A look back + a look ahead

Lessons from this summer

I’ve made it a point this year to be more intentional – to take ownership of my choices and commit to living with purpose instead of merely drifting through life. And by drifting, I don’t mean doing nothing – I’d be the first to raise my hand, guilty, for living a hectic, hurried existence in which I feel like my time is constantly occupied… simply out of a fear of boredom rather than with a sense of purpose. Setting goals for each chapter in my life is how I’m starting to wean myself off of my habit of being mindlessly busy.

My goal for this summer was to get comfortable outside of my comfort zone. I was living on my own in a new city, no familiar faces to welcome me, as an intern at a big tech company (with only experiences at small orgs + nonprofits under my belt). I learned how to navigate corporate culture and deal with feeling like a small cog in a very big wheel, as well as how to not fall into complacency in my designated role – to follow my curiosity, piecing together a more macro-level picture by talking to those several rungs above me on the corporate ladder. I learned how to deal with insurance and broken glass when a thief smashed my car window (“adulting”), I navigated too many Greyhound buses and Amtrak trains and slept on a stranger’s couch in San Francisco, and I spent many many weekends exploring mountains and lakes in the Sierras. I also made new friends – genuine, bonded connections – and learned more about myself in the process.

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New friends/fellow math geeks at Loon Lake.

A person’s identity is like a pattern drawn on a tightly stretched parchment. Touch just one part of it, just one allegiance, and the whole person will react, the whole drum will sound,

wrote Amin Maalouf. In a new place without readymade friends and years of shared experiences, connecting with new acquaintances beyond a surface level honestly daunted me at the beginning of summer. But then I started having conversations that I never wanted to end about a common passion for social entrepreneurship, geeking out about math and awesome professors, and trading outdoor adventure stories with these people. Many knowing smiles, aggressive nods, and “I feel yous” later, I started feeling at home – both in this new city and with myself. These things that get me excited about life and serve as the connecting thread between myself and a stranger are what shape my identity – call me Captain Obvious for coming to such a simple but necessary realization.

Goals for this blog + semester

My original blog proposal was centered around the theme of optimization, inspired by a math course I’m taking this semester called Combinatorial Optimization. I wrote about my penchant for finding patterns, creating processes, and driving efficiencies… and then I realized that real life is messy. Real life isn’t neatly organized into color-coded boxes, arranged for optimal ease of access, as much as I like to hope my brain works that way. It’s as much about experiencing as it is about thinking/filtering through those experiences, and it occurred to me that I’m perhaps a bit too preoccupied with the latter. So, my goal for this semester abroad is to be present.

Only in the present – not overthinking the past or worrying about the future – can I be intensely focused and fulfilled – whether it’s being “in the zone” when powering through a problem set, that feeling of “flow” when writing a paper, or feeling one with nature after scrambling up a tall rock in the wilderness to catch a killer view. I started my travels with the philosophy of packing half full (in practice, my bags ended up more like 7/8 full… but it’s about the mindset, too!) to leave room for newly acquired possessions and experiences rather than arriving already weighed down by old routines. If I am truly present, I shouldn’t go back home with the same things I came with – my four months in Budapest and Europe should more than fill up my pack.

How does that change how I’m approaching this blog? I think it means that my posts will probably be more raw and journal-like. Probably more life musings than travel hacks. Not just a list of what I did and an orderly process for how I did it, but also how I felt, what went wrong, and why it didn’t fit my initial assumptions.

I hope that by sharing my story, I’ll learn it, too.

A note of gratitude

Infinite thank yous to the Intel folks who made my summer so formative, to Phoebe + Vincent for opening up their home and basically being my parents for a summer, and to my actual parents for being my actual parents. Thanks, friends, for liking my Instagram posts and sharing those knowing smiles/aggressive nods/”I feel yous” with me. Vanessa, thank you for deservedly hyping up Budapest and sharing your recommendations with me! And of course, a huge thank you to Mr. and Mrs. Butler for making my European travels possible with their generosity.

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