Get out of your own way

I started writing on this site in undergrad, after years of online blogging across Xanga, Blogspot, Blogger, Tumblr, and finally deciding that I should invest in my own domain and make a home for all my musings on various intellectual pursuits, commentary on society’s relationship to technology, and my ongoing exploration of personal and professional identity. Occasionally when I sit to write, I’ll scroll through the scores of drafts I have from the last eight years of writing here. Some, more akin to journal entries than any objective writing, make me cringe. Others become helpful fodder for encouraging me to revisit a topic that I see with new perspectives.

Here is a quote from an old draft on vices from 2013: “What I know is that I am a people pleaser by nature, and that…has proven to be both a blessing and a vice. [It’s] inspired me to develop empathy and compassion…[but it can also drive me to fulfill a] sycophantic need to please others [at the expense] of my own happiness.” This got me thinking about how my relationship to others have evolved since then. More importantly, it highlighted how much I’ve evolved over the years.

One belief that radically helped me gain greater confidence personally and professionally was to internalize that no one is paying attention to me as much as I think. I was the type that would ruminate for hours after feeling like I interjected at the wrong time in a conversation or wished I had said something smarter, more clever, more memorable. Those scenes would loop over and over in my head, and the reality was that barely anyone would have noticed nor have perceived it as big of an issue as I did in my mind. Instead, I could and should have taken that self-imposed stress and channeled it toward a more productive activity.

As I grow in my personal and professional life, I will occasionally fall into the trap of (over) worrying about what others think of me. I want those I respect to think well of me, which isn’t an inherently bad desire. However, being able to balance it with stronger judgement on when to pursue my own independent beliefs, goals, ambitions is gratifying. It’s how I decided to no longer pursue playing the violin, despite having spent a decade of my life competing and dedicated to it, in the hopes of devoting that time to other academic interests. It also helped when I decided to leave New York, the city of my dreams and the place I still consider home, for San Francisco, despite many question marks from well intended friends and family members. I recall being worried that I would let people down because I wouldn’t be able to see them as often or just be there for them. It felt selfish at the time to pursue decisions that fulfilled what I wanted and no one else’s. But of course, in doing right by me, I also did right by those I care about and respect.

So if I could go back and reiterate something to my younger, people pleasing self, I’d remind her this: “Get out of your own way, and stop worrying about what others may or may not think. Frankly, no one is paying attention to you as much as you think. Embrace that freedom, and use the knowledge to pursue what you want and not what you believe others want of you. Your life will be richer for it.” I still remain a work-in-progress when it comes to getting out of my own way, but skimming an old draft written by past me was a sweet way to reflect and quietly celebrate my progress.

After #MeToo, it’s #UsToo

Don’t let the campy, bubble-gum pink, and vibrant set and costume design fool you. Promising Young Woman may force you to, as it did with me, contend with the uncomfortable familiarity of the film’s darker themes around consent, sexism, and shame. Multiple viewings later, I’m still thinking about several scenes from the film while replaying the intentionally female-forward soundtrack featuring familiar voices of fallen pop stars of yesteryear.

*Spoilers ahead for the film, so if you haven’t seen it, you were warned.*

Promising Young Woman is bleak, and in terms of a hero’s journey, intentionally dissatisfying.

The #MeToo movement made us all too familiar with the blatant injustices of sexual harassment and assault. It’s now fourteen years after the first popularized use of the phrase “me too”, and Promising Young Woman offers viewers a rare revenge thriller that gives voice to the frustration and anger that often accompany the hurt of sexual violence.

The film centers around Cassie, a young medical student drop-out (portrayed by the delightful Carey Mulligan) who embarks on a singular mission to condemn self-proclaimed “nice guys” as sexual predators. This comes after her best friend Nina suffers a sexual assault at a school party, and no one is held accountable despite formally reported accusations. The injustice ultimately leads Nina to commit suicide, and Cassie suffers a figurative death as she reels from the trauma and drops out of medical school to live with her parents and spend her days as a careless barista at a local coffee shop.

That said, it’s an unusual revenge thriller because our protagonist, Cassie is no hero. She is not aspirational or inspiring in her pursuit for justice, and she does not seek peace or forgiveness. After her friend’s death, she is angry — rightfully at her perpetrators and guiltily at herself for not being there to protect Nina. Unfortunately, Cassie is unable to accept Nina’s death, forgive herself, and move on from the past. Her grief and anger consume her. Instead of finding a support system or going back to medical school, Cassie becomes a vigilante who weaponizes her femininity. She adopts a persona who pretends to be sloppily drunk at clubs late at night, waiting for a “nice guy” she can expose when he makes advances on her while she’s vulnerable.

