2013 in review

I didn’t write as much on my blog in 2013 as I did in previous years. It’s been a busy and most challenging year so far, and writing about it wasn’t a priority. But for 2014, I certainly do want to make it a priority… Thanks for WordPress for making an Annual Report for all the bloggers on the platform – it’s a great way to encourage us bloggers to keep on going!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,500 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 25 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


You don’t want a lemon

Today, I took a trip to my old apartment on Slauson and Culver to pick up some straggled mail from the new tenant who’s been nice enough to hold it for me. As I left the building, I recognized an old face – an old neighbor to whom I’d spoken once or twice while I lived there – Mike. Seeing him still in the same living situation reminded me of something important: you have the power to change what doesn’t make you happy.

There will be times in your life where you’re not completely satisfied with certain aspects. You know you’re unhappy and you are compelled to change your situation, yet, you remain stuck in a bad job, or stuck in a bad relationship, or stuck in an apartment with the worst landlord because you perceive the investment you made to stay as worth way more than the effort it would take to leave. This is called the lemon effect.

Say you’re a painter, and over the years, you’ve created masterpieces that you installed around your apartment. You love them, they are indeed an extension of who you are, and there is absolutely no way you would take them down, except perhaps to rotate the works with new ones. One day, you fall head over heels for a guy you meet at a bar. After quite a few amazing, oh-my-gosh-I-wanna-marry-this-guy type dates, he honestly confesses after staying many nights at your place that he hates the way you’ve decorated. Not so much the layout or the furniture, but he specifically hates the art. Which, of course, you made. What do you do now? You find this amazing guy with whom you’re compatible and have loads of fun with, but he “hates” the very thing you love creating. Unfortunately, many of us would rationalize staying with this guy because, let’s face it – nobody likes to be lonely. You find reasons why you should stay, and push away fundamental qualities that you found important in previous relationships, like similar tastes in art. And the longer you stay with this guy, the more money, time, emotion, effort you invest, the harder it is to leave. So eventually, your art work collects dust in a storage unit a few blocks away so that your boyfriend can enjoy his time with you at your place; in other words, you’ve given up that artistic extension of yourself to make him happy. This is a lemon of a relationship.

Let’s steer this in another direction and fit the conversation to my past living situation. Last year, summer 2012, I was in between jobs and apartments and was ready to live on my own. Maybe it was the exhaustion from all the searching, the meeting with an endless supply of landlords, and the frustration of not having settled down yet – but once I saw a unit in the Culver West area, I fell impulsively in love. By October, I was settled in and living on my own.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be a bad fit. Though the unit was absolutely adorable, I ultimately did not feel safe around the neighborhood. I couldn’t walk alone around the area without getting whistled at or hollered at. Especially after dark, I was completely scared to be alone, even if it was a short trip to the laundry room out back. One evening, I encountered Mike, the neighbor I mentioned before, walking through the parking lot. I interrupted him for a minute to ask whether he and his wife felt safe. “No,” he’d said. “But we deal with it – you just have to get used to it.”

Despite the thousands of reasons to leave, I decided to “get used to it” and stay. I just loved the apartment too much to move out. It was a great space, I had great neighbors around the building, and I was finally living alone – all after a life of sharing space with 3 sisters and eventually with college roommates. The apartment was a symbol of my independence and I didn’t want to give it up. But alas, this was a lemon of an apartment.

I soon got tired of skirting around the issue of not feeling safe – not only was it exhausting, but a simple trip to the grocery store or going out with friends became hassles. Simple errands or outings that brought pleasure to my life were all attached with this feeling of uncertainty and doubt. I eventually lost the love I had for my apartment, finally admitted defeat, and moved out. By December, I gave up living alone in a sketchy neighborhood in order to feel safe and secure, and I couldn’t be happier. I now have great roommates, live close to work and close to awesome bus lines, and my favorite restaurants are just blocks away. I love coming home to my apartment and to my roommates in the evening after work – it’s such a great, natural fit.

