Sunday, January 30, 2011

failure is not an option

My weekend sucked. Wanna know why? It's because I was in the dangnabbed library from Friday-Sunday for 8 hours a day. This is following a Mon-Thurs week of 15-16 hour days of nonstop class, work and studying.

I am exhausted.

And I have been for a while now. But somehow, I wake up each morning with enough strength to get me through the day. Why? Or more importantly, how?

I used to be one of those types of people who could never understand how people did so much in a day. I used to marvel at my roommate who would go from class, work and leading Bible study from 8 AM to 10PM at night on Mondays without a single break, and never thought I could handle living at that pace. And behold, here I am.

The reason why I never comprehended how people who were struggling to make ends meet could work 3 jobs or how some high school students could manage school with so many sports and extracurricular activities was simply because my mindset included quitting as a choice. Their mindset didn't. It's just like how going to the gym takes so much more mental strength than carrying a 20 pound backpack walking all around campus all day. I do it because there is no option of me just missing class or work for it.

I watched an extremely fascinating segment on strict Chinese parenting on MSNBC. You can watch it here:

Although I personally disagree with her endorsement on how to raise kids, I do appreciate my Asian heritage, and I definitely think there are some things that are characteristic of the East that the West could benefit to learn from. (On a side note, sometimes I believe I have such a great advantage by being Asian-American because I get to take the best of the East and combine it with the best of the West.) I actually quite agree with Amy Chua in that Asian students tend to outperform white students because their parents expect so much more than Caucasian parents do. Now, this is a double edged sword and can lead to deep psychological wounds, but I know I can attribute my hours and hours in the library to a refusal to settle for anything less than passing this Economics class.

When there is no option of failure, you learn to adjust and do what you gotta do. If an F is what you are expecting, an F is what you will work for. If an A is what you are expecting, an A is what you will work for.

Now, I'm realistic enough to know that I will most likely not receive an A in this class. In fact, I will be happy to just pass the class with a C or better. And that is okay, since most students end up taking this class twice because they fail the first time. I refuse to fail this class. I refuse to take this class again. I expect to pass it my first try. And that's why I've studied 24 hours in the last three days for this goshdarn class.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

power hour

Last weekend, I went over to my guy friends' house for a movie night. I had never seen Inception and I was excited to watch it. Everything was going fine until I had to use the bathroom. As a frame of reference, there are 5 guys that live in the house. As you can imagine, the bathroom was all kinds of nasty.

After the movie, I complained to my friends about how gross their bathroom was. I demanded some cleaning supplies so I could start cleaning for them (I have a thing about cleaning bathrooms...for some reason, I really enjoy it). They stopped me, saying that they were planning on spending a "power hour" later that weekend cleaning their house.

The concept of the power hour really intrigued me. What would it look like to harness the power of my utmost focus on a tedious task that I don't really feel like doing most of the time? I bet I would be able to get a whole heck of a lot more done than dragging my feet and whining.

For me, that means getting started on internship applications. I need to start researching the internships that I'm interested in and then start reworking my resume to fit each company. Additionally, I need to start making decisions on where I want to spend my summer; whether in Hawai`i, SLO or the Bay. There's a lot of factors to think about, which is why I've been procrastinating doing it.

But during my power hour, no excuses are allowed. It will strictly be all work and no play. Taking a cue from this article, I will block my access to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. I will make enough progress to at least come up with a system that lets me systematically attack the heap of things to do. That way, I won't have to make another power hour to get everything done, but take parts of it with me to do when I have a few free minutes. For example, by accomplishing the decision of where I want to apply for summer during my power hour, I can print out the applications and take them with me to complete when I'm waiting for class to start or needing a study break.

This weekend. Power hour. It's going down. Anyone else with me?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

the dangers of perfectionism

We just had our winter quarter career fair on my campus this past week. It was so interesting to see all the kids in my classes who normally show up in sweats and t-shirts transform into polished professionally dressed job-hunters.

