Needless to say, 2020 has been a challenging yet meaningful year for everyone all over the world. For me personally, it’s a year of tremendous growing up, a year full of learning, learning about life, myself and what matters the most to me. 2020 has thrown to me lots of insights that I want to share here:

  1. Life is hard: Whenever I see people posting photos on social media of them traveling or them having a good time, I tried to tell myself that it’s just one side of life. Showing all the good things might misguide others that life is rosy there. I think that anyone living deep and long enough will have to stumble through challenges, sufferings, trauma, adversity and tough decisions. If low notes and high notes make a rhythm of music, ups and downs make a life. My friend used to send me a good story to demonstrate this, the story is about a king who went through a war, running away from enemies and was pushed to a dead end. At that fragile moment, he remembered someone sent him a gift with a message: “This too shall pass” and that calmed him down. It turned out that the enemies were trapped by something else before reaching him. He survived and celebrated with his team. They were all happy for the survival but it flashed back to him that “This too shall pass”. Nothing in this life is constant, we got to enjoy every moment and make the best out of it. This year, many of my friends losing their jobs, news reporting everyday about businesses being shut down, Covid hits hard to houses, many people have died, I myself have had to deal with visa issue as an international student and making a tough decision of staying or leaving the U.S under a consideration of the career I want to pursue. The bad side of life has never been painted and featured brightly like this year. Other than financial crisis, we even have to face with mental illness due to lock down and lack of human interactions. For a year, I have not got to hug anyone. Most of the time people try to ignore the fact that life is hard to move on however the truth is there to acknowledge.
  2. Life is a true blessing: Have you ever paused a moment to look around and see what you are having in this life. Trees are growing, leaves are changing color, flowers are blooming, we are being alive, we are having a house to live, a family to love and rely on, the ability to make a living and continue learning, we are having clothes to wear, foods to eat, etc. Having this state of mindfulness and reflection we will see how prestigious our lives are, a fact that sometimes we take it for granted. As it is usually said that opening our eyes we should be thankful of having another day to live. If we too much focus on make a living, we might be caught off without seeing the beauty of life. And it’s really simple, take a step back, live a slower pace, joy is there. What’s the point of living but not enjoying your life? You don’t need to have lots of money to own this privilege, happiness is in small things.
  3. What you spend most the time doing is what you are good at: This is critical in deciding what to do and how we spend time if we have choices. Talent is earned. If someone spends most of his day to cook, there should be no wonder why he is good at cooking, if he is not good, that’s a different story. Realizing this, I am touched when thinking about underprivileged kids who do not get to go to school or have choice in what to do other than taking temporary jobs to make a living. If a kid is out on the street selling lottery tickets all day, we can’t blame why he is not good at math or why his future can’t be brighter unless something magical happens. Likewise, we can’t just stay at home not doing anything and waiting for someone providing 3 meals a day for us.
  4. Being in unfavorable situations is not necessarily bad: As Shakespeare once said “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so”. I used to worry a lot if I stay close to bad people, I will be bad too. However, that’s not true or it depends much on how we navigate ourselves and our thinking. A person lives in slum does not mean he is poor forever or that he is not happy. I have been living with my family while I desperately want to live alone and I thought this would turn me into another person who is protected so well to not do anything risky or who is not able to do big things or worse, I will be influenced by old school thinking of older people in my family. Gradually, I realize my thinking is my thinking, I can choose what to listen, what to believe in and what not. On the bright side, older people always have wisdom to pass on and I am grateful for being surrounded by those wisdom. It’s all about filtering. Also, what you do matters the most. You can still live with your family and take on big projects although there will be some challenges. Turning it into an opportunity, I see that I can learn how to be a better parent by witnessing something my family does that I don’t like. In a similar situation, I used to have a bad manager and instead of seeing it as an opportunity to learn to be a better manager, I was so caught off by the fact that why it happened to me and how I could change that. I did not realize until later that the bad experience taught me not to do the same thing I was treated to other people.
  5. We can live with $1000 but so do we with $1: It is easy to think that more money is better but NO!! More money means more consumption but this does not necessarily increase quality of life. If we have extra money, we will have to bother thinking about what we should be using the money for, then we start buying more stuff we don’t need or even to give to other people, is it the right help for them though. I like to think in a context of cooking. You can make an impressive meal with 10 ingredients but we can also make an awesome one with only 1 or 2 ingredients. Most of the time, the case of 10 ingredients might not give out the best meal and it complicates the cooking process. Simple is the best in this situation. With fewer ingredients, we will be more focused to make the best out of them. It’s funny that we actually don’t need a lot of stuff to enjoy while people keep craving for more. Money gives us more choices but is having more choices good? Back to the cooking example, even lacking a crucial ingredient, if we are resourceful to look around the kitchen we might find a creative path to go with it and still deliver a good meal. Going out to buy more takes time and energy and mess up of preparation process. I’ve seen people suffering from not having enough money, people who desperately chase for more money and people who don’t know what to do with their extra, it all boils down to the question of “Do we know what matters the most to us and have the courage to let go the rest?”
