about trust or love, but you'd never "know" what they are until you experience them yourself.

So I'm not sure if there's any point trying to explain it as it really felt to me (besides, I'm not sure if I can explain it well...). But here's what happened:
  • I get a call from a non-profit educational institution that I applied back in February. We schedule an interview. I feel neutral.
  • I get the TOEIC result that says I got a perfect score. I feel very hopeful about my translator career.
  • I get an email inquiry from a translation agency - they want to know if I can take an urgent job. This was out of blue; I did not expect it at all. I had to decline because it was a medical research paper that I wouldn't have understood in English or Japanese. But the whole incident makes me even more hopeful.
  • As I wait for the interview day, I start to wonder whether I should even go through it. I mull this over until I stress myself out.
  • I go to the interview, telling myself that it goes against my principle to turn down any opportunity without getting any details. But at the same time, I know I don't actually want the job to be offered to me because it's the kind of job that I'd like (I applied for it after all), but I couldn't have held this job AND try to work out translation career at the same time.
  • The interview goes really well. For a while, I forget that I didn't want the job. But after the interview, I freak out thinking they might actually offer me the job.
  • I agonize and stress myself out thinking what I'd do I was offered the job.
  • I continue pursuing translation work--learning, practicing, do that volunteer work, etc. I'm starting to feel that I'd be able to decline if I get the job and not regret it.
  • I finally hear back from them and it was "thank you and good luck". I didn't get the job. I feel completely relieved. I'm also completely determined to pursue a career in translation field.

This whole episode shifted something inside of me. I suffered through it, but interestingly (now that I think about it), I didn't do anything to try to take things in certain direction or to make myself do something one way or the other. I sort of stood there and watched my feeling and will to emerge from nowhere (as it seemed) and grow to take a shape by itself. Weird.

I believe that I'm in a physical format on this planet because my spirit or soul (or whatever you'd call it) needs to "experience" in order to really "know" what it already "understands." This is my personal religion. Although I cannot say that I'm doing spectacular job in this regard, this is one of the reasons why I try to be open to anything that comes to me. And this episode gave me an opportunity to "know" something inside of me that I didn't know existed.

So that's the update. Sometimes things move in a way that you don't expect them to or don't wish them to, but if you think of it as an opportunity to experience something that you wouldn't have thought of trying to experience, you might find something inside of you that you didn't know existed, too.

Apr 22, 2009

Positive Impact of Time

Lately I somehow stopped being aware of how long I've been unemployed. But I thought about this yesterday and was rather surprised to realize that it's been over five months since I got laid off. I gave myself a break right after I got laid off, so it's really been about four months since I started working on my unemployed situation at the beginning of this year. But still! I honestly did not expect to be unemployed this long. I thought I'd have another job within a few month - at most. I mean, it only took me a little over a month to find another job last time I got laid off after the 9.11. event.

It's not that I still have the same expectations and intentions. And I definitely don't consider the past few months unproductive. In fact, a lot happened during this time and I'm surprised just how my perceptions have changed.

Which lead me to think about time. More specifically, the impact of cumulative time.

Time does a number of things. I couldn't have believed that I'd be OK without having a regular job for such a long time when I was employed. And for a while after I got laid off, I was subconsciously tracking time, fearing how long more I'd be OK. But now? I realize that the sky doesn't fall and I'm fine with my current situation. I never expected that I'd feel this way. Sure I've done a lot of thinking and stuff, but this gradual change couldn't have happened without time doing whatever it does to people.

The way I was measuring my life has also changed drastically. It used to be based on tangible outputs: How many reports and presentations did I produce this month? How many to-do's did I accomplish today? But overtime, I noticed myself looking at more intangible progress: Is my translation skill improving? Am I in better health? Am I feeling happier? This, too, I think, is time's doing. Time somehow makes me look inward, I guess.

All these gradual changes had to take time to evolve: I couldn't have reached where I am now without actually spending several months being jobless. So if I had gotten a job earlier, I'd have stopped this evolving process at that time to go off a completely different path. It almost feels as if I've escaped a parallel life that I probably didn't want.

