TRAVEL BLOG

Airbnb is the way to go!

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Usually I gravitate toward hotel rooms or hostels when traveling, but I’ve been hearing more and more about airbnb recently, so I decided to give it a shot! A friend helped me find... READ MORE

Seen in Vancouver

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I always seem to get into heated debates with my friends from the West Coast about whose homeland, theirs or mine (Colorado) is better. Most of these (mistaken) friends come from somewhere within... READ MORE

Lessons from Iceland

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The trip to Iceland with Wharton Leadership Ventures was so exciting and filled with adventure that I often forgot that it was related to Wharton or academically affiliated at all. Almost everything we... READ MORE

30 Day Challenge: An exercise of faith (Intro)

posted in: 30 Day Challenge, Journal | 0

I got a Kindle to make my commute to and from work more bearable, and I just exited out of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (I discovered that fantasy is not really my thing, though I made it 71% of the way through the book, so I did at least attempt to catch up with popular culture) in favor of Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich. It’s high on the list of personal development books, and what’s not to like about the title?

As far as I can tell thus far, it advocates the power of having the BURNING DESIRE to achieve a goal and the FAITH that it can be accomplished, for this combination will form “A ‘MAGNETIC’ FORCE WHICH ATTRACTS, FROM THE VIBRATIONS OF THE ETHER,” the people, events, and chances that will help you achieve that goal. That’s a direct quote, emphasis not added (I’m using it a bit out of context, but I just couldn’t resist “the vibrations of the ether”). The book reads a like a spirited sermon delivered in shouts, with spittle flying in your face.

The fundamental idea is not unique though, as it appears in The Secret and The Alchemist, among many other works, I’m sure. Basically, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it” (The Alchemist).

One of the steps toward bending the universe to your will is, according to Napoleon Hill’s SELFCONFIDENCE FORMULA,

I realize that the dominating thoughts of my mind will eventually reproduce themselves in outward, physical action, and gradually transform themselves into physical reality, therefore, I will concentrate my thoughts for thirty minutes daily, upon the task of thinking of the person I intend to become, thereby creating in my mind a clear mental picture of that person.

I don’t know about committing thirty minutes daily, but I do want to do my own little experiment! So for thirty days, I will remind myself, upon waking up and upon going to bed, of the person I intend to become:


I am a strong, attractive woman
I am an authority on UX
I am a capable leader
People listen to me
I inspire


Now it’s out in the open and a target has been set. There’s nowhere to go but forward!

 

The Morning Climb

posted in: Journal | 0

The Jersey City PATH station, which I travel to for work in the morning, is sunk deep underground. There is only one functional escalator going up and one going down (I don’t know what’s up with the third one, but it was under construction for the whole of my internship last summer, and no progress appears to have been made), and when trains arrive, crowds of people swarm at the foot of the escalator like ants on a stick of celery smeared with peanut butter (coincidentally called “ants on a log”…like “ants on an ants on a log,” parse through that one).

 

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To avoid this madness, I started taking the stairs.

The trouble is, there are 8 flights of 16 steps, 128 stairs in total. I’m fairly fit, but by the fourth flight, my feet already feel heavy and I imagine ghastly scenarios of losing my footing and tumbling down. The last two flights are the hardest. When my foot finally lands on the top step, I’m out of breath, but I form a wide smile as I celebrate a mini-inner victory.

 

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The original idea was that this would make me stronger day by day, but sadly, after four weeks, the climb doesn’t seem to be getting any easier. Nonetheless, it’s a valuable part of my morning. I walk into work with a smile and an accomplishment already under my belt (though being out of breath makes socializing with coworkers in the elevator a little harder). Despite the pain, it’s a great way to start the day!

Therefore, I pledge to make the climb every morning before work, unless I’m feverishly ill (in which case I should hope I won’t be going in to work), I have a broken leg, I bump into a coworker and it would be socially awkward to separate, or I’m just really, really late.

The one and only time that I didn’t take the stairs in the past four weeks, the latter two scenarios applied. As I stood in line for the escalator with my colleague, she turned and asked, “are you a walker or a rider?”

“Oh, I usually walk,” I said, and she replied with “me too” as she walked up the escalator.

If only she knew.

