Leaving it to Chance

Life never ceases to amaze me. Last Wednesday I gave notice to my CEO to resign from my job. It no longer felt right. I was suffering health issues. I couldn’t convince myself each morning to get out of bed unless I had some excuse to do so. It no longer felt like I was living. As of right now, I am set to leave by the beginning of July, so that there is enough time to transition my work to another team member.

Shortly right after a friend loaned me her copy of Quiet by Susan Cain. In a matter of five days, I’ve managed to read more than half of the book (considering how slow of a reader I am).  From what I have read so far, it’s become more clear as to why my last job. I thought to myself, “Wow, what timing! How is it that this book happen to come at this particular moment when I needed it most.” A few days into it, it hit me: nothing is coincidental about this book, the only difference about now versus before is that my mind has finally decided to open up to ideas about my introversion ways. Like for instance, my desire to be solo at coffee shops while I either blog or read books. Or my preference for seeing clients one on one to understand their pain points instead of pulling a dozen people into one room. Or why I am extra sensitive to societal injustice. Or specifically in regards to my current job – why I prefer a slow, steady, and focused quality approach to my work instead of finishing as soon as possible.

I feel relaxed right now because I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Yet I do wonder where the next phase of my life will take me. But I’m not a total introvert – right now I’m open to leaving my life to chance once again.

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Melt Down?

I wonder if a meltdown is what I’ve been feeling the last year, or possibly even longer.

Over the last 10 years, I’ve built myself into a particular niche of technology. During college, I studied Electrical Engineering, with a bit of computer science blended into it. I went through several years of circuit boards, programming logic, differential equations, and hundreds of ways to count. To add some extra padding to that, I interned at Fortune 500 companies as a software engineer, all of which allowed me to do meaningful work (meaning I didn’t get coffee for the boss). When it was all said and done, 5 job offers were on the table for me – and this was 5 months before I had been scheduled to graduate. I admit, it was a good feeling. I felt accomplished because all the restless nights had finally paid off. It gave both my parents a solid sense of relief because there was nothing to be worried about. As it appeared, I was set for life.

Flash forward 10 years later to the present (I’m 30 right now). I’ve been in the same field for more or less the last 10 years, but not always in the same capacity. I’ve also managed to attain a handful of cash flowing assets, more than what most people my age could achieve. But in regards to my job, when I started full time work 7 years ago, I stopped writing code. I spent more time as an analyst understanding the needs of the business and putting together specifications that would be handed off to software developers for creation. I actually liked it, because it put a bit more emphasis on my creative side, instead of just “cranking out code” like a machine. I also enjoyed the intimate interactions with my clients (most of them happen to be female, so maybe that had something to do with it). Because of this ability to work directly with clients, opportunities led me to 3 months in Europe, where I helped implement a new system to transform business automation at many countries in Europe. On paper, it just kept looking better and better.

At the end of 2010, I took time off for ankle surgery; to fix an accident that happened some time back. After the surgery, I didn’t do a whole lot of work for about 6 months. It took about 6 weeks before I could walk again, plus another few months for rehab. Right after, I took another month off to Taipei to test out the resilience of my repaired ankle.

After coming back, it seemed as if the foundation started cracking. My job didn’t bring the same excitement as it once did. The meetings seemed to drag more than usual. I couldn’t get myself to put together any sort of useful documentation. Reviewing documentation was even worse – the hired contractor had horrible grammar and rarely understood the requirements we gave her. My client and I started dreading the project we were assigned. I thought maybe my job lacked variety, so I decided to “look to the past” and revive my programming skills by taking a free online course for Python programming. However, that didn’t go well. The motivation just wasn’t there. I was feeling depressed and needed a way to cope with it.

I even tried pumping up my physical health. A few friends and I decided to start the Insanity workout. I thought this would help alleviate the depression. For a little while, it worked. I was continuously obsessed with perfecting the routine and getting the most out of the workout. We started a chat room to check in each day and discuss our progress. By the end of it, we all lost significant fat. But shortly after, I was hitting a new low. In fact, I was coping with my problem, but I never actually dealt with it.

Then I tried something completely different – I decided to take 10 days off to participate in a meditation retreat (I’ve blogged about this extensively before). It was very daring and very different. This choice was greeted with mixed reactions. Some were positive and encouraging. But most reacted with, “what the heck?” As if, something was terribly wrong with me.  Those with this reaction did have a perception of me, and most would call it positive: my resume was padded with academic and professional accolades. I graduated with a highly respected degree from a top tier public university. I had spent significant time as a student at highly praised companies, and landed a job at the world’s largest biotech company after graduation. I also seemingly had a great personal life, which included traveling to multiple countries for extended periods of time, to reflect on my past as well as prepare for what was to come. I acquired more assets than usual compared to peers my age. I spent time in Europe, traveling business class, to implement systems as part of a multi-million dollar project. On paper, things just looked so good. Nothing appeared to be dead end. At this point, it didn’t matter what others thought – this is my life, not theirs.