Even more interestingly, their patterns of behavior changed, as the reality of the "real world" began to invade the college bubble, and students became stressed about landing an internship or job. Suddenly, I had a bunch of people asking me for help on their resumes, interview-appropriate attire and what to say in interviews. The career center was flooded with anxious students trying to perfect themselves for potential employers. Even the freshmen and sophomore friends of mine were looking to the upperclassmen for guidance.

Here's how the typical conversation went:
Person: "Do you have a resume?"
Me: "Yeah."
Person: "Oh my gosh, can you help me with mine?"
Me: "Sure, what do you need help with?"
Person: "Everything! I don't know what to do! I heard you're supposed to have the margins aligned and the font a certain type and blah blah blah extraneous details blah blah."

So often, we get crippled into paralysis because there are too many things we've heard from other people that we "should" do. Trying to do it all perfectly is so overwhelming, we often miss the entire point of doing it in the first place. Or, we end up getting so stressed out by the possibility of not doing everything right, we just push it to the back of our mind and say we'll do it later or just not try at all. None of these options are optimal.

In order for us to make progress, we need to understand the why.

We're not going to do things perfectly. Why? Because there is no "right way" to get an internship or a job, or accomplish pretty much anything in life. Every person's path is different, and there's no point in trying to do things exactly like somebody else.

The point of a resume is not to have a pretty resume, impress people or get you a job. The point of a resume is to show employers that you will add value to their company. Those other things might come with it, but the whole purpose of having a resume is for the company's benefit, not yours.

Sure, details like font type and margin size help with the presentation, but all that just tells companies that you're neat. "Neat" is not a scarce quality. Tell them what you've done that relates to their open position. Tell them what your strengths are and how that will enable you to not just perform the job responsibilities well, but excel at it. Look at the company's objectives and show how you'll be able to achieve them. Employers don't care about you, they care about what you can do to their bottom line. So tell them! And don't worry about the minutiae, at least for now.

Get the content done first, then work on the details. It is much harder to do it the other way around.

Friday, January 14, 2011

suck it up

This quarter, I'm taking a class that might simply be the death of me. I kid you not. It's called ECON 311, which is intermediate microeconomics expressed in terms of calculus. Now if you're a business major like myself, the microeconomics part might be straightforward, but the calculus part? It's just plain awful! Math is my weakest subject, and even though I mustered up A's and B's for the prerequisites, I just don't think in mathematical terms.

If you want to know why I'm concentrating in finance if I hate math so much, believe me, I want to know why too. This economics class has been the biggest source of stress and worry for me, and it's only been Week 2 of the quarter.

In fact, after the first week of classes, I was completely overwhelmed and terrified of what this quarter could do to my GPA/future. I called my dad in near hysteria complaining about how awful the course was, while he listened in mostly silence. When I was done complaining, my dad said, "Well, Sarah, you have two options." In anticipation of some wonderful insight or hidden gem of wisdom that would help to guide me in the right direction, I listened closely.

"You can either drop the class, or keep going."

Gee, Dad. Thanks. For nothing. Tell me something I don't know, please. But as I started thinking about it, he wasn't telling me something earthshaking. He was telling me what I already knew, because I already had what I needed to deal with this class. I could either drop it and deal with it later, or keep going with it and just work really hard. But complaining about it wouldn't solve anything. I'd still have to deal with it at the end of the day. It would still be there every Tuesday and Thursday waiting for me, unless I took action.

I think I have a tendency to over-complicate things that are very simple. Instead of taking action on the two things that I knew I could do, I was looking for an easy way out; a magical way of making the class less hard or dropping the class while still getting credit. There are no shortcuts, there's simply either doing or dropping.

Likewise, I think we often over-complicate our goals. For instance, we think we can't ask for a raise because we don't know all the subtle nuances to the art of negotiating. Or we can't be a social media expert because we've never had training. I have a part time gig working for a professor at my school doing website maintenance, which is slightly hilarious since I have no real experience with website all. Honestly, I really just know basic html. But even with my limited knowledge, I've managed to fix all his website problems and make some side income.

