I’ll Do It Tomorrow

Someone once said that flowers are a better gift when the recipient is alive rather than as a decoration on the recipient’s casket.

Even so, our culture frowns upon affirmation and encouragement and we wait until people can no longer hear us to share about how much we care and admire them.

A superior once told me that over-encouraging people who were reporting to me at work was a bad idea because people would become cocky and lazy. My management style relies heavily on affirming the strengths of those in my team and so this concept of people stagnating due to praise made absolutely no sense to me.


I remember being incredibly shook up when my roommate’s mother passed away out of the blue. There were a lot of family similarities when it came to age, family dynamic, and life stages. I remember calling my mother and telling her that I loved her to which she quite alarmingly responded, “What’s going on? What’s wrong? What do you need? Are you in trouble?”

I think something snapped in me that day and I decided that life was too short to hold back on being “sentimental” or to hold back on expressing how I really felt. I started being so much more vocal about my care and appreciation for my family, friends, and even coworkers.

Every instance where I used to say “I’ll do that tomorrow” or “I’ll say that to them later on in a letter or a text when it’ll be less awkward” I began to just swallow my pride and vocalize it right when I felt inclined to. I had to break down these walls I built as a young person in which I was rejected for being too sentimental and just risk it each time, because quite frankly, I was not promised the next day.


My favorite series of icebreaker questions goes something like this:

“If you had unlimited resources, what would you do?”

“If you had unlimited resources but the doctor said you had a year to live what would you do?”

“If you had your current resources and a year to live what would you do?”

“So what’s keeping you from doing those things right now?”


I love this series of questions because it begs the question of what do you find to be the most important in your life?

Amidst the concatenation of career, dreams, passions, relationships, organizations, family, and friendships, it is easy to misprioritize the different categories in our lives.

We buy into the fantasy of being invincible without realizing that in doing so, we falsely believe that we are somehow exempt from tragedy and loss in our own lives.

And yet all of us put our blind faith in the sound mindedness of strangers to preserve our own lives. There are only dotted lines separating us from collisions on the freeway. We trust that the critical connection points on the elevator shaft have not rusted through. We think that if we don’t know anyone who has died because of a virus that it is therefore immaterial.


I am terribly afraid of dying alone.

For most of my life, I was searching for someone so that I could have the comfort of not dying alone.

And then it dawned on me.

Unless I died in a tragedy simultaneously with my loved ones, I will probably die alone.

It was in this moment that I realized for so much of my life, I had been living for the future: the security of what was to come. Oftentimes I failed to live in the present, simply hoping for something better to happen tomorrow.

I couldn’t really appreciate what was happening now no matter how amazing because if the moment was memorable I was thinking of ways to replicate it in the future, instead of simply being present with the people I was with in the moment.

Planning the next trip while on a great trip. Scheduling the next hang out while this one wasn’t even over yet. Agonizing over the coming end or change of a friendship or relationship.

I was always afraid of the end.


Once I accepted that all things (even the best things) do in fact come to an end, it changed how I lived my life.

What freedom there is to appreciate the moment for what it is. What wonders await when we live in the moment and the present?

I no longer worry about coming off as too sentimental when I vocally appreciate my friends and family, because for all I know, this could be the last interaction that we share.

And when I live that intentionally, there is not this fear of the end of life here sneaking up on me and robbing me of the opportunity to say how I really felt.


We live in crazy times, and our virtual lives rob us of so many genuine interactions.

How often do we pass on meaningful conversations and interactions just to refresh the page to see if we have more messages or notifications?

How often do we use the excuse of “waiting until next time” to tell friends or family that we care about them and that we appreciate them?

Do we really want to share our fondest memories with someone in a eulogy to strangers?


Live in the present and seize the day.

Don’t let your life be defined by “I’ll do it tomorrow”

Tell Me A Story

I love stories.

From character studies like Steinbeck’s East of Eden to the epic film that is The Shawshank Redemption, a good story invites the audience to look at life differently.

I remember being a child and listening to my dad’s favorite tracks on cassette tapes. He was notorious for playing his favorite track then flipping the cassette and listening to whatever happened to be on the other side for as long as his favorite song was before flipping back to the other side so that he could “repeat” the song. From a young age, he would quiz my sisters and me on what songs meant. It is a memory I look back on fondly even though at the moment, I hated listening to the same song over and over again just to try and figure out what the “right answer” to the question was.

$9.99 per month is what I have spent on Spotify Premium for the last four years. And even with the knowledge that I’ve spent $480 on this subscription in the last four years, I still find this $10 to be the most well-spent money of each month.


Years before I was able to go to therapy, I remember feeling alone and misunderstood. There was always something so therapeutic and so intimate about certain songs and artists. I remember the album Comatose by Skillet encompassing my feelings on friendships lost and the pain of moving and leaving people behind. I remember 2000’s alternative putting into words the conflicting emotions of growing up and the pains of heartbreak.

My music tastes evolved from Gospel and “Christian rap” to a little bit of everything. Nowadays there might be Stupid Deep by Jon Bellion, Modern Loneliness by Lauv, Dead Horse by Hayley Williams, Clarity by Andy Mineo, Delicate by Taylor Swift, Last Supper by D Smoke, Backpocket by Vulfpeck, Clueless by the Marias, and Best is Yet to Come by Red all on the same playlist.

I love how music transcends the physical experience. The best musicians are able to transport the listener to specific times in their lives while also causing the listener to feel something. Sometimes, musicians are able to make us feel things that we haven’t even experienced in real life yet! It never ceases to amaze me.


In a similar way, the most compelling films cause the audience to draw comparisons to themselves. I’m not an ice queen on a mission to discover the past sins of my family line, but when Elsa embarks on her journey with a mixture of trepidation and determination, I feel her anthem of traveling into the unknown.

When Colin Firth’s character in the King’s Speech struggles physically to find his voice, I resonate with that fear of failure and that daily struggle of wanting to be different than who I have been in the past.

When Alexander Hamilton spoke to the feeling of “running out of time,” I felt that. I’m racing a clock I can’t see, and I’m afraid of not being able to do what I need to do before time runs out.

When Woody wrestles with leaving his friends as his “life” approaches a new season, I felt that tension. As Buzz gave him permission and validation to move on to this next season of his life, it was as if I was being given permission to move on.


But what makes the best stories so compelling and relatable?

The struggle.

In real life, conflict, struggle, and hardship are such a nightmare to deal with in live time. How often I wish for the hard times to be over. Sometimes I want to pull out the remote from Click and just fast forward through the hard parts.

But what would a movie be without conflict and drama? What if the protagonist never faced a single challenge?

I’ve been realizing that the same reason that I love film and music for their ability to paint a picture of struggle and triumph are the same reasons that I oftentimes despise the difficult seasons of life.

Because in life, we aren’t just empathizing with the characters… we are the characters. That pain, trauma, and drama isn’t just a scene or a sequence of heroic couplets, it’s real life.


In these times, it can be so overwhelming to have so many diametrically opposed views shoved into our faces every day. It takes a certain level of courage, tenacity, and grittiness to make it through your social media unscathed and mentally intact.

I think this is why so many of us have turned to stories to distract and comfort us. I definitely watch the Office because I feel like my life is a joke sometimes and I just want to feel like I’m not the biggest idiot in the room.

And yet, besides being a coping mechanism, I really believe in the power of stories to change conversations and paradigms of thought.

We can vicariously experience hardships we’ve never personally encountered. We can learn to see things from a different point of view. We can learn to empathize with those who we see as the antithesis of who we are. We can become aware of blind spots in our own characters and behaviors.


Beyond the consumption of music and film, I really believe in the power of your individual story.

I think many of us have been told that our stories simply aren’t important. So we stand to the side and we listen eagerly to those whose stories are truly something “extraordinary.”

Yet as great as my favorite films and songs are, nothing inspires me more than the stories of my friends and family. A guy who had a dream to be a forensic accountant and beat the odds to work for the FBI as a forensic accountant? A gal who struggled to find a career that she felt was doing something for the world who applied to an internship with the UN and got picked a year later? A guy who ran several marathons and inspires others to run marathons too? A refugee who ran from two war-torn countries only to have to start over in the United States years later and somehow manage to buy a house, raise a family, and retire while beating multiple potentially fatal diseases?

These are the real stories.


In closing, I’d like to reflect on one of my favorite movies in recent times, La La Land.

The story centers around two individuals who have big dreams. One longs to be an actress and she moves from failed audition to failed audition. The second wants to open a jazz club but he struggles to pay the bills as it is. They meet each other at the bottom of their deepest valleys and a summer romance for the books ensues. Yet even amidst the joys of the relationship, a tension between the two characters begins to build as more sacrifices are required by both of them to pursue their individual dreams and passions. Some trials they face together, but the biggest ones they face alone.

I love the story because it highlights the importance of personal dreams and aspirations over the oft-prioritized romanticized relationship. The two characters are there for each other in a season, but as the seasons change, they decide to part ways in order to go after what they want. The film does a wonderful job of illustrating that doing what you feel like you were designed to do, does not make you selfish or callous. In fact, it illustrates that oftentimes people come into our lives for a season to call out skills, traits, or determination out of us and though our time may be limited, it is no less precious or special.

The film ends with the now successful actress continuing the pattern of encouraging the next generation of aspiring actress-baristas. And yet she would not have been able to understand that struggle if she had not herself gone through that.


So wherever you are in this crazy world right now, whether it is a majestic mountain peak or a dismal and depressing valley, just remember that your story is important and that it needs to be shared.

We all start somewhere and life is cyclical. We never quite “make it,” and we aren’t ever in the “happily ever after” but there is still something so amazing about the entire journey. Every event both good and bad has a specific purpose and the underdog generally turns out to be the hero.

Write your story but don’t forget to tell it too.

-pH

 

Permission to Fail

A few years ago, one of my friends introduced me to indoor bouldering. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the activity, bouldering is basically rock climbing without harnesses or ropes.

Contrary to what I thought, my ability to do pullups did not mean that I was automatically going to excel at this indoor activity. I remember going every month, bumming off of my friend’s guest pass, and usually going home with patches of skin missing from my hands.

I had an interesting problem when it came to bouldering: oftentimes when a few handholds away from the end of the route, I would panic, and begin to downclimb instead of using my energy to finish the climb. As my arms would fill with blood and become pumped, as I was ascending, a fear of falling would completely override any desire that I had to complete the ascent.

My friend was always super encouraging and would do her best to coach me on how to climb these fairly basic routes. And yet, most of the time, I’m ashamed to admit, that I couldn’t even hear her, over the sound of my internal thoughts telling me that I was incapable of finishing the route.

