Trust With Caution

Describe something you’re grateful that you learned from your parents

I’m grateful for some of the beliefs and morals my parents have instilled in me since a young age. Some of the advice I have easily taken in, but other pieces of advice were hard pills to swallow. You know, the kind of advice that you learn to be true as you get older and go through life. One of the many lessons I’ve learned from my parents is: Don’t trust everybody.

You’re probably thinking, “Damn, that’s harsh.” But it’s true! A lot of my parents’ advice and lectures to me as a kid – and even to this fuckin’ day – basically boils down to the fact that they want us to be smart and use our heads when it comes to dealing with other people. They never want my sisters and I to ever be in a position where we are naïve, gullible, or easily swayed by others. We were taught to question everything, but most importantly, always question the motives of others. We were prepared for the fact that people will use you when it’s convenient for them, whether that be financially, for their own gain, emotionally, or for material things. Because of this, we were taught to always be careful and trust with caution.

As a little kid, this shit didn’t make sense to me. Honestly, there were many times I believed my parents were just being haters. I thought my parents were giving paranoid advice – always thinking that people were going to do us dirty or do something shady. We were taught to not give our trust so easily. We were spoken to like adults at a young age – there was no age appropriate way to spell it out: Don’t trust everyone, people will use you if you let them. When it came to friends, acquaintances, or anyone that we had any relation to, we were always met with commentary like:

“Make sure that they’re not trying to just use you!”

“Watch your back, you never know.”

“Be careful (with what I share with those around me), they might try to use that against you later!”

Being cautious of others was always drilled into my head. But of course, as a young child, you hear the advice given to you, but don’t really see the significance of it until you’re much older. My parents were serving us that 100% blunt reality at a young age. They wanted to stress the fact that most of the time, people just look out for themselves and have no problem stepping on others, using others, stealing, lying, or backstabbing anyone to get what they want in life, a person, or situation. We had to be aware that people’s moves were always calculated.

Because of this way of thinking, I was always questioning people’s intentions with me. I was always taught to put people under a microscope – see if their intentions are true, if they are genuine, and if they may have any other motives. Like many other children / teens / young adults, I maneuvered my way through life, learning and understanding what my parents meant by not being so easy to give your trust to others. These are lessons you learn throughout your life and start to see the significance of previous advice.

I have had my fair share of betrayal, lies, being used, and being manipulated for someone’s else’s personal gain. I’m talking about everything in-between – from childhood friendship drama, high school gossip, adults just being plain petty, and unfortunately the list goes on. I had to learn the hard way what my mom and dad meant by not trusting everyone you meet. Because not everyone is going to like you, not everyone is going to be genuine to your face, and not everyone deserves your trust and time. I used to think that my parents were overly suspicious of everyone, but now I understand that it’s just the truth of our reality. Not everyone is your friend.

For this reason, I feel like my intuitions are on point. When I meet people, I can kind of get a sense of what kind of person they are right off the bat. I’m not saying that I have a special gift or some shit, but just that I’m very good at reading people. Of course, I’m never 100% right all the time, but for the most part I do a damn good job of feeling out a person’s intentions. I can just feel when someone’s vibe is off, or if they are not a person I want to associate with. I’m a pro at respectfully distancing myself and making it known where I stand.

I appreciate that my parents taught me to be choosy with my circle from a young age. Being more closed off and selective with who I choose to bring into my space has helped me protect myself, but also see people for who they really are. You don’t always see other people’s motives, or the “real” them right off the bat. It has not only taught me to be cautious with who I let in and trust, but it has also taught me to be a trustworthy person. Loyalty is such an important thing to me – in friendships, relationships, and life in general.

My parents stressed the importance of not easily trusting everyone and anyone around you to my sisters and I. But on the flip side, they also emphasized the importance of being loyal and acknowledging those who you can trust. These 2 pieces of advice are so opposite, but 2 sides of the same coin. It wasn’t just pessimistic negative advice to never trust anyone because people are generally just looking out for themselves, but more so, to just be aware. Be aware of those who have ulterior motives. Be aware of what people do and say behind your back. But also, being aware of those who are down for you and have proved that they are genuine.

Because of this advice, I know how to weed out the true, genuine, and ride or die people in my life. Not everyone is going to have your back, have your best intentions at heart, or be trustworthy. That’s just life. But there are a selected few who will be just that. Best piece of advice: Trust with caution, but recognize the real ones on your team.

The Awkward 27

I just recently turned the awkward age of 27 in February. And it really took over a whole month for me to process that I’m actually 27. I say “awkward 27” because it’s an age where you’re not as confused as you were in your early 20’s, but you’re not quite knowing what the fuck you’re doing yet. That’s the case for me at least. It’s one of those transitional years that will have you playing around with your career, who you surround yourself with, and in general trying figuring out what direction to take your life. That’s currently the stage I’m in.

It’s also a funny age because if you take a hundred 27 year olds from all over the country, you’d quickly see how different everyone’s lives are. You have 27 year olds that are married with kids, starting a business, traveling the world, going to school, working minimum wage jobs, unemployed, sick, are sugar babies, are successful, act like they’re 55, or the ones that act like they’re still 17. It is such a wide spectrum. What nobody tells you is that your late 20’s will somewhat feel like a preview of what you assume a mid-life crisis would feel like.

I’ve always been the type that tried to plan out my life and next moves to a T. The kind of plans that are well thought out with back up plans on back up plans on deck. That has always been my nature – plan ahead and hope for the best, but simultaneously having the “I’ll just wing it” complex. The “I’ll deal with it when I deal with it,” mindset is both comforting yet dreadful. Especially since 27 feels like I should have it “dealt with” already.

When you’re in your early 20’s, you feel like you have all the time in the world to figure life out. But in a blink of an eye I went from being 21 to being a confused ass 27 year old. Where the fuck did the time go, ma’am-sir, because I didn’t prepare for this shit. As I approached my mid-20’s, the dread started to set in. The fear of “fuck, am I going to be able to pull this shit off?” was always at the back of my mind. That’s me, always waiting until the very last minute to fight or flight life.

In my early 20’s, I wasn’t trippin’ much about the future and my career. Yes, I cared about getting my degree and started attempting to save money, but I wasn’t taking it too seriously. The future was definitely a thought, but it seemed too far away to stress out about. When I hit my mid 20’s, it started to hit me that my clock was ticking. And when I say my clock, I mean every fuckin clock out there. My career clock, my financial stability clock, my life timeline clock, but most importantly my biological clock. But at that point, I’m 24 – 25, I have a couple more years to figure it out. “That’s future Marinelle’s problem,” I would tell myself.

But literally overnight, I went from 26 to 27. And it really felt like it was the transition of the century. Oh shit. I’m fuckin 27. To put it into perspective, my mom was 26 when she got married to my dad, and when I juxtapose my life now to hers 30 years ago, my jaw could literally drop at the difference. I’m a firm believer in knowing that things will happen on its own time for me. I know life is a lot different now than it was when my mom was my age. At age 27 she was married and had her first child. But at the same time, I can’t help but think that these next 3-5 years are grind time.

In 3-5 years, I’ll be 30 – 32. I say grind time because whether I want to admit it or not, my time frame to start and have a family is very limited. I’ll never forget when my best friends and I sang happy birthday to my friend on her 18th birthday. 18th birthdays to Filipinos are a really big deal. It’s a woman’s entrance into “womanhood.” We watched her as she hovered over her 18th birthday cake, the candles lit and ready to be blown out. We expected her to make a wish and blow out her candles, happy, and ready to hangout the rest of the day. Instead, she blew out her candles and began to cry. I wish I could take a picture of everyone’s face expression in that moment. “What’s wrong?!”

“My biological clock is ticking!” She said laughing behind the tears she was shedding.

We held that moment against her since. We laughed out of complete shock and confusion. Is this bitch really crying and worrying about having kids at her EIGHTEENTH birthday?! It was just so funny to us because we were seniors in high school, all we’re supposed to care about at that time was getting into college, worrying about what major to declare, and trippin’ off boys who weren’t going to mean shit to us a couple years down the road. It just seemed so damn premature to be worrying about reproducing at that exact moment. To this day we still joke about the “biological clock” crying incident.

But here I am now, 27 years old, worrying about my damn biological clock. Life always seems to come back around full circle, doesn’t it? In a way, I feel like the pandemic aged me. It’s been 2 years since the start of the pandemic. I went into the pandemic freshly turning 25, and now we’re still in the thick of the madness 2 years later. There’s a huge part of me that feels like a good chunk of my youth has been taken from me. 2 years doesn’t seem like much, but those 2 years in the grander scheme of things were really pivotal ages.

25 and 26 years old – the ages where you really begin to know yourself as a person. And I definitely was forced to know myself even more in the midst of the lockdown. 25 and 26 is so smack dabbed in the middle of crucial points in one’s life, and I feel like for those 2 years we all had no choice but to chill out and wait as the world around us turned into a frenzy over the pandemic. Life stood still during these 2 years while simultaneously speeding shit up.

I found that to be especially true when Tatay passed away last year. When he passed, I really re-evaluated what I want out of this life – what’s important to me, what my dreams are, what I would do to make sure everyone around me is good. I lost someone so important to me, and in a way, it felt like I was saying goodbye to a certain part of my life. Whether I liked it or not, life was turning the page, entering me into a new chapter of life. I spent the rest of 2021 wallowing in my sadness, as I had every right to do. Then 2022 came and it’s like 27 said, “Ready or not, here I come.”

