24 Things I Learned to Live By

13 . 03 . 2018

Pivotal changes come about when you set conscious goals to change parts of your lives you’re not happy with. I’ve had two major life changes nested within the past four years — and by implementing these 24 things I learned to live by, my happiness and sense of fulfillment have only grown exponentially.

Taking giant leaps of faith is not for the faint of heart, but we can get there by taking smaller hops instead.

I realize judgments are inevitable as I share these vulnerable parts of me. I’m willing to share my personal anecdotes only because I want you to see the many things we have in common with Beyoncé, Elon Musk, and whoever you admire. We are all granted with 24-hours, our fair shares of ups-and-downs, feelings of disappointment, euphoria… it’s all normal. It’s in the way you control your emotions and thoughts that count toward your actions. Your thoughts become your reality. At the end of this article, you’ll realize how one thing connects to the other – and it all starts with one factor we used to complain about most: “I don’t have time”.

No matter what your current situation is and what you plan to achieve, keep going! I’m here if you need someone to keep you accountable or kick your ass back to the grind. For now, I ask for you to read with an open mind.

24. Protect the hell out of your time

There is an ancient Chinese saying: “一寸光阴一寸金,寸金难买寸光阴” which literally translates to “an inch of time is an inch of gold, it’s hard to buy an inch of time with an inch of gold”. Many of us are protective of our finances, meaning, we don’t just give out our money randomly to anyone. There is only one problem with this: we don’t do the same with our time.

In my first two years of living in San Francisco, life was generally exciting up until I find myself constantly burnt out. I felt needed, useful, and saw it as a good sign – now I wanted to do more! What I didn’t realize was — my energy was largely channeled towards doing things for other people. At the end of the day, I would come home and spent my remaining energy scrolling through my Instagram feed, double-tapping, and watching stories on what wonderful things people had achieved that day. Then, I fall asleep feeling unfulfilled and consoled myself by thinking, “I’ll get to do those when I have more time.” 

If this sounds like you, there are two things I suggest you consider:

  1. Practice saying “no” even to your closest friends
    I’ve had success with this on so many different occasions. I pride myself on arriving home before the clock strikes 12. There were days when all I wanted was to write, journal my intentions, watch Friends in the comfort of my own bed, or make dinner and have game nights with my sister. Saying “no” is painfully hard but necessary — and I find it helpful to address why this particular activity is important to me. Friends who know me are very graciously accepting and they all know it to be true.
    Note if yours are putting you down for not hanging out; that’s a red flag.
  2. Set a schedule that revolves around your wellbeing
    If I knew I might be too tired to read tonight, I will wake up extra early to do that. If I knew I wanted my space decluttered before Spring Break, I take a few evenings off of screen time and vacuum away. That goes the same for everything. If I had responded to every single external temptation fighting for my attention, whether it’s to answer a highly requested question on Quora, helping a friend build her Amazon business, or going out of my way to play catch up with someone I just met during an event, I wouldn’t have as much time as I have now to dedicate to my personal projects and internal environment.

Is there an event you can skip tonight? Make time pampering yourself with candles, jazzy music, and a good book.

Did your friend just call you out last minute on a Friday night? Make time learning to design your blog logo in Adobe Illustrator!

Is your date only interested to ‘ask you out’ close to midnight? Declutter and free the negative energy in your room so you can cozy up!

You are responsible to make time for what matters to you. Make sure you’re spending them just the way you want it. I promise you will feel so much more fulfilled at the end of the day.

23. Do things intentionally

Funnily, I learned this from the dating expert aka Patrick Dempsey lookalike, Matthew Hussey.

It is exactly what it is. Consume, date, work, and share all you want, but do them intentionally. Here’s a quick example: many of us share intricate details of our lives on socials. If you’re here, chances are you came from Quora, Instagram, or a simple Google search. My intention of being on various social media is to share my stories of overcoming with you; to reach more of you who were in my position and need something you can apply in your lives right now. I do not share my home address, how old my dad is, or how many makeup brushes I have because these are not my intention and are definitely not necessary.

