How About “World’s Toughest Job” Day?

Imagine that you were asked to perform a very special, particular kind of job. One that would require you to work 24/7, with no vacation, no breaks, and no life. Indeed, around traditional holidays like Thansgiving and Christmas, the workload is expected to increase. And as a final affront: NO PAY. Turns out that there are hundreds of millions -scratch that- billions of people around the world who have this very job. And if you’re anything like me, you very nearly forgot to do something as simple as give her a call to express your gratitude.

That’s the premise behind an ingenious ad that gives mothers everywhere their due, as holders of what is all too often a relentless, draining, around-the-clock exercise in patience and tedium. While it is not a huge leap of intuition to think that the producer -Cardshop, a company selling custom greeting cards- has a vested interest in encouraging Mother’s Day goodwill, I found the message to be touching nonetheless.

Perhaps there is another reason that I, and in particular, other first-years, would find this ad particularly resonant. Indeed, it’s a well-worn saying, especially around Mother’s Day, that moms everywhere are hard-working, capable of unconditional love, and expect virtually nothing in return. What’s special about this video is the setting: that of the job interview. It’s during first-year that the pressure to hold down a job or some other form of involvement, increases. Whether it’s part-time jobs, volunteering for various committees or undergraduate societies, or applying for lab and research positions, the interview has become a ubiquitious stepping stone in our newly adult lives: one that has at least a partial role in determining the winding paths our lives are to take.

And so when we see others going through this very same process, and the offense they justly take at being offered such a consuming, seemingly unrewarding job, we become all the more aware of the sacrifices that all mothers make, knowingly and unknowingly, as they seek to better the lives of their young. Which is to say: us.

Thanks Mom!

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Goodreads Reads Good

As the popular saying goes, we all feel alone in a crowd, and this is no doubt reflected in our book choices. There’s something intensely satisfying in looking for books in the pursuit of building up one’s bookshelf. In fact, the experience is analogous to dating. At least, that’s how a certain website is advertising it..

Imagine. The initial flirtation in the magaizine section near the Starbucks. The subsequent deliberation: “Should I go for it, or should I not…?”
The leap of faith. The fluttering of the heart. Oscillating cycles of love and hate. And then periodic sentimental rememberances, fading away like the receding moonlit tides.

But this is no mere love affair – it’s reading, and sociable, highly opiniated reading at that. That’s the concept behind goodreads, a sort of social-media hotspot for bibliophiles of all stripes –a community for admirers of Russian literature, steampunk, and crass romance novels alike. Where the site succeeds, however, is the fact that it not just duplicates the book club experience -seeing as there are, well, actual book clubs for that- but that it exceeds it in many respects. Want highly personalized reviews from other readers with similar reading interests? It’s there. How ’bout that quote that’s been itching at the periphery of your conscience since yesteryear… turns out it’s there too!

Goodreads takes our collective knowledge of half-rememered, spur of the moment insights and pools them into one. But that’s not to say that individual readers’ voices are lost. On the contrary, the community encourages intimate reviews. The act of reading itself becomes an experience to be treasured and relived. The uncanny significance of that particular passage in that paperback you perused, while pondering posterity, emboldens others to share their equally random, though surprisingly touching, stories. The result is more a mere collection of stories about the stories we read, but a kaleidoscopic meta-narrative that makes literature all the more visceral.

If you’re already a member, I’d love to hear your experiences about the site, and of course your recommendations! Because as much as a website can enhance the experience, it’s still the book themselves that remain central to reading.

 

 

 

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Curiosity grows curiouser and curiouser..

Was it really over two years ago that the technological marvel of NASA’s Curiosity space rover launched from our blue marble to begin its tour of the Martian landscape? Yet, the rover is merely one of a succession of rovers that have redefined the public conception of space exploration. Though many (myself included) may harbour an idealistic vision of space-farers, fuelled by cinema hits like Star Wars and Star Trek (both old and new), the reality presents a bleak vision of budget cuts and administrative indifference.

But that isn’t to say that space-exploration hasn’t been without any pleasant surprises. NASA’s Spirit lasted over 20 times longer than its engineers had designed it for, in an environment featuring temperature swings of nearly 200 degrees and under constant bombardment by toxic cosmic rays. But perhaps this resilient little guy had thoughts of his own…>

The Curiousity Rover has been autonomous for the past 10 months so far. Give ’em another 700, and we’ll have a Pixar movie in the making!

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Running To The End of Time

It’s become apparent to me that I’ve haven’t yet blogged about one of the things most dear to me: running, that is. For me, the oft-heard refrain that ‘university is a time for exploration’ takes on literal meaning. What better way to see the treasures of UBC, of which there are many: the tranquil trails of Pacific Spirit Park, brimming with verdure and sublime beauty; the spectacular view of the North shore mountains from Main Mall; even the plop-plop of the rain, which, oddly enough, provides a comfortable white noise that takes my anxiety and flushes it away in little streams of watery rivulets.


