The Pursuit of (Experimental) Happiness

Where I’m ’bout to go, the lights all glow
And there’s no rejection, all I see is hope
My promised land

Promised Land, by OMI

Everyone is preparing for the conventional sense of better. Starting new companies, writing the MCAT, LSAT, enrolling kids in genius-baby programs at a year old, working that new startup from the basement.

I’ve renamed it the great Canadian Dream. For the Promised Land.

There is a lot of pressure to move on, keep moving, moving, moving. My friends have always been go-getters, but I reckon that I only feel pressured now because I was truly wandering for four months of travel.

Here are a few changes I’m making these days. I’m calling this Experimental Happiness, because, frankly, I know I want to be happy but I don’t know how to turn my journey into one laced with such yet.

The Pursuit of (Experimental) Happiness
You’re not meant to please everyone.

I run into former music students once in awhile; I have nothing but fond memories of them, and we say hi and I notice how I can’t armpit-hug them anymore.

There were ways I could’ve been a better teacher and business person–but those are details. The reality is, I was the best teacher I could’ve been at that moment, given the time and resources.

You know what, though? People remember how you made them feel, rather than what you did. It made my day when a student started singing to their performance pieces. I loved that my students were so comfortable with me.

Perhaps people will never know you spent the night pacing the floor contemplating minuscule details―the way you prep a lesson, whether your eyelashes are glued on for dinner, does it matter? Years and years down the road, they will remember the care and love you put in for them and how you made them feel.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. If they’re not pleased by your efforts, then they’re not meant to be pleased.

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3 Things Great Leaders Know About Timing

“I’ll help you with the event,” my good friend says. Then he never shows up for a meeting. You probably know who my good friends are anyways. If I didn’t care about this, I’d just say who it is.

But I do. Care, that is.

I’m writing this after three hours of sleep. In case you want to run an event or startup, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Timing is everything1. Remember what they say about mixing business with pleasure.

His girlfriend starts helping us, then he doesn’t let us recruit any of his friends. Isn’t your trusty best friend supposed to arrive when you dial the bat mobile? Okay, I may have the wrong number because I haven’t actually seen the Dark Knight.

What am I doing with my life that one of my best friends can’t keep a simple promise?

You can be friends with people you work with. But you don’t necessarily want to work with your friends unless you can risk losing them. Like, I don’t mind working with batman because I don’t know him, but he’s supposedly a hard worker with great biceps.

Maybe we all have friends we can’t work with, no matter how talented they are.


2. Learn about the team.

Pop culture says INFP personality types are not poised to be managers because we are so consumed with keeping peace that we tend to place achievement of team objectives below maintaining a great team dynamic.

I want to say that’s not true, but I’m like the reverse customer service desk. I will call to make sure you’re okay with your role and I will put myself on hold and even sing my own elevator muzak until you’re done meetings or cooking or whatever you want to do besides speak to me (crazy, right?).

When planning the timeline, we didn’t account for the month of fire-up time for settling into team roles; that is, how long the norming stage of team formation was. We lost more than a month that way.

Around this time of year, music teachers are growing their businesses and hiring new instructors.

You will meet people who are committed, and also people who are interested in what you are doing, without the same dedication. Ask them for favours like contact lists and introductions; ask for everything you think they can help with and let them say “no.”

We all know that “no” just means “no for now.”

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5 Golden Rules for Managing a Team

5 Golden Rules for Managing a TeamLeading people is hard sometimes. I want to make everyone happy. I want to be friends with people I work with.

I want to know about their family and friends and what they do when we don’t see each other; then, when they are not performing properly, I can be empathetic and we can have a real, gritty discussion.

But this is not a blog about management, and I don’t think you want to read about how important it is for me to be everyone’s friend.

So instead, I will talk about creating structure.

It’s summer ripe time for anyone, musician or teacher or startup/small business, to grow their team. Families are on vacation, teachers are on break before the new semester, music festivals have happened.

Our event team started from scratch, when I was bouncing ideas off close friends.

After describing my idea, I say, “Would you be interested in working on this?”

“Definitely,” Benta says.


We look at the calendar, and we count forward four months.

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Dear musicians, please don’t cram an important performance

Ways to recover from a memory slipMusic students raved about my personal techniques on cramming for a music performance, which I shared a while ago, and decorated it with the most fitting gifs.

