Progress is difficult to see by when your goals are measured in many months and years. Gone are the days of rapid discovery and learning during childhood, where a missed day can be the difference between success and failure. Adulthood is a slow-roll of sameness, day after day. Motivation, then, is difficult to find.
If you’re as ambitious as I like to think of myself as, your goals are huge, fantastical, and takes quite a bit of time. The daily trudge to get to the end point can be altogether hopeful and extremely frustrating. Indeed life is a game of compounding: the daily gains of a savings account are minuscule, but come tax time the delight from the accrued interest is amazing.
That is until you realize you have to pay the U.S. government 15% tax on capital gains.
So every day is another day crossed-off on the calendar, slightly ever closer to the end-zone. This agonizingly slow yet steady progress is what I can best sum up this year of 2018. No major breakthroughs, no significant achievements; just normal, consistently consistent everyday life.
And that’s completely okay.
Or is it? Honestly It took me quite some months to find my rhythm at the beginning of the year. 2018 was always going to be a year of transition, deemed so by me turning age 30 the December prior. Contrived and cliche as it may be, flipping the leaf over to a new decade is indeed a transformative occasion. I’ve been a categorical ‘adult’ since turning 18, but this year was the first time I’ve ever truly felt the word and meaning of it. Anybody that’s still in college and below are considered kids to me, which can be strange because I work at a university.
As expected from an adult, I’m to completely invest myself in the adult milieu. First and foremost is a proper career. I’ve been at the same place of employment practically since college, and I’m immensely grateful for the opportunity to have job with incredible work-life balance, and a public worker’s pension at the end, should I remain there for the rest of my working life.
And that’s where the rub was in early 2018. It’s typical human nature to constantly crave the new and the fresh, and work was getting just a bit too stale and same for me. I didn’t not enjoy it, but I was seriously juggling with the question of whether or not it’s something I want to keep doing for the next few decades. The easy route would be to stay, but is it the most satisfactory?
I didn’t have the answer, so I started dreaming and scheming. I’ve always been enamored with Asia, so perhaps I should move there and work as a proper English-speaking concierge type person for a hotel or business. San Francisco remains insanely expensive to live, so perhaps I should move to another less monetarily demanding State (like Montana), and try my hand at this Internet thing, whether it be freelance writing, or producing videos on Youtube.
The options that didn’t involve staying at the current job entailed leaving San Francisco, which I reckon was absolutely necessary because finding another job in the same city I saw as a lateral move, even if it paid substantially more. My routine wouldn’t have changed much at all, only what I did during the eight or so hours at work.
If I were going to change my line of work, so too must the scenery change.
Obviously, the career move did not come to pass. I’m still working at San Francisco State, and as of typing this I’m enjoying a nice week and a half of provided vacation time between Christmas and New Years.
And to think most people have work up until the very last day of the year; I am undeserving of such good fortune.
Momentum is a stubborn thing, especially when forces have been constant for many years. The exit velocity needed to alter the trajectory is tremendous and difficult to attain. I didn’t switch careers this year because my job, boring as it may have become, was too comfortable and reassuring to leave. I mean, what utter arrogance for me to be dissatisfied? What of the countless others who would absolutely kill to have what I’ve got. It isn’t enough for living in San Francisco, but discounting housing, what I make per year is enviously comfortable. You can actually look it up: California public employee salaries are public information.
So you can say I chose the easy way out, and on some level I agree wholeheartedly, but I can assure you the process arriving at that decision was anything but. I have zero regrets about what could have been; in life you make decisions, and then you simply deal with the consequences, negative or positive. That said I did leave myself a backdoor of sorts: if I were ever to be let go from my current position, I’d immediately execute any one of the exit strategies I’ve listed above.
Because nothing lasts forever, and I never take for granted that I can easily keep the same job until retirement, especially because I work for the State. It only takes one serious downturn in the economy for them to start paring down the expenses, and I’m not stupid enough to think of myself as indispensable. Nevertheless, I’m resign to the fact that it would take something on the scale of that to make me go skip town for a new adventure.