The film forces the male gaze to look into a mirror and acknowledge its ugliness.

In one of the last scenes in the film, Cassie comes face to face with the man who hurt her friend. He believes himself a “nice guy” and chocks up his past misdeeds as stupid, drunken medical school behavior (mind you, medical students are often well into their mid to late twenties); and that it is “every guy’s worst nightmare to be accused of [rape.]” Without skipping a beat, Carey Mulligan’s character looks upon him squarely and replies, “Can you guess what every woman’s nightmare is?”

It’s no surprise to me that this film was written, directed, and produced by a woman (Emerald Fennell’s debut!). The scenes between Cassie’s fake drunken character and her supposed white knights in bad suits are delightfully subversive. Cassie has a script — appear very intoxicated; protest the initial advance; take up “nice guy’s” offer for a ride home, who somehow always persuades her to come over to his place instead; gives him a chance to stop when he inevitably makes unwanted advances; and finally confront him with stone cold sober eyes when he won’t stop.

These scenes are alarming yet so satisfying because they portray the importance of enthusiastic consent, which can’t be given when one is practically in a stupor. Of course, she isn’t really drunk, and Carey Mulligan’s character always lets the man advance just far enough for it to cross some line before she breaks out of her pretend blackout to ask him, “What are you doing?” At this point, they stop what they’re doing and quickly attempt to revert to their “nice guy” personas. Unfortunately, the damage is done, and we the audience can no longer defend him to be the standout guy he projected himself to be.

The sinister logic of the “nice guy” misinterprets what is and isn’t consent.

The “nice guy” finds Cassie attractive, and her drunken helplessness incites his inner “goodness.” He convinces himself that by offering to take her home, she, despite her inebriated state, must want him as reward for saving her from herself — or worse, from other potential predators at the club. When instead they end up at his place, he reads that as permission to make additional advances (again, despite her drunken state). When she asks him for water because she’s not feeling great, he thinks himself the hero who’s rescuing a damsel in distress.

In another romantic comedy, we’d root for him. He is agreeable, non-threatening, slightly nerdy, and reasonably successful. He calls her beautiful and that she shouldn’t wear so much makeup. He’s downright woke, until he’s not. It’s no accident that the male cast for these “nice guy” characters are all lovable actors, including Adam Brody, evermore the sweet and awkward Seth Cohen from The O.C.; Christopher Mintz-Plasse, better known as Superbad‘s McLovin’; and comedian Bo Burnham, who goes on to play Cassie’s love interest.

Viewers have been conditioned to root for the “nice guy.” It’s why the betrayal of Bo’s character Ryan, who plays Cassie’s love interest, stings so much. He’s a pediatric surgeon with an unrequited crush on Cassie, who at her request, respectfully woos her slowly over the course of the movie. He’s sweet and self-deprecating and cracks dry jokes over dinner with Cassie’s parents. You want to give him the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, when faced with several opportunities to actually be the good guy we’ve come to believe he is, he fails. We discover he was just as culpable in the event where Cassie’s friend was assaulted. Worse, he conveniently told her he didn’t remember the event despite being friends with the perpetrator. When Cassie finally confronts him with video evidence of his involvement from years ago, he immediately becomes defensive citing the same, “It wasn’t me. I didn’t do anything. I’m a nice guy” plea. He, along with all the other men Cassie confronts, never acknowledges his own role in causing harm.

Promising Young Woman is uncomfortable because it asks us to confront our own complicity in a society that readily upholds misogyny.

The first wave of #MeToo shed light on egregious physical and psychological abuse by men in positions of power unto (mostly) women. Now, we find ourselves grappling with the less obvious but equally (if not more) insidious moments of casual misogyny.

I don’t condone Cassie’s vengeful approach toward men in the film, but I can relate to her years of pent-up rage. It is rage against the expectation that in order to be desirable, it is not fun to set boundaries. (There’s a scene where one of the men Cassie lures at a club realizes she’s not drunk and storms off pouting, “Why do you have to ruin everything?” implying he’d rather have messed around with a woman who barely could stand up on her own.) It is rage against how the anger, no matter how righteous, can be as destructive as the traumatic incident itself. It is rage against the disturbing normalization of a society where abusers continue to lead normal lives with little to no consequences while survivors are often swept under the rug.

