Besides Singapore, San Francisco and New York are the two cities that I’ve visited the most. This time – from end of May to early July – was my longest stay in SF yet.
That gave me the time to live like a local. I got to check out and hang out in neighbourhoods like Sunset, Haight-Ashbury, Filmore, and Noe Valley. I also spent a bunch of time in the East Bay – Berkeley, Oakland, and even Union City.
I lived in a tech bro house in SoMa basically, and this was what a day in our lives looked like:
- Alexa turning on the lights and playing us music first thing in the morning
- Riding Bird/Lime/Spin (electric skate scooters) to work, passing others on Boosted boards, JUMP (e-assisted bicycles), Scoot (one-person scooters), or Chariot (adult school bus). Also ignoring all the homeless people and litter on the way.
- Having Soylent or MealSquares for lunch
- Cooking what Blue Apron pre-prepared for us, and ordering dessert via DoorDash, GrubHub, Seamless, or UberEats + alcohol via FreshDirect, Instacart, or Postmates.
- Talking about the Warriors
TLDR; in the Bay, convenience is king, and there is an app for everything. And while things like bike shares reduces our carbon footprint, there seems to be a complete disregard for the absurd amount of cardbox boxes we go through.
America, the land of great online shopping, free shipping, and drive-through ATMs.
I spent my first week using Spacious, a network of dinner-service restaurants that turn into coworking spots in the day. It was great for bouncing around, but not the most ergonomic. I spent the next few weeks working out of Block71, a Singaporean coworking space/startup launchpad/etc. It was conveniently only a couple of blocks away from my place, in the downtown VC loop of South Park.
I also worked on my first project via Wethos, a freelancer platform for non-profits.
This time, I managed to catch up with so many people. Some newbies to SF, some SF old-timers, and some passing through. Highlights include:
- Seeing my ex-boss 4 times, and even attending his 3-year-old’s birthday party.
- Seeing two old friends: Denis happened to also in town and Ikumi came to visit me from LA and we spent 43 hours eating our way around SF.
- Meeting all the Canadians. Some at SF’s annual Canada Day party. One via LinkedIn, who then invited me to lunch at Facebook’s HQ.
- Meeting Twitter friends in person. Lenny, a marketer and all-around good person who I look up to and Sarah, a fellow remote worker.
Anthony Bourdain & Anxiety
On June 8th, I happened to wake up at 5am (very unusual for me). Right then, news broke about Anthony Bourdain’s death. It really affected me for some reason, though I’ve never even watched much of his stuff. I think it was also partly because I ran into an old flame the night before. He is bipolar, and these two back-to-back incidents threw my mind into a state of chaos and concern. With these high-profile suicides, and increasing suicide rates (of people who seem ok)… Who else is not ok (under the surface)? What can we do to help? Am I ok?
We all greet each other with “how are you?” every day, several times a day. And we’re conditioned to give this auto response: “good thank you, how about you?” But (especially with closer friends) maybe we should pause, think about how we’re actually feeling, and give an honest reply. Be open, and open to help.
I never really “understood” anxiety or depression, nor was I especially empathetic towards those suffering from it. It never touched me or anyone close to me. I have on occasion felt like a good cry – and I appreciate Hannah in Girls addressing that – but I never thought that meant I’m depressed.
That day, I reached out to close friend who I hadn’t spoken to in 3 weeks. He said: your Twitter feed’s heavy today, Lady. “Visiting or calling people one cares about” → are you really alright? (He was referencing my Twitter thread, where I listed some warning signs of suicide via WebMD)
I told him that I have a bunch going on like wanting to settle down somewhere but not knowing where, and wanting to stop consulting and have a normal job, “which are silly problems I created for myself in the first place.”
“Those are not problems you created, they are consequences of a thrilling lifestyle you’ve embraced,” he said.
Another consequence that I’m dealing with right now is my new-found anxiety. I think the first episode occurred when I was about to embark on a long plane ride in April/May. I had a window seat in a 3-seater section, and when the third person filled in, I had a little panic attack. I either audibly gasped or expressed panic on my face, and my seat-mates asked me if I was ok. I struggled to find my voice as I muttered: “I feel…”
“Trapped?”, one of them offered. And he was right.
