Lili Gangas Talks Human About How We Give Love and Be Loved

“To love each other, to give, feel and really be in it.”
— Lili Gangas

Lili Gangas sits down to talk human to me about being raised in Bolivia, our ability to give love and be loved, her relationship with her father and mother, dealing with anxiety, and balancing her life as an extrovert and introvert. If you have empathy for any of this, you'll connect with our conversation!

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Our Conversation with Lili Gangas

Jeffrey Shiau: [0:22] Alright, Lily, thank you so much for visiting and this is actually the first time we’ve met, we know mutual friend Christine Lai, so thank you Christine Lai for introducing.

Lili Gangas: [0:36] Christine!

[Laughter]

Jeffrey Shiau: [0:37] So I...there’s not much premise that I like to tell our guests before the show and I think we’re about to dive into that. So I like to start every episode of Talk Human To Me with what about humans strikes you the most?

Lili Gangas: [1:01] For me it’s the fact that no matter where we were born or how we were brought up, at the end of the day we have a beating heart and I think being able to have that common place where we all can...we’re here, we’re also animals, we’re part of this larger ecosystem. It’s that part of having that part of having a point of commonality of just of the basics of what life really means, it's part of what humans is like but then adding the second layer of empathy, being able to understand each other and wrap that around in a nice circle of love. I think love for me is the most...the thing that differentiates us from any animals, being able to love and give love. I think it’s one of the things that I love about being human.

Jeffrey Shiau: [1:54] Is this something you were raised to feel and always embody or did you have to learn this kind of growing up and start to understand and observe this with your friends or your colleagues?

Lili Gangas: [2:09] I think...I grew up in love. I’m very fortunate that my mom has been a very expressive mom since I was young. A hugger, a kisser and what’s interesting is she didn’t grow up that way. She grew up in a home where there was actually the opposite, where she didn’t have the stability that some of the other folks have. I grew up in Bolivia, so I was born in Bolivia, my mom was also born and bred in Bolivia but her mom was half German, half Spanish and so there are certain cultural areas there that I think for whatever reason, my grandmother didn’t express that much warmth and love when my mom was young and so when she grew older and she had my sister and I, that’s one of the things she wanted to make sure she changed. She wanted to make sure that we always felt loved, warmed since we were kids. For me it becomes something very natural now and in the workplace and within different areas with friends actually that’s been one of the things I keep getting feedback, ‘oh you’re so warm, you’re so welcoming’ and it’s one of those things, ‘oh thank you’ it feels great and it’s an innate type of feeling that anywhere I go I want to make sure I provide a sense of warmth as well and love and yeah it’s something that’s just been since I was a kid, thanks to my mom, thanks to my sister and i try to give that forward as well.

Jeffrey Shiau: [3:35] Do you ever find yourself, because I know a lot of folks who are so giving and they are so loving and they are always sharing that, do you ever find yourself almost forgetting about yourself and forgetting to channel love back to yourself maybe in moments that are just absolutely, just degrading, just absolutely crushing for you and then you forget and you kind of deflect it and continue to try to distribute love outward?

Lili Gangas: [4:09] Hmm, mhmm at sometimes growing up I think sometimes I did, I think sometimes in college I did feel that way, I think it as you were coming to an age type of feeling where sometimes where you have your failures like, ‘oh my god this can’t be happening’ type of areas where you...I did specifically at some point go through those cycles but I started to recognize it and I think from...it was during college when you like I did, I studied electrical engineering and it was so hard [laughs]...

Jeffrey Shiau: [4:37] [Laughs] 