I remember watching Youtube videos and realizing that I was really just afraid of falling off of the wall. In fact, I would rather, embarrass myself and not even try to make it the last part of the way, than to try and fail.

I remember using one entire session trying to practice letting go of the wall at different parts to get over my fear of falling. But even then, that fear remained.


As I internally processed this fear of falling and failure I began to realize that this fear went beyond indoor bouldering.

One day, while wondering why I was so afraid of falling, I remembered a long erased memory. When I was maybe 10 or 11, I was rock climbing with a harness and the person who was supposed to be belaying me dropped me halfway down the wall before the rope caught me.

Suck it up, and get over it right? That happened a long time ago right?


Upon some further processing, I realized that due to childhood experiences and trauma I experienced in my life, I actually have a crippling fear of failing.

Most of my Asian friends can relate with bringing back 90-99% test scores, and still being told that ninety anything wasn’t 100%. I remember being homeschooled and writing and re-writing my papers until my teachers were satisfied with them. Somewhere in the high-performance environment, I completely lost the ability to create anything that wasn’t “perfect.”

As life continued, I became painfully aware of the fact that I could never actually be perfect. UCI’s engineering program kicked my ass and I winded up on academic probation for two straight quarters, got kicked out of engineering, and scraped by miraculously by getting into the school of social sciences for business economics. In my relationships and friendships, I realized that I could not in fact always say the right things. In fact, I could never seem to be on everyone’s good side.

I chased approval from all the authority figures in my life and acceptance from all of those I cared about, yet I seemed to fall short every. single. time.

To a healthy person, who understood that perfection was a myth, this might have just been a minor setback, but to me who somehow believed that perfection was not only attainable but expected, this crushed me.

I sunk into despair and paralysis as I struggled to find fulfillment in a life where it was clear that I could not impress anyone nor myself.


After years of not pursuing what I was passionate about and not creating for fear of creating something subpar, I began a very long process of healing and trial and error.

A friend said that anyone could run a marathon.

I knew there was no way I could.

So I said that I was going to do it.

I trained for a year. I was inconsistent. I got injured multiple times. I struggled.

When the race day came, I walked half of the race.

But I finished.

What happened next was weird. I never believed in my wildest dreams that injury-prone, kicked from the track team twice Paul could even finish a 26.2 mile race.

So even though there was shame from having walked the second half due to knee pain, there was a weird sense of “at least I finished… I already accomplished more than I ever dreamed possible.”

This experience began to unravel my flawed perceptions of life and perfection. This began to rescue back my permission to fail and my permission to be less than perfect.


From that point on, I began to approach trials and challenges in a healthier way.

I began to realize that to fail is to be human.

We might strive for perfection, but perfect just does not exist.

I began to create again and I put out videos that were shaky, low quality, and not as good as the ones that popped up in my IG feed.

One day, when I was especially discouraged I texted this rapper I admire and asked him how he managed to motivate himself to create when he started out.

To my absolute surprise, he emailed me back this awesome email of encouragement of how we must create for ourselves and not for the approval of others. He said we can’t get better without putting out cringy content in order to learn and adapt. He went on to say that there will always be critics and that generally speaking, critics are those that are salty that they themselves can not create (or lack the bravery to create).


I was over the moon when I received the email, but after processing the whole concept a little more I realized something I had missed before:

God has blessed me from the beginning of my life with people who have believed in me and have encouraged me to create and to try. My fear of failure and consequent tendency towards paralysis was a coping mechanism that I used to try and cope with feeling like I was never good enough.

I am my own worst enemy.


This one goes out to all the self-proclaimed failures.

We didn’t meet their expectations.

Heck we didn’t meet our expectations.

Our dreams crashed and burned.

We are nowhere near where we said we would be at this point in time.

We are afraid to try because we are afraid to fail.

And so we sit and we spin and we go nowhere.

I believe in you!


One of the biggest lessons I learned from therapy, is that showing yourself grace is often one of the hardest but one of the most rewarding things you can ever do.

It turns out that you are incredible, and that when faced with failure or trials that seem insurmountable, you somehow find a way to adapt. 

But you can never adapt if you never fail and you can never fail if you never try.


“I’ve tried before… you don’t even know how many times… And all I’ve done is fail. Time after time after time”

After about mile 19 during the marathon, everything in my body screamed for me to stop. Muscles I did not know that I had literally spasmed in agony as each step felt like a jackhammer was ripping through my muscle and bone. Even as I was pathetically limping and walking alongside everyone else who was also limping along, the pain was almost overwhelming.

I remember that my thoughts went from, “I can make a decent time still” to “It’s okay if I walk, I can still finish” to “Oh God everything hurts, I don’t know if I can finish” to “I just need to put this foot in front of my other one”

Life has some seasons where we feel great and then there are the other seasons where it takes all of our efforts just to put one foot in front of the other.

Just keep moving!

Don’t give up! You can do this!

In the words of one of my favorite fictitious characters, “Life ain’t about how hard you can hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.”

Close your eyes.

Take a deep breath.

And.

Keep walking.

 

Best,

pH

 

 

Go Where You Grow

Some say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

There have been many times in my life where I’ve really struggled with feeling like I was not progressing. The scenario would differ from case to case, but it always felt a bit like being a hamster on a motorized running wheel: exerting so much force, yet accomplishing nothing.

One of the hardest things as a young person is finding a sense of self-worth and purpose when family, education, and long-held beliefs are stripped away.

We look to mentors, bosses, professors, family members, friends, and colleagues to validate us and to see value in us. For many of us, the wind is swiftly removed from our sails as those we look up to, invalidate us and write us off as not being worth the risk or the time.


For years after earning my bachelor’s degree, I struggled with the tension between what my school told me I was worth and what the jobs I worked paid me.

As an engineering student who failed out and had to re-tool halfway through his college career, it was demoralizing to have that security of direction stripped away.

I allowed my bosses to critically affect how I viewed myself. I bought into the lie that as a young person, my time, my sanity, and my value as a person were worth less than the mandates of the job.

Overtime was a given, and caring for oneself was simply not the way to building a successful career.

Do better.

Be better.

Sacrifice everything.

The business comes first.


I just finished a fantastic book called East of Eden by John Steinbeck. In the book, a major theme is that of the importance of each individual’s choice.

A possible interpretation of the story is that, no one is fated to be good or evil but that instead, each person may choose the path that they traverse.

Oftentimes we believe that we must stick with something or that we must earn the approval of a certain authority figure.

We agonize as time and time again we are trampled and simply not appreciated for the work we put in and the value we bring. Living and dying for affirmation and validation, we hold onto a romanticized notion of what it would be like to finally be recognized and valued.

All the while… we know that the day will never come when we will be seen for more than the box we have been placed into.


There is a story of a boy who is tasked by his dying grandfather to ask the local pawn shop how much it would buy an old watch for. The pawnshop owner offers a paltry amount of five dollars or so.

The grandfather then asks the boy to ask the local store how much they would buy it for, and that store also proceeds to quote a price of not much more than ten dollars.

Lastly, the grandfather asks the boy to take it to the watch museum where the museum offers the boy something around a million dollars because the watch is an antique.

The grandfather tells the boy that value is in the eyes of the beholder and that it is important to go only where his intrinsic value is appreciated.


Some will read this and will insist that laziness or some other character flaw is the downfall of our generation. They might say that hard work is the key to being recognized and that believing that we are unique and have giftings in different areas is a stupid and ineffective way of falsely building the self-esteem of a soft generation that can’t handle the pressure of working hard and striving for greatness.

Indeed, hard work and diligence are critical to success and growth. However, I would argue against the labels that the older generations place on our shoulders.

We went to school even when the threat of imminent death at the end of a gun was a very real possibility.

We watched our families crumble as our parents’ years-long stifling of their emotions manifested in mid-life crises, divorces, and ultimately fractured families.

We traversed a whole new battlefield of online bullying and complete removal of privacy as we chose to stay connected and relevant on social media.

There are so many trials that we face that generations before us did not experience in the same quantities or magnitudes.

Indeed, we are not weak.

You are not weak.


This post is for the discouraged and the passed over.

Those of us who were more than qualified and worked our asses off, yet never seemed to earn the favor of those in power.

You have value, and just because your boss or supervisor doesn’t see it or acknowledge it, doesn’t mean that you don’t.


Sometimes when we are pushed down and ignored for too long, we buy into the lie that we have nothing to offer and that we truly have no value.

When this happens we oftentimes become paralyzed and we wait for change to magically occur as we repeat the same motions that have done nothing for us in the past.

And we wait.

And wait.


The truth of the matter is that not everyone is capable of appreciating what we uniquely bring to the table. That being said, many will not appreciate us.

Significant others, family members, bosses, and friends will take us for granted and completely miss all that we are capable of.

And that is okay.

Life is far too short to try and earn the affection and approval of those who simply won’t see what is right in front of them.

Love yourself enough to say, “Enough of this bullshit. I’ll take my talents elsewhere and go where I grow.”


I worked at places prior where I was told that I was stupid, that I was too emotional, and that I was the problem that caused dysfunctionality within the team.

I spent years growing, adapting, and trying to meet the ever-moving standards that my bosses would place upon me, but I was never enough.

It was the scariest and hardest thing for me to take a step of faith and leave.

Now I work at a place where the CEO constantly praises my ability to communicate, my organizational skills, and my personality.

Not much has changed about me, and yet my bosses see the value that was always there and they go a step further as they validate and affirm it.

They constructively coach me and help me to grow, but they make sure that I know how valuable I am to them verbally and otherwise.


Deciding to journey into the unknown can be so terrifying, but remember that you are human and that you can only give so much. If you are giving your all and it still isn’t enough to appease those who you are working for, it isn’t worth dying a little bit every day to fight a battle that can’t really ever be won.

You are worth more than you know.

If the people you work for make you feel like they don’t need or value you the opposite is in fact the truth: You don’t need them.

Go where you are appreciated for who you are.

Uncomfortable Conversations

I am writing this in May of 2020. Two and a half months have passed since the mandate of a quarantine in Southern California due to Covid-19. Life has been disrupted on a global scale for everyone regardless of class and social status.

There is unrest everywhere, but especially in the land of the “free.”

On February 23, 2020 two civilian white men shot and killed 25 year old Ahmaud Arbery as he was jogging in the street. Their justification for killing this man was that they believed him to be the “suspect” that was responsible for local break-ins.

On March 13, 2020, three plain clothes police officers forced their way into an apartment searching for individuals who were already in custody. They did not announce themselves and they exchanged gunfire with a man inside who was a registered and licensed gun owner that was acting in self-defense in what he thought was a house invasion. The officers would end up killing 26 year old Breonna Taylor in the ensuing firefight.

