You may have noticed that I haven’t written much in the past few months. For a long time, it was simply too painful to talk about what happened; it was easier to deny it, to detach myself from my own reality and lose myself in someone else’s. For months, I worked through pangs of regret and fleeting stretches of anxiety and despair.* When I’d experience yet another heart-quickening sensation, I would close my eyes and let the feeling wash over me, then dry away.Read More
The silicon-studded city has been flooded with high-tech money and lucrative jobs, which has made it a lot harder to find a great place at a sensible price point.
Be ready for some all-out warfare, folks. I've heard that owners have been getting so many applicants, they've started hosting auction-style competitions during open houses to see how much people would be willing to pay! People are even offering to pay an entire year's worth of rent to claim their tenancy! Hogwash I say!Read More
Nicole and I may not have a lot of our lives put together, but we do pride ourselves in the way we eat. We've been following our weekday vegetarian diet for over a year now, and have explored all sorts of new recipes chock full of vegetable proteins. I will try to feature 10 dishes (not always vegetarian) every two weeks, in hopes of inspiring a few ideas in your own kitchen.
We've been spending a little over $400 a month on groceries for the two of us, and we eat almost exclusively at home, which brings our meals to around $2.50 per person (including in-between snacks). We have a budget ceiling of $100/mo towards eating out, which we use to educate and inspire us with new flavors and ingredient combinations. To translate these values to your own city, check out this nifty Cost of Living Calculator (e.g., this would be comparable to a grocery budget of $324/mo in Salt Lake City or $292/mo in Austin).
We're new to eating at home everyday, so I'm sure we'll get better at it price-wise, but we have felt that our initial investments in better-tasting and healthier foods will be recouped through decades of lower-cost health care. And there's just no substitute for an enjoyable, guilt-free, home-cooked meal, and the hearth and intimacy that accompanies it all. A chance to serve each other together in the home is reason enough to give the habit of eating in a go.
Inspired by our sister-in-law Beth, we've been borrowing cookbooks from the library, most notably those of Dr. Andrew Weil and Alice Waters (2007 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient of Diners Club International, and a personal favorite in my own culinary philosophy repertoire). The library, by the way, has completely revolutionized my media consumption habits! I will never buy another book again before first lending it from the library. It lowers the cost of entry for interdisciplinary, life-holistic education and stokes the fire of vestigial curiosity.
Without further exposition, see below (and above) for 10 recipes we've been devouring in the Cheung home.
I graduated three years ago exhilarated by Jeffrey Sachs' seminal course on sustainable development. I've always had a deep, abiding sense of hurt when I sensed pain in others, which has been both a blessing and a distraction in my life. This unflagging empathy for others has always driven me to seek out ways to help impoverished societies prosper, similar to the way that America was for my immigrant parents in the 1970's. From Sachs, I had learned that the major factor in any community's economic development was technological innovation. Though innovation is a wonder to behold on its own, it was the indisputable link between technology and opportunity that most held sway over me. I was entranced by the variety of innovation that enabled the kind of wealth that brought my own mother out of poverty. Wealth, I've come to learn, isn't exactly money, though money is a form. Wealth can include social goods too, encompassing business values, political capital, and equal opportunity. I wanted to build wealth -- a new wealth that didn't exist before.
I took my passion for opportunity-empowering technology to Apple, which had a legendary reputation for bringing technology to the masses. It did this in a different way than its competition, which often competed on price point to capture capital-poor market segments or advanced features that only the technorati could love. Apple, instead, focused on an alternate kind of poverty, that of widespread technological illiteracy, and pioneered innovations that ignited the imagination of toddlers and seniors alike. It was this intense dedication to simplicity and user-friendliness, ranging from product development to customer lifecycle management, that opened personal computing to worlds of new users and to existing users of new worlds. Apple worked on the fringes, the exact kind of place I liked to be. In the Apple Store Leader Program, I experienced firsthand with customers the type of opportunities that Apple worked day and night to forge.
After two years of working with a colossal and global team, I long realized that my dedicated efforts were mostly put to use in maintaining a world-class engine. Though the experience was formative and penetrating, and the leadership some of the best I'd ever had, I perceived that my talents and passion for disruptive innovation could only thrive elsewhere. Creativity was still valued in our retail microcosms, but true innovation often felt beyond my reach in a corporation the size of a small city. I longed for the opportunity to make a meaningful and irreplaceable difference, and succeed and fail with my own ideas -- even at the risk of an unstable lifestyle.
I was deeply influenced by the work of Jacqueline Novogratz, the conservative values of my upbringing, and the downpour of new information about the current economy, in splintered shards of unemployment and disability. As I surveyed the transcendence of social entrepreneurship in a world that used to be neatly bifurcated into for-profit, pro-capital and non-profit, pro-social ventures, I recognized the power that came from a synergistic blend of the two frameworks. (The next era of corporations, I believe, will be as pro-social as much as they are for-profit, as consumers start to self-actualize their consumption patterns to fulfill more than just their more basic Maslow needs, and rally around those companies that strike a human, moral chord with them.)