Wasted potential? I guess you can say that, but those are not your consequences.
Besides, I’ve found something highly motivating to keep me where I’m at. The story begins back to what constitutes to being a proper adult; I’ve already spoken of career; another pillar is a home. Great and awesome my culture may be to allow adult children to live with their parents until infinity (some would say it’s demanded), in early 2018 I looked at venturing out to a place of my own. Again, that whole turning 30 thing.
As it is infamously renowned, San Francisco’s housing market is damn impossible for anyone making under six figures. Even renting a one-bedroom place reasonably close to work would entail spending half of my gross income on rent, when the golden formula calls for at most a third. Theoretically and mathematically feasible, but being “house-poor” is not a good way to live. No more annual upgrades to the latest iPhone, for one (though I really should stop doing that irregardless).
Until or unless the local housing market softens back to saner levels - whenever the local and State governments can finally muscle out the reluctant NIMBY homeowners to allow for vastly more building - I shall remain living with my parents. Spending over two thousand dollars on rent goes against every fiber of my fiscally conservative sensibilities. I can afford to, but I don’t want to.
But that money otherwise has to go somewhere. For the past few years I’ve been on a traveling binge, so much of my disposable income have gone towards that. Flight and hotel costs add up eye-wateringly quick, especially when I tend to only frequent expensive first-world metropolises (I really want to go back to Seoul). It’s money well spent: I think everyone should do a bit of traveling at least once in their life, preferably before serious onset of adulthood and its accompanying responsibilities.
A RETURN TO CARS
Outside of the annual winter trip back home to China, I did not do any other traveling in 2018. I have found something else to direct my funds towards. It goes back to one of my first loves: cars.
Paradoxically, it has not been a good year for my family in terms of luck with cars. My father’s 1992 Toyota Previa finally gave up the ghost back around the time of the Super Bowl (suck it, Patriots). The head gasket failed, and water in the combustion chamber is never a good thing. The ruined engine wasn’t worth fixing, so the van was donated to charity (returning zero dollars in tax write-off), and the car my brother was driving for college - a 2006 Toyota Corolla (my very first car) - became my father’s new daily driver.
The Corolla wouldn’t last out the year, either, as I’ll write about down below.
So we had to get a new car for my brother. My parents’ generosity in buying a new car for me way back when was to be replicated for him, something about fairness and not appearing to play favorites. They had originally planned to do so after he finishes college, but the Previa’s untimely destruction forced an audible. In comes a brand new 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI, much too nice and expensive of a car for a college kid that haven’t yet turn 21.
Crazy Rich Asians, my family is most decidedly not.
Jokes aside, a new GTI indeed proved to be too much car for a person who can’t legally be served an alcoholic drink. I found out when I did the arrangements for insurance. Due to young males being the worst demographic for auto insurance cost, the car was bought in my name, which meant it was up to me to insure it. The tactic only managed to dampen the blow slightly: adding my brother and a $30K vehicle to my policy of a 2016 Mazda MX-5 proved to be an absolute financial shock. I went from paying $90 a month for my lonesome to over $300 for the entire lot.
I can afford it, obviously, but that sort of outlay still hurts. Anything for family, right? Laughter turning into tears.
Aftershocks from the insurance increase would last for quite some months. My frugal sensibilities simply could not stomach paying that much money for auto insurance; a Porsche would be cheaper to insure. Also selfishly I don’t much like to pay insurance for a car I don’t even get to drive. For the few months up until the end of May, the $300 plus monthly outlay was an albatross glaring back at me. I had to make a change.
So I sold the Miata.
Obviously I was not going to bail on paying for my brother’s insurance, so to cut down the costs I had to get rid of my own car. Other contributing reasons are numerous; primarily because I’d rarely driven it (14,000 miles in 2.5 years), and also because San Francisco traffic is so horrendous that commuting - even though I’ve got one of the best most fun-to-drive sports cars for the money - completely wrecks the soul and psyche. For the first time since end of junior year of high school, I am commuting via public transportation.