I wonder if others are going through anything similar to my experience. The last unemployment stats that I heard said something like over 5 million or over 40% of all unemployed people in the States have been unemployed for 15 weeks or over. That's a very large number of people to be getting the "time treatment" at the same time. I wonder how our society might change because of it. I somehow feel that it'll have a positive impact.

Apr 9, 2009

Change the Way You Perceive Reality

It was my birthday yesterday. For the past several years, I was always busy on my birthdays and never even thought of taking time to reflect on anything. But this time, I sort of had a profound emotion about getting older.

I mean, I'm in this "in-between" place, contemplating to change my career direction which could possibly take a year or two, and it's not like I'm fresh out of college. I'm not that young, and shoot, I just became one year older!

But then I thought about the concept of the 100 Year Lifestyle. The chances are that I'm going to live to be 100 year old. If that's the case, well, I guess it makes perfect sense to spend next year or two in an attempt to ensure the remaining decades to be happier years. In fact, going back to the same kind of life, though it's probably easier to attain, would be a waste of my time, wouldn't it? I'd have a decent steady salary for maybe several years - until I go down by exhaustion or be laid off again, whichever comes first - with not much else to gain.

And I was thinking "If I shared this thought to my previous co-workers, most of them probably wouldn't understand," when I realized something.

When I was working, I was often told "Perception is reality." (Yes, I was in marketing.) While I didn't particularly embrace the notion that what you do isn't as important as how that's perceived, I do agree that perception is reality in a way everyone has own reality that's edited by his or her perception. And what I realized was that I just edited my own perception, taking my reality very far from that of my old co-workers.

I'm not sure if I'm making a clear sense with this post, but what I'm getting at is this: We edit our own perception to create own reality - which means that we are in fact in control of our own reality. When we feel discouraged or need motivation, maybe changing how we edit our own perception is the key to overcome those.

So that was my birthday "a-ha" moment. Getting older isn't too bad after all.

Apr 3, 2009

Tracking Your Life Over Time

My mother has a 5-year journal that she's been writing for quite some time (I think she's finishing the journal this year). She says she's just listing things that she did on each day, more of a record keeping than journal writing. But I used to get jealous. She'd say something like, "Oh, guess what I did exactly 2 years ago on this day??" or "The first snow fell earlier last year than this year." And I'd be thinking: "My days, weeks, even years are going by so fast that they all look the same. I can't even remember what I was doing last week!"

So a little over two years ago, I got my own multi-year journal. I didn't know if I was capable of writing everyday, so I went for a 3-year version instead of 5. I've missed a day or two here and there, but so far I'm keeping up with it: it's been two years and three months now. And you know what? It has been great. I highly recommend this to anyone.

I have nine lines in a 2"x2" square per day to write. It's not hard to fill this small space, and I write whatever that I feel like writing, with no rule whatsoever, usually at the end of the day or the following morning. When I do, I get to sort of look at what I had written around the same time last year and the year before, which is pretty interesting and insightful.

My journal also have a slightly larger space at the beginning of each month. At the end of each month, I write about what I want to focus next month. I also go back and read what I had written the prior month to see whether I ended up doing what I was thinking that I'd do. If I didn't do what I thought I'd do, that's just fine with me because things change. The point is to pick up what I was thinking a month ago and reflect on, so that I can put everything into perspective. Is it still important? Still a priority? It helps me to set my priorities right.

It's funny -what I write aren't interesting when I write it, but it becomes interesting a year later. It tells me about the progress I've made or how my perception changed over time - things that I couldn't have noticed by looking at today compared to yesterday. It proves that even if my days look blurry, they aren't. It shows me that I am doing an OK job of growing up, giving me confidence. And it teaches me that a little step that I take each day takes me far in a long run. It's easier now to trust myself. It has also helped me not to worry or get upset about small stuff. Yes, I knew in theory that you shouldn't worry about small stuff, but it wasn't until that I started to read about what small stuff that I was worrying about a year or two later that I truly understood that it makes no difference in a long run.

And after doing this over two years, I noticed that it's becoming my habit to think about what good happened today (or yesterday if I'm writing in the morning), rather than thinking what happened in general. And that, I think, makes difference.

I'm already browsing the selection of multi-year journals to see which one I want once I'm complete my 3-year version. (The 10-year version looks a bit scary, but also very intriguing...)

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 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 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.

