Effective Goal Setting that I Learned through Lifting

We are often settings goals. We have dreams and aspirations. Most of the time, I hear a lot of, “I need to start doing X,” “I need to do more of Y,” but what I’ve observed from my own experience is that when I say that I need to start something or do more of something, it’s something that I feel that I want to do or should do, but haven’t fully committed to actually doing. So these things that I want to do, or hope to do, continue to be on the back burner.

If I really want something. I need to just dive into it and stop making excuses. This is what I did with lifting. Let me share with you my journey to being able to squat 225 lbs on my 112 lb frame, and what I learned about setting goals through this experience.

You may remember from my earlier post that talked about my struggles with my body image. In the post, I talked about how I struggled with my athletic build, but am now embracing it by appreciating my strength. I also mentioned that I was working toward being able to squat 225 lbs. I set this goal because I have been squatting more heavily since 2019, with a 1 rep max of 185 lbs, but I wanted to see how far I could go with it, and challenged myself to lifting close to double my body weight. With a specific number as my goal so I can track my progress, I also decided that I needed to set a time constraint for it. Setting a deadline would keep me accountable, which is new to me when it came to fitness because besides for work and academics, and my debt payoff plan, I have never set a goal with a timeline in this way.

In October of 2020 I set a goal to hit my 1 rep max if 225 lbs in squats by January 31, 2021.

With that goal, I went to the gym and lifted. I lifted the way I always had, which was without a plan. I went to the gym to lift, and tried to lift as heavy as I could each time I went. Getting to 175 lb wasn’t hard. But once I got there, I was unable to squat more than that.

It was then that I realized that I needed to make changes. I realized that I needed a specific workout plan that would help me build strength and muscle. Going to the gym without a plan isn’t going to cut it anymore if I had a specific goal. With that in mind, there were five big changes I made to help myself reach my goal.

1. Diet––I knew that if I wanted to be able to lift 225 lbs, it probably meant that I need to increase my body weight to be able to support heavy weights on my back. I struggled with this idea for a bit because in the back or my mind, I worried about getting bulkier. I wasn’t sure if it’s a tradeoff I wanted to have. Instead of increasing my calorie intake, I focused first on making sure that I was eating enough protein each day. I started to weigh my food and made sure I had 114–134 grams of protein a day. On most days I was able to get this amount of protein through my regular diet of meats, tofu, egg, cheeses, chia seeds, flax seeds, oatmeal, and oat milk. On days I couldn’t hit that, then I would supplement with protein powder, but those days are rare.

2. Workout Plan––I switched up the way I was working out. A friend of mine recommended the Strong Lift 5×5 workout and it was the game changer for me.

With the program, I did five exercises total. Three each time I went to the gym, which was every other day, or 3 days a week.

  • Workout A consisted of 5 sets of 5 squats, 5 sets of 5 barbell rows, 5 sets of 5 bench presses.
  • Workout B consistent of 5 sets of 5 squats, 5 sets of 5 overhead presses, and 1 set of 5 deadlifts

With this specific workout regimen, I was increasing my squats by 5 lbs every time I went to the gym. I was lifting heavier and heavier each time, completing all 5 reps and 5 sets.

3. Body Maintenance––I started to see a chiropractor and massage therapist to make sure my body is aligned and that I’m not messing myself up from the heavy lifting.

4. Form––I also had to adjust my stance and form when I noticed that parts of my body felt off after lifting. For a while, I had some pain on the right side of my groin area. I finally figured out that my stance was too wide. Even though I was going very low, grass to ass, my inner thighs started to compensate for the weight when the quads and hamstring should be doing the work.

5. Pivot––The workout started off with 5 sets of 5 reps for each workout. But I plateaued when I hit 205 lbs. When this happened, I dropped the weight back down to 185, to come back up until I hit 215, this time doing only 3 sets of 5 reps. When I hit 215 lbs, I had to pivot again and focus on 1 rep for the heaviest weight, and do 2 more sets of a weight 10 lbs below my heaviest weight. Dropping weight, dropping sets, and even dropping reps is an ego hit. But sometimes we need to take a few steps back to be able to move forward. We have to go back to the basics to get stronger and better.

On January 2, 2021, I hit my 1 rep max of 225.

It was incredible to me that I did it. I’m amazed by what my body can do. Amazed by how the body can push itself and how after time for rest, it is even stronger than before. I’m also amazed by the difference that your diet can make to your overall health and ability to recover quickly from intense workouts. Lifting taught me that not only am I physically strong, but also mentally strong. I saw that my determination, consistency, and ability to pivot even if it meant going backwards a little bit, was what got me there.

This experience showed me that the way I set the goal and went after it is something that’s applicable in any other goal I want to achieve. Next I’ll share some effective goal setting tips that I learned.

  • Goals Need to Be Specific. When I simply say that I want to get better at dancing, or that I want to lift more, those are vague goals that don’t give me something to work toward. But if I say, I want to work on my spins when I dance, or that I want to be able to squat 225 lbs. Those are specific goals that you can actually measure and go after.
  • Goals Need to Be Time Based. After I hit my 225 lb goal, I set another goal to be able to deadlift 225 lbs. But I haven’t set a timeline for that, and I am actually feeling a bit empty because of it. So… I just set the goal for May 31, 2021. Time based goals give you a sense of urgency, it also allows you to plan backwards on the steps and actions you have to take to achieve the goal.
  • Patience is Required. Progress takes time. Slowly but surely you will get there if you are consistent. We will not see changes immediately, but each day that you put in the work, know that you are are making a difference for yourself. There is a quote that I love, “Where you are a year from now is a reflection of the choices you choose to make right now.” Be proud of yourself for the effort you put in to inch closer to your goal each day.
  • Your Mindset is Key. If this is something you want really bad, you will pursue it relentlessly, chip away at it consistently. It’s easy to talk yourself down, talk yourself out of situations, and find excuses, but if you really want something, you should stick to your plans. Future you will thank you for it.
  • Be Open to Making Changes along the Way. While it is important to stick to your plans, doing the same thing over and over again and not seeing results means that you need to make changes. Processes and plans aren’t stagnant and should evolve and be re-evaluated if it’s not working. Recognizing when something isn’t working and then rethinking what changes need to be made will help get you back on track. When I was plateauing, it meant that I couldn’t continue on the same path I was on if I wanted to hit my goal. Even when the changes are minor, they can make a difference.
  • Broadcast Your Goals. When you openly share your goals, you also create a further sense of accountability. If your world knows that you are working toward something, you’ll feel committed to making it happen so you don’t embarrass yourself. At least that’s how I am.

What is a goal you’re working on?! Make a plan for it.

You got this.

Achieve More with the Habit of Following Through

My dad always stressed the importance of following through with your actions. He instilled this in us with simple everyday tasks such as completing the sentence you are writing or word you are writing before moving away from your desk.

As a now-person (someone who needs to do something as the thought comes through), I find myself dropping everything that I’m doing to start another task that comes to mind. This is a habit I’ve had since I was young, and my mom labeled me with the nickname Wu Yiban (吳一半) because of it, Ms. Half-Ass.

One example of this bad habit I still have is in folding laundry. I’ll move through my day sometimes and find half-folded laundry on my couch. I had started the task, but decided half-way through that I want to vacuum, or cook, and I forget that I have laundry that needs to be folded and put away. With work, I’m often tempted to do something else before finishing everything I need to do for one specific client.

Every time I have the itch to do this, I hear my dad’s voice, reminding me to go back to finish the task. It’s such a simple habit but once exercised, shows focus and a type of discipline.

Small habits translate into how we manage larger tasks in life and even in the workplace. Following through is so important. This may be easy for many people, but for me, it’s something I am actively working to achieve every day.

But how do we improve our follow-through?

  • One Thing At a Time
    In our multifaceted world now where information and communication comes so easily, it’s easy to want to multi-task to do more things in less time. This used to be a strength I’d share in interviews, but in the last few years, I’ve changed my mindset. I realized that in my attempt to do so many things at once, I was unfocused and was not excelling at any of the tasks. The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results shares the science and impact of this. I’ve put it into practice at work and at home. By focusing on one thing at a time, I’m actually completing tasks and checking things off the box. I have fewer tabs open on my computer screen, creating more mental space and less stress for myself.
  • Schedule Stopping Points
    As someone who likes to jump from one thing to another, I’ve learned to keep track of the time it takes to complete certain things. I give myself a time frame, and once the time is up, I give myself permission to take a break. This way, I’m 100% focused for a specific time without distractions, allowing myself to be more productive and make more progress.
  • Condense the To-Do Lists
    There’s always going to be a million things that need to be done, and the list can go on and on, to a point that it becomes a busy list with no clear direction. I find myself at a loss for where to start.

