A Tepid Balance

They say art is a stab at immortality. That all creators, writers, artists, and entrepreneurs of sorts would by the dint of their creations, escape death. A poet once said he decided to write because, “[he] was afraid to die.”

Allow me to coin this statement to capture it in a perhaps more meaningfully.

A commentary once wrote that to be a “better adult” is the one who thinks critically about what he would leave the next generation with.

And perhaps through the work of their creation it is one way to preserve the learnings of one’s life. I do love reading biographies for that reason.

Most of us are though are not necessarily creators. We are active consumers of different mediums.

And so another argues that the best we could do is to be a better daughter, mother, and a citizen, ideally conscious about recycling well and using less plastic.

I would say that is a very communal-value driven argument. That may not very much sit well within the more individualistic culture.

For me, ambition keep me energized. Under tutelage of my mentors, they represent an ignited passion, desire, drive and conviction ready to go at a full-speed. It is a choice to put ourselves in situations to continue grow and push yourself at full-speed ahead.

Ambition does not come alone. The anticipatory fear that sparks the ambition to the work ethic and sleepless nights. It is the continuous drive that however you have performed in the past may not be good enough. It is a chase that does not seem to quite end. All we could do is to find solace in videos of cute pets and occasionally therapeutic poetic writing. And to know that at the very least, the direction of our lives is intact.

Coming back full-circle, I realize that is the reason why we find other relationships who could help fill those gaps in our lives.

And so I leave my note of the end of 2019 and to celebrate 2020 with gratitude for my family, friends, new relationships, opportunities, and more that have nurtured me and helped me grow in ways so unimaginable.

Thank you for helping me stay grounded, happy, and centered, more than ever. Thank you for you. And happy new year.

Home

Home has been super comfortable. I’ve been worried about my work ethic and my “why” shifting. There were books on the shelf with messages written on the first page to me. They were written by my grandfather. When I was younger, I never actually really read these books. Now that I’ve been reading them, their thoughts and stories were filled with a lot more struggle, self-doubt, and sacrifice than I could have imagined. It reminds me this – I shouldn’t be complacent, because what we have is not given to us – it is earned by our words and action. For those of you who also struggle with this – I suggest you pore into where we came from. Just like how foods have been harvested and cooked with toil and sweat, the roots of humility and beginnings will ground us to form our own opinions of the world, to march with honesty, purpose, and diligence.

What I am thankful for this Thanksgiving

올해 상반기에 나는 미국에서의 15년이라는 세월을 정리하고 한국에 왔다.

한국에서 보낸 이번 한 해는 내 인생에서 정말 기억에 남는 일년이 될것 같다. 작년은 비교적 더욱 화려하고 성취감이 들었던 해였다면 올해는 여태껏 일을 쫒느라 미쳐 챙기지 못한 인생의 소중한 부분들을 재정비하는 해였다.

미국에서는 잘 보지 않았던 한국 드라마도 엄마 아빠와 저녁때 같이 보고, 할아버지와 산책도 다니고, 요리학원도 다녀봤다. 매주 간단한 봉사지만 선생님이라는 역할에 대해 소중한 가르침을 주는 사랑스러운 보육원 사춘기 친구들도 만났다.

물론 정규직에서 오는 안정감에서 벗어나 새로운 문을 열려고 한국, 홍콩, 싱가포르 investment banks, funds 등에서 cold call, door knocking, networking 등을 하느라 고생했다. 난 참 cold call 하는 게 싫다. 불편하고 조마조마한 자리들이 있었지만 도움이 될지 몰랐던 한 활동과 공부가 은근슬쩍 활약해 너무 신기했다. 내공이 있는 멋진 분들이 정말 좋은 조언들을 많이 해주셨다.

안타깝게도 우리 사회는 자아성취와 성공을 부추기고 나 또한 미국에 돌아가면 열심히 살아갈 것 같다. 하지만 이제는 개인성취보다는 균형, 나에게 맞는 자리, 그리고 신앙인으로서의 삶이 더욱 소중하게 느껴진다. 화려한 이력서만으로 가질수없는 안정감을 찾은 것 같다.

