Design

A course on intuition (and laundry) for Silicon Valley

My family used to joke about making a course for Silicon Valley kids to practice doing laundry and interacting with babies. I live in a strange bubble that designs infrastructure for much of our modern world. It can be a powerful magnifying glass on global issues.

People today are sad. I see it around me and we know it to be statistically and clinically true. Ads, Likes, and Facebook posts like this one, drain our serotonin (the chemical in our brain that makes us happy). I believe Marie Kondo sold over 8 million books because she is an astute business person and has great timing. She offers some relief to a world becoming disconnected and depressed.

 

At first her method might sound preposterous. Go through your home, category-by-category, holding each item in your hand asking if it sparks joy. Really? I rolled my eyes a bit at first. Anyone who has completed each step knows it is physically and emotionally challenging. But, she says if follow her process just once, you’ll never rebound again. Her book teaches you how to develop intuition-based decision making, a dying art in our robotic world.

I went to a Konmari Consultant training last weekend. Kazuma Yamauchi, Cofounder of Konmari Media, Inc. reminded us how structured and systematic our world has become. The more technology we use, the more we develop or logical and rational minds. Unless we practice our sensitivity skills, we risk losing the intimate relationship with ourselves. As a person who spends most of their day in an office behind a machine, powering more machines, I could relate.

He said that’s why Konmari starts somewhere as personal as our bedroom, instead of the garage or basement. When else do we get to fully dedicate decision making based purely on our own happiness? Not that often really. Among all the new noise pollution out there, some of us need a little practice having quiet conversations with ourselves. One fold at a time.

Because if you can’t enjoy yourself, how can you enjoy anything else?

Design

Track your Konmari™ Profits and Losses [Spreadsheet Template]

 

Between the mountains of clothing and boxes of old photos are hours focused of sweat, tears, and sparks of joy. Don’t lose sight of how much you’re spending to run your business.

[ Download Spreadsheet Template ]

Spreadsheets are lightweight ways to help me track track my profits, losses, and miscellaneous expenses as I go. I plan to start slow, so a lightweight option like this works for me.

How to use this template

  1. Open the Template.
  2. Make a copy of the document. (File, Make a copy)
  3. Input any clients you have worked with, including those you did not charge. It helps to have a full tracking of how many hours you have worked.
  4. Track your expenses thoroughly and accurately. Record any expenses made for your clients, marketing, and self care. Use minus sign for expenses, leave it neutral for profits. Your total earnings, hours spent, and average rate will total in the last row.

If you are pursuing your Konmari™ Consulting journey as a serious part or full time business, consider creating an LLC (for those in the U.S.), separate bank account, and more formal bookkeeping strategy using Quickbooks or ANDCO. By the way, ANDCO handle contracts, invoicing, and payments beautifully. I like this nice guide on how ANDCO works. I hope this sparks joy for you!

If you enjoyed this, you might also like: 

Design

Your Inspiring Designers [spreadsheet template]

What do you want to do in 5 years? What about 15 years? This question is hard because technology, industries, and what’s possible changes so fast. As a thought exercise, I tracked the career history of ten designers who inspire me in 2015 to help me make my own plan. I figured out it was time to rejoin a product company, continue writing, and most importantly not to worry. Because this activity was so valuable for me, I made a spreadsheet template for you!

Your Inspiring Designers [Template]

