failure/job crisis

two unrelated but related topics.

NYMag – Paper Tigers – god these articles are SO FREAKING LONG.  the thesis is that the asian american “tiger mother” upbringing is good to get into college, but bad for real life (jobs and dating), more or less.  it really speaks to me and some of the central problems of asian culture, at least through the lens of american values.

Let me summarize my feelings toward Asian values: Fuck filial piety. Fuck grade-grubbing. Fuck Ivy League mania. Fuck deference to authority. Fuck humility and hard work. Fuck harmonious relations. Fuck sacrificing for the future. Fuck earnest, striving middle-class servility.

Asian-American success is typically taken to ratify the American Dream and to prove that minorities can make it in this country without handouts. Still, an undercurrent of racial panic always accompanies the consideration of Asians, and all the more so as China becomes the destination for our industrial base and the banker controlling our burgeoning debt. But if the armies of Chinese factory workers who make our fast fashion and iPads terrify us, and if the collective mass of high-­achieving Asian-American students arouse an anxiety about the laxity of American parenting, what of the Asian-American who obeyed everything his parents told him? Does this person really scare anyone?

Earlier this year, the publication of Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother incited a collective airing out of many varieties of race-based hysteria. But absent from the millions of words written in response to the book was any serious consideration of whether Asian-Americans were in fact taking over this country. If it is true that they are collectively dominating in elite high schools and universities, is it also true that Asian-Americans are dominating in the real world? My strong suspicion was that this was not so, and that the reasons would not be hard to find. If we are a collective juggernaut that inspires such awe and fear, why does it seem that so many Asians are so readily perceived to be, as I myself have felt most of my life, the products of a timid culture, easily pushed around by more assertive people, and thus basically invisible?

How do you undo eighteen years of a Chinese upbringing?

Much of her talk to the students, and indeed much of the conversation surrounding the book, was focused on her own parenting decisions. But just as interesting is how her parents parented her. Chua was plainly the product of a brute-force Chinese education. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother includes many lessons she was taught by her parents—lessons any LEAP student would recognize. “Be modest, be humble, be simple,” her mother told her. “Never complain or make excuses,” her father instructed. “If something seems unfair at school, just prove yourself by working twice as hard and being twice as good.”

In the book, Chua portrays her distaste for corporate law, which she practiced before going into academe. “My entire three years at the firm, I always felt like I was playacting, ridiculous in my suit,” she writes. This malaise extended even earlier, to her time as a student. “I didn’t care about the rights of criminals the way others did, and I froze whenever a professor called on me. I also wasn’t naturally skeptical and questioning; I just wanted to write down everything the professor said and memorize it.”

At the AASA gathering at Yale, Chua made the connection between her upbringing and her adult dissatisfaction. “My parents didn’t sit around talking about politics and philosophy at the dinner table,” she told the students. Even after she had escaped from corporate law and made it onto a law faculty, “I was kind of lost. I just didn’t feel the passion.”

In other words, Battle Hymn provides all the material needed to refute the very cultural polemic for which it was made to stand. Chua’s Chinese education had gotten her through an elite schooling, but it left her unprepared for the real world. She does not hide any of this. She had set out, she explained, to write a memoir that was “defiantly self-incriminating”—and the result was a messy jumble of conflicting impulses, part provocation, part self-critique. Western readers rode roughshod over this paradox and made of Chua a kind of Asian minstrel figure. But more than anything else, Battle Hymn is a very American project—one no traditional Chinese person would think to undertake. “Even if you hate the book,” Chua pointed out, “the one thing it is not is meek.”

“The loudest duck gets shot” is a Chinese proverb. “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down” is a Japanese one. Its Western correlative: “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Chua had told her story and been hammered down. Yet here she was, fresh from her hammering, completely unbowed.

There is something salutary in that proud defiance. And though the debate she sparked about Asian-American life has been of questionable value, we will need more people with the same kind of defiance, willing to push themselves into the spotlight and to make some noise, to beat people up, to seduce women, to make mistakes, to become entrepreneurs, to stop doggedly pursuing official paper emblems attesting to their worthiness, to stop thinking those scraps of paper will secure anyone’s happiness, and to dare to be interesting.

touches on a lot of things that bother me about asian culture:

  • no emphasis on boldness, standing out, having a personality
  • no emphasis on being interesting, discussing ideas
  • no emphasis on following your passion/what makes you happy
  • no emphasis on standing up for what you believe in/injustices/disobedience

i want to beat people up.  let’s start a fight club, brethren.

i’d like to think that i’ve undone some of the 18 years of asian upbringing.  i think the article does a great job talking about how the amy chua tiger mom book was totally, totally misconstrued by public media.

chubenfelds do china – blog of the daughter of amy chua.  absolutely incredible blog.  it’s clever and funny, but also has a lot of substance.  blown away.

