The Home Stretch: 8(ish) More Weeks

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by Lynn Truong on November 10, 2011

Everybody says that children will change everything. That there is a clear line of demarcation that identifies your life before-child vs. after-child. That you can’t even imagine how big of a change it will be.

There is so much anticipation, but I have no idea what I’m anticipating.

I’ve never been a baby/kid person. The sight of a baby never, ever made me want one (or even want to hold one). It made no sense to me why I would want to hold someone else’s baby. Kids were strange creatures that spoke a different language and were interested in things that I did not care to participate in. Even the thought of having my own children was not appealing to me. While I was open to the idea that I may one day change my mind, I was very clearly not interested in having children, probably until as little as 5 years ago.

It was a very gradual change that happened — maybe I was growing up/growing old. Maybe I saw enough of my peers go through it that motherhood became less of a mystery. Maybe seeing my own parents grow older, having the last three of my grandparents pass away, and feeling like my own life was settling down into a predictable routine, have contributed to the sense that I can bring a person into the world and care for him properly.

In any case, here I am. 31.5 weeks pregnant. A 3.25 lb person growing and kicking inside of me. Waiting for my life to change. Wondering how I will handle the adventures to come. Wondering how I’m going to feel stepping over that line.

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Speaking and Presentations: It’s All About Practice

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by Lynn Truong on October 24, 2011

I just came back from the Financial Blogger Conference (Fincon11) and I’m still trying to process it all. I’ve been to other conferences before — blog conferences like BlogHer and Blog World Expo — but none had ever had the impact that this particular one had. First, I gave a 20 minute presentation, all by myself. That was my first ever solo speaking engagement. I’ve been on panels before, but never done a solo presentation. Wow. That was an experience. Second, it was a very small conference — about 270 total attendees. That meant that I actually knew many of the people there. It’s really something special to talk to people face to face. No matter how often I had worked with some of these bloggers online, it was a completely different experience to meet them in person.

The most valuable thing I learned there, though, was the power of practice when it comes to presenting. I went through that presentation from start to finish at least 50 times. It was through practice that I was able to cut out things that weren’t relevant, even though at first I thought it would be important. It was through practice that I was able to be more efficient with my words — instead of rambling, I figured out the best way to make a point succinctly and clearly. It was through practice that I was able to make adjustments at the last minute without freaking out. For example, I had anticipated bringing notes with me, thinking I would be behind a podium. When I got there, I realized that it wasn’t practical to stand at the podium the whole time. But it was okay, since I knew the material so well, not having the notes with me was fine. Additionally, Will made a few last minute suggestions to include a mention about a current project and I felt confident enough to insert that on the fly. Lastly, instead of worrying about the material, I was able to do some creative tweaking, coming up with a joke to start the presentation off that went over really well with the audience.

Apparently Stand and Deliver was the book I needed to read to prepare for the presentation, but I didn’t know about it. I’m pretty sure though that one of the major takeaways from the book is to practice.

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What Kind Of Mother Will I Be?

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by Lynn Truong on September 1, 2011

As I anticipate my very first bundle of joy at the beginning of next year, I can’t help but daydream about how my kid is going to turn out. And how I’m going to turn out.

How do I even begin to be a mother? How will I know how to teach without preaching, discipline without being harsh, encourage without spoiling. All I want to do is raise well adjusted, kind, strong, generous, reasonable, pleasant people who are passionate learners, love life, and have a desire to make the world a better place. Is that too much to ask?

I’ve also been reflecting on my own childhood and trying to break down how I was raised.  These are my observations.

1. Being an only child makes it hard to build relationships.

It’s not impossible, it’s just harder. No matter how many children we end up having, I want to make sure they have lots of visits with cousins. I also hope to instill a strong sense of family. I don’t really have this. Possibly because I didn’t have siblings. But probably mostly because I just didn’t spend a lot of time outside of the home with my parents. If we had done more outings, or spent a lot more time with extended family, perhaps I would have felt a strong attachment to my parents. It doesn’t help that all three of us are generally aloof and prefer to do our own thing.

