12 lessons I learned in 2018

This year I decided to start 2019 strong by prioritizing my personal growth. Before I naïvely jump in and try to radically change myself with “new year new me” talk and unrealistic New Year resolutions, I’ll be reflecting on everything I learned in 2018.

To be frank, I don’t reflect on my past often. The most reflecting I’ve done was reliving flashbacks of awkward interactions with people that make me want to sink into the earth and disappear.

However, almost a year from today I made a conscious effort to journal. Journalling was a meditative routine for me to sort out my thoughts and slow myself down. Unfortunately my daily journalling become biweekly, and barely monthly by the time I started my fall semester.

Although my routine quickly fell apart as my schedule became more hectic, journalling taught me that I needed to take a step back if I wanted to make positive changes in my life. I needed to understand the reasons behind how and why I interact with the world the way that I do before changing my habits.

2018 was both a storm and a breeze. I went through lots of emotions, epiphanies, and conveniently timed existential crises. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been confused and frustrated with myself, but there were also countless times when I was happy and grateful for everything and everyone in my life. I’m thankful for all of the experiences that I had, and with that, here are twelve things that I took away from 2018: 

#1: You miss 100% of the chances that you don’t take. 

This is super cheesy and cliché but it’s true. If you don’t try, how do you know if you’ll succeed? Sure you could fail or not get said opportunity, but life is full of chances for you to try again.

I spent January applying to a lot of different programs to do summer research. There were a few advantages for staying on campus, but I decided that pursuing new experiences will be beneficial for my own growth. Even though I had pretty low expectations in terms of actually securing any of these positions, I applied anyway because the possibility was still there.

I stopped applying after I got an offer to work at a Pharma company. However, a more exciting opportunity rolled around that I couldn’t say no to. I wouldn’t even have had that option had I not tried to pursue it in the first place. This opened a ton of (important)doors for me down the road, so again, take those chances because you’ll never know where they lead you!

#2: Your hardwork and passion will lead to great things. Be grateful and proud of how far you’ve come!

It’s hard to realize how amazing you are when you’re in a constant state of struggle. February was the month that I began to journal and revitalize a huge cultural event on campus.

Throughout my years at Brown I led a lot of ground work for the Vietnamese Students Association with the help of amazing executive board members. Looking back, the stress was all worth it in the end. I’m extremely proud of our work and how we transformed our community. I learned what it takes to be a firm and decisive leader, but also one that listens and fosters a healthy team environment. I definitely faced a number of setbacks, but those mistakes became valuable learning experiences that helped me emerge as an even better leader.

#3: Your happiness stems from a healthy balance of everything and everyone that you care about.

At this point I finally had a taste of a work-life balance after what felt like a constant cycle of exhaustion. For a while I convinced myself that it was normal to feel defeated on a daily basis. That it was acceptable, maybe even admirable to take all the hardest classes you possibly can, live in the library, all the while hustling for the next internship or leadership position.

My long awaited “chill” semester was a complete eye opener for me. For the first time in so long I felt happy because I prioritized other important parts of my life. I spent time with people that I cared about. I went grocery shopping and made time to cook for myself. I found my happy balance and was truly thankful for everything in my life. There’s no point in being successful with one pillar if the other two are crumbling underneath as a consequence. Happiness stems from multiple revenues.

#4: Your mentors and advisors will fight and advocate for you.

The most transformative experiences I had during my years in college were hands down during the summer. I was born and raised in the northeast for the entirety of my life, so living in different parts of the U.S. during my summers gave me new perspectives and experiences.

These defining moments wouldn’t have been possible without all the mentors and supervisors who supported me. My research advisor was there every step of the way and even sent me opportunities that might have sparked my interest.

In April, I was offered a sponsorship to present my research at a national conference thanks to him. I really can’t appreciate him enough and everyone who continued to look out for me to this day.

#5: Your stress should not validate your productivity.

My spring semester was the most stress free semester I’ve had at Brown. During finals week, I was working on a few projects simultaneously but I didn’t overexert myself to the point of burning out. Productivity without stress? For some reason I had no idea the two could co-exist.

A part of this is because students try to casually one-up each other’s struggle. Why should we be proud of all the all-nighters that we pulled off at the library? Why you haven’t showered in over a week? Romanticizing the ways in which we destroy ourselves can create a toxic, workaholic environments that no one should partake in.

#6: Stepping out of your comfort zone and keeping an open mind can lead to unexpected rewards.

Back in February, I found out that I was offered a position to do research in California. Between making big bucks at a Pharma company and spending the summer in SoCal doing innovative science, I opted for the latter.

I’ve never been to the west coast before so this was the perfect opportunity for me to explore uncharted territory. As cool as it was to work in a newly renovated lab with an enthusiastic team, my most exciting and memorable experience from the summer was learning west coast swing.

