Today was a special day.

I saw my former student, Michelle, for the first time in over 10 years. She has become quite the accomplished dancer in the world of Tribal Fusion Dance, and her show in Tokyo coincidentally happened to be within walking distance from where I am temporarily staying, so of course I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity to see her perform live for the first time.

Because her routines seemed so well thought-out and her flow of energy so purposeful, I was surprised when she told me afterward that she had improvised the whole thing. However, I do know from my experience playing music that “improvisation” is often a misunderstood word. It does not mean “do whatever”. There’s so much preparation that happens behind the scenes because an artist must develop a vast amount of knowledge, skill, and intuition before their improvisations are any good, and contrary to the popular notion of complete freedom, it is actually the restrictions under which the artist must perform that give so much meaning and beauty to the improvisation.

We also got to catch up on life a bit, and her plan is to “quit dancing once she gets really good, because then it will be too boring.” That may sound counter-intuitive, but I was not surprised one bit, because that is a common outlook I’ve heard from many artists I admire. To them, art is a journey, not a destination. And even though they are already “really good” by worldly standards, they know that there is much more to be done to get to the next level.

Thanks Michelle for the inspiration! (By the way she was my math student. I don’t teach dance, in case anyone was wondering, but I am still a proud teacher!)

On sexism

It has been a few days since the infamous Google doc, or the “Anti-Diversity Manifesto” as so many media sources have called it, has been passed around. I’m not going to respond specifically to it because many have done that already, and it is so easy to view this as an “us-versus-them” issue because of the outspoken nature of those who hold extreme views on the topic, even though the reality is much more nuanced. I wish the media didn’t simplify the issue and boil it down to a sound bite with a misleading title like “Anti-Diversity Manifesto”, because, despite the author’s being labeled as “sexist”, his main motivation for writing the document doesn’t seem to be to speak against diversity itself, but to question Google’s specific diversity initiatives. If you carefully read it, he had some good points to make.

However, beyond the doc, I do want to point out a few things about sexism in the workplace and in society in general, because the gravity of the issue at hand is actually about so much more than this one single doc.

“Sexism”, just like many other words that end in -ism, is ingrained in the way a society functions which propel behaviors from the members of the society that cause a certain effect, in this case, the degradation of the members of the female gender, made possible largely by what are considered the societal and cultural norms, and our indifference toward those norms. So the problem isn’t simply the one openly sexist person who believes that men are better than women, but rather, what all of us tolerate every single day, or at times don’t even realize or label as sexism because of our ignorance and the subtlety of the issues that we encounter. So much of sexism goes unnoticed because we have built a society in which it is perfectly ordinary for one gender to be treated differently than the other, so unless we are actively seeking to identify and bust the existence of sexism, we will continue to live in a sexist society. Most of the time, we don’t even stop to think about it, or realize that something is wrong, which is exactly why this is a problem.

It starts early in our lives as culture and society subliminally enforce stereotypical norms on everyone from a very early age. As young kids, boys are given puzzles and Legos that improve their spacial and reasoning abilities, while girls are given dolls to play with. Boys are encouraged to develop skills that lead to a career (You like to cook? You should become a chef) while girls are encouraged to develop skills for making a home. (You like to cook? You’ll make a great wife and mother.) That might not be as big of an issue if homemakers got the respect that they deserve for the hard work that they do, but as long as society continues to elevate work above home-making, and money-making above relationship-making, this is a major issue. In school, boys are more likely to be given feedback from their teachers that directly address their performance, while girls are more likely to be commented on about their smiles and clothes. And even if we actively tried to stay away, nobody is immune from the dose of pop culture that is always screaming at us; all those TV shows and movies that portray men as heroic protagonists and women as objects to be won by those heroes. And throughout all of these experiences, little by little, we start to pick up on the social cues, and what it means for each one of us to be a valuable member of this society. While boys are taught to be brave and take risks (which naturally lead to many life opportunities), girls are taught to play it safe, be gentle, and look and act cute.

