Category Archives: Life

The One Thing We’re All Looking For

During our short time on this Earth, whether it’s making a deal in business, giving a commencement speech, or choosing a lifelong partner, I believe connection is at the crux of everything we do.

One of our most fundamental instincts as humans is the desire to connect with others. We’re social creatures after all and we developed language for a reason.

And I’m not just talking about connecting with people in a romantic context. 

I started a new job recently and whether it’s the fact that we’ve been stuck behind Zoom screens for the last year or that I’ve had to start over so many times in life, I felt this instant desire to connect with someone quickly. 

I didn’t hesitate in reaching out to immediate teammates and was interested in getting to know them. The whole onboarding process can feel pretty detached when done remotely, but I found that the more I connected with teammates, the more at ease I felt. Suddenly, things didn’t feel so detached anymore.

It’s amazing how quickly things change as soon as you make a connection with someone.

Showing a genuine interest in others is not something that comes easily, though. People can tell when you truly want to know them and that in turn makes them more curious about you. 

You see, many of us talk, but not all of us are heard. 

We all have a story to tell, something that has transformed us, thickened our skin, made us question our beliefs, and pushes us to move forward every single day. The thing is we tend to prioritize getting our own stories across and in the process crush the other person’s attempt at doing the same. 

This brings to mind Stephen Covey’s quote: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. When we pave the way for someone to tell their story, uninterrupted and with our full attention, not only do we start to forge that connection, but also they’ll be much more willing to reciprocate that interest in hearing ours.

A lot of us save building a connection for certain moments or people in our lives, but who’s to say we can’t do this more often? 

You’d think something as simple as browsing a store wouldn’t leave much room for a connection, right? Usually, the drill is: you go in, feel pressured to look around thoroughly, and then leave quickly. But in these socially-deprived times, think again.

Having walked into a clothing store one weekend, ironically, the first thing I noticed was a beautiful gold arched floor mirror. I asked one of the salespeople where it was from, accompanied by a nervous laugh in anticipation of her surprise. This got me talking about my upcoming move and consequent hyper-awareness of furniture and decor. The salesperson then asked where I’m moving to and showed a genuine interest in hearing my story. 

When I finished my spiel, she started making suggestions about where to buy furniture and enthusiastically talked about a hobby she’d made out of just periodically refreshing Craigslist until interesting items would pop up (some of which are free, apparently). Realizing this wasn’t the usual type of conversation that transpired in a clothing store brought a smile to my face. 

Ultimately, I left that store not having purchased anything, but I still left with a sense of fulfillment because I had a pleasant and genuine exchange with someone. During this pandemic, you can just tell people are more interested than usual in talking to others, and I immediately picked up on that vibe from the salespeople in that store, which in turn made me more willing to go beyond the usual small talk. 

What better time to take advantage of this need for people to connect?

With that being said, here’s my challenge to you: 

  1. Make it a point to let others tell you their story, whether it’s before or after you tell yours. 
  2. Practice going a step further in establishing a connection with someone (however fleeting it may be) in everyday situations, such as when you’re getting your coffee, when you go for a haircut, or if someone comes over to do maintenance work in your home.

Even tackling just one of those two points will vastly improve your interactions with others and propagate the benefits to other aspects of your life.

Let Me Tell You About This Dream…

Before I dive into the weird dream I had the other night, I just wanted to give a disclaimer: I’m known for having bizarre dreams (my friends have heard some real doozies). So don’t be surprised if I make a “dream” post every once in a while. 

Let’s face it, most people’s dreams are weird and there are various theories as to what dreams even are.

Personally, I tend to think of dreams as the product of a metaphorical slot machine – each time we dream, our brains pull down that lever and spit out a random combination of our memories or thoughts. 

Say you dream of slipping on a banana while Demogorgons are chasing after you and all the while your college friends are standing still watching this happen on the sidelines. In my reductionist analogy, the slot machine would’ve spit out: banana (because you ate a banana right before bed), Stranger Things (because you watched an episode the previous night), and college (because you were reminiscing over your college days) in order to concoct that dream.  

But then you have those dreams that seem to come completely out of left field and for that reason alone are scary. Maybe they stem from some deeper thought or fear you currently have in your life. You know the type — these are the dreams that rock you to your core and you can’t believe they weren’t real when you finally wake up. 