The new year somewhat reset me. When I hear people’s success stories, it motivates and inspires me to keep trying to get to where I want to be in life. You don’t know how you’re going to get there, but you hope you will. When will the opportunity show itself? I can’t help but think that things will show up as a sign or opportunity when the time is right. And if I’m being completely honest, I thought those signs and opportunities would reveal themselves already. But I try to remember that each month that passes by, I’m slowly taking baby steps to where I want to be. It doesn’t seem like any progress on a day to day basis, but when you look back, you’ll see how those small steps got you far.

And like I said, I feel like the next 3-5 years are grind time. Deep in my heart I hope I can pull it all off. It’s like a little ticking clock constantly keeping track in my head. When I daydream, I picture myself having it all. Will I be financially stable enough to have kids in the next couple of years? Will I be ready to not be selfish and take on the responsibility of caring for another life / lives for the rest of my life? Will I Hail Mary the next couple of years and just miraculously successfully get my shit together? I think of all of this stuff often.

These things are in the back of my head, but surprisingly, I’m suspiciously content. Content with where I’m at in life, content with the biological time frame I have as a woman, and content in knowing that whatever is meant to be will be, and whatever is meant for me will happen with time. But it’s true, I’m getting older, these are things I need to think about and plan for. At 27, I still have the “I’ll deal with it when I deal with it mentality,” however, one thing is different this time.

This time around, I find myself being more productive with my time. I find myself watering parts of my life I want to see grow, especially in my career sector, dreams sector, and relationships. For me, there’s no point in trippin’ out, things will happen when it’s supposed to. And like always, I’ll wing it when it’s time. But one thing I know for sure is that I can’t be sitting here waiting for things to progress if I’m not making the conscious effort to make things happen. I find myself being more purposeful with my time, knowing every move is a calculated step to what I want in the future.

I went into 2022 with a whole new mindset. I don’t know what it was or what triggered it. I like to think after a depressing year losing Tatay and Rhonda, they are pulling string for me on the other side, giving me the motivation to do the things I want to achieve. I’ve been a procrastinator all my life, but I went into 2022 wanting to get shit done. I’m taking literal baby steps in becoming productive, even if it that means creating small habits that will benefit me in the long run.

I was never one to fear getting older. In fact, I always wanted to be older because I wanted that freedom, stability, and independence. I’m realizing now, with my 27 year old ass, that it takes a lot of hard work and preparation to get to that level of comfort. But I’m confident that I’ll wing it, like I have been for the last 27 years. This time though, I’m doing it with more purpose and intent. Whatever is meant to be mine will be mine, with hard work of course. I’m fully embracing my awkward 27th year of life. I’m embracing the unknown, the confusion, and winging it as I go.

Natasha Jones: Stay True To Yourself

Natasha Jones, also known as “@oliviaeyes” on Instagram, is best known for her fashion content on social media. She’s a freelance curve model, brand ambassador, influencer, and content creator. When looking through her Instagram feed, you can see her confidence and infectious smile radiating through her photographs! However, this San Diego native had no plans of becoming an influencer. Natasha had no idea that her love for content creating would have her modeling for well-known brands, partnering with others, and inspiring others around the world.

Natasha was born and raised in San Diego, California. She graduated from the University of San Diego, the first in her family to graduate college, with a bachelors degree in Media Communications. She originally wanted to be a pediatrician and studied human biology for four years. However, Natasha made the drastic change to study communications when she realized how intrigued she was with social media and the interconnectivity of the world. After making the switch to communications, Natasha’s plan was to work behind the scenes in advertising or marketing. Her goal was to highlight minorities to better represent people from different backgrounds and bring inclusivity to mainstream media. She never imagined that she would be doing just that, but with her being in front of the camera.

“I never envisioned myself being an influencer – or model for that matter – I was too shy and didn’t think I could ever be in front of the camera,” Natasha admitted. “If anything, I hoped to work behind the camera and bring representation to minorities whose stories are often never told and rarely seen in mainstream media. It was super important to me to highlight young female voices.”

Ironically, the pandemic helped get Natasha out of her shell, and got companies sliding into her DM’s. Because of the shutdown, Natasha and her sister were insanely bored in the house. Like many others, they had nothing to do while the world waited patiently for COVID-19 to pass. Natasha bought a ton of new clothes before the shutdown and had nowhere to wear them to. For fun and to just pass time, Natasha asked her sister to take pictures of her in her outfits so she could post them on Instagram. The sisters explored all of San Diego for different scenic opportunities, making sure to social distance from others who were also trying to get out of the house for fresh air.

When posting the photos on Instagram, Natasha would make a point to tag where she purchased each item incase people wanted to know where to purchase it. Her main objective was to take cute photos to show off her new outfits since no one she knew in real life would be able to see them. Her love for fashion brings her so much joy because it allows her to feel good in her skin. After a few outfit posts, Forever 21 reached out to her and asked to send her clothes in exchange for content. Natasha couldn’t believe it. She fell into the modeling / influencer world completely by accident! Natasha never planned to go down the influencer route, but believes that the pandemic definitely helped push her in that direction.

Natasha had a previous Instagram account where she would post her occasional selfies. At the time, she was self conscious about her body and was only comfortable with posting her face on social media. Natasha didn’t join Instagram until she was in college because her mom believed it can make you vulnerable to people with ill intentions. So when she started posting her outfits online during the pandemic, she thought nothing of it. She had no intentions on going viral or gaining such a big following. She genuinely didn’t believe that anyone would care to follow her or keep up with her personal life. But after a couple of months of keeping up with her content and posting with Forever 21, Natasha saw a big spike in her following.

“Before becoming a full time content creator/model, I had a small amount of followers just from posting selfies,” Natasha said. “I thought it was cool, but I gave no real thought into this turning into a career. I had gone to school and graduated with a degree that I assumed would help me land a career behind the scenes.”

But Natasha rolled with it anyways. She believed that at the time, she was too naïve to even be skeptical about pursuing modeling and content creating as a career. She was in a place in her life where she just wanted to experiment and test out the waters with what she wanted to do with her life. These opportunities were something new and exciting, something completely out of her comfort zone. Natasha was way too excited and eager to try new things and dive in head first, that she didn’t even have a chance to psyche herself out of it. On top of that, she had a very supportive inner circle. Her friends and family were very supportive and encouraged her to pursue a social media career. Natasha and her sister have bonded over taking photos together. Her sister is the reason why she has so many great shots to choose from.

It was pretty early on when Natasha realized that doors were opening up for her. After posting content for Forever 21, opportunities started coming from left and right. She noticed that her Instagram photos were being used on Forever 21’s website and ads. Brands started reaching out to her because Forever 21 is such a well-known company. “This is just the beginning,” she thought to herself. And she was right. She decided to go for what she wanted – literally. Natasha didn’t wait for certain brands to reach out to her – if she really wanted to work with them, she would reach out to them first. The very first brand she reached out to was Parade because they stood for everything she believed in – inclusivity and diversity.

“I wasn’t nervous at all because I felt I had nothing to lose,” She said. “Even now – you can’t lose something you don’t have. I am a huge believer in shooting your shot because the worse thing that could happen is they say no, but there are always going to be other doors for you. Also, those same people who told you no will come back in the future asking to work with you!”

But Natasha did have that voice in the back of her head telling her that she wasn’t model material. She never thought that she would get into modeling or content creating, so it was hard to see herself in that new light. In the past, she had friends who were already models and content creators, and they pushed her to post more consistently on social media. But she never thought that she could be “that girl.” She didn’t think she had the confidence or “look” to be a model. Natasha was intimidated because she rarely saw girls who looked like her creating content and modeling for well-known brands, so at the time it seemed like a distant fantasy.

However, the pandemic opened up Natasha’s eyes to so many worlds and experiences. She was exposed to so many body positive and curve influencers during lockdown. Seeing people built like her, with similar body types, and not the traditional “model look,” inspired Natasha to change her views of what models can look like. Seeing others be so comfortable in their skin made her embrace her curves and reflect on her internalized fat phobia. This is why Natasha is so passionate about representation. She believes seeing diversity in mainstream media has the power to change one’s mind, opinions, and world view.

Natasha is grateful that she can be that light for others to embrace their bodies and beauty in an industry that is still stingy with representation. She feels so blessed that she has built a platform that people can connect with. It warms her heart to know that she is that person that some women look up to, since she has been in the same position in the past. She still feels like plus-sized women are still very under represented. There have been many times where she feels like the token plus-sized girl in the fashion industry, being used to lure in business from plus-sized people.

“I think that many companies use me and girls who are similar to my body type to be like, ‘Look! We have a plus size girl who is wearing our clothes!!’ ” She said honestly. “Most of the time, these companies only go up to my size and claim that they’re inclusive. If you only go up to a size 14, you are not inclusive and need to reevaluate your entire brand.”

Natasha received many offers from brands to do campaigns. But it wasn’t until she got vaccinated that she did her first campaign with Rue21. It was towards the end of lockdown, a year after she started posting consistent fashion content on her Instagram page. She waited to do in person campaigns because her family wasn’t comfortable with her traveling to LA for work during COVID’s peak. Natasha is still in awe when she sees herself on clothing companies’ websites and social media pages. It’s crazy for her to realize that just 2 years ago, she was buying clothes from these brands and now, she’s one of the faces of their company. She gets emotional because she knows the younger version of herself would be so proud of how far she has come.