One of the best pieces I’ve read in the last few years on misogyny is Cornell philosophy professor Kate Manne’s book Down Girl. It reshaped my understanding of misogyny. Instead of seeing it as a deep hatred toward women by men, misogyny is defined as an unconscious moral manifestation of sexist ideology. Put differently, misogyny enforces patriarchal social structures that uphold male privilege and entitlement while sexism supports the assumptions and stereotypes that normalize and justify patriarchal norms. We may not all be sexist, but all of us are likely culpable in upholding misogyny which polices women, keeps them in “their place,” and preserves expectations that serve male interests.

Misogyny rewards women who reinforce the status quo. This is most evident in two scenes between Cassie and two other women. The first is at a lunch with an old medical school acquaintance Madison, played by actress Alison Brie. Cassie wants to talk to her about why she dropped out of school, implying Madison must have known about the sexual assault. Madison gets flustered. She defends herself by deflecting blame back at Cassie, citing her promiscuity. “If you have a reputation for sleeping around, then maybe people won’t believe you when you say something has happened. [It’s like] crying wolf.” Watching it, I saw my own disappointment reflected in Cassie’s face.

The second scene is even more gut turning. Cassie revisits her old medical school dean under the guise of re-enrolling in school. She asks the dean if she recalls why she dropped out. Frustratingly, the dean does not recall Cassie’s friend Nina and the rape that led to her dropping out, but when Cassie asks about Nina’s assailant, the dean lights up. He is a successful alum who gives back to the school community. (“He’s a really nice guy!”) The dean doesn’t remember the accusations made against him, despite Cassie reminding her that the incident was reported to the dean herself. Even worse still, the dean also gets defensive saying the school receives many similar accusations. She “has to give him the benefit of the doubt” lest she ruin a promising young man’s future. It’s hard not to recall Chanel Miller and the 2015 Stanford rape case from this scene.

These two scenes, each a dialogue between two women, underscore how much we expect women to police themselves. Like the “nice guys” at the club, neither of these two women — one a supposed friend and the other a figure of authority — acknowledged their own roles in perpetuating bad behavior by a male abuser while condemning the female victim. It should have been the other way around. Cassie recognized that and was fighting for it.

#UsToo calls for more responsibility from all of us.

The ending of the film is rather bleak. Cassie plays femme fatale and dies in the grand finale where she faces Nina’s assailant. She is fully aware that she might die at his hands, and she does. When confronted by Cassie, he is more willing to smother and kill her than to admit to the truth of what happened in that dorm room many years ago. His unwillingness to take responsibility for his actions reflects a society that never held him accountable. In fact, he almost gets away with Cassie’s murder, and if he had, his original victim Nina would have ended up as a footnote, an unfortunate casualty in the event started this whole story.

In the post #MeToo era, we’re still trying to find the right ways to make amends for past and ongoing missteps around consent and abuses of power. This moment is less about finger pointing at others and much more about introspection: How are we contributing to a culture that often sets up (especially young) men and women to hurt and get hurt? How do we create enough space for those who may have done wrong — intentionally and particularly unconsciously — to apologize and make amends? The backlash against Justin Timberlake’s public apology to the recent documentary Framing Britney Spears comes to mind, where he apologized for his role in benefitting from Britney’s fall from pop stardom after their breakup. Is his apology too late? Is it sufficient? I don’t know. However, I do know I’d rather encourage more of us to take ownership in how we’ve benefitted from unconscious biases at the expense of others; not to make us feel bad about ourselves but to make us aware of these implicit power dynamics. This feels particularly important for those of us who do have power and agency to go against the status quo and support those who may not be able to.

Promising Young Woman doesn’t offer catharsis, not in the traditional revenge thriller sense. Empowerment doesn’t come from Cassie’s gotcha moments with “nice guys.” Instead, the film’s punch comes from realizing that we may recognize a little bit of ourselves in each of the characters — the angry victim, the concerned family member, the chagrined bystander of abuse, the defensive perpetrator. It’s #UsToo, a mirror to represent society as it is. We may not like what we see, but the good part is that it means we can change it.

Kimi no Na wa, a visual dream that could use a splash more history

With how much I adore Hayao Miyazaki films (Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle being my picks), I’m shocked it took me this long to hear about and get around to Makoto Shinkai’s film Kimi no Na wa (aka “Your Name”). Special thanks to Kevin for introducing it to me and asking me to jot down these first impressions.

REVIEW] 'Your Name' (Kimi no Na wa) | Rotoscopers

The film is about a country girl Mitsuha and city boy Taki who swap bodies and live out the other’s life in their dreams. There is a subplot on time travel that culminates around a rare comet passing overhead, which itself is a rich, technicolor piece de resistance to a stunning visual experience. I won’t spoil the ending, but I’ll say the the film’s magic is best experienced firsthand. I wish I had had the chance to see this in theaters on a big screen.

