Small fish in a Big Pond

Alas, after almost three years, I find myself in the same black hole that I was trying to escape from. There it is again – the feeling of of the familiar, the feeling of being a small fish in a big pond.

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Frozen Lake George in February 2015

Malcom Gladwell posed a very interesting question in his book “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants” – would you be better off being a small fish in a big pond or big fish in a small pond? We base our judgments based on those in proximity to us. There are times that I catch myself comparing myself and what I’ve accomplished to the people around me, to my colleagues, and my batchmates from college. And this leads to a very poor self-concept and can be very dangerous.

New York City is a very competitive pond that I’ve chosen to swim at and to grow up with. There are questions like, how are they able to get that job, and not me? I have the same abilities (and maybe better skilled), but why didn’t I get that job? Sometimes, I feel very much overwhelmed and pressured (but mostly pressured) to succeed and to get ahead in terms of my career. At this point in my life, I am an underdog, I am an outsider – the only way to get ahead would be to do what the Goliaths of this world refuse to do.

A very wise man once told me that people are different, and so there cannot be agreements in the absolute sense. We’re bombarded with ideas of uniqueness, of setting ourselves apart from the crowd, and of being successful at a very young age. But to what end?

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Lanterns in Lake George

Success, then, depends on how you define it. It can be in monetary terms, or in terms of being able to help others or bringing smiles to the faces of underprivileged. This definition is something that I grapple with – what do I want out of life? What do I want to do in the future? These are questions that I still seek an answer to. These are the questions that I also had three years ago.

I am but a small fish in a big pond called New York City. I am an even smaller fish in the sea of finance, where everyone is aggressive and very much eager to beat the next person. In this journey of transition, I hope that I won’t lose touch with what I hold dear and to not lose sight of what’s more important.

I am a small fish with nothing but my dreams – all I need is an opportunity to translate my potential into something concrete and real. I find hope in the knowledge that better things are yet to come, and that some things are withheld from us since we are better placed in situations where we can grow the most.

That clock in Grand Central

That clock in Grand Central

How many times have I seen this clock? Whenever I pass by Grand Central and see this clock, I always think to myself, “Live from New York – it’s Saturday Night Live!” See what watching SNL marathons has done to me.

Date check: it’s the 29th of October. It’s been ages since I last visited or posted something on this blog. So why post now? Maybe because I was otherwise inspired. Or maybe because I just wanted to delete pictures from my phone and save the best ones by uploading them on wordpress.

Time, for me, is one of life’s most precious gifts. However, it’s also one of those that I take for granted. It pains me that I seem to not make use of my time wisely and efficiently – that if only I could go back to college, for instance, I would’ve studied harder (or partied harder). While days might go by in a blur these days, it surprises me how much I’ve grown throughout the years. I guess that’s what being far away from home does to you – it forces you to grow up.

The next time I see this clock, I know I’ll be reminded not just of what once has been, but also of what I could become.

Here’s to growing up

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One of the 12,000 tulips on display at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden!

Three things I learned today:

(1) Bates and Anthony won the Amazing Race (I was rooting for the roller derby moms!). Didn’t know that MLK had his “I have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. I should seriously study the map more and show more interest in geography (and maybe brush up on American history?);

(2) “Face time” means “time spent at one’s place of employment especially beyond normal working hours” (Merriam-Webster dictionary). Note to self: there’s life outside the workplace; refrain from staying in the office til 8PM, dude!; and,

(3) I FOUND MY FIRST WHITE HAIR.

When I was younger, I had the impression that not having a single white hair yet was something to be proud of. Seeing my first white hair terrified me and it dawned on me that I’m getting old. Questions such as the following flooded my thoughts while I stroke the strand of hair:

(1) Just a few more months before I leave the 18-24 age range. What have I accomplished so far? The clock is ticking, Annie.

(2) Have you been living under your means? Must. Start. Saving.

(3) What are you really passionate about? (Yes, I haven’t figured that out yet.)

