My Story - Part 2 - Can a person change?
This is part 2 to
my-story. If you want to read about my undergraduate experience at the University of Waterloo go here. If you haven’t read
my-story part 1, some of this might not make sense. Go read it if you haven’t already.
Note #2: If you are looking for something related to how to do read/write consistency for your system design or how to do certain leetcode algorithms this is not the page. This is going to almost purely focused on travel/life thoughts with a more complicated narrative following events during of the pandemic.
Table of Contents
- Pandemic Blues
- Seattle Again
- The Big Apple
- Keep Austin Weird
- Trapped in the desert
- All choices have a cost
- Remote work and the ever changing work landscape
- My thoughts on remote work
- Work, work, work
- Work life balance
- Hobbies outside of work (We form what we want in our life)
- Identity (who we are as people)
- And yet...is this all there is to life?
- Growing Up
- Life is a trial of many errors
- (Conclusion Part 2) It is the artist who is truthful and it is photography which lies, for in reality time does not stop.
- 2022 and onwards
Just a few months after graduating, I was slated to start my full time job in August 2020. It was exciting and nerve-wracking for a few reasons. I had spent time in the US for 4 months doing internships but never for an extremely prolonged period. (My longest stint was 6 months in Seattle due to the covid-19 pandemic in 2020) This was finally the start of “working” life. Who knew how long it would ultimately last?
After years of hype about the bay area, and the famed “silicon valley” you finally get the chance to start your career and move there. After all, it is the central tech hub of the world. Well…that is what’s supposed to happen. What happens if you decide to not move there? This is the continuation of where we left off from
This story takes place August 2020 amidst a global pandemic. I had to move to the US for visa reasons but I didn’t have to move to the bay area. So I decided not to move to the bay area.
I didn’t move to the bay area because:
- the cost of living is extremely high
- south bay is pretty suburban
- in order to do things you needed a car/go to SF
- there is general lack of job/people diversity in an engineer centric area
- I had already experienced the bay area during my internship
- I felt that if I was going to eventually move to bay area, I should move elsewhere while I had the opportunity
And this is that story.
I lived in 4 different cities in 2021. When I mean “live” I stayed a month minimum in each place. Those places were Seattle, NYC, Austin, and Phoenix. I lived in Seattle for almost a year, NYC for 3 months, 2 months in Austin and 1 month in Phoenix.
Each city was wildly different from one another. There are specifics in cost of living, food, entertainment, climate, etc. in each place but that is another topic for another day.
Short notes on each city:
|Seattle||nice weather, great hiking||mildly expensive|
|NYC||lot of great museums, great food, public transit is very good||extremely expensive, crowded|
|Austin||good bbq and tacos, great outdoors stuff||car city, pretty hot|
|Phoenix||good hiking, pretty cheap||car city, extremely hot|
I moved to Seattle…for the second time. I was in Seattle at the time doing my 6th internship when covid first hit. I had gone back to Canada briefly but had to move to the US to start full time work.
Moving back to Seattle was probably the least-inspired choice I ever made. It was probably a mistake in hindsight but it also was the safest option. I was familiar with the city and knew a few people there. Prior to moving to Seattle I had seriously considered moving to Indianapolis or Dallas at the time to save on costs.
The city itself was still great. I was already familiar with the Pacific Northwest (PNW) crisp air surrounded by evergreens, the fresh seafood, the lake areas overlooking water with the sunsets and mountain backdrops. The downsides were that nothing was really open (due to covid) and for a few days of the year it had the orange haze from the wildfires in Portland. The fall still had a nice temperate PNW weather and the winter even had some snow. My second time in Seattle was more of the same and had a relaxing feel as I became accustomed to the environment.
This is when there is wildfire smoke blocking the entire sky. It was difficult to breathe outside. This photo has no filter. (That is how hazy it is)
Bellevue Square Mall with Christmas decorations and snow.
Cherry blossoms blooming at UWashington
Edmonds Fishing Pier
Sunset at a beach in Kirkland
In May of 2021 I decided to move out of Seattle. There were a few reasons. For one, I was still working from home remotely. The other reason was that I had felt at the time I had experienced all I could in Seattle that I could given the circumstances of what was open at the time. (I had spent 6 months during my 6th internship and ~10 months for full time, so almost 1.5 years)
I’m not sure what spurned my desire to travel exactly. There may have been a few factors. I didn’t get a grad trip in 2020 due to covid, and I had travelled previously for hackathons, so traveling excessively was not uncommon for me. Perhaps it was that I didn’t go to the bay area and wanted to explore my other options while I had the chance. I was young(ish) and I COULD travel now being vaccinated. I wanted to see other places in the USA. what places to live in the US “long term” and I wanted to explore a bit. My company didn’t require me to go back to the office at that point.