Map Your Inspiring Designers

  1. On a sheet of paper, make a list of 10 designers you look up to. See how far you can get without doing deep internet research. Who comes to the top of mind?
  2. Make a copy of the Inspiring Designers spreadsheet template.
  3. Replace the “Your Name” placeholder in the document title (at the top) and spreadsheet tab (at the bottom) with your name.
  4. Track your personal career history. (Row 2)
  5. List the ten designers who inspire you. (Column A)
  6. Focus on Inspiring Designer #1. How are you connected to this designer? Is mentorship in the realm of possibility? (Row 3, column B)
  7. Why is Inspiring Designer #1 interesting to you? Not to twitter. Not to bloggers. Not to investors. To you! (Row 3, column C)
  8. Look up Inspiring Designer #1 on Linkedin. Track their career history in 5 year blocks. If they’re not on Linkedin, do some googling to find a resume, bio, or something close enough. The further back in history you go, the fuzzier the records will get. (Row 3, Columns D-H)
  9. Highlight the jobs Inspiring Designer #1 held that are interesting to you in bold.
  10. Repeat. (Row 3 – 12)
  11. What do all the designers you look up to have in common? Did they take any common themes or career paths? Are they on a similar or wildly different trajectory than you? (Row 16, column B)
  12. What insights can you make from these themes? Do their career paths interest you? Do you want to do something similar? What were these designers doing when you were in high school? Are you on track, behind, ahead, doing something totally different? Do you need to change direction? (Row 17, column B)

That’s it! I hope this helps you look at your own career from a new light. And a big thanks to Ofri Afek, my design manager in 2015 at Pivotal Labs. She initially suggested I make a list of ten designers I look up to. During this activity, we often talked about how careers are so much more than status updates on Linkedin.  But having a view of the past can be meaningful for insights about the future. If you want to learn more about other designers and their backgrounds, check out How They Got There by Khoi Vinh.

Here’s what happened:

(2015) I discovered I look up to designers who

  • identify as writers or are connected to journalism
  • were head of a design or product team
  • spent at least 4-years at a single product company growing their career
  • were working as professional designers when I was in high school

(2015) If I want to be like these designers I

  • am on track and possibly ahead of the curve
  • should continue writing for fun
  • should consider quitting my consulting job to join a product company
  • don’t know that many female design leaders
  • need a mentor!

(2017) As a result, I

  • quit my consulting job
  • got a job at a product company with great design leaders
  • continued writing for fun

(2018) Next, I need to

  • meet more female design leaders
  • find a mentor
How we live

I Will Teach You to Be Rich [Spreadsheet Template]

Personal finance is intimidating, especially since many Millennials graduated when the economy crashed and started off their adult lives in debt. Ramit Sethi will teach you to be rich. His book I Will Teach You To Be Rich is a step-by-step plan for setting and forgetting your finances. I got really into it with my brother and geeked out making a spreadsheet based on Ramit’s Framework.

Please keep in mind our spreadsheet is a compliment, not replacement, for Ramit’s book. The percentages and dates are samples and are different for my personal budget.

I Will Teach You To Be Rich [Spreadsheet Template]

  1. Read Chapters 1-4 of I Will Teach You To Be Rich
    This spreadsheet specifically refers to Chapter 4 (39% way into the book) but the first three chapters are important setup. This book is especially great on Kindle. Even if you’re usually a paperback person, having it on the computer like a reference document, using the Kindle Desktop App, was helpful.
  2. Make a copy of the spreadsheet
    File> Make a copy
  3. Only edit the cells in highlighted in blue 
  4. Input numbers from your paycheck (Cells B13-B17)
    The numbers on your payslip tell you how much money you earn, and thus how much money you can spend and save.
  5. Adjust your savings percentages (Cells C2-C9)
    These percentages help you decide how much money you can allocate to different categories of spending. In my spreadsheet I made a new row for each of my savings goals. This will then calculate how much to auto-transfer to a high yield savings account every month. Add or remove as many rows as you like as long as the percentage equals 100.
  6. List your fixed expenses (Cells B23-B27)
    Enumerate each expense you have every month. Now compare the Monthly calculated total (B23) with D2 (Monthly fixed cost). Adjust the numbers so they come close to matching. Ramit offers many specific tips to lower your monthly expense (and how to get a raise).