작년 2018년에 나는 이런 글을 썼다. “I hope that in the next year, I am at the very least more me.” 이 목표를 여유로움에서 만날줄은 상상도 못했다. 시간을 항상 쪼개서 살던 나는 시간이라는 선물을 받았다. 고민과 혼란 속에서 내가 일을 하는 목적도 더욱 확고해진것 같다.

내 자신도 더 아끼고 사랑하는 사람들도 더 아끼며 행복하게 부지런히 살아가야지. 나에게 시간이라는 소중한 선물을 주었던 2019년도. 너무 감사해요.

함께 있으면 마음이 편한 사람

올해 추석을 맞이해 양가 가족분들을 만났다. 너무 오랜만에 윷놀이도 하고 가족 이야기도 하고, 그리고 우리 귀여운 막둥이 조카 이야기도 한참 했다. 너무 힐링 되고 재미있었다.

언제부터 나는 내가 정말 편한 사람이 아니면 말이 많이 없어졌다.

사람의 표정은 0.2초의 짧은 순간동안 나타난다고 한다. 평상시 말을 할때 상대방 얼굴 표정을 읽고 그 사람의 감정을 읽으려고 노력을 많이 한다. 직감으로 사람들의 말과 의도를 파악해서 내 말과 표정을 어떻게 할지 생각을 많이 하려는 편이다.

이 연습은 일을 시작한지 2년 정도가 지난 후 시작했다. 어느 날 고등학교때 내가 많이 좋아했던 선배 언니가 워싱턴 디씨로 잠시 놀러온다는 걸 들었다. 고등학교시절 언니는 춤도 잘추고 똑똑한 최고 멋진 언니였다.

작은 커피숍에서 우리는 만나 예전 이야기를 하나 둘 꺼내기 시작했다.

대화 가운데 이상한 기운을 느꼈다. 왜 그랬을까? 내 기억으론 내가 그 당시 정부의 말투와 사고의 상당히 적응이 되어있던 때였다. 그 사람들 말투가 나에게 베어서일까?

난 나중에 깨달았다. 나는 직설적으로 어떻게보면 정부 직원처럼 언니를 대했던 것이다. 사무적이고 딱딱하게.

나는 함께 있으면 마음이 편해지는 사람이 되고싶다.

말 수를 우선 줄여봤다. 그러니 나는 사람들에게 다양한 소재의 이야깃거리를 제공은 못한다. 하지만 나는 그 공간에서 생각하며 깊이 있는 대화를 나눌수 있는 것 같다. 그리고 더욱 편안하고 따뜻한 분위기를 조성할 수 있다. 사람들의 말을 경청 할 수 있고 매끄럽고 조리있게 자리를 지켜줄 수 있다.

나는 진정성이 보이는 사람이 멋있다. 말은 진정성과 직결되는 아주 강력한 힘을 가지고 있다. 말을 함부로 하지 않는 사람이 나에게 하는 말은 상당한 진심을 느낄 수 있다.

지금은 내 표현 하나 하나에 너무 조심하지 않고, 솔직하고 편하게 웃는 내 그 자체를 보여주려고 한다. 진정성있게 행동하면 표현도 감정도 상황에 맞게 매끄럽게 잘 진행이 되는 것 같다. 나답게 살며 날 위해 사는것과, 타인도 생각하고 배려하며 함께 행복해질 수 있는 것 사이에서 타협점을 찾는게 중요한거 같다는 생각이 든다.

이 글을 읽으면 알다시피 나는 생각이 많다. 생각이 많은 것 보다 생각이 깊은 사람. 말이 많은 것 보단 말에 품격이 있는 사람이 꼭 되고싶다.

Busting the Myths of a “Good Life”

This article is meant to be for my friends or 3-4 girls in early-mid twenties who sometimes chat with me on life, career, whatnots. A disclaimer I would throw out is that I don’t have all the answers, and that it is prudent to gather advice from all angles. Here I have summarized main ones I have gathered over the years and glean from my own experiences.

