life

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the fallacy of balance

“You can have everything you want in life, just not all at once.”

I turned 29 last week and amid all the fond birthday wishes, I found my feelings catapulting from one extreme to the other. One minute I wanted to milk the shit out of the last year of my 20s and carpe the effing diem. Yet, minutes later, I found exhaustion rearing its delirious head, forcing me to reconcile with the limits of my energy.  Ah, to be young, bold, and unabashedly in bed before midnight.

This swinging pendulum of energy isn’t particularly unique; most anyone of youthful spirit (or anyone sensitive to the current political climate, for that matter) can relate to this roller coaster ride of emotions. If my circle is any indication of general sentiment, many of us are just plain exhausted.

So, how does one find balance between passion AND zen? When, in this modern world, is there time for creation, relation, AND self-preservation? Is it possible to carve out space for the I, the Us, AND the WE?

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Sage albeit somewhat depressing advice for anyone wanting to create or put something original into the world: good work requires some sacrifice (a la relationships, romantic or platonic).

I’ve been meditating on the equilibrium posited above. I don’t totally agree with the premise that you can only have two of the three among friends, love, & work. All three can co-exist, just not at the same levels of intensity. Depending on the season of life, one might take precedence over the other, but it’s certainly possible to make time for all three. It just takes intentionality. True balance is a rarity though.

The bigger question I grapple with is not how to balance all these elements, but where the missing variable of SELF factors in (if at all). They’re the moments when we can read a book, pray, journal, exercise, or pause long enough to listen to the own banter in our head before jumping into some act of doing. This self-work has no immediate outcome, deliverable or KPI. It is slow, heavy, and unheroic. A bit of a modern conundrum. But the capacity to look inward, quiet the outer din, and feel deeply, I believe, will become increasingly important in a world perpetually bombarded by distractions.

Learning how to channel my energy – internally and externally – so I am more aligned with my values is my goal for the year. While our best selves should work well with others, the road to achieving any dream is a more solitary one requiring dogged, somewhat isolating self-management / awareness. No one can tell me where to focus my attention or energy but myself. I want to be more consistently available to the things that matter, instead of toggling between fits of passion & lukewarm apathy. Doing this requires intentionality – to think slowly, work deeply, and rest abundantly – sans social distractions.

Oh, lighten up Lynne!  Be more free while you’re still young, they say. I’ve had plenty of free moments and don’t want to discount them. My nomadic tendency has become a hallmark trait of my 20s. And I’m grateful that I’ve been able to embrace this aspect of my spirit without being tied down. But being too free can also be a limitation. I know now that my introverted self can give so much more when my energy isn’t scattered in multiple social settings. Discipline via constraint and clear boundaries creates true freedom.

So, yes Mr. Koch, I do want a social life with friends. I’m only human. But it’s the somewhat lonely self-work that will allow me to be a better human. I can’t think of a better way of saying goodbye to my thirsty 20s than with that form of medicine.

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Non-advice for Uncertain Times

“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

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Somewhere between Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Transitions are hard. Now that I’m back in NYC and figuring out next steps, I find myself caught in a phase of “in-between”, a place somewhere between being and doing.

The days when I am most productive are the days when I am accountable to others, checking boxes off a list of things that require me to show up: getting coffee with someone, sending an email, exercising, applying to a job, writing this newsletter. I do it mostly to reassure myself that I can still function as a person in larger society.

Of course, there are days that go terribly awry: I start a simple task and end with 20 open tabs + a pounding headache; I say yes to another glass of wine and learn for the millionth time that an extra hour of sleep would have probably been more beneficial; I fall into a rabbit hole of social feeds and emerge hours later frustrated with my lack of self-regulation.

But truthfully, the majority of my days comprise of quiet, subtle, slightly indulgent ‘inner work’ that wouldn’t mean much to anyone else: reading old journal entries about dreams once dreamed, scribbling new plans, wandering aimlessly through the city, reflecting on the things I’ve learned.

Unstructured time means that you learn to set boundaries between these periods of reflection, productivity, and self-indulgence. I realize how lucky I am to have this time. I’m learning discernment, for knowing when and how to act. Self-forgiveness, for moments of weakness.  Permission, to just be. It’s a pretty unscientific process of self-analysis + trial & error + course-correction, but it’s probably what I need most now.

