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.”

The City That Never Sleeps

When I was in the first grade, I did a presentation about the one place in the entire world that I wanted to visit: New York City.  My mom took me the summer afterwards, and ever since then I have always felt a pull towards New York. There’s this unexplainable energy that I get whenever I am among the bustling crowds, seemingly endless skyscrapers, diverse foods and people, and energetic pace of the city. This past month, I went back to see my family. I had a lot of fun visiting some tourist spots in the area and wanted to share them.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

view from the one wtc

The first day my family spent in New York City, we had arrived early in the morning on a redeye flight from San Diego. Our first stop: Chelsea. Located in the lower westside of Manhattan, Chelsea is home to the High Line Park, Chelsea Market, Whitney Museum, and lots of cute shops and restaurants.

whitney museum.png

I wanted to highlight the Whitney because it’s a spot that I had never visited prior to this trip and I loved all the exhibits that were open. The museum features thousands of modern pieces from the 20th and 21st centuries, and represents a variety of art. My favorite exhibit was called “David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake At Night.” Wojnarowciz never stuck to one medium, with the Whitney’s website describing his art as “adopting a wide variety of techniques with an attitude of radical possibility.” He was queer and later diagnosed HIV-positive, and focused on the idea of the outsider for his subject. He became a huge advocate for people with AIDs, and his work demonstrates the difficulties of the late ’80s and ’90s with the AIDs crisis and culture wars.

view from the whitney

The hotel we stayed at was called The Empire Hotel, an upscale spot across the street from Lincoln Center. It was only a couple blocks away from the famous Central Park, and we decided to spend a day riding bikes on the six-mile path that goes around the entire park. It was an easy, hassle-free process; we rented bikes from a spot right outside the park and even got them to match the price of a cheaper place down the road.


view of central park facing the south side

It was a fairly overcast day, but it was humid. And the bike path is not easy. There are lots of turns, steep hills, and foot traffic on the path so it was difficult to navigate at times, but it was a lot of fun and was a great way to see the park. We stopped by the Strawberry Fields, which is an area that is dedicated to former Beatle John Lennon, and other spots like Sheep’s Meadow as well as the Bethesda Terrace.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

‘imagine’ mosaic in the strawberry fields

Having visited New York in the past, I saw the One WTC when they finished the water memorials that mark where the Twin Towers previously stood and when they built the museum underground as a memorial for 9/11. But I hadn’t seen the observation deck, so we decided to visit it on a relaxed day spent wandering around the city. It was expensive at around $30-40 per person, but was definitely worth it for the view.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

view from the one wtc observation deck

After stopping by the One WTC, my family and I decided to go to Brooklyn since it was nearby. After a 10-minute walk to the beginning of Brooklyn Bridge, we did what the typical tourist would and walked across. There were tons of other people so it was a little overwhelming but definitely a cool experience with the view of the Williamsburg Bridge to the left and the hustling car traffic underneath. The walk across took about 10-15 minutes.


the brooklyn bridge

After making it to Brooklyn, we went to the famous Grimaldi’s per recommendation of my relative for some classic New York pizza. It was really good. There was a line outside of the door and a bouncer ushering people inside when space opened up. But just down the street was Juliana’s, and we were curious about it so we searched it up. Apparently there is a huge debate in the area about which one is better. Juliana’s has 1,000+ reviews on Yelp with an average rating of 4.5 stars, while Grimaldi’s has 4,000+ reviews and 3.5 stars… so next time we’re in Brooklyn I need to try out Juliana’s and make the decision for myself!