On May 25, 2020,  46 year old George Floyd was murdered by a police officer that kneeled on his neck for minutes on end until he was dead.

Civilians taking the “law” into their own hands on someone they alleged was a thief.

Police in plain clothes looking for someone who was involved in narcotics that did not announce themselves that fired round after round into an apartment building.

Police officers arresting a compliant man for paying with a counterfeit bill and then minutes later killing that man in an agressive and sadistic way after hearing again and again that he could not breathe.


The country is reeling as protests are taking place all over the country. Some of these protests have turned violent and individuals are taking to the internet to voice their displeasure at the dangerous environments that are forming… for them.

Disingenuous and half-assed “my prayers are with the families of _______” followed by denials of they systemic problem that has been afflicting the United States for centuries fill social media.

Absolute radio silence from those who are comfortable and unaffected by racial tension and prejudice when innocent people are dying, but an absolute excess of unwarranted, unbased, and ignorant “arguments” and comments about how “protesting and violence is never the answer.”

“Vocal about the looting, silent on the murder”

This is the context into which this post is being written.


The Talk:

I remember when I was maybe around age 10, I was super into jedi knights and power rangers. I remember walking into a Wal-Mart and seeing a life sized cut out of probably Anakin Skywalker or something and striking a pose pretending to fight it. I distinctly remember my parents telling me to behave myself and to stop play-fighting while I continued to do so. My parents gave me the scolding stare to which I realized that I was actually in trouble. After being reprimanded at home, and being taught an introduction on how my behavior needed to be different due to pre-existing stereotypes based upon my skin color, my parents did their best to communicate to me that I did not always need to know “why” I was not allowed to do something. They went on to articulate that disobedience oftentimes meant exposure to dangers I did not understand.

Later that week my parents found a documentary on the KKK and had me watch it to help reinforce the importance of not being wise in my own eyes and being obedient when instructed not to do something. I felt a cold fear grip my stomach as I learned about these atrocities that humans would commit against other humans. It was that day that I learned about racism. It was that day that I learned, that it was foolish to not be afraid.


“The Innocent Are Never Afraid”

As the oldest and most rebellious of my sisters and cousins, I was always getting into trouble. Sometimes, I would not be the instigator of the current day’s antics, and yet I would be afraid of getting into trouble. I remember that one time, my mother said that “if I was innocent, I shouldn’t be afraid or guilty.” Regardless, a fear I have always had is being accused and convicted of a crime I did not commit.

This fear is not easily understood if you have not experienced firsthand the unforgiving and ugly head of injustice. In this country, we are taught that the “bad guys” are the only ones who should fear the police, because they are here to protect and serve the “good guys.” As a child, I one day discovered that being a “good guy” was only a matter of perspective.

On one specific occasion when I was around 9-10 years old, my family went to the outlets at Camarillo. I was in a golf shop with my sister and we were behaving as we had been taught by our parents. We were not the leashed children kicking and screaming and bouncing off the walls. We were well-behaved and simply looking at the different gear and seeing if there was anything we could convince our dad to buy for us. We looked at some cool gloves that were tied down to the table and tried them on, and we perused the different aisles.

The middle aged white male manager made eye contact with me once and chilled me to the bone with his judgmental gaze. I broke his gaze and made an excuse to my sister for us to get out of there and we went next door to the shoe store where our parents were.

I felt afraid for some reason as his gaze burned in my mind.

So I hid in the back of the shoe store.

I watched through the window as the golf store manager made his way from the golf gear store into the shoe store. He made eye contact with me, sneered, and then made his way to my dad. It was easy to pick out my parents because we were the only Asians there, but he proceeded to accuse me of stealing a pair of golfing gloves. My dad calmly said, that I had not taken anything, but that I could prove it and had me come up and asked me what happened. I explained that Mary and I had been in the store, that we had looked at and touched the display gloves, but that we left after that. The manager didn’t believe me, so my dad asked me to pull out my pockets, which I did. They were empty, and the manager left without so much as an apology. My parents proceeded to tell me to be careful in stores and to keep my hands out of my pockets and to avoid acting suspicious.

I never forgot that feeling.

The sheer fear.

Fear not of being guilty, but being perceived to be guilty


Asian-American Identity Crisis

I’ve struggled for years to articulate what I wanted to say in this post. I’ve wanted countless times to explain and articulate what it is like to grow up as a minority in the United States. To explain why the fact that the Avengers are all white affects the roles which Asian American children believe they fit into. To articulate why after the first few minutes of meeting me, if you can’t stop making jokes about my last name, that I can’t just laugh and shrug it off. To try and make people understand that the demonization of people of asian descent in media is bothersome to me.

Yet, it is always such an uncomfortable topic to breach. For most of the time, my experiences and explanations fall upon ears that do not understand and do not try to understand. I am instructed to continue to be a model minority, and to carry on as if nothing wrong is happening.

I’ve learned that if I want better treatment in restaurants to wear button up shirts and to keep proper posture.

If the interview is business casual, show up in a suit, show up earlier than 10 minutes before, and to always smile regardless of what the situation is or what is being asked of me.

The answer to “where are you from” is a question that I must answer without fair reciprocation. Because I am Chinese because my grandfather was born there and the asker of the question is simply “American” because he is white. It doesn’t matter that I’ve never even laid a foot in China, but that is who I am according to the people who ask that question.


Conditional Acceptance

For those who think that minorities in the United States make too big of a deal about systemic racism in this country and that we ignore the struggles of the majority, let me break it down into more concise terms.

It is uncomfortable to be a minority in the United States because our acceptance into this society is entirely and utterly conditional. 

Let me say that in different words: as people of color, our acceptance in this country, is fully dependent upon events and actions that we are oftentimes not even remotely affiliated with.

It seems that whatever trial the United States faces, the people who pay are the ones who fit the template set forth by the government, the media and the masses. Don’t believe me?

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, who had their rights as United States Citizens stripped away as they were sent to camps that have all been since forgotten by the masses?

Nobody wants to do the backbreaking blue collar work in the farms and fields, but when the economy crashed in 2007 which group was attacked for “stealing all the jobs.”

The country enjoys cheap clothing, goods, and imports at the expense of labor trafficked individuals overseas because of the choices of in-state companies and CEO’s but who is accused with “stealing” domestic jobs?

After 9/11, which people group was singled out by airport security and numerous government organizations and demonized endlessly in the media and in everyday settings?

EVER since the founding of this country which people group has been endlessly wronged, beaten, tortured, and killed in a never ending stream of hate crimes?

The average white United States Citizen can not fully understand what it feels like to live in a constant state of limbo that a minority lives in. For in the blink of an eye, any colored individual could lose their “government promised” rights in the name of national security because unbeknownst to us, the conditions might have changed.

As a special note to my friends of color (but a still valid example to my white friends if you are able to empathize and place yourself in this situation) who do not believe that the issue is systemic, I ask you to consider the hypothetical situation in which the ethnic people group that you have descended from committed some sort of act of war against the United States. Perhaps a country you have never been to but have only heard of in stories from your grandparents or parents. I ask you to think about how our government and the organizations that are tasked with enforcement and intelligence would handle you.

And as you consider arguments that may be related to your innocence and non-involvement in anything sinister, I ask you to consider the Japanese Internment Camps and the Patriot Act. As the fear sets in of having what you say and claim about yourself disregarded and your “rights” stripped away, realize that this is an everyday reality for many.


Being Chinese During the Coronavirus

I remember stepping out of my car early in the Covid-19 quarantine with an N95 mask that I had purchased during the LA fires years ago. Social distancing was already in place, masks were mandated, and protective gear was everywhere.

I distinctly remember how it felt to be standing in line and to see people staring at me and continuing to stare angrily as I followed all the rules and procedures that were set forth. I remember cashiers being short with me, getting called out for wearing an N95 as opposed to just a cloth mask for civilians, and I distinctly remember that first couple of weeks on social media.

“China hides the true death toll of covid in Wuhan as crematoriums work overtime”

“Researchers confirm that China engineered the virus in a lab”

I remember reading stories of Asian Americans getting harassed at stores, on subways, in everyday places just because of what they looked like.

I was on edge to put it lightly.

I was afraid to go home because I didn’t want to risk being a carrier and getting my family sick.

I was afraid to go get groceries because people are unpredictable when they are afraid.

I remember thinking to myself that this was a terrible time to be Asian.


Unclear Regulations and Aggressive Enforcement

In late April, a friend of mine told me that there was a basketball court that was open and that its hoops were uncovered. She told me that she saw people playing there daily and that she would sometimes go to practice ball handling and shooting.

She invited me to go and play, but I was uncertain due to the ever changing rules and regulations about outdoor activity. So I called the Irvine Police Department non ermergency line and asked them if playing basketball on an open court was legal at the time.

The officer I spoke with told me that as long as there was no signage that the park was closed, and that we maintained social distancing rules, that it was perfectly legal.

My friend and I proceeded to play three one on one games and shot around. In the time we were there, there were four other people who also shot around. For 1.5 of the 2 hours we were there, others were there enjoying the park as well. Near the end everyone left and it was just her and me.

As we were about to leave, a masked and mid twenties white private security officer briskly approached us as we were switching shoes and talking about how much we missed basketball.

He hyper aggressively asked us if we knew that it was illegal to use parks.

As I began to respond, he cut me off and said that it was illegal and that we were not allowed to be there.

As I began to say that I had been uncertain but that I had called the Police department to ask he cut me off yet again and asked me to stay six feet away from him as I shifted my weight from my right to my left foot.

I tried to start again to say that we were sorry and that the court was not visibly closed and that there was no signage indicating it was to which he interrupted me again and said that the park was private property and that we should have known that it was closed.

I remember biting my tongue and saying that we were leaving.

I remember feeling angry and disregarded.

Especially because he never once let me finish, did not speak respectfully to me, and did not hear me out at all. We did nothing disrespectful, did not break any written rules, and even as I apologized for being there and it was clear that we were leaving, he continued to harp on me.

Now this example may not have an explicit racially prejudiced action depicted, however, it does depict on a small scale how people who possess the power of enforcement are oftentimes not listening. 


We Don’t Owe Explanations to Anyone, But We Can Let Those We Care About Into Our Experiences

In my office I work with an eclectic group. My white bosses took covid very seriously and began to have us come into the office in shifts while working in separate offices. They handled the whole scenario very well and made us feel safe without alienating any of us. Not once, did I feel discriminated against.

