Interview with a Former Cancer Patient

Irish Jain, 20, is cancer-free for three-years now and I had the opportunity to ask her questions that I am curious about.

In movies, people who were cured of an illness, they announced that, “From now on, I’m gonna live life with no regrets!” and so I asked her if that was how she felt when her doctor announced that she was cancer free. And her answer went something like this:

“When I became cancer-free, I didn’t go like “I want to go skydiving!” instead, I just went back to normal. From home-schooling, I went back to school a month after. I think the only thing that changed in me was I know what my priorities are now.

Even if I got lots of homework, I do not stress myself so much on it or stay up late all night just to finish it. Instead, I prioritize my health and sleep early. Because when I was literally in a life-and-death situation, the thoughts that crossed my mind weren’t school or academic work, its my family and friends.

And it’s something that I feel is super important to share to everyone who’s going through finals or midterms right now. Academic work is not the end goal of life. There is so much more to life than school or university. Hence, please take breaks and take time to do something that you really want and not something that someone has assumed that it was important in YOUR life.

Also, if I looked back on my year 2019, what I remembered was not the deadlines but rather, when I was volunteering, writing, reading, and playing board games with my community and my family. This goes to show what my priorities are and even though the academic workload is heavy these past few days, I remembered what Irish had shared to me and I’ll just be so so grateful that I am living, breathing, and stealing some free time for myself, to live.

A little bit everyday turns massive in the future

Writer Robin Sloan writes, “Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people you exist. Stock is the durable stuff. It’s in the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.”

And this is something that I see in myself the past few months.

For example, last April 2020, my curiousity piqued in human-centered prisons after watching this short video created by Vox and 99 pi.
The video resonated so much to me that I even wrote a blog post related to it: Would You Support Humane Prison Design In Your Own Country? Why or Why Not? (published April 2020). Since then, I indulged in resources relating to human-centered design and prisons. I got a writing internship in June and by August, I messaged our head asking if I could work on an article related to Human-centered Prisons. With her green light, I began working on it. The whole time I was working on it, I was scared, terrified sometimes, because I wasn’t an expert. My curiousity is the only thing in me but I started to look at it as a good thing. I may not be an expert but I know I can contribute something to the conversation. Long story short, I accomplished the article entitled: Rethinking Prisons. A few weeks after, I wrote another similar article, but shorter and more opinionated, for our college newspaper: Why We Should Build Human-Centered Prisons.

What started out as notes and just following my curiousity became an opportunity for me to share what I learned.

“But the thing about keeping notebooks is that you have revisit them in order to make the most out of them. You have to flip back through old ideas to see what you’ve been thinking,” writes Austin Kleon in hus book Show Your Work! “Once you make sharing part of your daily routine, you’ll notice themes and trends emerging in what you share. You’ll find patterns in your flow.”

This is also the reason why I keep commonplace notebooks and read it religiously. I’m always on a lookout for any patterns. All of my blogposts are from patterns too. If you had read most of them, you’ll notice that ideas are overlapping with each other. I built into it every now and then.

I never imagined that my curiousity could grow into something. Whenever I remember how my journey went, I became much much more confident in acting on my ideas even though the future looked so uncertain.

It’s not how smart you are in the field or how skilled you are. What matters is what you contribute. Author James Clear wrote tips on how to get started as a writer and the last tip states, “Write about what fascinates you. You don’t need to be an expert. Curiousity leads to expertise.

Small things when accumulated turns into something massive. Do not worry about not having a big idea, just continue working first on where your curiousity leads you.

Author Paul Graham advices:

“The way to get a big idea to appear in your head is not to hunt for bìg ideas, but to put in a lot of time on work that interests you, and in the process keep your mind open enough that a big idea can take roast… Put in time how and on what? Just pick a project that seems interesting: to master some chunk of material, or to make something, or to answer some question. Choose a project that will take less than a month, and make it something you have the means to finish. Do something hard enough to stretch you, but only just, especially at first. If you’re deciding between two projects, choose whichever seems most fun. If one blows up in your face, start another. Repeat till, like an internal combustion engine, the process becomes self-sustaining, and each project generates the next one. (This could take years!)”

