Friday, August 17, 2012

My Brother the Champion: Taking a page from Kevin's book

This was supposed to go up back in May when it was Kevin's birthday, but better late than never right?! RIIIGHT?!?!

Meet Kevin.

Philadelphia vs. Buffalo
Orchard Park, NY

Springfield, PA

He is an all-around nice guy, graphic designer, occasional Flavor Flav impersonator, professional athlete, and best of all - he's my brother.

Talk about breaking the mold. 

He's been able to do this on several levels. It started in high school when he took his first graphic design class and loved it. Then he decided he not only liked graphic design, but he wanted to major in it in college. It took some convincing for my parents to get on board, but he did it and did it well.

Next. Ultimate frisbee (or just plain ultimate). He started the club team while studying at West Chester University and then took it to a whole new level. He was not only a serious player, but began to coach and then played for not one but two teams. 

After graduating with his degree he entered a difficult job market (stupid recession), but was able to support himself by working various jobs including: at a Volkswagon dealership, Starbucks, Wachovia (now Wells Fargo), and a couple sporting goods stores.

While he bounced from job to job the one constant thing in his life was ultimate. On any given week he would be doing something ultimate related at least 4-5 days. On weeknights you'd find him at the field practicing or coaching. On the weekends you'd find him at the field playing or coaching. He'd travel far and wide to attend all sorts of tournaments.

With all of this ultimate-ting our parents grew worried he had his priorities mixed up. After all, his bachelor's degree was in graphic design, not playing ultimate. And truth be told he had little time to dedicate to job searches and building his portfolio, but being involved with ultimate made him happy. It was his passion.

Fast forward to February of this year when he tells me about the Philadelphia Spinners which was going to be one of the teams in the first professional ultimate league called the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL). He then casually mentions that he was planning to try out for it! 

So in 40 degree weather on a February night he and 70 of his closest ultimate companions showed up to day-one of open tryouts. From 70 players they chose 35 for day number two and from 35 they named 23 to the active roster. Kevin was named one of the 23. Check out his profile and some great photos of him being airborne here (not taken by me).

First pay check from the Spinners!

I had never been more excited for him than when he told me he had made the team. It was then that I realized he had achieved a life long goal. Not bad achieving a life long goal at 26 years young! It really got me thinking.

It was especially thought provoking given where I am in my career search: still searching.  What is it that I am passionate about? What is it that I want? What's the practical decision versus the one that will make me happy? 

But the story doesn't stop there. Despite a great start to the season and finding himself on the front page of the Spinners website, Kevin later began to see less playing time towards the end of the season causing a lot of frustration. However, as a spectator you would never know it. He was always the first to high-five his teammates coming off the field and his Facebook and Twitter accounts conveyed nothing but positive statements and excitement. He's what you call a team player. 

National anthem during Philadelphia vs. Buffalo
Orchard Park, NY

While I know he wanted nothing more than to be out there for every point possible, his disappointment did not keep him from giving any less to the team. He was there for every practice, team commitment, and game. 

Kevin and the Spinners went 13-2 this inaugural season obtaining the best record in the league. This past Saturday they traveled to Detroit to play the Championship Game against the Indiana Alley Cats. Once again they came out on top beating them 29-22 which only means one thing. My brother is a champion. 

There is a well known quote from Conan O'Brien during his last show as the Late Night host on NBC that I love and feel is applicable to the situation:
"... please don't be cynical. I hate cynicism - it's my least favorite quality and it doesn't lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen."
Additionally, after years and years of being at jobs he did not care for and being turned down for ones he wanted, he interviewed and was offered a position at Buckman's Ski Shop as their head graphic designer. He tells me their offices look like a ski lodge and they have an office dog named Donny.

So Kevin, if you're reading this this is what I have to say to you: 
I have an immense amount of respect for you because day after day, year after year, despite the nagging of family, stress of not having a graphic design related job, as well as the stress of holding a job you did not enjoy, you never gave up on ultimate - the one thing you knew you loved. Choosing ultimate over job searches was never the practical decision, but it was the right decision for you at the time. I believe it is too often we give up the things we enjoy to do what is "right".
Regardless of disappointment from not getting enough time on the field or having the pick up the slack of another employee you kept a positive attitude which is arguably more difficult than any practice drill or lay out you would have to execute.
You have worked hard and mom always says she couldn't have picked a more appropriate Chinese name for you because not only are you kind, but you are gentle. There will be disappointments as there have been in the past, but just continue to work hard because amazing things will continue to happen for you.
I could not be more proud of you and am lucky to have you as my brother to look up to. I love you, buddy! :)

Third quarter during Philadelphia vs. Buffalo
Orchard Park, NY

Saturday, June 2, 2012


One of the services we offer is photo restoration. You bring us that totally beat up, bent, discolored, and perhaps even torn photo and we send it to a Photoshop expert to make it look like the original (sometimes even better).