However, one of my coworkers inadvertently started making me feel really uncomfortable.

He started making jokes about whether or not I had the coronavirus in reference to a couple of days where I was out of the office.

He started closing my door for me while staring at me and then spraying my doorhandle with Lysol whenever I would enter or leave.

Now a thing to know about my coworker is that he is a great guy. We have a great banter and prank each other back and forth normally, so this kind of behavior is nothing out of the ordinary. However, the context is what made these individual and isolated scenarios so unsettling.

I began to feel very uneasy whenever he would do these things, and so I started to shut down around him. At first I thought to myself that I should tell him how uncomfortable he was making me BUT as all of us with histories littered with scenarios like these are aware, coming clean and vulnerable about how uncomfortable people make you feel is generally met with one of two responses.

The first which is pretty rare, is a validation of your unease followed by an apology.

The second response, is a complete dismissal of how you feel, followed by some sort of defensive justification OR a straight up personal attack.

Anywho, one day as he was leaving he was saying goodbye and I very unenthusiastically said, “bye”. To which he paused in the doorway and I had a very long five seconds to decide if I was going to breach this ridiculously uncomfortable topic

I ended up, as concisely as possible, telling him that I knew that he was joking, but that due to the social environment of today, the things that he was doing mainly as a joke were making me very very uncomfortable. I told him I was on edge because of how I perceived I was being treated differently in social contexts and because of how people in the United States were perceiving and dialoguing about China (the Chinese Communist Party).

I was pleasantly surprised as my coworker immediately apologized both for his actions and for the way that people were making me feel. He profusely apologized for the next couple of days and he stopped all behavior that would imply that I had it.


What Covid has Taught Me

Most of my life I have spent avoiding both uncomfortable conversations and uncomfortable situations. For too long, I have stayed silent instead of saying something because I was afraid of being dismissed or for not fully understanding the concept that I wanted to attempt to articulate. When it comes to prejudice and racism, my experiences are nothing in comparision to what some of my brothers and sisters face daily. While I push for more representation in media for asians some of my brothers and sisters are seeing their own tortured and KILLED on national television.

I can not hope to understand the pain, frustration, and anger that they feel, but it is unjust of me to sit idly by as the broken system continues to exploit and murder my brothers and sisters. 

The conversation as uncomfortable as it may be must be discussed. The wrongs I face on a small scale, helped me to taste a fraction of what it feels like to be marginalized, dismissed, and wrongfully accused, however, I never faced harm nor death.

It is time for us to engage each other and to mourn with our brothers and sisters who are mourning.

It has been past the time where we must stand up against injustice!

WHY are some of us still arguing about “who is right,” and “what method of protesting is truly effective when people are dying. And not only dying by some random disease or unfortunate situation, but murdered in cold blood.

Tryanny is a strong word, but how do you describe a system that allows people of one group to be murdered while the murderers of another group walk free or only get “fired” from their jobs?

Families are losing husbands, wives, sons, & daughters and the ones that took those members are losing their jobs?!

God and my brothers and sisters forgive me for ever having the gall to dismiss your loss and to argue a point about optimal ways of getting your voice heard! Forgive me for idly sitting by and allowing my actions to stop at a hashtag and a repost on my social media.

My friends, if we do not rise to the occasion and stand with those who are facing oppression, discrimination, and racism we give power to the oppressor. We are no better and we are accomplices to murder.


The Application

This is a call to action my friends.

Lay aside the desire to be right and the desire to win an argument.

Engage the uncomfortable conversations that surround you. 

LISTEN to the real pain, real experiences, and real struggle of those in your communities. At the heart of many beliefs is fear, trauma, and a whole lot of personal experience.

If every voice in your community sounds the same, that doesn’t make those voices right. 

Broaden your social sphere and LEARN about what is happening from the people who live it.

Our society needs more listeners. Not arguers. The moment that we stop listening to respond and start listening to validate the experiences of our brothers and sisters is the the moment that we begin to see the world more holistically.


Making it Personal

Think about a time when you were in pain or going through some sort of situation that re-hashed past trauma. Who knows, you might have thought irrational or seemingly erratic thoughts about societal systems or life in general.

If your friends started arguing with you or telling you that you were being unreasonable, would it in any way have helped the situation?

On top of that, would you not harbor frustration at these people who claim to know you, yet so quickly jump to attack your “implied political agenda” when you were in pain trying to process your emotions while rehashing a very real past pain.

I think oftentimes we do not understand that there is a time and a place for us to learn and to engage with these uncomfortable conversations. That there is a time for us to respectfully ask, to openly listen, and to have the opportunity to learn.

However, at other times, we need to understand that we just need to be present.

We need to be there to listen.

We need to mourn together.

We need to acknowledge that murder is murder.

That loss of life is LOSS of life.

And that regardless of the minutia of the situation, that this is not the first time this has happened, and that the fear that this will happen again is not at all unwarranted.

We need to be able to feel the fear and frustration that our brothers and sisters feel because if we did, we would not be so quick to tout our political views and opinions.

If we could for just a second place ourselves in their shoes and see how the system we live in could just as easily subject us to the same treatment, we would not nearly be as brash or arrogant.

In closing, I would like to share a story of a man named Lazarus.

“Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha… So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days… Then when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirt and was troubled. And He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord come and see.’

Jesus wept.”

John 11: 1, 17, 32-35

As someone with the power to raise people from the dead, Jesus out of anyone, fully had the right to display a lack of empathy for the plight of people who were mourning and overwhelmed with grief caused by death.

And yet, Jesus the Son of God, weeps and is troubled as He is present with those who are mourning.

Let us mourn together but then let us stand together.

 

 

 

 

No.

My 26th year of life was full of lessons, takeaways, firsts, and adventures. However, by far the greatest lesson of the year was only two letters long.


Hamster Wheels

Do you ever feel like the passenger in the vehicle of life?

Like, someone is driving, but it definitely ain’t me.

The way I described how I felt about my life a year ago to my therapist involved an anecdote about how I felt like one of my sister’s old hamsters on a motorized hamster wheel.

I was running as fast as I could to keep up with everybody’s expectations, but sometimes my legs would give out and I would be tossed unceremoniously from the wheel as the momentum of running full speed finally caught up to me.


Boundaries?

There is a fantastic book entitled Boundaries by Dr. Cloud & Dr. Townsend that describes a both a life without boundaries and a life with boundaries. If you struggle saying no to people in your life or if you really empathize with my hamster anecdote, I highly recommend this book.

It took me about four years to finish this book after my mom had recommended it to me for years prior to that. I only wish that I had read it sooner, but alas, you can bring a horse to water, but you really can not make it drink.


Great Expectations

My upbringing was unique in several aspects, but one of the key aspects to my childhood was that both of my parents were heavily involved in my life. They made numerous sacrifices to teach us at home. As Covid-19 continues to affect the day to day lives of countless people and families, I am inspired and grateful that my parents put up with my bullshit for 14 years teaching me at home regardless of the challenges and frustrations that came with it.

Another aspect that made my developmental years interesting was my heavy involvement in church. The involvement combined with my lack of exposure to peers in the normal quantities of someone my age, formed my mind into something quite interesting.

Take the legalism of religion that oftentimes has a works based element to it, and combine it with being taught by those who see your true potential because of how often they are with you and you get someone who is bounded by all sides with great expectations.


Lost in Translation

My whole life has been a constant striving for the approval of others.

I read into each social situation, each element of body language, and I definitely notice when you break eye contact. Even with this blog, I scour the analytical side to try and understand what gets read and what doesn’t. Up until recently, I lived and died for the approval of everyone but myself.

I remember being a freshman in college and having a super embarrassing conversation. As a note, realize that this conversation was happening verbally and so I did not have the benefit of a manuscript as you the reader now does.

A colleague was mentioning how they had gone to a hookah lounge over the weekend. They proceeded to ask me if I had ever been to one.

Naive and sheltered me heard “hooker lounge” and my response was, “Wait… is that even legal?”

My friend said, “Yes… it’s legal”

To which I responded, “Huh… that’s weird. I swore that prostitution was illegal here”

My colleague lost it laughing and I never quite recovered from that moment.

Needless to say, nowadays, when I am not sure I understand something someone tells me, I keep my mouth shut, do a quick search on urbandictionary, figure out which definition makes the most sense contextually, and then incorporate the term as if I knew about it all along.

All this to say, moments like this, have shaped how I communicate with and process the world and relationships around me.


Yes

Because so much of my life was dictated by a fear of not fitting in, I did whatever possible to make sure that I was saying and doing what people around me thought was politically and or otherwise correct.

I became a chameleon that could fit into whatever scenario that life threw my way.

In high school, I would borrow classmates’ ipods so that I could see what they listened to in order to start assimilating into the San Diegan music culture. When I was at church, my homeschool Bible classes would be fully utilized as I flexed my knowledge of archaic and random Bible facts, always giving the “right” answers much to the chagrin of some of my youth leaders. I learned that asking a lot of questions in college courses was a sure way to make yourself a target to your peers, so I learned to shut up.

We learn from both the discipline we receive and the trauma we experience, that which we are allowed to say and do.

We become unhealthily reliant upon the systems which we are a part of to give our lives structure and meaning. Nobody really prepares you for life after education. You spent 16-20 years being told what to do and when to do it with little input as to what part your feelings or thoughts played in this system.

The hours of AP course work taught us that sleep was for the weak. Let’s just hamstring our personal self-care habits right off the bat. The exclusion or absence of serious issues in our religious contexts taught us indirectly that either these serious issues were not a problem for most people OR that they weren’t important enough to talk about. The ceaseless questions from relatives and family friends about “what we wanted to do,” prioritized knowing what we would become rather than knowing who we are.

And then after becoming reliant upon this breakneck schedule of studying, volunteering, sports, and work, out of the blue, we are catapulted into unemployment, more education options, or jobs.

We’d been taught to say yes to more: more responsibility, more work, more challenges, more late nights, more stress, etc.

We had been conditioned that self health comes after the needs of whatever organization we were a part of.

The questions we were asked primed us to LIE about how we were “doing” because no one cared or had the time to listen to us.

Life and our responses to the questions became an elaborate act which everyone was watching… expecting us to exceed the achievements of those before us.

The burden of these expectations and the stress of this “yes-to everyone but myself” style of life was never sustainable. So we did what everyone who went before us or was in the trenches with us did: we coped.

Coffee to cope with the lack of sleep,

Alcohol to cope with the pain,

The highs to cope with the lack of control,

Porn to cope with the lack of company

The list goes on.