It’s not all fun experimentation. If you’re prone to anxiety like me, having more free time can turn into analysis paralysis. Time, like money, is a finite resource, and can quickly drip dry. You try to remember what mountain you set out to climb to begin with and why it’s taking so long to figure it out.

So, what is time-well-spent look like in an intentional life? There’s no shortage of articles on how to be more productive, often modeled after the lifestyle of a hero CEO. Wake up early. Time block your calendar. Remove social media from your phone. Say yes to every opportunity. Actually, say no and set boundaries. Seek feedback from family & friends because you need to check your blind spots. Join support groups.

It is tempting to follow the experts & have others tell you what to do. But here’s the rub: only you can answer the question. Sure, we could all probably benefit from some time management tools, but this isn’t a productivity issue. This is a life. Simply put, you can’t delegate the direction of any one life to a generalized advice column.

Oprah always starts her Super Soul Sunday podcast by saying one of the most valuable gifts we can give ourselves is time, time to be present. I’d like to take this a step further: we should take time to be present, so we can determine our intentions and chart our future self. In fact, I’d argue that it is the most important work we can do because no one else can do it.  Figure out what matters to you and from there, your choices, actions, and identities will flow. You can’t outsource this stuff, baby.

“It is the intentions, the capacities for choice rather than the total configuration of traits which defines the person. Here the stage is set for identity crises, for wondering who one really is, behind the multifold variety of actions and roles. And the search for that core person is not a matter of curiosity; it is a search for the principles by which choices are to be made.”
– What Makes a Person

I’ve come to believe that life occurs at a certain cadence – at times, we are thrust into circumstances that don’t give us much of a choice – but when we do have the privilege of choice, it is our responsibility to set a framework so we aren’t continuously sidetracked and pushed further and further away from our destination.

For those who think this is a question reserved for the privileged, it totally is. Embrace it! And if you don’t have the fortune now, just wait – your glorious moment to navigate this beautiful in-between territory will come.


Simple Civility

Two weeks ago, I checked a major item off my life bucket list: running the New York City Marathon.

img_0074Words can’t quite capture the experience of running through the streets of New York City with 50,000+ other runners. What I can say is that running through the five boroughs — from the mass exodus in Staten Island across the Verrazano bridge into Brooklyn (admittedly, my favorite borough), followed by Queens and a stampede of supporters on 1st ave in Manhattan, into the toughest miles in the Bronx, and then concluding with the final stretch along Central Park West — evoked a powerful sense of unity.

Somewhere in the Bronx between miles 21 and 22 when my legs began to give way, I also began to meditate and pass the time by drawing a line of comparison between the race itself and the race of life. (This is what happens when your neurotic brain calms down!)

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Though I am far from seasoned in either race, here are a few racing takeaways that emerged along the path:

  • Pace yourself. You’ll burn out by going full blast too quick, too soon. As an all or nothing type of person, this level of control is something I’m still trying to learn in life.
  • And yet, you’ll inevitably get tired regardless. It’s ok to stop and take a break when you need it. Recognize when to stop because it’s not about crashing and burning; it’s about finishing the long game.
  • Be prepared to lose some shit along the way. I threw out an old hoodie and a jacket as it started to heat up, and allowed my headband to fall to the ground. Some things you’re better off without, for no better reason than to simply lighten the load.
  • Go with the (ebb) and flow. There are various phases along the course: times when you’re riding high and filled with determination, and times when you’re on the major struggle bus near drunken stupor. During miles 3–9 in Brooklyn, I felt like I could run forever, as well as miles 17–19 along 1st avenue in Manhattan. The energy on the streets was infectious; when you see people from all walks of life cheering, you can’t help but feel like the whole city is on your side.
    Reality hits during what I call the ‘desert miles’; these were miles 12–15, while crossing the Pulkalski bridge into Queens, and miles 19–22, while crossing the Willis bridge into the Bronx. The crowd peters out. You’re alone and doing everything in your power to not give up. The going gets really tough.
    We all get by a bit easier with a little help. That said, we don’t always have the luxury of a personal cheering squad which means we ultimately need to rely on our own beating hearts to charge towards the end goal.
  • Get over yourself. Just when you think you’re struggling hard, you’re reminded that everyone else is running the same race while facing a battle of their own. People are overcoming challenges beyond what you could ever imagine. Towards the later stretches of the marathon, I found myself running next to a a group called Achilles International. Not knowing who they were, I was a bit irked when one of the runners ran into me. I think I gave her a look, only to realize that she was blind and guided by a volunteer with Achilles International (awesome organization btw, they pair those with sight with the sight-impaired so that they can participate in marathons and running events). Life is filled with humbling moments like these.
  • Everything is in your head. We are capable of more than we think. Running a marathon is highly mental. During those moments of immense pain and perspiration, the only thing that kept me going was sheer will, not athletic ability. The physical act of putting one foot in front of the other is easy compared to quelling the brain’s desire to quit. Conquer the mind’s restless chatter and truly, anything is within reach.
  • Have fun. A marathon is not something people generally do for leisure. But willpower is in short supply. As with all things in life, if you opt to train for something, you need to do it not because you “have to” but because you “want to”. Develop a strategy to make it fun. It will make the journey a lot more enjoyable.

