Category Archives: personal


At my old job, managers had a strategy for setting goals that can be boiled down to “shoot for the moon, land among the stars.” In other words, set unrealistically ambitious goals with the expectation that hitting even 70% of those goals should be considered a success. My understanding of why managers use this strategy are: 1) so that teams know what they would do if they had more resources during the year, and 2) so that teams come up with scalable strategies for reaching those goals that takes into account the “grand vision”.

Some reasons why I’m talking about this in my 2022 retrospective:

  1. In my first few years at that job, I felt immense pressure because I took company goals very literally and I worked a lot to meet those goals at 100% without realizing that everyone had an unspoken agreement that the goals didn’t actually have to be met. I wanted to spell this out for anyone newer to the workforce who feels the same pressure, but didn’t think it warranted a whole blog post.
  2. I’m still salty because our performance measured against those company goals was used to calculate our annual bonuses and that’s unfair, set realistic goals or don’t tie my compensation to the stupid moonshot goals, I just wanted to get that off my chest, but anyway I’m chill, I don’t even work there anymore.

Aside from those reasons, the most important idea I want to reflect on in this blog post is that I shouldn’t use this corporate ambitious 70% goal reaching mentality in my personal life. It sounds really simple when I say it out loud, but it took me this long to learn the lesson.

For example, setting a goal like “I want to read 100 books this year” doesn’t work for me. If I were a corporation, maybe I could convince myself that the spirit of this goal isn’t to literally read 100 books in a year, but to set up a lifestyle and habits that enable me to read very often. But I’m not a corporate machine, I’m a human being. I’m not going to “get more headcount” and I don’t have to design my lifestyle for endless increasing profit. As soon as I fall behind on a goal like this, I fizzle out and avoid it for the rest of the year. In fact, in 2022, I tried to “read more” as a goal, and I stopped reading regularly in March. There’s no team, managers, or risk to my livelihood if I give up on my goals, so I shouldn’t set personal goals as if I’m at work.

So I put these thoughts into practice for 2022. In September 2021, I had quit my job and started working with a personal trainer. By January, I was very excited about “fitness” and knew I wanted to build habits around it. The old me would have set aggressive numerical goals like “finish C25K” or “deadlift N pounds” for 2022.

Instead, this year, I started by writing down reasons why I really, truly wanted to set a goal around weightlifting. I knew that there were superficial, temporary motivations, like feeling insecure about my body image or wanting more muscle in order to have a faster metabolism. I asked myself what motivation I would hold onto when I’d inevitably say I didn’t really care about those superficial motivations. I came up with reasons that I knew I’d never be able to disregard: 1) I want to maintain muscle and bone strength as I get older (osteoporosis for older women is a real risk!), 2) I want to be fit and mobile enough to do everyday activities without feeling limited, and 3) for general cardiovascular health.

With this writing exercise, I made a personal connection to exercise that wasn’t tied to my physical appearance. I realized that I didn’t need to set a specific numeric goal for fitness because specific numbers don’t help me reach the “why” that I wrote above. Consistent, lifelong activity is what I was really trying to describe.

That’s how I decided that my 2022 fitness goal was simply, “don’t stop going to the gym”. If I had set some other aggressive goal like “finish C25K” or “something something Peloton”, I would have fizzled out like every other year that I set new year’s resolutions.

I thought I’d end 2022 feeling like I didn’t accomplish very much, but I’m actually proud of myself for setting a goal I was truly committed to, and not forgetting it for a whole year. In retrospect, my goal was somewhat SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound – but maybe not that specific). Framed differently, my goal wasn’t intimidating, so I never felt like I wasn’t going to be able to accomplish it, so I never stopped going to the gym. Additionally, because it was an explicit goal, I insisted on making it a non-negotiable part of my week. This year, I’m prouder than any other year because I finally stuck to something. I ended up feeling more accomplished this year with my “unambitious” goal than I felt for previous years where I fizzled out.

As a side note, my other goals for 2022 had a similar “zero ambition” strategy: I wanted to get cats and also get my driver’s license. I did both of these things!

With all that, for 2023, I now feel comfortable sharing my zero ambition / extremely achievable goals:

  1. Don’t stop taking long walks (at least once a week)
  2. Go to a dermatologist

For the first one, I realized my “why” isn’t related to how fast I can ride Peloton or how many miles I can run. What I really want is to be able to walk around and explore a city for hours without getting tired, and I’m not fit enough to do that today. So this year, I want to get better at walking and stop stressing myself out over running/cycling/intense cardio that makes me want to make excuses to skip it.

For the second one, I noticed how accomplished I felt for simply sticking to my driving lessons, so this year I want to keep up that energy by sticking to going to dermatology appointments and seeing how far I can get with treating my acne scars. Maybe I should frame it as “don’t stop going to the dermatologist.”

I look forward to a hopefully positive update in 12 months!

Balance and mental health

COVID-19 has made me pretty unhappy lately. I’m trying really hard to stay balanced, so I wanted to say all of this to make sure I have something to read later.

