02 3 / 2014

So I went to dinner with family tonight at Firefly restaurant in Studio City. My sister and her fiancé are visiting from Seattle and so my family, along with my sister’s fiancé’s parents, ate at this trendy, up-scale place where the lighting is dim and the appetizers are served on thin rectangular plates made of some kind of grey stone. (My Yelp review)

In particularly though, I wanted to talk about the talk I had with my grandmother. You see, my grandparents have always put a lot of their hopes and wishes into me. During the drive over to Studio City I told them about what has been going on in my life — how I left my company, how I’ve applied for some jobs and how I’ve been rejected by them so far. While my dream is to be a successful entrepreneur, I tell them that I really want to move out soon and that I’ll likely need a job to do that. They are pretty understanding of things, but still, it’s a bit of an uncomfortable topic for me because I know that my they, my grandfather particularly, would have liked to see me in much higher places by now.

Over dinner, my grandma brings back the subject of work, business, moving out, etc…but she surprises me. She tells me that the common ways of thinking about work and careers are out-dated, that wealth comes from building a business and that I should never stop thinking of ideas. Perhaps more importantly she tells me that I should never give up just because of failure because it just takes one success to make it. I’ve heard messages like these over and over again, but I’ve read them in books written to encourage hopeful entrepreneurs. In my day-to-day life it’s so rare to hear these messages from someone older than me; a parent-figure. And this is coming from a woman who did well for herself by working over 30 years as an assistant in the biggest accounting firm in the country. The fact that she, someone so much older than I am, shares the same mindset that I do was so moving.

When you commit yourself to taking a path that is less traveled or being passionate about a mindset that is a bit unconventional, you get used to hearing the nay-sayers remind you of the doubts, the risks, and the failures. It’s something that becomes expected; something you take with a grain of salt. This is why it feels so special when you finally hear someone tell you that the rewards from those doubts, risks, and failures will all be worth it, and that no one is stopping you from achieving them. And the fact that this was coming from my own grandmother…

…I almost cried.

Cheers to moving forward.

21 1 / 2014

Thank you Toastmaster, my fellow Toastmasters, and welcomed guests. What do you think being a Toastmaster says about us? What unique characteristics do we, together in this club, share? If you were to ask me, I’d say that it’s courage, determination, and a willingness to improve upon our weaknesses. Well for my previous speech, I spoke about my early experience with public speaking because I thought it fit perfectly with the idea of the icebreaker, but I didn’t get to share much about who I am. So today, I’m going to share with you three aspects of my life that are important to me and, just like in my opening question for you, you will learn what I think each of those things says about my personality. So let me tell you about three passions I have: playing the guitar, surfing, and traveling.

So first – the guitar. Have any of you here listened to a song, whether it was in your bedroom, in your car, or in your shower, and gotten so in to it that you caught yourself belting out the lyrics, playing air guitar, or drumming a beat on an imaginary drum set? I did that all the time when I was starting high school and discovering my own tastes in music. But at some point I thought to myself, “I don’t want to pretend to do these awesome things. I want to actually do them!” That was when I first started hinting to my parents that I wanted a guitar, and the following Christmas I opened one of the most exciting gifts I’ve ever received. I was so lucky because many parents might hear those hints and decide not to buy an expensive toy that their child might quickly get bored of. But this was about ten years ago. Since then, not only did I not get bored, I took lessons, read books, taught classes, and performed on stage. And I learned something about myself. I learned that when I say that I want to do something, I will do it and I will get good at it. Granted, I’m definitely no virtuoso, nor do I intend to be, but I don’t believe in just learning the basics of something and feeling satisfied. To me, that’s like saying you speak another language when all you can really say to someone is “hello” and “where’s the restroom.” So, to me, the guitar shows my level of determination with new endeavors. Now let’s talk about my favorite sport – surfing.

Surfing, to me, represents many things, but one thing in particular is that it represents my independence. When I was a child, I would spend hours at the beach during the summer. As I got a little older, I told myself I wanted to learn how to surf. No one had the time to teach me, so I borrowed an old board and wetsuit from a friend and taught myself how to surf. Let me paint a picture for you. Imagine yourself relaxing after a long week and paddling out into the sea. You sit there, bobbing with the waves, watching a flock of birds fly past the sun and a pod of dolphins swimming only yards in front of you. Nothing from work or your daily stresses crosses your mind. Nothing. Your only focus is the beauty of nature and the calculation of each passing wave. How fast is this one moving? How tall is it? You paddle furiously and stand up. A huge rush of adrenaline surges as you glide down the face of the wave. Every move you make is a reaction to the drops and turns that are thrown at you. And over and over you repeat the process – just you and the ocean. So now I’ve told you about my sense of determination and independence; Lastly, I’d like to share my sense of exploration through travel.