The sexism of course doesn’t stop in adolescence, they continue through adulthood. I routinely notice that when a group of people are having a conversation, a male member of the group will often interrupt a female member who is speaking, and nobody will raise this as an issue. This happens so often that we don’t even notice it as it happens right in front of our eyes. (One time, I encountered exactly this situation in a meeting to discuss how we can promote diversity. Irony much?) Not only do we often fail to recognize the inherent sexism here, men even benefit from such a scene, because so many people view it as a sign of strength when a man expresses his views and dominate the conversation. But our reactions are surely different if the opposite were to happen, that is, if a women were to interrupt a man. Or heck, she doesn’t even have to interrupt anyone, she may just hold a strong opinion about something and express it, at which point she quickly gets labeled as “bossy” or “bitchy”. (related read: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg) Ok, maybe people are not that explicit nowadays with their choice of words, but you get the point.

Here’s another example that you may have encountered: a female coworker of yours does something that is outside of her job description, such as volunteering to organize a team lunch together, or cleaning up after a social event in the office. If you pay some attention as to how the situation plays out, you will notice that she got little to no recognition for this work, because subconsciously, we take it for granted that it is the normal role of women to be these supporting figures behind the scenes, all the while men are encouraged to take on the more flashy, “respectable” roles that stand out more, and often are more about elevating himself rather than the team (by the way, it is horrible that such actions are tolerated and even rewarded, because it hurts the company more than it helps if we wish to engineer a great product, but we can save that discussion for another day), and through these selfish actions, he somehow earns status and respect, and with that come the raises and promotions. And even if your male colleague were to volunteer himself to do some of the “supportive” tasks instead, he is still recognized for that because it is out of the norm for men to take on such a task and be so “selfless”, so his actions are immediately noticed and appreciated.

So about the “doc”, while we may feel good about ourselves because we think that we are fighting sexism by expressing our outrage toward one man who decided to share his views with the company, please, don’t let us think that that is the way to change. It is great to have these conversations as a starting point, but more importantly, let our actions speak loudly for what we stand for. Let us fight deliberately the sexism of this world. To start, we must be aware of the ways in which societal norms can put down one gender. Once we recognize the issue, we can actively challenge them.

Why I Make Music

The musician in me wants to embrace this romantic notion of music-writing. Something like “I got inspired today, so I wrote this beautiful song.”

But the educator in me wants to teach the world about the misconception of such a notion, what it means to actually pursue music, and why, although the actual process may not be as cool as the above romanticized version, is actually the coolest thing ever.

It is great that there are so many ways to enjoy music. I am a creator, and I am much more interested in creating rather than consuming. I’m not as interested in consuming music, or rather, consuming much of anything, hence the reason I don’t own a TV or a smartphone, and I don’t surf the internet unless specific circumstances require me to. Some people even find it shocking that I don’t have internet at home, but to me, living distraction-free is a great way to maximize the time to create music and thereby increase my level of happiness. However I do appreciate that the world also has consumers, like the people who like to enjoy music by listening to them. Many of my songs were written with a specific audience in mind.

But one thing is very clear to me. The world needs more creators. Fulfillment in one’s life pretty closely matches the ratio of how much one creates as opposed to how much they consume. The happiest people I know and have worked with closely are all creators. So although I don’t advocate that we stop being consumers completely from this moment on, I do encourage everyone to create more. It doesn’t have to be a piece of music, and it doesn’t even need an audience. But do create something. Maybe a wonderfully tasty meal, a lecture on a topic you care deeply about, or the first draft of the first chapter of that novel you’ve always fantasized about writing. You will notice that all of these things don’t just happen simply because you got inspired. It takes a lot of time to build up the necessary knowledge and to refine your skills to get to a point where you can create something beautiful.

To make good music first requires acknowledging your shortcomings. Only then can you define what work it will take to overcome them. It helps if you can find pleasure in knowing that there are things you cannot do yet but you do have the potential to accomplish with effort. Either way, in the end it simply comes down to actually putting forth that required effort. That’s all, there are no secrets to it. This process is not “fun” in the traditional sense that people use that word. “Struggle” might be more befitting. But I argue that the struggle is where the fun is. The constant struggle shapes you in ways you would never have imagined. There is nothing more fulfilling than going to bed each evening knowing that you made progress today, and you will again tomorrow. This daily progress is so small that nobody except you noticed. But the little steps add up over time, and in what seems like a blink of an eye (to others, not you), you will reach a point where people say things like, “How the heck do you do what you do?” “You’re so talented!”, and “Your work is so beautiful! What inspired you?”

It is a tragedy that “talent” is so commonly regarded as the factor that limits what a person can accomplish in life. “Talent” is a false concept, there is no such thing. So although it may be tempting to say that a person is “talented”, please, be careful when you use that word, especially around children who are still forming ideas about how the world works.

