Often Zhan

1 minute read

I heard someone use the colloquialism “on paper” today. After repeating the phrase to myself several times, chewing on its meaning and implication, I’ve decided to reassign this word with the status of a low-tier swear word.

Its continued usage equates the term with something incompatible with reality. It implies that written resolutions, procedures, and theories can be fully and outrightly dismissed because they exist in a completely separate meta-physical plane to our own.

Even more sinister, “on paper” could mean that the very act of ink adhering to paper―through h-bonding, London dispersion, and/or other intermolecular forces―somehow discredits the symbolic thoughts and ideas that are contained within.

Bah, humbug! Rather than throw away the contents because they will never match with reality, take steps to refine the paperwork or create an opportunity to create documentation. If you ever hear me use that phrase in a serious manner, feel free to whip me with a wet noodle.

— Often

Often Zhan

4 minute read

Recently, I’ve decided to put much more effort in expressing my opinion (and disagreements) through short and concise letters. Most of my friends have not mentioned this change. My oldest brother has commented that my responses are “overly bureaucratic”.

Why I Respond Through Letters

Whatever the response, my continuing decision to “leave a paper-trail” by leaving a written response has been an intentional and calculated decision. Here are some of my reasons why I decided to spend time writing response letters:

People have to read my letter from beginning to end.

As a result, people are less likely to put words in my mouth or interrupt me when I am “speaking”. Also, it gives them time to read my letter carefully and deliberately in order to provide back a meaningful response.

People are held more accountable to their words.

When I started writing responses, I noticed that many of my friends who where once very vocal were much less responsive, even those who were much more articulate than me. While I do think that it is because they are more comfortable speaking than writing, a large part of their hesitancy is due to the increased seriousness of written ideas . People would be much more hesitant to carelessly say words if their words can be easily led back to a name and a face. Of course, the caveat is that my words will be carefully scrutinized. I am fine with that because my desire is to live a life of integrity. As in, I want all areas of my life―my words, my actions, and my beliefs―to be integrated. So, if I am wrong, then I am wrong, and I’ll own up to it. So, one of the primary purposes of my writing (as well as my actions) is to edify everyone around me.

Written responses convey that my opinionated response is intentional, serious, and rational.

My actions can seem ostensibly garrulous and impetuous. I admit it. Yet, that does not mean that ALL my ideas had no prior forethought. A short, concise letter shows my intent, regardless of my perceived personality.

I can take my write something articulate and succinct.

I am not an articulate person. Also, I’ve been in situations where people can talk circles around me. Writing a response give me time to level the playing field. I’ve been in situations were I know the other person is saying something blatantly false. Yet, at the time, I could not pinpoint the fallacy of their reasoning. This give me time to ruminate on what they said and provide a high-caliber response.

I’ve also struggled in one-on-one discussions because of the type of words that I use. I’ve had more people attack my words rather than the intent behind my words. In other situations, I felt like I was losing because I don’t sound “smart”. I believe both words and intent are important in a conversation, and my hope is that short and concise public letters can help mitigate that.

I can rehash my letter to frequent topics.

Oft, old arguments pop up again and again. By writing them down, I can begin to build a repository of arguments that I can send to others if the issue pops up again. It saves me time and energy.

Letters can be made into articles, posts, and books.

There have been so many times when I used a letter as an inspiration for a post. Sometimes, I even use the letter itself as the blog post.

Provide Opportunities for Conviction and Change.

I get annoyed when people argue for the sake of arguing. It is a waste of my time and energy that I could use elsewhere.

If the purpose of the conversation is to gain a common understanding and work together to fix or mitigate the problem, then lets phrase it that way. If it is to catch up on old times, then we should come into the conversation with that intent in mind. However, if we try to get “close to each others” by discussing things outside of our control or responsibility, more likely than not, the conversation ends up as gossip.

I am not saying, however, that all conversations have to have a clear intent or goal. If others want to do that, great! I’d probably excuse myself because I have responsibilities to do and as the saying goes “Time waits for no-one.”


Ultimately, writing response letters makes me responsible for my own words while also makes those involved in the conversation responsible for their own words as well. Letters forces people to slow down and think deliberately and rationally.

Best Wishes,

Often Zhan

2 minute read

I’ve changed the CMS of this website yet again. I tried to use a full database website like WordPress, but I just don’t like having this strange black box that I have no control over loom over this blog.

From your end, you probably won’t know the difference. But it matters to me!!!

I finally transitioned to a static website last weekend. Honestly, I could have used any static website generator. I just picked the first one I saw. I am using Hugo. It has everything that I want, and not too much of what I do not want. My brain has been rocking around the question of how I can access this blog from anywhere. Essentially, I needed a CMS. I could use git with add, commit, push, and pull system. Yet, I do not want to be reliant on a terminal to update my blog. For example, I want to be able to update my blog through my local library computer.