2. Kids shouldn’t bear the brunt of bad moods or haphazard decisions.

My mother is not a patient person. If she’s stressed, in a hurry, or just in a bad mood, she will become snappy. Additionally, she’s not one to express herself very well, especially in the moment, so I might be doing something that annoys her but she doesn’t say so right away. Only when I do it the 10th time does she suddenly blow up about how annoying that is. It all felt very random, and mostly unfair to me. It built up quite some resentment that I felt she was yelling at me for doing something wrong, that I had no idea was wrong in the first place. I hope to teach my children etiquette and proper behavior slowly and reasonably, never getting angry at a first offense, but expecting mistakes to not be repeated.

3. Nurture or nature? Do children imitate or are traits passed down?

I’m a lot like my parents in many ways. But I wonder if it’s because I’ve just copied their habits and behaviors. In case it’s imitation and not traits doomed in genes, I hope to be a good model, so that they can avoid some of my more unpleasant traits.

4. Negativity is infectious.

My mother claims to be a very positive and open minded person, but at the same time she always seems to have a negative or close-minded comment on hand. Whether it was a comment about what I wanted to be when I grew up (actress, to which she said I was too short, but then offered to let me sign up for some thousand dollar program at a talent agency), boys/husbands (marry an older man because he’ll know how to take care of you, not a younger/same age because you’ll end up taking care of him), or that I read about how Chinese kids learn math easier because of the way Chinese numbers are counted versus in English (Chinese people are just smarter). I hope to be supportive but not coddle, encouraging, but not easy on them.

5. Pay attention.

The wise Maya Angelou advised that parents look at their children in the eyes and smile when they walk into a room, rather than look at their clothes, hair, nails, etc. The best thing about my dad was that he gave me all the attention I wanted. He played games with me (my games, like memory!). We didn’t spend a lot of time doing heart to heart chats, but I felt close to him because he never brushed me aside because he was “busy.”

6. Be consistent. Be the boss.

This is more something I’ve observed with other parents — they are inconsistent with their rules. One day they’ll say no to soda. Another day they’ll say yes. So of course the kids ask for soda…all…the…time. I also understand that kids really have nothing to lose by asking for something. Anything that piques their interest, they’ll ask for, because why not? If they ask, they may or may not get it. If they don’t, they don’t. I hope to be consistent, mean what I say, and follow through with what I say, and more importantly, show that everything has a cost, and make sure they have to “pay” something to “get” something.

I’m not sure how closely I will end up following my own advise, but I hope that my insights would at the least help me to avoid repeating some of the mistakes my own parents did. Unless we are all doomed to become our parents. Then I just hope they’ll suck it up and get over not having perfect parents!

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Worker Bee vs. Entrepreneur

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by Lynn Truong on July 14, 2011

It’s been 7 years since I quit my full time job. I wasn’t planning on leaving the corporate world for good. I just couldn’t stand the job I had. It was 35 miles each way, in heavy southern California traffic. In order to keep some semblance of sanity, I left for work at 5:15AM to get there by 6AM. Slept in the car until 8AM. And then sat through a 1.5 hour commute home.

I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do, and absolutely nothing interested me on job boards. I supported myself by selling on eBay, being a TV/movie extra, and transcribing. Feeling the pressure from friends and family asking me when I was going to get a job, I impulsively decided that I would become an Esthetician. The very next day I signed up for an expensive Skin Care program ($6000+) and wasted the next few months of my life. It was fun, but utterly useless. If I had just spent one extra day considering whether I would really enjoy giving facials to strangers all day long, I would have quickly realized how much I would hate it.

Through serendipity (a failed women’s website), Greg and Will approached me to join them on their Killer Aces Media venture. I fondly remember the initial meeting between the three of us, at Ocean Star, discussing what was to become the next few (and counting) years of our lives.

It’s been almost 4 years and while I wouldn’t trade it for anything, I certainly feel like there was a lot about the entrepreneurship lifestyle that I hadn’t anticipated. There’s definitely extreme pros and cons that I think only a small personality factor will tip the scale for anyone.

