Author Archives: Sijie

the Journey of Self – Know the Why

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 6 of the series.

After living in Washington for a year, I started hiking more frequently in 2020 summer to appreciate the beautiful state that I live in. To get inspired and find trails, I joined a couple of hiking and mountaineering groups on Facebook. Members of these communities usually posted pictures of their trips and wrote trip reports. For a long time, the postings made me feel so unaccomplished and anxious about what I have done. Others are doing much more impressive things – scrambling on exposed terrain, summiting all the volcanoes in Washington, backcountry skiing, roped climbing, running on trails with high vertical gains, etc., while I am yet to learn the skills to do any of them. My competitiveness got the best of me and I felt frustrated that I couldn’t win. There is an app in the community to register which peaks you have bagged and I developed an unhealthy obsession that I will only go on hikes where there were peaks to conquer. I will not choose lake hikes as a result, no matter how pretty the trails are, because lakes are not considered peaks in the app. I wanted to catch up so badly that being outside is no longer fun. It was all about registering my name under the peaks.

Luckily, going on a backpacking trip with a couple of friends this summer at the alpine lakes reminded me to enjoy the process and take it all in along the journey. In the past, I was usually in a rush – starting from trailhead as early as 7 a.m., taking shorter breaks, having a quick snack at summit, and hurrying back to the car. This time, my friends and I deliberately wanted to do a chill trip and even shortened the stay to 1 night only so that we were not that far from civilization. We took a leisure pace of starting after lunch on the first day, shot plenty of pictures at all the lakes on this trail, watched sunset and looked for shooting stars at night. We even brought swim suits along, but ran out of time. At first I was not used to this leisure pace, always trudging ahead then stopping to wait for my friend to catch up. Then I realized I missed out on the opportunity to catch up with my friends about their work-from-home life, creative endeavors, and recent adventures, so I slowed down and ‘ooh and aah’ together with them whenever we had a beautiful view. ShuMui, who were on this trip with me, wrote a remarkable trip report with pictures taken from the DSLR that she hauled up the trail. After this trip, my heart was so full that I cared a lot less about bagging peaks now and was reminded again why I enjoyed the outdoors.

In addition, I remembered that I have only been in Washington for a little more than two years. I did not learn climb and ski before. I am an average runner and need to put in the work to run faster and get used to the verticals. Despite the two years, my outdoor skills and capabilities have grown significantly, which is worth celebrating! I also realized that everyone has different goals in life. I should not have mistaken others’ goals as mine and gone after them, because we all are making a deliberate choice of what to focus on. Just because others’ goals are visible on social media, it does not mean that I should go after the same ones. The likes and validation received from social media do not mean anything, if I am not content from within. I should develop clarity on what my own plans are and stay focused on them, so that I am not easily distracted by what others have been pursuing.

As a result, I started thinking a lot about the whys behind all the things I do. Why do I hike and backpack? Why do I run? Why do I want to try trail running? Why do I pick up bouldering? Why do I write? Why do I mentor? Why am I working as a product manager? Once I rehash out the whys, I am happier and more satisfied with where I am. It is like having an internal compass, showing me the way, rather than mistaking other directions as my way just because they are big and shiny. I love having this sense of direction. I am no longer comparing myself to others, because I know we all have different goals to work towards. It is a good life as long as I am doing what fulfills me.

Have you thought about your whys?

Bonus: speaking of being on trails, I love this article from guidebook author Craig Romano on sharing what we love about the wilderness with our loved ones. Give it a read! Love this quote!

“The only thing that can be better than sitting on a wild deserted beach, atop a commanding hilltop, or by a sparkling alpine lake is to be there in the company of the people I care for most. All of those beautiful natural landscapes are too life enhancing to be loved alone.”

Craig Romano, ‘LOVE IS IN THE PLEIN AIR’

the Journey of Self – Finding My People

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 5 of the series.

Washington is the fourth state I lived in in the US, not counting my short summer stint in California. For someone who has moved around with no close family in the US, my least favorite part about moving is having to give up all the friends in that city and to go through the process of finding a community again. On a positive note, I am lucky to have some close friends living all over the country who I stay in touch with and have paid me quite a few visits already. As I reflect on my experience of moving, I realize that I can be good at making new friends, maybe due to the fact that all my family lives abroad, so my friends become my tribe.