A little subsection on getting advice.

People tend to speak from their own experiences and their own framework of knowledge. They also tell you what they need to hear themselves or feel like they need to live by, because those advice have rung with them. There are folks when you ask for advice would admit to this – that their advice is somewhat limited by their own experiences, but by perhaps gleaning from those that are different from yours, you may have something to gain from it. So while it makes sense to gather as much advice and information as possible, such as reading this article, get advice from people who actually care about you. The useful advice would tend to come from a good heart.

Ok, so think about the ideal life you want. Does it require you sitting on a pile of money with a house and a respectable title under your belt? Does it involve children? Does it involve a life with mission for God with vision trips? Or perhaps it looks like owning a pasta shop at a grandma shop in Modena, Italy.

All sounds great.

Let’s think through how you might be at that place.

Some people refer to the chart of ikigai, a map of values, things you like to do, and things you’re good at. Combined with what the world needs, there is your answer in middle of the map.

Eh, this map is great, but may not be that practical. Making those choices require bits of wisdom, humility, and life circumstances that accommodate your ideal choices.

Myth 1. Show the best version of yourself

In this age of social media, sometimes it is all about the way you look. How are you presenting yourself, your abilities, and your know-how?

Before you move on to the next, reflect on where you are. How is your family? Friends? Health? How are you mentally and spiritually? Financially?

If you are not in a great place financially, I suggest start by reading Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad. Learn about assets and liabilities, taxes and interests, personal finance, how to set-up your bank account, invest in your next $1,000. Index funds! You get the picture.

Reflect on your priorities. I like to use mindmaps just to take a pulse on where I am. I don’t believe that we change or grow that significantly, but we can try. We can try to make choices in our lives that help us achieve milestones on our personal goals. I like to think of this as internal control mechanisms like operations of a company. Learn to take care of yourself and those around you, build self-awareness, and be brutally honest with yourself. An inkling of your thoughts would indeed contain your true reflections. A friend or parent sometimes who is not afraid to be honest with you and have known you for a while might be a good resource. Showing the “best” version begins with self-reflection of what you think is important.

Value and worth are very different things.

Myth 2. Follow your passion.

Maybe you found a calling – something that makes you feel like you have a mark on this world that sets you apart from the others. Something original that you have discovered or gives you a sense of ownership. That’s wonderful.

From my own experience, passion is not something that you stumble upon. It’s something you explore from within as you hike them out of your own experiences, thoughts, and ideas. You may hit a flow during your work and that may feel incredibly satisfying. For instance, even right now as I’m typing, I’m able to focus, put in a sustained amount of energy, and may feel like writing is my passion. Yes, perhaps it is a medium that I enjoy doing. Therefore, passion is often confused with an activity, not really a calling.

Whatever you’re interested in, whatever is tickling your pickle, your work has to feel meaningful for you that it gives you a sense of satisfaction, a moral conviction, or that you’re growing as a person. Passion is a combination of something you pave for yourself that gives you meaning and satisfaction. And because you had intended for those choices and believed in what you are working towards, it gives you satisfaction in what you’re working for.

Once you know what you like doing activity-wise, able to articulate my tendencies, and what you like to do, where strengths and skills are, you can craft a direction.

When I was at Vanderbilt University studying foreign policy for the first time, I felt like I was taking a stab into a world of academia I was not qualified for. I had come from humble backgrounds in liberal arts – Anthropology and Communications. I was just merely interested in how cultures are shaped by the way we communicate. And perhaps through rooting the theories down, we’re able to shape how do form our policies. That led me to an internship with USAID, studying foreign policy. My passion was not in international relations, I was just interested in how people communicated through their perceived differences and backgrounds, and how we evolve and change from the interactions. I’m now moving into finance, and what I find is that our core interests of who we are and what we believe tend to stay quite similar. The way that they manifest in our careers may be different, but hopefully we enjoy our applied skills.

