Gratitude

If you get to know me these days, I have a tendency to go on and on about how much I am struggling between two Capstones and a job. I am not good at programming, but I have been hustling to write line after line of Javascript, Python and HTML. Hours and hours of being glued to my desk and sometimes the code didn’t work. Imagine that monumental amount of frustration.

This weekend, I am on a quick getaway trip to see a good friend from Belgium, who is in the US right now for business. So while on the planes and during layover, I have some time away from all the coding, Slack messages and fear that the code won’t work. Time to reflect.

Before this semester, I kept saying to whoever cared enough to ask: I can’t wait to graduate. 5 weeks from graduation, I am; however, often overwhelmed by the feeling of uncertainty. What will I do when I am no longer a student? Being an immigrant in the US these days is not easy or enjoyable. Finding a job and getting the paperwork to work is challenging, requiring quite a bit of luck. Even though I have a clean track record (I don’t even have speeding/parking ticket) and my employer indicates an intention of keeping me permanently, my fate rests entirely upon some stranger in the Department of Homeland Security. There is nothing else I can do, but to wait and pray.

There are things that I don’t like about the US. It’s normal. I don’t think there is anywhere I wholeheartedly like. But I have gained quite a lot here. I wouldn’t have learned about coding had I still stayed in Vietnam. Instead, I am able to write some code now to the point that I enjoy doing it. Who knows? Maybe it will lead me to a great opportunity one day.

My job teaches me a great deal about enterprise IT infrastructure. Without coming to the US, how could I have known about cloud computing, storage, next-generation firewalls, etc…? (sounds smart heh?). Trust me, I am a newbie with a mountain of knowledge to learn. It’s like Himalaya. It keeps rising higher and higher.

More importantly, I have met some incredible people while in the US. Some will still be my friends a few years from now. Three days ago, a friend from Germany that I met while in Omaha, texted me out of the blue on Whatsapp, saying: “Minh, how is it going? Closer to graduation? Just want to let you know that if you want to find a job in Germany, don’t hesitate to ask”. I made my day and days after that.

What I am trying to say is that I am grateful for what I have got during the last two and a half years. Has it all been perfect? No. But I am grateful for it.

I spent an illegal and unacceptable amount of time on debating with myself: if I could do it all over again, would I still come here? Trust me, such a debate could drain you. After all, I left behind everything I had up to August 2016 to come to the US. No friends, no family, all the professional credibility and network in Vietnam that would mean nothing , and a personal relationship that would be broken at some point.

But whenever I am not in a bad mood, at a low point, drunk or bone-tired because of work and school, I feel grateful to the US and all the people that I have come across. Really. Would I still do it? The answer is yes.

Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj & the man himself

I was told to watch Hasan Minhaj’s new show on Netflix called Patriot Act. If you don’t have a Netflix account, rest easy. The first three episodes are available on YouTube.

I like the show and Hasan. For some reasons, I am not a big fan of most of the late night comedy shows any more, except Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Celebrity interviews or games or only “anti-Trump” rhetoric that sometimes comes with lame jokes don’t engage me. I prefer learning something new from a show or a funny take on the current issues. So far, John Oliver and now Hasan deliver that in my opinion. While John Oliver has a knack for choosing overlooked issues in our society, Hasan is a masterful story-teller. He just sucks you in the story he is telling whether it is a story on his family after 9/11, his take on that John McCain debate during 2008 presidential debate, or his being bullied in high school.

I was in the gym today, listening to his commencement speech at high school. He told the story of him being bullied, of being rejected from his dream of playing basketball in high school and of how that forced him to comedy. I recommend listening to his speech. In the end, he got real.

“It doesn’t always get better. The world doesn’t care one bit about your dream. But if you keep working, you’ll find something that you are meant to do. You’ll eventually find where you are supposed to be. If you can’t get into the front door. Go through the side. If you can’t go through the side, go through the backyard. If you can’t go through the backyard, go through the window. No matter what. Never stop fighting through the pick”.