All of the above is not to discount inspiration, I do get inspired to write music from time to time. But most of the time when I write, it is intentional. And even in times when I get lucky and catch a whiff of inspiration, what I am able to do as a result of that inspiration is still limited by the skills I have built up slowly over time by being intentional about my growth.

I didn’t choose to pursue music because I wanted to become great. Actually, I admit, I do yearn to write a great song and I think all musicians do, but that’s just a possible outcome of my trying, and I don’t have full control over that, so it is not the most productive goal to work toward if I am to be at peace with my current self, because most of the music I write I don’t even like. They are pretty bad. And if I don’t ever achieve a point where people consider my music to be “great”, I will be perfectly okay with that. That’s not really the point of music anyway. Music was invented as a way for people to have fun. I am a musician because the very act of creating is fun and fulfilling. I simply feel blessed just for having the opportunity for even the remote chance that I might create something beautiful, and even if I end up creating a bad piece of music, well, I would still have had a whole lot of fun doing it, so what more can I ask for?

The Little Things

Recently, I attended Kan and Minae’s wedding. Kan is a musician, an artist, my younger brother, and my best friend. The night before the wedding in Hiroshima, we went out to a casual Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki dinner. At the dinner, Kan said, referring to his upcoming wedding ceremony, “In context, it’s really not about the ceremony. I am much more about doing the little things daily to build up the relationship.” And this is the reason why I am confident that Kan and Minae will have a happy life together.

Most of us that grew up in today’s society were taught that our life is about our achievements. We are constantly asked “what do you want to be?” as if what occupation we pick is what determines the quality and impact of our lives. Societal forces pressure us to stay on some “path to success” which usually involves getting good grades, getting a college degree from a well-known university, making lots of money, and raising a happy family. I see nothing inherently wrong in any of these things, but I do see a disturbing trend where so many people seek them as if they are the things that will give their lives meaning and happiness.

I challenge all of us to shift this attitude a bit. Rather than focusing our attention on these milestones, we should instead seek meaning in the little things that we do daily. Instead of setting up goals that are centered around outcomes (such as “I wish to land the job of my dreams” or “I wish to find a partner and be happy together”), we should set up goals that are growth-oriented (such as “I will study daily to gain more skills and improve my chance of landing the job” or “I will work on improving the quality of my relationship with others by listening more and communicating better”).

The benefits of this change in attitude are two-fold. First, our emotional well-being will not be bound to outcomes that are not fully in our control, and second, regardless of the results, we will be happy because we are seeking meaning in our growth, not the final outcome. And as an added bonus, although this is the least important part, we will end up with better outcomes anyway, because more opportunities open up when we are focused on growth.

With this new attitude, everyday feels like a celebration, because we will make progress, however small, every single day.

With that, I wish you a happy new year. Today would be a good day to get started. Invest this day to your personal growth. I also highly recommend reading Kan’s 2017 mantra below:

A 2017 Mantra

by Kan Adachi

What does it take for an artist to do “Good Work”?

Doing good work is not about making an impact. It is not about making a living, gaining fame, or any other social metric. In fact, the quality of work that one does is largely determined by how frequently they intentionally show up to work. We like to think that a painter sits down in front of a blank canvas, is eventually struck with inspiration, and proceeds to arrive at a masterpiece through a series of awe inspiring strokes.

However, more than 90% of what we see in terms of quality in art actually comes from repetitive, mundane daily practice. Behind every stroke of paint on a masterpiece are hundreds of thousands of strokes that aided in developing the technique and taste of a master. A painter is good at what they do because they do it a lot. The other ~10% that contributes to their work quality can come from a myriad of sources like inspiration and talent.

On a similar note, what I love about sports is that an athlete’s talent seems to be masked by the fact that they work hard day-in and day-out. The outisde world knows that if an athlete does not continue to practice, they will not live on as titans on their respective sports forever. That, to me, is a realistic understanding of what it takes to “be good”.

Because the skills relevant to less concrete activities like the visual arts, music, and teaching cannot be measured in a competitive fashion, the general narrative about how to become good at those things seems more muddied. I frequently hear phrases like “You are so talented!”, or “I wish I could play like you!” in relation to the aforementioned skills.