So, travel. I love exploring new places. Let me tell you about two places I’ve visited recently. In 2012 I took a trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The city was incredible! The glittering beaches are lively and energetic. The air is filled with the sounds of Samba music and the smell of fresh acai berries. But exploring beyond the tourists and multi-million dollar hotels, you find the city’s poverty, which is cramped into brightly painted shanty towns know as favelas. These favelas are a maze of narrow streets and tangled power lines. They smell of sewage and are strangled by poverty and drugs trafficking. We wandered through the tiny streets and I imaged what it must be like to live here. I had similar thoughts when Jenny and I took a trip to Vietnam last year. I realized how much I took for granted and how different culture is in a communist country. But Vietnam was unique because I was able to explore the northern part of the country with new friends we met from around the world. I also stayed in a hostel for the first time and one night we slept in a hut on an island in Ha Long Bay. In contrast – in the South – we stayed with Jenny’s family in a small town. I lived like a local and bonded with people despite a heavy language barrier. Brazil and Vietnam were just two of my travels, but I think they can give you a small sense of my love of exploration.

 So now I want to conclude my speech with an invitation. I’ve shared with you the determination I discovered while learning the guitar, the independence I feel when surfing, and the exploration I enjoy when traveling. If any of these are interests that you have or would like to pursue in your own life, I invite you to a friendly conversation where maybe we can both share our passions and learn new things about ourselves in the process. Thank you.

14 12 / 2013

So I recently joined Toastmasters in Torrance. It’s a club that helps to build your public speaking skills in a low-pressure and supportive environment. I’ve already gone to a few meetings and my “icebreaker” speech is next week. Here it is. What do you think?
Thank you my fellow Toastmasters. In honor of my Icebreaker speech, I thought it would be fun to share with you one of my earliest and most important experiences with public speaking. Maybe some of you here can relate to the emotions that I felt on this day.
My father, who is a retired officer from the LAPD, once told me, “the most important class I think I ever took was public speaking.” So while I was at El Camino Community College I took that class to fulfill some extra credits. I had an amazing, inspiring professor, and the class really taught me a lot and helped to build my confidence.
But this experience actually takes place at Cal State Long Beach, the school I transferred to. When I got there, I knew I wanted to make friends quickly, so I joined the International Business Association (or IBA). Since international business was my major, it was a natural choice. Well I loved the club and the people so much that soon I joined the executive board. This is where the story really begins.
It was a new semester and I was the VP of membership. We had set up a table in front of the business department to try and attract new members. My president, Omar, calls me and says, “Hey Brandon, I’m supposed to present and promote IBA at the beginning of a class in half an hour, but now I can’t make it. Can you take care of it?” Without hesitation I do what most of us do when we’re new and trying to impress, and say, “Sure!” He gives me a run-down of what to say and, being the smooth talker that he was, even throws in a tip to really hit the message home. He says, “Ask them, ‘By a show of hands, who in here knows exactly what they want to do after college?’” The logic being that hardly anyone could know exactly what they want to do after school. This would be the perfect time to set the hook and say something like, “Well IBA is the perfect place to help you find out!” Omar thanks me and tells me to go to room 126A.
Remember, I was new to the school, so I didn’t know where this class was. I look through the main building of classes but can’t find it. Finally, I walk to another building close by. Now, I should say that one of the great things about CSU Long Beach is that it has many small classrooms, which are great places to learn in. There are only a few huge lecture halls on campus. Well this building that I’m standing in front of with tall double doors is one of those lecture halls, and guess which classroom it is. 126A. My heart starts pounding. I’m not ready for this! I even think to myself, “Maybe I can just say I gave the presentation.” I knew I couldn’t lie like that. I walk inside and towards the front of the class. All the students are already seated and I feel like every one of them is looking at me. I’m standing at the bottom of the room looking up at hundreds of faces. To make matters worse, a member of my club (who happens to be a very pretty girl) is sitting in the front row! I start to speak but I can feel my hands start to shake and voice start to weaken. My throat is dry and it’s hard to get any words out. I try to fight through it and somehow I manage to ask the question that Omar told me to ask. “By a show of hands, who in here knows exactly what they want to do after college?” At least this part of the speech will get people thinking and save my presentation. Well guess what? It seems like everyone raises their hand. Apparently they all know exactly what they want to do after college!
The rest of that presentation is a bit of a blur, but it was definitely a traumatic experience. Still, that pretty girl in the front row later comes up to me says, “Your speech was really good!” I try to look for signs of sarcasm or dishonesty, but you know what? I couldn’t find any. She simply smiled a very sincere smile. Maybe she actually found some good in it.
I’ll never forget that day. I learned that a traumatic experience like that means that things can only get better, and that the words and sincerity from someone can be the encouragement that one needs to move forward.
So I hope you found my speech entertaining and that maybe, in some ways, you could connect to it. Just remember that we are all here to play that role of the pretty girl in the front row. Thank you.