Enter my strange dream. 


My immediate family and I were sitting outside on a sunny afternoon in an open grassy area. Other families and kids ran amok around us while we continued with our activity (I think it was a picnic?). 

I instantly noticed how gigantic the sun appeared in the sky, almost as if someone could catapult you straight over to it from Earth. Somehow, despite how close it was, none of us were melting.

When I paid closer attention to the sun, I watched incredulously as something started to envelope it. I remember it being a layer of yellow in a much dimmer shade than the sun itself and my dream self somehow knew what this meant: the sun was burning out. 

That’s when I realized the world was ending.

Before any of us could even process our own deaths, my family and I wound up on what felt like another planet. No one else was there but us, not even a host to greet us and explain where the hell we were. 

I took note of the black and grey atmosphere around us. For whatever reason, everything was in monochrome and dead quiet. The ground was black, and the blackness of outer space was staring us in the face everywhere we looked. Whatever planet we were on had no atmosphere, that’s for sure.

As we started to walk around, we found ourselves in an open area encompassed by several different gateways. Above each of these gateways was a purple luminescent sign in cursive writing, explaining what the gate represented. 

One of them said “Rebirth”, another said “Reincarnate”.  

It was then that I finally understood what this strange place was. It was a “staging area” where you determine how to proceed in the afterlife. 

I remember feeling so overwhelmed in this moment of the dream. On the one hand, I finally got the answers to all those burning questions of what happens when you die and whether the notion of having “past lives” and reincarnation even exist. On the other hand, we all had a major choice on our hands.

If we walked through the “Rebirth” gateway, we got to be born again as a human being. If we walked through the “Reincarnate” gateway, we returned to life as another species. 

The other gateways must not have been great options, because these are the only two I remember and that I debated between in the actual dream.

Somehow, without many words being exchanged, the rest of my family seemed to agree on walking through the “Rebirth” gateway. Naturally, I started to follow after them, but then paused.

“But none of us will remember each other…,” I said, quietly.

No one said anything, and with one last breath, I walked through the gateway with them. My eyes welled up with tears as I grasped that these were my final moments with my family. 

I grabbed their hands as we proceeded down a pitch black corridor. Some kind of mist sprayed at us from both sides and we suddenly found ourselves on a spinning mechanism. As it started to spin faster and faster, none of us were able to hold on to each other’s hands anymore. 

When the spinning stopped, we all ended up in an enclosed room with lights on. Most of the walls were made up of mirrors and the ground was a dark green carpet material, the kind you’d see in a workout room.

This is the part of the dream that got completely random. 

As we walked further into the room, there were uniforms laid out for us – a blue gi and black bottoms. 

I would’ve loved to understand how Jiu Jitsu ties into the whole afterlife plan, but unfortunately, that’s when I woke up.

10 Things That Have Become Totally Normal During Quarantine

In a tense time when our differences have often been used to pit us against each other (thanks to a certain orange person), it’s important to remember that we all have something in common: surviving COVID and all its life-altering byproducts. 

It’s crazy to think that everyone in the world is connected by this experience. 

We’ve all suffered from having a more sedentary lifestyle, from not doing certain activities that once brought us joy, from not seeing friends, from feeling less motivated at work, and from scrambling to fill our pantries with “emergency” food after waiting in Disneyland-length lines. 

But being the amazing creatures we are, we have shown a strong ability to adapt. 

Here are 10 things that have become the norm as a result of this adaptation:

1. Going several days without entering the outside world
In the beginning of quarantine, we all went through that period of time when we didn’t dare set foot outside. Now, after 6 months, it feels completely normal going a day or two without going out for a walk. For those of you who live alone, this also means going days without speaking to someone or hearing the sound of your own voice. For the love of God, please regularly call your friends or family and grease up the ol’ voice box.

2. Spending all your time in loungewear
Let’s face it…we’ve all been doing the whole business-on-the-top-casual-on-the-bottom thing. Honestly, putting on anything but leggings or sweatpants feels strange now. Those rare occasions when you have a doctor’s appointment or are heading out to meet someone feel exceptional because it means you have to “dress up”. I personally enjoy those few opportunities to put on an actual outfit, even if I’m just going to Trader Joe’s.