It happened at least another 2 times when I was in SF. Once was after I had a bit to drink, so I decided to go on a 30-day alcohol cleanse. (But I ended up breaking it a week or so later when a foodie friend came to visit 🙈)
I love how more and more, we are realizing the importance of mental health. In recent years, we’ve seen the arrival of apps like Calm and Headspace, as well as organisations introducing mental health days. I think it’s healthy to have these conversations, and to trend towards transparency. Most importantly, it’s ok to not always be ok.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” – Ian Maclaren
If anyone is going through something similar, a coach at Paradigm Academy had 2 suggestions:
- Think about the trigger. As per above, I think I know mine: my crazy lifestyle. A lack of stability.
- Read Focusing by Eugene Gendlin
Writing this also reminded me of Mind Ease, an app to relieve stress and anxiety by startup studio Spark Wave.
Effective Altruism Global
I met Paradigm Academy and Spark Wave at the EAG conference, which was the primary reason for my visit to SF.
I’ve mentioned EA in many blog posts since I found out about it last year. I also held a birthday fundraiser for the Centre for Effective Altruism last November, and started volunteering with two EA organizations this May.
I’m a big fan of the EA school of thought. Simply put, it is an ongoing quest to do the most good and achieve the most impact, whether it’s through our careers or where we choose our dollars (donations) to go.
This was the first conference that I paid for out of pocket, that I’ve gone to on my own accord and for personal reasons, not work. I was excited yet nervous. The EA community if full of highly intelligent folk e.g. academics and PhDs researching and trying to solve the most urgent global issues.
And sure enough, I was hella intimidated. Many were domain experts in a particular issue. Long-time Effective Altruists. Vegans. “EA Purists” aka those who live on bare minimum to donate as much as possible to EA causes.
I did find my tribe at a women’s meet up on day 1 (70+% of EAs are male), and took it upon myself to organize an unofficial Canadians meet up the next day.
Here are my 4 main takeaways from the conference:
1) Don’t be impatient for impact
2) With the increase in plant-based and clean meat alternatives, it’s easier than ever to take a stand against factory farming + to do good for the environment (and ourselves!) Here’s an essay by Bill Gates on the Future of Food.
3) Go meta. How do I get better at getting better at doing X? Einstein famously said:
“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
That’s over 90% meta. For us mere mortals, here’s an example if we want to go say 5% meta:
- 7 hours/week reading
- 21 minutes/week thinking about how to get better at reading
- 1 minute/week thinking about how to get better at getting better at reading
How do we optimize work? Life? Activities?
4) Apply rationality. Do I know what I’m doing, and why I’m doing it?
For example, I snack A LOT. But if I think about the trigger it’s often boredom, not hunger. Now, I got to:
- Catch myself before I take the old action (snacking)
- Ask myself, “do I know what I’m doing, and why I’m doing it?”
- Summon my deliberate, conscious mind. Realize I’m bored, not hungry, and perform a new action.
- This is a technique called TAPs (Trigger Action Planning), and I’m excited to try out similar free tools from ClearerThinking.
- Bar soap. They are cheaper, come in so much less (non-plastic!) packaging, and are easier to pack.
- DivaCup. I finally started using it in June, and ladies, it’s ok. Give it a try. You’ll never have to spend another dime on pads or tampons and you’re helping the environment!
- Oakland band Mooncandy
There is so much going on in SF. The day after I got here was Carnaval, another weekend it was Pride, then 4th of July. It was also a very exciting time to be in SF as I got to witness the Warriors just barely make it to the NBA finals, then successfully defend their championship title.
Professionally, just in my 2nd week, Microsoft bought GitHub, and Uber bought JUMP. I feel like I have my finger on the pulse here. I feel the energy everyone talks about, and I see the draw of Silicon Valley. I always thought I’d move here, and now that I’m looking to settle down somewhere, SF may just be in the cards 😏 Stay tuned!