But I don’t hear people say things like “I wish I could run as fast as him”, or “I wish I could throw the football like that quarterback.” (At least I don’t hear that often.) The reason for this is because inherent in that statement is a requirement to practice.

Why should it be any different for any other skill?

The reality is that humans are largely creatures of habit, muscle memory, and repetition and what we do on a daily basis has a huge impact on our performance in regards to any skill. The fact that some activities’ necessary skill sets cannot be measured does not change that reality.

In order to do good work, one must make a commitment to showing up on a regularly basis.

6 Rules for Resolution Setting

It’s the new year, and I want to explore an avenue of resolution setting that is hopefully a refreshing paradigm to the typical New Years resolutions that individuals simply fail to achieve.
Here are the six ground rules and their reasons for my resolutions this year:

1. It must be commitment based with a specified frequency.

The biggest problem I have in achieving my goals is staying disciplined and vigilant towards achieving that goal. A commitment centric approach is essential to goal setting because the energy is focused on showing up instead of the final prize. This combats the desire to only pursue the goal when I am motivated to do so.

2. It must include a time of day as specific as possible

By including specific details of when the task will be done, it is easier to make it routine. Less resistance for doing the activity will only help me achieve consistency.

3. It must include a measurable metric to assess completion of the activity

This gives me a non-negotiable, “black-or-white” measurement for whether I lived up to the commitment or not. The less wiggle room there is for kind-of doing the activity, the less likely I will cheat myself by counting days that should not be counted.

4. It must include a time frame for the commitment that is longer than a month; At the end of the time frame, I will reassess whether the habit should be continued or not.

Not all habits and activities are right to pursue in the long-run. Everyone is different and I have to be able to accept when something doesn’t jive well with me so that I can focus on trying a new habit that may be more beneficial. This also has the added benefit of allowing me to focus on developing discipline instead of being distracted by whether a habit is right for me. I can delay that assessment until the time frame is over when it is more appropriate to assess the overall quality of my goal.

5. It must list an accountability partner who I will check in with every week

Having someone hold me accountable is an effective tactic to keeping myself in check. However, telling someone I will do something can be counter productive because there is no real accountability metric in my intentions. Instead, the goal with this requirement is to inform them of the action steps that will be taken should something go awry. Which leads me to:

6. It must include a back-up plan should I miss a commitment

I am not perfectly disciplined and developing a new habit is rather difficult. A mistake people frequently make when setting New Years resolutions is that they only focus on what to do right that they don’t have a contingency plan and realize that they are screwed because they messed up their resolution. A back-up plan is perfect for reinforcing that I committed for X number of days and I will do my best until I hit that time frame.

Here’s an example resolution following this format:

  • I will walk every morning for 15 minutes as the first thing I do after waking up.
  • I will track my daily progress and share the details with [someone] on a weekly basis over [email, Facebook messenger].
  • I will be committed for 60 days, at which point I will reassess whether this activity is something I should continue or not.
  • If I miss a day, I will set an alarm clock reminder for myself on the next day to be sure not to miss two days.
  • If I miss two days consecutively, I will notify my accountability partner and let them know that I am still committed to continue doing the activity for the time frame I specified.
  • If I miss three days consecutively, I will set up a time to discuss with my accountability partner explaining the reasons for missing.
  • For every subsequent consecutive day missed, I will continue to notify them of the reason for missing via [email, messenger].
  • Once I am back on track, I will notify the partner that they will not hear from me besides the weekly check-ins unless I am off track again.

Doing “good work” is a lot of work; it takes a little bit of effort, at a frequent pace, over a long period of time. This is news most people don’t want to hear, but I want to fully embrace this challenge in 2017. I believe in my heart that it is productive.

I encourage you to take the same amount of diligence and effort to start off the year right.

Happy New Year!

Good Bye Los Angeles

Today is a bitter sweet day. I bid farewell to Los Angeles, the city I have called home for the last six years. So much has happened in the last six years, and at a time like this, it is worth remembering all the wonderful turns that I never thought my life would take that led up to this moment.

I first came here to do an engineering internship. If you had told me back then that I’d be in L.A. for the next six years, I would’ve told you, “you have no idea who I am. I don’t stay in the same place for that long.” But here I am, six years later. My time here has been filled with wonderful memories, but my proudest accomplishment has got to be the time I spent teaching in the classrooms. In hindsight, I am so glad that I jumped, without much thought at the time, at an opportunity to start a charter high school’s engineering program. Some people thought that I was making a stupid decision, and I’m sure that they had good intentions, but to me, nothing is more stupid than not trying to do the things that your heart tells you is the right thing. We only get to live once.