Or something along that line. He has other great interviews on YouTube, but I’ll let you discover them.

 

Midterms and why you should vote

I do discuss politics, but with my friends only or those who are open-minded enough to do it without engaging in a shouting match or escalating it to another level. I don’t want to talk politics on this blog because it’s a black hole. But today I want to.

Midterm ads

As the midterms are coming around the corner, I have seen more ads on YouTube. Mostly attack ads that are sponsored by  a candidate to attack his or her opponents. That’s pitiful. A lot of money is spent on attacking opponents. Instead, such money should have been spent in a more meaningful way.

Politics in America is about the extreme. It’s either one end of the stick or the other end. Nothing in between. It’s common to advance by attacking others. Meanwhile, plenty of important issues in our life go unnoticed or misunderstood by the public. Issues such as foreign policies, trade or healthcare are highly complicated and most of us don’t quite get them. Even if we understand, the compartmentalization and secrecy born out of how governments work in general, not just the US government, make information inaccessible and misunderstanding more palpable.

Call me an idealist, but if public servants as these politicians all claim to be want to serve the public, wouldn’t it benefit the public if they spent their money on educating their constituents on important issues, instead of attacking their opponents? I am not talking about last-minute vids when campaigns start. I am talking about a year-long constant effort on trying to help constituents understand issues more. It’s likely that they wouldn’t understand some highly highly complex issues anyway, but at least they would understand more what is going on. And that is the essence of serving the public.

In business, the surest way to attract users/customers is to be helpful/useful to them. It should be the same here. Politicians wouldn’t need to be helpful for the public. They could do it for themselves. By making themselves a reliable source of information and knowledge on what matters in constituents’ lives, I believe politicians would find it easier to earn trust. Even if things go wrong, they could always say: hey, I have been telling you that we have to compromise in politics and things are not straightforward 9 out of 10 cases. That’s the truth, provided that these politicians are forthcoming and transparent.

Sadly, it is not the case.

The importance of voting

I have talked to a few folks in Nebraska. Some didn’t vote in 2016 because they didn’t like either candidate. Low turnout is not really that uncommon here. But I’d like to talk about what happens on tonight’s episode of Madam Secretary, a show I talked about in the past.

On this episode, the Secretary had to find a way to work with a dictator in Philippines to retrieve the bodies of dead American soldiers who died in, probably, WW2 (I don’t remember the show mentioning it clearly but it was 1945, so WW2 was my guess). The dictator refused to endorse the request to retrieve the bodies, unless America gave him money that would be used to buy weapons and suppress his citizens in the future. Some compromise would be required here.

Meanwhile, her daughter worked for a candidate who pledged to campaign on student loans as one of his principles. But he left it out of his agenda. Her daughter quit the campaign because of that. Listen to this clip to see how the Secretary taught her daughter on the importance of voting.

I was about to go to bed and like I said, politics is not what I like to talk about on this blog. Nonetheless, I figured I had to do this because it mattered. If you read this and are eligible to vote in a few days, do vote. Like the Secretary said, many died for you to be able to vote. And why wouldn’t you? It will affect your life for years to come. It will also affect the world for years to come. If your representative is a decisive vote on a bill that will affect other countries, imagine that.

Do a quick research on your representatives, senators, attorney generals or governors. Any position that is on the ballot. Chances are you won’t agree with everything a candidate has to offer, but it’s life and it may be because some compromise had been made and you don’t know about it. Nonetheless, do vote.

Book: The Messy Middle

The Messy Middle is a new book written by the founder of Behance, a networking platform for designers. He is now the Chief Product Officer at Adobe. The book reflects his bootstrapping years at Behance and great lessons on businesses, career and entrepreneurship. Even if you are not an entrepreneur (I am not), this book has some insights on how tough it is to be one and fantastic lessons on how to advance your career. The book may get a bit mundane as it progresses, but the good thing is that many small chapters aren’t related to one another and you can skip forward or move backward at will. No need to read it in order. Below are a few of my favorite passages:

On self-awareness

Self-awareness starts with the realization that when you’re at a peak or in a valley, you’re not your greatest self. Self-awareness means dispelling your sense of superiority and the myths that people believe about you.