So you may enjoy doing certain things. You may be interested in certain topics. That’s a great start.

Apply what you enjoy doing into that certain topic. What I’m finding is that the skillsets replicate across industries. Conducting diplomatic agendas are similar to perhaps sales, fundraising, or even investor relations. Metric tracking can be done in marketing, engineering, or how companies perform. Passion you develop from where you apply what you like to do. From my best knowledge, passion does not just hit you one morning.

Myth 3. Just Do it.

In this generation, we are inundated with media that says “fulfill your highest potential” or go out and do what it is that you want to do. My disclaimer is that yes, with courage and a gut in your belly, it is so incredibly exciting to go out there and start working on your idea.

“You won’t know until you try it.” is another saying that goes around. “You won’t know what you can fulfill or make of yourself” is also incredibly enticing.

Perhaps this will make more sense. Think of your body as a tool – oil and gas for your tool would be knowledge capital, human capital (your network), and your skillsets. Here is the thing. No matter how much capital you have, the tools have to work well. It needs to function the right way and have a specific purpose.

Build your toolkit, before you start.

Surprisingly, this may not be entirely intuitive to this generation. Don’t let fear get in your way, but what are you really good at? Things work well, when you know what you’re doing.

If you just need to build your confidence, you can start by “just doing”, building confidence in your ability, and build some amount of pride in how what you have envisioned blossom into reality.

For instance, I remember when I had to put an event together. It meant quite a lot to me at the time. I have been involved with impact investing communities that have not had too much interactions with federal or local policy makers. They may have needed some faith in the institutional decision-making process. On the other hand, the federal employees are laden with the responsibility that they shoulder to know what they’re doing for the good of the people. The truth is – we don’t. And all that the government can facilitate is potentially a platform, a convening power, capital, or legitimacy. Those who are movers making changes are in the private sector. The government folks needed to also demystify their sectors and allow for cohesive conversations for public-private partnerships to take place. I just wanted to bring people together for a singular event that I had to fundraise for. That means I had to bring all the main movers, shakers, and authority figures for this event. And with the help of my amazing team, I needed money. I grit through it. I sent thousands of emails each week, created different versions of fundraising slides, and did my best to convince the other guy on the other side of the table to invest into this conference – this 26 year-old was hosting. When it finally happened and my vision unfolded with the money I fundraised, it gave me an immense amount of satisfaction and a conviction that when I set my sights on it with the force of will, things will happen.

With a dose of confidence also takes a dose of humility. I needed to be able to bring the pieces together, and build skillsets upon what I already know and don’t. I needed to grow as a professional to be more self-aware and draw from inner strength within. My skill was in sales, fundraising, partnerships, and in strategy. What I needed to build was in how the industry functions on operations. I can hire for the right talent, but I also needed to have a solid backbone to back-up my orchestration. This would add to my toolkit of what I can do.

Build who you are as a person and what you can do.

Myth 4. Time is of-the-essence.

What is so harrowing in this age is that we are also taught to move fast before your friends or co-workers catch-up to you. Another disclaimer here is that I’m very competitive and ambitious. But you don’t have to rush into anything. I found this to be liberating.

People don’t really care about you.

Here’s another thing. We get caught-up on how people perceive our own talents and accomplishments that we may forget take a timeline that makes sense for our own for our values and priorities. It is OK to pause for your sick grandmother, or your child struggling in school. Have fortitude to say no to take care of yourself or those around you. People move on, they forget. I have C-suite executive friends in high-rung corporate ladders, but life moves on with or without them. Work will continue to get done.

So let go of your expectations and pressure to be something that you think you should be. Because, what it comes down to, is that the concoction of the life you build just has to be meaningful and satisfying for you. Not for anyone else.

Especially in Korea, where collective values and actions sometimes trump over the individual, it is hard to pin down something of your own and make your voice heard.

It takes a bit of courage and a bit of self-conviction, but it does not have to be difficult. You don’t have to be successful, or good-looking, or smart to have the life you want. You just have to follow your own order of priorities and values you create for yourself.