Beyond the visual splendor of the film, the plot revolves around a young love story. It’s written as a romance exploring the idea of a “soulmate,” but I believe the protagonists’ development could have been equally fulfilling left as a coming-of-age self-discovery story. For example, from the onset of the film, we get flashes of Mitsuha’s listless and lonely life; she feels unseen. With a father who neglects her, a sister who is too young to be her listener, and friends who have blindly accepted their small town lives, Mitsuha feels trapped and bored in her countryside life. It’s no wonder she grows frustrated and one day yells into the void wishing she could be a “handsome Tokyo boy in her next life.” Careful what you wish for.

Mitsuha’s wish to experience life as a “handsome Tokyo boy” feels like a nod to two tensions: one of tradition versus modernity and the other of different freedom of the sexes. Japan is a country steeped in tradition, so it’s no surprise that Mitsuha holds the perception that she could only lead an interesting, free life as a boy in a big, bustling city. Her life kept pulling her to an olden world while Taki’s Tokyo life reflected the future.

I wish Shinkai had spent more time exploring this cultural tension, especially from Taki’s side too. There is a tremendous amount of backstory on Mitsuha, especially about her family (along with an explanation for why she might be having these body-swapping dreams), but there’s very little on Taki’s history. It’s unclear why he’s having the same body swapping dreams and if he had aspirations for a simpler, pastoral life. It would have, for me, made it more believable that he could fall in love with a random country girl far away.

Shinkai uses Japanese Shinto religion, belief in the supernatural, and spirituality as a way to explore the ideas of fate and time, but if only he had another half hour in the film to dig into them. There are several scenes between Mitsuha and her grandmother, where they touch on the spiritual significance of nature and rituals, that feel under-explored. I was left hanging when her grandmother seemed to notice that Mitsuha was not herself and implied how it’s something that runs in her family, but the film doesn’t have the time or desire to expand on the family history.

Despite my wish for more depth to the characters, my favorite part of the film is hands down Shinkai’s interpretation on memory. Memories are often ephemeral and flawed but they are permanent in their emotional resonance. Neither Mitsuha nor Taki can recall the details of what happened when they switch bodies, so they start to keep a diary on their phones as recap for when each wakes to his or her original body. However, they’re able to maintain their emotional connectedness, even as time and memory start to warp so much so that they can’t recall each others’ names (hence the film’s title). While they never get to be together, the two appreciate how the other makes them feel stronger, braver, and loved. It reminds me of the quintessential Maya Angelou quote, “People will forget what you said…[or] did, but [they’ll] never forget how you made them feel.”

Kimi no Na wa is the kind of special film I need to watch 3, 4, 5+ times to appreciate all of its components. I didn’t even touch on the music — a mix of mostly Japanese upbeat pop — in this review, but that’s what I’ll be paying attention to the next time I watch.

An Antidote to Helplessness

I have three windows open, but I’d be lying if I said I could see clearly right now. Each window features so many tabs that the tightly packed icons have been rendered nearly indistinguishable. It’s a decent reflection of my frenetic brain state these last few days.

Many of our lives — mine included — were upended these last two weeks. We went from commuting to our offices to cordoning off “home offices” inside cramped apartments, and from rarely giving thought to hand washing to doing so every chance we get for fear of hurting ourselves and others around us. Those are just two of the most obvious behavioral changes we’ve had to make.

It’s a testament to our ability to adapt that so many of us found normalcy in shifting swiftly to remote work, living in lockdown, and taking self-quarantine measures. For me, however, it only heightens an awareness of the invisible lines that divide the privileged and the less so. If I’m being honest, I feel guilty and insecure. Because while I continue to work with little business continuity risk, I have a parent whose small business was forced to close, friends who have been furloughed, and family and friends left to unduly risk their lives as healthcare practitioners.

Thankfully, times of crisis have a funny way of bringing things into focus. Amidst my guilt and fear, I am also hopeful. Before us is an unprecedented opportunity to take care of each other, to prioritize our loved ones, and to give back to our communities. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the headlines and feeling small and worried that you’re not doing enough, you’re not alone. We have a long way to go before this pandemic subsides, and an even longer time before our global economy regains its footing. But instead of giving into helplessness, I’m choosing hope and the effective actions that rise from it. 