Of course, how could I forget the sunsets by Wreck Beach? Even when the fog is penetrating as it was today, there’s a special quality to my oceanside runs. Perhaps it’s the presence of negative air ions by the ocean that contributes to this particular euphoria (according to Guy Cramer, inventor of the Passive Negative Ion Generator, negative ions – naturally abundant in natural settings, such as forests and oceans- contribute to feelings of well-being, while positi ve ions -found indoors and in offices- make you anxious). In particular, there’s an awesome trail -going from Wreck Beach (Trail 6) to Trail 7- filled with obstacles, wooden bridges, huge fallen tree trunks, and the like (pictures to come!). Lot’s of people know about the infamous Wreck Beach Stairs, but in my mind, the trail is the real show-stopper. Today, I discovered it filled with children and their parents alike, and I couldn’t help but marvel as the kids gracefully hopped along, while I struggled to keep on my feet, as well as stop myself from sliding into the muddy abyss. But no one said that adventure comes easy..

I have a feeling that sunrises would be just as special, if only I could get up early enough to catch their brilliance. I’ve been a super night-owl thus far, but who says it’s too late to make a New Years Resolution? Lend me your secrets, early-risers of the land!

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Living For Infinity

Alas, after a long, looong (admittedly unintentional) hiatus from blogging, I’m excited to be back in the thick of things! And there was certainly no better way to get back into the student mindset than to attend UBC’s 2014 Student Leadership Conference.

The day began with opening ceremonies and the enigmatic mantra Be Infinite. A mysterious, grandiose entity, that thing called infinity..

Upon reflection, I feel the core message of the conference was this: that we, as passionate and discerning students of the first-world, have at our disposal a virtual infinitude of resources at our disposal with which to improve both ourselves and the world around us.

During the presentation “To Infinity and Beyond (On a Budget),” we learned about new and seemingly bizarre (at least at first) ways to fulfill our aspirations of wanderlust. Always wanted to go on that trip backpacking through Europe, but wary of the cost? Why not try some couchsurfing?

And no, not this kind:

Basically, the idea is that you setup a profile (in typical social-network fashion), with the purpose of both hosting travellers, and seeking hosts in places all over the world – all for free! Of course, there’s more than a little bit of trust involved… but if you can get past that, you’ll be sure to find nothing other than the world at your doorstep.

I’d like to focus, however, on the next presentation, in which I found myself facing Mark Busse; a quirky, profanity-laden, ultra-hardworking entrepeneur/graphic artist who just happens to have gotten his girlfriend pregnant at the ripe old age of 19. Oh, that sort of guy, I can hear you thinking. And I would be inclined to agree.. if it weren’t for what he’s learned from this life-alterning experience, and all the amazing, community-building initiatives he’s championed since then. (A quick perusal of his current positions quickly dispels any preconceptions that he’s actually a human being…

etc. etc….)

Nonetheless, it’s odd that despite the conference being aphoristically entitled “Be Infinite”, it wasn’t the infinite that resonated most within me, but in Mark’s case, the finite. Could there have been a more humbling and humiliating experience for him than unwanted early fatherhood (and the early motherhood it entails)? The embarressment from friends, family, and complete strangers alike, and its consequent depression and guilt, would likely be enough to tear me apart from the inside out.

So why did Mark so emphatically tell us the nitty-gritty details of his life? It all has to do with one word: vulnerability. In Mark’s view, the typical business networking event is rather shallow, being stuck on the lowest level of discourse: the WHAT. To succeed, he believes it essential that one communicates the WHY. You could be the CEO of Apple, yet still be dry and tedious, if you can’t communicate the rhyme and reason for your work. It’s into this equation that he impels us to throw away our fear of showing our vulnerabilities – after all, this makes our success in overcoming them all the more awe-inspiring.

Indeed, Chris Hadfield – my idol at the moment (musician, scientist, and awesome human-being) – reveals the power of this method in his new book. Chris tells us that he’s scared of heights – to the extent that simply standing atop an apartment’s balcony makes him queasy. And yet, through such seemingly insignificant anecdotes, his readers can do little else but revel in the profound humanity in one who has otherwise achieved so much.

Mark and Chris also exemplify another uncommon trait: a willingness to challenge the paradigm. Despite having entirely different goals, it turns out that both business and space travel stand to benefit enormously from criticism. In today’s business environment, Mark suggests that it’s not enough to simply pony up to a client’s needs; what’s required is the courage to point out what’s wrong with the client’s demands in the first place, then suggest improvements – a practice known as “The Challenger Sale”. But at the CSA (Canadian Space Agency), such an approach is much more urgent because there are lives on the line. Any practice that could potentially endanger the lives of an astronaut needs to be not just exposed, but brutally dissected and reformulated. And so a surprising paradox emerges: that only if one is utterly realistic in their preparation -whether it be for a sales pitch, or for their first space walk- may they find themselves afforded the luxury of idealism. An excellent lesson for our generation.

