Yesterday on Thursday, March 1st, I turned 29 years old. Happy birthday to me! It’s my last year as a twenty-something and I wanted to celebrate by sharing random things about myself and reflect on life. Last year, I published a birthday celebratory piece on why I love life and want to keep this birthday post as a blog tradition. To give this a fun twist, I’m doing an A through Z category post about me. 

[A]spirations in life: Run a Boston Qualifier (BQ) marathon. That means I have to run a full marathon in under 3:35:00 at 8:12 per mile, which is insane. I want to get a full-time UX job and fully make my career transition. I’d love to be in a position to start thinking about managing and mentoring in UX! I’d also like to continue writing and get published. You can see all my other life goals here, along with my running goals for 2018. Finally, I still want that classic Burberry trench coat in red.

[B]ooks I love: The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Walden by Henry David Thoreau. The Undiscovered Self by Carl Jung. I have way too many favorite UX books to list – but if I must, some of my favorites include The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman, Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug, and Sprint by Jake Knapp. I’m also a huge sucker for Roald Dahl books.

[C]ountries I’ve been to: I was born in Japan, grew up in the United States, studied abroad in Ecuador for five months, worked in Vietnam for over two years and have traveled to Peru, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia. Fun fact: My blog has been viewed by people in over 80 countries. That’s insane to think about and probably more countries than I could visit in a lifetime!

[D]istances I’ve raced: Throughout my running career, I’ve done the 60 meter dash (indoor track), 100 meters, 200 meters, 400 meters in a 4×4 relay, 1 miler, 5K (3.1 miles), 4 miler, 8K (4.97 miles), 5 miler, 10K (6.2 miles), 15K (9.3 miles), 10 miler, half marathon, and full marathon. Favorite? As much as I love distance running, I love racing the 5K. It’s a perfect combination of testing my endurance and speed. I can’t wait to crush more races this year!

[E]ducation (highest): I studied at Soka University of America and graduated in 2011 (+ one more!) with a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts/Humanities. During my four years there, I ran Cross Country and Track & Field, traveled to Ecuador and Peru for courses, worked in the library and completed a thesis project among many other things. I’ve certainly thought about pursuing higher education but it’s not been a priority. Until then, I’ll be taking classes from Coursera and Udemy.

[F]ood I love: I eat a lot! That’s the reason why I run a lot. Some of my favorites include: sushi, hot pot, banh mi, pho, sundubu, ramen, onigiri. As you can see, I’m a huge fan of Asian food and proudly carb-load with rice and noodles. I used to live in Vietnam and the food there is amazing – I love it all! I also love Peruvian food. Green sauce makes my life complete. I’m also a sucker for In-N-Out burgers from the West Coast.

[G]adgets I can’t live without: My MacBook Pro, iPhone, Garmin watch, iPod Shuffle. I’m not really a gadget junkie but I love my electronics and usually prefer ones that have multiple functions in one device. I used to have the Amazon Echo but I couldn’t get the hang of interacting with Alexa – this SNL clip is a great depiction of how I felt.

[H]obbies: Of course, I love running and writing. In addition, I enjoy playing the guitar, reading books, and drawing. I’m trying to expand my palate and am interested in taking up photography – I already own a Nikon DSLR and it’s just a matter of using it. I love being an introvert but every now and then, I like mingling with the community.

[I]nsecurities and fears: A big personal insecurity is not having a runner’s body. The irony of this is that I’m more insecure and self-conscious of my body now that I’m an active runner, compared to the times I wasn’t running. I have a big fear of putting in hard work in the wrong places and not knowing whether my efforts will pay off in the future.

[J]obs I’ve had: Waitressing, supermarket cashier, math tutor, library assistant, non-profit intern, food delivery personnel, receptionist, ESL teacher, paralegal, freelance writer, UX designer. My dream job would be to do UX research for a company where people are at the heart of the work. Human behavior is fascinating to me and I’d love a job where “being humble” is the main responsibility. Eventually, I’d love to be able to call myself an entrepreneur.

[K]araoke songs: Naturally, as a Japanese person, karaoke is one of my favorite activities. Songs that I absolutely must sing are the entire Disney discography, 80’s upbeat classics, 90’s boy band songs, and contemporary hits. But ultimately, the songs don’t matter as much as the company and being surrounded by other wild friends who go all-out!

[L]earning: One lifetime isn’t enough to learn the things I want to learn. I want to get better at guitar and improve my singing so that jam sessions are more fun. I’d like to learn American Sign Language. I’ve always been fascinated with visual languages. I envy people who are great dancers and have wanted to learn hip hop and breakdancing but I need to build strength before trying that out. Finally, I’d be interested in picking up some programming and build really cool things.

[M]usical performances I’d like to see one day: Billy Joel (I’m going to see him in June at Madison Square Garden), Tony Bennett, Bryan Adams, Stevie Wonder, Elton John (I’m seeing him next March at the Barclay’s Center), The Eagles, Bruno Mars, among many. Live shows I’ve been to include: Enrique Iglesias, Jennifer Lopez, and Pitbull. I’ve also seen some iconic Japanese bands like B’z, L’Arc~en~Ciel, HY, and Ellegarden.

[N]Y State of Mind: I grew up in New York City and am proud to call myself a New Yorker. I love the diversity of this bustling city and how there is never a shortage of resources for anyone. I love the design community here. I also love being part of the NYC running community. Running the TCS NYC Marathon was probably the most iconic “New York” experience of my life.

