On Being Self-Employed

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Finally, after 17 years of being an adult, and 17 years of being employed by others I am slowly reaching a double state:  being self-employed and being more of a morning person.  Since the dawn of late adolescence I have embodied the zombie paradigm of staying up past 12am (more like 3am or 4am) and waking up whenever I had to (be it 8am, 12pm, or as late as I can).  Work weeks consisted of going to sleep at a not-so-late time and waking up because I had to and sleeping in during the weekends.  Every morning was a sprint – wake up (usually a bit late), skip breakfast (breakfast on rare occasions), and getting that blood pressure up with the rush to work – just terrible.    To add, working for an employer consists of several inconveniences: the paradigm of management usually consists of some “jerk” behaving like he’s superior to you (ah, the illusion of power of middle management) – most likely because it is the only power he’ll ever come close to, set hours in which you come and go, some unnecessary workplace drama that kills productivity, and if you’re really good at what you do then they may treat you worse the better you become at your job.  The latter aspect refers to what Steve Covey refers to in “7 Habits of Effective People” as the lose-lose paradigm: people think that in order to be successful, they have to be “better” than someone else or someone else has to be “worse.”  If someone is good in a workplace, others will feel jealous and threatened – that is such a load of crap.

Being self-employed, the burden becomes how do I earn my next paycheck?  Also, I have to be concerned with how to set my own work hours and the self-employed person has to do everything a company does for you as an employee: marketer, price-setter, salesperson, administrative assistant, employee, supervisor/boss, and collector.  This may seem daunting, but compared to the chains of employment for agencies it actually rocks.  Actually, setting one’s own schedule is the most difficult and is something I am working through (it does not have to be 9-5 and that freedom is both freeing and scary).  Here are some more cons: working for others you won’t see the end product of your work (something that Karl Marx refers to in his critique of capitalism and something that is referred to in “The Wealth of Nations” by Adam Smith – the alienation of man/woman from his/her own work due to only working on a small portion of the complete product), there is less purpose as a result, you don’t set your own hours, you get rewarded for “good” work but punished for “excellent” work, you earn thousands or millions for a company but only get paid about 2% or less for your work (rough estimate), you have to beg to have time off (2 weeks out of 54 is not a whole lot, holidays included),  and your weekends consist of trying your best to forget that you had even worked in the past 5 days.

Moving on to setting my own schedule, it has been a constant struggle for a long time.  The adrenaline rush and anxiety of getting up and rushing somewhere every morning has taken its toll and so has the “staying up late” culture of youth – both just kill the health and most likely take off years or “good years” from our lives.  Getting up because you HAVE to versus because you WANT to gives the power of your schedule to someone else – sure you feel relieved after a day’s of work and I do miss that feeling, someone else is dictating when you come and go.   When you take that power back (and develop discipline along the way), all the work and scheduling comes from intrinsic motivation versus extrinsic (which is a longer lasting type of motivation which will help reach long term goals).  I remember reading recently that “Getting an education will earn you a living, but being self-educated will earn you a fortune.”  Being self-disciplined is one of the cornerstones for long term success.

Alright, that’s about it.  I’ve laid out my main reasons for disliking employment for other agencies.  Is there an upside?  Not really, not if you like bending over.  Well, I recently had a conversation with a friend about unability or unwillingness to “blend in” in a large organization, and perhaps that is my issue and my personal issue, but I still celebrate the freedom and possibilities of self-employment.  Self-discipline is still a virtue we may harness in any situation to better attain freedom from the restrictions of others.

Have a great day!

The End.

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Becoming a Writer: Part Tres

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Earlier tonight, I had the privilege of attending the Asian Pacific American (APA) Film Festival.  My friends Zhibo Lai and Christian Oh helped me to attend the event, and boy was I was I inspired!  I viewed two short films and a longer movie.  The first was about a young man searching for his roots and his biological father in Bali, the second was about children drawing in order to uplift their teacher who has been hospitalized with heart problems, and the third was called “Descendents” (directed by Yaser Talebi) and was about a father, artist, and teacher who went to Europe in search for his missing son.  The last movie featured very vivid storytelling and very emotional scenes with a lot of depth of thought and exploration of culture and family ties.

