2021
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2021

Jan 03 2022 in #journal

Wow, it’s been a while, been super busy with college applications. Also yes, I’m aware it’s already past the New Year. I didn’t internalize that 2022 was around the corner until my feed started filling up with 2021 reflection posts. Let’s follow the crowd shall we?

2021 by the numbers

Inspired by Catherine Yeo

Stages of 2021

Looking back, it’s crazy to see how my 2021 could be split up into different stages, each one with different activities, responsibilities, mindsets, and emotions. I experienced many highs and lows that I’ve never publicized, until now.

Work, work, work

From before 2021 even started to May, I was just grinding. With Hours being the only thing on my plate and mind, I was absolutely determined to turn it into something valuable. Starting the year with just under 1,000 users, I worked my butt off to get that number to 20,000 by the time May rolled around. Fighting through so many technical issues and handling all parts of scaling a product alone, it all paid off eventually. Along the way, I had my first product press feature in Morning Brew and had Hours go viral on social media.

A new world of opportunity

Probably one of the most pivotal moments of my life: Hours was acquired by Fiveable. It not only came with a chunk of money in my pocket, but it suddenly gave me a ton of new responsibilities and opportunities.

For one, I joined Fiveable as a Lead Product Manager, leading Hours as a division of the company and managing my own team. My transition into my role was rocky, as we had to scramble to relaunch Hours with a new Fiveable-integrated brand in time for finals season, so I went without a proper onboarding plan.

Alongside joining Fiveable, I also worked with their PR team to help release press items regarding the acquisition. I had video interviews with various publications, appeared on various podcasts, and even had a team from CBS come to my house to record a video for the local news station. It was certainly not the attention I was used to, but I have to admit, I kinda liked it.

"In-home CBS Interview"

I didn’t just accept the opportunities handed to me - I leveraged recent events to acquire new ones. I started posting (almost) daily on Twitter. I joined On Deck Catalyst’s 1st inaugural cohort after my friend John Yang healthily peer-pressured me into applying. I interned at Spero Ventures for 12 weeks, shadowing investors and learning about venture capital in edtech. I joined Uiflow to help with growth part-time, and got to experience a completely different startup culture and team dynamic than I ever have before.

With the new money I had in my pocket, I also started to learn how to appreciate money and use it wisely. Before, I would always save my money with no intention of spending a single dime when I didn’t need to. I matured, and understood the value in investing money into tools and services that would make me more productive. I became more generous in giving to others, and more generous to myself, mindfully treating myself to gifts and gadgets that I had wanted for a while.

Lost

I was on top of the world after the acquisition. Everyone always asks questions about the acquisition: What were the terms? How long did it take? What was the process? But, no one ever asks what life was like after the acquisition.

I was on top of the world, for about 2-3 weeks. Shortly after, everything came to a stand still. The press was mostly finished, and suddenly I was wondering what would be next. I certainly had responsibilities to keep me busy, but it seemed so tame compared to what had been happening in the earlier months.

I started to panic. I started building Typesite and Sera, which both came out as failed projects. I had wanted to build those projects for a long time, but I had the wrong mindset going in - it was more about satisfying my desire for excitement instead of actually being passionate about the mission. While everyone was congratulating me on the acquisition, I slowly spiraled into a state of confusion and unconfidence, with days filled with endless scrolling on social media.

I was slowly being destroyed by my own expectations of myself, let alone the expectations that others had for me.

Transformation

I was wandering around, lost, for weeks on end. At some point, I had to pinch myself and face reality. I can’t go back to who I was: a crazy, ambitious startup founder and builder; at least not right now. I was in a different phase of life, and whether I liked it or not, I had to adapt to my situation.

My first issue was that I had way too much time on my hands, and I needed to fill it with something productive. I picked up my old blog and started writing again. Instead of writing about educational/entrepreneurial topics, I just wrote about my life: stories I wanted to tell, thoughts I had, lessons I’ve learned. I began bullet journaling daily, documenting everything that happened that day so I could look back on it in the future. With COVID calming down a little, I resumed volunteering at my church, running camerawork during worship and sermons. It felt weird to me because I never considered these things to be productive because it wasn’t directly impacting my career.