Lemon is a term used in the automotive industry for a defective car whose shortcomings aren’t apparent at first. Basically, it’s a crappy car to begin with, but because you’ve already spent tens of thousands to buy it, you keep it. You then spend much on repairs just to keep it running. You intrinsically know it’s a crappy car, but you settle for it, prepared to shell out even more money for future repairs. Getting a new car would be cheaper down the line, but the effort to give up your lemon doesn’t seem worth the money you’ve already wasted.

But you don’t want a lemon. A lemon of a house, a job, a career, a relationship, or even a car… To be happy, simply and fully, is not hard. But when you get in the bad habit of seeking things that make you happy enough, it’s quite easy to fall victim to the lemon effect of rationalizing and investing just a little too much because happy enough is as far as you think you can go. But you deserve to be completely happy – the only person in your way is you.

Stop thinking that the car will soon run perfectly fine. It’s a lemon – its very definition denotes an entirely different level of care and cost compared to a normal car. Give up the car and get a better one. Because chances are, the better one is waiting to make you completely happy, and not just happy enough.

Thirty Is Not the New Twenty: Why Your 20s Matter by Dr. Meg Jay

I’m always on the hunt for great 20-something wise-up articles like the one I posted a couple years ago: 11 Things to Know by 25(ish), by Shauna Niequest. And thanks to the wonderful world of FB, I found another great one by Dr. Meg Jayan assistant clinical professor at the University of Virginia.

” The real take-home message about the still-developing 20something brain is that whatever it is you want to change about yourself, now is the easiest time to change it.”


The best and worst part about being a twenty-something is that every decision you make can change the rest of your life. Once you’re in your 30’s or 40’s, it gets harder and harder to reinvent yourself. In this Q&A with Dr. Meg Jay, the clinical psychologist explains why the twenties matter, and how to make the most of them. — Megan Erickson, Ed.
Big Think: Why are the 20s so important? 

Dr. Meg Jay: Our 20s are the defining decade of adulthood. 80% of life’s most defining moments take place by about age 35. 2/3 of lifetime wage growth happens during the first ten years of a career. More than half of Americans are married or are dating or living with their future partner by age 30. Personality can change more during our 20s than at any other decade in life. Female fertility peaks at 28. The brain caps off its last major growth spurt. When it comes to adult development, 30 is not the new 20.  Even if you do nothing, not making choices is a choice all the same. Don’t be defined by what you didn’t know or didn’t do.

BT: You write about several cases of recent grads who feel they’re drowning or floundering around in the world waiting for something to happen. Has it always been this hard to thrive in early adulthood?

MJ: No. There are 50 million 20somethings in the United States most of whom are living with a staggering, unprecedented amount of uncertainty.  Many no idea what they will be doing, where they will be living, or who they will be with in 2 or 10 years. They don’t know when they’ll be happy or when they will be able to pay their bills. They wonder if they should be photographers or lawyers or event planners. They don’t know whether they are a few dates or many years from a meaningful relationship. They worry about whether they will have families or whether their marriages will last.  Most simply, they don’t know whether their lives will work out and they don’t know what to do.  Uncertainty makes people anxious and distraction is the 21st-Century opiate of the masses. So too many 20somethings are tempted, and even encouraged, to just turn away and hope for the best. That’s not the way to go.

BT: One of the main themes in the book is the line between thinking and doing. You argue that it’s more important to just do something than to waste years dreaming up the perfect path. How can 20-somethings to put this idea into action?

MJ: One of my favorite quotes is by American Psychologist Sheldon Kopp: “The unlived life isn’t worth examining.” Too many 20somethings have been led to believe that their 20s are for thinking about what they want to do and their 30s are for getting going on real life.  But there is a big difference between having a life in your 30s and starting a life in your 30s.  Even Erik Erikson, the father of the identity crisis, warned that young adults who spent too much time in “disengaged confusion” were “in danger of becoming irrelevant.”  If you want to be more intentional at work and in love, try working in a field you’re curious about.  Try dating someone who is different from that last person who turned out to be a disaster, and try conducting yourself a bit differently while you’re at it. Sure the 20s are for experimenting, but not just with philosophies and vacations and substances.  The 20s are your best chance to experiment with jobs and relationships.  Then each move can be more intentional and more informed than the last.