  • Date intentionally. In other words, be very selective with who you let into your personal lives and go out on dates with. Hanging out for the sake of doing so not only is a waste of money, it’s a huge waste of time. Modern online dating, especially, has lowered the bar for so many of us. It offered us unlimited possibilities. But with endless choices, we are rendered highly disposable. It is akin to shopping online on Amazon. Used and didn’t like it? Return. Package not as described? Return. My appreciation for cultivating organic connections through mutual friends and events has heightened significantly. When you start living in the real world and detach yourself from the virtual one, amazing, magical things happen.
  • Consume intentionally. Binging on Netflix and YouTube videos mindlessly promote escapism and eat up time you can otherwise use to create content for others to consume. I don’t usually put a cap on how many videos I watch a day. When I do find myself browsing YouTube in the morning, I’d add some interesting videos to my “Watch Later” list and close the tab right away. After lunch or dinner, I’d pull it up as a way to learn new things and jump start my creative juices. Best of all, I don’t feel deprived. Be mindful of what you consume or they will consume you.

22. Pro-Social media, with detox

We want more positivity in our lives, so we are going to refrain from using negative words, such as “anti”.

When we are trying to go cold turkey on social media platforms, it almost always never work. We are social animals. With that said, we do occasionally need some me-time for ourselves as well. How do we do that?

Don’t be afraid to take a step back and reevaluate your purpose of being on social media. Is it to share your passion for photography? To express yourself in the realm of fashion? Do you want to share your journey of building a spaceship, or simply just want to catch up with your old, distant friends? When you have identified your why, it will be easier to act on it. If Instagram is a space for you to safely document your creative endeavors, consider following artists who inspire you to do more and let go of those whose work you do not resonate with. If Facebook is the sounding board for your budding podcast, consider removing naysayers from your friend list. If Twitter is where you seek positive affirmations, consider unfollowing accounts that have nothing constructive to add to your feed. And when you don’t feel inspired to update your socials or you allowed a naysayer to put you down, gather your perspectives and go on a social media detox. A day, a week, a month – whichever feels the best for you. I do this periodically myself and not only am I not experiencing much FOMO, I am able to live my highlight reels without the need to immediately document them on the spot. If I wanted to, I would have saved them and do it as I reminisced. (Thank God for 24-hour Instagram story archives!)

Hard, but necessary.

21. Negative thoughts are like rats. They arrive in groups.

“…One shows up, and before you know it they have taken over.” — Andrew Matthews

My savior, my favorite mentor, my dad introduced me to Andrew Matthews, who coined this quote in his light-hearted, comical, self-help book “How Life Works“. Shortly after I was discharged from the hospital, my dad wheeled me into the local bookstore when Matthew’s new book caught my eye. My dad, who was a huge fan of Matthew’s work, offered to buy it for me and I’ve been hooked ever since. This and Tuesday with Morrie are always the first books I’d recommend to everyone who is looking to start working on themselves internally.

Source: How Life Works by Andrew Matthews

This has been stuck with me for many years. Whenever I catch myself thinking negative thoughts, I’d grab my imaginative wooden chopsticks, pick and throw the rats out of my head, shiver, and then go on with my life feeling lighter and happier.

20. No one really notices when you disappear from social media for a day

“But why? My friends would be wondering why I’m MIA!”

Trust me, very little will – and even less are actually thinking about you. Everyone else is so busy living their own lives, worrying about their own sets of insecurities, checking on Yelp to find the next best place to eat. The truth is harsh but a liberating one – no one really cares where you are or what you’re doing. How often does it cross your mind if Cheryl has posted a picture today? Or is William walking his dog?

Now that you know, free yourself from the thoughts of others and get into the flow of doing what you enjoy!

Even better, do more of the things that make you forget you even had a phone!

19. Do what you need to do

When I was confined to hospitals for about a year, healing was all I could think about. Like I have mentioned in this video, doing what I needed to do at the time helped me become the physically independent person I am today. There were many things I wanted and preferred to do, like lying in bed all day watching the Voice of China, dreadfully counting down how many more injections I have for the day, and sulking about my dull, off-white, medicinal surrounding. However, I owe it to my parents for keeping me on track with what I needed to do. I researched profusely on stem cell treatments (I didn’t end up going this route though!), massage my painfully swollen hips every single day, constantly consulted my surgeons for my potential treatments, visualizing myself twirling with my then-future boyfriend (it has come true!), practice sitting up on my adjustable bed, staying positive by meditating in the hospital, the list goes on.

I can’t bear to imagine what life would have been like if it hadn’t turned out this way — and I’m so, so grateful for it.