I like to think of it this way – the way your external-self (how you present yourself to others) look into your internal-self (how you feel about yourself) has to match. If you’re happy at the end of your day about the decisions you made without seeking external approval, that is perhaps more important. I’m not saying you should be inconsiderate, but with some nuance, grace, and candor, you can speak-up about what you really think and want. It is okay to take your own timeline. Everyone has their own.

Designing a life for yourself is not complicated.

It just takes some compassion, wisdom, and courage to make choices that make sense for you in your order of life. Each one is unique and wonderful.

There is no right answer, and there is no one rushing you to be something you are not. You don’t have to follow your “passion” or what you think is your “calling.” It just has to feel meaningful for you. So take some time and let go of all expectations around you, a moment of contemplation of what you think is important and lay them in a way that makes sense for you.

Articulate what you want. Be fearless in pursuing that. I think you’ll surprise yourself.

A Memoir on Autism

Today, I overheard a family arguing about a kid with autism on schooling options, making friends, and whatnots. There were a lot of stereotypes thrown around, and I felt a sudden urge to write a post. I could imagine this not being a standalone event.

I’m no expert, but I did work with a student with autism for two years in college.

There was a post by a local autism center to take some notes down for a peer student. When I met him, I realized he would need a lot more help than just someone who could write down the notes. The student I was taking the notes for became a friend.

I worked with David on classes related to reading and writing. He did fine in courses in math, sciences, and programming, he just needed to fill out some credits to graduate. The help first began with just writing down some notes from classes. They came a bit jumbled, and sometimes it took a lot more effort than others for him to sit through the entire class. Regurgitating the material either through writing assignments or on tests also came to be a challenge.

He also sometimes did not say hi to me on the streets or respond on emails. I could tell his intention was there. David just could not cannot communicate as effectively as he would like to. His eyes would glimmer when he could see that his ideas would translate into words. It was a fight within.

I could see that he just wanted to be understood, taken seriously as a college student.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a complex neurobehavioral condition characterized by various daily life challenges in social interaction, basic communication, repetitive behavior, speech, and nonverbal communication.

Autism is caused by a chemical disorder, a spectrum disorder that includes a range of linked conditions and each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. The ways in which people with autism learn to think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. It depends upon the type of autism a person is influenced in.

David was just like any of us – sometimes needing more help than other days, sometimes really did not want to come to classes. Just like David, people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently.

The following tips will make daily life easier for both you and the person with ASD:

If he/she is an adult, treat him like one. This may seem intuitive, but it is also pivotally important to the learning process. Later I learned David had superior skills in programming and could code his own games he liked to play. Each person really does have different skillsets, and yours does not make superior. Watch your language.

Be consistent. Those with ASD have a hard time applying what they’ve learned in one setting (such as the therapist’s office or school) to others, including the home. For example, they may use sign language at school to communicate, but never think to do so at home. Creating consistency in environment is the best way to reinforce learning. It’s also important to be consistent in the way you interact and deal with challenging behaviors.

Stick to a schedule. People with ASD tend to do best when they have a highly-structured schedule or routine. Again, this goes back to the consistency they both need and crave. Set up a schedule with regular times. Try to keep disruptions to this routine to a minimum. If there is an unavoidable schedule change, prepare for it in advance.

Connecting with a friend or someone with ASD can be challenging, but you don’t need to talk—or even touch—in order to communicate and bond. You communicate by the way you look at him/her, by the tone of your voice, your body language conveys a message. They may also be communicating with you, even if he or she never speaks. You just need to learn the language.