Back when I was in university, I was in a pretty deep spiral of anxiety and depression. I kept getting advice around that time that I should practice gratitude and positive thinking; for example, I should write down a list of all of the things I’m grateful for or all the ways that I’m privileged. That advice was infuriating to me. I lashed out at a lot of the people who gave me that advice and told them off for being insensitive because my mind was in such a bad state that I couldn’t think of anything positive or anything I was grateful for. At that time, I really wanted to say, I can’t stop thinking about dying all the time because I don’t want to have any of this life, so stop telling me to be grateful for the things that are hurting me.

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Japan 2020 trip notes

Over Christmas/New Years, I went to Hakone, Tokyo, and Hokkaido. I posted a ton of pictures on social media and got some messages from people saying they wanted to visit the places I went to.

I dumped all of my links into a table below so you can sort by location/type and plan your own trip. Below the table, you’ll also find my rough itinerary.

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I moved to

I published my first blog post on here in March 2013 (6 years and I’m still at it!!) and I talked about how I get intimidated when thinking about doing things that I’ve never done before, such as installing WordPress. At that time, I wrote:

When I learn new things, I’ll try to document what I learned to delineate exactly why I reached the conclusion that it was simple. Installing WordPress, for example, is only simple after you do it.

Today, I finally sat down and moved from to this new domain, You know when you log onto Turbo Tax and they ask you “How are you feeling about doing your taxes?” before you get started? I would definitely choose the frowny face option for how I felt about getting through this today. And six years ago, I would have chosen the “don’t ask” extra frowny option.

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What would it take to start my own company the way I want to?

I’ve been having the same conversation with myself over the past few months. Whenever I end up in a cycle like this, I like to write everything down. I think writing gives my brain permission to stop ruminating because it feels assured that I won’t forget. So this time, I’m going to share a little about what I’ve been thinking regarding starting a business!

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2017 Retrospective

I want to write down my memories of this year because I might forget them otherwise. I debated whether to publish this because, for the world, 2017 has been an awful year, worse than any other in my short memory. Yet it was a year of huge personal growth and professional success for me, and I still want to celebrate that, in a way that acknowledges my own privilege. I’m not sure what else I should say on this note other than that I recognize that I am fortunate, and I am grateful for what I have.

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Whistling Vivaldi: A Stereotype Threat I Didn’t Know Of

When Whistling Vivaldi was first recommended to me, my initial response was, “I already know what stereotype threat is. Why do I need to read about it?” I had never really given concentrated thought to stereotype threat in the broader context of society, or how it affected people who weren’t me. But this book gave me a deeper understanding of how stereotype threat happens and how it can be combated. My only regret from finally reading it is that I didn’t read it before starting college. Now that I’ve finally dragged myself to the finish line for my bachelor’s degree (after 6 years!), it seems especially bittersweet that this book helped me recognize some of what was happening to me right at the end of my journey.

I haven’t felt so compelled to share a book with other people in years. Reading, for me, is usually for entertainment or personal development, and I go from book to book without wanting to sit down and reflect in a way that is useful for others. This book is different. I feel obligated to share Whistling Vivaldi because it made me burst into tears from recognition of my own past pain. I didn’t think I needed affirmation that my experiences in college were shared by others, but I did. This book gave me time to reflect on moments of self-doubt from the past and helped me re-interpret them in the context of stereotype threat instead.

This book is useful both as a tool for self-reflection (even if you don’t consider yourself as a minority!) and as a tool for supporting others. I want more people affected by stereotype threat to read this book so they can have the time to think back on their own experiences and how they were impacted. I want more people in general to read this book to gain empathy for what students, coworkers, and friends might be suffering from without realizing.

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The Harm in Being a Diversity Pick

When I was 17, I desperately wanted colleges to accept me based only on my academic achievements — my “merit” — without consideration for external factors. My family and school counselors insisted that I emphasize my immigrant family / low income status in order to gain sympathy from admissions officers. To me, that meant not getting into my dream school through my own talent. I spent my first year at Stanford doubting myself and fearing that people would realize I wasn’t talented enough to be there. This sounds like textbook impostor syndrome, but it was worsened by constant comments about my minority status. Students from other high schools said they wished they had my background so they could get into whatever schools they wanted. Everyone assumed it must have been easy for me to get accepted. Stanford likes poors like me. Of course I got in. I learned to not mention my upbringing because people would think less of my qualifications and belonging at Stanford if they knew.

At the end of my sophomore year, I was lucky to end up in a required writing course with a black professor who understood what I was going through (having spent over a decade working on social justice issues). She encouraged me to investigate affirmative action stigma for my term paper as a way of understanding my own feelings about being a “diversity pick.” My paper focused on research surrounding the psychological impact of being considered a diversity pick on minority students. That research is what I want to summarize now.

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The Impact of Diversity on Everything

I’m a Vietnamese American woman in technology. That is not synonymous with being an Asian American in technology. Here’s the shortest summary of my background I can give: My parents escaped Vietnam on a boat and moved to the United States in 1990 with barely any understanding of the English language. We grew up poor and I pulled myself through high school and university with little guidance from others. I worked after school until 10–11pm several nights a week throughout high school for my family. My high school nearly lost accreditation while I was there, which would have made my diploma useless. There’s so much more to my upbringing than that, but I’ll save it for another time.

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