5 Questions with Lilly Chen

Lilly Chen is a Boston migrant who moved to San Francisco, before she quit her job as a product manager to travel Southeast Asia for a year. She loves reading and writing, and spends her spare time backpacking, snowboarding and weightlifting. She's also my brother-in-law's sister, so she's basically my sister. As the youngest in our families, we cause a lot of trouble together. You can follow her travels on Instagram at @lillyplanttravels.

1. What values and principles do you live by?

Being kind to myself and other people without a hidden agenda. This comes across not only in my actions but also my thinking. If I am critical of my own abilities or self, then how can I expect to be kind to others?

Keeping an open mind and being present in life. To me, this means listening deeply without letting my ego or preconceived notions of a person get in the way of understanding them. One of my worst fears is to walk through life like a zombie, conforming to expectations of me, not being present, and not giving as much as I can.

Honesty is another value of mine. I think it takes courage to be honest with myself and others especially when it’s inconvenient. For me, it was recognizing that the company I worked for wasn’t aligned with my values or initiating a difficult conversation with my coworker when our project wasn’t going well. I think being honest in the toughest of times builds character and teaches you to do more of the same.

2. What’s one area in your life you’re actively working on or looking to improve?

Cutting out the bullshit in my life and saying “no” more. I’m trying to live a more simple life, which is something I never really valued. I used to feel like I needed to keep busy all the time, but when I actually looked at the stuff I was spending my time on, it was all bullshit - things that weren’t helping me grow. I was operating under the assumption that I had infinite time and energy, like I was a super woman. After 30, I realized I’m human - I get tired, and I don’t have infinite time and energy. I have to say no to stuff so that I have time and energy into things I say ‘yes’ to. This has been hard because I’m a very curious and adventurous person, so I like saying yes to a lot.

3. What's one new positive habit you've started that has made a big impact on your life?

Start 1-5 minutes each morning sitting in silence focused on my breathing. Some call this practice meditation, but sometimes I fall asleep. I am trying to be more mindful in my life. I personally struggle with high anxiety and being mindful helps with my anxious thoughts. It forces me to pause and think, “Is this something I need to react to? Is this even important to me?” There’s a lot of things to worry about in life and I’d much rather be in a position of responding than reacting to the demands of life.

4. What is your biggest challenge when trying to be the best version of yourself, and what has helped you overcome it?

Turning off the inner critic in my mind. She is the one that judges me harshly and leads me to overthink and overanalyze. These are the thoughts that tell me that I’m not enough or not deserving of something.

To turn off that inner critic, I try to focus on the present moment. For example, when I am squatting 130 pounds, I only focus on the act of squatting and try to feel engage my muscles throughout the exercise. Squats are firing off my quads, glutes, core and back, so it’s a lot! It’s great because I’m not thinking about what I ate that day, or what I need to do when I get home or what happened at work. It feels incredibly empowering.

5. What products or resources do you recommend that have helped you get to this point?

Journaling. The physical act of writing is cathartic to me. I journal everyday - even if it’s about my worries or fears because it helps to get it out. On good days, I reflect on past decisions or brainstorm about some crazy ideas or goals I have. I also want to write a memoir about my tumultuous relationship with my mother and what lessons I’ve learned, so I often try to capture the most vivid memories I’ve had with her.

Therapy. There’s a stigma in our society about seeing a therapist for our mental health. But if someone says they’re going to see a personal trainer to improve their physical health, it’s seen as perfectly normal. Therapy is like a personal trainer for your mental health.

Less social media. If I don’t actively try to use less social media, I’ll mindlessly scroll through my feeds. I only tend to see snippets and the good parts of life. But life is made up of a bunch of tiny boring, repetitive moments. They aren’t always glamorous. If I’m constantly looking at social media, it disconnects me from real life because it’s so easy to get caught up in the superficiality.


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