At some point in our lives, we had to respond to somebody asking “Why?”, which is really implying “why are you doing this?”
Why would you quit a good paying job? Why would you go to a second rate college? Why would you move across the country? While these questions show that the person asking may truly care and want the best for you, they don’t actually know what is really best for you. They know that the status quo of life can lead you to success – but is this your path to success?
For a long time, I did everything that was socially perceived as right: I got good grades, I went to a good college, and I even had a good paying job. But I didn’t feel successful or even fulfilled. In fact, I was incredibly anxious and deeply unsatisfied pretty much all the time. A few years ago, I had a breakthrough that led me to stop doing what others expected me to do and it was then I decided to do things for myself.
Part of my personality is to do things spontaneously, so I started to back in 2019. I spontaneously went to Korea a month before my wedding. I left a job for another company to work on projects I had minimal experience in. I started making cute wellness art on a digital platform that I’ve never used before and sharing it on social media. I did everything I was taught not to – and this newfound energy felt exhilarating. And, moreover, it was incredibly freeing.
Of course, people were curious and asked me why I did all these things. I gave somewhat mediocre answers at the time, because I really wasn’t confident in what I was doing either. I just knew deep inside my intuition said I should. Looking back, if I had the confidence, I would have gently asked, “Why not?” and actually be honest about why I was doing all this. It wasn’t for money or for my career, it was for me and my sanity.
In my mental wellness journey, I’ve learned to not sugarcoat things anymore. I know us women in particular make up stories or excuses to not hurt or make the other person feel bad, as a way to protect them. We tend to fall in this endless sugarcoating cycle and not really admit why we are or are not doing something. Sometimes, we can’t go to an event because we are actually really tired and need a mental break from work and people for a moment.
So, I’ve been trying lately to be more upfront about my feelings and being more confident speaking about why I do or don’t do things. It is hard to tell people my real reasoning since I’ve been suppressing this from others and sugarcoating it for so long, but I take baby steps when I can. With mental health slowly being more socially accepted, I don’t fear the backlash as much as I did before. In fact, people are willing to share their own struggles if you are honest with them about yours in the first place.
I hope the conversations about mental health become more normalized and we don’t have to hide and suppress our mental struggles from others anymore. Don’t sugarcoat it. In fact, coat it with everything you have.
I have felt the heaviness too. The pressure to meet my Asian parents’ escalating expectations, the societal weight to be a strong yet never an inconvenient female, and the mental load to be normal and sane throughout it all and everything in between.
It’s lot to carry, I know. But for a long time, I kept carrying this weight. I didn’t actually realize how much of this weight was holding me back from being myself. And gradually, the weight was getting heavier to hold and after years of accumulated weight, I couldn’t hold it anymore.
At first, I was scared my biggest fears and worries would all come to fruition when I started to let go, but they never happened. When they didn’t, I simply stopped trying to live up to what my parent’s and society wanted and started to live life for myself. As I slowly started to mentally take the weight off, I instantly felt lighter and feeling the mental “weight” off my shoulders. I felt the freedom to do whatever I wanted. After 30 years, I finally felt the permission to be myself and live life on my terms.
What I have learned is that a lot of this weight was mostly in my head. Sure, my parents would constantly remind me to get good grades and succeed, but they would still love me even if I messed up. Maybe part of it was also the constant drilling (and even borderline brainwashing) from school learning and society’s image on what it means to be a female, but I have chosen to un-learn this and, instead, learn to be more outspoken, to take up space, and to be brave about being unapologetically myself.
This is what I think it means to live fully: to be able to live truthfully and authentically as your truest self. I believe you can do the same by living lightly and slowly taking the mental load off of your mind. It’s okay to have a bit of pressure, as long as it comes from you and nobody else. Have the courage and willpower to live on your own terms, so you can achieve more, do better, and dream bigger.
I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t. I would have been stuck at a dead-end job with a toxic manager, my crippling anxiety would take a greater control over my life, and I would continue to live life on other people’s terms. I wouldn’t have started sharing about my journey on this blog or created art for healing and positivity.
So I encourage you to live, like really live. You can start by taking the mental weight and pressures off in your mind. In reality, nobody is really pushing you to do something. There’s always going to be external voices and opinions, but you should quiet those down and listen to your own internal voice instead. Your internal voice is the one that matters anyway. And I totally get that your inside voice may consist of self-doubt and worries, but I believe that just being aware of those feelings can really help you start the process of building confidence and uncovering who you are truly meant to be.
Living lightly has given me the opportunity to live fully. I am in a much better headspace than ever before and I live life everyday doing things I love. Even when things go wrong during the day, I don’t sulk too long and I do my best to move forward, as this is all part of the human experience anyway.
There is no real need to carry all this heavy weight anymore. Slowly let it go and you’ll find yourself so much lighter and feel so much fuller than ever before. Good luck!