[O]ldie characteristics: I’m often called an old soul. I like old school music. I like old school films too, though I’m not quite a movie junkie. People call me a typical auntie and I certainly act like one, especially with my obsession with Asian remedies. I still write handwritten letters. I enjoy quiet and calm activities. I enjoy my own company and am okay doing things alone, sometimes. I’m philosophical. Though, lucky for me, I don’t look old!

[P]eople I look up to: Runners and athletes who inspire me are Steve Prefontaine, Meb Keflezighi, Kathrine Switzer, Eliud Kipchoge, to name a few. My favorite musicians are Michael Jackson, Gene Kelly, Boyz II Men, Tony Bennett, Elton John, The Eagles, David Bowie, Billy Joel, among many. I have many designers I look up to in UX, too many to name.

[Q]uestions that blow my mind: I love philosophy so I’m always asking questions. It blows my mind that despite making advances in human existence, we still have so many unanswered questions. When we answer one question, a handful more come up. I’m fascinated with the quest to find a universal law of physics and if string theory is that answer. I’m fascinated by the quest to break the 2 hour marathon barrier (Kipchoge came extremely close in the Nike #Breaking2 campaign). I’m constantly questioning my own purpose and life mission. I’m just an endless well of questions, really!

[R]iri means: It’s a representation of the word, lyrical. My parents love music and words and wanted my name to represent what makes rhythm and language work together harmoniously. It has an alternative meaning, based on a Japanese word that translates to brave, commanding and awe-inspiring. I’m also named after the lily flower. And for people who generally have pronunciation issues, my name is synonymous to “really,” which explains why my teammates always say “Run Riri fast!

[S]hows I’ve been to: The first show I sat in was Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show in December 2016. Tony Bennett performed his classic, I Left My Heart in San Francisco and Denzel Washington made an appearance to talk about his film, Fences. In 2017, I saw Jimmy Kimmel in LA and NY! U2 gave an unforgettable performance in LA of I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. Howard Stern in NY was simply hilarious. In the future, I want to see Kimmel again – hoping to run the LA Marathon to see Cousin Sal. I also want to see Conan. And one day, I’d love to go see SNL!

[T]ravel plans for the future: This year, I’m going to Boston three times to complete the B.A.A. Distance Medley (April, June, and October) and volunteer at the Boston Marathon with the Dashing Whippets Running Team. I have a feeling that 90% of the traveling I do in the future will be around racing. I want to complete all the World Marathon Majors, which would give me the opportunity to travel to Chicago, Berlin, Tokyo, London, and when I qualify, Boston (again). I am also crossing my fingers to get an opportunity to travel to Seattle next February to attend the annual IxDA conference! I’m overdue for a trip back to Southeast Asia as well.

[U]X and why I love it: When I “discovered” UX as a potential career path in 2015, I immediately fell in love. Designing around UX (user experience) gives me an opportunity to use my skills to create value on a larger scale, using a framework that makes sense to me. I love that UX focuses on being human-centered because it allows me to utilize everything I learned as a humanities student while I was pursuing my undergraduate degree. Starting the transition was hard (and even harder to persist as I faced obstacles) but I can confidently say that chasing this dream career has been one of the most fulfilling endeavors!

[V]iews: I’ve had the privilege of seeing some breathtaking views. Ha Long Bay in Northern Vietnam was unforgettable. Quilotoa in Ecuador was captivating, especially after spending hours hiking up and into the volcano. Seeing Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia was stunning and I can only imagine how incredible the view is from the top. Luang Prabang of Laos in its entirety was amazing. But as much as I love exploring the world and seeing some awe-inspiring scenes, nothing beats the New York City skyline.

[W]ardrobe and accessory favorites: I’m a huge sucker for simple sheath dresses in neutral colors to wear year-round. I also love fit and flare dresses because they’re so flattering on my body. I love my red suede moto jacket. As for accessories, I wear a lot of stacking rings. It’s a problem. I have three pairs of signature shades: Aviators and Clubmasters by Ray-Ban and a soft cat-eye pair by Tom Ford. And finally, my perfume favorites are Tom Ford’s Tobacco Vanille and Cafe Rose. My go-to red lipstick is Tom Ford’s “Leonardo” shade. Okay, yes. I’m completely obsessed with Tom Ford.

[X]e may: The one and only vehicle I’ve owned was a Honda Air Blade motorbike, my “xe may,” in Vietnamese. I couldn’t get enough of how sexy my bike was. I felt like a total badass getting around Ho Chi Minh City with my Air Blade, while sporting my full-faced helmet and aviator shades. During my two years with the Air Blade, I explored many parts of the city and have had a few accidents too. But it’s always been a tough cookie and I hope that it’s still out there being taken care of.

[Y]abai, yoroshiku, and other Japanese words: This has to be one of my favorite Japanese slang words. The meaning ranges from “That’s so dangerous!” to “Holy crap, this is awesome!” Yoroshiku is also great because this expression is truly the hallmark of Japanese culture. It means everything like “Nice to meet you,” “Looking forward to working with you” and “Thank you for taking care of me.” I love that Japanese is one of those languages that cannot easily be translated – it’s beautiful because of how much context is required to fully understand it. I also really love otsukare sama and natsukashii as well.

[Z]odiac and more signs: I’m a pisces. My birthstone is aquamarine. I was born in the year of the snake. Apparently the March flower is a daffodil. I share my birthday with notable celebrities like Justin Bieber and Kesha.

This was such a fun way to reflect on the past years of my life and sharing some of my aspirations with you. I’ve lived 28 fulfilling years and am excited for many more to come. The best thing about life right now is how I’m constantly able to surprise myself, while also helping others realize their potential. It takes grit and persistence to get there but I wouldn’t want to live any other way.

Cheers,

Riri