But another, more piercing reason came into cognizance as to why entrepreneurship became a captivating profession: the Great Recession. Jobs were slaughtered everywhere, and recent grads and middle-aged alike were dumbfounded at the precipitous downward turn of events. All the world turned to the government, as if it were the government's role to generate jobs like a shoe factory manufactures footwear. With role models like Novogratz and Graham, I deduced that most any of us can create jobs when we start to make products or services that people want. (And I don't mean artificially-engineered products like subprime mortgages, but products that are genuinely, enduringly enriching.) Generally throughout economic history, the greater the innovation surrounding a product or service, the greater the job creation output. I realized then that the only thing that would inhibit our society from becoming a social-vocational paradise is if the able-minded, entrepreneurially-capable of us are too entrenched in the siren songs of stability to faithfully take to the streets of entrepreneurship. Could I count myself among them?
I contemplated this philosophical sociology behind our collective career and consumption patterns as I listened to hundreds of mind-expanding TED talks on the daily commute. While I oscillated between staying at Apple and trading a secure income for creative flexibility, Nicole and I came across a woman late in her years with a remarkable life story. It moved and transformed me. The alluring prospect of capturing her story before her death for others to appreciate, however, seemed horribly overwhelming. Then an idea struck, precipitating a week-long spiritual awakening. I had trouble eating and sleeping, and the world looked irresistibly beautiful, beyond all I had ever experienced before. Its intensity never left me, and I knew forthwith that I had to pursue that vision. As the leadership program ended, I took the leap into the rebellious Silicon Valley economy, one powered by entrepreneurship and transformed by software.
The vision that held me captive was to build a dedicated space for families to assemble and discover their family narratives. Its culture would be a blend between the aesthetic sensibility of a museum and the warm ambience of a crowded dinner table. I wanted everyone in their families to more deeply and delightfully connect with the most meaningful aspects of their collective past. I envisioned that the product could give its users a compelling form of identity and a greater sense of belonging, not to mention a storied appreciation for their elders.
I've always wanted to work on the intersection of entrepreneurship and philanthropy, where free-market capitalism experiments with solving the needs and problems of impoverished communities. Families, I posit, may be one of the most underserved (yet most deserving to be served) communities in the world. Just as wealth is not only about money, neither really is poverty. I have come to realize that this next stage of my life is to tackle the poverty of family. This form of poverty is pivotal in that it affects the lives of every level of world there is, from first to third and every situation in between. It spills over into a host of other social ills, spawning or exacerbating them. By creating a dedicated space for family stories, I am hoping to help plug the gaps and heal the wounds that separate families from one another, and in the process forge the bonds that set us free. By assisting in the passage of wisdom, experience, and moral values from one generation to the next, I dream of inspiring greater intergenerational progress in the human race. It is stories that move us along, give us shape, and spark our future. In a world sometimes impoverished with meaning, I am hoping to build my wealth here, in families, in significances, and in the narratives that wrap us all together as one.
In the crowded halls of college classes, there was so very little ambiguity. Lectures and homework and projects were routine, circumscribed, and syllabied. In fact, everything was so laid out before us that we could easily procrastinate until the week before to study for an exam. There were no pop finals, and definitely no surprise assignments. Regrettably, this did not prepare me much for real life. Because real life is actually full of surprises.
At Apple, "dealing with ambiguity" became such a stock phrase in our daily nomenclature (it was a Lominger competency), that we basically adapted to never knowing much of anything. All of our schedules could be upended by a sudden product launch. Our long-term goals and plans for the week could be suspended due to customer traffic or employee call outs. Our career navigation was more akin to sailing in the fog in unchartered waters than reaching graduated checkpoints on a typical corporate ladder. The other way we often thought of it (very optimistically, I must say), is that we were "learning something new everyday." All this ambiguity, however foreign it was at the time, prepared me well for startup life, which takes ambiguity to a deafening, almost-inundating new level.
Ambiguity and startups are two hands in a handshake; I've resolved that they've simply made a deal with one another to be married together. Everything it takes to run a successful startup: sustainability, traction, execution, focus, fundraising, and product-market fit are often all a surprise waiting to happen. Plenty of adventure to be had all around. But you don't need to live and work in a world of heightened ambiguity to recognize its presence. It hides behind the hopeful expectations of every appointment, threatens the stability of a perfectly calendared week, and erupts out of the seemingly placid oceans of our lives when we most insist on its absence. Some people find start up founders to be a bit loopy to intentionally invite more of that ambiguity into our lives.
But whenever I lift my head -- and heart -- above it all, I realize that ambiguity is not as much paralyzing as it is exhilarating. Because it is in ambiguity that dreams are hatched, hopes are nurtured, and possibilities run wild. That things don't have to stay the way they are, lives can change, people can revolt, ideas can wax viral. Ambiguity is like the oxygen in a scuba diving tank; the more you have, the more you can explore. The more ambiguity we invite into our lives, the deeper we can dive, the more dreams we can realize, and the more possibilities we can propose, encounter, and undergo.
