2023 – a year of dilemma and forced growth

this past year has been a struggle between adjusting to domestic life and the churn at work. there are definitely highlights but the lowlights were pretty low.

some of the places i got to visit and the events i got to witness this year:

  • Jan – Shawn and Karina’s engagement party in San Francisco
  • Mar – San Diego with Fan, Sunni, Jenn (sister), Paul (her boyfriend)
  • May – Montreal for Danny’s bachelor party
  • Jul – Banff camping with Fan, Sunni, Jenn, Paul
  • Aug – Mt Rainier camping with Jess, Jarod, Izzy
  • Sep – London for work (bless up for business class)
  • Oct – Sedona, AZ for Scotty’s bachelor party
  • Nov – Charlotte, NC for Danny’s wedding (I was a groomsman)
  • Nov – Bay Area, CA for work presentation, but brought Fan and Sunni
  • Dec – Cartagena, Colombia for Shawn and Karina’s wedding (I was best man <3), Hoang and Diana’s engagement
  • Dec – Costa Rica for family roadtrip with Fan and Sunni

Fan’s mom left at the end of February, and i used the last of my paternity leave to bridge the gap until Sunni started daycare in April. my life situation finally moved out of the transition period afforded by grandma, and it was painful. that first week, i literally developed high blood pressure from the sudden uptick in constant attention required to take care of an 11mo baby.

over the coming months, i felt like i was losing control of my life. there’s a strong correlation between happiness and the amount of freedom/autonomy you expect in your life. notice the verb i used – expect – as i’m sure previous generations will laugh at how easy i have it, and scoff at my minimal sacrifices. regardless, my reality is my reality and the adjustment was difficult for me.

becoming a parent was my choice and i have no regrets. my underdeveloped muscles of impulse control, familial obligation, and parenting were stress tested. it did get bad enough that i landed back in therapy, which thankfully saved my marriage and family. once again, please pay attention to your mental health and get help when you need it.

here are my learnings from the year. i hope they are useful in easing other people’s journeys.

  • be kind to yourself. this phrase gets repeated and repackaged so often that i mostly dismissed it. there are so many angles to deliver this kindness – materially, financially, emotionally. since i usually treat myself to whatever i wanted to eat or do, i thought i was being kind to myself. it was only in the depths of my unhappiness speaking again to a therapist that i realized i was unkind to myself emotionally. there was so much judgment and people pleasing in how i was living my life. my validation seeking manifested in behaviors that i had come to accept as normal: party until my body felt bad because others expect me to be fun, give my time and energy generously otherwise someone won’t like me, be a high performer at work otherwise i won’t be respected. the stress of it all came crashing down when i developed shingles in the fall. that was my body signaling to me that it had had enough, that i needed to change how i was living my life.
  • emotionally prepare for parenting. there’s the technical skills you need to develop – changing diapers, washing bottles, preparing food – but i personally think the emotional skills are harder to develop. can you provide the constant care and attention a toddler requires whilst regulating your energy and emotions? i recommend spending some time with parents and their children so you can observe what family life is life. start small by helping out at the playground or at a playdate, and then take on the kid solo for a few hours.
  • aim for a passing grade each day. Fan likes to emotionally self-flagellate when it comes to her parenting. in response, i remind her that out of the 100 decisions each day presents, she simply needs to make enough correct choices to get a passing grade. did you serve breakfast on time? did you give comfort when your kid hurt themselves? did you serve lunch on time? did you stay engaged during playtime? did you serve dinner on time? were you off your phone during bathtime?
  • get signoff from your partner on travel plans. this probably seems like relationship 101, but there is an expectations shift when a child joins the family. each weekend away from your family means your partner is solo with the kid. must you attend that bachelor party? that business trip? that camping trip? sometimes you can trade weekends like she can do 1 bachelorette party and you’ll do 1 bachelor party. communicate often and negotiate early.
  • continue dating your partner. life gets more complicated and compressed when you start a family. it’s easy to deprioritize 1-on-1 time with your partner in the hectic day-to-day, and weeks turn into months, and “suddenly” you are emotionally/romantically distant. entropy means everything in the universe decays over time, and your relationship is no exception.

12 pieces of advice for new parents

this list of advice is mostly in chronological order.

  1. do not make any major life decisions in first few months of baby – the potent mix of emotions that run through you (and hormones if you are the birthing mom) can increase impulsiveness to a dangerous degree. as an example, i drove from the hospital to the car dealership while my child was in the NICU to test drive an impractical sports car. why would my family need such a vehicle? get all your ducks in a row before the birth.
  2. use a charting app for the first year – i was recommended Huckleberry and am continuing it forward. just the free version is enough and delivers plenty of value. it really helps coordination between the caretakers and lets you track trends, especially important with your sleep-addled mind.
  3. take all the help you can get – my daughter is now 13 months old. the wife and i were lucky to have grandma contribute immensely during the first 11 months, so we’ve really been on our own just the last 2 months. baby recently started daycare so we’re back to getting help in a way. the structure and expectations of modern society kinda goes against the adage “it takes a village to raise a child.” the correlation of declining birth rates in more industrialized nations has a lot to be explored. in my experience, the geographic distance between extended families and the social distance between neighbors can create bad feelings of isolation, resentment, and burnout. if a parent is willing to come help, let them.
  4. buy help / outsource work – in economics, we learn about a concept named opportunity cost. the way i apply it: if i make sufficient money, i can outsource unfulfilling tasks. right now, that means:
    • we have a maid service monthly because cleaning isn’t high on our to-do list.
    • we subscribe to a local meal service for the weekdays because cooking isn’t appetizing at end of a work day.
  5. find parent friends – being at the vanguard of parenthood among my close group of friends, your life rhythm no longer matches your non-parent and single friends. going to a restaurant? make sure they have high chairs. go out on the weekend? you gotta find a babysitter. have multiple drinks? you’re not gonna be able to wake up to take care of your baby. there’s nothing wrong with people being on different life tracks – but humans are a social species and you’ll want company along whatever track you choose.
  6. be prepared for a consistent schedule – your schedule must accommodate baby. after 6 months when they develop a circadian rhythm, the daily schedule becomes fairly consistent. for a late owl chronotype like me, waking up early every morning has sucked. tips to survive this marathon: take naps with baby, avoid alcohol and substances, eat healthy.
  7. get 1 day’s supply of baby bottles/utensils – you will be washing a lot of bottles and dishes and whatnot. your hands will get dry. your energy will sap each time you’re forced to find a bottle in the sink and wash it for immediate use. use batching here to optimize: clean the sink once at the end of every night (handwash using gloves or throw everything in the dishwasher).
  8. don’t fight your baby – you’ll learn a lot about yourself emotionally as you deal with an undeveloped human. your standard rules of engagement won’t apply. you can’t reason with them because that part of their brain literally isn’t developed yet. if you feel like you’re about to break, do not push through. give your child a timeout and yourself a breather. the rule of thumb is 1 minute per year of age. so if they’re crying nonstop and you can’t handle it anymore, just put them into their crib and walk away.
  9. become okay with repetition and ennui – this might just apply to me, who gets bored easily. the daily grind of diaper changes, setup and cleanup for 3 meals, and nightly bathtime gets annoying. your discipline builds as a side effect… but i still find it annoying enough to wonder if i should hire a nanny or au pair for subsequent children.
  10. strive for good enough parenting – honestly, modern society creates all these unfair expectations of parents. anything short of perfect is child abuse. give me a break. kids are much more resilient than we give them credit for. keep them clothed and fed. engage with them every day. teach them new skills. socialize them. don’t put them in an overprotective bubble. don’t feel like you need to kill yourself trying to get them the best possible toys or daycare or education. “the kids will be alright.” grow with them and give yourself grace. take the small daily wins, like:
    • you didn’t shake your baby when she continually cried and did flips on the changing table making the diaper change impossible.
    • you didn’t throw a tantrum in response to your kid’s tantrum.
    • they got zero new injuries.
    • they took all their shits at daycare.
  11. maintain your habits and hobbies – you will have to sacrifice some habits and hobbies – but you should be able to schedule the rest around baby. exercise is crucial for health. you’ll want to stay as healthy as possible because if one person gets sick, who does the work fall onto? my wife does tennis every Monday and Wednesday night, i do bouldering every Tuesday and Thursday night, and we spend weekends together.
  12. bring your baby around – i suffered from the fallacy that going outside with baby is way too difficult, so i should just stay at home all the time. don’t be an idiot like i was. it will be difficult going out with baby initially but as with any skill, you’ll improve with practice. the benefits are manyfold: baby gets socialization, new experiences for all her 5 senses, and burns energy faster. go to the grocery store, to the mall, to the playground, wherever. even flying with baby isn’t as hard as i thought since most airlines will baggage check baby seats and gate check strollers for free.

2022 – welcome to fatherhood

i didn’t write a post for 2021 but no matter because it was all gearing up for 2022 anyways. i’ll split this update into 2 parts: timeline and learnings.

  • Jan – started new job at Meta after a grueling interview season
  • Feb – grandma arrives from China to help with baby
  • Mar – my first child and daughter Sunniva was born
  • Apr – injured my lower back yet again and got official diagnosis of degenerative disc disease (DDD), overnight bouldering trip for Minaqa’s birthday
  • May – night nurse for baby
  • June – picked up my Rivian R1T 8 months after preorder
  • July – covid infection, Sunbreak-ish, George & Amy visit, Becca and Mike’s wedding, Above & Beyond Weekender w/ siblings and SOs
  • Aug – mom and dad visit, first time offroading, overnight camping for Jess’s birthday, another round of couples therapy begins
  • Sept – PT for my back brought me back to game-ready shape so i could continue playing ultimate, London and Dublin for work (business class for the first time 🤩)
  • Oct – DFW datacenter visit for work, honeymoon period for new company ends, body is tired from all the travel and drinking
  • Nov – grind at work to a near burnout, Thanksgiving in Hawaii gets canceled due to RSV infection
  • Dec – marriage stabilized, Lizzie visits for Xmas, hanging around the house and focusing on family

the year unfolded mostly to plan and yielded the results i wanted.

deep down, i knew change needed to happen because my trajectory wasn’t great. perhaps my family and i presented fine to the outside world – but the cracks in the foundation were threatening to tear it all apart. i was hoping that the arrival of my first child would force a course correction, and the gamble paid off. i spent months wrestling with my immaturity and bad habits until i was able to convince myself to become a better man, husband, father. i don’t recommend this risky behavior but i am admitting it for what it was.

so what nuggets of wisdom do i have for us?

