Challenge Yourself

Boredom is a tricky feeling. It isn’t as unpleasant as depression or anger, so it quietly permeates your being until your motivation is sucked away. Many people are bored in their jobs, their routines and with life in general, but not uncomfortable enough to do anything differently. “Why make a change?” they ask, “when everything is fine just the way it is?”

Because your life can be better than the status quo. How? By taking on new challenges, embracing hopes (and the fears that go along with them) and pushing harder. Recently, I decided to earn my Professional Certificate in Editing through UC Berkeley Extension. I wanted something that would improve my own writing and which could help me in my career further down the road. But what I didn’t know was that this first course (out of four) is really hard! My class, “Grammar, Mechanics and Usage for Editors,” is more intense than any of the training I did to become certified to teach English as a second language. And the material is bone dry.

How is it that I never heard of correlative conjunctions, object compliments, predicate adjectives and prepositional phrases before?  My memories of learning German grammar in college are hazy, and honestly, I think English grammar is even more confusing. But no matter how boring this class can be, and how challenging the concepts are, I’m glad that I’m doing this. Already I’m looking at my writing with a critical eye. I realized I needed to use the adverb differently instead of the adjective different in my first paragraph, because the verb “do” was being modified. (Okay, I’ll stop before your eyes glaze over).

The point is, pushing your boundaries is a good thing. I reluctantly signed up for a pole-dancing fitness class a few months ago, and that’s been even more challenging than learning grammar! My feet get bruised, my arms shake as I try to support my entire body weight for more than a few seconds, and I usually feel ridiculous. Will I ever glide around effortlessly, wearing 5 inch stripper stilettos and oozing sex appeal? Probably not. I don’t think I’m meant to conquer the pole. But that’s okay, because I’ve succeeded in performing a few moves and I’ve tried something I never thought I would.

So whether your challenge is small, like improving your tennis serve, or big like completing a marathon in under 3 hours or becoming fluent in Japanese- go for it! It feels better to be working hard at something than sitting home channel surfing (or surfing the internet). Living life with purpose will give you a deeper appreciation for your free time. Because when you do get the chance to catch up on your favorite TV shows, you may realize you’d rather be practicing what you love instead.

Letting go of self-imposed limits










Have you ever made a decision and then wondered later if it was right? This week I’ve been struggling with giving up my job as an administrator at an English language school. But why? For months I was eager to take the leap to solopreneurship, to become the person I’m meant to be.  Yet actually doing so is terrifying, like diving blindly off a cliff and hoping a net appears.

Unlike quitting jobs I hated- which filled me with euphoric relief- leaving a job that I really liked brought on a flood of emotion. Regret snaked its way into my mind like the evil eels in The Little Mermaid. (Remember Flotsam and Jetsam? Shout out to my fellow 80’s babies!). Sure, these negative thoughts are only my inner critic talking, but sometimes it’s difficult to ignore that voice.

I think I understand where the fear is coming from. It’s the limitations I’ve imposed on myself. In the United States, we define ourselves by the type of work we do. The question, “What do you do?” is never answered with, “I rock climb, knit hats for my friends, take salsa lessons and host fabulous dinner parties.” Even if those hobbies more accurately define the real you, the question is always answered, “I’m a lawyer/receptionist/doctor (insert job here).”

For eight years, my answer has been, “I work in International Education.”  The title Student Services Coordinator was my safety net. I had a box to define me. Training my replacement last week, I felt a ripple of jealousy. I was reminded of the Sex and the City episode where Charlotte decides to leave her art gallery. She hires a girl strikingly similar to herself, who’s young and filled with ambition. But when the time comes to hand over the keys, Charlotte snaps, “You’re twenty-two! What do you know about life?”

Giving my title to a wonderful, enthusiastic twenty-four year old didn’t feel much better. Why? Because it means I’m not that person anymore. My days of helping the students are over. And I have a goodbye card with each one of them holding me accountable to my dream. Aaron from Korea wrote, “I believe you and I believe that you’ll be a great author!!” Niki from Taiwan said, “I’ll love your book and become your fan.” And Ahmed from Saudi Arabia wrote, “I wish I’ll read your novel soon. I have faith in you.”