If you’re asking yourself, “How can I make a difference when so many things are broken?” start small. Even one text saying, “How’s it going? Thinking of you.” can brighten someone’s whole day in trying times. Here is a shortlist of actions I’ve taken and been inspired by as antidotes to helplessness, one tiny act of kindness at a time. If any of them move you and you are in a position of privilege, I encourage you to give (or anything similar). In moments like these, even the smallest acts of compassion will have ripple effects.


🙏 Support your community and beyond

  • My younger sister is a nurse at one of the most preeminent cancer hospitals in the U.S. Two weeks ago, her floor was designated the coronavirus floor, so for now and the foreseeable future, she is on the frontlines of coronavirus care without the requisite masks and personal protective equipment (PPE). We can do our part by (1) not hoarding them for ourselves and (2) donating to organizations like shipping and logistics startup Flexport to support the sourcing and transport of these critical supplies. Mask a Hero NY is also helping connect those who can donate mask supplies with hospital workers in need.  
  • Volunteer to serve meals to our sick, elderly, and vulnerable. In San Francisco, there are great organizations like Meals on Wheels, Project Open Hand, or any of the number of non-profits or food banks listed here, all of which need volunteers, supplies, or funds.
  • There may never be a better time to foster a shelter pet. Is this to help a precious dog or for me to get emotional support? Why not both, and I’m certainly keeping my fingers crossed to hear back from San Francisco’s SPCA and Muttville.

🤝 Find strength in solidarity

  • Throw a virtual party. Finding ways to connect is more important than ever, given social isolation and loneliness can lead to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions. South Korea popularized virtually eating together, and self quarantine shouldn’t stop you from having all sorts of virtual get togethers: happy hour, playing Catan together, or even celebrating your birthday (🎉, Lee!). For those in San Francisco and beyond, I’ll be hosting another virtual block party hosted on Icebreaker soon! Message me here if you’d like to join.
  • Practice #PhysicallyDistantSociallyClose by joining new tribes. Redditers were way ahead of us when it comes to finding hyper-connected online communities revolving around niche interests. A few places to get started:
    • Join a Book Club (built by the avid readers and builders behind Highlighter)
    • Quarantine Together (supported by the wonderful InterIntellect community)
    • Check out Instagram Live videos by your favorite Influencers. I’ve had tons of fun joining Jessica Olie for yoga practice, tuning into friends’ Live sessions featuring their personal passions like baking and tarot reading, and sending love to local SF choreographers who are making the most of this quarantine by hosting their own IG Live dance classes (In fact, now is a great opportunity to take online classes from teachers and choreographers all over the world who wouldn’t normally offer them.)

💸 Pay it forward

  • For food deliveries or groceries, tip generously. Before local stores and my laundromat closed, I purchased gift cards to use for when they re-open. You can still support local businesses by purchasing gift cards here, here, and here (last one is for SF only).
  • Those who are already the most vulnerable will be disproportionately hit by this economic lockdown. These are the individuals and families without a financial safety net, the ability to WFH, without safe homes, access to affordable health care or education, etc. While our government leaders, economists, and lawmakers debate an economic stimulus, if you’re able, a few organizations worth checking out and supporting:
    • The One Fair Wage Emergency Fund provides cash assistance to service workers.
    • Donate the money you would have spent on your daily commute or coffee habit to Cancel Corona, a collection of nonprofits supporting the communities hurt by coronavirus. 
    • My friend Lyndsey wrote up her own helpful guide on all the ways you can pay it forward (and stay sane).

💕 Take care of yourself

  • With limitations on being outside, it’s important to be intentional about getting enough movement in your day to maintain both physical strength and mental acuity. Tons of gyms have started to release online classes, but here are two of my favorite free workout resources:
    • Melissa Wood Health for short-but-tough workouts using only your own body weight. She offers a 7-day free trial and a few free flows on her YouTube.
    • HIIT workouts courtesy of former Australian Pole Vaulter Amanda Bisk will have you working up a sweat.
  • Introverts, rejoice! Want a new book to read? Here are my recommendations. Need something new to watch? Binge watch your celebrity hero on MasterClass. Need a moment of distraction-free productivity?  Try FocusMate or Focused. Been meaning to brush up on your cooking skills? Why not try a new covid-19-ready recipe or learn all 59 ways to cook an egg. Want to learn a new instrument and support out-of-work musicians? Check out MaestroMatch.

Nothing is too small, and every donation of our time, money, and mindshare counts. Thank you to the many friends who inspired me to give and to continue giving. That said, we’re only scratching the surface of what will require massive action from our local and federal governments.