Pain & Progress

When our pain is invalidated, we must find a way to reduce it so that we can continue with our lives. See healing takes a lot more time and resources than the “important” people in our society deem necessary.

To all my brothers, sisters, friends, and anyone reading this, your pain and your struggle are valid and real. Your coping mechanisms do not define you.

If anything, they serve as an annoying and sometimes painful reminder of a need in your life that isn’t being addressed.

Don’t give up on engaging with yourself to understand what’s happening inside your head and heart.


No.

When I first started going to therapy, I had reached the point where I knew that I wanted and needed help after years of thinking that these other people in my life were the ones that actually needed help.

My first session coincided with me finishing the last few chapters of the aforementioned book, and my therapist gave me an activity.

She told me to do some soul searching and to figure out what were some activities in my life that were truly life giving to me.

Activities that when I was finished completing them, made me feel like I could keep doing them.

Activities that gave me a sustained endorphin rush, a sense of accomplishment, or that made me happy.

At the next session, she told me that my homework was to incorporate these activities into my life on a more consistent basis.

Unfortunately, there was never enough time to do these things.

Or…

At least there was never enough time with the current schedule and chaos of my life.

Over the next few sessions, I realized a key concept that absolutely changed how I lived my day to day: Saying yes to: processing my own emotions and feelings, healing from past wounds and trauma, and growing into who I could be meant I would have to start saying no.


26

In January of 2019 I went on a trip to Turkey per the invitation of my friend Crystal. As someone who saw the United States as a highly advanced country, I was of the opinion, that why should I want to travel to places where the standard of living was lower? I remembered that my cousin had visited the country and there had been a coup, but nevertheless, my overworked self was ready for a change and an adventure even if it was way out of my comfort zone.

The trip was awesome. But the downside… was that life at home was nothing like the absolute adventure that the journey into the unknown had been like. I returned to normal stateside life depressed and finding a support group in my fellow travelers. Due to restrictions of needing to support myself, the joy of traveling was a dream that had to be deferred.

In February of 2019, I began volunteering with the media and broadcasting arm of Mariners church. I re-fell in love with film, but due to prior expectations and commitments, my work did not allow me to volunteer regularly and this life giving activity was deferred.

In March of 2019, I participated in and completed my first marathon with the coaching and support of my friend Will. The process to get to race day was wild and one of the most disciplined things I’ve ever done. The mental strength and grittiness that the race taught me were lessons and skills that I am so glad I was able to learn through that experience.

In April of 2019, in real Breakfast Club fashion, a group of people who never should have been friends, started meeting to share about life and some of the darkest trials that we had ever experienced. Today amid the chaos of Covid-19, we continue to meet.. albeit by Zoom call. They are some of the most genuine and awesome people I’ve ever met, and yet the scheduling required to make this weekly meeting a reality, was one of the first steps in which I practiced saying no to some of the expectations placed on me.

With all these events happening in such quick succession, I began to question a lot of norms in my life. I began to ask questions about why I worked where I worked. I began to ask questions about my coping mechanisms and why I returned to them.

I began to challenge what was accepted as normal, and I began to question the importance of the hamster wheel that I had been running on so long.

The year would be filled with concerts where I would get to see some of my favorite creators sharing their art with the world, and each concert was a reminder of what it looks like to do what you love.

In the summer, my family took a trip to King’s Canyon where we had this crazy experience with a rock and our tire leaving us stranded in the heart of the park with no cell reception. That experience taught me the importance of everything that I had been taught up until that point in my life and how it was all coming in to play.

In the fall, I went to Morocco, Spain, and last but not least, Mexico City with my friend Imon. We went to learn and to help out in any small way we could. We left with a lot more than we bargained for and a lot to think about.

At the end of the year, I took some of the biggest steps I’ve ever taken in saying no to the organizations in my life that were dictating my life and I began to say yes to the passions, dreams, and aspirations that had been discovered or reborn by engaging with myself in those life giving activities.


Seasons:

Some of us have made it this far in life without learning how to say no to those who constantly and consistently ask more and more of us. It can be terrifying to consider the possibility of saying no to some people and maybe upsetting them by setting boundaries to help our own selves.

I spent so much of my life trying to please people by consistently giving in to their requests or demands. Ironically, when you spend your life trying to win and earn the approval of others, you yourself never actually end up happy, and oftentimes, people aren’t that impressed with your performance either.

For as long as you are alive on this earth, the only person you can be sure is going to be there, at the end with you is yourself. If we have to live with the decisions we make then it behooves us to make the best decisions for ourselves.

There is a freedom and peace that I have experienced from engaging with myself and who God has created me to be. I still weigh what people think of me or advise me to do, but at the end of the day, I reflect on the gifts, talents, and skills that God has given me and I choose the path that most aligns with how He can continue to grow those traits.

You are more than the sum of what bosses, people, and organizations say that you can accomplish. The world will never understand you, for you are much too complex. A boxed version of you, is the best they will ever be able to comprehend, because their minds can not fathom who you have been created to be.

I hope that you are encouraged, that boundaries sound a little less scary, and that you start incorporating the word “no” just a little bit more.

Here’s to you! 

Beyond the Grave (2019 Edition)

Not even a month ago, I was throwing around creative ideas with one of my best friends Imon. From our incredibly weird icebreaker questions to the wide variety of activities that we partake in, nothing is really off the table when it comes to outlandish ideas.

That night particularly we discussed creating a posthumous form of media that would communicate some sort of message to the people we left behind should we surprisingly be wiped from life here on earth. This was ironically before the hysteria and seriousness of Covid-19 became as apparent as it is now.

We talked about how our youth might have prevented us from being as honest, grateful, or genuine as we might have been if we knew our time was rapidly coming to a close. We thought it would be a novel concept to reflect at the end of one year and to write a “good-bye” of sorts that would only release if we died that following year. After some development, we decided it would be an interesting concept to release the previous year’s message if we lived through the next, kind of like a “forced honesty accountability session.”

For some reason, I couldn’t fall asleep tonight, and I felt that this post needed to be written. So without further ado: Paul from Beyond the Grave: the 2019 Edition.


Fear Itself:

I’ve spent a lot of my life afraid. From the fear of the dark to the fear of failure, it seems that fear has driven the majority of my decisions.

Oftentimes my fear of how far gone I was stunted my own growth and healing because I refused to acknowledge that there was something that I needed to address.

There have been so many personal demons that I have remained quiet about for so long for fear of rejection. That lie that “if people knew what you did, they could never look at you ever again.”

How often that lie has repeated in my head, holding me in a constant state of limbo. As I held the secrets deep inside, the sickness festered and slowly destroyed me.

Rest and peace were nowhere to be found as anxiety and depression sucked the life out of me.

It is so painfully ironic. We cling to our darkness and secrets as if they will keep us safe if they stay hidden, yet late at night, when no one is awake, that is the exact same time when we stare into the abyss and believe the lies that our own secretiveness breeds.

There is this misconception that “special” people need to go to therapy because they can’t handle their own emotions.

Or that they are weak.

Or some other ridiculous stigma-ridden statement that discourages it.

Just drug up and suck it up right?

If I was to die in 2020, I would want you to know, that as a human being, one of the best decisions you can make, is to get professional help to walk you through processing your life.

All of our lives are filled with trauma. We have all experienced valid physical, emotional, and spiritual hurts that we have had to learn to somehow deal with. Some of us have healed, but the vast majority of us have gotten really good at hiding pain and pretending that problems don’t exist.

Therapy is no panacea (a fancy word that means a solve all or a wonder cure), but wouldn’t you like to get to know who you are better than you already do?

For so much of my life, I preferred getting to know why some girl that I thought was cute did what she did rather than understanding why I did what I did.

I talk about this concept to some degree in As Yourself but basically, how can we adequately love those around us if we do not love ourselves? And how can we love ourselves if we don’t know ourselves?

I have learned so much about showing myself grace, how events in the past have shaped how I think and react to the world, and how my pain/hurt/anger/frustration/thoughts are valid.

I’ve experienced so much healing and reconciliation in relationships, but the greatest benefit has been the ability to look into the mirror and not hate myself while continually extending myself grace for each new day. The process is by no means easy, but healing is SO much better than temporary fixes and negative coping mechanisms.

Because eventually, the buzz wears off, we come down from the high, and the people closest to us aren’t accessible for some reason and we are left alone to face our biggest opponent: ourselves.


Alone: Enter the Porn Pandemic

I remember sitting in the high school youth group as boys split from girls as special speakers talked to each gender separately about “sexual purity.”

I remember stumbling upon pornography abandoned by a previous tenant in an apartment that we stayed in for a very short stint right before high school.

I remember how natural curiosity led to an obsession with a medium that I thought didn’t hurt anyone.

I distinctly remember how when the stress came in full force during college, how I failed out of engineering because I wasn’t sleeping.

What a tangled web porn weaves.

I grew up in church, wasn’t abused as a kid, and had quite a normal childhood.

How did I get to this point?

I am so alone. If people knew…

They can’t- must never find out.

This will be my little secret.


Oh, how I’ve wanted to write on this subject.

Oh, but what a hypocrite I would be, to write on a subject that I don’t yet have under control.

But, for those of you who do struggle, be encouraged for you are indeed not alone.


In the last decade and a half, pornography has become so much more accessible. What used to be age-restricted in certain video stores or confined to the pages of magazines now fits in our pockets for free. Studies are still discovering the full effects of this cheap counterfeit of meaningful relationships, but the data keeps rolling in about how harmful it really is.

I’m not talking harmful as in “bad or immoral behavior,” I mean literal re-wiring of your brain and your perception of intimacy bad.

Outside of that, the drug-like endorphin-abusing nature of porn requires a higher level of potency to maintain the same high. Which means just like physical drugs, porn consumption will LITERALLY never leave us satisfied because we will continue to escalate our consumption to maintain the same high. The links between gender violence and porn have time and time again been shown to exist. Racism and sexism get a free pass in the porn genre for some reason. But I mean we already know this. (for more information on the harmful effects of pornography check out this organization called “Fight the New Drug” or do what I did, and listen to their podcast “Consider Before Consuming“)


One of the things that discouraged me most about porn was the fact that there was no one to talk to about it.

On the one hand, you have church where there is this huge age difference between the teachers and the students and so the struggles and temptations of today are neither understood nor addressed. As if saying, “Sex is good, but don’t do it if you aren’t married” is adequate teaching to help a young person traverse the literal fucking minefield that is adolescence nowadays. And then second to premarital sex is the more closet offender, porn. Now porn is an even less discussed topic so CLEARLY, no one struggles with it. OR if it is, let’s simply treat the symptoms without getting to the root of the void that porn is attempting to fill.

