2019 Year in Review

Friday, December 13, 2019


Originally, I was going to use this post as a way to share a few things I wanted to remember from the year, similar to my 2013 year in review. "Here's some places I traveled to, restaurants we ate at" - you know the drill. But I recently finished reading Atomic Habits by James Clear and was inspired by his Annual Reviews.

James explains it best. He says:

But it's not just about looking back. A good Annual Review is also about looking toward the future and thinking about how the life I'm living now is building toward a bigger mission. Basically, my Annual Review forces me to look at my actions over the past 12 months and ask, “Are my choices helping me live the life I want to live?” 
Here are the questions he asks himself every year:
  1. What went well this year?
  2. What didn’t go so well this year?
  3. What did I learn?
The closest I've come to doing something like this on the blog was my 30 by 30 list, so I'm going to reference these two things as a guide for my 2019 Year in Review.

Let's get started. :)

1. What went well this year?

★ Settling into my "dream job". My work life has changed a lot since my 30x30 list from 4 years ago. Under Personal Growth, my first goal was Get a promotion.

When I originally wrote down that goal, a promotion was the only career goal I could come up with. At the time, I was really struggling with where I wanted my career to go and what I had to do to get there.

In my last 8 years at Google, I've bounced between many different roles in digital advertising. I felt like Goldilocks, just trying different things to figure out what felt just right. First, I was in a technical role and quickly realized that there was no way I was going to keep up with my coworkers who coded all day long for fun. So I tried a more sales-oriented role, but found myself telling clients "no" all the time because I understood too much of the technical side. I don't have the fluff in me to pretend I can turn water into wine.

I remember thinking early in my career how amazing it would to work at YouTube. I thought my dream job would be to help other content creators like me to be better on YouTube. It seemed like a great cross-over of things I enjoyed about my personal life (blogging & content creation), and work life (helping developers with our ads API). But, like I said, I had no idea how I was going to get there.

Well, younger Noogler Shelly, I hope you're happy to know in 2019, you somehow landed that dream job you wanted. :) By some weird mix of luck and opportunity, I found the one job at YouTube that works on product innovations and content strategy for brands.

This job also gets major bonus points for creating some memorable 2019 moments like going to Sundance (and then awkwardly bumping into Awkafina by the bathrooms at her movie premiere. I asked her for a bathroom selfie because I have absolutely no chill ✌️). Or, that time I got a private tour of the Camp exhibit in a completely empty Met Museum in NYC after hours.

I have to constantly pinch myself and thank my lucky stars for having the opportunity to chase my passion projects.



★ Remodeling the house. Another 30 by 30 ambition: Figure out my decorating style and create one entire space in house that I feel is “Pinterest worthy” and then put it on Pinterest. 

There's nothing more satisfying than being in a space where you feel a personal connection to every single little detail around you. Needless to say, this house remodel brought me a lot of anxiety as well. As a self proclaimed perfectionist and a generally indecisive person, I was paralyzed with the fear of making the wrong choice. In the end, it turned out way better than I could have ever imagined. But that didn't come without a lot of work and too much self-induced stress.



The most challenging part of this whole ordeal was we lived in the house during the remodel. While I'm thankful now that I had a chance to learn from a step-by-step tutorial of how houses are built, living through construction for more than six months was pretty draining.

Through this remodel, I have a better sense of my personal design aesthetics. As it turns out, although this is not a huge surprise to anyone who knows me, I really really love a strong black and white contrast with shiny things sprinkled in between. J and I also learned a lot about each other. If you thought planning a wedding was hard, a house remodel will surface up even more weird BS that you didn't know about your spouse ;).

When I find the time, I want to document some of the key decisions I made through the process and why I chose the things I chose. On Instagram, Pinterest and Houzz, you'll find a lot of inspiration photos, but no one goes into the details of how or why they ended up with the things they chose.

