The Fable – Why I do what I do

I want to share a fable I heard today.

A man hired a good worker to build a strong wall at the water front. He wanted to block his older brother from ever crossing the river because he was very angry at his brother. “Do everything you can to build a strong wall,” the little brother said. The worker went to work.

Few days later, the owner was upset to see the result. He came running and yelling angrily at the worker who was finishing up the task. “I told you to build a wall not a bridge. Get rid of this immediately. I’m not paying you a dime for this!” Before anyone can say anything they saw the older brother running towards the middle of the bridge where the two were standing. “Dear younger brother, I wanted to say thank you for building this bridge. I’ve been meaning to apologize for everything that happened but did not know how to cross this river. I’m very sorry for the past. I’m grateful for this bridge.” The younger brother froze feeling perplexed but full of warmth as the older brother gave him a big strong hug. “Our past is just like this water floating behind us,” said the brothers.

“Wait, where are you going?,” asked the little brother when the worker started heading out. “I still have a lot of work for you to do. I’d also like to pay for this work,” said the little brother. The worker smiled and shook his head. “I have to go now,” he said with a wave. “I have more bridges to build.”

This last part makes me smile and reflect. What bridges are you building?

Relationships? Friendships? Cultural differences? Religion? Politics? It can be all of these and many other things. But do build bridges. We need more bridge builders in our society.

That’s the question I’d like us to reflect on. Today.

Copyright © 2015. Monica H. Kang, All Rights Reserved.

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Why knowing your hobbies is a key to your happiness

“What are your hobbies?”

Admit it. We have all asked or been asked this question. But how often have we really thought what it meant to us? Do we really love what we describe as our hobbies? Or are we just saying it to impress others or to move on with the conversation?

If you asked me that 3 years ago, I would have mumbled with hesitation.

Let’s be frank. Spending more time for your hobbies does not seem to be a smart move if you want to succeed in this highly competitive society. If you want to succeed you have to hustle and start early. Spend as much time as you can to learn how to be better at something. Spending time for your hobbies seem like the last thing you want to do. This sentiment only grew as an Asian American living in two worlds that were very sensitive to other people’s perception and definition of success. I grew up believing that hobbies are extras not essence. It was something people did if they had a pocket of FREE TIME which seemed to be oddly reducing each year, each month, and each week. I don’t know, someone robbed 24 hours to 22 somehow.

It wasn’t until I hit my low points that I started to rethink about the definition of hobby.

Hobbies are activities you do because you enjoy doing it. You enjoy doing it because you love it and you are yourself.  We are happy when we do things we love. When we are happy we become confident and more excited about life, so we like doing happy things. It’s healthy for us. It’s pretty simple. This is pretty clear yet it isn’t really the first thing we think of.

I too, did not see this clear relationship until I started thinking about what are the activities that excited me when I was at my low point. As I started to spend more days figuring out which books I really liked, or what kind of activities got me really excited, I realized that these activities were the sources of my happiness. The more items I identified that made me happy and the more time I spent doing these happy things the happier I became. The more time I spent finding ways to do the happy things, the prouder and excited I felt.

It was unquestionable.

Understanding one’s hobbies is a key source to one’s happiness. 

I couldn’t believe it took me this long to figure out!

Ever since this discovery my ability to shake off upset situations has improved tremendously. They bothered me a lot less. There are so many things in life that you can’t control – people, your day, and even the weather. You should’t define your happiness on things that are out of your hand. You shouldn’t rely on them to be happy. You have to rely on yourself. Learn about what makes me really happy, upset, and thrilled. Spend some quality time with yourself. You’ll also agree that hobbies are not extras but essential part of your life.

It’s time to be happy. Even that rain would look like a blissful spring shower.

And maybe if you are lucky, you’ll find your second career.

Copyright © 2015. Monica H. Kang, All Rights Reserved.

The New Year’s Resolution Conversation

It was the night before 2015. Of course, someone brought up the “So, what is your new years goal?” question. Few said blah. Others said nah. But one friend’s comment stuck in my head.