Commonplace Book

My own commonplace books!

Commonplace books is where I jot down passages, paragraphs, sentences from books, articles, movies, documentaries, and speeches that resonates with me.

Sometimes, it hasn’t even resonated with me yet but the way the author stated it is beautiful and I just write it down.

I got the idea of writing down sentences that I want to remember from Ryan Holiday. He shared in his book that he kept index cards wherein quotes are written in there and the ideas stated in his books are all from his index cards.

And while I was reading that more than a year ago, I thought that its cool and I wanted to try that too. And so I did.

For everything that I read or heard that I found beautiful, I write. And not until a few days ago did I learn that what I previously call ‘quotes notebooks’ are actually called commonplace books and it has been practiced by a lot of people!

Here is what journalist Dwight Garner wrote about his own commonplace book: “I use it as an aide-mémoire, a kind of external hard drive. It helps me ward off what Christopher Hitchens, quoting a friend, called CRAFT (Can’t Remember a F— Thing) syndrome.”

One of the reasons why I continue to jot down in my commonplace books is because I want to remember.

I considered going for my phone to jot down but most of the time, I just want to sit down and read my quotes notebook without a lot of distractions and getting tempted to open other applications.

Also, one thing that I’m fascinated in is how I have read them dozens of times and yet, somehow, I still get new connections from them. That this paragraph from an author is actually connected to the one this person stated. Or I have read something new and a quote from my commonplace book is actually related to that but they are not even the same person!

And commonplace books are where I get blog post ideas and that is why my blog posts are full of what other people has stated and I am not complaining. They are amazing, amazing people. They expressed what I want to be said better than I can and they shared something that I do not know and hence, I’m so grateful to have an avenue where I can share what I learn, that hopefully as much as it resonated with me, it can resonate with others too.

I thought about reading other people’s commonplace books must be so exciting of an activity because it shows what you prioritize, what you value, and what you focus on. Like for example, Ryan Holiday’s index cards are mostly about stoicism.

Mine’s all over the place but most of my quotes are somewhere along psychology and design. And it shows how you grow over time. Mine started with a lot of stoicism passages, then moved on to sentences about creativity, then went on about being an artist and showing your work, and now, its more of being grateful and living life.

Consider starting one and watch yourself grow through the pages!

Make your own Bible.

I have this notebook that contains design projects that are human-centered or empathizes with its users and I actually refer it as my Bible.

Those projects I wrote in that notebook are things that I want to remember especially once I partake a job. And somehow, those things that I wrote in my Bible became stepping stones to the start of my design blog and I started writing articles in our college newspaper about how space design can affect users.

Until now, even though my ‘Bible’ is full, I still go back to it from time to time because my plates in my design subject are human-centered so my Bible acts as my guide.

Moreover, I find it interesting that there are so many others before me who have their own Bible as well, and that Ralph Waldo Emerson actually recommended to everyone to create one,

Make your own Bible. Select and collect all those words and sentences that in all your reading have been to you like the blast of a trumpet out of Shakespeare, Seneca, Moses, John, and Paul.

Aside from a design notebook, I also have a quotes notebook.

I don’t know what career title I want to take in five years

I started committing to this blog around April 2020 and it has been a road full of exciting possibilities since then. I am aware that in order to have an output, I had to make an input—read, listen, watch, feel.

And since then too, I learned so much from the comfort of my home than I ever did in my first year of university. The Internet completely changed how I view myself and the world. And it hasn’t been around for like 50 years???

And one of the best thing that I learned is its definitely okay to follow what’s interesting to you at the moment.

I always write about this in order to remind myself: It’s okay to not follow the desired path. Continue following your interests and desires. Continue doing your hobbies. Continue spending your free time from university on what YOU wanted to do, instead of what the society wants you to do.

And since having this mindset—on focusing on the work and not any career title—my future became less and less clear to me and that thought makes it even more exciting.

If someone (and I know someone will ask me sooner or later) where do I see myself in five years, I will honestly say, I don’t know.

I like overthinking about the future but I want to be at peace with myself and unapologetically state the truth that I don’t know and that’s okay.