I got vaccinated, threw out a lot of my junk, sold the computer I had built, packed up the few belongings that I owned, and flew to the east coast.
note: A collection of my Seattle photos can be found here.
The Big Apple
New York City shocked me. I got off the plane and ended up in a bustling metropolis. It was very different from Seattle. A city with skyrise after skyrise and jammed with people contrasted Seattle’s spacious and less dense city layout. The last time I was in New York was probably the mid or early 2000s so I didn’t remember much.
NYC is a complicated city. People’s lives are intertwined in a jumbled mess. When you have so many people in a small area people’s lives and dreams contrast with one anothers’ often trampling one another (figuratively). People are in a rush to get from point A to point B. The pedestrian-centric design, the architecture of old buildings contrasting skyrise condos and new developments. It amazed me how exorbitantly expensive everything was and how much stuff could fit into a finite amount of space. My favourite areas in the city were NoHo (St. Marks’ place) and Chelsea for a lot of the scenic areas and great food options. Williamsberg and Flushing were also top places I liked to visit.
I spent a fair amount of time bouldering and riding a boosted board around the city. This time period was a big departure from the traditional “work from home” motif of the past year. I was going into the office every day. I had gotten back to the “in-office perks” lifestyle and going to the Empire State Building was a fun (and albeit tourist filled) experience commuting into Manhattan.
City at night
Boosted boarding in NYC pier area and seeing a Brooklyn Nets game.
My views on NYC are probably as divisive as ever. I think the highs of the city are up there but the lows are there as well. It’s a magnificent city with great food diversity, museums, parks, and everything in the city. I think very few places in North America can compare to it and evident by a few articles I’ve read people are flocking to NYC because if anything “it feels like a young city”. Unlike SF, people realized they wanted to be in a real city by moving to NYC.
- ‘Rent, Forever’: The Price of Living in New York City
- How Do You Find an Apartment in NYC These Days?
- Rents Are Roaring Back in New York City
It overtook SF as the most expensive rental market and according to the New York Times, 2/3 of the city is renting. It is a fun city that maybe plays into the addage “I’m here for a good time, not a long time”. I’m not sure it is a city to be in beyond your 30s.
The only way I could have realistically moved to NYC was to live in Jersey to save on costs. Living in downtown Manhattan is near impossible and I’m not sure you would even want to. The constant stimulation of traffic and the brights lights is one thing to contend with being in the city.
note: A collection of my NYC photos can be found here.
Keep Austin Weird
I chose to go to Austin. It was both figuratively and literally a hot destination. There was buzz about it emerging as a hot spot for tech talent. I also visited in the sweltering August heat.
Street art around Austin
Texas state capitol
Austin is also known as the live music capital
I always felt Austin exuded a “hipster” vibe. I liked that, but I can also see why people say the “Keep Austin Weird” motto is dying off slowly. As more transplants come in change the overall vibe of the city. I think it’s important to respect what was there before and not impose your old way of life into the area. If you’re expecting LA part 2, you’re going to be very disappointed.
I don’t think Austin is a tech city. A lot of companies don’t have offices (yet?) and the infrastructure is not built to support the influx of people. I’m not sure you want to be in the city when(if?) it becomes one.
I loved the scenery, bbq, tacos, and the laid back vibe that it offered. It was much different from NYC and it many aspects was like Seattle but set in a desert climate. The people I met were very nice and it wasn’t crazy expensive.
note: A collection of my Austin photos can be found here.
Trapped in the desert
Phoenix was the most challenging city to live in. Phoenix in October was still fairly hot and hiking up trails past 10am is a figurative death sentence. Staying hydrated and adequately making sure you limit sun exposure was a must because trails with little to no shade should only be attempted before 10am. Add in the incredibly sprawling and car reliant city, it spelled trouble for someone who cannot drive a car like me. The transit was marginally better than Austin (having a single rail line) but it was also very inadequate for the size of the city. Sometimes I would ride the bus for hours to get to hiking trails or walk miles in the sun since the there was no possible transit to certain areas.