I also picked up the piano a little more seriously during my time in Los Angeles. Back in college, it was very hard to dedicate enough time to music as an engineering student, and I knew on the inside that I really missed music. So after graduating from college, I started to practice more and more, and one day, I finally found the courage to quit my jobs altogether and take a sabbatical year to focus on my music and personal growth.

A significant chunk of my sabbatical was spent playing and writing music, but I also had the time to study whatever I found interesting at the time. I studied various topics, such as fluid dynamics, orbital mechanics, and computer algorithms. It was a very relaxed and happy time of my life.

Naturally because I was not working much, my savings started to go down, and my happiness started to turn into worry. It was at that time I came across some students, by chance, who wanted to learn programming from me. It started with just two girls, but pretty soon they brought their friends to learn, and it grew into a group of six. Their attitude and their desire to learn inspired me, and I wanted the same for myself. As much as I hope that they learned some valuable lessons from me, here’s a big secret: I learned much more from them. Teaching this group of girls turned from the little thing I did on the side, to the highlight of my week. I kept teaching them even after I went back to the workforce full-time. It was absolute joy.

Yesterday was my last lesson with them, and we said our good-byes. I know that this is not the end though, because I know that they will take whatever they have learned, and apply it to their lives. This world of ours still has a lot to be disappointed about, but I remain hopeful because I know many amazing young people. They are quite literally the future, and I am optimistic.

Although I am leaving Los Angeles today, I will forever consider this city my home. Special shoutouts to the following people:

-The crew at Coffee Times Donuts on Main. Your smiles always helped start my day on a positive note.
-The fellow engineers at Virgin Galactic. Even though I am leaving, my passion for aerospace has not wavered, and I will always be cheering for your successful launch.
-The campus assistants of Synergy Academies. I don’t know how I would have done my job without your help. Thanks for being the real difference makers behind the scenes.
-My neighbors in Crenshaw. Although I was a bit surprised when you assumed, without much thought, that I was Chinese when I first moved in (there are different kinds of Asian people you know!), you were always so nice. Sorry if my piano playing ever kept you up at night.
-My students. You inspired me more than you know. I am so excited to see what the future will hold for each one of you. Life won’t be easy, but it will be beautiful.

Until next time,

Advice for the first year teacher

Ever since I left teaching, I have been wanting to go back into teaching in some capacity, and recently, a perfect opportunity presented itself. I signed up as a volunteer with the TEALS organization (https://www.tealsk12.org/) that places engineers in classrooms, and today, I finally went back into teaching.

As I was walking on campus reminiscing my teaching days, I ran into this one teacher. After a short conversation, I found out that she is a first-year teacher, just about to teach her first lesson.

Her composure amazed me, because I remembered how scared I was going into my first lesson. I didn’t sleep a single minute the night before my first day (and this actually continued year after year, I could never sleep before the first day of the school year). Now that I think back, it’s kind of miraculous that I chose this profession, because one of my biggest fears is public speaking. Anyway, this new teacher asked if I had any advice for the first-year teacher.

Here are the things I would tell my younger self, and any other person who is about to embark on this difficult but amazing journey called teaching.

1. Don’t teach. At least not in the traditional sense. Don’t be that teacher who stands in front of the class and talks. As much as teaching has become synonymous with lecturing, good teaching is so much more than that. Think back to your own life. What are you good at now, and how did you become that way? Anyone who is exceptional in any field knows that they got that way through struggle. And although I love to sit back and listen to a good lecture sometimes (who doesn’t like TED Talks?), how much have you really learned from watching TED talks? They are very well-prepared presentations for sure, but do you remember anything from them? The truth is, people do not learn by watching others. It’s deceiving because you even feel like you’re learning when you watch some passionate person talk about their experiences and what they’ve learned. But if you could really gain a skill by watching another person, then I should be a phenomenal Olympic diver with all the terrific jumps I saw tonight. But of course that’s not how it works. If I wished to improve at anything, I must do, not watch. So good teaching, then, is to create a classroom experience in which the students must actively engage in the material. They must be encouraged to struggle. It is so tempting to just give them the answer, or show them some shortcut. Resist the urge. If your student tells you “you make learning so easy!” then you have failed as an educator.