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

one of the pizzas we ordered from grimaldi’s

On one of our last days in the city we visited the Met, also known as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We had visited the museum in the past, but it is HUGE. There are all kinds of exhibits and thousands of pieces that you can’t see everything in one day. And the museum knows it, so the ticket gives you admission for three days. I didn’t take many pictures here, but I wanted to the include the one below. We were walking around the sculpture by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux called “Ugolino and His Sons.” It’s a beautiful marble sculpture from the early 19th century. There was an older man sitting on a stool sketching it from a side view with charcoal. It was fascinating to watch and it was clear he was talented.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

These are some of the highlights from my New York trip last week. It’s my favorite place to visit and if you haven’t been already, I definitely recommend checking it out! There is a lot more to the city than what I’ve mentioned and it’s great because you get to encounter so many different walks of life by simply wandering around. I’ve still got New York on my mind…

Check out my NYC Instagram story highlight HERE to see more photos from my trip!

Communication is Everything

In theory, communication seems like a simple idea. It’s the basis for the connection between two people. But in reality, communication can be difficult. It can be complicated and confusing. It can bring people together or tear them apart. It can be the cultivation of ideas into something brilliant or be the wall that some people never scale together successfully.

Throughout my life, I have always prided myself on my great sense of empathy. I think of myself as a considerate person, and strive to be the person to put other people first. I try to take their feelings and emotions into account even if they may differ from my own.

I’ve realized that in order for me to be successful, I have to be confident in myself and who I am. But part of that is also realizing what I am not, and taking comfort in the fact that that I will always have areas to improve in order to continually become a better person for myself and my relationships with others.

I’m a typical overthinker. Whenever I have something important to share with someone, I run through a million scenarios in my head beforehand and get so nervous that sometimes I write down what I want to say before the conversation happens to sort out my thoughts. I recognize that the nervousness can be a good sign; it means that I am invested in the situation. But sometimes I think that it comes off as disingenuous. I go over what I want to say so many times and it becomes polished — too polished — and what I want to convey to the other person can get lost in the words.

I think that the most important component of good communication is transparency. Being clear with your thoughts and your feelings to another person is so important. That’s not to say you should always speak without a filter. It just means that you should be candid and honest while considering that the articulation of your words may affect the other person’s reaction. Ensuring that you are maintaining healthy communication with the people who mean the most to you requires effort.

I’m not perfect. Take what I say with a grain of salt, because the next person may have a different perspective to offer in terms of what they believe cultivates good communication. But that’s the beauty of it. We all react and learn and grow in our own ways, and communication is how you can bridge the gap between those differing characteristics. I believe that as long as you show that you’re well-intentioned and are truly trying your best, then you’re doing just fine.

A Proper Introduction: Discovering the Undiscovered

I’ve come to the realization that I don’t really have a proper introduction post to my blog. I started this website a while ago as a place to express my thoughts and have started to adhere to a consistent posting schedule, but have yet to create a post where I establish my purpose and my goals.

There’s many emotions that come with starting this blog. I’ve always aspired to find a place where I can share my deepest thoughts, express my opinions, and discuss my experiences through writing. Here, my options are limitless. No boundaries, no restrictions. Just me and my thoughts. I have the opportunity to write whatever I want whenever I want.

As a young person who has been brought up in this society – this chaotic, ever-changing, and sometimes polarizing society – I’ve always had an opinion. I’ve always wanted to say something, but I’ve never known where to start. As humans, we are ultimately working towards our truths and what really drives us to continue doing our best each and every day. Along the way, we may run into a few bumps in the road. The ups-and-downs of life can sometimes throw you a surprise. It’s always those unexpected situations, good or bad, that can put a person on the line and throw them onto a path of self-discovery and show them something new about themselves. And in order to figure out what life is to us, we must first discover who we are – what causes us to react with certain emotions and impulses to situations, and what makes us, us. Those are the moments I have always grown as a person, and I want to be able to share those moments on my blog.

Don’t get me wrong; it took a while to work up the courage to want to share those experiences to the public. I admire every person that’s able to do that without much hesitation. But once I got past my initial uncertainty, I saw how great this blog could become.

I haven’t even started my second year of college. I still need to live and discover myself. I still need to experience life. I need to go out, cram for exams, lose and make friends, and find out who I want to be when I grow up. I’m new to this experience. I’ve never written for a blog before and I’m not perfect. Maybe my opinions will be bias, too naïve, or against the majority. I’m okay with that, but I hope you will follow me and listen to me and be open to me. I always keep an open mind to others’ opinions, and I am always striving to learn more.