  • improvement happens day by day. intensity matters for competition, but the way to get there is by practicing every day. i’ll give you the practical: spaced repetition + good sleep = results. i’ve used this formula to achieve success in many arenas. the most recent one is job interviewing. there are many more detailed posts on how to crack the coding interview, but the gist of it is that you do some coding problems daily and build that mental muscle. unless you are a genius, there is no shortcut that enables you to skate by just studying on the weekends. commit to the daily practice and the results will come.
  • admit to your bad habits and evolve past them. seek professional help if necessary. the beauty of life is each organism strives towards a perfection that can never be achieved. each generation constructs its own ideal of perfection and thus, perfection is a moving target – but it is a target nonetheless. the deadline of life is an amazing forcing function that generates change and evolution.
  • don’t use your family as an excuse. i suppose this is one instance of “don’t be a victim.” great persons have come and gone, and many of them have had children. they made their situation work. use the constraint to your advantage. feeling like you’re out of time? Parkinson’s Law applied beneficially is called timeboxing. feeling like you’re out of energy? understand your chronotype and schedule work appropriately. feeling like you’re out of motivation? saddle yourself with a bunch of debt. i mostly jest, but obligations can be a source of motivation. find a purpose that can drive you – family, fame, success, mastery, whatever.
  • invest in yourself, continuously. i’m a fan of nonfiction audiobooks, especially autobiographies. the human experience gets better with each generation due to the compound interest paid by reuse of knowledge. leverage all that condensed human experience so you can adjust your trajectory. as a personal example, reading about abusive upbringings forces me to reckon with mine – and then work to expel the toxic behaviors from my personality and life.
  • a job is a job is a job. don’t sacrifice your health for your company, especially if you have no ownership. try this mental exercise to understand the wealth that you possess and live in: how far are you from becoming homeless if you stopped working? include all the favors and relationships you can leverage. include all the governmental safety nets like unemployment. if you realize that most of your labor is simply generating all these layers of luxury and comfort, you can mindfully choose how fast you want to set the treadmill of work.
  • do financial planning whenever your life circumstances change. i conflate financial planning with retirement planning because it’s about understanding how your finances support your expected lifespan. there are a lot of plenty of free resources out there; maybe start in /r/personalfinance if you know nothing. you might be interested in FIRE. start grappling with questions like: what is my ideal retirement age? what lifestyle do i want to have? are my children still dependent on me? what if my partner or i die early? the pandemic made me realize i want to work for a while and maintain a sense of purpose, so i’m personally aiming for retirement when all my children have left the nest… probably 2042.
  • hope for the best, plan for the worst. Meta had its first layoffs ever this year. reading the online discourse via internal Workplace and external Blind, it was a bit pitiful to see the rose-colored glasses shatter across so many young employees. companies come and go, even unicorns. the gravy train will eventually stop so ride it while you can :)

on having a strong locus of control

let me start by linking you to
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Locus_of_control. you’re welcome to peruse that before you read my reflections on it.

i was introduced to this concept during orientation of college. as you can imagine, it’s had quite an effect on me since then. whenever someone’s shit is going sideways, i annoyingly ask them if they feel like they could have avoided some situation or prevent future recurrences. do you have a strong locus of control? i realized that there’s another way to phrase my advice: don’t be a victim.

it seems that in recent years, my relationships with people are starting to strain because i cannot tolerate the victim mentality. i’m not saying it’s easy to pull yourself out of the fucking gutter. i’m literally still going to therapy to undo the childhood trauma imposed by my parents. somewhere along the way, i realized that i was painting this victim narrative where my parents oppressed me so much and now i’m so broken – woe is me – and so forth. that realization shattered my self-imposed emotional walls. i decided i am more than my pain and past. my parents were victims of the Vietnam War and their scars were about to be permanently impressed on me. i choose actively to stop the cycle. i will create a better environment around me for those i call my friends and family. i will fight for a bright future for my children, and create a safe and loving family culture.

back to my friends going through tough times. at the risk of this blog post turning into an advice column, allow me to use real life examples (names changed for privacy):

  • John got into an accident recently. Someone on the highway tried to change lanes and swiped his side. I empathized for a minute and then asked him: “do you think you could have avoided this situation? you’ve gotten into 5 accidents in the past 2 years. understandably, none of them were your fault – but your chance of accidents is higher than usual.” John got very upset at me and we got into an argument. He decided to start distancing himself from me – and we stopped speaking months ago. John, what is more likely: you are a sub-par driver that is susceptible to accidents or you are constantly getting terrorized by shitty drivers on the road?
  • Michael fell in love with a friend. When she rejected his romantic interest and started dating another friend in the group, Michael broke. He decided to never see or speak to these 2 good friends ever again because he felt betrayed. He created a wedge in the group because friends can’t simply hang out together in one big bunch. He created friction because you’re not allowed to speak to him about any events that involve the newly-formed couple. Michael, how long will you hold onto your hurt and victimhood? In the game of life – and especially the game of love, you will inevitably lose many rounds. Is the relationship actively ruining your life in some way? What is more likely: all these potential lovers don’t see how great you are, or you are simply not good enough?