If ambiguity is so characteristic of the human condition and life experience, how do we get better at embracing it? After eight months of branching out with my own startup, I've cultivated certain mentalities that have made it easier to welcome and usher in that oxygen in my adventure tank.
10 Ways to Help Anyone Embrace Ambiguity
1.) Spark your imagination of what could happen! If you were your own life's storyteller, how would it play out? (There's only one rule though: you have to throw in some opposition!) Every legendary Hollywood plot has its opposition and adversaries, pitting the protagonist's dreams against his fears. No great film ever made was about the "happily ever after," at least not until the credits scrolled skyward; films were always about and had always been about the intrigue of the heroic journey. So soak it in! Transform your front and center position in the plot of your very own life movie into a fountain of positive energy. Get motivated by your defeats and inspired by your triumphs. Add some zing and pep to your anticipation of what's to come. Look around; this is the world working as it should.
2.) And related to #1, love a good story. Love being its main character and the opportunity to "choose your own adventure." Every new problem has the potential of becoming an evocative subplot or an ennobling leitmotif. In actuality, everyone loves a good story; can you think of anyone who doesn't? The difficulty comes when we have to remember that our lives can be good -- even remarkable -- stories too. Remember that the story you live and sculpt can inspire and energize those around you and those who come after you. If we are to have any success in that department, we need to choose a good adventure and love the psychological roller coaster it takes us on. I recently discovered a free app (now a new favorite of mine) Everest, an iPhone app that helps you live your dreams by helping you plot out the steps to get there! So dream up!
3.) Expect the unexpected. Perhaps even be genuinely disappointed when things turn out as anticipated! Once you start expecting interruptions, delays, disruptions, disturbances, impediments, you'll be much more prepared for them. And when you know what's coming, you won't be completely blindsided by an unexpected event, which may render you unprofessional and cowardly. And when the unexpected does come, bookmark it for later! You'll have a great story to share in a future job interview or group dinner. One of my good friends Keena Walters is an incredible (and tremendously calm) event planner. She planned and hosted my 100-guest Engagement Party, and has facilitated fundraising parties for non-profits as well as weddings for half a dozen of her best friends. Each event is one to remember, emanating with elegance and showcasing logistical proficiency at every turn. The secret to her success? She says she expects at least one thing to go horribly wrong (like how the groom broke his arm the day before). And when it does, she considers it just another part of the role.
4.) Love what it takes to show ambiguity who's boss. And what it takes is faith. Faith is defined in a myriad of ways, but I've boiled it down to expecting great things in your life. Expect that great things happen to those who act on their dreams. Expect that if there be a great power in this universe (and I believe that there is), that He would reward you not just for good behavior, but also for taking charge of your life to fulfill your life mission. Expect that, in Paulo Cohelo's words, “When you really want something to happen, the whole world conspires to help you achieve it.” Expect your friends, family, and associates to be wonderful and talented. Expect people to believe in you. Expect people will follow your lead when you lead well. When we in turn genuinely believe in people, not only do we give everyone a chance to fulfill their own life missions, everyone suddenly becomes a tremendous resource in fulfilling our own life missions.
5.) Stabilize your life to give it a modicum of balance. Keep a few habits in your life consistent, scheduled throughout your day. Make them non-negotiable. Let your mind simmer down, immerse yourself in study, meditation, prayer. In many ways, the inner peace it takes to deal with ambiguity is interrelated to a form of spirituality. Learn, unlearn or relearn ways of handling conflict and stress, focusing on methods nested in wisdom and immortalized throughout the ages. Pursue a freedom from guilt, of blame, of bitterness, of tension. Make peace with others. Then make peace with yourself. I personally read from the Jewish, Christian, and Mormon canons everyday after lunch. I've formed a sanctuary around the practice, sandwiched by prayer.
6.) When you know you should do something, say, "I'll do it" immediately. Let your courage play pursuit. The unknown is probably a lot easier/simpler/friendlier than you think it is. Three weeks ago, I gave my first speech as a startup founder with little over 24 hours of notice. It was 25 minutes long. One hour of prep per minute, I thought. I'm a nervous and stuttering public speaker (I feel a kinship with Paul Graham in this way), and I would have sent my wife if she weren't homebound with multiple sicknesses. I decided in ten minutes that I would do it, and spent the rest of the day preparing for it. When I delivered it, I did so believing that the opportunity was heaven-sent and custom-made just for me. I ended up communicating serious passion to the audience; even the emcee afterward said it was an "inspiring journey." Agonizing about whether to do something you know you should but don't know you want to is half the stress of the situation. Decide right now to eradicate that anxiety in advance, and invest your leftover energy (which should then be abundant) to getting the job done.
