Reflection

Grand View Park, San Francicso

What did I do today? I woke up, to an alarm that I thought was an annoying song on repeat in my dream. I stopped the alarm, looked at the window and continued sleeping, trying to pick up from where I left off now that the annoyance was gone. After 3 more hours, the third alarm woke me. While searching for the phone, my eyes met another pair across the room. I thought I was alone but apparently not. A full second staring at the intruder was enough to get me out of bed. I am not used to waking to the look of myself. I still wonder why this Airbnb place has 3 mirrors in one room.

“What I’ve learned from a mirror;
look too hard and you find you a stranger”

Jacob Banks, Slow Up | Village

It is almost inevitable to reflect on the events of the past year during New Year’s Eve. You can avoid it if you choose to but for the most part, it would be quite the challenge. This is especially true when almost everyone you see is hurling the same words in all directions wherever you go. Chief among them; “Happy New Year!” in public areas and “Resolutions” in private conversations. The former, as a wish or greeting. The latter, jokingly. We all know resolutions are so 2000.

Waking up was not all I did today. I went on a little adventure to find the Hidden Garden Steps of San Francisco. It was a breath-taking experience. Yes, I was out of breath after climbing hundreds of steps and yes, I was blown away by the unexpectedly amazing view of the Bay Area from the Grand View Park. The park is an oval of greenery, moss-covered rocks and tall, old trees that rose high and oversaw the west side of the Bay. Looking at the stunning scenery from the peak, I thought to myself that this would be the perfect location to truly reflect on the past 365 days. I thought of nothing.

I became more aware of the present. I could smell the dampness and the earth. The air was fresh and chilly. The setting sun felt good on my eyelids. The birds? I listened hard and heard two different chirps. The hooomans, were obviously intruding their space. It was magical and I relished it. Leaving was difficult. I took pictures, short videos, smiled at tourists and sat on a fallen tree trunk to fully take in the view but I did not reflect on anything in the past.

The past is but what it is—past. Trying hard to remember specific events yielded nothing, except for the realization that the me, at the moment, sitting on the old trunk was the culmination of my past. I don’t really need to reflect on myself, I thought. I just need to look forward, focus on the now and just be.

Success

How do you measure success? It may depend on how you were brought up or the environment in which you grew as a child. Which were applauded the most? Achievements or participation. Effort or result. It could have been a healthy combination. I am privileged and blessed to have been raised by parents who I like to describe as open-minded optimists but strict perfectionists in their own way. They supported and push my brothers and myself to hold high standards and work hard to uphold them. Growing up in primary (grade) school, we would strive to be top of the class. For me, it offered a sense of accomplishment and confidence in my ability to retain and apply what I was taught and what I learned.

I don’t remember being coaxed or coerced into studying or being promised material rewards for academic achievements. I don’t know, maybe as a toddler I may have been cajoled into learning some basic life skills as all parents do with the tiny ones. My parents gave me the tools to think for myself and rate my own successes. I am not sure how they did it, but they were able to wean us from being dependent on them for endorsements and approval at a very early age. We were able to define what success meant to us very early and we took ownership of our journeys. We learned how to set precise goals, such as the schools we wanted to get into, and how to work tirelessly for the good grades. It was not that serious or that big of a deal. Excellence was just a matter of fact. I make it sound easy, but it was not. I am truly grateful for my parent’s sacrifices and support.

However, there is one problem with being programmed to aim high and dream big and think for yourself. It is more painful when your efforts are not enough to get you where you envision. It is easy to beat yourself up and label your attempts as mediocre. You blame no one else but yourself for your shortcomings and in your low moments, disappointments hit hardest. Everything becomes a big deal. Serious business. There are so many variables and determinants of success especially with matters like growing in the career of your choice or pursuing a dream. For a good percentage of these moving parts, you have limited control over. Most of the time I look around at my circumstances and I don’t even try to put my best foot forward. I overthink everything.

Perhaps I need a little more of that child-like mindset of endless possibilities and positive expectations. Less of that adult pessimism and skepticism. I think I lost most of my childhood wonder and glee. Well, in these reflections, I hope to revive my childhood zest for limitless growth and simply believing in the impossible.