 

I have something to say

posted in: Journal | 0

“On a sheet of paper, write for 5 minutes how your life would be different if you never worried and were never anxious.”

This was the prompt that I came across on Ryan Allis’ “Lessons from my 20s,” a 1,284-slide presentation from a young, successful entrepreneur filled with life advice (I actually stumbled upon it on my Facebook newsfeed. It’s probably my most — okay, more likely only — productive encounter that ever resulted from browsing Facebook). Since I had my first opportunity in a while to sit and reflect this morning, I figured why not:

If I never worried and were never anxious (I’m surprisingly good at it. I’d rank it as one of my top skills):

I would save a lot of time and energy.

I would approach people without hesitation to say hello and ask them how they’re doing, what their stories are, and whether they too think it surprising, funny, miraculous, or simply quaint that our lives intersect in whatever ways that they do. I would be able to meet hundreds, thousands of diverse people and build a connection with them, learning about how them and how they view the world.

I would have no misgivings about my knowledge or skills. I would not think I was quiet, or a beginner, or unqualified. I would share my opinions and be a valuable contributor to any meeting or conversation that I take part in. I would not be shy. Instead, I would ben known as an amiable connector, and I would build a sizable and effective network around me.

I would be in control of my life, my time, and my emotions. I would forge ahead into any situation without fear, and instead with wonder and a sense of humor.

 

The next slide had a second prompt:

“On a sheet of paper, write down for 5 minutes all the things that are holding you back that you can just give up and choose to put in the past.”

It takes a tremendous amount of energy for me to take an action, and I wear myself out long before. I’m overcome with anxious anticipation, I run through the full scenario in my head, and I have to fight to sooth and convince myself to act. By the time I am called upon to take the action, I’m already nervous and exhausted.

I need a sense of control, but I can’t control what others think or how they respond. I’m scared of that, and it causes me to worry.

I worry that my words will tumble out wrong, that I won’t be able to express myself the way I want to, and I’ll ultimately leave a bad impression. So it’s safer to take no action, to leave no impression at all. Or maybe it’s an even scarier thought – that, even if I try my best, I’ll still leave no impression at all.

I feel like I have nothing to say.

 

There it is.

This exercise exposes a great fear that I’ve had for who knows how long?  Ever since my first parent-teacher conference, when my kindergarten teacher made a comment that I heard year after year: “Jessica is a great student, but she doesn’t participate much. She’s so quiet!” The fear that kept me from raising my hand, and which still makes me clam up during meetings, gives me cold sweat at networking and recruiting events, and prompts me to shy away from fantastic opportunities to meet and chat with renown leaders, speakers, and change-makers.

But I do have things to say. I’ve gone on great adventures, met interesting characters, created endearing things, hoarded some knowledge, been stuck in ridiculous debacles, and produced blood, sweat, and tears to achieve goals. I have funny, inspiring, and heart-warming stories to tell. I have experience, I have advice.

So damn it, I’m going to say them. Maybe not all at once, and maybe not right away. But this blog is a great place to start. The purpose of this blog is not to be to build great volumes of traffic or turn it into a source of income, but rather to collect the things that I have to say. And once I can prove to myself (and the world) that I have value to provide to an audience, I’ll finally have conquered my fear. And all the “I would…”s from the first prompt will turn into “I do”s.

My grandpa’s extraordinary story

posted in: Journal | 0

My grandpa is extraordinary.

That word gets tossed around more frequently these days, but in his case, I really believe it to be true. At 85, he could beat men a quarter his age in arm wrestling, he gives me (the Wharton business school graduate) lectures on the current economic situation around the globe, and, though twice retired, he is still hard at work developing and patenting nano-optical technology for the early detection of multiple cancers. And, to top it all off, he worked on China’s first nuclear bomb and invented fiber optic cables.

His entire life is an inspirational story filled with hardship. And although I can hardly even begin to do it justice, I strongly believe that it’s one that deserves to be shared with the world.

 

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My grandpa was born in a fairly rural area of the Zhe Jiang province, and grew up just as China suffered atrocities inflicted by the Japanese during WWII. Because the Japanese dropped bombs around the village where he lived, he and his family hid out for months in a mill at a city nearby. There, they manually operated the mill, pushing heavy stone in order to grind corn and wheat. Later on, after the war, he saw the same heavy mechanisms automated with water flow from a river instead operated by human labor. This started a life-long fascination and dedication to science, for he became interested in being an engineer.