Some may find it hard to believe, but Natasha had no prior experience with modeling before she got into the industry. She enjoyed taking pictures with her friends, but the shots were all in lighthearted fun and not considered professional modeling. Like with anything, practice makes perfect. Natasha is still learning to be comfortable in front of the camera and working with other photographers. Some of the tools she uses to better her posing is to have others take photos of her until she feels more relaxed and comfortable, watch YouTube and trendy videos that give tips on how to pose, studying other influencers and models’ photos for inspiration and tips, and always practicing those poses and techniques when she can. It’s not as simple as smiling for a photo, a lot of time, effort, and practice goes into perfecting different shots.

Natasha quickly saw her following on Instagram grow. She was completely shocked, and quite honestly, scared. Suddenly it seemed like all eyes were on her. Natasha jokes that if people really knew how “uncool” she was in real life, they would unfollow her immediately. She’s a very humble individual, and doesn’t think her life is any more or less exciting than the next person, so for a split second, she felt the need to pretend to be cool in front of the camera. She started to second guess how she looked in some photos and the image she wanted people to see online.

There were times where Natasha struggled with finding her own rhythm in posting and caught herself trying to be like other content creators. She felt as though her content had to be a certain way and had to follow the status quo of other influencers. In doing so, she was becoming unhappy with overthinking her posts. She wanted to remain true to herself, but at the same time, she was conflicted with getting too personal with her followers. She considers herself a very private person, so finding the middle ground of sharing just enough so your personality shines through, but at the same time not over sharing was something she had to get used to. The last thing Natasha wanted was for her followers to think that she was an imposter. She found herself going through the motions of imposter syndrome.

She realized that she was becoming consumed with overthinking her online presence. She decided that the best thing to do was simply be herself. She didn’t want to lose track of who she was for the sake of content. Not being herself was mentally exhausting and took away from the fun of creating content. Now, Natasha posts whatever content she wants on her page. She doesn’t like to overanalyze a photo, look at analytics, or overly edit any photos.

Now I just post or share whatever I want. If you like me, that’s cool, but if you don’t – feel free to unfollow. I’m not meant for everyone – no one is, and life’s too short to pretend to be anyone else other than you. I am so grateful for creating the little IG family I have and hope to bring some sort of positivity to the platform by just being myself … When I feel I am being too critical of myself I take a step back from socials. I try to prioritize my mental health above work. If that means deadlines are missed then I will simply notify whoever I am partnering with to let them know. You have to do what makes you happy so figure out what you want and do that. If you need a break, take it! If your hobby turned into a job then make it into something you can enjoy again. Do what you want, whatever that may be.

Natasha Jones

But, influencers are human too, which means there will be times where they’re not in the mood to create and times when they’re experiencing insecurities. Just like any of us, Natasha is juggling a full-time job, social life, home life, relationships, and so on. She is not always in the best spirits when she is on a strict deadline, but she understands that there are deadlines that need to be met. What gets her through these tough moments of finding the motivation to create is knowing that she genuinely enjoys what she does. Natasha sees content creating and modeling as an outlet where she is free to express herself. She describes it as feeling as though she has her own private world where she is in control of the narrative of what others see and know about her.

The fact of the matter is, the public will never know more than the content shared. Natasha still has her moments of feeling insecure, which people would have never gathered from her pictures. Natasha remembers a specific shoot where she didn’t feel confident in herself:

When I first started posing in more revealing outfits, I was not confident. The first lingerie collab I did, I was wearing a two-piece set out in public on the beach. I thought it would be no biggie because I looked up to so many plus size influencers who always wear two pieces out and about. But when I was about to take my photos, I felt so self-conscious. I had never worn a two piece lingerie set nor a two piece bikini in my entire life, yet alone with people around me, and I started crying. But my sister comforted me and talked me through it. I also wanted to go through with it because I had a moment where I was like, ‘Wait… why are you crying? Do it for yourself. Do it for those people you say are beautiful just the way they are.’ On those days I feel low, I always keep in mind I’m doing it for the ones who look up to me. My IG fam means so much to me. I always want to make them feel seen, loved, and confident in who they are.

Natasha Jones

Social media is usually portrayed in a negative way, but Natasha always remembers to embrace all the positive that comes with being a public figure. She is so grateful for her Instagram family and friends. She uses the people that look up to her as motivation to embrace her curves and accept her body for what it is. Natasha celebrates all the women who look like her thriving in all aspects of their lives. She’s constantly amazed with how many kind people she has met who genuinely want to uplift others instead of bringing them down. Instagram has remained a fun outlet for Natasha to express herself, be creative, and have fun!

Natasha gained such a loyal following by reciprocating the love. Her motto is, “give love, receive love.” She always makes a point to answer DM’s and comments on her posts because she appreciates anyone who would take time out of their day to show her some love. She feels a sense of community with her followers and feels as though they are her friends. Natasha does admit that she typically doesn’t respond to men’s DM’s because it makes her uncomfortable. She tried to respond politely to men’s DM’s in the past, but has always ended up regretting it. So, in her comments she’ll usually respond with a “thank you,” and keep it at that. Natasha wants her platform to be a safe space for all women. She loves to see the endless amount of love and support she gets from women all over the world, so she tries her best to maintain a positive space where she feels comfortable interacting with others.

Because she is so dedicated to her followers, Natasha has made it a top priority to only endorse companies that align with her beliefs. She knows that there are a lot of people who look up to her, so she is very careful with what she promotes. Natasha has no problem turning away deals with well-known brands. She has gotten paid offers from companies who sell diet supplements, waist trainers, personal trainers, Botox, and the list goes on. Natasha admits that the money being offered is nice, but not tempting enough for her to support brands that promote fat phobia, capitalize on people’s insecurities, and tell people that they are not good enough by just being themselves. She remains true to herself and her beliefs, and refuses to work with brands who go against everything she supports and believes in.

What many people may not know is the fact that Natasha was a full-time content creator and model during the pandemic, but also juggling a job as a Social Media and Influencer Marketing Coordinator for a San Diego based company as of last year. Natasha’s mom pushed her to get a job to utilize her degree she worked so hard for. Her mother is very supportive of her influencer career, but is also very skeptical. Like any parent, Natasha’s mom just wants to make sure that her daughter is thinking ahead for the future, as content creating can be a very unstable profession. Even though her mom is skeptical, she is very supportive of Natasha becoming a full-time freelancer once she starts seeing consistent big results. Either way, Natasha understands that her mother’s worries come from a place of love.

Since Natasha has a full-time job as Social Media and Influencer Marketing Coordinator, she is constantly juggling both jobs. Throughout the week, she works her 9-5 job that utilizes her college degree, and the weekends are for content creating with her sister. She edits photos throughout the week and preps them for posting usually the day before she posts them. She has not quite found her balance yet, but it has pushed her to learn how to prioritize her time. Natasha is using this time to figure out what career path she would like to test the waters in – as she has both experience behind the scenes and also being in front of the camera.

As she goes on this new journey of balancing out her job behind the scenes and simultaneously pursuing a freelance career, she hopes that she can manifest her dream future. She knows that life is a crazy ride, and you’ll never know where life can take you, but she hopes to work towards her goal of becoming a full-time content creator with no other jobs on the side. She is so grateful for her current job because it allows her to see behind the scenes. It has opened her eyes to the social media industry, which allowed her to learn so many new strategies from a brand perspective that she can apply to her own following. And it has made the obvious more apparent – that her true passion is in content creating.

“I thrive in fast paced environments so I truly feel I have found my passion,” she shared. “I trust  life will take me where I need to go so until then, I’ll just keeping taking everything that comes my way day by day. I strongly believe everything happens how it’s supposed to, so being able to work on both ends of the social media Industry has been a blessing!”

At the start of the pandemic, Natasha had no idea that posting her cute outfits would lead her down this path and open so many doors and opportunities. Her following on social media continues to grow, but she still remains humble. People are starting to recognize her in real life, but Natasha still tends to lay low and doesn’t like to make a big deal of her online fame. The most important lesson that this journey has taught her is to love, accept, and value herself. Growing up, Natasha always strived for perfection. She wanted to fit in and feel accepted. Now, she is content with knowing that it’s perfectly fine to be a work in progress and be yourself. She believes that whatever is meant for you will always find you.

Natasha’s advice to her followers is to always stand up for themselves. She believes it’s important to prioritize your values and beliefs, making sure that the choices you make align with what you truly believe in. She’s a firm believer in following your dreams – even if it means taking a leap of faith! After all, that is how Natasha became a content creator and freelance model. She is so grateful for the community that she has built online. Her goal has always been to celebrate and support women, and her online presence is doing exactly that.

“I want to create a safe place for people to feel like they can be themselves and that they will always be more than enough,” Natasha said. “If people take anything away from my platform, I hope that they know how beautiful they are, just by being who they are. All I want is to be a source of positivity, representation, and maybe some comfort when they’re feeling low. We all have the power to be a light in this world – I just want everyone to recognize that in themselves.”

When In Doubt, Sleep It Out

For as long as I can remember, my main coping mechanism has always been sleeping. Whether I’m angry, sad, life in shambles, or have things heavy on my mind, the first thing my body wants to do is go to sleep. There is truly nothing a quick nap can’t fix. Just kidding, there is plenty that a short nap or even a deep hibernation can’t fix. But I have practiced this form of self-detachment for basically my whole life.