“I don’t think we should have New Years Resolution. I mean look at all the people who stop going to the gym after February!” His point was that when we set goals for a year, we tend to slack off and procrastinate until the last moment. “By the time October comes, I feel guilty and then just push that goal to the next year,” which means one never gets to fully achieve it. Rather than having a year goal where we set our standards too high, he said we should have many short-term goals. “Science says it takes about 30 days or so for someone to make something into a habit. People should make short-term goals instead of just year goals.” We laughed and then moved on.

But it got me thinking more questions: What is the good way to set up effective goals? How come some people are great at setting up and accomplishing goals while some are not? How do you know you have set up the correct goal when so much could change within few months in one’s life?

I felt challenged. I woke up the next morning and realize I do not have a clear answer to any of these questions. Even as someone who does pretty decent planning and goal setting in general, I felt a bit weird out. Have I set up good goals for my life? Or did I choose goals that society told me was good – a.k.a. the safe goals that I know are good in general?

Goals are subjective. A 2 mile running exercise plan can be good enough for someone, too much for others, and too soft for some hardcore exerciser. We often overlook this aspect. While we have the internet, our friends, our family, and our loved ones sharing good advice, we should ultimately find and understand what goals are good for us. There is so much noise and judgement in this society. Because of that I think we often set up goals that we are told that are good before we think what it really means to us. Yes, carrots are probably healthy for you but instead of just eating carrots we should explore more and find out if we actually like mushrooms more than carrots. Eating carrots isn’t the only way you can get vegetable in your diet. In other words, just because one method or goal worked for someone doesn’t mean it has to be the same for others.

Plus, my friend was right, there aren’t that many who take advantage of setting short-term goals to be more strategic in achieving their long-term goals. While the long-term goal can be staying healthy, one may have a higher chance fulfilling that goal if one planned out smaller goals such as making time to exercise 3-4 times a week for a month or taking time to walk to work instead of driving. These are small changes but an actual step closer toward making a difference in his or her future.

Mush those two elements together we will be able to set up goals that could help us reach to where we want to be at a more realistic pace. Plus, we’ll get to understand who we are better by spending some time reflecting and assessing ourselves. We need to be patient and strategic.

I’m still at the first stage of planning my 2015 goals. But this conversation has got me thinking about this new year resolution in a whole new level. I am going to be more creative this time and I’m excited.

I hope you find goals that are best for your success and joy. Take time with these. Your patience will be worth it. Happy New Year!

Copyright © 2015. Monica H. Kang, All Rights Reserved.

It’s December.

The weather forecast was surprisingly correct again. Here goes the careless raindrops falling all over the place. The cold winter wind hitting my face as if I didn’t understand its strength. I looked up at the gray white emptiness where no answer is provided. As if I didn’t know that. December is here.

For me, this is the time I spend reflecting. A. Lot. The good days, the bad days, the odd days, and the confusing days. Somehow when time passes, as if it’s released from a magic spell, a lot of things seemed to make a lot better sense then on the day of the incident. I become more understanding and patient about the moments that seemed unforgivable at that time. Including learning how to forgive myself. Forrest Gump was absolutely right: “life is like a box of chocolate. You never know what you’ll get.”

As I start chugging along the path down to the bus stop with my big black umbrella, I suddenly realize there were still so many questions I wanted to understand. Why is there so much pain, confusion, uncertainty, and scarcity in this society? Why is there so many left hungry for food, education, justice and love? Why are we always on a journey of uncertainty? Why can’t things be simpler? Is it because it might be too mundane? Even extroverted optimistic me like to spend some moments thinking about these questions on the back of the bus. Maybe it’s because we do not spend enough time reflecting these real questions in life. Why do we always rush through life? Is someone running after us? The last time I turned back out of curiosity I didn’t see any fire breathing dragon running after me.

The Christmas music was playing. I stared outside the blurry bus window to see the scene of the city before crossing the bridge. That cheered me up a bit. That’s a reality I often forget to appreciate. That all it takes is a few minutes of wonderful music, a hug, a nod, a smile, and a word that could bring one to smile, feel hopeful, and warmth. I look inside the bus. Almost everyone is starring in their tiny screens called smartphone. When was the last time we stopped and seriously thought about what today meant to us? What the value of ‘I’ as a being mean in this society? When was the last time we stopped starring at any screen and just loafed and daydreamed? We watch war and crisis movies where we learn how every moment counts, but we are helpless in executing them the moment we leave the movie theater.