Lili Gangas: [4:38] It was just so difficult, I was like what is this world. I didn't;t quite you know get it but I still push myself through it and that I was confusing the tough love with also not giving myself the opportunity to be more gentle and to be more understanding to myself and after a few years of trying to practice that more consciously because I did have those negative talks in my head like, ‘oh this is too hard you can't do it’ or, ‘you suck at it you should stop’. I definitely did go through those phases but it was thankfully to...again my mom. I remember calling her one night, I was like, ‘I don't think I can get through this’ and i was calling her crying, ‘I suck I don’t think...I’m not smart enough, I don't;t know’ and then my mom she’s like, ‘well number one stop crying and really about did you really give your all? Did you really prepare as much as you could have? And if you say no to any of those things, then you got to continue’. I think one of those things that from that call I remember that she specifically told me, ‘In this house we finish what we start’ and it also kind of kept in my head, I was always like, ‘So if I'm going to finish this how am i going to change my environment and myself and the way I’m talking to myself?’ It became more of an encourager and I think because going through those dark periods of not loving yourself enough to not having this encouragement from my mom who was always my source of love, right? Kind of reawaken that, ‘okay I have to love myself to get through this’. I think one of the parts that me the moment that it changed in my mind was when I traveled to...I did a study abroad over the summer to Madrid through the...my undergrad and that’s when I actually was in solitude and a lot of times even though I wonder when class meets, we were there, it was Spain, Spanish, I had part of my cultural background but I actually felt that solitude where I learned to be at peace with myself, being alone, being able to listen, being able to be more gentle and it goes back to that love part. When I came back that was...that was right around my junior year, when I came back senior year I just went through it as confidently as I could and that’s the part that shifted, that helped me get past certain fears and whenever I feel a sense of sensation that takes me back to that place I think about that experience to kind of just reset and talk to myself [inaudible] but yes I do talk to myself and I do give myself, you know those moments of encouragement to be understanding to be patient and to be honest with myself. 

Jeffrey Shiau: [7:32] So what was it about being alone? Can you describe that feeling? Because when you’re talking about it, it sounded like the moment of being alone was actually replenish and joyful in a way.

Lili Gangas: [7:48] Yes that’s spot on, I learned that I’m an introvert. I think a lot of times folks who see  me through my line of work and pass I’m always doing external facing discussions or events or what not but internally I realize that I am an introvert that i mostly get my energy from that solitude, where I’m able to start to observe and absorb all the things that have happened through the day or even have a time just to think things through and I also love that part of solitude...some of the travels that I’ve done afterwards after that undergrad year, I moved to Boston, to Cambridge for work for a year and so that was an experience of more of a year of solitude, even though I was there with a few co-workers I didn’t know anybody in the city. I wasn't able to make friends the way I make friends you know when I was living in LA and that moment was where being comfortable  to go to a restaurant, a nice restaurant, and have dinner with yourself, to me started becoming very natural and I enjoyed it and I actually really did I started enjoying going for long jogs, long walks to have being able to have the time of reflection and discussion  with myself and my thoughts and also just trying to...as being someone who's always been in tech and working on either hardware or software you’re always in front of a computer and those kinds of solitude moments where now I started a socializing with the external space gives me my sense of peace and replenishment.

Jeffrey Shiau: [9:38] So if you were to reflect back to your...to the beginning of your life in Bolivia, how...when did you leave Bolivia?

Lili Gangas: [9:47] When I was six and a half.

Jeffrey Shiau: [9:48] Six and a half?

Lili Gangas: [9:49] Mhmm.

Jeffrey Shiau: [9:50] Do you have really vivid memories? 

Lili Gangas: [9:51] Not really. there are some memories when I was a kid here and there but I went back when I was about fifteen, sixteen, I think when I was sixteen and when I was there I got to see it through a different lens...

Jeffrey Shiau: [10:04] Was it a short visit? 

Lili Gangas: [10:05] It was for a summer.

Jeffrey Shiau: [10:07] Okay.

Lili Gangas: [10:09] Yea I was able to see kind of the...it’s funny because where I stayed during that summer is where I grew up and so there were some memories that kind of came back more vividly because I was in the same space, but yeah.

Jeffrey Shiau: [10:24] If you were to reflect back now and this realization that you have a tendency towards introversion and I always like to, especially a lot of listeners they always think, ‘oh it’s just introvert or extrovert’ I think think there’s always a balance of both between people. For example, I also find energy in being alone and finding myself in my own thoughts but I can and like sometimes talking to groups of people and what not. If you were to reflect now, because it sounded like you were in such an active, thriving, loving family with your sister, right and did your mom raise you on her own? 

Lili Gangas: [11:06] Mhmm

Jeffrey Shiau: [11:07] Then so being with two strong women, did you...so you thought you were extroverted growing up but when you reflect back now you’re like, ‘the moments I almost thrived as a kid was these moments of silence’?

Lili Gangas: [11:26] Yeah I think...it’s interesting because to a degree when I was a kid I was more introverted, I was a shy kid.

Jeffrey Shiau: [11:32] Oh you were okay.