BT: How do you suggest they track their progress toward their future goals? Are milestones like 21 and 30 important?

MJ: Absolutely.  Milestones–21, 25, 30, New Year’s, birthdays, reunions–are important because they trigger self-reflection.  Am I where I wanted to be by this age?  Did I do what I said I would do this year?  If not, why not.  And if not now, when?  A savvy 20something who interviewed me recently told me about a question she was advised to ask herself as she moved through adulthood: “If you keep living your life exactly as it is, where will you be in 3 years?” If you don’t like the answer, now is the time to change course.

One way to keep yourself honest about the future is by making a timeline.  At what age would I like to be out of this dead-end job?  By when do I hope to be married?  How old do I want to be when I try for my first child?  How old do I want to be when I try for that last child?  It may not be cool to have a timeline, or to admit to having a timeline, but you don’t have to etch it in stone.  It’s just a way of thinking about how your life might, or might not, be adding up.
Besides, do you know what’s not cool?  Sitting across from the 30somethings who cry in my office every week because they’ve run out of time to have the careers and the families they now realize they want. They look at me and say about their 20s, “What was I doing? What was I thinking?”

BT: About 25% of recent grads are unemployed, and 25% are underemployed. What is your advice for those who simply can’t find a job?

MJ: Yes, half of 20somethings are un- or underemployed.  But half aren’t, so my first piece of advice is to figure out how to get yourself into that group.  Most often, the way to do this is through what is called “the strength of weak ties.”  The strength of weak ties is from sociologist Mark Granovetter’s work on social networks.  What he found was that new information and opportunities usually come from outside of our inner circle. That foot-in-the-door at the company where you want to work isn’t going to come from your best friends–your strong ties–or you would already be working there.  That job lead is going to come from weak ties, or from people you hardly know.  Email your aunt’s neighbor or that old professor or your roommate’s friend from college.

That’s how people are getting jobs–especially good jobs–even in a tough economy. Most 20somethings hate the idea of asking outsiders for favors, but those who won’t do this fall behind those who will. 20somethings who sit on the sidelines because of a bad economy will never catch up with those who figured out how to get in the game.
For those 20somethings who already have jobs but who are underemployed, it is crucial to remember that not all underemployment is the same.  Be sure you have a job that is allowing you to earn some form of identity capital.  Maybe you have a low-rung job at a hot company that adds value to your resume.  Maybe you’re ringing up health food so you can devote your mental efforts to cramming for the LSAT at night.  Whatever you’re doing should make the next thing you’d like to try seem more possible.

BT: How can 20somethings reclaim their status as adults given all the cultural trends working against them?

MJ: Don’t let culture trivialize your life and work and relationships.  Don’t hang out only with people who are drinking the 30-is-the-new-20 kool-aid.  I cannot tell you how many emails I have received from 30somethings since The Defining Decade came out, ones in which the writer says something like, “I used to roll my eyes at my peers who were determined to meet benchmarks–graduate school, real relationships, decent-paying jobs that reflect their interests–on time or early.  Now I’m envious and admiring of them. Now I’m working twice as hard for half the result.”  Don’t shrug your shoulders and say, “I’m in my 20s. What I’m doing doesn’t count.”  Recognize that what you do, and what you don’t do, will have an enormous impact across years and even generations.  You’re deciding your life right now.

BT: As a clinical psychologist, what advice do you have for coping with emotions like anxiety which inevitably arise during times of economic uncertainty?

MJ: Given that life and the brain change so much across our 20s, this is the perfect time to learn new coping strategies.  It’s not okay to go to work with scars on your arms from cutting, it’s not acceptable to scream at friends when things go wrong, and live-in girlfriends get tired of seeing us stoned every night. These are the years to learn to calm yourself down.  Gain some control over your emotions.  Sure, there’s Xanax, which a recent conference presenter I heard only half-jokingly called “Jack Daniels in a Pill.”  But practice calming techniques that can work over the long run:  exercise, therapy, mindfulness, yoga, cognitive meditation, deep breathing, healthy distraction, dialectical behavior therapy.  Use your rational mind to counter the anxious and catastrophic thoughts you have: “I probably won’t be fired because I dropped one phone call.” Try to create your own certainty by making healthy choices and commitments that off-set the upheaval in the world around.