But I’m not here to complain about how smartphone has made us stupider. I’m just here to make observations, learn from them, and write about them. We should spend more time thinking about a problem than trying to immediately solve it. We need more spontaneous, courageous, and loving moments in our daily routine. Life can be simpler if you treat it that way, like deciding to let this Winter Wonderland music to affect your evening mood with good spirit. We can be more energetic if we wanted to. Not every path has to be a purposeful walk. Nor does every essay need a purposeful direction. You walk and you write because sometimes that’s what you know is right for you. Just take time to reflect later and learn from it.

The good news, and there will always be good news next to bad news, is that I still have another 24 days to do a whole bunch of reflecting, being grateful, and planning for the new year.

This is indeed the most wonderful time of the year.

Oh and as we speak, here is the end of the rain. Dear wind, I’ll accept your coldness cause it’s winter.

Happy December.

 

Copyright © 2014. Monica H. Kang, All Rights Reserved.

There is a wall

There is a wall in front of me. I can’t see it but I can feel it. Whenever I make the wrong turn in this maze, I keep bumping into it. Sometimes it hurts when I make a sharp turn or a jump. It almost feels like the world is telling me that this is not the right path. This is, what I learned later, the “way” that society has built. It’s guaranteed to have worked and people like what they have tested out to be true. (But considering how dark it is in here, I’m not sure how you can verify what is really true or not. You can’t see anything. But that’s a discussion for another day.) It’s comfortable and its well known. And the risk of adventuring out into the unknown against this wall is daunting. What if I fail? What if I get hurt? What if I get lost? What if I’m making a mistake? We know that the wall is the known unknown. And we know that there is a whole level of unknown unknown behind these walls. So why should we take the risk?

This is what our brain cells probably go through when we hesitate whether to do what society tells us to do or what we want to do.

If you happened to be in the category where your want and society’s interest match, you lucked out. But for many others who feel stuck and unhappy need to spend some serious time rethinking and reflecting what happened here. What walls are blocking you from doing what you want to do? How can you get behind the walls? Why do you want to go behind the walls? This is not going to be an easy process but it must not be mistaken as impossible. There can be no impossible mission if good intention and passion is rooted and applied properly. Young entrepreneurs around the world are also proving that age is just a number. Natural disasters, diseases like Ebola, war, and terrorism incidents like 9/11 only reconfirms that life is too short to be wasting our time feeling stuck and unhappy. So reflect and ask yourself what, how and why with clarity.

At the same time, the reality continues to reveal it’s nature that it will not permit all those curious ones to survive this unknown unknown world. Risky as it is, when you do get to step into this adventurous zone it is a wonder. Yet because reality knows that not everyone is fit for it or really interested in it, it makes sure that it fumbles over those who are unprepared. So dreamers, keep dreaming but also be strategic. Be sharp and smart about it. Don’t give up either because of this wall. All walls are not built the same and some walls permit you to enter in and out. Dream big and have a plan. Get your game plan before you play the game.

Before you know it, you will see that these walls are actually not hard brick walls but new guidance that will help you where you want to go.  Only then do we realize how much will power influences the shaping of these walls.

I decided to leave my wall aside today too.

 

Copyright © 2014. Monica H. Kang, All Rights Reserved.

Let’s talk about Writing (or typing)!

Or, I mean, typing or texting.

Take a step back and recall how many emails, text messages, and chat messages you sent today. You might be startled at the result. I do this exercise once in a while whenever I feel like my eyes get a twinge of blackness from staring at the electronic screens – computer and cell phone – all day. One time I found myself getting at least 30 to 100 emails per day, text messages from three people, online messages from three people, while four colleagues hovered over my cubical to talk about the project I am working on right now. That’s a lot of talking and writing we do everyday without thinking. No wonder I felt exhausted! I was writing and communicating all day! Most people’s working in an office is like this too – spending hours and hours going through emails, phones, text messages, online messages, and more emails.

