📖 This is Water.

As humans, our views tend to be enduring. Rarely do our opinions shift. But every now and then I’ll stumble upon a piece that resonates with me so much that it makes me take a step back and really consider my outlook on everyday life.

It sounds dramatic. But then I read and watched David Foster Wallace’s 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College.  It was an assignment for school. At first, I grumbled words of dread at the idea of sitting through a long video. But as I listened, his words struck me. His commencement speech is not a typical one; he pokes fun at the conventional layout and clichés often brought up to a graduating class. He addresses the realities of life after college, when you are an adult and naturally fall into an everyday routine.

I highly recommend that you watch or listen to the entire speech. But what I wanted to focus on is the message behind one specific section:

If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable.

But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

Not that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.

What Wallace is saying here is that it’s easy to operate on a default setting. It’s easy to live with the belief that the world is supposed to cater to your needs and to your feelings, and anything hindering your progression through the day is an inconvenience. If you think about it, there is no experience in your life where you aren’t the absolute center of it. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you, but your own are immediate and real. This is our default setting, “hard-wired into our boards at birth.” But it’s rarely spoken about because it’s considered so abhorrent in a social context.

He uses the example of having to go to the supermarket after work. You’re tired after a long day, but forgot to get groceries earlier in the week. So now you’re standing in the check-out lane. And now there’s a lady screaming at her kid in front of you. Maybe you begin to feel impatient. In that situation, it’s easy to automatically become annoyed or frustrated. Because they are taking up your time by making you stand in this line longer than you feel is necessary, so now you can’t beat the evening traffic to go back to your home.

It requires little effort to take on this default setting that you are the center of the world when you are experiencing the mundane, frustrating, and boring parts of your adult life. But what Wallace emphasizes is you have no idea what people around you are experiencing in their lives. When you are aware enough, you can choose to look at these situations in a different light. Because maybe you are the one in their way. Maybe that lady is going through the worst imaginable experience in her life right now, and she’s yelling at her kid right now because it’s all bubbling up and coming out in that moment right in front of you.

Society promotes this mindset. Society pushes the idea of personal freedom, letting us, as Wallace puts it, “be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of creation.” But real, true freedom means having enough consciousness and awareness to choose how you construct meaning in your experiences.

So what kind of knowledge does it take to adjust your mindset in day-to-day life away from the default? He admits that this is a difficult thing to do. There are days when you won’t want to put in the effort and there are days when you just can’t. Wallace speaks to his own experience, saying that an academic education actually enables his tendency to over-intellectualize, and get lost in the “abstract argument in [his] head.” He misses what’s going on right in front of him.

But what I got out of his speech is that it’s important to just be aware when you are experiencing those kinds of days. Having the ability to remind yourself of the true realities that exist around you and the potential differences in perceptions between yourself and others is essential to living a meaningful life. I never considered that idea fully until hearing Wallace’s speech.


The phrase “This is water” from the title of the speech is part of an anecdote that Wallace begins with by telling a story about two fish.

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes ‘What the hell is water?’

The meaning behind this story drives Wallace’s point home. What it means to live with knowledge is to live with your eyes open and knowing what’s right in front of you. It means to live with discipline, awareness, and attention. It’s choosing what’s real and what’s essential. It’s reminding yourself “This is water.” It’s getting to choose what is meaningful to you, and understanding what it means to think. And it’s putting those ideas at the forefront of your daily consciousness.


In the Clouds

I’m on a cloud. It’s dawn. The sun is glowing radiantly, with its rays peering through the cracks in the clouds as if they are preparing to unveil a mystery that’s been waiting to be discovered. The clouds around me are reflections of the sun’s golden hues, combining to create a kaleidoscope of colors and signaling the beginning of a new day.

I am alone. I am laying down, hands resting at my sides and eyes pointed at the sky. I am paralyzed in awe, as if the sight in front of me is holding me down, insisting me to stay just one more minute. Forget your obligations. Forget your responsibilities. It feels like a trance or a dream.

