Building My Skill Set For The Career I Want

My job is not going to get better. It’s not just the weekend work, though there is that. It’s that I’m not doing the type of work I want. And that’s something I either have to stick out or actively change.

The type of work I want to do has this common thread. Writer, tinkerer, editor, data journalist, director. I want to tell stories. Whether it be through words or visual images or podcasts or objects. Whether real or fiction. A good story makes me feel whole.

To get there, though, I need two things: (1) financial stability to do the work on my terms and (2) the skills to actually be able to tell a story. Become a better writer, learn how to spec out designs, get those audio engineering skills, etc. Whatever it is, I don’t want to find myself eight years from now at financial independence starting from zero. I want to have ideas and the capacity to execute on those ideas. And in order to do that, I need to be putting in the work not just in my finances.

I asked my fiancé where he thought I should start: create a podcast, start writing short stories again, or work on data visualization projects? I need to focus only on one thing at a time. He said I should try the dataviz. It’d be easier on my introversion than an interview podcast. Besides, it’d be pretty.

Honestly, I have the biggest mental block with regard to the dataviz path. Looking up libraries to use, learning a new set of frameworks, etc. It all feels way too much like work. Those initial steps before getting into the flow of coding are always a big on pain and low on pleasure. I’ve also failed at getting myself to focus on this before.

There are benefits going down the dataviz path though. For one, it would be a legitimate career transition. I’d be closer to doing something I like and make good money. For another, I have some skill already. Even if it’s not at the level I want it to be, I’ll be able to see results and level up quicker than through other creative pursuits. Plus I already have a project in mind.

The only question now is how much time I’m going to dedicate. I need to block off chunks of time. Otherwise, mid-task, I know I’m going to feel like things are too hard and get distracted by blogs or YouTube or whatever else. For now, I’m going to schedule two four-hour sessions a week, using Freedom to kick me out of my distraction. Taking it one step at a time.

What is the career you want to have? How do you plan to get there?

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Food, Money, And Self-Care

When I was an undergrad, money was tight. My parents didn’t have much in the way of income, so I was able to get a lot of grants and scholarships for school covering my tuition, room, and board. But, fun fact: scholarship money is only tax-deductible if it goes toward tuition and fees. Which meant most of what I earned from my part-time work tutoring and TA’ing had to be saved to pay a multi-thousand dollar tax bill each April.

Now, I was by no means in dire straights, but I had very little money to work with for personal spending. I usually had it all planned by each September, a necessity if I wanted to make my paycheck last until summer. Two cross-country flights– once during winter and once during the summer– made up the majority of my budget. I didn’t wear make-up and I never bought clothes; by senior year most of my tops were company-branded tees I’d gotten at career fairs.

And yet, there was always one thing I made sure I had a little bit of fun money for: food.

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Mmmm, sushi

Starting in my junior year, when I had a little more pocket money from dropping my university’s meal plan, I let myself get takeout once a week on Fridays. I remember, there was a tiny sushi shop right by the engineering buildings where, for right around $12, I could get a feast of a lunch that was more delicious than it had any right to be: chirashi laid over a perfectly seasoned bed of sushi rice, a deeply umami miso soup, a small salad with a light sweet ginger sauce, and a couple of pieces of tempura and shumai to round out the meal. Or on days I was feeling like something really hardy, I’d get a plate as big as my head of unaju-don. Everything delicious and salty and decadent, I’d eat my food at the counters out front looking to the tall trees lining campus as little rays of sunshine streaming through the tall windows warmed my arms and face.

Little moments like these have gotten me through years both good and bad. Making myself chicken ginger soup with spaghetti when I’m sick, getting that french apple pie from the local baker after a rough day, celebrating with friends over hot pot. Even eating a single fried egg over steamed white rice is like experiencing a moment of peace, sending me back to my childhood when meals, like everything else, were simpler, slower, and meant to be savored.

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Tastes like home

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less price sensitive to the types of meals I eat. Which is great insofar as I have been able to have interesting and delightful gustatorial experiences. But it hasn’t been so great from the perspective of my monthly food spending.

Sometimes I wonder how much of this spending comes from the pure joy of food and how much of it is using food to do my emotional labor for me. Like I could deal with my growing sense of burnout at work, or… I could ignore that and cook my CSA box instead. I could map out my next career step, but I think I’d rather go try out the new Mexican-Korean fusion restaurant down the street.

This becomes particularly acute when it comes to bad days. Bunch of deadlines looming? Maybe I should “treat myself” to sushi. Had to sit through a set of emotionally difficult meetings at the office? Well, I was going to get the ground beef but maybe we’ll upgrade to the lamb chops.

To some degree, food is a convenient distraction. Everyone needs to eat, most of us do it multiple times a day. But it’s also something from which I derive great pleasure. It’s no wonder that the food and my emotions would become inextricably linked, both in times happy and ill. Good food is like a friend to me; I’ve never had troubles with eating too much or too little. It’s just always been there, as supportive and comforting as can be, saying, I know things are hard right now but here, savor this, you can always take it slow.

Do you have an emotional connection to food? What sort of hobbies or things do you use for emotional self-care?

Working On The Weekend

I planned to write a “real” post (insofar as this blog is ever more than slightly curated stream of consciousness) but then my entire weekend got eaten up by work, procrastinating on work, and this stupidly addictive paperclip factory game. So I’m going to keep it short.

The past few weeks I’ve been falling behind at my job. In part due to factors out of my control, but also partly because I’m in a bit of a funk. I’m not sure what to label it– is it imposter syndrome or anxiety or just I think I’m generally just done with this job. Regardless, it’s meant that my time management has been wanting. That, on top of a busy month, means I’ve been bringing work home on the weekends more than I’d like just to meet deadlines.

