Category: Dalaga Bytes

On Uniforms and Unnecessary Choices

I stumbled upon an article about why Mark Zuckerberg wears the same shirt every day. I didn’t expect the article to be very memorable, but his reasoning stood out:

I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community,” Zuckerberg said, after clarifying that he had “multiple same shirts.”

 He said even small decisions like choosing what to wear or what to eat for breakfast could be tiring and consume energy, and he didn’t want to waste any time on that….

“I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life.”

As an unabashed lover of all things silly and frivolous, I should be opposed to this kind of thinking. But I’m not. I agree now more than ever. Because I’m more than familiar with the sensation of wasting time due to “unnecessary” choices.

The choice paradox

The “choice paradox” has been extensively covered in pop psychology books. The name comes from Barry Schwartz’s Paradox of Choice but the phenomenon is also covered in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. Basically, choice — that magical, wonderful force that gives us the power to control our actions, assert our independence, and define ourselves — can have the opposite effect in excess. The more choices you have, the less likely you are to actually make a decision. Some of the studies in this interesting read even suggest that certain choices can even make us less happy. Less productive. Less focused.

As mentioned in the last Sunday Currently, I spent longer than I should have studying electric kettles online. Electric kettles all fulfill the same function — they boil water. But on Amazon, where you factor in price and customer reviews and material and performance, they might as well be different species entirely. If I’d just gone to the grocery shop down the road I probably would have been happy with whatever kettle they had in stock. Now I was rejecting kettles because they “boiled too loudly.”

This issue about unnecessary choice is separate but totally related to my relationship with Stuff: capital S, to represent all the clothing, makeup books, trinkets, and knickknacks I’ve acquired over the years and keep longer than I should. The article made me think about the unnecessary choices I make each day; if not unnecessary, then time consuming. And usually, the unnecessary choices directly correlate to the amount of Stuff involved.

It will take more than Facebook’s overlord to convince me that “what to eat for breakfast” is a frivolous choice…but for makeup and clothing? I could definitely reduce the amount of time I spend each morning indulging my vanity.

Same old, same old

Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with vanity. But it requires a patience with oneself that in me is depleting. I usually love getting ready slowly and leisurely, if time permits. Putting on a full face of makeup and deciding what to wear can be meditative — it’s one of my favorite times to daydream about stories and plots and whatever else. But nowadays I just reach for the same products over and over again.

A year ago I might have written about this as though it were a rut: “my makeup routine is uninspiring! I need a change!” But in fact, I’m kind of loving doing the same face every day — winged liner, NARS blush, whatever pinkish lipstick is close at hand — with the occasional bold lip for some *~adventure*~.

But that’s not enough: I want to Zuckerberg my wardrobe too! At least during the winter, when it’s too cold to care about what I’m wearing. I used to declutter my closet by eliminating similar pieces: “this black sweater looks a lot like this black sweater, so I’ll only keep one.” If only I’d known that duplicates indicate the formation of a personal style. Now I want a closet full of duplicates. Ideally all in black and white with the occasional print, but I live in the real world, not the pages of Kinfolk magazine, so it will never be so.

I used to care so much about what I wore every day. If you stopped by our Beauty Blog Sale back in December, you would have seen the ephemera of a past life filled with all manners of clothes – tight Alexander Wang dresses I wore twice, DVF shifts I wore never.

But that’s a topic for another post. I still care about clothes. I just don’t want to think about them as much.

The uniform


Adhering to a somewhat regular makeup and fashion “uniform” is one way I hope to reduce unnecessary choices in my life. Who knows if it will work — I’m trying to do this slowly, because I know that if I plunge into it balls to the wall, it will be harder to maintain over time (for example, Project Life was my 24/7 obsession for a week, and now it’s like…a lightly simmering interest).

Rather than be extreme and say, “I must burn everything in my closet and restock it with COS!” I will try to be even more prudent and exacting about clothing purchases. I’ll practice wearing a uniform with the existing items in my closet. At least for a season. Who knows how I’ll feel once it’s warm again and my desire to dress up outweighs my desire to comfortable.

