Thursday, May 30, 2013

How to live life

It's fascinating how different people decide to live out their lives. Life circumstances puts some constraints to what you can do with your life (eg. North Koreans have less options on deciding how they want to run their own lives, as a more extreme example), but in the western world and even in the more developed countries in Asia, we do have quite a bit of freedom in determining how we want to live out our lives.

Some people devote their lives to make as much money as their circumstances allow them to; it doesn't matter if they are in the bottom social class or if they are already billionaires. At the billionaire level it's more like accumulating points in a video game, competing with other billionaires to see who can accumulate more money in this coming term. 

Some people strive to "keep up with the Jones", determined to own a car, a house, a dog, and two kids. It doesn't matter if their financial circumstances doesn't quite allow this. After all, that's what credits are for right? 

Similarly, some people live to compete/compare with others. My child is prettier/smarter/plays hockey better than your child. My house is nicer than yours. You have a boat? I need to buy myself a yacht! you have a stereo? I better get surround sound multi- media system, even if I don't listen to music!  

Some people strive for stability; the goal in live is to find the safest husband or wife, obtain the safest job (eg. Doctor/engineer/accountant, OR some type of permanent government job); never try anything novel or potentially risky; never attempt anything they don't understand. Life is about playing it safe all the way. After all, the world is full of bad people and dangerous hazards. Better go for safety at all costs!

Some people feel the world owes them everything. Why was I not born in Switerland where the scenery is gorgeous, the country is rich, the social welfare is excellent, and taxes are relatively low? Why does my boss pay me so little while they pay double the salary for the same position in Zurich? Why is the weather so crappy here when it's so nice in California? Why do stores close so early on Sundays? I want to sleep in and be able to go shopping at 5pm! Why isn't my boyfriend more wealthy and more understanding? Why wasn't I born looking more like Angelina Jolie? Why do I have to work so hard while the rich families' kids can just party all day long? Why is the world so cruel to me?

For the longest time I thought I was choosing my own path in life, but really I was trying to make a compromise between my life goals and my parents' wishes. I thought their wishes were in coherence with the Chinese society's expectation on its people. Turns out their expectations are more in line with the 50s way of thinking, ie. horribly out of date, and I've been trying to live up to that. Big time fail! Actually society's expectations might not be inline with what an individual desires to be anyways, but I was trying to be a good citizen in society (as I got brainwashed to think so). 

It's very scary a lot of things we think we want are actually external influences, ie. they were not our original desires at all. We think we want pouty lips like Angelina Jolie, but that's only because the media tells us it's the sexiest kind of lips to have. The media, schools, governments and all types of authorities have agendas to shape the public in a certain way. For Asians, parents feel like they permanently have the right to tell the kids what's wrong and what's the best way to look, to be, and to live life even if the offsprings are over 50 years old. If we don't slow down and reflect often,  it is very easy to believe that what was taught to us in elementary school, by our parents, and from the TV are things that we ourselves want. 

For me, I still have constant battles with imaginary mom's voice, justifying my actions and feeling "mom wouldn't approve of this", even though she has no control of me any more. When I lived under her roof I had to follow her rules; now I don't any more but I still have a victim's mentality. The challenge for me I. The next few years to grow out of that mentality, to realize I have full control of my life and do something about it, rather than feeling helpless because "mom said good girls shouldn't try this. Mom said I'm not good enough." It's surprisingly difficult, due to decades of ingrained preaching. Seems like I will be spending the next decades undoing some of the wrong thinking and to figure out what *I* really want rather than what others think I should be or do.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Victim Mentality

I've been totally playing victim lately. I'm not loving my current work situation at all and I have a couple of bosses and colleagues to blame for it. Like the article says, claiming to be a victim feels good. I don't have to do any work to get attention and validation from my friends; I don't have to take responsibility for the situation I am in; I shift all faults to other people; I blame the world for doing me injustice rather than trying to do anything about it.

The alternative is a lot more work. I would have to dig into myself to see what I need to change within myself. I would have to brainstorm ways to change my current situation. I would have to try new things: for example, behaviors I've never tried before. That's frigging scary! It feels totally unfamiliar! It could backfire! Better stick to my old habit and blame others for causing my life to be crappy!

The downside to not trying something new is that my situation would stay crappy forever. Complaining   temporarily reliefs my frustrations, but doesn't change my situation at all.

The article suggests I ask the following questions:

1. What is one good thing about this situation?

- Well, I learn that I have been overly sheltered for most of my life and the scientific field isn't as rosy as I thought it would be.
- Bosses like to feel like they are leading their groups, are somewhat in control, and knows their stuff. To make the boss happy I have to contribute to maintaining that illusion for the bosses.
- I really really have a TON of trouble verbally summarizing my work progress to the boss in an impressive way. I sound like I do next nothing when I actually poured in my heart into trying 10 things, except 9 of them failed.

2. What is one small step I can take to move forward or out of this situation in the short term?

- I can spend more time actively preparing for what to say and how to dress it up to make me sound good before the next meeting.
- It's a bit counter-intuitive, but I can spend less time time with trial and error analysis (the bosses don't appreciate it anyway), and spend more time on data/results presentation formats.

Do I want to dedicate the next 2-5 years honing my ass-kissing skill to perfection in the long run so I can get to some arbitrary high position and get to boss other people around instead?

- The answer is a huge NO

I think I do need some basica levels of ass-kissing abilities (or as my bosses call it: basic communication skills). I don't have much option but to dedicate more efforts working on my communications, ie. dressing up the ideas I wish to express to make them more eloquent  less offensive, more pleasant, optimistic, and more convincing. But there's a limit to how far I want to take this. I feel like I should start looking into alternative careers. It is really hard to do this in a foreign country, but I guess my ambitiousness got me into this situation in the first place, so I need to motivate myself to get ambitious enough again to work up enough energy to learn new skills/new languages for an alternative future. I don't know what I need to not feel burnt out any more, but I should try harder to get out of this rut.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Things they don't teach you at school

On the public transit on my way to work, it suddenly dawned upon me that, in order to get to a certain position I want in life, what I need to do is to be totally likable for the people who are responsible for hiring people for that particular position. Either that, or you're the top skilled candidate in that field, so people have no choice but to hire you for the reputation of their institute.

This may be blatantly obvious to most people, but I had been so focused on improving my technical aspects, that I had completely ignored the first part.

This realization happened because twice in a row, I have picked supervisors who do not really possess strong technical knowledge, yet they seem to do really well in their careers. What they have in common that verbally, they can communicate themselves in a very logical, convincing, and smooth manner that make it sound like they know the subjects very well. When I actually started work with them, it became obvious that they depended on their students and employees to be totally talented... otherwise the projects just stall. However, they also possess the capabilities to make any task done sound like fabulous accomplishments rather than minimally achieved results.

I feel like because I always juggle with a million ideas in my head, I sound very scattered and don't really know what I'm doing (as evidenced by the random ramblings of my blog posts).

They say that university doesn't really prep you for anything but to become a scholar like your professors. I feel like university education doesn't even prep me for becoming a successful modern scholar. School didn't teach me how to play politics, how to figure out who has the most influential power in the selection committee, how to tell when your boss or colleague means something else when they say one thing (and expect you to know it), how to deal with difficult people, how to sound pleasant and interested all the time, how to distribute time between socializing and doing actual work (and what proportion of time division is optimal for making me look good at this job), how to deal with psychopaths, etc etc.

Still a lot to learn... still waiting to achieve equanimity.