What’s the best moment of your life?

Have you ever asked yourself that before? It’s a powerful self-reflection exercise. In figuring out what makes a moment great for you, you learn a lot about yourself—your core values, and what drives you.

A couple of months ago, I did a “Zone of Genius” exercise with Brandon Lee – where I revisited eight of my best moments in life. (And thank you Ann Le for helping me think through this as well!)

I’d like to share one of those moments and what I’ve learned. 

Yishi’s best moment

June 2011. 

I was with three buddies. We had just graduated from college. We had a few months of vacation before our first jobs began, and we backpacked across Southeast Asia.

We rented scooters in Nha Trang, Vietnam. 

Then we cut inland and headed north along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

We were four American kids gallivanting along the supply route that enabled America’s disastrous defeat during the Vietnam War. The symbolism was not lost on me.

We rode slowly, stopping to enjoy the sights along the way, and soaking everything in. Over four days, we covered more than 400 miles on our way north to the imperial city of Hue.

There were no other Western tourists in sight. We were truly off the beaten path. 

The weather was perfect – low 80s with a gentle breeze. And the scenery was spectacular.

Sometimes great experiences pass by so quickly that you don’t get to enjoy them fully. 

This felt surreal, and I wanted to cherish it forever.

What made this experience special?

I’ve ridden scooters since then. I’ve seen these same friends since then. I’ve been to plenty of other beautiful places since then.

So what made June 2011 special?

It was because I felt like I had earned it.

I grew up in a middle-class, immigrant household. I had worked hard in college. I had landed a prestigious job that wouldn’t start for another month. This was true freedom.

There were no exams, no papers, no deliverables–no work to do. 

We had nothing to worry about. We were 21. Our careers were just about to begin. The whole world was ahead of us.

Only later did I realize that I had given myself permission to enjoy the freedom of the moment.

I’ve always pushed myself very hard from a career perspective. It takes a punishing toll at times. Like every one of us, I need breaks.

But I realize that I often have trouble giving myself permission to do so.

Often I feel guilty. And I fear complacency.

How can I relax when there is so much more I can be doing?

I’m trying to change the way I think. I’m trying to build new mental muscles. And I’m trying to train myself to be better at this:

I want to live more fully in the moment and enjoy life—without compromising my drive.

This is about self-awareness and emotional intelligence. There is a holistic, spiritual angle to this. And it requires a lot of work and practice.

How I’m working on myself holistically:

  • Coaching: I’ve written about how coaching and learning to coach others have greatly improved my emotional intelligence. 
  • Writing: The act of writing helps me think through things. You don’t need to publish a blog as I do. Journaling is an easy way to start.
  • Meditation: I’m just starting to get into meditation and improve my general mindfulness. And one of the central tenets of meditation is to focus on the present moment.
  • Religion: A while back, I read a book written by a pastor named Bob Goff. One of his key messages is: “Work on the things that are in your control, but trust God to handle the things that are not”. My take is that life is filled with things that you can’t control and unknowns you can’t predict, so we should generally worry less. I’m not a religious person, but this is pretty powerful stuff—getting permission from God himself to live more in the moment. And as I grow older, I understand the benefit and appeal of religion more than ever.

Final thoughts

Eleven years after that epic adventure in Vietnam, I’ve again taken an extended trip to reflect on things. I’m writing this from Bangalore, India, and I’ll be in Singapore starting tomorrow until March 29th.

During this trip, I spent time with one of my friends who hadn’t seen me in 2+ years. He told me that I seem a lot more relaxed now. That felt great as I’ve put a lot of effort into my personal growth and emotional well-being over the years.

I’m still learning to give myself permission and working on a host of other items. And it’s nice to disconnect for a bit.

In a few weeks, I’ll be settling down in San Francisco, after 5.5 years of being away from home. But of course, there will be many adventures to come. If you’d ever like to join me for the next one, or are ever in town, please do drop me a line!

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March 14th, 2022

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