Author Archives: Sijie

the Journey of Self – the Mountains

I am dedicating year of 2021 to a year of self-journey, a year of looking inward to understand myself better and to grow. This is part 3 of the series.

Before I started hiking in Washington, I knew I would enjoy the nature and outdoors because I loved running outside and was ready to put in the hard work in endurance. I thought hiking would be one of the excursions I do every once in a while (aka, a few times in the summer). Thanks to the good company and mentors on the trail and the stay-at home order of Covid-19, I turned to the outdoors a lot and became hooked, to the extent I would call a slight obsession (another thing I noticed on this self-awareness journey). I would spend hours poring over trip reports, mapping out new hiking routes, and dreaming about my own adventures after being inspired by pictures posted on Facebook and Instagram. I have fallen in love with the craggy mountains and the sparkling blue alpine lakes.

This winter (starting from November 2020) marks my second winter on the trails. I’ve explored some new ones and returned to a few old gems. Stepping on the same trails the second time helps me see the two distinct stages I move through in hiking.

The first stage of my hiking was very ‘peak driven’. Since I usually took on somewhat strenuous hikes and sometimes went with folks more fit than me, there was pressure to move at a faster pace. Thus, forget about ‘it is the journey that matters not the destination’, the only thing I could think about was to keep myself moving to get the peak. I would set a rule to myself that I could only break every 30 minutes for water and huff and puff up the entire time. As a result, some of the memories before reaching the summit were blurry to me. With the Hoh River trail to see blue glacier last summer, I relied on the pictures taken to remember the glories of the glacier rather from my memory bank, as I was exhausted and distracted in dreaming about the Mountain House dinner that I would eat at camp rather than basking in the awe of the glacier.

Luckily, as I built on my fitness level, I slowly moved to the second stage of actually enjoying the adventure outside. This became especially clear as I set foot on the Kachess Beacon trail earlier this month. A lot of the memories from a year ago came back to me – of how I was scared of falling on the trail in the treeline, of how awkward I felt using the trekking poles to keep my balance while ascending in snowshoes, of how uncomfortable I was descending from the ridge line. This time it was totally different. Instead of feeling sketched out and uncertain, I supported my friend’s suggestion of taking the shorter and steeper route up the ridge line and was breaking trails ahead in snowshoes (my snowshoes had superior grip than his, lol). Despite the hard climb, we were laughing and joking the entire way and occasionally stopped for pictures. In the end, I even climbed up the beacon for views of surrounding peaks, which was another thing I was afraid to do last time.  Oh what a long way I have came since the first ascent! As I looked back, what I loved about this second time was that I was able to enjoy solitude (did not see a single soul until 1 mile away from the trailhead), to experience the road less traveled, and to have the privilege to be the first to connect with the mountains and nature on that sunny day. My curiosity and adventure tank were full. I was at my happiest.

Heading to the beacon on untouched snow!

Will there be more stages for me and what would they be? Yes and I am starting to notice the theme emerging. Third stage is to to enjoy the journey more than just focusing on the destination on new adventures (not just trails that I have completed previously). Fourth stage is to share the joy of getting outside with others. This process of looking inward to my own development in hiking will help me tremendously to get to those stages. A stronger sense of how I get to who I am today allows me to be more compassionate towards both myself and others. Whenever I feel defeated that I cannot keep up with others, I will tell myself that practice makes perfect and it always take time to build up the fitness. I will remind myself to stop and take in the view around me more often even though I might be super focused on mustering my physical and mental toughness for the summit. Whenever I take my friends on an adventure that is a bit outside their comfort zone, I will remember to slow down for them and not be too pushy, because everyone is developing at their own pace. I will also not turn down requests to go on easier hikes or hikes that I have already completed, because I will still experience something new and it’s rewarding to go through the journey from the friends’ eyes and enjoy their company. 

My big hiking goals this year are to complete the day through-hike at the Enchantments and backpack in the High Divide/7 Lakes Basin in the Olympic Peninsula. Now that I said ‘practice makes perfect’, be right back as I will be going out for more hilly runs to be prepared. 🙂

P.S. In my last post, I promised for a breakdown of the self-compassion podcast. It is still on my topic list. At least I was learning to practice that more in this post.

the Journey of Self – Compassion

I am dedicating year of 2021 to a year of self-journey, a year of looking inward to understand myself better and to grow. This is part 2 of the series.