Anyway, I sporadically update a Pinterest board called Everyday Minimalist Fashion with inspirational but easy-to-wear basics. (Distinguished from Minimalist Fashion because some minimalist outfits can be quite…avant garde), so if you like the style, feel free to check in! Or if you already have a similar board do send a link!

I don’t think I’m ready to adhere to a Capsule Wardrobe or something like Project 333 (where you can only wear 33 items with some exceptions), but for an example of someone who does it really well (and with a similarly streamlined style), do check out the Light by Coco Youtube channel. The link should take you to her “Capsule Wardrobe” playlist.

What do you think about the idea of eliminating unnecessary choices? Is spending too much time on makeup and clothes unnecessary? What is/would be your style uniform?

How You Look, What You Say, What You Do

I wish I could say that at (almost) 27, you begin to get a sense of the confidence and post-20s serenity promised to you in your 30s. Those who are in your 30s and over, feel free to laugh if totally untrue – it’s what we’re promised, okay?! I read it somewhere in a magazine.

However, before one attains that allegedly blessed state of enlightenment, one must grapple with a sudden surge of baser emotions: envy, insecurity, self-doubt, and all their ilk. I believe I’m at the tail end of my quarter-life crisis, when fragile goals — stripped of any early-20s grandeur — begin to take shape out of the mists of a befuddled mind. When you find that it’s general purposelessness, not the cubicle life, that disturbs you, and uncertainty has outstayed its welcome.

What follows now appears to be not immediate peace, but a intermediary sense of malaise. At (almost) 27, I ask: am I where I thought I would be? Am I doing relatively well compared to my peers? Does it matter if I’m not? Do I know where I’m going next? Does it matter if I don’t?

Based on the tone of this post I’m sure you can guess the answers. For a long time, though, my frustration and confusion was aggravated by what I’d see in online social networks. I tried to suppress envy at the accomplishments of my peers, and also those younger than me. It was an envy I attempted to exorcize before with tough love. It was an envy towards those who admitted their own envy, for the same reasons as I — a realization that should have exposed how silly this envy was to begin with!

But simply knowing that this dark, indesirable feeling dwelt inside couldn’t make it go away. Simply knowing that a staged life does not equal a perfect life doesn’t stop the yearning for a beautiful, unshakeable truth. For some people, their truth is in beauty. For others, it’s in their words. I slowly realized that to stop feeling envy, I had to find my own unshakeable truth. I had to define what mattered to most: how I look, what I say, or what I do.

How You Look

If you are in the first group, you’ve decided that appearances matter most in your life. Not just physical appearances, though it helps if you are beautiful — but the appearance of your possessions, your friends, your lifestyle. You Instagram your legs tangled in sheets, your moody selfies, your jetsetting ways. We are mere voyeurs, surfing the crests of your life to find some excitement into ours. You are destined for a magazine feature, and if you don’t get one, you’ll make your life look like one anyway. Life has handed you a great set of cards, and you handle them like a pro.

What You Say

If you are in the second group, you have the ability to inspire people into action with a powerful message. You words and posts are shared and re-shared because of how they cut down to some fundamental truth. You have a knack for snatching the common sentiment in the air and defining it so succinctly that people feel as if you are them. You have an urge to make sense of the world through words. Maybe you’ll host a conference. Maybe you’ll deliver a speech at a global summit. Regardless, you always know the right thing to say.

What You Do

If you are in the latter group, it’s your actions, not your face or your words, that matter. You’ll donate your time and money without a corresponding social media post. You have a fulfilling life offscreen and treasure the memories, not the likes. You work hard and know what to do with your time – FOMOs and YOLOs don’t concern you. You don’t need the validation of your network because the achievement itself is the reward. You are the unsung hero we never Tweet about.

That’s a little general.