My design professor one day showed students his fantasy master plan amusement park design if it were ever to be built. He designed this amusement park so it would be bolder and cooler than Disneyland and thought of the rides, attractions, and themes for each. It was a hand-drawn, complete set of construction drawings and plans where he figured out every little detail. At the the time, I naively thought it was silly of him to waste so much time and energy to do all this work for a park that would probably never come to life. Why would a 50 year old guy spend so much work on this crazy pipe dream?
Maybe I was a little jealous that he was able to do this in the first place. But truthfully, it was because I was used to thinking small. I never did anything that bold, that different, or that big. On top of teaching and having a professional job, this professor did something for himself and was happy to work on his dream side project, regardless of what his 19-year-old students or anyone thought about it. He didn’t need anyone’s permission to go do the thing he wanted to do and just kept pursuing his dream anyway.
I never found out if his amusement park ever got built, but I do know this: if there’s anything I learned from his class, it is to not be afraid to think big. This professor wasn’t even a well-known landscape architect and his expertise was grading engineering, not amusement park design. But he followed his dream that made him happy and whether it comes true or not, all that effort was still worth it to him.
I used to do the right, “small” things that got me somewhere in life, but not where I wanted to be. I did things within my comfort zone and never thought that I was capable of doing more. I felt unfulfilled and unhappy. Though, as I looked deeper into myself and rediscovering who I was and wanted to be, I realized being comfortable and doing possible things wasn’t enough for me. My newfound mental clarity and calmness helped me figure out what made me happy and redefined my purpose. My purpose wasn’t to go to college, get married, and have a 9-to-5 job. I found out my true purpose was to use my creative work to help others heal and rediscover themselves so they can live a fulfilling life. This is what I was meant to do be doing and even if I don’t make a huge profit or reach millions of people, at least I did something that made me smile every day.
We can pursue big things simply because they make us happy, feel alive, and be ourselves. Doing big things give us a bigger purpose and adds a lot more meaning to our work. It’s okay to do small things, but I encourage you to try to think and do bigger with a happy mindset. This professor didn’t let his academic or professional role define who he was; he defined himself by thinking and doing big in his own time.
When you build something on your own, you are building yourself too. So the more you do this, the more courage you have to do big things. It’s not to say that you won’t still be absolutely terrified every time you put yourself out there; I get the jitters too, every single time. But I keep doing it because I have a little bit more courage each time. So, don’t be afraid to go wild with your ideas and don’t forget to have fun while you’re at it. That’s what life’s all about: positively disrupt the world and dare greatly!
You are the author of your own story, regardless of the heartbreaks, rejections, and hardships you’ve gone through or you’re currently going through. Think of them as plot twists and help make your story more interesting.
I totally get not seeing the bright side when things don’t go your way, especially when the bad stuff keep piling up one after another. I applied to both undergraduate and graduate programs at my dream school and I didn’t get in either times. I was called pathetic by an ex-boyfriend after three weeks of dating and I went out with another guy a few times who just really wanted a one-night stand. I was never good enough for job positions I really wanted and simply accepted ones that paid the bills. As you can see, I have had my share of the soggy pie too, just like you and so many other people in this world.
What makes these setbacks interesting is what happens after. I didn’t give up and saw these failures as life experiences and part of my journey. That dream school I didn’t get into? I am working on a project with them right now. That ex-boyfriend who called me pathetic? He apologized for his immaturity back in college and we’re still friends today. The job positions I never got? I still didn’t get, but I now work in a job I chose to be in with a salary I negotiated for.
We can choose to stay down or rise up against the harsh realities of life. To be honest, I am just an ordinary woman who worked really hard on my achievements and extra hard on doing the self work to be the me I am today. I do not have any special skills to overcome my hardships, just my persistent willpower to keep moving forward and grow from these experiences. It helps to have a little bit of curiosity and some fun too. So don’t let the difficulties be the final ending to your story. All of us had gone through some sort of a hardship in life, the only difference is what we do after.
People who were nobodies became somebodies because they didn’t give up, were authentic to themselves, and chased their dreams. Steve Job’s story could have ended when he was kicked out of Apple in 1985, but he kept doing more and created Pixar a year later and developed the first Iphone 20 years after. He didn’t let any setbacks stop him and even had the courage to go on a spiritual journey which heavily influenced the design aesthetic of his future innovations. If he gave up at any moment in time, then a lot of the world we see today might have been very different.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg also fought hard in life and became an even bigger fighter for women’s rights and gender equality. In light of the sexism she faced in early childhood, the passing of her older sister and her mom before her high school graduation, and surviving cancer five times, she kept going and remained incredibly strong even in her final days. Her resiliency and perseverance made her who she was and she didn’t need anyone’s permission to be the woman she wanted to be in order for so many of us enjoy the freedoms we have today.
