The perfectly imperfect leaf

Categories: Creative Writing, Personal

For the past few years, I’ve been thinking about what I want to do with this blog—and for all the thinking I did, I failed to actually do what I’ve wanted to do all along: write.

I’m revitalizing my little space on the internet to use it to my liking and worry less about whether I’m going to offend someone out in the universe (that’s a pretty presumptuous and self-important thought, isn’t it?).

Taking a page out of Seth Godin’s book, daily blogging is a habit I’d like to try, if just for the therapeutic effects and practice to putting my thoughts into words (which is a problem that’s been increasingly impacting my life each day).

In high school I dabbled in creative writing quite a lot; and even well before that, I somehow managed to nab my dad’s old laptop when I was in middle school and typed, and typed, and typed all these stories using Notepad until the poor thing broke down entirely.

15+ years later, I’m ready to get back to my roots and write again—simply because I enjoy it. ✍️

Below is a blog-esque, creative writing piece from a day of hiking in the autumn foliage with friends.


Anna tells us to pick out a leaf that we like. “For Instagram”, she says.

I can do that, I think. There’s probably thousands of leaves, if not millions, waiting for me to just pluck from the ground, freshly fallen and vibrant orange and red, those warm colors shining through as their green, youthful vitality fades with age.

So I look, and I look, as we trudge our way through the leaves, the crunching of dead leaves underfoot, unfortunate but satisfying casualties. As we see more brown before us, it feels like maybe I won’t find the leaf that screams “AUTUMN!”

In the meantime, I’m consoled with the fact that I’m deeply embedded in an earthliness not found closer to home. The stillness is a comfort for me, as a city dweller, knowing that there still exists places mostly untouched by entrepreneurial urbanites. My friends and I are just passerbys, knowing this place is both ours and not ours.

My brain forgets to look for that leaf as I relish in the scenery, knowing that this will be one of the last times before winter strips the trees completely.

For a while on the trail, I talk, Anna talks, Soohyun listens. We chat about everything and nothing, and it’s one of my favorite things even though I won’t remember a single thing we talked about later (curse this bad memory of mine).

And maybe it’s because I wasn’t focusing on looking for it when I spot it—the leaf I didn’t know I’d been looking for.

I’m in the middle of a conversation when I stop suddenly, my brain picking out the bright, perfectly-shaped yellow leaf on the ground, doing its best to blend in with the rest of its drying, yellowed comrades.

The leaf, admittedly, isn’t “perfect” in the traditional sense when I pick it up. Even though it’s got the best shape and color by far, it’s pockmarked with what I later identify as a result of a fungal infection of some sort. But that’s irrelevant—I’d found my perfect leaf.

I see the leaf for what it is, an accumulation of life, the sun that fed it, the rain that watered it, how it sustained its host and then let go when the time was ready, aged and beautiful and, in my humble opinion, a Leaf of leaves.

🍂

“Is that your perfect leaf?” Anna asks, not sounding entirely convinced it’s the best out there.

And I think, yeah, maybe it isn’t. Maybe I’ll find another one along the way and swap it for a better leaf. “Sure, yeah, I guess,” I say. I convince myself that I’ll just hold onto this one for now until we find another pile with promising candidates.

For the next few hours, even though I keep my eyes open for other bright, beautiful leaves, I see no other leaves with the same eye-catching character that my Leaf has.

Maybe I see myself in it, in a weird way. Or more like, I see what I think I’d like to see myself as, if I were a leaf. Aspiring to become an otherwise well-put-together leaf, despite the resulting afflictions from the environment it has no control over. A bit far-fetched of a metaphor, maybe, but when we’re on our way to gorge ourselves post-hike, I think about the leaf stowed in my backpack and remind myself to press it in a book when I get home.

Why networking is bullshit (sometimes)

Categories: Career, Life

If you’re the type to dread the thought of going up to someone and strike up conversation, you’re probably also the type to hate networking.

It’s because you want to look beyond the sterile “give and take” archetypal relationship that tends to form when people think about networking. You’re probably the type who likes building deep, meaningful connections with other people, and even just the idea of going out there to make as many touchpoints as possible wears you out.

And you may be onto something.

There are definitely reasons to network with other people, but going out to meet people just because it’s what you’re “supposed to do” is the wrong way to go about it.