I used to be my own worst critic. I set really high standards ahead of time and beat myself up when I do not meet them. When that happens, I am usually floored with all the negative emotion – regret, guilt, followed by self-skepticism and shame, which set my mind into a negative spiral. 2020 was a year when starting a new role when working from home completely heightened these feelings. I felt stuck in this cocoon, unhappy and not confident. I suspect these feelings were ignited by my motivation to be perfect, to get it done right at the first try. As I have written in my previous post ‘Keep Iterating’ last year, the perfectionism mindset is something I recognize in myself and have been actively working to change to ‘keep iterating’ mode.

Understanding the ‘why’ behind the emotion is the very step toward changing it. However, what should I do when I am hit with the wave of negative thoughts again? By chance, I stumbled upon a solution by trying meditation. A couple of months ago, I was introduced to take on a 21-day meditating challenge, in which I had to meditate every day for 10 minutes. I had heard of meditation a while before, but still had been a skeptic. Since it was the beginning of the new year, I thought to myself, why not try something new. Thus, I stuck to the challenge and started listening to the podcast. One episode of the podcast is on self-compassion. It was through listening to the podcast that the lightbulb in my head went on! In fact, I was ecstatic when I finally found a way to pinpoint what I had gone through. I realized how demanding and harsh I had been with myself and why I was not happy. This episode has so many nuggets that I want to go back to and share, but I was just happy that I unlocked something new.

Carrying the awareness of showing self compassion is important, but I still find it ‘easier learned than done’. For my next post, I will share what I find to be useful. This is also a good incentive for me to revisit to the podcast. Stay tuned!

Note to blog readers – I was a little ill-prepared to write this post tonight, not exactly sure of my structure. Nevertheless, I committed to the writing process. As a recovering self-critic, I know there are so much more I can do to edit this post and to describe more the emotions I had, but I am still happy to share because the feeling of finally understanding clearly one’s own emotion is worth celebrating.

the Journey of Self – Patience

I am dedicating year of 2021 to a year of self-journey, a year of looking inward to understand myself better and to grow. This is part 1 of the series.

As I am spending a lot of time at home, I have invested more time into decorating my apartment by getting houseplants. I am now a proud plant parent to one peace lily, one baby monstera, one baby calathea, one golden pothos, one snake plant, one blue Hyacinth, and six baby succulents. Since I got most of them (except for snake plant) a couple of weeks ago, I’ve developed a new routine – every day after waking up, the first thing I do is to pay them a visit by the window sills and observe their growth and the soil moisture. I also check on them when I am on calls, when I look out of the windows, when I pace back and forth in the living room thinking through ideas, etc. I often wonder, ‘Did the stem grow by a tiny bit? Is this leaf new? Did the color of the petal become more vibrant? Did I provide it enough water?’ It has become so ingrained in my daily routine because I am eager to let the plants grow and to reap the benefit and excitement of fully grown plants.

When I was looking through old pictures of the snake plant, it dawned on me that it takes time for growth to happen. Over one and half years’ time, my snake plant gets much taller and grows new bulb when I provided it consistent watering. The same principle applies to personal growth. I need to be patient with myself and let growth happen gradually. A lot of things I am interested in pursuing do not happen overnight, such as developing a good reading habit to read 20 books a year, running a faster half marathon race, making wiser personal investment decisions, becoming a better product manager at work and a better writer, etc. What I need to focus on is to put in the work, to not bang my head against the wall if I slack off once in a while (just like no big deal if I forget to water the plant one time), and to trust that in a couple of years I will see the positive changes in myself just like in my snake plant.

How Has 2020 Shaped You?

On my blog’s ‘About Sijie’ section, I stated that ‘moving around (Seattle being the fifth city I’ve lived in) has given me the privilege to compare and contrast China and the US, the Midwest, the South, and the West Coast. It is by taking myself out of the familiarity that I understand myself better and know that I am capable of doing things that I would not imagine before.’ In a way, Covid-19 induced changes have also taken me out of the familiarity – I set up meetings with coworkers rather than walk down the hall to ask a question or just chit chat, I no longer went out to restaurants, I didn’t travel to meet up with friends and my flight to visit parents in China got suspended,… The list can go on. It was through this special event that I’ve observed a lot more about how I work and play.