Writing and reading has completely changed my life. And like I mentioned, when I started having my interests and desires as my compass, every day seems to be an adventure. I never know what I may find, what opportunities I will attract, what ideas I will receive, and people I will know of (recently, I discovered Ali Abdaal through one of my favorite authors—who I discovered just by following my interest too—Austin Kleon and god. why did I just knew him now?? Please do check his youtube channel thank you)

Last year, I never knew that I’ll start a personal blog nor a design blog. I never knew nor even dreamed of that I’ll be interested in human-centered design, study of play, creativity, and joy. But I did.

And this goes to show how unpredictable the future can be and hence, I will not stress myself out on trying to figure out what I want to do in the future and instead, be at peace with myself right now.

A few tips from the amazing Unjaded Jade (she got this tips from an incredible business woman she did not mention her name though):

1. Give yourself options.

And you do this by gaining lots of different skills i.e. following that most interests you right now and never minding whether its something related to a career or not. just do it. Then move on to the next interesting thing you find.

2. Put effort into everything that you do.

So now you followed the interesting things, next thing is of course, the work. Make sure you learn through this experience. Make every day count.

Lastly, if you do have a plan for the next five years, that’s great! I love how you plan things out. I see you.

But for me, although I do not have exactly a five year plan, I do have values. Values, hobbies, interests, and desires that will lead the way for me as I go on to these unpredictable life.

Pursue Joy

“Joy is a form of resilience.” I will repeat, “Joy is a form of resilience.

How so?

Many consider joy as this frivolous emotion. One can even say that it is unimportant and should not be given a time of the day. But is it really?

Joy Vs Happiness

As a culture, we have been obsessed in pursuing happiness. (Happiness comes from the inside but that is another matter to talk about)

But actually, what we should do is pursue joy.

Happiness is an emotion pertaining to that you feel over a long period of time. So, for example, let’s say, I’m a student and when I say, “I’m happy right now.” What that means is that I feel happy about yesterday and the days before that. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t awful moments but over time, I feel good overall about what happened.

On the other hand, joy pertains to right now. It’s the feeling when you want to jump up and down or giggle or laugh because of a joke. And this is why pursuing joy is much more important that pursuing happiness. Because joy is what’s happening around us every time. Writing this blog makes me feel joy. And in retrospect, when all of these joyful moment add up, I can say that I am happy with how I live. So maybe, we are only happy in retrospect. Hence, it is why pursuing joy is more important that pursuing happiness

Why is Joy Important?

Going back to my first sentence, “Joy is a form of resilience.” is from designer and author Ingrid Fetell Lee.

And she explained why in a blog post. First off, she wrote that we tend off to put off joy. For example, “Oh! I will work full head-on for 9 hours and then I’ll watch a movie.” We see joy as a reward for our hardwork.

But actually, Lee suggests that we should incorporate joy into our daily lives. Basically, joy is a tool that we can use to cope up with stress.

She explained further, “Small moments of joy help the cardiovascular system recover from stress. When we feel stressed, our bodies floor with chemicals like cortisol and epinephrine which raise our heart rate and blood pressure, keep us alert and focused, and help us respond to the challenges at hand. This is an adaptive response to stress, and it works well when it’s temporary. If stress becomes chronic, on the other hand, this places strain on the body and can lead to exhaustion and illness. But when we experience joy, such as watching something funny, taking a little while to become absorbed in play, or spending time in nature, it gives our bodies a break from this stress response, enabling us to recover.

Thus, joy is not frivolous. It’s actually important for our body, especially our mental health.

Small Moments of Joy

Knowing this information, I had to apply it. Assignments and academic readings are piling up but I’m ‘stealing ‘ some time just to be.

I acknowledge that I am more than my academics. And the life that I want to live is not something that is in the direction of academics, hence, I go my own path.

One thing that I do and probably my most favorite apart from writing is soaking energy from the sun.

Around 3 pm- 4pm, I get up, after being huddled for hours on my desk, and go in our porch.

Without having to go outside, the sun direction is right there at the gate and that is where I can get energy from the sun.

Honestly, one of the highlights of my day. And I am reminded of what Andy Grammer wrote in his song Keep Your Head Up:

The glow that the sun gets
Right around sunset
Helps me realize
That this is just a journey
Drop your worries
You are gonna turn out fine.
Oh, you turn out fine.
Fine, oh, you turn out fine.