It’s not just about what they can offer you

You have to have a genuine care, passion and interest in what the other person has to say — and it goes both ways, no matter whether you’re the one who reached out or the one responding. That’s why networking can sometimes be bullshit, because unless the two people involved are both ready and willing to take part in engaging with that relationship, it’s just a shallow connection.

You’re not always going to click with everyone

I don’t care if you’re Mother Teresa herself — there’s always going to be people who don’t like you. And you should learn to be okay with that if you aren’t already. Networking well is about making the right connections, and not all connections are right. Trying to force something that’s not there will only needlessly strain your relationship with that person (which may hurt your other opportunities with shared connections). Know when it’s a lost cause and move on with it. Maybe you can revisit them later on after they’ve had a Snickers, or something.

Tailor your approach

Every person is different, so you need to approach each connection differently. Some people may respond only when you’re blunt or straightforward with what you want. Others require a bit more nurturing, like taking them out to coffee, before they decide to invest any more time fraternizing with you. Still others won’t even humor you with a coffee unless you have a mutual connection introduce you. Whatever the case, cater to them if you’re the one reaching out. Once you establish a working relationship and show them that you’re worth knowing, then you can compromise on when to meet up, how best to connect, and so on.

Learn and respect boundaries

You wanna be a go-getter — I can respect that. But if you’re super pushy in trying to get something out of a connection when it’s clear they either can’t or don’t want to help you out, you’re gonna have a bad time. Some people won’t be straightforward in letting you know whether they’re interested in connecting or not (for fear of coming off as impolite), so you may need to focus a little harder than you normally would to pick up on those subtle social cues.

Focus on the quality of your connections, not the number

It’s not like you should head into a networking event with the idea of “making connections” the way you would collect tickets at the arcade. Having one thoughtful, invoking conversation with one potential mentor or employer or peer is worth its weight in gold. Having a dozen shallow conversations is not. If you want to be one of those well-connected people who just seems to know, well, everyone, that follows your efforts to create connections and upkeep them.

Networking in the stereotypical, greasy, schmoozy way is totally out. It’s easy to come off as inauthentic if you’re trying to do it the “old school” way, which can sometimes be a little selfish and self-absorbed. Connecting with others is a much more nuanced process, so it’s time to change the way you think about how you approach it.

Make sure you’re putting your best self forward, offer a reason for someone to want to know you, and put in a little more effort in the relationships that really matter to you. It’s totally worth your time if you do it right, but otherwise you may as well piss in the ocean.

Featured image by Jonny Clow.

Fear the future. Fear it well.

Categories: Life

If college taught me anything, it’s that no matter how much I want to prepare for the future, there’s absolutely no guarantee for anything. We go to college with the idea that we’ll come out of it with a comfortable, cushy job, and then we have our dreams crushed when it takes months, and months, and months after graduation to find our first full-time gig.

If college taught me anything, it’s that I should fear the future. And fear it well.

“But Connie, what the hell do you mean by ‘fear the future’? Do you mean I should live off the grid and wear aluminum foil hats?”

By “fearing the future” in a healthy way, it’s not about paranoia and anxiety — far from that. Better yet, we should prepare for the uncertainty of the future because we fear it.

But it’s not that life is a hopeless expanse of darkness and that we’re destined to roam the nothingness with no purpose or direction (I’ve since shelved my existential crisis — at least for now). Instead, it’s more like…there’s always the risk that a current will sweep us up at any moment and we might end up on a completely different shore than we expected.

The whole “going with the flow” mindset can sometimes put us in a healthier spot mentally than trying to fight the current and getting drained. We should be ready for the unknown.

Rough ocean waves
Fighting the current can be tiring. Via Giphy.

Preparing for uncertainty — sounds counterintuitive, right? It’s about acknowledging that fear is a normal thing but that it shouldn’t hold us back from living our fullest.

Let’s call it being bold. We know our limits of comfort, but why not push ourselves beyond that limit to something just outside what we’re used to? Being bold means being okay with being uncomfortable. Taking more risks than what might be considered “safe” (but really, is there anything that’s 100% safe?).

Let’s call it being adaptable. When something goes in a completely different direction than you expect (literally or figuratively), you — your mind, your body — try to compensate for that difference. Of course, that compensation isn’t always going to 100% correct something going off-course, but the idea’s there.