to close out, i hope that you, my dear reader, embraces that you have free will – or the illusion of free will (if you want to get real philosophical) – and that is good enough. forge your path through life intentionally. your decisions and thinking should yield happiness and meaning for you. no one else will do it for you. if you choose passivity, do not complain when you are left behind.

on productivity in a society

when i was a bright-eyed snot-filled kid fresh out of college in my first real job at a support cubicle farm in Microsoft, one of my senior engineers complained to me about future generations not generating enough content but merely consuming it. his words stuck with me for the next 6 years and added to my ever-persistent anxiety. am i creating enough content? is my cohort worthy of inheriting the world?

i finally have the answer today: we are worthy. each and every one of us is worthy. people advance through life at their own pace and rhythm. don’t be quick to judge someone’s value or legacy before they are on their deathbed.

in my twenties, i did not create content. i didn’t read a lot. i didn’t write a lot. i didn’t play or make music. i didn’t take enough photos or videos – and that’s okay. i was a mere child and my social duty was to absorb knowledge and culture. i felt like i didn’t know enough so i simply didn’t output anything.

that last statement is not entirely true. my output was not null. i held a job and contributed to society by keeping email working. i maintained friendships. my relationships created a feedback loop wherein i became a better person under their guidance and vice versa. i would argue that a person that does not create content, specifically media to be consumed via one of the human senses, can still be a productive member of society.

for me, the shame and guilt has finally lifted. even if i never write a bestselling novel or take a picture that lasts through decades, i have contributed to society and will continue doing so in my own ways.

millennials, gen-x’ers, and whatever generations are to come: i’ve already given you the answer in bold font in the second paragraph so go re-read it. and then read it again.

existential terror

editor’s note: i wrote the below blog post mid-July and saved it as a draft until i stumbled upon it today. i decided i’d publish it anyways because i enjoy having little snippets of my life crystallized into a digital timeline for later review.

i have arguably one of the cushiest jobs in the world. i wake up sort of whenever i want. i get to work in whatever way i want – car, bike, electric longboard, rideshare. i can eat whatever i want. my work is challenging for the most part. i get rewarded handsomely by the market. but there’s a dullness to my life that i cannot escape.

in the past few weeks, i’ve attempted to grapple with this mysterious wave of existential terror. i did some light internet research and came across an interesting theory: what if life is simply too easy for you? you are just bored out of your goddamn mind.

recently, i’ve taken on rock climbing and hiking. i want to experience more difficulty so i am choosing harder and harder routes for both activities.

i have a lot of free time. there are nights where i blow hours surfing Reddit. did all that short-form media enhance my life in a meaningful way? does it matter if it did? i worry i am spending so much time trying to optimize my life that i end up not enjoying it. start a new hobby? better get good at it. trying to find a new role? better stress out during the studying and interviewing trying to accommodate a compressed schedule.

maybe the problem is that i can’t relax. there are times i am happy that i’m never satisfied with what i have. it’s that internal anxiety and drive that has allowed me to achieve so much in life. i’m very proud of what i’ve done as a first-generation immigrant. on the flip side, i’m never happy with where i am. logically, i know i should be. emotionally, i don’t feel content all the time.

this sounds like the whining of a spoiled millennial. i suppose it is. i’ll eat some avocado toast tomorrow morning while looking at my stock portfolio.

2018 – an accomplished year

I’m a task-oriented person. I need to set goals so I always know what I’m working towards. I accomplished a lot of my resolutions for 2018. Here are some that I knocked out:

  • Get coding-oriented job in Seattle.
  • Wedding in Boston.
  • Read a book a month.
  • Max out 401k and ESPP.
  • Switch to a credit union.

I will admit I did some extra work in the last month of December to achieve some of these but man, does it feel good to hit your goals. I’ll share some of my goals for 2019:

  • Get hella fit before EDC Las Vegas in May. Current weight 168 pounds, target 155.
  • Read a book a month.
  • Bike or board to work everyday.
  • Do the Princeton Algorithms II online course.
  • Achieve Divine rating in DOTA 2.

Let’s reflect on lessons I’ve learned from books, people, and life in the past year:

  • When purchasing a home that has a homeowners’ association (HOA), be sure to read their bylaws as it may include a “rental cap” provision which limits the max percentage of renting homes. My townhome was renting out just fine, generating passive income for me – and then my HOA says I need to stop otherwise they’ll fine me $25/day because I didn’t have their blessing. I emailed them back saying I’d be selling my property and leaving their neighborhood.
  • When planning a wedding, don’t invite your ex’s. It’s just easier for everyone involved.
  • If you’re going to make any big purchases like a car or a house or life insurance, do your research. Getting into the nitty gritty and reading fine print and whatnot can be boring – but think about it like this: you are potentially saving thousands over the years which is the same as you getting paid hundreds of dollars per hour of research.
  • Don’t be afraid of change as it is the only constant in life. This adage applies to my emotional self. I was fearful of changing emotionally because I thought it may compromise my authenticity or my true personality. There’s a fine line to walk there but if you believe a change will make you a better person, you should probably fight through the discomfort and evolve. Living with my wife Fan has taught me so much in terms of being a respectful and caring person. There are so many bad habits I have to actively work out of my system, and instill new ones. For example, I am always starting my sentences with “you need to …” which conveys immediate judgment and requests compliance. Most people don’t like obeying orders nor will it help grow a non-professional relationship.
  • Partying does get old. I knew this to be true but it’s surprising when it hits nonetheless. You turn 30 and your body is like, “fuck you and your goddamn binge drinking.” Combine an aging body with a stable marriage and quiet weekends seem like a great option. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy partying – but my frequency has gone down for sure.
  • Taking in new information in long-form prose is essential. The world moves so fast. Memes are born and die every day on the internet. Groundbreaking science is published every week. Given such a deluge of data, it’s so important to your continued sanity and mental growth to be able to filter out the noise and spring for the proper nourishment. I’ve heard many describe it as watching what you consume media-wise like you watch your physical diet. That’s why I chose to do a book a month. The immediate benefit is honing your ability to focus. Then the other benefits like changing your viewpoints and habits, understanding how to argue a stance or ideology, expanding your vocabulary, etc will follow.
  • Support your life partner by splitting work equally. This wisdom comes from Sheryl Sandberg; I highly recommend her “Lean In” book. Growing up in a “traditional” household, my mother did a lot of the housework. My dad was no slouch but my mom was on the hook for maintaining the house in addition to her full-time job. In retrospect, this is an unfair split. In recent years, my dad has taken up some work; he’ll clean up after my mom cooks. When parents split the housework and child care equally, there are numerous benefits such as increased marital satisfaction.
  • It is okay to ask for advice when making big decisions. In general, it’s tough for me personally to ask for advice because you’re showing vulnerability. Contrary to popular belief, this act doesn’t make you seem weak. People will come to your aid when you request it. The most recent example is whether I sell my townhome using seller/owner financing or not. I was ready to sign the contract with a buyer when my parents advised me against it, and that I should consult with my siblings. I begrudgingly obliged, and that saved me so much headache because I didn’t realize what a big risk I would be undertaking. I ended up backing out of the contract. The short summary is that I don’t have enough equity in the townhouse so if my mortgage company exercised their due-on-sale clause, I would be financially destroyed.

That’s all the stuff I got today. There’s some more stuff I could talk about such as existential dread, impostor syndrome, financial anxiety, money chasing, and marital frustrations but we’ll save those topics for their own posts. Maybe leave a comment on what you want to hear about?

2017 – holy shit, I’m married

This year has been long. I mean, a lot of stuff happened. I traveled a bunch. I got married – more on that later. I’m going to use Wikipedia’s 2017 article and my personal calendar to piece together a timeline.

  • January – We, the American people, inaugurated Donald Trump in as President. I could write essays about why I think this election was a great mistake but I will spare you the politics for now.
  • February – There were a bunch of work conferences. I learned a lot, made good professional connections, and got a chatbot idea for work that yielded good coding practice and executive visibility.
  • March – Fan, my then-girlfriend, moved into my townhome with me. As a overly-logical human being, I view relationships with a fairly skeptical eye. I would suggest that moving in with your significant other is a great step before you get married. Try before you buy, if you will.
  • April – Visited my friends in Michigan. I feel so fortunate that I have enough money to jetset around the world. I may have said this before, but traveling can be a pain in the ass – but it’s so necessary. Revel in that anxiety and discomfort because it means you’re growing.
  • May – Ultimate frisbee season started. It wasn’t the best season in terms of results or improvement for me. I still absolutely love the sport and will continue it for a while but I will admit some of its charm has faded due to my chronic lower back injury. I’ve met so many great people and made lifelong friends that there is never a hint of regret in my time spent towards ultimate. In world news, the WannaCry ransomware attack created chaos across many countries and inconvenienced my work.
  • June – Coached youth ultimate frisbee league. It is amazing to see the athletic talent and potential in children. It is refreshing to witness their pure enjoyment of play time and be immersed in the moment. It reminds me of why a father said that his children inspired him to enjoy life more fully. America withdraws from the Paris Climate Agreement because global warming does not exist; hooray for science deniers /s.
  • July – Wildwood ultimate frisbee tournament in New Jersey! Great memories although the weather was not the best.
  • August – Traveled with my good friend Austin to see the total solar eclipse. Hurricane Harvey smashes Houston, TX. It is humbling to remember how small we are in the vast universe. My friend Winnie gets married with a lovely wedding celebration :)
  • September – Hurricane Irma makes a mess in the Caribbean. Hurricane Maria crushes Dominica and Puerto Rico. We bear witness to government failure in terms of disaster organization and response. My family goes on a trip to Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Taipei (I skipped this last segment). HK is too crowded – I’m pretty done visiting the place. It had been about a decade since I’ve last been in Vietnam. It’s great to see your extended family and your ethnic brethren. Walking around a developing country, I am again reminded of how fortunate I am to live the life I do.
  • October – There’s a mass shooting in Las Vegas. It is mind-boggling that this is becoming so normalized. As a gun owner, I’ve thought many times about whether I should give up my guns to demonstrate my ideals or keep them to protect my home and family. Right now, I lean towards keeping my guns because they provide both protection and a hobby for me. If the government were to outlaw civilian gun ownership, I wouldn’t hesitate to give up my guns because I simply don’t think civilians need guns. There are plenty of other countries making this philosophy work. Gun ownership laws in the US are simply too lax.
  • November – I propose to my girlfriend Fan and we get married. I will be frank here and state that the decision was hastened a bit because we needed to decide before her work visa expiry. However, life isn’t always fair or linear and I have no regrets. I’ll write a blog post after I move to Seattle reflecting on marriage and long-distance relationships. Yes, I also made up my mind that I want to move out to Seattle to join Microsoft headquarters and do software engineering. I think 6.5 years in Exchange support is enough :) Seattle doesn’t have the best weather, but you know – they have great coffee and legal weed to make up for it. Fan and I visit family & friends for Thanksgiving.
  • December – At this point, I’ve failed 2 SDE (software development engineer) interviews. There is something to be said about grit here. Had I grown up with an easy life, I would not develop the toughness that helps me daily. Had I not absorbed all the philosophical teachings via Microsoft’s company culture, my mentors, internet articles and videos – these failures may have crushed me. Instead, I used them to readjust my studying and reinforce my desire. Growth mindset is big at Microsoft. It is this belief that will provide you strength to overcome obstacles and achieve success in the long run. Struggle through, my friends. You can do it. I have an interview lined up in January for another SDE position. Fan and I visit family & friends for Christmas. While I am not religious, I still ride the holiday cheer and practice traditions like gift-giving. Gift-giving is a new activity for me. Being very utilitarian and minimalist in my views, I have to acknowledge that gift-giving is not the best thing economically but it is a great challenge to find what your loved ones need – maybe even if they didn’t realize it.