There are many other stories of people who have endured and overcame their struggles too, from Stacey Abrams to Steph Curry to Chadwick Boseman. Before their successes, they were just ordinary people who did something and didn’t give up, no matter what hardships they went through. They didn’t let a lost election, their height, or their cancer stop them from doing more. They did the really hard work and hustled, and was able to craft their own stories out of it.
You are not alone when it comes to the struggles and hardships in life. We all deal with something but, unfortunately, not all of us believe we can overcome it. I am telling my story because I believe hitting rock bottom doesn’t mean you need to stay down. Getting out of something hard can be messy, scary, and a lot of the times very uncomfortable, but it is the best feeling to be free and to continue to write and tell my story.
You can’t control what happens, but you can control what you do next. I hope you are able to find the strength to keep going and make your mess your message. Maybe you can also find joy in both your pursuits and failures. Whatever you do, don’t give up on yourself or your dreams. Who knows, you can be the next ordinary person who can be extraordinary and live to tell your own story.
From the outside, it seemed like I was living the dream life. I got a graduate degree, I had a decent paying job, and I was part of many social circles. Based on society’s and my Asian parents’ standards, I did everything right by achieving academic, professional, and personal success throughout my 20s. I followed a path like many others had done before me and I thought this was the ideal life I was meant to be living. At the time, I assumed my personal well-being didn’t matter, even as my anxiety levels and my mental state were getting progressively worse, since in the external world, everything else was going fine.
As I was achieving success, I was going so fast and nowhere at the same time. I felt empty, unhappy, and unfulfilled. The two years of graduate school in another state put a strain on my long-term relationship. I loathed the job I was in after graduate school and I became incredibly anxious and depressed working with a toxic manager. I went to every social gathering to show my support to my loved ones and friends, but I wasn’t really present when I was physically there.
For so long I assumed my happiness would positively correlate with all the things I have done right in life by being a good daughter, a good student, a good employee, and a good partner. I just accepted things as it came to me and obediently stuck to my lane. I never did anything to step on anyone’s toes or out of my comfort zone. But I was nowhere near happiness and I was getting further away from being my authentic self. I was slowly disappearing and I couldn’t admit this to myself because I was too scared to face my own troubled mental state. I used other things like work, social gatherings, and other “busy” distractions to keep me from ever confronting my mental health. I thought my worries, anxieties, and fears would just eventually go away if I kept going with the flow of life. This was the ideal life anyway, so this would work itself out right?
It didn’t. The cracks of this seemingly ideal life started to crumble into noticeable pieces. I was in a terrible mood a lot of the time, I was in a constant state of worry, and I was exhausted from meeting everyone’s expectations. My relationships soured, my work suffered, and my mental health declined. I was losing myself and I didn’t know what to do.
In 2019, I didn’t have a breakdown, but I had a breakthrough. For the first time in my life, I made the decision to start doing things for myself, not just to please my parents or to impress an employer. I started to work on projects I liked and enjoyed. I went on trips for myself, not for social obligations. I was rediscovering who I was and finding out who I really wanted to be. For once in my life, I was finally taking ownership of my life. I left the toxic workplace for a new one with a position I wanted and a salary I negotiated for. I improved my communication skills with my partner and fostered stronger relationships with friends. I even started a side business of designing and selling cute greeting cards. I was making things happen my way and was finally becoming myself again.
As I gained confidence to do the things I loved, I gained the courage to confront my mental health and took action to do something about it. I started meditating, slowing down, stretching, and experimenting with all sorts of mindfulness activities. I read books and listened to many hours of podcasts related to self-help topics. After putting in “self-work” consistently, the results were magical. The newfound clarity and sense of calmness was incredibly freeing. For a person who had experienced a lifelong crippling anxiety, this felt like a dream. And this new dream became my new reality.
I am starting to live my dream life now. I am learning to be my authentic self and I am so much happier than ever before. I live fully with less anxiety and do things I love without anyone else’s permission. As I gain more courage, I am able to take risks and try new things, like taking a real hard look at my finances and my unhealthy lifestyle, and making changes that I have avoided for so long. Interestingly, the more I give back to myself, the more I am able to give back to the world at a much greater capacity than ever before. I am continuously using my creativity and art to help others heal and began their journey of self-discovery, while staying true to myself and my values.
I am sharing my story so one day you can find yourself and live your dream life too. You have the right to live happily and make your dreams happen, no matter what age you are. Be willing to let go, take up space, and live authentically. It does take real work, time, and consistency, but I guarantee that it is incredibly rewarding, feeling this other way. This may make other people uncomfortable at first, but realize you need to put your own life above others’ expectations. By the end of it all, you have lived your life, not someone else.
A happy mind is a happy life. You deserve to be happy and live your dream life, so go make it a happy ending.
Starting a new side business during the pandemic and while many businesses are closing at astronomical rates is crazy, I know.