Lili Gangas: [11:33] Yes it’s when I started to get to more the teenage years and college years and then afterwards it’s like something in my head...something changed but I think going back to the point of the two strong women, I feel that my introvert and extrovert had to be balanced because my mom and my sister were super, super strong women and I always felt I was the moderator. So even though I might be comfortable in my own space, I was always...whenever they would argue or things where they would disagree, I would always kind of be the one trying to balance out a discussion. So that would force me to be more extrovert and to some degree as a moderator, you’re trying to time both of the interactions and so sometimes it felt draining, sometimes it felt like we had a positive discussion or outcome it felt more energizing so being able to have that makes definitely the introvert, extrovert. Even now it’s hard to say, I don’t think, you’re right, I don’t think there is one person that is like one or the other but as far as replenishing, getting energy, I still go back to, I still need to have some of that time alone. I don’t see it as being alone, more like solitude. I see solitude...now I see it as a profession in the types of work that I'm doing, so much more critical but yet it’s so much harder to carve out that time just to do that and now I’ve been seeing that...I’m trying to go back and protect a little bit more of my time to make sure I have more quiet time and maybe now one of the things I want to learn how to do is meditate. [Laughs] Being able to have some of those thoughts, controlling some of the breathing that kind of goes hand in hand to balance out my extrovert and introvert progression.

Jeffrey Shiau: [13:31] Do you feel like you have stress and anxiety or...

Lili Gangas: [13:35] So the anxiety and stress that I’ve been getting, is looking for what happening in the world, currently. I think of the...just before coming over here my heart has been heavy with what is happening in Syria. So I think that’s the anxiety the external factors and the line of work that I do which is trying to create pathways for folks to get access to education, to different career paths whether it’s in tech or entrepreneurship, it weighs heavy and sometimes you know even today I was thinking, ‘what is the work we are doing going forward, how is this..where does this fit into the grander picture given the current situation we are in?’. It’s hard, it’s really hard from that perspective and I think that anxiety and stress that I’ve been getting more and more as opposed to the past. I think that the current state that we are in is something that we cannot ignore but because of that I think more than ever, I think we need to, as individuals, a time to reflect because it’s easy to..you open the doors of Twitter and you be totally taken to a whole different place, good and bad. Same thing, so I’m trying to break some of those doors that are always calling you for this chatter that a lot of the time doesn’t really lead anywhere. So for me I think it’s important, just on the way here, i was really reflecting about what has been happening the last few days and it’s tough and I would say that that’s the external anxiety. As far as personal or like work, I’m very fortunate I get to enjoy what I do and I'm very passionate about it so more than anxiety and stress is excitement, it’s looking forward to things. Yeah as a...even as a day to day one of the areas of improvement that I want to do is to have more self care and going back to my mom she always sends me the reminders, ‘Did you sleep? Did you take your vitamins? Are you taking enough water?’ [Laughs]

Jeffrey Shiau: [15:45] Standard mom call

Lili Gangas: [15:46] Exactly. I’m like, ‘Thank you, I actually did forget to take my vitamins.’

[Laughs] 

Jeffrey Shiau: [15:55] So where...I think definitely a part of that came from your mother, this deep e,empathy because I don’t think it is common for...people feel sadness when they see any type of media with images like we saw this weekend. However there’s this deep sense of empathy the way you described it like during a walk you’re thinking about not just what you saw in the news, you were kind of describing almost like what can you do?

Lili Gangas: [16:34] Mhmm, mhmm.

Jeffrey Shiau: [16:36] Is that something that was from many teachers in your life or where’s that from? Is it something that’s deeply seeded obviously from your mother but I think there is almost an extra extension of empathy, the way you describe how you’re reacting to something like the news that just happened.

Lili Gangas: [16:58] Yeah I think it’s...that’s an interesting observation because I have to say from being  an introvert to some degree growing up, I’ve always been an observer, so listening, looking at how people are like their facial expressions. Sometimes my eyes tend to go to that, you now the body language tells you a lot about somebody and I think from being a young kid and observing that and as I got older naturally I got...I want to help folks, I think that’s one of the, I would say gifts, that my heart definitely goes into, ‘well how can I help, what do they need?’ As I’ve traveled, I’ve been very fortunate to travel to different parts of the world where I’ve seen some of the poorest regions ever to some of the richest and a lot of the times you can still sense that sometimes the folks that have nothing are sometimes the happiest because they have their love, they have their warmth and some of the ones that don't it’s the opposite. So for me being able to see a lot of those contrasts through travels, through work, through people e, is...somehow stays recorded in my head and with the serious situation I think it's very personal because I was actually brought up by my step dad who’s Syrian and so being able to see the culture and being able to actually be part of that, indirectly, is something that allows me to have a much more direct connection with what I’m seeing now and also be able to be realistic with a lot of the images that we see are being filtered. Depending on the news source, where you’re getting...we never really see the full picture and so I’m very aware and mindful of that. A lot of that comes through the travels that I’ve done, being able to really be on the ground and listening to the people, just even observing, and then when you come back to like the U.S. and sometimes you see, you read things, you see pictures and it doesn’t tell the full story, there’s always so much more and I think for me that’s always kind of the question, ‘What else, what else?’ or trying to dig it a little deeper.