So I recently joined Toastmasters in Torrance. It’s a club that helps to build your public speaking skills in a low-pressure and supportive environment. I’ve already gone to a few meetings and my “icebreaker” speech is next week. Here it is. What do you think?

Thank you my fellow Toastmasters. In honor of my Icebreaker speech, I thought it would be fun to share with you one of my earliest and most important experiences with public speaking. Maybe some of you here can relate to the emotions that I felt on this day.

My father, who is a retired officer from the LAPD, once told me, “the most important class I think I ever took was public speaking.” So while I was at El Camino Community College I took that class to fulfill some extra credits. I had an amazing, inspiring professor, and the class really taught me a lot and helped to build my confidence.

But this experience actually takes place at Cal State Long Beach, the school I transferred to. When I got there, I knew I wanted to make friends quickly, so I joined the International Business Association (or IBA). Since international business was my major, it was a natural choice. Well I loved the club and the people so much that soon I joined the executive board. This is where the story really begins.

It was a new semester and I was the VP of membership. We had set up a table in front of the business department to try and attract new members. My president, Omar, calls me and says, “Hey Brandon, I’m supposed to present and promote IBA at the beginning of a class in half an hour, but now I can’t make it. Can you take care of it?” Without hesitation I do what most of us do when we’re new and trying to impress, and say, “Sure!” He gives me a run-down of what to say and, being the smooth talker that he was, even throws in a tip to really hit the message home. He says, “Ask them, ‘By a show of hands, who in here knows exactly what they want to do after college?’” The logic being that hardly anyone could know exactly what they want to do after school. This would be the perfect time to set the hook and say something like, “Well IBA is the perfect place to help you find out!” Omar thanks me and tells me to go to room 126A.

Remember, I was new to the school, so I didn’t know where this class was. I look through the main building of classes but can’t find it. Finally, I walk to another building close by. Now, I should say that one of the great things about CSU Long Beach is that it has many small classrooms, which are great places to learn in. There are only a few huge lecture halls on campus. Well this building that I’m standing in front of with tall double doors is one of those lecture halls, and guess which classroom it is. 126A. My heart starts pounding. I’m not ready for this! I even think to myself, “Maybe I can just say I gave the presentation.” I knew I couldn’t lie like that. I walk inside and towards the front of the class. All the students are already seated and I feel like every one of them is looking at me. I’m standing at the bottom of the room looking up at hundreds of faces. To make matters worse, a member of my club (who happens to be a very pretty girl) is sitting in the front row! I start to speak but I can feel my hands start to shake and voice start to weaken. My throat is dry and it’s hard to get any words out. I try to fight through it and somehow I manage to ask the question that Omar told me to ask. “By a show of hands, who in here knows exactly what they want to do after college?” At least this part of the speech will get people thinking and save my presentation. Well guess what? It seems like everyone raises their hand. Apparently they all know exactly what they want to do after college!

The rest of that presentation is a bit of a blur, but it was definitely a traumatic experience. Still, that pretty girl in the front row later comes up to me says, “Your speech was really good!” I try to look for signs of sarcasm or dishonesty, but you know what? I couldn’t find any. She simply smiled a very sincere smile. Maybe she actually found some good in it.

I’ll never forget that day. I learned that a traumatic experience like that means that things can only get better, and that the words and sincerity from someone can be the encouragement that one needs to move forward.

So I hope you found my speech entertaining and that maybe, in some ways, you could connect to it. Just remember that we are all here to play that role of the pretty girl in the front row. Thank you.