All in all, what I most appreciated about the SLC was not that it showed me the infinite, but the finite: how people can take their entirely finite qualities and become something more. Whether that something is infinite, I can’t be entirely sure – for only the future may discern what’s in store.

 

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Those Sunny Days

Now, being a non-Vancouverite, I’ve been told (toooo many times to count) that this spectacularly glorious weather shall not last. That the sunny, cloudless days and the foggy, surreal mornings are mirages in what should be a desert of rain, melancholy, and more rain. That with the fall, shall come the rain; and with the rain, shall come the sadness, the SAD, and the depression.

So please forgive me if my over-active imagination conjures up images like

or, if things get really washed out:

But barring the transformation of my vision into an Impressionistic painter’s dreamscape, I keep convincing myself that life will go on. After all, why can’t the rain do something like this?

But maybe that’s too idealistic. So to bring this back to Earth, the rain-loving fellow sitting on my shoulder came up with some ideas on countering the coming storm:

 

A) SMILE

With campus security a pressing issue (to put it lightly), it’s all too easy to forget that underneath the veneer of the umbrellas and oversized coats lie a whole lot of nervous human beings. There’s nothing like the exchange of a smile to ease those feelings of distress. It may not be the hectic, hyper-networking Meet-and-Greet that was Orientation Week, but it can only make things better for everyone to take off their masks (Halloween, you’re an exception).

 

B) Go out running in the rain

Most people say that you’re crazy to go out in the rain.. but what about the benefits? The feeling of loneliness that often accompanies rain can easily become one of tranquility and serene contemplation, with the repetitive patter-patter of the rain drowning out the insecurities and anxieties of the day.

 

C) Add a little colour to lunchtime

Though many people complain about the food in the residence dining halls, the salad bars have more than enough to make quite the rainbow on your plate. How ’bout some red peppers, spinach, beets (why is it that they always run out as I get to them), and baby corn! Fill in the hues with olives and chia seeds, and you’re got yourself a nutrition powerhouse.

 

D) Get lost in some good classical music

No, not the Bach that was drilled into your minds, bodies, and souls taught at those seemingly endless piano lessons of your youth. How about Barber’s Adagio For Strings – cited as one of the most-played orchestral works of the 20th-century, for both its sublime simplicity and its transcendent harmonies.

-By the way, if you ever need some motivation to during your workouts and/or other feats of endurance, this helps a ton! Planck position, I’m talking to you..  🙂 –

 

Well, as my bio prof so loves to say, that’s all folks! Some topics to look forward to in the next little while:

-Pictures of Wreck Beach (no no, not those kinds of pictures; at least not intentionally..)

-Awesome and energizing study snacks

-The Universe

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Passing By In A Flash

HELLO FELLOW UBC-ERS!!

Despite now being on the cusp of entering my third week, the first still permeates my being with all the vivacious intensity of the sun’s rays upon the skin during this blissfully sunny September. The initial awkwardness of my fellow seniors froshees as we were led around our new home, transitioned to the raucous roars and soaring speeches of the Pep rally. And though it instilled in me, at the time, a  sense of awe and wonder, retrospect has allowed me to realize that the day simply marked the start of what is to be a windy journey up a mountain… Windy in the sense that, though I may be tossed and turned, the general trend will be ever upward, as I join the other thousands of flecks of blowing snow creaping inexorably up the mountainside, as individuals who will become more contemplative, critical, and considerate of the world around us.

Though it may be merely the end of my second week in this confusing maelstrom of a place that calls itself UBC, it’s all too easy to deceive myself that I’ve been living here for a lifetime. Much like a dream, during which you believe yourself to be fully in control, but upon waking you think to yourself that the dream could not have possibly been yours, so my first two weeks here seem to have been the memories of somebody else. Running along Wreck Beach in the early hours of the morning (it really is quite surreal during the low tide in the morning, amidst the sun’s slanting rays, go for it!!), and with friends, going to a meeting of the Toastmasters speech club and spinning a crazy improv about my feelings about being a toilet (yes, they do have feelings too!!), and seeing a monstrous zucchini be dropped from the ceiling during physics class; all of these new experiences seem to be those of someone else with an uncanny penchant for the spontaneous.

But it would be rather narcisstic of me to miss out on the most important thing: is the people around me, who have truly animated and enlivened these first few days of university of life. Whether it be pointing me in the right direction to an obscure building on campus, or responding to my questions in class with eagerness and a smile, you are the heroes of my world. For what do we have in life, if not the little moments of contentment? And most of all, the moments to be shared.

In the near future, I’ll be posting about all sorts of things that capture my attention, which is pretty much everything a lot. Running, nutrition, science, literature, academics, campus life; that’s all on the radar, and more! As was so excuberantly said to us on Imagine Day, memento mori.

Remember you will die.

Everything is so interesting, and there’s oh so little time to take it all in. As the quote on my sparkling new poster-sale poster pointed out, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain, you sir are a genius.

 

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