I am hands down one of the sleepiest girls you will ever meet. I am never not tired. Even when I get a great night’s sleep, I am still tired. I’m not a coffee or morning tea person, as I don’t want to be dependent on caffeine. I love tea, but 97% of the tea I drink is in my milk tea. As a result of my personal choice to avoid being dependent on caffeine, I am forced to run on my natural energy, which is close to 0 a lot of the time. I’m the bitch that schedules in a nap in-between events to make sure that I am recharged. It doesn’t matter if I take a long afternoon nap, I can still sleep soundly at night.

I overthink everything, to the point where I annoy myself. Sleeping is my way of shutting off my mind, even if it’s only temporarily. It’s like getting a break from yourself. You don’t want to overthink the scenario anymore, overthink the decision at hand, or jump to conclusions, so, you sleep it out. If you’re a person that gets in your head a lot, you know what I mean. I’ve learned a long time ago that overthinking can be the mental death of you. There are times when there’s literally no point to overthink things that have already happened or are just beginning to unfold. Of course, it’s a lot easier said than done, and sometimes it feels like it literally can’t be done.

Yes, it’s avoiding feelings and suppressing my emotions from time to time – well, every time – but if the situation at hand is not fixable in the moment, there’s no point in stressing myself out. I’d rather detach and deal with that shit when I wake up. I’m not saying it’s the right way to handle things, but I’ve noticed this continuous pattern that I’ve repeated since I was a kid. When I get overwhelmed, I’ll sleep it out until I get the motivation to deal with it, let it go, or keep suppressing it. Sleeping away my problems definitely won’t solve anything, but at least I’ll be well-rested.

Everyone knows that awesome feeling when your head makes contact with that pillow. You can go to bed with a thousand and 1 problems, but with time, you slowly drift in and out of consciousness. The things that are stressing me out, or whatever scenario is heavy on my mind starts to get cloudy. And for a moment in time, my problems don’t exist. If I’m not awake to think about what’s bugging me, then it’s not a thought in my mind. I escape my reality briefly. And for a split second, I’m just existing in the universe, problem free, and at total rest. I let my mind do its thing, and I eventually surrender to my own subconscious. When I’m asleep, I’m detached from worldly complications, life is still, I don’t have a care in the world – even if it’s just temporarily.

I flip and turn in my sleep, and in those brief moments of slightly being awake, I try my best to lull myself back to sleep. There have been many instances where I’m teeter tottering between being awake and remaining asleep, and my mind starts to remember the issue, and I quickly try to get some more shut eye. Naps and sleeping are a great escape from your present day problems. It’s a great distraction to have when the weight of the world is on your shoulders. It forces you to detach and revisit the issue at another time.

That’s probably why people say, “I’ll sleep on it,” when making an important decision. Sometimes in the moment, you can’t think clearly. It takes a while to process information, stress, and getting the full story on things. So at times, sleeping it out is a great way to delay that process when you need more insight. Because of course nobody wants to make decisions in the heat of the moment or act out irrationally. Sleeping allows you to let things sink in and buys you time to see what you really want to do. It’s a very crucial step in my decision making thought process. Ironically, being unproductive can sometimes help me be productive when I wake up.

However, it does have its bad aspects as well. I feel like sleeping can be very productive when you can come to a conclusion right after. But for me, sometimes my coping mechanism of sleeping it out just prolongs my decision. Or, I sleep on it too many times that I end up just doing nothing and not dealing with it. I can push it to the side and avoid the problem all together. At times I feel like that 1 episode of Avatar the Last Airbender when Aang frustratedly asks Boomi why he didn’t put up a fight / do anything when the Fire Nation invaded his land. He casually said that he was waiting around and doing nothing, waiting for the right moment to strike. He had to wait and listen for the right moment to make a move.

I feel like I’m Boomi, doing “nothing” by taking naps to escape my problems, waiting to see when it’s the right time to act on something. I’m just waiting it out and seeing how I feel when I sleep on it. Do I choose to react? Do I make a decision ASAP? Do I even have to make a decision? Do I just let it go? If it’s important, I’ll eventually come up with something. And if I don’t come up with something….

I’ll sleep on it…

Jade Dragon – Thank You For 50 Amazing Years

We went out to eat last week at a Chinese restaurant for my mom’s birthday dinner. It reminded me that we haven’t ate at Jade Dragon in a really long time. I mentioned that we should go to Jade Dragon soon for the sake of memories, and even made a mental note of it for when it’s my turn to treat the family out to dinner. It was on my mental list of places I should order from on Sundays.

For anyone that has grew up in Daly City, the restaurant, Jade Dragon, rings a thousand bells. For me, Jade Dragon has been at the center of my family’s milestones. From 1st birthdays, to baptism receptions, to birthday dinners, to birthday parties, to retirement parties, to debuts, to catering family events, to many eventless weekend dinners, we basically grew up at that restaurant eating their food. To this day, I still have fond memories of my family and I eating at Jade Dragon. Hence why I wanted to go back after a few years of not eating in the dine-in restaurant area or the reserved party rooms. With the pandemic going on its 2 year anniversary, going to a familiar place that housed great memories from your childhood would be a great comfort. I looked forward to taking my family there again.

Last night, my family and I ordered take-out from a Vietnamese spot on Ocean. I have been on my satay pho obsession for a couple months now, and it was time to have my sisters join in on the craze. Especially since the Bay Area was freezing cold this last week, a nice warm bowl of pho was definitely appreciated. We stood around the kitchen table, putting together our bowls of pho. Anyone who has ever taken pho to-go knows the struggle of assembling your meal to your liking. My eyes grew wide as I watched my little sister take her first bite.

She agreed. The satay pho was really that good. My sisters and I sat in the living room, devouring our steaming bowls of that peanut broth goodness. My dad joined us to watch another episode of 90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days, a Sunday night tradition for the last 2 years. And by 7:40 pm, we were stuffed and ready for a food coma. I was so full that I couldn’t even finish the extra noodles I had added to my order. I called it satay quits and went on my phone.

Justine messaged on our group chat a screenshot of one of her Facebook friend’s posts. The pictures on the post were very familiar to me. It was Peggy standing in front of her restaurant, Jade Dragon. I remembered her familiar face in an instant. Up until reading that Facebook post, it dawned on me that I never knew her name. However, her face was such a familiar and inviting face from my childhood. I read the caption above the pictures and gasped.

“Jade Dragon is closing?!?!” I blurted out.

Gasps filled the room, “Whaaaaaaat!?”

Quickly I remembered that I wanted to take the family there to eat. Now, my chance was almost gone. The post said that they were closing their doors for good tomorrow (Monday). I had no idea if that meant that their last day was that night, Sunday, or their last day in service was the next day, Monday. I frantically tried to find their website online, seeing if the rumor was true. I couldn’t find a website or any social media pages for the restaurant. Google said that they were closing at 8 PM, which was in 8 minutes. As full as I was, I knew it would be foolish not to at least attempt to place an order for the last time. So, I called in, hoping that 8 minutes until closing wouldn’t be too much of a hassle.

“Jade Dragon.”

“Hi, are you guys closing at 8?”

“Yes, you can place your order now and it will be ready in 15 minutes.”

“Uh, will you guys be open tomorrow?” I said, already dreading the answer.

“No, we are closing. Last day is today.”

At that point, I knew it was about 5 minutes until they closed. So I did what anyone else would do… I placed an order for fried chicken. I got off the phone and my dad was flabbergasted. He couldn’t believe I ordered more food after we gorged ourselves 5 minutes prior. But I had to. There were too many memories made at Jade Dragon not to! And I knew I would regret not getting 1 last opportunity to bite into the tastiest, crispiest, best chicken skin of all time, Jade Dragon chicken.

Had this been for any other take-out, my dad would be annoyed as hell. But Jade Dragon also held a special place in his heart too, and he was equally as shocked that they were closing. So my dad, little sister, and I headed for the car to pick up our last order from the restaurant we so very loved. I didn’t have much expectations, because I knew that seeing Peggy there would be a very slim chance. But I hoped anyways.

We parked the car in front of Jade Dragon. We have been to this parking lot many times before. It was dark outside, the “open” sign was no longer on, and something about seeing the restaurant’s sign in the dark made me sad. We walked in, and there were still people at the bar section to the left. The huge Buddha statue that I rubbed every time I left the restaurant growing up sat in it’s same position in front of the door. We turned to the right towards the dinning area. Everything looked exactly the same. It smelled exactly the same as it did 20 years ago. And then from behind the restaurant, slowly walking and emerging from behind the paneled divider, came Peggy.

Seeing Peggy’s smiling face took me back 2 decades ago. Suddenly, I was 7 years old, walking into Jade Dragon with my family. The smell in the restaurant was the same, the furniture was the same, the decorations untouched, the tables were set up exactly as it was 20 years prior. I had flashbacks of my older sister and I pouring tea into our teacups, only so we could add way too much sugar. We wouldn’t stir the sugar into the tea, we would let it sink to the bottom so the last couple sips were sugary, grainy, and delicious. I remembered picking out the peas in my fried rice and lining them up on the side of my plate, pretending they were audience members.

I remembered the circle table at the very back of the restaurant where we had my dad’s surprise 40th birthday dinner with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. I remembered all the events that took place in that restaurant – my uncle’s retirement party, my goddaughter’s birthday party, my 1st birthday that I don’t remember but have pictures from… the list went on. I remember running to the Buddha statue to rub his belly. “Rub for good luck,” my mom would tell me. And oh how I believed it. And I remembered Peggy’s smiling face greeting us at the back of the restaurant, “Oh they’re so big now!” she would tell my parents.