Be the person you want to be, do what that person would do, and you will get what that person would have.

18. Write them down

Once you have figured what is it that you absolutely need to do, write them down on a piece of paper. Seeing your thoughts inked on paper helps you gain clarity and allows you to sort them out depending on priority. If you hadn’t written them down, they’re going to stay like a tangled mess in your head. Remember your earphones that gets tangled no matter how carefully you slip it in your pocket?

There is an abundance of digital resources such as web apps to chrome extensions for your perusal. Here are some I recommend: Papier, Ommwriter, Day One, and Trello. All of them have slightly different interfaces and functions but they serve the same purpose – to note down your ideas and tuck them in a safe space where you can always refer back to.

If you love going old school like me, The Happiness Planner helps keep my daily gratitude and to-dos in check, while a good old A4 sized notebook is great for squeezing in some longhand writing for my morning pages, which I am also currently digitalizing it here!

Take the smallest step. It only matters that you start doing. Play your favorite chill tunes and start writing, no matter how silly your first sentence is.

17. The Power of One — breaking down difficult tasks into bite-sized chunks

What’s the one thing you can do now that will bring you closer to your goal?

We’re not multi-taskers. Break a huge responsibility into a task so small you can do it within the next 30 seconds. Every little thing we do repeatedly result in a positive momentum. A few weeks ago, I wrote an essay on a subject that was completely new to me. I had to relate mythology to artifacts and I had zero clues on how anthropologists mined artifacts to how they are dated. I sat down, gave myself 15 minutes to brainstorm, and when no ideas came up, I started noting down what I understood about artifacts from my trips to historical museums. What started as random scribbles quickly transformed into a 1000+ completed word-vomit in the span of 3-4 hours. Remember the one time you did the same? Yes! Do that, move on to the next task, rest and repeat.

For just one week – push yourself every day. No matter how you’re feeling, no matter how stupid you think it is, or if you think this “something” is not gonna work. Paint a drawing, make progress on a project, learn a new chord on your acoustic guitar. What you’ll need is physical evidence to prove that you’re actually inching forward to a place that’s critical for your growth.

16. Reading and reciting

One of my favorite things to do is to recite what I have learned from my parents, friends, books, or YouTube videos to my friends and even strangers on the train. It does not only allow me to discover new perspective from people whose path I’ve never walked in, it trained me to not be afraid of approaching others and treat them as equals. This happened recently with my boyfriend, Keith, as I silently observed their entire conversational exchange. This man presented us with so many a-ha moments just by our simple act of listening to him and asking him about what mattered to him most, which is to keep playing harmonica for the crowd and creating his own audience.

15. It feels so good to be complimenting someone you admire

I came across this quote by Rupi Kaur. This is easily one of the most beautiful pieces I’ve ever read on the art of complimenting especially with girls.

I also used to be the person who gets insecure around friends who might possess traits that I would very much love to have. The social butterfly, free-spirited, the one who can dance in a room filled with people and not show an ounce of insecurity.

Staring absently from a distance, silently dwelling on everything that I am not.

Whenever I catch myself Sour-Sallying, I would march right up to that person and let them know what I liked about them before I even gained the courage to do so. They usually beam with humble replies – and almost always slip a sentence or two letting me know why they are the way they are (cha-ching, free tips!). As a result, I feel better letting it out of my mind and at the same time get a glimpse of how they, too, have their fair shares of insecurities.

14. I don’t want to be the mockingbird

I was reading “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert and came across this:

“Consider Harper Lee, for instance, who wrote nothing for decades after the phenomenal success of To Kill a Mockingbird. In 1962, when Lee was asked how she felt about the possibility of ever writing another book, she replied, “I’m scared.” She also said, “When you’re at the top, there’s only one way to go.

Harper Lee apparently didn’t go on writing more books after her phenomenal success with “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Harper Lee was afraid of Harper Lee.

“But I wish someone had been able to convince Lee to keep writing for the entirety of her life and to keep publishing all along. It would have been a gift to the world. And it would have been a gift to her, as well — to have been able to remain a writer, and to have enjoyed the pleasures and satisfaction of that work for herself (because in the end, creativity is a gift to the creator, not just a gift to the audience).”

