What’s on your list?

Made a list of things/activities that made me happy. Not necessarily in order:

  • Zumba
  • Comedy
  • Scrabble
  • Food
  • Museums
  • Karaoke
  • Boogie Boarding
  • Aquariums
  • Gardens
  • Arts & Crafts
  • Musicals
  • Interviewing People
  • Reading about Socioeconomics and International Affairs
  • Good Insightful Talks
  • Video Editing
  • Event Planning
  • Getting Things Done

What would be on your list?

Selfies aren’t New. Neither is Narcissism in the Age of Social Media.

Each year, click-bait pieces claim that today’s youth are the worst yet.* As a result, older folks get the impression that Millennials are categorically self-absorbed, spoiled and entitled. It’s repeated so often. Even mainstream news outlets like NPR, TIME, and Fortune call Millennials the “me, me, me generation”.
Attacking our generation’s love-hate relationship with taking selfies, critics claim that young people are vapid and vain. But who’s to say the previous generations wouldn’t have indulged in the same activity, had they possessed the technology?

Selfies are an inherently narcissistic act, but this quality isn’t unique to Millennials.

People assume Millennials are more narcissistic, because we take selfies. Especially since we take thousands of them a year. We then share our favorites on Instagram and Facebook for “likes”, a social currency externally validating the self-worth of many young people today. Yet, this phenomenon of self-documentation and the quest for adoration is hardly new. Our forefathers were just as vain as us. It just wasn’t as apparent, since self portraits were harder to both create and preserve in a pre-digital age.

Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait as a Painter, 1887 – 1888

Even before the term “selfie” was coined, the concept of recording oneself was around. The tradition predates our generation. Consider the glorified portraits that decorate the wall of a fine art gallery, or historical museum.

For these masterpieces to have been created, a wealthy patron must have endured hours of posing in front of the commissioned painter. They paid for these highly-edited reflections to immortalize their youth and power. Instead of Photoshopping their least desired traits like youngsters do today, our predecessors ordered the artisan to refine their physical imperfections with a stroke of a brush.

Likewise, who knows how long royalty and high-ranking officials have waited for their likelihood to be sculpted? Weeks? Months? The process of getting these labor-intensive art pieces done is as egotistical as today’s selfies, if not more.

Like today, people felt insecure about how their peers and posterity would view them. Regardless of social standing, everyone also feared that future generations would forget them. To safeguard their legacy, the rich paid for the luxury of canonizing themselves through sponsoring the arts. Even artists like Vincent van Gogh and Frida Kahlo battled their mortality by leaving behind self-portraits. The rest, unskilled or unlucky in finances, attempted to carry on their image, traditions and life through their offspring.

Robert Cornelius has been said to be the first to take a “selfie”; photo taken  in 1839.

From high culture to low-brow entertainment, selfies are now everywhere.

Some of the oldest photos were selfies. When the camera first came out in the early 19th century, early adopters were pleased that to wait less time in front of a camera person than in front of a traditional artist. Some folks even took control of the camera for themselves. They ingeniously experimented with mirrors to capture images of themselves.

As Kodak and others companies made film cheaper, the public bought cameras. Excited, common folks explored photography as a newly accessible medium. Camera users appealed to their own internal Dorian Gray by taking self-photographed portraits. Self portraits became commonplace among the middle class, and lost their place as an exclusive status marker for the elite. Through these photos, people insured that they were seen by future generations.

New technology through the years eventually boosted the prevalence of selfies. Flip-phones, and later, smart phones sold out as on-the-go devices for selfies. The emergence of social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat made it effortless to share these images. It became easier than ever to present ourselves as who we’d like to be. Empowered, we armed ourselves with a gallery of selfies to show our best self — as artificial as it may be.**

So, you might ask, “What’s the point of ‘selfies’ if they’re mostly self indulgent?”.

Simple answer: selfies bring people joy.

While some view selfies with great disdain, others regard selfies as a positive thing. CNN writes that while looking at selfies lowers life-satisfaction, posting selfies can raise self-esteem.