The Chinese reaction to Battle Hymn surprised me. First off, turns out the Chinese publishers renamed the book something along the lines of “Parenting by Yale Law Professor: How to Raise a Child in America.” Major misconceptions right there already. Also, the Chinese translation is totally literal and devoid of humor.

When my mom and I did panels, we often found the audience divided: half were ready to hate us for misrepresenting them to the outside world, half wanted a magic formula to get their kid into “Ye lu” or “Ha fo.” The message we ended up communicating was “Find a balance, learn from the best of both worlds.” The problem was, everyone saw my mom as an education expert, which she absolutely does not want to be (backstage she said to me, “How am I supposed to defend a position? I don’t have a position! This is just my life!”). Still, she gave a really fantastic speech in Shanghai about the strengths of American education, like teamwork and serving the community. I did my interviews in Mandarin, and I’m pretty sure I sounded like a moron. At least it earned me some brownie points.

“successful”. on the one hand, one of the things that i think is so cool about america is that success is not measured in one dimension.  i was reading this article about korea and how basically people are really sad there (as in, mental illnesses are a huge problem) because koreans basically really preoccupied with money and status, which is of course, by definition, scarce (also doesn’t help that koreans highly stigmatize mental illness as well).  but you’re allowed to pursue SO MANY things in america, hopefully the things that make us the happiest, be it a family, doing good things for the world and helping people, being able to boss around a lot of people, living a life of luxury, etc.

hmm, i guess 2.5x that of the states isn’t bad.  for the purposes of comparison, wikipedia says that the US homicide rate is 4.8 people per 100K.

but on the other hand, in the conventional sense, if we were just talking casually and someone mentions “so and so is very successful”, we know that to mean that they make bank.  sometimes it bothers me when people are like “WELL JAMES, WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY ‘SUCCESSFUL’”.  ugh, i get it, different goals, enough.  but for all practical purposes, can we agree that success equals money.  and you don’t have to chase money in life, but you aren’t being successful.

“failure”.  to all the people that i have let down.

to my parents: money.  SAT score comparisons have now become salary comparisons.  i made the median amount coming out of college compared to my peers.  don’t make a particularly large amount of money now.  i feel bad that i definitely have a negative ROI for my parents and they probably shouldn’t have invested so much time and effort into me.

to my former employers: being a rockstar.  i know that ubs and bain both regret hiring me.  definitely a rough feeling and blow to the ego.  it’s deserved, i was pretty shitty at both jobs and not a good fit.  part of me feels like i am a capable, talented guy, but what does it mean if nobody will vouch for me.

to stanford: contributing to humanity. in general, i feel like the mystique and awe surrounding a “stanford education” is a bit overblown to say the least, but i do feel like i was given so many opportunities to do great things there.  i remember i got this award for a high GPA (because… awesome at tests, cmon), and we had this fancy banquet and everyone got up to explain how they were designing computer programs and mechanical devices and so much freaking incredibly awesome stuff that the world had never seen, and i got nothing.  and really don’t believe i will have anything, ever.  why was i given so much opportunity if i chose to ignore it all.

being a programmer. i was at work one day, and stumbled across this status update of a stranger that ultimately spiraled into an afternoon-long job crisis:

Meanwhile, Comp Sci enrollment in US colleges is declining… I just don’t understand people who bitch and moan about inequality, yet enrollment in a major with 6-figure out-of-college salaries is de-frigging-clining.

if google software engineers make $250K, why aren’t more students learning programming

why didn’t i do programming?!  i considered it, but ultimately a) i didn’t really know the advantages of doing CS, b) i didn’t think i was cut out for it, c) mom did cs (used lightly) and really struggled with it as she got older and passed that phobia to me.  but in retrospect, part of me feels like this may be one of the bigger regrets of my life.

definitely consulted jim (who i don’t talk to very often), and he sent back this really heartfelt response.

I would definitely do CS if I went back to Stanford, no question. The job security is amazing, pay is great, plus it’s fun. I tell everyone I know who hasn’t started college yet to do CS for those reasons. The CS department at Stanford should go around to dorms freshman year and just remind people that they’ll have a choice of job offers if they choose CS.

the icing on the cake is that…. traditional high paying jobs (ibanking and consulting and such) have so many hours and so much stress associated with them, and i always would rationalize it with “i would never be able to handle that” (which i do believe is true)  but i have so many friends who do cs, and it is just the chillest thing ever where they can just take it easy and the job is overall quite laid back.  i could have totally done this!!

googler: Haha stan wanted to see what would happen if I tried to take a nap in my manager’s office
googler: The answer is
googler: We start shopping for sofa beds

are you kidding me?!!??!


sewage miners

He got lucky on a recent day. “I found a bracelet with 9 grams (0.32 avoir ounces) of gold. I got 2,000 quetzals ($256) for it.”

