Help Me Celebrate My Five-Year Anniversary

by Edmond Lau

“I love your book!” the stranger shouted as he ran past me with his dog.

I smiled, feeling joy at the serendipity that appeared on my walk to the neighborhood coffeeshop. Most days, it’s easy to forget that I spent two years of my life bringing The Effective Engineer into existence, and the small interaction was a delightful reminder that the book continues to make its way through the world impacting people’s lives.

That interaction happened just a month ago, and it’s surprising how much has shifted since then. The world feels like it’s at war with an unseen force. Quarantines are being enforced around the globe to slow down the coronavirus. San Francisco just put in its own shelter-in-place orders this week.

I’m social distancing and staying at home, heading outside only for nature and for groceries — certainly not the circumstances that would support that type of serendipity today.

It’s in this global environment that I’m celebrating the five-year anniversary of self-publishing my book, The Effective Engineer — a book that I’m proud to share has sold over 12,000 copies since its inception.

A part of me hesitated on celebrating today, for two reasons — one personal and one coronavirus-related.

Struggling with Celebrating Success

The first reason for hesitating is personal. I’ve struggled with celebrating and sharing success for much of my life and have only recently started to make breakthroughs.

I got straight A’s in school, even through MIT, and had always felt isolated and alone from doing well academically. I was the guy who scored 157 on a biology exam graded out of 103 and would be called annoying for breaking the curve. And I’d feel guilty for succeeding. My mom would look down on other Asian tiger moms bragging about their children’s test scores or schools they got into — contributing to a feeling that it was wrong to celebrate success.

Those experiences, plus a deep desire to fit in and belong, created a belief that if I wanted to succeed, I had to do it quietly. It was as if I could succeed — but not too much.

And so, I didn’t hold a celebration for my book when it launched — despite feeling proud of the two years of energy I put in to make it happen.

I wanted to increase the reach and impact of my book — but I felt guilty and sheepish whenever I told friends about it.

I felt excited to be invited to give talks at tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Pinterest — but I would be uncomfortable letting my co-workers know, sometimes just telling them that I’d be out of the office for a few hours.

My intention this year is to root into a deeper sense of my purpose, and it’s become super clear that this historical behavior doesn’t serve who I want to be in the world.

For a while, I’ve been quiet on this newsletter. And that’s because after spending a decade learning about how to be an effective engineer, I’ve been heads down the past few years focusing on how we can be effective outside of the engineering arena — and in the rest of our lives.

One aspect is still work-related: What does it mean to be an effective leader at work? I started my company Co Leadership two years ago to focus on that question, and we’ve made huge strides in our ambitious dream to create the most effective leadership training for engineers.

But there’s so much more to life beyond just work. How do we effectively communicate our emotions? How do we effectively break out of people’s expectations of us so that we can create the lives we want to live rather than the ones we should be living? How do we effectively create deep and meaningful relationships — whether it’s at work, at home, with friends, or even romantically? How do we effectively discover our life’s purpose?

For the past few years, I’ve been diving deep on all these fronts — exploring and integrating modalities as wide-ranging as coaching, dance, embodiment, authentic relating, breathwork, tantra, and more. And being the engineer that I am, I’ve been developing frameworks to distill the essence of them — frameworks to bypass small talk, frameworks to create intimacy and trust in powerful moments, frameworks to break past limiting beliefs we hold about ourselves, frameworks for creating more freedom in our lives — and practicing and sharing them with the people in my life.

I know that I feel called to share everything that I’ve learned — and you’ll hear about some of it soon — so that we can all engineer the lives we want to live. And I know that owning my story and my success will be part of that journey.

And so today, I choose to celebrate.

Celebrating in Times of Darkness

The second reason for hesitating is the belief that it’s wrong to celebrate when there’s something big and bad and frightening happening in the world.

The world is being hit by a pandemic unlike anything that we’ve seen in our lifetimes.

People are being quarantined at home, schools and businesses are being forced to close, stock markets are crashing, and hospital systems even in first world countries are being overwhelmed.

I feel concern for the health of my friends and family. My parents own a family herb store in San Francisco Chinatown — where there is big elderly population — and while they’ve closed the physical store to customers, they’re still letting customers slip in prescription orders through the store’s locked gates so that they can continue to provide people the medicine they need.

I struggle to strike the balance between keeping myself responsibly and healthily informed without letting the news significantly impact my mood during the day.

I’ve been getting into — and moving through — more arguments with loved ones, with all the collective tension in the air.

And in these times, here’s what I know.

The tendency of conversations about COVID-19 is to instill scarcity instead of abundance, fear instead of hope, and uncertainty instead of groundedness.

And in these critical moments, we have a choice.

We can choose to get swept up by the panic and fear and let it consume our entire days. We can choose to lament the situation we’re in and let bad news taint the lens we use to view the beauty in our lives.

Or we can choose to live the fullest lives we can, given the reality of what’s happening. We can choose to grieve and acknowledge and feel the fear and pain that shows up and still choose to celebrate and appreciate what is.

In fact, it’s even more important during these times to find the joy and calmness and appreciation in the moments we can. I’ve been doing a morning ritual of taking a cold shower, warming my body through dance movement, and grounding myself through an active breathing meditation every day for the past three weeks — and it’s reset my body to freshly take on each day.

And so today, I choose to celebrate.

I choose to celebrate that in the past five years, I’ve sold way more copies than I had dreamt of for of a book that I wrote and self-published and even learned to lay out my own typography for.

I choose to celebrate quitting my job to become an entrepreneur who built the sales and marketing systems to turn the book into a financially successful business — the book actually earned more revenue in its first year than my startup salary at the time.

I choose to celebrate that I’ve contributed something to the world that continues to impact people five years later and to see it as a starting point for all that I want to create in the world.

And if you’re willing to celebrate with me, what’s one thing you’d choose to celebrate today? I’d love to hear it.


“A comprehensive tour of our industry's collective wisdom written with clarity.”

— Jack Heart, Engineering Manager at Asana

“Edmond managed to distill his decade of engineering experience into crystal-clear best practices.”

— Daniel Peng, Senior Staff Engineer at Google

“A comprehensive tour of our industry's collective wisdom written with clarity.”

— Jack Heart, Engineering Manager at Asana

“Edmond managed to distill his decade of engineering experience into crystal-clear best practices.”

— Daniel Peng, Senior Staff Engineer at Google

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