And there she was, in the same part of the restaurant, greeting us into Jade Dragon for the last time. She looked exactly the same. Her friendly face is one I could pick out from a crowd. It was such a surprise because I don’t think any of us expected to actually see a familiar face. I expected to not see anyone I recognize, pick up our chicken, and say silent goodbyes in our head. But there she was. The woman whose face I’ve associated with Jade Dragon and great family memories. The most welcoming face to be greeted with.

“Sorry, we’re closed. The cooks are going home,” she said kindly with a sympathetic smile. We had our masks on, but we let her know that we had placed an order already. “Oh, the fried chicken!” she said happily.

We talked a bit while we waited for our fried chicken order. We let her know that even though she may not remember us, that we definitely remembered her and cherished the family memories we made at Jade Dragon. Peggy said that she somewhat remembered our faces, but I really didn’t expect her to. She knew me since I was like 4, I doubt she could recognize 27 year old me. However, she was still very kind about it and insisted that she remembers people’s faces.

We reminded her that we were regulars way back when. Peggy let us know that it was just finally time for her to retire. “50 years in February,” she said tenderly. I couldn’t believe it – Jade Dragon was closing its doors after 50 years. She updated us on her husband’s health and the passing of her sister-in-law 4 years prior, another familiar face at Jade Dragon. She told us that they sold the restaurant space to Kukje, and they’d be remodeling it soon. Standing there talking with Peggy, I couldn’t believe how much time had passed. Instead of her being in awe at how much my sisters and I have grown, we were now in the middle of her restaurant on it’s last day – probably their last order. Yes, we were the assholes that ordered 5 minutes till closing… but I’m glad we did.

Peggy went to the back to check on our order, and we walked around the restaurant. Everything looked the same. In my memories, I recall it being so much bigger. It was sad looking around knowing that this restaurant wouldn’t be around anymore. It was a very nostalgic moment, especially since a couple weeks ago we learned that Tanforan Mall would be permanently closing as well. It feels like so many major things from my childhood are quickly fading. So many places that housed so many great memories are soon to be a thing of the past. It hit me.

Peggy came out with our chicken, and we headed to the cash register. I was so glad that we got to see her that night, and that we got to say our thank you’s and give her our best wishes. I handed her a generous tip, which she refused to take. We encouraged her to take it, and let her know that we would miss the restaurant.

“I need to give you a souvenir then. Something to remember by.” She headed to the back of the restaurant. She gifted us 2 embroidered animals that were framed separately – a horse and a cat. We were honored to take a piece of Jade Dragon with us.

After that, I asked if we could have a picture with all of us and the Buddha. Peggy was thrilled to do so. We took our masks off and smiled for the camera. The Buddha that we rubbed every time we came into Jade Dragon, and every time we walked out. When she saw my dad with his mask down she said, “I remember your face now! Now that you don’t have a mask, yes, I remember your dad.”

So we said our goodbyes, our thank yous, and our well wishes for her retirement. I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. But as I ate the leftover Jade Dragon chicken today for dinner, I remembered all the great memories of family, food, and great service.

Jade Dragon gave Daly City 50 amazing years. I’m grateful that my family and I got to talk to Peggy before they finally closed their doors. This one definitely hurt because Jade Dragon was a big part of the community. However, I will always remember the many happy memories I have of Jade Dragon over the years. And that’s the definition of a successful business – when people keep coming back because your food is great, but also because of the happy memories and great hospitality.

Today, Monday, February 28, 2022 Jade Dragon closed their doors. Thank you, Jade Dragon, for 50 great years!

Hopes & Daydreams

When you feel bored, where does your brain wander to?

Y’all already know this, but I’m a dreamer by nature. When I’m bored, my mind drifts in so many directions. Who needs entertainment when I got my own damn self? And truly nothing is off limits for me. I think of everything and anything, which is probably why I’m notorious for getting easily distracted.

Lately, when I close my eyes, I picture myself “having it all.” Shit, who doesn’t? And most of the time, my daydreams are forever changing…

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I’m in my big ass cozy home, I’m holding my baby in one arm as I use my other hand to type up my latest project. I’m working from home, the vibe is stress free, and I’m financially comfortable. There isn’t a care in the world. My house is clean, my kids are taken care of, and my husband and I are financially well. We’re not tired, we’re not burnt out, and we genuinely love what we do. I’m working on my latest passion project, but I’m ahead of schedule. There’s no pressure to deliver because I’m working on my own time. Anything I put out is just adding to the already massive amount of well-known published work I have circulating around.

The doorbell rings and my parents enter. They take off their shoes at the door and make themselves comfortable. The kids greet their grandparents and try to show them the latest things they learned in school, show them a new wrestling move their dad taught them, or give them a drawing they made sometime during the week. There’s already food in the kitchen, and you can still see the steam, you know that shit’s still hot. It’s from our favorite take out restaurant, and we have everyone’s favorite dish.

It’s Sunday dinner, and we’re waiting for the rest of the family to show up. My nieces and nephews start to arrive, and they immediately link up with my kids and start playing. The once mellow home is starting to be filled with relatives, getting more and more chaotic as more people start arriving. But I fuckin’ love it. The kitchen is filled with delicious food, so I start to light the candle so the house doesn’t smell like straight food the whole night. Everyone’s together, everyone’s happy, and life is good. Everyone grabs a plate and starts to eat.

“Did you know we used to do this at Tatay’s house?” I tell my kids for the billionth time.

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I’m on and off planes consistently. This time I’m in a distant land that resembles paradise. Hawaii? The Philippines? I’m not too sure, but I’m on some island. The weather is perfect. It’s sunny, but it’s not too hot. And when I say perfect, I mean a very particular kind of weather – I get hot hella quick. The skies are blue, I’m by the beach, and I ain’t got shit to do. I have nowhere to go and I have all the time in the world. My biggest concern is where I’m going to eat that night. There’s no masks, no pandemic, no restrictions. In fact, COVID ain’t even a thing anymore. So much time has passed since the pandemic that it’s a distant memory.

I’m not worried about work, or finances, or stressing. I’m present and in the moment. I feel damn good in the clothes I’m wearing, and I’m radiating confidence… still humble though. I turn on my laptop and start typing away. What am I writing? I don’t fuckin know, all I know is in my fantasies, I’m always working on something. I’m writing for pure fun and enjoyment, not because the bills depend on it. However, it is my money maker, but it’s so effortless that the writing experience is peaceful as hell. I often look back to my beginning stages of my writing career and how I kept up with my blog. My mind drifts off for a bit, remembering how confused and lost I was… I’m thankful I stuck with it because it got me to where I am. “I did that shit,” I think to myself.

The sunset is the perfect ending to a perfect relaxing day. We finally decide to ditch the beach and go back to the place to get ready for dinner. We get all dressed up and head out. It’s a restaurant that wants me to write about my experience dining in. In fact, that’s why I’m on this paradise island. We got the trip complimentary in every aspect. My loved ones are along for the ride. I’m finally getting to travel the world because of my writing.

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I’m getting interviewed about my latest passion project. And like every other interview I have done up until that point, I make it a point to share that I was born and raised in the Bay Area. I call Daly City by name and make it known that that’s where I was raised the first 25 years of my life. I rep San Francisco and the Bay Area as a whole, but I don’t hesitate to shout out Daly City.

The interviewer doesn’t ask, “Where’s that?” like past reporters have. No, they know where Daly City is. I’ve repeated it in many interviews, wrote about it tirelessly in my writing, and have been very vocal about where I’m from.

Bay Area born and raised. To me, this will forever be home. But they want to talk about the glam side of the Bay Area, San Francisco more specifically. The tech side of San Francisco, the hipsters, how boujee it is. But that’s not the San Francisco I grew up in, that’s not what was happening in Daly City.

I’m finally at a place in my life where I can give back. Give back to not only my family and those around me, but my community as well. The Bay Area, Daly City, San Francisco, the place I called home for so long. The way J.Cole reps Fayetteville, North Carolina is the same way I’ll rep my home town. But I just don’t rep it for the sake of Bay Area street cred. I acknowledge the good, bad, and the ugly of the city.

My parents weren’t in the tech industry, people like me could never buy a home in San Francisco in the year 2022, and families that were born and raised in the area were getting pushed further and further out. I know first hand what it’s like to be in the most expensive area in the country, and not have it like that. And because I know what it’s like, I’m giving back to the community that made me.

The schools are getting better funding, sports teams aren’t getting cut, and little Manila, Daly City, is making a name for itself. Daly City is no longer being overlooked or downplayed.

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I’m enjoying the early morning hours at my kitchen table. It’s still pretty dark outside, the house is still quiet, and I’m reminiscing on the stories I just told my grandchildren the day before. I’m always talking, always involved, always passing down our family stories. That’s important to me – that those stories and the people in those stories are still talked about. Even though my grandchildren never met them, it’s important that they know where they came from. I need them to know where our family came from, what struggles they endured for us to have a better life, and learn all the family trauma so that it does not repeat itself.

I have finally hit my Uncle Iroh stage in life where I’m just wise, chillin’, and offering unsolicited advice. I look back on my life and accept all the choices I have made, I love reminiscing on all the memories I’ve made with those who have come and went, and there is not one ounce of regret in my soul. I love the life I chose. Even though at times it wasn’t clear to me and I’ve had my fair share of hardships, this life is mine and mine alone. I never think what if, and there’s no doubt in my mind this is where I’m supposed to be right now.