Time seems to slow down. For a few moments, I believe everything and anything is possible. Suddenly, I see thousands of images flashing before my eyes. I see myself conquering every fear and every doubt I’ve ever had. I see myself accomplishing the impossible; I am unstoppable. At first, the person I see is unfamiliar. A stranger. But the more I watch, the more I recognize myself. This is me. I am an invincible dreamer up here, in this utopia that embodies my zenith. I am enveloped in warmth, feeling a surge of hopefulness, optimism, fearlessness. The sun beams down at me, shining so brightly that I fight the urge to look away.

But then I look down. I am staring down at the ground, where the force of people and nature together is controlled by reality. It is a reminder. At the basis and foundation of my hopefulness is a place where everything seems to go wrong, full of uncertainty and unrest. I shake my head. I don’t want to go back. But then I feel the warmth of the sun on my back. It reminds me that everything down there works out in an unexpected way. Down there, the beauty comes from within those who emerge from the chaos amidst the negativity and the confusion with their own unique and original thoughts, ideas, dreams, and desires. And the sun still shines, even on the days with the darkest of nights.

My head is in the clouds while my feet are on the ground. I am grounded by the people and the experiences that have shaped the story of my life, including the good and the bad. I am a dreamer, an optimist, a realist. These two places create the balance of how I react, grow, learn, and love.

Why I Lost My Inspiration

On Thursdays, I post. Every week for the past six weeks, I have made sure to have a piece written, an Instagram story scheduled, and a Facebook post drafted by 2PM. I have been proud of what I have been writing and have loved the feelings of happiness I get out of sharing it on my own personal website. All the work I put out is entirely my own, and that’s the best part about this endeavor that I started back in May.

And then I have these incredible moments. Moments when I am so invigorated by an intense desire to write that I can feel it building up inside of me, like I’m just bursting at the seams. And when I sit down with my laptop or journal open, it all just comes spilling out of me. I love those moments. But I know they aren’t consistent. They are not always going to show up on the dot when I want to write a post and have it ready by 2PM on Thursday.

I love spending time alone because that’s when I can think the clearest. That’s when I feel the most inspired because I get to hone into myself and my emotions. I become more aware of my surroundings and build a sense of self-awareness that only comes with spending time alone. But sometimes that becomes a rarity when I forget to prioritize myself. When I forget to do that, I neglect to take the time to sit back and check in with myself. Since coming back to San Luis Obispo after summer, my priorities and responsibilities have naturally changed, and that has exacerbated the problem. My focus has been all over the place. And as a result, my writing habits have suffered.

Let me explain. Before I started a blog, I kept journals. I had been writing down my thoughts in notebooks and journals and in phones for years. It was my way of reflecting, and every time I wrote my thoughts down, it gave me a sense of relief in being able to give up those thoughts and dreams and emotions and see them in front of me in a tangible form. It kept me centered.

Since starting my blog, that catharsis has been mixed with writing on my blog. It has been a place to let out my thoughts in the past. But because I have been caught up in my schedule and my blog is no longer my only focus, I have been guilty of neglecting to make time for myself. This has been building since I started working over the summer. But with the start of the school year and the inevitable chaos of my schedule, I have found myself losing the inspiration to write because it has become another thing to check off of my to-do list.

It’s important to live in the moment. But I have been living so much in each moment that I haven’t been looking outside of that, and that’s why I have lost the drive and inspiration to write that pushed me to make this blog in the first place.

Honestly, I wasn’t even aware of the extent of this issue until I sat down to write this post. Which just drives my point home. These ‘Thoughts” posts are a way for me to share what I’m thinking and how I’m feeling, and people seem like them because they get the most traffic on my blog.

If anything, I hope this post shows you that it’s normal to fall out of good habits. Everyone is guilty of it to some extent or another. It’s easy to neglect yourself and put other responsibilities first. But you are the best version of yourself only when you remember that, and make your self-care and wellbeing at the top of the list of your priorities.

Why My Expectations of College Were Wrong

There is a lot of anticipation that comes with going to college. You spend hours upon hours writing your essays for your applications, having endless conversations with family and friends about your future plans, and spending months waiting for your acceptance letters to arrive in the mail.

When I finally decided where I wanted to go and settled into the idea of attending Cal Poly, there was a sense of relief in knowing where I was heading. But over the summer prior to college, the nerves slowly but constantly built back up. I had many expectations for myself going into college. But when I got there, I quickly figured out the reality.

