Fragmented thoughts of a fragmented mind

15 Jan 2013

one month in SF – on maximizing privilege & paying it forward

One month ago I arrived at SFO in jeans folded up to the knee and in my flip flops. I was asked if I was cold and I smugly said that this weather is nothing compared to what I experienced in Vancouver.

I take those words back.

These days I wear some heattech long sleeve tee from Uniqlo and a thick hoodie even in my own apartment. I sleep with three layers of bedding. And I still wake up cold.

Honestly, it still has not hit me yet I am in the place I most want to be. I am still waiting for my own reaction and I wonder if my reaction is this non-reaction. I am very privileged to be here and I feel like thinking of what to do what all that privilege scares me. I tell myself since I have done so much and waited so long to be here, I should simply enjoy the experience for now without thinking too deeply about it.

But at the back of my mind I never really stop thinking about it. This is my favourite quote these days and if you are one of those lucky (or unlucky, depending how you see it) ones whom I’ve emailed, it is attached to my latest email signature:

"When you know you’ve been blessed and know you have a set of gifts, how do you maximize those gifts so you’re impacting the greatest number of people?" – Michelle Obama

I think this is a question that everyone of us should think about everyday. If not, if I am one of those who actually care about the answer to this question, then I feel even more responsible for seriously contemplating it.

My time here is a gift, this one month feels like I am cheating – like I am on a diet and I am cheating by eating indulgent desserts (actually quite literally too). Time flies by so quickly and we’re almost one month down in 2013, I know if I am not conscious about it, time may just spin past me and before I know it, my time is up here without me even trying to accomplish what I’ve set out to do.

I haven’t had many regrets in my life but this will be one huge regret if I allow myself to be caught up in the illusion of busy-ness without purposefully contemplating how I want to carry out my existence here.

It is really hard to find a balance between wanting to be productive on everything I care about and knowing when to simply take a break and just breathe. How would I discern when I am truly letting myself breathe and when I am really wasting time?

It is a continuous journey to learn I guess.

I have also been learning how to eat better. Instead of going to one extreme and only eating only healthy food, I am trying to be conscious of my choices for every single meal. Since I am a huge believer of kaizen, so I should be grateful I am at least no longer drinking coke three times a day. I’ll celebrate the small wins, definitely.

I wish to note this down in this entry for the future me to remember – the significance of Aaron Swartz’s passing to me. Each of these impacts me differently. Like Aaron I was obsessed with David Foster Wallace, because he had managed to put into words so beautifully how dark the struggles of depression can be. My heart still breaks a little each time I  think about DFW or whenever he’s mentioned, not really because he’s gone, but because I understood why he’s gone. I still remember Ilya Zhitomirskiy. I don’t forget these.

Unlike most people I know, I don’t really “move on” from my past struggles. I remember all of them. Every single shard of pain, I remember. I do not hold on to them, but they are like little pieces of jigsaw which I honor in the entire fabric of my soul. Because I do not forget, they become a source of energy and motivation. They remind me why I am doing this.

We can mourn, point fingers, mope and criticize all day long, but what are we doing about it?

What am I doing about it?

I am trying to be the change that I want.

The world used to depress me. A lot. Looking at it from a macro perspective, society can be so screwed up that I have often wondered why I even bother to carry on living as part of it. One fine day, I do not know what really happened – was it an accumulation of unexpected positive experiences, or was it because I was consistently shown unconditional love by different people – but a switch flipped.

Instead of seeing a world that was grossly unfair, I saw a world with people who are trying all they can to change things. These people are a minority but they exist. Now, do I want to continue lamenting about a world that was grossly unfair and continue to be miserable, or do I at least attempt to be one of those people who are trying to change things?

I don’t know if I can. Sometimes I don’t even know whether I trust myself enough. However I am contemplating hard on it and being kaizen, I think that’s a good start.

Being surrounded by people who want to change things helps my thought and process. It is not the entrepreneurs here in SF whom really move me (sorry!) but most of the time it is the common folk. The Caltrain drivers who drive down the same boring route but still make an effort to make quirky announcements, the counter staff that gives a big smile to everyone and treats everyone the same, even that old lady who paid her in coins, ordinary people who make a huge effort to be kind despite of and in spite of.

I see compassion being played out here in SF over and over again, at a level of intensity I have never experienced before. It was the same in July 2011 and it is still the same upon my return this time. One month on in SF, every day I experience generosity be it directly towards me or through my own observation.

Along with it comes other issues in the city, but this is a tradeoff I’ll make in order to experience the diversity I see.

I am very lucky to be here, hopefully some time in the future, I’ll have a better answer to how I want to maximize this privilege in order to pay it forward in the most effective way possible.

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