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Bye 2019, Hello 2020

11 min read, January ‘20

At the end of 2018, I told some friends, "This is the first year that wasn't the best year of my life." Fortunately, 2019 went better—it was full of big changes, rare opportunities, and emotional growth. In 2020, I'll focus on being intentional about what I do so I can experience and enjoy life more fully. Speficially, my guiding principle is to align "what I wnat to be doing" with "what I'm actually doing" as closely as possible.

This post is split up into sections:

  1. 2019 events
  2. 2019 lessons
  3. 2020 goals

2019 events

I visited lots of new places!

  • Learned about civil rights history in Montgomery, Alabama
  • Accepted the NCWIT National Award in Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Interned and hacked in San Francisco
  • Presented at Science Talk in Portland, Oregon
  • Visited family in D.C./Virginia
  • Road-tripped to Big Sur, California, with 13 strangers
  • Took an 8-hour Megabus to Los Angeles with my best friend
  • Discovered what my life could be like if I worked at Jane Street in Manhattan
  • Explored Atlanta with a close friend
  • Hacked at Yale
  • Went to a hackathon on Long Island

I tried for the first time: axe-throwing, In-N-Out, escape rooms, a VR gym, college, hot pot, alcohol (I still prefer water and Naked Juice Mighty Mango over literally everything else though).

Spring

I finally finished high school. During my last semester, I got a modified schedule to minimize the time I spent on campus, since some staff caused me frequent, debilitating anxiety attacks.

I'm proud of scoring 5/5 on all my AP exams: Latin, English Literature, US History, and Psychology. Before high school, I'd never done any literary analysis before—anything beyond mere summarizing was new to me. I didn't fully understand what an essay was until halfway through 10th grade, after reading a friend's work and realizing, "Oh. That's what I'm supposed to do." I learned quickly, but because of those experiences, I thought I was a bad writer for a long time. Getting full scores on standardized writing exams, then, was validating—I wouldn't have been able to accomplish that without knowing what I was doing.

I also started dating a wonderful person, and signed myself up for singing lessons—I'm out of practice now, but I'm glad I took action to improve here.

Summer

After graduation, I moved to San Francisco for two months to intern at Repl.it, an online IDE with a community of 2+ million makers and coders. After almost 100 unsuccessful attempts to get a biology research internship in Cambridge, I'd decided to just stay in my hometown and work on personal projects this summer. But through a cold email and luck, I managed to land this life-changing opportunity.

There are so many interns in the Bay Area during the summer, and it's amazing! I especially loved meeting others at events Y Combinator hosted for its portfolio company interns. I helped organize Violet Hacks, a hackathon for early-career female and non-binary people, held at Github HQ! At the end of the summer, my organization Science and Us held its third event, a makeathon at Harvard.

Fall

For me, college began with a pre-orientation program focused on community service in greater Boston. This program also introduced my to the Urban Planning and Computer Science joint major, which is what I plan to do!

I took these classes:

  • 7.012 Introductory Biology (I'm the first and only student to have been taught by both Eric Lander and his daughter, Jessica Lander!)
  • 8.01 Physics I (a big struggle!)
  • 11.401 Introduction to Housing, Commmunity and Economic Development (a graduate class!)
  • CMS.618 Interactive Narrative (why I made Storyfolio, which is still unfinished oops)

This unusual schedule was made possible by experiments MIT is doing on academic policies and the first-year experience—more on my first semester in another post to come! I joined several clubs, notably TechX (specifically xFair, a career fair and tech expo), Asian Dance Team, Science Policy Review, and Chroma, a science and humanities magazine. I was also accepted for training to be a peer educator on sexual and relationship health, and am involved in Communicating Science at MIT.

Outside of school, I prepared and gave a TEDx talk about Science and Us—why I started it, what we've done, and some of my hot takes on education. I'm still working on S&U, and ran into personal challenges dedicating consistent time to it and becoming a better leader.

I built a website for We Are America, a project working with 1300+ students and teachers across 25 states to share stories and spark conversations about what it means to be American. My WAA teammates and I spoke at the Boston Book Festival! I was blown away by how many people lined up to buy our books after the panel. My story from WAA was also published in The Boston Globe. I can't read it because of the paywall, but the president of MIT apparently could, and he personally emailed me congratulations!

Last moments

College life is great, but breaks from it are very welcome. In the past two weeks, I've:

I've realized there's tremendous value in having unstructured time. When I schedule every half hour of my life, I might get more done, but it also restricts my creativity and thinking. There's no room for the spontaneity that might lead me to make a side project, finally watch some Premeire Pro tutorials, or say yes to a last-minute event invite.

When I schedule every half hour of my life, I might get more done, but it also restricts my creativity and thinking.

In the last few days alone, I started listening to a podcast (I've always said I'm "not an audio person" and can't pay attention enough) and realized I actually enjoy programming to an extent(though maybe my first formal computer science class will change this)—all because I'm allowed to wander and spend long stretches of time doing things.

The somewhat aimless exploring and not-super-thought-out decisions of my first semester were okay, but I'm excited to intentionally break into fields I've been interested in for months, instead of lurking on the sidelines. I've also modified my spring schedule to squish all my classes together and maximize my unstructured time—I think it'll be much better for my thinking and happiness.