    Prioritizing the must-completes in a day and limiting them to 1–2 items gives me strength to tackle my list. It has made me you feel more successful and complete, giving me the confidence to move through the rest of my day or week with the smaller, less urgent tasks.

It’s easy to lose sight of what’s important when we try to do too many things at once. Follow-through with each task as you go forward and you’ll find that life isn’t so crazy and unmanageable after all.

Let me know your thoughts or share your strategies for daily success!

My Inferiority Complex from Comparing

When was the last time you compared yourself to others?

When you compare, do you compare yourself to people who are better or worse than you are?

What feelings come up after you’ve made the comparisons?

The last time I compared myself with other people was just last week when I saw an old colleague of mine switch roles and become a senior manager at a major company. That same day, I also compared myself to a business school classmate of mine who is four years younger than I am in age but who is a manager at his work. In both of these cases, I felt insignificant and little because I no longer have a “senior” in my title and I’m also not a manager. When I compare, I often compare myself to people I think are better than I am, and I use that as a way to put myself down. When I feel equal to or when I feel that I am in a better position than others, I approach it with a sense of privilege and gratitude. Before I make the comparison with someone I think is better than I am, I could have been in a great mood, feeling that I’m doing well in life. But once I start comparing, I turn all my accomplishments into naught. I deny that I’ve done anything well or right.

I shared these feelings of feeling less-than with a friend. The friend asked if I could also become a senior or a senior manager if I wanted to. Sure I can. But then I asked myself, is that what I want? At this point, no, and I also don’t feel ready yet to advance in my role. When it comes to job titles. I have had “senior” in my title before, but those titles were mere title changes that gave me a bump in my salary, not necessarily titles that gave me more responsibilities or extra experience. I have foregon the senior title a couple of times for more money. In my mind, I’d rather chase money than a title. However, guilt forms within me when I think this way. Why don’t I want more? Why am I not driven the way I should be?

Another example of feeling inadequate because of comparing relates to the long-term goal I set this year of wanting to increase my salary to 300K in three years. I still need to work out the steps on how to get there, but I thought the goal is achievable and not too lofty. But when I saw on social media that some people set goals to have a 6–7 figure monthly income, I wondered if my dreams are too small. When people in my life share their dreams that seem far fetched for myself, I also wonder if my dreams need to be bigger?

There are moments and in certain areas where I feel completely confident. I can work a crowd at large parties. I can have exciting one-on-one conversations. I am excellent at job interviews. I walk into the gym like I own the weight room. I grew an Asian American social group from 500 members to 3000 members within three years. When I was deep into the translation and interpreting business, I spoke with authority and clarity and also taught others how to support our community with people who have limited English abilities.

But I have long held insecurities about my capabilities at the workplace. I also have an inferiority complex of where I am in life compared to where I think I should be, and where I am going compared to where I think I should want to go. When it comes to my career, every single step feels like it has been challenging as I’m always trying to prove to myself that I am worthy of the role. Even though I’ve received accolades and promotions, I never feel that I am good enough. I always feel that I am not enough.

When it comes to business school as well, I often feel that my classmates are smarter than I am and have better experiences than I do even though I have no bases for my assumptions.

Last week, I had a team project for business school. I felt anxious about it because I have never worked with the classmate. He’s spoken up in class and made some good points. I felt that he is smart. I was nervous about the project and worried about how I would come across to him. I was also feeling stressed because it took me a while to grasp the assignment. Thankfully, I finally understood it and I was prepared––I read the case. I formulated my thoughts, and had a point of view to share. Once I did that, I felt much better. In our team meeting, I was actually more prepared than my teammate, and we had a good discussion. I did not feel less than, but like an equal. That was a win for me. It was a win because even though I had felt less than, I didn’t let it hinder my performance. I still did what I needed to do, and I proved myself wrong.

This is how I am in the workplace a well. I always make sure that I prepare ahead of meetings. This is a good thing, but what I need to alter is the reason why I’m prepared. I should be prepared because it is best for me and also my customer, not because I want to make sure I don’t feel less-than at the meeting.

Sometimes, when I feel little, it shows in my body language and others can see as well. Years ago when I was researching which business school in Chicago to apply to, I went to an info session held by the admissions office. My married ex came along with me. At the time, he was finishing up law school. Before the session, there was an hour of meet and greet, with h’ourderves and cocktail tables for people to mingle. The admissions director was making his rounds. When he came to our table, he looked at my ex and me, and asked him, “why are you deciding now to get your MBA?” My ex immediately redirected the admissions director’s attention to let him know that his wife, who was standing next to him, was actually who is interested in applying.

Something about how the director of admissions assumed that my tall, white, male, blonde-haired, blue-eyed partner was looking at business schools, made me feel little. I felt insignificant because I’m am short and I didn’t feel that I have the stature of someone impressive, especially when I was standing next to someone else who is 6’4. I also have the complex of not being where I should be in life and so I was already feeling insignificant. Once I feel little, I feel like I also shrink in the space I’m taking up. That interaction and event was a bust for me. I didn’t reframe my mindset and felt inadequate the rest of the time. I stayed little and did not have a great interaction with the admissions director.

The truth is, I did that to myself. I made the assumption that he didn’t see me as business school material. I made the assumption that I didn’t stand out. For all I know, he could have thought we both were looking at business school, or that he was just asking everybody there the same question. That I let that person’s possible opinion deflate my confidence is something that I need to work on. My ex and I talked about this after the event. He was surprised by how quickly I deflated and also pointed out that I have a tendency to defer to people who I think are better than I am. This was 3 years ago, and I’m still working on the moments when I want to defer to people because I think they are better and therefore always right.

After that experience, I attended all pre-business school events by myself. I made sure to go by myself so I had no one to lean on when I felt uncertainty. I made sure to remind myself to stand tall and not defer to anyone. I was nervous for every single event, but I took deep breaths before walking into the room, and made my rounds. I did so well it took my own breath away. I took control of the room and situation, not the admissions directors. The interview and networking event I went to before I got accepted to Kellogg at Northwestern University was amazing. I was on it. I was in control. I was confident. All of that showed through my interactions and personality that day, and I think all of that helped with the admissions’ decision to accept me into the school.

The little moments when I feel big are moments that I am proud of. I am big! I can take up space. I belong and I am just as competent as anyone who got hired into my company and got accepted into my business school.

Going back to feeling little. I feel little when I compare. I feel little when I let society determine who I should be, how I should act, where I should work, what position I should hold, and how much money I should make. I feel little when I don’t fit into the box. I feel little also because I don’t take credit for what I have achieved and what I am capable of. I know in my mind that I am not what I believe myself to be, that I am more than what I tell myself I am. But I think so little of myself in certain cases that it is crazy to anyone who know me that I think that way.

What do I need to do to feel confidence in these areas? What I need to do to counter these self-doubts and insecurities?

I know that a mindset shift is needed for me to truly feel confidence in work and school, to keep in mind that I am competent and not let my confidence escape me. Here are some actions I can take whenever I start to feel less-than.

Question the Limiting Beliefs. When I feel inferior, or as if an imposter, I need to sit down and evaluate my thoughts and feelings. Are they accurate? If there are areas I can work on, write those down and take steps to improve myself so I can build confidence in those areas. If I am belittling myself again, I should jott down what I am good at, what I have done well, and challenge my inferiority complex. I need to own what I know. Own my achievements. Own that I am good enough.

Accept that I can also Be Better Than Others. I can be the alpha, too! I don’t need to always be the beta in work and school. I don’t ever need to make myself little just to make other people feel better. Sometimes I do that. I make myself seem less knowledgeable because I am afraid to be the one who knows the most. Why do I do that? Who does it even serve? I need to learn to accept that I do know things, that I am capable, and that when I own it, I can share my knowledge and truly become a leader.

Accept the Compliments I Receive. I don’t take compliments well. I say thank you but I don’t agree with the compliments most times. I see what other see, and I see why they say what they say about me, but deep down inside, I don’t believe it. I say thank you because I know it’s what is expected of me, and there’s no need to show my insecurity in front of people who don’t matter to me. I need to work on believing in myself and my worth so I can truly accept what others see in me and believe me to be.

Keep Moving Forward. I haven’t been one to stop taking action just because of my fear of not being good enough. I need to continue not to let my fears and feelings of unworthiness hold me back. This is one way I can prove to myself that I am so much more than I believe.

Document It. We are forgetful beings. When things go well, I celebrate them for a few seconds, and then I go back to the grind. When things go unwell, I can focus on it longer, feeling down. But the truth is, there are more good moments than bad, but I fixate on the few occasions that make me feel little. Documenting my wins will help remind me that I am so much more than what I am feeling in the current moment.