This blog is where I can share that with people who will listen to what I have to say, whether they agree or disagree, and create a space where we can learn from each other. And eventually I want to go beyond just sharing my opinions and my ideas. There are so many possibilities. Words are powerful, and I want to make an impact with my own.

📖 What Makes Life Worth it? | When Breath Becomes Air

Growing up, I was one of those kids that’d go to the library and check out a full stack of books, read them all in a week, and go back for more. In the midst of all those books were always the few that hit me hard. The ones with characters and stories that resonated so deeply with me that I empathized for them with my whole heart. Those books fostered my love for reading.

But now, reading is difficult. It is hard to sit down and indulge in books because I get distracted. With the ever-growing presence of technology, my attention span is much shorter than it was as a kid. Along with many others, I am guilty of holding onto books for far too long, claiming that “I’ll get to it when I have the time” even though I could definitely make the time.

That is why I wanted to create this series of posts on my blog specifically tailored to reading books. Eventually I want to expand to articles, essays, and other forms of writing, but for now my goal is to constantly be reading new books and writing about them on my blog. I want to open up and rediscover my love for reading, and encourage myself to constantly be taking in new works.


The first book I want to talk about is When Breath Becomes Air. It is written by the late Paul Kalanithi, a brilliant neurosurgeon, after being diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer and realizing that his time left to live is limited.

When I was loaned loaned me this book, it took me a long time to pick it up. But I’m glad I did. I won’t spoil the specific details of the book for you because you should read it for yourself. What is interesting about Kalanithi’s story is that he often struggles with questions regarding life and death, but in the context of what he describes as the intersection of biology, morality, literature, and philosophy.

Throughout the book, there is a constant theme of understanding death, grappling with it, and what it means to be in the face of it. Death had supposedly become familiar to him through his work treating patients as a neurosurgeon, but when he was forced to face it personally, it was unrecognizable. When he received his diagnosis, he was ready to die. He knew what was coming. But when his treatments started to work and he faced the prospect of living longer than he originally thought, his focus shifted to what sort of purpose his life would hold with an unknown amount of time left to live. Through his book you get to see how Kalanithi navigates what it means to live out his last years to the fullest that he possibly can, battling questions of having children or moving across the country away from his family’s support system for a dream job. He continually asks himself what the consequences of his decisions will mean for the people he leaves behind if in one, five, or ten years he won’t be alive.

Despite the sadness of the circumstances behind the book, what’s inspiring about it is that he never cowered in the face of death. Instead, he led a life full of integrity, love, and intelligence. It is clear that he was someone who thought so much outside of himself and had so much to give to others while still maintaining a level of self-awareness that made him the brilliant surgeon, scientist, husband, father, and person that he was. At one point during the book while contemplating whether to have a child, his wife asks him “Don’t you think that saying goodbye to a child would make your death more painful?” And he said, “Wouldn’t it be great if it did?”

I pride myself on being able to achieve a sense of awareness that tends to my ability to think of the bigger picture in terms of where my life is going, rather than getting too caught up in problems that won’t matter down the line. Even so, naturally I often find myself getting lost in my daily routines and stresses. I know that it is important to live in now, appreciate each moment, and not get too caught up in the future or the past, but what this book has shown me is that so much of what characterizes a fulfilling life is knowing that what you are doing in the now is going to contribute to an overall meaningful existence.

While Kalanithi was never able to finish the transcript for the book on his own, it paints a vivid picture of his life and the types of inner conflicts that he dealt with from a coming-of-age young adult to a powerful neurosurgeon to a helpless patient during his last years. He battles questions of spirituality, science, character, morality, and philosophy, and the relationship between doctor and patient. I highly recommend that you read this book. I could go on about how great it is, but it does not compare to reading Kalanithi’s words yourself.


Links to check out: