#30PostsBefore30 Day 23: A Balanced Life Makes Me Happy.

Work hard, but make sure you play hard as well. Photo credit to patrisyu of freedigitalphotos.net
Work hard, but make sure you play hard as well. Photo credit to patrisyu of freedigitalphotos.net

Along the same lines of yesterday’s post, I do enjoy quite a bit of balance in my life. Yes, in our society we are constantly talking about the “work-life balance”, with some saying that it’s a myth and some saying that it is achievable.

As you may have read in yesterday’s post, I burnt myself out on too many social events several years ago; that aspect of my life has not been the only part that I have burnt myself out on. When I first started working in San Francisco, I found that I needed to make more money in order to be able to afford my first apartment there. So I took up a second job to complement my first job: both were part-time, so I figured I could fill out my 40 hours a week through those two jobs.

I quickly learned after a month of working both jobs that I could not keep both of them: I found myself lacking much free time for myself, which I value a lot for my sanity. So I left the second job to focus my efforts on the first one. Soon after, I changed jobs again and, try as I may, I was unable to do two jobs at the same time.

It’s not a matter of entitlement to say I didn’t need to work more than one job: it’s more a matter of being in tune with what would keep my happiness intact. Slogging away all my waking hours at different jobs stressed me out to the point where my free time was whittled away and I felt like I was becoming a machine with nothing else to live for except work.

So I learned my lesson: keep the balance of work and life to keep myself happy and healthy. I still did a bit of juggling jobs after San Francisco and up until early last year; these days, I am focusing my efforts on just my own business and giving myself the designated work hours in order to also allow myself daily downtime.

Even though some industries would encourage working all hours of the day, we must remember to take time every day to relax and have fun. Success isn’t really success if you end up burning yourself out.

#30PostsBefore30 Day 22: Know When To Say “No”

Cookout from June 2012.
Cookout from June 2012.

When I first moved to Denver in 2011, I was ready to get networking and meet new people. Heck, even before I landed in Denver, I already started networking via Twitter several months beforehand, following all sorts of businesses and people who already called Denver home.

I was anxious to meet people because I was ready to start my new life in a new city. So, I signed up for meetup groups and RSVPed to several meetups. I also reached out to a few Twitter friends to meet up with them.

From 2011 to about early 2013, I made sure I filled up most of my weeknights with some sort of event to meet new people and reconnect with folks I didn’t get to see on a regular basis. I got a high from being so social, which is strange since I consider myself more of an introvert (maybe an ambivert?).

However, all this socializing took a toll on me and there were a couple of times where I felt burnt out from social events. So then, I would proceed to be a hermit for several weeks, refusing to really meet up with anyone except for a few close friends and rarely leaving my apartment. I also went through a phase of RSVPing to events but then backing out last minute. I hated being a flake and felt guilty after I would back out.

I spent a lot of time alone towards the end of 2013 and I reflected on why I burnt myself out with so many social functions to attend: was I really getting much out of all the networking? Was I meeting quality connections? When I asked myself these questions, I realized that no, I wasn’t making myself happy by filling up my calendar. I needed to learn to say “no” to so many functions that ultimately didn’t serve much purpose for me.

Since that realization, I have cut back on attending too many events, being more discerning about which ones are worth going to and which ones I can pass on. When I do commit to an event, I make sure that I truly do commit and have a valid reason to attend.

These days, I am not afraid of saying “no” because I realize that, instead of fearing what others may think of my absence, I need to take care of myself and keep my sanity. Sure, there’s often the temptation of FOMO, but I’ve found that when I say “no” to the next “biggest event of the year,” I don’t feel much regret anymore.

#30PostsBefore30 Day 21: Never Stop Learning.

Sip n Paint, January 2013.
Sip n Paint, January 2013.

I love learning about new things: it’s always been one of my passions to keep learning about different topics in the world. Whenever I come across an unfamiliar word, I look it up immediately; whenever I come across a topic that intrigues me, I do my research on that topic.

My dad has said to me over the past couple of years how we should never stop learning: ever since his retirement in 2012, he and my mother have stayed sharp with learning new games to play and new skills. It’s so true though: if we ever lose our curiosity in this life, we lose the flavor of life.

This past weekend, I went to a painting class with my friend. In the class, we learned how to paint a “cozy cafe” scene and the instructor taught us a technique to make the paint look like it was dripping down the canvas. I had painted as a hobby before, but learning this little technique re-inspired me to want to learn more techniques to strengthen my painting hobby.

Knit hat. Photo credit to artur84 at freedigitalphotos.net
Knit hat. Photo credit to artur84 at freedigitalphotos.net

Another hobby I have been improving my skills upon is crocheting: thanks to Youtube and friends who are crochet masters, I have learned many new stitches to incorporate into my projects. Recently, I learned about the half-double crochet stitch and made a hat with mostly half-double crochet stitches. Tomorrow, I will learn how to use a quick-knit loom to knit a scarf; the many learning opportunities are endless for me.

I hope that when I am my parents’ age, I will still be as curious as I am today.

#30PostsBefore30 Day 20: Enjoy Every Moment Like It’s Your Last

I don’t like to be reminded of mortality, but who does? That advice of “Live each day like it’s your last” just sounds morbid.