My house is surrounded by so many photos. So many happy memories captured in a single shot. My house is decorated with family, friends, postcards, vacations, art, collectibles, everything that brings me joy. It’s a house filled with love. Just by looking at the photos on the wall is a family history lesson all on its own. My old wise ass is known for sharing all the stories, making sure people from our past don’t get forgotten.

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When I first got this writing prompt, I originally wanted to write about 1 daydream only. But my daydreams are forever changing, which is why I decided to share the most common daydreams I have. Even though the daydream changes, 1 theme remains true in all the scenarios – I’m happy, successful, giving back, and have my loved ones along for the ride. And I guess that captures the essence of what success means to me.

I’ve seen a shift in what I daydream about recently. In the past, a lot of my free time went to thinking up imaginary scenarios that stressed me out. What am I going to do with my life? What if I don’t get X done in X amount of time? What if I fail? What if I make the wrong move in life? Am I going to be successful? It seemed like even my daydreams stressed me out. But recently, I’ve been daydreaming positively. I’ve been more comfortable in knowing that things will come with time, and of course hard work. When I allow my mind to freely wander stress-free, I find myself subconsciously telling me what’s important to me and what I truly want out of life.

Valentine’s Day – Celebrate Love

When I was a kid, Valentine’s Day was definitely one of my favorite holidays. I don’t know if it’s because I grew up a hopeless romantic, or because the fact that Valentine’s Day is the day before my birthday. When Valentine’s Day things start selling at stores, that was my way of knowing that my birthday was just around the corner. Valentine’s Day and my birthday went hand in hand. I loved love and I felt the love on each of my birthdays.

Growing up I thought Valentine’s Day was one of the most important days to show your significant other / crush how much they mean to you. I mean, it is the holiday of love. I dreamt of the day when a boy would surprise me with chocolate and flowers, confessing their love for me and worshiping the ground I walked on. Of course that’s the fairytale the media tries to feed you, and I gobbled that shit up as a kid. I was a hopeless romantic in my young adolescent years, and when feelings weren’t reciprocated, my ass would be emo as fuck. You know, young teen feeling like you’re forever in the friendzone.

I’ve had my fair share of cringe experiences regarding Valentine’s Day that I thought was the end of the world at the time. One of my best friends, Julie, will never let me forget that one Valentine’s Day in high school. We joke about it now, how it was the worst Valentine’s Day I’ve ever had, and how she was my emotional punching bag for a split second. (Love you, Julz.) And for a while, the magic of Valentine’s Day kind of faded away for me. It was definitely a mixture of growing up and realizing not everything is like the movies, but also not having the best luck in love. The holiday just wasn’t a big deal to me if I didn’t have someone to celebrate it with.

Valentine’s Day is sold to us as a day to celebrate romantic love with your significant other. You must shower your loved one with gifts, flowers, chocolate, dinner, and maybe even a social media shoutout or 2. The 14th of February is supposed to be romance all day, being totally infatuated with one another. And if it isn’t all the above, we are made to feel like the relationship is lacking, not real or genuine, or the feelings are not mutual. Are the expectations of Valentine’s Day ruining the holiday all together?

It seems like there are always 2 main types of Valentine’s Day people – the ones that are hopelessly in love and take the holiday very seriously, or the singles that dread the day because it reminds them that the are not paired up. We have taken a holiday that is meant to show and express love to only be meaningful if it is a romantic relationship. But there are so many more relationships than just romantic ones. And putting those unrealistic expectations on each other for Valentine’s Day can easily make the holiday a big disappointment.

When Christian and I had our first Valentine’s Day in 2015, I felt all that Valentine’s Day magic come back. He got me my first bouquet of flowers and we had our first real date together. It felt as though I finally got what I hoped for as a little girl – someone to spend Valentine’s Day with and do all the cliché date and gift exchanges. This Valentine’s Day will be mine and Christian’s 8th Valentine’s Day together. Clearly we have gotten to know each other very well over the last 7 years, and it has made me view Valentine’s Day in a completely different way as a result.

Christian and I still spend every single Valentine’s Day together, no matter what day it falls on. I can always expect flowers, chocolate, hot cheetos, and little gifts, accompanied by a dinner. But over the years I feel like we have made the holiday less of a “big deal,” and not in a bad way. We don’t need a specific day out of the year to tell us to appreciate each other, and be thankful for each other’s love. But the day is a great reminder to reflect on it. Sometimes when you’ve been with someone for so long, you forget to celebrate your love.

And since we have been together for so long, the holiday isn’t about gifts, or the dinners, or the flowers anymore. For me, Valentine’s Day is more of a reminder. It’s a day where I can acknowledge that I am not rainbows and sunshine all the time. That’s just reality and real life. Each person, whether that be a lover, friend, acquaintance, has their short comings and things they need to work on. There are definitely days where I am not easy to love. There are times when I’m a straight savage, my words hurt like daggers to the heart, and sometimes it may feel like we take 1 step forward and 10 more back. But Valentine’s Day is that reminder that even when I have my moments of being unlikeable, I still have someone who is sticking it out with me and genuinely loving me for me.

And that’s a beautiful thing – to confidently know that despite your differences, someone is willing to continuously love you through your many stages of growth. Throughout the years, we have definitely had our many ups and many downs. We have seen each other at our complete worst and best. We have got to know all the different parts and versions of each other. Though Valentine’s Day is just one day out of the whole year and can’t possibly contain all the love you have for a person or relationship, taking a day to just hangout together and acknowledge the love that is there is a great feeling. No pressure, no expectations, just mutual feelings of love. The holiday serves as a gentle nudge to take us out of our comfort zone and usual routines, even just for one day.

And Valentine’s Day shouldn’t be just limited to romantic relationships. Over the last couple of years, I’ve seen the holiday be more about love in general than romantic love. And that’s the same in my personal life as well. I started celebrating all aspects of my life where love flows. Love for my partner, friends, and family. I used to view Valentine’s Day as a day only meant to celebrate romantic relationships. But now, I am so grateful for my small circle and those I surround myself with, that the holiday is a lot more fun to celebrate when you broaden it to everyone you love in life.

I go about Valentine’s Day like a second Thanksgiving at this point. Just celebrating those I love and letting them know their friendship and place in my life is greatly appreciated. I hope all my readers feel the love especially today. Let today serve as a gentle reminder to be grateful and thankful for the ones that love you for you. For the ones that have seen you at your worst, know your flaws and shortcomings, but are still by your side.

You Versus You

You know that saying that says the only competition you have is versus yourself? That you shouldn’t compare yourself to others? That’s advice we all got since we were young. Even though, ironically, from the day we are born we’re being compared to others. But when does the comparisons and competition stop? How do we expect to not juxtapose ourselves to those around us when it’s all we know how to do?

Even as a baby, we were all constantly being checked up on to see if we reach the benchmarks to tell our parents what’s “normal” and what’s not – how much we weighed, how tall we were, what age we started to talk, walk, and so forth. Our growth and development was being compared to babies similar in age. That’s how they determined what was common and uncommon for that age group. It’s what’s expected the first couple of years of our lives. Of course, these benchmarks are put in place to help the child. It also helps doctors and parents detect if their little one need extra care / attention for any reason. It’s necessary to ensure the child’s development is on track.

The comparing continues into our early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescent years. Are we performing well academically, are we meeting the standards for our age, are we on track to success? A lot of these benchmarks are set up for the youth, who will later be young adults, to succeed. So don’t get me wrong, I totally understand why comparisons are necessary for important things like education, health, and a person’s well being. As a parent, teacher, and caregiver, you want to make sure that you are doing your part so your child doesn’t fall behind.

But we all know that competition and comparisons don’t just end at the necessary benchmarks to ensure a person’s welfare. Growing up, you could’ve gotten compared to your siblings, family friend’s kids, cousins, other classmates, and other peers. The competition and comparisons are not just limited to education and health. Appearance based comparisons, athletic comparisons, grade comparisons, having your weaknesses pointed out in parallel to someone else’s accomplishments, financial competition, and sometimes even just personal biases, could’ve been put on your shoulders at a young age. It instills the belief that we need to do better, be better, and always be the one in favor.

On the bright side, comparing ourselves or being compared to others can act as motivation to better ourselves and our current situation. As the cringe saying goes, “Let the haters be your motivators.” We try to push ourselves to reach our maximum potential, and sometimes, it takes seeing your peers putting in work and being successful to give you that push. Having someone compare you to someone else can fuel you to prove them wrong. For some, hearing someone tell them they can’t do something is all the motivation they need to give their all and make it happen.

Yes, comparisons and competition can have its pros, but it can also have its cons. When you grow up to believe that everyone is competition, you will constantly think that what you’re doing or where you’re at in life is never good enough. It’s the toxic motivation that will fuel you, but also destroy you. If you’re constantly using others to power your drive, you’re no longer doing it for yourself. You’ll look back and realize that your motives were charged by negative feelings that someone else instilled in you. And when you let negativity steer you in life, you’ll always be left unsatisfied.

I feel the focus of our competition changes as we maneuver through life’s many stages. For example, if you’re a child, it could be who’s the best runner, the best in a subject, who gets the best grades. When we’re teens, the competition seems to focus around outer appearance – competition between who is more attractive, who wears the nicest clothes, who’s the best in a sport, who is academically rising above the standard. Though what we’re comparing to others changes, the fact of the matter is: we go through our whole lives comparing and competing to be better than our peers and those around us.