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The marathon is one of those milestones that puts everything in perspective. I actually wrote this post two weeks ago without publishing, in between the marathon and our presidential election, but decided to post now because its lessons seem particularly trenchant to our current state of affairs.

Two main takeaways:

  1. What a gift it is to be alive and healthy. Training and completing the marathon makes me more cognizant of the gift of the human body and all the elements that allow me to move, particularly my 2 legs, 2 arms, 2 eyes, and healthy lungs.
  2.  Unity is possible. If people of all backgrounds can show up on the streets of New York and cheer a simple act of human endurance and resilience — running — why are we so divisive in other areas of life?
Which leads to one final thought about the topic on everyone’s mind –

 

Though we may not all be on the same page politically, may we aim for simple civility in the days to come. As we enter a potentially transformative time in our nation, let us remember the freedom we are afforded and use it wisely. Fight in the way that matters most, which is inside. And just like the long and winding path on the marathon, press on towards the victorious finish.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” – Martin Luther King Jr. 


2016: Presence > Presents

My favorite marketing campaign over the holidays was Sweetgreen’s clever play on presents.

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Accompanying this was a promotion: bring a friend and his/her meal would be on the house. Business-savvy move, since most fast healthy chain consumers are probably dining alone.

Beyond the benefit to Sweetgreen’s bottom line, there’s immense value in the social capital this taps into: an age-old desire to break bread with others.

This got me thinking, now that the ‘season of giving’ is over, what if we continue to give simply by being present?

Easier said than done. Time is a valuable resource, and surely it’s a lot easier to gift someone a $50 gift certificate then to expend 2 hours of time with them. Think of all the other things we could be doing!

In some ways, money has become a subordinate currency to time: a band-aid solution to a lack of time. “Sorry I can’t be PRESENT but here’s a cool thing. See ya later!”

Which is why attention may be the greatest gift we can give, no matter the season.

I’m not trying to be self-righteous. Presents – the materialistic kind – are wonderful things and I love receiving them. It’s when they become our sole focus that perspective gets warped. How many times have you been asked, “What did you get for [Christmas/birthday/Valentine’s Day/insert consumer insert holiday name]?” as if receiving a present is a given.

Even in the land of charitable giving, undue emphasis is sometimes placed on material exchange or donations. When people asked what my short-term mission team did in Mumbai, by default I ticked off the gifts we brought: books, supplies, money, food, a computer, and a motorcycle for a pastor in the slums. Never mind that we also taught Bible Study, financial literacy classes, and held devotionals. But by lauding our funds and gifts, I (unintentionally) perpetuated the notion that short-term missions are non-committal, swooping in and plopping their gifts like Santa Clause. What happens to Santa at the end of the night? He returns to a distant faraway land never to be seen for another year.

Presents can bring tremendous value. But they can also distract, absolving us of a responsibility to be truly involved in the lives of others.

If the value of a mission trip lies not in its material gifts, where then does it come from? Here’s what I believe: the benefit of giving a week of your time to fly across the world and partner with vulnerable populations in less explicit and more implicit. It sends a message. A message that the poor, sick, and needy are not forgotten. A message that they are loved. Most of all, a message that they are worth. our. time.