The other issue I had was that I wasn’t embracing my experiences at Fiveable and Uiflow to truly learn. I initially joined with the excitement that I would learn new skills on the job, but I wasn’t putting in any effort to make that come true. A key reason I joined Fiveable was to learn about product, and so I started taking product management courses, started reading product-related articles, got in contact with potential mentors, and applied everything I learned within my job. I took advantage of the coworkers I was surrounded with and learned as much as I could from them. I picked our designers’ brains about UI/UX design principles and took any opportunity I could to learn from engineers about things like scalability and security.

Work-work balance

It didn’t come quickly, but after 1-2 months of a new productive way to fill my time, my mental health was back up. I felt like I was improving in a career sense, but also my mindset was shifting in a way it never has before. I placed more emphasis on enjoyment within my personal life with family and friends, and placed less emphasis on what I did for work, even though it took up the majority of my day. This ironically boosted my work productivity day over day.

Slowly, I started to figure my life out. I started to really embrace my role as a PM at Fiveable, shifting towards working with leadership and department leads to conduct higher-level work instead of continually being deep in the nitty-gritty of product. I shifted my line of work at Uiflow from helping with customer onboarding to actually building apps in Uiflow. I built a Product Hunt clone and the newly-designed Uiflow landing page in full no-code, and had it pitched to the founders of Freshworks, DataDog, Automattic, and Wordpress. I even got to demo my Product Hunt clone to the CEO of NoCodeDevs, and he said: “This is hands-down the best Product Hunt clone I’ve ever seen.” I even got to make my first angel investment - not a startup, but a water resources cleaning plant planning to IPO in Q2 of this year.

Beyond that, I took up a side project inspired by my bullet journaling: Recollect. After the acquisition, I started to really realize how important smaller moments are. I started to realize that what matters the most in life doesn’t always make the headlines - it’s the moments we miss with our family and friends. Recollect represents a real-world application of my appreciation of my memories, and is one of the most passion-centric projects I’ve ever built. I started with building it as a web app, but decided to extend my comfort zone and built my first ever mobile app, which was recently released on the App Store in December.

Turning a new chapter

Soon enough after achieving work-work balance, new opportunities started to open up for me. At Fiveable, I was lucky enough to be part of our decision to make Hours the core platform and vision for the company, allowing me to join our leadership team as Head of Special Projects. I joined On Deck Edtech’s 2nd cohort beginning in January, already having met so many amazing people before the fellowship even started. I was lucky enough to travel all over the place as well. I traveled to Michigan for Fiveable’s first company retreat for five days, with it also being my first time flying alone. I traveled to Wisconsin for Fiveable’s leadership retreat, being part of the decision-making process for our new company direction. Finally, I traveled to Florida to spend time with my family, relax and unwind, and also to attend a real-estate business conference and be a speaker.

"Family + Fiveable collage"

I also became closer with those within my geographical community. I became good friends with many at UC Berkeley and others coming from all over the US. It was refreshing to be warmly welcomed into a supportive friend group full of amazing young people, and on the occasions we met up, they were some of the best times of my life.

"Friends in SF"

Reflection

2021 was truly a life-changing rollercoaster, and one of the best years of my life. Though many people say that, I really mean it. At the beginning of 2021, I was just an avid programmer with no idea what the future held. Now, I don’t just feel matured career-wise, but I also feel more experienced as a human being. I’m more in touch with my feelings, my limits, my triggers.

Unlike others, I don’t have any specific goals or resolutions. If you asked me to make goals at the beginning of 2021, they would be completely different from what I actually accomplished that year. I’ve become more of an advocate with going with the flow. I don’t have to know what I’m doing or where I’m going, and to be honest, I don’t right now. The future always remains a mystery, and I’ll flow with whatever comes up while I’m still young.

Though I sound confident and put-together, I’m pretty scared for 2022. There’s always an individual and societal pressure to try to make sure the next year is always better than the previous. From time-to-time, I have fears that 2021 would be a highlight in comparison to the upcoming years.

Despite all of that, I’m determined to succeed in 2022 in my own unique way. Past that, I’m so blessed for everything that I have. My family, my friends, my career, my relationships - they’re all beyond amazing. My parting words: thank you to everyone who’s been a part of my journey thus far, and let’s make 2022 an amazing year!