While watching the movie, I had ideas and story lines  firing through  my head and I couldn’t stop texting myself plot lines and story ideas.  It was amazing.  I felt the ideas and untold stories surging through my head and pretty soon I envisioned stories feature young Asian American adults and teens that centered around culture, human values, and some attachment to my own interests (martial arts, boxing, and philosophy) and experiences within the Asian American subculture.  Perhaps my favorite idea within the immediate horizon would be a short story highlighting the social value and communal aspect of “bubble tea” and how it brings people together and acts as the background of many types of social events: hangouts, first dates, parties, celebrations, and heart-wrenching breakups.  Love it or leave it, bubble tea is the centerpiece of many people’s life events and it is a fabric that is etched into our everyday social lives.  Bubble tea rules and I plan to write a story about it.

Being a normal sort of guy, not overly artsy (or artistic) or a prolific producer of the arts, I’d like to slowly transform myself from normal but thoughtful Joe-Blow to a scribe that can recount, mirror, criticize, and parody the smaller and larger experiences of human life and connect this to people’s everyday experiences and perspectives.  I want to refrain people’s perspective of reality to bring forth a more positive and empowering reality for all.  Like my friend Zhibo says: “It’s up to the artist to tell the ‘untold story’ ” (well, he was quoting a famous professor of scriptwriting from up north around New England area).  I plan to tackle that project.  I have been through many hardships and I have been able to reach a decent pinnacle in the small world of competitive martial arts – with those two as my fuel and motivation I will march forward with my goals and uncover my small view of the world.

This stems from my belief: ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.  I will do it.  Zing!  😀

Have a nice day.

Spirtuality and Ferocity

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While considering that I do a decent share of daily meditation and spiritual thought, you’d think that I’d slowly turn into this gentle, sage-like character that’s all at peace with himself.  In some ways this is true, but mostly, instead of turning inward and being content with my being and the world, I have increasingly become more distraught on the inside and discontent with the world  My practice and insights on the world have increasingly made me more aware of the destructive forces that eat up the world, and the amount of energy it would take to stop it.

I am up to the task, however, my choice of weapon is not the gentle admonishment of peace, but the piercing, clear sword of justice.  Artistically, verbally, and literally, no institution nor persons will be left untouched and unbothered by my pen once my radar hastracked them.  I have decided that part of my life goal is to not only help individuals, but to vehemently attack institutions that suppress groups and thus the human spirit.

I can provide a few examples, which include the sloven, unjust woes of capitalism – I am by no means anti-democracy nor anti-American, but I am anti-capitalism.  Within capitalism, private ownership and generating money is key.  Businesses usually operate unethically by cutting as many corners as they can in order to generate the greatest profits for the top executives – this means cutting employee wages (or not increasing them based on the standard cost of living), using substitute products (most times this is in food but also other products) to create an inferior product to sell for the same price or more expensive (or selling less of the product for the same price over time), and using district lines within neighborhoods to discriminate who they serve,  hidden biases against minorities, and hidden agreements between businesses to constantly have a demand for selling new products.

An example of the latter would be the computer and cellphone industry that constantly creates a need to regularly purchase the newest products of theirs to keep up with the times, making their products easier to break (thus creating the need for “cases” which opens a new market) and corrupt (creates another market for anti-virus programs), and most likely having hidden agreements with software developers and organizations that constantly update their system requirements and RAM memory requirement so that when a computer is about two years old it is barely useable because new programs only work with the newest computer systems.  A quality used to be able to last between 8-12 years before a repurchase where currently a computer may only last 2-5 years tops before it is considered obsolete.  This is pure greed.