With the rapid change in technology, we have made ourselves all more available but at the same time we aren’t resting or taking a step back to think what we are really writing before we press that send button. In fact, we are writing so much at such a speed that we forget to realize that while emails and texts are great ways to communicate quickly to someone at anytime it could also accelerate any miscommunications. We blame autocorrect for correcting us, but sometimes its because we forget that writing emails and texts, though they are often informal and colloquial, are still a form of writing and should be treated as such.

Good writing, my Professors used to tell me, takes time. It’s critical to take sometime thinking about what is your writing style. What is your approach? Do you like to joke and put smiley faces? Do you like to use a lot of acronyms? Are you a serious writer that you will double check every sentence to be a complete sentence and get annoyed when some other email writers do not do that? There is no one answer, but understanding what is your style and how your writing influences the way you communicate with others is an important matter to reflect on. In fact, there are some digital writing etiquette we should be more careful of too. We don’t have to comment on everything we read. We don’t have to respond to every email we get within an hour. We don’t have to express our emotions in all emails nor hide in all emails. Sometimes, its better to just go out to your colleague and talk about something instead of writing them out on an email. Remember, it’s the digital age – all writing we do will stay ALIVE somewhere FOREVER.

We have to change this attitude we have towards digital writing. I’m trying to become a better writer too by trying different approaches. Spending some time to reflect and think about the way you write will be critical for you realize how others may see you when you write. If we aren’t pressured to multitask and respond to all emails and text at the same time, we’ll be able to think the message better and give a more clear response. Everyone has a different approach and there is no one way of doing this. The three things I’ve tried that worked so far are to (a) prioritize my inbox and messages in the morning before I start responding and make a list of my “to-do list,” (b) block chunk of times to work on certain emails and to NOT work on ANY emails, and (c) learn how to say “let’s talk later” if its something that could wait. I also try spending some time crafting my emails or messages in a structured layout or a list to make my message more clear. I’ve also practiced minimizing the usages of adverbs and writing more concise messages. It’s still a process, but I’ve made some improvement when I compare the emails I wrote 6 years ago.

I don’t know what tomorrow’s technology would do to change the way we communicate or write in the future. Maybe we’ll have something that we won’t have to stare into the screens all day to communicate or our phones. Maybe we’ll have to just think out loud or blink at another person to express something. Still, one way or another, good writing and good communication could benefit us all. It wouldn’t hurt to spend some time talking and thinking about the way we write and type today!

Now turn off that screen and rest your eyes to give yourself a break and reflect.

 

Copyright © 2014. Monica H. Kang, All Rights Reserved.

How do you really know something is “meant to be”?

“Meant to be” is one of the most popular phrases used to describe relationships, religions, careers, and life. But what do we really mean when we say this?  (I’m going to now take out religion from my discussion because that’s a whole different category.) Do we really believe anything is meant to be or is not meant to be? Or are we just using it because everyone uses it understands it a certain way?

I ask these questions because this phrase bothers me. I discussed about the honeymoon phase in an earlier post. “Meant to be” is another phrase that I think is misleading.

When we think that certain things are ‘meant to be’ we are deliberately putting ourselves to become a passive actor instead of an active actor. At first glance this phrase sounds flattering to hear because it sounds as if one is proclaiming his or her passion for someone or something by saying that ‘there was no other way I could have been with someone else’ or ‘have done another career.’ But was it really no other way for him or her to be with that person or with that career?  Ehhh. Probably not. In reality, he or she probably choose to be with this person because he or she wanted to be with this person. He or she choose that career path because he or she wanted to do it. He or she took that job because he or she wanted it. There are many variables such as luck and timing that plays into these decision process but “want” is still the more appropriate word choice than “meant to be.”