George had been in the store about a month ago to pick up a photo restoration that we had completed for him. It was a photo of his grandfather. He was very happy with the result which was why I was surprised he had come back to the store with that same photo. 

Somewhere between scanning the original to the Photoshop people, getting it back, and printing, his grandfather's feet had been cropped ever so slightly. I called the company and they were willing to add on the cropped off portion at no additional cost. Great! My manager told me to just scan it in to our computer and send it as an attachment to them. No problem. 

Me: We'll give you a call when it is back.
G:   Ok great. You guys are going to take good care of it right?
Me: Of course we are!

About a half hour before closing I finally got around to scanning the photo. We have 2 scanners we use. One is a manual flat bed scanner while the other (a Kodak scanner) has rollers and feeds the photo(s) through. I decided to use the Kodak since it was already hooked up to our computer with internet access.

I pressed "Go" and what I saw was the top layer of the photo literally getting stripped by the rubber rollers pulling the photo through. The scanner was spitting out bits and pieces of the original photo George had left us. 

I wanted to DIE!

After screaming "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!! (in my head)" the next thing I wanted to do was hit "ctrl+z" to undo it all. When I realized that this man's photo was physically in pieces and I couldn't ctrl+z, I wanted to cry. After picking up my jaw off the floor I tried to salvage whatever pieces were left and put them all in one place. If there was anything positive about the situation it was that the feet we were going to add on to the restored photo miraculously were scanned. 

Not knowing what else to do I gathered the remaining pieces and placed them in one area and saved what had been scanned into the computer. I went home that night and upon consulting with AB we decided it would be best if I wrote an email to my manager explaining what had happened so he wouldn't be blind sided by it when he came in the next morning. I said I would take full responsibility for the mishap.

I then proceeded to sob into AB's shoulder as he reassured me it was going to be OK, it was an honest mistake, I wasn't going to be fired, and he was sure the customer would understand. 

I was not so optimistic about the situation. Even if the photo was restored to perfection I feel there is some kind of sentimental attachment to the original photo. How can anyone be understanding of a mishap like this?  

The next morning Mr. Manager took a look at the pile of photo, took a sip from his ice coffee, and uttered, "yep, that's pretty bad". Thankfully he's a bit of a Photoshop whiz himself. He took a large part of the morning to attach the feet on to the restored photo and then followed that up with some color correction. 

After he finished he walked over to me with the phone and said, "Now, you're going to have to call George and tell him what happened."

He proceeded to go over how I should tell him what happened, what we could offer in compensation, etc... It was actually a really good teaching moment and I was very grateful he didn't just hand me the phone and tell me "good luck!".

I called hoping to catch George on the phone so I could get it over and done with. *Ring, ring, ring, ring* nothing. I got the answering machine. I left a detailed message describing what had happened and encouraged him to call back and ask for me.

A few days passed with no word from him. I was in agony. Finally, on a Saturday afternoon he strolled in saying he was here to pick up a photo restoration. I ran to get his order, showed him the photo, and said, "We were able to complete the restoration."

G:   *looking at the photo* That's great!
Me: But did you listen to the whole message I left you?
G:   Oh I don't know. It was a few days ago. I don't remember these types of things.
Me: The original photo was damaged when we scanned it.
G:   Oh that's OK. It was damaged to begin with. That's why I brought it in to you guys.
Me:  No, I mean it's really, really, damaged. It's in pieces.
G:   Oh don't worry about it. It was my fault for leaving having it exposed to the sun for all those years and then I put it over the fireplace where the heat damaged it.
Me:  Oh my gosh. Thank you for understanding, but I just feel terrible!

And then an amazing thing happened. He touched my hand and said, "Look, you're Asian and I'm Italian. You understand the significance of our ancestors and what they mean to us. This is a photo of my grandfather. Between me and my family in Italy I was the only one with a photo of him. I was entrusted with the task of making sure this photo was salvaged and copies were made. All that matters is that we have a photo of him to remember him by."

The weight of the world had been taken off my shoulders. I wanted to hug him.

I don't know how many times it happens that the customer consoles the employee (I'm guessing never), but it happened to me. 

His compensation was just extra prints and he was very happy with that. I wish I could have done more for him, because I don't think he realizes what he did for me by being so understanding. 

If I were in his shoes and saw someone genuinely sorry for what happened I believe I would have reacted the same way he did. Perhaps it was just Karma being on my side that day.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

I Didn't Think I Cared

The thought paying a couple hundred dollars just to RENT a stupid oversized robe with a funny hat was impractical and unnecessary. However, I was unexpectedly overcome with a bit of sadness as I scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed seeing everyone's graduation photos and status updates. 

I didn't think I cared about dressing up in a blue and yellow robe, walking across a stage to get a piece of paper, and listening to some random speaker telling me how we're going to shape the future. But I guess I do. I really wish I was back in Rochester today with the rest of my lab mates that I started the 5+ year journey with. 