Love Myself. At the end of the day, I need to accept myself. Accept where I am in life while knowing that I’m taking steps every day to grow and become more and more myself. Accept and love myself for how I am now, and tell myself every day that I am enough. This is a way to affirm to myself that I’m moving in the right direction.

Do some of these feelings happen to you?

If you also feel insecure, feel little, or inferior, I hope that you also know that you are so much more than what you believe yourself to be. Observe yourself more. Listen to what others are saying to you, and embody those compliments. You are enough right now. Don’t let even yourself tell you otherwise.

From My Financial Woe to My Financial Win

I’d like to empower my readers to strive for financial independence. I’ve known since a young age that I needed to be financially independent so I am not dependent on anyone for the sake of money, but I didn’t learn to properly manage my spending until the last year or so.

Financial independence can mean different things to different people. For me, it means to have enough money to be able to support my bills and lifestyle, but also to be credit card debt free. I talk about credit card debt here specifically, because this has been my downfall for years, and it got really bad the last few years.

Last May, I had $10K left in my undergrad student loans, $10K left in the loan I co-signed for my brother, and close to $30K in credit card debt spread across 5 different credit cards. I also didn’t have liquid money in my savings. I have savings in my 401K, but no liquid money that I can use for emergencies.

You might be gasping and wondering how I even got to $30K in credit card debt? There’s many reasons that I can list, such as the fact that I graduated from undergrad with $90K in student loans and made under $40K for the first 8 years I was out of college. Or that I was altruistic and co-signed some of my brother’s loan and am not expecting him to pay me back. Or that I had to buy all new furniture when I moved out on my own a few years ago. I can come up with more excuses to explain to you how I let $30K in credit card debt happen, but at the end of the day, I was trying to live my best life with the bank account of a pauper.

I was spending beyond my means.

I ate out at restaurants four times a week with friends. Each time I go out it was at least $30.00 out of my pocket. I traveled like I would never travel again. In between 2017 and 2020, I went to India, Shanghai, Taiwan (2 times), Portugal, Spain, NYC, Boston, California, and other places I can’t think of right now. I went on late-night, sleepy shopping sprees on Amazon and Instagram, and was surprised when a few days later, 8 packages show up at my doorstep. I bought clothes that I didn’t wear. Shoes that I didn’t wear.

I was making payments toward my loans and each of my cards every month, but the balances were not going down. One, because they have high interests; two, because I was still spending more than I had; and three, I had no idea where my money was going.

Putting aside the shame I’ve felt from having debt, and spending money I don’t have, I am proud to say that I have to say that I have taken control of the issue. I have paid off my undergrad student loan, paid off my brother’s loan that I co-signed, and as of January 15, 2021 (tomorrow), I will be credit card debt free as well.

This would add up to about $50K in debt that I cleaned off in 18 months.

Here’s how I did it.

1. Set a Budget

The word budgeting is not new. I’ve heard it for years, and my friend even recommended the software YNAB. I set it up by linking all my accounts into the software, and set a budget, but I didn’t follow it. I didn’t quite understand the meaning of a budget and how to use it.

Finally last year, when I became serious about clearing my debt, I realized that I needed a way to track my budget that is easy. For me, although YNAB is intuitive and hands-off, I needed something that would make me physically go in to enter my spending and think through my budget. That’s why I chose iSaveMoney. I manually enter my income and expenses, and bucket my spending into different categories. For income, I enter the amount of take-home after my pre-tax deductions and after my automated savings. For the categories, I break them down as shown below.

Fixed Amount for Each Category

  • Rent
  • Loans and Debt
  • Transportation (Gas or Public Transit)
  • Utilities (Gas and Electric)

Flexible Amounts for Each Category

  • Experiences (Dining, Shopping, Activities)
  • Groceries
  • Necessities (such as toilet paper)

For each category, I set a fixed budget each month, while also setting aside $2000 to my loans and debt to cover minimum payments and $1600 specifically for debt reduction. If for one month I spend a little more on Groceries, I can move the budget from the Necessities or Experiences categories over. The goal is to stick to the total amount budgeted each month, with at least $300 leftover in my bank each month.

I track all my spending. If I buy stamps at USPS, I enter it. If I Venmo a friend, I enter it. Everything goes into the the budget tracker.

2. Categorize the Debt

Looking at the big picture, I had three main debts. The credit card debt had the highest interests, then my brother’s loan, then my loan. I break it down this way because I want to figure out where to focus on first.

Typically we focus on the highest balance or highest interest-rate categories first. This is so we can reduce the amount of interest we are paying to the bank.

  • Credit card with >15% APR
  • My brother’s loan with 11.25% APR
  • My loans 7.5% APR

3. Take Advantage of Balance Transfer Offers

Because I had $30K in credit card loans on five different cards, it was impossible for me to pay off the cards with my existing strategy, which was paying a few hundred dollars on each card each month.

I took advantage of balance transfer deals for 3 of my cards that carried a total of around 20K balance to buy myself time. The other cards were already on 0% interest. Balance Transfers are typically offered when you open a new credit card. The new credit card company will allow you to have 0% intro APR for 12–18 months, which means your debt will not grow bigger.

The caveat is that there is usually a fee of around 1.5–3% on your balance for the new credit card company to take over your existing credit card debt. Based on my math, the 3% ($600) would buy me additional time, and during this time, my credit card debt will not be increasing by 15% or more each month.

The other caveat is that whenever you have a hard credit inquiry, it can negatively impact your credit score. I wasn’t planning to buy a house anytime soon, so my credit score wasn’t a big issue for me in the short term. Although the credit score will go down, it will quickly go up as your overall credit usage becomes lower as you reduce your debt. You available credit also increases when you open up new cards, and that can reduce your overall credit usage, and thus increase your credit score as well.

You may have heard of credit card consolidation services that would take over and consolidate all your credit card debt at a lower interest rate. I have looked into this, but the fact that there would still be interest on the credit cards made me hesitant to go that route. As well, those interest rates would have been higher than the one-time 1.5%–3% fee on my credit card debt.

4. Start Utilizing the Budget and Pay Off Debt

From this point on, I stuck to my budget, which tells me how much I am allowed to spend while still putting $1600 toward my debt every month. I also stopped using all but 1 of my credit cards, so I’m not increasing the balance on the other cards.

As mentioned earlier, we typically, we want to get rid of the highest interest debt, or the debt with the largest balance first. Once you figure out the priority order, chip away at the debt you’re focusing on until it’s gone before moving on to the next category. Because my credit cards were all at 0% interest at this point, I focused on my brother’s loan, which had a 11.25% interest on it.

When focusing on my brother’s loan, I put $1600 toward it each month while paying off what I was spending still each month and also paying the minimum payments on my other debt.

Once that was done, I focused on my own student loan, putting $1600 each month toward it.

Then when that was done, I tackled the credit card debt the same way. I paid of one card at a time.

Budgeting helped because I was never spending more than I had. In other words, everything that I spent fit into my budget. When I had extra money, such as from my translation side hustle, I dumped that right into the debt I’m focusing on. When I received my bonus from work, that went straight into my debt. I focused on reducing the debt with laser focus. Nothing would get me to go out of my budget, which also meant a lot of No’s to dinner or hangout invites.

The good thing about focusing on one loan at a time, while paying the minimum payment each month on other areas, is that I could see my debt chip away each month, and there’s an end for each debt. While before, when I was paying a little each month on all my credit cards, I didn’t see the balance budge at all, and it felt like I was getting nowhere.

5. Review, Evaluate, and Pivot as Needed

Each month, I take a look at all of my expenses and set a new budget for the specific month, taking into account specific spends I need to make. When I want to see a clear picture of how my payments are tracking to a credit-card-debt-free life, I use unbury.me.

Unbury.me allows you to enter your debt amount, the interest rate, and your planned monthly payment to help you visually see how many months you have left. You can also use it to play around with your monthly payments to see how that’ll change your payoff timeline. If you’re thinking about refinancing, you can also use it to see how the new rate and fee will impact your monthly payments and timeline.

There it is. This is how I incurred debt and how I chipped away at it by setting a goal, giving myself little milestones to achieve, and chipping away at it little by little with persistency and consistency.

Through this experience, I find that my priorities have shifted and I’ve become more inward looking, I’m also more mindful not just in how I spend my money, but also in how I use my time. Some of the things I learned are:

Know Where Your Money Is Going. I learned how important it is for us to know where our money is going. Even if you make $500K a month and don’t have loans and debt, I think you should still know where your money is going. This will allow you to be more conscious about how you are spending and why you are spending, but also allow you to plan better for the short-and long-term.