Time is the real value. It’s not the books, the computer, or even the motorcycle we gifted to a pastor to ease his travel to and from the various slum communities (though it’s pretty badass).

Time spent listening, empathizing, and seeing beyond what a rigid caste system deems as untouchable (and therefore, unworthy) is both a palpable and impalpable gift. You can’t package it into a pretty box, but you feel its impact. This doesn’t just exist in the third word. Think about what our aging parents would prefer: a perfectly-wrapped present, or our full and devoted presence (sans buzzing phones – scarce commodity!).

As we return to our post-holiday routine, there will continue to be multiple distractions, obligations, and stressors  fighting for our attention. The best we can do is intentionally focus our attention on the things that matter: our friends, spouses, parents, children, or whatever it is we value most.

In a world where attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity, it’s as simple – and difficult – as that.


In 2013

IMG_0088For all its messiness, 2013 was a strangely awe-inspiring year. It was the year I found 3 professions, separately, in 3 very different industries. It was the year I failed, took a leap of faith into full-time writing, and discovered that it wasn’t for me. It was the year I lived in 3 apartments (6, if you count the 3 Air BnBs in San Francisco), started a group, and learned to like brussel sprouts. It was the year I traveled alone, got off Facebook, accepted that I am not Carrie Bradshaw. It was the year I became a public servant.

It was a year of relentless change.

I toasted to the occasion at a New York City bar. Like every other year, smooching couples basked in their “Auld Lang Syne” moment. I took note of those other trusty sidekicks. The buzzing ones. The plastic babies clamoring for our attention, crying “How dare we live in the moment”. This was the year we reflexively gave in, coddling our smartphones shortly after the midnight kiss because the moment is not to be lived; it’s to be created.

The moment has become a customized stream, a fully immersive sensory experience sprouting from multiple devices and directions. The moment is filtered, with selfies never more beautiful, words never more prophetic. Gifted to you, me, everyone – the most democratic of platforms – it’s social.  2013 was the year the megaplatform ruled the Internet, and we, the people, developed our megaphones. The once-scrappy kids on the block (Facebook, Twitter) became the establishment. We created a life by documenting and connecting because our lives are better when shared, if slightly embellished. No longer a phenomenon, the sight is ubiquitous: bouncing thumbs on the subways, streets, and most pervasively, our heads.

I suppose we celebrate the year’s end because it’s proof that we’ve lived and have more to live in the next. But does proof lie in the act or the memory? Now that 2013 is over, I wonder – if I don’t write this post and preserve the moments- will the year’s significance be lost?

These are tough questions that may not be resolved this year, next, or anytime soon. But we can aspire to greater conscientiousness and become regular customers of our own repair, all together now, tapping once, twice, thrice to the beat and eventually finding our balance to this strange but beautiful amorphous dance of life.

2014 will be the year of liberation. Carpe diem.


Hello Again, New York

On Thanksgiving Eve, while most New Yorkers eagerly shuttled out of the city, I befittingly found myself glued to my couch in Alphabet City, alone, milking a bottle of wine. Solitary gulps couldn’t replace my family’s embrace but somewhere between the self-pity and nostalgia, I found a silver lining. This week marks my 2nd year of living in New York. Bottoms up!

20131130-004650.jpgShould the occasion warrant celebration or consolation? In the past month a number of authors have written emotionally wrenching tales about their breakups with the city. “Why I’m Glad I Quit New York At Age 24” likened the city to the overrated “prom king”. Most recently, “The Long Goodbye“- a NYT commentary on well-known writer’s broken love affairs with NYC – prompted me to ask whether it was time I cut the cord soon too.

2 years is not a long time, but it’s enough to begin embodying characteristics unique to a place. Certainly, my expectations of the city have evolved since day 1. I still remember arriving on a bus with an oversize suitcase that could barely fit in the aisle. Scurrying to the dinner I was late for (the beginning of a recurring New York theme) only to have my dinner date keep me waiting for an additional 30 minutes. Within 24 hours,  I had learned an important New York lesson: never wait longer for someone than they will wait for you.

