October 18th, 2014

“Michael, This isn’t you.”

I caught up with an old friend whom I haven’t seen in four years. He said: “Michael, to be honest, you confuse me. The Michael I know deep inside is different from the Michael I see on social media today. The Michael I know is soft hearted and gentle.” 

And he’s right.

There is a dichotomy between who I am and how I behave. Somewhere along the line, I stopped doing the things I really wanted to do and started doing the things that people expected of me.

I don’t like partying. I’m shy to speak with girls. And I hate small talk. I’ve only methodically LEARNED how to artificially play the role. But that’s not who I am.

My little sister is the most important person in my life. I like teaching taekwondo to orphan children. I like to watch TV and movies but I don’t do it often because I feel lonely. This is who I am.

But instead, I try to portray the image of the guy who has it all. Smart, athletic, suave. This is all an illusion; in reality, I’ve actually fallen short of all my endeavors.

Thank you John Lee, for reminding me to stay true to myself. And to follow the path that aligns with my real self.

September 1st, 2014

When we were young, we were afraid of the dark, but as we grow older, we become skeptical of the light.

We learned that things that seem too good to be true often are. And that bad guys aren’t so obviously dressed in demon costumes with evil cackles; instead they are often disguised as charismatic knights in shining armors with charming fake smiles. We learned to build walls, so to protect our fragile hearts. We suspect acts of kindness have hidden intentions. And we learned that it is “smart” to be cautious.

But what we really need to learn is how to open up our hearts and be courageous. Everything we’ve always wanted is on the other side of fear. It is better to be optimistic and accept that sometimes we will be wrong, rather than to live so cautiously, that we never really give anything a chance. Though there is deceit in the world (and lots of it), have the courage to explore, have the courage to love, have the courage to believe in good things.

"In a world filled with hate, we must still dare to hope. In a world filled with anger, we must still dare to comfort. In a world filled with despair, we must still dare to dream. And in a world filled with distrust, we must still dare to believe." — MJ (Michael Jackson)

August 7th, 2014

What could have been

I just came out of a meeting with a “chief creative officer”, a few ex-Disney “imagineers” (they design the Disneyland rides), “experience engineers” (they design experiences to make people happy), and some guy whose sole job is to illustrate out our ideas – like I would propose an idea and literally 30 seconds later, it would be there in picture form. Their jobs were so cool! And when I was young, I didn’t even know these jobs existed!

People often ask me how I got my job at Google, and truth is, I simply followed my strengths. I was good at math, I majored in finance, and I joined Google as a financial analyst. Actually, let me correct myself, I followed what other peopletold me I was good at. I was choosing within a limited set of “standard” jobs, and never had I imagined “Disney Imagineering” to be an option.

When we were young, it seemed as if we had an eternity to fill out our dreams. As we get older, we start to realize just how little we’ve accomplished in that time and how much time we’ve wasted on things that didn’t matter. (I guess I should just speak for myself, some of you may be extremely accomplished).

All too often, we spend time doing things we shouldn’t be doing, waste energy on people who we shouldn’t have let into our lives in the first place, and focus our dedication on tasks that are not worth our while. We do it for security, we do it for cheap gratification, we do it to feed our ever-growing egos.

We make short term decisions based on limited information, and later, instead of revising those decisions, we continue on that path because we’ve invested too much time, gotten good at it, and feel compelled to continue.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I love my job, and I’m very grateful for how things turned out; I’m one of the lucky ones. But sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like had I followed my heart rather than followed other people’s expectations of what was financially secure.

Who would we be if not for societal pressures?

September 12th, 2013

When The Voices In Your Head Really Starts Talking.

"Know your life story. Everyone has 3 versions of their life stories:

1. The real story of the facts and how things happened.

2. Your success story where you spin the facts to become the hero who overcomes adversary and emerges in triumph — this is the story we tell others when we meet them, this is the mask we wear around to show off.

3. The truth as to why things didn’t work out the way you wanted it to. The story of your weaknesses and failures that you hid behind well-designed excuses. The narrative you don’t tell others but it’s the story you know to be true deep inside your heart. The reason you missed out on your dream job — it’s not the economy, it’s you. The reason your relationship ended — you weren’t good enough. These are your insecurities, your doubts, your incompetence. This is the failure inside you that you try to hide and subdue, but you need to be aware of it and embrace it. Not hide from it.”

- Robert S. Kaplan, Harvard Business School Professor, Vice Chairman of Goldman Sachs

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There is a saying “speed is important, but only if you are going the right direction.” I’ve always been focusing on speed, I never questioned my direction.