3. Food becomes the focal point of your day
Maybe you’ve been experimenting with new recipes or maybe you DoorDash every day. Regardless, you have to map out what you’ll eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Back when we were physically going onsite, we hardly had to put this much thought into our meals, especially since lunch could often be bought or covered at work.

4. Surge in online shopping
There was literally a week where myself and those I live with were each getting daily packages; every day was like Christmas. Even now, when a package arrives for someone else, we each still get that vicarious thrill from them opening it. Hey, you gotta do what makes you happy during a time like this!

5. Picking up old or new hobbies
With so much time at home to yourself, you can’t help but re-discover hobbies you once had, or better yet, learning new ones. Not only is this one of the best ways to stay sane, but it also is a unique opportunity to put your focus into a passion project or bettering other dimensions of your life. Not a great cook? Use this as a chance to dabble in different recipes and test things out on your roommates.

6. Finding masks in the most random places
Over time, masks have started accumulating like candy in a car. You find one in your pocket, in between the seats in your car, in your purse, inside another mask…you get the picture. It’s funny to think that back in the beginning of this quarantine period, masks were practically inaccessible. Now they’re everywhere we look.

7. Zoom is a huge part of your life
If anyone’s having a blast, it’s the folks at Zoom (if I didn’t know better, I’d say they were behind this whole thing). We can all relate to the following common things people have said on Zoom calls:

“Can you all see my screen?”
“Gary, your mic is still on…”
“Can everyone go on mute?”
“Sorry, folks, I have to jump to another call”
“Apologies, I was having connection issues”
“Sorry, you got cut off, can you repeat that?”
“So today, I wanted to talk ab- *interrupted by children screaming in the background*”
“Next slide, please”
“Sorry guys, I’m having audio issues and need to restart my Zoom”

Maybe when COVID blows over, we can all gather around a campfire and share our bizarre Zoom stories with one another…

8. Time has become weird
Each day in quarantine feels like a week. Given that we’re not being exposed to as much stimuli, the days themselves feel slower and can take all kinds of twists and turns. Yet, somehow, you look back and realize almost two entire seasons have gone by…

9. You experience a rollercoaster of emotions
Every day, it feels like you go through a range of emotions. One hour, you’re feeling motivated for work, the next, you’re stressed out and anxious about when life will return to normal (especially when you come across yet another piece of apocalyptic news). You can tell that people have generally been more “on edge”. You walk into a grocery store and it’s as though the slightest thing will set anyone off. Just be mindful of others’ emotions and know that they’re having just as rough a time as you are.

10. Appreciating the little things
If there’s one thing quarantine has taught us, it’s to take joy in the smaller things in life and not take anything for granted. Who knew something as simple as going for a long walk outside or grabbing coffee from our usual spot would feel so refreshing? It’s those small doses of normalcy that make us feel good again. Train your mind to focus on the simple things that make you happy and you’ll get through this!

How You Should Approach Dating ~ A Fashion Analogy

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to make sense of the dating world again. 

As it often does, my mind drifted toward analogies, which I find to be a massively underrated way of explaining things in life, by the way. 

Bear with me on this lengthy analogy for a moment.

In the Fashion world, there are a vast number of designer bags. You’ve got everything on the spectrum from $100 Coach bags to $5000 Chanel bags. 

Back in the day, the “lower end” designers like Michael Kors and Coach used to have a bigger market. However, somewhere along the way, they started to become too accessible. 

I remember there was a point in the past where I saw everyone donning Coach bags. This hurt the brand and lowered its value in the eyes of consumers. Of course, this is not to say that Coach doesn’t make high quality bags, it’s just that as the supply grew, the demand shrunk. 

On the other hand, look at Chanel. Classic styles like the Lambskin Square Mini Flap Bag have only increased in value and demand over time. 

I remember when I first laid eyes on this particular style, I fell in love with it. It’s classy, timeless, high quality, and well….not everyone has one. I frantically searched the Internet for where I could get my hands on one, only to find that it was not readily available anywhere. 

After extensive research and visits to the actual stores, I realized that my only way to obtain one was by means of joining a waitlist, and I was not about to wait 1-2 years for this… 

In the end, after a lot of contemplating, saving, and frustration, I took the calculated risk of buying a brand new one on eBay — my first ever designer bag purchase. 