Is This a Want or a Need. I read Cait Flander’s The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store, and the book made me think more carefully about my purchases. When I want something, I now ask myself, do I really need it or it’s something I want to fill another void in my life? Is it something I need, or am I getting this for vanity’s sake? If I’m looking at a shirt, I think about whether it is something that is multifunctional? Because I have a limited budget, I’ve become more mindful about how I spend my money. If I’m ordering out, I order out with a friend whose time I value, not simply because have a craving.

Financial Behavior Is Learned. I wish I had been raised with money management skills, but unfortunately, I picked up the behavior I saw from my mom, and emulated her to a tee. I was never taught to budget, and I saw my mom filling out balance transfer forms over the years. You’d think you can move money around and make it disappear, but no. Debt grows, and it grow fast! Luckily, my sibling who grew up in the same household saw my mom’s behavior, and vowed never to have any credit card debt and to save. I’m finally getting closer to my sibling’s level.

Keep a Budget. Keeping a budget is liberating and freeing. It gives me structure and also helps me builds confidence because I know where each cent that I make is going. I recommend it as a way to be in control of your life.

Persistence and consistency is something huge that I learned in 2020. I’m credit card debt free, and I am so proud of myself and excited for that. To me, I can say that I am financially independent now because I can support my bills, my lifestyle, and I don’t have anymore credit card debt!

Next I still have my MBA student loans, but I’m still in school so I’ll get a head start by paying toward that now. I’m also continuing to contribute to my 401k for my future, and also saving each month with a goal to have at least a year’s worth of liquid money. With a will, there’s a way. With a goal, there’s a path.

Thank you for reading!

My Relationship with Sex

Growing up, we didn’t talk about sex in my family. We didn’t see my parents kiss or show affection. When there are sex scenes on movies, we awkwardly cover our eyes or make gawking noises to show our disapproval. One time my dad jokingly grabbed my mom’s butt and breast. It scarred me for life.

My parents never had a sex talk with me. All I remember is that my dad told me not to go visit any boys because they only want one thing—he didn’t say it out loud, but I know he meant sex. I don’t think my parents had the birds and the bees talk with my brother either, so I actually had the conversation with him when he was in high school about having safe sex and consent. I wanted to make sure he knew it is okay and normal but also that he needed to be safe. I wanted to normalize sex for him even though it was something I struggled with into my early 30s.

The way we avoided talking about sex is what gave me a stigma against sex. I always felt that sex was dirty, rachet, and animalistic. Being raised Christian, growing up in a church, and also growing up as a rule follower, having sex was completely out of the question for me. When I met guys in high school and college, I was always explicit that sex is not gonna happen. I would say, “I don’t do sex.” Later on, even as I became less religious, I still insisted on not having sex and wore my virginity as a badge of honor. I was a virgin until I was 24.

My married ex and I met when I was 20 and we dated for four years before we got married. We kissed and went a few bases, but never had sex until we got married. It was important to me to wait and I appreciated his patience. But little did I know that I carried a stigma that sex is bad and dirty. It was something I carried into our marriage. I felt dirty and gross when we had sex. I didn’t want to be like a wild animal doing animalistic things. I didn’t understand it. I was ashamed by the act. It felt demeaning even though it is supposed to be an act of passion.

When we separated, I decided that I wanted to explore my sexuality. This was a drastic change for me. I went from sex avoiding to focusing mainly on sex. I went from holding onto my virginity for my dear life, to being scared of sex, to exploring it like I have never seen sex before. This is what led me into the bad relationships between 2017–2018, where sex was at the center of those flings.

After I broke away from those bad relationships, in 2019 I went on dating apps for the first time to meet people. It was new and exciting to meet people outside of my usual circles, but sexual compatibility was still on the top of my mind. I would sleep with the guys by the second date if there was some chemistry. My thought process was that I didn’t want to waste time dating to find out that we didn’t work in the bedroom. I needed to make sure we were sexually compatible to even consider moving forward. But that strategy didn’t work. I still picked a guy who wouldn’t commit, and the same story of me being with a guy who didn’t want a girlfriend repeated itself.

I went on a break from dating for about half a year and then went on dating apps again at the end of 2019, going into 2020. This time around, I was more intentional. I had a sense of the qualities I was looking for in a guy and slept with no one until I met the one guy I thought had potential. I also waited four dates before we tried to have sex. Even though the sex didn’t work, we still decided to date after talking for 6 months. I decided that we can work on the bedroom pieces through patience and conversations. No longer did I use sexual compatibility as a main benchmark. What I looked for instead was someone who knows who he is, who has a steady career, who has passions and hobbies, and a support group of his own. Someone who is self-motivated and would push me to become a better version of myself. I explored what I needed and observed and communicated. The relationship didn’t work out in the end, but I learned a lot about myself in the process. I learned how to be true to myself and my needs.

I’m sharing this because I’ve learned over the years how important it is for each of us to have a healthy relationship with sex. This is also a topic that we all think about but are embarrassed to discuss or timid in exploring, which is also part of where the stigma comes from. Opening up that door for myself to explore what it means to have sex, what sex means to me, has been an important part of my development and personal growth.

Below I share some of the things I’ve learned about how we should view and handle sex to promote a healthy relationship with it. As always, I am not a professional. These are my thoughts based on my experiences.

Own Your Sexuality. There was a girl I knew who was in sales and she took pride in the fact that her sexuality, gender, and looks, got her many of her deals. I had been in sales before working mainly with manufacturing clients, which is a middle-aged male dominated industry. I refused to use my sexuality to get deals. I wanted to be respected by what I know and I wanted to close deals because the customer has a need in the services we offer, not because of how I look. Although our views differ in that, I applaud her confidence in using what she has to her advantage. It is an empowering move to know that about yourself.

When it comes to bedroom talks, owning your sexuality is important as well. It’ll allow you to get the pleasure you need and make it a lot more fun. To know your body and your sexuality is power.

Don’t Let Sex Fog Your Decisions. We all have our physical needs and our need for connection. It’s easy to compromise other aspects of a relationship if sex is on the top of your list. Explore your own body and learn to take care of your own physical needs as well so you have the power and control over it, not some random guy.

Masterbation is normal. I learned from my girlfriends, too, hat having toys is not shameful. In fact, it is empowering.

We Should Have More Conversations about Sex. When my girlfriends and I started to open up about our sexual histories, it can be cringey to hear or share because of our predisposed biases on how a lady should behave, but it is also empowering to see that we are all in the process of learning and exploring our sexualities. Having more conversations about sex in general will also help us normalize it.

Don’t Judge. Don’t judge your own or other people’s sexual experiences. We each have our own process of self-exploration and have different levels of needs at different times. Recently I thought about just having casual sex and had conversations about exploring it, but I recognized that I would eventually want more than just a sexual relationship, so I forfeited that conversation. It’s okay to explore your options. Just make sure you are 100% on board with your decision. It’s also okay to back out last minute. You can change your mind.

The other piece to judging is that there unfortunately is slut shaming in our culture. When men sleep with several women, they get high fives. When a woman admits that she’s had casual sex or multiple sex partners, she gets looks telling her she should be ashamed of herself. I hate that double standard and disagree with it. I didn’t judge myself for exploring the option of casual sex. I recognized that I have needs and explored the options I had. Even if I had decided to have a pure-sexual relationship, it is nothing to feel ashamed about because it would have been what I wanted and have consented to.

Set Boundaries. Know what you need and set boundaries for yourself. Figure out what you’re okay and not okay with before getting into a sexual situation to make sure you’re being true and authentic to yourself. If you are okay with a booty call, go for it (but be safe). If you need dinner and a movie before that, set the expectation. You need commitment before having sex? Set that expectation. It’s okay to ask for what you want sexually. The key is to be true to yourself and don’t do anything that you don’t feel 100% into doing.

I’m still in the process of learning and understanding myself more in this area, such is thinking through what I need and want and also setting and sticking to boundaries. Ultimately, we all want to make sure we are being safe and that we are approaching sex in a healthy way.

How Feeling Unworthy Kept Me in Bad Relationships

After my last post on my upbringing without my mom, I connected with my mom. I expressed my resentment toward her absence when we were growing up, but also shared that I have an inkling that she may have been going through struggles and conflicts that made it difficult for her to show up as a mother. My mom decided she was ready to share her story with me, and it was heartbreaking. I demanded the truth, and got it. I wish my assumptions were inaccurate, that I was romanticizing the whole thing, but my mom is filled with hurt.