First of all, while I enjoy having go-to hobbies, I now appreciate having new things and activities to explore even more. When the state lock-down started, I thought to myself, ‘I would be fine. A lot of my hobbies are done in solitude. I now will have all the time to read, write, run, and hike different trails (the mountains are usually less crowded, thus safer).’ Nine months later, despite all the reading, hiking, and board games that I’ve done, I really miss meeting up with friends in person, trying out new restaurants, exploring a new neighborhood, planning fun activities in town (I was known among my friends to have the best recommendations for ‘date night’), and coming up with itinerary for travels. I realize that the curiosity in me always craves exploring and trying new experience, which can be as small as going to a nursery (referring to plants, :)). It is an integral part of who I am that I’ve ignored during the pandemic. In hindsight, I played it too safe with these activities and totally gave them up. For my own sake of mental health, I could have put on a mask and done activities where 6 ft. social distancing is strictly followed, such as doing a picnic in a park with friends, going on walks, outdoor dining, etc. In the past, I always come up with bucket list of activities that I want to do in my city every year. Last year, I checked off ‘take a ferry’, ‘visit the Arboretum’, ‘run a half marathon’, ‘eat at Sushi Kashiba’, ‘rock climbing’, ‘visit the art museum’, ‘see an art performance’, etc. Armed this deeper understanding with myself, I’ve developed a new list for 2021 and am excited to start working on it.

Second, I appreciate my support network even more. Even though my friends and families are located in different time zones around the world, I am thankful that they are just a phone call away and show me tremendous support and love during a difficult time in my life. There are many small moments that I am grateful for – friends (broadly speaking for families as well) who invited me over for a meal when they cook for me, friends who offered help with move and assembling furniture, friends who shared with me awesome pictures of their holiday meals and sent me invitations to travel and stay with them in their homes, friends who periodically checked in on me to see what I am up to, friends who patiently listened to me and allowed me to talk through my feelings to come up with actions, etc. I was telling a good friend of mine that it is the love from them that helped me heal faster, to have the courage to walk away from a bad situation, and to have the courage that even after a major setback, eventually I can still get up and keep fighting. Dear family and friends, you all know who you are, thank you for always being there for me.

Apart from close connections, I also appreciate my Facebook and Instagram friends who I may not talk to on a regular basis. Seeing folks making progress towards their passion – becoming a yoga teacher, doing tough workouts, baking, reading more than 50 books in a year, creating original content, baking, writing thought-provoking reflection, etc – inspires me even more. I don’t think it motivates me out of competitiveness that ‘I need to do this more’ (a wise woman told me ‘everyone is running their own race’, J), but more ‘wow, I know awesome people who are killing it’ and it’s nice to know them and to be in the same boat as them. Though a common sentiment on social media is that it only shows part of the life, we can still make something good out of it. All my social media friends that I don’t talk to often, thank you for your inspirations.

Third, I have a tendency to focus too much on negative emotions so to cope I am learning to park my feelings and find distractions. So many changes this year made me notice that I was not very good at handling my emotion and wanted the instant gratification by talking it out. [In my case, when I am a writer (self-claimed one, hehe), I am even more in touch with feelings.] However, as I later realized, some feelings (negative ones especially), however important at the moment, ended up benign. Instead of being hyper-focused with them or trying to talk it out with others right away, I shall put it on hold for a few days and see if it is still left unresolved. Now I use running, reading novels, journaling (my attempt to logically break down the problem) and forcing myself to do some house chores as a distraction.

Speaking of reading, reading novels is a good way to immerse myself in other people’s storyline, so that I temporarily forget about my own world. Lately, I have been reading some self-help/psychology book to recover. As mentioned in ‘Silver Linings’, even though self-help books cannot help us avoid the pain, it would help us get better at reflecting and growing faster. Books that I’ve been reading/plan to read are ‘Nonviolent communication’, ‘the Five Love Languages’, ‘the Courage to be Disliked’, ‘‘Maybe you should speak to someone’, to name a few. [I welcome any recommendations!]

Fourth, I understand that no one can face the fear but myself. I had fear of forever being alone, the fear of losing a relationship, and the fear of not being able to handle life challenge myself. As a result, I kept opinions to myself and projected high expectations onto others. Looking back, I know that at the end of the day, as much as others can provide support to you, at the end of the day, no one can fight the battle but myself. I need to be the one that look at fear in the eye, then I will come to see that fear does not exist.

After posting ‘Silver Linings’, I had quite a few friends messaged me and said what I wrote is quite relatable to them. For that, I think that’s part of the reason I write – to help others know that they are not alone in this journey and to help them formulate feelings that they haven’t put words to yet. This post is mostly me monologuing who I am, but I hope reading this post also reminds you to check in with yourself and think about how this strange year has shaped you and pointed out things that are not as clear as before.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. May we all grow a lot from 2020.