I will never forget that rewarding feeling of not only earning something valuable by my own means, but also obtaining something that was so rare

So what’s my point with all of this bag talk? 

In the dating world, we need to make sure we don’t make ourselves too accessible. In the same way that a girl would often go crazy for a Chanel bag over a Coach bag, a potential partner would be much more interested in someone who is perceived to be high-value and not readily available. 

This is not to be confused with playing games and pretending to be hard-to-get. This is about conveying your standards, setting yourself apart from all the other eligible people out there, and giving more time to those who have earned it. 

Go out there and live your best life, pursue your passion projects and side hobbies, spend time reconnecting with old friends or family.

While you spend time on yourself and live that fabulous life you’ve always wanted, you will emanate that value and naturally be harder to get anyway (since you’ll be busy doing all those fabulous things with your time).

Sometimes, Life Is Like A Movie

Ever wake up and feel like you’re in a bad movie?

Over the last few years, that feeling has only grown for me.

It all started when Trump became president.

The morning after was one of the worst days ever. I had never felt such a sense of defeat and hopelessness as I had on that ominous day. It was like being in the part of a movie where the bad guys win, only this bad guy wasn’t going anywhere for at least 4 years…

That’s the thing with movies. They usually only last up to 2 hours, and by the end, the “bad guys” have been subdued and the “good guys” are back in business. At most, you leave the movie with a sense of catharsis. 

That’s what makes it scary when life feels like a movie — you don’t have the pleasure of knowing when things will get back to normal, or even if they will. You miss out on that immediate relief you feel when the movie wraps the ending up in a Tiffany box with a pretty bow on top, otherwise known as the denouement.

Once the shock of Trump’s win dwindled, my next dose of doomsday came from our climate crisis. 

There were days I literally just stopped and thought: What are we all doing? How is that girl just casually posting so many instagram stories? Why are people traveling? Why should I bother buying anything I like when I may not be around long enough to use it? Why are we planning our future? Why bother having kids? Why don’t others seem as concerned? What’s. The. Point. 

And just when you think you’re beginning to get a grip on one piece of bad news, another, more immediately-threatening one is added to the pile.

Enter COVID-19.

If our world were a Jenga structure, the coronavirus is merely someone moving one of the blocks by a smidge; one slight action and the whole thing collapses.

In a matter of a week, our world turned upside down and we entered uncharted territory. We went from having the freedom to shop, dine out, travel, go to work, go to school, see friends or family, attend events, and go to the gym to being complete homebodies. 

You’d think certain generations would thrive under these circumstances, namely the Millennials and Gen Z-ers, who grew up with technology as their main source of entertainment, but from the looks of it, I’d say it’s the opposite. 

Take away our option to go out, and suddenly, that’s all we wish to do.

I’m not going to lie, once I started seeing fewer people on the streets, the increasing number of cases, the anxiety-ridden anchors on CNN, and people panic-buying at grocery stores like it was the apocalypse, scenes from I Am Legend started flashing before my eyes, which didn’t help me feel like less of an actress in a movie. 

Movie analogies aside, it’s clear that the virus has had a toll on practically every aspect of life, but in some ways, it might be exactly what we needed. 

Although in an unfortunate way, this pandemic has served as a barometer for how we’re doing as a society and species. It has exposed what desperately needs to be changed — our healthcare system, our politics, our perception of which jobs are valuable, our treatment of others, and our evermore divided population. 

Let this experience humble us and remind us of what is important at the end of the day: family, friends, food, water, and shelter. 

May we never take these things for granted again.

Don’t Be Afraid To Dribble The Ball

When I was in elementary school, I played basketball in my spare time. 

Let me rephrase that – I tried to play basketball.

A few years prior, I had broken my teeth in the pool and from then on became overly cautious about everything. In basketball, this translated into me running up and down the court well, but whenever I caught the ball, I was so afraid of breaking my teeth again, that I quickly passed it on to someone else like a hot potato.

I was nothing like James Harden. 

And what did this brilliant strategy get me, you may ask? Only a single basket during one of my weekend games in all the months I played…and it was a foul shot.

Now, over a decade later, I’m realizing that this same approach I had to basketball back then has become a metaphor for how I’ve approached other things in my life.