Whatever the reason was that she decided to get married, my mom has been miserable since the beginning. She’s living a lifestyle that is a downgrade to her upbringing, and she seems to regret that. It also seems that each of my parents look down on the other for specific reasons. My mom looks down on my dad because of his height and because he is from a poor family. My dad looks down on my mom because she did not complete a formal college education. My mom came from a rich family and grew up with maids and a driver. My dad is a professor with a ph.D and values internal growth rather than external materials. Even on the wedding day, and days leading up to the wedding, my mom did not feel that she was loved or considered. She also expressed that she had kids to distract her from her marriage.

As I listened to her share, my heart ached for her. I had a feeling that she wasn’t living her as her true authentic self, but I didn’t realize how much pain she’s been in. She put us down, because she was put down by my dad. She wasn’t there for us, because her mother wasn’t around for her. She wasn’t home and didn’t attend our events because she wasn’t happy. Overtime, she’s hidden the parts of herself that I love about her––her big personality, her straight forwardness, her liveliness––with the hopes that if she changes, she can receive love from my dad.

I recognize many parallels from the people I’ve had in my dating life with what my mom’s experienced with just one person, and I realize that all of it has to do with my lack of self-worth when being with those people. My mom hasn’t seen her worth, but she is slowly recognizing that she is worthy of love and and that she deserves much more than what my dad is offering her. I’ll share some of the examples that showed a lack of self-worth that came to mind.

  • When I let them take parts of me but not all of me––My dad has a girlfriend of 18 years and he is still with my mom. From the outside, everything looks fine and dandy. My parents run a hiking group together, they teach English together, they also host cooking classes together. There are pictures shared each week on the adventures they go on. But my dad has a girlfriend and my mom is still with him. The pictures look happy and harmonious, but they are not authentic. My mom let my dad behave in ways that make her feel little. She lets him walk all over her because she hopes that her acceptance of his behavior would make him love her.

    I’ve also been in manipulative relationships where the guy is still connected to his ex-girlfriend, where I’m kept a secret, where everything, including when and where we see each other was on his terms. My emotions went up and down because of this guy. When things are good, I’m happy. When I feel ignored, I feel down. And all the times in between, I’m wondering if he’s thinking of me, if I even matter. I realize now, that I’m the one who put myself through all of this. I lacked self-respect and self-worth. The reason I say this is, these guys have told me exactly what they wanted. From the get go, they told me straight up that they wanted to be with me but stay single. They didn’t want other people to think they are taken. They want to keep their options open. And I’m the one who lived in a dream land where I thought things would change. I lived in a fantasy where I thought that if I gave myself more and more, if I did what they wanted, gave them the freedom they seek, then they will be mine eventually. So I kept giving and giving, and I kept asking for a relationship, but all I got was nothing back.

    It takes me a while––it always does–––for me to finalize recognize that I was demeaning myself when I let guys treat me as a side chick, someone who is easily replaceable, someone who has no value or self-esteem.
  • When he silenced me for being me and for speaking my truth––My mom has been someone who spoke her mind. That was something I remember growing up. If she was there and had to stand up for us, she had no fear in doing so. My mom shared that she feels that she can no longer speak her mind. If she wants to stand up for something, my dad silences her because he feels embarrassed by her causing conflict or tension. She now chooses not to speak up as much because she doesn’t want to get reprimanded for it.

    In relationships as well, I feel that I’m always the one to start conversations when things are not going the way I want them to go. In those bad relationships though, I also notice that the guy gets annoyed when I want to have a serious talk, when I am asking for something that I deserve. They make me feel like i’m nagging, that I’m an inconvenience, that I shouldn’t want what I am asking for. When we like someone a lot and want to please, it’s easy for us to change our behavior and who we are so we can stay with the person. But when a person doesn’t respect you, even if you speak your truth and ask for what you want, you will not be heard.
  • When I accept disrespectful behaviors and make excuses for them–My mom described some things my dad has done that tells me that he does not respect my mom as a person. I’ve been in situations as well, where the guy I liked would always show up late, sometimes even 2–3 hours late because he had other more important things to tend to. I let them be late. I don’t show I’m angry. I still act as if I’m so grateful for them to even show up, as if he was an angel sent from heaven and I should bow to him. I tolerated the behavior. I thought this makes me someone who is understanding, who is not emotional and who would not bicker about tiny things, but this is a behavior that shows that he has no respect for my time. And my accepting this behavior showed that I didn’t respect my own time and worth.
  • When he verbally and emotionally abuses me by putting me down and making me doubt myself – If my mom shows that she is more dominant in a situation, my dad puts her down. He denies that she has strengths in organization, in leadership, and talks down to her when she tries to showcase those skills. Now she tries not to speak up or stand up for what she feels is right so not to upset my dad. My mom has silenced herself, made herself little so my dad can shine, accepted the emotional and verbal abuse that denies her of her worth over and over again.

    When the person you are with cannot celebrate your wins and share your strengths, it is an insecurity in themselves that they are showing. When you don’t realize your value, you will try to accommodate the other person’s insecurity by dumbing yourself down, and overtime, you will just believe it.
  • When he uses sex to keep me with him, or withholds sex as a power play—The first guy I was involved with after my separation was someone who used sex as his weapon. He would talk about it as if it was his biggest pride. He used it to persuade me that I was making a big mistake when I tried to end it with him––it took me a few times before I finally cut off the relationship. He told me that I will be sorry because I will never have amazing sex like that again.

    If I hadn’t recognized my worth finally, it would have kept me because in that time in my life, sexual compatibility was a key thing that I was looking for. When I realized that I deserved so much better than he was able to offer me and that he treated me like trash, even if it were the best sex in the world, I wouldn’t want it. He can keep it.

In all of these examples, I frame it in terms of “I let him to this to me,” “I let him behave a certain way,” because I believe that we have choices and have control over who we choose to be with. These choices may not be easy, because there are considerations and fears that keep us from leaving a bad relationship––maybe we worry about not being able to financially support ourselves, or we are scared to be alone, or that we love this person so much that we still are hoping that he will change one day. Or, in many cases, we also fear the unknown. There are many reasons for us to stay in a bad relationship, but I’ve come to realize, from my experience, that the biggest reasons for us to stay is that we don’t think we are worthy of something better.

For most of my life, I felt unworthy. I always felt stupid, and ugly, and little. A big part of it has to do with my upbringing, because I was told that I’m stupid and ugly. And so when it came to dating, I always felt bad for the guys who were with me, for having to tolerate with all my flaws and shortcomings. After my ex, I’ve been through guys who mistreated me. Like many other women, I thought that if I talked about what I’m looking for, what I wanted, if I just let them know, they will eventually change. I wanted commitment, but they wanted parts of me but not all of me. They wanted a companion when is convenient for them. They were selfishly used my time as if it were infinite, and I just gave them my time, as if it wasn’t worth anything.

We talk down to ourselves and say that this is as good as it gets. We don’t see that we deserve so much better. We don’t love ourselves enough for fight for a better situation. Brené Brown puts it well, “If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging.

The truth is, we are worthy and deserve to be accepted and loved for who we are, flaws and all. We should be loved for who we are without having to hide parts of ourselves. When we don’t feel loved and fight tirelessly for that love, it impacts how we see ourselves, because we feel that we have to constantly make changes to who we are to get the love that we seek.

Here are some things I’ve learned from my bad relationships on how to exercise your self-worth Of course, I am not a professional. These are some things that I’ve picked up through my experiences and through hearing shared experiences with my girlfriends.

1. You Are Worthy. You are worthy. You are worthy. You are worthy. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. You don’t need to change who you are to be worthy of love and comfort. Worthiness, in Brene Brown’s words, does not have any prerequisites. In this moment, just as you are, you are worthy. When we let people treat us in a way that we don’t deserve, it tells them that we are okay with it and that we don’t think we can do any better. A person who doesn’t value you will walk all over this and take advantage of it.

2. Dig a Little to Figure Out Why You’re Still in it. I think it’s important to reflect on what is important to you in a relationship and why you’re with a specific person. My big queue is when I notice that I am not acting in accordance to what I truly want. When I am not being authentic to what I want and who I am, all sorts of tensions and conflict rise up within me, and even the joys I feel with the person are just temporary. As a whole, the bad relationships were a big hit to my ego, my self-respect, and my self-worth. As I said earlier, there can be many, many reasons to keep us in a bad relationship, but we only need to find our self-worth to realize it’s time to go.

3. Stop Being Too Nice. I used to think that I would be nice and smiley to everyone, even if they have hurt me. I used to be so “empathetic” that I worry about hurting someone if I don’t do what they want. Stop thinking about how your decision to make a better choice for yourself will impact the other person. Be nicer to yourself. And after you end it, also don’t be so nice to want to keep it civil with that person.

