Minnow Park

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How I Built My Morning Routine

This is my final post about the book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear and what I’ve learned from it. If you want to catch up,here’s Part 1 and Part 2.

There’s a running joke amongst my friends that 10PM is my bedtime. And it’s true. I can’t stay up at night because I'm a morning person, through and through. That time between 5:45 - 8:45 is magic for me. It’s when I am alert and the most willing to do the deep work. And if I could do my most important work then, it sets me up for the rest of the day. The problem was, I was wasting it most mornings and didn’t do what I wanted to do during that time.

I made lists and schedules of what I wanted to do each morning, but it never really stuck for more than a few weeks. I wanted to journal, read, go to the gym, and do some writing, but I was able to do none of those things. have time to write, have time to read. The reason was because of my environment.

The most powerful of all human sensory abilities, however, is vision. The human body has about eleven million sensory receptors. Approximately ten million of those are dedicated to sight… For this reason, a small change in what you see can lead to a big shift in what you do.

My wife and I live in a one bedroom apartment in New York City. I have a studio in the city that I work out of, but when at home there wasn’t a specific place I could go to in to have space for myself to work. My wife worked from home, so one part of the living room was her desk and her work. We also have a large island table between the kitchen and living room where we would eat and cook, and also a sofa to relax on.

Each space had ties to other contexts and relationships that weren’t specific to me doing deep work each morning. There were just too many triggers that would compel me to do something other than what I wanted to do.

Most people live in a world others have created for them. But you can alter the spaces where you live and work to increase your exposure to positive cues and reduce your exposure to negative ones. Environment design allows you to take back control and become the architect of your life.

And so that’s exactly what Becky and I did a few months ago. In short, we got rid of the bedroom and turned that into a home office. Once we did that, everything was reset and we were able to design our environment specifically for what we wanted to do. I bought a new desk, and created a space specific for what I wanted to do.

Every habit is initiated by a cue, and we are more likely to notice cues that stand out. If you want to make a habit a big part of your life, make the cue a big part of your environment… By sprinkling triggers throughout your surroundings, you increase the odds that you’’ll think about your habit throughout the day.

With my specific environment created, I made it even easier for myself to create the habit of writing every morning. Each night, before I went to bed I took out a pen, opened my journal to a blank page, and placed them both on my desk. When I woke up and came into my room the next morning, the cue for what I wanted to do was obvious. All I had to do then is pick up the pen and start writing. After two weeks of doing that, now when I sit down at the desk I start writing my journal even if it isn’t on the table.

“One of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify a current habit you already do each day and then stack your new behavior on top. This is called habit stacking.

Working out wasn’t a new habit I wanted to do, but it was something I wanted to do more consistently. I know that if I drink my pre workout mix, I am 1000% more likely to go to the gym. So now every morning, before I sit down to write, I make the drink and put that next to me. I sip on the drink while I am journaling so that when I'm done with writing I am primed to go to the gym.

If you want to stop bad habits, you can do the opposite. I really did not want to be on the phone in bed before I went to sleep. But I know that if I had it next to me, I would pick it up. So now, before I go to bed I place the phone on my charger in my office and pick up a book. So before I go to sleep I read rather than scroll through Instagram.

There’s probably similar things you can do for yourself throughout the day to start good habits and stop bad ones. I'd love to hear about your routines and what challenges your having to create these habits for yourself. These past three posts only touch about 10% of what the book has to offer. It's a remarkable book and one that I think I'll have to go back to again and again.

Electoral Math: How to Change Identities

This is my second post in a series about what I've learned from the book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, and how I've applied it to my life. If you want to catch up, here’s Part 1.

New identities require new evidence. It is a simple two-step process:

  1. Decide the type of person you want to be.
  2. Prove it to yourself with small wins.

I love this advice that Clear gives, because it isn’t what I thought identity change was: sitting in front of a mirror and repeating “I’m lovable” until I believe it. Rather, this advice is actionable and quantifiable. It’s about deciding who I want to be and how can prove it to myself to become that person. It does the opposite of a mantra, and get’s me out of my head and pushes me to act.