Of course, no one is defined entirely by one of these. You might enjoy inspiring people with talks but you also use Instagram as a stunning catalog of your life. You might also talk the talk as well as you walk the walk. Then there are those who really care about doing, but want to look good doing it.

I don’t think any one of these is better than the other, objectively. They all have their benefits and disadvantages. Some require you to capitalize on things that may vanish – your looks, your wealth – or ask you to capitalize on your personal life. Your words might be used against you, and you have greater responsibility when you are asked to speak with authority. Finally, in a world that increasingly capitalizes on recognition and social endorsement, it can be hard to let your actions speak for yourself — and even harder to be content on your own terms, without being influenced by others’ demands or perceptions of you.

If you can be honest with yourself about what you really want, then you understand yourself better.  You understand other people more. And you learn to envy less. 

For example, I found out that I was envying people who fall into the first category, but it’s the category I want to emulate the least. Just consider me dazzled by beauty and amazing experiences. But this fascination turned into bemusement — and ultimately indignant frustration — towards what were obviously painstaking efforts to photograph themselves. How could people put themselves out there so much? How could they depend so heavily on the validation of strangers, that they would contort themselves in bed and drape their bodies over any brightly colored wall they could find?

(To those who are wondering at this point – well, why doesn’t she unfollow them? The truth is that I don’t follow them – or I unfollow the worst offenders. But you’ll find that those who fall in the first category tend to be the most rewarded, and thus more heavily featured in anything “curated.” If you spend a modicum of time online, they are impossible to avoid).

I’m trying to be as diplomatic as possible (lol) and as least judgmental as possible. After all, these people put in the work to look their best, and to live a lifestyle attuned to their beliefs. I know that for some people — though many more will use it as an excuse for full-blown narcissism — their visual aesthetic is a part of their creative expression. Or it’s their art. Or it’s their literal livelihood. If that works for them, and if they reap the rewards of how they look, why not? It is obviously not what I am capable of, or what care about (except for my makeup selfies, let’s be honest. Those will never go away).

So, which one is it?

Between the remaining categories, I have learned to focus on the last one — what I do. Truthfully, I’ve talked too much and done too little all my life the past few years. I’m talking too much right now! Even as I type I hear accusations ringing in my ears: Who is this girl who thinks she’s got something to say, talking to people like she knows? I wish I could console with my writing as I’ve been consoled by the words of others, or that I could take all this rambling and spin it up to a Universal Truth, but I’m not there. I won’t be there for awhile.

“Doing” is a quiet, private task. Focusing on “doing” has relieved me of much of the anxiety I felt at other people’s accomplishments, and replaced it with the congratulations such things deserve. Unless that person is an asshole — then they’re getting nothing, not even a lump of coal in a wet sock. I just have to plug away, quietly and without bombastic announcements of My Grand Plans, day in and day out. Retracting just a little bit from the world made me realize that I’m more than happy to watch it go by.

Wait, this sounds familiar.

While others strain to find the perfect light with which to illuminate their lives, bide your time in the shadows. Skulk, if you must. Stay indoors, go offline, and be quiet. Embrace your anonymity, your obscurity, your unwashed hair. You have a lot of catching up to do, and the landscape that stretches out looks like quite a lonely place. But it is yours. What will you make of it?

This is the final paragraph from “Hater” – an article on envy I wrote for The Galvanizers that came to the exact same conclusion. How many repeat epiphanies can a person have?! But I believe truth isn’t something you pick up once and then understand forever. The ones that stick have to be drilled into you over and over again. My conviction is a shaky thing, and easily tested at every possible turn.

In Hater, I knew what the answer was, but I didn’t quite know how to get there. By reframing the issue and trying to be more understanding towards the objects of my envy, I was able to let a lot of that pettiness go.