When I came to Cal Poly, I thought I was going to be a different person. A lot of people talk about having a fresh start when coming to college, and how that allows you to do whatever you want and be whoever you want. I had this misconstrued idea that going to college was automatically going to change me. I thought that simply being in San Luis Obispo was going to be enough.

But that’s not true. What really defines the first year of college is experiences. I only recently came to this conclusion after going back home for three months during summer. I realized how different of a person I had become after really immersing myself in my first year of college.

My fall quarter of my first year was relatively uneventful. I got acclimated to living in the dorms, made some new friends, and figured out how to navigate my way around the school. But going into winter quarter I knew that I wanted to branch out. Even though I knew it was going to make me uncomfortable and force me out of my bubble, I decided to rush for a business fraternity on campus: Alpha Kappa Psi.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but it quickly became one of the most defining experiences of my first year. Even during the week of rush, I learned a lot. I came on the first day to simply see what the fraternity was about, and it pulled me in. I went to every day of rush, and learned about building a professional profile. I started paying attention to my resume and my LinkedIn, and was introduced to the idea of networking by simply trying to form connections with the brothers of the fraternity.

Then during pledging, I became close friends with the other pledges as I learned how to maintain a balance between work and extracurriculars and figure out how to organize my priorities. It was the first place in college where I felt like I was committing all of my effort, and felt a huge personal investment into the process. On top of my other involvements with organizations on campus,  I was learning how I wanted to define myself as a student, friend, and aspiring professional.

Prior to college when people were telling me about starting anew and having a fresh start, I interpreted it in the wrong way. I thought that simply being in college was going to change me. And don’t get me wrong — naturally, it did by putting me in a new environment. But what evokes real change for yourself is learning what it means to put yourself out there. It means having experiences that introduce you to people and ideas that are different from what you’d normally surround yourself with.

I highly encourage you to take the time to figure out what that is for you. It won’t always be easy or automatic, and it might take a bit of trial and error. But when you find something that really challenges you and encourages you to grow, you’ll know.

Thanks Calvin Lin (@calvinlinphoto) for the featured photo!

ALSO — If you go to Cal Poly, Alpha Kappa Psi is having rush next week! Come check it out and meet the brothers. 🙂


How I Survive School: Staying Organized

Today is the first day of fall quarter this year at Cal Poly. Being back in San Luis Obispo brings me a sense of comfort now that the town is familiar and is considered my second home away from San Diego, where I am originally from. But it’s always difficult to get back into the routine of school after coming back from a long break. What has helped me ease the transition back to school is being organized.

Anyone that knows me personally is familiar with how crazy I am about organization. From my daily to-do lists and calendars to my colorful Google calendar, I like to have my priorities written down on multiple mediums to ensure I do not forget what I need to complete on any given day.

But being this detailed doesn’t work for everyone. I like the idea of having a structured schedule for each day. Organization can definitely be a little intimidating; it’s all about finding what works best for you in terms of staying on top of your responsibilities. However, I truly believe that implementing a couple of different habits in your daily routine can set you up for success in all academic, social, and personal aspects of your life. Take what you find valuable from this post and give each idea a try. It takes a bit of trial and error but you’ll find what works for you.


Every morning, I write down my schedule and to-do list. What’s important about this is that it holds me accountable for everything I want to accomplish on any given day. It keeps me on top of classes I have to attend, appointments I need to go to, and any tasks I should be working on. At the end of each day, I try to have each box next to the items in my to-do list checked off. If not, I mark it so I remember to add it to my list the following day.

I used to write it on my computer, but I have found that I prefer to carry around a physical notebook because I can add to it throughout the day if I prefer not to carry my computer around. Pictured below is how it looks in my notebook and how that would also look in the Notes app on my Macbook.


I never utilized Google calendar until I came to college, but since then it has become a lifesaver. I use it for academic, social, and personal events, but I use a different calendar for each one and assign them their own colors, as seen below.

To the left I have attached an image that shows each of the calendars and their corresponding colors. To the right, it shows what two days look like in my schedule this week. All my classes are in the lime green color, which is shown by the two that I have to attend today. My personal events are in pink and it shows that I am planning to go to the gym after class. My work events are in purple; I know that on Friday I have work from 12-2PM.