Flexibility vs. Paid Vacations

Wow do I miss paid vacations. The thing about having your own business — even those who don’t have much responsibilities anymore on a day-to-day level or those who have passive income — if you’re not working, you’re losing money. Your time is most definitely your money. Instead of going on vacation, you could be planning out growth and expansion. Instead of watching TV, exercising, spending time with family, reading, learning a new hobby, etc., you could be networking and building, checking out the latest widget or service that can cut costs or raise revenue, reading industry news and attending conferences. The opportunity costs for your leisure time is always great.

But then again, I despised having to be at my desk for specified hours for no reason. I hated feeling like I was wasting my time, wasting away, sitting in a cubicle with nothing stimulating. I felt like I was getting dumber every single day. The flexibility in schedule allows me to get things done when I need to, and have my own time when I need that.

Forecasting Stress vs. Bottom Line Ignorance

There is no rest for the weary when you’re running a business. No matter what benchmarks you hit, a higher, further one is right there waiting. You make money, you invest to make more. And during the investing period, you’re likely losing money, until you make money, and then you invest again.

When we first started, our goal was to see if we can make any money. Then we wanted to see if we could make enough to pay ourselves. And then it was whether we could make enough to pay for a staff. It’s neverending, and it all revolves around the moving bottom line. And the consequence is always dire. There is no status quo for a business.

Not that there isn’t stress when you’re working for someone either. The company sending you biweekly paychecks could also go down in flames and lay people off at any time. You never have job security. But at least on a day to day level, you aren’t staring at cashflow reports, wondering how to make things better, wondering how long the cash will last, wondering how your decisions are going to affect your staff.

Mentoring vs. Menteed

Business owners can and should find mentors and industry leaders they can look to as an example and learn from. But it’s harder than just having a boss in the office every day. Being around and having access to higher ups is a big advantage a worker bee has. It’s more difficult to seek out people we can learn from on our own.

Business Discussions vs. Water Cooler Chats

Having co-workers to interact with on a daily basis has a lot of benefits. Those relationships are stronger than just meeting someone at an event or conference, or with vendors and other casual colleagues. You end up spending more time with these people than anyone else in your household. That creates quite a bond. The light hearted gossip and sharing during breaks and over lunch is something I miss dearly.

Of course, I have my work husbands, Greg and Will, to chat with every morning. But most of the time is spent (appropriately) talking shop and being serious. It’s different.

I know I’ve still got a lot of working years to go. Just like I couldn’t have imagined where I’d be just 4 years ago, there’s so much more for me to learn about business and my abilities. I look forward to every moment of expending more blood, sweat, and tears.

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Terminix Lost a Loyal Customer Over $3

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by Lynn Truong on June 21, 2011

I have been using Terminix for 5 years. They come quarterly to spray around the house and it effectively keeps the cockroaches and other bugs from showing up inside the house. I actually know exactly when it’s about time for Terminix to show up again because about a week or so before the scheduled service, I’ll see a cockroach or cricket wandering around.

Anyway, their service is not cheap — $75 each time. But they’re reliable and they’ve got a great online system where you can schedule the visits and pay your bill.

Going into a side story that will be relevant later, about a year ago we had a major bird mite problem — get rid of any bird nests around your house NOW. Called Terminix and they don’t do bird mites. Huh.

I found a local place, Stanley Pest Control, that do handle it. They came out right away and sprayed the house. A day later there were still some of them around (they’re hearty suckers), and the guy came out again, on a Saturday morning, and took care of it. It was great service. We were super grossed out and distraught upon discovering the bird mites and it gave us so much peace of mind that the service was speedy.

So, jump back to the present. Terminix came by last week for their regular service. The technician left a bill: $75. A few days later I went online to pay. The balance due was $78.

Now, this happened before. Maybe a year ago, I saw my bill come out to $78. I called the local office and asked why I was charged $78. The representative said it was a standard price hike. I said I was not notified of this. She said she’d go ahead and bring my price back down to $75.

So this time I called again, and again, asked why I was charged $78. Again, I was told it was a standard price hike. I said that the bill the technician left was $75, and even if there was a price hike, why was I not notified ahead of time?