Street art for Phoenix
I spent my birthday alone in Phoenix. I didn't know anyone in Phoenix, so I spent it climbing Camelback Mountain at sunrise.
I also got to see the Phoenix Suns play the Denver Nuggets
Sunset at the top of Tempe Butte
This proved to be one of the most fun months I had in 2021. The mystique of hiking every weekend. Exploring Tempe with Arizona State University, Scottsdale, and the various pockets around Phoenix. Yes, some hikes were incredibly difficult to get to by bus, some areas were very inadequately funded, and areas were very rough from a safety standpoint but it was a fun experience.
Phoenix proved to be a city I would probably never move to, but I learned that in my month there. I think reading stuff online is very different from experiencing it firsthand, and sometimes you gotta just try stuff out. It wasn’t really a mistake because I still felt it was a lot of fun and I learned a lot about the area.
note: A collection of my Phoenix photos can be found here.
All choices have a cost
Time is finite. That seems obvious but everything we do has a cost when you think about it. Not just from a monetary standpoint but the time invested and the opportunity cost of what we could have been doing otherwise.
We all capitalize on the finite nature of our lives. Perhaps you want to climb the job ladder early on because you have the time to do that. Maybe it is to focus on hobbies and doing what you enjoy in your spare time now that you are finished school. It could even be pursuing more schooling after getting your bachelor’s because extra schooling is rewarding for you but you know it will take more years. Everyone has different goals.
I was travelling a lot. Probably too much. I was in a new timezone every month. It was stressful living on one suitcase, booking flights, and figuring out my weekends. I had to learn cities that I had never been to before. I travelled alone so if I needed help, I was on my own. There were legitimate challenges in living this way.
What I tell people now is to capitalize on the time they have. Some people can’t and that’s alright. Things in their lives like a significant other, family, job obligations, visa things may limit your ability to do that. There is nothing wrong with that, but like I said “all choices have a cost”. It certainly was more costly to fly every month than if I had gone in a group. But in a group everyone is not always on the same page and as such you might see less things or things that don’t interest you. It stresses it doesn’t necessarily matter what you are doing as long as you are trying do something.
If you can capitalize on the time you have right now, it can be wonderfully rich later on. You learn a lot about yourself and what works and what doesn’t. Phoenix proved to be a challenging month for me but I’ll probably never forget some of the moments there. If I had gone back to the bay area in September I would’ve never had some of those experiences.
Remote work and the ever changing work landscape
I was able to travel and still work due to the capabilities given to working remotely. Over the ~2 years people were forced to work at home in most cases and people slowly classified themselves as “hybrid” or “remote”. Remote working could mean you worked in a workspace with multiple monitors in a cozy mansion. The other extreme is you were sitting in a remote area with spotty wifi but being able to do your work the same. The means of working didn’t matter, the bottom line was the work that you did.
I lived in Seattle for almost a year when I started full time. At the time I didn’t understand other people in my cohort also starting full time work. We were given the opportunity to move to a different area and yet 98% of them went back to the bay area. The office wasn’t open and it almost certainly meant sitting at home working remotely regardless if that home was in the bay, SF, or elsewhere. I couldn’t fathom passing up an opportunity to try out different areas. I wanted to see life beyond the bay because I knew that there was a life beyond the bay area job-centric lifestyle.
Since then I’ve grown empathetic to the people who didn’t do what I did. The reasons are that if your friends are all in the bay, you are familiar with the area, and you don’t know when offices open again (which means moving back at some point) why not just move back to the bay? Moving once was simpler in their eyes and that is what they prioritized. When I started in August 2020 they said offices were reopening January 1, 2021. And then it was pushed to July 2021. Then it was pushed to September 2021. Then it was pushed to Jan 1, 2022. Then it was pushed to allow remote work. (with payzones)
I was more adventurous which had its own pros and cons. In 2021 I lived in pacific, mountain, central, and eastern time zones. Sometimes my living accommodations sometimes were less than ideal as I tried to save money. Flying each month was taxing mentally. Moving to a new area had a sense of awe in terms of discovery but it also made my life sporadic and unreliable. My life sounded great on paper but it also had challenges that people who stayed in one place wouldn’t have.