BT: We loved this quote: “Claiming a career and getting a good job isn’t the end, it’s the beginning.” Can you explain this a bit?

MJ: Most 20somethings are terrified of being pinned down. They’re afraid that if they choose a career or a job, they are closing off their other options and somehow their freedom will be gone and their lives will be over.  In fact, getting a good job is the beginning. It’s the beginning of not hating that question, “What do you do?” It’s the beginning of having something on your resume that might help you get that next job you want even more. It’s the beginning of not overdrawing your bank account because of a flat tire. It’s the beginning of feeling like you could actually think about dating since your time isn’t taken up working those three part-time jobs you have in order to avoid a “real job.”  Research shows that getting going in the work world is the beginning of feeling happier, more confident, competent, and emotionally stable in adulthood.

BT: Can you discuss some of the current neurobiological research, and how that impacted your writing?

MJ: By now probably everyone has heard that the teen brain is not fully developed and that the frontal lobe–the part of the brain where we plan for the future and tackle questions that don’t have black-and-white answers–does not reach full “maturity” until sometime during our 20s.

Unfortunately, this fact about the late-maturing frontal lobe has been interpreted as a directive for 20somethings to wait around for their brains to grow up.  The real take-home message about the still-developing 20something brain is that whatever it is you want to change about yourself, now is the easiest time to change it. Is your 20something job, or hobby, making you smarter?  Are your 20something relationships improving your personality or are they reinforcing old patterns and teaching bad habits?

What you do everyday is wiring you to be the adult you will be. That’s one reason I love working with 20somethings: They are so darn easy to help because they–and their brains and their lives–can change so quickly and so profoundly.


Hamid Sardar

The Annenberg Space for Photography’s group show “No Strangers: Ancient Wisdom in A Modern World” features a comprehensive and expansive visual study of culture, particularly ones that are becoming rarer and smaller. Sounds like an overdone and cliche show but far from it. I fault myself for not educating myself enough about different cultures, but the show inspired me to stimulate my curiosity especially about those that are in danger of disappearing too soon.

Photographers in the show include Carol Beckwith & Angela Fisher, a dynamic and well matched pair who’ve studied African cultures for decades without the tinted lenses of Western ideas. Brent Stirton, the senior photographer for Getty Images, whose projects literally cover the entire globe. A Yin’s longitudinal anthropological study of Mongolian nomads experiencing extreme degrees of globalization within just a few years.

My absolute favorite, Hamid Sardar, also spent time with Mongolian nomads but in this particular project, he studied those yet largely untouched by the outside world with emphasis on their gracefully natural relationship to animals. Sardar says of the project:

My goal was to create a photographic inventory of nomads and identify the part of wisdom buried in their customs and their way of life before they are separated from their natural environment and spirit… Being completely cut off from urban civilization, strangely, I felt protected in the Mongolian wilderness. It reveals a resonance between the animal and the man that can not be found in other places less primitive. I met this old man in the Gobi desert, who with his violin, a camel moved him to tears and made him adopt the abandoned camel. I saw a Buryat lama who brought the wolves at his door by singing an old song. I rode the mountains of Altai with Kazak herdsmen who taught me to capture golden eagles in their nests and train them to hunt, before releasing them into the wild. This ecological mysticism which links the animal to man has become the main theme of this work of art.

Take a trip to the Annenberg in Century City before the show leaves on Feb 24, and while you’re there, watch the featurette.   It was well crafted like the rest of the show. What’s even better about the whole thing – all shows at the Annenberg are free to the public. So there’s really no excuse not to see it.