Adaptability is a word that people probably hear often in their jobs. “Be adaptable”, your boss tells you before assigning you your ex-coworker’s responsibilities on top of your current job. “Must be adaptable”, the job requires of applicants.

There’s a reason why adaptability is such a highly coveted skill that is difficult to master. It’s about being able to shift gears from one thing to the next within a snap, and having no hesitation with what’s to come next. With startups, because of the fast-paced nature of things, adaptability is key. Your boss knows your strengths, but they also need to know that you can help out with other projects in a pinch.

Outside of your job, being adaptable can help you cope with the number of shitty things in life that may or may not be thrown your way. Difficult situations don’t phase you, because you’re already thinking about what your next steps are to get to a solution.

I’d like to think I’m pretty adaptable, but it was definitely a skill that I learned over the years, coming into a slow realization that I could handle certain crazy situations if it came down to it. The biggest setback I faced was probably the 6-month unemployment period that didn’t happen all too long ago.

For a short while, I felt like I was drowning in the currents, falling helpless to the whim of the water as it brought me to uncharted territory. I tried to fight the currents. I was afraid.

What if I didn’t find a job before unemployment ran out?

What if no one wants to hire me at all?

And honestly, it felt like the worst thing in the world. I felt like the worst thing in the world. The first few weeks into my unemployment, I was at my lowest, genuinely crying in frustration when it felt like all hope was lost. I didn’t know where I was going, and in that fear of the unknown future, I stubbornly stumbled in my spot, going nowhere fast.

An infinitely buffering animation
My life honestly felt like perpetual buffering. Never getting any further. Via Giphy.

I felt like an idiot, like I wasn’t doing life the right way. At the time, it felt like there was no worse feeling than me waking up at 9 am each morning knowing that my email inbox would have nothing but job application rejections — or worse yet, silence. Looking back at it now, I think I feared the future, but it wasn’t in the way that I needed. If anything, I was more afraid of not being in control of my life, of not knowing exactly where I was going to land next. I was, with seemingly futile efforts, trying to navigate my dingy against the current.

I’m still not exactly sure when it all clicked in my head, but with perseverance, the best support system I could ask for, and a mental resilience I didn’t know I had, one day, I stopped being so meticulously controlling of life and where I was headed. I feared the future, but it was in a way that allowed me to just–

Let it happen.

It took me some time to understand and embrace the fact that none of us really know what our futures hold. Sure, we have a general idea of what to expect the next day, but what if the sun doesn’t rise tomorrow? This isn’t a question about the science behind the planetary system. It’s the question of whether we will or won’t exist tomorrow, and what that means in the way that we live each day.

We can only plan out our lives so far in advance before it starts limiting our potential. Why are we so obsessed with every little detail about how we live life, how we advance through our careers, who we meet along the way? For some people, maybe that’s what works for them. But for what I feel like are the grand majority of us, we walk down the path of life and end up taking detours. No single divergent path is the right way, but we each take our own route and (hopefully) find ourselves on a road that leads us towards fulfillment and happiness.

If anyone tells you that they’ve got it all figured out, politely tell them, “good for you”, and focus on your own shit. Find motivation and build aspirations from others, but don’t beat yourself up if you’re “behind schedule” or not where you envisioned yourself being. You can’t change your past but you can always influence the future.

But as you go through life trying to find a path to fulfillment and happiness, remember that the advice anyone gives you (including whatever I write here) should be extrapolated to fit your situation. No one has your exact experiences or knowledge or thoughts, so take care not to downplay your own judgment and intuition when it comes to making the right decision for you. And if/when you make a wrong or bad decision, let yourself wallow but not for long. How well you live life is mostly based on how you react to the ups and downs that will inevitably occur.

So what’s there to be learned from all this? That in the grand scheme of things, no one knows what the fuck they’re doing, even if they say they do. Because the future is one capricious motherfucker that’s as impartial as it gets.

Fear the future, and fear it well so that you can master the shit out of it.

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear. —Mark Twain

Squidward squirming on the floor, fearing the future
Or you can succumb to it like Squidward. Your call. Via Giphy.

Featured image by Kyle Gregory Devaras.

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