Even though driving is faster than taking the bus, the serenity from not having to worry about navigating through the maze of other cars on the road is the greatest sublime, and well worth the extra time. One of the best thing I found in 2018 is the joy of listening to podcasts on the bus, and only needing mental energy for making sure I get off when at the appropriate stop. I arrive at work (and home) refreshed and ready to go, rather than tight and stressed, likely still incensed at the idiot who had cut me off earlier.
As long as I work and live in the city, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to commuting by car. Public transportation is better for mental health, and just better for the environment. Yes, I’m going to be one of those smug assholes.
Though it does leave me without a car. For the first few months after selling the MX-5, I was surprisingly, completely okay with the situation. The extra money in my accounts were looking ever so beautiful. Around late July however I started experiencing withdrawal symptoms, and began seriously missing the joy (and not so joys) of car ownership. For a self-professed petrol-head to not have a single car was probably too ambitious of a heading. The new plan, however, would be equally ambitious.
911 OR BUST
I was adamant to not commute in a car again, so what I needed was one exclusively for the weekend, something to enjoy in the leisure days in between work weeks. In my brief automotive history I’ve own a Subaru WRX STI and the aforementioned Mazda MX-5, and whatever I choose next wasn’t going to be facsimiles of those two types of cars. It has to be a proper sports car, needn’t be too practical because I’m only driving it on Saturdays and Sundays.
Aside from an Alfa Romeo, next on the list of must-own cars for a car enthusiasts has got to be the Porsche 911. The iconic shape have ensnared me since very first time I laid eyes on the wide fenders of a 993 Turbo. Owning a 911 have always been some far-fetched goal for me, principally because it’s quite expensive to buy. I’ve never paid over $40K for a car ever, so the prospect of a car in the six figures is pretty insane.
Insane enough to give it a go. If the ultimate goal is to own a 911, then wasting time and money with other cars in the interim is just silly. My next car will be a 911, and not just any plain 911 (because that’s not how I do things), but a GT3.
A rather ambitious plan, one that requires lots of capital. That’s why I’ve been absent in the traveling game this year; any discretionary income have been put away into the GT3 fund. I haven’t implemented such austerity measures since back when I was first saving up for the WRX STI. It feels good; feels familiar.
It was intense money saving mode for the latter half of 2018, which made everyday life a bit less interesting than it could be. Going outside costs money, so I seldom did. Remember also that I don’t have a car to easily go anywhere. I wrote at the beginning of this that progress is difficult to see on daily basis, and I did the best I could to endure the humdrum and mundane until the GT3 arrives. In a rapid society of instant gratification, it’s easier said than done.
Most of my weekends were spent with my parents: help run errands, do grocery shopping, and generally hanging out. Selfishly speaking those activities don’t cost me a dime, though I’m sure my parents don’t mind the extra attention.
No situation more so than in October when the Toyota Corolla, like the van in February, also gave up the ghost. The Corolla suffered a transmission failure in the form of shattered third and fourth gear. To fix it would cost more than the car itself was worth, but it would still be vastly cheaper than buying a new car. My parents were resolved to fix that car, until I intervened.
The Corolla’s failure gave me the opportunity to do something I’ve always wanted: buy my parents a new car. Being the frugal immigrants from poverty that they were, my parents would never dare to spend money like that on themselves, so it was up to me to return the favor. While my father’s preferred auto shop was busy sourcing a suitable replacement transmission for the Corolla, I too made some calls to car dealerships.
In the end I prevailed by buying (leasing) a 2018 Hyundai Tucson for my parents. My father over the years have frequently lamented he’s never driven a brand new car in his life, albeit half jokingly; he turned the golden 60 this year, so it was as good a time as any to fulfill that bit of want.
Of course, adding a lease payment to my monthly expenditures hasn’t done the GT3 fund any favors, but we’d do any for our parents, wouldn’t we?