I like doing it this way because I can isolate certain events. For example, if I only want to look at my classes schedule then I’ll hide every single calendar except for “Classes,” which is shown in the lime green. What’s nice about Google calendar is that it can be as simple or as detailed as you wish.


In my opinion, the first two items are the most essential. They are the most cost-effective and the easiest to start. I would implement those as these next two are things I like to have, but that are probably unnecessary.

I also carry around a daily planner specifically for my school assignments. I usually pick up a cheap one from Target. It’s a similar idea to my daily to-do list and schedule (#1), but I use bulletpoints for any school assignments I need to complete that day and then asterisks for any school assignments or projects that I should be thinking about but aren’t due immediately.

I find this helpful because it keeps my school obligations separate from everything else. I am a student first, so this helps me prioritize my assignments and stay on top of my grades.



The last item that I use is a dry-erase calendar that hangs on the wall in my dorm. I usually don’t update this very often; it only has important dates on it. I would use this to keep track of exam days, birthdays, and bigger events. On a day-to-day basis, I usually take a quick glance at it to see what’s coming up during the month.

I like it because it’s a constant reminder of important dates that I want to keep track of during the year.

Those are the four methods that I use to stay organized during the school year. Usually during the summers or long breaks I don’t use any of this, but it is helpful to me during school because my schedule can get very busy.

Again, only take from this what you feel is helpful to you. Keeping track of my schedule and my to-do list lets me take a better look at how I’m balancing different aspects of my life and is a great reference if I need to look in the past and see when certain events took place. It has helped me be successful in my daily life and is the best way for me to hold myself accountable for my responsibilities, and it can be that way for you too if you take small steps to become more organized.



What I Learned Working Two Summers at Target

I recently finished my last day working at Target. I was a cashier, which means that I spent most of my eight-hour shifts on my feet, talking with guests and ensuring that their check-out experience was pleasant. I reported to my supervisors, coordinated with the other cashiers in the front lanes, and zoned the items in the front. I bagged items, talked about the Redcard, and made connections with the guests.

It was a straightforward job, and one that I applied for the summer during my senior year of high school as a means of income. I was simply looking for a place to earn extra cash for college. But I ended up developing a lot of valuable skills, gaining self-confidence, and learning simply what it means to be employed by a company. It was bittersweet clocking out for the last time and saying goodbye to my first job.

While the technical skills of the job were relatively simple — working the register, removing security tags, etc. — it was the sales aspect of the job that challenged me. As cashiers, we were trained to educate each guest that came through the front lanes about the Redcard, which was the credit or debit card that earned a guest 5% off on their purchases at Target. It was an integral part of the job, and its importance was stressed to me from the first day I started as a cashier.

Last year, the summer after my senior year of high school, I was shy. I had struggled a lot with my self-confidence and self-esteem during high school and that translated into my job, so much so that my supervisor actually talked to me about working on being confident. She told me that she knew I was aware of all the necessary information, but it was more about learning to be comfortable in presenting that information to guests.

That’s part of why I love writing so much. For me, writing makes articulation easier by allowing you to mull over your word choice and consider how it comes across before putting those words out for others to read. But a large part of being successful in any aspect of your life is learning how to be an eloquent public speaker and make lasting impressions on people face-to-face. That’s why if I had to say that I got anything out of being a cashier at Target, it would be learning how to be friendly, impressionable, and confident in order to drive the conversation towards selling the Redcard.

Another important aspect of the job was coordinating with other cashiers as well as the supervisors. Working in retail or any other job where you have to interact with a lot of different people, you oftentimes have guests who have problems that require your assistance. In the first few months of my job, I was calling over a supervisor several times during a shift to help me out. Of course, asking for help when you are new is to be expected and is something that you should not be afraid to do. But part of growing in my job was learning how to handle difficult situations on my own. Being knowledgeable of store policies and being able to think quickly on my feet were part of being proactive in my role as a colleague and employee at Target.

Working a first job is always a learning experience, and working at Target from the ages of 17 to 19 was a huge period of growth for me. I wholeheartedly believe that you truly only do gain what you put into any experience. It could have been a mundane job with shifts that dragged by each day, but I put my best into my job as a cashier and as a result attained valuable skills and made lasting connections with other employees that have set me up for success in the future. I highly encourage everyone to approach their own jobs with the same mindset as it allows you to turn any professional working experience into a growing experience.


check out my instagram @danielleemlee for updates about blog posts!