This is not to say I’m completely free of doubt now. In fact, grad school has introduced me to so many driven, amazing people with clear goals, and people with not-as-clear goals but a laissez-faire disposition that makes everything seem okay. Sometimes I get swayed by their confidence, their relentless ethic, their steadfast devotion to their own objectives. But most times, I’m able to snap out of it and remember that their goals are not my goals. Though we’re taking the same course, we’re on entirely different paths.

What do you want to be known for? How you look, what you say, or what you do? Here’s another way of looking at it. A good friend once told me that people are driven by one of three forces: power, affiliation, or achievement. The nicest thing she ever said was that she could tell I was driven by achievement. This was over a year ago. Today, I say: dear God, I hope she’s still right.

What about you?


Featured image (c) Bruna Schenkel, used under Creative Commons License (Attribution 2.0 Generic) 

8/30 NaBloPoMo

Chronic Bitchface


what you looking at, punk?

In the personality test given at a recent job interview, they asked me to pick what sounds more like me:

a) it is easy for others to get to know you

b) it takes a long time for others to get to know you

I am unequivocally the latter, and 80% of it is because of Chronic Bitch Face.

illustration by kristina of

illustration by kristina of

People with this condition know what it’s like. You may be walking down the street when a well-meaning but ultimately misguided stranger shouts, “Smile, honey!” even if you couldn’t be filled with more rainbow and sparkles inside. Or, “Lighten up!” or “Stop being so crabby!” Or you may have good friends who confess they weren’t sure about you at first. Or you know that people think you’re supplada – or sombong in Indonesian. In plain old English – a snob.

Someone once sneered “Good morning,” at me, taking my perma-frown as a personal affront. While I found that response extreme – um, the world does not owe you unicorns and sunshine greetings from strangers, you entitled parasite – I can’t really blame people for reacting to Chronic Bitchface the way they do.

Since people have not yet developed the capability to read minds, we react from the energies that others project. We make subconscious snap decisions based on expression, on body language, on behavior, and on our own prejudices whatever they may be. Also, I can’t be mad at those who react negatively to bitchface – at least people who are trying to get to know me and vice versa – when I do the same thing.

One of my best friends, now in Pakistan, has CBF like whoa. Getting past her icy exterior in college involved several lunches and one-word answers. “She’s kind of…standoffish?” people would say, with a shrug. Eventually I – and a ton of other people – discovered she wasn’t a snob. Just shy, introverted, and filled with a tendency to get lost in her own daydreams. Once you got to know her she was a goofball to the max, with a deep love of the Beatles and really abstract electronica. But at parties when you noticed her face settle into its default mask of indifference, you knew that she was getting deep in her own headspace and would be happy to stay there all night.


My bitchface is equal parts nature/nurture, combining my father’s features and my mother’s expressions. Actually, a lot of studies support the theory that facial expressions are genetic so perhaps it is mostly nature. We’re a family of [shy, awkward] daydreamers, and the above expressions are what my face takes on when I get lost in thought. Or when I think about food. Or when I’m comparing two eyeshadow palettes when I can only get one. Or when I’m looking at a camera and not smiling.

However, it’s also the face I take on when I’m thrown into a new situation. When there are a lot of people I don’t know. I suppose it’s sort of like armor for the shy – don’t let anyone see your fear or discomfort.

Sigh. How to deal?

Despite my belief that CBF is genetic, I don’t agree that it can’t be helped. At least, looking like a snob doesn’t give you reason or right to act like one. We of the dour faces should work doubly hard to overcome the snap judgments they cause – at least, we ought to try. Maybe that means going out of our way to be friendly. Or trying to smile more, or lift up the ends of our mouths to combat their natural downward droop. Or wearing something that makes us feel confident and happy, like a tent dress that allows for a full day of eating. (Tent dresses make me really happy yo.)

So if ever we should meet, and you think, “Wow, she looks miserable,” chances are it is likely just CBF. In this new old city I am always happy to meet new people. Even if I only show it on the inside.

And if you are a fellow CBF wearer, then I promise not to hold it against you.

(Unless you really are a snob. Because, the whole pushover thing, I’m working on that too.)