7.) Hate its opposite. Go on strike against boredom. Wage war against stagnancy. Feel repulsed at the thought of staying the same. Become disgusted at cowardice! Strike fear in the face and let it wither before you. Of course, this won't happen overnight; play pretend, and it'll come in due time. Ambiguity comes onto the scene in two separate but related events in life: (1) unexpected interruptions and (2) the void that comes from doing something new. To deal masterfully with ambiguity, you must vanquish your tension with both.
8.) Though you may one day or already have transcended the chaos, empathize wholeheartedly with your peers, who may still be dealing with and reeling from it. Their ability (or inability) to handle disruption and unpleasant life or work changes will play a significant role in your own experiences with ambiguity, for better or for worse. Soothe their fears. Respond to any complaints with understanding, silver linings, and golden platters. (The idea is that when you truly do have it all together, you'll have the emotional wherewithal to serve your peers some inspiration.) Help them identify their opportunities within the crisis. Start today to tell them stories of your own metaphysical climb from the din and tumult. Speaking with compassion and repeating excerpts of your own life story reminds you of who you are, what you believe in, and why all you do still matters.
9.) One thing I learned from Tony Hsieh's NYTimes Bestseller Delivering Happiness is that we all function more happily when we operate with a sense of perceived control and perceived progress. Though there are always things you can't control, focusing on things you can (and controlling it as much as you can) can help a great deal. The things you can always control are your attitude, your habits, your ambition, and your willingness.
As for perceived progress, nothing is more demoralizing than the sense of backward momentum or even plateaued development. I've been using Degreed to track all the interesting articles I read, videos I watch, and gain mini-credits to add to the formal credits from my university diploma. I've always been enamored by the concept of the eternal student, but the romanticism of it all fell away when my efforts never added up to anything "official." I had always craved for some sort of certification that validated that I had made use of my time in some way. Now, with Degreed, I don't need to wait for the certification industry to catch up with my futuristic ways of knowledge accumulation in the post-university era.
10.) Lastly, celebrate. Celebrate every upswing and data set that goes up and to the right. Dance and shout and holler and sing for every battle won and challenge undertaken and even failure survived. There are simply not enough years in our lives to let any chance for a celebration get swallowed up by the tides of our vacillating existence. So, starting right now, pick out every reason you can to celebrate: achievements both big and small, skills attained or retained, opportunities down that way and over to the right. I personally think that's why blogs like ohhappyday.com are so popular. Our souls yearn for the opportunity to express joy at the things going right in our lives, and we all do it all too sporadically. And when you do celebrate, the positive vibe will resonate contagiously in your spheres of influence, making all the vicissitudes that life proffers all the more bearable.
How do you deal with ambiguity? If you have a story, share it below!
Some simple, inexpensive, last-minute guidelines to live by to make eating and cooking at home a world-class gastronomic experience.
1. Water doesn't usually scream, "drink me," unless you've just climbed a mountain. But you can still spare yourself the unnecessary sugar overkill of juice and skip the trendy, chemical-based vitamin waters by infusing your tap water with some fruit. Go traditional with lemon. Tangy with lime. Oranges work great too. Go subtle with strawberry or pineapple, or basil/spearmint/pineapple mint, and cucumber. Add sparkling water to give it some zip!
2. Nothing's truer than the fact that ingredients make the food. So why not upgrade the only ingredients that you add to practically every meal? Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt make all the difference. This will automatically make your food taste 10 to 20% better. Get grinders (with the seasonings inside) at Trader Joe's, and find refills at Bed Bath and Beyond (or Williams Sonoma).
3. Refresh familiar snacks with a complementary flavor combinations. Add simple spices to everyday snacks, like powder cinnamon to apple sauce, unsweetened cocoa powder to yogurt and strawberries. Step up your vegetable protein sources by adding different types of nut butter (sunflower seed, almond, hazelnut) to your quiver of condiments for sandwiches, crackers, and breads.
4. Add honey or brown sugar to orange squashes (acorn, butternut, pumpkin) and root vegetables (sweet potato, parsnip, carrot). Add parmesan or feta cheeses for squashes, and twiggy spices like thyme and rosemary for the root vegetables.
5. Pile fresh fruit, almonds, and raisins onto your morning cereal. The easiest fruits are berries (blue-, black-, or rasp-), since with a swish-rinse of water, they're good to go. Bananas are a close second (not to mention radically inexpensive), and strawberries, apples, pear, peaches, and nectarine are great alternatives. If you're especially invested in your mornings, take the extra time to cut the world-popular mango or more farmer's-market-specialty persimmon, both of which require the paring of the skin.
6. Add dried oregano or thyme (in addition to salt and pepper) to eggs. Cook it halfway, and let the juices run into the other food you eat the eggs with. This works especially great on top of spaghetti squash, fried rice, or garlic-fried french beans, red russian kale, broccoli, or other stemmy, hard-leafed vegetables.
7. Undercook your vegetables (and by that I really mean don't overcook them). Produce has more intact, recyclable enzymes when they're not fully cooked, which is why eating raw salads tend to give you more energy. Overcooking cooked vegetables not only makes them soggy and borderline tasteless; it also reduces the nutritional value. A good rule of thumb is to stop cooking at its brightest color.