But it does have a lesson: to be present in each and every moment and treasure everything around you, because you just never know what will happen next, really.

My grandmother and baby me.
My grandmother and baby me.

In August of 1999, I was about to enter into high school: marching band always started around the end of July so I was busy with preparing for the upcoming football season with the band. I was a somewhat typical teen in that I wanted to spend time with my friends and not so much time with my family.

At that time, my grandmother was already incapacitated from her first stroke, so my grandfather and my parents spent more time taking care of her. When I was younger, my grandmother raised me and my younger brother so my parents could run our family restaurant to provide financially for us and our extended family. My grandmother was practically my mother in that sense, and as a child, I felt closer to my grandmother.

When my grandmother was diagnosed with diabetes, I became her little nurse,¬†helping her check her glucose levels and administer her insulin. I didn’t understand why I was doing what I was doing, but I went along with it to be a good daughter and a good granddaughter.

With my grandmother being bedridden and unable to speak as clearly as she used to, it pained me to visit her, so I didn’t visit as much as I used to, especially once I started marching band.

The day of our annual marching band showcase (where we performed the year’s marching show for friends and family), my mother asked me to accompany her to visit my grandparents. I was adamant about the visit because I didn’t want to see my grandmother in her condition and also I was more interested in spending time with my pen pal, who happened to be my dad’s friend’s daughter, visiting from New Jersey.

I remember sitting on the couch at my grandparents’ house, bored and resigned while my grandfather and my mom helped my grandmother eat a bit of food. I remember my mother saying to my grandmother, “See? Helene has come to visit.” My grandmother looked at me and smiled slightly.

I remember I felt anxious to leave, and after what seemed like awhile, we did (the visit was probably a short one, but you know how teenagers dramatize things). I went on to hang out with my pen pal and we went to the marching band showcase.

That night, my younger brother and I saw ambulance lights flashing from a few houses down (where our grandparents lived) and we just assumed it was another hospital visit. Grandmother will be fine in no time.

The next morning, I awoke early to get ready for my eye appointment: I was to get contacts for the first time! I was getting all prepared for the appointment when my dad walked up to me. “Your grandmother passed away last night.”

I couldn’t fully comprehend the weight of his words. “What?”

“She had another stroke and she passed away.”

Immediately, my whole world fell away as I understood the reality: my grandmother was never coming back. The woman who changed my diapers, took care of me for most of my childhood: she was gone.

And bitterly, I thought back to the previous day and cursed myself for the way I acted on the last day my grandmother was alive. I didn’t fully appreciate that day because I took things for granted; I thought it was just another routine visit.

For many years after her death, I could not forgive myself for the way I acted and felt like her death was my fault. Only in this present day, with tears still streaming down my face as I recall this moment, do I feel that–well, I did the best that I could do at that moment. However, her death reminds me of this life lesson everyday: to be present and to be grateful for loved ones still alive. Every conversation, every visit matters. Cherish each and every moment because life is fragile.

#30PostsBefore30 Day 19: There is No Shame in Seeking Help

Seeking professional help is a strength, not a weakness. Image credit to Stuart Miles of freedigitalphotos.net
Seeking professional help is a strength, not a weakness. Image credit to Stuart Miles of freedigitalphotos.net

Seeking help from others should never be shameful: after all, one person cannot be expected to do all things on his or her own. Seeking advice from peers, colleagues, friends, mentors, etc. should be expected.

My post today though is not about the idea of generally seeking help from others: it’s more specifically about seeking professional help for mental health. As a society, this is still somehow shunned and looked down upon. If you’re seeing a “shrink”, there must be something wrong with you!

But trust me, there is nothing wrong with that: in fact, I believe that if you have the power and strength to admit that you need to talk with a therapist/counselor/psychologist/social worker, then you are stronger than many others out there who refuse to get the help because it’s “shameful”.

I might have needed talk therapy a lot earlier than I did, but I wasn’t aware of this available resource until my senior year of college. At that point, I had a roommate situation where the actual RA of our floor lived with me and she was the problem. We did not get along but we also refused to work on compromising; I tried to keep a strong front up, but I felt this stress eating away at me every time I came home. So I sought out counseling for the last semester of school to learn skills to cope with and overcome the stressful situation in a healthy way.

When I moved to San Francisco, I sought out counseling there as well because of the transitions I was going through with the move, work, and building new relationships in a new city. Counseling always felt to me like a sanctuary, where I knew that whatever I talked about at each session was private, just between us. I was comforted knowing that I had a neutral party to vent to about the struggles I was going through.

Over the years, I have had several different counselors since I have moved around the country a bit. I have enjoyed each session with each therapist I have seen: it’s nice to see how each of them have their own style. I feel that I have become much stronger and better at handling my emotions because of counseling. Granted, I had also been on antidepressants for four years and that had also helped me better handle day-to-day life.

In the end, I feel like we all, as a society, can benefit from even just a bit of talk therapy: we need that neutral, third-person view to help us gain clarity and improve our lives. We should never shame ourselves or others from seeking out professional help; after all, it does save lives and helps our society ultimately thrive.