At the time, he and his older brother tested into middle school, but the family could only support tuition for one. My grandpa held on to his dream of becoming an engineer. His father, who worked as a builder/bricklayer, tried to convince him to join the family business by saying that he could also learn engineering skills there. But my grandpa declined, saying that he wanted to be a “big engineer,” and with his father, he could only do “small engineering.” His older brother earnestly asked him, “what do you want to in the future?” To which my grandpa replied, “I want to keep learning for a lifetime.” So his older brother made the ultimate sacrifice, telling my grandpa to continue with his studies.

Come time for university, my grandpa tested into Dalian University of Technology. By then, he had refined his dream into working with hydropower on the Three Gorges Dam. However, too many people wanted to study electrical engineering and there weren’t enough spots, so he was assigned to be a chemistry major. It wasn’t his field of choice, but as luck would have it, at the end of his first year the University set up a new Physics department and accepted students from other departments. My grandpa was quite interested in physics, so he switched his major and the course of his life.

After university, he was assigned to the Chang Chun Institute of Optics. There, he worked on developing a machine that could measure distances between geographic points. Because of this work in optics, my grandpa was selected by his superiors to be part of the Fluid Mechanics division of China’s Engineering and Physics Research Institute. Nicknamed “the Ninth Research Institute,” it formed to conduct top-secret research for the development of China’s own nuclear bomb.

The group of scientists in the Ninth Research Institute wholly devoted their energies to the advancement nuclear technology, despite worsening economic conditions and ever-declining meal rations. China had no choice but to start from scratch because all foreign nations except for the Soviet Union refused to share their technological knowledge, and relations soon soured with the Soviet Union as well. In order to develop a smaller, more effective nuclear bomb than those which had already been engineered by other nations, my grandpa embarked on cutting-edge optical research in 1961 that eventually resulted in the independent development of fiber optical cable in 1964. However, it was top-secret technology that belonged to the state, so my grandpa never received credit for his invention. In 2009, Charles K. Kao received the Nobel Prize in Physics for similarly refining fiber optics in 1966, two years after my grandpa. In the end, the project that had required fiber optic cable was canceled and it was never used in the first nuclear bomb itself, but my grandpa’s research inspired developments in other fields.

On October 16, 1964, the efforts of my grandpa and his fellow scientists at the Ninth Research Institute succeeded, and China’s first nuclear bomb detonated at Lop Nur Test Ground.

It was a tremendous victory for China, but the feelings of accomplishment and success were short-lived. 1966 marked the beginning of China’s infamous Cultural Revolution, wherein large portions of the population, including intellectuals, were flagged as “counterrevolutionaries” and publicly ridiculed, sent to labor camps, tortured, or killed. My grandpa, for all his efforts and dedication to the scientific advancement of China, was targeted specifically because of his contributions. In order to research fiber optics, he had needed 100,000RMB for a large platinum crucible in order to work high-purity molten glass. Such a figure was astronomical in 1961, but a central party leader had approved the expenditure and it had demonstratively paid off. By the time of the Cultural Revolution, however, the attackers argued that fiber optic cables could be bought from other nations (ignoring the fact that they weren’t yet invented at the time) and that they weren’t even used in the final version of the bomb. My grandpa had thus wasted 100,000RMB, which was a counterrevolutionary act.

Both my grandparents, my mother, and her younger sister (infants at the time) were jailed, and my grandpa was forced to hold his fiber optic cables and publicly proclaim that they were a waste. Later, he was slated to be executed. The only thing that saved him was the connection to my grandma’s older sister, who lived in Japan. The authorities suspected that my grandpa may have passed state secrets to Japan, so they needed to keep him alive while investigations ensued. After being let out of jail in 1973, he was ordered to do manual labor for rehabilitation in the surrounding mountains and the research institute kitchens. It was only in 1978, when the state apologized for wrongly accusing him, that my grandpa shrugged his status as a criminal and was allowed to return to his science and his former position as Vice Chief Engineer for his division.