    Ramit recommends

    • 50-60% Fixed Costs (rent, utilities, loans, etc)
    • 10% Investments (401k, Roth IRA, other investment funds)
    • 5-10% Savings (gifts, house, down payment, unexpected expenses)
    • 20-35% Guilt Free Spending (dining out, music, burning man, etc)
  7. Bonus activity
    1. Money in savings (B23)
      If you want help re-allocating your existing money into higher yield accounts, list the amount of cash you currently have here.
    2. Target date (G4-G9)
      What is all this saving for? You may not know if you want to get married, have children or buy a house. However, if it’s something you’re considering, this can help you estimate how much saving you need to do now for possible big expenses in the future.
    3. % from savings (I2-I10)
      Looking at raw numbers can be overwhelming. Allocating savings by percentage makes it easier to parse and prioritize numbers. This column can help you re-allocate any cash you have that you want to redistribute into high-yield savings or investment accounts.
    4. Total (K2-12)
      This column shows you how much you will have saved by your target date (existing savings + future contributions). It does not account for interest.

Good luck, have fun, and stay positive. You may be pleased with how much money you have or disappointed by how expensive it is to live in today’s world. But rest tonight knowing you are ahead of the curve by having awareness and approach for your finances.

How we live

Frameworks for life

I love organized patterns, structures, and frameworks. They reduce stress, cognitive load, and decision making on topics where I lack expertise. That means I spend more time focusing on the parts of life I care about. Here are my favorites:

Finances

Ramit Sethi teaches you how to set your finances on auto-pilot. Make money when you’re sleeping and enjoy a nice pool of money called Guilt Free Spending. It took me about six months to get finances buttoned up but it was pretty painless, and to be honest, quite fun. He writes a language easy to understand with anecdotes that make a scary topic accessible.

Home

Marie Kondo believes when our home is a happy place, we can bring our lives into a happy place. Her framework is famous for finding items that spark joy, but her system protects from rebounds or doing a little cleaning every day. Patterns like similar items together and make sure all items are visible in a drawer are small changes that have huge impact.

Art

Julia Cameron’s self-directed 8-week course of writing every morning and taking yourself on artist dates is blissful, inspiring, and challenging. She helps you unblock creative insecurities, experiment with art, and do daily self-reflections. She and I both believe, everyone is creative and can be an artist.

Health

The Whole 30 diet is a true challenge. It’s an elimination diet that only allows for fruit, vegetables, and meat. No sugar, dairy, grains, beans, booze, honey, soy, etc. The authors say

This is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Losing a parent is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard. You’ve done harder things than this, and you have no excuse not to complete the program as written. It’s only thirty days, and it’s for the most important health cause on earth—the only physical body you will ever have in this lifetime.

That’s some tough love. I am still working on finding a way to integrate my Whole 30 insights into a daily lifestyle. Stay tuned on that.

Design

How we live is how we make

This was originally posted on superyesmore.

Our world today is designed to be instant, connected, and fast.

Us software people say the apps we make help people do more, in less time. We are more productive than ever. We live, make, and work in a world where more is supposed to be better — but at a cost.

Some of the original makers at Facebook and Google now say “our minds are being hijacked.” The price to live in a beautifully connected world is putting up with the frenetic 24-hour news cycle, empty swipes for dates, and endless little red badges on our phones like stubborn pimples that won’t pop.

Our state of mind is visualized in the products we create. How can a designer in a mental state of chaos create something calming and joyful to use? It’s hard to conceive. Even worse, that chaotic software then goes out into the world perpetuating an already distracted society.

Less but better

I believe technology can be calming and joyful to use. It should improve the quality of our lives, including our mental state. But that must start from us, the makers of technology ourselves.

The faster my life moves, the less I get done. I make mistakes, forget important details, and take longer to generate good ideas. It is our responsibility as makers of tools and services to take care of our own minds and bodies to make thoughtful decisions about our products for our users.

