When the unthinkable happens

For most of my adult life, I’ve lived with the motto memento mori etched at the back of my head where it meets my neck. I traced the letters from Andy Warhol’s various illustrations — someone who was rebellious and poked fun at conventional living. The placement of my tattoo is particularly symbolic in that this idea is something that I keep in the back of my mind every day.

Memento mori and Andy Warhol come together in an interesting way. Memento mori is a statement that literally translates to “remember that you have to die,” which is a phrase that helps one reflect on personal mortality and what it means in regards to vanity, earthly life, and the transient nature of the people and things that surround us. One of my favorite quotes by Andy Warhol is, “Sometimes the little times you don’t think are anything while they’re happening turn out to be what marks a whole period of your life.” These two elements came together in a natural way for me, and as the idea hit me, I ditched class to work on the design of the tattoo during the daytime and had it etched into my skin later that evening.

On Saturday, one of my esteemed colleagues lost his life on a major Seattle freeway to a young 20 year old man who decided that his phone was more important than anyone else’s safety or life. Granted, maybe he was getting a very important message or call, or perhaps he had just learned some very bad news and was distracted. It is worthless to speculate the what-could-have-beens, but regardless of that young man’s circumstances, he should’ve prioritized life over whatever communications were coming his way.

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As a human being in general, we have a certain amount of responsibilities to ourselves and other people to not put them in harms way. I give this young man the benefit of the doubt that whatever he was distracted by was important enough to him that he needed to take his eyes off the road. Given the outcome, I hope that he would’ve done things differently.

Not a lot of good can come from someone’s death in such a tragic way. However, I hope this lesson reverberates with this particular young man, his family, and his extended circle of friends. I hope that this is a lesson that others will learn from, so that my friend’s death was not in vain.

With regards to Sohel Ahuja, I met him in 2012 when I first considered moving to Seattle to work at Amazon. During my interview, he grilled me on how I would work on improving the team’s current product suite. When I was eventually hired, Sohel helped me feel at home, often swinging by my desk to reminisce about In-N-Out and the now-defunct Chano’s Mexican Food joint right outside of USC. Over happy hour, he oftentimes recounted the story of how he and his wife met. I’ve probably heard that story a dozen times. Every time he told that story, it was as if he was falling in love with her all over again. He also had a penchant for appletinis (of which the team relentlessly made fun of him) and whirlyball (something that became an annual team tradition).

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On a small design project, he and I tag-teamed on a few different tasks as our other engineers were busy launching another product. He was earnestly learning from our senior managers what it meant to truly lead a team. Learning as you go, you make a lot of mistakes, but then again, who’s perfect anyways? His efforts did not go unnoticed because no matter what he worked on, he never half-assed anything. Even if he weren’t 100% perfect at what he did, he gave 100% of himself to it. That was the Sohel I knew first-hand.

In early 2014, I had made the difficult decision to transition to another team at Amazon. Sohel took some time out of his insane work schedule to write out an 8-point bullet list that outlined all the reasons why I should stay. The first four were about my career as a designer and how I was a valued person on my team. The last four were, “5. The team really likes you. 6. Steve really likes you. 7. Katie really likes you. 8. I really like you.” I still ended up transferring out but would run into him every once in awhile around South Lake Union. We would quickly exchange pleasantries but dash off to another meeting. Such is life at Amazon.

Sohel played a supporting role during a huge phase of my life. He and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye on things, and eventually my focus (and reporting structure) was moved over to other people and projects. However, it is was the little ways in which he participated during this phase of my life that stays with me. He left us in the most tragic of ways, but I’ll try to remember the ways in which he genuinely tried to make someone feel like a part of the family.

This Type of Logic is Toxic

I spend a lot more time on Twitter and blogs than I do on Facebook. Most of the time, my timeline is filled with things that are of little importance — people’s opinion of politics, senseless partying photos, quips about sports teams, and more. One of my acquaintances generally strikes up cool conversations on Facebook (given its medium and audience) and can generally elicit some pretty interesting discussion.

Sometimes, though, the things people say completely throw me off guard. Today, my friend asked if anyone would ever consider going vegan, and she got this as a response:

Now, I don’t mind that he has this opinion. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, whether I agree to it or not. However, it’s the logic behind this type of statement that really puts me off.