I started doing ballroom during my freshman year of college and have been to a lot of social dances since then. I’d remember that whenever a west coast swing song would play, about three couples out twenty would go out to dance. In the meantime most of us would wait for the next song.

I initially thought west coast swing was weird and maybe even inferior to jive, but I was so, so wrong. After looking past the mysteriously similar counts and different footwork, I fell in love with the vibe and dance that is west coast swing. As cheesy as it sounds, I was swept off my feet.

#7: You learn something new from every conversation you have. You’ll also click with some people better than others and that’s okay.

I don’t see myself as the best conversationalist. I’m also quite reserved so I can only withstand and initiate so much small talk with people I just met. For the first time I found myself in situations where I’d sit in complete silence or figure out ways to desperately save a failing conversation before I could escape.

The beauty of leaving my college bubble is that I could meet people that I would otherwise never interact with, but that’s not to say that every encounter is smooth.

Despite this, I’m thankful for meeting and talking with new people because it helps me keep an open mind. It’s fine if you connect with some people more easily than others. You have control over how you interact with people but not the other way around, and that’s something you just need to accept. You can improve your connections but can’t force one to happen.

On the bright side, when you do find a genuine connection with someone, those encounters will undoubtedly outshine your awkward ones. At the end of the day, both experiences are valuable!

#8: It’s never too late to learn something new.

I get pretty self-conscious when I tell people that I don’t have my driver’s license yet. Up until this month, I had no idea how to ride a bike.

It’s interesting how we set universal timelines for when we should know how to do certain things or when we should have certain experiences, but I think it instead leaves us with expectations that have or haven’t been met. Expectations can motivate us, but when we fail to meet those expectations we start to tie our self worth to such “achievements” and resort to unhealthy comparisons between us and everyone else.

Another unfortunate consequence of these social constructs is the feeling of not wanting to learn for fear of judgement. Honestly who cares if you don’t know how to do x, y, and z? Even if you’re the nicest and smartest person in the world there will be someone out there who will judge or gossip about you. Are you really going to let that one person take you down?

This is obviously easier said than done, but if we put in the effort to look past socially constructed time tables and fears, we can achieve even greater personal heights. Such as learning how to ride a bike well into your young adulthood.

#9: Our emotions are situational and can cloud our current reality.

I left the summer feeling pretty optimistic so I naturally carried that mentality with me. Back in September I actually looked forward to starting my fall semester. I expected it to be stressful but also manageable. I was kind of right in some ways. But clearly wrong in others.

My schedule looked deceivingly bare until I realized that I signed up for a pretty rigorous set of classes. On top of that I was also studying for the GRE, applying to fellowships, and applying to graduate school. I made the unfortunate mistake of biting a bit more than I could chew.

The most frustrating part was that I thought I knew what I could handle after my traumatizing sophomore year, but I clearly didn’t learn my lesson. Looking back, I don’t regret the choices I made but I did wish that I was more mentally prepared for the ride.

#10: Stress will exacerbate your emotions and expectations.

October was pretty rough. I was finishing up my fellowship applications, taking my standardized tests, and studying for my midterms. My research which quickly dropped in priority after I living deadline by deadline. I was overwhelmed, tired, and questioned every decision I’ve made in college. Why did I choose to study something so niche? How much longer can I tolerate academia? Am I really cut out for this kind of lifestyle?

The stress dropped my confidence and intensified my inner emotional turmoil. My perfectionism took a huge toll on my well being. I would constantly beat myself over for not meeting my unrealistic expectations.

We have a finite amount of energy that also needs to be replenished every now and then. Constant overexertion can do more harm than good. I’m still learning how to be more forgiving with myself, but I’m also starting to accept that I simply can’t do everything well all the time. I’m a human, not a robot.

#11: It’s okay to not be okay. Our lives are precious and fragile, so keep your friends and family close.

My emotional distress peaked in November. I was desperately trying to solve a research problem that I was working on for weeks. I didn’t make any progress and one day I just came home defeated.

Those kinds of days usually don’t bother me because research is difficult and demoralizing by nature, but I just broke down in my room. I was so tired from everything and desperately wanted a break that I couldn’t have. I overworked and pushed myself way too hard. I was incredibly toxic to myself and let the stress get the best of me.

Luckily on that same day, I called a close friend from back home who helped me relieve a lot of the distress I kept bottled up.

During this same month, a high school friend also passed away.

I never had someone I knew and someone so young leave the world unexpectedly. Even to this day, I still don’t understand what it’s like to not see and talk to someone ever again. Humans are so strong and capable of amazing feats, but we’re also so vulnerable.

After experiencing this, I’ve been more appreciative of friends and family. I try to reach out more often. I realized that I’m not alone and that the people who care about me will support me at my lowest. But beyond holding people closer to me, I’ve also pushed myself to continue living with less doubts and fears…which led to the start of this blog!