Remote work in the industry is as divisive as ever. Some big places like Tesla, Apple, and Google viewed it as little more than a flash in the pan. In the other corner companies like Amazon, Facebook, Coinbase, and Airbnb opened the floodgates for remote working in different states. (Albeit with payzones). Who could predict which side was going to win? Both sides have major stakeholders.
My thoughts on remote work
I think remote work is the future…for medium to smaller companies. Large companies have too much invested into office infrastructure. The cafeterias, the gyms, the nap pods, and campus bikes all on the dystopian campuses are all there. Having in-office employees are a huge plus for companies since it brings back the people who stay at the office working till 7pm for dinner. Large companies want you back in the office.
Places like Coinbase got RID of their offices during covid and like crypto’s decentralized nature went with a remote-first model. With their resources they can do that. It allows them to hire better talent by expanding their hiring pool beyond the local talent in the competitive bay area.
Over the recent years connotations of remote has changed dramatically. No longer is online school weird. It was the norm for ~2 years. No longer is talent constricted by location. It isn’t a perfect situation yet, but it is still interesting to see how much it has shifted to a “employee-centric” market as opposed to following demands of companies. I can’t predict if it “is the future of work” entirely but I think it is a huge plus for workers and shifted more negotiation power in their direction. No longer is a person tied to a location if their work can be done digitally.
Work, work, work
When companies focus solely on work and remove the in-person aspect of the office what happens? You replace all meetings and in-person meetings with “Zoom life”.
No more are the free lunches, snacks, nap pods, and tech campus. Work has been distilled to just the work. Some people thrive off of this. No more do you have to chat with coworkers about their weekend and what is happening in the world. You just get input and you output. It is as basic as code in code out. It’s undeniably more robotic. Perhaps in other industries working is much more clear cut like this, but it is a stark contrast from how things normally are at a lot of tech places where I felt things were more human. (or had more humanity, and maybe that’s a mistake I thought jobs/companies displayed humanity)
There was a bit of burnout throughout the industry (and other industries as well).
- We Have All Hit a Wall - The New York Times
- How to Beat Burnout — Without Quitting Your Job - The New York Times
- We’ll Give You a Week Off. Please Don’t Quit. - The New York Times
- Here’s What Readers Told Us About Feeling Burned Out - The New York Times
Companies would do “half day fridays”, “fridays off all summer”, “take the week off to recover”, etc.. Companies were recording record revenue and financials. Stocks exploded in valuations. Yet people were stressed and overworked as ever. I know my personal experience I couldn’t afford to take the half day fridays or extra “days off to learn” because I had so much work on my plate. Success was almost a double edged sword. No one will complain from a company doing well or when the industry does well. But with success comes the expectation of ever growing metric goals to be reached, and higher expectations for future quarters. The means to reduce burnout did nothing but stoke the fire.
So we experience burnout. And they say “We have work life balance”.
Work life balance
So many companies preach this. I can’t blame them. Who doesn’t want to say they have “work life balance” among the multitude of perks they provide. But what even is work life balance? Is it the flexibility to call in sick when you are sick? Is it the opportunity to say you provide “unlimited time off” for employees when they need it? Is it the ability to end work at 5pm? Is it the fact that your company doesn’t serve dinner on Fridays at 7pm so you can go and enjoy the weekend? I still don’t know what it is.
I was in Seattle grabbing brunch with a friend in the South Lake Union area which is in downtown Seattle and is surrounded by Facebook and Amazon buildings. Despite it being a fairly chill meal, I would overhear the table beside us as the people discussed their “work apis” and “overall work goals”. And I might be in the minority but I don’t want to hear that on my chill Sunday morning grabbing brunch with a friend. But maybe that is a product of the environment. Maybe that is just an isolated incident that happened in downtown Seattle. But I try to separate my life from my work, because I’m not 100% work all the time.
So what is work life balance? I would probably categorize it as “being able to have a life outside of work and spend time on things not work related that you enjoy”. That’s about as vague as the original statement. What does it mean to have a life?
Hobbies outside of work (We form what we want in our life)
This might not interest a lot of people but I’ll go in depth into some of my hobbies (only two for brevity) I’ve tried to maintain or learn more about as I try to become more well-rounded as an individual that isn’t defined by their job.
I’ll be the first to admit I was wrong. In my pursuit of co-op jobs in undergrad my other parts of life suffered. I’ve tried my best to think more holistically about people ever since. I’ve tried to be more well-rounded and focus on other facets in my life other than jobs. If you don’t have skills in one area, it means you have skills in other areas. And the biggest mentality shift is that you are not defined by you job or past work experience. I value someone who is a good person first and the jobs are secondary.