In the meantime, “you are more powerful than you think.” So let me know in what ways you’re giving back, other ways I may be able to contribute or highlight other efforts big or small, and our collective efforts will help strengthen and rebuild our communities.

And since I have you: If you’re healthy, stay healthy. Call your loved ones. Wash your hands. Be kind.

💕

Special thank you to Jen, Mason, and Phillip for reading earlier drafts, and to the friends who moved me with their ways of giving back during this crisis: Roy, Lisa, Aleka, Shawn, Nitin, Paula, Noah, and many others.

 

The extra 1%

At work, I have a note that reads:

1.01^365 = 37.8 vs. 0.99^365 = 0.03

The one additional percent of effort, over the course of a year, compounds into a dramatically different result than one percent less of effort. It’s a daily reminder that a little hustle goes a long way. 

From Ingestion to Digestion: lessons from a year in books, podcasts, and dialogue

52 weeks of education from 52 books, 500+ hours of podcasts, and endless conversations

Fueled by technology, our society is obsessed with the new and next big thing. While neomania drives our ability to continually ideate/design/build/ship, it also leaves little time for introspection and reflection. I’m no exception. I have a genuine love for enrichment through education, and my brain acts as a sponge, absorbing knowledge and constantly seeking its applications. This time last year, I set out intent on ensuring that my learning did not stop simply because I was no longer in an academic setting.

Over 52 weeks, I read 52 books, listened to 500+ hours of podcasts, perused thousands of articles/blog posts, and enjoyed a myriad of interesting conversations. But ingesting information for the sake of information isn’t nearly as valuable as digesting it, drawing your own conclusions, and sharing it with others. There is tremendous value in pausing to look back on all that has been gathered to connect the dots. Dakota Shane Nunley wrote a great piece reflecting on his life learnings from this past year so I wanted to write some of my own takeaways in hopes of paying tribute to my contemporary mentors.

From doctors and economists to venture capitalists and everyone in between, a new generation of thinkers and creators are leading the charge to change the world. The following 5 points were key lessons they expressed or demonstrated time and time again that we can apply to better our own lives.

1. Set positive constraints

“Decisions lead to options, options to choices, choices to freedom.” — MK Asante

It seems counter-intuitive. Constraints usually hold negative connotations, but positive ones can help keep our harried lives in check. Once we identify our priorities, we can set rules around them, which in turn can be incredibly liberating.

For many successful individuals, waking up at or before 5am was the norm. This gave them ample opportunity to read, meditate, spend a few hours devoted to their most important morning rituals. For others, I often saw a recurring commitment to spend time with loved ones sans tech. Emails were only to be checked at certain times of day and time off meant time unplugged.

These micro decisions did not come at the expense of convenience. Instead, they behaved as guidelines to optimize happiness.

2. The path to success is rarely linear

Very few people interviewed or written about knew exactly what they wanted to do/be when they grew older. Some had a semblance of the industry they wanted to be in or some functional role they wanted to occupy, but the most impressive, knowledgeable leaders revealed a non-linear career progression.

By being unafraid to replace what they do with what they aspired to do, they opened doors to meeting people and being exposed to new industries. This provided unique opportunities to grow and be challenged while others around them provided support and resources.

“When you say what you want, you give others the opportunity to help you make your dreams come true.” — Bruce Kasanoff

Look at the diverse careers of John Maeda, Andrew Chen, and Karlie Kloss. Heck, look at the Rock (ahem, that’s Dwayne The Rock Johnson). They are proof that success is not just one upward vertical climb.

3. Be obsessed

Look at this awesome iceberg image. That is why every single accomplished person is obsessed with whatever it is they do.


Success is bright and shiny and easily celebrated. What is rarely highlighted is the grueling work it takes to get there.

To get better at something, it takes commitment and diligence. Atul Gawande said that “[betterment] does not take genius…it takes a willingness to try.” No one writes about what lies beneath the tip of the success iceberg because more often than not, diligence is mundane. So find something to be obsessed with to make the hundred thousand steps to betterment worthwhile.

4. The devil is in the details

The importance of user experience was stressed above all else this year. Especially when it came to technology and digital content, the maturation of the web meant that design remained as a key product differentiator.

It’s easy to write off great design because good design solutions feel obvious. Facebook designer Julie Zhou and sushi chef Jiro Ono both understood that mastering the art of simplicity entailed a deep understanding of complexity’s depth and being able to strip away the non-essentials. This process calls for a venerable number of iterations, a painstaking attention to detail, and a holistic understanding of the essence of a product.