But I also know there is never a perfect time to start doing what you love, no matter what is going on in the outside world. If anything, it is probably the best time to see if your interesting ideas or hobbies can potentially be turned into something more. We have already witnessed that in a matter of six months, many company jobs are disappearing left and right and are not as stable and secure as we once thought before. Also, we now have more time to be at home and much fewer obligations to go to social events. So, I truly believe with a little bit of perseverance, confidence, and patience, it is very possible to start something new of your own, even during very difficult and challenging times we are now living in.
You do need some capital, but not a lot. In the olden days, a new business needed many investors and heavy duty funding to get started. Now, businesses can start for under $1,000 or even less than $100, depending on the type of product or service you are creating. My initial startup costs amount to about $815 and I have listed the cost breakdown below:
Annual personal domain cost (from Namecheap)
Annual personal website cost (Business tier from Squarespace)
Apple pencil (1st gen) – discounted*
Apple 10.5 inch iPad Air 64 MB – discounted*
*These are essential items for my side business.
I created an online greeting card store for my side business, with all cards available for digital download so I did not have to worry about prints or shipping at the moment. The mission for this business is to empower and celebrate people for who they are and the moments that really matter to them. The cards provided are beyond standard birthday and anniversary cards. They include cards that congratulate loved ones coming out, starting a new business venture, and hitting a sobriety milestone.
My side business requires a good digital pen, a tablet, and a design app for me to make high-quality designs for my greeting cards. I hate to admit, but the Apple products I bought are the best tools in the market now for creating digital artwork. They work seamlessly with my 2018 MacBook Pro and Pixelmator Pro to do final edits for both the card designs and social media photography. The investment for these tools are quite high, but are necessary for what I need to make my card designs. Also, I knew a good friend who worked at Apple to help get me a discount. And if the business doesn’t work out, I can still use the iPad to watch Netflix and look at recipes while cooking, so it is a win win.
The second main expense was purchasing the business subscription plan on Squarespace for my business website. I researched their platform before purchasing to ensure they are able to sell digital products and they do. I also played with their limited features using the 30-day free trial and thought the platform was easy to use, after some time figuring out how to navigate their tools, including changing theme colors and categorizing commerce products. I really like how the user interface is set up so you can manipulate as much as you want and, if I had any questions, I was able to read through a detailed, step by step guide with photos from their support page. For a non-tech person like me, it is the right decision to use Squarespace for my business website.
It took me about six months to launch my side business. I worked tirelessly around my full-time professional job, which I thankfully still have and currently working remotely. I was drawing, sketching, and making edits during my lunch break and late evenings after an 8-hour workday. It was definitely hard, but I was doing something I enjoyed, so it did not feel like work. I recommend keeping a day job if possible, so income is still being generated and you can be a little bit more creative about what you want to do for your side business.
When I first started, I was overwhelmed with self-doubt, fear, and a lot of anxiety. I thought too much of what I had left to do and if the work I was doing was going to make a difference at all. So, in order to keep focus, I just concentrated on the next, small steps and just kept going. Instead of thinking about the big picture of a beautiful, finished website of my brand that showcased my greeting card designs, I focused on the little tasks that will take me further to it. It really worked, because now I am here and I recently launched my side business a few days ago.
Also, only mention your side business to a few people when you are first starting out. This helps keep the outside noise down and lets you focus on what you truly want to make and show the world. The first lucky few will be the ones who are likely to support you throughout the whole process anyway.
Right now, I am slowly building an online presence using social media. And using the same mindset as before, instead of trying to make a seemingly far reaching goal of a thousand sales, I figured I will try to make just one sale. I will continue documenting my side business journey and see where it takes me. Even if this takes me nowhere, I am uber happy to have put something out there that I can call my own. The feeling of joy from producing your own creative work and having purpose beyond my professional job is one of the best feelings you can have. Anyone can achieve the same fulfillment, including you.
Check out my side business here! Thank you in advance for your support! 🙂
FYI, none of the products or services mentioned are sponsored. This blog post is based solely on my own personal opinions.
The aftertaste is bittersweet. On one hand, we are spending more time at home with family and commuting less. On the other hand, we are spending too much time with family that makes us want reasons to drive out more. Now, where do we go from here?
A lot of people having been thinking that lately. We are living in a period where most of humanity are thinking about what to do next, all at the same time. We are not living our day to day schedules anymore, passing by life like we used to. Up until end of last year, we became very familiar with our normal routines that we had no reason to think beyond the usual, regular actions of eating, working, playing and sleeping. Then the pandemic happened and we abruptly became derailed from normalcy and sidetracked from our life pursuits and goals.
Now, we are all thinking. We are putting our minds at work like never before and it has been interesting to hear about life-changing ideas from high-level, tech CEOs to a bored kid with a computer. We are also thinking about things we never thought about until now, like how to really make ends meet, how to teach your children their grade level math and English, how to adjust to the new work from home environment, and how to support local businesses.