  6. Escape is tempting but the most resilient soldier makes history: Giving up is always easy because it’s a ready-to-take escape from whatever uncomfortable situation we are facing however many times after that we regret for our choice. Each of us has a certain level of resiliency and especially if we did not face much of challenges in the past the first thing comes to our mind is always how I can get out of this. Nevertheless, that’s such a short term emotion and without careful analysis of thoughts, we will be tempted to do whatever to just get out of that. Get out of that and then? Will it be better than the current situation? Does it align with our long term goals? What can we do (not what should we do)? I used to run and walk for 12 hours straight with a goal of challenging my physical strength and my will, and of reaching my friend’s house before it got dark. If I compromised for all the tiring moments along the way, I would have stopped by a convenient store or a restaurant and ended up not reaching my destination. Of course, it’s easy said than done. We are humans and as humans, our physical and mental capability is limited. When it gets hard, we tend to leave, it’s hard to weigh long term over short term at that point. However, if we can just calm ourselves a little bit to remind us of what our long term goal is, something we have not reached yet, whether it’s worth it to keep going to the end, our mind will strengthen everything else to keep us moving forward. That’s the power of will and resiliency a soldier should have to make history. The strongest horse is the horse that can run the longest. I always admire and respect people who have been in a field or a company for over 10 years which reflects the richness and depth of their experience. Those people must have stayed strong to overcome all the frustration and disappointment that happened along the way. Most people give up before something great is brought to life.
  7. You can be an ordinary person but doing extraordinary things: Everyone equally has 24 hours and I believe none of us was born with any super power. So frankly speaking, everyone has a fair chance of success, what we do in that 24 hours defines how our life will be. With different conditions, it might be easier or harder for different people to do what they want to do but if they can manage to do it, consistently and persistently, extraordinary things can happen. It is wrong to think that because I am a normal person, I can only do normal things. Extraordinary can come from our daily life. You can be parents but why not being extraordinary parents by making the best examples for your kids or giving them experiences other kids don’t have. This does not have to involve money at all. Paying attention to their interest, nurture it, taking them to nature, spending time with them, empowering them through tough conversations, encouraging them to raise voices, none of these require material things.
  8. It’s important to differentiate whether you love someone and whether you love their choices and their behaviors: I think no one in this world will love us like how our parents love us, however, that is not to say that many times our parents love our choices. They have scolded us for our bad behaviors endlessly even when we already grow up just because they want all good things for us. If we are still young and don’t have enough understanding, we might be thinking that our parents don’t love us, otherwise why don’t they support us. Likewise, loving a person does not mean we have to agree with them 100% and to say YES for whatever they want to do. If we don’t make this clear, we may go into direction of favoring our beloved but not do the right things. I tended to do everything I can to satisfy my cousin’s need such as making a meal he wants but then at the same time, I question myself whether I am doing the right thing, whether I should be giving him a lesson that life is not always as you expected instead or at least get him to appreciate what I do for him by making it harder for him to get it.
  9. Challenges make meaning: I always crave for challenges as if they are vitamins for my life, however, there has been challenging moments I wonder why it has to be this hard. When I was trying to switch my career into tech, no one believed that I could do it, even my family, and although I had enough courage to keep moving forward, I had to face with tons of rejections and doubts. My ego had never ever collapsed terribly like at that time. That feeling is never easy. 1 year later, reflecting back, I can see how it’s worth it and how that experience shaped me to be stronger, to be more disciplined and to appreciate what I have got today. That time to me now was such a meaningful time. If it was too easy for me, I would probably take it for granted now and does understand the value of hard work, discipline and commitment.
  10. Money should only be a mean, never be a goal: If you ask any millionaires or billionaires I don’t think any of them set a goal of being rich at the beginning. It just happens that what they do brings them lots of money. Some of them started with an aim of solving a problem and this pure purpose keeps them moving on even when they already achieve certain successes. Money to them is to invest into next big things, not to enjoy life using it. Outsiders keep featuring them as crazy rich men while actually they use money as a mean to their success. If money is ever a goal, people would do whatever job that gives high income, including illegal ones.
  11. Helping others is easier said than done: When my aunt asked me to continue staying in her house to help her with cooking while I was cultivating an idea of moving out. I said YES and learn how to do it later. However, the time after that I still considered a lot whether I can help her and whether I am the right help. I said YES because I know for sure she would do the same for me and she has helped me a lot. And in this case, I and her have relations with each other. How about to people I don’t have any relation with, will I be willing to help them?
  12. Empathy is underrated: I used to be someone having a hard time understanding other people. Even close friends came to me and cried I honestly did not what to do for them other than saying sorry. Before, I disrespected and did not understand why people have to fight to get a work authorization visa or even a permanent resident status. As I spend more time in the states and started being resisted to leave this place, I understand more for the people I disrespected. The freedom and the people here is something I hardly find elsewhere and so my perspective was changed. Before, I did not get why my aunt and uncle are so obsessed about eating healthy foods to an extreme. As I spend more time with them, I realized that they are getting older and so their health is being decreased. Before, I used to be a yolo folk who prioritizes friends over family and to me back then family is never cool. As I was put into a situation of living with family, I started getting attached to them, I started understanding that family matters and caring more about their concerns. It grows to a level that I had to make tough decisions to sacrifice myself for my family. Before, everything came to me effortlessly such as getting a job right after graduation. As I went through the long process of seeking for a new job in the states, I understand how stressful and time-consuming it is to find a job. Especially with Covid, it is very tough for people who suddenly lost their jobs. There are things we don’t totally get until we experience it. Therefore, putting ourselves into other people is really important. At the same time, raising a question of why people do what they do before judging them is also critical.