I don’t want to let any of them down. But I know how tough the publishing industry is to break into. I’ve already failed once with my first book. The fear of failure is still at the forefront of my mind.

Only this time something is different. I refuse to set limits on what I can achieve. I’ve turned the words aspiring writer into aspiring writer. I get paid for what I do. Not that being paid for something makes it valid, but unfortunately in our society, that’s what “success” is.  Dropping  ‘aspiring’ from author will be a lot harder, but I’m determined to do it.

As my fiancé said to me over lunch, “Today is the second day of the rest of your life.” Amen to that. The possibilities are endless.



Write for a living: taking the leap to solopreneurship

Today marks the first day of my last week at work. I will never spend another Monday at the office. It’s scary, exciting and bittersweet. But after writing posts like A Life that Looks Good on Paper, I knew I had to step up and take action. Because in between creating activity calendars and updating spreadsheets in Excel, I found myself staring out the window at the Ferry Building, wondering what else I could do with my time.

Don’t get me wrong. There are things I will absolutely miss about my day job (including the view). Each and every international student I’ve befriended has touched my heart in some way. Making their experience in San Francisco special is what kept me in this job for nearly two years. I love being the person that students feel comfortable confiding in. I’ve shared my writing dreams with so many of them- who supported me through the journey of completing my first novel and then the second.

But during that time I’ve also been writing this blog. And you know what? I love the readers I’ve connected with. Sometimes I wish I could reach through the computer screen and give you all a hug. Because you make me smile, laugh and nod my head in agreement. You “get” me and don’t think I’m crazy for seeking more out of life than a corporate title. We’re all doing our best to follow our hearts and to find that intersection between passion and work.  Recently my posts have been going in a life-coachy direction. So what better way to preach doing what you love for a living than to actually do it?

I broke out of the 9-5 in 2009 when I cut back from 40 hours a week to 30. And now I’m leaving the stable paycheck of 30 hours a week for the unknown waters of freelancing. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that you shouldn’t allow fear of the unknown to hold you back. Sure I could fail miserably, or start to crave the structure of office life again (commute and all). But what’s the worst that can happen? Another 9-5 job is always out there.

Solopreneurship is not for everyone. Maybe it won’t be right for me. There’s nothing wrong with the security of being financially stable. But I don’t have mortgage payments, children or student loans. I believe right now is the time to see what I’m made of.

As Alexis Grant says, “Being excited about your work is not limited only to the young and naïve, or to a certain type of worker. That door is there for all of us.”

And Matt Cheuvront adds, “If you’re worried about the success, the money, and the fame, to validate your dreams, you’ve got it all wrong. A funny thing happens when you really, really feel strongly about something. When an idea becomes more than idea. When it becomes a passion, a purpose, a religion. When you invest that much of yourself into making something matter, the money and the success will follow.”

Money and success for a starving artist? It doesn’t sound likely. Many people won’t understand my choice and will tell me I’m being  impractical. But I got up the guts to read a personal story to a room full of strangers, so taking charge of my voice and using it as a tool for income shouldn’t be much scarier. In fact, I’ve already started.

So here’s to new beginnings, new connections and new friends. I’m ready to take the leap. Are you?

A life that looks good on paper

This weekend I went out of town, to watch a friend run the Santa Cruz half marathon. My sister and I walked along West Cliff Drive, watching the ocean waves crash against the cliffs and listening to the barking sea lions. All the chatter in my mind ceased for a moment. Looking out at the water, I felt at peace. But there was also a twinge of pain, nostalgia for my days as a college student at UC Santa Cruz. Life was simpler back then.

I turned to my sister and asked if she could imagine living  by the beach, away from society and its expectations. For us, creativity is a life force. Without nurture, the true part of ourselves is diminished and depression sets in. But what to do when ditching your day job for an easel and a beach cruiser doesn’t seem possible?

Well the answer is, it’s never easy.  There might not be a right time to let go of the cramped apartment in the city, or the steady paycheck. But a life that looks good on paper isn’t necessarily the one you want.