Nobody has all the right answers and that is okay. We are imperfect in our solutions for now, but we will get there. The important thing is to keep thinking and act upon those ideas. Do not let the noise of media, online trolls, and protestors in front of government buildings get in your way. They have infinite time on their hands, but you do not. Your time is precious and more finite than you realize. If you are frustrated about something, then go to the proper channels to actually make a difference in your community, like emailing your local city council members or maybe even be one in the near future. There’s endless possibilities with unlimited, free thought.
A lot of us do not like change and prefer to stick with the status quo. But if people just accepted the norm, then we would not have internet on our phones, original content to watch, or the ability to connect with people from all over the world today. If Henry Ford did not make automobiles affordable and accessible to all Americans about 120 years ago, then we probably would still be traveling over predominantly muddy roads today. Thinking about ideas that can change the world can be both priceless and lucrative (later on). For now, let’s dial it back and figure out the next steps.
Sometimes, to think of better ideas is to ask better questions. Instead of thinking how my small business last six months from now, how can it last for another 20 years? Or more critically, how can I make it last with the least amount of effort that can produce the biggest rewards? With regards to college, how can a college student learn the major more effectively out of the physical classroom for the time being? Remember, we are taught tools and theories in school, but it is our responsibility to think and learn for the rest of our lives.
It is true that life throws us lemons, some bigger and have more rot than others. The silver lining is that you can still make lemonade even with this sour fruit. So, I believe we can think of ways to turn the COVID-19 lemon into lemonade, instead idling by or complaining. “The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself,” a quote paraphrased from Alan Kay, a computer scientist who pioneered graphical user interface (UI) design.
We all have the power to think of creative ideas, even in the messiest and scariest period of our lives. We need to continue our thinking and not stop. And when we act on some good ideas, these are what will help get us out of this worldwide doom and gloom. It is time to make some fresh lemonade!🍋
No, it did not involve a skill or language. With more time alone and isolated, I have been learning new, little bits of information every day since the shelter-in-place has started. The lack of social obligations has really freed up my time to focus on doing things I want to do and being more observant of my surroundings. None of these things were hard to learn and sometimes a quick Google search can do the trick. Some things were learned from an embarrassing scenario or by random too. If anything, being imperfect has probably taught me more than actively trying to be perfect.
From hearing wild turkeys gobbling loudly outside my house for the past few days, I learned it is now mating season for turkeys this time of year.
The quote, “I am not a businessman, I am a business, man,” by Jay-z.
Bananas can be artificially ripen in the oven and then used to make banana bread.
There were a lot of SATs words that I looked up (but now have forgotten) in Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book City of Girls.
Investing is a fancy word for reallocating savings.
A couple of passionate 450-word emails to my city and local park district to close a park entrance in the middle of my neighborhood during the stay at home order worked.
A digital cleanse of unwanted email subscriptions can be mentally refreshing.
Homemade cheesecake and apple cinnamon coffee cake taste way better after a day in the fridge.
Washing my hair every other day and not blow drying it has made my hair appear healthier and stronger.
There is a keyboard shortcut to toggle WIFI on and off on a Windows laptop. (I accidentally pressed the keys in an effort to take a screenshot and I embarrassingly spent 15 minutes on the phone with our office IT guy trying to resolve my remote desktop connection. He was not amused.)
A new high yield savings account can be opened a lot easier than I originally thought through an online application.
A male barista at my local bakery shop is always chirpy and enthusiastic towards customers every time I grab coffee to go once a week.
Weeding is much easier to do in the cool, cloudy mornings than in late afternoon.
The unconscious fact that I have been touching my face a lot before the pandemic and now have roughly reduced the number of times by about half.
The podcast “What You Will Learn” is literally the audible version of spark notes on books in topics ranging from investments, lifestyle, non-fiction, and self-help.
Placing hot brown butter too quickly into the cookie mix can make the texture of the baked cookies flat and runny.
Social “dieting” and social distancing can go hand-in-hand and nobody is the wiser about your unknown whereabouts.
There is usually some technical difficulty when doing a virtual hangout session, but this can be resolved pretty quickly.
Reusable mesh produce bags can be washed in the washing machine on delicate mode and air dried after.
The quote, “We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies,” by Walt Disney.
Wear sunblock even when going outside on a cloudy day.
Salt and pepper are not the only seasonings that can make soups and curries tasty.
Installing a new TV wall mount requires locating existing wall stud locations and figuring out where to anchor wood screws to ensure a secure and stable wall mount installation.
The time to cook or bake takes longer than you think.
Washing my face in the shower with regular bar soap has helped cleared my skin (on top of washing my face in the morning and at night with a facial cleanser).
People appreciate receiving a direct phone call or voicemail message when I was attempting to contact a sales representative of a paving company for work.
Frozen kimchi pancakes are actually very flavorful and delicious when I stir fried them.
Correcting my posture with three pillows in my home office chair has done wonders.