2019 lessons

People first

In my summer 2019 preview, I wrote this: "It’s more important to work with the right people—people you respect, who are honest with themselves and others, and who are open-minded—than to choose the 'right' activity. This is especially evident as I’ve experienced noble ideas and projects ruined by toxic working environments. It also fits with my belief that values, not interests (which change often), connect people and provide meaning—more on that in another article later."

I haven't written the aforementioned article yet, but I still agree with all of that! Moving forward, I plan to emphasize this principle even more when making decisions and evaluating my life.

Be proactive

I had high expectations for how much I would explore and grow this summer in San Francisco. I didn't meet them. Instead, I quickly became stagnant, which defined my work, daily routines, and how much I met new people. It's evident in the fact that I never buckled down to establish an earlier sleep schedule or learn how to cook.

The main barrier was that I didn't have the energy and mental capacity to snap out of it, look at my lifestyle, and take the simple—not necessarily easy, but usually undeniably simple—steps toward change. Even in college, I thought I would be attending way more events and meeting way more people. Instead, I flowed with my defaults, which are more introverted than expected.

What does this mean? Well, in high school, I believed that I couldn't and shouldn't plan more than a year ahead since so much would change every year and any further plans would highly depend on what college I ended up at. I still think that's true—for my high school experience, one year was the only reasonable target for long-term planning.

Now, however, I want to think longer-term and make sure I'm steadily building toward the life I want to have, whether that means I'm eating lunch at a certain time everyday, learning a skill through YouTube tutorials and side projects, or applying for certain internship roles.

Don't close doors too early

Before college, I thought I wanted to join an entrepreneurship club. At the start of the semester, though, I was alienated by how business clubs recruited. In general, entrepreneurship on campus seemed unnecessarily formal and academic. Oh, you have a startup idea? Put on a suit and take a class over at Sloan.

Because of those impressions and assumptions, I ended up not engaging much with MIT's (mainstream) entrepreneurship community. When I did, though, I realized I was missing out. I have similar regrets about other things I chose not to try. Moving forward, I want to be more diligent about exploring opportunities before saying no.

Ignore the haters

There are a few people who just really want me to fail, or enjoy taking out their insecurities on me online. There are also people who have valid, constructive criticism about me and my work—I'm not talking about them. I've learned that I have to differentiate between these two groups of people. The first kind is useless to engage with, and the second kind is valuable and humbling to listen to.

For a while, I let my fear of the first kind control my self-perception and behavior. I shied away from trying and sharing projects because I didn't want to hear from the tiny handful of trolls, even if 40% of my network would find the project cool and 50% don't give a damn either way. Moving forward, I aim to err on the side of trying, doing, and sharing (publicly, in case it wasn't explicit enough) anyway. Chances are, people support me, and I need to believe in myself too.

I can do a lot

In high school, I thought I would never be able to perform at the level of my prep school and elite public school counterparts. They were more privileged, more intelligent, and started earlier, prodded by their parents, granting them insurmountable advantages.

Now, they're my classmates, and it didn't take long for me to realize that I actually do a lot, even in the context of MIT. I experienced the opposite of what many of my peers felt—blows to their self-esteem due to no longer being the smartest person they know.

I want to make sure that I'm doing everything I want to do and that I want to do everything I'm doing.

Well, that's good to know, but more important is what follows from that. I can do a lot, but I shouldn't do everything I can do. I want to make sure that I'm doing everything I want to do and that I want to do everything I'm doing. d I want to prioritze the overlooked things that make my life run, like having unstructured time and better routines.

2020 goals

I set 8 goals for myself this year. Inspired by Linus, they're ambitious, sometimes bordering on impossible. "Regardless of whether or not I hit these numbers and results, they push me to being where I want to be, and setting that direction is far more important to me than actually hitting the targets, which are pretty arbitrary."

  1. Be able to do pull ups, single arm push ups, and single leg squats (with better form).
  2. Be able to do left, right, and center splits
  3. Publish 36 pieces of writing >500 words
  4. Design and validate a model for Science and Us
  5. Share 5 music/dance covers
  6. Read 24 books
  7. Chat with at least 2 new people every week
  8. Build/design/code 10 projects I'm proud of

Other things I want to learn/do/improve, but haven't set concrete goals around:

  • Improve my Chinese
  • Maybe try a triathlon once I learn how to ride a bike
  • Travel internationally on my own
  • Figure out how to travel in rural places without a car and driver's license
  • Make social media valuable to me: Actively define and embrace my identity/brand instead of just passively reacting to people “misinterpreting” it, and have more fruitiful, interesting conversations
  • Familiarize myself with the foundations of journalism, education, and politics so I can better explore interactive journalism, edtech, and civic tech

Overall, my guiding principle is to align "what I want to be doing" with "what I'm actually doing" as closely as possible. I want to have more confidence, gratitude, and open-mindedness, less complacency, and check in with myself often.

Thanks for reading, and happy new year! If you'd like to chat and help me on goal #7 of meeting new people every week, feel free to email or DM me!

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