As I’ve found my worth, I also started to question: why do they think they deserve to still have access to me? When I ended it with the manipulator, I would still acknowledge him in social settings. We met through salsa dancing, and I still danced with him. But every time, I felt icky afterward because I was doing it to be civil, to be nice, even though it was not what I wanted. Why should I still stroke his ego when he mistreated me?

I think this is part of recognizing my worth and having self-respect. I don’t harbor hatred toward him, but I do not respect him as a human being, and I don’t want anything to do with him. He is invisible to me and that is on him.

4. Be Proud of Who You Are. Stop hiding yourself and making yourself little. It takes courage but also vulnerability to step out of your little bubble so you can start to shine. I’ve been in plenty of situations where I felt less than and unworthy, and my response to that has been to shrink inside myself and defer to others. I will share more on this in another post.

5. Own Your Worth. One final reminder that you are Worthy, without any conditions or pre-requisites. In Brene Brown’s words, you are worthy,

“[w]orthy now. Not if. Not when. We are worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is.”

Once you recognize this, you will stand up for yourself. You will break away from what puts you down.

My Upbringing with(out) My Mom

I grew up without a mom. I have a mom, but she was absent. If she wasn’t sleeping, she would leave home for a week or a month at a time. Don’t ask me where she went. I have no idea. When we lived in Taiwan, we relied on Mcdonald’s and favors from extended family for meals. That’s why I couldn’t describe much about what Taiwanese food was like when I moved back to the US in 2002. I grew up on McDonald’s.

By nature, my mom is a free spirit. She is goofy and lively. She loves attention and is always the life of the party. She loves meeting new people and loves large gatherings. She can strike up conversations with strangers and become best buddies with them. My mom was the envy of other moms because of her lively personality. She always wore fashionable clothes and got fashionable haircuts–she was never afraid to express herself through experiment with her looks. She’s artistic in her fashion style, she lives through music and dance, and she is also creative in the kitchen, where she can cook up everything amazing. I’ve always thought that she is the most beautiful and in her element when she is creating new dishes. But as fun as she is as a person, she wasn’t a good mom. We didn’t get to see her a lot until we moved back to the US in 2002 when she had no choice but to stay home. Before that, she was more fiction than real. When we were in Taiwan, my sibling who wasn’t even six yet at the time, would turn on the entryway light before going to bed just in case mom came home that night.

Before I had the mom who would not come home at night, I had a mom who was always sleeping. In 1992, my dad quit his job at IBM to pursue something different in Taiwan, leaving my mom alone in the US with three kids (ages 1, 4, and 7). One of my female cousins stayed with us during this time to attend our local high school and was able to help out, but looking back, she was only 14 and was already changing my brother’s diapers. I don’t remember anything about my mom during this time, except for the fact that she was always in bed. When she wasn’t in bed, it felt off seeing her roam around in the house. Looking back, she was probably depressed. Being in a foreign land, raising three young children by herself is no small feat.

My mom was physically around, but not emotionally. My underwhelming lunches were a symbol of my mom’s disassociation with motherhood. I had an old-school, pink barbie doll lunch box. The rectangle kind that had a metal latch. There were days when my entire lunch box would consist of a boney drumstick wrapped in foil, or a lonely egg wrapped in foil. It was a sight to see the egg roll around in the empty box. I was embarrassed when I compared my lunch with my classmates’ lunches that included sandwiches and fruits and snacks, or even chicken noodle soup. I had a good rapport with the janitor at the school. Some days when looked sad and hungry, he would ask the lunch lady to give me a free lunch. One time, I was hungry and didn’t have food, so I stayed back in the classroom after everyone had left to the cafeteria to go through my classmates’ backpacks to steal change to buy lunch.

My mom didn’t show us that she loved us. There were days in elementary school in the US when I missed the school bus and had to walk to school by myself. It was little over a mile but it felt like a long way for a young child. In fourth grade in Taiwan, we sang a song about mothers in music class for mother’s day. The lyrics compared a mother’s love to the moon that watches over us with warmth and guidance. I cried for a mother that didn’t match the description. I cried for the sadness I felt when seeing daughters holding hands with their mothers. That night, I told my mom about the song and how it made me feel. Her response we defensive, “that’s because you feel sorry for not being a good daughter to me.” I felt that I was not understood.

My mom never showed us physical affection nor complimented us. We never hugged, but one day, a family friend brought over her little daughter who was probably three years old. My mom squatted down to meet the child’s height and hugged her while complimenting about how cute she was. I didn’t even know how to react to that scene because that was a side of our mother that I’d never seen nor experienced.

My mom wasn’t there when my body started to change. When puberty started and I grew breasts, my paternal aunt was the one who took me to get my first training bra. When I got my period, my mom found out but did nothing about it. I didn’t have pads. I cut out plastic bags to tape onto my underwear and rolled up toilet paper as the padding.

Because she was rarely there when we were growing up, I never connected with her on a deeper level. We did try in 2010 though when I was in Chicago and my sibling had gone off to college in NYC. At this point, my mom was living alone with my brother who is the youngest amongst the three of us. I called my mom every day on my drive home from work. The thirty minutes we shared on those days were ones that I looked forward to each day. We kept this up for at least 8 months before she moved back to Taiwan, but once she moved, our communication completely ended. The next time I could reach her was at least 6 months later. I felt abandoned all over again, also betrayed because the last eight months felt like a lie. I felt she only talked to me because she had nothing else to do.

I was resentful of my mom for a long time because of her absence in our lives, because of the negative mindset she passed onto us, because we continue to have challenges communicating. I cope with this by keeping our interactions to a minimum so that I don’t get angry at her or her at me. Right now, in this moment though, I don’t feel the resentment I had held onto for so long. This is a recent change, and it didn’t dissipate until I put myself into her shoes, imagining what life must have been like for her. She had all three of us by the time she was 35. I am 35 now and I feel that I have just begun to have a clearer picture of who I am, and I feel that I still have so much to learn and grow and experience in life for myself.

I see that she must have been struggling internally and dealing with emotions and conflicts that made it hard for her to be present as a mother. Perhaps she was struggling with her marriage–my parents fought a lot. Perhaps having children for her wasn’t something she really wanted but was expected of her. Perhaps she didn’t have the support she needed to raise her children. Perhaps, because she was raised in a wealthy family by maids and help, she didn’t have strong role models to emulate when she became a parent. Perhaps she mourned for a life she could have had and still wanted to continue to live that life even if it was frowned upon, even if it meant being an absent wife and mother. I have all these questions now, but I won’t know the real story until she is ready to share.

Even though she wasn’t around a lot, there still are some fond and appreciated memories. My mom took me to all my lessons––piano, violin, ballet. The drives to violin class were at least 45 minutes long each way and we always drove at night. After class, my mom would drive us through Mcdonald’s and buy me a Big Mac. I loved the moments when I would kneel on the floor of the last row of our Toyota minivan, using the seat as my table, and devour the burger. When I performed at concerts for violin, my mom and I would arrive early and she would have vocabulary and grammar workbooks with her for me to practice during the downtime. I still remember the characters in the workbooks, such as Al the Alligator. Although homework isn’t fun, those were rare moments when we spent time together. When I received a Pizza Hut reward for a free single-person pizza through school, my mom always would drive me to claim my prize. Those moments made me happy.

When we moved to Taiwan, my mom also would commute an hour with me on the Mass Rapid Transit system to get lessons from a renowned piano teacher. The journey was long, but she made the time and invested the money in me to do so. When we stayed at hotel rooms while on vacation, my mom somehow figured out how to wake up early, and would wake us up by wiping a warm washcloth over our faces. Those are happy moments of when we seemed like a perfect family. Another moment from Taiwan was from when we first moved there. I was born and raised in the US until 1994. When we moved back, even though I was able to have basic conversations in Chinese, I didn’t read that well. I had to repeat third grade instead of moving onto fourth grade because of it. My mom would spend nights reading with me as I followed along the texts. Her reading with me helped me pick up the characters much faster and I was able to catch up to my grade level within a month.

I tried to think about learnings from these memories, but all I can think of are actions that I can take to improve my relationship with my mom. To be honest, the feelings of anger come and go depending on how I’m feeling in a particular moment. Perhaps you have some ideas for me instead. Please share in the comments if you do!