  13. Short-term pleasures are dangerous: It’s common this year that people get bored of staying at home and are very active online. Just one click on phones, they surf the social media, chat or video calls with their friends or Netflix and chill. However, this can drive them nuts if they don’t get responses or their internet is being shut down suddenly or their Netflix show just does not show up for some reason. These short term pleasures can ruin their mood of the day entirely while it’s not worth it. It’s much more healing to spend time with nature or to do something you truly enjoy doing instead of seeking instant fun. Reading or making art are all very positive activities. After doing these, you have a sense of fulfillment and richness instead of emptiness and time wasting as browsing online. Time is prestigious, don’t waste it for things that don’t matter to you.
  14. Perfect is boring: Perfectionists exist and perfectionism is real. However, have you ever seen anything perfect interesting? A perfect person who has no weakness for you to point out and everything about him or her is too good to be true. So what can we talk about if we have a conversation with that person? Give compliments for how perfect he is? A house that is so perfect that you don’t even want to mess it up? It seems like perfect things are to decorate, not to touch on. Isn’t getting your hand dirty is more fun, that’s when the gift of imperfect comes in. Perfect means stopping, means no more, means it’s done and means it settles.
  15. Noise is life: If 2019 I find peace in quiet environment, in 2020, I start to get used to noise because noise is life. At first, I was so annoyed by the cooking noise my aunt made or the sound from someone walking or doing things inside the house, these bothered me a lot. Gradually, I needed to learn to adapt with it because I had no choice. And then I paid attention that when no one was at home, it was strangely quiet. A stillness I am not familiar with, it even made me anxious. It’s hard to say a house is being lived if you have heard completely no sound.
  16. It’s better to do it than to do it well: Many times I wanted to start working on my personal projects but the concern that it’s not good enough makes me delay the start. Your good version might be the N version, not the first one, don’t stress yourself out. If I criticized myself for my drawing skill or my music potential or even my writing competence, I would not start drawing, violin-ing and writing until now. Don’t think, just do. Just do it.
  17. You can only see the next path if you take one step forward: I got a very good insight when I was hiking to a mountain with my family. Standing in one mountain, I can see my next stop from here but I did not see any path that can lead me there. However, as I take some step furthers, the path appeared clearly. Yeah, we can’t just stand in one place and hope to see the entire picture. One time I was very impatient and frustrated while trying to make a decision. I tried to analyze all possible things can happen if I choose this over that and then I became overthinking and paralyzed. I was exhausted to the point that any decision is fine, I didn’t care anymore, which is really bad. Don’t do that to yourself, that’s horrible. Jump off the cliff if you have to and then develop the wings on the way down.
  18. If something you want to do does not affect others in negative way, do it, do it with full of pride, do it without permission, do it for yourself: I am kind of person who wants every situation to be a win-win, which makes it hard when someone trying to give me input while what I think is usually different from what everyone else think. I appreciate that they care about me but that does not seem to help me much. Especially if the person is in my family, we will think hard. Times to times, this eats me up and exhausts me. I just don’t have enough energy to think through. And then I started thinking what if I just do it my way and ignore others’ opinion. I had not settled down with that idea. Suddenly there was an advice that woke me up: “if what you want to do does not harm anyone, just do it, even if other people don’t understand now, they will later”, this makes lots of sense to me. Caring too much about other people’s opinion is not good. Taking their opinion into consideration and see what makes sense to you yourself and makes sure it does not harm anyone is the way to go.
  19. Don’t waste foods and stuff, protect our environment: If there is something I want to do it differently if I travel back to 2020, it’s not to waste things I wasted, especially foods. I felt terrible after those times. As a human living on Earth, I am full aware of how each of my action gives an impact on this Earth and the environment I am living. Having said that, lots of times we just bought things we don’t use, took actions without thoughts, which generates waste. We cooked and cooked and then not finished what we cooked, then we wasted while someone somewhere else might be starving and someone somewhere else is desperate of the resource. I believe every resource is limited and just because we are humans the most powerful animal on Earth does not mean we can exploit all of these resource. I still remember the day with orange sky due to wild fire in September. That was a signal of how environment is being angry and how climate change is being a serious problem nowadays. Moving forward, I tried to buy only necessary things, this year I barely bought any new clothes.

Thanks 2020 for walking me through growing up, for slowing me down, for sharpening my understanding of who matters the most and what matters the most to me and for opening up the creative paths I am still exploring. 2021 is here now, let go all the uncertainty and worries, I am ready to step into a new year, please bless me with new exciting challenges and with lots of courage to conquer those challenges. Happy New Year!

At Mt. Tamalpais

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone!”