On the bright side, I often derive a weird pleasure from working on the weekends. The office is quiet and empty. I have more room to focus and actually get things done. I can even work from the comfort of my own bed if I want.

But on the other hand, working in the off-time also means I can’t recoup after a difficult week. It makes it harder for me to feel refreshed the next Monday. And my poor CSA delivery, which I usually cook Friday evenings, still wallows in its crate, the kale leaves yellowing as we speak!

For now I just need to push about two weeks longer before I get a much-needed break. Here’s hoping I make it through.

Do you ever have to work weekends? How do you keep up during difficult times at your job?

Mindful Internet Usage: Freedom App Review

This is not a sponsored post, no affiliate links. As always, all opinions are my own. 

There’s a lot of talk nowadays about people needing to decouple from the internet. Internet gurus– ironically?– offer us respites in the form of digital “fasts”, “detoxes”, “diets”. Like candy, the empty calories of morning listicles are leaving us feeling lethargic and distracted. And it’s not just that constant connection via smartphones is lowering our productivity. It is believed that new technology is causing teens to experience a sudden spike in suicide and rates of depression.

Now, I don’t know how much of these calamitous warnings are the first outcries of a major public health crisis vs. “kids these days” but I do know my brain and, in particular, my concentration has nosedived since I started using a smartphone. My eyes are generally tired from staring at a screen. I have less patience to push through difficult tasks. And, in general, I’m beginning to question how much control I have over my technology vs. the control it has on me.

In an attempt to rescue my brain from the depths of mindless internet browsing, I uninstalled all the apps from my phone that had me clicking for vague dopamine hits. That meant disabling my Slack, uninstalling Poshmark, and– worst of all– removing Mint from my mobile front page. Gasp!

But it wasn’t just my phone. Oh no. I’d spend hours throughout the morning and evenings vaguely reading blogs, shopping online, watching videos to distract myself. And at the end of the day, I felt tired, in a fog, and generally like my life was slipping by.

And so, I downloaded the Freedom app to help me regain control.

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Freedom is a multi-platform app that helps you block distracting sites on Mac, Windows, and iOS. Freedom allows you to define which sites you want to block (grouped as blocklists) and when you want them to be blocked (defined in sessions).

When defining your blocklists, Freedom makes recommendations of oft-distracting sites you probably want limited access to like Netflix, Instagram, Reddit, etc. In addition, you can manually add other domains to your blocklist. For instance, here’s my Shopping blocklist:                                                      freedom3You can make any number of blocklists to define different types of sites you might want to block or leave open during an internet session. So, for instance, I have separate “Shopping” and “Personal Finance” blocklists in case I want to remain free from ebay while in the middle of blogging.

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When deciding when to block sites, you can schedule a session to occur immediately, in the future, or on a recurring basis. Since I want to start my mornings and evenings on the right foot, I’ve blocked all my mindless browsing sites before noon and between 5-8 PM every day. On top of that, I’ve blocked all my target sites during regular business hours, so I don’t get distracted when I’m working from home.

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If you think you’ll have an itch to suspend your session, you can also put yourself into “locked mode” which means you cannot disable Freedom in the middle of a session by yourself (though if you are desperate enough, you can send in a support request to their team to unlock you).

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“Don’t push the red button”

Right now there are a lot of Freedom 40% discount codes floating around so the service, normally $29/year can be had for $17.40/year instead. In addition, with a subscription you also get access to Offtime, which is helpful for doing a full multi-platform detox on Android as well.

Already, I’m about a week into using Freedom on my laptop and Offtime for my phone. As far as initial progress goes, I can recenter myself a lot more easily now with less screen time. I still feel easily distracted, like I have extra fidgety energy to burn, and throughout the day I’m still grabbing at my phone only to realize I can’t do anything with it. But, since I don’t have Poshmark at my beck and call any more, I’m slightly more eager to redirect that energy to working or, in my off time, exercise, cooking, and other forms of physical self-care that allow my mind a break from the glare of the screen.

How do you stay mindful while browsing the internet?

Perfectionist Consumerism

I hate buying things only to have them fall apart. I remember once seven years ago buying a cutlery set from Target that rusted over in about three months. I think the fact that I am still sore about it to this day is a pretty good indication of how obsessed I can be about wasting money on non-optimal things.

When I make a purchase, I try to buy at the top of the inflection in the price vs. quality curve. This often requires hours of research. I have on my bookmark bar Wirecutter, Sweethome, Consumer Reports, and Reddit’s BIFL forum. I spent days trawling Angie’s List, Houzz, and NextDoor when trying to find contractors to work on our renovations. Even with food, there are few places I’ll eat that I haven’t already thoroughly vetted either through my foodie friends or Yelp.

Often, when in search for the “perfect” thing, I come to find it doesn’t exist. Or that it’s too expensive. And rather than compromise on my standards, spending or otherwise, I choose not to buy anything at all. Which is, I suppose, one method of frugality.

Because of this analysis paralysis, I didn’t buy a blender until we could afford a Vitamix (which is awesome, by the way). And we still don’t have a vacuum because Miele canister vacuums, like the ones Wirecutter recommends, are expensive. If I’m going to shell out $100+ to do, ugh, chores! then that vacuum better not leave a crumb and last twenty years to boot.

Sometimes I can’t tell whether this makes me mindful in my spending or just a very particular consumerist. In any case, it seems to keep money in my pocket and junk out of my house.

Are you a buy-it-for-life-er? Do you hold out for the “perfect” purchase?