It’s interesting how quickly I’ve transitioned from being the constant traveler to now staying put and turning my focus back to cars. Payments on the Porsche will keep me where I’m at for at least the next few years, which is just fine with me. 2018 has largely been the transition period between the two paradigms, with the second half of the year mainly consisted of me actively preparing for the next phase.
But what exactly do I do otherwise when the process is simply stack money and try not to spend any of it until I’ve got enough? Certainly I can binge watch the entire Netflix catalog in the meantime, but for me that would be a huge waste.
To beat back the boredom and blandness that adult life may bring, one must have strong discipline and good habits. There must be some things to occupy your everyday that excite you and get you out of bed in the morning (or afternoon; I don’t know you). There’s only a few out there lucky enough for that thing to be their career; the rest of us must find something outside our of jobs.
Each day I have my list of things to accomplish: read for an hour, study Korean for an hour, write on the blog for at least 30 minutes, and take an interesting photograph for the 365 challenge. I get a visceral endorphin boost when I tick of final item and I’m done for the day. Chasing that feeling keeps me motivated to not hit the snooze button on the phone, and I trust in the process that after doing this daily list for long enough, the effects would compound into something positive and spectacular.
It certainly has for my Korean studies, because mastering a language requires an intensely long time. Hard to think that it’s been two solid years since I’ve embarked on the endeavor, and I’m far from finishing (you never truly do when learning a language). In early 2018 I exhausted the third and final textbook, so for the rest of year I hatched my own study plan, which includes watching Korean shows and writing down words I don’t understand as new vocabulary, and perusing Korean newspaper as reading and speaking exercise.
An hour per day to study Korean is significantly less than the four when I first started, and with the reclaimed hours I was ready to move on to learn another skill. I’ve wanted to play the piano since I was a kid, but never had the opportunity to learn it completely. After scaling back on Korean I was set on the piano as the next challenge. Just when I had books and keyboard lined up for purchase, the goal of buying a 911 also came to into being. Due to the massive expenditure required for the car, I had no money to allocate for the piano, so that was ultimately put off yet again.
Priorities. I may or may not have them.
The extra hours instead got allocated to something that doesn’t cost money: writing. I’ve been slacking tremendously on that for the past few years, with the scant blog post here and there, and the only long-form writing coming in these end of year reflection pieces. It’s been said that to get and keep good at writing, one must do it everyday. Mired in the quagmire of indecision on life earlier this year, once I found my heading in deciding to stay at the job and selling the MX-5, I began to write on the blog every weekday.
The topics didn’t matter at all; the exercise is the point. To get the mind muscles thinking, and the fingers typing. Some days the words flow out like a breached dam, and some days I could barely muster a paragraph after sitting in front of the screen for an hour. It definitely got easier as the year went on, and I’m extremely chuffed that I managed to blog consistently all the way up to today. It’s probably what I’m most proud of this year.
LET’S POWER UP
And that’s what 2018 have mostly been about: doing my daily checklist, and spending time with the family on the weekends. It’s dependable and low drama, which from how I’m looking at it, is a very good thing indeed.
As for the coming 2019, it should be more of the same, except for one big thing: the arrival of the 911 GT3. I’m not sure exactly when during the year it’ll happen, but once it does, that is when the fun really begins. My life outside of work will revolve around cars again, a return to life in my early 20s. The difference now is that as a fully realized “adult”, I actually have the means to play.
It’s going to be sweet.
2018 TOP 10 SONGS
1. Red Velvet - 두 번째 데이트 (My Second Date)
2. Loco & Hwasa - 주지마
3. iKON - 사랑을 했다 (LOVE SCENARIO)
4. Red Velvet - Power Up
5. Yang Da Il & Wendy - One Summer 그해 여름
6. Moon Byul - SELFISH (Feat. Seulgi Of Red Velvet)
7. Taeyeon - 저녁의 이유 (All Night Long) (Feat. LUCAS of NCT)
8. Zico - Soulmate (Feat. IU)
9. Jennie - SOLO
10. IU - 삐삐 (BBIBBI)