Meditation ended up being one of the best decisions I made, and I continue to practice it today. It didn’t solve my problems. Being centered, through meditation, gave my brain the ability to see the problem more clearly. It was still my choice as to how to attack the problem.

As of today, my conclusion is that I am melting down and something else is trying to grow out of me. I don’t know what it is yet. As of now, it’s a feeling that won’t go away. If I try to ignore it, it only gets worse, resulting in more depression. I’ve done my best to embrace it. One thing I’m accepting is that what I’ve done in the last 10 years is slowly being put to rest, and a new “me” is starting to emerge. I don’t expect many people to understand. Anything that I’ve done in the last 10 years that is perceived as success, is a kind of success. I’ve done things that our current society ranks as good success. Find a good job, build your assets, move up in the career ladder, and perhaps soon start a loving family (I haven’t done the latter yet). If you’ve noticed, I’ve been mostly using monetary wealth as a measurement of success throughout this post. There’s a voice inside of me that’s saying this isn’t my direction in life. It’s saying I cannot follow society’s blueprint of what it means to be successful. It doesn’t mean I won’t be wealthy, but it does mean that the current path isn’t the right journey. Its time to start clearing out the rocks and let new light shine – because a new journey is awaiting me on the other side.

So far I’ve been making incremental changes, hoping that the path will be clearer as I move along. When I switched jobs a few months ago, I thought that would solve the problem. I realized it was only one of many things I needed to do, because when I switched I started noticing the bigger picture. Now I am in the process of moving out of my home, in which I am living with tenants, to rent someone else’s room. I will be hiring a management company to manage the property on my behalf. I noticed that with each move I make, I’ve allowed my mind to worry about one less thing, thus opening up the hole to let more light shine in, and hopefully soon enough the hole will be big enough to light the new path.

Yes, I think it’s a meltdown. I’m melting down because something new has to be constructed. I just wish it wasn’t so painful. The learning and growth never ended in college…it was just the beginning.

Change or Reconfirmation?

I’m noticing a pattern with some of my friends, same age as me, that are approaching 30 or are past 30 years old, but are not yet married.

A former classmate and current friend of mine has lived in Thailand for more than a year, and has decided to get into Thailand politics. Prior to this, he was a software engineer in the states. He started out in the defense industry at a small company in California that eventually got bought out by Raytheon. He was paid well, did his job well, and garnered high respects from managers and his colleagues. But then he got tired of the politics, incompetent management, bad coding practices…just to name a few. He felt those were the reasons why he didn’t enjoy going to work anymore. He decided a new job would solve the problem. He found a new position at a start up company in Michigan. 10 months later he was let go – perhaps even fired. He got along with his coworkers, but he didn’t fit into the culture. He didn’t like drinking. He wasn’t used to the code structure used by the company. Eventually the big boss decided he wasn’t a good fit for the company in the long term. When he was let go, it hurt. He felt like a failure. His parents couldn’t understand what went wrong. Without getting into too much detail, he decided that he needed to get away for a while, so he went to Thailand to try business and also help run his parents’ business. But that year was not about business – it became a year of self-exploration, almost like a journey within himself, i.e., self-evaluation. Eventually, he accepted that he no longer enjoyed his line of work, regardless of the company he was at. He decided that he could only fool himself for so long before everything came tumbling down. Turns out, being let go was one of the best things that ever happened to him, because he ended up reinventing himself. But in the process of reinventing himself, all he simply did was accept himself for who he was, and stopped living a life that he thought he should be living.

Today I had the pleasure of catching up with a former co-intern from Citibank. I happened to bump into him this past Friday at a local Starbucks in Beverly Hills, while I was out with my clients on a day trip. I quickly exchanged phone numbers with him since I didn’t have time to speak with him. Turns out, like me, he switched jobs a few times. He started at a large media company, and then eventually moved over to a major social media company. Later, he decided he needed a change. He thought changing companies, but within the same line of work, would solve the problem. He’s now at a startup, still working as a software engineer. The job is great: awesome pay and flexible work hours (he also works from home). However, he told me that he realized nothing had changed in how he felt. It was clear he needed a real change, so now he’s looking into purchasing some kind of retail business or sandwich shop. Yep, a total change. He doesn’t want to stay in software engineering anymore, it just didn’t feel right for him. He wants to start fresh in something else.