But since we are taught to compare ourselves to others at such a young age, it only makes sense that everyone eventually compares themselves in other aspects of life as well. And I know that there will be some people that will try to flex and say that they have never compared themselves or felt like certain aspects of their lives were a competition. However, we all can agree that who ever claims that is 100% full of shit. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, as it’s something we all do. What’s important is how we outgrow the notion that everyone and life is a competition.

As I reached my young adulthood into the present, I started to see a shift in what things I thought was a competition. I knew my ass was full on adulting when who was prettier than me, skinnier than me, or had a nicer ass than me didn’t really get my insecurities jumping anymore. It was when I started keeping mental notes about who was successful in their career already, who was making moves and going for their dreams, who was on the road to becoming financially stable and well that had me realize I’m entering new competition territory.

Especially since we live in the age of social media, where everything is posted about, celebrated, and in our face, it’s hard to ignore. How do we expect ourselves to mind our own business, only worry about ourselves, and stay in our own lane when we’re literally addicted to platforms that are meant to share and show off? It’s crazy how different accounts and people we know can trigger different insecurities: our appearance, our health, our weight, where we live, what level of education you have, your stability, your job, your relationship, your relationship with your family, how happy you are, how confident you seem, the list goes on and fuckin on.

I fell victim to the endless comparisons that led me to constantly feel shitty about myself. I would genuinely feel happy for my peers when they posted accomplishments, great news, posted a new job, etc., so it’s not like I would be hating. However, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t reflect on my own accomplishments and where I was at in my life. You can’t help but look at yourself and make it about you – we’re human, we be selfish like that.

I feel like my view on comparing myself and my life to others I know in real life and on social media changed after I graduated college. I was on cloud 9 after I graduated, but if you read and keep up with my blog, you’ll know that that feeling was very short lived. My greatest accomplishment was graduating college. But after I graduated I got the post-grad blues hard. I was very quiet about my real feelings post-grad. If someone was wondering how I was doing just by looking through my social media, they’d probably think that I was living my best life because I earned my degree.

Clearly that was not the case. I was struggling to figure out what direction to take my life post-graduation. Prior to graduation, it already dawned on me that social media is fake as fuck, people only post what they want you to see, you’ll never see the bigger picture, and everyone – regardless of how hard you try not to – try to uphold a certain image of ourselves from what we post. That was old news to me, and I had even spent my whole writing career on the magazine focusing on those topics. That was my niche. And my post-grad confusion helped confirm those theories that I already knew to be true.

Post-graduation made me realize that everyone is just trying to find their own way – regardless of how happy you seem to be on social media. And maybe that happiness projected onto social media platforms are genuine happiness, but there will always be something someone is working through, working on, or thinking about. I saw people I graduated with go down a completely different route than me. Some went the traditional route, some went into something completely different entirely, some worked on independent projects, some are still figuring it out – and that’s okay. We are all simply trying to see what works for us. There is not just 1 path to success.

I guess what also helped me not compare myself to others is simply being confident in my choices. It sounds easy to do, but for me, being confident in what decisions I chose to take post-graduation was a challenge. I was so hesitant and afraid that I would be making the wrong move for my future, and truly couldn’t decide what I wanted to do with myself. In those moments, I did nothing and stayed stagnant. But there is definitely beauty in the struggle. In fact, that’s part of the reason why this blog was revived. I didn’t know what the fuck to do with my life, and it was getting overwhelming. I was over thinking it so hard that I started to get frustrated that my lack of confidence in my decisions had my life at a complete standstill.

I figured that reviving my blog and posting consistently is a small big step that I could do for nobody else but myself. And I’m grateful I did. A lot of decisions had to be made post-graduation, and I was tired of living in fear. I figured a wrong decision is better than no decision. I couldn’t just wait for shit to fall in my lap, because it wouldn’t, shit doesn’t work like that. I had to get the ball rolling to see results, and if it’s the wrong decision, then so be it. My road to success is my journey alone, no one else’s.

We’re all on our own journey. No two experiences are the same. What works for someone else may not work for another. Or it may work, but it’s not what you want. Everyone has their own preferences and own personal road blocks. It’s hard to retrain your brain to not see others as competition since it’s what’s innate for us to do. You can try to compare your reality to someone else’s, but you’ll never really know first hand all the work, dedication, and complications it took to get to that point.

In reality, your biggest competition is yourself. Whether that be silencing the self-doubt, trying to find inner-motivation to get what you want, or forcing yourself to do the small steps. Sometimes you can be your own worst enemy and #1 hater. Especially when you’re wasting your time comparing yourself to others. Yes, wasting time. It’s pointless to dwell on others and their accomplishments because they’re not you. No matter what, at the end of the day only you can change and direct your future. Nobody is going to come around and change your mindset, hand you opportunities, or do the work for you. So the sooner you realize that comparisons are the thief of joy is best. It’ll always be you vs. you.

When you realize that you are in competition with no one, that’s when you’ll start to flourish mentally. There’s no room for jealousy when you’re doing your own thing. And jealousy is such a consuming ugly feeling. It only breeds more negativity and self-hate. When you come to terms with the fact that everyone is just trying to figure it all out regardless of how successful they come off to be, you’ll see that everyone is working through their own forks in the road. And with that being said, instead of being your worst enemy, attempt to be your biggest cheerleader. It can be hard when all you know is negative self-talk, but negative self-talk will literally get you nowhere.

Understanding that no one’s life is picture perfect is such a humbling realization. It gives you the opportunity to allow yourself to just focus on you without pressure to out do anyone else. Because I’m focusing on myself, I am genuinely happy for those around me that are making it happen for themselves. I love seeing my friends, family, acquaintances, and even people I follow on social media that I don’t even know in real life, be successful. It’s an amazing feeling seeing other people go and get theirs, especially when it’s people close to me. Because I know first hand the personal struggle that goes into making your dream a reality.

I once knew a person that was so insecure that they thought everyone else’s accomplishment magnified their own lack of achievement. When it was time to clap for their friends’ success, they did so with bitterness in their heart. That’s something I never got – people being genuinely salty and offended when someone accomplishes something that they worked hard for. People that hype you can also be disguised as jealous haters. Haters not only hate you for getting / achieving what they want, but they also hate themselves for not making it happen.

We are all at different stages of life. Life isn’t a competition, even though it may feel like that sometimes. Your only competition is yourself. Only you will get in the way of your own success. Be happy for those that are finding genuine happiness in their own path. Clap for others when it is their turn, because your turn is coming up.

A Day I Tried To Forget

In the summer of 2007, my mom’s mom, Mama, was nearing the end of her life. By that point, she was in and out of the ICU, along with her husband, my Tatay Celso, who also had his fair share of health complications. Our family spent a great deal of time visiting Mama and Tatay every weekend for hours on end. Each family would bring food – little snacks like bread and other baked goods. We would be all gathered around their bedside picking at the food that each family brought. Multiple families crammed into those hospital rooms to visit at the same time. Before this, we met every Sunday at Mama’s house for lunch. Things were different with her and Tatay Celso in and out of the hospital. “Mama’s house” didn’t feel like Mama’s house without them there. So, we’d bring “Mama’s house” to them.

My family and my cousins would visit often, every Sunday to be exact. My little sister would bring her Nintendo DS to pass time. We would use the DS’s messaging feature to pretend that our Bratz dolls were “AIM-ing” each other (lmfaooo, what a sign of the times). We really had a whole scandalous story line and everything. My sister and I would spend so much time typing out each word with that damn stylist, send the message, pass the DS back to the other, and wait for the other’s reply. We had full on Bratz dolls conversations through one DS. That’s dedication… and boredom.

My aunts, uncles, and cousins would come regularly with us to visit, and we would basically occupy the waiting rooms if they were in the ICU, or their bedside when they were stable enough, or in the Convalescent homes they were in when they were recovering. Everyone would try to come around the same time, but each family left on their own time. No matter where Mama and Tatay Celso were transferred to, whether that be the hospital, ICU, in and out of Convalescent homes, our family was there.

When Mama and Tatay Celso weren’t in the same facility, we would divide our Sunday afternoon to make sure both were being visited. When someone is sick, we really do show up and show out for the ones we love. We roll deep in numbers and make it a family gathering, just like Sunday lunches at Mama’s house. They were never completely alone for long. Especially during the weekends, when everyone was off school and work. That’s when they had the majority of their visits.

However, Mama’s health was declining way before she was in and out of the hospital. It was emotionally exhausting to witness her health decline, slightly improve, then decline, slowly improve, and then decline again. It was like false hope each time. And at 12 years old, it was a lot to take in. I knew Mama had diabetes and that she was sick. But looking back, I didn’t realize how tedious her routine was due to her sickness.

I’d get off school and walk to Mama’s house Tuesday through Friday, waiting for my mom to get off work and pick us up. Everyday I’d see Mama on the couch watching TFC. I’d greet her with a “mano po” by picking up her hand and having her “bless” me by putting her hand to my forehead. This was my usual routine from preschool until 6th grade. When she was in and out of the hospital, it was weird to get off school and open the door to Mama’s house and not see her on the couch. With her health declining, I would open Mama’s front door and be greeted by an empty living room.

We were visiting so often that it felt like the hospital was our new stomping grounds. We were always there. There was always food. And we were always there for helllllllla long. It was routine for us at that point. We would go to 1 o’clock mass, and instead of heading straight to Mama’s house for lunch, like we did every Sunday since I was born up until that point, we would go pick up food to bring to the hospital. I remember this time specifically because it would soon become a day I regretted.