Certain forces causes violent results among the population, yet the results are written off as individual failures or theories of racial supremacy/inferiority.  Sociological forces unfortunately determine much of people’s successes and failures – those who are success like to take individual credit for their accomplishment (ie- I graduated college because I’m smart and capable.  This is instead of thinking: I had the privilege of growing up with supportive parents, an upper middle class background, and a family with the funds to afford higher education for myself) and blame those less educated and fortunate for their own failures (ie – Who could get good grades in a school system that is inferior, projects low expectations for minorities, having had 3-5 relatives or friends that have been murdered or incarcerated, and parents that work double shifts every day [who would have time to cook for the kids and make them do homework?] ).  Most of human development and habit is learned – all is interrelated to social forces at play.

Lastly, another issue would be how much food and other products are trashed every year due to excessive output from manufacturers.  In their eyes, having an excess of supply would decrease demand and thus the value and price of their product.  Would they donate that excess to those who need it the most?  Nope, they will sooner trash their excess product to not “disrupt the market.”  Basically, what they’re insinuating is that the value of the dollar matters more than human lives.  Sick, just sick.

In order to fight this injustice, I fight back with greater ferocity than the forces used to subjugate people.  With the spirit of justice and the drive of righteousness I will strike down the deluded, the cruel, and the greedy.  Okay, that’s it.

The End.

A Trip to Change Your Life

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As some of you know, last year I had quit my job and had felt inspired to drive to California to live for 3 months and drove. back.  It was quite an adventure!  I wanted to become a writer and a damn writer I became.  I went down this path because I didn’t want to do the whole “work a job on the side and do what you’re passionate about then when you can make enough make the jump!”  I fuck that.  Sometimes I an all or nothing kind of person, and I learned back then when pirates raided on land they would sink the ship behind them – there was no escape but onward moving.

My trip, which probably totaled in the $3000 range, began in Maryland, then I drove down to North Carolina, and across the country to California.  In that time I saw all the open land and skies and met a few interesting people along the way. Removing myself from the normal routine and grind of the day helped me to find perspective, and the inspiration I felt to pursue something helped me to survive some pretty sloven life circumstance such as periods of time living on canned foods, french bread, and/or fresh California grapefruits and avocados.  Definitely, there were no regrets.  Even sometimes, now that I am settled back into normal living and working (well sort of, creating a start up for resume writing and just got hired by a resume writing company in the UK called The CV Center), I wonder how I could have even accomplished such a trip – I had no set plan, I had no idea where my money would come from when I ran out, and I didn’t know where I was going to be the next day.

The trip was a success and I came back home inspired.  Well, things weren’t perfect as I had brief bouts of unemployment, sleeping in my car, couch surfing, and writer’s block.  And of course, the DMV is the DMV – rude, entitled people who don’t give a shit that they stepped on your shoe.  However, in my lowest moment in recent times, I have always been able to draw the strength deep down to make it through because I have made such an investment in my spiritual health that I have meaningful purpose and strength while having cleared out about 70-80% of my life neurosis which clears up a lot of fuckin’ wasted energy – killing demons really bring you life!  As an aside, I like to face my demons head on and I had a lot.

A spiritual trip can really refresh your view of life and help carve a vision for your future that will bring you happiness and joy.  It can help you uncover the past and conquer demons that chip away at our souls at little bit each day.  We did not choose our life events and misfortunes, but we can choose to take a chance that will change how our everyday proceeds.  If your daily life is not filed with happiness, then how will that look and feel 50 years down the line?  The first step is the most difficult as that requires stepping from the usual and familiar, but you lose way more in a boring, humdrum, and meaningless life than in a soul adventure that can capture miracles and you will meet others like you along the way.  Of course, in my case this was spurred by some unfortunate events in my life that caused me to re-evaluate and change my life, but life is short, the sooner you do so the better!  My next goal would be to hike parts if not the whole Appalachian Trial (which starts in Georgia and goes to Maine) with a few friends.  Who wants to go?

Have a good day!

Lessons about Life

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This post proceeds without a definite aim or set agenda.  I just want to ramble a bit with my thoughts about life, passion, and finding the ideal pursuit.  First, life has so many turbulent and expected turns that it is sometimes difficult to center oneself and handle it all.  When one things goes right, another goes wrong and vice versa.  Sometimes they both happen at the same time and sometimes everything happens at one and then stops.  Such is the motion and flow of life.  I definitely see it happen often in my life.

