I’m pale, introverted, and serious. What are you?

Umbrella for the sun Here in Bali, if you go into a pharmacy, you’ll see a lot of whitening products – not for your teeth, but for your skin. Whitening lotion, whitening face wash – the same type of products I saw in Hong Kong and China two years ago.

I remarked on this to Fred, who was perplexed. Why do Asians (who are tan) want to be pale, while Americans (who are pale) want to be tan?

It’s simple, I explained. It’s a law of womanhood: if you have straight hair, you want curly hair; if you have curly hair, you want straight hair. You want what you don’t have, I guess.

So Fred told me to jot this down for my study of happiness: accepting yourself is the first step.

It makes sense. To make any life change, you need to accept the place you’re starting from. And if you start from a place of not accepting yourself – being unhappy with the body you see in the mirror or your professional skills – it doesn’t matter what else happens. Even if life hands you the best of circumstances, you can’t be fully happy.

So what do you need to accept about yourself?

I’m pale. I use umbrellas not only for rain, but for sunshine, too. I don’t tan. In some photos, I look like a ghost.

I’m introverted. I don’t really like parties. I’m bad at small talk. I don’t like to network, even when I should.

I’m serious. I don’t think some things should be laughed at. I work a lot, and I don’t really like stupid movies or stupid jokes. I think about the meaning of life.

At some point, I didn’t accept all these things about myself. But I’m getting there. I can take umbrella jokes in stride, leave the party without guilt (most of the time), and ask deep questions without having to downplay them. If I’m the quirky quiet one who always carries around umbrellas, so be it.

What are you?

My 2014 New Year’s resolution: Pursue truth and beauty

Paris Promenade Plantée

My motto on various social networking sites has always been “In pursuit of truth and beauty.” In reflecting on 2013 and what I hope for 2014, I’ve realized just how apt it is. Maybe I’m stretching the meanings a little bit, but I’m okay with that. So my official 2014 resolution is to “pursue truth and beauty” – with all of the nuance that entails.

Pursue

I’m not a fan of uncertainty. I plan in advance, sort out options in my head, and generally like to put things into their little boxes. But I’m starting to see that learning – that thing I profess to love, that drives my career – is uncertainty. Learning is saying, “I don’t have all the answers and I don’t know what they are, but I’m going to try to find them.” It’s saying, “I may be very bad at this [skill, job, activity] but I’m going to give it a shot even if I don’t know if I’ll get anywhere.” Learning is exploring, opening up, finding, and re-discovering.

In college, my style of essay writing was always feverish. Once I got into the 400-level philosophy classes, they stopped giving us actual questions to respond to; instead, we had a general theme and could come up with our own argument. After we got an assignment, the rest of my day would be spent feverishly researching, trying to pin down this big uncertainty of a thesis before it drove me nuts.

But this isn’t a good model for life, going back and forth between the complacency of having the answers and stressful discomfort with uncertainty. The learning happens when I settle myself in research mode and don’t demand the answers to come now. I’ll never be done figuring out life; I’ll never get my A and be able to rest easy.

My motto is not to possess truth and beauty, but to pursue it.

Truth

In my original formulation, the truth I was pursuing was knowledge: knowledge about things like innovation, psychology, and morality. But there’s another, slightly less lofty truth I want to pursue in 2014: the truth that’s right under my nose.

One of my great afflictions is the well-honed talent of worrying about things I can’t control, like my health or whether the plane’s going to be late. And while I see that this is incredibly dumb – and a huge waste of time – it continues. In 2014, I vow to ask myself: can I change this? And we know what happens when you ask yourself this question:

Worry chart

Sometimes it feels like my stance toward the world is too tense. I’m fighting and resisting and struggling: I can’t believe things are this way, I don’t want them to be this way, and I get preoccupied wishing they were different. I want to relax my grip on life, and just Let Go. Breathe. Phew, doesn’t that feel better?

Beauty

Finally, on the positive side, is beauty. And beauty isn’t just those rare sunrises and symphonies and cozy restaurants that come into my life every so often. Now – particularly with the help of the Happier app – I’m starting to see beauty in more places. This morning, I saw the blue-and-yellow morning sky streaming through the windows of the gym. The other day, I saw my boyfriend’s eyes crinkle into a smile. Decorating the tree, I saw a deep red, glittering ornament in the shape of a hot air balloon.