Reading Susan Cain’s Quiet helped me zone in and focus on the more important things. I’ve come up with a few “core personal projects” such as speaking my mind out and contributing more insights at work (my office mates had to give me an intervention about being too passive), leveraging my strengths (i.e., I’m more of a thinker than a talker – how do I take advantage of that?), and doing something that I’m afraid of.

Like what they say, growing old is inevitable but growing up is a choice; that growth comes when you are comfortable with being uncomfortable. It is my hope that in the next few days, I’ll be much more comfortable with the art of making conversations (keep in mind Tina Fey’s advice on improv: agree then add something), write that essay I’ve been meaning to work on, submit that volunteer application for MoMath, start investing thru Citisec, and join Toastmasters (aka “Annie’s ultimate challenge”).

Here’s to being open to challenges that’ll make me question my beliefs and take me out of my passive, comfort zone. Who knows, maybe my first white hair would give me good luck?

On Mathematical Maturity

Math is my first love. I have always been fascinated by the fact that every thing could be expressed and simplified into a mathematical expression. I find it funny, too, that the credit agreements and bond indentures I read and analyze everyday could be viewed as a series of If-Then statements – If X happens, then lenders could resort to either Y or Z.

Mathematics is everywhere; it is anything but boring. My professors in college would say that our classes were supposed to help develop our “mathematical maturity”. But the greatest and lasting learning that I got is the unique way of thinking objectively and deriving answers from considering all possible scenarios, relevant facts, and assumptions.

That’s why I was really stoked about the Museum of Mathematics, the only museum of its kind in the U.S. MoMath is sponsored by a number of companies such as Google – you’ll notice that the museum’s colors and logo are similar to that of Google’s. It’s nice to know that companies are investing on institutions like MoMath to increase the public’s appreciation for the discipline.

I thank my parents (my Dad, most especially) for shaping my love of mathematics and for letting me pursue my dreams.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Beyond

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The main entrance to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa

Every one’s biased, that every one’s a little bit racist.

There. I said it. I think most of us can agree with that.

By operating under that assumption, we open ourselves up to different possibilities. Each judgment that we make cannot entirely be bias-free (no matter how hard we try). We view the world using the lenses of our unique backgrounds, experiences, and culture.

However, what we can always do is to see beyond what can be seen by the naked eye. Sure, first impressions last and there is incredible power in the judgments that we make in the blink of an eye. But, there is much more to a person than he or she appears.

Latte

IMG00039-20130120-1654How many times do you find yourself sitting in an unassuming coffee shop (but coffee’s still overpriced and wifi’s free for only an hour or so), sipping your perfect latte on a cool Sunday afternoon?

Today happens to be that day for me. The coffee shop is poorly lit but perfect for a quick chat with a friend. There happens to be a library on the second floor and the shelves are stuffed with books that patrons could read. And then as I gaze outside, I find that MoMath, the museum I’ve been wanting to visit for the longest time, is just right across the street.

This city certainly is full of surprises.

Weekly Photo Challenge: My 2012 in Pictures

Yes, the second week of 2013 has just closed in and this post’s two weeks due, but let me take this opportunity to reflect about 2012 and to share how I’ve grown this past year. There were a lot of things to be grateful for – even missed chances and missed trains, bitter tears, and failures – and I’m glad to have shared it with people who understood and mattered the most.

The overarching emotion that I had for 2012 was one of excitement, as I braved and welcomed the uncertainty that was What happens after graduation? I knew what I wanted to do but had no concrete plans of achieving that goal. I guess the intrinsic problem was well within me: procrastination and shortsightedness. Being a control freak, I tend to become apprehensive when faced with things that I cannot control.

I guess history has a funny way of repeating itself until you learn from your mistakes. So I learned, little by little, to just let go and let God.  Attempting to control the situation is but a futile, fruitless effort but I can always change my perceptions and replace negative thoughts with positive ones. 2013 is ridden with more uncertainty as I have no idea where I’ll be come February. I know I’m not yet ready to go back home (that’s for sure), but I have faith that wherever I find myself in the future, I know I’ll be at my best and will continue to be the cheerful person that I am.

As Virgil aptly puts it, “Perhaps someday we will look upon these things with joy.” This 2013, let us be bold and take chances.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Surprise

IMG_0022bMost likely to run a regression using her Blackberry as a way to calm her nerves before graduation. Now, isn’t that award a wonderful surprise?

I got this award during my class graduation more than a year ago. Really funny how this “superlative” perfectly captures my personality. Just a little backgrounder: when I went to South Africa for a study abroad August 2011, I didn’t bring my own laptop (because I thought the school was near our dorms and that we could use the computer lab anytime) and so I had to write my final paper in MS Word and work on calculating data in MS Excel on my Blackberry. And it also has to do with my being a math major at some point in my life. A few friends and I went skydiving a few months before graduation – I was really scared but I’m glad I’ve done it. Funny, too, that right after we came to back to New York after skydiving in Pennsylvania, I still had the energy to go to a secret show of The Fray over at the Lower East Side.

So, why is this a surprise? Because if I were to look back at my self three or four years ago, there’s just no way that I would’ve or could’ve done what I just mentioned above. My past self was risk-averse and content with the here and now, not thinking of what’s more, of what’s out there.

Indeed, it’s surprising how life works things out and turns things around. If life gives you lemons, squeeze the juice and MAKE LEMONADE out of it.

Here’s to more surprises that life would throw my way, to the lemons that I’ll make lemonade out of, and to the bullets that I am about to dodge.

Up, up and away!

Flying is definitely one of the best sensations in the world. And the best view, I think, is the sea of unassuming puffy, white clouds against a blue backdrop.

2012 has been really good to me. It’s just October and so far, I’ve been to 12 flights:

  • Dec 31/Jan1: NYC to Beijing; Beijing to Manila
  • Feb: Manila to Singapore; Singapore to Manila
  • Feb: Manila to Tagbilaran City; Tagbilaran City to Manila
  • Feb: Manila to Beijing; Beijing to NYC
  • Apr: NYC to Zurich; Zurich to NYC
  • Aug: NYC to Chicago; Chicago to NYC

Funny that in 10 out of those 12 flights, I was completely on my own. And I really don’t mind traveling alone. In fact, in a weird sort of way (that many people might not completely understand), I actually enjoy it. I appreciate that I get to think things through and evaluate my life and the choices I’ve made.

In my flight from NYC to Beijing, I was seated beside a Chinese tattoo artist who works in Chinatown. He showed me samples of his work and what an artist he really was! Beijing to Manila was unforgettable – I arrived in Manila thirty minutes after New Year, and seeing Manila and its flickering lights, with my family at the airport patiently waiting for me, was such a wonder to behold.

My trip to Singapore was also unforgettable. I remember booking my trip six months in advance, overly excited to visit some good friends I haven’t seen in years. I was supposed to make a detour to Malacca and Kuala Lumpur, but maybe it wasn’t meant to be – my passport was forcibly destroyed and I had to cut my trip short and go home, apply for another passport if I wanted to go back to NYC. The trip to Tagbilaran City and Panglao was really awesome, as I got to be on a vacation with my block mates from college. Oh, I could still feel the fine, white sand in my bare toes and the heat of the sun giving me a glorious tan. On the other hand, the trip to Beijing then to NYC was something that I truly despise. NAIA Terminal 1 clearly is one of the worst airports I’ve been to (Kyiv airport takes the number one spot) – and I hope it gets renovated in the coming years. However, I’m still thankful for the safe and uneventful flight and for being able to try Air China for once.

I’ve always held my flight from NYC to Zurich very close to my heart, just because Switzerland for me is the most beautiful country there is. I recall missing the check-in luggage deadline, that’s why I had to give away the liquids and toiletries I had in my luggage back then. Zurich to NYC was such a sweet sorrow, for I had to say goodbye to Switzerland while I looked forward to my graduation a week after I came back to NYC. Lastly, I went to Chicago last August to attend my roommate’s second (yes, second!) wedding and to meet up with a good friend of mine. It’s really awesome to be friends with a flight attendant! Haha.

I look forward to being at the airport and the plane again, anxious to board my flight and to embark on another adventure. No matter where I am or where I’ll be or who I’ll become, I’ll always be that same girl who took the first step of traveling halfway around the world to study again, to explore what’s out there, to make her dreams a reality.

