2020 Reflection

December 31, 2020

Well - that was a strange one. So...there may be no point to deep dive into the societal events of this year - both for the reason that they are darn obvious as well as trying to analyze their impact at a high-level, which I’ll leave to social scientists to do. However, for myself, there’s some to unbundle - here goes.

There is 0% chance this year could have stayed afloat as it did for me without the conscious thought and care from many people. Not just in the ways of giving to me, but also being graceful to myself when I messed up, when I made the wrong choices in shifting circumstances, when I failed to be graceful to others. With keeping in touch with others a whole different dynamic now(strictly messaging & calling), there are many good friends whom I communicated with on a less frequent basis now, yet many still showed the same love and care for me, virtually as well. Not all friendships have remained as close unfortunately - and frankly I do not think this is not an indicator of the strength of the friendship itself, but the unfortunate reality that communicating virtually is a much different dynamic than in person, and not all friendships translate to virtual communication as easily(Not to excuse people who may actively blow you off, but meaning people who are less active/expressive virtually which is OK). This being said, I am optimistic once things resume to normalcy many of these friendships can reconnect well, but for now it is a shelved pain in my to have lost closeness of some friendships. Special shoutout to Lina and my parents for dealing with the most irrational and complex parts of me. Life to me feels both simple and complex - simple in that I try to live by principles that are straightforward and clear, but complex at the low level decision making/emotional processing step. Simple that I often have an intuition for what the right thing to do is, but can have many thought detours in the execution of it. Back to the main point, this year simply couldn’t have been the same without those who consciously gave some time, thought, effort, love, and other dedicated reserves to me - another yearly reminder of the value of the critical support in my life.

This year was also a stark reminder of the mortality of life, but also in turn the preciousness of time in life. At the beginning of the year I lost my grandfather, which was one of the toughest experiences of my life - both in the depth of that feeling, as well as the duration for how long it affected me. I won’t go into the full extent of my feelings during that time here(there’s more around my website) but in short, thinking of and missing his being on earth made me consciously more present of the fleeting time that one has on earth. Being surrounded by young adult peers, I felt like I’ve been in the crowd conversation of short term thinking(“This exciting new grad job”, “Moving to [X] city”, etc) which there is nothing wrong with, but being in this situation gave me more time to reflect on the larger picture of my life - the things I wanted to achieve in the long term, the people I want to hold dear, and the way I want to live. In light of the fact that my specific dreams/goals are yet not concretely set, I wanted to share a quote from The Last Lecture that gave me some reassurance, “It's not about how to achieve your dreams, it's about how to lead your life, ... If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself, the dreams will come to you.” For much of my life, I’ve felt like I’ve overly stressed on getting my goals/accomplishments down precisely, but I resonate with this quote in believing that living my life with the proper character(while still actively figuring out my dreams & goals) will be a high rate recipe for a rewarding life. Time is still as valuable as it was to me today as it was throughout the past few years, but with this revised mindset I feel less stress and the pressure of not always using my time as efficiently as I should be.

This year was also the last year of college for myself, and it hit me in infrequent but deep moments when reflecting on all that had come and gone. The acknowledgement of the end of college came to me internally in a slow but sporadic way - early in March, I knew that me and my friends would have to leave campus for a bit, but there remained a small flicker of hope that there would be the chance to return for the final weeks + graduation. This hope slowly withered away, but participating in online classes made me feel still partly attached to college while also being in a non-college environment. Then, transitioning swiftly from the end of college to starting the internship, my mental context switched vastly and quickly, and I nonchalantly moved onto the next step of my life. At my virtual graduation and some moments around then, I reflected and felt a powerful bittersweet blast, of remembering and feeling so many memories, both small and big, that I cherished and held so dearly. To have things ended so abruptly… when thinking about it, it feels along the lines of unfinished business - something that I still need to go back and complete properly. Such is the way of life sometimes - you will be handed situations out of your control, and it may be a tough thought to swallow - something that may always sting whenever you remember it, even if just a little. With this being said, I am only privileged enough to remark on what a tough thought it’s been to have felt this because I was utterly blessed by my time at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Some many unforgettable people, memories, places, struggles, doubts, joys... I will never be able to articulate it all, but it is the feeling that I will miss most. I know it’s a bit silly to think it was the university that gave me so much(here I mean the university as the complete experience of the campus, not the legal entity), but I truly feel so indebted. From the moments of waiting at the snowy Illinois bookstore bus stop, hurriedly biking to class on a warm fall morning, going to ball at the ARC on a quiet Saturday morning, to spending a stuffy evening in the Grainger basement studying for a CBTF, spending a night at Legends sipping and chatting… there’s so much to remember and reflect upon. Even for the days of doubt, loneliness, failure, heartache, frustration, I’m deeply appreciative of it all. Knowing that through no means will I be able to experience the exact circumstances and feeling of my college life is the key thought that has been hurting. But I’m truly thankful for the journey, every minor experience I had. Walking away from something that has touched and changed you so deeply for me is so tough to bear. Always will remember and treasure my time as an Illinois Fighting Illini, “Don’t let your life pass you by, Weep not for the memories”.

Even though this was likely the hardest year of my life, ending it still feels extremely bittersweet, and it feels hard to move on from the times & moments this year brought me. I feel like time may be the resource I value much more above all(easy thing to say but I really believe it to be true). Although many plans and things that I would have liked to do were blocked, this year gave much perspective and new appreciations for life that might have otherwise taken me years to experience. With a new year brings new difficulties, new friends, new decisions, new doubts, new thinking. But I wouldn’t have it any other way - to me, this unpredictable, emotional, beautiful journey is what makes this life worth living. 爷爷(Grandpa), you tuned in? Missing you more than ever. Everyday I still stumble in comprehending that you are no longer here on this earth - but I’m uplifted knowing you’re with me still, just from above. Few things in this life will reside in my heart for the entirety of this lifetime, but I’m always keeping your presence tucked nearby. I don’t know what this next year will hold, but going in with your renewed spirit and strength close by. Make sure you buckle up for this beautiful adventure ahead. Love, Austin