Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

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An Open Letter to America

In Life,Politics on November 9, 2016 by thebetweenthoughts

Dear America,

WTF???  No seriously, WTF???

What did we do last night?  How did we elect a misogynist, racist, con artist as the President of the United States?  Why did we just hand over the keys to the most powerful nation in the world to the most unqualified and unstable person for that job?

Part of the answer to these questions lies in the fact that “we” no longer really exists.

As exit polls and electoral college votes came streaming in last night, a glaring division in our population became evident.  This was an election that pitted the white voter v. everyone else.  For the past eight years, the constant message was how racially diverse we were becoming as a country.  We heard how the Obama coalition – a multi-ethnic, gender-diverse, youthful group – was the wave of the future and they were going to dictate elections from here on out.  We heard how the rise of Latinos would impact races across the nation and how resonating with that specific group would be the key to winning in the future.

So what happened?

I’m sure political scientists will be looking at this election for years in order to understand how pollsters could have erred so horribly.  But it seems, at least on the surface, that the white vote (especially those that have been impacted the most economically over the past eight years) came back with a vengeance.  They were tired of hearing that they didn’t count anymore.  They were tired of hearing that they had a dwindling share of power in this nation.  They were tired of hearing they didn’t matter anymore.

So when a white nationalist candidate becomes President…what does that say about America?  What does that mean for everyone that doesn’t fall into that category?

Over the past 35 years of being an American-born citizen who is Asian, I’ve experienced subtle racism, institutional racism, blatant racism, egregiously blatant racism…but I’ve never really thought of America as a racist nation.  America had racists (so does every country and every population), but the country itself wasn’t racist.  Right?

Sadly, I now have to question that assumption.  Trump is a bigot and he campaigned on a white nationalist platform that targeted anything considered “the other”.  And “we” just elected him as President.  Maybe you’re the voter that convinced themselves that Trump’s economic “message” (or gobbledygook) resonated with you.  You were negatively affected by free trade and you weren’t seeing the economic gains other parts of the country experienced.  Or maybe you just couldn’t move past the Clinton scandals (even though they pale in comparison to Trump’s).  Or maybe you just wanted “change” in the status quo.  So you voted for him for these reasons – but you also have to come to terms with the fact that you just validated the rhetoric of the most blatantly racist candidate in recent history.  All candidates have flaws, but these are disqualifiers.

If there is an increase in violence toward Muslims in America – that’s on your soul.

If there are families torn apart by aggressive deportation – that’s on your conscience.

If there are people bullied because of how different they are – that’s on you.

We elected a President that stirs up and promotes all of these aggressive and negative emotions…and I’m honestly scared.

So what happens now?  That’s the question that made some people (me in particular) queasy this morning and made others rejoice this morning.  Is it possible to even create a “we” in this political environment?  Or is this going to be four years of trying to bring down the progressive coalition that’s been building in this country?

Being Asian, I thankfully haven’t been the direct target of Trump’s assaults.  But I wonder if I could be in the future.  Let’s say China or North Korea starts antagonizing Trump.  How will he respond and will he turn his vitriol to Asians in America?  It sounds idiotic (especially since I’m Filipino) – but nothing is off the table anymore.  This is the new America to which we’ve woken.  A country where logic and truth just don’t matter anymore.  It was a constant stream of lies out of the Trump campaign and half of the electorate just didn’t care.  How is it possible that someone who 61% of the population thought was unfit to lead…became President?  Is America really that intent on shooting itself in the foot?

I have been angry about election outcomes, but I’ve never been despondent.  I’ve never been inconsolable.  I’ve never worried about the future (as in, the actual existence of tomorrow).  This election has broken the American spirit.  Not just in its outcome, but in how we were all dragged through this disgusting process over the past 18 months.

Can we become stronger as a nation with this potentially authoritarian leader?  Can we heal as a nation with such a divisive figurehead?  Can we survive the next four years?

I hope so.  But obviously my voice doesn’t matter as much anymore.

;P

 

 

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Midnight Oil

In Life on October 14, 2016 by thebetweenthoughts Tagged:

Trying something a little different today – let’s see what the WordPress Daily Prompt can inspire: Candle

When you think of a candle, the first image that comes to mind is one of light.  A flame in the darkness that illuminates a room, a passageway, an entrance.  A candle becomes the one thing you treasure in an emergency.  A way to ensure that you have warmth or light when darkness is thrust upon you.  A candle is also associated with sensuality.  A way to set the mood with either scents or dim lighting.  While dulling your vision, a candle can be used to stimulate your other senses.