06 12 / 2013

Gave another successful guitar lesson to my friend’s little brother, Jose, today.
We started doing some lessons a long time ago, but then for some reason we had to stop and put them on hold. Recently I was surprised to hear that Jose has kept his interest in it this whole time and even joined a guitar club at school. Maybe you’ve personally experienced starting an instrument and then quitting it; so many people do! That’s why it’s awesome that Jose still is inspired by it.
Because this kid has shown a commitment to it, I’ve decided to teach him the things that have been most important to me and my playing. Now I’m definitely not a great guitar player but learning some key aspects of music theory has made it possible for me to play songs from the radio by ear, make up guitar solos, and write my own songs. I want to give Jose that same ability because it really makes music a creative outlet as opposed to what we all do at the beginning, which is simply to play something that’s already written down. There’s a big difference in feeling between playing something off a piece of paper and having some creative freedom.
Not everyone has the patience or desire to learn an instrument to reach that “creative” point, but the experience is truly rewarding. Music in general is such an amazing thing. Think about it…the human brain is capable enough to convey meaning, emotion, feelings, and ideas through layers of organized and well thought-out sounds. And if you’re a “do-er” and don’t like to simply “watch from the sidelines” then you’ll no doubt want to actually learn to create the music you love yourself, instead of always just listening to it being played from someone else. That’s how I was. It’s that urge you get to play air guitar when you hear a great rock song. I didn’t want to just pretend to play, I wanted to make those sounds for myself. Perhaps you do, too.
Teaching Jose is rewarding whenever I see the “lightbulb” light up above his head when something makes sense; when he understands something new about how music is made. He’s very pro-active about learning new songs and even making up his own little pieces. I think he’s already on track to enjoy this lifelong skill; something he can even pass on to someone else one day.

Gave another successful guitar lesson to my friend’s little brother, Jose, today.

We started doing some lessons a long time ago, but then for some reason we had to stop and put them on hold. Recently I was surprised to hear that Jose has kept his interest in it this whole time and even joined a guitar club at school. Maybe you’ve personally experienced starting an instrument and then quitting it; so many people do! That’s why it’s awesome that Jose still is inspired by it.

Because this kid has shown a commitment to it, I’ve decided to teach him the things that have been most important to me and my playing. Now I’m definitely not a great guitar player but learning some key aspects of music theory has made it possible for me to play songs from the radio by ear, make up guitar solos, and write my own songs. I want to give Jose that same ability because it really makes music a creative outlet as opposed to what we all do at the beginning, which is simply to play something that’s already written down. There’s a big difference in feeling between playing something off a piece of paper and having some creative freedom.

Not everyone has the patience or desire to learn an instrument to reach that “creative” point, but the experience is truly rewarding. Music in general is such an amazing thing. Think about it…the human brain is capable enough to convey meaning, emotion, feelings, and ideas through layers of organized and well thought-out sounds. And if you’re a “do-er” and don’t like to simply “watch from the sidelines” then you’ll no doubt want to actually learn to create the music you love yourself, instead of always just listening to it being played from someone else. That’s how I was. It’s that urge you get to play air guitar when you hear a great rock song. I didn’t want to just pretend to play, I wanted to make those sounds for myself. Perhaps you do, too.

Teaching Jose is rewarding whenever I see the “lightbulb” light up above his head when something makes sense; when he understands something new about how music is made. He’s very pro-active about learning new songs and even making up his own little pieces. I think he’s already on track to enjoy this lifelong skill; something he can even pass on to someone else one day.

26 11 / 2013

Sometimes I feel like I should be living my life “faster.” Like I should be a new place doing something I’ve always dreamed of. For me this happens  perhaps a few times a year, during times when I know that I’m ready for change. Maybe you’ve experienced it too — you’ve been in a relationship that hasn’t really been working for a while, your job has gotten stale and you feel like you’re not learning anymore or, in my current case, a big decision has presented itself and it could mean the difference between moving into the unknown or hanging onto something familiar that may or may not be healthy/wise. It’s these times in our lives that the expectations we have for ourselves take a gleaming look down at our reality. Pretty soon we start to become more critical of our boredom and our inactions. We feel guilty of days gone by where nothing really happened. It’s kind of like when you catch yourself watching a re-run of a show you like and realize that you’ve seen that same episode at least 20 times.