When both of these friends described their thought process and emotions that led them to where they are today, it only confirmed one thing – I’m in the same boat. I did the same thing they did. I thought changing jobs was the answer – but it wasn’t. My new job is great on paper. It is more than most could ask for: the pay is great, the hours are flexible, and the politics is nearly non-existent. My coworkers only focus on doing good work for clients. I told myself, before leaving my last job, this was what I needed. I got it now, but it only felt right for a short while before things came tumbling down again. In addition, my outside investments are performing well. With these tough economic times, most people would do anything to be in my position. But yet with me, something still feels terribly wrong – hence I’m leaning towards taking a six month break to let my mind sort things out. I simply don’t know any other way to do this.

But one thing I can say for sure – it’s not that I need to find something else to do. Granted, yes I do feel less confident about my current career. What I need the time off for is to sort things out and decide if I really do need a change or I am actually doing what I want to do. Hence, it can either be a change or a reconfirmation of my current path. I don’t mind if I return home and decide to get back into the same profession, as long as I feel confident again that it’s the right path. Simply put, I need to bet on myself for once, and not be too hung up on what society’s blueprint has drawn out for me.

It’s comforting to know I am not alone.

Stories and thoughts from the past

Being 30 is the new 20. Who the hell came up with that? I don’t know. What the hell does it mean? It can mean different things, but there’s no right answer and finding that single right answer isn’t the way to go about it. The way to do it is to know what this means to you.

Yes, I am turning 30 this year. As my birthday approaches, I’ve been spending a lot of time evaluating what I’ve done the last 10 years, starting from my last years in college, to the career path I have chosen, the relationships I have formed, the places I’ve traveled, and the stories I have heard and remember today.

One particular thing I am especially grateful for is the opportunity I had to travel around the world in my early twenties. I traveled a bit for school, a lot for fun, and some more for work.

My travels allowed me to hear stories from people of different backgrounds and experiences outside of America. Lately, I have been trying to figure out some difficult decisions I need to make in my life around my career. Throughout this process, a story I remember hearing from the past sprouted up. The actual details are simplified, but the essence of the story is still here.

My friend told me of a story about his uncle when he lived in Vietnam. The uncle was poor and had very little cash to try and start any kind of reasonable business. His lack of capital made it hard to improve his family’s economic situation. One day, he found a rice factory that sold bags of rice on consignment for 30 days. Each bag sold for $30, but in the retail market the rice could only sell for $25 max because of stiff competition (the consignment option may have had something to do with this), but nonetheless it is easy to sell because rice is a common staple among the Vietnamese. He decides to pick up 100 bags, which gives him a debt of $3000.

As expected, he sold all 100 bags in one week at $25 a bag. He now has $2500 in cash but $3000 in debt. However, he decides to buy dry fish that sells for $10 a piece from the distributor, but can retail for $15. This distributor does not offer a consignment option. Dry fish is a popular item to eat with rice as well as for a snack. He takes all $2500 and buys fish at $10/piece. Within two weeks he sells all the fish for $15/piece. Now he has  $3750 in cash, and still one week to spare before he has to pay back the debt on the rice he bought at the beginning of the consignment period. He pays back the $3000 and now has $750 in cash, debt-free. He now takes that $750 to buy other wholesale items that he knows will retail for more on the market.

This story is simple, but yet very powerful. There are many themes to take from this story. The beauty of it is that this story has many key elements that serve as good lessons in life. Some elements that stood out to me are:

  1. The power of knowledge
  2. The power of time
  3. The power of cash flow management

Now, for me, the elements most useful are #2 and #3 (although all three work together hand in hand). These two elements are helping me solve a problem that I am currently struggling with in my life. But as I took these elements into careful consideration, the answer started to jump out at me. The reason is because this story made me change the way I think. I remember school taught me to stay conservative and not take big risks like the uncle did in this story. But what one must think of is, what does a person stand to lose if he or she doesn’t take the same kind of action that this uncle did with the rice?

It’s something to think about and really spend time pondering. Remember, these types of stories don’t need to make sense now – in some shape or form it will make much more sense in the future.

Being 30 is the 20 – to me, this means that life is still and always will be an adventure. It doesn’t end when we finish college and start our career. Life can still have much meaning and satisfaction if we make decisions that gravitate towards that.

Unstable Emotions

The title of this post describes what I have been feeling over the past few months. Despite more things going well than not around me, I’ve been experiencing a constant shift in my emotions throughout each day.