Jeffrey Shiau: [19:20] What was your relationship or what is your relationship with your stepfather?

Lili Gangas: [19:24] So my stepfather and I haven’t been in touch for maybe two years now, two or three years. My mom and him separated but last time I checked he has a new partner, which is great but I actually haven’t been in touch, I think that’s one of the parts that...

[Pause]

Lili Gangas: [19:53] ...I think that’s why it’s a little tough [Pause]

Jeffrey Shiau: [20:07] Relationships I think of any kind holds something so unique in every person and I think especially now when people almost in a least larger cities where you are supposed to always appear invincible and you hear things celebrated like, ‘oh man this guys crushing it’, right?

Lili Gangas: [20:44] Mm hmm 

Jeffrey Shiau: [20:45] But you never hear an embracing of when people need to be vulnerable, when people are opening up and I’ve actually also came out of a period where I felt like I always had to be on and you know nothing fazed me, no matter what type of tribulation or what type of demon, right?... What does he mean to you, what did you just feel now?

Lili Gangas: [21:35] It’s goes back to love, I think being able to have grown up in a home that felt complete also very happy and growing up, when I was younger we would go to the Arab markets. I was always the Latino who thought she was half Arabic [laughs]

Jeffrey Shiau: [21:59] Oh so you had the world of...

Lili Gangas: [22:02] Bolivia

Jeffrey Shiau: [22:04] Bolivian spices and a...

Lili Gangas: [22:06] Syrian

Jeffrey Shiau: [22:07] Syrian spices oh so you had...

Lili Gangas: [22:08] Mixed with Argentinean cuisine, because he grew up in Argentina in his teens. So yeah I mean there was this celebration and I think there is this contrast that we see now  about how it’s getting bombed and the people, the city is just very...hemorrhaging...and I think he because he’s the closest to that culture...to that community, that’s why my heart goes out to them.

[Pause]

Jeffrey Shiau: [22:55] Do you have a practice, personal, that takes in this type of information and pain whether it's religious, spiritual, personal just a human thing or that helps you understand something that’s almost completely...I’m sometimes unable to completely understand why something is happening or how it could even be possible for humans beings to do something like this to one another, inflict that suffering?

Lili Gangas: [23:52] Yeah and as far as my practice it’s sometimes...that’s why I love going outdoors and having that time alone whether it’s a long jog or a long walk. Being out in nature being outdoors I think is what helps me have that time and even though I...as far as the religion and practice is I’m baptized as a new Born-Again Christian, but I haven’t actually been to a church in a long time other than certain events here and there but I used to be in a lot of different explorations around that and maybe that’s one of the reasons that there’s a lot of reflection that goes through but now as an adult...because growing up my mom gave me the opportunity to really learn about any religion, most of Bolivians are Catholics but then I got study with the Missionaries and then the Jehovah’s and then the more contemporary Christians and then after a while after moving around and going to grad school and all that good stuff, I haven’t had that grounded one place is where you go. If anything I’ve found that my time alone for reflection and prayer is, wherever there’s an open spot, there's outdoors. For me it’s so important to have that moment of being able to connect back to Earth. It goes back to that, what’s that , the larger place of us folks as humans, I go back to that a lot and I think when I see a lot of situations and you know granted the current political environment that we’re in just seems like, ‘what are we, what is this?’ because it feels like a...

Jeffrey Shiau: [25:49] A comic book, almost.

Lili Gangas: [25:50] A very dark comic book because doesn’t feel...a lot of things just don’t add up or make sense but going back to being outdoors and being in the reflective mode, I also notice we are animals more or less and there are certain habits because that history tends to repeat itself. So one of the things now that I’ve been observing and learning is you know granted now I’m in my thirties being able to learn about a lot of different types of histories, I see certain patterns repeating, and now because we also have a lot of information at our fingertips, I go back and I’m actually starting to learn more about certain things that they taught us in history, in like middle school, high school that I should have paid attention. 