In December of 1990, my grandpa retired from the Ninth Research Institute and returned to the Dalian University of Technology to advise graduate students in near-field optics and nano-optical technology. For the following twenty years, he still lived and breathed his work, spending time in his office in the University almost every day. This year, the University discontinued his meager stipend of 2,000RMB/month (thereby officially forcing him to “retire”), but he still makes the almost-daily trek to use the equipment in the University lab.

For the past ten years, my grandpa has dedicated himself to a new goal: improving early detection of cancer. His current research deals with using nano-optics to create Diagnostic Fingerprints for molecules with Raman Spectroscopy. When blood samples are hit with light, they emit very distinctive patterns based on the composition of molecules present, and by analyzing these patterns, one can determine early forms of cancer. This in and of itself is a groundbreaking discovery, but my grandpa’s dream is to take it a step further and make the technology commercially available. Currently, only expensive lab equipment is sophisticated enough to use for this purpose, but it is cost prohibitive and physically unwieldy. Thus, my grandpa set up a home lab in the spare bedroom, ordered equipment parts, and is now hard at work creating a much smaller alternative that’s almost as precise. He knows that he most likely will not live to see his dream achieved; but the blueprint is there, and he works steadfastly closer, one day at a time.

I guess there are many ways to describe my grandpa: inspirational, tough, knowledgable, sharp, inquisitive, disciplined, strong. But as I listen to more and more of his stories, I’m simply struck with awe…and all I can think is, “this man is extraordinary.” That, and, “Man…do I have a LOT to live up to.”

Lan Bao Relaxation Club (pool/steam/sauna/spa)

posted in: Asia, China, Passport | 0

One of the first items on the agenda that my family planned for me on my visit to Dalian was a trip to 蓝堡 (Lan Bao, or “Blue Castle”), a “relaxation club.” China has many of these outfits, where you pay for an all-encompassing ticket and thereby have access to amenities including a pool, steam room, sauna, massage parlor and spa, buffet lunch/restaurant, sitting room with TVs, and sleeping room. You could theoretically buy a ticket and live a life of luxury inside for weeks, because they have everything you could ever need. Lan Bao was a bit smaller than ones I’ve been in before, so it only (“only”) had a pool, hot tubs, sauna, steam room, spa, and sitting room.

The first thing that attendants do when you enter is swap your shoes for slippers (pink for women and blue for men) and hand you a small towel and a wristlet with your locker number. Then you’re separated by gender and ushered into a public bathing area, where the majority of the people that you encounter are in their birthday suits as opposed to bathing suits.

In the US, this would be a horrifying, but I actually rather like it as a communal experience. When you meet people in non-public bath situations, they’ve usually gone through great pains to put up a facade and craft every detail of how they’re presented to the world. But in a public bath, the clothes come off, whether they’re designer pieces or from street markets, the hair hangs wet and loose, and the makeup disappears; you’re the most natural you. Though I can’t say that I’m 100% comfortable stripping down in front of strangers (and family – talk about a bonding experience), I at least like to think that baring it all is a great equalizer, and nobody judges you for what you may or may not have. One definite downside to public baths, though, is that it’s quite difficult to communicate across genders. Even in the bathing area, I was having trouble keeping track of my grandma and aunts, and I barely saw any male members of my family the entire time we were at Lan Bao.

Though the stated intention was to “swim,” very little swimming actually occurred. This was partly because children in floaties occupied the entire shallow end of the pool, but mostly because it was crowded since it was the weekend (and China, nuff said). Instead, we headed back down to the bath area for spa treatments, which was probably the REAL reason why my family chose to go to Lan Bao.

All along the bathing area, there are rows of massage beds, each with a middle-aged masseuse wearing a black bikini. You line up by telling a scheduler your locker number, and once it’s called, the masseuse puts a towel and a thin sheet of plastic down on the bed and you lay down, stark naked and in the open.

The first service that I signed up for was 搓澡 (Cuo Zao, or a “scrub bath”). This entails your masseuse wrapping a regular towel or special scrubbing towel (which is as close to sand paper as your skin can withstand) around her hand and scrubbing every inch of your body, as if you were a particularly dirty and sticky table. Only a total of maybe one cubic inch of skin on my body remained untouched, and it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out where. The entire process is fairly violating but also extremely gratifying, because you roll off the table and see exactly how much dirt and dead skin was coating your body. What’s left looks kind of like long, thin, black eraser shavings, and if all collected and rolled into a ball, all of mine would have been the size of two standard marbles. I don’t think I’ve ever been so clean in my life!