Feb 21, 2009

What I Would Miss When I Get a Job

There are positive sides to being unemployed. I'd written in my past post about three major effects that I personally have had. One of them had to do with spending time on things that I couldn't or wouldn't have been able to while working. When I was writing, I was referring to things that I wasn't doing much while working, such as studying non-work related matters and taking an inventory of my life. But lately I'm thinking that being able to spend more time on things that I was doing before, too, have some positive effects. For me, it's cooking, which I love.

When I was working, I often couldn't cook everyday: I didn't have the time. I would be too tired to cook or too hungry to spend time cooking. And when I did have the time and energy, I didn't have what I needed in my refrigerator because I didn't have time to do grocery shopping often enough. What I usually did was to cook a bunch of stuff during weekends to reheat during weekdays and to incorporate eating-out and preprocessed foods.

But now, oh my god, things in this area are just great. I get to go grocery shopping whenever I need. This means that I can cook and eat what I fancy at any given moment; I don't need to compromise based on what I can find in my refrigerator or pantry. It also means that I can get more fresh produce instead of going for frozen ones because I wouldn't need to worry about keeping them long in my refrigerator. And it's not just frozen food that I reduced; I drastically reduced using preprocessed foods as well. Instead, I'm making things from scratch, often trying out new ingredients. Overall, I'd say that I'm having a lot more variety of foods that are fresher and with less additives.

And I'm starting to see its positive effects: I feel healthy because I'm eating well. I feel happier because I love cooking and I get to enjoy meals more (there's a huge difference between eating reheated food and just-cooked food, let me tell you). Also, there are two more side-effects that I noticed: One is that my food expense is lower and the other is that the amount of garbage that I produce is smaller. They probably have to do with the reduction of preprocessed foods that I'm having, and it makes me feel really good that while I'm doing good to my body and my bank account, I'm also doing good to the environment.

I know I won't be able to continue spending so much time on cooking once I get a regular job. I would definitely miss this part of being unemployed. I wish there was an easy way to balance all these...Check Spelling

Feb 10, 2009

Looking at Positives While Being Unemployed

It's never a picnic being unemployed, but as I go through it I do see some positive sides in being this "in-between" place. It's interesting because these positives are something that I would have never gotten if I didn't lose my job. They say that sometimes you have to let go of something in order to get another thing: It's so true.

The first, and most important, positive effect that I saw and felt by being unemployed was my improved health. I knew I had some health issues caused by stress at work, but I honestly had no idea how bad it was. It seems that I had completely forgotten how it feels to have a well-functioning healthy body while I had my last job. Now that my body is starting to function the way it's supposed to, I'm just amazed how much difference it makes. I'm so lucky to find out how beaten up my body was by being unemployed, rather than, say, being taken into the hospital. I just need to remember not to put myself in that type of stressful environment again.

The second major positive effect was more available time to do things that I would have never been able to allocate my time to do while working full-time. Perhaps the fact that the unemployment rate is high and there are not many opportunities that match your background is also providing extra time as well (otherwise I'd feel that I have to spend all my waking time submitting my resume until I run out jobs to apply for). But whatever the reason is, I'm doing two things that I wasn't able to allocate my time before: thinking through how I want to live my life and spending time learning new things that are not directly related to work. Taking time to think through life has been very important and significant exercise for me (as you see that this blog is dedicated to that process and progress!). And being able to pick up any topic that I feel like and exploring it further has broaden my knowledge and perspective so much that it's also been invaluable. When I was working, the only books that I read were novels because I was too exhausted to read anything technical or complicated. I read to relax and rest my brain. But I hardly ever read novels nowadays because I don't need to.

And the last major positive effect is that it allowed me to put work and money into perspective. When I was working, I was doing so more or less under the notion that I pursue my career because there was monetary reward as I advanced, and I needed that monetary reward as much as possible and as soon as possible because I couldn't stand keep pursuing my career. This was a closed loop and a rat race that I didn't know how to get out of. Now that I'm actually off that rat race, that notion cleared out and I see that 1) if I had a work that fulfilled me, money becomes secondary issue only to get the minimum that I need to live off, and 2) my living cost isn't that high (especially when you are in better health). I had probably known all this in theory, but again, I probably couldn't have accepted it without feeling like a loser. Being unemployed allowed me to accept this.

