How to actually accomplish some goals this year

I came across this video a few weeks ago, scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed while I was in the subway. The first half made me laugh out loud but also pressured to set my own goals for 2017 – then I lost signal and the video abruptly stopped playing.

Then, a few weeks later, someone else shared this video on Facebook, and I watched it for the first time to the very end. That was when everything changed.

Oh my god?! I thought to myself. IT TRICKED ME! As it turns out, the video wasn’t motivating me to set and accomplish my goals! In fact it was advocating for the complete opposite!

So I mean, we all kind of admit that if not done in a certain way, “setting goals” is a complete bullshit exercise. Remember when we were taught to set SMART goals in school? Let me just tell you, I was actually the one kid in class who paid attention, and even for me it didn’t work.

But at the same time, we can’t NOT set goals. We have to do it at work, we feel the need to do it for personal finances, and we spend more than half a year trying to work on our “summer bodies”. You can call it “goal setting” or something else, but the bottom line is, if we don’t consciously think about what we want to accomplish, then there is zero chance that we’ll just somehow miraculously get there.

Neuroscience and psychology have actually taught us a lot about goal-setting, and what makes it work. Without going into the technicalities, I’ve highlighted some major points for you to apply to your goals.

1. Your goals might not be what you think they are 

When I start any six-month coaching engagement, I spend at least 2 of the 12 sessions setting goals with my coachees, and then at the beginning of every subsequent session, check in on how they feel about their goals. Setting goals is so important – the exact goal you set has a lot to do with how success you will be at achieving it. 

There are two rules, quite simple ones, that you need to keep in mind when setting your goals:

1. It has to be sticky

I recommend your goal to be 7 words or less, and please, no more than 3 goals total. Practice saying it out loud. Are you having trouble? Then you won’t remember it, let alone act on it. Our brains are already burdened by so much stuff on a daily basis; add a long-term goal you have to keep thinking about day-in, day-out, it’s so tiresome! No wonder you set goals and then almost immediately don’t want to think about them again.

2  It has to make you feel good

Don’t use words like “Stop”, “lose”, or “avoid”. Anything you think about, your brain pays attention to, so if your goal is “Don’t eat food after 9pm at night”, it triggers your brain to immediately think about eating food at 9pm at night. If your goal is “Quit smoking by year end”, every time you think about it, it triggers your brain to think “I want a cigarette”. This creates a kind of psychological incongruence, and all this negative messaging puts your brain into threat mode – and it is hard to pursue your own goal that also puts your brain in threat mode. Instead, make goals that you aspire to, that would make you want to jump out of bed every morning full of energy and optimism. Instead of “Don’t eat food after 9pm at night”, make it “I want to feel sexy in my bikini this July.” Instead of “Quit smoking year end”, make it “I want to feel healthy like I can live to 100.” Better yet, visualize it. Think about walking down that beach in your bikini having guys hitting on you. Like, damn girl.

[A caveat to point #2: This works best if in the context of the goal, you’re “approach motivated”, meaning you’re motivated by things you can potentially gain. In certain situations, our goals may work better if we are “avoidance-motivated” – for example, I don’t want to fail the semester, I don’t want to have cavities from not flossing, I don’t want to die of lung cancer. From my personal perspective, being “approach-motivated” tends to work better in the long-run, because your actions are easier to sustain.]

2. Success is in the details 

When people don’t achieve their goals, one of five things likely happened:

  1. Didn’t want it enough
  2. Was not clear how to do it
  3. Was unsure about the value of it – why do it?
  4. Deliberately re-prioritized and chose not to
  5. Simply got side-tracked

The most common reason? Not clear how to do it. 

So your goal needs to be specific. Usually we say, the goal itself must be broad, motivational, and sticky – and it aligns more with your overall purpose (the “why”). Then comes the next level down of your thinking – the “how”. How are you going to achieve it? What specific milestones will you set for yourself? How will you measure your success at each milestone? What actions would you need to do to go from one milestone to the next?

This is really where the “rubber meets the road”. Most people will just set goals, and think this is enough – shocking that it isn’t. The aspirational part is always great – you get to sit there and daydream about how amazing your life can be. Then comes the hard work, and if you don’t consciously plan for what actions you’ll need to take, you’re stuck at the daydreaming part. Sorry.

There is a tool that can get you over the hurdle of inaction. It’s called “implementation intention” – alternatively called the “If/then plan“. Multiple studies have cited that those who use implementation intention in a controlled setting typically DOUBLE their success rate of goal-achievement. To apply it, think of most likely scenarios that would prevent or distract you from taking action towards your goal. For each scenario, write down, “IF [xyz situation occurs], then I will do [abc].”

For example,

  • Goal: Be fit like a Victoria’s Secret model
  • Implementation Intention: If I feel the urge to snack on unhealthy food at night, then I eat an apple instead.

3. Automate 

Neuroscience tells us that neurons that fire together wire together (Hebbian theory). What this means is, while it’s hard to stop existing habits, it’s much, much easier to create new ones (and then the old ones that you don’t use anymore just die naturally). For any one of us, learning a new behavior (think on when you first learned to drive or ride a bike) is uncomfortable at first and requires conscious effort. But over time, you would have mastered it when you notice it coming naturally to you (requires no awareness, feels effortless).

To achieve a goal, habits must have formed in the process (i.e. automatic behaviors). This is necessarily going to be uncomfortable at first, painful even. But you need to trust the process, and trust your brain that over time, your unwanted habit will be pruned out, and you will be left with a new way of doing things that works better for you.

In the short-run, the biggest thing you can do for yourself to keep trying, is to dish out little rewards every time you’ve successfully fought the urge to ditch your new habit. These rewards can be material (e.g. a piece of candy), or social (e.g. let a few of your friends know your goal is to get more fit, and when you’ve worked out three times this week, get together with them for brunch to celebrate).