8. Make fruit a part of your meals. This has always been my wife Nicole's favorite addition. Most of us Americans like a dash of sweet, sometimes for a jolt of energy and sometimes just to cleanse the palate. In our household, fruit is a dessert, a sentiment we've inherited from Chinese culture and further ingrained from the Whole Foods mentality that "Food is a Dessert". With fruit, it's delicious without the guilt trip.
9. If you love biting into fresh fruit in fruit juice popsicles, skip the unnecessary added sugar content in most processed, packaged frozen treats and go straight to the source! Bags of frozen produce are a fun hot afternoon snack or yogurt topper. Frozen mango tastes great by itself. Frozen blueberries work well in cereals, yogurt parfaits, or just on its own too. Frozen strawberries make a great base for smoothies, and they're already stemmed and cut. In fact, having worked at Jamba Juice, the key ingredient to the frozen-creamy texture of their smoothies is their base of frozen fruit (not fresh!). Get flash-frozen (if available) for the most nutrition. Bags of these are available at TJ's or your local grocery store.
10. Add raw salad (spinach, romaine, mache, etc.) on top of cooked foods. This works especially great on casseroles, lasagnas, pesto pastas, and stir fry/rice combinations that need a punch of freshness or greenery to balance the textures and starch-to-veg ratio. Particular salad vegetables like cabbage and romaine add a texture-enriching crunch to the whole ensemble.
When Nicole and I got married, we realized that we had the opportunity of a lifetime to establish habits that will set our trajectory above and beyond our lowest common denominator. We could start traditions now and maintain living patterns today that stay with us our entire married lives. That we could, in fact, set ourselves apart from the norm, united in common causes, allowing us -- or, rather, enabling us -- to progress to our fullest potential in life and make a true difference in the world around us.
It was empowering to be part of such a marital partnership.
Three weeks before we got married in March, Nicole's dad discovered he had a rare, malignant form of cancer. Nicole comes from a family of eight children, but in every sprawling family portrait that I can remember, she was always right at her Dad's side, holding his hand. They had a particularly special father-daughter bond, developed over years of daddy-daughter outings, and the news was heartbreaking. A few months before, I had started reading the book The China Study (a.k.a the Vegan Bible), and it postulated some fascinating and worldview-shattering theories on the possible causes of the first world's most common diseases, including that of cancer. My birth father was also afflicted with the "disease of love" (so-called for cancer's all-too-willing capacity to leave its patient at his last legs of life fully conscious and emotionally capable of love, if nothing else), and he succumbed to its power when I was little over a year old.
Knowing fully well that society has painted a picture of cancer as something mysteriously unavoidable, we wondered whether society was, in fact, wrong. And if society was wrong, and if cancer was avoidable, how do we avoid it, and do we not then have a moral obligation to our children, to ourselves, and to each other, to avoid it if possible? While pondering these thoughts, we looked outside of ourselves for inspiration and guidance. I've always been a proponent of Hippocrates' axiom to "let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." In The China Study, we read how a comprehensive nutritional study across all the provinces of China showed that a marked increase in the consumption of animal protein was highly correlative to the development of cancers (not to mention heart disease, autoimmune diseases, and diabetes). The scientist-author of The China Study advocated for the adoption of a vegan diet wherever possible.
There were many responses to and criticisms of this controversial study, and both sides seem to point out faults or ulterior motives of the other. It's difficult to delineate truth from falsehoods, even in a democratic nation like America. Nevertheless, studies from reputed sources such as the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and Science Magazine, and summarized in a how-to guide by the Mayo Clinic, point to a restricted-calorie diet for cancer prevention. One of the simplest ways of doing just that is making vegetables a substantial part of your meals, which we know to be much more filling and lower-calorie than your typical meat product. From all the preventative literature we've read, there seems to be an overwhelming consensus than an overall reduced-calorie diet made primarily of fruits, vegetables, and grains, increases longevity and delays cancer growth.
At the same time, ideas about weekday vegetarianism (as an alternative to the austere 100% vegetarianism, pescatarianism, or veganism) floated around in the circles of TED (our secular, tour-de-force source of inspiration). There was a flexibility to it that was so much more refreshing than the restrictive and somewhat-antisocial, "There is virtually nothing I can eat here" 100%-vegan approach to party attendance. And what a staggering burden it can be on a dinner party host, who already caters to a growing list of allergies and preferences.
We also consulted our foremost authority, our lifelong religion of Mormonism, on this subject. Back in 1833 (plainly prophetic), Joseph Smith received revelation that "flesh of the beasts and of the fowls of the air…are to be used sparingly," going as much to say that "these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger" (see D&C 89:10-16). In the same chapter of counsel, it is written that "all grain" is "to be the staff of life" and "every herb…and every fruit in the season thereof…to be used with prudence and thanksgiving."