Even in the Bauhaus School, Professor Johannes Itten dedicated the entire first year to teaching students to build an intimate familiarity with their own body, mind, and materials. He believed it was required for creative success. The Bauhaus movement went on to directly influence designers like Steve Jobs and Dieter Rams

“My first morning periods in class began with relaxation, breathing, and concentration exercises to establish the intellectual and physical readiness which make intensive work possible. The training of the body as an instrument of the mind is of great importance to a creative person.

How can a hand express a characteristic feeling in a line when the hand and arm are cramped? As we breathe, so we think and conduct the rhythm of our daily routine. People who have achieved great success in their lives always breathe quietly, slowly, and deeply. Those who are short of breath are hasty and greedy in their thoughts and actions.” —Design & Form: The Basic Course at the Bauhaus by Johannes Itten

Every weekend, I do a hard reset. I take my mind and turn it off, then turn it on again. It files away the week behind and prepares me for the week ahead. It’s my happy hour.

Nina’s Happy Hour

Saturday mornings are a special time in San Francisco. The city rests under a quiet blanket of fog for a short relief from calendar invites, side projects, and last minute bookings to wherever.

All I see from bed is a soft infinite white sky thinly veiled behind my grey linen curtains. The cool wet air diffuses the colors in the what-would-be-sunrise. It mutes the morning tweets and jangling dog collars that are out walking my neighbors.

I look at my phone when I wake up. I would love to be someone who doesn’t.

Usually I have about an hour in bed to slowly read nice emails I snoozed until Saturday at 8:00 am. These are wandering reads without any focus on replying or achieving inbox zero. It is a distinctly different read than on a given Tuesday.

My Saturday mornings hinge around a 9am yoga class in the Castro with someone who started teaching before most startup founders were born. She knows me there. They know me there. We see each other and smile and never have to talk.

I roll out my matt on the hardwood floor. Everyone is on airplane mode.

Sometimes in downward dog, I wonder if this is why people go to church on Sundays. Not so much for actual scriptures or path to god. But for a reliable and predictable time to do not much more than doing nothing at all.

Sometimes while laying in corpse pose at the end of class, I fall asleep for what feels like an hour. I roll up my mat and sling it over my shoulder and bet myself how long I can go without checking my phone.

When I re-emerge on Castro street, the Muni bus screeches by and the sun has burned through the fog. I see waiters pouring boozy mimosas at Harvey Milk’s diner around the corner from the row of kinky sex shops.

But I never miss the stroll across the rainbow sidewalk to see my guys at the florist. At this point they know me too and know my routine. The air is cool and sweet in their small rainforest of fresh cut flowers.

I pick a $5 bouquet from the black painters bucket on the floor in the back corner. I buy one every Saturday. Sometimes tulips, sometimes lilies, and sometimes lavender spiky stems I’ve never seen before. They wilt away with the week because, hey, they’re from the $5 bin.

Nina’s Happy Hour goes all morning. After a shower, I give my space a quick tidy. I toss away last weeks flowers, clean the vase, refill the water, and start again fresh. Marie Kondo says a cluttered home is cluttered mind. I feel relief when my laundry is neatly put away.

It’s barely noon and I can still make it for brunch. I could have slept in. It’s easier to sleep in. But I get more out of my week by doing less on the weekend. Rhythm is essential for a city without seasons.

The weekend is my time to daydream, take care of my home, and check in with my neighborhood. It’s a time to strengthen my body and soften my mind so I can bring intellectual and physical readiness to intense and productive work. After all, how we live is how we make.

Design

Konmari™ UX: how to tidy up your product design

The Konmari Method™ is a framework to help individuals tidy their home.

Most people know the book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by New York Times Best Seller Marie Kondo. But many of her philosophies from apply for product and ux designers.

Visualize your destination

Konmari™ believes her method helps people create the they want instead of the lives they happen to have. She says to visualize their life and design their home to fit that future.

Designer and teams who start with a clear vision of what they value and where they want to take the product move happier and faster. Design and prioritization decisions are much easier because everyone is working towards the same goal.