If you don’t passionately agree with the ideas behind anything, does it mean you don’t explore it? I think that the degree in which you are interested in something should not be used as a barometer against which you should judge how you spend your time. If you find that a subject matter interests you mildly and that you want to pursue it, then you should pursue it. The best types of journeys are the ones you take because you had some sort of spark inside of you. You don’t need an epiphany to journey down a path. You just need some sort of interest (and sometimes disinterest) to carry you throughout that journey.

I think veganism is not only an ideology and a set of beliefs that someone chooses to operate from, but also it is a choice and a way of life. I think anything worth pursuing is worth dabbling into before jumping head first into an unrealistic commitment. For instance, going from platonic friends to significant others to fiancés to husband and wife. You wouldn’t just propose to some random stranger on the street (I won’t judge if you did) but rather, you’d choose to progress through those stages of exploration based on your personal preference.

In the same vein, yoga can also be understood as an ideology and a set of beliefs. It’s not just a workout. I guess if the person had any interest in yoga, they would have learned more about it and would’ve known that.

Additionally, the misguided attempt at deflecting opinion onto “facts” about the vegan diet is absolutely absurd. Vegan protein sources are not limited — when coupled properly you can definitely make complete proteins with complementary amino acids, i.e. rice and beans, etc. They are the most wholesome and healthy proteins the world has ever known, because they are natural! A little bit of research would’ve gone a long way and I would definitely recommend my friend to do her homework to make sure she knows this. Yes, vegans also have meat/dairy substitutes. I use these from time to time as a pescetarian. They come in handy when you’re in a pinch and have a craving that absolutely can’t be filled, but to each his own. I used to scoff at them too until the day came where I really craved a burger. I didn’t crave the meat, but I craved everything else: the texture, the dressings, the warmth, etc. Don’t knock it until you live the lifestyle.

However, I will give the commentator this — sound nutrition does not require such extreme views. However, you can shine that same type of light on someone who chooses to be an omnivore, carnivore, pescetarian, fruititarian, vegetarian, vegan, etc. I can point fingers all day long at how eating meat is detrimental to someone’s health, how evil it is, the million ways that it is disgusting and revolting to consume dead flesh from another once-living being. Or, I can just practice what I preach and allow those types of conversations to occur in a non-threatening manner, and respond to questions and comments appropriately.

You see, this type of logic is completely toxic — you shouldn’t have to be 110% interested in something before you dive deep. Only you can make that judgement. When it comes to your personal interests, life goals, fitness goals, and whatever else you are interested in — you shouldn’t be afraid to make the decision you know you want to make. If I left my quaint interest in triathlon to settle in the dust, would I be where I am today? No. If I let go of my childhood interest in veganism, would I have ever decided to become pescetarian on a whim? No. If I didn’t dabble in five different majors in college and dabbled in fringe startup side projects in my early career, would I be where I am now? Absolutely not.

Don’t let anyone stand in the way of what you want. Not someone on Facebook, but certainly not yourself. If you want it, go get it!

Temporary Lulls Are Just That…Temporary

This post sings a bit of a different tune. It’s more about the lulls in energy or drive that hit me in my daily life, be it work related, training related, or personally related.

It seems more so than ever I am aware that my life really is a series of unbalanced scales. I have a finite amount of hours and energy each day I bring to a project, to school, or to a training session. Sometimes when things in my life don’t seem to be in balance, it throws off the entire equation and I just shut down for awhile. Sometimes that while can last a few hours to a few weeks. And, every so often, I try to take a step back and really examine what I’m doing. Since I don’t work a 9-to-5 job, my projects last anywhere from a few hours to a few months. It’s nice and refreshing to be able to reframe my viewpoint so regularly. In fact, it is a luxury that I quite dearly missed in the spurts I committed to working full-time the few times in my adult life.

Lately I’ve been juggling more design work than school work. Just a few months ago, I was immersed full time in school work. What happened? Did I get bored or am I just coming up against a temporary lull? As you may already know, my interests oscillate between tech/design and health/fitness. One started off as a hobby and became a career, and sometimes it seems like I’m trying to redo that entire cycle over again in a completely different field.

I like to think of these temporary lulls as good practice for the Ironman. 17 hours is a long time to slug away at something. There will be some times when I don’t feel like swimming another yard, biking another mile, or running another step. It is in these temporary lulls that build character and grit. It is in trying times that you learn that the best things in life are the things you earn — education, leadership, strength. The things in life that are worth having are worth working for. Some have to work tirelessly before they see the fruits of their labor. Some people will never reach their end goals, but the journey is so consuming and well worth the investment that it is, in of itself, the reward.