So here is my current system. (I think this is a keeper!)

I type out and publish through Forestry.io. Forestry then pushes my blog posts through Github which records every nuanced change. Finally, the site is auto-generated and deployed through Netlify. It’s a little complicated, yet I know every single step of the process.

I love how stable a database-less website is! I also love the markdown syntax language.

To make it easier for people to see how I created this blog, I have decided to open up my GitHub repository by the end of this year so you can see how how it is set up. (If I forget to do so, feel free to contact me to remind me.)


Often Zhan

2 minute read

This was an advice that was given to me by a friend, a mentor, and a colleague who I deeply respect: RY. I’m going to pass this advice along to you.

Christ said that he has come to bring life and life to the full. If you are a Christian, you should be living a full life. Yes, we should try to balance our schedules. But before we have that mentality, we need to have the perspective that we should have fulfillment in every area of our life. When serving our family, we should having the mentality of being full. In our workplace, we should be having the mentality of pursuing it fully. In our ministry, we should be pursuing it fully. Our goal is to have fullness of life.

When working in teams, we often have to find common grounds. Yet that’s not always true for us as an individual. Usually when we have a common ground, it is the lowest common denominator. It is not to fulfill everyone’s desires, but it is to accommodate. It is a way for people to move forward as a team. You need to figure out what are the things that you will not give into and what your are willing to ber. For me, if my Ministry takes away from my family (my responsibilities as a loving son or to my loving hopefully soon-to-be wife) then I will not be a part of it. If these responsibilities take away from my job as a teacher then I will not be a part of it. These are my personal convictions, and you should have those personal boundaries around your life too. So I encourage you to live a full life in all areas. Remember, this fullness in life can only happen through Christ.

I pray that through the power of the Holy Spirit, you will be more like Christ. I pray that God will bless you, and you will use that blessing to be a blessing to others and make a deep and lasting impact to anyone and everyone that you meet.

- Often

Often Zhan

4 minute read

This past year has been tough, but this was a year where God grew me. All the advice from everyone who invested in me began to sprout. I truly believe I am a better man because of all that I experienced and all that I had to overcome.

Here are some of the major paradigm shifts distilled into a few words that I learned this year that have changed how I live my day-to-day life:

Do not worry about what is out of my control.

Summary: There are many outside influences that directly impact my life, yet the ones that I should be concerned about are the ones that I can directly influence. I should not worry about the weather or slander against me. Rather, I should focus on my attitude and approach to any and every situation that comes in my life. How do I prepare for when rainy weather occurs? What should my response be if people are talking I’ll of me? Are they correct, even in part?


Everyday, I begin by saying, “Today is the best day of my life.” I begin each day with enthusiasm and with the intent to grow, learn, and appreciate whatever God throws at me. Many of my most life-changing moments were my mistakes, but only if I learned from them. When something truly sad happens, I should mourn, truly mourn. If I become sick or in pain, then I should find a way to use that “thorn in the side” as an opportunity to glorify God whether in public or in private.

Moral Dilemmas should not be confused with lack of communication or misunderstandings.

A moral dilemma is defined as a conflict between two moral principles. To decide whether-or-not to casually steal an expensive camera from an electronics store is not a moral dilemma. A moral dilemma could be when someone is deciding whether to kill one man to save a hundred. In less extreme terms, should a concerned employee tell a boss a rumor about a secret relationship that could potentially harm the company?

Half of Maturity is the development of Habits and Disciplines.

Habits are important. They take up around half of one’s day. They are the unconscious thoughts and decisions that our brain puts on “auto” so our mind can focus on other tasks.

We should build and strengthen our good habits; and we should minimize and remove our bad habits. Shouldn’t we want our habits to be working for us, not against us?

Podcasts and Audiobooks are amazing.

I am able to do other menial tasks while listening to audiobooks and podcasts. Also when I listened to deeply engaging audio books and podcasts, all my dirty laundry and dishes somehow ended up getting clean.

Writer’s Block is a Workflow Issue, not Mental Constipation

When you think of a creative person that you know of, the reason why that person seems creative is because he’s actually able to make his ideas a reality. Even if someone does not have many ideas, good ideas take time to expand upon, plan out, and complete. Imagination is only a small part of creativity. The ability to create something to completion is the true mark of a creative person.

Fullness, not Balance

Our mindset should not be balancing our life because that assumes that our work life, ministry life, family life, and social life are separate and at odds. Rather, we should be a person of integrity. We need integrate these areas of our lives together. Our mindset should be on fullness in all areas of our life. The only way that can be accomplished is through some sort of overlap between these areas. Also, we need a clear direction and strategic boundaries to ensure that we are not being overused.