Now is that time. It is for me; maybe it is for you too. We can’t be bored. We have to fight our laziness, bad habits, and procrastination. The realization of our dreams depends on it. Let’s do ourselves a favor and do something about the things we know we need to get done. Let’s embrace change and uncertainty as new and exciting chapters in our lives. And let’s do this — whenever we’re faced with doing something productive that can get us to where we want to be or doing something comfortable, relaxing and routine, let’s force ourselves to drop what we’re doing and be productive, and afterwards reward ourselves by stepping outside or grabbing a refreshing drink. Ok, I’m guessing you’re thinking that the last part of that call-to-action was a bit random. Why step outside or grab a drink?? Because our minds need a reward system that helps us to build habits of good behavior. We could reward ourselves by watching 10 guilt-free minutes of YouTube, but oftentimes (depending on what you’re watching, I suppose) that could just mean shutting off our brains is the reward. We would want to do just the opposite. A step outside or a refreshing glass of whatever would not only be pleasing but it would allow us to, at least for a minute, take a deep breath and reflect on that little victory we’ve just accomplished. Do this enough and pretty soon doing the things we’ve been meaning to do will become much easier.

26 6 / 2013

Here in Vietnam. Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh City) to be specific. Walk through the exit doors at the airport and you’re immediately introduced to two things that are a mainstay in this area: hot humid air and lots (and lots) of traffic. It’s ok though; when on vacation, I like the heat. The traffic? I’ve seen pictures. I expect it to be part of the experience that is Vietnam. Plus, I’m with family…or girlfriend’s family anyways.

We take a taxi to our hotel, Rang Dong (the “ng” sounds more like an “m”), where we have a quick lunch.  After that, it’s time for a walk about the city. 

I’m looking at the first pictures I took after arriving. Most of them revolve around the busy streets. It’s not wonder though; I’m still amazed at how on one hand, a culture like the United States evolves straight roads, plenty of traffic lights and cross walks, a high strictness for orderly driving, and has segments on the radio devoted to pointing out the dozens of collisions occurring at a particular time. At the same time, another culture disregards all traffic lanes and most crosswalks, fits a family of 3 on a single scooter (the children are not required to wear helmets, but the adults are), has an extremely high tolerance for closeness to other vehicles, and yet never seems to have any accidents. I’m pretty sure I have yet to see any kind of law enforcement that watches over traffic; I wonder if that even exists here.

The pics above are a small taste of what I first saw. Scooters and cars come awfully close together. In the first and third shots you can see many people wearing flip flops. Forget sturdy leather riding boots. They also dress in pants and long sleeves in humid 90 degree weather.

In the second, a man drives on a pedestrian cross-walk straight across oncoming traffic. Turning lanes? Nah, I think I’ll just cut across right here…

In the third one you can see a woman selling cheap sunglasses and toys crossing through heavy scooter traffic. I felt a rush when I went to New York and Boston when I realized that it was normal to cross the street (at the cross-walk) before the light turned green. Over here, a safe time to J-walk looks VERY different from back home. Mothers hold onto their infant’s hand as they slowly scoot across, getting within whispering distance to the motorists. All kinds of chaos would ensue if this took place back home in LA.

Mind-blown.

09 5 / 2013

Things are changing. And right on time. Embrace the flow of life.

Gary Clark Jr. - “Things Are Changin” captured in The Live Room (by TheWarnerSound)

29 4 / 2013

To lighten the mood.

To lighten the mood.

(Source: astroayla, via urcka)

23 4 / 2013

Some more Contiki-style photos from my travels. The one with the alligator was from New Orleans on the bayou, and the others were from various places in Peru. I’m hoping to have many more travel photos/adventures by the end of this year.

21 4 / 2013

Every now and then you come along a song that you KNOW you are going to end up being sick of because you play it on repeat, over and over and over again. Right now for me, this is it.

EVERY wedding or party or gathering I’ve been to where my parents are there with their friends, people are dancing to Earth, Wind, & Fire or Kool and the Gang. I often think my parents live in the past when it comes to music but, in these cases, that is a good thing. That was the music that was bumping in the clubs when they were my age. That was the music that would have made a party weekend in Vegas unforgettable. And I think that is really cool. 

So when I first heard this song, one word came to mind…GENIUS. People don’t listen to funk or disco anymore because it’s old, it’s tacky, and people today can’t relate to those artists’ style, fashion, or maybe age (I feel like many big artists in that day were older than artists and DJs today). But from a musical standpoint, those tunes make you want to move. Plain and simple. So to me, this song brings back that nostalgic groove, uses style icons from today’s culture, and blends it with sounds and beats (i.e. Daft Punk) that you hear at festivals and parties in this new millennium. It even throws in a music legend (Nile Rodgers) for today’s youth to be inspired by.

I know some people won’t get it. Maybe even hate it. It’s too mainstream. But I think that is the point.