in 2010, i was graduating high school.

at that time, i was just a girl who grew up next to a corn field (literally, not figuratively), who liked to read the economist for fun (really didn’t understand the meaning of fun fwiw), and could do a lot of math. so much math (all forgotten now, of course). i had only left minnesota in earnest a few times, mostly to visit my family back in china (having lived there for a few years when i was young), or to tour the other ~exciting~ midwest states like wisconsin, or the dakotas.

then, i left.

i arrived at mit that fall. i remember my freshman year roommates asking me where minnesota was. i remember thinking mass ave was a freeway and wondering how i was going to survive (literally, not figuratively) crossing it everyday. i remember not being able to sleep for 2 weeks. i remember getting robbed 2 hours after getting off the flight at fanueil hall, going to the police precinct to file a report, and getting locked out of my dorm room.

it’s 2020 and i live in in bed stuy now, right next to fulton st, one of the bustliest hustliest streets in brooklyn. i wonder what that version of me what have thought. she feels like a different human.

in a way, she is a different human – and not just because literally all my cells have turned over in the past decade – but i won’t bore you with the laundry list of things that’s happened in addition to cell renewal. instead, in true millennial listicle fashion, i’ll reflect on the most influential experiences and learnings from this decade, and how they’ve shaped me. here goes:

my most defining experiences

  • mit is where i learned how to think about problems. going to mit is hands down the most defining experience of the past decade. i met and connected with and was transformed by too many incredible people (way smarter than me) to count or name through the communities i was a part of: my freshman year crew, my sorority, my lacrosse team, flp. as a side benefit i also learned how to code, which gave me, what i can only describe as, a superpower.
  • backpacking is where i learned how to talk to people. i spent a lot of time abroad, alone. i first fell in love with travel in college, when i got to live and work in spain, italy, israel, india, and china — all on mit’s dime. then in 2015, i taught coding in cape town for 3 months, and contined on to solo backpack through southeast asia (vietnam, thailand, cambodia, hong kong, singapore, china) for another 3 months. i’ve taught over 200 people abroad, and must have met hundreds more. meeting people is a muscle. i’ll always be grateful for those repetitions of pushing myself out of my comfort zone.
  • therapy is where i learned how to express myself. i began seeing a therapist in mid-2016, which has singlehandedly been the biggest impetus of personal growth in my 20s, an unexpected paradigm shift. i discovered that self-love is not innate, and can be learned. it’s given me language to express a jumbled mess of knots, the ability to recognize the nuances of adult life, the skills to listen, the permission to not know. my internal battles are still ongoing, but i’m now punching back harder than ever in the ring. it’s a lot easier now that i have the right tools.

my biggest lessons

  • life is long, don’t give up. this was the decade where i didn’t get it right the first time. it shocks people when i tell them i wasn’t always athletic. i ran the mile in 14 minutes (and yes, folks can walk faster than that) in high school. i joined the mit lacrosse team as a freshman and became known as the girl who missed a few away buses and famously said “every time im running i wish i were walking.” i stuck with lacrosse long enough to become a starting offensive player in 2012 and captain in 2014. i went on to run a half marathon in 2016 in under 2 hours. a lot happened to me when i kept showing up. i got better.
  • that 5 person thing is true. i learned to be intentional about the person i wanted to become by surrounding myself with people i admired. they taught me how to be a better friend, a better partner, a better coworker, a better human. they taught me about the power of community, what support looked like, sounded like, felt like. in this past decade, i’ve learned that character traits by osmosis is real.
  • if i’m in the room, i belong there. mit is where I experienced my first major bout of imposter syndrome, and it’s taken me years of managing it to not let it get in the way. i spoke at my first conference late 2016 on a nodeJS panel in amsterdam. i led my first client meeting in 2017. i co-founded my first company in 2019 and interviewed for yc. every one of those times i wondered what right i had to be there. then i reminded myself that i did.
  • talk about your goals and ideas. one of the things that’s astounded me recently is the power of simply telling people about what you want to do, then going out and doing it. people have come out of the woodworks to offer advice and help every time i’ve done this. i found this to be particularly true for socially conchas and finesse this past year. i only wish i started this sooner.

as i reflect back on the past decade, it’s hard to imagine myself replicating an equivalent period of growth, or even surpassing it. after all, who i am today is beyond anything i could have expressed or even imagined.

my gut tells me that the next 10 years are going to be a period of greater change than the last. i have a tickle in the pit of my stomach that i only get when im climbing up the first hill on a rollercoaster ride. the one you get right before the first drop, before the car gets sent plummeting down and around and maybe back up again.

the decade’s off to a good start so far: i haven’t gotten robbed, or gotten locked out of my apt, or had to file a police report (yet, anyway). and i’m here to enjoy the ride, the entire ride, no matter where it takes me next.