Relinquish

I am in control. Everything is according to plan. I know what to do next. I have a solid well-thought out strategy. In emergencies, I have contingency plans for my contingency plans. Nothing can go wrong. Not a second is left unaccounted for. I am in the only place on earth where my power is absolute. My eyes are closed but I am safe. I say what I want, however, whenever. I smile to myself and think defiant thoughts. I am in control. I am alone. I am in my head.

I step out of my comfort zone, my power space. I open my eyes and see the digits on my phone. My limbs kick into gear. I am still in control. Then I have to do the bidding of others. I work. I take classes. I follow rules. I do things that are predetermined and dictated to me. My thoughts and words are valued at times. I am not in control. My dominion is limited. I listen. I interpret. I react. I am in control. Events occur. People change. Words are exchanged. Intentions are misread. I am caught off guard. I am not in control.

I close my eyes. If even for a minute or two. I am not in control. I think thoughts and speak words. I express my gratitude and share my thoughts. I detail my experiences and ask for understanding. I lay out my plans and contingencies. They may be foolproof but not perfect. I admit my imperfection. I share my power space and comfort zone. I pray; God hears. God is in control.

It is daunting yet I do not need to always be in control.

I relinquish.

Reset

verb. (ree’set): “Adjust again after an initial failure”

https://www.definitions.net/definition/reset

How wonderful it would be to erase all unwanted memories and habits. How refreshing it would feel to have a blank slate with the opportunity to rewrite the parts of history that makes us cringe after every recall. “Adjust again after an initial failure.” Machines and software, have it easy, don’t they? Not having any consciousness to live or deal with the unwanted remnants of the past. Peacefully reset and then go back to the starting point like nothing ever happened. Maybe in the not so distant future, when man and machine unite, we just might able to benefit from the simplicity of a reset button.

Hopefully, I did not lose you at an apocalyptic future where the possibilities of bionic humans having the luxury of escaping their troubles is a reality. In a rare future like this, we most certainly would have lost our humanity. Undeniably, what makes us humans includes the imperfection of making errors and managing the consequences that complement them. We learn from the past to make better decision in the future. We evolve.

Well, despite my sanity, I still fancy these ridiculous wishes at times. I wish I dedicated more time to learning how to study properly. I wish I did not rely on my tendency to absorb information cursorily and forget as quickly as smoke dissipates on a windy day. I wish I did not get entrenched in a heavy routine of entertainment consumption but rather traded habitual gaming and binge-watching TV shows for more productive endeavors like writing, programming, or painting (my latest hobby). I wish I did not always acquiesce to feelings of disappointment every time I failed a job interview or a big exam. I wish I could reset my emotions and chutzpah, readjust and start running again like I never stopped. Failures. Wishes. Regrets. How sad. I’m convinced I have had have the wrong state of mind since I graduated from college.

My current mantra is “every day is a new beginning.” For me, each new day is a fresh start to be more than what I was in the previous day. Repeated failure is pretty close in summing up my motivation for sticking with this mantra—possibly my longest standing personal statement. Born from repeated failures and shortfalls, the mantra materialized from a place of desperation; a place of continuous learning about everything that matters to me, including myself. This mindset has kept me going in the right direction for the past few years and it is the one thing I do not want to reset.

After all, not all days are the same. Every day is new.

Release

Twenty-four hours ago, I had lunch at a Korean fast food restaurant in the Richmond District of San Francisco. The beef bowl I ordered came with Korean BBQ beef, Kimchi and a lot more greens than expected. I enjoyed it. I normally brace myself for unhealthy when I hear “fast food”, but this meal caught me off guard and I am glad it did. Like most people I remember things better when I recall them, repeatedly. Now that I have canonized this experience, it definitely would not be easy to shake off the taste of that heavenly KBBQ beef.

Likewise, we hold on to negative emotions when we recall the events that trigger them. In some cases, if not most, these scenarios involve perpetrators. We relive hurtful shows of the past; hit the hard replay button, go through the script, and reinforce our toxic emotions. We cannot help but keep the fire crackling and hot, forgetting than we are the only ones who feel the sting on the inside.

I know how it feels to hold a grudge. A while back, I almost always held on to the most meaningless of emotions towards people or institutions just because I may have had a bad encounter, an altercation, a fight, a heartbreak or some disappointment that set me back. I would hold on to hate, resentment, anger, jealousy, while periodically fanning and cradling these hot coals in my chest. I would remind myself of what made me feel bad and kept thinking up strategies for retribution or praying for divine justice to be served cold to my adversaries. Letting go of the flame would mean I admitted defeat, became weaker or less of a person.