Without such meticulous behavior, we would have been stuck with functional products that never graduated to become the usable and beautiful products we know and love today.

5. Ask honestly and listen earnestly

Every single writer, CEO, designer, founder, contributor repeated this mantra in one way or another. If I could recommend one book from the dozens I read this year, it would hands down be Americanah by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In it, she has a quote that encapsulates this last point that I won’t even try to paraphrase:

“ If you don’t understand, ask questions. If you’re uncomfortable about asking questions, say you are uncomfortable about asking questions and then ask anyway. It’s easy to tell when a question is coming from a good place. Then listen some more. Sometimes people just want to feel heard. Here’s to possibilities of friendship and connection and understanding.”

Ask honestly and listen earnestly. Doing so can only spread a little more empathy to the world.

Consolidating a full year’s worth of knowledge into five points almost does a disservice to the collective wisdom of all the information out there. It’s been humbling to have access to so much, only to realize that what I have learned only scratches the surface of many of these subjects.

But I’m also excited. We can learn via almost any medium today and as more and more people around the world gain access to the web, anyone with internet connection can access this knowledge. We can learn more, faster, better than ever before so long as we are humble enough to admit what we don’t know. All of these lessons remain tried and true, and as we head into another year, I can only hope to continue learning and adding to this list.

For anyone who is curious, you can find my 2015 reads here, and I always welcome book/podcast/article suggestions via my twitter @minney_cat.

Special thanks: 
The quantity and quality of information I ingested this year would have been impossible without the help of some of my new favourite apps. Even within the veritable mountain of quality content out there, Overcast, Pocket, Medium, This.cm, and Airtable were instrumental in gathering, recommending, organizing, and consolidating the very best to help me on this educational journey.

 

Introducing: In What World, a podcast

Conversations on how tech is changing society

Originally posted to our Medium Publication ‘In What World

A few weeks ago, my co-host Patrick and I launched the pilot episode of our podcast, In What World. In it, Patrick and I talk about some of today’s shifting technologies and how they are redefining our understanding of social, economic relations. And as we release more episodes, we wanted to share some words on how and why In What World came to be.

…..

Patrick and I are part of a unique generation that’s experienced one hell of a technological revolution. We remember what it was like to watch movies on VHS, learn to type on some of the first web pages on The World Wide Web, and stay in touch with our friends via AIM. Two decades later, we’re living in an even more sophisticated society that boasts online social networks connecting millions (sometimes billions) of users, mobile devices rivaling the computing power of desktops, and an increasingly online world.

These advancements have made the seemingly impossible possible and ushered in a new era of amazing products, services, and companies. With the transition into a consumerism driven culture, we in the developed world experience nearly instantaneous communication, access to troves of data, and convenience like never before. And admittedly, we’ve largely benefited from a host of these novelties.

Patrick and I met via an app — the kind of tech whose existence is evidence of the shifting ways in which people interact. We met to make new friends in a new city but remained connected for our shared love for conversation. We spent a lot of time talking about how ordinary lives are being shaped by extraordinary changes and asked each other challenging questions on what that might mean for our future. These concerns don’t have black and white implications, and we’re not exactly sure how the future will shape out. However, we are sure of this:

technology is changing how we interact with the world, and we need to talk about
how it’s doing so.

The tech industry holds fast to its belief in “build now, mend later.” And while the lean, iterative process of creation enables enormous creativity and risk-taking, it leaves little room for reflection. So after months of dialogue, we decided to create this podcast to share our thoughts with you.

In What World is our place to discuss how recent innovations are impacting lives. We believe that thoughtful conversations can help us become better informed individuals, and we hope you’ll enjoy what we make. Along the way, we’ll continue to share our process of creating this podcast and what we are learning from it as well.

And we want you to be a part of our conversations. So Tweet at us, write to us, and let us know what’s on your mind in the world of tech in society. We’ll continue to need your honest feedback on what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s missing to deliver a meaningful audial experience.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned.

A Decision that Betrays SXSW’s History

The original edition of this post can be found at my Medium page, @minnkim

To be clear, I am not a gamer. I’m not plugged into the video game community. However, I feel strongly about the influence prominent and established organizations can have on the promotion of open discourse. SXSW Interactive had an opportunity to set a positive example, and their recent cancellation of two gaming culture panels following online threats is not only disheartening but unfaithful to SXSW’s overarching mission to be “a marketplace of diverse people and diverse ideas.”


