Wednesday, December 31, 2014

14 things about 2014.

Another year full of lessons and living. Looking back on this year, it was filled with both profound losses and encouraging gains. Jason asked us over the holidays if 2014 was in the top quintile of all our years, and I had to really think about that...was it one of the five best years of my life?


Ultimately, the answer was yes, but it doesn't mean it'll be forever one of the best years of my life. (The best is always yet to come!) I learned so much more about the person I wanted to become and set real goals to try to achieve that. And while there were many (many) stumbles, I think the important thing is that 2014 was a year where I learned how to prioritize and where I finally learned how not to let others define my priorities for me.

I still don’t have everything figured out (does anyone, ever?) but for the first time since college, I have a clear vision of where I want to be someday.

1. Take advantage of becoming an adult.
Having health insurance was a godsend this year. Not only did I have to get my wisdom teeth out, but I took my first steps to confront an autoimmune disease I've had my whole life, and seeing the costs of all the appointments, treatment, and medication after applying my insurance was amazing. I also bought a shredder and started budgeting better and stopped leaving books and shoes strewn across my bedroom floor that I (and the dog) would trip over every day. (I also bought a coffee maker and have unfortunately not been using it as much as I should be lately…)

2. Learning to be solitary in New York is rewarding.
Being alone can be nice, especially in such a crowded city. I wrote about this back in August, but I've learned to really value solitude this past year, and not worry about not acting my age. There is nothing wrong with falling asleep at 8 p.m. on a Friday night, let’s be real.

3. Dress for the job you want.
Always be prepared! You never know who you might meet, or what networking opportunities might exist that will pop up unexpectedly. I used to hate that word “networking,” but it’s proven valuable this year, along with taking risks to introduce yourself to people who can help you progress in your career. This year, I stopped dressing like an intern and started dressing like a young professional in hopes to make myself look older (I'm constantly mistaken for a college kid still), and I'd like to think that it’s paid off… I’ve gone from being asked if I need help to being asked for directions. That alone has to be worth it, right?

4. The career opportunities.
In 2014, I joined the board of a diversity group at work and got to organize an event with one of my idols; met a longtime journalism hero and began working for her; started reporting again and actually felt like my voice mattered.

5. The personal opportunities.
In 2014, I learned that networking isn't exclusive to professional aspirations. I met a lot of great, new people, strengthened existing relationships, explored new places, and learned so much more about the kind of person I want to be.

6. Set priorities.
Relevant to the two points above, it's such an important moment to define your goals and chart a course to achieve them. In doing that, I've discovered just how crucial it is to really prioritize in a day or else it's too easy to get distracted and lose focus on the important things in life. When it comes to working overtime or spending the evening with a friend who really needs someone to talk to—without a question, the latter comes first. I have career goals, of course, but I also have an overarching goal of being a decent human being. That should be a priority. People should be a priority, and I need to remember that going into 2015 too. Just because I have professional ambitions doesn’t mean I need to sacrifice personal relationships too.

On that same personal level, it’s important to also know how to say “no”…which I have trouble with, as evidenced by several toxic relationships I’d found myself in over the years. When it comes to friendships, the rule should always be quality over quantity, I think. And some days, it’s OK to prioritize yourself above others. 

7. Walk as much as possible.
It's too easy to spend every day underground on the subway. I feel like part of re-learning how to appreciate the little things is to get out and see the world--even the world that's right in your backyard.


8. "Eat more spinach."
Spinach is an incredibly nutritious vegetable full of calcium. That's something I learned when I used to sit next to Geoff--one of the first things Geoff said to me, actually. He became a mentor to me. Having someone who was always encouraging me and going out of his way to help me be a better writer was meaningful, especially in a year where it felt like those people at work were becoming fewer and fewer. When he passed away in November, it wrecked me.

9. It's never too late to do something.
Life is short. It's not too late to reach out to someone you haven't talked to in awhile. You might not get a response, but at least you tried. There was someone this past year who I was really close to, and then the friendship abruptly ended. I tried to reach out and I hit a wall. Two years ago, I would have agonized over it for the rest of the year, but sometimes you just have to step back and try again later. And if it still doesn’t work. start to learn to let go and accept that loss. Sometimes people will surprise you though, and you'll get the chance to know someone again. That’s worth so much.

10. You can't put a price tag on memories.
I won’t ever regret traveling—whether it’s to home to see my family, to Orlando for vacation with my sister, or to DC to see friends and to soak in all the possibilities there. The future is always littered with opportunities to travel to new places or to visit familiar ones and reconnect with people. I’d take that any day over a new pair of shoes.

11. Be bossy.
There’s a part in Amy Poehler’s Yes Please that stood out to me: “Let me take a minute to say that I love bossy women. Some people hate the word, and I understand how ‘bossy’ can seem like a shitty way to describe a woman with a determined point of view, but for me, a bossy woman is someone to search out and celebrate. A bossy woman is someone who cares and commits and is a natural leader. Also, even though I’m bossy, I like being told what to do by people who are smarter and more interesting than me.”

I identify with that. This idea that women who assert themselves are overstepping is frustrating and absurd. Some of the strongest women I know—many who are writers and journalists themselves—made their careers on being assertive and stubborn and confident in their abilities to own their work. That’s who I want to be. In college while managing the paper, my friend Emmanuel who was also on the editorial board said I made a good manager because I was bossy, and I instinctively pushed back because of the negative connotation that came with being bossy, but he stopped me and said, “Own it. You’re a boss.” It makes me pushy and I can be a bit sharp around the edges, but I’m working on it.

12. "Nothing good happens after 2 a.m."
This was a lesson from season one of How I Met Your Mother and I never, ever heed it when I really should. In a city like New York, it’s too easy to stay up and out too late. In life in general, it’s too easy to make bad choices, and then it’s even easier to blame those bad choices on other things: alcohol, peer pressure, whatever. I’ve used all those excuses, but within 12 hours I feel terrible about things I’ve done I shouldn’t have done.

13. "Life's too short to read bad books."
Mengfei wrote me that in a letter for my birthday this past year when I asked my friends to provide advice for my 25th year of life. In a literal sense of the phrase, it rings true: I remember reading a novel earlier this year and finding it painful to power through by the end of it. I wasn't invested in any of the characters and didn't care about the world they lived in, but I felt like I just had to get through it and get it over with. The amount of time I spent forcing myself to read through the last half of the book could have been spent doing something more enjoyable. I don't even remember how this book ended.

You can probably guess the life metaphor that piece of advice has, right? I’m not saying to give up on everything you can’t finish (Lord knows I do that too often…), but commit yourself to a project or a goal and learn to make adjustments if things don’t go as smoothly as you hoped, or if the timeline needs to be changed

14. Don't step down from the soapbox.
I added a line to my Twitter bio a few months ago: “Committed to diversity in the media.” It’s a reminder to myself that I have the unique opportunity to help elevate voices that don’t often get a platform—whether it’s contributing to NBC Asian America or pitching guests that help put real faces to stories. There was this site last year where you could measure the ratio of men to women you retweeted in the year, and while it was a flawed algorithm, it made me think a lot about the kinds of voices I pay attention to myself. In 2015, I want to continue to keep an ear open to the Asian American community while shining a spotlight on the issues and stories we have to tell.

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