I've been getting a lot of those questions from friends going through the same thing and it'd be nice to remember for future reference. But for now, I'm SOOO happy that this is done and that I get to live in a home that truly feels like mine.



★ Growing my brain? (lol, wasn't sure what to call this one) By the end of 2018, I was feeling pretty fed up with social media and what I felt like it was doing to me. I've vented about this subject in my blog post: Finding Balance: How I'm Rethinking My Content Strategy. But generally speaking, I feel that the influencer and social media culture that's developed in this decade has been eating away at my brain.

I came across this article titled The Pot-Belly of Ignorance that really hit the nail on the head for me:
Increasingly, we’re filling our heads with soundbites, the mental equivalent of junk. Over a day or even a week, the changes, like those to our belly, are barely noticeable. However, if we extend the timeline to months and years, we face a worrying reality and may find ourselves looking down at the pot-belly of ignorance.
I'm very guilty of indulging in too much mental junk. In my spare time, I "read" too many click bait articles and waste my time scrolling through infinite feeds without any clear purpose. Yes, I have to pay attention to this space for my job, but I wanted to step away from contributing to it all on a personal level.

So in 2019, I tried to take a break from posting on the internet. When you have nothing good to say, don't say anything at all. That kind of thing. I worked on spending time on content that I found worthwhile. In the middle of 2018, I started reading a lot more. A coworker of mine is an avid reader and suggested a few good ones to me.

If you told me 2 years ago that I'd be averaging reading a book a week, I would have told you that you're absolutely insane. Because... first of all, I don't like reading books. Also, I don't have enough time to read. Do these reasons sound familiar to you? Well, two surprising things happened.

  1. Turns out, I really enjoy reading! I only thought I hate reading because through my academic career, people kept assigned me books to read and afterwards, I had to write some bullshit paper about it. Now, reading books on topics that I actually find interesting is... dare I say it? FUN?! 
  2. When you spend less time on social media, you have more time to do other things, such as reading. 😱Say what!? I ended up spending a lot of time reading during my commutes rather than aimlessly scrolling through Instagram. 


Here's a screenshot of my book tracker from 2018. There's a few things you might notice. I included the year that the book was written because I thought it was important to not only keep current with books and ideas that are popular today, but ideas that stand the test of time. Also, I'm a non-fiction type of gal. I think the world we live in is fascinating enough without needing to read additional made up stories. Finally, I wanted to make sure I'm tracking and reading a good distribution of books on topics that I care about. I'll share the books that I've enjoyed the most in a separate blog post before the year ends.

In addition to reading, I've been spending a lot more time listening to audiobooks and podcasts. I'm a huge Tim Ferriss podcast fan.  Each of his podcasts features conversations between him and other "top performers" for 1.5-2 hours. He's currently on podcast #401, and I've listened to almost every single one. So, that gives you an idea of how much time I've spent this last year on consuming a different type of media.

2. What didn’t go so well this year?

★ Work/life balance and burn out. I developed an unhealthy obsession with my job. There were many factors at play:
  1. Excitement about having my dream job, and pressure on myself to do my very best.
  2. Difficulty of ramping up on a brand new role and learning both the technical aspects of how things worked and also other nuances like work politics. Relearning a lot of things I thought I knew, but from a completely different POV.
  3. As I eluded to in previous posts, I've been trying to deal with the heavier emotions in my personal life, so it was easy to use work as a distraction from having to process the feelings.
By the time that I had the opportunity to slow down a little bit, I felt extremely burnt out and unmotivated. Here's a good Medium article about Demystifying Burnout in Tech that I found very relatable -- particularly the descriptions about Overload Burnout and Futility Burnout.

This has been a wake-up call to slow down and that just because I can do a million things at once, doesn't mean I should.



★ Nutrition & Fitness. Ever since I first started doing The Clean Program back in 2012, I have done some type of cleanse every year as a yearly health goal. For fitness, I work out pretty consistently. I go to 2-3 spin classes a week as a baseline for workouts, and add whatever HIIT or strength training to supplement that. However, 2019 is the first time in a long time that I've deprioritized both.