We can agree that passive act of constantly consuming selfies is dangerous, because it’s deceptive to compare one’s daily life to the curated highlights of another person’s. Millennials can even experience “FOMO”, or fear of missing out, when they aren’t included in their friends’ selfies. Additionally, critics blame selfie culture for the growth of eating disorders and body dysmorphia. However, more likely the pervasiveness of digitally-edited bodies rather than selfies themselves have caused these unrealistic standards.

On the other hand, posting selfies can be a beneficial way to track development and life events. Fitness models show off their “gains” through progress photos. Parents and kids alike swap photos of fleeting moments like high school graduations. Travelers memorialize their ephemeral presence at historical-cultural landmarks. Selfies have also united people of color through online communities, where members can embrace their ethnic beauty.

If it hasn’t already happened, selfies will ultimately transition to a normalized means of documentation for people of all ages. Well-known galleries have even started collecting selfies, so it isn’t too far to consider it an accepted art form nowadays.

Call us the “selfie generation”, if you want. Millennials are no less vain than their predecessors. We should admit that humans historically have been predisposed to narcissism and self-preservation. In fact, we are all members of a “remember me” generation, even if we embrace different art forms. With or without selfies, humans will continue to find ways to express our personal vanity. It’ll be exciting to see what will come in the future.

*Amusingly, The Atlantic points out the ongoing tradition that the old will always find fault with the young. Google the term “juvenoia”.

**I find it just as genuine to share something on Instagram as we do through physically scrapbooking or writing an autobiography. While some argue that selfies are highly-edited and narcissistic, these other means of self documentation also carry the bias and half truths we often tell others.

Doing Things by Yourself is Satisfying

In grade school, we had recess and set play times, so we naturally ran into prime social opportunities. However, as we get older, this process of making friends gets exponentially harder. We really need to push ourselves to meet and build relationships with new people. In fact, our schedules fall out of sync with even close friends. So, what happens when you can’t make those fun plans with your buddies? Or say, if you’ve moved into a new town with no connections?

Obviously, you stay at home and cry. *Sarcasm*

On the contrary, I’d recommend finding ways to entertain yourself. In your own company, you can make plans without worrying about a friend running late, or compromising your own interests. You can take larger risks. Go at your own pace. Discover hobbies or favorite foods which your peers might not share. Read books that intrigue you. Paint a new masterpiece. There’s just so many benefits on doing things alone, if you get over yourself. Or more precisely, your self-consciousness.

No one really cares if you’re sitting in a restaurant alone, enjoying that “bougie” hipster grilled cheese sandwich. No one pays attention if you’re strolling down the park, breathing the fresh air and walking through the green grass. No one who absolutely matters will judge you.


Because they’re too absorbed in their own world, which clearly doesn’t revolve around you. So, get out and enjoy life. It’s quite normal to take those off-days where you remain inside your safe comfy room; we all need that. However, don’t forget to leave your bed and enjoy the whole world out there. And don’t ever wait for a friend to remind you this. Do it yourself, and for yourself.

Photo of Young Girl by Herself by Mi Pham

Quick Tips on How to Prevent Oversleeping and Stay Awake

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that 1 in 3 adults in America don’t get enough sleep. But what if you’re dealing with the reverse issue of oversleeping? For a few of us, sleep is a form of escapism. The mantra goes: if you’re asleep, you’re not facing real issues.

However, this excess of shut-eye can be detrimental to your health. Some studies even link it to higher blood pressure and weight problems. After all, oversleeping does limit the hours which you are active. In addition, it can lower the quality of rest you get, so here are some quick tips to finding that happy, healthy balance.

Easy Level

  • Eat Smaller, More Frequent Meals – Prevent food coma & exhaustion.
  • Get Active – Exercise, take a brisk walk outside, and breathe fresh air.
  • Stay Away from Comfy Couches and Bed – This is especially true when you work from home. Remove the opportunity to feel too cozy sitting or laying down.
  • Drink Tea, Coffee or an Energy Drink. Caffeine, as a last resort, will help keep you up during the long day. If you’re allergic or cutting caffeine from your system, then substitute these beverages with a hydrating glass of ice cold water instead!

Medium Level

  • Learn Something New – Start a Coursera, Lynda, Duolingo, MIT OpenCourseWare, or Khan Academy class. Fun lessons on your subject of choice will keep your mind alert and distracted from the desire to sleep.
  • Make a List of To Do and Daily Goals – This simple habit will motivate you to be more productive and accountable for everyday tasks.
  • Get Enough Sleep the Night Prior – Re-adjust your schedule to get enough Zs. Or during the day, put your phone across the room, and set an alarm for a 10-20 minute power nap.