Then, on the other hand, you have literally everyone else. And everyone else is JUST as confused as me. Media says sex is one thing, movies say relationships are another thing, and then we are being fed different narratives depending on who we are. “Porn is empowering,” “porn is degrading,” among all the other mixed messages that are being broadcasted.

Either way, you look at it, the topic is so taboo to discuss that many times we just don’t.


I remember the first time I told my college pastor about my porn problem. His response was a complete shock to my system as he hugged me and told me that I was more than this habit.

Over the years, I’ve become increasingly more transparent with what I struggle with, because I’ve realized that there is something strange that happens when secrets are exposed. It will differ from individual to individual, but I’ve realized that a lot of my triggers stem from much deeper fears of being alone or feeling out of control. Now instead of fighting a losing battle where I only treat the symptoms, I’m attempting to address the underlying reason why I consume what I consume.

I will say, that much of my ability to process the “why” behind a lot my vices has been aided immensely by the work that therapy has aided me in beginning.

If I was to die in 2020, I would want you to know these things I’ve learned:

  1. You aren’t alone. This is a huge issue. How the world addresses porn is going to determine how deep the social consequences in the future will be.
  2. Contrary to common belief, you do need community. Self will power will only get you so far. I’ve opened up to pastors and friends but I HIGHLY recommend talking about this with a professional LMFT. Most of us don’t realize that porn is the symptom of something deeper, and being able to talk with an unbiased professional about the steps you took to get to where you are is an absolute must.
  3. Transparency and talking about this elephant in the room is one of the keys to disarming its power over your life.

Grace, Hypocrisy, & Staying In Your Lane

Grace is an interesting concept.

I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand it, but I don’t think I began to understand it until I was in a position where I needed to be the recipient of grace.

I spent so much of my life being a “wholesome” kid, that even though I sang songs and heard sermons about how I did not and could not earn grace, I thought in my head that I had most definitely earned it. 

I’m way better than these heathens.


There is this really profound parable in the Bible that talks about this concept of grace and forgiveness. Basically, this one servant owes his boss a shit ton of money. We’re talking debt that makes a southern California residential mortgage look like chump change. After begging his boss to forgive the debt and miraculously having the debt forgiven, the servant returns home overjoyed.

He then goes to do what every person who has just had debt forgiven would do: he goes and demands this other servant who owes him something within the single-digit thousands of debt to pay him back in full. When the second servant asks for more time, the first servant has the second one thrown into prison.

When the boss hears about this, he throws the first guy into prison and it’s not a good time for him.

The point of the story, as I read it, is that we are often that first servant.

If you believe in God and His grace, then how can you not extend that same grace to those around you?

If you don’t believe in God, to fail to extend grace to those around you is to understate the grace you have been shown your whole life by family, friends, significant others, etc.


As I was training for the marathon in 2018, I went on a hike with some friends and the group decided to collectively sprint down the three-mile hike on the return trip. I had a feeling that this was NOT the best idea for me, but I decided to go along with the group anyways.

Literally, three seconds later, something got realllll fucked up in my knee, and I limped the whole rest of the way down that hike.

While painful, I learned a valuable lesson about going at my own pace and running my own race.

When race day came, I didn’t look at the speed or cadence of those around me. I knew my own body and I knew what pace I was going to be able to sustain and my one goal for that race was to finish it.

It would have been so dumb of me to offer running advice to other people running the race with me because it was just as foreign to me as it was to many of those I was running with.

If I was to die in 2020, I would want you to know this:

  1. Extend grace to others often because you have definitely been and will continue to be a recipient of grace throughout the course of your life.
  2. Stay in your lane, learn about yourself, know yourself, and don’t quit until you cross that finish line.

Life is temporary, and it is sobering to think that some of us need a pandemic to break out for us to realize that. Of the laundry list of strange things that I think about, death is actually a frequent topic.

In the 26, almost 27 years of my life I have been told about God, encountered Him myself and attempted to reconcile a good God with an imperfect church and a pain-filled world. I know without a doubt, that if it wasn’t for Him I literally would not be physically here to write this today. I should have been dead most likely by my own hand.

And yet, in His grace and His provision I am able to write this and to share with you what I hope is encouragement in some way. This same grace is extended to you from Him, no matter who you are, where you’ve been, or what you’ve done.

Covid-19 has made the temporary more obviously temporary and I hope that you take a second and evaluate what you value and who you are. Tell your family and friends “the things they already know.” Reconcile those long lost friendships. Don’t take anything for granted and don’t give in to the mass hysteria.

Peace, and hopefully we’ll get to the blog where I do the 2020 version!

 

-P

Five Loaves, Two Fish, a Chicken Sandwich, and a Doorknob

As some of you are aware, I recently left my director position at Chick-fil-A after a super jam-packed three years. During those years, I was given the opportunity to travel to the Chick-fil-a corporate office, facilitate training for team members that were at grand opening stores, and work in several different capacities at the store across the street from UCI. Much of it was an amazing experience and just as much of it wasn’t.

This past couple of months has been overflowing with transition, discomfort, and self-discovery. As I’ve tried multiple times to gain closure on this past season by writing, I always found myself scrapping my work. The tone always seemed to come off in a different way than I intended and thematically, many pieces just didn’t fit into the whole narrative.

Now, three months after returning from Mexico and one month after leaving Chick-fil-A, this is what I learned.


I remember the first time I ever had Chick-fil-A.

It was after I got a haircut at my barber’s shop in Mira Mesa. I went across the street in my family’s red Toyota Sienna, and I drove through the drive-through. I remember asking the order taker if there was a dollar menu or a value menu to which she responded that they did not, in fact, have one. I remember being conflicted between the original and the spicy so I ordered one of each and left the window in disbelief that had I just spent five bucks just for two sandwiches (this was in the late 2010s).

As I was driving, I was taken aback by the foil bags which I had never before seen. I didn’t pay much mind to it, simply noting that it was different than what I was used to, and I unfolded the red bag as I took a huge bite of the spicy sandwich.

Bad idea.

I definitely cursed as the roof of my mouth and my tastebuds got severely burned from the steaming chicken that I had just taken a bite of.

I remember thinking to myself that it was crazy that this fast food place could have such hot food.


Fast forward four years and I’m sitting in an office above a post office as the future operator of the UCI Chick-fil-a franchise was interviewing me. Ironically, I had just gotten a haircut and because of that, I was in cargo shorts and a tank top. I shared of my experience at El Pollo Loco, and that was the beginning of Craig and my relationship.


Fast forward two more years, and I was sitting in an uncomfortable chair being grilled by my new supervisor at Honda Finance (on a Saturday). He complimented my work ethic and my ability to pump out work at a rapid rate, but he was trying to understand why I was late to overtime all the time.

The conversation ended with him telling me that if I wanted to move out of the temp position, that I would need to be able to commit to overtime on top of the daily 9-5 schedule to show that I was committed to the job and company as a whole.

I remember driving home and coming to the conclusion that I couldn’t see myself working at a place in which all of their six or seven upper management positions had turned over in the short nine months I had been there.

I texted Craig and asked him if he needed someone to work temporarily. I explained to him that I was going to try and follow in my dad’s footsteps by studying for the LSAT and going to law school.

He graciously offered me a position as a team member.


In seven months, Craig would offer me a director position after I had decided while taking the LSAT, that law would be too frustrating for my personality to have a career in. I would start as a director of operations, transition to a director of facilities, and eventually become the director of food safety.


The director role was the first legitimate management role I had ever had, and it taught me so much about people and ultimately myself.

If I can be candid, it took me so long to be able to say confidently to people that I was introducing myself to that I worked at a Chick-fil-A franchise.

I swore I could feel the judgment as I wrestled with what it was exactly that I accomplished in obtaining a four-year degree from UCI.

That combined with the fact that I felt like an impostor in a role that I was not prepared or trained for made for an incredibly rough time.

I remember the first time I felt like I might belong, and that was when I visited Chick-fil-a’s corporate office in Atlanta.


Chick-fil-a’s corporate vision statement is:

“To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-fil-A.”

Truett Cathy

I remember, being pleasantly surprised that such a successful company could have religious roots and yet not use religion as a reason to be mediocre.

I owe it to the entire Corporate Certified Training team for making me feel as I believe Truett Cathy would have: having intrinsic value and skills that would make me a valuable asset to the company and the world.

So much of how I chose to grow and develop my management skillset and style is heavily attributed to the affirmations I received at the corporate office.


One of my favorite things about Chick-fil-a was the diversity of background and personality of the people I met.

Rachel, thanks for training my family at CT. Your compassion and mentality towards us trainees helped me to frame how I then passed on information to those who I would train and there are so many generations of trainees that have benefited because of the manner in which you taught me.

Keisse and Jordan, thank you for encouraging me. I will never forget that post grand-opening debrief that we had in the Monterey Park store. Your unshakeable confidence in my ability to get into LDP and your affirming of my work ethic and personality helped me immensely to get through a very confusing time in my life. I wish you both the best and I hope to visit y’alls stores when I have the opportunity. Thank you for everything. You taught me more about honor, dignity, and respect than you will probably ever know.

Twabu, I hope that you are still kicking ass wherever it is that you are. I hope that your gifts are being appreciated and that you continue to extend the same grace to others that you extended to me when you were training me on how to operate machinery that I was supposed to be training on. #doitfortheminorities

Kelsey, I admire your bravery and your resolve so much. I will never forget unpacking that difficult conversation of workplace tension with you. You helped to completely change my outlook on difficult workplace relationships. Even though it didn’t solve everything, it began a process in me that I believe has made me a better co-worker and collaborator than I was two years ago. Thank you.

Truett Cathy once said that he wasn’t in the chicken business and that he was instead in the people business. Numerous stories exist of how he and his family suffered while trying to break out of humble beginnings and poverty. Even more stories are told of how his generosity was unmatched. From paying the tuition of students who worked for him, buying clothes for those who were interviewing at other jobs after graduating, or his classic and signature table touch-in conversations, it was evident that he saw the value in people.

Because contrary to common belief, a business is really only as successful as the people behind the business. You can have the best product in the entire world, but if you don’t invest in the people that work with you to get your product to the masses, then your business will fail.


In three years, I met more people than I probably had during my time at college. And yet, some of the best parts of those three years were the redeeming of past friendships/relationships that had been abandoned after I left Chick-fil-A the first time.

See, I learned something super valuable from my second tour in Chick-fil-A: every person you come into contact with has something to teach you. Beyond that, people are beautiful when they are their true selves.

When people are empowered to live in their strengths so that they can be the truest versions of themselves they change the environments and people around them.


