The most recent chapter of my life started in 2017, during my senior year of college, when I decided that I would strategically delay finishing my degree by an additional quarter so that I could have one more round of internships, where instead of trying to pursue software engineering, I would try to pivot into product management. I ended up doing just that — I got my first PM internship at Adobe, literally by tweeting at a product manager on Twitter. To be frank, it felt like a fluke. I couldn’t believe that I had even successfully found a role as a product manager; I was doubly in disbelief when the recruiter called to tell me that I was getting an $8,000 signing bonus for my internship, on top of an outrageous hourly rate. Still frugally raised, I decided that for the internship that summer I would stay with a friend and crash on his couch in order to save money.
One night this friend got a call — another friend of his had just gotten mugged at SFO coming back from Portland. I was asked, did I mind if he comes over to stay the night? I didn’t mind, so our unfortunate victim proceeded to come over to visit. As we began chatting, I actually found myself really enjoying this person’s company. As one night turned into a few weeks, that cramped studio became a crazy home for three people. I soon came to realize that these two individuals I was living with were the smartest people I had ever met in my life, and even to this day that remains true. A year after couch surfing together, the three of us would sign a real lease for a new apartment (this time, one that reasonably fit us all) as I began my full-time career in San Francisco.
My first day in our new apartment was immediately after I landed from being abroad. Since the last time I saw my two friends, I had graduated school and was cheated on by my girlfriend — I just wanted to escape the world for awhile, so I took my saved up internship money and went backpacking on a post-getting-cheated-on-and-having-my-heart-broken trip through Spain, Italy, Thailand, and Japan. Having just arrived in SF from the airport, I had very little belongings with me. That night I slept on the floor of our new, unfurnished apartment, just me and my backpack. It was so surreal. I remember realizing that the chapter of life that I had left off on when I left America was over. Now I was on a new chapter, overlooking the city lights in a new place where I was about to start a career I felt I had been working towards for ages.
That moment was a few years ago, but as my birthday passed recently and we’ve finally wrapped up this cataclysmic year, I feel myself being in a reflective mood. While 2020 has been a year where it has felt easy to be caught up in the (many) negative aspects of life, I’d rather take a step back and think about this year in the context of my whole life. When I look back on this time period, I don’t think I’ll distill it down to the pandemic, but rather part of a chapter that I’ll look back on fondly.
Here’s a love letter to myself and this last chapter of my life; one that I believe is not over yet, but drawing to a close; one that I deeply believe I will look back on as formative, as a period where I learned so much about myself and what I want from my life.
This has been the chapter that I’m proud to say my life changed socioeconomically. Neither of my parents have college degrees nor skilled jobs, and most of my high school did not go to college. To paint a better picture, my school was a place where the principle was arrested for having sex with the cheerleaders. It wasn’t like I was growing up in the ghetto, but when I look around me now, many of my current peers came from affluent neighborhoods with top-ranked schools and successful parents. And with those aspects, there’s a mindset shift. Poor(er) people just think differently. Not in a bad way per say, but your exposure to the world colors what you want and how you act.
To some it might sound trite, but you realized something important because of this money. You wore the “golden handcuffs”, you had your fun, but you realized that money isn’t freedom, and the only thing that matters to you at your core is being able to pursue what you love without restriction. Money beyond that is just the optionality for icing on the top.
This is a chapter where you got to stop and smell the roses, and you mostly got to do it with your friends. Not only has my career offered me time and money, but after forming many deep connections in college, most of my friends also moved to the Bay Area to pursue their careers. Those that were not a walk or a train ride away were still close; a plane ride to Seattle or San Diego was only a hour or so. My closest friends were never that far out of reach. In fact, some days, I had the honor of hosting guests on my couch — they couldn’t get much closer! You took a lot of pride in your knowing that your home was always a place to welcome those you love.