Keep only what matters

Nostalgia in business is not your friend. We are tempted by our emotions to keep clothes and things that once, but no longer, had deep value or purpose in our lives. We are tempted to keep items that were gifts and pants from decades ago that might fit again someday. Holding onto these things weigh us down at home and at work.

Old code and ux patterns often live on longer than should. It’s natural for us to get attached to features that cost a lot of money to develop or that took great efforts to ship, even if they no longer serve the business or users.

Sometimes we keep old features around because we are afraid to let them go. They are familiar, predictable, and help us feel safe. Holding onto software for nostalgia alone slows down teams and costs money and cognitive load to maintain. It also weighs us down.

Make content accessible

Konmari™ recommends folding all items in drawers so they can be laid out side-by-side like a filing cabinet, rather than stacked like pancakes. This lets you see every item in your drawer at once and helps you pick out the item you want rather than whatever is on top.

Product designers should do everything they can to avoid hiding important content and UI from users, even when it’s easy. Instead of hiding choices behind dropdowns, menus behind hamburgers, and content behind tabs, I look for ways to make my most content and UI elements in my visible without being overwhelming. When designing, I like to ask myself, “if I can hide this behind a click or hover, does it need to exist at all?”

Design by category, not location

Often in our homes and UI, items of similar categories are stored all over the home or product. I have seen many people store some jackets by the front door, some in the coat closet, and also in the bedroom closet. This means, when we are looking for our coat we have to think about three different locations each time.

You can think of your like a house and each section (tab, menu item etc) is like a room in the house. It’s tempting to only work on one section at a time, but your home and product need to work as a wholistic system if you want to realize your goals.

If the part of the product you’re working on needs a new form field pattern, do a short inventory to see if this problem exists elsewhere in the product. Take the opportunity to propose a redesign of the component that improves the overall quality, flow, and system of the entire product.

Applying the Konmari™ method has helped me take a focused and thoughtful approach to the system and product design in my work.

If you enjoyed this post, check out Digital Konmari™: tidy up your computer.

Short stories

A shaadi is not a wedding

Little girls in America are taught to dream about their perfect wedding day. The big white dress celebrates purity. Their favorite girlfriends in perfectly matching dresses, with perfectly paired groomsmen, stand in a cul-de-sac around the couple, eerily patterning the false perfection of our suburban childhoods.

I never seriously thought to daydream about my own wedding. Mom and dad have a mental guest list of all the aunties and uncles who invited us to their kid’s weddings and I suppose are waiting for their invitation. A mountain of  paperwork is waiting for us at the consulate so family from India can finally visit Am-ree-kah.

With a tired voice I explained to my girlfriends, Indian brides wore red and weddings are more like the chaos of sound, color, and lights of Indian traffic and less like a cooling stroll through Taj Mahal.

If I do it right, my wedding would probably be hosted in a suburban hotel that has room for a white horse in a parking lot. We could host the dinner at India House, a once grocery store, now Indian ballroom, perfectly tucked in a strip mall with endless parking and curbside drop off for women in saris.

They have the lucrative monopoly on the Indian wedding parties in the Chicagoland Area. Who else can do pure veg samosas and a chocolate fountain on the same bill? All I can hope for is an open bar, so some Indian kids with uni-brows and hairy arms can have their first drink before college.

I started answering the wedding daydream question a little differently when I got to college. “I’m not really sure. It kind of depends on who I marry,” which seemed like a perfectly logical answer if a wedding was about partnership.

My girlfriend’s eyes light up. I can see the idea of bright gems and colorful patterns swirling in their head. “You have to get married so I can go to an Indian wedding!” This is their only chance to experience a real live Indian wedding that will be soooooooo fun. I have to get married.  I haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaave to get married. I have to get married so they can come. Does Crate and Barrel’s wedding registry have a checkbox for down payment of a house?

“I hope it’s small. Or maybe I won’t have one.” which disappointed my friends. My ideal guest list got shorter and shorter as I got better at boundaries with my mom.

