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A Touchstone for 2021

Rather than setting a goal, vision board, or New Years resolution, consider choosing a single word to serve as a guidepost for 2021. This is the year of the Ranger for me. Care to join my adventure through the wilderness?

Choose One Word

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon Dr. Jason Fox’s idea of choosing a one word touchstone for the year. He says, “Goals are fine—but they only work in stable environments. If you’re training for a competition, go nuts. But if you are attempting to find meaningful progress amidst the complexities and ambiguities of life—you need a more infinite approach.”

Pandemic life is most definitely NOT a stable environment for me so I’m saying goodbye to SMART goals and New Years Resolutions. Instead, I’m saying hello to a one-word fuzzy contextual beacon for the year ahead.

This is the year of the Ranger for me.

Think Aragorn from Lord of the Rings -- guide through the wilderness, healer, keeper of nature’s wisdom, gifted tracker, gatherer of allies, and a hidden king.

Add a dash of Indiana Jones -- scholar, teacher, puzzle solver, defender of science and history against dark forces, and resilient survivor.

And of course there’s the ranger class from Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) -- adventuring wanderer, hunter, natural explorer, and fighter with just a hint of magic.

“Ranger” shall be my touchstone for the year. Did you know that the word touchstone refers to a piece of fine-grained dark stone like slate or schist that merchants used in olden days to determine the purity of gold? If you rub a 24 carat gold coin on a touchstone, it will leave a different characteristic streak than a 12 carat coin due to the unique mix of metals in each coin. This year, I will rub myself against my touchstone and ask myself, “Is this what a Ranger would do?” in order to stretch myself into some new and more authentic ways of being.

The image for this post is a minifigure that I ordered through Hero Forge months ago to play in the D&D adventure my son is leading for our game night group. She’s a Ranger named Indie Bones, an expert with a whip and longbow, a healer, a scientist, and the party’s guide through the jungle. This minifigure will be a physical manifestation of my touchstone through the year. Expect to see her in photos to come on my website and Facebook page.


“Sometimes you hear a voice through the door calling you,

As a fish out of water hears the waves . . . Come back. Come back.

This turning toward what you deeply love saves you.”

― Rumi

One of my biggest challenges is wanting to fit in. From second through eighth grade, I lived in Dallas, Texas. My best friend and I were the only two Asians in a very white, very privileged community. While I never feared for my life like the few black and brown kids at school, I was ruthlessly stereotyped, sometimes bullied, and regularly excluded. (See my friend Tutti’s brilliant article about the conflicts and contradictions of living with Asian privilege). In Dallas as the token Asian, it was okay for me to be the smart kid who loved science and earned A+'s, yet, I felt that I could not also be a vivacious, playful, adventurous, curious, community builder, do gooder.

I felt the most *me* at the geeky academic summer camp I attended each year where I could nerd out with physics or psychology classes in the day and play spades, watch Princess Bride, or organize games of assassin at night. After eighth grade, while I was packing up my room to move across the Pacific Ocean, I tucked a note into my jewlery box saying, “Don’t forget who you are. You aren’t just the studious kid who gets all the answers right on the test. You are also playful, adventurous, brave, and silly like at camp. You are great at making the world a better place. You aren’t afraid to try new things and create them for others. You are attractive. When you get to your new school, be who you are, all of it.”

Flash forward to today as I ease my way out of my role as a school administrator and embrace my growing role as a leadership coach and consultant. I still find myself trying to fit in. Despite my PhD in neuroscience, experience as a middle school teacher, years as a tenured professor teaching teachers, and more years as a charter school leader, I have neither a teaching credential nor administrative credential. In order to fit in amongst all the 'good old boy' superintendents in suits, I donned my most professional self and suppressed my playful, adventurous, geeky side. Add to that my strong desire to please the staff and parents, to mold myself into what they expected a school leader to be, and I became great at fitting in. I led two lives. My professional life at work and in public. My geeky nerd life at home with my family and game night friends.

If I say “Yes!” to being a Ranger this year, then that means I’m going to have to say “No” to my insecurity about fitting in. Ranger is unabashedly geeky. It represents the whole of me, both the professional scholar, teacher, scientist, and leader AND the D&D adventuring wanderer with just a hint of magic and fantasy.

In fact, Ranger as a theme is especially apropos because this is the year my family will embark on our long-planned gap year. For nearly two years now we have been saving and scheming to homeschool the kids through the 2021-22 school year while we travel. Originally we had planned to live for a month or more in the capital cities of the world’s great empires -- Rome, Beijing, London, Cairo, Istanbul. Now with the pandemic, our plans are much more fluid with dreams of taking our tent trailer through lots of National Parks in summer 2021 and hopes that other countries open up to tourists so we can still see the world. My Ranger will truly get to wander and explore.

Three Principles

“I encourage fellow Questers to identify three Principles to adopt for a year… If your Word serves as a kind of ‘North Star’, your Principles are like the constellations clustered around it. Your Principles are what you turn to when at a loss as to what to decide or do. Life dishes up plenty of perplexity, ambiguity, paradox and doubt in any given year… Your Principles ought be simple statements that evoke a certain quality of guidance, which in turn might influence the kinds of decisions you make in the year ahead.”

-- Dr. Jason Fox

My three principles are growth edges aligned to my touchstone.

  1. Hunters mark -- In D&D, this is the Ranger’s signature spell. This year, I shall practice using a hunter’s mindset. Stay present. Connect to my inner Jedi. I tend to live a lot in my head (I have a PhD after all) and neglect my emotions and intuition. I will put down my phone, my worries from the past, and to do list in the future. My goal is to live as fully as possible in the moment like a hunter. Tune into my senses, emotion, and intuition. Practice mindfulness. Simplify.

