Leap of faith

Even when I fall, I know they will catch me.

I had insomnia last night. It’s been this way for a few weeks now. I would force myself to bed around or a little before midnight and tossed and turned till probably past one-thirty or like yesterday two-thirty. 

I plugged in my iPhone and kept listening to Michelle Obama’s new book Becoming. By now, Michelle had left her high-pay law firm job and became an assistant at the Chicago City Hall. Her salary got cut from 120K to 60K. 

Michelle described in detail how she realized her two Ivy League degrees (Princeton B.A. and Harvard Law J.D.) didn’t bring her happiness or fulfillment. And worst of all, she realized that she didn’t even want to be a lawyer to begin with.

She was faced with an age-old economy challenge: sunk cost.

  • Do I keep on staying to pay off my staggering student loan and maximizing the ROI of these expensive degrees and the years of hard-work?
  • Or do I stop the bleed right now and pivot even it means I may suffer financially and lose face in front of my friends and relatives?

 

I faced an eerily similar challenge four years ago. I was the youngest department head leading my own team at a prestigious ad agency. I remember walking past its building as a fresh college graduate fantasizing what it would be like to work there… Three year later, my dream came true fast and furious. I was earning good yuan, helping my family with the mortgage, helping myself with a wardrobe of designer clothes, never giving a thought about dining at fancy restaurants because now I had my own expense account… Most of all, I enjoy the look of my peers when I told them about the firm I worked for and the title I held there. In short, I understand why men buy Porsche. This job was my Porsche.

And yet, slowly, I felt hollow and shallow… I was dying inside.

The inciting event for Michelle Obama (then Michelle Robinson) to change was the sudden deaths of her father of 52 years old and her college roommate Suzanne of 26 years old; plus her ideal boyfriend Barack Obama’s constant questions about her being, her status quo. 

Though much less traumatic, my hinge moment was the call from my firm asking me to visit Sichuan two months after the earthquake. Apart from giving out relief goods, I saw kids using fly and maggot -infested ditches and holes the way we use toilet. My heart broke when I saw they couldn’t take naps lying down because their little beds were in crumbles.

I then flew back to my perfect cosmopolitan life in Shanghai with a mission. I launched a fundraise to buy safe table, chairs and mats for these kids. I was asking for 200,000 RMB, roughly 36,000 USD. The campaign took two months of my free time. But I did it.

I celebrated by calling my dad after the meeting. “Dad, guess what. You are wrong.”

“Tell me more.”

“The kids will have safe equipment within a month.”

He was proud and elated, but he simply replied, “Good.”

I then added, “Dad, I just realized that I can do anything if I put my mind to it.”

“Now don’t get cocky.”

But he knew what I meant.

When I quit my ad agency job to apply for film school, he and mum didn’t stand in the way. 

When I decided to come back to Shanghai to prepare for my artist visa, they welcomed me back with open arms. 

I don’t recall they ever say “We told you so” or “Have you considered something less risky?”

My parents saw something in me when I pulled off my first stunt. That is, getting hired by Wimbledon Tennis and finding a friend of a friend who let me stay at their place in Southfields, London for free, and snagged an interview by Shanghai Sports Channel when I was merely an exchange student to Liverpool John Moores University as a junior in college.

You see, everyone has moments of truth and dare. But more often than not, it became moments of shame and chicken-out. But honestly, how would you know if you never give yourself a chance?

Now, here is another new realization: four years ago after I submitted my application to UCLA Film School, I then asked myself just how realistic and practical this pivot was.

I became so scared that I developed stomach cramps. My fear grew even more severe when I landed LA. Facing a group of already-professional writers, I cringed at my writing, at my stories, at myself. I turned into my own enemy. It was a single-looping tune of “You will never ever belong. Period.”

And yet, right now, less than two months after I got back in Shanghai, I’m already stacking my writer portfolio. If I count the hatched and soon-to-be hatched eggs in my basket, I have four short film credits, two feature credits, several honors as visiting professor and lecture. And counting. 