But I give her a lot of credit. As I got older, she realize my wedding might not happen in Chicago, where she lives. “We’ll have to get a tour bus so everyone can see San Francisco.”

My temperature shoots to 100 and I think steam must be blowing out of my ears like a Looney Toons character. What everyone? What wedding? What groom? What city? Who’s we? What if his family has their own wedding traditions? And a coach bus? The backpacker in me dies a little.  None of this is a factor.

“Sure,” I respond. It’s finally my mom’s chance to daydream about her daughter’s marriage. The idea of a virginal bride at an Indian wedding is kind of silly. What else would she be?

Short stories

In Capetown, I’m a white girl

I vividly remember the first black man I kissed. We met on a melting hot summer afternoon in Capetown just before New Years. He grew up in a white neighborhood in Botswana and went by the name Sydney. He had an African name but didn’t respond to that other than at somewhere like the DMV. Sydney had soft full pinkish brown lips. They were the same color as mine. I liked his booty and he liked my hips.

He tasted different than other men. Maybe it was just the lager beer. There was nothing else to drink there. Not on a graduate student budget at least. The kiss was short but intense. We were in a bar on the third floor that felt like a bungalow. Capetown was alive at night, the air was thick and hot. Our hands and arms stuck to the red plastic table cloth with floral tropical print. My friend and travel companion had gone to the bathroom so it seemed like there was only one other obvious thing for us to do while we waited.

He sat across from me with a charming and cheeky smile. We both got up and kissed from across from each other. I had to press myself up on the table to reach him. Our teeth met a little because we were smiling. His hand softly pet my kinkless hair.

Sydney and I didn’t kiss again. We never needed to. But the three of us hung out the next few weeks while in town. We talked a lot about skin color and race and hair. We talked the most about hair. The conversation was not overly academic or about politics, culture, or the Apartheid. We just talked about the way things were.

In Capetown, I’m a white girl.

“How can that be Sydney? My skin is exactly the same color as yours,” I said pressing my forearm against his. My skin got so dark after a few days in the sun.

“Darling, Nina. You have straight, shiny hair and oval eyes. Being white is not about the color of your skin.” And even more confusing and later enlightening is to learn in Botswana I was mixed race. Of course I explained time and time again my mom and dad were both born in India and all of our ancestors were from there too. My soft cafe face and lightened cheeks with a bit of pink meant, I looked more like Rhianna and less like Mary J. Blige. Rhianna was on every other Billboard in Bostwana. She was their Beyonce.

I felt like a queen traveling in Africa. My curvy body, soft thighs, carmel skin, loving eyes, and naturally shiny black hair with soft waves was the ideal. I was always moved to the front of the queue, served drinks first, and treated with a little extra grace. It didn’t happen once or twice, it happened everywhere. I was labeled by my place in society, and the names were defined by color. I was white because I wasn’t black.

I was only seriously proposed to for marriage only once while traveling around Africa. I’m still connected to the guy. I met this suitor through Sydney’s childhood best friend who then lived in Jo’burg and now a DJ in Seattle and father of two.

The African admiration I felt wasn’t so much validating as dumbfounding. I had never walked into any bar, restaurant, club, airport, or travel agency, and got treated as a first class citizen other than fine establishments where it’s in the training manual. I wondered if this is what it was like to be skinny, white, and blonde somewhere like New York.

Short stories

What are you studying?

Parents who move to a new country usually start by build a community. It’s supposed to feel like family. It’s a survival tactic.

My parents joined a group of Indian uncles and aunties who rotate hosting regular Saturday night dinner parties at their houses. It’s probably what real American families do too. Right? I eventually came to love the cold plum-colored lipstick smeared on my cheek from forceful loving aunty kisses.