Hard Level

Hope this helps! If you have any tricks of your own, feel free to share. I’d love to learn what you do to manage a fulfilling sleep schedule.

Featured Image by Hernan Sanchez via Unsplash 

One Red Paperclip – A Social Experiment and Game Examined

Some of you might already be familiar with Kyle MacDonald’s “One Red Paperclip” project. If not, be sure to see his blog: One Red Paper Clip, and TEDx Talk below:

The concept is simple. You start with a small object with relatively low value, and approach people to ask if they would like to trade you anything for your item.

Some folks explore this concept as an economic experiment, where your goal is to trade up. Others, like myself, just play the “game” with brave friends to just enjoy the experience. While we do split up in the beginning, we’re not there to compete. We gather at the end of the day and recollect our experiences interacting with strangers.

I personally love this game, because 1) it provides entertainment for you and all those involved at little to no monetary cost, 2) it pushes you to talk to strangers and improves your social skills, and 3) it give you appreciation for people’s generosity and creativity. We jokingly state that this is middle ground between pick-up artistry and salesmanship.

Having played this game on several free Saturdays, I’ve come up with some observations.

If you ask with a smile, you’re more likely to get what you want.

It’s no joke when they say positivity goes a long way. People seemed more open to interact with us when we expressed more enthusiasm and positive emotions. after a few cold call approaches, we could better read people’s faces to know if they would respond well to our requests. If we smiled, and they delivered a genuine smile back, it was pretty much a guarantee that they would accommodate our request.

People are less likely to trade after they have spent money.

We’ve played in Downtown San Jose, San Jose State University, UCLA’s main campus, Eastridge mall in San Jose and a shopping mall in Pasadena to list a few places, so I’ve noticed differences on people’s level of receptiveness based on setting.

One of the most remarkable thing is that some people at the mall shut us down by stating they have spent too much money. According to the scarcity mentality, when people fear that they don’t have enough to provide for themselves, they are less generous.

On the opposite end, the university setting removed that financial stress. At this liberal setting, most college students seemed very receptive. They readily handed us their pens, pencils and small doohickies right out of their backpacks. I should note though, things might have been different had I been interrupting a class or scouting for students near the Financial Aid office in Murphy Hall.

Young people are more open to playing, even though they have “less” money.

Older people often professed that they had nothing to give us. They were looking for items with equivalent monetary value to match our item. They tried to avoid engagement. However, young people were inventive about how they approached the situation. We got stickers, candies and erasers as they eagerly entertained our requests to trade. In fact, our youngest trader at 7 years old got so excited to give us her chocolates.

People want to help others who they feel are more relatable. One could argue as we age, we become more conservative while youth are more open-minded. This might echo the scarcity mentality, mentioned earlier. However, we should also note that the young people felt more connected to us due the small age difference, therefore seemed more willing to help us out.

If you can’t speak their language, people are more reserved about trading.

Feel free to refute this, because I’m making a huge generalization. However, my friends and I noticed that first generation Asian students and immigrants were very skeptical about playing this game with us. They wanted explanations, but still shied away from trading. At first, I thought it was a cultural thing for immigrants to be risk adverse. However, that doesn’t make sense! They literally made the biggest gamble of all by leaving their lives at home behind.

Instead, I believe it’s more of a trust issue when there’s a language barrier. Since my friend spoke Spanish, she was in a better position to encourage folks to trade. However, since our Mandarin, Vietnamese and Cantonese skills were quite limited, we couldn’t effectively convince first-generation folks to participate. This severely limited the quality of our communication with them.

Fun does not need to be attached to a dollar sign.

Entertainment can come cheap if you are creative. Often times, you can just enjoy the free company of new friends and learn quite a bit from listening to stranger’s stories. It’s really nice that each time this game ends, we’re left with a physical souvenir to remind us of all the wonderful people we have come across.

Scared to Start Over? It’ll All Be Okay.