Shortly after one of my posts on Quora ranked significantly higher than the rest, I was afraid of posting again. I became way more selective with the questions I answer and feel like my well of compelling stories is slowly depleting. I later learned that we are, more often than not, afraid of our own successes. It is exhilarating to think about where we could be. However, when the high is over, all we’re left with is a big slob of self-doubt and uncertainty, and we find ourselves paralyzed with the number of actions we have yet to take – and then resort to taking the easiest way out.

We often choose to remain within our comfort zone “just to be safe”. This is something I still am actively working on, and with Harper Lee’s story, I know I’m not alone. We are not alone.

13. Ask Yourself: Is this gonna matter in a day? A month? A year? Ten?

This is for when you’re feeling all kinds of unpleasant emotions. It could be self-inflicted or triggered by something as minute as your phone lagging or your food arriving late (ugh, and wrong order?!).

Take the easiest example: A bus driver pissed you off by almost missing your stop. You’re running late and she even had the audacity to nag you as you step on board. How would you react?

The best way I have found to react in situations like this (that happened to me in real life) is to just simply wish them well. They either thanked me after (positive reply) or not say anything at all (neutral). It is so foolproof you are most likely not going to be receiving any more negative energy from them. Let’s think about it: some of them may have dealt with grumpy riders prior to you boarding and their struggles to provide for their families while dealing with inconsiderate riders every day is most likely not something they would prefer in their careers as well. Everyone wants to be happy. 

No one deserves to be treated badly. When you catch yourself boiling up, touch your face and ask yourself: “Will this conversation matter in a day? Would I remember this event in a month? A year? Ten?”

A simple sentence like I hope you feel better have turned many of my days around. I hope you benefit from it too!

12. Look at people in the eye when you apologize

This is not merely about the act of sincerity. This is about looking at your mistakes in the eye and be willing to take responsibility for them. The mere act communicates that you’re taking your apology seriously, offers comfort to others, and most importantly, it empowers you. It also helps to learn about your apology language and openly talk about it with your friends and significant other in a calm, non-threatening manner.

11. Ask and be open to constructive criticism

We all try to dwell on our own problems in isolation. Occasionally, we air our dirty laundries out in the form of deconstructive Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram posts. One way to challenge ourselves to get out of this rut quickly is to ask people around us for help. But first, we have to promise to listen with an open mind; to not be defensive when we asked for transparent, constructive feedback.

I realized it is a much smoother and faster process when I address my problems to close friends who I trust to be brutally honest with me. Whether it’s to address my thoughts and feelings, to keep me accountable with my goals, to stay motivated — it all made a big distinction. Never change alone.

10. Your body is your text

My Mythology professor said, “Your body is a text that you wear. It’s an accumulation of other text.” This rang true to me so much and made me stare at the pair of shoes I’ve been wearing ever since I landed in San Francisco two years ago. Holey, with so many fascinating stories to tell. My broken front tooth paints uplifting childhood memories, albeit somewhat painful; my scars — the many chances taken to survive me, and my uncontrolled laughter which resembles greatly with my dad’s.


None. No. Nothing! It was raining so heavily close to midnight. 9 degrees Celcius, icy cold rain bounced off the hard, pooled terrain. I wrapped myself tightly in my blanket coat from head to toe and took short, quick breaths, continuously misting the lens on my glasses. Prickly cold water flowed into my shoes and licked my wrinkled toes. With every step I took, I couldn’t help feeling a great sense of gratitude. I can’t imagine otherwise. Thank you for a room, a shelter. Thank you for clean clothes. If you’re reading this with a roof over your head, you have one of the most basic human needs covered. You, in the material sense, are not lacking anything.

Your heart is beating, you can see the words on this page, you are connected to the Internet, a mobile device, and you are probably one of the few to be blessed with an education and a full belly.

There is so much to be grateful for already.

8. Cleaning is cleansing

When I’m stressed out and know I won’t be able to generate meaningful output to my work, the easiest thing is just to sit and sulk. The hardest thing to do is the same. Or, I could literally countdown from three seconds to get my butt off the chair. Next, I start looking for some dirty dishes lying on the counter. There is always some kind of dirty dishes. I start washing, scrubbing, and putting my mind on autopilot. I set my mind free to wander, just like Andy has said in his meditation app, Headspace. I feel more relaxed now that I get a chance to breathe and know that I’m doing something and getting it done, no matter how trivial it seems to be. It’s a small win. Some of the greatest ideas and inspirations come flowing to me. Sometimes I forget. Sometimes, I write them down. What I know now for sure – I am ready to get back to my task.