📖 The Book That Brought Me Back to Reading | The Lightkeepers

This is the book that got me back into reading. I read it for a final project during my senior year of high school and finished it in two weeks. After falling out of the habit of reading, I considered it a feat as it marked one of the only times during school I had read a book solely based on my own motivation.

I know I mentioned in a previous post that I wanted to read new books and there is a pile of books sitting next to me on my desk as a (tall) reminder. I probably should be indulging in new and unfamiliar books, but I couldn’t help but want to write about this part-mystery, part-psychological thriller.

the lightkeepers

Set on a dangerous archipelago in the Farallon Islands, The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni follows Miranda, a nature photographer that decides to spend a year capturing the landscape. The wildlife alone immediately puts her to the test when she’s swarmed by mice upon landing, proving that Southeast Farallon is indeed the most “rodent-dense place in the world.” If that weren’t enough, the water is treacherous and characterized by an alarming number of shark attacks, the bedrock is coming apart, and the water is so dangerous that ships can’t dock and instead have to lift Miranda in a net with a crane to get her ashore. But she’s not alone. She’s living in a cabin with a group of scientists who have been studying the island.

Shortly after her arrival, Miranda is assaulted. One of her colleagues is found dead a couple days later. The novel follows Miranda as she witnesses the natural wonders of this place, deepens her connections with the scientists, and deals with what has happened to her.

When more violence occurs, each member of the island falls under suspicion. The book maintains a level of tension that gradually increases with each twist and turn, and is narrated through the numerous letters that Miranda writes to her late mother.

“I wish you were here. I wish you were anywhere.”

(the beginning of one of miranda’s letters to her mother)

the lightkeepers farallon islands

(Wikimedia Commons)

The Farallon Islands are a real place (if you can believe it). 27 miles from San Francisco, the islands were dubbed “Islands of the Dead” by the Coast Miwok, an indigenous people that inhabited northern California. They islands have been protected as a National Wildlife Sanctuary since 1999, and the only people allowed are scientists who study the local wildlife. There is a long history of shipwrecks, ghosts, shark-infested waters, and egg wars. Yes, egg wars. The 1863 conflict named the “Egg War” was between two rival egging companies who claimed the right to collect eggs on the islands. These islands were fictionalized for the first time by Abby Geni in her book called (you guessed it) The Lightkeepers.


(Stacey Rozich, NY Times)

Miranda never settles in one place too long and is a frequent traveler. In the year she spends with the scientists, she gets to know them well. Mick studies the whales and seals on the island, and becomes a close friend of Miranda. Then there’s Forest and Galen: the shark specialists. Forest is quiet and reserved. Galen, an older man, is in charge of the operations on the island. Next is Andrew, who studies the birds on the island with Lucy, his lover. Quiet and menacing, he doesn’t seem to care much about the islands. Lucy constantly picks on Miranda. And finally there’s Charlene, the intern. Characterized by her red hair and bubbly personality, she spends a lot of time with Lucy. Throughout the book, the relationships between each of the scientists and Miranda are explored.

What I enjoyed about the book is that the animals are just as complex as the humans. She struggles with her role on the island with the animals. Is she an observer? A protector? An aggressor? From the gulls on the island described as killers to Miranda’s subsequent injury from petting a shark, the wildlife on the islands seem like something to fear. And Miranda does initially. But following her assault and the death of one of the scientists, she suddenly finds the beauty in her surroundings, almost as if she’s surrendered to it.

“The bats began to rise. It happened all at once, as though they had received a command. I could see them spiraling upward in a column of smoky gray. I watched the flock pour out through a broken window. Their numbers were enough to blacken the stars. They erased the moon.”


When I first picked this book up up, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it because it was different from the genres I typically read. But this book was so captivating and interesting. The way that Abby Geni writes just pulls you into the story. I ended up marking pages that I wanted to go back and reread. I highly reccomend this book to anyone who’s looking for something different, and a story that is mysterious and emotional and complex. And with that, I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Perhaps there were only two kinds of people in the world – the takers and the watchers – the plunderers and the protectors – the eggers and the lightkeepers.”