It’s happened before, like when I decided to become a freelance photographer. My belief about security and stability didn’t suddenly change. It started with me carrying my camera around and taking photos every day, then it was putting my work out there consistently for people to see. I met a friend who saw the potential in me and mentored me to be a wedding photographer. I slowly started to book my own work and eventually do it full time. During the end of the first few years I remember saying, “I can’t believe I pulled it off again. I did another year of this crazy dream of mine.” As the next year began, I would have this deep anxiety that I wouldn’t be able to do it again and would have to go get a “real job.”

It took 5-7 years of freelancing to realize that this may be something I can do, but I still wasn’t sure if it was sustainable. It wasn’t until this year, my tenth year of freelancing, that I don’t feel like an imposter. I must have done something right if I’m still doing this a decade later. In took those small wins compounding over time for me to learn that I’m not as risk averse as I was taught to be.

When it comes to getting healthier, I’ve decided that it would not be about losing weight to calm my insecurities or to receive validation. This is what I was thinking about when I mentioned sitting in front of a mirror and saying “I’m lovable.” But I want to be healthier so that I can do my work better. Many contemporary creatives I respect use physical exercise to clear their minds and to build up the endurance to sustain the hard work it takes create something meaningful. For example, James Clear lifts weights, Ryan Holiday, Haruki Murakami, and Malcolm Gladwell run, and Robert Greene swims. Doing this kind of work is hard and I want my body to support me, not hold me back.

So right now, my small wins are to become more flexible and mobile with my body. I lifted weights for years but neglected stretching and mobility. Before I injure myself I want to fill in those gaps. I started training with someone to help me with that and will share about that soon. My other small win is to cook more at home and eat cleaner, healthier foods. Even in the last few weeks, I’ve felt myself thinking less about my appearance and more about my health holistically.

When it comes to being more creative, I decided the person I want to become is a writer. All the people I named above are writers. A great teacher and now friend, Sean McCabe was the one who taught me the benefits of writing. He believes that whatever creative endeavor you want to pursue, it all starts with writing. Writing allows you to have a clear mind. It helps you organize your thoughts and express them clearly. It’s not that I want to become an author, but I do want to be a writer.

So my small win now is to wake up each morning and the first thing I do is to sit and write. I journal three pages by hand in a composition notebook, and then write really bad first drafts, or edit the really bad first drafts. It’s been happening most days, and there’s a momentum building. It’s led to posting onto this blog more consistently than I have been in. years. I'm going to be starting a newsletter in March, and my big goal is to start a podcast this year. And it all starts with writing.

“Whatever your identity is right now, you only believe it because you have proof of it. Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you want to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.

To be honest right now, the vote count for the person I want to become is really low. I cringe every time I say I want to become a writer. There are so many great writers that I admire, how can I say I want to be one of them? I want to become healthier, but right now if I bent down I can’t touch my toes.

But that’s the point. Because after the millions of images I’ve taken, and the many shoots I’ve been a part of, I have proven to myself that I am a photographer. There are many photographers that are better and more accomplished than I am, but still no one can tell me other wise. I may not have had a “real job” and my parents may still not understand how I make a living, but here I am doing it for ten years.

Here’s how the math works out: if you can get 1 percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done… Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.

The beliefs I’ve been taught don’t have to define me. Instead I can decide for myself who I want to be and just push ahead 1% each day. And so if behind every system of actions there’s a system of beliefs, the next post is the systems of actions or habits I’ve put together to start counting the votes.

Hacking the System: Why My Habits Didn’t Stick

One of the most helpful books I read last year was “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. It’s a book breaking down the science of how habits are formed, and what we can do to create good habits and stop bad ones. I read it during the holidays last year, which was well-timed since I tend to think about the goals that we want to achieve in the new year. The resolutions I set fizzle out after a few weeks as my willpower dries up, but this books has helped me stick to them longer than other years.

I’m going to spend the next few posts sharing what I’ve learned and also how I’ve implemented it in my life.

“Behind every system of actions are a system of beliefs.”

This quote from is in second chapter of Atomic Habits, and it was one of the most impactful things I read in the entire book. Because beliefs are where it all starts. What you believe, and how you came to believe it is the driver of all our actions. I've found the most ingrained beliefs were taught to me when I was young and impressionable, and those are the ones that have stayed with me till now. Here’s two examples of it.

It was around 2004 when the investor of our record label “Broken for Good” had a meeting with us who were on the label. That summer, we had finished a one month, 16 city tour, that was a musical success, but a financial failure. During the meeting he laid out the economics of what we had to achieve to earn a “modest salary” doing music full time. I was twenty years old then with dreams of wanting to pursue music. I don’t doubt he was well-intentioned, but I left that meeting feeling like my dreams were too unrealistic. It cemented the belief in me that it wasn't sensible to make a living as a musician. Ever since then, I haven't wrote a song or thought about pursuing it professionally.

In June of 2009, I was debating with myself whether I should pursue photography. I had been taking photos for two years, and loved it. But my parents taught me that getting a corporate job was the most secure, prudent thing to do. If being a musician wasn't sensible, a life of photography definitely wasn't either. That‘s what led me to go to business school and apply for an accounts position at an ad agency. It went well for a few years, but my time there was anything but secure. In my last three months there, the highest-paid employee was let go every two weeks. Everyday we came in wondering who would be next. One day, the owners announced that a majority of the firm, around 85% of people, including me, were laid off. That was the opportunity I needed and I seized it. I went in head first, built a portfolio and took on every job that came my way. I’ve never looked back since then.

These are just two examples, but when I look back at all the meaningful changes I’ve made in my life, it started when my actions aligned with my beliefs. I believed I couldn't do music full time, and so I never pursued it. A corporate job didn't mean security or stability, and so I became a freelance photographer.

So when it came to my health, I realized there was this disconnect. Because for the past few years, I’ve been wanting to become healthier and lose weight, but I haven’t been able to do it. I came up with this cheesy saying that I want to lose 30 pounds before I turned 30. I turned 35 a few weeks ago. It’s not that there wasn’t enough information out there, or that I couldn’t afford to eat healthier foods. Something was misaligned, and it wasn’t until I dug into the system of what I believed I found the reason.

I believe that I am unacceptable, and my weight was the most obvious reason why. When you’re young, you quickly learn what the standard of acceptance is, and you are rejected and ridiculed if you don’t meet it. I was told I was fat growing up, and for most of my life I was overweight or obese. I was an insecure teenager, aching to fit in, when an older guy nicknamed me “Minnow,” a small fish (it was a pun on my Korean name “Min Ho”). I was anything but small. I hated that nickname for years until I embraced it in high school. The system of beliefs that were established was one of rejection and unworthiness.

But humans have a deep need to belong. I wanted to belong, to be loved. So the thinking went: “If lose weight, then I would be accepted and loved by others right? No, what’s the point. I’ve been rejected before, and what’s to say I’ll be accepted now? But I really have to try. Ok, what can I do to lose this weight. What’s the fastest way to do this.”

It’s obvious now why I haven’t lost weight: my actions aligned with my belief of futility. So if I am to become a healthier person, it’s not about gritting my teeth and trying to stick to the latest diet. It’s about understanding and bringing to light the system of beliefs I held—this belief that I was worthless—and hack the system.

It was similar with wanting to be more creative. I was great at photographing weddings, but for years I wanted to do more than that. I wanted to do more personal projects; I wanted to write more, and even start a podcast. But I was never got myself to actually do it. There just wasn’t enough time. I was busy with other things. But really a lot of that came from the same belief system, “What’s the point? Do you really have something important to say? You won’t amount to much, don’t try so hard to be accepted.”

That was the harsh reality I had to face and understand. I’m so inclined to just do more things, and stay busy but taking a step back, staying still, and digging deep is really hard for me to do.

“This is why you can’t get too attached to one version of your identity. Progress requires unlearning. Becoming the best version of yourself requires you to continually edit your beliefs, and to upgrade and expand your identity.

Clear’s book then goes on to give a simple process to unlearn your identity and upgrade it. I’ll talk more about that in the next post, but the advice isn’t just, ”think more positive thoughts!"

Smoke Signals: Thoughts on the Fyre Festival

I recently watched the Fyre Festival documentary on Netflix. It’s one of those, you-can’t-make-this-up stories about a music festival that was supposed to be the “cultural experience of the decade,” but never happened. It was a total fraud. Looking deeper, it is a cautionary tale about how hollow our society has become. There’s billions of dollars being put into influence and hype, but so much of it has no substance. This festival is the epitome of that.

At the center of the story is Billy McFarland who wanted to live out his best life, not by earning it, but by exploiting everyone around him. There were employees, customers, investors, and contractors who lost money, and suffered real damages because of him. And ended with him in jail.

In the beginning of the film, we see them planning a shoot to promote the festival. On paper it was a dream shoot. The location was a remote island in the Bahamas, with ten of the top influencers/models in the world. They rented boats and jet ski’s, and had parties all throughout the weekend. As a photographer, this project sounds amazing on paper. Everyone else who as a part of it thought so too. Did I tell you that Ja Rule will be there too?

But the production team quickly found out there was no story or vision for the shoot. They were told to just capture everything and needed to get “genuine shots of people having a good time.” The term genuine shots mean nothing. It’s like telling people to act natural. It’s translation for “we don’t know what we want.”

They had all the right pieces, but as Gertrude Stein once said, “...not there, there is no there there.” I learned about that quote from one of my favorite authors Ryan Holiday, in his article “You Have to Find Your ‘There’.” Holiday’s argument is no matter how much charisma you have, how much you can sell or perform, if there’s nothing of substance that’s actually there then what’s really the point? What are you really doing? Nothing.

“It’s essential that we cultivate this ability to stop and look objectively at our own work. One must step back from it and say: Am I really doing good work here? What do I stand for? Am I actually moving towards mastery? Is there any substance to what I am doing?

The marketing strategy was to put up the promotional video, and all those people who had “influence” to post on their feed, at the same time, an orange square. That’s it. A square filled with the color orange. And it worked. They told 95% of the tickets within 24 hours.

But in the end what was the point? Was there any substance to it? So many people spent so much time and energy creating hype and excitement, but it was just a pretty shell with nothing inside.

There’s also the other side of this story: us. We are the willing participants wanting to believe the lie. We pick our phone hundreds of times a day, spend hours on Instagram, for what? We aren’t looking at anything that is helpful or meaningful to us. We are addicted and influenced into thinking our lives aren’t enough. It isn’t like the lives of the people we see on Instagram or this festival and so we have to be a part of it.

Those that bought the tickets wanted to believe it was true. They got on a plane, flew to the Bahamas. It wasn’t until they were on a bus going towards the venue and the bus driver, someone who’s been there from the beginning, told them what they were to expect reality sunk in. That there was nothing there.

None of this is new though. This is how marketing and advertising worked since the days of “Mad Men.” They were scared that there was a TV in every house, but now it has seeped into every pore of our culture. It’s in our pockets, with us wherever we go. And it’s getting harder and harder to not stare at the shiny new object and think that’s what we need to be fulfilled.

As much as I disdain the McFarlands in the world that perpetuate such fraud, I’m also pointing a finger at myself for being a part of the audience.

When I first read Holiday’s article I wondered if I was one of those people who talked a lot with nothing much to say. But it’s the brashness that he warns against, not the lack of knowledge. I don’t remember when all this happened in 2016, but this film rings too true to our current state of affairs.

35 Years Young
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My wife Becky, did an impromptu interview with me the other day about turning 35. She asked questions like, what do I want to accomplish this year for myself? (Start a podcast) What would I tell my 30-year-old self? (Stop over thinking) Greatest fear you overcame? (Scarcity mindset)⠀

When she asked how I felt about turning 35, I realized for the first time it felt like my age was for me, rather than against me.⠀

I took that photo of the snow on my 30th birthday, and it captures how I felt that day. I remember telling Becky that it was sobering to be that old and not feel ready for it. There were still things I needed to do and had to become before I felt like I could enter my 30's.⠀

But now, all the things I want to do wouldn’t be possible without the 35 years of experience under my belt. I wouldn’t be as self aware and comfortable with myself if I was 20 and trying so desperately to find validation from other people. The projects I’m taking on would be impossible when I was 26 as just starting out, still learning, and finding my own style. I wouldn’t have this beautiful marriage with Becky for 4 years if I was 30 that has grown and challenged me.⠀

There’s so much that I want to do, and I’ve built enough tools to start building. I want to follow my curiosity wherever that leads me, and not be afraid of failure. I want to lean into my emotions and fears and work them out as graciously as I can. I want to serve my community, invest in deep friendships.⠀

Growing old doesn’t have to feel draining and inevitable, this year it’s empowering.

Our 1BR Home Office

For the past few years, ever since my wife freelanced, she has worked out of our living room. We have a one-bedroom apartment, and she had a desk set up against a wall with her work spread around her. If I worked from home, I took to the sofa or a corner of our kitchen table. This setup helped keep expenses down as she grew her company, but it took a toll on us. Every night when we sat on the couch trying to relax while staring at her desk and the work that was waiting for her in the morning.

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To regroup, we took a trip up to Scribner’s lodge last year, a few days before Thanksgiving. We talked about how we could create better systems where we can be productive but also keep a healthy work/life balance. We talked about better scheduling and prioritizing, but as long as her studio was our living room, the balance would be way off. On the drive back down to NYC, Becky came up with an ingenious idea.

We knew we weren’t ready to move to a two-bedroom apartment, nor did Becky think it was time for her to get a studio space for work. So we decided instead to take inspiration from Asian “floor culture.” In countries such as Korea and Japan, where there is less space than NYC, you usually have one room serve multiple purposes. It’s why we take off our shoes when we enter someone’s house. Floors had to be kept clean since that’s where did a lot of our living.

Instead of trying to fit a sofa, a dining table, and a bed in one space, they used a more modular approach. The room became a living room when you brought out mats to sit on. When it was time to eat, there was a table you could unfold, and when it was time for bed, you’d roll out a mat to sleep on at night. If we could sleep in the living room, the bedroom would no longer be a room for a bed; instead it would just be a room.

A room we can turn into a home office.

The more we thought about it, the more it made sense: sleeping has a definite beginning and end. Once you wake up, you don’t need a bed until the evening. If you’re working from home, it made little sense to have a room empty for most of the day.

We asked for advice from our friends who did something similar when their twins were born. They turned their bedroom into the kid’s room and got a sofa bed in the living room. They said we should get this foldable foam mattress that could be packed away in a case rather than a sofa bed. We bought the mattress to test if it was comfortable enough to sleep in, and it was. 

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Once we knew we could sleep on the floor, we bit the bullet and made the switch. The mattress, once folded, fit perfectly into a small closet. We got rid of the mattress and bed frame, moved Becky’s desk to the room, bought a shelf for her supplies, and I bought a desk for myself. Within a few weeks, we had flipped our apartment. 

So now every night, when we’re ready for bed we take out the mattress from the closet, bring down our blanket and pillows and go to sleep. When we wake up, we put everything back in the closet. Setting up and packing the bed away each takes less than a minute to do.

It’s been a few months since we made the switch and it feels like we moved into a new apartment. We both feel so much more productive working at home. When the workday ends, we close the door to the room and wind down in the living room, work free. Changing our environment this way has allowed us to build good habits and momentum so we can be more productive and balanced in our work and life.

Canon EOS R Review

It's been a while since I was looking forward to a new camera body like the EOS R. Usually I’s wait to see what the next iteration of the 5D line would be and if it had enough upgrades, or if the one I had was getting too old, I’d upgrade. The 5D Mark III and Mark IV bodies I have now are workhorses, and they get the job done well.

But when I heard about a full frame mirrorless camera that was smaller than a DSLR, had an actual silent shutter, and that it was compatible with my EF lenses, I was stoked. I ordered it and it arrived on launch day. I’ve used it exclusively for the past three weeks on multiple shoots from portrait sessions to events. And although all of those features lived up to its expectation, I returned the camera today.

The camera does live up to all the features I mentioned (I used the silent shutter mode when photographing at a conference, and I couldn’t believe how quiet it was. My 5D’s must have sounded like hands clapping all these years) but it just doesn’t fit the way I photograph.

Let me explain.

For the uninitiated, one of the main differences between a DSLR and a mirrorless camera is the viewfinder. When you look through the viewfinder of a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera, you are looking through a prism and a mirror, essentially a window to the scene you are photographing. And what you see through the viewfinder and what the sensor capture is not the same, and so you adjust ISO, aperture, shutter speed based on exposure metering to get the proper exposure (fn).

The EOS R is a mirrorless camera. The viewfinder is a small screen that shows what you’re looking at. You can see what kind of image the sensor will capture and as you change the camera settings you can see the result on that screen. This is helpful to photographers ton take out the guesswork of exposing a scene properly, but the fact that you are staring at a small monitor means that when you shoot the way I shoot, the mirrorless camera’s viewfinder lagged ever so slightly behind the DSLR’s.

The best analogy I could come up with is the difference of an Apple Watch versus an analog watch. Because the Apple Watch cannot have the display on all the time due to battery life considerations when you raise your wrist to see the time the accelerometer and million other things realize that's what you’re doing and turn on the screen for you. Once you put your arm down, it shuts off the screen. This happens multiple times a day. But between the time you raise your wrist and when the screen turns on, there’s a fraction of a second delay for the screen to turn on while the watch is doing its thing.

But with an analog watch, the time is just there, all the time. There isn’t a computer that’s turning on the watch face. As fast as photons can bounce off the watch and your retina can perceive them, you see the time. Compared to an analog watch, the delay in the Apple Watch is something I happily tolerate because seeing the time instantaneously isn't crucial for me. And the functionality of my Apple Watch far outweighs the “inconvenience” of waiting that fraction of a second.

I usually shoot a burst of three to five images after I compose a scene and feel what's going on, but after every click of the shutter, there was this slight lag on the EOS R as the image I captured disappeared and the live view came up again. With the SLR, the shutter just blinks once to reveal the sensor and then you're back to the next moment, nothing in between photons and my retina.

That’s what crucial in my photography and no matter the advantages of this camera, I can’t compromise the way I approach and capture a scene. This doesn’t mean that the future of digital cameras isn’t mirrorless. The removal of a mirror and the shutter mechanism has a lot of advantages. Such as making possible a 28-70mm f/2.0 lens because the lenses can be mounted closer to the sensor. It also doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t buy a mirrorless camera in the future. There will be iterations of this camera, and they will only get better. But right now, it’s not for me. As I was using the camera, I kept trying to change the settings to make it behave like an SLR, and that not what it was designed to do.

Maybe it’ll take a few years, but until then I'm happy with my hand clappers.

Wednesday
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There weren’t that many people on the F train down to Essex St. this morning. Maybe 15 at most? I was one stop away when a guy walked in and apologized for the interrupting.

He said he’ll keep it short:

“Hello, my name is Matt and I’m homeless. I’m trying to get to a men’s shelter tonight (sure you are). I recently started a part time job (then why are you asking for money?). But I have zero to my name. I need money to get some warm clothing that I can’t find at the clothing drive (yeah, probably not for clothing). Anything will help. Thank you and stay safe.”

I checked my bag to see if I could give him a protein bar I usually have. No luck.

He finished his pitch and walked past me to get to the next train car, but realized the doors were locked. So he stood in the middle of the train waiting till the next stop. His eyes canvassed the few of that were there to see if anyone was reaching into their pocket. We caught eyes a few times. 

Then from the other end of the train car, another guy walked in mumbling, “Anyone got a quarter? Anyone have a dollar?” His speech was the exact opposite of the one I heard a minute before. Much easier to ignore.

