Humans of New York and Brandon Stanton

I am a big fan of Humans of New York. There are so many great stories told in just ordinary yet moving languages. Whenever I run into those stories, they just create beautiful moments in my days and lift the spirit a little bit. In the time when racism, lack of compassion and cynicism are dangerously present as our time now, stories like the one below offers a pure and beautiful break

Source: Humans of New York

I also recommend the interview between Tim Ferriss and the founder of Humans of New York. It’s an engaging and incredible interview shedding light on his story and the struggle he went through to have his photo project take off

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.”

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.

Globalization, Wars, Internet and Anti-immigration

A few days ago, I received a message from a German friend floating a question on why racism has risen in popularity recently in Western countries. I gave him my answer and thought I should put it out here to share what I have been thinking about for quite some time.

Globalization

Nothing is perfect and neither is globalization. We have reaped its benefits for years and I suspect that we start to see its downsides now. In Western countries, globalization leads to unemployment in certain industries whether it is because firms relocate their operations to developing nations or it is because the technological advances render some industries obsolete.

Suddenly, workers who are between jobs are left with few options. The jobs that the workers are qualified for no longer exist where they live while new jobs require skills that the workers don’t have. Instead, highly skilled jobs are now done by skilled immigrant employees. Businesses care the most about their productivity. As long as they don’t have to break banks to hire qualified staff for the jobs, they’ll do it. Even if one is local but doesn’t have the qualifications, how can one be employed?

Consequently, there is tension in the society from unemployed folks and there is a sentiment that immigrants steal their jobs.

Wars and violent conflicts

Meaningless wars and violent conflicts in Africa, Middle East and other developing but unstable areas also contribute to the rise of racism. As these unfortunate events take place, the victims have no choice, but to flee for their and their family’s lives. Who can blame them? The closest safe heaven is Western Europe, which has been quite more friendlier than the US in terms of refugees.

Unfortunately, the influx of refugees is so much bigger than what the Western European countries can handle. Once the integration efforts don’t keep up with the arrivals of refugees, the refugees stay unemployed while reaping the social benefits from the governments. When that happens, some locals would understandably be upset. I mean, who wouldn’t given the high tax rates in Western European countries.? Additionally, there are some bad “apples” such as terrorists or those who committed crimes. As a consequence, local citizens grow unhappy about the refugees and immigration in general.

The Internet

Internet enables the friction-less flow of good information….as well as of bad information such as propagandas or simply false news. As human-beings, we are more drawn towards negative coverage. Hence, media outlets keep feeding us negative news on immigration regardless of whether the news is valid or how the news stands in the whole big picture. For instance, if a refugee commits a crime, what is the percentage of the incident compared to the number of crimes committed by locals in the same timeframe?

And there are folks who intentionally distribute distorted and false information to advance their agendas. As we are drowning in an ocean of news & information every day, it’s tricky to know what is what.

Validation from the US

I don’t believe that racism only existed after the above factors. However, its rise, especially in politics, can be attributed to having a validation. The validation stemmed from the election in the US in 2016 and perhaps one year before that. Suddenly, some politicians have an example to validate their less-than-desirable behavior. I couldn’t recall seeing that much racism a few years ago when wars already took place, globalization had already been going and Internet was already there. However, after 2016, the wave of racism and nationalism has risen to a new height and gone from strength to strength to the point that even countries such as Sweden or Finland have seen more anti-immigration.

I have been pretty much an immigration since 2010, except 3 years of staying in Vietnam.  The growing anti-immigration movement concerns me a great deal and the connection between the factors above has sat on my mind for a while. I used to adore globalization a lot thinking that it was such a perfect concept. Now, I don’t think it’s perfect any more.

A good friend

I went out with a friend whom I hadn’t met for months a couple of nights ago. After a few drinks and games of pool, somehow we entered a phase of sentimental talk between two mildly drunk persons. You know it. When some alcohol kicks in, people tend to let loose and talk more than they usually do.

At one point and for some reason, he told me to not look down on myself and think that I am less than Americans. He loved to hang out with me as he thought I was cool, and that it was courageous of me to leave my family & home to live in another country, to study for a Master degree and to work as I am.

I never feel that going abroad is courageous. It never occurred to me like that. It was a dream, the only thing I could think of when I was in high school. It’s more about what you want to achieve (a better education, a higher income, a better life and more freedom) than the downsides of going abroad (leaving family, friends, your relationships, whatever you achieve behind). At least to me at the time, the benefits outweighed the downsides. Talking about being young and confused!

I told him that as a Vietnamese, I was raised in a society that taught us that Westerns were superior to us in many ways. I am not exaggerating. Westerners, especially whites, are looked at under a different light and with blind admiration in my country. We were taught to speak only when we are 100% or as sure as possible that whatever is coming out of our mouth is correct. Speaking non-sense without thinking it through several times in the head is considered something that we shouldn’t do, especially to somebody of authority or seniority. I am at heart a Vietnamese and carry that baggage with me, developing a sense of insecurity and inferiority, as well as a lack of confidence. I am not rich nor magnetically charming, not even close. I am short (5’7) and not physically imposing as other guys in the US. I don’t speak the language natively and I hesitate to speak my mind on the spot.

After a few years of living abroad, I learned that people were just people. I look different than Americans or Europeans do, but at the core, we are of the same species. We go through the struggles in life in the same way. What we were or are still taught in Vietnam is not true. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s easy to get rid of.

Though I work to believe in my own values and develop myself every day, there are days, unfortunately, when the wave of low self-esteem hits pretty . Those are the days when encouragement like what my friend gave me is much appreciated. I do appreciate it a lot, not as  much as I appreciate him though.