There was a long pause…like 30 seconds, where I thought the call was disconnected. I said “Hello” a few times. Then the lady came back and said, “So you’re disputing three dollars?”

Hell yeah I’m disputing $3. WTF?

“Yes.”

“Well, you’ll have to talk to the technician about it. He’ll call you when he can. He’s really busy.”

Hangs up.

OK. This has a very, very easy solution.

I called Stanley Pest Control. They offered me $70 per quarterly service. I signed up.

I called Terminix the next day to cancel. When I was sent to the cancellation desk, I explained what happened. The representative offered to match the $70 and cut my current bill in half for the trouble.

Too bad this didn’t happen yesterday. No deal.

I sent in this complaint to The Consumerist and they published it!

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Week 10: Back to Myself Again

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by Lynn Truong on June 10, 2011

I’m only 10 weeks, so “officially” I’m not supposed to tell, but who cares. If something does go wrong, I’ll write about that too. I’m pregnant!

I’m spurred to write because, man, I finally feel back to normal. After weeks of feeling off — tired, bored, unmotivated, a little down — I got a burst of the go get ‘ems today. I tackled a bunch of menial stuff on my to-do list (something I haven’t even looked at for weeks). I actually have the energy to stay upright for more than a few hours. I was really worried that I wasn’t going to be able to get anything done for another few weeks (when they say the 2nd trimester energy comes bursting forth).

It started out very mildly. Fortunately, I never felt too nauseated. I got a wave here or there, but nothing bad. I just felt a little tired. I got tired in the afternoon and took a nap. I’d go to bed earlier but wake up earlier, too. I was doing okay.

But then I just started feeling like I couldn’t do anything that required any amount of concentration or focus. I wanted to watch a movie or read, but I didn’t want to do any work. Two days ago I took two naps during the day and still went to bed at 10pm.

But today…I was back! (I did get sleepy around 12 and took a half hour nap, but felt thoroughly refreshed, unlike previous days when I woke up from naps feeling drowsy and even more dopey.) All I can hope is that this is here to stay, and not just a weird burst that’s going to fizzle away. It felt so depressing to be so…unmotivated.

On the bright side, I’m enjoying food more than ever. No crazy cravings (except pizza yesterday, which I had again today…YUM), but I feel like I am experiencing more satisfaction when I eat. Can’t complain about that.

So, I’m eagerly awaiting the next adventure.

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To Achieve Your Goals, Keep It a Secret

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by Lynn Truong on April 28, 2011

I once went on a creative writing binge and churned out 100 pages of a story. It wasn’t completed — it was only the beginning. I showed it to my roommate, who actually read the whole thing, told me she liked it, and I never touched it again.

This happened again another time, when I thought of a great story I was going to write, told someone, and then lost all interest.

Turns out it isn’t just me. Turns out that very often, once you tell someone about your goals, and get some sort of positive reaction from it, it gives you the same amount of satisfaction as if you had actually achieved that goal! So you no longer have as much motivation to pursue it, because you’ve kind of already been there done that.

Now, it may not be practical, or healthy to keep your dreams a secret from your loved ones, especially when you can use them effectively for support and encouragement. The key is to not get that positive stimulus that triggers the “I’m very satisfied with myself” feeling. When you do reveal your goal(s), put it in the context of where you are right now, and what your plans are to reaching them. If all you say is “I’m going to be an astronaut!” and everyone around you applauds and tells you you’ll definitely succeed, then you might end up losing all motivation to actually be one.

Instead, research and find out all the steps you have to take in order to meet your goal, and share and discuss the long road ahead. Your friends and family will be able to encourage and support you, and follow up on these small steps, rather than slap your back and heartily exclaim “Go get’em!”

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Remember that Life Is Awesome

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by Lynn Truong on April 21, 2011

I’m generally a melancholy person. I like cloudy days, dark humor, and low notes. This is my neutral state. So when things get tough that make me a little more down than usual, I might end up in a pretty dark place.

No matter how bad I’m feeling, this video reminds me that life is still awesome.