7. It’s easy to buy, but…

When you’ve decluttered, chances are you’ll feel much lighter. But now a new problem arises – where are you going to stash all these junks? Listing, selling, packing, or even donating can take up a significant amount of our time if selling for money isn’t our priority.

Ever since I’ve started reading Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline, I have been making really conscious decisions before committing to a purchase. Do I need it or do I want it? Will this make my life better? The answer is usually no.

I am so grateful for the book. It has helped me eliminate many headaches, saved a whole lot of my time spent shopping mindlessly, and the pain of clearing my wardrobe.

6. Don’t feel stupid for not liking what everyone else pretends to love

Quoted by Emma Watson — one of the ladies in the showbiz that has her feet planted firmly on the ground. I will leave it as it is and let it percolate for a moment.

5. Live within your means, and you’ll always have enough

This is a simple quote sent to me by a fellow hustler-friend I’ve met randomly at Dolores Park. I came to the United States with limited funds and have always thought my money is constantly running out no matter how hard I tried to replenish them. I lived voraciously in the world of lack. What I did not see is – prior to reading Overdressed – that I was constantly feeding on what looked good on the outside (read: what people would envy). My inner-self was slowly wilting from the lack of care, water, and attention. Change appeared gradually as I started investing time and money into what I needed to learn, gathering my thoughts, getting to know myself at my core. I know it sounds silly, but it works! I now have less material clutter in my room for good energy to flow through. I walk more and eat out less. I have less clutter to sell and be worried about. Life is becoming more amazing as we speak.

4. When you start taking care of your inner self, the outer part takes care of itself

My mom had always told me: “How do you expect to excel in the outside world when you don’t even bother making your own bed?” I rolled my eyes many times at this statement and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this. One day, I took a good hard look at my unmade bed and had an epiphany. It suddenly dawned on me.

When you take care of your simplest responsibility, only then people would trust you with greater responsibilities. If your thoughts and emotions are well controlled by you, only then you’ll present yourself to others like a well-oiled machine. My friend, Niklas, swears by the magical practice of making your bed.

3. Love people, use things

…because the other way round just doesn’t work.

A very important lesson I learned from Minimalism: A documentary about the important things and a phenomenal film alternative to Overdressed. Actually, no. Watch and read both.

2. You don’t get what you don’t ask for

I am a huge believer in the Law of Attraction. Why? Because I’ve seen it happened to me first hand. The story traced back to when I had more than six broken bones, external fixators, two bags, and multiple tubes attached to me. Back then, walking on both feet again didn’t seem attainable. The thought of being physically independent was too farfetched. Then again, I had two choices: To sulk or to swallow.

I woke up from a coma on the 30th November 2014, not knowing if it was light or dark outside. I thought my condition was no big deal until I realized I had almost lost both of my legs, and that some of my organs were not functional. I told my doctors I would be out by Christmas 2014 and back to school just in time for Winter Quarter in January 2015. They pat my head and said, “Calista, no, your external fixator will have to be attached for at least three months.”

I didn’t take no for an answer. That was the first time in my life I had asked someone repeatedly with the same requests. “Is it not gonna take only a month? I want to be out by Christmas.”

“By Christmas, doctor. BY Christmas.”

Long story short, I did not get out by Christmas. Before you get too disappointed, I did take my external fixator out in a little less than a month, and subsequently healed within a year. I am now walking, twirling, climbing, kickboxing, and squatting. Most importantly, I feel perfectly normal and functional.

1. Be the pilot of your life

And lastly, don’t be afraid to aim high.

You will not regret watching this.

In case you need some quick daily reminders, I’ve taken the liberty to condense them all to fit your smart devices. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail for your personalized version!

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Thank you for hearing me out as I pour my heart out into this space of mine. Although the changes you initially see may be small, know that a wall is built brick-by-brick and great buildings are built on solid foundation. Change takes time. Moving forward is always better than being stagnant. I am so thankful to be here to share my life with you. Here’s to more fulfillment, growth, and happiness!



  1. Antonio

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your experience. U rock, keep pushing darling! ?

    • calistatee

      Thank you for your kind words, Antonio!


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