Regarding my cleanses & overall nutrition, I tried doing the 21-day clean cleanse over the summer, but I couldn't motivate myself to complete it. I gave up after a week because I didn't think I felt any better from it and I had no clear reason for why I wanted to finish.

What I've come to realize is that the most important part of me doing these cleanses isn't because it's something that I want to stick to long term. It's because it helps pull me out of whatever unhealthy rut I am in at the moment.  21 days to a month is a good amount of time to get back into the groove of eating healthier and building those routines back into my daily life.

As for workouts, I felt overwhelmed with the schedule of my new job. In between travelling all the time and trying to get back into a routine at home, I didn't feel like managing a schedule of workouts. It really felt so much easier to just not workout at all.

There's likely a negative vicious cycle going on here. The more crappy I ate and less I worked out, the more tired and burnt out I felt. I can see how this spirals out of control, so I'm looking forward to 2020 so I can have a mental reset on my personal well-being.



★ Spending time with loved ones.  Also related to feeling burnt out, I felt like a complete hermit/homebody on the days when I wasn't working or travelling. This resulted in me not seeing my family nearly as much as I would have wanted to.

I recently read a blog post by Tim Urban titled The Tail End. In this post, he helps paint a picture of how much time I have left to spend with my parents in person. 90% of our in-person time together is already over. We use up the majority of this "parents time" during our childhood when we saw them every day. This really helps put into perspective that the remaining time is truly precious.

I'm lucky to have a good relationship with my parents and other elders in my life. A huge reason why I decided to move back to California was to be closer to family.  I want to make sure I remember this fact as I choose how to spend my time moving forward. These are the relationships that matter to me the most and I know, now more than ever, that the time is going to be limited so I want to make it special and make it count.



★ Embracing my creativity. I really miss having a personal creative outlet. I was looking back on some of my past blog posts and remembered having a lot of fun writing them. I can attribute why I've stopped posting to a few things:



Besides work, I also spent a lot of time and energy on wedding planning and remodeling the house. Now that those big personal projects are over, I'm going to work on embracing more creative ideas that bring me joy.

3. What did I learn?

I learned a lot this year, but here's a few things that are top of mind:

★ I'm dyslexic. I wrote a reaction blog post around the same week I figured this out. That blog post best captures what I was feeling as I was processing this new information. I was angry and annoyed for being misunderstood by others but relieved to better understand the big question of "What's wrong with me??". At the end of it, I've come out of this discovery with more compassion for myself and for others. Also I have a newfound acceptance and understanding that everyone is different in the way that we process information and see things in the world and that it's okay.

A lot of people have asked me how I've worked differently now that I know I'm dyslexic. I'm still trying to figure it out, but ever since moving to California, I've felt incredibly frustrated with how hard "adulting" is. In NYC, I had way less responsibility living in a shoebox apartment with convenience around me. My current Californian lifestyle equals way more chores and bills to pay in addition to a daily 2-hour commute. Where am I supposed to find the time to do it all?

Having difficulty with adulting can be partly explained from a dyslexic's weakness in overall organization and time management. The Dyslexia Playbook at work recommends that dyslexics:
  • Make lists
  • Write down everything you need to do during the day
  • Try to have short term, medium term and long term lists that you check over regularly (use Calendar for reminders).
  • Long term goals are also hard, it is advisable to have a wall calendar to be able to perceive timelines.
Yes, I know, "normal" people should be doing stuff like this too to keep organized, but I've accepted the fact that I MUST do this to be successful in my day. I used to think I can keep track of this stuff in my head. But as I've become more overloaded at work, I'm learning that my brain just doesn't have the capacity to keep it all together.