However, when things get turbulent and chaotic I try to dig deep and find the lessons in life, ways I can better combat the problem next time, and how to come out of it thinking that it was a character builder.  One main lesson I’ve learned recently was that when I am dealing with too much turmoil in a situation that I don’t even enjoy (mainly work or academic), I turn my mind to the things and people that do matter to me.  They become my main focus, so the knockdown ends up becoming a source of strength and inspiration for me.  No matter how tough life gets, I will then go back stronger to my sources of inspiration: writing, martial arts, reading, and studying.

To add, my path is an unpredictable and unquantifiable direction: I want to be a scholar (sociologist, philosopher, and a bit of a Renaissance individual), a Zen master (figuratively), and a martial arts master.  Those things rate high on the spiritual and personal growth sector, but there are no measurements, no societal rewards, nor monetary rewards for them nor even clear markers for achievement.  I want to be the voice to unearth ignorance and free the people of cultural and socio-economic oppression and help to cure social injustice.  Big words from a little man, but I got my goals set up.  Spiritual values are my commodity so while I lose out in the short run when everyone is in the rat race of career, money, mortgages, and trips to Italy, I think holding on to what I really believe wins me prize in the end: a life well lived.

I’ve also been reading this book that I somehow came across by accident (it just showed up in my Amazon shopping cart one day and i bought it used for about $3), called The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner.  It’s about a scientist who travels around to different parts of the world to interview people who live in regions with high concentrations of centenarians, or people who have lived a hundred years or more.  It’s interesting, as many of them that live in areas ranging from rural America, to Italy, and Okinawa all have similar traits: a mainly vegetable/legume based diet, religious faith, strong social connections, an active lifestyle a purpose for living each day (whether it’s family, a job, to see a young person reach an accomplishment, friends etc.) etc.  Going on diet, from my memory, a variety of nuts, a staple food (rice, bread, or tortillas etc.), and plenty of fruits and vegetables were their dietary choices (the Okinawans ate tofu).  Some of them are dirt poor but get along, and most of them are fairly functional, independent, and even extremely strong.  They also emphasize not only the length of life, but your number of “good years” – meaning functional, healthy, and relatively disease/pain-free.  I believe you can only reach to that point living a happy life with activities and values that are meaningful to you.

To add, what it’s also interesting to note that man of the centenarians mentioned that most were rather unhappy between the ages of 40-80, but their happiness increased after the age of 80.  This included the slowing down of the body, but perhaps also some better perspective on life.  In a country where they value youth too much, I would say that it is overrated as you’re young, dumb, and invincible and fly head first into one disaster after another until you’re in pain, feeble, and left to question what mistakes you made when you were young while continuing to make the same mistakes.  Our mental and physical health is valuable and should be first on our list – not an after thought.  We don’t bring money to our grave, but we do bring health, the people around us, and a life worth living.

Have a good day.

Lessons that I Learned about Life Through Chess

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Growing up, I have always been a bit of a philosophical child.  I owe this to being exposed early to philosophy when I would enter the neighboring book store after I attended my Kung Fu lessons.  Over time, I had learned through my mentors and readings on Zen, Taoism, and Buddhism about the universality of the arts and spirituality.  What I mean is that your engagement with an art or religion is a reflection of your life and a microcosm of your triumphs and struggles.

In the book Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugene Hegel, the author, who is a German philosophy professor, sought to learn the lessons of Zen Buddhism through the art of archery.  Through his practice with the art and interactions with his master, he slowly unveils the deeper essence of his life and struggles with his self (and the parts that place obstacles in his path to the sublime – not letting himself, or the ego, shoot the arrow but rather letting “it” or the “qi”/energy  or universal force guide the arrow).