At this point in my life, I think I associate candles the most with…mortality.  It’s a symbol of our finite nature.  The minute we’re born…our wicks are lit.  And it’s just a matter of time until we burn out and are nothing more than a puddle on the floor.  Rather than reshape us into something stronger, the flame destroys us and breaks down our structure moment by moment.

If we all end up in the same state…is there a point in life?  Is there a point to the struggles?  A point to the constant search for riches and status?  A point to seeking out love?  A point to trying to create a legacy?

We spend most of our lives trying to survive (and we obviously all have different perspectives on what ‘surviving’ means), but how often do we actually stop and think about why we’re doing all of this?  There should be a greater point…some greater meaning to all of this…right?  Are we just meant to enjoy the time we spend as our candle burns?  Should we just acknowledge the wax puddle that we’re all moving towards and just let our lives melt away?

I tend to think of larger themes and bigger meanings…it’s a product of consuming too much fictional content over the years.  I yearn for some narrative…some structure and arc to life…

Maybe I’m just asking too much out of life…I should just be content with watching the flame move down candle…and creating some formless mass at the end.

;P

 

 

Articles

Do We Need More Nuanced Thinking? – Absolutely!

In Life on September 6, 2016 by thebetweenthoughts Tagged:

Black or white…

On or off…

Right or wrong…

We tend to reduce the world into binary choices – absolutes that wash away all of the nuances that provide any uncertainty.  As logical human beings, we aren’t big fans of uncertainty…the unknown frightens us, and so we do we everything we can to absorb those gray areas into black and white choices.

While perusing WordPress as part of Blogging Fundamentals, I came across this post talking about the dark side within all of us…and how we eventually need to “turn on the light” in order to extinguish it.  I didn’t necessarily see it this way.  I saw the value of a “dark side” – the necessity of aggression and destruction in order to create and basically live a complete life.  The need to vanquish our dark sides comes from this binary thinking though.  Since we associate dark sides with negative thoughts, we end up categorizing it as “evil” and something that shouldn’t exist in the world.

Isn’t that immature thinking though?  But more than that, is this a product of the “binarization” of thought as a whole?  With the rise of technology and its underlying binary language of on/off – has that forced us into only thinking there are two states to any situation?  As more and more of our lives are encoded in databases and driving by algorithms, do we risk losing the ability to make nuanced and multi-faceted decisions?  Does everything become a zero sum game with clear winners and losers?

The polarization of our current political system is a prime example of this.  It isn’t enough to consider Trump a bad candidate – he’s evil and a demagogue.  Hillary isn’t just careless with state secrets – she’s corrupt and conspiring against America.  Republicans are anti-science bigots…Democrats are trying to take our freedoms away.  It all seems so silly written out like this, but this is sadly the state of our political discourse these days.  We’ve somehow lost the fact that governing a country of over 300 million people is extremely difficult and in the end, everyone is going to be unhappy on some level.  But we’ve equated that “unhappiness” with the political system, the government, The Man – being an oppressive evil.  It’s as if we can’t even fathom that the government would have to balance the interests of the whole and sometimes our needs won’t be met.

In the end, it’s laziness and selfishness that drive the need for absolutes.  We just don’t want to put in the effort to think holistically…to think creatively…and so we’ve cut the world in half.  Maybe this binary tension is what drives us and inspires us to be something better…but that’s just wishful thinking.  Right?

;P

 

 

 

Articles

Creativity vs. Consulting

In Life on May 9, 2016 by thebetweenthoughts

Management consulting is all about creating structure and forcing the ambiguous into some sort of logical framework.  Consultants specialize in turning chaos into order and synthesizing the complex into something simple.  The fuzzy edges and the blurry margins are generally sacrificed for the sake of a “clean” storyline.

It’s ironic that we use the term “storyline” in our presentations, since what we’ve developed is the antithesis of creativity.  If anything it’s the “anti-story”, as we’ve eliminated any room for interpretation or any chance of ambiguity in our message.

Going on 10 years of being in the management consulting field, I wonder if I have any creativity left in me.  My creative outputs will always be the things that I’m most proud of – the comic strips I made in grade school, the short stories I wrote in middle school, the screenplays that I wrote in high school.  These were initial sprouts within my creative garden.  But of course, like any good future-fearing Asian-American, I decided to go down the path of science and a respectable career once I started college.  The move to New York was an opportunity to rekindle those creative fires, but once again respectability, responsibility…and the cost of living in NYC, managed to snuff out those flames.