Things happen for reasons, and I guess I must be exactly where I should be now.

Feb 1, 2009

Do What You Are Doing, Because There's No Secret Sauce

You get discouraged and start losing your confidence and faith when things don't move along as you had hoped. You start to think, "maybe I'm not doing it right" or "maybe I'm missing something".

So when I saw Know Your Power by Nancy Pelosi, the first woman ever to become Speaker of the House, I picked it up to see if I find the answers there.

The book was an easy read, with some funny remarks here and there, and didn't present anything that I'd consider unique or new. Her message was basic and fundamental; what you might even hear from your own mother.

But the fact that it's coming from this accomplished woman who went from housewife to eventually Speaker of the House to follow her passion and faith makes it reassuring. Here are some of the things that she tells you:
  • Proper preparation prevents poor performance - be ready if you want to succeed
  • Organize, don't agonize - don't waste your time and energy agonizing over something; organize instead
  • Know the procedures - you might not NEED to know how something actually gets done, but it's empowering if you know the procedures
  • Never fight a fight as if it's your last fight - while there are eternal friendships, there's no such thing as an eternal opponent; don't ever burn bridges
  • Do what you are doing - focus on whatever that you are doing
  • There's no secret sauce - they might make you feel that you don't know, and you'll never know, the secret sauce for success, but the truth is that there's no secret sauce

I was encouraged. I'm learning as much as I can about the industry and the market that I want to get into, trying to organize my thoughts and actions, just focusing on what I can do now. And while I knew that that's all I could do anyway, it was nice to hear that there in fact was no secret sauce.

Jan 26, 2009

Ask Whether You'd Regret

My cousin passed away a few days ago.

He was only 42 years old. It was a stomach cancer that killed him, and they said that because he was young it was spreading fast and there was nothing that could have been done by the time they diagnosed him. So the whole thing went very fast and he was gone.

The first thing that I came to my mind when I heard that he was gone was that I should have gone and see him when I was in Japan. I knew he was hospitalized then, but it didn't seem that he wanted to see anyone and I wasn't that close to him. So I didn't push it. Now I regret it.

Why regret if I wasn't that close to him? Perhaps because I know I live too far away from my family in Japan - unless my family alert me in advance, it's almost impossible for me to make it to anyone's funeral in Japan. So in my heart somewhere I must have known that it could be the last chance to see him when I was in Japan. But I didn't take that chance. And besides, even if I lived close enough to attend his funeral, what's the point getting over there when it's already too late?

Plus it makes me think about everyone else. I wish I could have been there for everyone else.

The second thing that came to my mind was my own health. Last year, I found out that I had a polyp big enough to be a cancer. It wasn't, but it was scary. What's the difference between my cousin and I? The only difference was that I was lucky.

We all say how we need to live the present moment, treasure our lives, and so on. It's something that we understand as a concept, but often don't really know it in heart. Or you feel that you know it, but it slips away next moment. It's something that you don't think all the time. And there's nothing requiring you to go that extra mile to have an OK life.

But what I learned is that I don't want to regret. That I should ask myself whether I would regret before I decide to do or not to do something.

Jan 22, 2009

Benefits of Blogging in Thinking Through Life

This will be my 30th post that I've written since I started this blog after being laid off. So has anything changed since I started? On the surface, not really - I'm still unemployed and looking for that meaningful work that can also pay my bills. But there has definitely been some cumulative thinking happening inside of me that is moving me forward. And blogging along the way has played a very interesting and useful role.

I sort of mentioned in my last post how difficult it is not to get discouraged and to keep doing what you think you need to be doing at the present moment, when you are unemployed without a project with an end date or a regular paycheck. The fact that the economy is in trouble and more people are losing jobs doesn't help, and for someone who is considering to switch a career, the challenge is even larger. But so far, I'm surviving without getting too discouraged. I think blogging is helping me in the following ways:
  • Pushing me to think through things deeply and logically - When you have to write out your thoughts, it forces you to organize your thoughts. Blogging actually made me realize how my casual thinking falls short in identifying all options and evaluating them by following through your thoughts. When you are writing things out, you consciously take those extra steps. And that can provide a sense of progress.