The rest of it reads like a once-poignant-now-trite Thought Catalog riff. But in New York’s defense – or perhaps I’m stuffed with Thanksgiving propaganda at this time of year – I’ve learned lessons which can only be attributed to New York’s hard-knock teaching style. Here are a few:

1. The city moves fast, but you still need to wait at the station.

*applies to more than just commute times.

People can respond to your emails in a heartbeat, but getting anyone to do anything is like moving a mountain. When you’re young, resistance finds you at every corner. You have to pay your dues.

In a literal sense, you need to add at least 20 minutes to a projected commute time because the R or F train will likely be delayed.

The moral is that plans, ambitions, and dreams often get derailed by unforeseen obstacles but usually (God willing) you get to where you need to be. It just takes patience and waiting for the train to come.

2. The city gets smaller, while the world gets bigger.

New York City is the center of the universe and there’s always people to meet.  But as my network has expanded, I’ve experienced a shrinking of the “center”. This simultaneous shrinking and expansion of worlds is interesting. The more people I meet, the fewer degrees of separation I am from other people in the city (and the more I treasure my close circle of friends). Neighborhood establishments become part of the routine and former strangers become friends. New York City essentially becomes one big town and way more manageable.

Then I flip to an article on Syrian refugees fleeing to Europe and never does anything seem farther away.

3. The hero is redefined.

Few places embody beauty, wealth, and status more than New York does.  I arrived here as starstruck as the worst of Bieber groupies.  But after meeting a handful of personal role models- some as impressive as I imagined and others rude as rats – I’ve had to destroy my gods. Working in media taught me that so much of what we see is a marketing blitz and once all the fluff is stripped away, well – celebrities are mere mortals too.

Perhaps because of the preponderance of celebrities in this town, titles and money are a dime in a dozen. What’s harder to find is genuine compassion, a desire to listen, and an ability to think deeply about meaningful issues.  While I’m not immune to the allure of wealth and its impact (we all need to make a living), New York’s in-your-face inequality reveals the inflationary value of certain attributes and a gap in appreciation for the everyday heroes who display value beyond the short-lived hoopla of models, millionaires, and moguls.

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For the past two years, I’ve raced to keep up with NYC’s speed, size, and glitz. It’s kicked my ass. But I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished overall: building a network within the tech and startup community, writing for one of the most-read US digital publications, working for the government of this grand city of cities, and most importantly, learning more everyday about this intricately woven world. While I have acquired certain archetypically New York characteristics, the hardest part about living here hasn’t been about becoming more assertive, professional, or socially savvy. It’s been refining the qualities that often aren’t associated with New York: patience, humility, and compassion. In its own prickly way, New York City has forced me to reconcile its somewhat contradictory nature (movement-stillness, expansion-shrinking, glitz-poverty) in a way that tamer cities simply can’t.  

Saying “Goodbye to All That” is justified. For my friends wondering when I will leave, my answer is not yet. Two years ago, I came to audition. Two years later, I’m still perfecting my routine. I’m still naive enough to believe that, more than anywhere else, New York City is the place for reinvention. Tomorrow, I will say “Hello again, New York” – like I do everyday – and audition for the next month, year, future. The show is yet to begin.


24

Celebratory boozing aside, what’s great about birthdays?

Cake, free hugs, and…angst. Birthdays mark the passage of time, which leads to circuitous thinking about the past and future. Typically, I’ve hated this existential element. Something about imagining your life in a crystal ball like a time warp, then looking back at years past to see what has and hasn’t happened- it’s a little disconcerting.

24 represents two dozen years,  two full zodiac cycles. Another year and it’s 25 and from there you start counting down the years to 3-0.

I’m tempted to make a lot of grand proclamations about what’s next but I’ve learned that few things ever go according to plan. I couldn’t predict my life as it is now and I won’t be able to for the years ahead, nor even tomorrow.

Embracing this variability is growing up. Over the years, I’ve experienced surprise victories and unexpected joys. I’ve also lost friends, loves, and jobs. Heartbreak awaits. I don’t expect it to get easier but that’s okay.  All I can say is that I am blessed beyond words for good friends, family, and security. I look forward to whatever awaits.

The best-earned gift is a slice of wisdom, shot of discernment, and never-ending rapture for the world. If 24 can afford me a little piece of that, I’ll be blessed.

25- we’ll talk about you when you’re here.