Re-watching episodes of The Office on Netflix is a good default entertainment during lunch breaks. (It feels like I am in an office setting when I am working from home.)
Little joys like passing by spring blooms or not burning steaming vegetables can brighten up my day.
You can learn something new every day. It does not need to be a difficult mathematical equation or trying to solve world peace. Dial it back down and learn something easy and simple that you didn’t know or notice before. Learning something new does not have to be boring or tiresome either and should be something that excites you and lets you pause for a moment. My greatest motivation is knowing I am not perfect and that I don’t know everything, even with a masters degree and several years of industry experience. There is always something you can learn, you just need to go look for it.
I am ambitiously lazy. I have been making extra money, aside from my full-time professional job, but in my own comfort zone, barefaced and un-shaved legs, while sitting under a warm comforter on my bed in my pajamas and drinking coffee from my favorite mug. For a woman in her early 30’s, it is a freeing concept to make money whenever and wherever, without having to wear make-up, contacts, or a bra. I do not have to face anyone, look older and mature, or try to wear work attire that is not too tight or low or short to make more money. Best of all is that I do not have to be told what to do within a 9-to-5 timeframe to earn money, I can make money my way and on my terms.
To do this, I had to first take a step out of my comfort zone. In order to live comfortably, I needed to be uncomfortable first. This means deviating from the standard and taking the risk to be different. Consider this analogy: instead of hiking up on the wider, paved trail to the mountain peak of success like everyone else, I decided to take a less traveled, alternate route. It was riskier and steeper and the path may or may not have reached the mountain peak at all. I may have encountered obstacles, slip, or fall. Though, despite all the uncertainties, it was my choice to create my own path and decide where I go next. Even if the path was more difficult to climb and required a bit more work, my path could potentially lead to the peak faster.
For a long time, I was like everyone else. I was not the fastest or slowest person on the conventional path up, but I was going at a decent pace in achieving academic and professional success. I was also following the usual path of a woman in finding the “one”, getting married, and building a family one day. All of my girl friends were doing this, so I was doing the same without missing a beat. I got married last year and my wedding day was truly one of the best days of my life. While the route I was on made me feel stable and secure, I was not fulfilled. My sense of purpose was lacking, even though I did all the right things, stuck to the same path, and was careful not to disturb the status quo along the way.
Career-wise, I was chugging and grinding along like I was supposed to by having a regular job and just getting paid for doing good, honest work. Yet, I found the work unrewarding and felt trapped in a cycle of dead-end responsibilities. For the first time in thirty years, I wanted to quit a job for one that I actually wanted, not because of any life reasons or because it was the only company that gave a job offer. After achieving financial stability, I wanted to choose what I wanted to do and for the salary I wanted. This meant straying from the norm and leaving a four year job that would have made me terribly unhappy if I had stayed for another 30 years. And so, I stepped out from the conventional path and into the bushes.
At first, it was prickly, uncomfortable, and the unfamiliar terrain made me very nervous. Nobody was guiding me forward, I was on my own. I kept going though, treading carefully and purposefully. I negotiated for a higher end salary at my new job that I wanted and successfully got it. I spontaneously traveled to South Korea, a country I have never been, within three weeks of my decision to go. I did a freelance project designing a front yard residential landscape and was involved in the entire construction process, which is now built and enjoyed by the owners. While I have never done any of these before 2018, I was carving my own path.
As a petite Asian woman in her early 30’s, I seemed to be going against every traditional, cultural and social norms. Being different meant being isolated from a social circle of friends and acquaintances who were doing things by conventional standards. While a handful of my friends were having babies, I was pursuing side ventures. While they were focused on planning their baby showers or baby rooms, I was focused on my self-worth. It was a solo journey and it did feel lonely at times to be detached from conversations about family planning aspirations and expensive daycare costs. But I wanted to increase my income, to travel to places I have never been, and to create something I called my own. I did not want conventions to define me, I wanted to define myself.
It is easy to take the conventional road to success because it does lead to some guarantees and promises of financial security by relying on a steady job of 50 years, the safety net of social security and government handouts for retirement. It does not require much thinking or creativity to follow this path, as long as you work hard and long enough to reach the peak. I believe at some point in time this path may have worked in the past, but it will not make anyone a millionaire today. If anything, those who follow this path now would be unhappy, unmotivated, and even in debt. To actually get to the point of making money without a bra or any make-up on, you will need to break away from these conventions and start making money by doing things you like, not what you have to do. In the long run, you will make more money by doing things you are interested in and, once you do, you can make even more money your way.
Investing in myself was probably the most profitable decision I have made in my life. It allowed me to make more money than I ever thought and now I have the ability to make even more by investing. It has been rewarding to do things on my own. It is a new high that I have discovered and the more I do this, the more of this I want. Plus, my side ventures did not feel like work at all because I enjoyed doing them. I also did not need to work ten times harder to get ten times the results. It was true that I worked longer and I needed more brainpower to push through, but I did not work harder. I did what I normally do when doing something new for the first time, which included many hours of researching and reading. I also talked to friends for some guidance and advice who were long-time veterans of these situations, like negotiating for a higher salary. If you are open to continuous learning and gaining new skills, then do not be afraid to ask for help from others who have succeeded in doing so.