The San Francisco Bay Area is a hub of academia, and the pressure to accomplish something “big” is always on my shoulders. The cultural narrative here is that you should get a PhD, a Fulbright scholarship, join the Peace Corps and found a successful start up (or do all 4 at once). Hell, you probably should have already accomplished those things by twenty-five.

In truth, what looks good on paper sometimes turns out to be terrible in real life. Maybe you feel overwhelming stress in your PhD program. Or you realize you’re not passionate about what you’re studying. Someone might have all the “right” degrees and interests, but turn out to be a total psychopath. People who look good on paper can be bad news too.

Is that surfer you met just a lazy slacker with no life goals? Maybe not. It takes dedication to get up before dawn every morning, to plunge into freezing cold water. And the job with great benefits, totally aligned with your degree? It could be in a windowless cubicle, the kind of soul-sucking work you hate.

Just because something looks good on paper doesn’t mean it’s the right choice. You are allowed to deviate from the norm. If you’re happy, your relationships with people who matter will improve. Pay attention to those relationships. Because at the end of the day, you may never publish a best-selling novel or climb the Karakoram mountain range. But the people close to you will still love you for who you are: imperfect, particular, fabulous…you.

On paper, I’m an administrator at an English language school. But in life I’m a sister, a fiancée,  a daughter and a friend, a techno dance party initiator, travel addict, an artist…and a writer. I wouldn’t want to be anyone else.

Staying true to yourself

Today, Spring has sprung, a reminder of new beginnings. But when personal  goals aren’t achieved as quickly as you’d hoped, it can be difficult to start a creative venture, or to continue the one you’ve been working on. Apathy sets in. The project that seemed so exciting last month might languish in a drawer.

For those of us with day jobs, sometimes it feels easier to go along with the mundane routine than to break out of the box. Keep your head down, work hard and don’t risk being hurt. But is following this lifestyle staying true to yourself?

I’ve been asking myself this question as I gear up for the hectic summer months at work. With stress, the imaginative wheels in my brain start spinning as slowly as vintage watch parts. And while mechanical pocket watches might be the height of steampunk fashion, I want my ideas whirring past at the speed of light, begging me to chase them.

Beneath the weight of  household chores, bills and responsibilities, how can we stay true to ourselves when doubt about what we  should  be doing creeps in?

1. Value your choices  When you do, others will appreciate your confidence. Believe in yourself and own your actions.

2. Be willing to be different Not necessarily in a Lady Gaga, “Look at Me!” way, but in whatever way feels right to you. I’ve been catching some flak for not having planned my wedding yet. But you know what? I work at my own pace.

3. Know your wants They might be different than someone else’s wants, and require you to figure out what you value most.

4. Be on your own side Talk to yourself in the same way you’d comfort a best friend who’s feeling down. There might be times when it seems like no one else is in your corner. Be your own advocate.

It’s okay to take advice from friends and the people you trust, but remember that only you can live your life. Your decisions are yours alone. Don’t be afraid to continue working towards your big dream, even if everyone tells you it’s impossible.

In the words of my favorite DJ Kaskade (sung by Skylar Grey) “Don’t be fooled by your emptiness, there’s so much more room for happiness.”

You are responsible for that happiness. Not your spouse. Not your boss. You. And even though sometimes it’s hard as hell  to reach deep down to find it, it’s what makes life worth living. Nurture the things that matter to you. When you do, spots of joy will appear like cherry blossoms-little signs that the world is beautiful.

Are you stuck on repeat?

Today, when I began my morning commute, I turned on my iPod just like I do every morning. Yesterday, I’d gone running and the last song I listened to was “Sexy Bitch.” (Electro music is my only workout motivation!) However, at eight-o’clock this morning, Akon’s horny crooning didn’t fit my mood and I tried to change songs. But my iPod was stuck. Jammed. Broken.



I listened to Sexy Bitch on the walk to the BART station. I listened to Sexy Bitch on the train. For twenty minutes, I angrily turned my iPod on and off, jamming the buttons, begging the menu screen to come back… it didn’t. But David Guetta’s thumping dance beat did, over and over and over again.