Let’s take conversing for example. 

When I converse with those I’m not super close to, I have this tendency to want the conversation to be over quickly because I’m nervous. Instead of dribbling the ball a little by talking, I quickly pass it by nodding my head a lot and not contributing more to the conversation. 

Maybe you do this kind of thing in other parts of your life. For whatever reason, you’re too afraid to have the spotlight on you for a little bit, so you quickly direct it to someone else. 

I remember in 3rd grade, I passed up on the opportunity to be the lead in our school drama production of Firebirds. I was the first approached for this role and by my favorite teacher, no less. As sassy and outspoken as I was back then, I still said no to this opportunity to be The Firebird, and opted instead for being a whistling tree in the background. 

Yes, a freaking tree.

For my reserved friends out there, I’m here to say: dribble the ball, let your voice be heard, be the Firebird instead of a tree in a vast forest of other non-actors (no offense).

The next time you fear certain actions remember this: those fears will pale in comparison to the regret you’ll feel when you look back one day and see all the opportunities you missed.

Post-Election Vibes

The day after the 2016 Presidential Election was a day I’ll never forget.

Before the results came out the night of, I knew it was already over. Seeing the red spread across the United States like wildfire didn’t leave much room for hope.

I slapped my laptop shut, not wanting to go through the pain of seeing him win. I had seen enough.

Like the 2.8 million other defeated souls, I somehow forced myself to fall asleep that night, hoping I would wake up the next morning and it would all have just been a horrible, horrible dream. 

The first thing I did when I woke up was go to Google and check the election results, hoping that by some miracle Trump had lost. My heart sank when I officially saw him as the winner, something that a year ago I had never even dreamed of seeing. Hell, I was still waiting for Ashton Kutcher to come out and say we’d all been Punk’d.

I lay in bed for a long time before I found the will to get up and face the music. It was going to be a long day.

When I finally set foot outside on the way to campus, the atmosphere was unlike anything I’d experienced. The overcast skies and strong winds painted an ominous picture. Hardly anyone walked in the streets, and the few that did kept a straight face, their reactions unfaltering, as if nothing had happened.

But once I got to campus, I could tell people were each coping with the results in their own way. Some opted for ignoring the subject completely, some sought comfort in being alone and drowning out all the noise, and others felt better venting about it.

All in all, the whole day just felt so surreal, like you’re suddenly a character amid the rising action of a novel or movie.

You know in Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince when Dumbledore dies and Voldemort rises to power? Remember how dark the successive movies were under his reign? Much like the termination of Obama’s presidency and the rise of Trump, Light had fallen, while Darkness took the lead.

That movie-like feeling of defeat, like the “bad guys” had won, was something I didn’t think I’d witness in real life, at least not at this scale.

But even in times of darkness, there’s still light, even if it’s only a flickering flame.

We always have each other. While the implications of this election are driving a wedge between certain populations, the rest of us can stay strong together. We can seek solace in our strength in numbers and the power of our voices.

All we can do now is wait and hope that America under his presidency won’t be as dark as the forecast on post-election day.

10 Things Only A Third Culture Kid Will Understand

“Where are you from?”

Seems like a simple enough question, right? Ironically, it has been and continues to be one of the most difficult questions for me to answer.

My family and I have a running inside joke about this question. For the past few years, my brother, my parents, and myself have lived apart. Whenever we’ve reconvened over the holidays, this question has inevitably popped up. 

During a film tour in New York a few years back, our tour guide asked us this question, hoping to make light conversation. We all paused and looked at each other, amused in anticipation of the complicated response. 

“Well, we live in Azerbaijan,” my Dad gestured to my Mom and I, “But he’s going to school in Seattle”, he gestured to my brother. 

My Dad then proceeded to describe how we’re actually from California, but originally from Iran, and by now, the tour guide was probably feeling sorry he even asked. So much for light conversation…

So it’s a complicated question to say the least. The answer cannot be boiled down to a single word or phrase, and often requires us to go into a spiel about our life story if we really want to do it justice. 

This is just a little preview of what it’s like growing up as a third culture kid. Here are some other typical characteristics of this atypical background:

1. No true sense of “home”

When you grow up living in different places, you start to have a bit of an identity crisis. To some extent, your identity is associated with your home, therefore having had homes in different spots your identity starts to feel fragmented so to speak. My Christmas breaks have seldom ever been spent at a particular “home” year after year. Instead, they were spent wherever my parents happened to be living at the time. 