Ultimately, self-awareness is about preserving sound judgement and keeping relatable and realistic. However big your project or ambition, your journey is nothing more than a sequence of decisions: You’re probably many decisions away from success, but always one decision away from failure. Clarity matters. The more aware you are of yourself and your surroundings, the more data you have to inform your decisions, and the more competitive you will be

On authenticity

Nobody remembers or is inspired by anything that fits in

I do the work I do because I have to. I can’t help it. I was born this way – I can’t be false to any man. I know what the current trends and moods are, but I can’t concern myself with them. I also can’t force myself (as many do) to make work that fits within the going commercial style. Trends change and I believe that is why my work is still relevant today, because I am the only one making work like mine.

The idea of being born “weird” means you have a gift – like being born a star athlete. It would a sin to deny my gift. My “weird” is powerful. It stands out. I know that it attracts some individuals and clients, and repels others. I have to be cool with that. I am not for everyone – just the sexy people. Like you.

And as American artist Sol LeWitt once advised, “Learn to say ‘fuck you’ to the world once in a while”. Do your thing.

On doing the hard work

There’s a reason so few people do hard work beyond their job description: It’s hard work. You run the risk of extending energy or falling behind in other pars of your life, but these are the costs of playing at the frontier and having the opportunity to lead something new. You’re either a cog in the system or a designer of new and better systems. Of course, if you aspire to transform your industry and leave a valuable mark in your world, you’ll challenge every system you find yourself confined by. When you see something wrong, take the initiative to fix it.

When you find yourself frustrated or critical, channel that energy into persistent creation. If it’s not your job, pursue it anyway. Do research, run tests, or draft white papers and presentations to prove your position, even if it’s on your own time. It’ll give you a sense of satisfaction that no amount of preordained tasks will.

A shared trait among entrepreneurs and innovators within big companies is defying prescribed roles. The future is drafted by people doing work they don’t have to do. You need to be one of those people and hire them, too. There is too much wonder and talking and too little doing. So don’t talk: do

On how difficult it is to stay positive when dealing with hardships of entrepreneurship. I am not an entrepreneur, but it’s something I feel relatable, as I believe many do.

When I think back to those lost years, I recall a constant somber loneliness, a suffering from the feeling that nobody else could relate. The struggle was further compounded by the optimism I had to exude to my team and potential customers and partners. My hope had to be minded deep beneath the surface of fear and reality. The juxtaposition of the intensity of a start-up and feeling invisible and despondent was soul crushing. Staying positive was exhausting, and there were times when I felt depressed.

Without a steady stream of rewards, you will feel empty. You must supplement this void with manufactured optimism. You will have to endure anonymity and a persistent state of frustration. You’ll have to generate a unique and intrinsic sense of belief in yourself as you manage the blows to your plan and ego.

 

Ecstasy after toiling

My background is mostly in marketing. It can get very subjective. What looks beautiful to you may not to others. Some copy that may sound appealing to you may not to others.

Coding is different. Either your code works the way you want it to or it has bugs or malfunctions. Unfortunately, coding is hard for me. Without a technical background, anything related to programming such as installing software, setting environment, missing a comma or colon and getting the code to work is hard for me. But at the same time, whenever I get some code to work as intended, I am overwhelmed by a burst of joy. A heavy dose of pride and fulfillment. Ecstasy after toiling.

In 2017, a few friends and I participated in an M&A case competition in Nebraska. We had to work long hours every day for 2 weeks for each round (there were two rounds). On top of our daily life and schoolwork. Only after we advanced in the 1st round were we allowed to go the other round. I remember in the first round, we put a lot of effort in our case and presentation. Every comma, dot, word or even the order of annotations were looked over. We finished our proposal at 2:30am, 6 hours away from the deadline after a marathon weekend. After we pressed the “send” button, the feelings were indescribably awesome. Full of pride and fulfillment. Whether we would win didn’t matter at the time at all. Ecstasy after toiling.