  • Forgive My Mom. My mom has her shortcomings but she never aspired to be an absent mom. Parenting is not an easy task and we’ve turned out okay. My mom shows love in her own way. One of the ways is through food, and we see that whenever we are able to get together. Holding onto the past with resentment is not going to help improve our relationship. I’m sure she tried her best with the emotional capacity she had.
  • Be Compassionate. I don’t know what was truly going on in her life. I suspect that as a free spirit who got married and had children because it was the expectation of her family and society, she had trouble reconciling with who she is and what she had. My mom is human after all. Whatever it is, I should approach it with empathy and compassion.
  • Be Courageous and Open with Vulnerability. As I was thinking about this post, I messaged my mom who lives in Taiwan, “I used to feel resentment toward you because you weren’t home when we were growing up. But lately I’ve been thinking that maybe you were going through struggles internally that made it hard for you to be there. Would you share what raising us was like? What struggles did you have to go through? I appreciate you a lot and want to understand your story.”

    I have never asked something so personal and open to my mom and her response was a positive surprise to me. She thanked me for raising this specific topic and that she will be more than happy to share with me when the timing is right. Being courageous also means that I need to be willing to share how it was for me and my siblings growing up without her and how it had affected us. How it’s made us not want to have children because they may suffer, or how our self-esteems have been affected because she had nothing positive to say about us.

What we see is often just how someone else’s behavior impacts or have impacted us, but we forget that there probably is a story behind each of our actions. I hope one day soon, I can hear these stories from my mom. She called me the other day sharing with me other stories from her childhood. I intend to keep the conversation going so I can eventually get to how raising the three of us was for her.

Thank you for reading.

My Marriage and Divorce

People see marriage as a once-in-a-liftetime event. Some see it as a milestone, an item to check off from one’s list of things to do to be successful. Girls dream about becoming a bride. They plan out their wedding even before having a boyfriend. They know what style dress they want and what color scheme to choose before even getting a proposal.

May 2010, Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, IL

I never had that dream, but I got married when I was 24. Part of it, was because I was following the path that was expected of me. You date a guy that you’re compatible with and care about a lot for about 4 years, next is marriage, so you can build a life together.

I had a good partner. He was supportive of my dreams and aspirations. He accepted all of my quirks and shortcomings. He listened and understood me. He spoke highly of me. He encouraged me when I doubted myself. Pushed me when I couldn’t push myself. When we met in college, my essay-writing skills were so bad that I was referred to the writing center; but he helped me edit every single paper starting from my sophomore year. Even when we started looking for jobs, and when I switched employers, he reviewed my resumes and cover letters. Even when I was applying to an MBA program after we got a divorce, he still offered his feedback on my essay. I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am without him. He’s always watched out for me, cheered for me, supported me.

Within the marriage, his family accepted me. His grandparents and uncles let me call them grandma and grandpa and uncle, which made me feel a part of the family. But our marriage didn’t feel right. There were years of internal struggles from my side that I share in my podcast, and I eventually recognized that I couldn’t stay married. The life I could have with him would look amazing from the outside––we’d have a condo in downtown Chicago, we’d have a dog, we’d travel around the world, eat at nice restaurants and fancy bars, we’d attend fancy galas with his fancy job or maybe mine, we would retire in the Grand Tetons of Wyoming––of course, these are still things that I can have, but when it came to the marriage, I knew that all the external achievements still wouldn’t make me feel full inside. If these things that made my life feel stable and secure were what kept me, it wouldn’t have been right for me to stay.

It’s easy to fall onto a path that seems definite, but certainty can also be suffocating when it isn’t the right path for you. My mom does not understand this. She doesn’t understand why I cannot stay married and live as roommates. She asks why I can’t just settle simply to have a companion to go home to. Although I see where she is coming from, the life that she can tolerate is not for me.

I care a lot for my ex, so I ignored the signs and oppressed what I was feeling for a long time. I tried to change my mindset to accept a life that didn’t feel right, to accept a future that didn’t feel fully me. But it eventually came to a point where I just couldn’t do it anymore.

One of the biggest mistakes we made was that we didn’t truly communicate. We talked daily––I shared everything that was going on with me with him. But we were not vulnerable about our feelings about our marriage nor what we wanted or needed out of it. I tried to talk about it but we always ended up changing topics and never got to them, or we just assumed that the issues brought up were ones that would eventually disappear. They didn’t.

When we separated, it was very sudden. We had the conversation on a Thursday night, and he moved out on Friday. It was hard and it was very hard for at least two years. I still get emotional about it but we both know it was the right decision.

The right decisions can often be the hardest decisions. Getting a divorce feels like grieving the death of a loved one. When we separated, the intense emotions I felt were the same ones I felt when my paternal grandpa passed away. It hurt. The loss and the pain I felt made my chest tighten, my face heat up, and my tears well up. When I’ve spent 12 years with a person every single day, talking to him, seeing him, and all of a sudden that is gone, it’s a loss. When little moments that only he understands or would appreciate happen and I can’t really text him the same way I used to, I felt lost.

I’ve had a few moments one and two years into it when I doubted my decision to get a divorce. It’s funny because I had so much conviction when I decided to separate. I spoke with absolute certainty of my decision to move forward. I had no doubt in my mind. But still, there were two big moments when I thought I had made the wrong move.

One time I was at a bachata congress in Spain and was wide awake at 4 a.m. because I had roommates who snored. I typed out a long, heart-wrenching email to him while sitting and crying in the hotel bathroom floor (there was nowhere else to sit), questioning my decision. I even proposed that we try to get to know each other again and date again––maybe this time it’ll be different. That e-mail, when I read it again, was actually full of fear. Fear that I will never find the same connection that I had with him, fear that I had made the wrong choice. It was not actually of a longing of wanting to go back to the past.

Another time was when I watched a movie that reminded me of our experience and made me question if I tried hard enough at the marriage, if I was supportive enough of him. This time, my messaging to my ex was full of guilt.

Each time I question myself, he reminded me that I made the right decision for the two of us. Him telling me that I made the right choice helped validate my feelings and reduce some of the guilt that I have been holding onto. I’m fortunate that even after our divorce, he has been the one who has helped me sift through these feelings and also who continues to be the objective supporter of my decisions and my champion. I’m really am lucky to have met him.

All this is to say, neither marriage or a divorce is easy. The decision to get married is one of the highest commitments you can give to a person, but sometimes even when you give your best, it can still not work out. Getting a divorce means parting with that past, but it also is an opportunity to go at life in a different way. I had to find myself again. Learn to really be on my own. Learn to reach out to my friends when I need emotional support. Learn to be kind to myself when I feel sad. Learn to be strong because I chose this.

I wanted to share this because I feel that people who have not experienced marriage or divorce see it as something that’s black and white. They say that marriage is sacred, that you should stay in it no matter what, even if you are not happy, even if you are abused, even if it takes your identity away. Divorce is bad. You are a failure if you can’t even keep a marriage. You are damaged goods if you’ve been through a divorce. But that’s not how it is. This one is my experience, but others likely have entirely different experiences and emotions.

Some things I’ve learned from this experience:

  • Getting a divorce isn’t the end of the world. When we separated, the first thought that came to our minds were, “What I am going to do, being 30 and divorced?” We were each other’s first long-term, and real relationship so we had never dated before each other. A different life was unimaginable. I’ve thought about a different life before, but it didn’t look that glamorous. It’s scary to jump into the unknown, into a space we’d never explored nor had been exposed to, but we each learned that it really isn’t the end of the world. We’ve both adapted and are doing well.
  • Getting a divorce isn’t a failure. You are not a failure if your marriage doesn’t last forever. My mom may think differently. She’s in a marriage not because she’s happy in it but because she feels that she doesn’t have a choice and she is fine with her situation. But I am not my mom. To me, I would have failed myself if I had stayed in a situation I didn’t want to be in, if I had settled. This is a lesson I’m learning each day as I’m dealing with people and situations now–learning to say no to things that aren’t right for me.

    There definitely is a stigma against divorces though. My ex’s name was on my grandpa’s obituary as my husband when my grandpa passed away, which was after our separation. My parents didn’t want the family and friends to know. They also didn’t want my late grandpa to find out even after his death.
  • Divorce is sad, but it’s not a bad thing. There is a reason why people end up separating––it tends to be a better situation for both people, even if they may not know it at the time. It is sad but it’s also not sad. Did you know that people throw divorce parties now? It’s something that can be celebrated!
  • You can and will start over. It’s scary but also exciting to start over and find yourself again and build a new self. I am living by myself for the first time in my entire life. (I went from living at home to having roommates to living with a husband so I had never lived on my own.) I love it. I love that I can decorate the place the way I want it and feel comfortable in the home I built for myself.