I do have to say, though, that I rarely enter a Mormon household that primarily eats a plant-based diet. And the reasons are plenty. Our church leaders don't preach it, and there are plenty of other priorities that go above and beyond that of our food. Love, forgiveness, mercy, duty, service, and sacrifice to name a few. I do consent that we all have only so much willpower in life, and we should apportion it hierarchically to our various priorities. Mormons tend to follow the counsel of Christ when he said, "Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man." (see Matthew 15:11) And so you'll find many more unhealthy Mormons, who have consciously (or subconsciously) prioritized faith, friendship, and fellowship over food.
Certainly I have much to improve upon in the things that "cometh out of the mouth," but I have found it to be easier for myself to say the right things when I feel healthful. It reminds me of a quote by Oscar Wilde: “After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one's own relations.” I think to an extent that holds true in my own life. A feast, especially a healthy one (with no aftertastes of regret), is a powerful and inspiring influence for happiness. But beyond just the immediate gratification of an incredible meal, there is something larger I want to accomplish. One of the grandest expressions of love I can communicate to my wife is to, simply, do my best to be there. I will not be there when I die prematurely from heart disease or cancer. I will not be around for my children or my grandchildren if I let my body waste away unnecessarily. There will be no more forgiveness to give, no more love to express, no more hope to spark, when I have left this world with a tombstone.
And so Nicole and I decided that we would try our best. Our best for now is a weekday vegetarian diet, bordering on vegan oftentimes (which means Nicole has had to give up a little on her favorite food of all: cheese). We're not totalitarians on this; for example, if we have meat leftovers from the weekend, we refrain from waste and eat it. But since beginning in March, we carry on the philosophy about 85% of our weekday meals. And the effect has been transformational. Time and time again, I noticed myself realizing things, recognizing things, acting on things in a wholly unprecedented way. I trusted my own potential, I challenged my own insecurities, and tore down walls that encaged my self-esteem. Perhaps it was because in some ways it validated a belief that I had a limitless, functional reservoir of self-control that I could deploy anyway I wanted. But regardless of why, I started living my life instead of letting others live it for me (and me live vicariously through them).
And its from this admittedly spiritual foundation that Nicole and I started our newest venture Antho*.
*For the full back story on this, stay tuned for future blog posts.
Last Friday, my wife Nicole and I released the first prototype of our web app. It was only made available for Nicole's family, but it will soon be made public for everyone (for which we literally could not be more thrilled). We dreamed of this web app all the way back in May. We envisioned, outlined, calendared, strategized, pitched, campaigned, and then eventually programmed the app into existence. Yes, we math-deserting, humanities-driven pair of bohemians actually learned how to code.
And we did it mostly for free, saving us upwards of $25,000 that's often advertised as tuition for web development bootcamps (for two).
After the somewhat grueling but incredibly rewarding and ultimately empowering process of coding an app for the first time, I have a few thoughts to share.
I am a firm believer that everyone should learn to code. I had my first inklings of this belief while attending a college class at Columbia, when Jeffrey Sachs, Sustainable Development ambassador and extraordinaire, taught that technology is the crucial variable that pushes human societies forward. Even though technology is comprised of many fields, of which computer science is just one, software engineering has one of the flattest learning curves (and by flattest, all I mean is just less steep than, you know, rocket science, curing cancer, and genetic engineering). It's relatively doable. In fact, computer languages have evolved to higher levels of readability and simplicity, and Ruby on Rails even boasts a famous video where someone throws together a blog in fifteen minutes. Furthermore, I've spoken with numerous individuals who have learned it without technical backgrounds over a period of months. They weren't amazing at it, but they had built fully functional applications that were on the cusp of solving major problems in the world around them.
I even think that it is the layman's responsibility to learn to code, that it's everyone's opportunity to leverage science as a way to push the human race further, together. We can't all contribute to the progress of scientific studies in the world around us (or maybe we can -- or maybe we will, when someone programs an app for that!), but we can all program a simple app. I say this with confidence because I just programmed my first app (with some amazing help from a few online resources (and a few human)) in two months. And if I can do it, anyone can.
Two months ago Nicole and I sat down and told ourselves we would learn to program. I had spent most of my life avoiding the whole profession, since I determined early on that I would take the road less traveled, and study humanities (a rare major for a Chinese male). At the time, practically all of my childhood guy friends were studying some type of engineering. [Alas, my predominantly-Asian-high-school worldview has since changed, having recognized that, clearly, too many of us romantic millennials opted for the humanities over the sciences.] With this I-would-rather-eat-dirt-than-do-math attitude, we planned for months of finding someone else. We originally wanted a technical cofounder to code it all for us, but none of our prospects seemed to pan out, and we weren't interested in "settling" for just anyone (at least not someone you'd spend half of everyday with!). This cofounder's personality, ambition, stage in life, work ethic, and lifestyle needed to spark some chemistry with ours, and after some deep combing of our personal contact lists, we came up empty.