It may not seem like much, but it’s almost as much as the monthly $270 minimum wage in this Central American nation.

Dozens perished one day in 2008 when a mountain of garbage collapsed on them.

DO YOU KNOW HOW GOOD I HAVE IT?!  cmon james.  let’s count our blessings.

one of the things that my mom has always lamented about the fact that i have been a product of a private school system from preschool through college (i know, embarrassing) is that i don’t really know what it’s REALLY LIKE to be poor.  i don’t think that this is true; i think i live very much so within my means and appreciate everything i have.

anyway.  one of sean s’s and my rallying calls these days are “remember the sewage miners!!!” when we get down sometimes about how much money we make.

why do i deserve this. 

i do have to say that one of the coolest thing about living in my co-op house is that i do get to meet people who i would never normally meet.  like how much of my time was spent with people who were waged vs. salaried before i moved in vs. now.  basically i go from meeting people who are working with $150 to cover all non rent/student loan related costs per month, who live paycheck to paycheck, to people who make in a bonus more than i make in my entire year or people who were in a bad mood today because a stock that they had a $100K exposure to put out bad earnings.  all my age.

on the one hand, of course labor markets are determined by the laws of supply/demand and the skills/abilities that you possess.  on the other hand… if you’re putting in a full day’s, honest work and really work really hard, why does one person deserve to make 15x of the person who serves them lunch.  why are people allowed to eat a meal that costs more than someone makes an entire day.  fine dining always reminds me of how messed up and arbitrary the world is.  and how freaking  lucky i am that i happened to end up in my current position, and how thankful i should be.

a voice from the 1% (the best article on OWS i’ve seen)

And yet, I am living proof of Elizabeth Warren’s maxim that no one gets rich on their own.  If not for the UMWA helping to secure a living wage for my grandfather, I would probably have had to leave school to help support my family, as he had done.  If not for my grandmother’s passionate belief in the value of the education she was denied I would never have aspired to go to college at all, and if not for my mother teaching me to love books, I would never have been able to succeed there.  If not for my wife I would never have been inspired to work as hard as I did to see what I could become in life.  How many smart, talented children don’t have those positive influences?  How many have exactly the opposite?

My good fortune did not end there.  It was sheer luck, rather than moral virtue, that I never had the criminal record many of my less fortunate friends did when I was young.  It was sheer luck that neither I nor any of my family members ever had a major illness, or accident, or disability, despite lacking health insurance much of the time.  How different my life could easily have been!  How different the lives of others still could be.

I understand too that but for food stamps, I would have gone hungry as a child, that but for public subsidies and federally guaranteed loans I could never have afforded college.  I know that without the internet and airports, both of which were developed with federal taxes, I could not earn an income even close to what I make today.  That all seems so obvious to me that I don’t understand how anyone could question it, and those are just a few of the many reasons I am happy to pay my fair share of taxes, whatever that share maybe.  Paying a lot of taxes just means you make a lot of money, and it is hard, frankly, to complain about that.

things i would do with money.  half tongue in cheek:

  • buy a house for mom (thanks for making me look bad, golden children of atlanta asian american community; both independently self-made millionaires before 30, way to make me look bad, jeez)
  • not worry about paying the sales tax because of toasting my subway sub (thanks jose and sean)
  • be a homeowner (looking at my numerous sf homeowner peers)
  • own nice things
  • $1,000 speakers
  • a room that can fit a bed
  • not worry about eating out/not worry about cooking lunch
  • not making wayfare tavern a once in a lifetime experience
  • infinite shopping
  • being able to treat friends/dates more often
  • infinite gym memberships
  • not be tempted by the totally unhealthy but totally free food in our company pantry
  • not be bitter when i hear about companies offering free lunches and doing the equivalent salary increase that entails
  • not be inclined to walk home from clubs
  • traveling!?  (jk, i hate traveling)

about 100 caveats should go above.  i think the big one being “you could do all of this if you wanted IF YOU WEREN’T SO CHEAP JAMES”

other alternate careers.

via okcupid blog

data scientist.  i love data, i love fun facts about data.  as angeles points out, this could very well be what happens during web 3.0.  i came across this: heritage health prize, which is actually a very reasonable extension of actuary into data analysis.  super cool and interesting.  i have in theory the interest and there is in theory this societal need and i could in theory pick up all the relevant skills.