So there you go! 3 big ideas for starting on the right foot for 2017. What will your goals be? How will you achieve them? What will you do once you’ve achieved them? How will you reward yourself?

XOXO,

V

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When you have to deal with it/you

screen-shot-2015-11-27-at-11-37-21I realize I have not posted in here for a LONG ASS TIME. That is because, my friends, when we are stressed out beyond a certain point, we cease to have the capability to generate any kind of useful insight about ourselves and about life.

Anyway, that’s all about to change.

This morning I got this critical email from my boss and somehow ended up hysterically in tears calling her on the phone.

Honestly this has never happened at my job before – neither calls of this nature and the issues I had experienced. It’s like I’m so used to being the “only child” on my job as well, and now all of a sudden I have to work with siblings.

My boss is a professional coach on top of everything else she does, and basically our talk made me realize several things that may apply to you as well:

1. When things are not going my way, I tend to shift away from the solution and the vision of the WHY – why I’m here, why I’m putting myself through this, why I’m doing it. Instead I focus on the problem, the drama and the details. I sink into them and retreat into my inner self and surround myself with preexisting self-doubts that were cultivated throughout my childhood. Because of this I realized how much stronger, if you let it, this job can make you as a person. To thrive here you’ll need to be able to “deflect” others negative feedback about you and focus on what is important at hand, focus on your OWN purpose and what great means for you. Deal with unyielding uncertainty and crazy schedules ALL the time, and somehow still stay sane. Managing all this and being successful means both managing the PROCESS at work, but also yourself – your emotions, staying in touch with your “hot spots” and recognizing when something is triggered to calm it down.

2. I focus too much on trying to be perfect and please others all the time for self-validation, to the point that every kind of threat added together – uncertainty, lack of tangible status, etc – can drive me mad with feelings of self-inadequacy. But as she told me today, “Honey, but that’s all you.” And suddenly it made sense to me. It IS all me. It’s all in my head, it’s all about my self-perception of who I am, what I think I am capable of, and what I think I’m bad at but cannot change. When we talk about growth mindset, we talk about exactly this – that weaknesses are temporary as long as you can accept them as temporary, that there is no such thing as the ultimate perfection, just continued progress. If you see things as “works in progress”, if you see yourself as a “work in progress” ALL the time, then your goal wouldn’t be to try to be perfect all the time, but instead constantly growing to be better. This is the cornerstone of design thinking, the cornerstone of habit change, the cornerstone of creativity.

3. Your relationship with your boss is, well, a relationship. You need to cherish each other, honor the imperfections, and communicate through the hard times. A successful relationship isn’t about two people who are “perfect” coming to be “perfect” together; it’s about two imperfect people coming together to do something amazing (the “something amazing” being the shared vision that buoys you above the hard times). When things get hard, when you find yourself wanting to blame, wanting to change, wanting to leave, you need to proactively recognize these as times to reach out to her and share your vulnerability. Because in the end that is what feedback is – it’s not a place for you to point out to someone else your ill-conceived and biased perception of WHO THEY ARE (e.g. you’re a messy person), but rather how their actions make you feel (e.g. “when you make a mess you make me feel like my work in this household are not valued and that I don’t have a place here”). Collaboration and feedback are not about your view of someone else – it’s about your ability to truly connect with them and share a fundamental human emotion (and thereby, understanding).

That is all. We are never talented enough to see the future as clearly as we wish to, but we can see ourselves clearly if we bother to try – and sometimes that just makes all the difference.

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THE “YOUR JOB SUCKS” SERIES POST #2 – DON’T JOIN A STARTUP

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So you’re young, you want a fun job where you can make a difference in the world, and the buttoned-up corporate culture just doesn’t really appeal to you.

So you’re like, “Omg what about a startup?”

So you talk to some of your friends and they’re like, “Yeah man, it’s super chill. We don’t have assigned desks anymore. We have a pingpong table and free beer, and a shelf stocked with healthy snack bars. These guys at work are like my buddies, and we go out together after work and stuff. We’re work-hard-play-hard, you know? I am doing something I really believe in.”

And thus you’re convinced. Startups are the way to go! You start doing your research on CrunchBase and AngelList and start applying for jobs that give you 0.1% equity.

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So I’ve been there, too. In transitioning out of consulting (which I did), a lot of people join startups (which I also did). Back when I was researching my next job, I pored over all sorts of job descriptions, and had countless phone and in-person interviews. How I ended up at where I am today was part trial-and-error and part luck (…er…fate?). Regardless, I don’t want to see you do anything regrettable, so here is the real deal.

MYTH #1: Startups are not as political as large, established companies.

So you don’t want to work in a place where every step you take, you’re afraid you might step on someone’s toes.  You want freedom to act and do your own thing, I get it. But startups can be equally political. It has less to do with an organization being too complex and “matrixed” – rather it tends to be the opposite. A young, fast-growing company very likely does not have well-established organizational processes yet (let alone a strong culture, which, in the humble opinion of the guys from 37signals, simply comes from consistent behavior over time). As a result, roles and responsibilities are often murky. You may find yourself mired in uncertainty about your day-to-day tasks, and the people around you overprotective of their work. There might be cliques forming as the company grows and hires people in waves. After all, were you one of the founding family members that pulled the company out of its fledgling days? No, you were not. So what do you know about how to run this company? Go back to your corner.

MYTH #2: Startups are more chill.

Just to be clear, the presence of alcohol and pingpong doesn’t necessarily mean you will have time for these things when you’re at work. When a company doesn’t yet have mature organizational processes, this leads to a ton of inefficiency. Chaos. This may mean suddenly being dumped on a project as you’re about to take off Friday night. This may mean working on a project for months only to be told that the company has decided to change direction so it’s no longer relevant. This may mean you’re suddenly asked to do something and you have no idea how. In a typical startup, these situations are unavoidable, so the best thing to do is to set accurate expectations for yourself in terms of what you have signed up for.