I thought with more achievement, I’d get more answers, but despite how much I climb the totem pole (not that high up), I am not any clearer in my resolve. So what DOES give answers?

The highest achievers are the ones who are the most self-aware, and right now, I have more questions than I have answers, but maybe at least I’m starting to ask the right questions.

I wonder if anyone truly has it figured out. If you do, let me know, I’d be very interested :)

August 28th, 2013

Me: “Mom when did you start being so scared of everything? Were you always this way?”

Mom: “Since I had you.

You see, when I was young, I was courageous. I didn’t fear what would happen to me; I didn’t think anything could happen to me. But a funny thing happens when you have a child. All of sudden you want to protect the child more than you want to protect yourself.

You don’t understand now, but maybe one day when you have a child, you will understand.”

August 23rd, 2013

A Short Post An Hour Before My Surgery

These last few days have probably been the most incapable I have ever been. Fractured right clavicle and dislocated my left shoulder (meaning fully immobile right arm and dysfunctional left arm). I can’t get up from bed, can’t eat, can’t put on my own shirt.

But during moments of weakness, and in losing my ability to be self-reliant, I fall onto the supportive arms of friends and family who are more than willing to help.

And I am eternally grateful for that.

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July 21st, 2013

Career Transition - Part 3 - The Decision

After much deliberation between Google Tokyo vs Facebook, I have decided to accept the Google Tokyo role. Here are some influential pieces of advice I’ve received from some very influential people:

"You are good at calculating value, but don’t forget how to ‘measure’ value. The value of living in a new country, developing an international network of business partners, will not fit neatly in your pros and cons list, and does not translate to quantified salaries. You can only truly know the value of something looking backwards, not looking forwards.”

"A successful job is when going to work doesn’t really feel like work.”

"Do you think being more successful will make your friends like you more? Your friends, real friends, are not going to like you more simply because you make more money.”

"Our careers are long and our promotions are few. Aligning passions and skills is the path to success. Not slaving away at hard work for promotions.”

"The risk not taken is more dangerous than the risk taken." - Article HERE

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So at the end, I have decided to explore a new country where I don’t know the people, I don’t know the language, and I don’t even know how to do the job they hired me for (why did they even hire me…?). I am excited about the new life ahead of me, but at the same time, saddened by the life I have to leave behind.

(It’s kind of a weird feeling right now)

July 10th, 2013

Career Transition - Part 2 - The Job Hunt (and random pictures)

Following the talk with my manager, I proceeded to hunt for potential next jobs.

I took a few days to scrap together a resume. It’s kind of humbling seeing years worth of hard work compacted into one page. You start to realize that 90% of what you do is not that important.You can see what actually mattered and what was just busy-work.

After a few weeks of job hunting, and eating some major rejections along the way, I luckily was able to secure two exciting (at least in my mind) job offers:

Business Strategies & Operations with Facebook
Industry Analyst & Sales Strategies with Google Tokyo.

People often ask me about the interviews, whether there are crazy brain teasers, business case questions, difficult technical questions…

Yes, yes, and yes. But that’s only half of it and that’s the half that people always gets stressed out about. But the more important half is to connect with people and their passion. It is positioning how your long term goals align with their interests.

I recently wrote a post about Pokemon and intertwining dreams, and as silly as it sounded, I spoke about that during my interviews. “Our dreams are best served when intertwined with the dreams of others.”

In the next upcoming few days, I will make my final decision on my next steps.

A few images to end the post, some relevant, some not.

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July 9th, 2013

Career Transition - Part 1 - The Talk

About a month ago, my manager and I spoke about career development. He said:

"Michael, your job should scare the shit out of you. But this job is safe; you have become comfortable here. You are young and full of potential, you are capable of taking greater risks.

If you want to stay here, I am happy to keep you, and we can find new projects to challenge you. But it should be a conscious decision to stay; you should not stay simply because it is the default. Your career development should never be on auto-pilot.”

I thanked my manager for being so supportive. He is looking out for my career development and that is not part of his job (and frankly, against his personal interest). He replied:

"I just don’t want you to resent me several years down the line because I held you back for so long."

And as such, I started looking for new jobs…

…to be continued…

http://lifehacker.com/the-science-of-breaking-out-of-your-comfort-zone-and-w-656426705

June 27th, 2013

It’s been long since I’ve stopped following Pokemon, but upon re-watching the opening soundtracks for the series, I realize now that there are some REALLY positive messages here:

"It’s a battle win or lose, it’s the friends we make, it’s the road we choose"

"Be the best that you can be and you will find your destiny"

"Each time, you try, you’re gonna get a little bit better, each time, you climb, it’s one more step up the ladder"

"Sometimes it’s hard to know, which way you’re suppose to go, but deep inside, you know you’re strong, if you follow your heart you can’t be wrong."