I add “And counting” because I know Snowball Effect conceptually and practically. Once your stuff is out there, you will get more momentum. More momentum means more opportunity.  Sure, I’ve had and still have people doubt my worth and my value. But unlike my Old Self, I now focus on the lovely people who gave me their leap of faith when I was at the point of ‘0 to 1.’

And since I had let my ambition cloud my judgement and common sense before, I know that this time, I need to listen to my heart to produce good work, which will turn into good karma. 

And because of the lovely people whom I handpick to surround and buttress me, I can keep having my faith, for the next big leap… 

Even when I fall, I know they will catch me. 

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Get it done

I turned in my first major feature project a couple of hours ago.

In the midst of all kinds of interruptions from pneumonia, bad cold, friend’s visit, to other side projects, I got it done.

That “You can’t do it” voice in my head, so loud at times, finally quiets down a little.

I’m grateful for the people I’m working with. They were patient, and understanding.

That’s empowering.

And there is an obvious lesson re-learned:

How to get things done?

Drip by drip. Word by word.

I will catch some sleep. Because I have a new project to take on tomorrow, from scratch.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

My 2018’s 20/20

Live one day at a time

I remember dreading whether I could be do screenwriting again when I started working at a high-profile production company. In my sometimes ten-hour workday at the office in Beverly Hills, I was either reading or writing about the stuff I just read. When I ran out of materials, I asked people to send me more stuff to read. 

With the 20/20 I have now, it’s pretty easy to see what drove me then.  Fear.  

Fear of not fitting in.
Fear of getting caught as a fraud.
Fear of losing the job.
Fear of writing.
Fear of sending people my specs.
Fear of having written something that isn’t good. That might never get better.
Fear of getting kicked out of the country and losing everything.

As a result, I didn’t write a word for eight months on end. I was preparing for my small claims lawsuit against a former landlady. I was entertaining my family. My aunt fell sick. There was always a new hedgehog popping its head out for my dirt cheap undivided attention.

I believed my writer’s block was earned. It felt real and got more so by the day, by the hour that I postponed, procrastinated from: merely start. 

By August this year, almost all my worst fears came true. My visa fell through. I was let go. I didn’t have more or better samples to show when I took meetings.  I had to physically uproot and wholesale what I’d built in LA and leave the country within two months.

Tick tock. Tick tock.

It was more than just a hard pill to swallow. It was a cocktail of my bruised ego, my crushed pride, mixed with a triple-shot of wrath soaked in broken promises, trust and hope.

Friends urged me to look at the brighter side of things, greater design of the scheme.

You don’t have to tell the whole truth.  Control your narrative so you won’t be mocked or pitied. Have faith in your ability. 

Easier said than done.

At the time, I couldn’t. I was sulking and moping. I couldn’t seem to hurlde even the first stage of grieving. I was in total denial. 

I think what got me through are basically two things:

  • First, take one step at a time; and live one day at a time.
  • Second, rage and regret steal your energy, not your enemies’.

My psychologist friend Barbara said, “As long as we are human, we have ego.” So yes, if you’re wondering, I still have a chip on my shoulder. I learn to live with it. But I don’t plan to indulge on it further.

I’ll end on this note to whomever it may concern: My future success is the best “Fuck you very much.”

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Fear less, fear no more

How many 3-0 do we have in a lifetime? 

The good news of being back is that I’m now burning RMB instead of USD. Roughly at the current ratio, seven RMB equals one USD.

But still, I’m burning my time at the same rate like everyone else.  Some of my college, high school friends are officially 31, married with kids, richer than ever.  In less than four months, I will be too, their age sans the man or the kid.

For the better part of my 3-0, I had lived in fear and dread.

  • I feared that I might not get the work visa.
  • I feared that I might be let go from my work.
  • I feared that I might have to pack everything and move back to China.
  • All the above.

By mid-October, all my worst fears became reality.

Am I in the fucking hell?  Hell, no. I’m back in Shanghai. I’m still alive even though tortured by pneumonia to no ends right now…

After living through my worst fear (thus far), wasting away dollars on bullshits like moving, customs courtesy, and doctor bills, I’m still able to keep my hope alive somehow.