Last week, the tech-focused SXSW Interactive festival announced it would host two panels on the topic of video game culture. “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community” and “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” were intended to shed light on sexist tensions within the gaming community and the toxic world of online harassment. Although not directly associated with the Gamergate controversy, these panels would serve as opportunities for critical discussion on online etiquette and the exclusion of minorities in the gaming world.

Following the announcement, SXSW was barraged by threats of violence which ultimately led to their decision to cancel the two panels. Cancellation letters to panelists cited security concerns while reminding attendees that SXSW prides itself in its commitment to diversity.

The cancellations have incited additional backlash, and Buzzfeed has even threatened to withdraw their attendance unless the conference reconsiders and finds a way to ensure appropriate safety precautions be made by the time of the conference in March.
Since 1994, SXSW Interactive has welcomed growing numbers of independent thinkers, builders, and leaders to share their visions for our future.

By cancelling panels on diversity in gaming, SXSW is doing a disservice to its history and mission.

In 2015, SXSWi hosted nearly 34,000 festival participants from 85 foreign countries with 2,700 speakers and 3,389 media in attendance. While SXSWi’s attendee list has grown over the years to include some of the biggest names in tech, it’s also maintained its core desire to bring together a variety of people to discuss and generate ideas. The conversations borne out of this event influence millions of readers via print, online,and broadcast coverage.

Given that sexism in the tech space has been a hot topic the last few years, SXSW’s cancellation suggests that discussing challenges in the gaming industry are not worth the trouble of ensuring a civil environment for constructive conversation. Although diversity challenges exist in any male-dominated industry, digital harassment in this Internet-everything era is of particular concern and not giving voice to the issue propagates undue influence to online bullies.

Diversity is always a prickly issue; it is multi-faceted, messy, and contentious. But as an organization devoted to discourse with its breadth of influence, SXSW had opportunity to stand firm in its belief and encourage the kind of open dialogue that leads to new ideas that drive us forward. At the very least, it could have enlightened many to the darker sides of the Internet so that we as a community could talk about how to make it a better, safer, and more accessible place for all. By refusing to seize this opportunity for enormous positive interaction and information exchange, SXSW has comprised its core tenets and demonstrated a glaring ignorance to the needs of its community.

Uncovering the Dots

This was originally posted on my Medium page. While I’m quite loyal to WordPress, I’m testing out several different publishing platforms for a better understanding of each one’s pros and cons (particularly with respect to user experience and engagement). Apologies in advance for anyone who has already read this.

It’s impossible to connect the dots if they have yet to be discovered.

I’ve never been one for Netflix, but over the last few months, I’ve applied the art of binging to podcast listening. There are a plethora of great ones in the audial ether, but a recent episode of Exponent hit home with respect to Ben and James’s notion that maintaining optionality upfront allows the discovery of focus down the road. The reason? While having general direction can be a guiding force, becoming too prematurely focused on an exact plan can blind you from recognizing opportunity when it arises.

Like Ben, I spent the early months of my undergraduate career trying to meticulously plan every class and schedule for the next four years. I took the necessary courses to earn my degree in Cognitive Psychology and Math-Econ, but in the process, I took a slew of courses with no obvious reason that ended up being some of the most impactful. These were often unrelated to my majors and didn’t fulfill any prereqs, but I took them because I wanted exposure to interesting topics and people. In doing so, I experienced incredible discourse in classes like Christian Environmental Ethics, Politics of Whiteness, and James Joyce Literature that directly contributed to a formative and enriching education.

By forgoing micromanagement and focusing on taking engaging, intellectually stimulating courses, I explored new disciplines that allowed me to discover new interests. Takeaways on intersectionality in my political science classes became applicable to perspectives on economic behavior or on human factors. I learned what did and didn’t inspire me largely by stumbling upon a wide array of these topics, and it ultimately helped me make connections that previously were not readily evident.

My early career trajectory reflects the same exploratory strategy, and I’ve prioritized taking on roles that continue to expose me to great teams and new skills that may yield emergent growth opportunities. And over the years, I’ve begun to narrow the aperture. In particular, a recent deep dive into User Experience Design crystallized the niche I had been seeking but couldn’t define. My sales stint at a major retailer and my current role in financial technology had taught me the importance of having functional, usable, and beautiful products, but UX principles taught me how to apply those product attributes around solving user problems.

I’m not sure if I would have come across the concepts of UX Design/Product Thinking had I not been persistent about learning and pursuing my random interests. In which case, I wouldn’t have been able to put a name to what I now feel confident immersing myself into. There is still so much more to learn, but with healthy doses of gumption and curiosity by my side, I can’t wait.

Such Fine Lines