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I have a whole big theory about being an only child: it sucks.

Sure there are only children who are happy, well-adjusted people. But the odds are stacked against us. There are too many lost opportunities to learn and adapt to the real world. And even within the most well-adjusted only child, there are life experiences that they will never be exposed to.

I believe that I lack the ability to fully embrace relationships with people because of these lost experiences:

  • Unconditional Friendship
  • Constant Confidant
  • Shared Responsibility

There is no “friend” who can fully replace the kind of relationship siblings have, no matter how “best” they are. And not having this relationship with someone is not the worse of it. Because I have never experienced this relationship, I don’t feel secure in any of my relationships. I do not have the confidence to fully be myself (Unconditional Friendship), to share (Constant Confidant), to ask for help (Shared Responsibility). It makes me feel very much alone, even if the people around me do want to offer me these things. There is no way for me to recognize it, use it, embrace it. I’ve never seen it, so I don’t really believe in it.

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Chinese Mothers Have Nothing on Amy Chua

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by Lynn Truong on March 24, 2011

When I wrote my earlier post about Amy Chua’s WSJ post, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior, I hadn’t yet read her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Now that I have read her book, I can say that the WSJ article misrepresents her. The article is really a compilation of excerpts from her book, and you can imagine, there’s a lot of context that is missing as a result.

First of all, she says from the get-go that when she refers to “Chinese Mothers” she’s not referring to ethnicity. She’s describing a mindset that is prominent in Chinese culture, but that anybody can have. It’s the mindset that when kids are in school, academics and life skills (like music) are of the utmost importance. Social skills are not considered a life skill, so activities that build those skills (hanging out with friends, participating in sports, etc.) are unnecessary (and sometimes considered detrimental). It’s also the mindset that children obey their parents and other authority figures, no matter what. Because adults know better than kids…always.

Plenty of non-Chinese people have this mindset as well. She uses the term Chinese because it’s prevalent in Chinese culture. The same could not be said for example, of American culture. No one would try to classify American culture this way. But there are Americans that feel this way, as there are Chinese who don’t.

Next, this mindset that she argues is superior is only the tip of the iceberg. This is where I was most mistaken with her WSJ article. As I had posted earlier, I compared her to my mother. My mother tried to get me to practice piano an hour a day. My lessons were expensive and definitely not easy for my parents to afford, but to them, this was an important skill for me to have. My mother criticized me instead of praising me. She compared me negatively to other children. She was unhappy with grades like B’s. But she was no Amy Chua.

Amy Chua did not just raise two girls who can play the violin and piano. She raised two music prodigies. Her daughter played at Carnegie Hall. They received national exposure. They were taught by highly sought after teachers and were highly regarded. This wasn’t the result of her closing up her daughters at home and just making them practice until their fingers bled. The amount of dedication and work she put into driving them forward is not to be taken lightly.

Chua when into the deep, dark trenches with them. She learned about piano theory, listened to all the greats play and worked through the pieces with her daughter methodically. When she decided her second daughter would learn violin, she dug in deep and become proficient in violin as well. She drove them hours each way to every lesson, sat in on the lessons, took notes, conferred with her teachers, listened to the music as it was meant to be played, and then coached her daughters through it.

Not only did she do this with music, she did this with their schoolwork.

Not only did she do all this, she had a job as a professor and took care of their family dog.

The reaction from her daughters from this form of parenting were as different as night and day. Her daughters have two very different personalities, and while one loved the discipline and focus her mother drove into her, the other pushed and fought and screamed every bit of the way. But even the second daughter admits that she is happy her mother made her play the violin, because she does love it, and made her study fractions two years ahead of her classmates. But she won’t allow her mother to be that involved in anything else she pursues again (she’s currently playing tennis, and she’s good, because she has the drive to improve and excel).

One can argue that many a music prodigy and academically achieved student did not have such an extreme parent to drive them to success. But can anyone say for certain whether these two girls would have achieved the same heights had it not been for Chua? In addition, how many athletic greats were a result of extreme parental coaching?

And the bigger question: how many more greats would there have been, if there were more parents like Amy Chua?

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