"This dream will last forever, this dream will never die. Yeah this dream will keep us together, it shows that you and I… Will be the best that this world has ever seen."

"We are together now, friends forever now, whatever may come our way, we will never run away."

"It’s always hard when the journey begins. Hard to find your way, hard to make new friends. But there’s nothing you can’t do, because you have the power inside of you."

"Stand up, for what is right. Be brave, get ready to fight. Hold on, we’re friends for life. And if we come, together as one, complete the quest, we’ve begun, we will win the battle."

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(if you’ve never watched Pokemon, this next section will all mean nothing to you)

When I was young, I used to think “Hurry up Ash! Stop wasting so much time with these random side quests and focus on your goal!”

But now I realize that Ash wasn’t wasting his time. He defends the world from evil. He helps others in need. He stands up for what is right. And it is in helping others and making new friends that makes him a great trainer. His dreams become intertwined with the dreams of others. And in turn, they give him the tools, experience, and motivation to continue pursuing his goal of becoming a Pokemon master.

So, thinking back, I’ve come to the important realization that it’s never just about ourselves individually, and that

Our dreams are best achieved when integrated with the dreams of others.

And in whatever your path to greatness may be, it’s ok to take a few detours along the way and enjoy the adventure.

May 28th, 2013

Lessons from Blackjack: “If you want to make it big, you gotta make big plays”

I went to Vegas this past weekend with some buddies from NY. I don’t normally gamble, but to accompany my friend on our last day, I played some blackjack with him.

We sat on the blackjack table for quite some time, and my friend was consistently putting in $25/$50 bets. But every so often at the right opportunity, he would throw down couple hundred dollars, splitting his hands, doubling down, etc.

For me, watching him put down a couple hundred dollars on a single blackjack hand was like “?!$@^$ What the %^$&#?!?” to which he casually says:

"If you want to make it big, you gotta make some big plays at the right time."

Life, like blackjack, is statistically stacked against us. The ratio of the number of people who want things from us to the number of people who give things to us is practically infinity. The ratio of the number of opportunities available to the number of people who want that opportunity is practically zero. And most days, nothing is going to come your way.

But every so often, an opportunity arises. The blackjack dealer shows a faced up 6, a big project comes up and your boss is out of town, a totally hot girl is sitting on the bus alone.

When opportunity knocks on the door, welcome it into your house and invite it to stay for dinner. You double down on your risks and optimize your potential payout.

And then you let luck run its course.

April 21st, 2013

Lessons from Failures

As a follow up to my last post, I am deeply DEEPLY humbled by the response and care I’ve received (both in magnitude and depth).

From personal phone calls from close friends to anonymous messages from readers whom I barely know (and every form of communication in between), thank you to everyone who reached out. In my time of vulnerability, I fall onto a supportive crowd.

In particular, an acquaintance whom I knew not so well, shared with me her darkest hours and her grand victorious emergence:

"I felt so lost ‘—-’ months ago, not knowing what my future was going to look like. I call it "doldrums," referring to parts of the ocean where there is no wind. Sailors used to panic if they got stuck in doldrums because there would be no direction. This is not so practical. But it is so good to be lost, because the fear makes you consciously aware of what is meaningful to you… that when all the glory, prestige, and praise from everyone else is stripped away… you can really find what values still stand true to you, who is still there for you, and how you can re-invent yourself to be an even more excellent person."

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They say “when you lose, don’t lose the lesson.” Thus…

What I learned from my recent failures:

- Solid candidacy is not enough, you need flash. Something that makes the rest of the world notice you above solid GPA and stable work experiences. Make your flash bright enough to blind people of your weaknesses.

- Instead of trying to pretend to be THE man, learn how to be A man. In the battle of ego, pride, and image, against friends who make $300K+ salary, drive exotic cars, hooked up with more girls in a month than you have in your life, it is easy to lose yourself and your values. “Create a life for yourself that feels good from the inside, not one that just looks good from the outside.”

- Push back to your boss, don’t solve the problems he wants you to solve, solve the problems you think need to be solved. You drive your own purpose in your work, not someone else. 