MYTH #3: Startups need all hands on deck, so I’ll have opportunity try my hands at multiple things and really find my niche. 

When you first start off in your career, this might indeed be a good thing. We are young, we learn fast, so why lock ourselves up in a narrow, specialized area and limit our options straight up? However, the thing to be careful of, is that if you’re constantly doing a bit of this here, a bit of this there, you’re not really building your skill set over time. In corporate speak, you’re not being developed in a structured way. So even if a few years from now, you end up wanting to become an expert in a certain area, you might find yourself ill-equipped to do so. Perhaps even more importantly, you might actually struggle to tell a coherent story to future interviewers about your career path so far. Talent management, a core HR process, is often not the strength of many startups, simply because they don’t yet have the resources to focus on this explicitly. If you’re aware of this though, you can try to proactively develop yourself in a certain direction. The challenge is, if you’re straight out of school and have not worked in a super buttoned-up, corporate environment, it would be hard to learn about the best practices in your area of work. You wouldn’t know when you’re doing something that is not wrong, let alone where it lies relative to the industry gold standard.

MYTH #4: The most important thing that motivates me to work is that I believe in the company’s purpose.

To some degree, yes. But let’s face it, a lot of other stuff matter, too – like how much you’re paid, how much control you have over your work-life balance, how often you are promoted, and so on and so forth. The human brain is a social brain, which means that when it’s not actively trying to solve problems, it defaults to processing information about social interactions. In that sense, anything that creates social threat for your brain can set you off and demotivate you; on the other hand, anything that makes you feel that warm fuzzy feeling from your work-related interactions can increase your motivation. Dr. David Rock has identified 5 core factors that influence your social brain the most, in an acronym called “SCARF” (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness). You can read more about it here.

 

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So where does this leave us? The moral of the story is, take a calculated risk in your next career endeavor. This doesn’t mean you should never join a startup – it just means before you do, you need to be educated and prepared. This involves:

  1. Really understanding the company’s business model and strategy – will it stand the test of time and competition?
  2. Really understanding the organization – will you like the good parts enough that when shit hits the fan, you won’t have existential thoughts?
  3. Really understanding what your role will be (and how it might change) – do you have a clear understanding of how your current role fits into a bigger, longer-term career plan, so you can maximize your experience here?

In the next post, we will be discussing what are the key things – about the business, the organization, and the role- you should be looking out for as you interview, so you’d know a good startup job when you see one. 

Remember, finding a good job anywhere is like dating – being able to articulate very specifically what you are looking for is like, 90% of the success.

XOXO,

V

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How to commit without feeling like you’ve “settled”

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Every romantic interaction eventually progresses to a point when you start to wonder if, for lack of better terms, “this is it”.

For some, this point comes at fairly predictable milestones in a committed relationship. Namely, at approximately 3 months in, 6 months in, 9 months in, and so on (If this is a surprise to you, think back on all your relationships when things first started to sour. Maybe Google “six month relationship” and read what you find. You’ll see what I mean). 

For others, like a heavy percentage of the millennial population living in New York City, it comes much faster. Namely, after a few witty message exchanges on some online dating site, or after a few ill-fated dates orchestrated by these dating sites. The outcome though is always the same: they just vanish – or do they? Bitterly, when you once more log back in, your phone clued to your hand and your mouth dry from your latest bottle of Pinot Noir, suddenly you see them, their stupid profiles, staring at you as if mocking you, with a green dot next to their names still. “Online now” it says, which might as well as say “Still on the prowl”. Sad and confused like someone who’s just miscarried a child, you have no choice but to block them. “All good guys finish last,” you tell yourself unconvincingly as you start swigging from your bottle and perhaps cry a little and eat some Doritos. 

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1. What are you really committing to? 

When I think about the word “commitment” in the context of romantic relationships, I always find it odd that so often we use it as a stand-alone word, with an implied understanding that what we are committing to is actually another person. 

The issue of committing to a person is that everyone changes, so the person you find yourself committing to may no longer be the same person some time down the road. Even you will change. And relative to this sense of impermanence, commitment feels and sounds kind of futile. It gets even more difficult when you realize that commitment also implies trust in the unknown. But how are you supposed to commit to someone before you even get to know them better? Before you can wholly trust them with your deeper self and all of your dark secrets and vice versa?

What I’ve found to successfully navigate two people from casual dating to a serious, monogamous relationship, is not necessarily this lofty goal of committing to each other, but rather, committing to a common goal. In organizational psychology, when we talk about successful teams of strangers that have assembled ad hoc for a competitive game, for example, what makes a winning team isn’t their commitment to each other (these strangers) but to a shared goal of being Number One.

In dating, romantic pairing results in a team, too. So you have to ask yourself, does the dude know what he wants? Does he want what you want? Be it a marriage, kids, life in the suburbs, or a lifetime of childless artistic sojourning all over the world? Do you even know what you want, in order to identify if it is in line with what he wants? 

2. When you don’t know what you want, you have fear of missing out (FOMO)

In the past few months, I found myself questioning everything I had done in my 20’s. It was at this time in my still-tender relationship that I realized my boyfriend knew exactly what he wanted, but I didn’t. It was more terrifying than it was frustrating, because when you don’t know what you want from one aspect of your life (e.g. relationship), it is often a sign that you also don’t know what you want from another aspect (e.g. career). You just don’t think you’re ready to close any doors yet. This sense of angst and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is particularly common to people in their 20’s, as we are all going through a spiral path of self-discovery. We make some progress, question some things, go through some struggles to emerge stronger, keep going for a while, only to question more things and go through more struggles. Some people may call this the Quarter-Life Crisis. I think it is just growing wiser.