I could wake up one morning, pumped and ready to go to work, but halfway through the day some mild level of depression would creep up on me. Following that, past memories of events that made me sad or angry creep back up. And I could feel the emotions as if it was happening now. What’s worse is that my mind automatically started speculating what would happen if that event had continued or started worsening, then the corresponding emotions would come as well. Likewise, any present form of uncomfortable confrontation or abrasiveness towards me easily sets off my unstable emotions. When it happens, I have this feeling of just wanting to curl up inside a blanket and not look outside.

Simply put, I haven’t been emotionally healthy. It feels as if there is some kind of unexplained event happening, as if something or someone is telling me I need to take a break from all the activity that has gone on in the past few years.

I still can’t pinpoint what is causing this. Sometimes I think it’s a job that is no longer bringing personal satisfaction, but a part of me thinks it’s something much deeper than that.  But I do acknowledge that I am suffering from this. I don’t want to think of it as a kind of disease, I know it can be fixed and I will fix it. So as I write this blog post, it’s really for me to let off some steam, and not a cry for help (but any comments or messages would be gratefully received). I’ve actually put forth a plan to get better at a meditation retreat. It’s something I have never done before, but my gut feeling tells me only good can come from it.

Reflection

It’s been a while since I’ve written, and I do wonder if anyone ever reads what I write. But regardless I find that WordPress can be very theuraputic for me, especially when I need to get something off my chest.

Over the past few months, during my quiet times my mind has naturally been pondering about what makes me happy. Not to say that I didn’t care to think about it before, but it never quite occured to me to put much thought into it. My only conlusion was that I was indeed happy before, but something is missing now that is preventing me from finding my own happiness.

Like others, I first thought it had to do with not making enough money. Despite hearing the ever popular phrase, “money doesn’t make you happy,” my mind still drifted towards this direction. Year after year I made more money, sometimes little, sometimes much more. At first it seemed like I was happy, but only after it was all said and done, I realized it was more of the initial thrill. This was the case with my investment properties. The first one was great, but each subsequent one, even though the return was much better, were not giving me the same sense of satisfaction.

Then I thought maybe I needed a life partner or at least a committed relationship. Now I have a girlfriend, and she does bring great joy to my life. However, something is still missing. She cannot be the source of my happiness – she has to be the person I want to share my happiness with. However, I don’t have that happiness at the moment to share with her.

My next guess is almost certain – I’m not finding the same satisfaction in my career as I once did. I remember 6 years back when I started my job, it felt like one of the most happiest times of my life. I had less money then, didn’t have any investments, and nor did I have a girlfriend. But I did find satisfaction in what I did each day in the office. I came in and my job was to make things better – that plain and simple. It did hit me today: now I am being asked simply to make things work (even if we’re worse off), instead of making things work better. I won’t get into the details, but like most large companies it boils down to corporate politics.

I certainly know now that a change in my career is needed – whether it be from my own actions or not, continuing down the same path won’t get better. And what’s so different now is the change must come from me. From grade school to college, change was the norm and unavoidable. We constantly changed classes, met new classmates, and found new internships. Things were always fresh and always new – but we take it for granted because it came to us and was something we HAD to do. It’s different now because for most of us, we go in everyday to the same desk and coworkers, and while there are changes, it’s minimal compared to what we experienced during our younger years.

I have some plans in place, and I’ll update more as I move along.

Looking forward to the New Year

It’s only January 2nd and I cannot help but think through the planned major events for this year. My family and I are expecting lots to change this year, and all for the better. There’s enormous pressure to execute successfully, but the best part is there is no real sense of doubt inside us. 2011 went by remarkably fast. I remember it like yesterday when I was trying to run again during physical therapy. Shortly after my heart was broken once again. The memories are so vivid but so much time has already passed. Because of the quick passage of time, I am much more inclined to be proactive in pushing for my goals and my family’s goals.

Based on the past few months before 2011 ended, two things dawned on me. It could be a new years resolution per say, but the items are not so concrete:

  1. Don’t stress over the things I have no control over
  2. Let go and embrace the past, but do not forget

At times I can be somewhat of a worry wort, and it’s no surprise since my character is very much like a caretaker. I want things to go smoothly and not have others worry. I grew up in somewhat of a chaotic life (probably due to being poor), and thus I’ve naturally forced myself to constantly push for peace. Deep down I want to be a hero. But unfortunately in the process I’m constantly worrying that something will go wrong, and I want to have the solution ready before it happens. This can be a variation of a premonition, but it’s useless if I start losing control and surrender to it – there needs to be a balance. If anything, I should be able to find comfort in my past – I’ve always managed to come up with a way to deal with any problem that comes my way.

I never forget my past, but sometimes I have trouble letting go. It’s important not to forget because our past is the source of our present character, but more importantly it is the source of our wisdom. Hence embrace the past, but let go and come to terms with what has happened.