We all did so much together. Your friends helped you get to the gym, to go clubbing, to meet new people, to explore nature, to try skiing, to visit comedy clubs, to go to concerts, to have dinner parties, and so much more. And while I just got done saying how geographically close these people all were, these fun moments weren’t like school where being in a dorm or a classroom was bound to be fun. These were moments everyone opted into; we overcame the inertia of sticking to our own lives to instead be with each other. You had so many quality moments with your friends, and you demonstrated that you will continue to do so even when it gets hard. Hell, we traveled the world with each other. Even thousands of miles can’t stop a nice fika.
You still managed to find joy in your time alone too. This chapter you fell in love with looking out your window. The sunset over the marina is just really hard to beat. You went on long walks, and listened to lots of great songs (94,104 minutes on Spotify in 2020). You’ll always remember waking up to natural light in a bed you built, putting on some light jazz, making tea and yogurt, and watching the boats go by in the morning.
This is a chapter where you learned how to learn outside of a school. For one, you were living with brilliant people who taught you new things nearly every day. Sometimes those impromptu chemistry or statistics lessons they insisted on giving you came at the unfortunate hour of 1am, but you still loved it through every yawn. Beyond that, you picked up tons of new hobbies by yourself. You cooked and did wood work and painted and soldered and made music. You messed things up and made a lot of bad art. But you learned how to fix things and improve. You learned to take pride in being a craftsman — someone who makes things that have something extra, a little je ne sais quoi that brings you satisfaction.
Some people stagnate when they leave an academic setting, but you’ve picked up a way to thrive without a formal teacher. This is the way you will have to learn for the rest of your life, and you’ve planted the seeds well.
This is a chapter where you did drugs for the first time. Some of this was recreational, and some of it was prescribed. You went on and then off antidepressants, and that was an important and memorable experience for assessing what makes you happy. The recreational drugs were no less important though. Perhaps I’d describe it like bokeh — even if some things are blurry and out of focus, that’s a beautiful way to highlight what is in the foreground.
This is the chapter you confronted your character flaws. Medication was a part of that. But so was therapy, and your executive coach. You sought space where you needed it. For the first time in your life, you questioned your own health, and sought to make changes to improve your quality of life at its core. Your character flaws got in our way of having the life we want, and you had moments of failure, but starting to fix the problem is a great victory of this chapter.
This is a chapter that is coming to an end, but the story is far from over. The end of this chapter has shown you that while you’ve had beautiful moments with your closest friends, their lives continue to move on without you. Now that the world has shifted into working remote, many have indeed chosen to embrace new locations. Some are with their families, and others are married and making new families of their own. Fewer and fewer remain in your neighborhood, and this is simply a part of life.
You saw the world over the course of this chapter, and you know it is a beautiful place — now that there are fewer reasons to stay in San Francisco, will you choose to start the next chapter somewhere new? Who will come with you on your next adventure?
This chapter started with a lot of distractions, but grew into a period where you had plenty of time to exist by yourself. Quarantine was a moment to learn to live alone, with nothing to distract you from yourself. They say the first step of solving a problem is realizing you have one, but the solution may not come this chapter or the next. My therapist tells me that I will be working the rest of my life to be a better me — how far will I have come by the end of the next chapter?
This is a chapter where you got a glimpse of what another future might look like for yourself, one where you are not a product manager. Money and career took on new meanings during this chapter, and the goals you set in the beginning of your life are in a new light. You learned self sufficiency during this chapter, and made your first dollar all by yourself — not paid by a salary, but earned from customers of your own. You built things, both on your own and with your friends, and those things made you proud. What will you choose to make next?
Perhaps the moment of admittance that this chapter is near its end came a few weeks back when I went to an eye specialist. For years now, I get very thorough retina scans to check up on a small growth on the back of my right eye. While it isn’t cancerous, it could be, so it’s better to check on it than to ignore it.
“Ok, your next appointment will be in about three years. Does August 2023 work for you?”
I didn’t even know what to say. While I told the clerk to put my name down, I got a feeling in my chest that I’d wouldn’t be able to make that date.
Who knows, maybe I’ll be in the next chapter by then.