Dad says he has a clock on his computer that counts the amount of time he has left on earth. The clock takes your current age and a rough measure of your healthy habits (e.g. exercise sessions per week) and vices (e.g. smoke, drink), and then spits out your expected death.

“I’ve got about thirty years left,” he says. (He seems rather content about the whole thing).

I don’t have a death countdown on my computer, but I did download a similar app on my web browser: “Motivation“. It measures your current age and updates it real-time, down to the 9th decimal point. Each time you open a new browser tab, you must confront the reality that you are getting closer to death with every second that passes. How about that?

Screenshot 2015-10-19 at 2.28.34 PM
My age as of writing this post.

It’s hypnotizing to see all the decimal points ticking away. When I first downloaded it, the clock was at “20.1”. Where did all the months go? I can’t stop the clock, much as I would like to at times. No choice but to accept it.

Most days I don’t notice it. But when I do, it provides a good opportunity to ask this important question: what will I do with the time I have left?

Or on a smaller scale: what will I do before the end of the year?

(That question came with an underlying assumption — that I would be alive and well when the calendar reaches December 31st. Given that I have a special visitor coming in soon and that I’d like to see my family over the holidays, let’s hope that’s true!)

Special thanks to Thomas. I saw this on his computer, and then I downloaded it, too.

a brief thought about summer and lingering

Shortly before school ended I had a conversation with Geoffrey on the bench by Ledden Auditorium instead of going to class. We met a few years earlier. He would tutor me in the AP&M (Applied Physics and Mathematics) basement, and if it weren’t for him I would have flunked out of calculus my first year. He’s a Ph.D. student now and I’m still an undergrad, but we enjoy the same benches and beaches and books, and we bump into each other from time to time.

Skipping lecture runs contrary to the good-student-role, but I also remembered to keep it in perspective. There’s more to enjoy and learn from lingering on the bench with a good person instead of rushing from lecture to lecture, so I could cram a few extra facts I’d soon forget.

We talked about summer, among other things.

  • Summers are some of the best times of personal growth. You have time to reflect and take stock of all that you’ve done throughout the year. Am I going where I want to go? What are my priorities? Do my actions align with what I consider important to me? and other questions that often get buried in everyday busy work.
  • Also important is to cherish the current summer we have. There are really only a limited number of “true” restful, even idle summers in life. After I graduate (next year, eek!) there’s probably not going to be another summer when I can just stick my head in the clouds all day — unless I decide to go into academia. As for Geoffrey, he’s going on a cross-continental (the way he described it) road trip from California to New York and back over the summer, with a good friend from his exchange year. He says if he survives he’ll come back with good stories.

When I finally said goodbye, Geoffrey said: “I’m glad you stayed around as long as you did.” Me, too.



30 minutes late. Too late to sneak in without a sound or people looking, but I went in the lecture hall anyway.

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.

a thought on reading habits

photo credit: Cup of Tea and a Book via photopin (license)
photo credit: Cup of Tea and a Book via photopin (license)

Someone was telling me that they read over two full-fledged books a week while juggling their own start-up venture and an undergraduate computer science workload. I felt like a chump sitting next to him. Is that even possible? I asked.

“Sure, I just make time for it.”

Whether or not he was exaggerating about his reading pace is beside the point. Reading is not a competition, despite my first desire to match his pace just to prove that, hey, I am productive and smart and worldly, too. Funny how envy and competition work, even for someone who identifies himself as not being overly competitive. Sometimes I wonder if I’m kidding myself.

There is something to be said about having priorities in life though, and whether or not your current actions match those priorities. I tell people reading is important to me, and that I enjoy it (and I do), so why wasn’t I dedicating more time to it?

“I don’t have time for it” is not a legitimate excuse. Everybody has 24 hours in a day. How you choose to spend that time speaks volumes about what is important to you — more than any words can do. It’s why neglectful parents have such trouble reconnecting with their children in adulthood. “If you’d loved me so much, why didn’t you spend any time with me?”

For them, it is too late — the damage stays. The possibility of death may speed the healing process, but they’ll never be able to recover the lost years and the pain it caused.

But I don’t think it’s too late for reading.

My father likes to tell me about his college days (“some of the best years of my life”), and how he juggled 21+ units (a lot) of engineering coursework as an international student to save his own father money for tuition, all while dating Mom at the same time. Every night he would read for at least fifteen minutes before going to bed. The only condition for proper reading material? Nothing related to classwork.

The more he read, the more interested he became in the world (and curiously enough, the more interesting he became himself). The more he read, the less shy he became in talking with other people. And the more ideas he exposed himself to, the more he had to share.


The writer has done her part. All you have to do is open the book and be open to what she has to say. Who knows, maybe you’ll have some words of your own to give.