I didn’t like the bay area culture because it was defined by jobs. To some people, you ARE your job which is a shallow view to have.
I have always loved art. Early on in middle and high school I dreamed of drawing comics. Unfortunately my elective timeslot for art was replaced with more STEM focused courses like the sciences and math. Despite all of that I’ve still enjoyed art museums, different mediums of art like music and photography, etc.
My favourite subsection of art is contemporary art and specifically street art. This has been true ever since my grade 12 english teacher had us watch “Exit Through the Gift Shop” a documentary about Banksy and the multiple popular street artists globally.
I do like viewing art in museums too but I feel street art is different. The nature of it not being being behind a glass panel adds another layer of complexity. Anyone can go and see art on the street. A piece of art on a street may not be there a few years later due to people painting over it or a building being removed. Photos themselves are snapshots of places in time, it may not be there later on.
Art is subjective. Unlike coding where it is binary yes or no, art is nothing but grey area. The different painting eras showed the progression of “what is art” with movements like contemporary art. We see art pieces sell for millions to collectors but it is almost more about the artist than the art itself. A “Picasso”, a “Van Gogh”, a “Banksy” are valuable because of the artist’s limited creation period. My favourite artists are Warhol, Basquiat, and Shepard Fairey.
I’ll highlight Hebru Brantley, since I was just in Chicago. He is a Chicago native and he has street art piece scattered throughout the city. I enjoyed being able to try to find them, how his flyboy creation iterated over the years, and being there to witness them in person. Some are gone or painted over but when you DO see one of them, it is amazing. Here are some:
(The only Banksy that was in Chicago was removed long before I was able to travel there. Believe me I looked for it.)
I’ve noticed this is something I really enjoy. Whether it be looking for pieces of art around a neighbourhood, wandering in neighbourhoods and learning different areas, or trying whatever local food places are there.
Food has always been a major component of who I am. I really like trying food places (I mean I got a whole blog post category dedicated to food) and trying different cuisines when travelling.
When I go to places I’ll check Yelp and Google Reviews and try to get an idea of what is the speciality and try that. I’m not a picky eater and I’m open to trying different stuff. (BBQ, salads, vegan, raw fish, etc.) Here are some places I was really impressed by:
Pork katsu sandwich from Hi-Collar in NYC
Salmon chirashi bowl from Izakaya Mew in NYC
Mochi donuts from OMG Squee in Austin, Texas
Boba toast from Grace Street in NYC, matcha lava cake from Spot Dessert Bar in NYC
John and Yoko from in Scottsdale, Arizona, injeolmi bingsoo from Snowy Village in Seattle, WA
Leslie Knope (ice cream waffle sandwich) from Novel Ice Cream in Mesa, Arizona, passion fruit kougin aman (among other pastries) from Rose Ave Bakery in Washington DC
Alongside being good looking food photos, anything that is in the photo above I highly recommend eating at the respective restaurant. Every place has their own speciality and there is always great food in every city it just might take going to more remote areas to find it.
Identity (who we are as people)
I listed some hobbies I like but there are definitely things I didn’t mention to keep this as succinct as possible. (Music, movies, books, travelling, etc.) There is always something new you learn about someone else.
We’re all fascinating people. Just because you aren’t an expert in a certain thing doesn’t mean you can’t be great in other areas. I always felt that we are all specializing in different things. And yet our entire lives we are taught the opposite. Those who cannot memorize or do well on tests are labelled as less intelligent, people who don’t want to sit in classes are labelled as unable to focus, and those who follow untraditional paths in adulthood (not going to university, taking GAP years, focusing on themselves) are labelled as “early failures”.
There is a traditional path that most people try to follow, but I’ve felt that the people who are able to find how they learn best and figure out what they are good at succeed in the long term. People I’ve met like that show an aptitude to be creative, make mistakes, and constantly be learning.
This probably speaks more to the status quo but I think it is important to step back and look at the bigger picture. I still have people send me messages from the
my-story part 1 and ask if their lives are over if they don’t get into Waterloo CS. It isn’t and I guess it is hard to see it without having the hindsight to look back. Similarly to jobs people associate so much self worth to what school they go to and what major they are in because it makes them feel worthy. We may be insecure about our accomplishments and need to look at someone else who hasn’t accomplished something we have and feel like we are superior.