Googolplex

Austrian Alps viewed from Festung Hohensalzburg

Googolpex is defined as 10googol. If google is 1 followed by a 100 zeroes, then googolplex can be written as 10(10^100). It’s been said that if you try to write down googolplex numbers, and you painstakingly write each one such that it’s the size of an atom, the entire universe won’t be able contain it.

Think of the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. I imagine that it’s hard to single out what the “most beautiful” is for you, as you could name a few or a lot that you can’t count it on your fingers anymore. It could be the first time you’ve laid eyes on your baby and/or a sea of sky lanterns being released into the air and/or the calm waters of the ocean on a lazy Saturday morning. I think that if we try to ask each person what she/he perceives to be beautiful (which is a herculean task), then we’ll maybe end up with a collection that’s composed of approximately googolplex elements. What I find amazing, however, is that the universe is able to contain all of these things.

You’re blessed to have eyes that see the beauty in the world.

/*Salzburg 2012*/

Weekly Photo Challenge: Growth

Acer Palmatum, Japanese maple tree (“Shishio improved”)

Bonsai trees represent the three virtues of truth, goodness, and beauty according to Japanese tradition.

There is a fine balance that exists between allowing growth and restricting it at the same time. This is an art in itself – a skilled bonsai artist strives to keep this balance in check. While bonsai need to be pruned on a regular basis in order to keep their diminutive size, these trees must also be allowed to grow new roots and branches so they remain healthy and attain perfect silhouette.

I find that this metaphor also applies to real life. While we need unrestricted growth to realize our own potential, certain things do happen that may not fit perfectly to the Great plan that we had in mind. We might not know it at the time (nor have the ability to recognize it), but challenges only make us stronger. Scarred for life, but we become better.

Whatever you’re going through, I believe that there’s a master bonsai artist that continually finds this balance between pruning and growth. Keep smiling – C’est la Vie!

Step into my shoes

Whiling away the afternoon at the Brooklyn Bridge Park

Momma always says there’s an awful lot you could tell about a person by their shoes. Where they’re going. Where they’ve been. I’ve worn lots of shoes. I bet if I think about it real hard I could remember my first pair of shoes. ~ Forrest Gump

Size 7 1/2, wide. Big feet for someone petite, yea?

This pair was my haul when my aunt took me to my first U.S. outlet store experience when I went to Virginia for a visit. I didn’t know it at the time, but my aunt gave me one of the most wonderful gifts I could ever receive – this $15 pair would actually take me to places I can only dream of!

If you take a closer look, these are not just any other plain black Chucks – they sparkle! I’d like to think that these sparkled canvas shoes were sprinkled with fairy dust, as I was given the power of flight to go places and the opportunity to travel the world. But what makes them really special is that I feel like a kid again whenever I’m in them as I go about wandering from one place to another, with eyes filled with curiosity and admiration.

It’s almost two years since I first got these shoes. I’ve always brought these with me whenever I travel because I feel so much comfortable in them. We’ve been through countless walking tours together as walking is my preferred method of exploring a foreign place.

While my Chucks are a bit worn-out and may be well past its half-life, I am still young and just starting out another phase in my life. But during the years that I got to travel and had been away from home, I’ve grown up and developed a longing to be somewhere else and even a certain fondness of cultures different from my own. The person who once hated commuting and feared riding buses because of her distrust of people has grown accustomed to taking the subway and regional trains and even developed a liking for flying. It’s true that living in New York toughens you up, even gives you enough courage to take on skydiving (another story worthy of a separate blog post).

In the posts that follow, join me as I turn back the hands of time in my attempt to relive my exploits, to experience again what it felt like to see the world’s landmarks with my own eyes. I want to remember why waking up in the morning, not knowing what’s going to happen or where I’m going to wind up, feels like one of the greatest sensations in the world.

As Ellie Fredricksen (my favorite character from a Pixar movie) would say, “Adventure is out there!”

Step into my shoes, won’t you?