Happy Accidents

“There are no mistakes. They are happy accidents,” said a painter, Bob Ross. I didn’t understand it at first, but today was an opportunity to reflect on this. I feel I get to meet people from different walks of life. We encounter many different lifestyles or choices daily. We may judge other people’s choices or our own as not “smart” in our own heads, but ultimately each choices were made through each person’s inherent qualities, individual characteristics, and perhaps other cultural factors. And rather than critiquing them, perhaps each one is uniquely beautiful, as they capture the complexity of a human experience. And perhaps we can be easier on our own experiences of what we call “mistakes.” Those each “mistakes” together compose a social ecosystem we build together – a make up a society with a vast array of risks and opportunities. I’d then call them “happy accidents” or really adventures, no less. 🙂

Songjukwon Orphanage

(Originally Written 1/25/2010)

Unevenly cut hair and freckled faces were what I have become accustomed to volunteering at the Songjukwon Orphanage for girls in Seoul, Korea.  While the general public tends to refer to these girls as simply “the orphans”, having gotten to know these girls as individuals, I am keenly aware that each girl has her own story and aspirations.

Of my time spent at Songjukwon, there is one day that remains especially vivid in my memory.  It began with the girls calling out loud and cheerful hellos to me as I walked toward the main building. Excited, I scurried down the road, barged through carelessly painted doors and into a room redolent of the familiar scent of ramen noodles and old socks.  I demonstrated particularly impressive balancing skills that day, carrying a set of bongos in my right hand, while clutching three phonics books in my left, all the time weighed down by badminton rackets hanging from my shoulders.

It was a long summer day and much too hot for my students to concentrate on our daily grammar lesson – prepositions.  In the midst of class, we decided to take a break.  I then noticed that one of my students, Yerim, was crouched away from the other girls. She was thirteen years old, often wore baggy jeans and sported a heavy set of bangs that framed her freckled face.  I glided over to sit close to her so I could casually strike up a conversation, but was careful not too come so close as to be obvious that I had done so on purpose.

“Hey Yerim, your birthday is coming up soon. Are you excited?” I asked.  She first responded with slightly widened eyes. Then she managed to cough out, “No.”  I started a light conversation with her as I poked her stomach.

“That tickles!” She looked back, a smile sneaking out of the corner of her mouth.

Beneath her smile, she hid the pain of times when she was locked in her room for days with packs of ramen, or was beaten for hours. Without the parental love that every child deserves, she could have easily fallen into hopelessness. Thankfully, she was able to join the Songjukwon community, but nonetheless, she has had a difficult time transitioning.

Although she was shy, she stood out to me. Unlike other girls, she knew what she wanted. No matter what life threw at her, she clung onto her hopes of becoming a famous singer. She often printed songs off the Internet that she practice on weekends.

 Suddenly, the light went out. I carefully walked towards a wooden door on the wall next to the TV. My hands searched the wall for the doorknob, opened the door, and made a hand gesture. Through the door, three girls strutted out in a row, two girls each hugging a bongo and a third holding a cake with fourteen brightly lit candles. We began to sing,

         “Happy birthday to you…!”

We were off key and off beat, but we were there to bring birthday cheer. Perhaps we were better than I suspected, since our birthday girl broke into the biggest smile that I had ever seen.  The ends of her mouth stretched to her ears, and her eyes sparkled with tear droplets.  In her smile, I saw her fears, loneliness, and cries of frustration melting away. I was so glad. At least for the moment, she was not masking her pain with a smile.  She was happy. I hope that through our small celebration, Yerim realized that there are people who love her, so she may throw aside any fears and stand strong to continue to pursue her dreams. Yerim wanted to be loved, and she wanted to have hope. For one special night, we reminded her she had both.

Lifehack

I love philosophizing about life, and this has been working for me!

When you run into people throughout the day, your apartment security guard, colleagues, roommate, people who don’t hold doors for you, family, whoever it may be, treat them with authenticity, kindness, and respect.

It may not be as easy as it may seem, but it is a pretty quick and easy solution. You’re being yourself, (hopefully) living your values, and you’re present. It fuels positive self-view and helps to savor each moment.

I truly believe that the traits we hold dear help to define what our own definition of success or happiness may look like or feel like. I think something easy and manageable like this can help hold ourselves accountable and make meaningful relationships during our short and unexpected ride of life. 🙂