After living in Washington for two years, 60% of the time was during the time of a global pandemic, I am happy to report that I have slowly found a group of likeminded people, the connection with whom I am grateful for. Coming to Seattle with a large number of business school classmates definitely made my first year easier, especially when a few of my good friends from business school moved here too. In my second year, I put more effort in meeting new people outside my usual circle and joined a running club! I am not sure why the running club idea did not occur to me earlier, since this was the same thing I did when I moved to Houston! I really enjoy going to weekly runs with my club and being able to explore some new trails on the Eastside and some old gems on which I can now run at a faster pace. Thanks to motivation from the club, I’ve pulled off the longest distance I’ve ever run in a month and today I ran close to 12 miles and still had a bit left in my tank. Running more combined with hiking has definitely made me feel my body is at its prime right now.

1.5X to my previous monthly max!

Speaking of hiking, I have also found more friends to explore trails with. We are able to push each other, me being pushed more often than they are (:P) to take on the trail less traveled. Some great fun were had on the winter trail of chain lakes loop, Kachess Beacon, and wright mountain traverse. Last year, I saw hiking more as a way to stay fit, but ended up not enjoying the process as much because I was too focused on going at a speed that my physical fitness could not sustain and on the goal of bagging peaks. This year, my fitness level improved significantly and the hikes become more a way to catch up with friends while sharing the gorgeous views of nature. As I lower my monthly hiking frequency, I am more and more looking forward to each hike. I am really excited to go on two backpacking trips the end of the month with Washington friends and out-of-town visitors!

Chain lakes adventure featuring walking on the frozen lake in the background and snowshoeing up a hill!

Lastly, I am also lucky to have friends who can show me the ropes of bouldering (but no literal ropes involved)! Because I have fear of heights that might stop me from taking on more scrambling challenges in the mountains, I’ve started indoor bouldering and it is a fun physical and mental challenge. Since then, I have taken the skill and experience to outdoor trails and I can say that I am becoming more comfortable with navigating large boulders!

All in all, I am just grateful for all the old and new connections I am able to make while living in Washington. These are the people who have inspired me to take on more and taught me new skills and experiences that I will always treasure. Cheers to Year 3 in Washington and finding more of my people!

the Journey of Self – Freedom vs. Control

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 4 of the series.

Late last December I came across a book ‘Nonviolent Communication’, which described how we can connect with others in a more compassionate way, expressing ourselves without casting judgment and receiving others’ feelings empathetically. I was immediately enlightened and started practicing what the book advocates for in daily life. Since I am the kind of person who enjoys sharing what I love and have learned (this blog is a natural extension), I frequently talked about this book at holiday gatherings and FaceTime sessions and even bought copies of the book as holiday gifts. I also emailed the emotional intelligence interest group at work and recommended it as a book club topic. After some ‘aggressive’ promotion of the book, later on, I checked with my friends to see if they read it. I got a bit frustrated when my friends did not take my recommendations seriously or when they did not feel as strongly about the book as I did.

When watching the video of Yung Pueblo, whose two books and weekly newsletters are amazing, I realized everyone is learning at their own pace (video starts at 36:15) and I can only help those who are open to changes and actively seek out help. Because each person holds the key to his/her own heart, we need to be kind to others and let them grow at their own pace. We can provide all the support we think they need, but nothing will change unless they are committed to making the change themselves. We can provide resources but should not get frustrated when they don’t do anything or when they pick a different way to get assistance. If we realize we cannot help any further, we can set boundaries, communicate that, and step away from the issue at hand if needed. However, there is no need to be upset if the results don’t turn out the way we expect.

Upon realizing that, I am able to let go of my desire to control others’ reaction a lot more easily. I also wonder whether my wanting others to react or solve problems the same way I did was just another form of me seeking external validation. Luckily, I have grown a lot sure of myself over the past year that I care less about getting validation. I still enthusiastically share what I love. If they enjoy what I have shared, that’s great. If they do not, at least I feel good about having done my part of trying to be helpful.

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.