Whether I failed during the day or experienced something terrible, the sun’s gonna be there. Always. And its gonna be there until I die. Whatever I am worrying about it is gonna be fine. It will pass. Other things that I do during the day to feel joy is listening to my favorite music, showering after a long day, watching korean variety shows, and reading a great book that will keep me immersed for hours. And not to mention, there are tons of other things that unexpectedly show up during my day that brought me joy. Like a few days ago, I discovered a website that has a very interesting UI on its homepage, and just the other day, I finally owned a copy of a book that I’ve been waiting for MONTHSS!!!

Basically, pursuing joy is me telling myself that I will not succumb to being a machine and taking care of myself. In addition, joyful things that unexpectedly came my way are a reminder that life is full of miracles and casual magics. I also believe that what I put out in the world, that is what I get back. And these miracles are what I get back.

Why would I spend time thinking about someone who doesn’t even love me?

When I read this from James Clear’s newsletter, I was stunned. First, I’ll share it to all:

Actress Viola Davis on handling criticism:

“I don’t have any time to stay up all night worrying about what someone who doesn’t love me has to say about me.”

Source: Viola Davis’ Battle with Low Self-Esteem

And for someone who has extremely low self-esteem, this is just what I needed to hear, not to mention that I really love Viola Davis in How to Get Away with Murder.

In class, we are asked to present our work individually and actually seeing my classmates’ works, I started to overthink. And here comes the worst part, I started comparing.

Comparing is good only if its on a realistic level. For example, I’m someone who is just a beginner in composing music (Note: This is only an example. I am not composing any music and I do not know how to play any instruments, but who knows? in the future, I might be interested in learning one.) I barely have an experience and it is extremely unhealthy if I compare my work to Mozart’s or Beethoven’s who have decades and decades of experience. Hence, if I compared my works to them, I’ll probably not continue pursuing songwriting at all because I’ll end up thinking, “My works will never be like them anyways.”

For me, comparing is good if it gets you to do better. Let’s say I admire a work of my classmate and its not necessarily on a level of “Worldwide Popular” but it gets me thinking that, ‘Oh. I can’t do that yet but I can do that once I learned what I needed to learn.’ Basically, the bar is not that high. Hence, it makes it realistically achievable given that I spend time learning and practicing.

Anyways, going back to where I said that we will present our work individually, I did not have the courage to volunteer to present my work (BUT the good thing is that I can still present next meeting) because I was so afraid of what my classmates would think of.

BUT (capitalize for emphasis)

Good thing, classes ended earlier and hence, I snapped out of ruminating.

I remember that THIS is my life. I am here, not to impress anyone with what I can do, but for me. FOR ME.

Yes, there is a possibility that they may think of not really good things about my work BUT that is outside of my control.

I get to say what I can and cannot do.

Presenting my work and having the opportunity to hear constructive criticisms from my professor is what I wanted to do. And what other people may think should not be an impediment nor even a factor whether I should change my decision.

What my inner soul wants me to do is to learn, to hear comments about my work from my professor. And that is what I’m gonna do.

I should not even waste a second of my time here on Earth, dimming my light just so I would not destroy my self-made image to other people. There is no self-image. I’m just me.

So, I’m grateful to actress Viola Davis for her perspective. It helped me remember on what is the significant. Though, it’s not easy to change perspectives. I will always remember that every day is a new day to do my best.

Today, I would not have written this if I had the courage to present nor would I have this realizations. So, either way, I choose to be joyful and to understand my decisions.

Have a great day.

Advice to my younger self

Whenever I interview someone, I always ask them this question: What is your advice to your younger self?

The way they answer this questions says so much about themselves and how they had lived their life through the years.

And its amazing how your answer to this question varies from time to time and I would like to do one as well. In the future, I, myself, will look back and read this and remember what I value during this day.

• Continue doing your hobbies and follow your interests. Never mind what society tells you what you should do. You are better off and more alive when you choose to do something that you want and this is your life. You decide what to do.