  • Making me to take an objective point of view - The major difference between blogging and keeping a private journal is that blogging is for anyone to see. This, in turn, makes me conscious to take more objective point of view when going through that thought process. And that can keep you from becoming overly emotional; in this situation, overly negative and pessimistic

  • Chronicling the progress - Thinking is a process that never ends, as we never stop learning something new and growing up. But blogging, being a medium made to chronicle, allows me to write out whatever that I got, to the point that I reached. As The 100 Year Lifestyle advocates, it's about progress, not perfection. And blogging allows you to visualize that progress you made over time. Being able to look back to say "I've at least done this much" gives you confidence.

And though I haven't really worked on it too much, blogging also has a potential to create and expand networking opportunity, which can be a significant support to work through any situation in life.

Anyone who is at a life-turning point, in mid-life crisis, or who just wants to rethink life might want to start blogging...

Jan 19, 2009

Taking a Long-Term View of Life

When you are unemployed and not working on projects that have visible outcomes or milestones, it's hard to keep going day after day. Perhaps there are some markers that can confirm that you have been doing something everyday, like the number of resumes you submitted or the number of books you read, but they don't usually result in the kind of gratifications that motivate you to repeat your work next day.

So when Haruki Murakami talks about being novelist - how it requires him to set the pace (stop when you feel you can do more) and stick with it diligently day after day to work on a long-term novel - I can see how applicable this is to my life. It comes down to the fact that you are the only one who can discipline yourself (not your boss or business schedule) and you are the only benchmark that you can go against. This is probably why I was never a fit for working in a large corporation. Doing something because I'm told to, in a way that I was instructed, and with an ever-changing objective or timeline are all opposite to this way of life that Murakami leads (and I identify with).

But what was really interesting and engaging to me was how Murakami takes the same approach to his running AND finds life learning lessons in the process. He realizes something new about himself or experiences the feeling and sensation that he had never experienced before - all changing something within him in the process.

Running, though it is tightly integrated in his life, isn't what he does to earn his living or save the world. He's not doing this to win races. Yet, when I think about life in the grand scheme of things I realize that he may be accomplishing what we should accomplish with our lives (or at least some of them). It then made me think about those years that I spent in the corporate world - was I accomplishing anything for my life? First, I thought I wasn't, that I had wasted my time, but then I had to take that back: I did learn a lot of life lessons while I was there, even though the things that I produced may not have had any positive impact on me personally or anybody's life.

So the epiphany that I had reading this book was that it's the process over a period of time that brings you the life learning, and it almost doesn't matter what the actual process is - it doesn't even have to have own meaning or usefulness. The key is to consistently give all you have to that activity, and to aim to do that for a long period of time.

Jan 11, 2009

More Ways to Help Your Brain Work

This is a continuation to the previous post that explained how brain needs to be stimulated and how it can be improved. In this post, I want to outline how you can help your brain work better, which I learned from the same book.

1. To enhance your motivation and get you going on the roll, you have to start first.

Your motivation is enhanced when the nucleus accumbens, a collection of neurons within the forebrain, is active. But in order for the nucleus accumbens to be active, you have to first stimulate it. Have you ever found yourself being completely absorbed doing something after you just played with it only a little bit? Maybe you threw away some expired non-perishables from your cupboard, only to find yourself cleaning the entire kitchen. This is because doing "it" enhanced your motivation to do more.

Since I learned that motivation doesn't just come to you, it has become much easier to get out of that "being lazy" mode: I just tell myself that unless I give it a kick start nothing happens.

2. You have to sleep in order to let your brain organize the information you acquired during the day, and to be more effective next day.

Your brain is working while you sleep. It organize the information, digest them by trying out different combinations and scenarios (which generates your dream), and better understand and store the data. It's kind of like your PC de-fragmenting data, only more sophisticated and better. This process happens only when you are asleep, so that the brain doesn't have to deal with incoming information.

Sometimes a complex information that you didn't really feel you understood before you went to sleep seems crystal clear the following morning. This is your brain doing a follow up work for you. So if you have something that you need to learn or think about, it's better to go over the whole thing at least once (even if that doesn't give you a complete resolution), rather than studying one section completely, before going to bed.