Two conversations with friends of ours (Kimball Bighorse and Logan Deans), convinced us that we can try to throw something together ourselves. Logan gave us two weeks, which actually was insane but somewhat advantageous; it made us speedily endure through the often tedious and frustrating beginnings of learning how to code. After three months of mountains and valleys of joy and pain, we somehow, someway, through divine fortune and miraculous happenstance, built our web app. And we couldn't have done it without some incredible help from friends like Will Chou, Trent Hazy, and David Rockwood.
The two hardest aspects of programming were 1.) learning to think in its problem-solving mindset and vernacular and 2.) understanding all the components and resources at your disposal. But it's not impossible, and in fact, it's absolutely within your reach.
If you've decided to take the plunge, read on!
Instead of spending $12,000 per person at a development bootcamp to learn how to code, I encourage you to teach yourself. Dream of a world changed by an application you would build, and build it. Learn how in a few months. See below for the ten resources Nicole and I used on our quest to programming zen.
1.) Watch this video from General Assembly (free). It changed my attitude from "I don't know about this" to "I can do this, yes, this is awesome!" Some NYU philosophy major talks in very human terms how he did it and you can too. Enlightenment leads to empowerment.
2.) Codecademy (free) is a great website to get your feet wet. Simple, digestible lessons that take you step by step into different annals of computer linguistics (HTML, Python, Ruby). Although I loved dabbling in it, and it was fun to get badges and score points, I didn't find it as useful in the long run. I resigned from my job because I wanted to actually create a project of my own that I can keep, iterate, and put online, and Codecademy does nothing of that sort (yet). I thirsted for some organic, exploratory experimentation (a vital component of self-taught learning), and got it elsewhere.
3.) I got it here: the infamous Rails tutorial. The free web-only Ruby on Rails Tutorial by Michael Hartl was a godsend to say nothing of the to-pay-for screencast tutorials for the ever lost amateur programmer. This tutorial will take you from knowing practically nothing to building Twitter (or, at least, the beginnings of Twitter, which is impressive and confidence-building).
4.) Why's Poignant Guide to Ruby (free) was by far the most entertaining (and most bizarre) read of all the guides out there. It's simply a static website (which means it's not interactive, with no "projects" to complete, but it's a great, elucidating resource nonetheless). This guide made me fall in love with the idea of self-teaching through online content. This guide made me realize that there are people all over the world who care more to impart their knowledge than to make money. I was thoroughly infatuated with the pay-it-forward mentality of the programming community; and since everyone practically lived on the Internet, there is even a more thriving community of sorts online than there is in person. It's almost as if I didn't even miss a beat staying in, eating leftovers, and hacking away.
5.) Rails for Zombies was a fun, (mostly) free introduction to the Rails application infrastructure. It leans on its sense of humor to keep you enthralled, and it does a decent job at that. Again, similar to codecademy, it doesn't let you bring anything home with you, so it wasn't as helpful in my book. Tryruby.org is another website with a similar setup and style, but they're great as an orientation.
6.) Learn Python the Hard Way (free) is a great resource too, as it infuses its instruction with brass personality. It feels like you're actually with a passionate professor who cares just as much about you (and your success) as he does the subject matter. It is so famous that there are translations in practically every (computer) language (e.g. Learn Ruby the Hard Way). The reason it's called "the hard way" is that it preaches to its students to type everything they learn character by character (and not just copy and paste the code). Not exactly that hard; it can just be tedious at times (but oh, so worth it!).
7.) When I first met Stackoverflow (free), it was overwhelming. I understood nothing and everything was a mystery, and it took many a Google search for software bugs to get truly acquainted with the site. It's basically the grand master Q & A site of the hacking world. Practically every question I've ever had is listed on this site, and someone has an answer. And even when the questions don't exactly match up with yours, the answers often clarify a principle relevant to your undertaking. Bona fide life saver five times over, every single day.
8.) Railscasts (free to $7/mo)! Practically anything you ever want to implement into a Rails app, Ryan Bates of Railscasts fame has made a screencast for it. Step by step, Bates articulates exactly why and how to build anything. Some days, because of Railscasts, it takes me fifteen minutes to implement a new feature I've never done before. Yes, sometimes, the race is to the swift.
9.) Github (free) is the open online depository of open-source code on the web. This is a great place to browse (and even download and run) well-written code, so that you can get more ideas on how people solve certain problems. Essentially, problems can be solved in numerous ways, but there's often better, more efficient, and more powerful ways of solving a single problem. If the Internet is your university, this is your university library.
10.) Team Treehouse ($25/mo) is a web portal chock full of videos on how to code front-end and back-end. I personally didn't touch this site, but Nicole used it quite a lot to get a handle on HTML and CSS. Her only furor with the site was that you can't watch just any video you want; you have to advance levels before being able to watch certain videos. Not the best for someone interested in exact solutions for a real website, but perfect for someone who is just expanding her skills repertoire for future implementation. She also used macProVideo (also $25/mo), but can't stand how both this and Team Treehouse are as corny as Ohio.
May the world be with you on your technological pursuit to push the human race further.