And now I wonder if a career of not allowing my mind to explore and imagine…of structuring and defining…has extinguished that creative spark for good.  Creativity isn’t exactly nurtured in a management consulting environment.  More often than not, we’re helping a large enterprise  manage their risks and prioritize their investments.  There really isn’t any room for bold thinking.  We’re just trying to dole out advice that isn’t going to adversely impact their bottom lines.

When you’re constantly organizing thoughts and finding logical threads, it limits your ability to be absurd.  But absurdity isn’t the key to new and original thought?  It’s the path to breaking free from worn down lines of thinking.  Do our clients want original thoughts?  I honestly don’t know…

With each new framework that I see or develop, another piece of my creative side is wiped away.  Another structured way of thinking eliminates the random idea that could lead to something special.  Maybe I’m just deluding myself into thinking that I had a creative side at all…

It’s a conflict that probably will not be solved anytime soon…but I wonder how much time I have left to debate it.

;P

Articles

The Role of a Consultant

In Life on April 10, 2015 by thebetweenthoughts

I’ve been in the “management consulting” world since 2003 (I put that in quotes, since I still can’t define what that means to people.  Sure, I can BS a definition…but in the end, what do I really do?  Who knows…) – subtracting out some years of b-school and non-profit work, I’m basically at 8-9 years of doing this.  And based on that near-decade of experience, I can say one thing definitively – “it sucks.”

One of my old managers once told me that people use consultants for two reasons – (1) they’re too stupid (i.e., they need an expert opinion or a set of tools they don’t have access to) or (2) they’re too smart (i.e., they don’t want to deal with bitch work).  Based on my last few clients, it seems as if there’s a third reason – they’re looking for a punching bag (both for them to beat up on…but also to offer up to their peers when they’re in hot water).

As the external consultant, it’s difficult to say anything back.  I’ve heard as of late that I should stand up more to the various stakeholders, but how am I supposed to do that when I’m a fungible resource in their eyes.  They know that I’m just here on an external, temporary basis…they have no real respect for me…they have no reason to display any goodwill towards me…why would they?

I’m reliant on the kindness of strangers to get my job done…and unfortunately, more often than not, it’s a kindness that never appears.  With any large corporation, you’re going to have silos.  Departments and groups that work independently and are only willing to contribute to “their area”.  Once their piece is done, they’re more than happy to ignore any and all requests from that exist either on the input or output side of their place in the workflow.

As the external consultant, you come in and try to break that up a bit.  You try to foster collaboration.  You try to increase stakeholder involvement.  You try to make the dysfunctional…functional.  But in the end, all that happens is that you become the center of the shitstorm.  (I should just change my title on LinkedIn to that…Alek Bituin – Center of the Shitstorm.)

I left consulting awhile back because of a variety of reasons…and this was definitely one of them.  No real impact.  No real ownership.  Basically a walking toilet going around a company and…well, you can probably finish the imagery.  I still wonder how I ended up back here.  What happened to the guy that left his “high-powered” consulting job to be a writer in NYC?  At times, it feels like my first few years in NYC were just a dream (random AZN clubbing, attempting to write at every Starbucks in Manhattan, actually finishing two screenplays…) and I’ve woken up to the frustrating reality of my previous life in consulting.

Sadly, the chances of me writing something of note is about the same as the chances of a client ever truly respecting and valuing me.

Fun times…

;P

Articles

A New York Story

In Life on January 30, 2015 by thebetweenthoughts

So that last entry went down a path of unexpected melancholy…apologies. A man can’t be held responsible for what he types at 4:45 in the morning at an airport terminal.

As recompense, I’ll tell you all a little story:

I was waiting for the M34 bus on 34th and 7th after work a few months ago, when I saw a man approaching me. It’s never a good sign when a stranger starts walking towards you in New York – we’re all used to operating in our selfish little bubbles and if someone choose to break into that bubble and ruin the social pact that you’ve made with all other New Yorkers, it generally means they want something from you (sign a petition, money for a “bus ticket”, information on how much the specials are at the Japanese restaurant you’re standing in front of [true story!], etc.).

Now, I feel like I need to describe the man approaching me and the reason why my “crap, I need to put my headphones in” warning sign started to flash. He was of the Jewish variety…and although he never stated as such…he wore the general accoutrement (black hate, curly hair, etc.) that I associate with the stereotype in my mind. This really isn’t an important fact now, but the rest of the story may confirm and refute any stereotypes you have in your head right now.