We can’t help it sometimes. Humans are prone to remember more negative experiences than positive ones. This is a fact that I cannot prove with statistical evidence, but tis truly true. It is difficult to let go. Not sometimes but all the time! And it takes practice. I keep getting asked about how I seem unfazed in most situations, even unfavorable ones. Well, it is no secret. I just decided to start dealing with my demons early and got used to releasing them from the mental cage quickly. I honestly forget the worst experiences because I stop caring about them. Don’t get me wrong; I definitely remember restaurants with crappy food or sucky customer service. My fight or flight instincts still work fine.

Everyone wants to feel good things. Everyone wants to be treated nicely, which explains why friendly people have lots of friends. Conversely, no one really cares that you are vengeful, angry or hateful and you shouldn’t care about those emotions either. They are dead weight and plain useless. A waste of mental capacity and psychological time. I am not perfect and may never be. Yet, I will always practice how to let go and truly forget.

Reciprocate

Vibes. Energy. Aura.

These are quite close to describing the feeling or essence of an environment, situation or projection that people give off consciously or otherwise. I do not know of anyone who is able to choose how others feel about their actions or words. If you are that outlier or happen to chance upon any superhuman of this nature, please share the secret. Many believe that if you give off good vibes, karma is tasked by some unspoken law to ensure you receive good vibes in full equitable payment. In other words, a life hack to success in the experience of vibes. I am as ignorant as the nearest bloke. I have been on both the giving and receiving end of the vibes spectrum and still can’t verify without reasonable doubt that vibe in equates to vibe out. So why waste both our times on this written exposition? Well, Let’s just say I became enlightened overnight.

One. Let the sun have its moment; the moon will come (Jacob Banks, Slow Up | Village). There may not be a scale of moral justice that weighs how you make the people around you feel or the energy you give off to others and reciprocates to restore balance to the world. However, I believe even though the sun tirelessly rises and unevenly blazes a half of the globe every day, every soul would eventually benefit from a gradient of good vibes of the moonlight. Everyone gets a share of the cake, maybe, someday. It takes an open, patient mind to acknowledge and appreciate when it comes–to be hopeful.

Two. Perspective. Have you ever met a person who seems like they do not have a care in the world? Always in a golden jolly mood and would even send hugs and kisses in response to hate messages and death threats? These perfect beings genuinely give off good vibes and genuinely receive them in double portions. Yes, they cheat the system. And it is all about perspective. Call it what you want; delusional tendencies or true emotional blindness. These true saints, though may cry bullets and buckets in secret, actually take what ever comes their way as positive.

Finally, three. Have an outbox but no inbox. Always give and never receive. In my journey to enlightenment, this by far was the most potent of strategies to defy the laws of VIVO (vibes in vibes out). Ps. Keep your negative thoughts about my acronym to yourself. The few ones who have mastered this strategy don’t take BS even if they give BS out in truck loads. They are selfless in their selfish act of not caring about what others think, feel or project. They define altruism down to its etymological depths and maybe you should too. Disclaimer: if you’re branded a jerk or insensitive chum, wear your badge alone. Citations are prohibited and unwelcome.

I have tried and tested these three gems. I can conclude that each, used in moderation would ensure an everlasting experience of good vibes. On the other hand, you can follow the words of wisdom which hinge on faith and guts:

“…whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them…” – Matthew 7:12 NKJV

Your choice.

Indecisive

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

To the outside world it may seem grand or spontaneous but to the rest of us who understand the contemplations of an over-thinker, making that choice may have been an age-old burden. A continual wrestle with that idea, that desire, that decision and eventually resigning to the inevitable. I am like them. No, I am one of them over-thinkers who hypocritically, don’t understand why other people can be so indecisive. Today, I foresee crossroads, I quietly brood for a decade and then tomorrow I come out with my decision like it was a no-brainer. With years of practice, I am now a seasoned professional in making snap-judgement decisions. No sweat.