However, it’s never too late to reinvent yourself. While you might be scared that it’s already too late, since you’ve invested all this time and energy, consider our parents, grandparents, or their forefathers. As immigrants to an entirely new country, they certainly held that fear. Yet they’re here now, and gained new skills in the struggle. You too can learn to be as resilient as they are, and make this change in your life!

Reframe your thinking.

No matter how long you’ve been “off track”, you haven’t wasted time if you’ve learned something valuable. Instead of looking at yourself as a failure, see yourself as a product of all these collected memories. Even mistakes offer insight on how you can make better decisions in the future. As hard as it is, try to find something you can be proud of. Consider, how can your previous experiences transfer to your new field?

Don’t focus too much on the past, because you are constantly changing. Our personalities are not set in stone, and we’re constantly in a state of unrest. So take that time to try new things you’ve always been curious about before, and start new healthy habits. That being said, it might be helpful to pick up relevant skills in preparation for your next job.

Just do something, anything at all.

It’s a rather embarrassing story, but I figured it’s worth sharing. At one of my lowest points, I felt paralyzed by my anxiety about finding a job after graduation and completing my senior thesis. I often slept over 12 hours a day to escape reality and hardly left my room, not even to eat. I was literally hiding from my problems as well as the folks I cared about, because I didn’t want anyone to see my at this state.

The one time I sneaked off to brunch, hoping to avoid familiar faces, my friend caught me at the dining hall. As a STEM major, he told me about applying the concepts of inertia and momentum into our everyday lives. He said that it takes significantly more force to start movement than it is to accelerate. It really hit me and I can’t thank him enough.

In layman’s terms, it’s a lot harder to get started than it is to keep moving. Sounds like a formula to success, so embrace kinetic energy.

Reconnect with loved ones.

Alone time is needed, but also know others are there for you. Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends. Kick that pride into the nearest trash bin, and replace it with a bit of humility. It’s okay to be vulnerable, share your worries with your trusted ones and ask for advice. Who knows? They might even introduce you to a mentor in the new field you’d like to explore!

Lastly, manage your expectations. It’s okay to make mistakes, since no one can be perfect. Neither can one be productive 24/7. I found that I put too much pressure on myself to have my entire life planned out. I’m only 23 years old, but I’ve always imagined that I would have figured out my career by that age. That’s actually quite unrealistic, but I could at least take steps to explore the possibilities out there.

How are things now?

Just to let you know, things did get better from those days of lethargy and escapism. After consulting with a counselor at CAPs (our student counseling and psychological services center), I set a schedule with time slots for when I would study, work on my job search and go out with friends.

I got back into the habit of waking up at 6:00am for gym time and breakfast. The oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar was a great start to the day. My stress levels decreased as I continued to submit job applications, since I was at least getting things done. I’ve heard back and am going to interviews.

I also found other ways to relieve the pressure and have some more fun. I volunteered to plan “Sextravaganza”, a campus-wide sex-positive event for undergraduates, found pleasure in eating out, and met cool acquaintances through social events. There’s still days when I feel tired after a long day, but at least I’m just a lot happier now!

Speaking of which, what ever happened to that friend? Well, he’s still finishing his studies and is bound to go far in life. He let me know that he got a new tattoo — the laws of intertia sit on his wrist. Sure to say that he’s a man of his words.

Study Abroad: Being Uncomfortable Helped Me Grow

In college, I was deadset on working in foreign affairs and international development up until my senior year. Personally, it meant for me planning-participating in Model UN conferences, going after as many internships as possible and gaining more experiences abroad.

In fact, I devoted quite a few weekends applying for study abroad scholarships and coaching others through the process. Receiving the funding opportunities, I spent two gap years learning Russian and huge life lessons in Russia, Italy and Kazakhstan with hopes in interning with USAID or the State Department.

That being said, I’ll finally admit “в гостях хорошо, а дома лучше”–meaning that I began to miss the sunny California weather and appreciate cultural diversity back in Los Angeles. That’s not to say I would never leave the States again. I’d be excited to visit friends in those countries and explore more places in the future. However, I recognize my current need to recuperate and take some time off should I later pursue the international development route. Or do anything as ambitious!

Lessons Learned

Living abroad for an extended amount of time away from loved ones and comfort was entirely different from simply vacationing abroad. Those travels challenged me to find a new community of friends and family, and made room for my personal growth. I really learned how to take initiative in finding entertainment from enrolling in a ceramic class with locals to trying out new cuisines by myself.