Through this cycle of falling and getting back up again, we become more self-aware. It is only when you possess a deep understanding of yourself that you can be discerning about the few things you want to have, as opposed to constantly pining over all that you don’t have. Does it really have to be a man with the pocket square? Does he really need to have a Masters degree or above? Does he really need to be over 5’11”? Does he really need to work in private equity and be Japanese?

Curious enough, a lot of times we fail to recognize that we have dated men with these qualities on our lists before – and it didn’t work out. Again and again and again. Why? Because a pocket square isn’t going to comfort you when you’re sad. Because a higher education doesn’t guarantee he’ll even be home for you when you’re sick. Because being over 5’11” doesn’t guarantee he’ll want to be with you forever. Because working in PE and being Japanese doesn’t guarantee…well, you get the idea.

3. When you know what you want, you also realize how rare it is to actually find what you want

Have you ever heard women say something like, “I feel like I totally lucked out – every day when I’m with him I feel like I have this big wonderful secret that other women don’t know about and somehow I found him!”

For me, I don’t really believe in soul mates, but I do believe in this “secret” thing. It’s like shopping, ladies. When you aren’t looking for anything in particular, good stuff seems to be everywhere. This skirt is so pretty, that top is so cute. But when you’re on a serious mission to find that one cropped top that doesn’t show too much of your belly, is black, has a round collar, and is some percentage of spandex, you often end up feeling like shopping is trying to kill you. And when you finally find that thing, you’re ecstatic! What are the chances you found it?! And it’s in your size? Like oh my god?

To continue that analogy further, how many other people are fervently looking for this one item the same time that you are? Probably not too many at all. So it becomes your thing. Your big secret. And when you finally find it, voila, you’ve lucked out.

I believe that when you start to appreciate someone for who he is – versus what he can give you or what he appears to be on the outside – you’ll see things others don’t see. You’ll know that whatever it is between the two of you, it’s unique, it’s precious, and it’s irreplaceable.

Sure, you’ve “settled” – but for something awesome.

XOXO,

V.

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How to NOT feel like a failure: an exercise in perspectives

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Texture shots of ice cream things. #perspective

So we are all like, really hard on ourselves. But honestly, if anyone else told us that, we’d probably be like, “Uh, no, it really is that bad.” That’s because we’re really hard on ourselves.

Comparing. Benchmarking. Scrolling through Facebook. Whatever you call it, it is pretty self-defeating. Sometimes the rest of the world seems to be doing better than you – poor you, whose job sucks, whose rent is too high, who’s still single (goddamnit, dating in 2016 is hard), who can’t afford groceries.

I’m convinced- and only because I’ve lived this since I was like, four, when my mom began comparing my relative lack of genius to actual geniuses in my Chinese calligraphy class, math Olympics class, piano class, dance class, and so on- that though the world is large and filled with tales of human spirit overcoming adversity, we don’t tend to internalize those tales easily. Instead, we get tunnel vision. We look solely to those select few who seem to demonstrate competence in areas that are often voids within ourselves, and somehow believe they are a fair representation of the rest of the world and thus a fair comparison. A fragile ego is a part of the human condition.

So next time you get jealous of someone, ask yourself why. Like, what the heck, how did Jenny get into Harvard Law School? Is it possibly because it reminds you of your own law school rejections, so it hit a sore spot internally? Does it make you feel like you were a slacker? That you didn’t do A, B, and C but you should have, and ohhh, that regret? Or perhaps it makes you feel like you’re much less privileged and will never be like Jenny? Never forget: we are too hard on ourselves.

The world is so big. Get out of your own head sometimes, and talk to people. Hear their stories. You often think you know someone, but you really don’t, at least not until you’ve heard stories of their epic struggles. It may be hard to believe, but we all have them. 

Below is my nonexhaustive list of conclusions from such conversations.

An exercise in perspectives

  1. People who didn’t go to prestigious schools often think the school factor will affect their opportunities in life. People who did go to prestigious schools often feel they’re not good enough compared to their peers. Some people who never graduated from college at all end up kicking ass.
  2. People who don’t think they have prestigious jobs tend to think people who do are “set for life”. People who have these so-called prestigious jobs are constantly thinking of ways to get out of them without losing much dignity. People who have had prestigious jobs and then quit and subsequently suffered some form of loss can probably tell you the whole thing is meh and you should probably go raise a family or something.
  3. People who are single often wish they’re in relationships so they’d have someone to do stuff with. People who are in relationships frequently wonder if the relationships are worth all the struggle and effort. People who train themselves to believe the relationships are worth most of the struggle and effort get married and sometimes have this burning desire to just do stuff by themselves. Everyone who is raising a family will tell you to enjoy the single life and travel while you still can, because honestly do you want to be cashing out $40K a year for private school per kid over a period of 4+ years just to see them end up studying Egyptian history?
  4. Women who are model-thin often lament about not having enough boob or butt. Women who have either boob or butt still want a small waist. Women with the boob, the butt, and the tiny waist probably want to get rid of some of those face wrinkles. It never ends. Everyone wants Michelle Obama arms but once you do you probably won’t get a gentleman to help you carry stuff.
  5. Every woman wants a man who has the looks, the personality, and the success/wealth. This is called a Unicorn. A woman can spend all her life trying to find a Unicorn only to be betrayed by the Unicorn because Unicorns are too special to really care much for anyone’s existence. If the Unicorn is still around, she’d probably not sleep much because she might need to constantly keep an eye on him. I mean, let’s face it, Unicorns are always wondering if they can get with other Unicorns, too.

Uhh, yeah. That’s really pretty much it.Check out that ice cream though.

 

XOXO,

V.

