my brother graduated from high school today

I wasn’t able to attend the ceremony, but Mom sent me some photos over text and my brother Jeremy sent me some funny snapchats. I asked him over the phone if he was getting sentimental about it. Nah, not really, he said.

I wonder how I felt about high school graduation three years ago. Like him, I was ready to move on. But when I look back, I actually had a great high school experience. I try not to speak for other people, but it looks like he did, too.

Many of the teachers he had, I once had. And some of the activities and teams I joined (cross-country running, badminton), he also joined.  So it was fun to ask him throughout the years what he thought of the same teachers and the same experiences. Even funnier when we notice the same quirks about the folks who dared to teach and coach rowdy teenagers for a living. We are brothers, after all.

So those are the phone conversations I will miss. No more juicy gossip from a place I once knew.

“stay dry” as a goodbye

Odd hearing that in San Diego. It rarely rains, and when it does, it’s usually just a bunch of overcast skies and a light drizzle. The most that ever happens is that the fabric seat on my bicycle absorbs all the rainwater, so I walk into class looking like I soiled myself.

Geoffrey and I had a conversation on a wooden bench yesterday about this (among other things). We’d both take periods of storms over constant half-assed sprinkles any day. Storms are cathartic. Light sprinkles just leave you expecting and wanting more. Maybe it’s the shared physical risk that comes from being belted with the kinds of winds that can knock over trees, or getting hit from hail the size of golf balls. Maybe it’s because the harsh weather outside makes for better reading weather, and makes for a better excuse to get cozy with one another (not that you needed an excuse, but it helps). Or maybe it’s because it just leaves for a better show.

But the weather never takes your personal preferences into consideration. Why should it?

pierre’s coffee tip

Pierre likes coffee. Me, too. But Pierre from Normandy (not sure if that’s related) says he likes to put pepper in his, especially when he has a lot of reading to do at once. Here’s how he goes about it:

  1. Pour half a cup of coffee into the mug.
  2. Sprinkle lots of crushed black pepper (just the generic ones from the grocery store) into the coffee.
  3. Pour the rest of the coffee inside.

I generally stay away from peppers in drinks, but Pierre swears by it. Works well with mint tea, too, he says.

not nancy

The basement of Geisel Library has these super-sweet headphones that you can borrow with your student I.D. — the kind that curls around your ear and makes it so that Taylor Swift can serenade you as you write your e-mails and do your homework.

I tend to go into the library during the same times, so I see the same folks behind the receptionist counter. One woman in particular has a warm smile that can brighten the entire room.

“Hi there, could I borrow some headphones?”

“Sure”, she would say. Or: “sorry, we’re out.”

“Okay, no worries.” I knew her in no other context, although I would find myself hoping to see her again whenever I borrow headphones.

Then last Friday I saw her up in the town of Del Mar; apparently we both knew the birthday boy. We had a solid conversation about what we wanted to do with our lives in the backyard. She wants to be a middle school or high school teacher, “even if they’re a handful”. I didn’t have a straight answer myself, but I said something about education or healthcare looking interesting, since I’ve found that “uhh, I don’t know” never really gives anything for the other person to build off of or respond to in conversations (even if it’s true). She gave me her beer.

This morning she recognizes me. “Wesley, right?” I’m elated that she remembers, but now I feel doubly bad for not remembering hers. Most library employees wear a name tag, but she is not wearing hers today. (Of course that would happen).  I remember everything else!! I wanted to say.

“Nancy, right?”

“It’s Haley.”

There are bigger things to worry about in the world, but it’s still embarrassing.

chasing happiness

I went to a student talk about finding happiness and fulfillment the other day. He introduced himself as a motivational coach, bouncing around the stage, projecting his voice and striking the same power poses I saw in that TED talk about the importance of body language. He was a smiley guy.

I like to think of myself as a smiley guy, too, so I was curious if we shared similar perspectives on life. I found him afterwards and asked: “so what do you do when you’re sad?” 

I ask this because when you’re known as a smiley person, sometimes people (usually acquaintances) will begin to question your motives, your sanity, and your place in your life. They’ll make comments like:

  1. You must not have any problems in life. [creating distance; “you don’t have it rough like I do”]
  2. You must be on drugs. [creating distance; you’re not normal]
  3. You’re like a cartoon character. [creating distance; you’re not human]

After a while it starts to hurt. I have other thoughts and feelings, too! I wondered if he felt the same kind of disconnect at times.

“No man, you just gotta stay positive, day after day. You gotta make it a habit until it becomes a part of you”. It was just the two of us speaking, but he still kept the stage persona. The conversation didn’t go further than that, and I walked away feeling frustrated.

I’m all for healthy habits, but there’s also the point where you have to acknowledge other emotions, too. What about loneliness? Disappointment? Envy? Anger?

Know the scope of those “negative” emotions and you will find new ways to relate and connect with the people you care about. That’s where true emotional depth and fulfillment comes from.

But hey, maybe he knows something I don’t.

what happens when you’re the most clueless person in the group

Last quarter I found myself working with some incredible people. Older, disciplined, and with the skills & enthusiasm to bring their big ideas to life. They’re the kind of people you would look at and say, “yeah, they have it together.” In other words: you want to be in their group for a school project.

And I was! How exciting.

But then doubt started to settle in: I was the most junior out of the three. I had no experience. No intuition or previous exposure to the relevant subject. (Meanwhile, they both had years of research and industry experience). Intelligence and growth are not static, but I wouldn’t be able to match their expertise within a semester, let alone a year. This wasn’t pessimism speaking, just reality.

At first it felt more comfortable to put the doubt on them. Why did they ask me to join their group? They must have made a mistake in asking me.  How long will it take for them to realize that? All those questions were a way of dodging the underlying fear: that I would never measure up to their abilities, and that halfway through the semester, they would find out that I’m no good and boot me out of the group.


That never happened. They were both very sweet and encouraging, but I remember stressing a lot about that.

A better way to look at it:

When you are working with people who are, objectively speaking, out of your league — realize that there is still something you can offer, even if it is just a different perspective. Get three different people from the same discipline and position in life and you will have three different people offer the same solution to the problem. That’s why you’re in the mix: to put some fresh blood into the group.

Work less on judging on yourself, and work more on what you can give to the group and to other people. You’ll find that:

  1. The quality of your output will improve.
  2. The group dynamics will improve. (it’s exhausting to always have to affirm to another person that yes, they are wanted in the group, and that yes, they are doing a fine job)
  3. And you, yourself, will improve. (all that time spent judging is now spent on your growth as a human being, and on the well-being of the people you care about)

All this from a subtle change in mindset.