2. Friends from all over the world

Having to move means leaving behind old friends and making new ones. Repeat this a few times and you start to become a pro at building new friendships. While it may seem like it’s hard to land down any “best” friends if you constantly relocate, the quality of these friendships is not compromised. On the contrary, while short-lived, these friendships are more likely to last a long time. I have friends from all different backgrounds and who live in various parts of the world. Between all of us, we could probably make up our own United Nations.

3. Paradigm shift

One of the most important implications of living overseas has been getting a true understanding of the world. Sure, it’s easy to let the media decide for us what other cultures and peoples are like, but that’s just ignorance and letting someone else do the thinking for you. When you go out and see with your own eyes, your views change, you become more open-minded. After living in the Middle East especially, you come to see just how biased the media is, and how thoroughly it misrepresents people from that region. People from the Middle East are among the warmest, most hospitable, and most adventurous I’ve ever met. 

4. Distance from family becomes the norm

Just because you may stop moving around, it doesn’t mean your parents will, especially if their job is the source of all these relocations. After you go off to college, you get used to this distance from family, and become even more independent as a result. But that’s not to say you don’t miss them terribly!

5. Adaptable to new environments and challenges

Having grown accustomed to changing environments, you feel like you can conquer any other challenge thrown your way. You become quick at learning new ways of life, reading people, and being out of your element.

6. Attuned to foreign languages

Hearing foreign languages doesn’t intimidate you, but rather it excites you. Living in the melting pot that is Washington DC, I feel right at home. Some days, while I walk on the streets, I hear at least 4 different languages in the span of 10 minutes. Having grown up surrounded by a variety of languages, these encounters not only feel familiar, but also make you curious and interested in learning more languages.

7. Never really fit into any niches

Very few people have experienced this sort of lifestyle, so naturally, they don’t understand. When I tell people that my parents live abroad, many initially react with some combination of confusion mixed with concern. “Are you guys not on speaking terms?” is one of the few questions I immediately get. Otherwise, people just don’t care enough to understand more about it. For that reason, I often found myself not really “fitting in” to any niches or cliques at school, mainly in my younger years. It felt like I couldn’t fully be myself without sharing my experiences abroad and explaining why I think the way I do. Fortunately, over time, I started to find more people like myself when starting college. Even if they did not live abroad as much as I did, they are still “cultured”, and that is all I can ask for.

8. When you finally do settle down, it feels weird

Originally, moving around so much felt like a nuisance, especially if you were a child. Yet, once you grow up and actually start settling down in a certain region, it feels unusual. You start to long for the continuous traveling and realize that you don’t want a sedentary lifestyle after all. You then start figuring out how to mold your career to fit that lifestyle, not just from a financial standpoint, but also in terms of geographic mobility. 

9. You become more curious about other people’s backgrounds

Each time you meet someone new, you can’t help but guess at where they’re originally from, what languages they speak, and where they’ve lived. Last names, accents, and pure looks alone become a dead giveaway after all the different types of people you’ve run into.

10. Unique stories that can be told the rest of your life

Ultimately, from all these unique experiences, you rack up a lot of stories that you can share for the rest of your life. Even if I’ve heard my parents tell them over dinner to guests a million times, they still never get old. I would give anything to relive those precious moments, even if for a few minutes.

Brand Central Station

We live in a world full of brands. If you live in DC, you especially know what I mean.

Every day, people slap on their LL Bean boots, their J Crew scarves, their J Brand jeans, and walk around looking like models straight out of a winter catalog.

Do you ever stop to think about how many brands you’re wearing though? It’s really quite fascinating actually.

Just standing in line the other day, I took note of all the recognizable brands the girl in front of me was wearing: a North Face coat, Lululemon pants, and Nike shoes.

While a lot of us don’t consciously decide to sport certain brands every day, the unique combination that comes out in the end speaks for itself. In a way, we are all vehicles for brand advertisement, even if on a subliminal level.

Do you ever find yourself lusting after a certain article of clothing or outfit and not knowing where exactly the idea came from? Well, you most likely saw the equivalent on someone a while back and that image subconsciously stuck in your head.