I had just finished work, so I was dressed in full business attire (suit, tie, laptop bag)…which I guess made me a likely target for his opening question. “Do you work at Goldman Sachs?” I have a few friends that have worked at Goldman Sachs, I’ve seen employees in the media…they’re really just like you and me. So, I’m not really sure what he saw in me that made him jump to the conclusion that I work at Goldman. Wishful thinking, maybe? And I could see the disappointment in his face when I responded with “No, I don’t work at Goldman.”

Stranger Danger: “Do you work around here?”

Me: “Nope, don’t work around here.”

Let’s be honest – there really isn’t any direction that this conversation could go that would be positive for either of us. Yet, he still chose the path that went resulted in the worst line of conversation.

SD: “Wow, you speak really well?”

Me: “What?” (In a tone that clearly conveyed “quit, while you’re behind buddy”.)

SD: “You speak really well.”

Me: “Why would you assume that I wouldn’t speak well?”

SD: “I’m just saying that I’ve never met someone like you that has spoken well.”

(So it’s obvious at this point I should just stop engaging with this person. There is nothing to gain from this…and we’re moving closer and closer to a point where I’m going to have to tell my friends that I spoke with a racist today. Not there yet though…)

Me: “Never met someone like me? What does that mean? What do you think I am?”

SD: “You’re Mexican.”

(And there’s the racism.)

Me: “Excuse me? No.”

SD: “Native American?”

(Where’s the fucking bus???)

Me: “No.”

SD: “You have to tell me. I’m really curious now since I’ve never met someone like you that has spoken so well.”

(Really? This is the point where you feel like compounding the racism. Not only have I been misidentified, but the intelligence of the race of “whatever I am” is being questioned. Bonus points for this guy.)

Me: “No.”

Thankfully as this point I can see the bus, so it’s only going to be a few more minutes with this guy. What else could he say that would be more offensive?

SD: “You have to tell me.”

Me: “It’s just going to be one of the great mysteries in your life.”

The bus pulls up and I start walking towards the door…and he continues to follow me and to pester me with questions on my race. Since, obviously, I need to be catering to his thirst for knowledge about ethnic identity.

Finally I break down…

Me: “I’m Filipino.”

SD: “So I was right. You’re Latino.”

Motherf*cker…if it wasn’t for the shock that I had at that statement, I probably would have punched him. I won’t get into the finer details about racial identity and ethnic origins, but just to set the record straight – Filipinos are not Latino. He’s probably the only in the person in the world who would disagree with that fact, but I just wanted to put that out there.

Ah…New York. You never know when the stage is being set for memorable story.

(So how’s the stereotype I mentioned earlier holding up? Does my story confirm or refute your own biases?)

;P

Articles

Who am I?

In Life on January 23, 2015 by thebetweenthoughts

When you’re waiting at the Nashville airport at 4:45 AM on a Friday morning, you tend to have these types of existential thoughts.  It’s natural to present a different persona depending on the situation.  With friends…with family…with your wife (or future wife-to-be in my case)…with your coworkers…with your clients…they all see a different side of you.  We’re essentially just a collection of personalities housed within the same fleshy exterior.

At times like these though, I feel as if those in the “management consulting” profession are extreme examples of this phenomenon.  As a result of the demands of the job and the travel schedule, we’re literally leading two different lives.  From Monday to Thursday, I’m “professional” Alek – a client-facing, work-driven, objectives-focused lonely individual.  Friday to Sunday, I’m allowed to be “personal” Alek – someone who really just wants to relax and not give a shit about anything.  The Monday-Thursday period is interesting though, as consultants tend to live in this odd little bubble where everything is paid for, you have concierge services to help you out with anything, and you never have to wash your sheets.  It’s during this period where you’re the most alone in life though.  In a “foreign” place…alone in a hotel room…left only with work…or your own thoughts about life.

(Okay…this might just be me.  I remember when I lived alone in my studio, I would have conversations with myself without even really noticing.)

So amongst all of these personas, who is the real you?  Is the real you the collection of these personalities…or is there one true self hiding underneath it all?  At what point do we realize and understand who the true self is?

While doing stand-up, the person I was on-stage wasn’t really me…it was more of a caricature of me.  It helped to disassociate myself from the person telling jokes on-stage in order to deflect criticism, but also to not take the applause as anything more than a passing moment of adulation.

So, why have I decided to “re-enter” the blogosphere with a post about self?  I’m at a crossroads, and it’s always healthy to question the fundamentals in your life in order to give direction on the future.

The next time that you see yourself in the mirror – don’t just ask “who am I?”, but also “why am I?”.

;P

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