It is in these quiet times I spend alone that I learn the most about myself and the people around me. A little bit of quiet observation unfolds a great deal of analysis of my past and present. I can’t predict the future but I can stack the odds. I can make plans for the future without sacrificing my appreciation of the present. I can honor the past by living fully in the present. I can (try to) learn to let go of the people and events in the past that burns inside of me.

I think the one thing I’ve learned the most in my adult life is how little I actually know. It’s kind of scary. I don’t have enough time on this earth for all of the books I want to read, the languages I want to learn, the places I want to visit, the startups I want to work with, the people I want to meet, the races I want to run. A lot of people at my age (and younger) feel invincible and on top of the world. I feel the exact opposite. I have so much to learn and so little time to execute it in. And, even though one of my goals is to complete an Ironman triathlon, I know that I have a lot of training ahead and a lot of life lessons to learn along the way.

I guess one place where I can start is…how the heck do I work all of the gears on my bike? That’s a pretty actionable first step, right?

Celebrating Little Victories Along The Way

There’s a lesson I learned a long time ago that I rarely follow…unfortunately, to my detriment.

I remember that long ago, before I got my first job, I wanted to dedicate a small portion of my first paycheck to rewarding myself by buying something for myself at Tiffany’s. When I graduated from college, I wanted to take some time off from the nonstop semesters and go travel southeast Asia. I never did. When I opened my first business, I wanted to show appreciation for all of the things my parents had done for me. I wanted to give my first check — no matter how big or small — to them so that they could pay some bills, buy some groceries, or do whatever. I never did. When I ran my first 5K and finally crossed something off of my bucket list, I wanted to finally celebrate such an achievement, no matter how big or small the celebration. I spent the evening depressed because no one showed up for it (even though I got a lot of love online for it). And, to top it off, I got into an accident right before. Bad juju all the way around.

In an effort to support all of the changes you are making in your life, it’s really, REALLY important to celebrate the little victories along the way. Aside from just seeing the silver lining in every bad situation, it’s important to recognize change in your life when you are in flux. By honoring it you pave the way for better decisions.

Instead of seeing your life as one continuous stream of events and going through the motions, giving yourself mile markers or chapters along the way allow you to compartmentalize your progress, evaluate your performance, and plan for the future. Celebrating the little things allow you to acknowledge that you did something right…and to fulfill a promise to yourself.

Whether it’s a manicure, some personal training sessions, or just a glass of champagne, I am personally a believer in celebrating the little victories in life. It doesn’t matter how small or insignificant it may seem to someone else. It only matters how significant it seems to you.

Accepting Change and Moving On

Happiness is really a choice. Change? Not so much.

Change hits me really hard. For some reason I’m just really uncomfortable with it. Many times…rather, most of the time, change is really for the better. I’ve had quite a few things that brought along a lot of change…graduating college, moving out, ending relationships, leaving projects, ending tenures, starting/failing/re-starting grad school. The list can go on and on.

I think what bothers me most about change is that sometimes I feel like I could have done something better. Sometimes I wish I would’ve spent my time differently. Sometimes I wish I had focused a little more. Maybe if I had done something a little differently, the entire experience would have been better, worse, or otherwise different. It’s a classic case of analysis paralysis. Let me be the first person to tell you, if no one else has already, that change is hard and that I understand. Just know that everything happens for a reason. I’ve personally gone through a lot of change this month and it’s been one rollercoaster after another, but I can honestly say that things will work themselves out.

The reason why I take the concept of change so hard is that I personally see change as an end to something. Changing jobs or roles in life, moving on from dead weight, and growing all involve some sort of transformation. If I could just learn to flip a switch and see it as a beginning I think it’d be a lot easier on me. Change is a new beginning. You can wipe your slate (relatively) clean and transform. It’s a necessary step to reincarnation…so embrace it.

Some things I’ve done to accept change and move on:

  • Talk it out. Sometimes it helps to have a cathartic session with another person who is willing to listen.
  • Reflect on your experience and remember the good things. What made your experience enriching? What did you get out of it?
  • Get excited about what’s next. Now that you’re in a state of change, you have been handed a wild card from life. You are completely in control of your next move. Call the shots and take charge.
  • Give it time. Most people will go through the five steps of grieving (denial/isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). It’s totally normal and no matter is too small that it needs to go ignored.
  • Do something to honor your feelings. Allow yourself to feel the way you do. This isn’t the time to deny or deprive. Do something nice for yourself…you deserve it.
  • When you’re ready to make a decision, don’t look back. Keep looking forward and move towards the future.