This blog post is long enough so I’ll end here. I expect 2 more posts in the coming months: one to reflect on marriage, one to reflect on switching roles.

P.S. This 2017 year, I will have taken 30 flight segments.

Advice for the modern millennial

I’ve been watching Terrace House on Netflix (both the original set in Japan and its Hawaiian counterpart Aloha State) and it made some realize something: I mostly have my shit together. For those not in the know, Terrace House is a show where they throw 3 girls and 3 guys into a furnished house without a script, i.e. reality television. Witnessing a bunch of 18-30yo millennials bumbling their way through life and romance is fun. I think reality TV is so addictive because humans are naturally social and voyeuristic. My excuse for watching reality TV is that I am learning social skills. Disclaimer: reality TV is something that should be consumed in small amounts (as it probably has the ability to make you dumber and/or more prone to seeking drama in your life).

Reflecting back on my youth and studying some of my peers, I realized that some people could probably use some nudges to optimize themselves. I write this blog post to convey all the advice I’ve collated in the past several years of being a working professional in the tech industry. My sources range from personal experience, feedback from mentors, books I’ve read, and random internet articles. I hope you enjoy.

  1. Be organized. If you have never heard of GTD, today is your lucky day. I am an atheist, but if I had to subscribe to a religion, GTD would be it. I never read the book by David Allen, but rather I stumbled upon a related and possibly subset philosophy called Inbox Zero one day, which led me down the rabbit hole. To achieve this task-based lifestyle, I personally use Google Inbox and Google Calendar. Doctor appointments, chilling with friends, weekend trips – everything gets logged. I hold myself to a stringent standard of never missing a deadline or meeting. I mean, who should if you’re organized?
  2. Be responsive. Eric Schmidt of Google talked about some rules for emailing but this one stood out for me. How many emails have you sent that went into the abyss? How did that make you feel? Perhaps you were wondering if your email was eaten by a spam filter, if your target recipient is way too busy, or if they simply did not care enough to reply. Side note: if it’s the last reason, it’s still unprofessional not to respond. Please take the minute to give the recipient an answer if some action was requested. Psychologists have proven that uncertainty causes more pain than the known bad. When you get that email and you’re too busy, just let them know it might be a while before you get back to them because of X. If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t ignore it; just reply saying you don’t know. If an email needs to be processed after the weekend, schedule it to reappear then. You’ll be surprised as more people come to you seeking collaboration simply because you’re more responsive and thus reliable. The best part of this responsive style? It meshes perfectly with Inbox Zero.
  3. Make S.M.A.R.T. goals. Make realistic goals with a deadline so you are held accountable. Easy example: instead of saying you’re going to lose weight by summertime, aim to lose 10 pounds by June 1st. From that measurable goal, you can break your goal into sub-goals. If it’s January 1st, that means you need to lose 2 pounds per month. That means 0.5 pounds per week. 1 pound is roughly equivalent to 3500 calories so that means reducing your caloric intake by 1750 calories per week – basically, a bacon cheeseburger, side of fries, and some beers.
  4. Use empathy. This is a big one for me. I studied psychology 101 in college where we learned about mirror neurons but I feel like perhaps mine don’t fire all the time, haha. I highly recommend reading some of Dr. Travis Bradberry‘s writing. As I’ve improved my capacity for empathy, so has my life improved. Being able to understand your fellow humans is important in seeking resolution to conflicts in any scenario. While some of my success in life has been due to hard work, my success would not have been enabled if not for those emotional connections with people. A promotion? Good relationship with my manager. Happy girlfriend? Able to validate her feelings rather than winning the argument. Getting propped up by coworkers? Caring about their work AND LIFE struggles.
  5. Keep your work-life balance. I forget where I read this, but it was a humorous quip that gets to the point: nobody ever says on their deathbed that they wished they had worked more. I live by the credo that we should work to live, not live to work. Your job will always be there demanding more, especially in corporate America where they will take as much as you give. A good work-life balance not only allows you to perform at your best at work, but in all aspects of life – and to do so in a sustainable fashion. A side note: if your job sucks, find a new one because it’s never worth it to stay unhappy.
  6. Your health is top priority. When I injured my lower back, I came to realize how much I took my health for granted. Youth fades, beauty fades, and health fades as well. Be extremely cautious whenever you trade health for something else. Sure, you could pull off that all-nighter to “finish” studying or get some more work done on your project. At what cost though? Perhaps you just took off an hour off your life. Not that significant, right? Think long term. Those lost hours will stack up. Let’s throw money into the equation: would you trade your health for additional financial compensation? Let’s say you can double your salary tomorrow, but you’ll be overweight and riddled with self-inflicted diseases like hypertension and high cholesterol? While no one sees the extreme form of this question, they are faced with it every single working day. Don’t trade your health away.