Welcome to subliminal advertising.

When you think of it really, most of our fashion choices stem from some other idea. You know a green jacket would look great with brown boots because you’ve previously seen that on someone else and thought it looked good. So you didn’t exactly come up with that outfit choice yourself. In the age of Instagram especially, it’s hard to build your own style when you’re constantly exposed to and inspired by that of others.

And there’s nothing wrong with building off of others’ styles and making them better. It’s just worth mentioning that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to be original with our style.

Behind every brand is a story. How it was made, where it was made, what it stands for, and whom it’s meant for.

Let’s take a look at one of the most powerful, well-known brands in apparel: Nike. Many are familiar with the fact that Nike’s name came from the Greek Goddess of Victory. This etymology, combined with the swoosh symbol, and campaigns like “Just Do It” instantly communicates a certain standard to its audiences, namely athletes. It communicates power, strength, and performance enhancement.  Being sported by the top athletes across many different sports only adds to the brand’s reputation.

Despite this positive image and influence however, Nike wasn’t always the model for ethical labor practices.

A few years back, founders of Education for Justice Jim Keady and Leslie Kretzu set out to go behind the scenes of the Nike factories in Indonesia.  To really immerse themselves in the experience, they decided to live there for a few months, under the same wages and living conditions as the factory workers.

Jim and Leslie lived in a tiny cement box as shelter with no air-conditioning and 100% humidity outdoors. Waste from all the shelters’ toilets would accumulate on and often flood the streets after rain. Like the rest of the workers, they “lived” on $1.25 wages per day, which they had to divide between hygienic items, food, and (God forbid) medicine. By the end of this experience, the two had lost a significant amount of weight and barely had enough energy to get through the day.

Fortunately, Jim and Leslie got to go back to their regular lives at the end of that experience. For the Indonesian factory workers, that experience was their regular life, if you can call that living.

That’s capitalism for you.

Brands have the ability to create power, convey quality, and affect change. Yet, we often walk around not realizing what these brands stand for and what goes into creating them.

At the very least, we can all stand to be a little more conscious.

A Lesson You Won’t Find In College Textbooks

A wise person once told me that college is as much a social test as it is an intelligence one. 

Being a recent graduate from high school, I didn’t truly understand what this meant at the time. I went in with the expectation that the college workload would be so overbearing I wouldn’t even have enough time to login to Facebook, much less engage in this so-called social test. 

I started off strong, still carrying with me the momentum of being a competitive, high-achiever from high school and expected the trajectory to continue that way. However, as freshman year progressed, it became too hard to ignore the call of the social world. It was like a dull roar in the background, waiting to be exposed and possibly distract me from my studies.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t that dramatic…but still, at some point, it became inevitable to foster new friendships and tap into the social opportunities that surrounded every freshman. I started to focus just as much on building friendships with at least a few close friends, yet I was nowhere near as gregarious as I could be.

Come sophomore year, I moved out of the dorms and still maintained the same group of close-knit friends. While I did venture out more and go to house parties and kickbacks, something still didn’t feel quite right. Perhaps I wasn’t comfortable enough with myself yet or hadn’t found the right niche.

The summer before junior year, everything suddenly changed. By this point, I grew frustrated and knew I needed to be bold if I wanted to see any serious change in my social life. So what did I do? 

I started going to parties and other gatherings by myself.

I’m not going to lie, this was scary at first, but I knew it would force me to talk to other people and give others a better chance of approaching me. Before I knew it, I was extremely comfortable showing up to events alone, without a wing-woman or squad. In fact, I preferred it that way. 

At the same time, I started meeting the right kind of people: people who were outgoing, who forced me to come out of my shell, and who introduced me to even more people. I felt my confidence, social skills, and ability to read others improving tremendously. Gone were the nights of staying in my apartment watching movies, curious about the exciting opportunities I was missing out on. 

Eventually, I found my niche, or at least a group of people I enjoyed hanging out with regularly. Beyond that, I started to realize the importance of belonging to multiple social groups. There is nothing wrong with having friends who fulfill different roles in your life. Some friends are good for dining or studying with, while others are better for going to parties and bars with. 