Working a full time job made me realize it only matters in your world. Everyone is doing their own thing. Unlike school and the previous 22 years of my life, people are at different stages of their life. No longer are people just in 2nd year or 3rd year looking for co-ops or trying to pass a midterm. Some people have families, some people are figuring out life, and it is difficult to compare people when really why even compare people at all? The person working as a staff engineer at 25 is not the same as a 30 year old with a family. Even that barebones comparison has much more nuance because people aren’t defined by their accomplishments or “life resume”. Who is to say which one is suffering and who is succeeding in life. What is even the point of all of this? We work, we do what we enjoy on the limited vacation we get, and we continue on this cycle. Is this all there is to life?
And yet…is this all there is to life?
We are alone. There is nothing else.
Maybe this is an overly bleak viewpoint on life but I’ve started to ask the question “is this all there is to life?”. My capricious mood coupled with a life lacking structure and rigidity.
Perhaps it is because I work a job and forsee working at a job for a few decades. These are my honest thoughts that are a bit depressing but I felt this multiple times.
Perhaps it is because I have travelled alone and changed my life multiple times at this point. Trying to find who I am and what type of identity forms from never knowing what is “home”.
Perhaps it is because I see others in their jobs and the great highs they achieved or are achieving currently. The grass is greener on the other side. Where a life of structure and following the confines of having a regular job, working your way up the job ladder.
Perhaps it is just life. We ponder questions that cannot be answered. We long for meaning in our lives, an ultimate purpose and maybe it is devoid of meaning. We feel comfort in finding meaning to a meaningless world.
A part of me knows that growing up is realizing we can’t easily get answers to these questions. We slowly learn that over time the answers to our self-doubt and nervous anticipation of the future can only be answered in time. When we grow up.
What defines us as we grow up? The hobbies we once had might change over the course of time. Friends come and go. Locations change. Jobs change. People change. We might be the only constant in our entire life. We assign meaning to our lives how we spend our time but even we change whether we notice it or not.
As I age I see more of my friends choose more life choices that solidify who they are, where they want to be, the people they want to associate with, and what paths they want to follow. There is nothing wrong with this and in some ways that is just maturing. You ultimately must make those difficult decisions to make choices further down the line. (all choices have a cost) The tough choices that decide what you want to do with your life seals many doors. It opens up other ones.
Choosing who you want to be with for the rest of your life, closes many doors, but it is a rich experience because people finally know who they want to share the rest of their life with. We do this as our lives lose less of the spontaneity and uncertainty it once had. People’s lives now are more predictable, more stable. We all have to come to that conclusion at some point.
No person’s life is the same since we all come to the realization that not only is there no singular “right” answer, but everyone is doing the best they can do given their circumstances and what they want at the moment. What we decide at this moment may change in a year or two. This doesn’t mean we are “inconsistent” or “unable to make an opinion”, we all change. We are proven wrong and learn.
Life is a trial of many errors
I feel that in life we are all bound to mess up and make mistakes. Among the people I speak to, the people who deal the hardest with this are the people I know in tech. Maybe it is because of the rigidity of the field trying to mimic and use a computer to achieve what we want. A computer doesn’t make mistakes, it does exactly what it is told. People are messy. We make mistakes very often, sometimes we make emotional decisions without thinking logically. Sometimes logic fails to encapsulate complicated life situations and making an emotional decision is the correct course of action. We operate in a deep gray area in the world and people who try to make it binary and optimized often fail to grasp the true situation. People act as people do, people acting like computers is unnatural. People tend to overperform, underperform, overcorrect, and in a plethora of ways can drastically be difficult to predict.
In hindsight I view that there are many points where I would go back and fix things. We all have moments of “If I had only won the science award in grade 6” or “Perhaps if I tried harder in grade 12 I would have gotten accepted at __”. I think we all delve into the hypotheticals from time to time. We tend to romanticize the past, dream of the future, and enumerate what could have been. We regret things. And the pain lingers.