2. Don’t beat yourself up. You work in a broken system called American education, and not everything that goes wrong in your classroom is your fault. There are forces outside the classroom that you cannot control, so focus on what you can. There are millions of kids not getting the education they deserve all over the nation. A majority of your students will come to you with below-grade-level skills. I know, it hurts me too when I think about it. America should be ashamed for not having the political will to do anything about it. But look, you do have the opportunity to provide the most amazing education to the thirty kids in front of you, right here, right now. So while you’re in the classroom, forget politics, and seize the moment. These students need you.

3. Once you’re in the classroom, all the things you’ve read in the teacher preparation program will go out the window. Well not exactly, they are very good things to keep in mind, but when you are faced with a situation, you do not have the time to come up with the best solutions, because you have to keep the lesson moving. This is why teaching is so much harder than other professions. Inevitably, you will make wrong decisions at times, and that is okay. Reflect on them so that when a similar situation comes up again you will be prepared, but just because you made a mistake does not mean that you are a bad teacher. As with anything in life, you get better with time and practice. Actively seek to improve, but when results don’t immediately show, be patient.

4. And most importantly, believe in your students. Every student has the potential to do amazing things in life, but often, it takes a teacher who believes to bring out that potential. There are so many forces in society that constantly put these kids down. They are told over and over again that they are not good enough, and pretty soon, they buy into this lie. “Maybe I don’t have what it takes,” they say. Fucking bullshit. You know it’s a lie, otherwise you wouldn’t have chosen this profession. But your students don’t know yet just how much they are capable of. So believe in them, even when nobody else does.


Recently, I attended what could have been my last high school graduation. I say “last” because all of my former students have now graduated from high school. It is scary how quickly time flies, and I still can’t fathom that the kids I knew as 13 and 14 year-olds have grown and are going off to college in what felt like a blink of an eye.

Watch this powerful graduation speech by one of my students:

Xitlalli, the one giving the speech here, is one student whom I grew particularly close with during my teaching career. The thing I miss most about being a teacher is the chance to meet and develop a connection with amazing students like her, for I feel that I have formed what will likely be life-long bonds with these students. They are practically my sisters and brothers now. And although the world may dismiss these students as “black and brown kids from the city”, to place such a label completely misses the mark, for these students are beautifully and uniquely human, and they each have their story, despite being ignored by the rest of society.

I am convinced that there are no such things as innately “smart” or “dumb” kids, and the fact that there are students performing at a high level in one part of the country while poorly in another, is simply an indicator of our systemic failure. Either we have failed to recognize the injustices prevalent in the U.S. public school system, or even worse, we have recognized but simply decided to do nothing to fix the all the wrongs we see, and for that, we should be deeply ashamed.

Despite all that society does to try and keep some people down, students like Xitlalli manage to arise against all odds, and with tremendous hard work and determination, break the stereotype of “the kids from the hood”. Of all the accomplishments in my life, nothing makes me more proud than the fact that I was their teacher.

There is so much more work to be done to tip the balance of this unjust society, but I have high hopes that we can, however slowly, change the world for the better if each of us do our part.


Why I left the teaching profession

Not too long ago, I was a public school teacher. This is the story of how I ended up leaving the profession I considered my passion and my calling.

To resign from teaching was the toughest decision I ever had to make in my life, because I really enjoyed teaching. I loved my students, and I wanted to be a part of their life for more time to come. But everyday I would come home after a 12-hour (minimum) work day, which consisted of a more than a full-time load of teaching, PLUS all the time dealing with the bureaucracies of the corrupt world of education. I spent so much time filling out paperwork that achieved nothing, and I sat in so many meetings that accomplished nothing, while I was dying for more time to prepare for the actual teaching that needed to get done. It felt as though, for every teacher that works in education, there are two more people in the system whose only job is to make the job of a teacher more difficult. Every night I would come home, mentally drained and physically too tired, with no energy left for anything else. It didn’t help that I am an extreme introvert whose energy got sucked up by all the highly stimulating non-stop interactions that happened throughout the day. I could not go on like that anymore, because a part of me was dying on the inside. Some days I was too tired to even eat dinner, and went straight to bed. I gave my all to the school and to the students, and I needed some time to restore myself by focusing on my life and my passion for music.

