Category Archives: Personal

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.

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 with this deeper understanding of 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.

Silver Linings

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!