2020 has been the most challenging year for me of all, not only because there are a lot of uncertainty in the world – social injustice, Covid pandemic, and presidential election, but also because I was pushed out of my comfort zone in the midst of all the uncertainties. I went through a challenging job switch when I was so stressed that I cried a lot out of pressure that I wouldn’t be able to deliver on projects, couldn’t fall sleep, or had bad dreams in which I was not prepared for exams or missed a paper deadline. I didn’t travel or meet up with friends much out of fear of contracting Covid. I went through a breakup in November when for the first couple of days I questioned my self-worth and values (luckily, I recovered quickly). My September post was my first attempt to dive into those uncomfortable moments at work and adjusting to a new life. This post is my attempt to see the silver linings – to reflect on obstacles I’ve overcome and to celebrate the wins and newfound strengths.
Win 1: Keep iterating.
This win I have my new job to thank for. I’ve learned a lot about ‘Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good’. In the past, it would take me much longer to make decisions because I would try to optimize to the best I can – fastest way to solve a problem, cheapest way to buy a ticket, best sentence structure, etc. As a result, it was a lot of thinking and not a lot of results. Thanks to this mindset, I’ve learned to be more forgiving towards myself if the outcome is not ideal. As a result, without the pressure to be perfect, I can make decisions and produce results much faster.
Win 2: Look forward and not back.
My dad used to tell me often ‘Don’t cry over spilled milk’ to comfort me not to feel too upset over something that has already happened and cannot be changed. This saying really struck a chord with me this year as I tried to adapt to unexpected events quickly.
Instead of dwelling in self-blame, regret and unhappiness, I focused on finding a solution:
An important product feature was missed in sprint planning? -> Let’s see if I can talk to anyone to move it up the priority list;
Coming across a bad landlord after the initial screening? -> Forget about the application fees and back to the list of available units to rent.
Having noisy upstairs neighbor? -> Get the landlord and property management team involved as soon as possible.
These events might seem trivial to you, but they all trigger a lot of negative emotions in the past that don’t go away very quickly. This year I realized jumping to problem solving mode will cut the pain significantly and make me a lot happier.
Win 3: Confidence
I see confidence and fear go hand in hand. The less fear you have, the more confident you will be. It is the fear of rejection, the fear of losing someone, the fear of being seen as incompetent, the fear of failure that give us pauses from pursuing an opportunity and from voicing our true opinions. I came across this quote that I found valuable – ‘all fears are illusion, but you don’t know it until you face it.’ Thus, to develop the confidence, we need to do things that we are afraid to do, so that when looking back, we will think, ‘huh, it’s not as bad as I imagined’. This year, I am proud of myself for taking a risk in a role that I am more excited about without much experience. Though I struggled a lot at the beginning, I can see light at the end of the tunnel. I am proud of myself for taking on challenging hikes and still maintaining an active lifestyle. I am proud of myself for picking myself back up from a breakup and appreciating who I am even more.
A cherry on top is that I am not doing as much comparison of myself to other people anymore. I become even more genuinely happy for others’ accomplishments (hate to admit it, but occasionally I will feel jealous). All this is because I am happy with how much I’ve grown compared to the past self. I’ve found more peace and content.
Win 4: I am more than just work.
I was talking to my good friend E a couple of weeks ago about work stress and she said there was a book called ‘men are like waffles women are like spaghetti’. Putting the book aside, the analogy itself reminded me that I let work completely define who I was as a person. It was because this work identity association, when I was struggling at work in the beginning, I just didn’t feel good about myself overall. Hobbies that used to excite me such as reading and writing was not as appealing anymore. I even mentioned in my previous post that it was because I felt I had no insights to write about when I did not have my act together at work. Now that I am back to consistently running and writing again, I understood that maybe the secret to achieving work-life balance is having passion projects and hobbies that you look forward to outside work, so that work does not consume you and become your default option.
Win 5: All pains are necessary to let growth happen.
When I excitedly shared with my dad my win of ‘don’t cry over spilled milk’ this year, it suddenly dawn on me that he has been telling me since I was in high school. (lol…). The full meaning did not really register until many years later when I experienced a lot of pains/growth. It got me thinking – maybe no matter how many wise lessons other people passed onto me, no matter how many self-help books I read, I will not truly understand the wisdom until I experience the pain myself. In that sense, I should learn to welcome pain, embrace or even celebrate it when it happens, because it was the pain that makes me reflect more and find a way to grow to avoid it the second time. (Regardless, reading the book or talking to others will still help me formulate ideas that I’ve started to see.)
All the wins I described above all started with failures in my mind at the beginning – terrible first year in a new job and lots of unplanned changes that I have little control over (pandemic, working from home, breakup, etc). Once I frame them the other way, I see a lot more successes and person growth. I remain positive and hopeful. 🙂
P.S. I set out to write a few more wins in 2020 on hobbies and friendship, but I will dedicate another post for it. Stay tuned!