For anyone who has not been to a school in the inner city, I want to share with you what it’s like. The students, at no fault of their own but because of the lack of access to quality education prevalent in every inner city neighborhood, came to us with low skills. Okay you probably knew that, but do you know just how low? Many students were reading at an elementary grade level. Many students didn’t know the times table. Some even struggled with single digit addition.

Many came from homes where their parents are hardly ever home because they are trying to make ends meet by working more than one full time job. Many took care of their younger siblings and cousins and lived in multi-family homes with no time or place to study. Then I got to thinking. Would I be where I am today, if I grew up in the same situation as that of my students?

No, I probably would not be where I am at now, if I was not given the opportunities I was so freely given. I am where I am today because I was set up for success. I had access to the most amazing education, and very supportive parents who wished the best for me and had the power to help me achieve whatever it is that I wanted. I was never concerned about how my family was going to pay rent next month, how I’m going to pay for college, or whether we would have enough food in the fridge. My psychological and physical needs were met, and the only thing I had to worry about was myself; what am I going to do today to be a better person tomorrow? So of course I did well. From the moment I was born, I was set up to do well. That is called privilege, and I was not aware of it until I met my students.

My students’ lives may have been nothing like mine, yet they still came to school everyday, and they were so eager to learn. They did not use their problems at home as an excuse, but gave their all in my classes. That’s another misconception that people have about inner city schools, that somehow the kids are “bad”. I spent a vast majority of my waking hours with them and I assure you, these kids are nothing short of amazing. It makes me angry that students who want and deserve the best education are not given the best because society has made the decision to make their lives so difficult. We have collectively made this choice by being aware of failing schools in the city while doing nothing about them.

When I started teaching, I thought that I could change the whole world. I was confident in my teaching, and I thought that all my students, even though they came to me behind in academics, can catch up and even thrive, after one year in my classroom. I was naive. One year was not enough to make up for the many years of education that they missed. But every time I felt like calling it quits, a student would say something to encourage me to keep going. One day a student came up to tell me, “thank you for another great lesson.” Another told me, “you may not change the whole world, but you changed my world.” These words of gratitude were all I needed. Despite my failures, my students would encourage me by telling me how glad they were that I was their teacher. They wrote me countless hand-written letters of appreciation, and they worked so hard in my classes. So I found the power in me to keep teaching, at least for a while more.

Ever since founding the school, my amazing coworkers and I did everything in our power to provide the best education to the students that came. It was very frustrating to work so hard only to be told that we need to do better, that we are the reason for the failing education system, and when we asked for changes in policy that would benefit the students, our opinions were ignored. Apparently, teachers are not considered important enough people in education, so we are not given any opportunities to affect policy. It really hurts to see the current status of education, because politicians and teacher union bosses that suck up to them are arguing over what really are not issues at all, just for the sake of saying something that sounds good to get them into their positions, while teachers, if you just take a second to listen to them, have so much to say and have very good ideas about how education can improve as a whole, are ignored completely in the education reform conversations.

Often when I told people that I’m a teacher, people would ask, “Why are you a teacher, with your resume and your engineering background?” Keep in mind that when I tell people that I’m an engineer, nobody ever questions, “Why are you an engineer despite your teaching talents?” And that tells you something. America does not value its teachers at all. So many people believe as if people who are smart go into other fields, and people who don’t have other options go into teaching. I don’t blame them, because unless you have taught a classroom full of students, you really do not know the intellectual talent that it takes to break down a subject in a way that the students can master it. So in case you didn’t know, I’m telling you now: teaching is much harder than it looks, and the teachers who have mastered this skill deserve the same kind of respect and status that doctors and lawyers get. Teachers are the ones who know what is best for the students, and I assure you that we would be much better off if teachers’ opinions were valued, and we used them as the basis to guide policy decisions.

I consider teaching to be the most important job in the universe, and I have the highest respect for teachers who are teaching today. I have a feeling that I will be back in the classroom in the future, because I really miss my students. I hope that slowly, people’s perception will change and we will become a nation that values and respects the hard work that teachers do.

If you have a teacher that made a difference in your life, please, reach out to them and let them know how much they matter. It’s about time we give them the recognition for the important work that they do. The status quo is simply unacceptable.

Why music education matters

One of the greatest joys of being an educator is to experience these special moments when my students’ hard work pays off.