Understanding the difference of us choosing decisions because we ‘wanted it’ instead of  ‘it was meant to be’ is critical because it explains why we often get so disappointed when great things fall apart. We tend to build up a lot of expectation when we first think something is ‘meant to be’ because we believed, and got used to hearing, that something this good must be ‘meat to be’ part of our life. That’s probably why when things fall apart, the fall feels like an unstoppable domino effect. In fact, my quick search in Google showed that we use ‘not meant to be’ more often than ‘meant to be.’ Within 49 seconds there were  665,000,000 results that had the phrase “meant to be.” It took 44 seconds for Google to find at least 682,000,000 results that had the phrase “not meant to be.” As few friends wisely pointed out, the ‘not meant to be’ is a nice convenience phase. We comfort ourselves by believing and saying that this bad outcome was ‘something out of our control.’ Thus, instead of worrying, we should let it go and move on. Again, that confirms my earlier thoughts. It is not that it was ‘not meant to be,’ you choose not to be with this person or choose not to do this career because of certain reasons. You decided. While the phrase sounds powerful in songs, in reality you are simply putting yourself in temporary denial. It’s not that you didn’t have a choice. You did choose, and that is great!

In addition, another detail to note  is that we use ‘meant to be’ with more certainty when we know the outcome. For instance, when couples lived happily for a long time they tend to feel more comfortable saying that they were meant to be together because they already lived 60 plus years together. Likewise, experts who build their expertise in a certain field will say there was no other way they could have done something else after making a substantial career advancement. When we hear them say that they were meant to be, it sounds lovely. Yet, the key is to remember that this is not probably what they all felt when they first encountered the other person or that job 2o or 60 years ago. But throughout those years, they worked hard to grow into that job and into that relationship. They did it because they wanted to be there. In retrospect, they describe and come to believe that it was ‘meant to be.’

No one knows what ending one will see until they live through it. No one will know what choices will led them to the happy ending they have imaged until they keep trying to move forward. Life changes the moment we thought we decided what we thought about something, so why let “faith” choose what you are meant to do or not meant to do? Even if you say you don’t believe in something, by saying it we are unconsciously letting ourselves become a passive actor. It’s time to abandon misleading social media’s concept. Start using ‘want’ instead of ‘meant.’ Word choice matters.

P.S. If you are still thinking that “I was meant to be with you” is the best phrase to tell your lover, think twice. You are with her or him because you want to be. That’s powerful and wonderful. If you mean it, tell him or her. They’ll beam right back at you.

 

Copyright © 2014. Monica H. Kang, All Rights Reserved.

How do you measure a person’s value?

I will ask you a daring question: How do you describe and measure a person’s value? This, surprisingly, is not an easy task. The most common way we perceive an individual’s value seems to be based on one’s professional background or materialistic assets – where he/she works, what position he/she holds, where he/she lives, who he/she befriends, who he/she knows, and what family he/she has.

This begs me to think: Is this why we sometimes feel lost when we don’t have a job, don’t get the education we want, and don’t get the wealth we want? Because we don’t have some job or community that we can affiliate our identity with? Is this why we feel uncomfortable when we don’t have some high profile when we introduce ourselves to others because we think we are not as valuable as the other individual who has a high profile? Is this why we often judge others unconsciously based on his or her professional background even before we know this person? Perhaps… Unfortunate, yes, but truth.

Especially in a city like Washington, D.C. such type of introduction is typical. This typical introduction, however, is not the correct way to measure one’s value as a being. These information about an individual may be correct but they do not provide a complete picture of who you are. If you were really just as valuable as you described yourself with your work, you will be worthless if you did not have that work or that title. But the truth is, no, you were still a valuable individual before that and after this.

Furthermore, value measurement itself is a subjective measurement. We are valued by different people for different reasons. To some it could be your artistic sense and love for cooking and to others it could be your geeky sense of humor and great sense of direction and planning. It doesn’t matter. And that’s beautiful and wonderful! But this is where we got it wrong again. You are not valuable because you are valued by others. You are valuable because you value yourself.

We need to stop let society describe who we are based on our jobs, education and background. That is only part of who you are. Instead we need to start describing ourselves and valuing ourselves as what we want to be valued as. We need to seek more understanding about who we are as an individual. Your career is not your life. Your amazing job is a complimentary to who you are. And you as a being is so much more then this job that will most likely change in few years. So let’s start asking better questions such as how would we describe ourselves if we thought about what our contribution in this life is? What inspires you? How do you best help others? How would you like to describe yourself? What do you love about your life? What makes you most alive and happy about your life? These are questions we need to spend more time thinking about and asking.