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Making Love Manageable, Part 2: How to Treat the Hurt

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The other day, I stumbled across this movie called Stuck in Love. The first sentence of the movie is the quote you see above, and it captivated me in so many ways. I thought a lot about love after that, what it really means, and I concluded one simple thing about it that probably isn’t news to you at all – love hurts.

It doesn’t make much sense at all. Isn’t love supposed to make us happy? If so, then why does it feel sometimes like love just reaches into our bodies, pulls out our heart, and stumps on it as we seemingly disintegrate into a million pieces?

When we love so much and love so hard, we necessarily give it our all. Our lives are no longer our own. We feel a total loss of control that makes us fearful of what might happen to us if that love fails. If that love fails, will we, too, fail?

On the other side, battling the fear of losing ourselves, is the fear of disappointment. Because we love the other person and care about them, we see how much we mean to them, and how terrible it would be to let them down. So we make all kinds of sacrifices, willingly. We give and give, sometimes without the other person asking for it or needing it at all. In the process of all this unnecessary giving, we become depleted and bitter.

This is why love is so hard. It’s not complicated because we don’t understand it; it’s complicated because we feel too much- our emotions confuse our thinking, so we do irrational things that snowball into more emotions, which further confuses our thinking. A complicated web we weave.

There are people who live off of this kind of emotional roller coaster. When it gets too quiet, they have to stir things up in the name of “love”. They think drama is romantic, that without it, it’s not really love. Perhaps Carrie from Sex and the City puts it best. “I’m looking for love,” she says. “Real love. Ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other love.”

I don’t know about you, but to me, this kind of “real love” sounds terrible! My life is complex enough that I don’t need my love to be ridiculous and inconvenient, let alone all-consuming. I just want to be with people who don’t have a problem with attachment, who can solve relationships problems with me in a reasonable manner without the “screaming, crying, perfect storms“. When people think of love, I think there is often a misconception that being rational cannot mean it’s love. You can argue that by being rational, you lose the “magic”. I say, you just lose the drama, which is not such a bad thing. 

Below are some tips for making love a bit more rational, and thus, a bit easier to deal with.

1. Don’t be afraid 

Not being afraid is the singular most important thing to help you learn to let go and be at peace. In yoga, it is only when you stop fearing falling over that you come to balance your body, in say, a standing bow pose.

The human mind tends to escalate the possibility of bad things happening more than the good, and if you’re invested in someone you love, this mental exercise can escalate to biblical proportions. What if it doesn’t work out? What if he’s not the right guy for you and there’s someone else out there who is? What if he cheats on you and silly you, you don’t even know it? What if he’s still in love with his ex?  What if your parents don’t approve of him? What if the sex never gets better?

As with many other things in life, worrying is premature. It’s like walking outside every day fearing a crane might tip over and fall on you. Why not just let it go, see past the cranes, appreciate what a beautiful day it is outside, buy yourself a macaroon? Enjoying all the good things today and making the most of what you have today, is really the only way you can prepare for the future. Anyway, hasn’t your past experience taught you that worrying doesn’t ever stop the inevitable? Whatever will be, will be, but unlike everyone else who would have had a miserable time getting to that point,  you enjoyed many-a-macaroons.

2. Set some boundaries

First, internal boundaries. Repeat after me: I am only responsible for my own happiness. You care for your loved ones a lot, I get it. You worry for them, I get it. But you have to trust that they can take care of themselves. Don’t make everyone’s problem your problem – life is too hard that way, even for you, a strong, confident woman who is capable of handling a whole lot. Be selfish, focus on taking care of yourself. That’ll probably be the biggest favor you can do to everyone around you.

Second, external boundaries. Women are not very good at setting external boundaries, probably because a lot of us aren’t used to asking for what we want. But you have to. Don’t worry about hurting anyone’s feelings – they’re grown-ups, they’ll be okay. Don’t worry about coming across as too demanding – you deserve only as much respect as you allow yourself to have. Don’t worry about getting “no” as an answer – once you throw it out there, you can always negotiate and meet each other in the middle. A simple “Hey, I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and I would like…” is a good way to start the conversation.

 

3. Make your own decisions

A lot of times relationships is about getting your way (or not getting your way), you know, what people call “compromise”. Whether you make your best decisions by listening to your head or your gut, it is important to know where you stand on a topic before trying to harmonize with your loved ones. Harmony is an illusion of things unsaid, unless you own your decision and stand by it through doubts raised by others. Rather than trying to appease conflicting parties, your primary goal should be to articulate what you want out of the situation. This clears the air for sound discussions, and prevent the talk from escalating into a battle of emotions and “he said/she said”.

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All of this sounds very romantic, no? Love is about romance, sure, but it’s also a lot (a loooot) of work. But if you approach it the right way, at least you won’t give it a reason to hurt as much.

And remember, you can always eat a macaroon.

Love,

V

 

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Making Love Manageable, Part 1: How to Know You’re in Love

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A few weeks ago, I found myself in a taxi in San Francisco with a good friend of mine. Rain was steadily puttering down on the window, reflecting shards of bright headlights in our traffic jam.

“Have you ever been in love?” He asked me.

This question stunned me. “I don’t know,” I said, after a long period of silence.

“Being in love” is a strange phrase. It’s so ambiguous, but so overused in our society that we don’t really pause to think about all that it could mean. On the outset, people tend to associate it with infatuation -i.e. “Have you been so deeply infatuated with someone to the point of being dysfunctional? To the point that you can’t sleep, can’t eat, can’t walk down the street without thinking that you’ve just seen him in the crowds? Do you think about him so much that every time you hear a song playing, you think it was written about him? Wake up so pumped because you might bump into him at school or work? Secretly check horoscopes and personality compatibility and social media pages like a die-hard pop star fan?”