And of course, like my first gap year in Russia, this second experience did push me to exercise my budgeting skills. Good life experience I would say!

Although I’ll always be glad to have those memories outside of the United States, I was frankly burnt out from being gone for a whole year. After returning home, I knew that I wouldn’t be happy committing to a life living in a rural setting, much less a remote part of a developing county.

In contrast to my previous romanticized version of working with locals to address water sanitation issues or advocate for greater access to technology, I saw that my rosy image of living abroad was quite naive. In reality, social change takes years which at that time frustrated me. I wasn’t quite patient enough. Additionally, I turned out to be much more of a high maintenance person than I knew before. I definitely needed some growing up to do.

Moreover, I needed to be honest with myself. I had to ask, “What makes me happy?”. Perhaps I was too quickly chasing a dream of a prestigious career, income stability and travel while neglecting my own mental health. I could have also taken more time to consider other options which might have also fit the same criteria; instead of stressing myself and gunning for a figuratively straight path to foreign affairs.

Note to self: There is no singular set way to get to your goals.

So, what DOES makes me happy? At the moment, I have rudimentary answers to that previous question like food, people and a sense of mission. So I’m certain, I’ll continue to gain clarity with additional time and thought.

English Translation of Fish Short story

Yesterday I dreamed about two unusual fish.

The fish swam in a waterless limbo. Their fins glided so effortlessly like kites catching the wind. I myself didn’t understand, but they wanted to tell me a story about their first meeting. The first fish had a weak fin. Although her scales shined and glimmered, they could not make up for the fish’s apparent disability. The other fish was beautiful in her own right. Her eyes were a brilliant blue hue. Unfortunately, she had poor vision. Since they once lived in separate tanks, they had never met each other for the longest time.

In fact, they had never seen each other, despite their homes being adjacent to one another. A potted bonsai obscured their views. The fish lived so close yet so oblivious to each other’s presence, as neighbors sometimes are. However, this all changed one summer day. That day, the waters turned murkier than usual for the poor-sighted fish. Her owner noticed the algae blooming, so naturally he decided to clean the tank. In doing so, he transferred our first fish friend to the home of the second. Frightened by the large pink hand, the fish fainted.

She woke up. The unfamiliar waters made her tense. As time grew and her nerves calmed, she slowly swam around and noticed the larger space where she had been placed. She was then alarmed when another fish approached her. She sped away, faster and faster until she realized she had no idea where she was going. Unaware of her situations, she cut her weak fin on coral. Her blood laced the water. She hid in the nearest corner. The second fish followed after, but approached quietly upon the sight of the injured fish. The second offered to bandage the wound with some kelp. Dialogue ensued. It was so natural. They befriended one another, swimming, playing, exploring and gifting each other cute little pebbles.

Unfortunately, time flew too quickly. Their adventure had met an end. When the owner finished cleaning the first fish’s home, he took her back home. The first fish was upset more than ever before. She cried, but of course, who could see a fish’s tears in the waters? She meditated, trying to decide what to do. However, she could not forget the other fish. A minute passed. Then, there was a scream of loud obscenities. The owner had knocked over the bonsai, soil gushing out of the pot. Visible was the mangled green tree, which laid dead on the ground. The shattered pot that once divided the tanks destroyed.

At that moment, the two fish had heard the noise. They swam up the edges of their homes to see the clear glass walls which separated them. For a while, they were convinced that saw each other. They played, swam around and showed each other pebbles just as before. However, it felt slightly off. Why was there so much mimicry? They were duped by the artificial memory of their friend. They only saw their own reflection in the cold aquarium walls.

The first fish quickly gave up hope. Her fin grew stronger and she later became adjusted to her solitude. She needed no one and lost all memory of her blue-eyed friend. However, the second would not give up. Her vision grew worse and worse each day. Over time, she only saw blurred shapes and figures, yet she was certain that she would see her friend. It was the same day her own tank was due for a cleaning. As soon as the owner removed the lid, our blue-eyed fish made a heroic jump. She fell for an endless period of time, and then she felt nothing. Her vision turned black.

The end.

Featured Image by Mathias Appel via Flickr