Alice Zhao

2020 Year in Review: This is Water.

Is it just me, or did 2020 seem to fly by?

Being in quarantine created a time distortion. My days felt longer yet the entire year flashed before my eyes. Did you know Shakespeare composed King Lear while quarantined during the bubonic plague?

This year I didn’t create one of the best plays of all time, but I want to share my learnings, challenges, and the new perspectives I gained in 2020.

Discovering my Ikigai

Early in the year, I was introduced to the concept of Ikigai by my former CEO. I sat in nervous anticipation as he drew four concentric circles on his whiteboard. In each, he labeled:

  1. What do you love?
  2. What does the world need?
  3. What are you good at?
  4. What can you get paid for?

In the center, the sweet spot, lies the elusive Ikigai.

With every fibre of my being I wanted to discover my Ikigai. Because the fact is, I was feeling more lost than ever. I reached a level of career success and worked for an amazing company. Yet part of me was unfulfilled and my work didn’t feel authentic. It tore me apart not knowing what my purpose in this world was.

Frankly, I felt like I’ve been lied to my entire life. Ever since second grade, I’ve been told I should follow my passions and achieve great things. What if I still don’t have it figured out even though I’m almost 30?

I found more success and had more money than ever before but what if no amount of either got me closer to my Ikigai?

There were many people who wanted to help, including my CEO and my incredible managers. In the end, I realized I needed to make a decision and stick with it, because dwelling in my existential query just prolonged the pain.

Redefining my Potential

One of the biggest milestones for me this year was building my first project with code. Granted, it’s just a chrome extension and there are only 6 people using it. But it has given me a small taste of the impact I can make with products.

I never ever imagined myself being a coder. Don’t they all look like some version of Mark Zuckerburg?

Dropping my phone on my face is a daily occurrence so surely handling the delicate syntax of code is way out of my league.

The biggest challenge in learning how to code has been telling myself I can. I told myself I could run a half marathon and I did. I told myself I could solve an algorithm problem and I did. I told myself I could build my own website and I did (You are on it). I actively remind myself every day that I am not an imposter. If I don’t believe in myself, who will?

Consistency > Perfection

I’ll shamefully admit, I have shiny object syndrome. Often I’ll abandon old ideas to trade in for a new and exciting venture. When I get inspired, I take immediate action. I started my podcast Behind the Stand after I was accepted into a UBC startup incubator in October this year. I met ambitious entrepreneurs and itched to know more about who they were as people. I had over 200 listeners tune in for my first 3 episodes. But I’ve already failed releasing bi-monthly as I had intended. In fact, I haven’t released one in 1.5 months 😬.

My goal in the new year is to not half ass it. How we do anything is how we do everything. My editing doesn’t need to be perfect, I just need to take consistent action.

No more chasing shiny objects! It’s time to give my old ideas the love they deserve.

This is Water

My most monumental mindset shift happened at the end of this year while reflecting on a parable David Foster Wallace shared during a famous commencement speech:

“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’"

I’ve spent so much time this year searching for my Ikigai, thinking it was a career or accomplishment that would make my life worth something. Maybe, just maybe, life is not about living with a purpose, it’s about living.

It’s so easy to move through life without awareness, unconscious to what is real and essential. If I can’t see the water around me, then am I living at all?

I just successfully finished my first semester of Computer Science at UBC. Sometimes I feel like I’m starting from scratch. But it’s ok, I’m starting to see my life as a jungle gym rather than a ladder. I can’t wait to blend together the expertise and skills I’ve garnered along the way to craft inclusive products that connect people together.

I don’t know what next year will look like, but I will keep reminding myself … this is water.

This is water.

Photo by Anastasia Taioglou on Unsplash