    I’m learning as well that being on your own doesn’t mean that you are alone. I have so much support from my friends and family that I have never felt that I had no one to turn to.
  • Most people don’t care. When it comes to dating again, one of the concerns is that there’s a stigma against divorced people, but I haven’t felt that to be an issue. Most people that I’ve encountered have not cared that I used to be married. In fact, having the experience being married is a testament that you are able to be in a long-term, committed relationship. Not everyone can say they’ve had that.
  • Tough decisions can set you free. Sometimes it’s impossible for us to think of a different outcome for ourselves when we are in specific situations. Sometimes it’s hard to let go of what we are comfortable with in order to pursue a life that is truly authentic. But when you do, you open new doors for yourself. You set yourself free to new possibilities.
  • Make peace with it. As I have been thinking about this topic and also as I’ve seen the marriages around me–even though they are filled with challenges and some complaints as well, the couples are still in it together–it makes me wonder and wander about whether or not I made the right choice. I guess it means that although I act like I’m tough, parts of me is still processing this whole ordeal. I know I need to move on. I’m working on it. It’s going to take time.

My marriage, my divorce, and my time with my ex will always be a chapter in my life’s story. I am happy to be where I am today. I am a more independent and self-aware individual who is chasing after a life that is truly her’s. One thing that occurred to me when I was recording the podcast is that, perhaps my journey of striving for authenticity didn’t just start this past year. Perhaps it started the moment I took the courage to end the marriage so I can live my life in the way that feels right for me. That’s empowering.

What is one of the biggest, and most difficult decision you’ve had to make in a relationship? Share with me!

My Body Image Struggles

Shenyun Wu

I had a complicated relationship with food and my body image in high school. Media played a part of it, but the needle that broke the camel’s back was when my dad told me that my face looked a bit rounder. In his way, he told me that I was fat. In his perspective, it was an innocent comment that he must have never thought about again, but that meaningless comment was the catalyst to my eating disorder and struggle with my body image for several years after that.

I already had a hard time with food to begin with. Since I was young, my mom would make us finish all the food on our plate or in our bowl––not even a grain of rice should be left behind. There was one time, I felt so full I thought the food was filled all the way up to my throat. I finished the food but had to throw up the food right afterward. I was less than 7 years old at this time. The rule of cleaning up a plate is why I lacked a sensor that would tell me to stop when I was full. My mom often commented that I didn’t have a sensor when I would eat a full bag of chips, but she didn’t realize that she had made me this way. Apparently, my sibling had the same problem of not stopping when full as well. I eventually learned in my early twenties that it is okay not to finish everything on my plate, and that it’s okay to stop when I don’t feel like eating anymore. I don’t always have to eat to the point of making my stomach explode.

I developed an eating disorder pretty quickly after my dad’s innocent comment. I didn’t know that binging and purging was a thing, but I got the idea from a scene from Miss Congeniality where the girls decided to party at a club before competition day with a giant pizza, and someone said something about “throwing it up” so the calories don’t matter. Needless to say, I became bulimic. It was perfect. I could eat all that I wanted, throw it up, and not worry about getting fat. I remember finishing Costco’s 12-inch pumpkin pie, which is around 3.5 pounds, in one sitting, and then going to the bathroom to discard the content from my stomach, up my throat, and into the toilet. It’s disgusting, but I couldn’t stop and didn’t stop for two years.

Having an eating disorder isn’t just physical. It actually takes a huge emotional toll on a person. How can you think for yourself and focus on anything else when your mind is occupied by the worry of getting fat, about what food to binge so you can get rid of it later, about how much calories remain in your body. I was depressed. I felt unworthy.

I think my parents knew––I haven’t confronted them about this yet––but they probably thought that I was just going through a phase. Luckily I was able to stop after going to college but I know that many other individuals who go through eating disorders get into extreme situations where they damage their health and require professional intervention.

When I finally stopped, it wasn’t because of any outside factor. It was because I finally decided I need to be nice to myself, that this is not good for me, and I can do better. It is an addiction. You try to stop, you stop. You relapse, then you try to stop again, and relapse. I have relapsed a few times over the years, but today, I’m in healthy relationship with food and also my body.

The truth about the old me was that I was not fat. Not in the slightest. My current weight is the heaviest I’ve ever weighed, but I like my shape, I love my body, and I am amazed by all it can do––I’m actually on a quest to lift 225 lbs by end of Jan 2021. Today, I can lift 180 lbs on my 114 lb frame.

I share this because it’s an important part of my past, but it’s also why the words we use with people is so critical. They can have a huge impact on a person, including yourself. Media plays a huge role on our self-image and body image, but how we talk to ourselves and the people around us about our body and theirs can have a positive impact if you choose to.

1. Start with You. Do a self-check on how you speak to yourself about your body. Do you criticize the reflection in the mirror? Do you call yourself ugly? If the words you choose are not ones you’d use on a friend, don’t use them on yourself either.

2. Positive Self-talk. It’s easy to nitpick your physical looks, but that is not helpful. Reflect on the great things your body is doing for you. Be grateful for the body that you have.

I have an athletic body type and I actually did not wear shorts nor sleeveless shirts until I got into my junior year of college. I was self-conscious about my muscles because it wasn’t a sign of beauty when I was growing up in Taiwan. I continued to have a love-hate relationship with my body-shape into my late twenties. Some days I’d like my muscles because they make me look healthy, other days I’d hate them because I feel too masculine and unapproachable.

Now, I tell a different story to my body. I tell my body that it is strong and resilient, and each day I surpass a goal at the gym, I learn that I am mentally and physically strong as well. My body has taught me that I can achieve so much more than I believe I can if I’m just willing to put in the time and push myself. I can take that determination and strength to other parts of my life.

3. Take the Focus Away from the Body. We all need words of affirmation and positive feedback, not only for looking beautiful, but other attributes that make us great. Make a list of attributes that you appreciate about yourself and that people have praised about you so you remember that you are more than what you look on the outside.

When you are encouraging your girlfriend, talk about attributes that make her great, such as how resilient she is, how smart she is, how dedicated she is. Take the focus away on just her looks because she is so much more than that.

4. Body Shaming Is Not Okay. Calling someone too skinny, or too fat, or too muscular, too anything is not okay! It’s their body and not yours. You do not have a right to put labels or define how they see their own body. Don’t call yourself any of that either.

5. You Have Control. If you’re unhappy with your body, that’s okay. It’s where you are now and there isn’t anything wrong with that. But if you aren’t happy about where you are now, you can change that. You aren’t stuck.

Just like how you make changes in other aspects of your life to improve your living situation, your financial situation, your job situation, you can take small actions that will make you feel better about yourself. Start bringing a little movement into your daily life, make more conscious choices about at least 1 meal during the day. By setting small, achievable goals, you’ll be able to get to larger changes that will bring you the difference you want to see.

At the end of the day, what matters is how you feel about yourself. Invest that effort and energy on yourself so you can feel your best self.

6. Sympathize and build resilience. If you know someone who is struggling with their weight and body image, be kind to them and listen to them without judgement. It’s not so easy for someone to just “stop obsessing about their weight.” There often is a deeper issue behind the behavior.

You don’t have to agree with their struggle, but they need to feel that they can come to you. Be encouraging. Help them focus on other things they have control of in their lives and help bring up their self-image by taking the focus away from the body to things they are good at and attributes you appreciate about them. Help them be kinder to themselves and plan activities that can encourage positive feelings to their bodies, such as walking dates, group exercise dates, or healthy-meal dates.

We all deserve to be loved, regardless what shape and size we are. Be kind to yourself and those around you when it comes to body image.

Say “Yes,” and Give it a Chance

I have a habit of dismissing things that I haven’t tried. I believe that what I have is already enough, and I would assume that I wouldn’t like whatever else was offered on the table. But I’m often pleasantly surprised when I give something new a try.

When I first had deep dish pizza, I ordered from Gino’s East. For years, that was the only place I’d order deep dish from. No other Chicago deep dish spot compared. Even though in reality, hadn’t tried any other spots. One day, my friend who swears by Lou Malnati’s convinced me to try it. My life changed and now Lou Malnati’s is by far my favorite. I’ve since tried other deep dish spots in Chicago and I now have valid opinions on the merits and my dislikes about each spot.

This isn’t a pizza lesson, but my point is that we should always be open minded. When you say no without any consideration, you can be missing out on something amazing.

It’s very easy for us to stay in our comfort zone and dismiss the new. Next time you want to blatantly reject something, ask yourself these questions:

1. Why am I so opposed to it? Is there a logical reason behind it or am I just stuck to my own ways? One of the dangerous things in life is assuming that things need to always be the way they are and also assuming that your way is the best way.

2. What is there to lose? If it’s nothing, give it a shot! Why not?

I will leave you with a challenge for this week: Say yes to something you have always said “no” to before you’ve actually given it a fair shot.

Let me know how it went by leaving a comment. Hope you come back with a pleasant surprise.