Next was a 奶浴 (Nai Yu, or “milk bath”), which is most concisely summed up as having hot milk poured over your body and then massaged and patted into your skin. To keep you warm while working on a specific area of your body, the masseuse wets you down with warm water and then lays a thin sheet of plastic over you, which effectively seals you in a plastic pouch. Simple and slightly uncomfortable, but surprisingly effective! I’m not sure about the health benefits of absorbing milk into your skin, but I guess I can’t see any harms that may come of it, either.

An afternoon of complete relaxation, all for about 25USD! I’ve never felt so pampered and clean, ironically in a country that on average ranks pretty low on hygiene. But that’s what I love about China, it’s a country of contradictions (and amazingly cheap services). Enjoying it all while I can!

Lesson of the Day #6: You never know what might happen if you fight!

posted in: Journal, Lesson of the Day | 0

A month and a half ago, I officially signed the lease for an apartment in NYC and rented a Uhaul truck and a rental car with a roommate to move in to my very first apartment for the very first time! Though driving into the City is a form of hell that I would only wish upon those who do me a severe ill, the trip went rather smoothly. We managed to inch into Lincoln Tunnel and the streets of NYC without causing any accidents or pedestrian injuries, and moving in took less time than we thought. We were just about finished, just setting up the legs of the last table while one of our friends waited outside to watch the cars, when we received our first welcoming gift from NYC: A $115 parking ticket.

 

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We complained about the injustice and pleaded for mercy, but the NYC policeman turned a deaf ear. While I was prepared to accept our frustrating fate and beginning to re-examine the decision to move to NYC (never too late to change my mind, right?), my roommate insisted that we dispute the ticket because, she reasoned, very few people probably did. And if there was a chance that we wouldn’t have to pay it, why not take it?

Thus began a long and troublesome process. It took five days for the ticket to show up on the online system, and after submitting a request for an online trial (“Click here to plead guilty and pay your ticket” – HELL NO. Even if I had a been prepared to pay, I would definitely have changed my mind after adding insult to injury!), the City took half a month to respond.

Long story short, we were actually in the wrong. Turns out our rental car was in a Commercial Vehicles Only zone, and having a friend watch over it didn’t make the slightest difference. Fine. I finally resolved to accept the insult and “plead guilty,” just to get the whole thing over with.

But when I searched for my ticket on the NYC website to pay, nothing came up. I pulled up the record for the ticket and found, to my surprise, that some way or another, the $115 balance had already been reduced to zero. Maybe some kind soul saw my post on Facebook and paid it for me, or maybe some thankfully careless official accidentally deleted the balance when handling my dispute. I don’t know exactly what happened, but obviously filing a dispute worked, albeit indirectly! A much better result than what would have happened had I given up and paid without any questions asked.

So, my roommate was right: if there’s a way to fight something and avoid trouble, you might as well try. You never know what might happen! Pick your battles, obviously, but never sit quietly and simply take whatever is dished out to you.

Airbnb is the way to go!

posted in: Canada, Passport | 0

Usually I gravitate toward hotel rooms or hostels when traveling, but I’ve been hearing more and more about airbnb recently, so I decided to give it a shot! A friend helped me find a full apartment on airbnb in Downtown Vancouver for <50% of the price of hotels in the same area, and I just happened to be in town for the exact same days that the host was going to be on vacation. When he turned the apartment over to me, he told me to say that I was a distant cousin if anyone asked (a very, very distant, adopted cousin apparently, since we clearly do not hail from the same continent). But I didn’t encounter any problems, and I had a nice, comfortable bed, access to a kitchen, and this unbeatable view:

 

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But really, this is what made the experience. I never would have encountered masterpieces such as this at any regular old hotel:

 

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Seen in Vancouver

posted in: Canada, Passport, Seen In | 0

I always seem to get into heated debates with my friends from the West Coast about whose homeland, theirs or mine (Colorado) is better. Most of these (mistaken) friends come from somewhere within California, but the next biggest culprits are those from Vancouver. I’m about as stubborn as they come, but after visiting Vancouver for a weekend, I have to admit that their arguments are not COMPLETELY without grounds. Vancouver definitely is extremely gorgeous! With such sky-high living prices, though, I think I’ll stick with Colorado, at least until I make my first $2-3 million!