In one of the relatively more famous stories in the Bible, Jesus feeds five thousand people:

Jesus soon saw a huge crowd of people coming to look for him. Turning to Philip, he asked, “Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?” He was testing Philip, for he already knew what he was going to do.

Philip replied, “Even if we worked for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them!”

Then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up. “There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?”

“Tell everyone to sit down,” Jesus said. So they all sat down on the grassy slopes. (The men alone numbered about 5,000.) Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and distributed them to the people. Afterward he did the same with the fish. And they all ate as much as they wanted. After everyone was full, Jesus told his disciples, “Now gather the leftovers, so that nothing is wasted.”So they picked up the pieces and filled twelve baskets with scraps left by the people who had eaten from the five barley loaves.

As a child, I loved this story because to a young reader, the hero is this boy who was willing to share his lunch with all these people.

As I got older, I related more with the skeptical questions of Philip and Andrew.

Now, I see something else entirely.


Religious or not, if you are reading this, you have been given natural gifts, talents, and knacks for things that others do not possess.

It might be your personality, a specific skill set, the way you see the world, how you connect with people, or personal struggles that allows you to empathize with others who struggle similarly.

Any way you slice it, you have specific strengths!

And you. Yes you, have so much to offer our world.

Watch the news for two seconds, and anyone can gather that our world needs help.

We need innovators, entrepreneurs, artists, and more to address all the problems that continue to arise.


YET, society spends so much time and effort telling us that we have a generic place that we belong to.

We are constantly being placed into boxes.

Typecast based upon what people believe we are good at or even worse, placed in roles because that is how we can aid their organizations most.

We wonder why we wrestle with a life devoid of purpose and identity when we deviate from a life that is built upon developing our natural and innate strengths.

Do you believe life is permanent enough to risk wasting more time being someone or something that you are not?


An oft-heard phrase regarding contentment goes as follows:

The grass is always greener on the other side.

I have also heard:

The grass is greener where you water it.

Both, can be interpreted different ways depending on how one reads them.

It is my opinion that we have a personal duty to ourselves and the world to utilize the short lives that we have to be the truest version of ourselves as we possibly can be.

I belive the grass is indeed greener where you water it, but that if you live in Southern California, maybe you should look into growing succulents, since those will do better in the drier client.

Trying to keep grass alive in Northridge is often a fool’s errand, but that doesn’t mean that someone living there has nothing to offer when it comes to cultivating a garden.


When I was a kid, my dad taught me how to change a doorknob on one of the doors of our house. The first time it took us hours. It was embarrassing and boring.

The second time it didn’t take nearly as long.

To date, I’ve probably changed about ten or so and it takes me maybe ten minutes now.

When I was in Mexico City, there was a broken doorknob that I saw on the very first day I arrived. But since I knew exactly what I needed to fix it, I bought a doorknob the second day and replaced it before class started that next day.

Because of my experience in the past and the foresight of my father, I had learned and developed a skill that though small and seemingly insignificant, managed to be used to respond to a need.


Oftentimes we believe the lie that we have nothing to offer.

We look on our social media feeds and feel that we don’t possess the power or talent to make a difference.

Truth be told, sometimes it feels like we just have a lunchbox with a couple pieces of bread and some fish…

Or maybe a chicken sandwich and some fries…

Or maybe a screwdriver and a doorknob..


You have so much to offer the world and life is too short to waste it not playing to your strengths.

Show the people you encounter honor, dignity, and respect.

Learn from everyone who comes your way.

What’s in your lunchbox?

Smoke and Mirrors

In a season, where Spotify: Year in Review playlists are on repeat, it seems only fitting to reflect upon the happenings of the past year. On the one hand, 2019 was all kinds of pain and frustration. Post-traveling depression, battles with addiction, the search for a more potent coping mechanism, a lack of identity and belonging, wounds at work, family dysfunctionality, and the departure of close friends. On the opposite end of the spectrum, 2019 was the best year of my life. Four different countries, breakthroughs in therapy sessions, getting in touch with my feelings, family reconciliation, bold career moves, a marathon, and the re-birth of my passion for film.

As a speaker this week said, “every year is a mixed bag.”

At the beginning of this month, I began brainstorming for a blog post that would reflect on both the pain and progress that this year brought for me.

Three days ago I got into a car accident that completely de-railed my plans to do so. After that, my schedule seemed to edge out any free time that I had to plan my blog.

Now, with less than twenty-two hours before the end of a decade, I sit and reflect on all that has happened.


In life, it is so easy to see how far we have to go without ever truly appreciating how far we’ve come.

Ten years ago, I was a high school junior studying for the SAT while clandestinely seeing my secret girlfriend that my parents forbid me from having. In the ten years from then to now I have: graduated from both high school and college, attended and left three different churches, transitioned from a Christian rap/ccm heavy music palette to a very eclectic lo-fi/pop/alternative mix of music, realized that God really does exist, participated in two of my closest friends’ weddings, left the church due to being fed up with the hypocrisy, struggled with anxiety and depression, worked as an: assistant to a real estate broker, a car finance funder, a tutor, a food service team member, a corporate grand opening trainer for chick-fil-a, a staff accountant, a security system sales rep, and a Operations/Food Safety/Facilities director, lead three different small groups, and so much more.

It has been a journey that has been filled with metaphorical hills and valleys. I’ve come face to face with the darkest desires and tendencies that I possess while also discovering what motivates me to wake up each day.

2019 was so different than so many years because well..

Instead of saving for tomorrow the ideas, trips, moves, and conversations that I thought of today, I decided to just do it.


Traveling to me, made no sense for the longest time. I did not understand why we who lived in one of the most affluent countries in the world, would ever want to leave our comfort to go and see other places. So, as fate or the Divine (depending on what you believe) would have it when Crystal asked me if I wanted to go to Turkey in the fall of 2018, I just happened to have been potentially the most burned out that I will ever be. I was working as a staff accountant in the mornings, working at chick-fil-a from 2-midnight, while also doing stints across the country opening new stores. Zero creative outlets, severe writer’s block, and a mind so screwed up by consequences to rash actions of the past pointed to a need for an escape.

So when Crystal asked if I wanted to go to a country that I only knew of because of the fact that my cousin had been stranded there while the natives threw a coup, I thought that this might be a fun distraction from the hellishly busy life that I lead.

Suffice it to say, that trip changed my perspective on life. Just as January marks the beginning of a new year, so this trip to Turkey marked the beginning of a new perspective of the world and my place in it. I began to re-embrace the UC ingrained concept of trusting no one and experiencing everything oneself. I learned that sometimes… it’s better if you don’t listen to your friends.


In March, I ran and walked my first marathon. I had planned to run it from the year prior as a way to prove to myself that I was more than someone who promised to finish things he started, only to quit shortly after starting. It was the most physically tolling experience that I have ever undertaken. I was ill-prepared and afraid as my inconsistencies with training were paid for in full and with interest on the race day.

Yet somehow by the Grace of God, I finished. The encouragement of William and the accountability that was created by me telling people I was going to run the marathon, pushed me to do something that I never would have deemed possible. And what should have been next in a list of things I said I was going to do but never completed became the topic sentence of the new essay of my life. The essay in which Paul was a finisher and not just a starter. Indeed, it was fitting that there was a mile representative of each year of my 26 years of life and that as the mile count increased, so did the pain and desire to quit.


Upon returning from Turkey, I struggled with depression as I returned to what appeared to be a dead-end job. I realized that what I valued in life and in work was not reciprocated by the decision-makers where I worked. I had been trying to make my parents proud my whole life and yet that had ended up in failure after failure. Unlike my travels, the day to day was a mundane routine that never made way for new experiences. One of my best friends was moving away, following the pattern that I had begun to see in my life: that everything ends.

A business consultant for our store passed away quickly and rather unexpectedly. This shattered my fantasy of pursuing a career as a Chick-fil-A operator. For me, the profit has never been enough to keep me invested. I’ve stayed with the brand and this store because of the people. People like Imon, Dina, Jazz, Amanda, Marco, Pancho, Nolan, Emma, William, Alan, Jared, Helen, Julian, Michael, Joanne, Jade, Mariel, Lindsey, Ellison, Keisse, Marla, Jordan, Kelsey, Danielle, Twabu, Victor, Tyler, Iris, Hector, Michelle, Craig, and more than I can name. They have oftentimes been the sole reason I went into work.

So when an operator, I had never met, at a conference meant specifically for operators, slammed my vision for a store that hired people from at-risk communities with the goal of funding social work with the profits from the business, I began to make connections between this one operator and my experiences so far.

They were experiences tainted by misunderstanding, poor communication, and a focus on profits over people. And just like that, I realized, I didn’t want to delay what I was passionate about in order to accrue money to do what I wanted to do. In fact, I wasn’t even capable of lying or keeping up a facade of pursuing this potentially lucrative career.

Just like that, my primary career prospect went out the window, and I spiraled with no purpose and a stripped identity into arguably the most difficult season of my life.


Right around this time, I bit the bullet and finally joined one of Mariners’ Rooted Groups. The whole purpose behind these weekly small groups was to establish a healthy community of peers that were in similar life stages. It was one of the hardest commitments to stick with, as we literally all started out not knowing one another in the slightest. Yet, over time, we all shared about our lives and our darkest struggles (some of which were ongoing and unresolved), and we began to really engage and get to know one another.

There was a freedom that came from confiding in what was at the time a group of strangers and then sticking with that group to simply do life together. Some nights we got into the nitty-gritty of what God was doing in our lives and how we should live better lives, but some nights we just ate and drank together. I had been in many small groups before, but the honesty, transparency, and commitment of this group trumped all of the ones before.

Shoutout to Sam, Gavin, Will, Amy, Xochitl, Star, Baxter, and Jordan for doing this season of life together. Y’all encouraged me to begin to take brave steps into the unknown.


In the summer, my family took a trip to King’s Canyon and we hit a rock and got a flat tire some 38 miles away from civilization. No cell reception, no pump, and a few hours of daylight.

Through a miraculous turn of events that I’ll be sure to blog about in the future, we replaced the tire and a man stopped to help us and he just happened to have a compressor/pump in his car that he had just placed in his car a week ago because he had been caught with a flat and was heavily inconvenienced because he didn’t have a pump on him.

My family decided to end our vacation early, but we used the extra day to reconvene, and we did something that we had never done before. We met up and wrote letters to each other, without knowing who was going to be the recipient of the letter. What ensued was a three-hour session of family reconciliation and encouragement that completely changed the course of where we were heading.