On making criticisms

This picture reminds me of one particular piece that was reprinted in Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends & Influence People. The photo’s a little blurred since it’s a cropped photo but still sends the message across:

What has habit been doing to me? The habit of finding fault, of reprimanding – this was my reward to you for being a boy. It was not that I did not love you; it was that I expected too much of youth. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years.

And there was so much that was good and fine and true in your character. The little heart of you was as big as the dawn itself over the wide hills. This was shown by your spontaneous impulse to rush in and kiss me good night. Nothing else matters tonight, son.

~ excerpt from “Father Forgets”, W. Livingston Larned (full text HERE)

C’est la Vie!

Letter to my 25-year old self

Dear 25-year old Annie,

Kumusta ka na, Annie? If you’re reading this it means you just turned 25 so happy birthday, girl! And since I’m you, I know that you will be continuing our tradition of hearing Mass or offering a little prayer when you go to church. Lots of people will greet you on Facebook (well, if people STILL use Facebook in 2014), but only the real ones would take the extra mile to actually talk to you and celebrate with you on this day. I hope you get the opportunity to talk to your family because they really mean a lot to you.

2012 New Year’s day – yes, your plane arrived at Jan 1, 12:30AM in Manila! This photo was really memorable, as it’s the first family picture after you left for NY in 2010.

I hope that time has been kind to you, and that you are well. It’s going to be a tough year for you so I figured you might want some advice. You wrote this letter some time ago – on your 23rd birthday, to be exact. It was also the first time you woke up on your birthday without your mom or dad giving you a peck on your cheek, surprising you with Barbie or a good book or money for you to spend up until you reached 18, when they started surprising you with a bouquet of red roses (which, to this day, remains your favorite).

Remember, however, that you were in the company of friends. June 20th (PHL time zone), Franny hosted a little post-Philippine Independence Day lunch at the commons and she prepared Filipino dishes like rellenong bangus, pancit, lumpiang shanghai, leche flan, and halo-halo. Yes, halo-halo! She even bought ube and macapuno ice cream. Again (and I know Aisa would laugh at this), YUMMY IN MY TUMMY!)

Philippines-China Friendship Day!

How have you been doing? Are you still the same Annie who always jumps in excitement when the BX22 bus comes right on time as you wait at Fordham Road? Are you still the same person who never tires of listening to The Fray and BoyceAvenue in the morning and playing the piano, even if the only pieces you can play by heart are “Making love out of nothing at all”, “Minuet in G”, and “Time after Time”? You are a bit impulsive and it’s easy for Donna to convince you to join her for a movie marathon and then you agree to stay for a few hours or so – but eventually you sleep over at her apartment because everyone’s already cast his/her vote that you cannot go home alone in the middle of the night. Also, remember how you used to sleep at the comfy couch right after dinner at Donna, Katie, and Eileen’s apartment – I think you didn’t finish an entire movie during movie nights because you were such a sleepyhead!

It’s summer in NYC right now – do you still watch off-Broadway shows by buying five-dollar tickets from studentrush.org and take advantage of the freebies this city offers such as advance screenings and entrances to select museums? Last week, you watched “That’s my Boy” with Xiaoli in celebration of her birthday, went to a free Liberty Scenic tour with Aisa, and walked around the Met Museum again with Aisa for the Museum Mile Festival. You really had fun. Do you still hang out with your friends? Do you find time to be with your family?

Xiaoli’s plan was to show Ramon this picture of you two hanging out at his apartment while he’s away! HAHAHA
SISTERETTES! Statue of Liberty with Aisa!

Do you still get excited when you get the opportunity to travel? What was the last country you visited? (I wish you’ve crossed Hong Kong off your list, haha) Have you mastered and applied the concepts of exposure, shutter speed, and ISO when you take photos?

The last place you visited was Stuttgart. You were amazed at how beautiful the city’s public library was. You even planned to study German and to come back to the German-speaking part of Western Europe someday.

I wonder whether you’ve stayed on top of your goals – your dream was to spend about 1-3 years in NYC to get valuable experience in banking and investments and to take the CFA Level III Exam in 2013. How did that go? Did everything go as planned? Have you figured out whether you really want to be a financial analyst or you just take the CFA Exams to challenge yourself?