Jeffrey Shiau: [26:39] You learned history in the U.S.?

Lili Gangas: [26:41] Yes, I went to elementary from third grade on in the U.S. so my version of U.S. history is whatever we were taught there but because I also had that...my mom was very intentional about making sure that I never forgot where I came from, that’s why we did the trip. She would bring in books from Bolivia so that way we could stay aware and read and thanks to cable T.V. that covers some of the local television and t.v. shows and programs of not just Bolivia but Latin America. I’ve always been able to have that contrast which is why going back to the point I made earlier that there's just so many different stories that what we see, it’s such an edited part of the reality and so I’m very conscious and aware but having my stepdad from Syria being able to have his stories of when he was young of his internal you know viewpoint of where things were at and some of his fears. Now I start to see they’re really happening so it’s a lot to unpack and as far as being able to go to that practice, that unpacking happens in solitude that...it happens with purpose but at the same time it’s also one of those things that I’m trying to understand that we are humans but we are animals and there are certain innate feelings that a lot of the times, for whatever reasons, causes us to do certain harm to each other and being able to understand the whys, it’s very difficult but being able to from scientific  perspective there’s certain behaviors that I see repeated whether it’s our generation or past or what not, that somehow in a dark way give me someway to move forward. I’m not sure how that makes sense but it’s like I know there is a lot of things that we’ve lived...maybe the past generations have had their own share and probably even more pain and suffering but yet they still survive through and we make it through and so that’s the part the silver lining that history has shown me that’s been able to show me my place in the world, as a human, as an animal of the kingdom that life happens, that we continue to move on. So that’s more like the positivity and the hope, no matter how hard things get, there’s...time always takes care of things and feelings, there’s something always there. For me that’s like the hope that I grab onto.

Jeffrey Shiau: [29:41] When you feel that suffering and right now you’re seeing grab onto the hope but are you trying to sweep away suffering or do you actually dive really deeply into it and embrace it and then us hope to almost shine a light on it?

Lili Gangas: [30:03] I definitely embrace in the sense...it’s hard though because as a person it takes a lot and sometimes where...and even on my walk over here I was like, ‘oh I can’t...’ there’s a lot of things happening in my head where trying to move on through your day, when is there a perfect time to unpack and not pack? I think that’s a challenge but it’s also I think it’s important to make that opportunity to really understand and feel because otherwise we will just sweep it under the rug and more or less if we keep doing that more and more then I would become desensitized about that, it would be just like, ‘oh this image again and that and that’ and that’s a part to me...if I start to do that, that that’s when I start to feel less human because if I see those images and it doesn’t move me into something or a prayer or some sort then I feel less connected with who I am as a human and so a lot of the times, I try to purposely try not to open the doors of social media and read the comment section because then you’ll just get lost in the... and sometimes very unhealthy mental state and so I try to be very aware and cautious of that but when it is the...try to make sure that I do have the opportunity to unpack it because I do not want to be that person that’s like, ‘oh that sucks’ because when we do that, that’s when we stop being humans in my opinion.

Jeffrey Shiau: [31:44] So I like to end of these questions with the same questions as well and it’s very simple, but ultimately, what is the point to all of this?

Lili Gangas: [32:04] Mhmm, mhmm [Laughs] That is the, that is the key question that I actually ask myself almost on a daily basis because like even like what’s happened recently, those are just some of the images that get out, this kind of suffering is in different kinds of places and countries and even where I was born in Bolivia, there’s just so much work. Even down the streets here in Oakland, like the homeless situation, there is just so much, right? A lot of the times like for me it’s like why...what’s the whole point of this, why am I here, what is it that I’m doing, how’s this adding value to the grander kingdom of life more or less. That’s one of...that unanswered question is what more or less in a darker way keeps me alive, keeps me going, keeps me engaged and motivated to action, because what is that? I think at the end of the day it goes back to love, to me it really goes back to that, it really is how can we give love and be loved. A lot of these situations I’m seeing now and when I walk through...some of the corners, those homeless folks they need love, they didn’t get love at some point and now...how can we continue to do that? So, I just go back to that same space that I think that why are we here, I think that’s to love each other to give, feel and really be in it and have that be a larger force for good, for action, for getting better, improving as we go through this whole evolution of life. Going back to the science side of it, I think that there’s a mix of all of that but it goes back, centers on love.


 

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