I’ve tried to think about the growth mindset for a long time. Blind positive thinking isn’t always the course of action when things require deliberate emotional thought. Sometimes giving up is the answer. Maybe decompressing on things for a while to let go is the choice. It is hard to fail and then get back up. It’s easy to say “never give up”, but you have to give up sometimes. Life is this deep gray area. It can’t be synthesized to simply black and white. But you have to learn from experiences. Maybe you don’t immediately learn everything and jump back in. Perhaps you take some time to discover the world around you. It can be a slow and meditative process because sometimes you can’t rush in for one reason or another.
I vowed to never return. I couldn’t help but feel selfish if not alone.
Amidst the pandemic blues I learned that all choices have a cost.
We prioritize our lives with what matters to us at the time.
We form what we want in our life based on these priorities. Priorities can change.
The choices we make make decide how we spend our time forming our identity about how we see ourselves and the world around us.
Our experiences and interpretations of them change how we think about things.
We continue to live in this cycle of events in life as we mold who we are, and yet…is this all there is to life?
Not everything is perfect. Things fall apart.
We mature and realize growing up is more than just the fond memories and successes because life is a trial of many errors.
We must accept the pain comes with success because it is only human to be wrong, to be failures.
Once we notice that, we see that we are capable of changing who we are. We adapt to new environments and challenge our notions of what is “right”.
The world grows more gray with age.
Rodin once said “It is the artist who is truthful and it is photography which lies, for in reality time does not stop.”
He understood that what we once viewed in one lens changes over time.
What has happened has happened and what is yet to happen hasn’t happened yet.
We look back and realize that for moment in time we see the world in ways that we may never see again.
(Conclusion) It is the artist who is truthful and it is photography which lies, for in reality time does not stop.
Vincent van Gogh, Wheatfield with Crows, 1890
Vincent Van Gogh is one of the most well-known and distinguished artists in the world but he had a troubled history throughout his life (and especially near the end). One of his last paintings called “Wheatfield with Crows” was described by himself as “sadness and extreme loneliness” and often described as “doom-filled painting with threatening skies and ill-omened crows”.
Vincent van Gogh, The Yellow House (The Street), 1888
Van Gogh had spent the last years of his life in and out of psychiatric hospitals due to his issues with his mental stability. In 1890, Van Gogh was living in Auvers-sur-Oise, France where he shot himself in the chest after feeling alienated and dealing with serious depressive thoughts. One of the final letters Vincent wrote to his brother Theo said:
‘I feel – a failure. I feel that that’s the fate I’m accepting, and which won’t change any more.’
Although this is what he had said at the time, it couldn’t have been further from the truth. Over his career had befriended other artists such as Paul Gauguin (although the relationship deteriorated as time would go on) and Émile Bernard all artists that were breaking from the traditional impressionist painting style of the time. He would be influenced by artists such as Peter Paul Rubens and Jean-François Millet and influence other artists of the era such as Henri Matisse. He had painted many paintings that either were ground breaking at the time using styles that challenged the normal conventions at the time like his choice of colour palettes and the blend of realism and dreamy “guise of reality”. He also borrowed from techniques already existing such as pointillism, landscapes, and still life creating some of his most iconic paintings. Between 1885 and 1890 Van Gogh had been building a a collection that reflected his personal vision that be commercially successful and to this day Van Gogh paintings are among the most expensive pieces of art on Earth and are in renowned art galleries around the globe.
He was far from a model citizen but it shows a glimpse into the imperfect. The deeply flawed, yet widely revered in some artistic form, often described as a tragic artist. I feel there is some empathy we have for him in this situation. He wanted to paint but it was excruciatingly difficult to later on in life due to his deteroriating health. He was known as a painter and yet he couldn’t do the one thing we was known for due to motivation, mental reasons, or otherwise. Near the end indicated by his letters and paintings it felt that he no longer felt the joy of it. And when that was taken away, there is a feeling of helplessness. When you devote your time to being widely known for one thing and yet it feels tragically inconsequential in the end. No matter how brilliant you are in one thing, other aspects of your life could not be going well and in some cases your character might suffer as a result.
Over time you come to the realization that you can fail, but still be successful later on. Failure in the moment can be heartbreaking and excruciatingly painful. It is hard to see the next step in that staircase or rung in the ladder in the moment to move on. But it’s important to focus on moving forward. It can also happen in the reverse where you can be immensely successful but still feel like a failure. When the expectations crush your experience and the reality of the situation is disappointing. The feeling where the success you feel is short lived and when your world comes crashing down upon the reality of attaining something. It could be because we came in with the wrong frame of mind or the thing we wanted all along is not actually what we wanted after all.