A part of me didn't think I deserved to celebrate graduating again. My parents had thrown me a really nice graduation party in December, I had already received gifts, hugs, and a plethora of congratulations. It also just didn't make sense for me to fly out East when I'm already going to be there at the end of June. But, being pragmatic is one thing and how you feel is another.

I don't know when I will learn that it's not always about being practical. Emotions aren't practical. 

Anyway, enough whining from me. Today is about celebrating. 

Being a part of this graduate class I know what an achievement today symbolized for many of us. It has been a lot of hard work, learning, lessons, stress, and staring at spectra or numbers that just don't make any sense. Whether it was perseverance, stubbornness, or a genuine interest in what we were doing we made it to the light at the end of the tunnel.

My sincerest congratulations to all my fellow lab mates that I now call my friends and everyone else celebrating graduation at any level :)

We did it!!

Thursday, April 26, 2012


I'm back! It's been a busy month (in a good way) having friends and family visit and AB was on a very easy going rotation. But everyone is back home and AB is back on his medicine rotation which means him coming home before 9 pm is a good day. 

At any rate, today we're talking pride.

The thought of working for minimum wage with a PhD degree during grad school was a sense of relief or even something I yearned. What I would have given to be able to show up, work my hours, and then go home. I would be compensated if I worked overtime, expectations and tasks would be obvious, and I could go home without bringing any baggage. I joked I would have been happier bagging groceries than running experiments at times. But was I really OK with that? Probably a classic case of the grass always being greener on the other side.

So how green was that grass because I've got my degree and I'm working below minimum wage + commission. I now show up to work when I'm assigned to and when I clock-out I am not expected to do much else other than make sure I show up when I'm supposed to again. Well, it's not that green. Maybe something like this as opposed to this. One thing I had not considered was my pride - which at the time I thought was non-existent.

I do not view myself as someone that gets my jollies from having a certain status or extra letters at the end of my name. Although, if I am honest with myself I would have to admit that I expect people to be some what impressed with my accomplishment and I feel I am a notch above the majority of the population for the same reason. I of course am very uncomfortable acknowledging this about myself.

Let's talk numbers for a moment. According to the Education Attainment portion of the 2011 census, only 3% of the population 25 and older have either a PhD, EdD, etc or professional degrees such as MD, JD, etc. If we don't include the professional degrees then we are only 1.5% of the population 25 and older. Those are small percentages! The numbers say I'm part of a pretty exclusive club. 

I understand that having this degree doesn't make me a better person or even necessarily smarter than others, but it does mean I have achieved something that not many others have. I lose sight of that (I was shocked it was only 1.5%) because I have been surrounded by people with advanced degrees. But back to the matter at hand. My pride. It exists and the numbers (although not necessary) justify it for me.

It has been difficult knowing I am working a job a high school student without a diploma could do. Not only that, but the employees there (most of them younger) are doing a better job than me. Here's this chick with a PhD that can barely work the register at times. It's also quite the change of pace when you go from being the expert on your project to knowing much less about the products they sell which also contributes to my feeling incompetent. 

The majority of customers walking in probably assume I'm in college (at best) and I am sure many don't even give me the time of day if there is an inkling that I may not know the answer to something. I so badly want to say, "I'm not an idiot I promise! I have a post-graduate degree! I'm part of the 1.5%"... ok maybe I'd leave that last one out.

I can't blame the customers for thinking that way though. I realize I too judge people or make assumptions about them even if I don't mean to or want to. 

Last week a customer came in to discuss digitally archiving her 50 scrapbooks and complimented me on my engagement ring which led to a discussion about AB and what he does and how we met. Her husband is a retired internist physician that had worked at Scripps, which is what AB is in line to do. Eventually I told her I had a PhD in chemistry (the first and only time I've ever relayed this information to a customer) and I could almost hear the respect growing inside her. At the beginning of the conversation she seemed weary of the amount of money she would need to spend and whether we could handle the task. Once she heard I had this degree it was as if she had this new found confidence in me and we instantly had another level of connection. She ended up being my biggest sale that day.

This job has been a change of pace in a lot of ways, but one I don't think I mentally prepared for was the lack of acknowledgment of my background. I've had to swallow my pride and tuck away Dr. Chiang as quickly as I attained that title. Ironically, what makes me feel better about myself nowadays is talking and being affiliated with chemistry.

The ACS Conference, an event where ~16,000 chemists congregate to eat and drink chemistry for a week, was in town a month ago. I went to take advantage of the career center and meet up with friends. Just being in the presence of other chemists made me feel like "oooh look at me with my ridiculously large badge and tacky lanyard. I'm special."

So despite my desire to run away from chemistry while I was in grad school, now that I'm no longer there I seek ways to affiliate myself with it again to increase my self-worth. The grass really is always greener.