I often live in the future, planning for the long term and doing the right things, forgoing pleasures for productivity. Finding beauty in the little things is just one way of being happy in the present – and, in some sense, isn’t a string of happy days all anyone wants? After seeing beauty, the next step is to go further and be grateful for it. I’m taking Happier’s Everyday Grateful course in January, and I’ll be reporting on how that goes.

My final insight from 2013 is to see the positive, the beauty, within myself. I may want to be less stressed, more patient, and more successful. But that falls under the “pursuing” category – life is a journey, and I’m working on it. For now, I do my best to be a good girlfriend, daughter, and sister; I exercise and take care of my body; I’m proud of the work I do; and I take my principles seriously. Life may be messy and uncertain and uncontrollable, but this – who I am – I can control. I can cultivate and nurture and grow, while being happy at any given moment with what I’ve created. It’s a delicate dance of striving and contentment, and I’m still learning the steps.

Worry chart by: JoyReactor

The Power of Community

Not too long ago, I was what you might call a community skeptic. I had heard lots of people talk about the value of community; I was pitched by startups who were creating communities; but I wasn’t convinced. “Community” seemed like such an intangible thing.

Then I moved into the Ogden, a high-rise luxury apartment building amidst gritty downtown Las Vegas. (It’s a long story, but Tech Cocktail opened an office there.) The Ogden is home to Tony Hsieh and many Zappos folks, as well as much of the Downtown Project staff. Community figures prominently in the goals of the Downtown Project, which is revitalizing downtown Las Vegas by funding new businesses and buildings.

But it’s the Ogden itself that has won me over. We have a Google group for residents, so emails flow into my inbox daily. Check out this concert, come grab some free chili, our startup just launched, party at the local bar. Here’s what else I’ve gotten from the community, just by asking:

  • Health. Someone recommended a primary care doctor for me. A doctor – as in, someone who helps you stay healthy. That’s super important.
  • Mobility. We offered to give away our parking space in exchange for use of a car for grocery store trips. Voila – we can now get around easily without braving public transport.
  • Information. Two neighbors offered to share their Internet, for free, since we’re only staying temporarily.
  • Food. We can feed our stomachs with weekly community dinners.

These benefits are incredibly tangible, I have to admit. So I’m a skeptic no more.

Why Zoning Laws are Anti-Innovation

With governments abuzz about promoting innovation, one easy solution would be to simplify zoning laws.  In talking with a friend yesterday, I realized that zoning laws discourage innovation in at least three distinct ways:

  1. Zoning laws require you to assign your business to one of the categories that government regulators have devised. (My friend, for example, had to call his dance school a “dance hall,” although they never held receptions there.) This gives business owners an incentive to stick with traditional types of businesses, lest they face unnecessary delay or failure in obtaining a license.
  2. Zoning laws make it difficult to change categories.  If your business is failing and you want to try something new, you are discouraged from doing so by all the necessary paperwork, fees, and time. Plus, depending on your location, the new license may not even be available.
  3. Obtaining multiple licenses makes the process even harder. And again, it may be difficult to find a property where all the licenses are available.

So while I appreciate that there isn’t a hip hop club blasting music at 3 a.m. near my apartment, I’d be happy to see looser zoning regulations that don’t create headaches for our business owners and innovators.

Tips for journalists from journalists

Some recurring themes from IHS’s Journalism & a Free Society seminar, in no particular order:

  • The value of newspaper reporting experience, to teach us the nuts and bolts of journalism, as opposed to simply writing fluffy opinion pieces.
  • To go or not to go to journalism school?
  • Intellectual honesty: recognizing your own biases and looking for contrary evidence
  • The importance of “going to the right parties”
  • The impossibility of objectivity in journalism (This is perhaps material for a later post, but I was surprised by the consensus among rational journalists against objectivity.  My initial thoughts are that objectivity as currently practiced – quoting Mr. Left and Mr. Right – is definitely problematic, but that a redefined objectivity could still be the ideal to strive for.)
  • Do the grunt work (making coffee, scraping ice off freezers, etc.)
  • The advantages and disadvantages of working for an ideological publication (e.g., being able to write the pieces we want to write and express the opinions we want to express, but closing doors to some mainstream publications)

Overall, the seminar was a great experience.  I’m inspired to really go after the job I want, and excited to start doing more writing. – and looking forward to catching up on sleep.