  7. Keep your finances in check. The average American is in a boatload of debt. Don’t be one of them. I understand that modern society is a giant clusterfuck because the gap between the wealthy and the impoverished is still growing. Socioeconomics aside, make smart decisions regarding your money. The world population is only going to increase meaning the world’s resources are only going to become scarcer. If you are not using a money management tool like Mint, you should start right now. I personally use Pocketsmith.
  8. Always be learning. The common advice is to keep reading books. As I am a tech dude, I understand if you think reading text off thin pieces of wood is antiquated so I am okay if you get your information from electronic devices as long as some of it is in long form. That means for every 9 memes, you best be reading an article of substance. Think of the content you consume as junk food versus veggies. Your brain will not thrive (or perhaps even survive) if you keep feeding it junk food.
  9. Buy less stuff. Aside from the fact that consuming less will save the environment, it will yield you more happiness. By having less stuff, you will appreciate what you have more. It is definitely cliche but financial success and materialism won’t give you that life you’ve always dreamed about. Look on Quora for answers from wealthy people on what life is like; life is not greener on the other side, it’s just different. Humans are ridiculously adaptable creatures, and you will adapt to your new wealth and your happiness will plateau. The 2 biggest sources for this nugget of wisdom is Marie Kondo’s book about tidying up and a documentary on Minimalism. If you want to buy something, buy memories by going on vacations and taking pictures and videos.
  10. Remember that we’re all humans. This seems like a ridiculous piece of advice, right? I am telling you it is not. I’ve spent years studying and troubleshooting computer systems. Obviously that has suggested me to think about each human as one giant complex system that runs on a multitude of algorithms. While it’s useful to break people down into components for the purposes of troubleshooting, most of us aren’t doctors and we should be viewing our friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors as whole living entities – each with moods, emotions, stories, dreams, and social connections. Once you’re able to recognize this fact and embrace it, you’ll start to connect with others and that’s when magic happens. You start unlocking happiness (hello primate brain wired for social interaction!) and other rewards, such as increased compensation at work. We’re raised from childhood saying we need to hit all these milestones in order to achieve success: graduate from high school, college, earn top grades, etc. Try as hard as you want to be the best in the world technically. Be that genius asshole. Be that shining star in whatever department you’re in. The truth is: no one cares. If you go back to kindergarten, you’ll find all you need to do well in the world, and that’s to play nice with others. I’ve wrestled with this paradox for many years: why isn’t the merit-based system the ideal one? Why is it not working? Well, it all comes down to the fact that the weak link in the chain is us humans, subject to unconscious biases. You will view people you like in a better light, and thus reward them more with whatever resources you have. I’m not saying to go out there and be a ruthless manipulator (see point #4) but play the politics game a bit; hell, you may even have fun along the way.

2016 – a year of firsts

I thought I escaped not writing my yearly blog post, but alas, Jengo strikes again. Work is slow today as it’s the first business day after the holidays so that leaves me plenty of time to do attend to personal tasks such as this. Without further ado…

I changed my blog theme and layout to be more modern and simple. It should read very nicely on mobile devices, which is becoming a very popular if not the most popular device for consumption of the web.

What has happened in 2016? Using the tried-and-true method of outline and then flesh out, here’s what is on my mind:

  • The election: Trump vs Hillary
  • New girlfriend: Fan
  • Got promoted at work
  • Started a new hobby: guns
  • Acquired 2 new motorcycles
  • Survived the dangerous age of 27
  • Gave my first Christmas gifts
  • New year’s resolutions

After I wrote that list, I quickly realized this post’s title. There were so many first-occurrence events that happened this past year.

Let’s actually go out of order and talk about Christmas gifts. I’ve recounted this story many times but it’s still humorous to me: last year, my family decided to do Christmas gifts but did not tell me about it – maybe because I’m out of town. Yes, for 27 years of my life,  my family never did a gift exchange at Christmas yet Christmas 2015 was when we decided to start this tradition. To make up, I went big at Christmas 2016 and got good gifts for all my family and close friends. Gift giving is already a tough act, but especially so for me considering two factors: 1) I’ve never done it before, and 2) I subscribe to minimalism. I hate getting gifts or giving gifts that the other person will not utilize as the root cause of waste can then be pointed at me. I sometimes think I’d rather be viewed as an asshole and not give a gift on an occasion rather than to give a gift that the recipient won’t fully enjoy because inefficiency drives me mad.