I’m a great crammer but I’m here to tell you it’s not worth it. Cramming is for emergencies only.

When under pressure and stress (i.e. performance conditions) you will rely on muscle memory and it will take 100% of your focus to not mess up. If you’ve crammed, you will have little muscle memory to draw from, which unfortunately makes your mind more likely to blank.

My cramming techniques worked for my performance, but it wasn’t failproof.

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Don’t let fear rob you of the grind

A design event I produced

Everyone wants to do something that’s awesome and cool and changes the world. But I’d argue that it’s enough to have changed the course of a few people’s days. That is more realistic, and to be honest, no one changes the world by saying they’re going to change the world—those ideas never work. People who really change the world have failed a few times and know that luck and good ideas go hand-in-hand.

I produce events to bring people together and shift the course of people’s lives in a tiny way; this might ripple outwards, it may not. But I’m happy to have affected a part of people’s day for the better, that they decided that my event was more valuable than drinking hipster coffee by the ocean.

You never know about these things. Maybe you produce a design workshop that inspires someone to pursue design or coding, which changes their career. Maybe your music performance encourages someone in the audience to start performing.

Years ago, I was told something along the lines of this, by a comedian: “If someone in the audience was watching me, and forgot about their worries and was completely engrossed for even 5 minutes, then I have been successful. Because I have changed a part of someone’s day for the better.” And that is enough for me, I think.

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Life After Travel: What’s Next?

A phone is important for someone who is away from home. Your phone tells people that you are okay and having fun, even if you are in the middle of an overseas crisis.

“Where are you?” People would ask. Hong Kong. Malaysia. Taipei.

I picked destinations that were the most rewarding with the lowest empty-hype factor; I was tired of hearing about Beijing and Thailand and the Philippines. I love that people started picking their travel destinations based on mine.

Malaysia, for example, is just another metropolitan city unless you get to the islands and start driving jetskis and diving. I stayed away from Thailand and the Philippines because those were too talked about did I mention that I am anti-trend on principle?

In any case, people started visiting Kota Kinabalu. It is the anti-trend, safer, and quieter version of Thailand and the Philippines, with the night markets. No elephants, though.

What Travelling in Asia Does to You: Culture ShockWhat Travelling in Asia Does to You: Culture ShockYou fall in love with the idea of the place. You will hear stories, see photos, and form expectations. For example, I am a big fan of National Geographic and my idea of open water is a shark’s feeding ground. Although I have been across the world and haven’t encountered a shark yet, I am still wary.

My photos and stories capture one instance in time; if I have been able to make anyone happy for me, or envious, then I have done a good job of conveying the magic.

But, travel is not all magic. I guess what I want to say is that we often form expectations based on someone else’s success story. I did that, especially when viewing travel photos on Pinterest; although I have no regrets, Asia was vastly different from the image developed in my mind. It is a lot more commercialized and modern, for one, than travel photographers let on (because wannabe Westernized culture is boring to photograph; we already have that at home).

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How to Improve Your Rhythm & Timing

How to Improve Your Rhythm & Timing

Maybe you have trouble keeping a steady beat, like me.

If you have heard me play, you’ll probably know that I’m most comfortable with fast, expressive music—for a good reason. I can’t keep a beat in my bones.

Left to my own accord, I can’t even shake an egg shaker with consistent accents (I tried, for 35 minutes in high school, until the percussionist pried the shaker from my fingers).

It’s not that I don’t hear the beat; I do. I just don’t follow it. There’s an internal rhythm that I prefer.

Rachmaninoff agrees with me.


This rebellion of the beat has spilled over to my dancing.

“Listen to the music,” instructors are always saying. Okay, I am a better pianist than I am a dancer (thankfully) but it’s still a struggle.

I’ve been on and off dance teams for the past few years, in Vancouver and Hong Kong. It’s a hobby. I like it, but I’m still a better pianist than I am a dancer. I think.

Right now I’m between dance teams, just back from travelling Asia. I’m a bit rusty, but I like to think that I could have passed the auditions I never attended, as long as I kept from throwing up and forgetting all my choreography.

(Please, the throwing up happens before the audition so you fit into the tights.)

So I suck at following the beat and have long since accepted the inevitability of the situation. My sister is on a dance team and trains each week. One day, she is shuffling around the room blasting horrendous rap music with her arms bent at her chest, occasionally extending them.

“What are you doing?” I shout.

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