This year had a lot of ups and downs. But that’s OK cause it led to today. And today is the best day of my life.

- Often

Often Zhan

2 minute read

Recently, I’ve been employing an amazing trick to help me keep secrets away from my significant other! This has been something that I’ve been struggling with for a very long time. It is very hard for me to NOT be honest. It’s also very hard for me to keep a secret. People called me an open book, but I am more like a binder that has fallen onto the floor spilling all of the loose leaf binder paper.

My secret is this: I have two journals. One is specifically designed to be given to Maybe when all the dust has settled. She can read about all of my stress at her own leisure. I also have another notebook secretly tucked away that she will read when I am dead. Or she can burn it. These are the “I don’t ever want to talk about this subject again.” topics.

There we go! I get to be completely secretive, but also I get to be completely honest and forthright. It’s only a matter of time! I’ve completely side-stepped “How” by placing it onto “When”. I’m ready for my Nobel Peace Prize now. And OH MY, I have so much juicy secrets. Frustrating secrets. This is a game-changer!

There is one caveat to this solution. I’m so enthusiastic in writing to old Maybe, I frequently think I’ve already discussed it with current Maybe. Oh well. That’s a risk I’m willing to take.


Often Zhan

2 minute read

Ever since reading a book on branding and working as a team on the leadership training program, I’ve decided to try to become more social-media active. The plan is not comprehensive by any measure. So far, the only thing I’ve done so far is sharing link—cat video, song, article…—to five additional people. I stop and think, “Who are 5 other people that think would like this link as well?” Then I share it to them as well.

Actually, I never knew how amazing the share button actually was! I’ve always equated share and send as the same word, but boy was I wrong. The share link from the app or website is usually optimized for social media. Also, I can “share” resources to my personal Google Keep, Email, and Pocket. This makes it much easier to store and collect information.

My recent upsurge of social media use has stirred mix reactions from friends and relatives. Here is a mix of reactions from people since I’ve started doing this:

  • What are you trying to tell me?
  • Was your Facebook hacked?
  • I love that song!
  • Ooh! I’ll be sure to watch that video later.
  • What is this?

And, these conversation has spurred on a long needed conversation from close friends who time has made slowly distant.

My next goal is to start using Twitter. Whenever I make a blog post, I’ll share it on Twitter and Facebook. (I know that was not the intent of Twitter, but HEY! It’s a start!) Somehow, I’ll slowly integrate Instagram into my social media workflow.

- Often

Often Zhan

1 minute read

I am not asking about “Love” the emotion, but “Love” the action.

I try to show “Love” by telling her about my stressful day. Allow her to share in my suffering. (Don’t ask me why. After writing it down, it does not make sense. I’m silly.)

For her, she shows “Love” by sharing with me her current financial plan including her brokerage accounts and daily food expenditures.

We are on two completely different wavelengths. So why am I still with her?

Because when those wavelengths sync… Oh! What a beautiful moment that is!!!

- Often

Often Zhan

1 minute read

After reading the Proximity Principle by Ken Coleman, one thing I’m trying to think about who are the type of people and I want to reach out to talk with so that I can become a better person. Who are the people that I’m interested in getting to know and learning from?

  • Leaders and entrepreneurs
  • Educators
  • Writers

While I want to become a better leader in Christian ministry, I think about I will not try to actively focus on pastors. Not because I do not admire them, but rather, my goal is not to become a clergyman.

I actually like Tim Ferris’ idea from Tribe of Mentors where he asks a wide array of people whom he highly respects very personal questions. I plan to implement this style of mentor-ship not only in ministry but also for myself

Often Zhan

2 minute read

It’s a strange time in my life right now: My house-mate is leaving; my brother did not make the Match program; I’ve been spend my waking hours focusing solely on work and ministry.

Maintaining Integrity

In the process of standing up for the truth, my decisions have led to the abrupt end of half of my friends whom I have invested in for the past 2 years. It even came to a point where someone texted me saying, “You are not my brother, period.” I feel sad that I lost friends. Lost comrades. However, I feel no guilt for maintaining my integrity and not succumbing to outside pressures especially in regards to the law.


Even though I am sad, I’ve made it a point to not drag everyone else down with me.

I just messaged May. I just told her that I love her and that she is beautiful. Just knowing that my words might put a little pep in her step makes me feel a better.

Once Spring Break starts, I’ll relax and focus on self-improvement and reflection. The situations that I got situated in over the past three months stretched me and but I became a better person as a result of these trials.

However, others felt hurt because of my actions. So, I ask for your prayers. May we forgive each other for any past sins or wrongdoings and work together as we pursue God.

Often Z.