Yes, yes, been there, done that. Never doing that again.

The thing is, what I just described is only a small part to “being in love”. It is perhaps most well-defined by Hollywood, most socially conditioned, and most romantic. Perhaps most importantly, it is glorified. When you say “I’m in love!” it induces a concoction of odd feelings, something like a mix of wonder, jealousy, melancholy and nostalgia. It is a powerful phrase, but often good for temporary self-reassurance and not much else.

What about the other more elusive and far less romanticized side of being in love? Keeping each other warm at night, doing grocery shopping and cooking in quiet synchronization, laughing together at something silly (“Ugh I just farted, again!”), laughing at the other person who’s crying at something you think is silly, and in between, all those almost completely mind-shattering, exasperating moments when you either want to hurt each other or someone else who’s messing with your relationship.

Because of my belief that being in love goes much deeper beyond the infatuation stage (which, let’s be realistic, may not end up as a healthy relationship at all!), I’ve basically stopped trying to ask myself “Do I love him?” or “Does he love me?” Like, so what?? What are you trying to prove here? Who are you trying to prove it to?

In light of it being almost Valentine’s Day, I thought I would do a different spin on love, to take a break from the self-focused, mushy, gift-giving culture that is slowly engulfing and suffocating us. Don’t worry about “being in love” for a second; pretend the question is moot. Instead, ask yourself:

1. Do you care about each other a lot? 

This is the bottom line. Are you interested in the other person’s life? Are you open to learning more about each other’s interests, even though sometimes they might seem boring or weird on the outset? Do you take time to listen to each other, and share your stories, jokes, everyday ups and downs? Do you cater to each other, let the small things go? Do you sometimes worry for each other’s safety, health, and well-being?

2. Do you care for each other willingly? 

Caring for someone is different from caring about someone. To me, caring about someone doesn’t necessitate you changing who you are as a person, whereas caring for someone else does. It calls for a shift in the boundaries that define you as a human being, in some level of self-sacrifice or at minimum, self-adjustment.

Growing up, my mom had put it best. She said, “Dating a woman is like taking care of a flower – you can like it a lot, and pluck it from the earth, smell it and keep it in your pocket and let it die, or you cherish it for what it is, and leave it in the garden, and water it and care for it. Which kind of relationship are you in?”

3. Do you respect each other?

Respect is so important. With respect comes a number of things – giving him space, understanding why she’s upset, being supportive, refraining from being overly critical, having rational discussions to sort through issues (versus crazy screaming matches to hurt each others’ egos). The list goes on.

Every time I catch up with a girlfriend of mine over brunch, we inevitably end up talking about relationships and men, and the story always follows the same trajectory: “We are in a weird place. Things were good before, right now I’m not so sure about him. He used to be XYZ, now he’s not XYZ. I don’t know.”

To which I’d ask, “Have you told him this?”

To which they’d answer, “Not really, not yet.”

Girls, before you decide to break up with the guy, please, talk to him. Recognize his role in the relationship, its importance (it is a partnership after all). Big decisions, such as breaking up, are not decisions for you to make alone, nor are they decisions for you to make for him. Sometimes, you naturally lose some respect for a guy when he stops trying to impress you, but it could just be that he’s gotten comfortable enough in a relationship to feel that he no longer needs to impress you. It doesn’t mean he’s a terrible boyfriend, let alone a terrible person. It just means you need to talk.

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In Part 2 of this blog series, I’ll be talking about how to make the irrational parts of love rational (and easier to deal with). Stay tuned!

Love,

V

 

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How to fake success when you haven’t “made it” quite yet

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Hola, and it’s been a while.

And by “a while” I mean a long, long time, because I’ve had some serious issues to deal with in the meantime, like decks, and travel, and more decks.

Around New Year, I was moping around with word constipation – my Well of Ideas had run dry, and despite having the need to write some groundbreaking “words of wisdom” for the New Year, a part of me also felt like it was too cliche So I just let the ball drop.

But ladies and gents, it’s now time for 2016’s first blog post! So I’ve been thinking a lot about this “fake it till you make it” business, and it’s like, ugh, “faking” sounds terrible to execute on. It’s like, every day you walk into the office, noting in your head that you’re wearing grown-up clothes, and wishing that one day you’d just magically blossom from an ugly duckling to a swan. There has got to be a better way.

Having given it some serious thought, and concluding from my own personal experiences of watching CEOs dance around consultants and vice versa, below is my Fake Success Recipe.

5 Ways to Fake It Till You Make It

(because that’s what we are all doing, amirite?)

1. Tell many damn good stories

Nobody cares about your accomplishments. They don’t care if you’ve helped a Fortune 500 company cut its cost by X% as a result of post-merger integration. They don’t care if you’ve been promoted three times in three years. They don’t care if you’ve supported change management through a $2M org redesign.

They don’t care when anything that comes out of your mouth sounds “sales-y”. Because they’ve heard it all before.

That combined with your youthful disposition, that glimmer in your eye from not having been around the industry for too long – it’s…cute.

Instead, just entertain us poor souls. Tell us some good stories because life tends to get boring and after all we are all human and we all hate meetings. Facts don’t stick; stories do. Stories make you memorable, make you unique, make you real.

2. Stay informed and mentally organized 

Don’t be that awkward person in the conversation when someone is like, “Wow and especially after all the sensitivity around Turing- you know what I mean?” You look around blankly and see everyone nodding, and you pull a Joey Tribbiani.

Read some news, and stay mentally organized. Don’t ingest info and regurgitate – instead, formulate your opinion with rationale to back it up. Are you just doing your job, living from hand to mouth? Or do you aspire to be something more?