When the anxiety and depression had started to spiral out of control earlier in the year, I had started turning to all sorts of coping mechanisms to try and numb the pain. Alcohol, weed, porn(More on this taboo topic in 2020), gaming, running, and writing all played a part. After realizing that none of these things was doing an adequate job of keeping me sane, I returned to therapy with the sole intent of getting things under control. (FUCK the stereotypes, mysticism, and negative connotations surrounding therapy! More on this topic in 2020 as well)

It turns out that due to a combination of different factors including upbringing, relationships, past hurts, work, and broken friendships, I had forgotten how to process my emotions and it had become difficult if not impossible to decipher what it is that I wanted in life.

I began this long process of re-hashing my past, self-validating, and processing what I was feeling or wanting in the given moment. Over the course of the year, I began to see personal growth as I began to place boundaries of where Paul Ho existed. I began to be able to discern what was what I wanted and what was what other people wanted me to be. Slowly, it was beginning to come together.


All 1839 words that have been written so far culminated in the boldest move I have ever attempted. Crystal invited me on another trip to Morocco and Spain… right in the middle of Chick-fil-a’s busiest season… as we were in interviews for another store. I had finally reached the personal conclusion while talking with my therapist that Chick-fil-a was not for me and that it was okay. So, after talking and deliberating with my family and my life group, and after binge drinking myself to throwing up four times one night when the stress of work had proven too much for me to bear, I decided that I was going to quit.

It took all the courage I did not have to table that discussion with my boss.

I had also decided that since I would be jobless anyways that I was going to plan a trip to Mexico City to do some work with an organization that I had volunteered with in the spring of 2015.

If you read waymaker, you already know how that story goes.


It was like a switch turned on after I went on that trip. All of a sudden, I wasn’t afraid of what I wanted anymore. I wasn’t trying to make my family proud. I wasn’t trying to say the right things to my boss or coworkers. I wasn’t doing the smart and practical things that people my age were supposed to be doing. I wasn’t faking who I was any more to fit in.

I was unashamedly me and I was going to pursue the passions that I had regardless of how insane, naive, or foolish they seemed to anyone else. I finally had my permission to be myself and no one could take that away from me.


It has been a month and a half since I returned and I won’t lie, it still feels like something is different about me. Yet, despite the seeming clarity that I now possess, there still remains so much uncertainty in my life. There are still days where my anxiety nearly overwhelms me. There are still miscommunications and arguments that plague my relationships. There are still challenges and hardships that I must struggle to overcome.

Yet of one thing I am certain: my life is a film, and God is the ultimate director.

I think the car accident from a few days ago, the work drama of the last week, and the flat tire Dina got today were all smokescreens to distract me from sharing about my experiences in the last year. Not to glorify my story, or to make you think that your story is any less extraordinary. To God be the glory for His provision and faithfulness this past year. In the darkest seasons, He was still there validating me. In the best seasons, He was there encouraging me. And if anything I hope that regardless of what you believe that you see that the number of coincidences is wayyy too damn high in my life to attribute to chance.


My friends, wherever this new year finds you, whether it be in the midst of addiction, a mental breakdown, tragedy, uncertainty, cynicism, loss, hopelessness, loss of dreams, emptiness, unemployment, the frayed remains of a broken relationship, a broken and dysfunctional family, or wherever else you might be, I hope and pray that you are encouraged in knowing that you are not alone.

We can never hope to explain or understand why we must go through these difficult seasons. Yet, I hope that as this new decade begins, that instead of resolving to be different in the future, that you would take a moment to realize how far you’ve come. And not only how far you’ve come, but how your story however dark it may be, is not over.

The sun still exists behind the clouds.

You have not been forgotten.

You are not alone.

There is hope.

Sometimes, we just can’t see it behind the smoke and mirrors.

 

 

Waymaker

Four and a half years ago, I took a trip right after I took the last final of my college career. It was with a church called Newsong and I went to Mexico City to see the work that was being done in the fight against human trafficking. It was a profoundly impactful experience, but when I returned, even though my heart was moved for this specific group of marginalized people, it became just a story that I would tell.

That all changed when my friend Crystal asked me in June of 2019 if I wanted to travel in the fall.


Earlier in the year, Crystal had invited me on a trip to Turkey. What probably started as a trip with the lowest expectations ever, became quite possibly one of the most rewarding trips I’ve ever been on. The trip being as amazing as it was actually ended up backfiring as it sent me into a depressive spiral when I returned to the states.

I discovered that as I travel my body and mind can relax to a degree that allows my creative juices to flow at possibly the most effective rate than in any other given scenario. I wrote a handful of blogs and began to revive my old passion for video editing. Upon returning I began to volunteer on the media team at Mariners and I began to look for ways to create.

All of this revived creativity was great, but the removal of the constant exposure to new cultures and new experiences was heavily depressing. I began to grow anxious as I realized that a huge part of my joy was based upon what I believed to be a “one-off” experience in a far off land.

What ensued was a phase of self-medicating with both positive and negative coping mechanisms, more than a couple of mental breakdowns, a renewed vigor in my therapy sessions, and the search for more community. More on that in a different blog in the future


Crystal was pretty adamant and intent on traveling in the fall, which just happens to be the busiest time in the current industry I work in. I knew for a fact that I would not be able to request the time off due to restrictions and responsibilities that accompany my job title.

Historically, I am a very risk-averse individual. I err on the side of caution whenever possible. My backup plans have backup plans. I don’t leave jobs unless I have another job lined up and ready to go.

But something about mental breakdowns and year XXVI had made me relish the risk. I had been pondering the meaning of life, purpose, death, and dreams all year long, and I decided (with some encouragement from some close friends and the Rooted group) that it was time to stop pushing my dreams to the horizon of my life. I decided that if I was going to take this two-week trip, that I was going to go all out and try to return to Mexico City afterward to volunteer in whatever capacity was needed. (Insert cool phrase that links to Spotify playlist I listened to in Mexico City)

I quickly filled out an application to volunteer in Mexico City and I eagerly awaited a response. The response came more quickly than I anticipated and I was placed in a project called SAHLPlusUNO. This project specifically focuses on training women and girls from vulnerable situations culinary and business skills that aid them in starting their own businesses. I was going to teach 4-5 sessions on business principles and basically help in any way I could.


When November 6th rolled around and I boarded my red-eye flight to Mexico City, I could not have been more excited. I was terrified because my Spanish is terrible, I’m young and not a fortune 100 CEO, and for maybe the first time in my life, I was going somewhere alone with no backing from any overarching organization. What followed was (as cliche as it sounds) life-changing.


In the span of twelve days, I basically got to teach these amazing women some very basic good practices for starting and sustaining businesses, I got to observe their primary market that they were trying to market their baked goods to at a bazaar, I got to interact with and fellowship with some girls at the safe house, I got to participate at a block party (Imagine shutting down business for a night in the red-light district by throwing a party on the street with food, music, and free manicures… yeah wild), I had the opportunity to listen to and ask a few directors what their biggest challenges in the fight against human trafficking were, I got to process all that I was experiencing with Imon, all the while also learning about myself and where I fit into this fight against this very complex and troubling social issue that is human trafficking.


It’s been five days since returning and it would be an understatement to say that I miss being in the heart of it all. I jokingly told some coworkers, “I left my heart in Mexico City, so I’m going to go get it… And I’m never coming back.”

You know that feeling when you feel this void deep in your being because you feel like you don’t belong? It doesn’t matter where you work, what hobbies you have, or what groups of friends you spend time with, you always feel like an outsider. As if you don’t really belong anywhere. Your strengths are constantly critiqued as being too much by those you respect. The traits that make you unique are constantly described as being growth points that you need to “work on.” It just feels like you are completing “filler quests/chapters” in the videogame that is your life so that you can get to the “good” stuff that is retirement or doing what you hate doing so that you can do what you want to do sometime later on.

Yeah, I’ve thought about all those things a whole LOT this past year.

I came to this conclusion that if I was bleeding out on the floor due to another North American mass shooting tragedy, that there would be three things that I would regret not doing:

  1. Not pursuing being a filmmaker or screenplay writer
  2. Not starting a pro-bono college and career consulting firm for underserved children
  3. Not participating more in the fight against human trafficking.

(Note: I am not intending to make light of mass shootings. This is a legitimate fear and actual thought process that I experienced multiple times as I was pondering death)

It took several deaths of people in my social circle, crippling depression and anxiety, several sessions of therapy, a lot of internal processing, and many many MANY talks with family, friends, and coworkers to realize that it was time to stop wondering about the “what-ifs” and waiting “for the right moments.”

Life is very very short.

A quote from my favorite movie, The Shawshank Redemption says this:

I guess it comes down to a simple choice really. Get busy living or get busy dying.


The title of this blog is inspired by the song of the same name that is taking the church world by storm. I heard this song in Spanish for the first time in Mexico City, and I already loved the song in English.

This past year has been composed of a lot of realization of all of the pieces of my life coming together to form a more cohesive narrative and picture. I’ve wondered for so long about why I have the vices I have, why I have had the struggles I’ve had, why I’ve experienced what I have, and why I have felt stuck for so long.

The theme of this entire trip though has been to begin taking steps even if you are uncertain of where those steps lead. I am reminded of a scene from Indiana Jones in which a first initial step of faith is required.


See, oftentimes, we really don’t know where the heck we are going. We have some passions or some dead dreams that we’d like to revive but later. 

We do what is safe and advised because that is what everyone else is or has been doing.

We know that we were designed or created for more than what we have been assigned, and that is why we wonder about purpose and identity, yet we are afraid to actually pursue that which brings us life.

Yet even in our anxiousness and our depression, we have all withstood trials and tribulations that have given us skills and knowledge that are not common to the average person. We all have something of value to teach and pass on.

Perhaps, being rejected or being told we are obsolete in our current social context means that we need to go to a different social context to best utilize and teach what we have learned…

It is never too late to revive those dreams and to take those steps towards carrying out what our unique purposes are. I was 4.5 years late, but being late meant I had more failures and lessons to speak and teach from.


I respect whatever it is that you may believe, but I believe that God is the ultimate waymaker and that He orchestrates everything in our lives to help us get to both where we need to be and where the world needs us to be. 

Numerous obstacles come in between us and fulfilling our purpose. I’ve been obsessed with self-health and self-care this past year and it has been incredibly helpful and rejuvenating to take care of my own needs. But, as the excitement of the last month calms down, I think I am starting to realize that at a certain point, holistic self-care may actually require caring for others.

Perhaps in caring for others (after taking care of ourselves), we begin to understand the purpose behind why we are here.

But I mean we would never know if we played it safe all the time…

Sometimes we just need to take that first step.