Today, two of my awesome students, Blanca and Esther, performed music with the likes of Gustavo Dudamel, Coldplay, Beyonce, and Bruno Mars, in possibly the biggest stage of all, the Super Bowl Halftime Show!

I feel like a proud father, having seen them work so hard to balance music and education throughout the years I have known them. You could say that they were very lucky to have had this opportunity, but none of this would have happened if it weren’t for their hard work. Like the saying goes, “luck favors the prepared,” and these two definitely deserved it.

Esther and Blanca were introduced to music through Harmony Project. In a city where most of these students would otherwise have no access to music education, students in Harmony Project get an instrument to take home, music lessons, and an opportunity to play in an orchestra. The orchestra you see in the video is YOLA (Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles), a culminating performance group founded by the Harmony Project and L.A. Phil.. But there are so many students in Los Angeles, and the program is not even close to meeting the demands of the number of students who want to learn music. Music has given my life purpose, and I wish that one day, every kid will have the same opportunity that I had growing up, no matter where they’re from.

This is such an important issue because music teaches you life’s fundamental lessons. By pursuing music, I learned that nobody is born with talent, and that there is no replacement for hard work. I learned about the power of art that brings people together and helps heal wounded souls. I learned about the joys of overcoming challenges, and the importance of saying “I can’t do it yet” instead of “I can’t do it.” And most importantly, I learned to seek happiness in the work that I do, instead of the things that I own. (I wrote more on this topic here. Also check out my brother’s hand-lettering piece here)

If you care about the future of these students, I urge you to consider making a donation to a local organization that provides music education for the youth, such as The Harmony Project and San Jose Jazz. After all, supporting music education is not even about music. It is about helping these students discover some of the most important lessons they will ever learn in life.

On Minimalism

I love this piece by Katsumi. You can see more of her work here, and the Zen Pencils feature here. Reading about her journey was such an inspiration for me. Most of her work are in Portuguese, but she has a good number of pieces translated to English as well. There is something special about this piece that reminds me of where I stand in life.

There was a two-year period during my mid-20s when I rented and lived inside a garage. As a self-identified minimalist, living in a garage was the perfect way to stay consistent with my core values. Naturally due to space limitations, accumulating stuff was not an option. I lived a very simple life, as my daily routine consisted of the following, and not much more:
-Simple meals

I don’t live in a garage anymore, but I maintain a very simple lifestyle to this day. Other than my musical instruments, I do not have much possessions. Because I love music so much, I doubt that any material possession will make me as happy as simply having the time to play music.

It is ironic that society ingrains in us the idea that we need to make more money and buy more things, while psychological research reveals the exact opposite truth; the more materialistic the person, the less happy they are.

The holiday season is a good time to reflect on the values by which we live. While the media tells us to go hit up those mega sales in stores everywhere, I can’t help but wonder how much of our values are tragically shaped by this consumer society driven by profit-seeking corporations. Keep in mind that these advertisements were specifically designed for the sole purpose of putting more money in the pockets of the corporations and their investors, with absolutely no regard to the well-being of the consumer. It angers me because they do it so cleverly, showing people who appear so happy consuming the products that they don’t actually need. Why should anyone expect to be better off by following their advice?

Whether we like it or not, life is short; it’s a mere instance of time in the scheme of the universe. Pretty soon, we will all approach the end of it. When that day comes, would we have any regrets, and if so, about what? I doubt that any of us will regret that we did not buy enough nice things. We might, however, regret that we did not spend enough time with our loved ones, nor express often enough just how important they are to us. Or maybe we’ll regret that we did not follow our dreams to make a positive impact in this world beyond ourselves, because after all, isn’t that the sole purpose of life? We didn’t come into this world simply to exist, pay bills, and die.

If you woke up this morning happy about what you are about to do today, chances are that your life is well-aligned to your values. If not, you’re not alone. We’ve all experienced those periods in our lives. Life certainly isn’t always great, and everybody struggles through the tough times during which we grapple with the idea of reevaluating and readjusting our course.

Change is actually not as scary as it seems. Rather, it is exciting. The country’s founding forefathers thought that it’d be important for us to have the right to the “pursuit of happiness”, but life is actually about the “happiness of pursuit”. When we stop pursuing and growing, we start to lose track of the meaning behind everything that we do.

May your 2016 be filled with growth,