When you do this, not only can you take away more from casual conversations happening around you, you can also contribute to the conversations. This achieves something very important – it casually levels you up with people higher up on the career ladder. You learn to be well-versed in their world, see things from their perspective, and be less intimidated by what they’re really about. It also helps you to gain some confidence in your disposition – that despite being junior, huh, you are pretty smart, and you do have stuff to offer. You’re not just an Excel/Powerpoint Machine!

3. Lower your voice and speak slower 

During my first performance review, I had really expected my boss to tell me that I wasn’t fluent enough in Excel modeling or something technical (we are our own worst enemies after all). Instead his biggest feedback was around my voice, which was too high and girly, and he had recommended that I do improv or join a drama school in my spare time.

“You need to build up that consultant presence,” he said to me.

When we are nervous, we have a tendency to raise our voices and speak very fast. We slur over words, fail to enunciate, and often we end up with word vomit that is too hard to clean up. Speaking is one of those important things that we were raised to neglect because they didn’t generate some tangible return (unlike, say, good grades or achieving Grade Twelve in piano), but can make or break you in your professional career.

(Note: A friend once told me, “Everything I needed to learn about speaking in a mature way, I learned from watching Mad Men.” So there’s always that option.)

4. Use simple language; avoid industry jargon 

Time has come and gone for complex, ambiguous business jargon like “value creation” and “paradigm shift”. Don’t look young but sound like a broken record. It’s a paradox that’s reminiscent of cringe comedy. People stick to these words still because sometimes, they’re afraid of simplifying, afraid of getting real. They’re afraid that if they do get real, there’s a high chance they may actually have to own up to the problem instead of dancing around it pretending to be solving it.

Like Rework (a great book by the way, highly recommend) has astutely noted, “the problem with abstraction is that they create illusions of agreement“. Do you want to be a part of that stupid illusion in which decision making goes in circles and involve larger and larger groups of people that ultimately culminates in a non-conclusion? No, you don’t, because that’s a waste of everyone’s time. Get real. If others don’t, push their boundaries, drive towards clarity – it shows insight towards a complicated situation, maturity around execution, and a ton of courage to bring up the unthinkable. And people will thank you for it.

5. Dress comfortably and be awesome

These are words of wisdom from my mom (particularly around my earlier dating phase): “If you dress comfortably, you’ll be able to focus on the situation. If you don’t dress comfortably, you’ll be mostly focused on how uncomfortable you are. And that sucks, because you’re actually a pretty neat person.”

Okay, so I added the “neat person” part.

The thing about comfortable clothes is that, they let you breathe. I know, it sounds so insignificant, but when you’re sitting in a tense situation trying to be confident, every gasp of air becomes critical to your brain’s function. Your body literally goes into fight or flight response – your blood vessels constrict, your heart pounds faster, and you shift to shallow breathing, none of which is good for optimal brain function.  The last thing you’d want is for your clothes to make you look like you’re about to collapse from lack of oxygen. One of my co-workers has this figured out – by always buying work dresses a size up from what she’d normally be wearing.

And you know, the moral of this story is, be awesome. Be your good ol’ authentic self, let your inner beauty shine, even if it has warts. Like Leonard Koren once said, “Pare down to the essence, but don’t remove the poetry.”

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And that’s all, folks. Until next time, which will be very soon, I promise.

XOXO,

V.

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How to know what love is

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For some reason, it has been a bad month for many of my friends.  A lot of people who have been in serious relationships (some engaged) for the past year or more have broken up and gone their separate ways. Maybe the weather has gotten cooler and passion dies when signs of life quiet down. Maybe days are getting shorter and that makes us feel more angst. Maybe as Thanksgiving and Christmas draw nearer and nearer, it’s soon going to be prime meeting-the-family-time and if you don’t break up now you’ll prob have to wait till after Valentine’s Day. For someone whose heart is set like cold jello, that’s helluva long time.

On one hand, it is heart wrenching to watch them suffer, but on the other hand, I always say, sooner rather than later, you know?

Love is one of those beasts we can try to tame but then as soon as we do it dies. Like faith, defining it means reducing it to merely an aspect of the whole. And as soon as we do, it becomes almost necessary to worship it like a religion, thus we often find ourselves bound and blind to possibilities outside of our normal range of imagination. As an ideal, love conjures a hypnotic concoction of loss of self, of wild dreams, of grandiosity – the society we’re raised in makes us believe that these affiliated notions of “love” constitute it entirely. We proactively look for these notions- for the fluttering of the heart, for serendipity, for stories, for The Look, for grand gestures. And when there are signs of it missing from our relationships or our pursuit of these relationships, we write off whatever is in front of us as “not meant to be”.

This is not what love is. If you are still looking for this and you believe this is love, you’ll either end up very hurt or end up hurting a lot of people. 

Typically, in my posts I offer a list of pointers  – 1, 2, 3, bold, underlined, indented. But for this particular post, there really is only one message:

Love is not really about you. 

I have been reading this book by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh recently. It is this palm-sized little thing called “How to Love“. In it, he says:

“To love is not to possess the other person or to consume all their attention and love. To love is to offer the other person joy and a balm for their suffering. This capacity is what we have to learn and cultivate.”

When we make love to be about ourselves, several things start to happen:

  • We begin to have endless criteria on our list, requirements for the person that we think we can love, without so much considering what makes us so special that they should love us back
  • We begin to expect more from our relationships, and this makes us erroneously believe that the stake for being in the relationship is now higher. We have more negative reactions to the other person, sweat the small stuff, and poison the kindness we once shared with the other person.
  • We begin to think we deserve more, and start to lose appreciation and compassion for the other person that is so key in continuously cultivating love.
  • We begin to fear losing the other person. We try to control them, “fix” them so they can be “better”, or, we might realize that they’re wrong for us but still refuse to let them go.

None of these behaviors are indications of love. You may think it is because you tell yourself you care (a lot!!), but what you really care about is you, not the other person who is on the receiving end of any love you have to give.