Early in 2016, I was feeling homesick and looked for jobs back in Boston. I would have moved back if not for meeting my current girlfriend Fan. If I was a man of faith, I would have said she was a gift from God as she possesses the rare blend of qualities to soothe my soul sent at the perfect timing when I was feeling angry and lost. I could write a lot of things about this beautiful woman, but I’ll summarize it by saying she could be my wife in the very near future.

Speaking of which, my Facebook feed recounted like 5 engagements and marriages during the holidays. That’s a record number, for sure. It’s getting to be that age, I suppose. Actually, I have proof to prove that in this Wikipedia article: the average age of first marriage in the US is 28 years old.

Moving on, I was promoted at work. I am now an “escalation engineer” in Exchange support. To explain the confusing acronyms and levels in Microsoft is not worth it, but let’s just say I am “tier 4 support.” That is to say: I solve the cases the lower levels of support could not and I handle hot potatoes such as long-running and/or political cases. I have achieved the target role that I set for myself 5 years ago when I started at Microsoft. Looking forward, I am aiming to get more involved in software development or at least on the engineering side of the house. I am unsure where that will place me but likely one of these 3 cities: Charlotte, Seattle, Boston.

Let’s talk about why I got into guns. My reasoning is simple: I’d rather do the shooting than be shot. Fan (the current girlfriend) was involved in an armed robbery gone bad and her friend was shot in the head. Even being one step removed from the incident, I felt enough anger and fear that I moved away from my anti-gun stance and purchased a Glock pistol. I train regularly with it so robbers, beware!

I sold my Yamaha R6 and purchased a 2015 Honda Grom (125cc).

It was supposed to be for Fan but she hasn’t gotten licensed so I use it to commute to work when the weather complies.

I also purchased a 2016 Yamaha FZ-07 (689cc).

They are both fantastic motorcycles. I had fun with them over the summer and fall.

I know I should be playing with these toys now when I’m young because I won’t get to later on in life as I can’t place such risks on my future family. In our modern society, 27 seems to be a dangerous age and I can see why: you usually have so much freedom both financially and responsibility-wise. I am glad I survived :)

Let’s talk about the election. I voted for Hillary because I had no choice. I used to say I was a Democrat but I am now really unsure whether I should affiliate myself with one of two political parties. I am a liberal – there is no doubt about that. Trevor Noah (someone who I’ve started following philosophically recently) pointed out this absurdity: why must 2 candidates be presented rather than multiple candidates? If it was Bernie vs Hillary vs Trump, there’s a very good chance Bernie or at least Hillary would have won. It’s maddening to anyone with a decent education and access to unbiased new sources to come to the conclusion that Donald Trump is a terrible person and not worthy in any aspect of being a President, let alone the POTUS. If you are going to claim to be a progressive and educated individual [but especially if you are a Republican and/or a conservative], take a hard look at your news sources and whether they are bringing you value. If the news constantly brings you happiness or simply “facts” to uphold your worldview, that’s an indicator that they may be too biased.

Continuing on with this idea of continuous self-inspection and self-improvement, I committed to reading 1 book a month. The more “long form” writing I intake, the more expansive my worldview becomes. I should note that the media you intake should be curated carefully. How I have started is simply by picking up books recommended by people who I deem to possess superior amounts of the values I appreciate such as intellect, integrity, empathy, etc. You can view this as a practice of minimalism in a way. Whenever you’re doing an action, ask yourself: is this bringing me value? You’re exchanging time and effort to receive something. Perhaps it’s better to watch a highly rated movie than to sink an additional 2 hours into that videogame you always play as it will give you insight into another aspect of life that you likely never will experience.

That’s another surprising consequence of getting older, by the way: you don’t enjoy videogames as much as you used to. The key is to first stop your addiction. Yes, I will freely admit I was addicted to DOTA 2. Then, when you come back, check if you truly enjoy the game as much as you used to. Likely not. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy the challenge of videogames from time to time, but it’s not in the same unhealthy amounts of hours at a time anymore. When I was addicted, I could not fathom how my brother did not play videogames anymore but now that I’m on the other side, I cannot fathom how I sunk 30-40 hours every week into a single game. A coworker told me an interesting way to view your investment into various aspects of your life. For example: I have a Master’s degree in DOTA and a Master’s in Microsoft Exchange. We usually talk about years of experience, but we rarely measure them in academic terms.

The last topic I’ll speak about is New Year’s resolutions. In 2016, I wrote down 10 resolutions or so and managed to achieve most of them. I’m rather proud of this achievement because usually I think about some vague resolutions and forget about them. The key is to have your resolutions be posted in a conspicuous place so you’ll re-read them often and so are reminded to fulfill these goals. Mine are written in a Google Keep list. There are many articles out there on how to set goals properly, but my quick tip is to make your goals measurable. For example, rather than have my resolution be “compliment people,” I’ll set it as “compliment at least 1 person every day.”

With that, my word count is over 1400. Congratulations on reading what I believe to be my longest post yet. Have a splendid 2017!