The year passed by in a blur (just like the quality of this photo but I love it anyways). I remember back at the start of 2020, my friends and I crowded around in a tiny dorm room, sipping on wine and thinking about the future of sophomore year and wondering what exactly was going to happen. I had a rough fall internship recruiting period, some of the strongest anxiety I’ve ever had, and general self-doubt.

My friends and I ended up reviewing some of the goals I set for 2020, which are listed below:

  1. Get a job (and adjacently, stop comparing myself to my friends, peers, and those in industry)
  2. Spend more time on the things that matter, including friendships, family, and hobbies
  3. Relationship (with like 50 question marks)

In a rough sketch, I did the first one (and it’s corollary to an extent), definitely did the second one, and the third one we gave it a good ol’ college try. But what I think it does is paint three broad strokes that affected my life on a day to day manner. As a sort of reflection/journal/rant I have some notes down below in the hopes that maybe, something here resonates with you.

On Career

This year I worked two jobs, one I loved but ended up being forced to drop due to covid and the other that I absolutely hated. I realized that what I loved about startups is the freedom it gives you to pursue in sort of whatever direction you desire, but also constrains you to REALLY focus on users. And I mean it. Which I personally love as someone who’s extremely passionate about user experience, psychology, and consumer behavior but is not necessarily true for everyone. I also ran a fireside series focused on LGBTQ+ members in tech and tech adjacent over the summer called Tea Time. This brought me a lot of love into my life and felt like collaborative therapy. It also reminded me that there is good in the world, that communities are strong because we believe in each other, and that communities grow because of shared identities. This lended naturally well because a couple of friends and I then decided to start a quasi-incubator called Brown RISD Innovation Community (BRIC). Starting this in a pandemic, with everything virtual was … hard. We pivoted so many times and screwed up so much but I’m glad that our community members stood with us through all the bumps in the road.

We’ll see what happens in the new year but going into all of these initiatives and doing things I love made me take a step back and reevaluate life a little bit. So much of it so far has been doing what people expected of me: going to a good school, studying hard, majoring in something “applicable.” And while I still am very much a stereotype in many regards, I’ve started to branch out and learn what makes me happy has been an important leap I took. Maybe it’s taking a rest day and reading a book I’ve been meaning to catch up on. Or maybe it’s focusing on supporting the LGBTQ+ community in any way I know how. Whatever it is, I hope to keep that trend going in the future.

On Friendships

A lot of friendships took a toll this year. Not only was I unable to see most of my friends due to the pandemic, it solidified and destroyed some of the ones I had. Some of my friends have heard me talk about this a lot (and I listen to podcasts ad nauseam about this topic) but I think that those that want you in their lives made an effort and really stepped up. And those that didn’t…didn’t. I think that it’s super difficult and that lives always get in the way but I’m a huge believer that anyone can prioritize reaching out if they really tried (under somewhat normal circumstances of course).

That being said, I’m super appreciative of the online friends I’ve made (y’all know who you are and I love you) who have kept me sane and for Twitter to always throw me in the deep end.

On Relationships

I am temporarily giving up on this one for the near future 😅

A lot of things happened, and I had some of the highest highs and the lowest lows but overall, I’m grateful for the friends who have stuck by my side, the organizations who are taking (or have taken) a bet on me to let me grow in their grasp, and the mentors who have shown me light and guidance no matter what is happening. Cheers to a better 2021.

engineer | designer | baker | dog-lover | http://ivanzhao.me