We're more equipped than we think. Why do we let ourselves talk our confidence down?

Oh...for the record, I decided NOT to drop the class. My midterm is next week, so we'll see how all my arduous studying pays off.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

why are people so judgmental?

For college students, frugality and Top Ramen are a way of life. I know that my roommates and myself (I live with 4 other girls) are all relatively charmed in that our parents pay for our tuition, books and living costs, but in general, people think of college students as having a low standard of living.

However, the other thing that college students are known for is...partying. What I have never understood is how students can complain about the lack of money they have and why they can't do this or can't do that, yet still find a way to go out every weekend and buy handles of vodka so frequently.

Now, a little background on myself. I currently work 3 jobs, while taking a full load of classes. I also do not have a car.

This next caveat is what makes me so annoyed.

Since I like to shop (and can afford it, since my parents are taking care of my biggest expenses), I incur the judgment and seeming jealousy from some friends.

Does anyone else experience this?!

Now, I know that I wouldn't be able to have this standard of living if my parents weren't paying my way through school, and don't think that I am unappreciative of them. I am so very grateful for their support and feel very blessed that they're willing to invest in me and my future.

I'm also a personal finance nerd, and I love tracking my expenses and creating/tweaking my budget. And here's the thing: I save/invest about 60% of my salary. I tithe 10% and the remaining amount is my "fun" money.

My fun money is used on going out to eat with friends and for shopping. Or saving up to buy myself a really nice designer purse/pair of jeans/shoes, etc.

But people see just the purchases and don't realize the conscious way I choose to spend my money, so they point at and criticize my money habits, saying that I'm "irresponsible" and that there's no way I could be a financial adviser since I "can't" stop shopping.

It's not a matter of "can" or "cannot." I can afford a lot of things. So can you. But I'm not going to buy a $700 Louis Vuitton purse on a whim, the same as you will probably not buy a Mercedes on a whim. We all make decisions on how we spend our money. Most college students choose alcohol. I choose shopping.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

achieving balance

So this weekend, one of my friends is in town, visiting from San Francisco, where he now works full time. Last year, he led one of the ministries I'm involved with while he was finishing up his Masters degree in Biomedical Engineering. When he got into town, about 10 of us went out to dinner with him to catch up and hear how he's doing. At the end of the meal, he picked up the tab for everybody. We didn't really know how to respond, since no one was expecting it. It was so sweet, and it really impressed me since he and I still talk pretty frequently, and I know that he's trying to save money.

I think it just struck me how balanced my friend was. He has his priorities as far as paying off student loans and starting to plan for his retirement, but he isn't stingy with people. God has blessed him with a job in this economy and he spent his money in a way that transferred a blessing to all ten of us.

That's the mindset that I want to have when I'm out of college and making a "real" salary. Sometimes, in the midst of my budgeting and planning for my future, I sometimes hold onto money too tightly. I get too stressed out about the future and feel like I "can't" or it's a waste of money to use it on other people instead of myself.

Money, like most things in life, is a balancing act that I have yet to perfect. I think that night was such a great reminder of what it looks like to have money and yet know that all blessings flow from the Lord. It's not MY money that I can spend on anything that I want after I give God his 10%. No, all of it is His and out of His generosity, He's letting me use it. It has less to do with the dollar amount I'm bringing in, and everything to do with trusting the Lord to provide. Worry and stress shows that there's a part of my life that I haven't entrusted the Lord with. He wants all of me, financial matters included.

What good is wealth if you are stingy? People don't feel wealthy, even if they are in the top 1% of the richest people in the world. That's because our mindsets are relative and we live in fear of losing what we have. This gives an excuse to not give to others or live generously within community. And at the end of life, what good is it if we gain the world but lose our souls?