  2. Healing spirit -- I love that a Ranger is a healer. So many people in my community and in the world need healing right now. Thus, I intend to grow my empathy and compassion. Nurture my tribe. Serve selflessly. Lead from behind.

  3. Natural explorer -- This may be the most challenging of my principles. My tendency is to have all the answers, to jump into problem solving mode ASAP, and to always have a well formulated, meticulously planned goal in mind. I hate uncertainty and especially hate when the universe has something different in mind that demolishes my well-laid plans and beautiful goals. Thank you 2020 for the wake up call. In the year of the Ranger I will stay curious. Listen. Inquire. It was Frodo in the Lord of the Rings that had the straightforward goal of getting to Mount Doom -- Point A to Point B. Aragorn did not. As a ranger, he explored and took whichever winding path opened before him. He hunted orcs across the plains of Rohan when his friends were taken. He detoured through the Paths of the Dead when he needed allies of the most unlikely kind. For my own part, I will embrace adventure and the winding path. The gap year can still be a success even if we don’t check everything off the bucket list. My business can be a success even if I don’t make my income goal for the year. My mindset shall be simply to explore. When the universe throws a plot twist as it inevitably will, I will put on my Ranger hat and respond, “Sure universe, show me something good. Teach me something new. Let’s dance.”


The overall arc of my Ranger adventure shall be to simultaneously grow my business into something sustainable while creating lasting memories through our family gap year. Wherever we are in the world, I plan to work around four hours a day on California time with clients and leading workshops so that the rest of my day can be spent exploring and homeschooling. I’m quite excited about homeschooling in that I can use all my best teaching skills to co-create units aligned with the places we are visiting.

But that’s the larger adventure arc. I am contemplating a few first level starter quests for the first months of 2021 to kick off the new year:

  • Invite friends and family to let me know where they hope to travel and when so that I can align my gap year wanderings with theirs.

  • Practice mindfulness daily to hone my hunter’s mark.

  • Create a monthly book club for my tribe. How might a Ranger design a book club? Now that’s a fun question! The first book shall be Designing Your Work Life, by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. Care to join me? Details are in the “Going Further” section below.

  • Complete my training. Finish the last four classes of coaching school and assemble my portfolio to complete certification through the International Coaching Federation.

  • Focus on healing my tribe through leading Center for Mind Body Medicine small groups and by teaching lots of resilience workshops and classes. E-mail me if you are interested in a workshop for your team. I’m also thinking of releasing short little brain break videos on my Facebook page in interrupt your scroll for a moment of healing.

  • Get an Indiana Jones inspired hat. Let’s cosplay this Ranger thing so that I can literally “put on my Ranger hat” when I need to!

I see these starter quests as easy ways to practice Ranger-like habits and behaviors. These fulfilling, meaningful projects will get me started, and are just plain fun.

Help From My Allies

Please help me stay true to my Ranger touchstone.

If I’m having a conversation with you and jump too quickly into goal setting / problem solving / advice giving, please interrupt me. Remind me to stay curious and listen a little longer. Remind me that the Ranger’s path is winding and full of exploration.

If I’m on my phone or rattling off my to do list instead of being present with you, please hit pause. Remind me to stay in the moment, here, with you.

And if I am silencing a part of me to fit in instead of being authentic and true to my whole self, tell me what you observe. (“Hey, I’m noticing that you haven’t posted anything geeky lately. What’s up?”) Check in with me to see what’s going on.

Read more

Check out this video by Jason Fox on how to choose your one word. Or, if you want more guidance, he’s developed an inexpensive program called the Choose One Word Ritual of Becoming to guide you with lots of charm and humor. And if you want to announce your own one word touchstone to the world as I have, his Heralding your Word post walks you through the process.

Going Further

I miss having a book club. If you are looking for a group of bright-eyed do gooders out to make the world and themselves a little better through reading and discussing books together, with a touch of group coaching, then join me! The “Inquiring Minds Book Club” will meet 4-5 pm Pacific time via Zoom on the last Thursday of every month. The books will be broadly leadership, self-development, or science themed, but in keeping with the natural explorer principle, we’ll let the curiosity of those that choose to participate pick the next book.

That is, after we delve into Designing Your Work Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. I’m fascinated by the ideas they share about finding happiness at work through intentional design and prototyping. I gave it to a ton of people this holiday season. Plus, they’re from my alma mater Stanford so it’s gotta be good!

I plan to facilitate the conversation and tuck a little surprising adventure along with an element of magic and fun to each session. You are encouraged to bring an adult beverage should a potion of healing be needed at the end of your day.

I don’t believe a Ranger would jump from book to book too quickly. She’d explore, meditate, and allow the ideas to fully percolate into her being. Thus, let’s spend two months on each book so that we can discuss ideas the first month, then come back together to reflect more deeply with one another in month two. In between, we’d have time to try stuff out like mini-experiments, quests, quiet observations, side paths, or rabbit holes. Added bonus: you get two months to finish the book just in case life gets in the way of our best intentions.

No long-term commitment is expected. Join every month or just pop in for that one book you are dying to read.

Finally, this is a pay what it’s worth to you for the year offering. Might I suggest $20 a month ($240 for the year), but if finances are tight I would rather you join us for free than not come at all.

To Join: Get a ticket and the Zoom link on Eventbrite. Then join the private Facebook group to stay connected. I’ll announce the new book and send reminders via email, but discussion between meetings will take place via the Facebook group.

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