Oh, I wish! A little over a year ago, I was in a difficult predicament. I was unemployed and as much as I dreaded the word as every college graduate does, I was not scared, nor did I feel helpless. After all, I was well educated, intelligent and resourceful, or so I thought. My overconfidence fueled some delusional sense of entitlement and providence. There was no way I could not land an ideal mid-level job. This was until I was hazed by the tough life of having to work in environments where profit superseded efficiency and quality. I hide the details because I do not want to be that guy.

Long story, short – I had an awakening of sorts and realized I needed to move on. By this time unemployment meant a great deal to me because I understood, nay, fully grasped its implications on my future. And this was merely three weeks on the job. Ha! What followed was several months of silent shots of agony masked with sips of subservience and drowned with large gulps of indecision; of wondering whether staying was better than leaving, of pondering the possibilities of being the agent of change, of figuring out the best action plan.

I quit — and never felt better. It was simple. Not like unlocking your phone like it was second nature. More like ignoring a fresh leaf of a new book run across your thumb. And seconds later wincing and cursing all books and papers ever made because your thumb and you don’t deserve such lethal pain. Okay, that was dramatic but at least you share the sentiment. I fail to give the full context here. However, please be sure to note that today’s moral lesson is not about quitting when sunshine becomes a heat wave but knowing when, and how swiftly, to decide. Context, dear friend, is a blog post for another day.

Crisis taught me how to think on my feet. I learned how to decide and to follow through, accepting whichever penalties came as a bonus. Decisions are not like paper cuts. They are not simple! I have come to understand that decisions don’t just happen to us. We are either brave enough to choose or we decline to choose.

A wise man once said and keeps reminding me that not deciding is a decision in itself. This kind man is my father.

I learn.

Living values at United Shore

Living values at United Shore

There are some core values I don’t compromise on, including respect, hard work, and continuous learning. I learnt most of these from my parents and a good percentage I discovered from the ever generous, yet merciless reality of life. When you decide to be intentional about your personal and/or professional growth, it is quite daunting to resolution to embody a set of principles. The difficulty goes a notch higher when you share your resolve with others! It is not easy to be transparent about your commitments and allow others to hold you accountable for your self-imposed ideals. There are no take-backs. There is no room for ego.

There are not many places and communities where you can find people that are forward and vocal about the values they live by. United Shore (also United Wholesale Mortgage) in Pontiac, MI is one of the few. I believe the 3 months I interned here gave me a growth spurt not only in programming and software development but in being more intentional about the kind of stuff I want to define myself by and what I want to be known for. My experience reinforced my favorite personal core value of being a better version of myself every day – KAIZEN!

I had lots of fun with this crew of smart summer interns!

I was fortunate to experience and be a part of a community of team members who are relentless in their pursuit of positivity, personal and professional growth as well as accelerated productivity in a fast-paced, yet friendly environment. I joined the IT team of over 600 smart people, as an applications developer summer intern and worked within two teams;  a summer project team of equally curious interns like my self and the Underwriting Business Partnership Team that developed software for the United Shore’s underwriters. Till now, I find it amazing how so many people (3500+ individuals) could live by and maintain such a culture and work ethic that is summarized in these six pillars:

  • People – the secrete to United Shore’s success
  • Service – everyone’s responsibility
  • Relationship-driven – not transaction-driven
  • Thumb-pointers – not finger-pointers
  • Continuous Improvement
  • Fun & Friendship – work can (and should be) fun

These defined the way team members interacted with each other and approached every aspect of their work. My favorite is Continuous Improvement — I enjoyed seeing myself grow as I hungrily consumed all I could learn every day of my work at United Shore. This is not just a message sold by the leaders to everyone else. This culture is team member driven. It is incredible! While working on my summer project and later on challenging myself with a user story on the Underwriting BPT, I had thousands of questions and issues. I did not think most were intelligent questions. I shamelessly asked as I was encouraged to, and I am glad I did. I was surrounded by mentors and my team leads who did not hesitate to take a moment from their busy schedule to provide guidance, or point me in the right direction. I am truly grateful to have work with such incredible talents in both my teams.

I look forward to the next experience that I can add to my bible of values! What core values define you and your work?

Nana Darkoa: A personal brand

Nana Darkoa is a writer, content creator, educator and aspiring international relations consultant. She wanted a unique identifier that represents what she stands for as a creative and assertive person in her fields of interest. This personal brand logo would be used on her content, print material and complimentary card.