He started to walk towards where Matt was standing and then I realized I never saw two people in the same train panhandling before. And with the train as empty as it was, I couldn’t help but watch to see what would happen. 

Just then, Matt walked over and reached into his pocket and gave the guy some money. Maybe it was a quarter, maybe a little more. I don’t know how long it took Matt to collect that much change, but he gave without hesitation. It didn’t matter to him what the guy’s story was. They walked together to the other end of the train together and it seemed like Matt was telling him the door was locked. 

I took a dollar from my wallet, and as we neared my stop I walked over to Matt and gave it to him.

EssaysMinnow Park
My Fat on My Sleeve

I’ve always, always, always hated the way my body looked. I never thought it was good enough and still don’t till this day. Before I could learn about proper nutrition, I had already hit puberty and was obese. My genetics weren’t helpful either. I gain weight on my face and stomach, two places that society and I have deemed unsightly.

When life was simple, like early twenties living at my parent’s home and going to my entry-level job simple, I got into a routine. And over the course of a year, I lost nearly 50 pounds. My body transformed and I’m still gaining the benefits of it now. But as life got complicated with relationships and freelancing, that routine went away. I realized I was disciplined because there wasn’t anything else to do but that back then. I couldn’t keep it up because my motivation came from a place of self-loathing than a desire to get healthier. If it came from the latter, I would’ve been better about keeping it up.

And it’s been that way ever since, but that’s not good enough anymore. It’s not where I want to be. I don’t want to feel like I will finally become the person I want to be if I can just lose 30 pounds.

I recently did a thought experiment about how rather than my body being a product of ignorance and indulgence, what if it’s from the love I received from my family and friends?

My dad worked for 70 hours every week for as long as I can remember to provide for our family. When we came back from school, my mom was in the kitchen cooking for my brother and I every night. When we sat together to eat, my parents would have a routine banter. Mom would urge us not to eat so fast, and my dad would tell her to stop nagging us because we were growing boys and we needed to eat. There may have been some truth to all of that, but really it was because mom was happy that we loved her food, and my dad was proud that he was able to provide for our family. My dad grew up not knowing when he was going to eat his next meal. There wasn’t much else they needed to see to be fulfilled. And my brother and I benefited from that emotionally and physically.

Our high school was connected to Queens College campus, and in senior year we were allowed to go onto their campus during our lunch periods. Sometimes, we’d get to have two periods back to back. We went to the Panda Express multiple times a week. With a plate of General Tso’s chicken and fried rice in front of me, I would laugh until I cried with my friends. That was the year I discovered my sense of humor. I learned how to laugh and have fun with grease in our stomachs and fart jokes, tons of fart jokes.

And through the years since then, I had such great conversations over meals. I grew deep friendships over meals. I fell in love with my wife over meals. Those memories didn’t happen because I was fat or skinny. It was because I was loved.

So then what should this newfound motivation be about? It’s not about a tactic or strategy, but it’s about wanting something better for myself. Not because I can’t stand who I am, but because I want to challenge myself. Being challenged isn’t a bad thing, we should always want to become better, but I think it’s how you reward yourself that matters. Rather than the prize being the life I really want to live or the person I want to be, it’s to be the best version of who my family and friends already see me to be.

EssaysMinnow Park
Crazy Asian Americans

I saw Crazy Rich Asians this morning with Becky. What a great movie. I’m starting to enjoy romantic comedies (watching Love Actually again last week seems to have started this trend). I found myself getting sucked into the story, getting emotional, laughing, and either rooting for or hating on different characters.

What I didn’t find myself doing though was making excuses for the movie. Not once did I think, “this is good for an Asian movie.” It was just a good movie. When I watched Ali Wong’s comedy special, or read Min Jin Lee’s novel Pachinko I felt the same thing. I genuinely enjoyed the work, Asian or not.

Not that there hasn’t been great work for years and generations before. I know that just because I came to this realization these past few months, it doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been great work done by Asian Americans.  But I’m curious and eager to see how we as Asian Americans find our story and place here. And I’m glad to be a witness to what is happening now.

EssaysMinnow Park