You Really Need to Flag…

My hands were in so much pain as the tape haphazardly covered my raw skin. The muscles in my arms were burning as my hunched up form attempted to climb this DAMN V1. I was discovering that I was indeed afraid of heights… and of falling the short four feet to the crash pad.

“You know… you’re tired because you’re all bunched up and climbing only with your arms. You really need to flag..”

Flagging, is the practice in climbing of fully extending a leg to the side as a counter balance, generally combined with arms fully extended for maximum control and maneuverability. It is critical, but quite uncomfortable… especially for beginners who tend to think that climbing is strictly an upper body exercise.

I remember being annoyed that Crystal was coaching me…. from the ground.

But then again, this wasn’t the first time that Crystal had brought me on an adventure where the primary goal was discomfort and growth.

For some context, I’m going to need to tell you a story about camels, reservations, and the importance of owning your own narrative.

Get ready…

It’s a trip.

Or maybe two or three.


A Trip Built Around a Camel Festival

During college and in the years shortly thereafter, we had bonded over: the latest food trends, Disney runs where we tried to ride the most obscure rides (Mark Twain’s Riverboat anyone), and pity parties where we discussed our sad lives as temporary workers.

Crystal had a reputation for being a world traveler and so in 2018 when she invited me to go on a trip to Turkey, I was honored and thrilled.

The one catch was that I could not for the life of me figure out why she had chosen Turkey of all places to go visit.

See, a few years prior, my cousin had been in Turkey when there had been a coup. I remember FaceTiming her and her friend as they hid out in their Istanbul airbnb waiting for the travel ban to lift.

This experience of my cousin combined with the fact that there was a travel advisory on the U.S. Department of State’s website that said, “Reconsider travel to Turkey due to terrorism and arbitrary detentions,” were enough to make me quite uncomfortable.

Alas, work at Chick-fil-A had been sucking the life out of me for a few years at this point, and I was looking for any excuse to escape. So Crystal, Brian, and I waited for some affordable flights and then booked our trip for January of 2019.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, Crystal had actually built our entire three city trip around a single festival that was occurring in Ephesus on one specific day in January. That’ll be important later.

As I boarded the plane, I remember being more than a little bit anxious about the trip: I had never traveled internationally with friends for this long, I wasn’t sure how safe this place was, and I quite frankly had no clue what to expect.

I put my headphones in, cued our “Turkey 2019” collaborative Spotify playlist, and fell asleep to Clueless by the Marias.


Thanks For Not Listening to Your Friends (<-Link to the “written in Turkey” blog)

On our trip we tried new food, made new friends, got creative with our documenting, and learned a lot about the world and our perception of it.

Crystal was always the first to put herself out there when it came to practicing the language and engaging with the natives. While many people travel for the photos and the stories, Crystal always seems to want to see what life is like for the normal person in these different cultural contexts. This is evident in how she plans her trips all the way through to the way she frames her photos.

In experiencing her method of traveling to know and understand rather than traveling to see and commentate, my eyes were opened to so much beauty that comes from experiencing different cultures.

Her courage and adventurousness is what placed us in the thick of a Camel Wrestling Festival on a Saturday morning, where we would experience a party unlike any we had seen before.

In many ways, Turkey was an incredible trip because the people we met there were unbelievably hospitable and friendly. We were offered food, drinks, and warm welcomes almost everywhere we went. Complete strangers would hear us speaking English and they would stop and say hello and share about their sons or daughters that lived in California. Airbnb hosts would shift heaven and earth to get us better accommodations. Food tour guides would take time after their shifts to take us to wine gardens and share recommendations of where we could eat next. The country was beautiful from a nature and sights standpoint, but it was especially beautiful because of the people that interacted with us.

But see, herein lies the catch: we never would have experienced any of this hospitality or any of the great things Turkey has to offer, if not for Crystal’s willingness to plan this trip to a place that neither I nor many people I know would ever try and go for “safety” reasons.

As our world experiences a time of great unrest, and nationalism and patriotism are being flaunted left and right, I think fondly on this trip and how it completely re-framed my perspective of other countries. When a native says, “Thanks for not listening to your friends who said we were barbarians and that you shouldn’t come,” it fucks you up a little bit.

Every country is a melting pot of atrocities, customs, innovations, and most importantly: people.

Thanks Crystal for teaching me the importance of seeing things and people for myself as opposed to just believing what I hear about them.


No Reservations

A few years later, Crystal joined me in Mexico City, in order to see, what all the hype was about an anti-human trafficking organization that I was crazy about.