#12: It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but things will get better when you least expect it.

I felt so free after I submitted all of my applications, but unfortunately I wasn’t free from the grasps of finals.

I was worried about my last few weeks mainly because I took a pause on my “active” learning to take care of my non-academic business.

While sifting through piles of notes and handouts, I realized that the amount of stress that I was dealing with is just unnecessary. Why am I so worried about my grades? Why do I need a percentage to validate my knowledge which somehow correlates to my worth? The more I question it the more ridiculous it sounds to me.

I was fed up with the copious amounts of unhealthy thoughts that stemmed from reading through slides and reaction mechanisms, so I stopped studying. A part of me didn’t care anymore, and another part of me was tired of complaining about my stress and wanted to do something about it. I have no regrets to do this day and left campus pretty happy.

Despite the rough semester, my year ended in the best way possible. Literally a few hours after I arrived home in Boston, I got accepted to my first graduate program. About three hours later, I got into my second. The next day, I got a phone call informing me that I got accepted into my top choice program (and an email confirmation later in January).

Final thoughts.I didn’t expect to end on such a good note considering the downhill trend that is my senior year, but I’m incredibly grateful for it. If I could go back in time, I honestly wouldn’t change anything because it’s through these moments of agony that we grow. The pockets of joy and happiness became even more precious to me and I’m so thankful for all of the new and old friends that have been with me every step of the way. I wouldn’t have made it without their love and support, so from the bottom of my heart I wish you the very best and thank you for everything!


Reflecting on Michelle Obama’s Becoming Pt. II

If you haven’t read my previous post yet, I’d encourage you to check it out before reading this one (if you care about continuity).

If you decided to continue reading this post anyway or have already read part one, I’m happy to have you for part two on Michelle Obama’s Becoming:

Meeting Barack Obama. Michelle Obama met Barack Obama during his first day as a summer associate. She humorously recalled having Barack’s resume in her hands after being assigned as his mentor. She imagined him to be a bit nerdy and weird, only to be charmed by his charismatic voice. 

Throughout Michelle’s Becoming, she often used the term “swerve”. Swerving meant pivoting your current situation toward your desired end goal. Swerving was a mechanism to adapt and push forward whether by choice or by force.

Michelle quickly realized that Barack was the living representation of swerve. He was born in Hawaii, spoke fluent Indonesian, and graduated from Harvard Law. He planned to run for office. The way that Barack lived his life seemed anything but linear. Michelle’s relationship with Barack meant that swerving was always in the back of her mind, and it wasn’t until she became First Lady that she learned to swerve. A lot.

Entering the White House. Becoming the nation’s first African American First Lady was both unexpected and unintuitive for Michelle. Even when Barack was running his political campaigns, Michelle was set on returning to a normal life. She didn’t think that Barack would become the nation’s first African American president. She instead looked forward to moving on with their lives with normal jobs and raising their two daughters in peace.

Obviously, life didn’t unfold the way she expected.

Michelle had no idea that she’d become First Lady for eight years. Naturally, she sought advice from former First Ladies to learn about their experiences, only to realize that the role was also more fluid and undefined than she expected.

I think something important to note here is how this detour was both in and out of her control. It is entirely possible that your life can stay unperturbed, but more often than not life has a cunning way of sliding curveballs at you.

Michelle saw those curveballs as challenges that she can learn from. She realized that her role as First Lady was very much in her control and leveraged this opportunity to make a difference.

Finding her place in the public eye. One of the challenges Michelle faced was learning to deal with the public scrutiny she received during her time in the White House.

It’s important to realize that life shouldn’t revolve around our career–our family and relationships also provide experiences that are irreplaceable and important for our personal growth. Michelle prioritized her role as a mother for her two daughters before becoming First Lady despite receiving criticism. In a society so demanding and imposing toward public figures, it was refreshing to see her fierce dedication to her family.

As First Lady, Michelle created initiatives to support young students, especially for young black women. Of the initiatives that she led, her efforts to bring students to the White House was the most inspirational for me.

When underprivileged folks are constantly bombarded with messages telling them that they’re not good enough or that they don’t “belong” in elite spaces, it’s difficult not to internalize these words.

Michelle’s enrichment program breaks down those barriers and tackles those misconceptions. When her students left the White House, they felt empowered and unstoppable. In her words, they “walked as if they owned the White House”.

She had a lasting impact on these students because she not only provided them access to elite spaces, but also a support system to thrive in those spaces. A support system is absolutely necessary to meet the unique needs of students to navigate and succeed in spaces that weren’t initially created for them. Michelle blazed her trail and is now helping others to blaze theirs. She actively uses her privilege to foster future leaders who would’ve never fathomed the idea of it. Her dedication to leveling the playing field is admirable and inspirational, and I hope to do the same throughout my own journey as well.