In addition to this book, there are other pieces of work that treat this matter in a very special way, and the movie Star Wars is another piece of work.  The movie works under the premise that there is a universal force that connects all beings and that through rigorous training the Jedi can overcome his/her  own personal obstacles and demons and let the “force” guide him/her.

It is a rather romantic notion to think that engaging in a game, activity, or art can bring one closer to a higher sense of being.  It is my experience in theory and in practice that if you practice an art long enough and sincerely enough, over time,  the art becomes you and you become the art.  Any problems and inner resistance you face in the art is a caricature of your problems in your real life – through solving the problems in the art you then better yourself and reach a higher level of self-mastery.

Now moving on from the long and verbose intro, I’ve been playing the game of chess quite seriously for about 6 years.  I started the game by teaching children and middle schoolers the basis – I decided that in order to teach them more effectively I had to play more in the “field” or in online games.  After losing two weekends in a row, I became hooked.  During my Thanksgiving holidays, I would huddle alone in my room and play for 14 hours straight.  During the weekends, I would play 5 or 6 hours at a time as all the week’s stress slowly melted away in captured pawns and castled rooks.

However, after playing for 4-5 years I still felt the “spiritual” or “sublime” levels of consciousness and the integration of the art into my psyche and soul still escaped.me.  Chess was still a cerebral game that I played 3-4 times a week to relax and relieve stress.  Slowly, I did see some parallels in my life such as my making simple mistakes is a reflection of my rashness in making decisions at times or my temper flaring when I lost a major piece or a game also became apparent.  Chess was reflecting upon my personality’s flaws and shortcomings.

It was only into my 6th year that I had finally began to experience a sense of peace, total absorption, and  spontaneous creativity that I had associated with the deep participation of any game or art,  I have slowly become “renewed” or “reinvented” every time I played the game and the more I played the greater the lessons.

Recently, I had underwent some intense losing streaks in which my normal floating score of 1150-1200 (think SAT scores; 1600 being a high level club player, 1200 being a decent beginner, and 2000+ equals master and eventually grandmaster levels) had dropped down to lows such as 920-1030.  It had remained that low for about a year, and I chose to “invest in loss” as the Tai Chi masters discuss – this means to eat the bitterness of defeat in order to improve and reach mastery in the long run.  I ate a lot of defeat  and learned from each loss, and definitely lost to some less reflective and simpler players.

Finally, about a week ago, over night I had jumped from low 1100s to low to mid 1300s. While struggling with 900 and 1050 level opponents for the past year, I was suddenly knocking out 1300 opponents, and even drawing or besting some 1400 level opponents.  All my struggles and hardships and lessons finally surfaced and I reached a breakthrough.

So what have been my latest lessons?  Well, I’ll bullet point some of my best lessons which apply very aptly to life:

–  Take your time when making a decision, see the angles, don’t rush, and when you decide, go forward with full conviction

–  Don’t get angry or mad when you lose or make a major mistake; learn from the lesson and if the game is not over then try to see how you can make your loss an advantage.  If nothing else, play to the end to practice perseverance and tenaciousness – half the time I win a losing game on that quality alone.

–  Don’t play to get a higher score or to beat the opponent, but play to learn whether you win or lose.  Also, never forget that enjoying the game is the first and foremost important principle

–  Let the game meld with your personality and don’t play based on “memorized” moves or other people’s favorite moves but pay through what feels most “right” in your heart.  Let the pieces reflect your personality and my game includes: taking chances, playing to win as opposed to not lose, playing with boldness, not shying from a challenge, not being afraid to lose, allowing rivals to help me raise my level, and not cheating myself nor my competitor with empty parlor tricks or desperate moves for the sake of a single victory (internal Chinese Martial Arts Master Wang Xiang Zhai said: “It is better to lose correctly than to win incorrectly.”

–  Practice good manners and good sportsmanship whether you win or lose.

–  When someone is disrespectful or impolite, don’t take it out on them but take it out on the board – play with greater ferocity.

–  The more you practice, the better you get.

That’s it for now.  If you reached the end of this article, then you must be really bored or have the attention span of an Oxford scholar!  Have a great day!  😀