To brainstorm, I reflected on the qualities of Nana Darkoa that set her apart from others. It was an interesting challenge coming up with symbols, colour and typography that illustrated her personal traits and professional aspirations – calm and encouraging yet strong, brilliant and vibrant, caring and assertive. Being my first personal branding project, I didn’t really know where to start from.

Art & Symbols: These were some ideas for symbols I sketched for starters – vines, crowns, curves, I didn’t really have a goal in mind.

Typography options that I felt represented the green and orange personality energy mix that Nana Darkoa aligns to.

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Colour palettes I played around with:

Some logo options (a little too many): These were the options I showed to the client, Nana Darkoa, while cringing through the wait for a response.

Nana Darkoa’s Choice

My personal favourite is the minimalist logo with the symbol with four tiles and this was her favourite option and final choice too!

Logo Art: It has two symbols diagonally opposite of each other: sunshine in an orange square – unapologetically happy with a radiant effect and a crown in a green square – a calm, encouraging and friendly royal. The two remaining squares, in dark grey, house the initials “n” and “d”.

Nana Darkoa Brand ID_icon

Colour Palette: 

Asset 9

Typography: Montserrat Alternates, Extralight weight, lower case letters

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Nana Darkoa

Nana Darkoa Brand ID_coloured - white background
Nana Darkoa Brand ID_coloured - black background
Nana Darkoa Brand ID_grayscale.png
Nana Darkoa - Branding Identity MockUp.png

This was a fun project! I hope to build more confidence to be able to post my other projects that are yet to see the light of day.

February Grit

Everyone faces mountains. Mountains sometimes represent insurmountable problems. Valleys, interestingly, are popularly used to communicate life’s low moments. Not the same meaning, but still thematically close to that of mountains. Regardless of the terrain on which you journey, there are bound to be some challenges. I would like to think February is usually the month where most people typically slack off on new year resolutions and hit walls of reality; facing both new and old mountains and valleys. Fortunately, having lost interest in plotting year-long strategies of fighting my greatest enemy–myself, I almost have no regrets from February. Well…maybe except not being able to check off all of my daily to-dos. But that is okay…I guess. I made some interesting re-discoveries last month about responding to uneven terrain that I would like to share.

grow a bigger vision

If your current challenge is disabling your senses then you are not thinking big enough. When faced with a force that challenges your current vision or dream, aim higher. This is obviously counterintuitive, but hear me out for a minute. This quote sums it for me:

“Ask God for a vision so big that without Him it is impossible.”
(bibleinoneyear.org | day 35)

Expand your mental capacity and grow a vision so big that you cannot possibly realise it on your own. This forces you to then trust in a higher power to make things work in your favour. I choose to trust in God and His omnipotence, and I ask Him for help every day. In other words, think bigger and use external resources in your arsenal to help you move forward.

work hard, be intentional

Do everything in your power and capacity to get results. Sometime last year, I told an interviewer about a difficult project I worked on and how I managed to make it successful. He commented that if it was not difficult then it would not have been worth doing. Reflecting on this memory over the past month, made me realised that even though I returned jobless from that interaction, I had gained something more valuable than employment–a renewed mindset. I need to embrace hard work and to be intentional about getting sh!t done, and done well. Hard work pays and what most don’t realise, and I usually take for granted, is that working smart is actually hard work. Do not downplay the importance of investing a lot of your energy into producing excellent results. If you put your head to it, the results will be smart.

fall forward, bounce back fast.

I have always loved Penn’s 2011 Commencement Address by Denzel Washington. Especially what he said about falling forward. It is not easy gauging where you fall when you fail. The pit of depression is a target that is really hard to miss. Falling forward is easy when you have a positive attitude of acknowledging the fall and noting the lessons. It is even a greater feat recalibrating your emotions and preparing for the next flight…or fall. I read somewhere that confidence is an effect, not a cause. When I see my failures as stepping stones for future successes, I gain confidence in my abilities and in the truth that I am getting closer to perfection.

Experiences, as uncomfortable as they may be, help refine your character and test your resolve. You learn to understand yourself a bit more. And history tells us that knowing and mastering yourself is one of the most powerful yet difficult things you can achieve.

So, when you pray for grit, pray also for understanding for this is the key to triumphing in the next terrain.