In my recent visit to Chicago I went to the Chicago Art Institute. Rodin has a bronze statue called “The Walking Man”. The name might seem like it make no sense since the bronze statue itself cannot move on its own. So what purpose is it to be a walking man if it is completely still? The plaque had a quote on it that said:
“It is the artist who is truthful and it is photography which lies, for in reality time does not stop.”
Rodin understood that art imitates life and in doing so we portray a snapshot for everyone to see. Life moves on and art seemingly does not age. But we know that everything has a life beyond the canvas it is drawn in. What is there is not immortal in reality. A still life is only still for so long, and a self-portrait is a person in a brief moment. Perhaps the biggest critique is that art does change. We may view the same piece of art multiple times and see different things because although the art does not change, we do. We see the world in ways that we may never see again.
2022 and onwards
Again, if you read this far I want to thank you. The intertwining of life events, themes of growing up and maturing, and overall life philosophy was hard to combine into something readable, but I tried to make it work to the best of my ability. I wanted something that was uniquely me. If it is eclipsed by
my-story part 1, I won’t be surprised. But the people who read
my-story part 1 will eventually reach the
my-story part 2 in their own lives. That’s why I wrote this now, because I am experiencing this.
my-story as just that. It is a snapshot of what I did and who I was at the time. Embellished at parts and brutally honest in others. I still feel I didn’t do enough to push the narrative forward on how there is more to life than tech and only perpetuate the same cyclic nature of what most waterloo undergrads strive for and fail to realize until later on. I acknowledge it is a product of its environment and limited in scope to what it can achieve.
I view this as a FOIL to the original my-story. This is almost the complete opposite from a content standpoint and ideology. You may ask “So why write this in the first place and what good does it do?” I still view the original
my-story post as incredibly flawed and a one-sided retelling of a story from the standpoint as if getting a job was the most important thing in the world. At the time it probably was but the message it left off on always bothered me. It feels like the story ended and I wanted to stress that it never ended. It had equated that working hard meant you could achieve greatness which is a disappointing and false adage. You can try your best and still fail.
my-story part 1 has incredible traffic and roughly 40% of all page views on my site are for that singular page. It isn’t too crazy to see why. The SEO is great (this post I already know will not be that case) and has many relatable undergrad lessons that people message me to this day about. But I acknowledge it is flawed. It can simultaneously be both a commercial success and a personal failure. Maybe it is because I dislike my portrayal in it and that makes me crazy since I am the author and I am the main topic of it.
This part 2 is the FOIL because it extenuates everything I wanted to articulate about me and
my-story in the time that has passed since. My undergrad life used to be my life. Now it is so much more. The vastness of adult life and “what does it mean to be an adult”. Just like this time period in my life, it is only a glimpse into a small fraction of time. This is just a snapshot of my life’s musings I’ve observed and they are frozen in time (aside from a few minor changes here and there). I’ve tried my best to distill my knowledge, yet I still make mistakes, things inevitably fall apart. Life moves on and so do we.
This is a messy post trying to tie together philosophical themes and some leisure of life travel that almost certainly contrasted my work lifestyle. It is far cry from how my life was in undergrad. And despite all of that it is what is in my life currently and what is on my mind. I’m at a crossroads in my life and I don’t know a better way to articulate that.
The Van Gogh section was almost cut on a few redrafts because it deals with a pretty serious topic and Van Gogh is not a role model to follow. What it does show is that the failures we feel are incredibly human and why what we feel in the moment is not eternal. When he said his final words to Theo in the letter it is heartbreaking because it is relatable to everyone, we have probably experienced deep sadness like that at some point. Even myself, from time to time we need to remember that there is a difficult but long road ahead, but it is not fated in failure unless we frame it as so. Van Gogh’s statement was proven wrong, by his aspirations to become a painter and change the art form, influence other contemporaries, and build a legacy as a painter long after his death. His paintings at the moment of inception are vastly different from how they are now. But he could not see it at the time. That is why I included it.
I usually write these a year removed from what actually happened but I can give a sneak peak. Currently I am in Houston (briefly) but in 2022 I was able to visit to OKC, Chicago, Dallas, and San Antonio. I’ll be in SF, Denver, and Sacramento later on in 2022. I am not sure where I will be in 2023. Who knows what will happen in the future?
What I’ve learned is that people change. People move on with their lives.