What else do you recommend?

Long Weekends, Long Runs

Hope you all had a fantastic Memorial Day weekend! I spent my time off balancing pure relaxation and pushing my limits. All in all it was pretty fun!

 

I’ve found that double digit runs have been very intimidating for me personally, even though I’ve done a few of them already. There’s reticence on my end since I usually have to prep a bit for it. A 3, 4, 5, or 6 mile run requires nothing more than staying hydrated beforehand and then eating immediately afterwards…and usually sunscreen 20 minutes before I leave.

However, when a run goes into 10, 11, 12, 13+ mile range, I usually load up my hydration pack and a few portable snacks since I get hungry pretty easily. Then comes the lag. I take forever to get dressed. I walk circles around my apartment — even though it’s pretty small — and make excuses and procrastinate. I start flipping through magazines or organizing my desk, cleaning out the fridge, fix my hair…pretty much anything except get myself out of the door. The last bit of procrastination usually includes me laying down on my couch for a bit and visualizing my run. I never really know what gets me up off that couch and out the door but it does and I get on with it.

It’s not so much the dread of feeling tired, or getting sweaty, or whatever other excuse I can come up with, that gets in the way. For some strange reason I’m always paranoid that I won’t finish my run. It sounds ridiculous because all I have to do is choose to end it — I can cut it short, I can take a detour, I can stop and enjoy a park, or I can extend it — so really, “finishing” is relative. Finishing a run is not really the same as finishing school, finishing a project, or finishing the course of a relationship. Or perhaps it really is the same, since we are all in control of our choices, our happiness, and how we manage the things that effect us.

There’s almost an invisible amount of pressure on me that I’ve really just fabricated. Being enrolled in a marathon training class is a little pressure, but it’s really the good kind. I’ve enjoyed it thus far but what I’ve missed the most lately is running just for the sake of running — not to train for something, not to qualify for a race, not to check in or check out, but just for the sheer fun of it.

Today I decided to take a different mental approach and re-run a very difficult course with the mentality that I was just running for fun. (I of course checked in to it!) I focused on a few things: 1) keeping my composure, 2) smiling a bit more at strangers, 3) enjoying the scenery and 4) maintaining a consistent pace. I ran through Miracle Mile, Hancock Park, Sunset Blvd/The Sunset Strip, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, and back to Miracle Mile. With that attitude, my run was an absolute breeze!! I enjoyed a beautiful sunset along the Sunset Strip, and enjoyed magic hour in Beverly Hills. It was night by the time I made my way though WeHo and back towards my home and when I ran through the final streetlight, I didn’t feel a bit tired. My knees were a bit achy, but my breathing wasn’t labored and my energy wasn’t shot. Los Angeles is so beautiful, especially on the tail end of a long weekend that vacates the city. With the wind this weekend, the skies were clean and clear. For once I felt like I had the city all to myself…and I treasured every minute of it.

Now that I’ve taken this route a second time, I’ve kept my eyes peeled for some interesting photos. Next time I run this same route, I’ll create a photo album so that you guys get to see what I see! After this weekend I feel confident that I will be able to successfully take on the 15K in Santa Barbara on July 4th without a problem. I’m so excited to make my way back to Santa Barbara again…I am positive that the course will be absolutely stunning.

To end an otherwise great weekend, I received this nugget of genius in my email box just a few minutes ago…

Believe that you’re young enough, old enough, strong enough, and so on to accomplish everything you want to do. Don’t let worn out beliefs stop you from moving beyond yourself. -John Bingham

A Few Observations From Today

 

On my run:

  • I ran the Miles for Melanoma 5K this morning in Fullerton. Along the run route they had volunteers hold signs of people whom have passed from cancer. It was also very nice to see families and teams working together to fundraise for a cause that was so close to them.
  • The run route was pretty — a short trail to a small fishing lake. It looped around and on the run back I felt like I was going to either trip and fall over rocks or walkers. Both would have been equally painful in my opinion.

Regarding my timing:

  • I really do need to leave a bit earlier. I have a tendency to drill everything down until the last minute. I had the map to the race venue months in advance and still didn’t bother routing my drive there since I knew where the city was. I arrived with just enough time to check-in late and head to the start line!
  • In regards to actual timing of my run, I did pretty well compared to my last 5K. I ran a 9:23 mile compared to my 10:20 mile at the LA Big5K at the end of March.