The comfort of these dinner parties was the predictable and reliable schedule of the night. Ladies socialize in the kitchen preparing dinner while the men drink scotch in the living room. The kids, who really aren’t kids anymore, hang in the musty semi-finished basement watching Saturday Night Live reruns while eating spinach and daal on styrofoam compartmentalized plates. We pretend we aren’t secretly going on dates or staying up late listening to Loveline with Adam Carolla and Dr. Drew. We become good Indian kids for the night. It’s part of the package.

The kids, who again, aren’t really kids, try to find something in common other than the fact our moms and dads are from India. This too, is a survival tactic. From boredom, that is. Boredom is a luxury I’m sure my parents would have loved to have. How could I possibly relate to a high-schooler from a completely different school district? Impossible.

Just as Weekend Update with Norm Macdonald is wrapping up, I take the cue from my brother to poke upstairs and see how much longer we’ll be here. If the aunties are still doing dishes, there’s at least another hour to go. I smile politely scanning the kitchen looking for mom until I shoot the can we go home now? rolling-eyes-of-death. I predictably get the look back reminding me we are guests and it’s rude to leave this early. Whoever is chatting me on AOL Instant Messenger has to wait.

So I wander away from plates splashing in the sink and aluminum foil crunching tightly around porcelain dishes of leftover cauliflower. The uncles are playing poker in the next room at the glossy oval-shaped mahogany table under a blindingly bright crystal chandelier.

I hear banter about George Bush and oil prices. My ears perk up. Finally, someone is having a real conversation. I try to keep my mouth shut and just listen for a few sound bytes. Maybe I can make sense of the streaming CNN headlines dad keeps on mute when we’re eating dinner at home.

One of uncles catches my eye and sees I’m looking for a buddy. He lets me hang on the back of his high-back chair and peek at his cards. We grin because I’m pretending to understand his hand so I can be in on the secret. Uncle looks back to me, slightly tips his cards down, and asks about my plans for college. I think we’re on the same team for a short moment.

“Indiana University. The campus is really nice…. we went a few weeks ago…it’s a really great school, a lot of choices there….I’m so excited.” He doesn’t reciprocate the enthusiasm but I can see him doing a calculation in his mind. He glances at the table. Then back at his cards. Then back to me.

“Oh?” he tries to try to ask neutrally. “What will you study?”

“Political Science” I say very proudly. I had big plans to work on human rights issues. Something meaningful and with purpose. “I’ll probably double major in Journalism …they have a good school… and I–.”

I’m ready to go on-and-on because first of all, I’m a teenage girl, and second I might actually get to talk about something interesting for the first time tonight.

“Why not engineering or medicine?” he said cutting me off as if those are the only choices and getting a liberal arts degree might as well be going to community college. Uncle wasn’t calculating his next bet, he was recounting if there were any respectable degrees at Indiana University. Because, if I can’t change schools, at least I can change majors. Uncle deflates my spirit with what he thinks are reasonable and rational question he has the right to ask.

His retort sounds like ‘Why are you throwing away your education? What good is a liberal arts degree? Do you know how hard we are working so you can live a great life in the U.S.? Why are you voluntarily earning less money? Journalism? Politics? Those are not careers for respectable Indians. 

Uncle is simultaneously competing for best-immigrant-award and trying to give my parents a hand by convincing me to switch majors. Uncle’s kid has his choice of Ivy League schools so it’s already obvious who won the bet. It certainly wasn’t me.

“Because I like writing,” I say lowering my eyes knowing the answer won’t translate. His ask was never about my personal interest, passion, desire, or life purpose. What I want doesn’t matter. Not in my career, not in my life. I realize he is preparing me for the many inquisitions Indian girls get after age 23 about getting married. Yes. Girls. We are girls until marriage.

Good girls should study engineering, go to med school, fold perfect corners, and make well-behaved offspring. Don’t get too tan during summer and try not to work more than 20-hours a week. Make the ID card in mom’s wallet that says “Alien” worth it. And for god sakes, Nina, please don’t talk politics. Not at the dining table. And not around men.