I want to talk about 2020.
It was an unusual year for obvious reasons.
For most people of my age, it was probably a terrible year. A year of masks, distancing, loneliness, isolation; a year where social interactions were largely rendered to words and voices behind lifeless screens.
For most people of my age, it was probably “the worst year of their lives”.
Like many others, I have my list of reasons to be sad about 2020.
I was catching up with a friend on Boxing Day, and out of the blue he said: “Can you believe Kobe died this year? That’s how long this year has been.”
In hindsight, that was probably the moment when things started going downhill.
I remember hearing the news about Kobe Bryant’s death, during a design project meeting that fateful afternoon. I remember scrolling down my Facebook feed that evening, spending 4 hours re-watching YouTube videos of Kobe Bryant highlights I shared in 2013, and crying to my counselor the day after.
I remember telling myself that evening, I won’t live a day without purpose moving forward.
Fast forward to nearly a year later, I am writing this on January 6th, whilst watching “The Choice on Peacock” and NBC’s coverage on the certification of electoral college votes and the chaotic siege of Capitol Hill.
Whilst I still don’t fully know what my purpose is or what I plan on achieving, I look back at 2020 as a year of growth.
Instead of focusing on the sad things, I want to talk about that.
If you can’t take the heat…
Growing up in Hong Kong, my father wanted my younger brother and I to learn how to cook from a young age. Being the lazy kid, I never quite cared enough to do so.
When I left home to attend boarding school at 15, other than the occasional instant noodle/bacon sandwich, I “got away” with not cooking for myself regularly as well.
Four years of boarding school led to two years in a college dorm, where 40 people shared a kitchen space and conditions were often…unfavorable.
In hindsight, not the best excuse to ignore picking up a life skill.
I moved out to an off-campus apartment in my junior year, but even then it was more convenient to subscribe to college meal plans. So you can probably imagine how I felt when the first wave of COVID lockdowns began.
The pictures above were from around a month after the first lockdown. I wish I could show how bad my food looked during the first week, it’s a shame that I didn’t plan this reflection in advance.
If I were to highlight one good thing that has come out of COVID lockdowns, it’s that I can finally handle myself in a kitchen?
What is your brand?
When I was in secondary school/middle school, Facebook was the coolest thing. The most popular kids were usually the ones who most active on Facebook, the ones with the most Facebook friends, the ones with the most likes on their posts, etc.
Not to tout myself as some kind of non-conformist, but I have never had a great interest towards social media, nor have I cared to excessively maintain an online presence.
This was my one attitude that was consistent throughout the years, and so when I started using LinkedIn actively last May, keeping up with potential opportunities felt like a chore.
The impostor syndrome that I try to keep under wraps would show up like an unwelcome guest.
This past summer, I was lucky to have landed an internship in tech. Though the experience was valuable, the work wasn’t exactly what I wanted for my career. The last thing I needed was to go down the LinkedIn rabbit hole and digest self-congratulatory posts from people landing dream internships and jobs; and churned out career advice from “influencers”.
This was until I found communities of students like myself, dreamers with ambitious expectations and “impostors” who were dissatisfied with where they were in life. Virtual coffee chats and networking with “strangers” in these communities became my new normal during the summer, yet these interactions were anything but strange.
Embracing and expressing my inner “impostor” inspired me to start posting content on LinkedIn and Medium. I wrote LinkedIn posts about my product management learning journey, two Medium articles on self-reflection between June and July, and promised myself to write something every month.
In hindsight, I probably wouldn’t need a week to write this if I had kept my writing going throughout the year.
My network inspired me to start writing, which helped me build my personal brand. I used to think a personal brand was only effective when it sold the person’s expertise on a field.
In reality, your personal brand can be whatever you want to be. It just works best when it is authentic.
I am someone who’s highly empathetic and brutally self-aware, and my personal brand is built upon expressing that.
In August, I found out my internship put me in a position to finish college a semester early. The COVID situation in the U.S. didn’t look optimistic, and online classes never fail to keep me pessimistic.
Four months later, I now own a fancy looking piece of paper, something the streets like to call a “diploma”.
Not to diminish the accomplishments of college graduates, especially those who’ve graduated during the pandemic. I simply don’t believe my education defines me, nor do I really feel pride in my college.
But I also realize that I’ve spent too much time over the past three years lamenting over my various “misfortunes” and ”bad decisions”. What even is an Informatics major? What did I learn for the past three years? Why couldn’t I have figured out I liked doing design earlier? Why am I here?????
Realizing there’s no point indulging in self-loathing for my final semester, I did a full 180 by embracing a go-getter attitude and taking on extracurricular design opportunities when possible.
As the least competitive person in any room, I used to think participating in hackathons and sprint-like competitions were horrible for students in tech to gain experience.
~ did a full 180, crazy~
So in November, I signed up for a 3-day protothon to gain project experience in product management. I matched with 3 other students from California and Purdue, and led the product design for a mentorship platform for low-income students. In addition to learning various aspects in product through the protothon, having the opportunity to network with other go-getters and professionals in various other fields was also invaluable.
Having pulled two all-nighters on the weekends in an attempt to perfect the design aspects of the product, amidst preparing for the following week’s interviews and finals, I couldn’t have chosen a worse time to participate in the protothon.
Sure, I may have fell short on a few semi-important things the week after, but I accepted the tradeoffs knowing that I did what I thought was best for my goals.
All that “feeling sorry for myself” BS? That’s so 2020.
To be continued…
“I deserve an extended break.”
Before the start of the new year, I never thought these 5words would ever cross my mind. How could an impostor ever afford a break?
It wasn’t until a group of my close friends from back home called me to congratulate my graduation, when I realized the wins I should be celebrating.
This “new normal” has been going on for so long, I’m now more likely to grab a mask before my phone and wallet whenever I go out for a walk. With how long this has been going on, I’ve somehow conditioned myself to believe that living through a pandemic is, like the phrase says, normal.
In fact, we all deserve a break.
Surviving 2020 was not an easy feat, and despite it being a terrible year by many standards, resilience should always be celebrated.
As far as 2021 goes, there are many reasons to be worried, and rightfully so. I can spend a lot more time ranting about the attitudes I’ve observed in this country with regards to the pandemic, but that’s neither here nor there.
But we’ve survived a crazy year once, so who’s to say we can’t do it again?