On my bike ride:

  • It is easier to maintain momentum than it is to fight inertia. (I think that applies to a lot of areas of life.)
  • I’m having a difficult time turning and braking…pretty much anything that deviates from riding in a straight line. And even that I don’t do very well yet.
  • I get skittish with people around. I get especially nervous when there are cars around.
  • Nonetheless I’ve somewhat mastered staying on for continuous blocks and dips in the road.

In my personal relationships:

  • It’s easier to just speak your mind than it is to wallow in doubt.
  • Time spent with friends is time well spent.

In my work:

  • Spent the better part of the afternoon working on a visual overhaul for a friend’s website. It’s always difficult removing myself from the equation and making sure I design for someone else’s preference and their audience than for my own taste. I think that’s a challenge all designers face whether or not they choose to own up to that responsibility.
  • When working on weekends it is best to apply the law of diminishing marginal returns.

A Quick Recap of January #postaday2011

In case you missed it, I cranked out 23 posts in 31 days on personal development, freelancing, philosophy, tech, and design. If you’re looking for something to read during your lunch break, here it is!

Exhausted Kitty

Here’s hoping to the same level of consistency in February! I’ll be preparing for SXSW, exercising a bit more (hopefully) and diving in nosefirst into a new programming language so I’m sure I’ll have plenty to share.

Until then, see you around the blogosphere!

Getting Dressed For Work Is Kind Of A Big Deal

I’ve always loved dressing up.

Amara Poolswasdi, Dressed For Work

For some girls, that means whoring out or dressing skanky. For me, it’s always meant sophisticated/business casual. I grew up wanting to dress older than I actually was because I wanted to be taken seriously. In high school I was that annoying girl who really wanted to wear cardigans, slacks, turtlenecks, button-down shirts, and heels. (As a matter of fact, after I got my driver license, those were the exact pieces I bought after I drove myself to the mall. I was only sixteen at the time.)

To an extent I am still that girl. Unfortunately at my current age it ends up confusing a lot of people. “Is this woman 40 with amazing skin?”

I realize that I am in the business of packaging identities. Graphic design, marketing, and communications is all about what you say and how you say it. I am not really into fashion per se. I enjoy perusing magazines from time to time or window shopping like the rest, but every once in awhile I emerge from a maelstrom of identity-crisis inducing incidents as a reincarnated and refreshed creative. I find that it pays to let it show.

A significant other recently pointed out that as a designer, I had to pay more attention to the details of my own presentation. It wasn’t enough to have a creative portfolio or to have artistic interests. Not only do you have to play the part, you have to look it too. Time and time again, I’ve found a modicum of truth behind that statement. So, although I am not going to throw out all of my conservative clothing, I do resolve to add a bit more flair and fun into my wardrobe. (That can take the form of interesting accessories, rather than major pieces.) I want to approach my own presentation that I would my client’s brand identity, website design, or copywriting work. I want it to be fun, interesting, and leave something up to the imagination! I want people to dig deeper and find the double meaning.

The thing about getting dressed for work is that it puts you in the right frame of mind. Even though I work from home, I don’t have to look like it. Why wear drab clothes and not bother getting out of bed? It makes me feel lazy; therefore, I present myself lazily and my work comes off very sloppy. But, if I take the time to get dressed and accessorize, it helps me practice my design skills well before I begin putting pen to paper or mouse to screen.

Today it took me about five seconds to decide to snazzy up my outfit. Why? I’m under deadline today! I have to get a website deployed later this afternoon and get my client’s book out to the publisher. Now that I’m in the right frame of mind, I can think creatively and get the job done with some…wait for it…flair!

Office Space Flair

Personality is about 80% of the game.

I was recently in a discussion with a confidant about the philosophies behind the graphic design profession. What does it take to be a great designer: skill, talent or personality? In a perfect work, preferably a combination of all three!

However, when there are weighing factors, I would say that one trumps the others. Having a great personality is key to being successful in any profession. In particular, graphic designers need to be able to relate with and relay visual communications to an audience. They must also be able to liaise with other creatives, deal with copywriting, marketing, PR, and advertising folk. How can they do that with a stale or negative personality?

The thing about skill and talent is that they are complementary. You can at least build off of what you have. On the other hand, it’s really hard to retool your personality! Consider this philosophy for your next team assignment or job interview. It might take you places!