 

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Lessons from Iceland

posted in: Europe, Iceland, Passport | 0

The trip to Iceland with Wharton Leadership Ventures was so exciting and filled with adventure that I often forgot that it was related to Wharton or academically affiliated at all. Almost everything we did, from lamenting the wetness of our feet, joking and laughing with each other in the 15-person van, and scrunching our noses at the smell of shark, was entirely different from the typical classroom experience. But I learned many valuable, life-long lessons, and I will always count this Icelandic Trek as one of my most cherished memories at Wharton.

 

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Photo credit to the amazingly adventurous Dr. Chris Maxwell

Lessons from Iceland:

  1. Attitude is everything, and it colors your entire experience. Part of the reason why we were able to enjoy Iceland so much is because we were all adventurous, open to new experiences, and hardy in the face of sometimes-less-than-ideal conditions (read: wet shoes for five days straight – something green started growing on mine). I feel extremely fortunate to have been able to go on the trip with such a group of lively, fun-loving people! A large contributor to our fantastic experience was the attitude set by our guides, who made sure that we were all safe and on schedule but also gave us plenty of room to explore and have fun.
  2. Don’t take anything too seriously! This was the prevailing attitude of the guides: you can have fun and things still get done. We were able to get dressed and depart on time, make our meals, and stay together on hikes while staying on schedule, and all of it was made more pleasant by joking and playing along the way. The same itinerary could have been executed with a COMPLETELY different experience. In addition, it’s important to hit everything on the itinerary, but oftentimes the best memories are created between items on the to do list or during events that were never planned.
  3. When one person is down, it can drag on the group; but the converse is also true: when one person is energetic and excited, it can take the entire group up to greater heights. A prime example was one guide’s insistence that we all go to the nearby hot springs when the majority of us were dragging our feet and wanted nothing more than to nap. But it turned out to be one of our favorite places on the trip, and our energy levels quickly reached (and, in many cases, exceeded) that of the guide that instigated the trip.
  4. It’s not about reaching the destination – it’s all about the journey. Though we weren’t able to hike to the top of the glacier, I think I’m just as satisfied with the experience that we had as I would have been if we had actually reached the summit (perhaps even more satisfied, because I’m not confident that I would have been able to climb another 700 vertical meters with all of my toes intact). We bonded over comforting each other and asking if we were all okay, and we left the mountain with great stories, which is all that counts.

To those at WLV: Thank you very much for the opportunity to participate in this trek! I couldn’t have asked for a better way to wrap up my time at Wharton, and I am proud to be part of the WLV Trip Participants Alumni Network. All the best to WLV, and I am excited for all of the future trip participants!

Lesson of the Day #5: It’s great to be spontaneous!

posted in: Journal, Lesson of the Day | 0

I like having plans and executing them. On the Myer Briggs scale (Introversion vs. Extroversion, Intuition vs. Sensing, Thinking vs. Feeling, and Judging vs. Perception), I fluctuate between either category for the first three, but I’m always, always almost 100% Judging. Which doesn’t mean that I like to judge people (which may also be true, but I’m working on it!) – it means that I’m good at planning out and following steps for a process and that spontaneous changes and decisions make me pretty uncomfortable.

Today was a good reminder, though, that spontaneity is pretty darn awesome! I made a last-minute decision to meet up with friends who had made the last-minute decision to do an Insanity workout at night, and together we made the last-minute decision to work out outside on the tennis court of a school nearby. (Excuse the blurriness because of poor iPhone photo quality at night – blurriness can’t hide that muscle, though!)
 
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There was open space, there was a breeze, there was relative privacy, and there was even a blanket of stars that we could lay down and gaze at post-workout. The workout bit sucked at times, which was inevitable. But the overall experience was amazing, one that I won’t forget for a long, long, time. And, as a bonus, my body will thank me for it!

It definitely pays to be more spontaneous, because I (almost always) end up having spectacular fun. And something that I’ve been fiercely denying is the truth that you can’t ever plan everything. Time to open up to spontaneity… that’s the first item on my next plan!

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