A Small Act of Kindness Goes a Big Way

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The Bay Area has been hit hard lately. The COVID-19 pandemic, along with the on and off county restrictions, has already devastated our economy, our social life, and our mental health. We still have ongoing earthquakes and power outages too. And the sweet cherry on top of all this, is the 400-plus wildfires blazing through the precious natural areas of the Golden State. Yes, it has been a very difficult time for Californians in 2020 and none of really know when we can get back to normal again

Even in the midst of all this, I have encountered a small act of kindness that I am so happy to have experienced a few days ago. I currently live in a home located in an active evacuation warning zone for the 2nd largest wildfire in the state. Fortunately, I have extended family and good friends who have generously offered their own home in case my family and I needed a temporary place to stay. What I did not expect was the same offer from an owner of a local shipping and mailing store in my city, who I have only met recently and twice to date.

For the past few weeks, I have been using this local mailing service, as opposed to USPS or FedEx due to terrible Google reviews, to mail out free greeting cards to my local community. When I first met her, we instantly clicked and shared our admiration of plants and details about our careers. She found out I was a full-time landscape designer with a new greeting card side business. She was genuinely interested in getting to know about my side business and also getting landscape consultation advice for her back yard. I told her I was happy to help give her advice, pro bono.

A few days ago, she sent me a text of her back yard and photo examples of what she wanted. I told her I will come up a few ideas for her, but not right away because my family and I are currently located in an evacuation warning area and we could evacuate at any time. She responded to not worry about her yard and that if I needed a place to stay, I would be welcomed in her home and use an extra futon at her place.

I was kind of blown away from this generosity, from a woman who I barely know and just met only two times in the past few weeks. Maybe she did this out of a niceness, or the fact that we are both Asian American women, or a bit of both. Whatever the reason is, I am so glad to have experienced such a kind gesture from someone like her. It re-instills my faith in humanity that there are good people in my local community, no matter what’s going on in the outside world. Even with all the terrible things going on in my state, our nation, and the world, there are still good people out there willing to do good things for people.

Just a small act of kindness can be huge for others. I know that the times we live in aren’t great and we often hear about the bad news more than the good ones. When I ended up receiving more gratitude than I was giving away, it made me feel emotions of excitement, fulfillment, and joy all around. So, I hope this story inspires you to do something good for another stranger and it doesn’t have to be of any monetary value. Practicing just a tiniest inch of gratitude can go a long way. And, you might receive something back when you least expect it.

Life Threw a Big, Fat COVID-19 Lemon, So Make Lemonade!

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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!🍋

30 New Things I Learned During a Month in Quarantine

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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.

  1. 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.
  2. The quote, “I am not a businessman, I am a business, man,” by Jay-z.
  3. Bananas can be artificially ripen in the oven and then used to make banana bread.
  4. There were a lot of SATs words that I looked up (but now have forgotten) in Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book City of Girls.
  5. Investing is a fancy word for reallocating savings.
  6. 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.
  7. A digital cleanse of unwanted email subscriptions can be mentally refreshing.
  8. Homemade cheesecake and apple cinnamon coffee cake taste way better after a day in the fridge.
  9. Washing my hair every other day and not blow drying it has made my hair appear healthier and stronger.
  10. 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.)
  11. A new high yield savings account can be opened a lot easier than I originally thought through an online application.
  12. 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.
  13. Weeding is much easier to do in the cool, cloudy mornings than in late afternoon.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. Placing hot brown butter too quickly into the cookie mix can make the texture of the baked cookies flat and runny.
  17. Social “dieting” and social distancing can go hand-in-hand and nobody is the wiser about your unknown whereabouts.
  18. There is usually some technical difficulty when doing a virtual hangout session, but this can be resolved pretty quickly.
  19. Reusable mesh produce bags can be washed in the washing machine on delicate mode and air dried after.
  20. The quote, “We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies,” by Walt Disney.
  21. Wear sunblock even when going outside on a cloudy day.
  22. Salt and pepper are not the only seasonings that can make soups and curries tasty.
  23. 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.
  24. The time to cook or bake takes longer than you think.
  25. 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).
  26. 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.
  27. Frozen kimchi pancakes are actually very flavorful and delicious when I stir fried them.
  28. Correcting my posture with three pillows in my home office chair has done wonders.
  29. 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.)
  30. 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.

Happy Monday and carpe diem!

Coronavirus: America’s Wake Up Call

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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.