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On My Mind | January 2020

Florence, Italy

We’re (only or already?) a month into 2020 and I’m still unsure if January flew by or crawled to its end. I blame the confusion on the month’s flood of events that captured my attention. Between the USA’s conflict with Iran, global economy/Fed policy, Trump’s impeachment trial, the coronavirus outbreak and the tragic Los Angeles helicopter crash that killed 9 (including Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gigi) quite a bit has been on my mind. I don’t have the words to sum it up, but the other day I found some much needed levity in a tweet that suggested we try putting 2020 in a bag of rice.

On the court, our team continued to find its rhythm. We started January with a pair of losses. We fell a win short of our goal to qualify for Coppa Italia, but bounced back to end January invigorated. We handily won two consecutive games that showcased the team identity we’d only shown glimpses of up to this point in the season. Progress. If you’ve been around sports long enough, you’ve probably heard the saying that you “want to peak at the right time”. Just over halfway through the season we’re not there yet, but I like to think we’re heading in the right direction.

Outside of basketball, this month I was thankful for good company. One of my favorite parts of my job is the ability to share my experience abroad with others. I spend long stretches alone and it’s easy for me to entrench myself unchallenged in my routines and/or habits. It’s always nice having visitors that force you to mix it up. This not only leads to discovering new experiences, but sometimes, as I’ve learned, it also leads to deeper self assessment and changes in perspective. I’m always open to that.

Of note, I shared some short day trips to Florence and Venice and tracked down some good eats. Usually I’m too busy exploring and taking photos to worry about where I grab food. In my mind I like to think all is well as long as I eat right? But this time around I actually researched some places and when necessary, made reservations before leaving (imagine that!). I don’t regret it. Sometimes I guess it takes another person to help you draw the connection between your love for food and your ability to use Google. Consider those habits challenged. If you find yourself in Venice, grab a snack at Dal Moro’s near Piazza San Marco (if you know, you know). It was one of my favorite places when I lived there 5 years ago. If you’ve got a bit more time, make a reservation (there’s only nine tables) at Il Ridotto and try one of their tasting menus.

That’s it for the month recap on my end. However the month passed for you, I hope it was an encouraging start to the new year (whether or not your 2020 needs some time in a bag of rice). 

- JO



This is the first of what I’d like to be a monthly post. One of my favorite parts of the past year was reading. While I’ve always designed reading and learning into my lifestyle, 2019 was the first time I set a quantitative books goal. I wanted to read a new book every 1 to 2 weeks. I’m thankful to say I hit that goal, ending the year with 30 reads. Solid.

Jumping into 2020, I wanted to share more of that passion with you all. I receive quite a few questions on social media about the books I’m reading and I tend to share brief recaps on my Instagram profile. However, I think writing a monthly recap here will provide a better platform for organizing (and when necessary, expanding on) some of my thoughts from reading and provide some insight into why I picked up the book and perhaps why you might want to too.

Much of my inspiration for adopting this yearly reading challenge and sharing my reading list has come from a number of university classmates. One in particular, Sahil Bloom, simplifies his reviews in a wonderful monthly newsletter that I encourage you all to check out here. In these posts I’ll borrow from Sahil’s simple recap format and provide: (1) a brief rundown overviewing the book’s key ideas; (2) some thoughts about what I read; (3) a one line review and rating (1-5 scale); and (4) a fun fact garnered from the read that you probably didn’t know.

Reading is one of my favorite ways to continue learning and feeding my curiosity. When I have a deep, burning question or a newfound interest in a subject, my reaction is to read about it. I hope these posts not only give you some thematic insight to what’s on my mind, but more importantly, I hope they inspire you to pick up some more books as well. Of course if you have any recommendations for books or ways to improve these posts, please connect and share! Here are my two reads from January!

"The Art of Power" by Thich Nhat Hanh

The Rundown: Vietnamese Bhuddist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh redefines power and teaches us practical methods for incorporating it into our lives through faith, diligence, mindfulness, concentration and insight. In the process, he dissects socially normative standards of success, ambition, and happiness and reassembles them to align with principles of non-suffering. 

Some Thoughts: The time around the new year is primed for personal reflection and self assessment. After ending 2019 a bit disappointed by Hanh’s “The Miracle of Mindfulness,'' I decided to give him another try and start 2020 with this read (I actually purchased both books at the same time out of indecision). I enjoyed this book much more than the first as I found the information more practical/instructive and easily digestible.

This book made me think deeply about the methods by which we can control our thoughts and emotions. But perhaps more important, it opened some new perspectives on how we identify and source them. I also truly appreciated Hanh’s ability to extend the teachings and principles beyond the individual and connect them in broader contexts to the likes of business and the environment (two areas in which I’m also quite interested).  This is a fantastic and valuable read for anyone looking to recalibrate and navigate the “noise” we often encounter in life.

Review: A practical and valuable introduction to meditation and mindfulness. (5/5)

Did You Know?: Martin Luther King Jr. nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967.

The Rundown: Canadian-American journalist and activist Jane Jacobs reimagines American urban planning policy for the future. She critiques the 1950s male-dominated industry and diagnoses how the old paradigm is failing neighborhoods and cities across the country. She argues that a combination of four generators of diversity--primary mixed uses, small blocks, mixed ages of buildings and concentration of people--are the foundational components that determine a neighborhood’s success or failure.

Some Thoughts: I picked this book up to feed my interests in design, economics and urban planning. It was also a bit of a callback to my Stanford graduate studies in civil engineering. This was a longer read that required a bit of patience at points. Still, it was well worthwhile. In the first half of the book, Jacobs’ analysis of the social toolings of cities was simply fascinating. She zooms in starting her examination on sidewalks and parks before gradually working her way out to blocks and entire neighborhoods. It’s not until the second quarter of the book that she outlines her four generators of diversity which she argues are fundamental to the “death” and “life” of cities. By the end of the first half, we can picture cities as intricate living organisms. 

As the book moved into the second half and concentrated more on city economics, I realized how necessary it was to first understand how cities function on the most basic levels (streets and sidewalks) before diagnosing how to (for example, spend money to) fix them. When I opened this book, I realize I had a far too broad and formulaic idea of how cities were planned and designed. This is all too common and Jacobs dedicates an entire chapter to the pitfalls of using data to make wide sweeping policy. There are seldom quick fixes and Jacobs spends plenty of pages arguing why slower, organic growth (fostered by her four pillars of diversity) is much more beneficial to cities in the long run. 

While in the first half of the book I thought widely about my different city experiences around the world, during the second half I thought deeply about my experiences with San Francisco over the last decade. The affordable housing issues/homelessness, floods of money, and gentrification that have caused me to fall out of love with San Francisco over the last years speak directly to many of the points Jacobs argues. This read helped me better understand the systematic nature of how such issues intertwine. Sadly, this brings me to one of the most personally interesting aspects of the book; it was written in 1961 and yet many of the discussed failures of cities are ever present today in 2020. 

Review: You’ll never look at cities the same again. (5/5)

Did You Know?: Lenders began utilizing credit blacklist maps during the Great Depression. They are a harmful use of data that stifles growth by deeming a geographic area unworthy of investment. In a self fulfilling prophecy, otherwise creditworthy individuals in these areas are denied loans to improve their homes or businesses and are consequently motivated to leave. Unable to benefit from organic investment, the areas decline further, reaffirming the lenders’ original beliefs.

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