- Life is a series of sprints, it’s about short bursts. Do short burst of great work and once you feel your productivity declining, just stop. Continuing will make you lose your passion. Instead do something else and come back. Which leads me to…

- Never make your passion your chore. Whether it is work, activities, or relationships. Once your passion becomes more taxing than motivating, it is time to take some time off. Right away, don’t delay. “Burnout” is usually not simply a result of physical fatigue, but rather a lack of aligned purpose.

- Don’t listen to all those “famous” quotes you read. While they may be true, it may not apply to your life, and it might detract from your purpose. Those articles that say “your twenties are not the time for love” are wrong. It is always the time for love. You can maybe argue that twenties are not the time for commitment, complacency, serious relationships (I don’t know). But it is always time for love.

- For the most of us, it is not a lack of talent that bars us from our goals. It is the lack of conviction and ability to follow through long term. Personally, I lack the patience to await long term reward; I seek instant results. “Lovers always outwork workers,” and although I am capable enough, I have not yet found work that I love.

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Coincidentally, I will be going to China and Philippines for the next 3 weeks. Not to party, but for family. The trip was planned way before any of this happened. The village I am visiting in China is super under-developed, meaning putting myself into solitude. I have been hiding from solitude for so long, but alas I am forced into it. I don’t know if the timing of this is God’s plan/fate/destiny or maybe just a coincidence, but I will use this time to really reflect on my life and its purpose. The next 3 weeks will be my pivotal point.

I’m actually writing this at the airport.

April 17th, 2013

A Series of Failures

In the past few months, I have faced a series of failures.

-  My (now ex) girlfriend and I broke up
-  Tested a less-than-impressive score on my GMATs
-  Rejected from Stanford Business School
-  Applied to a job at Facebook and was rejected
-  My family is in disarray

I do not claim to be successful in every endeavor, and I will not put on that façade. It is disappointing to face failure time after time again, and it does make me think that there may be something wrong with me, something I’m lacking, that I’m not enough.

But there is no shame in failing, and no shame in trying.
There is only shame in giving up too easily. There is shame in not dreaming big enough.

Failure is a sign that we aimed for something beyond our current capabilities. And there is no shame in that. What determines us is how we recover from failure. Whether it is resilience or defeat.

Having being said that… I am going to get my shit together and end this failing streak. I will not allow myself to continue to fail.

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March 28th, 2013

A Reminder of Values

Lately, I’ve been posting pictures such as these on my Facebook: Company boat rides, fancy going out clothes, driving luxury cars (a friend’s).

Amidst the many “likes” and the “!!!!” and the “omg so jealous” was one old friend who privately messaged me to ask “michael- i’m glad your friend is making excess money that he can buy himself a nice car- what are our values these days??”

And as intrusive of a question as it is, it is a question worth asking.

She explained: “I am happy of your recent success, and I believe you should enjoy these benefits because you worked hard for them, but I hope your new-found material wealth has not made you forget the deeper values you once held so close.”

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Below is an excerpt about Buddhism shared by a friend who recently traveled to Burma:

‘If by poor you mean economically poor, then it is true that some Buddhist countries are poor. But if by poor you mean quality of life then perhaps some Buddhist countries are quite rich. America, for example, is an economically rich and powerful country but the crime rate is one of the highest in the world, millions of old people are neglected by their children and die of loneliness in old people’s homes, domestic violence and child abuse are major problems. One in three marriages ends in divorce. Rich in term of money but perhaps poor in terms of quality of life.

Now if you look at some traditional Buddhist counties you find a very different situation. Parents are honored and respected by their children, crime rates are low, divorce and suicide are rare, and traditional values like gentleness, generosity, hospitality to strangers, tolerance and respect for others are still strong.’

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By the way, to make things clear, I am neither extremely wealthy nor greatly successful. I am simply a lot better off than my ramen eating broke ass from college.

February 13th, 2013

"I love you mom"

Only recently did I start saying “I love you” after phone conversations with my mom. It was hard at first, and kind of awkward. But I’m trying to make it a habit and it’s getting easier.

A few days ago, I was stressed about meeting a work deadline, so after the call with my mom, the thought had slipped my mind. I immediately called her back and said “oops, sorry! Forgot to say I love you!”

My mom was shocked at first, but then laughed at me for the next 2 minutes straight while I just sat there dumbfounded.

For my entire life, I’ve been trying to make my mother proud by getting good grades and making lots of money. While it’s easy to quantify things like my salary and GPA, I cannot measure the value of a simple comment and what it might mean to my mom.

It really is the little things, the expressions of love, that fills the void in a person’s heart. And these are the things that really make life worthwhile.