In the second round, we dropped the ball. We didn’t have the same level of effort and intensity. The day we submitted the 2nd proposal, nobody felt good. We actually fought between us because I didn’t feel the others put in enough effort.

We are often told to be patient. Things worth having take time. Or something along that line they usually say. The potential ecstasy at the end of the tunnel may give each of us the motivation to try harder and again the next day. But for sure the road is hard.

Positivity

Emilia Clarke “If you don’t succeed at first, laugh until you do”

I attended an OPT session at school last Friday as a mandatory requirement for students who want to have even a remote chance of having employment in the US. Basically those who are graduating will have to apply for OPT that can be 1 or 3 years long, depending on whether one’s degree is STEM or not. Students cannot apply 90 days before the deadline, but it may take from 3 to 5 months to get the EAD card. Graduate students need the card to be legally allowed to start working. There is no workaround. When I end my internship this December, there is 90% chance I will have to stay between jobs for a month. I have heard from a classmate of mine that her friend’s job offer got rescinded because her card took too long to arrive. I could see why that happened. That’s scary and frustrating. That’s the law here. There is nothing more an immigrant like me can do about it.

I have been abroad for a few years before the US. No place forced me to train myself to be positive and optimistic like the US. Some may praise my effort to make it to the US, the start. Later and if all goes well, some may praise for what I achieve here, the finish. But the middle is the tough unglamorous part that doesn’t get mentioned often. Until luck takes a look at each of us, well, laugh till it does then.

Born a crime

If you haven’t read “Born a crime“, I urge you to. It’s a great book by Trevor Noah. He chronicled his story growing up in South Africa in an insightful and humorous manner. It cracked me up a couple of times. As the books I read are quite serious, the humor, positivity and his experience in the book give me a quick escape sometimes, especially on bad days. Like today. Here are some quotes I particularly love:

“Being chosen is the greatest gift you can give to another human being.”

“I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done in life, any choice that I’ve made. But I’m consumed with regret for the things I didn’t do, the choices I didn’t make, the things I didn’t say. We spend so much time being afraid of failure, afraid of rejection. But regret is the thing we should fear most. Failure is an answer. Rejection is an answer. Regret is an eternal question you will never have the answer to. “What if…” “If only…” “I wonder what would have…” You will never, never know, and it will haunt you for the rest of your days.”

“When you shit, as you first sit down, you’re not fully in the experience yet. You are not yet a shitting person. You’re transitioning from a person about to shit to a person who is shitting. You don’t whip out your smartphone or a newspaper right away. It takes a minute to get the first shit out of the way and get in the zone and get comfortable. Once you reach that moment, that’s when it gets really nice. It’s a powerful experience, shitting. There’s something magical about it, profound even. I think God made humans shit in the way we do because it brings us back down to earth and gives us humility. I don’t care who you are, we all shit the same. Beyoncé shits. The pope shits. The Queen of England shits. When we shit we forget our airs and our graces, we forget how famous or how rich we are. All of that goes away.”

“Language brings with it an identity and a culture, or at least the perception of it. A shared language says ‘We’re the same.’ A language barrier says ‘We’re different.’ The architects of apartheid understood this. Part of the effort to divide black people was to make sure we were separated not just physically but by language as well…The great thing about language is that you can just as easily use it to do the opposite: convince people that they are the same. Racism teaches us that we are different because of the color of our skin. But because racism is stupid, it’s easily tricked.”

The downside of extreme individual freedom

Personal freedom such as freedom of speech or freedom to do whatever we want is important to every single one of us. I mean who doesn’t love it? The freedom is especially emphasized in developed countries. In the US, it’s the first Amendment in the Constitution. The positive side of individual freedom is often mentioned. What is not is the other side of it.