Fear has not destroyed me, or twisted me. But it did change me… to be an optimist.

True, my heart got lacerated the day I left LA. I miss my LA friends dearly. I miss LA terribly for its weather, food, water, air… all the basics that I once shrugged and ignored.

Most of all, I feared that my drive was lost during the move. And yet, out in the desert, a new kind of drive is sprouting out, strong and steady.

I have taken on three writing projects at the moment.

  • One short film.
  • One feature rewrite.
  • One writeup for a company.

And a couple of others I’m developing for my artist visa.

Because of my recent readjustment back into my hometown, I have put my novel on hold. But I have been thinking about the story beats while I was doing the IV infusion.

By losing this much, I finally begin to focus on what’s absolutely necessary.

This time, I have no financial emergency, no landlord final notice, no impending fate to be decided.

This time, I’m racing against no one but time. How many 3-0 do we have in a lifetime, eh?

And yo, folks in LA, don’t you forget me too fast and furious, okay?

 

Yours truly,
YZ

 

Thick skin

For the pride, the ego and the bully

I don’t understand why someone would keep the same hairstyle for so long.

Well, I like my short hair.

But don’t you find it boring? Don’t you think this manly haircut is partially why you are still single.

I let it slide.

I don’t think you’re that flexible.

What do you mean?

You almost always play by the book that you forget that what you get but focus on how you get it.

Could you be more specific?

Well, that’s how people say about you.

How can I come up with another rebuttal when I’m against the ‘people’ no matter if it’s two or three people?

 

I grit my teeth to sit through the preaching of this well-meaning ‘mentor’ who seems to always have tons of issues with my traits and my core values. I was too tired and bored to get into an argument with her.

She is right about this one: I’m not able to get the O-1 visa within my three-year sojourn in LA.

I wasn’t aware how painful it is to come to terms with me coming back home in order to go back soon enough after granted the O-1 visa.

But I have to swallow my pride in a mouthful, tuck away my ego, and refrain from barking at the people who revel in pinching and pissing on my open wound.

I need extra layers of thick skin to sustain me through the bone-cold Shanghai winter and as an unknown artist who is building a name for herself and for the immigration board.

Bring it on.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

 

Who do you do it for

If you do it for the right reason, you’re invincible. 

I’ve been real good lately.

Nah, I’m not talkin’ ’bout my diet or my biological clock which has officially gone cuckoo. Why else would you think I’m still awake and typing?

I’m talkin’ ’bout me not checking on the stats, the fans, the subscriptions of my blog and my podcast.

I had a little meltdown on the last week of September. The latest episode didn’t get the kind of attention that I wanted. I got frustrated. I turned to my Podcast Fellowship friends for advice.

Their answers can be summarized into one simple question:

Who do you do it for?

The million dollar question pointing to our true compass.

That made me pause.

To be frank, I remember I did say that even if just one person is reading my blog, listening to my podcast. I would still do it.

So who do I do it for then?

  • I do it to find my voice.
  • I do it to reassure people that “No, my life ain’t perfect. Laugh if you want. But I don’t care. Not any more. I just want to be real. And you can’t stop me.”

When I could answer that question, things became easier, simpler. The suffering became more tolerable and less humiliating.

If you do it for the right reason, you’re invincible.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

PS. Check out the latest #RBYZ episode featuring myself. It reads narcissistic. But hope it won’t sound so. Judge it for yourself.

 

 

 

 

The frog

Bring it on.

10 days from now, I’ll board that Shanghai-bound plane.

I’ve had more meetings with potential clients in the last three weeks than in my entire three years added together in LA.

I seem to act better when I’m under pressure.

I am more active, more relentless, and much less fearful.

When everything is okay, I stay put and lie to myself that everything is just fine.

What I don’t want to admit is that, I’ve become that frog in the boiling water… until I realize that I’m too hot to jump out.

I never want to be that frog again.

Bring it on.

 

Yours truly,
YZ