Here are five of my top reflections after hitting the five year mark after graduating from college back in 2017.
After graduating from my undergraduate program back in 2017, I recently hit my five-year mark of being in the "real-world", away from the insulated, protected circle of bliss I knew as college.
Also having recently turned 27 (wtf), I'm starting to observe more, and fight less. I'm getting (relatively) old (kinda), it feels like my parents are aging exponentially, many of my previous friends are now strangers, and health is more valuable than anything else in life.
And with these realizations come the subtler recognition that I've changed in so many ways, personally, socially, and professionally.
Not having published anything on my blog since the second half of 2019, it feels great to come back to a medium that is more authentic to my voice and more aligned to my roots in writing and journaling.
Below are five reflections on what I've learned and experienced over the past five years.
Take it Steady, Stay Consistent, Be True
After taking a pause from consistently writing and publishing on my blog more than three years ago, I redirected a lot of my energy into making Youtube videos, something a lot of my friends and people in my network decided to explore because of a little something called the pandemic. I remember all sorts of audiovisual equipment going out of stock or being marked up severalfold due to an upsurge in free time and a decreased stroking of our individual psyches from others by being stuck at home.
Around the same time, I was determined to launch a successful side project, falling victim to the same outcries that "yes, you too – you can quit your 9-to-5 and become a full-time influencer, travel the world, and avoid having to sit through mind-numbing meetings that could have been an email instead". I don't doubt that many people can make it if they put enough time and energy into it, but looking back on my experience, I realize that it became more of a chore than something I enjoyed, something that was probably palpable to those who watched your videos. I also realize I don't think I ever got the hang of being not awkward on camera (and in real life), and I'm okay with that.
A Balance between Acceptance and Improvement
Being okay with something is very different from being accepting of it.
In one of the very first team workshops I participated in at my new job, someone shared an insight that really stood out to me. Research with Gen-Zers revealed that in general, the younger generation prioritizes "self-acceptance" over "self-improvement", something that made me think about my own journey and what I've prioritized in my own life up until this point.
If you look back at many of my published articles, you'll see titles like "How I’m Learning the Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck", "A Roadmap for My 20s" and "2019: The Year of Practicing Wellness". If not learning, I was always planning, improving, practicing – always doing, doing, doing. Periods of inactivity and stagnation made me feel uncomfortable.
Over these past few months, I've pushed myself to become more accepting of who I am, or as Focusmate founder Taylor Jacobson likes to put it, be more gentle to myself.
That's not to say I don't care about self-improvement anymore. I stay glued to my computer after my 9-5, choosing to watch documentaries, read books, learn new languages, and kick a bag in my basement.
The pressure to succeed is ingrained in me, and I constantly find myself pushing to be better than who I was yesterday. Yet, instead of hearing "you should do this or else, you'll be a failure", I'm focusing on reframing it as "try your best, work hard, and don't disappoint yourself because of your lack of effort.
Progress Takes Time
Over the course of a few weeks, or a few months, it's sometimes difficult to see progress. Doing a bit each day isn't always visible, but compounded over time, that progress materializes in the things you choose to engage in.
To make my progress more tangible, a few years ago, I started aligning the start of the new year to my birthday instead of to January 1st.
I keep a journal for every quarter of the year, and I keep track of my daily progress against my goals to make sure I'm moving in the right direction. At the end of each quarter throughout the year, I take some time off from work to focus purely on what I call a "personal audit", where I analyze what went well, and which neglected goals I need to focus on more during the next quarter or year.
Over the past few years, here are some highlights I want to share with my community:
When I look back at my teenage years, I lament how much of an awful kid I was. I remember fighting back when my parents tried to drag me out of bed in the morning for school (high school, at that). I recollect how painful it was to watch my mom cry when she realized I skipped an expensive semester of Sunday morning math classes and camped out in one of the offices of the nearby corporate park instead. And I can’t forget the look of complete disappointment – no, defeat and letdown – when my guidance counselor in high school told them I would be suspended for a week and put in the shed across the street because of my caustic personality and rebellious behavior.
As the kid who grew up reading and playing the violin in his free time, coming in first in math competitions, and not knowing what the word “boner” meant until 8th grade, my downfall was quick and abrupt. But years later, I’m revisiting these memories of my childhood and understanding the intergenerational pressures between me and the expectations of my parents. I don’t vilify my parents anymore, because I understand and empathize with the motivation and sacrifice that emotionally charges every scolding, beating, and pleading I receive.
Today, instead, when I come across older photos of us in the rotating photo album that sits on our dining table, my eyes draw attention to the grooved valleys on my parents’ faces and the salted black hairs that are scattered on their heads. I quietly recognize that the periods of time between their hair dyeing sessions are growing longer, and that they’re acknowledging – maybe giving into – their aging as much as I am.
Compared to many of my friends in the Asian diaspora, I realize I’m very fortunate to have a family that supports me and my growth. I frequently hear stories about those I grew up who received nothing but criticism, pressure and disapproval. No one should have to grow up feeling like they aren’t worthy of their family’s unconditional love.
Health is Wealth
During the pandemic, I experienced one of the most challenging, but perhaps, most formative periods of my life. Like many others, I was beyond excited to hear that my company was enforcing a mandatory work-from-home policy for the foreseeable future. But headspace quickly turned into reclusion, and I found myself locking myself in my room after working 10+ hours a day, and playing video games until 2 or 3 in the morning, only to repeat everything again the next day.
At the end of 2020, everyone in my household ended up contracting COVID, requiring both my parents to become hospitalized for an extended period of time. I experienced some of the worst anxiety in my life during that time, and I have extremely unpleasant memories of driving back and forth to the hospital, with COVID, in a fatigued, drunk-like state to visit both my parents, who were separated in different rooms.
A lot of my blog posts touch upon the fragility of life and mortality, but a lot of these concerns never felt as palpable as they did during this period of my life. Looking back, I’ve started to realize that physical and mental health are the cornerstones of life – without a strong foundation, everything else doesn’t mean much. Now, in 2022, I’m fortunate to be able to invest in my physical and mental health through coaches and therapists, and I definitely recommend others to do the same.
I’ll admit that these first five years after graduating have been extremely challenging, but I’ve become more understanding and patient that things will fall in line. Everyone’s journey post-graduation will look different, but I’m hoping there are some themes here that will resonate with others that graduated with me and that I'm not alone in my thoughts.