3. Making mistakes enhances your experience and memory, allowing your brain to better "connect the dots".

Nobody wants to make a mistake. But it generates additional piece of information for your brain to store and be connected to other information. So making a mistake now will benefit you later in your life by enhancing your ability to relate seemingly unrelated events and to generate new ideas. Those who succeed in one shot will not have this benefit later. So go ahead and make mistakes!

Jan 8, 2009

How Your Brain Needs New Stimulus

It's generally known that we continuously lose a bit of our brain cells (neurons) everyday. And it is said that since we have about 100 billion cells to begin with, we'd have more than enough for our lives. OK, but that doesn't sound entirely encouraging, especially when you are feeling getting old.

Well, it turns out that not all parts of brain continuously shrinks. I came across a book while in Japan that taught me that hippocampus, if stimulated appropriately, could regenerate more neurons than it loses. The book also gave me some very interesting insights about how brain works, and I was fascinated by it because it scientifically explained our conventional notions about how we should "think outside the box", "challenge old thinking", "do what you love to be successful", etc. The book, unfortunately, is only in Japanese, but I'll list some of its interesting points.

Hippocampus basically processes information (i.e. determine whether it's important to remember, how it should be categorized, etc.) to create our memory. This is the gate for data input, so the larger hippocampus' capacity, the better your brain works.

The scientific reason that you should think outside the box or be in exciting/new environment is to increase regeneration of brain cells. Studies have found that mice, as well as humans, who were continuously exposed to exciting and new environment increased brain cells significantly more than those who stayed in dull and unchanged environment. Interesting thing here is that those in the dull environment could start regenerating more once they change their environment. So even if you never forced yourself to be in that reinventing environment, you can always change that and see the effect. Another interesting point here is that you can also change your point of view or look things differently without changing the environment to see the same positive effect.

The need for challenging your old way of thinking is somewhat related to needing to stimulate your hippocampus, but more of it has to do how brain works. Memory doesn't get deleted (You may not be able to recall it easily, but that doesn't mean it's gone - it just means that it gets harder to recall one thing as you accumulate more memory), so the brain tends to stick with previously used way of categorizing and processing information. In addition, brain may "fabricate" some information in order to make sense out of fragment or illogical information. We unconsciously patch our memory so that the brain doesn't get confused. So conscious effort to challenge old thinking is needed.

And about "do what you love" - Amygdala, which plays important roles in emotions, is located right next to the hippocampus and is closely linked with how hippocampus determine what to memorize. The more heightened the amygdala, the more memorable event it will become. And you do better with what you remember most (with favorable emotions, of course).

So doing something new, challenging old way, and focusing what you love to do are all scientifically correct ways to better yourself by actually increasing your brain cells. Now that I think about it, the reason that I constantly struggled to find excitement in my job when I was working was probably because I didn't find enough fulfillment and challenge.

Dec 6, 2008

Happy Christmas (War is Over)

Christmas isn't a big deal to me personally (for me, New Year's day is a larger event), but I do like listening to Christmas songs. They always cheer me up and make me reflect the year. And the song that really makes me reflect is Happy Christmas (War is Over) by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

I'm not old enough to call myself the Beatles generation and I was still in elementary school when John Lennon got shot (I don't even remember the event). But one day, I happened to read All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. In it, John and Yoko explain what their perspectives were, why they did certain things, etc. in their own words. It truly conveys their strength in doing what they want to do regardless of what everyone else thought or said. It's not that they don't see or hear the public reactions - they just instinctively know that's not as important as what they want to do. John taking years off just to look after Sean, or John and Yoko separating for a while, and so on - reading what was behind those scenes was inspirational. After that, I started to appreciate John and Yoko's music.

What really ticks me about Happy Christmas (War is Over) isn't the fact that they are singing their message that war could be over if we wanted. It's not the Harlem Community Choir that you hear in the background. It's Yoko's singing. I never noticed that she was singing along in the background until I read the book. But when I realized that the woman's singing voice, which wasn't so great and didn't really go well with the Choir, belonged to Yoko, I thought: "Oh, she's just doing what she wanted to do and enjoying herself". I mean, if you listen closely, you can tell that she's having a ball! Never mind if she's good or if her voice goes well with the entire music! And that, moves me and makes me reflect my life.

Sometimes what moves people isn't perfection.