It was your typical Sunday, and this hangout at the hospital was no different than the others. My mom and my aunts were chatting it up with Mama as she laid on the hospital bed. By that point, we have been there for what seemed like a couple of hours. Don’t get me wrong, I liked visiting Mama because I knew throughout the week when all her kids were at work and us grandkids were at school, it can get pretty lonely. The weekends were the only time the whole family was available and could gather together since the weekdays were so hectic and busy. I knew that us visiting would make her day. So I knew the importance of visiting and that the quality time meant a lot to my mom. But we would stay for a looooooooong time.

At the time, my 12 year old self dreaded the extended hours, only because there was nothing for us to do. I didn’t have a phone, the TV didn’t have good channels, the chairs were uncomfortable, and don’t even get my started on the hospital smell. 1 hour was cool, 2 hours was chillin’, but longer than that, boredom started to kick in. And this particular visit, I hit my limit again. I was getting bored. My little sister, my dad, and I sat outside the hospital room where it was more open. I hinted to my dad, more so irritatingly suggested, that we should get going since we been there for a long time. I was over the DS and writing back and forth with my little sister. But, as all Filipino parents do, they tell their kids 5 more minutes, even though they know it won’t be 5 minutes.

I whined to my dad tirelessly for us to leave. I already knew that we would be there doing the same thing next week. Then, I would go to my mom and try to discreetly tell her we should get going. I was met with “yeah, yeah, yeah’s,” and being shooed away. Being a preteen, moody, with no phone, nothing to do, and just sitting there to pass time seemed like the hardest thing to do at the time. Looking back, I was definitely just a bored brat.

Like any typical Sunday visit, we left after a couple of hours, and we said bye to Mama, planning to see her again the week after. However, that’s not what happened. Unfortunately, her health declined and she ended up back in the ICU, where she remained until the day she passed. We never got to visit again. And that last visit haunted me for a long time. I felt so guilty, so selfish, so foolish for pushing to leave early that day, not knowing that it would be the last time I saw Mama fairly well and alive. That last visit I urged my parents to leave early because of my boredom, and even though they ignored my advances, I still felt guilty for wanting to leave. I was completely unaware that that would be my last visit to Mama.

I felt guilty for a long time. I was hard on myself years after the fact, and the regret was heavy on my conscious. I’ve come to terms with it now, 14 years later, knowing that I was literally just a kid who couldn’t have known what was to come. And now, I find myself trying to make up for it in different ways in the present day. I prioritize family events, especially when it was events for Tatay Jack or at his house when he was still alive. That’s part of the reason why I wanted to be so present and available when Tatay was living out the remainder of his final days. He was my last living grandparent, I didn’t want the same situation to repeat. I wanted to make up for my past by being present, showing up, and not being impatient.

Now as an adult, I see the importance of spending time and giving quality time. Your time is really all you can give. Now I understand that. That last visit with Mama has been a day in my life that I have tried to forget because I was so ashamed of my attitude and restlessness. I battled with myself and replayed that day in my head for a long time, wishing I could go back and change how I acted. That day really slapped me into reality and taught me the bittersweet lesson that you never know what the future holds.

Why Can’t I Enjoy the Process?

It started with LEGOs.

Yes, you read that right. Talking about building LEGOs is what led me to this blog post…

Christian has always been a LEGO lover. I joke around that he looks exactly like his mom, and I guess that his love of LEGOs is also something that he inherited from her. He comes from a LEGO loving family. He always got the sick ass sets growing up for birthdays and special occasions, and now that we are living together, he has taken it upon himself to finally cop some new LEGO sets.

I, on the other hand, did not grow up building LEGOs. In fact, I mentioned that my first LEGO set that was actually for me and not hand-me-downs, was a little 10-15 piece set that his mom got me in my Easter basket the first year we started dating. It was a Frozen Olaf set that was simple, but still cool to put together. It was something new to me, since I was more of a Bratz doll lover growing up. Of course, I had the big duplos to build, but I never knew what it was like to have a LEGO set that was supposed to be a specific thing.

LEGO building is a new-ish hobby we have picked up together, especially during the pandemic. I say “new-ish” because he’s been about that LEGO building life. He just revived his love for it by getting new sets, while I am fairly new to the game. Christian bought this medieval set that was over $150. I really couldn’t believe how pricey these sets could be! This specific set, to me atleast, had a lot of pages and pieces. The booklet is the size of a novel, and there’s about 15 pouches. Given that my ass only owned a 10-15 piece Olaf set, I was baffled. And honestly, overwhelmed as fuck.

We decided to divide the pouches up and take turns building. Everytime it was my turn, I felt under pressure to work fast and get all the pieces to fit right. It was like I was having a competition with myself in my head. When he was building his turn of the set, I asked if he felt anxiety or overwhelmed to just finish. I didn’t think that opening this can of worms would lead me down a train of thought that made me question and realize:

Why can’t I enjoy the process?

I asked him if he felt anxious to just get it all over with so he could just be done with the set, given that the book was huge and there were bags filled with little pieces. I explained that when I build my portion of a LEGO set, I feel like I’m constantly trying to turn the page and move onto the next step so I can complete my turn as soon as possible. I described the accomplished feeling of quickly looking at the graphic, getting the right piece, and completing a step. All the pieces fit together, everything in it’s designated spot, I’m getting it right, I’m moving along, I want to see the end result. So much so, that I’m not really taking the time to see my progress.

Go, go, go, next piece, *click*, *turn the page,* next piece, *click*….

It’s oddly satisfying to work fast and get it right. It’s something that you don’t have to think too much about. You just look at the picture, find the right piece, and put that shit on. I told him that I noticed I don’t really admire or even care to notice the progress of the LEGOs right before my eyes. And that’s because I’m so focused on seeing the finished product. It’s like I’m so focused on finishing and seeing the end result that I don’t care about the individual steps I have to take to complete it. All that mattered to me was what I saw at the end.

On top of that, I felt the need to work fast. I get overwhelmed with how many pieces are before me, that my mindset is to power through and get it done. The less pieces I saw before me, the more motivated I felt to keep going. It’s like that feeling when you’re waiting online for something to drop. The time clock is winding down and you’re excited, nervous, and anxious, knowing you have to work fast to get what you want. In the case of LEGO building, I try to work fast, not taking my time to appreciate how each individual piece and direction is all equally important to the final piece.

To my surprise, Christian told me that he didn’t feel that way when it came to LEGO building. He’s perfectly fine with working slow, appreciating how each piece fits with the other, analyzing how he started off with 1-5 LEGOs, and now it’s a whole ass stone building, etc. He saw the art in it, thinking how the designer of the set put it all together. He thought about what he would do differently, what he would add, what features his set would have if he were to design one. He simply didn’t relate with me feeling the need to be fast and work anxiously.

I was shocked because I didn’t even think what I asked was a loaded question until I realized he didn’t feel the same way as me. It made me reflect on why I felt the need to just see the end goal so fast. I realized that my mentality is not just limited to LEGO building, but to how I view life in general. I stayed quiet as Christian meticulously added to his foundation, analyzing the pages of instructions before him.

That was the same mentality I had with school – I just wanted to be done and have my degree already. I dreaded waking up early to go to class, I dreamt of the day where I wouldn’t have to turn in homework. But when I finally completed that goal, I was lost and had no idea what do with myself. When I was little and reading a ton of books from the school library (thank you Mrs. Volpe, those love stories were fire.), I’d get so impatient that I would always skip to the last page of the book. I’d read the last page and ruin it for myself because I just wanted to hurry up and know the ending already. I even find myself having that impatient mentality when it comes to things that I should enjoy / do for leisure. I have found myself in this scenario fairly often.

The “let’s just get this over with,” mentality is motivating yet harmful. It motives me to keep going, knowing that there is a goal to reach and steps to follow. However, I’m completely blindsided to the journey. I’m so focused on the end goal that I don’t appreciate the moments in between. I’m so guilty of having tunnel vision for the end result that I push myself and push myself until I’m at the finish line. And then what? Then I repeat the process with something else, stressing myself out the entire journey. I strive to complete a goal and make it an accomplishment, but never really enjoying how I got from point A to point Z. I have a habit of not appreciating or living fully in the moment. This is something I was fully aware of, but building a LEGO set reminded me of this personality trait of mine.

I guess LEGOs will do that to you sometimes. I went into it trying to build a cool set, and ended up giving myself a mini therapy session. But if I do say so myself, the end product was cool to see. I just wish I didn’t take all the fun out of it by anxiously trying to get it done. This new hobby made me realize that I will miss a lot of art and beauty along the way if I’m too busy trying to rush and get instant gratification.

I’m constantly stuck between “get shit done,” and “it’ll happen when it happens.” I’m the most motivated lazy person that you will ever meet. I struggle with fully being in the moment. My mind is always elsewhere, thinking of what else I need to complete, what is happening the next day, or what is a priority in the next coming months. I put a lot on my plate sometimes, and it can feel like I’m being pulled in a thousand different directions and not 1 thing gets my full undivided attention.

But the truth is, there will always be a new goal, a new idea, something that needs my attention, something that I have to work on – I just need to figure out my balance. I don’t want my goals and plans to consume me. As the cliché goes, I need to stop and smell the roses from time to time. This is another eye opener for me, that I need to be present and not thinking about everything that is to come. I need to celebrate the small victories and be more in the “now.” Forever working on enjoying the ride of life and not letting tunnel vision control me.