This got me thinking about how obnoxious it is to hear something stuck on repeat.

Sometimes it’s the complaints of strangers, overheard during San Francisco’s Financial District lunch rush. They hate their coworkers. They hate their boss. They’re not appreciated. Or maybe it’s a friend who isn’t happy with her life, but doesn’t know how to make a change. Her  inner critic  is coming up with a hundred reasons not to go after the life she really wants.

One thing is for certain: repeating negative thoughts and beliefs will get you nowhere.

Many people go through the motions in life like they don’t have any other choice. Thought patterns emerge:  “I’m bored and unfulfilled at work, but if I don’t have a steady paycheck, I’ll go broke and become homeless. If I break away from tradition, no one will respect me. If I fail at what I try to achieve, I will never recover from the shame.”

This fear soundtrack is what keeps people from going after their dreams. Dreams are scary. There is no guarantee of success, or receiving external validation. Most people probably won’t understand your need to live outside the box. Which is why you have to be the one in charge. No one else is going to help. You have to get out of your own way.

Here are some tips to hit “stop” on the loop of negative thinking:

1. Eliminate toxic people from your life. You don’t need frenemies who bring bad energy to you. Surround yourself with people who support and nurture your creative side.

2. Be honest with yourself. Is the goal you’re going after making you happy? If your answer is yes, pursue it 100%. If your answer is “maybe” or “no,” then stop right there. You don’t need to do something just because you (or someone else) think you should. Do it because it makes you feel alive!

3. Take baby steps. Don’t expect change overnight. Do a little work on your passion project every day. There’s a group of people in New York called the Nightowls, chasing their dreams from 10pm-4am, many with day jobs. How’s that for dedication?!

4. Give yourself permission to choose your own life. It’s yours. Live it however the hell you want to. You only get one!

If you’re going to repeat something in your head, try to make it a positive thought. You are worthy. You can do whatever you set your mind to. You deserve to have a dream.

And dammit, you are a sexy bitch!





Put yourself out there

As writers, the majority of our time is spent hunched over the computer (sometimes in plaid pajamas) plugging away at our novels, or lost in the twitterverse. We read industry blogs and focus on social networking, building our platform and gaining followers. We talk with our online buddies, our critique partners, our tweeps and our Facebook friends.  This is great!  But what about the ‘real’ world?

With so much time spent online, it’s easy to forget about the importance of networking face to face.  This past year, I’ve taken advantage of free opportunities to meet fellow authors. I went to Nathan Bransford’s book launch party for Jacob Wonderbar and to Liquake’s  seminar on the changing world of publishing.

But on Friday November 11th, I did something terrifying. I put myself in the spotlight and  read to an audience at Pegasus Books in Berkeley as part of Lip Service West. And it wasn’t an excerpt from my novel. It was a true story. Telling strangers about my life in Prague at age twenty-three made me feel vulnerable. What if they weren’t  judging my writing, but me as a person?









As I listened to the other authors read their stories, my heart threatened to pound out of my chest. What if I wasn’t as talented? What if I froze? I squeezed my fiancé’s hand. Not only was my mom there, along with my sister and my friends, but so were unfamiliar faces. Like… a lot of them. Then, before I knew it- it was my turn.









I stepped up to the mic and took a deep breath. I tried not to show my nerves, reading slowly, making eye contact and smiling. I even worked up the courage to do a silly Eastern European accent at one point, and got rewarded with laughs from the audience. When I finished I felt so relieved, eager to blend back in with the crowd. But my anxiety was gone. I felt tingles of pride. I’d done it…I’d put myself out there. And the best part? The people I love were there to congratulate me.









And afterwards we went out for some (much needed) beers!










As writers, we dream of being successful, jetting around the country to conferences and book signings. So what better way to prepare for this lifestyle then actually getting out there and practicing? I may be pretty far from my goal, but I got a taste of my author persona. (And she gets to wear eyeliner and have good hair. Not wander around the apartment in pajamas and Uggs)

The next time something scares you, think about doing it. Because it might just be totally worth the risk.