Now that you have a steady income flowing and presumably have paid off all debts, the fun part begins: it is time to make more money by investing. In the next Part II post, I will explain techniques on how to earn compound interest, how to conservatively make money from the stock market, and how to maximize your 401(k). Truthfully, if you choose to invest in yourself, all the other parts of your life could be very rewarding – professionally, socially, and financially. All it takes is a first step off the conventional trail.
The past couple of weeks have been nasty and disruptive. Who knew a virus could single-handedly wreck the stock market, day to day life, and our access to basic necessities? It sounds like a crazy dream, but we are all living this nightmare in real life. And we never saw it coming.
Everyone’s situation is different. I see employees adjusting to the new work of home life on LinkedIn, I read stories about people losing their jobs on Reddit, and I hear those still partying on the beach as if nothing is happening on the national news. I am beyond lucky to have a job that allows me to work from home – starting this week in fact – in a profession that I love. I work with a landscape architecture team that focuses on large-scale projects (park design, residential development, and commercial landscapes) and we are able to continue working on projects remotely because our client contracts were secured months prior. And luckily, most of our work is done using the AutoCAD program and on the computer about 85% of the time. I have never worked from home before in my line of work of 5 years, but this abrupt change has been both interesting and enlightening in a couple of ways.
The new quarantine and work from home life has been a blessing in disguise for me. I admit I am a homebody and I love being in the comfort of my childhood home. So far, I have been enjoying working in my pajamas and eating non-microwavable food for lunch. I do not need to put on make-up or eye contacts. I can go to the bathroom as loudly as I please without needing to be as discreet as possible in the women’s public restroom. From having to commute round-trip to work for 3 hours to 1 and half hour to 40 minutes to no commute at all, it has been nice and stress-free to just walk to my own desk and get to work. I also get to see my neighbors (and their furry companions) from a safe distance when I got out for my daily lunch walks.
I seem to be more focused, without being disturbed or leered into random conversations, and I do not feel a sense of loneliness as I have been building up my independence for a long time. I am also incredibly grateful that the home I live in is built for working remotely (my other family members do this regularly), has a working heating and cooling unit, and enough private space for three adults to work remotely at the same time. It is Day 4 and I have definitely adjusted to the new work from home life. I can’t imagine going back to working full time now. The only first-world problem is that I do not have enough pajamas to go through and will have to wash my only three pairs often and regularly.
Also, the timing has never been more perfect to invest in stocks or funds (index or mutual, depending on whichever butters your bread) in a down stock market. For a gal who loves a good discount, this is the silver lining I have been waiting for the past 12 years. I have slowly been building a small nest of funds, emergency and otherwise, and have been watching the bear market like a hungry wolf. The moment to strike is now, oddly caused by something that was totally abnormal and outside from the typical world of economics. Even with the many lessons learned from previous downturns, new techniques set in place, and a seemingly strong economy, the stock market is not immune to volatility and disturbances. And us humans will always feel the effects of it, in both the good and bad times.
I know it is luxury to still have a job, to have the resources to work remotely, and to even have toilet paper (one bulk set of 16, nothing more or less). I know others are not so lucky and living in a much tougher and difficult reality. But the truth is that you can be in my shoes one day – probably sooner than you think – and be able to have the ability to ride this massive wave the next time an unexpected high tide comes. The stock market will be a never-ending roller coaster and life will keep throwing lemons at you, but you can learn to be self-sufficient and find ways to overcome worst-case scenarios. You can survive this and come out stronger if you keep calm and focused. Know that you have options and others have succeeded with far less and in worse situations than yours.
If you are still in panic mode and still don’t believe me, I highly recommend reading the book, “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” by Dale Carnegie. He talks about people from leading businessmen to prominent leaders to ordinary people who suffered from constant worry and overcame this by changing their mindset and finally saw life through a different lens. He tells stories of people in the worst of situations. One such story is an American manager for a life insurance company who happened to be in China when the Japanese army invaded Shanghai in 1942. He had no choice but to work under a Japanese admiral and liquidate the company’s assets for him. He did not tell the admiral about one of their securities, but this was soon discovered by the Japanese army. He was told he would be sent to a torture chamber for being a traitor. Nobody ever came out alive from there. How did this same life insurance manager and guy with an incoming death sentence later become one of the most successful American businessman in the Far East? I will reveal this later as you continue reading.