We spent time with several of the beneficiaries teaching basic math and facilitating some team building exercises and I tried to summarize everything in Benny Yu’s book Painful Miracles in a succinct way in order to explain the anti trafficking work that El Pozo De Vida was doing in Mexico City.

When we weren’t at the safehouse or eating tacos, we were seeing the sights and trying to keep our food down.

As a celebratory meal of sorts, Crystal tried to get us a table at Quintonil, an upscale restaurant in the same stratosphere as some Michelin Star restaurants in the area. Unfortunately for us, there were no reservations available for the time we were free.

Now, I would have just given up and eaten at Taco Express for the fifth time in three weeks, BUT Crystal decided what the heck, I’ll just shoot them a quick email and explain our situation.

Lo and behold: we got a table.

As we sat down and ate, we realized that we were in fact an exception to the rule, as the restaurant had violated its one party an hour rule and double booked us in their opening slot.

If you know me, you know that I am terrified of asking for things. I will eat the incorrectly delivered food at my table because I don’t want to cause an inconvenience. I figure it’s better not to ask and therefore not be disappointed than it is to try and find a creative solution but fail in the process.

Crystal lives this theme of “just trying” to the max.

Windy gales might prevent us from flying in hot air balloons? Eh, let’s try anyways.

We are 20 and 21 on the waitlist for this game theory class? Eh, let’s just hang around anyways.

There’s a contest on this new travel app? Eh, sure what do I have to lose?

There’s a social media giveaway for these tickets to a play? Eh, you should just try.

Thanks for teaching me the importance of asking, Crystal.


Own Your Narrative

It can be hard to get by in a culture that values set-in-stone plans and monetary success so highly above all other things.

As great as the exciting adventures we’ve shared have been, we’ve been privy to each other’s non-instagram highlight-esque life struggles as well. From uncertainty of wanting to stay with certain companies, being overworked and abused by poor managers and organizations, and wrestling with the tension between personal passion projects and making rent, we’ve been privileged to give the other space to vent about all that stuff people generally don’t talk about.

We post on social media about the concerts, the picturesque views, the trips, and the good times, but we conveniently leave out the jobs that are killing us, the painful process of learning about ourselves, and the long ass times we spend at jobs we hate in order to save up enough for the next trip.

People remind us time and time again to get serious about our lives as we brush them off, too busy wandering and discovering just a little bit more about who we are and what we want.

I appreciate the safe space that Crystal has created when it comes to talking about purpose and living the one life that we have.

In one phone call, I shared about how I was pretty sure that I was going to move to Mexico City and that I was finally okay with being the only one in my life who seemed remotely excited about that decision. She cheered me on from the other side of the line and said something along the lines of, “HELL YEAH! OWN your narrative!”

I think Crystal has taught me an immense amount about empathy and being supportive that I have never experienced in such consistent quantities. I’ve learned so much about being a cheerleader to my friends and family just from the conversations we’ve had in which she just hears me out and encourages me to keep chasing what I think I was designed to do.

If you’ve had the privilege to get to know Crystal, I think you know exactly what I’m talking about.


Embracing the Uncomfortable

By far, the trait I admire most about Crystal, is her intentionality with being uncomfortable.

It could be on her travels.

It could be on the bouldering walls she scales.

It could be in the controversial topics she chooses to discuss when everyone is just vibing.

She chooses to challenge the norm and the widely accepted way of doing things and she asks the hard questions which she might not have the answers to.

This takes immense bravery, but without people in our world with this trait, we would never develop, grow, or solve the problems that our societies face.

She doesn’t accept the stereotypes that people blindly assign to other people and instead chooses to immerse herself and to see for herself what makes different people unique.

She’s willing to take risks in order to learn about others and she’s not so quick to assign blame to entire people groups.

To be frank… our world needs more people who desire to see the similarities we all share as opposed to harping on the differences.


Dude, Crystal, you’ve taught me HELLA, about life, perspectives, and just living life authentically. I’m honored to call you my friend, and I appreciate you being patient with all of my tiktok transitions that I make you do for my travel videos. Thanks for caring about my passion projects and encouraging me to chase them down. Also thanks for being down to detox from social media with our janky “social media addicts anonymous” program. Thanks for reminding me to create space for myself when I get lost in trying to do five thousand things at once. Try and remember me when you are the Senior Director of the United Nations who wins the Nobel Peace Prize for inspiring change through photojournalism.

Some people might see Crystal’s life as a bit unorthodox or unbalanced but to be honest….

I think she’s hanging on that V6, flagging, concentrating, and knowing exactly where she’s going next: to solve the world’s next problem.

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! 

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.