This week (and for the weeks to come), I’ll be better than my best. (your status update, a week before your Level II Exam)

In preparation for the exam, you used to study in between short “naps” at the Walsh Library. HAHAHA. Good times.

Since June 5th, you’ve focused all your energies on finding a job. You’ve utilized CareerLink, SimplyHired, and even CraigsList to look for various internships and full-time positions tailored to your background. But as weeks went by and after a few interviews here and there, you began to lose grip, as you weren’t as enthusiastic and confident as before in looking for that perfect job. The stark reality of scarce jobs begin to dawn on you and you lose composure, and the prospect of going back home seems very attractive and HIGHLY LIKELY.

You can do it. There’s a job out there for you, Annie. Just keep looking, don’t lose hope. (from a pink post-it note centered in your desktop)

I know that it’s really hard to compete with other graduates in New York. It’s also extra hard as employers can discriminate against international students. But by now I know you’ve managed to find a job for yourself, as you are persistent and you firmly believe that things will fall into place, that you’ll be where you’re destined to be. You remain faithful to Him, as He provides for what you really need.

“Unannounced changes in life’s itineraries are like dancing lessons from God”, writes Kurt Vonnegut. If things didn’t go as planned, remember that I’ll always be proud of what you’ve accomplished. Things DO happen for a reason and might not simply be a result of your own choosing. In everything that you do, let go and let Him. 

Kayla and Eunice are two of your favorite subjects. 🙂 Hope you still visit them from time to time!

Even though the years and people you’ve met have changed you, it is my hope that you remain the same adventurous Annie that I know – the Annie who went skydiving in 2011 (and still had the energy to watch The Fray with Bea that same day!), did solo traveling in Europe, and hiked the Austrian Alps (and almost got lost! haha). It is my hope that you still have that child-like curiosity in your eyes whenever you get to be in a place you’ve never been to before. It is my hope that you still take time to smell the flowers no matter how crazy your day is. It is my hope that you still have that loud, infectious laugh whenever you hear a corny Pinoy knock-knock joke or when you do silly stuff to make others laugh.

I hope you remember how loud your laugh was at the commons when you and Xiaoli saw how this photo turned out.
Cherry blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (it was your dream to see real cherry blossoms!)

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
—E. E. Cummings, “i thank You God for most this amazing”

Lastly, it is my hope that you don’t let the moment , the days, the years just pass you by.

Sincerely,

Your 23-year old Self

Introduction: Living an Extraordinary Life

The journey is the reward. – Stever Robbins

I just attended a seminar here at NYSSA (NY Society of Security Analysts) about how to live an extraordinary life. The speaker, Stever Robbins, and his philosophy, mirror those of what has been proved and experimented upon time and time again: that in order for a person to be truly happy, he or she must pursue the things that he or she truly loves, the very things that he or she would take on even without compensation.

He goes on to attack the myths of hard work (which he defines as doing things that you would rather not do), goals (which should just serve as a direction), planning, and pursuing gratification. What I find striking is that I have actively pursued these – being brought up with the Jesuit tradition of magis (“more”), I strived to be excellent in what I do.

He emphasized that the journey itself is the reward. For a life truly worth living, you should pursue fulfillment first, as success and opportunities would quickly fall in line with your passion. Looking back, have I truly spent the last two years of my life in an extraordinary way? Sure, I think I’ve done a great deal and attained good grades and traveled to some incredible places, but in the end, I’ve not made a lot of friends than I should have done. Maybe I didn’t really seize what Fordham and IPED offered me.

So I thought, what is it that would keep me going, that would wake me up in the morning?

What comes to mind is traveling and photography. I’m just so glad that I am pursuing these hobbies and that opportunities have come my way. I look forward to having another chance to fly abroad and explore places I’ve never been to. I also love writing, joining competitions, and exploring NYC. If the opportunity comes, I would love to teach kids Mathematics.

What I hope to achieve with this blog is to tell my story through pictures and to keep grounded with my passion.

Here’s to pursuing what really matters and being open to random things that life would throw at me.

Image

The author in Mirabell Palace Gardens in Salzburg, Austria