I know, you’re probably sitting there going, “This is stupid. Fuck you.” I don’t blame you. It is hard. Human beings are inherently selfish. I only ask that you think about this a bit more. Take some time, ponder it over. Given what happened in Paris, Beirut, and everywhere else in the world recently, love is so heavily needed in the world we live in, now more than ever.

Give, be a balm for someone else’s suffering. Be a source of light, not darkness. 

XOXO,

V.

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The “Your Job Sucks” Series Post #1 – How to Regain Control

You think you can’t.

I know you do because I’ve been there – because I still AM there from time to time.

It’s hard to ask for things – things like a raise, a promotion, a less-shitty “work-life balance” (note the quotation marks – I deeply believe that whoever invented this term was NOT American). You wait and watch for the opportune time, you build your strengths up in your head, and you sometimes make the leap and get shot down. It’s like that time when you were five and you reached for the candy jar and someone slapped your hand away. I mean, let’s face it, we don’t like to get slapped.

Here’s something you need to know about me – I’m an idealist-turned-somewhat-of-a-pragmatist. It has to do with growing up in an immigrant household, competing in a public university where urban legends of people stealing your notes in libraries was probably half true, then living in New York and trying to “make it”. I’m not the type to blatantly ask you to jump into a body of water if you don’t know how to swim or don’t know what’s in the water. ‘Cause you’re probably gonna die.

So sometimes optimism is not enough. While hardly anything alone might be enough to fully advance your situation to greener pastures, there is one thing I’ve found to be most useful – and that, my friend, is to make yourself feel like you have a sense of control over something. 

In a sense it is purely psychological. Think about why we tend to fear uncertainty – it’s because we can’t control the unknown. Think about the last time you were stressed out about something – it’s because you felt there were aspects of the situation you couldn’t fix, aspects of the desired results that were out of your immediate realm of influence. In these situations, you feel powerless, and that is pretty shitty, you know?

The solution? Gain that control back.

Do something, anything, immediately. Start setting and achieving goals. 

They don’t have to be big goals, like “I must find my career path (again)”, or “I must pursue my life’s passion even though I have zero fucking idea what it is.”  Do something small to get the ball rolling. Check something off your everyday-task kind of mental list, then feel how great that is, build that confidence in yourself that YOU CAN, and repeat with something bigger, take a leap here and there.

Do something like:

1. Start a sports hobby where you can set incremental goals 

One of my friends was a junior associate at a top management consulting firm. If you know something about consulting, it’s that once you start as either an analyst or associate, it’s BAD BAD BAD to quit before your two-year mark. On your resume it looks terrible, probably some kind of an implied “failure” stamp the industry has created to weed out those whose primary objective is not to constantly “be a winner” (very important in life). She hated her job, cried maybe once every other night in a dismal hotel in Kentucky while working the night shift doing her Excel magic, but she couldn’t just quit. She had to “pay her dues”.

So she began to train for marathons. This is actually killing multiple birds with one stone, because you are not only doing physical exercise, which boosts the level of endorphin (a happiness hormone) in your body and lowers the level of cortisol (a stress hormone), you’re getting fit, hence gaining more confidence. But perhaps most importantly, in this situation, she was setting incremental small goals for herself – she could feel herself running more and running better. Basically, channeling DAFT PUNK: “harder, better, faster, stronger”. That in turn set a number of things in motion. Her attitude towards her job changed, she created stronger visions for a future she wanted, and perhaps indirectly as a result of all this, when her Year One was up, she was actually promoted (the rest is history in the making).

2. Join a fun class 

If your job isn’t one that chains you to your Blackberry 24/7, try joining a class. Something fun, that pushes you a bit outside of your comfort zone, but also puts you in a different head space, if only temporarily. All work no play is no fun for anyone, I get it, but do you really want your biggest outlet to be drinking and partying until 3am every weekend, eating a lot of cake, and shopping till you drop (I’ve done maybe some of the above)?

Join a class – like improv, writing, painting (with wine), dance, yoga…the choices are endless. You’re a grown-ass woman now, you can afford this (but anyway, I’ve added some links for affordable options above).

My dad always told me, nothing you ever do is lost on you. Maybe the benefit of these activities won’t be immediately apparent, but at some point in the near future, I guarantee you’ll have these “aha” moments when you would feel grateful for the experiences.

This option is especially important if you feel like your life is devoid of passion (read: if you’re bored). I mean, come on, are you really just sitting around waiting for the day when your body will be too old for you to do anything crazy with it? I don’t think our lives were intended to be lived that way.

3. Up your professional ante 

Start talking to people. Never underestimate the power of your network (blah blah blah) but more importantly, opening up more conversations with semi-strangers at least gives you the illusion of opportunity. It’ll make you feel like, “Hey, there could be something to look forward to here!” Instead of going round and round in your head feeding to your dark vortex of despair.

A lot of my friends often tell me, “Gawd I hate networking, so impersonal, so fake.” Well, the trick is, it is fake only if you want it to be. If you approach someone you’ve never met before with the expectation of this person eventually helping you to land a job (i.e. “When can I send him my resume?”) that is a nischt nischt my love. Go in with an open mind, be genuine, have no expectations, and just learn about the other person (kind of like a date). Ask what exactly it is that they do – what do they like about it? What do they not like? What inspires them to get up each morning? If you hate your job, the worst thing you can do is to rush into another option that you end up hating equally or even more. So take your time, do your research, explore. Oh, and don’t forget to buy them coffee.

Finally, in terms of networking for women, I want to put a placeholder here for a future post called: “Is it a date, or is it networking?” I think this question speaks for itself.

Oh, and TGIF! Happy Friday the 13th everyone. Walk under all the ladders.

Love,

V.

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