• Just create. Not for the sake of the possible outcomes but for the joy of it. Like what Kurt Vonnegut said, just by doing something, you have experienced becoming and have made your soul grow. So just create.

• Do not reject yourself. Believe in yourself. Yes, you may be anxious, scared, or inexperienced but while you are feeling these things, continue to do. You will feel much much better in retrospect knowing that you have not constrained yourself inside the castle of excuses.

• Lastly, small things and steps do matter. You might feel overwhelmed about starting something so big but just start. You can do anything you set out to do. Also, have faith and be human.

What’s yours?

You cannot predict how smart or skilled a person can be.

In the book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, psychologist Carol Dweck wrote,

“Benjamin Bloom, an eminent educational researcher studied 120 outstanding achievers. They were conert pianists, sculptors, Olympic swimmers, world-class tennis players, mathematicians, and research neurologists.

Most were not that remarkable as children and didn’t show clear talent before their training begain in earnest. Even by early adolescence, you usually couldn’t predict their future accomplishment from their current ability. Only their continued motivation and commitment, along with their network of support, took them to the top.

Bloom concludes, “After forty years of intensive research on school learning in the US as well as a broad, my major conclusion is: What any person in the world can learn, almost all person can learn, if provided with the appropriate prior and current conditions of learning.“”

And in connection with this, do you know that Ted Geisel aka Dr. Seuss (author of many children’s books like The Lorax) was voted by his classmates as the “person least likely to succeed” among their class? Because he was never the studious type. He would rather watch a movie, go to the zoo, or just draw. (Basically, he followed his interests and hobbies.) And this is why using a compass (with your interests and hobbies leading the way) is important instead of a map.

Also, this proves that you can’t predict what a person may become in the future. Aside from “not to be judgemental to anyone” message of this post, having the knowledge that you cannot predict anyone’s future, is good for ourselves.

We do not know what will happen and that thought alone is exciting! We may have mediocre work right now but given enough time, we may produce something great occasionally. But ultimately, its all about just loving what you do and being excited to where it just takes you. So just start. It doesn’t matter if you failed, what is important is you had fun doing it. As author Srivinas Rao wrote in The Art of Being Unmistakable, “We often do not know where stories end, where unpaved roads lead, and who we’ll become along the way. Therefore, you just have to start.”

Casual Magic

Mary Oliver:

Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.

Around a week ago, I moved into a new bed and that bed is positioned where you can soak in the first rays of the sun every morning.

I noticed that and since then, I get excited at seeing sunlight every morning. I tried grasping it as if it was something tangible.

Lately I have been thinking why am I taking this granted for years. But then again, I think it means that I am growing. Appreciating the environment I am in right now is a reminder that I am growing.

Even though this may seem mundane, I believe this is a casual magic of my everyday. Casual magic is a term , from the youtuber Unjaded Jade, which means finding magic in the mundane. It can be as simple as cooking meals for your family or cleaning your room after weeks of putting off your tasklist.

Everyday is not your birthday or Christmas. But you can treat it like one. There are research findings that says that when you are younger, you find ‘extraordinary’ things fun (ex. concerts, birthday parties, roadtrips) but as you get older, you started to feel joy out of the ‘ordinary’ things (ex. talking to a friend over the phone). And what bridges the gap through the ages is how you frame your life.

For instance, I may be young but I am not usually into parties or roadtrips (because of financial reasons). However, that doesn’t make me feel sad at all. I believe that they are just not something that I would like to do, hence, what I do is I continue to do things that bring me joy (ex. I read a book, spend time with my family, write a journal, etc).

And framing your life is certainly essential to how your attitude will be.

I got rejected so many times for various job applications this year and yes, I still feel joy in my life regardless and I think its because of how I framed it.

I have no job and it means I have more time to follow my curiosity, learn what I want to learn, and partake in volunteering opportunities. I would neither have learned what I learned nor read the books that I had read if I was accepted to a job during this pandemic.

The whole idea is amor fati, which means loving everything that happens (yes, even the bad ones). Though it could have been different but it’s in the past and I learned from it.

Again, today I saw the first shine of the sun. Everytime I see it, it gives me hope. Today is a new day to live, to see magic in the mundane, to forgive, to love, and to do. This is my casual magic.

What’s yours?