Reflecting on my 16-year-old self

I want to try doing something different on birthday starting this year.

After a 3-day 5-AP marathon, here comes my birthday. While I don’t usually celebrate my birthday a lot — to be honest, it is just that day every year that you get lots of messages and several gifts — I want to take this particular day to reflect on the past year and set goals for the next 365 days.

My 16th year on earth has been quite challenging and quite rewarding. There were lots of first times, first time travelling alone, first time starting a business, first time raising funding, first organizing large events.. I tried and started so many things that I would otherwise think impossible to do a year ago.

Some fun numbers:

  • Definitely some 300+ cups of coffee ☕️
  • 10 hackathons attended 👨‍💻
  • 10 cities travelled ✈️: Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai, Boston, Philadelphia, Bay Area, Las Vegas, Los Angeles (First time to Cali! 🏖️)
  • 3 major side-projects / startups 💼
  • 3 conferences (aka free ticket) attended: TechCrunch Shenzhen, CES, SXSW
  • Organized 2 hackathons: hack.init() & THacks 2
  • Aprendió una idioma 🇪🇸

Rather than a laundry list of what I did, I think reflecting on lessons I learned is more useful. Recalling all the craziness that happened, I am especially grateful for my efforts and experiences gained in those areas.

  1. Combating procrastination. Procrastination has been my number one obstacle that troubles my life. I realized how bad it really could, especially from my large research essays recently. I have been actively finding solutions to combat it, including daily planner, pomodora methods, and goal settings. Although I sometimes still do, I am getting a lot more organized and readier to handle large workloads.
  2. Picked up reading again. This is even surprising to myself, that I have never read anything for pure fun since several years ago. It almost seems like reading is entirely associated with school work. Until this November, I got “Give and Take” during a company visit and started reading on the plane, I couldn’t put it down. I realized there are so much that I am missing out when only focusing on quick information on mobile devices, and the printed contents really opened my eye. Check out what I am reading right now.
  3. Realized that there’s so much to learn. While developing more side projects and my coding skills, I found it increasingly challenging to debug and explain the fundamentals. I know that if I want to build something better, I need to stop pulling libraries and StackOverflow and actually learn the fundamentals. That’s also true for other disciplines besides tech, where I have not been focusing on a lot, and I felt being behind.
  4. Wake up 2 hours earlier everyday.Only started doing it a few months so far, but start working at 6 a.m. helped me to concentrate and get some of my own work done before breakfast. The early morning quietness with a cup of freshly-brewed coffee works much better than sleepy 2 a.m. unconsciousness.
  5. Fear less. Grew up in a world full of rules, I have built so many nonsense fear, such as feeling shy about reaching out, awkward to network, and afraid to try highly risky projects. I try to conquer the fear that has almost being preset in my brain, and it made everything much easier. For example, I affirm myself that I will run up all the hills during a cross-country meet and overcome the fear that it is going to be too sour, and I did so for the first time; and breaking the fear and awkwardness of many networking sessions helped me build unbelievable valuable connections.
  6. Always aim high. Starting this year I had many opportunities to conduct independent research projects in class. Well, I did take a rough route choosing very challenging topics, such as building a sound-power refrigerator and modelling brainwave, but the amount of knowledge that I explored was way beyond what I can get from a simple project. If you are going to spend a good chunk of time working on something, why not make the most out of it?
  7. Write things down. There is just so much happening every day that I just cannot keep track of; I started to plan my day on daily planner every morning, marking priorities on monthly planners, summarizing my day on “Five Minute Journal,” and just jogging down random notes in note-taking apps like slite. Everything just gets so organized, and my mind is much clearer.
  8. Be disciplined. Starting in the fall, I have pursued a low-sugar diet after regretting all the sweets I had in summer. Well it was extremely hard, especially with the constant temptation of sugary food everywhere, I powered through and learned the benefit and importance of being discipline.
  9. Stop judging and start to help others. I have always been somehow judgy and that has buried many opportunities to know and cooperate with others. I started force myself to stop that and find something that I can learn from everyone I met, and help them with whatever I can. It has been such a rewarding experience that I get to learn about each discipline and build strong relationships.
  10. Care less about what others say. Too much time I get too serious about what others say about me, and that shifts my decisions based on all their input. I find that while many advice is helpful, it might not work well for me; never rely your choices purely on others’ judgment and never do anything just to appeal someone while it doesn’t add value to you.

Goals for myself in the next 365 days:

  1. Work and get to know the real world. I am starting my summer with an research internship at InteraXon to develop brain-computer interface, and later probably at a design company. I want to see how innovation takes place in the real world, thus making better decisions and practises while doing side projects.
  2. Explore more areas. I always tended to enclose myself to hardware and electronics. Although through hackathon, I was able to get a taste of all the everything, the shallow experience was not enough to create a robust interdisciplinary thinking and adaptability to changes. I am planning to take courses and start projects to practise design thinking, data science, and VR development.
  3. Read extensively. I can’t wait to read more about everything and make a reading a habit that can save myself from mobile devices.
  4. Reduce coffee consumption. No, I am not joking. I have relied on caffeine so much lately, and I seriously cut it for health benefit with a better work-rest schedule.
  5. Be more effective. Fix procrastination and get organized!
  6. Get to know more people. Rather than relying on large conferences and events, I want to focus to build relationship with people nearby and accessible, and learn to appreciate everyone’s strength.
  7. And of course — finish my university application. Maybe not the most fun thing to do, but definitely necessary for the next step of my life; also a good time to reflect my vision and plan.

And that’s my 16-year-old self, and I can’t wait to see what I would learn by this time next year. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any advice!

Accelerating Deep Tech | Robotics, Blockchain, Neurotech | EECS @UCBerkeley | Teaching @CalBlockchain, Director @BB_Xcelerator | prev @hax_co, @SOSV, @Interaxon