challenge/adventure designer.  doing challenge design, throwing puzzle hunts, scavenger hunts, things that involve running around the city and having fun.  see: harder better faster stronger/anxiety for tough mudder training with the domokun allstars.  actually, summer after college, i wanted to run off to new york with my game group and we would write puzzle hunts across new york for intern programs.  probably at a loss, but would have been an awesome summer.  definitely would be a lot of fun, not sure if i actually have the abilities to do this, definitely not a big enough market.

wedding photographer.  haha, nobody i tell i do actuary to believes that it’s my passion, which i think is more so saying something about the career than anything.  i was having lunch with jamie one day, and he was like “james, if i promise to watch misfits, will you promise me that you will contact a wedding photographer and offer to be their apprentice?” (he did ultimately end up watching misfits.  i did not, however, contact a wedding photographer.) i think wedding photography is the most impressive, coolest, wondrous, beautiful things out there.

why i will never pursue any of these alternate careers. every once in awhile, i do sit down and think about doing x or y or z.  but (for the same reasons i don’t do community service) (and as is the current theme of the blog) would i ever want to do any of the above over just doing what i do now?  because time is zero sum, and i basically am already butting heads with running out of time already.

things i would have to sacrifice: going out with friends, partying/dancing/drinking, dinners, exercising, tv, computer games, dating

things that i would do instead: learn about “gradient boosting trees” and “bagged networks” for data analysis; learning programming languages; spend saturday night stuck at a stranger’s wedding holding lights and lenses; spending a lot of my creativity racking my brain for creative adventures, teaching kids math

in the end, i already have enough problems picking and choosing what to do with my time, much less investing a lot of effort into a potential career change.  do i want to sacrifice so much when i am currently relatively***** satisfied with my current job?  like in theory, the “things i would do instead” are all fun, but given a choice, would i ever choose them?!

you are the average of your five closest friends (via dave) – which is a weird title for an article that basically says how it’s never too late to be a software engineer.  (though the title (this idea that if you make higher quality friends, you will be a better person) is definitely interesting) (the article is also pretentious and frustrating in other ways)

comparing yourself to other people

saddest steve jobs quote – i really am not a big fan of business insider, but the supposed “saddest quote from steve jobs” occurring after he met up with bill gates:

“He was happier than I’ve ever seen him, and I kept thinking how healthy he looked.”

inevitable, right?  comparing yourself to peers and measuring your happiness from that?  seeing rich people and wanting to be that rich?  isn’t wealth all relative?  i know mark doesn’t believe so, but i am obviously all about the dark side of human nature.

OKAY, can’t find the link, but:

scenario 1: would you rather a) make $80K while all your friends make $60K or b) make $100K while all your friends make $150K?  (assume that the purchasing power of money is the same in both cases and no inflation occurs.) everyone, everyone will choose (a).  at this point, i don’t even listen to people’s answers because i know that they are just lying to themselves if they choose (b).  i guess it’s just more of a test of how delusional someone is.  (okay, the above is half tongue in cheek)

scenario 2: would you rather a) have 8 vacation days while your friends only have 6 vacation days or b) would you have 10 vacation days while your friends have 15?  generally, more people choose (b).  this is supposed to show how money does not equate to happiness, why good experiences are better than material purchases for happiness, etc.  tenuous.

bring it home, jeff:

it’s a locomotive that runs on US!” (the best community episode of 2nd season.  incredibly clever, incredibly hilarious)

liberation.  i mean, obviously i get somewhat butthurt when i see people who aren’t failures; there are times when i wish i made bank and my bosses loved me and i was a contributing member of society.  when i wonder if i should be doing “more”.

but on the other hand….. it’s really fucking liberating to be resigned to a life of mediocrity.  it is so exhausting and inefficient constantly trying to meet these goals or priorities that you don’t care about.  and i know it sounds sort of defeatist and that i’m giving up on life, but as long as i am doing things that i deem important in my life and being happy.  that i get to set my own goals.  or i don’t even have to set goals or challenge myself, i can just take it easy and RELAX and STOP STRESSING.  the only price being…. letting people down.  feeling inadequate.  but so goes life.

(wow, this is ending is shockingly similar to the last entry.  should this blog just be called “do whatever makes you happy, fuck everyone/everything else”?  i need new messages.)

(in all fairness, life is still stressful in different ways, although i am at least putting myself through unpleasant experiences/pushing myself outside of my comfort zone for payoffs that i ultimately care more about.  but that is an entry for another day.)

(courtesy patrick)

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