The questions we ask and the assumptions we make today when we think of ‘how I measure my value as a being and others’ is inadequate. It shouldn’t be based on ‘where I work and live’ but rather ‘who I am and how I share my life with others.’ But we can’t describe our values as a being if we don’t think and ask these questions about ourselves first. We should spend more time thinking ‘how do I want to live my life’ instead of ‘living a life that the society told us is ideal.’

So, I challenge you to rethink and ask yourself, how would you measure your value as a being? What life do you want to live?

Copyright © 2014. Monica H. Kang, All Rights Reserved.

Long Live the Honeymoon phase

When it comes to dating, we often ask the wrong questions. One popular conception is that there is an ‘I’m-absolutely-madly-in-love-with-this-person-and-hence-I’m-so-happy-to-be-in-this-relationship-phase,’ called the “Honeymoon phase.” The problem is that we are told that this is temporary. Happiness that good can never be eternal, it’s temporary. Gasp. Fine, we say with a little uncomfortable smile, I’ll live with it. “Ah, you guys must be over the honeymoon phase,” is a common expression we hear from our close ones at this point. We nod our head and agree with our friends. I have gone through it. You have gone through it. We all understand this is kind of a natural trend in all relationships – love or friendship. In fact, if you have not gone through it, we say its just a matter of time that you’ll go through an end of the “honeymoon phase.”

The question we never seemed to ask is “Why do we think such honeymoon phase in life is temporary?” Is absolute happiness and love in human life truly that short-living? People change. Priorities change. Society changes. And so does our love and our lovers. You cannot be forced to love someone. And you can’t force someone to love you. That’s just how life is, we say. True. I agree. But that does not mean your love and happiness has to be temporary. Our happiness and love in life, in honesty, really depends on us.

Take a step back. The honeymoon phase seems ‘absolutely amazing’ because we feel loved, happy, and excited all of a sudden. That is amazing and something special! Then something happens. Or nothing happens. It’s just all of a sudden ugly. And sometimes it gets too ugly to the point that you lose it and then all you can do is to end it. The End. It happens. But that’s not the only ending to all stories in life.

If what we feel in a “honeymoon phase” is a kind of happiness and love of life, what if we tried to spend more energy searching for the source of such happiness and love in life in general and don’t rely solely on our lovers? If we had learned to love ourselves and our life before meeting our lovers, we would have relied less on our lovers to seek love and happiness. He or she wouldn’t have been the sole source of oasis in your dessert-like-life. You wouldn’t feel so desperate and disappointed if something wrong happened. Things could still go wrong, but your happiness and joy in life is not controlled by a third party. Instead, you chose to be with him or her because he or she makes you happier to your already happy days and you are grateful that you could share your happy and unhappy moments with someone who could equally appreciate it with you. He or she becomes an additional joy to your life not the sole source of happiness in your life. And because we already know how to be happy and loving in our own life, his or her addition in your life is making your already tasty summer ice-cream more delicious by adding chocolate sprinkles. It’s great to have them! But for a very different reason.

Of course, this may all depend on both lovers perspective of life and love. If only one party is able to recognize this value and practice it, the other party may be digging a grave for him or herself before he or she realizes it. In addition, the process of learning how to find ones happiness and loving oneself is not always clear or easy. It takes time and sometimes the best lessons are learned when you fall down, break your heart, feel lost, and wander around in the forest alone. But it is a worthwhile investment. In fact, the best investment you will make in your life-long-bank. Your lover, no matter how much he or she loves you, is a variable that is always forever changing. And so are you, you are changing too. So putting all your source of happiness and love solely in that person is not a wise long term investment. Instead, you can chose to be happy by sharing what you have and receiving what the other party would like to share with you. Furthermore, if we learned how to be happy, how to love ourselves, and how to love others on our own, we’ll be able to enjoy a more confident and happy loving life. There will still be many bumps, ugly memories, and disastrous moments, but you won’t feel like your pushed to a cliff that is thousand miles high.

Perhaps then, we may be able to enjoy a more long living honeymoon phase in life.

 

Copyright © 2014. Monica H. Kang, All Rights Reserved.