Practicing self-care. Despite her hectic life as a mother, wife, and First Lady, Michelle took the initiative to start running with her close friends. She prioritized her health and well-being by sharing these goals with a supportive, tight-knit community. It was through this sisterhood that she stayed forgiving and grounded with herself.

I often compromised self care for the “hustle” that ended up promoting an endless cycle of exhaustion. I normalized a lot of wear and tear from college, telling myself that I was strong and that I can handle it.

But even the strongest people can break and use a helping hand. In our vulnerability we find hope and solace in each other. It is through our struggles that we can grow even stronger together.

I admired Michelle’s approach and perspective on self care because she came from a similar place of wanting to achieve the American Dream. Both she and I were raised by strong role models who readily sacrificed their own personal needs for the sake of their children’s success. It’s hard not to emulate those characteristics if that was what inspired us to work hard toward our dreams. Michelle decided to break out of that mold to prioritize herself, and I aspire to do a better job of taking care of myself without any remorse.  

Final thoughts. Michelle is honestly a blessing that I really needed during a stressful semester. Her experiences and outlook during each stage of her life truly hit home for me. Her vulnerability and insecurities reminded me that no matter what point you’ve reached in your life, there will always be a person or obstacle that will spark self doubt. Criticism, whether self imposed or not, can break you down if you let it consume you. However, if those negative thoughts become your motivation to improve and work hard, your best self can truly thrive.

Michelle’s story reminds us that even the strongest people can break. Relying on others for help doesn’t mean that you’re weak. If anything, it can uplift and make you stronger than you’ve ever been.

I personally struggled a lot with being open to others and seeking help for years, but I’m learning to become more vulnerable, honest, and forgiving with myself. With the turn of the new year, I hope to continue pursuing my passions and keeping those I hold dear closer to me throughout my journey. Thank you for reading, and I hope that you also start the new year strong with positivity and vigor!


Pattern Review: Japanese Knitting Stitch Bible by Hitomi Shida

Not too long ago, I received a knitting pattern book as a gift from a Secret Santa gathering (thanks Huy!). I had this book on my wishlist for about a year now and completely forgot about it until it was gifted to me.

I usually find patterns online (which ends up being a painstaking process that I willingly bring upon myself), so it was nice to have a physical copy that I could flip through.

More recently, I’ve had a difficult time trying to find advanced knitting patterns that both suited my taste and didn’t charge me $5 for a single one. I noticed a few floating around on Ravelry and Etsy, but I’d rather have access to a larger array of patterns if I wanted to seal the deal (as a college student on a tight budget)!

Hitomi Shida’s Japanese Knitting Stitch Bible takes the cake in terms of level and variety. I’m a huge fan of Japanese Knitting because of its intricate and delicate patterns, coupled with knitting diagrams that are easy to follow (once you figure out what each symbol means).

The Japanese Knitting Stitch Bible by Hitomi Shida, translated by Gayle Roehm.
The first pattern that I attempted!

The book features a variety of patterns that are categorized based on its characteristics and potential use (e.g. lacy patterns with bobbles, pattern panels, edging). The diagrams are clean, featuring numbered rows and columns to show how the pattern repeats.

Each stitch symbol can be found in the beginning of the book that defines each knitting abbreviation and how to make each type of stitch. The back of the book provides visuals for more complicated/non-conventional stitches (such as the one seen in row #13 centered on stitch #10 in the pattern I followed).

The patterns are not exactly for the faint hearted, as many of them have multiple left/right leaning decreases and yarn overs scattered everywhere with the usual knits and purls. It took some time to adjust to reading each row without flipping back to the stitch guide every two seconds, but once you get into the groove the process feels seamless (no pun intended)!

First repeat of the pattern. Features eyelets along knitted columns (look was achieved by knitting in the back loop instead of the forward loop) followed by a leaf-like pattern on top.
Another view. Bobbles were made using a crochet hook.

The pattern I attempted had eyelets everywhere, so blocking the fabric was a crucial step to do the final product justice. I never made bobbles before, let alone with a crochet hook, so attempting these for the first time was pretty fun to figure out.

I found that most of the patterns were extremely decorative and would make gorgeous pillow covers, scarves, and shawls. There is also a great selection of pattern panels that would be perfect for a sweater. The end of the book has a number of edging patterns which I’ve never incorporated in a project before, though they can definitely add an extra layer of intricateness and dimension to any kind of project!

I’d say that I’m pretty satisfied with the variety of patterns that the book offers. I was pleased to see that the diagrams translate well into the expected appearance of the fabric. I would strongly recommend checking out the book if you’ve been knitting for a while and are itching for a challenge (or if you’re new to knitting, it can serve as a motivation for you to continue knitting)!