The ultimate point is this: what I went in thinking would be a “distraction” turned out to be one of the most important opportunities of my life. Engaging in your social life during college is not just about making a whole bunch of friends. It’s about conducting your own study of the human interaction, building your social confidence and figuring out how to read people, how to network, and who is worth your time. Not to mention, you end up learning a lot about yourself too.  Here are just a few of the lessons I learned throughout this process:

  1. Some friends are only meant to be transient

You will come across a lot of people, even ones you’d consider a potential lifelong friend. Things seem to be going well, but then over time, something happens to suggest otherwise. Maybe you see their true colors and realize you’re not as compatible as you thought. Maybe you notice a lack of effort in the friendship from the other person. Or, maybe you just drifted apart. Whatever the reason, it’s okay to cut the cord, especially if this person added no value to your life. Even if their intentions were not bad, maybe their friendship was only meant to teach you something. Simply learn from it and move on in as cordial (yet assertive) a manner as possible.

  1. There will be people who try to use you

Sometimes, people who seem inviting and promising as friends can turn out to be cunning tricksters in disguise. When first branching out in your social life, the newness of everything can make you a bit naïve (hence, the importance of learning how to read people). You act super nice to everyone you meet, grab on to the first sign of friendliness and attention you receive, all the while not realizing that your “niceness” is making you prone to manipulation. You see, there is a difference between being nice and being kind. Niceness implies a level of underlying insecurity and going out of your way to gain others’ approval. Kindness connotes that you are willing to help others, but still uphold your own standards and value yourself as much as anyone else. Others can immediately pick up on these traits, and if you fall under “nice”, prepare to be asked for favors constantly with an uneven degree of reciprocation. Don’t let yourself bend over backwards to please others. There is a Persian proverb that translates to: “Die for those who at least have a fever for you”. This means that you should put effort in those that at least put in a sizeable amount of effort as well. If they don’t even give that modicum of effort, don’t bother wasting time on them.

  1. You are not limited by your Myers-Briggs label 

Even if you haven’t taken this extensive psychological test that reduces your personality to four letters, I’m sure you at least know whether you associate more with being an introvert or an extrovert. It’s okay if you associate more with one or the other. What’s not okay is if you let this label define you and serve as an excuse. For instance, if someone asks you to go to a networking event with them, you may cringe and say, “Oh, I don’t do those, I’m an introvert.”  You may say this because you consider yourself shy and fear all the other extroverts there will overshadow you. Even if this is true, being shy or an “introvert” (which are different, by the way) does not have to be a fixed thing. You can still go out and adopt the qualities of an extrovert and then come home to re-energize in your alone time. Allow your social label to be dynamic and never let it be an excuse for not doing something.  

  1. It’s okay to be picky about your friends

The older you grow, the pickier you will become about selecting friends. This is because your tolerance for drama and nonsense from others starts to decrease and you more quickly figure out who people are. In the adolescent stages of life, we all wanted to be the “popular” kid, immersed in a sea of friends, most of whom were probably just social climbers. But this vision gets old fast, and what becomes more precious is having fewer, closer friends you can actually rely on. Who you choose to associate with is also important because it often reflects who you are too. Whether you like it or not, your closest friends inevitably rub off on you, and people will often make judgments about you through these friends. So take great care in choosing who you surround yourself with.   

  1. Don’t be afraid to try new activities

Lastly, don’t be afraid to try new hobbies and activities in college, particularly ones that take you out of your comfort zone. This is a time when you are exposed to the greatest number of people and activities in one place, so take advantage of the unique opportunities available to you. As one who seldom ever danced, I randomly jumped into Latin dancing my freshman year of college and continued to do so the successive years. This opened the door to a whole culture of social dance, filled with amazing and talented people. Therefore, not only do you learn a new skill, but you also get to meet many interesting souls in the process. I also took a stab at learning Mixed Martial Arts, out of a desire to get fitter, learn self-defense, and become empowered. So all those people who keep telling you to try new things in college are wise, listen to them! 

I hope this was helpful and drove the point home that your social life in college is just as important as your academic life. Even if you’re the smartest person in the class and can memorize a molecular biology textbook, you’ll still be way behind those that know how to talk, how to network, and how to sell themselves. Because what you’ll soon find is that those latter skills are what often land you a job. It’s all about being balanced!