Last weekend marked the three-month anniversary of my departure from Apple. I loved working there and the experience taught me wisdom beyond my years. I graduated back in July as part of the inaugural class of the Apple Store Leader Program, the company's rotational management training program in the trenches of its retail sector. Apple does practically everything differently, and retail was no exception. During my last week, I wrote the twelve most significant things I learned during that time. So, in the spirit of sharing, here they are!
The 12 Things I Learned as an Apple Store Leader Program Associate:
1 - The most important job description you will ever have in life is to inspire people. This will dictate the success of your family, the success of your career, and the success of your life. No call to action or impetus for collaboration will thrive (and survive) beyond mediocrity without the punch of inspiration. If the pursuit of this lofty aspiration hasn't in some way transformed you (yet), make it your #1 priority. Everything else comes second. And sometimes, you'll find that the way you approach everything else is fundamental to your prowess to inspire.
2 - Another lynchpin factor in inspiring others is finding incredible meaning in what you do everyday. And part of that is firmly believing that YOU were MADE for this job, and this job was MADE for YOU. Once you believe this, practically nothing can stop you short from success. List all the reasons why this role matters to the world, to society, to the organization, to your peers, to all your spheres of influence, and to yourself. Let those reasons drive, ennoble, and discipline your work.
3 - It doesn't really matter what you've learned unless it actually makes an impact, on others and the business. And since you do work through others (as a leader), no impact will be made without others learning what you've learned, and knowing what you've known. So share, and share generously: "You will tire of your message before your people will" (Lisa Filippi, Market Leader of San Francisco North). Wash, rinse, repeat.
4 - It doesn't really matter what you've done unless it actually makes an impact, on others and on the business. Aggressively find ways to measure your work to validate the efficacy of your strategic direction, and pivot substantially if required. Working without consistently validating is like playing an endless "game" of passing the ball (versus a real game of soccer). Know when you're winning, because then you'll know what you're doing right. (And besides, where's the euphoria in victory, the drama in failure, when no one wins, and no one loses, and no one bothers to keep track?)
5 - Ferociously filter your communication, for that is your personal brand. Don't mindlessly present data that's not worth presenting. Not saying anything is paradoxically better than saying practically nothing. Be rigorous in your standards on what you present to others. Keep your head down and just do good work, so said Ron Johnson (#4 in Fast Company's Most Creative People in Business 2012 and Apple's previous VP of Retail) . Others will notice when your results are real, sustained, and sustainable. Rest assured, a phenomenally great idea -- well-executed -- will go viral, and change the habitual fabric of a world as flat as this. So never stop striving, never stop testing those great ideas, never stop thinking that you're here to make a ding in this universe, for it's exactly these kinds of ideas that moves this company forward, this society upward, and our world onward.
6 - Your sense of humor is the most important factor in how much fun you'll have at work (and how much others will have working with you). You don't have to be a comedian, but you will have to grasp some basic skills (like comedic timing, exaggeration, and irony) if you want to (and you can!) transform even the dullest work moments into some of the funnest.
7 - Visual standards is the minimum prerequisite for professionalism. Before you can even line up to compete, pay rapt attention to every element in your visual brand; it signals whether you're in it to win it -- and if you're in it for anything else, anyone who's anyone will hit the ground running.
8 - Work-life balance begins at work. Life doesn't magically turn off when you come into work and turn back on when you leave. Au contraire, work is a tremendous chunk of your life, so make every moment here count. Magnify it, elevate it, transform it into the ultimate part of your day, everyday. Make your work matter, and you'll be happier both on and off the clock. And don't ever forget to play. Play all day. Live while you work, and work while you live, and you'll get more out of everything, guaranteed.
9 - If you care enough about your job, you care enough to give feedback. Give it all the time, and give it generously and holistically. Someone out there is languishing at his job because he lacks self-awareness. Be a career hero and save them from the unnecessary doom of career mediocrity.
10 - You can never be too humble nor too self-confident. The trick is not to blunder into the twin elephant graveyards of self-pity and hubris. There's a dangerously fine line (or dotted line) between humility and self-deprecation, and an equally blurry one between self-confidence and arrogance.
11 - And be genuine. Be productively transparent. Be painfully honest. Be lovably good and care. CARE. Care more than anyone else about everyone else and feel true pain when witnessing another's pain. If you can't feel this, ask yourself why. Do you suffer from a disconnect between your beliefs and actions? Or if you don't suffer from cognitive dissonance, could your beliefs benefit from a righteous revolution? Painstakingly practice emotionally responding to those around you. As the axiom goes, "No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care." So care more than you know; you'll never regret it.
12 - Everyone in this multiverse has something to teach you, however old they are, whatever position they hold, or wherever they come from. Everyone has a story that can inspire or move you, exhilarate or even infuriate you (in a good way!). Half of the greatest lessons in life and work that can ever be learned must be taught to you by someone else, who's done things, seen things, and lived through things you never have and never will. And even if you will, someday, live through those things, it could only help to hear words of wisdom from someone who's been there and done that before you.
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