Carnegie also talks strategies and mentions a ton of inspirational quotes throughout the book. Though, I find reading the stories of people who overcame worries and eventually became rich – either financially or in life or both – has made the book relatable and gives me hope that I can achieve the same feat. He writes in a way as if he was talking to you in person, where it feels like you are having a coffee chat with a very supportive, restorative friend. It is also eerie and impressive at how he easily predicts your skepticism too. For a worrywart like me, this book is probably the best $10 I have spent to date and a way cheaper alternative than going to see an expensive therapist. By the way, the book is not sponsored and I am merely echoing similar praises from over 2,500 5-star reviews on Amazon.
If you are not in panic mode, it is time to wake-up and make lemonade. Stop reading the news, stop listening to your friends about the news, and stop talking about the news. Knowing and spreading this sort of information will not change your situation. You could be doing something more productive with your time, especially with all this extra time being stuck at home. This crisis has shown us the true nature of people. We find out things like American senators selling stock before the market slowdown, people exploiting consumer goods, and corporations laying off thousands to save their own companies. Whether these are true or not, there will always be people one step ahead of you and trying to get ahead of everyone else. Be one of those people – legally and logically of course.
We cannot rely on the current system because it remains unfair, unreliable, and unstable for those struggling to build wealth. The system has been working for those who have already made it to the top and have catered to their best interests all along, not yours, no matter how much it appears like it. So, it is time to stop beating around the bush and beat the system. To do so, you need to figure out your finances and this all just comes down to basic math. It does not take a mathematician to figure out how much debt you have, how much income you have, and how much you spend on a regular basis. Write this down on a piece of paper or an excel sheet. Once everything is laid out, find out expenses you can cut for the time being, perhaps Netflix or even the 401k contribution if you still have a job and need the extra money now. Maybe also start thinking about selling things you do not need and get a cheaper alternative, like a $500 car baby seat for a baby that is still due in months. Do not spend things you cannot afford.
If you have debt, figure out a game plan on how to tackle this first. And not just tackle it, but tackle it aggressively, so interests won’t continue to pile up. Perhaps in our current state of emergency, interest rates will not budge for now, but it will start again in the future. Do not think your debts will go away because they will not and you will need to address them sooner or later. If you do not have income anymore to pay your debts, figure out a way on how to generate more income. For the time being, you can be a Lyft driver, an Amazon delivery person, or even an online freelance gig – anything that could give you income. Take all three jobs if you have to. Remember, all this is only temporary until you get back on your feet and while you may have friends and family who laugh at you now, you can laugh back at them once you have no debt, no financial worry, and more than six zeros in your bank account.
It will not be easy at first. It will be excruciating, tiring, and sometimes you will feel like giving up. Though, hard work, perseverance, and discipline will get you farther than anything else. There is a helpful quote of Military origin (based on a quick Google search) that states, “Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.” A good analogy of this is the children’s story about the tortoise and the hare. The tortoise still won by making gradual steps forwards instead of the hare being lazy and taking a nap. You can still win by being slow and steady. Little changes could make a big difference over time. And this doesn’t have to be a children’s story, it could be yours. Once you become debt-free, then you can start building wealth from then on, including your emergency fund. You will have a better peace of mind and can live a lifestyle you have always dreamed of. And when life throws lemons again, you will still be ok and not be financially affected because you will then be one step forward than half of the U.S. population.
Remember the American manager who was on the brink of death by the Japanese admiral? He had one day to think of a game plan, so he thought about his options for hours before writing the top four down and their consequences. His first three options were to either give the admiral an explanation, try to escape, or not go into the office the next morning, but all might lead to inevitable death. So, he decided to go with his fourth option, which was to pretend nothing had happened and the admiral would be too busy to remember the exposed discovery. The next morning, he went to the office as usual and, fortunately, nothing more came from this. The admiral returned to Tokyo six weeks after. The time spent to figure out all options and writing down the “what ifs” literally saved his life. So yes, I am a strong proponent in spending time to think and writing about the top possible options (and their outcomes) to really figure out your strategy for any of your worries. This will really prepare you in the long run.
The coronavirus should be a wake-up call to all Americans. If a virus can financially affect you this badly, then what you have been doing so far has not been working and probably has not been working for a while. Don’t feel bad, feel good that you are acknowledging this. Because once you do, you can either figure out how to build an emergency fund or a strategy to pay your debts or a second or third income to keep a roof over your head. Remember there are options, you just need some time to figure them out. Start today, not tomorrow or the day after. Time is non-renewable and the longer you wait this out without a course of action, the harder it will be to overcome your problems. Your future self will thank you for it.
Final Note: It has been a devastating pandemic and the world has seen the both the ugly and good sides of humanity during these uncertain times. My hearts go out to everyone to be safe, healthy, and responsible because we are all in this together. Remain calm and buy necessities in the amount you absolutely need. We have never faced a crisis like this before in modern day history, so I believe most of us are learning as we go. Sometimes protocols are unexpected and may continue to be for a little longer, but know that you are not alone in this. You can get through this and the rest of the world will too.