★ Routines aren't boring. I like to think of myself as a spontaneous person who likes living in the moment. So the word "routine" does not feel authentic to my personal brand. However, what I've come to learn and accept over the course of this year (after reading a lot of books on productivity and habit building) is routines can give you the headspace and energy to have fun during the moments that matter.

Routines help with decision fatigue. The benefit of not having to make a decision for every single thing in your life (you know, because you're being sooooo spontaneous) is that you have more mental energy and willpower to do the things that actually give you joy in life.

Have I been able to adopt any meaningful routines? Now, that's a different story. ;)



Not everyone will like you or like what you think. I recently listened to a conversation between Mike Maples and Andy Rachleff about finding product-market fit and entrepreneurship.

Here's a framework they outlined that I've been thinking more about: "Entrepreneurship or investing can be described with a 2×2 matrix: On one dimension, you can be right or wrong; on the other dimension, you can be consensus or non-consensus." 

Matrix for Non-consensus Thinking for Product Innovation
Consensus thinking is an average way to find success because consensus means everyone is already thinking the same thing. As a result, people end up copying each other or making small tweaks to slightly adjust their product/idea. Competitors hope that their iteration is going to be better, but honestly we all end up with more of the same.

So, on the other side you have non-consensus thinking. The fundamental nature of non-consensus thinking is that most people will disagree with you and your ideas. When you're in non-consensus, the general population has not been conditioned to accept your new idea as the new normal. I hate disagreeing with people so being non-consensus is a very uncomfortable position for me to be in. At the same time, I thrive in exploring more out of the box ideas.

There's a lot of nuance that goes into flushing out ideas that almost no one agrees with. And it's even harder to try to find the right allies and figure out how to bring them along. It's hard when you're first  starting out because you also have no real idea if you're right or wrong - so you have the internal struggle to deal with. All you can really do is to make sure you're not so stubborn to not listen to others and need to respect other's opinions when they offer it.

“The only way to make outsized returns as an investor or entrepreneur is to be right and non-consensus.”

This year, I've explored various non-consensus opinions and ideas with different groups of people. TBD on how it will all play out, but all I know is that it's exhausting. I'm still working on figuring out how to live in discomfort and not take things too personally as I fight against the status quo. Meanwhile, for my own personal sanity, I'm also working on learning how to clear out the noise that does not matter (this includes internal noise as well).



★ Good ideas take longer than you think. Related to the previous learning, I'm taking this one from James Clear's 2017 annual report"Of the many challenges associated with long-term creative projects, perhaps the most difficult one is that you must find a way to remain motivated and committed to your project without getting positive feedback on most days. Every morning, you have to find the motivation to put in another day of work even though you know you won't be finished when night falls. Patience is among the most valuable creative traits."

The majority of my projects at work now are big meaty projects that I'm passionate about, but I'm learning that it will take years of coordination and planning before anything will come to fruition. I'm extremely impatient for action. But, when your priorities are not someone else's priorities, it will take a long time to build momentum and shift "no's" into "yes's".

In situations like this, rather than focusing on the end result, I'm learning that it's important to break down year long projects into short-term, medium-term and long-term wins (dare we say, milestones?) so that I can feel as motivated and excited about something as the first day I started.



★ Take the time to stop and reflect. Also, write it down. I've come to realize that I have been trying to breeze through life chasing one big moment to the next. However, as I've gotten older, I've been spending time trying to remember some of the moments that mattered in this decade and honestly, I'm coming up with very fuzzy memories. If I didn't write it down on this blog or take a picture of it, it's almost like it didn't happen at all.

Even looking back at what happened in 2019, if I didn't have my bullet journal, my Google Calendar, or Google Photos, there's almost no way I can remember what happened. I'm only 33, so I'm way too young to be this forgetful. It's a good thing to realize now since I can course correct. This also means you'll be hearing a lot more from me in 2020.

That's all I have for now. As always, thank you for reading. I'm excited to finish wrapping up this year (or decade??) and share what I'm planning for 2020!

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