Everything has two sides to it and so does individual freedom. What I usually read and hear is that anyone is free to do whatever he or she wants. To the extreme. In that sense, it’s acceptable for anyone to commit murder or spit out insults to other folks. Why wouldn’t it be if we were allowed to do ANYTHING we wanted? In reality, murder or intentional insults are not acceptable. They are condemned. They lead to punishment. If it were acceptable that somebody could injure or insult us, why would we take legal actions then?

It goes to show that absolute individual freedom doesn’t come without baggage. There are two options. Either we accept its less-than-extreme version that comes with some collectively formed restrictions or we have the extreme and should talk more about its downsides. For instance, if we must have the extreme freedom of speech, expect that somebody will come at us with hate speeches or insults. Coming to this awareness may not change some people’s unfavorable behavior such as bigotry, racism or hatred. Nonetheless, we should know more about the two sides of freedom so that we know what we can choose and what we can expect.

I know my choice. I love freedom, but I don’t prefer the extreme version of it.

Madam Secretary

I have been following the show “Madam Secretary” for some time now. It doesn’t garner much attention as other shows, but for me personally it is a great show due to two main reasons

The dynamic between Madam Secretary and her husband

The way the married couple assist and rely on each other through every issue is remarkable and a thing of beauty. Whether it is a controversial issue, a confidential top-secret project or a family problem, the two characters always have each other back and figure out a way to defuse the situation at hand. Call me idealistic, but they paint the perfect picture of how couples and parents manage family and marital affairs. It screams maturity, compassion, love and understanding

Take on current subjects

This is a bigger reason in my book. Throughout its episodes, the show discusses issues that are very related to what we have in our life. Freedom of speech, difficult diplomatic issues in hot zones around the world, mine fields, the nuclear weapons, environmental threats, refugees…All come out with the vibe of positivity and a thing or two to learn from resourcefulness, collaboration and communication.

One of my favorite episodes featured one journalist having unrestricted access to the Secretary for a few days to write a profile on her. Even though the journalist has some prejudice with him and he disagrees with a foreign policy, the secretary didn’t stop him from writing what he wanted to. He eventually wrote a piece that was less than favorable, but at least “you gave both sides” – the secretary said.

Another episode is the one that was aired tonight. The speech in the end on hatred and nationalism is excellent and at the time of divisiveness and confusion right now, it is a kind of speeches that should be listened to by a far greater number of folks. I included a recording I made from my computer. The quality is not good but the audio is what matters.

Living in the moment

As the summer is drawing to a close, I make every effort to be as much in the sun as possible. Winter is coming. It’s long. It’s harsh. And it’s cold. We’ll miss the sun. Having lived in Finland and here during the winter before, I still don’t get comfortable with it.

Whenever the weather and my schedule allow, I like to sit in the sun. Read a book. sip some coffee. Work if I have to. Or just do absolutely nothing and watch the town in its warm gorgeous form. I don’t know how much longer I can still enjoy the sun of 2018. Time flies by. Almost 9 months of 2018 has come to pass.

I used to plan ahead for everything. Work, personal relationships, travel. The goal was to keep myself being busy. No minute should be wasted. Gosh, I even thought of putting water on the stove before I went to brush my teeth in the morning because the water would be boiled by the time I was done brushing my teeth. How stupid I was.

I don’t remember the exact time or the exact reason, but I guess it’s called growing up. I changed. I hardly plan any more, unless it’s absolutely necessary. I book flights last minute, sometimes only one-way. I don’t plan my itinerary while on vacation. I just go and see what unfolds in the new city. My goal every day is to have the freedom and the flexibility to see what comes up in the moment.

I still spend so much time in front of a computer or on the phone. Work, study and some stupid activities and all. It’s a work in progress. But for now, whenever asked what my goal is, my answer is to be happy and healthy. To be in the moment. I can’t change the past and living so much for the future didn’t make me happy. To some extent, I wasted some years that could have been more memorable, that could have been more spectacular.