Copyright Hamid Sardar

Copyright Hamid Sardar

Cheers to a great victory speech, Mr. President

The Hammer Museum was alive last night with avid Obama supporters, including myself and my 2 good friends, George & Frances. Red, white, and blue adorned the railings, the trees, the windows, even the carpet in their lobby gallery dedicated to the election in which they hung the portrait of Obama once CNN projected him to win. (Romney’s portrait was left alone on the floor… Poor guy…)

I waited way past my bedtime (which tends to be around 10:30pm…) just to hear the re-elected president’s speech and it was well worth it. He is a number of great things as a leader of our country, but man alive, is he a great orator! He supposedly spent 8 days on the speech which I could believe. He seems to have roused a disenchanted country and re-invigorated the need for action from the ground up with an impressive 97-electoral-vote lead, popular vote lead, and topped it off with a victory speech to remember, much like the cherry on top a big, fat chocolate fudge sundae.

I can’t help but share my own highlights of the speech, and even if you voted for Romney or for the Green or Libertarian parties, you cannot deny that much of what Obama says rings true for all Americans across party lines.

First, I have to plug UCLA Samahang Pilipino for teaching me a great ideology to live by – Isang Bagsak, which directly translated from Tagalog means “One fall.” After each general meeting, board meeting, or social, we’d gather together in a circle and announce “Isang Bagsak” to the world – we are a group of like-minded folks who fall together and rise together in issues that befall the greater community. We organize for the WWII Pilipino veterans in LA and around the country who had fought for decades for the same veteran rights as everyone else. We maintain the activist spirit of students before us and fight for diversity at the university. We provide services to our high school students at Marshall and Belmont and our college students at El Camino to ensure their future spots at our universities, and provide services to UCLA students who struggle to graduate. We do it all because we rise together, we fall together.

And Obama, bless his heart, plugged the same ideology.

The task of perfecting our union… moves forward because of you. It moves forward because you reaffirmed the spirit that has triumphed over war and depression, the spirit that has lifted this country from the depths of despair to the great heights of hope, the belief that while each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an American family and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people.

Next- we are a great, diverse nation. We may be split literally right down the middle on issues of economics, women’s rights, gay rights, immigration, what have you, but Obama said it best when he spoke about our liberty to argue.

…[Elections] matter. It’s not small, it’s big. It’s important. Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy.

That won’t change after tonight, and it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.

People die everyday around the world for the ability to speak their minds. Governments elsewhere expend destructive resources to ostracize political dissenters, most in degrees that result in unthinkable torture and murder. We Americans have the privilege to befriend people of different religions, different sexuality, different political party, different race than our own. We uphold our freedom of speech in everything we do.

And, for me, the most resounding point in the entire speech reminded how blessed I am to be an American citizen.

This country has more wealth than any nation, but that’s not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military in history, but that’s not what makes us strong. Our university, our culture are all the envy of the world, but that’s not what keeps the world coming to our shores.

What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on earth. The belief that our destiny is shared; that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations. The freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights. And among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism. That’s what makes America great.

I thank my mom and her sisters every day for working so hard despite the long wait and frustrating bureaucratic system to emigrate to Hawaii all those years ago. I am proud to be Pilipino American.


Keep Your Heart Young

Lately, I’ve been thinking way too much about my future. I guess it’s part of life, to think ahead and make sure you’re heading in the right direction. But I’ve had to stop myself every so often because thinking ahead sometimes makes my heart palpitate, like when I eat Quaker Oats chocolate chip granola bars or when I put too much sugar in my coffee.

I think about how old I’ll be when I can finally say I’m 100% debt-free (3-4 years is my goal!). I think about what career I’ll have for the rest of my life (video game story developer, famous romance novelist, talent scout, consigment shop owner, single-men fashion stylist…). I think about when I can buy my next car with cash and pay off my mortgage  in less than 10 or 15 years. I think about when I can start saving for my kids’ college funds.

But songs like “Keep Your Heart Young” by my girl, Brandi Carlile, remind me to just slow down and not to “grow old before my time has come” and to “keep [my] heart young.” I hope to live moments with the same awe I had when I was a kid, and re-discover emotions and experiences as if it were my first time. Because who knows – “sometimes you don’t die quick, just like you wish you’d done.”

I’m still young, anyway. And I’ll stay forever young, even when I’m old and gray.