How 2020 Changed Me

Where the gains outweighed the losses.

Photo from anewall

2020 was a year of losses for everyone. For me, it was a year of lost memories and experiences.

I wasn’t able to attend my prom or have a normal graduation. I wasn’t able to partake in my summer program at a Google office. I wasn’t able to spend my first year of college at campus or in my dorm.

Yet, now that the year is finally over, I don’t want to look back at it with regret or with wonder of what could have been. Instead, I want to acknowledge 2020 as a year that truly changed my life and allowed me to start becoming the person I envisioned myself being.

2020 provided me with a sense of growth and independence

I had been putting off getting my license ever since I failed my first driver’s exam. But with the expanse of time at my hand, I was able to practice more and ease some of the anxiety that I held about driving. Despite the long wait of having the DMVs open again, I was finally able to obtain my license.

I also applied and received my first job. Though it is just in retail, working my first job allowed me to better both my public speaking and problem-solving skills, as engaging with customers forced me to think on my feet and not be afraid to speak up. I also learned how to manage my own expenses and began putting a small portion of my paycheck towards savings. Though it was unusual at first not having to ask my parents for as much money anymore, I found the experience to be freeing and impactful, as I was more cautious about spending my own hard-earned money than I was before.

Along the lines of my career, I was also able to grow my professional network. As a member of the Rewriting the Code program, I was lucky enough to gain a scholarship from Apple that allowed me to attend the Grace Hopper Conference — the largest celebration for women in computing. Though I am only a freshman in college and had not even completed my first Computer Science course at the time, I wasn’t expecting to walk away from the convention with any job offers. Therefore, I mostly utilized my experience at the conference to learn from as many talented women as I could, as well as broaden my knowledge about the different CS companies and roles that existed. This also caused me to research and apply for as many internships as I could, even though I was pretty prepared to be rejected or ghosted from the majority of them.

Luckily, I was able to receive my first internship offer for the summer. After conducting behavioral interviews and engaging in meaningful conversations with a recruiter that I actually met through a Grace Hopper virtual career fair, I was able to secure a tech support position at Liberty Mutual. Though this position may be somewhat uncommon for Computer Science majors to do, I really am looking forward to it, not only because I gain the opportunity to learn about working with a customer and designing a product, but also for the amazing people that I am excited to meet.

I believe that what matters more than the job role or the company name is the people you are working with and the opportunities you will be offered to learn.

Throughout my whole experience of interviewing with Liberty Mutual, I was only treated with kindness, respect, and a selection of opportunities that I would be able to gain during the internship, such as shadowing other employees, gaining mentorship, and working on a project with other interns. Plus, if the company decides that the internship will not be remote, I will be able to spend the summer living in Texas. I have never lived away from home before for such an extended period of time, so just being able to gain such an experience at 19 would be a great change and a maturing moment for me.

I have also read in previous articles and books about the importance of forging your own path and how one should strive to make it as distinct from others as possible. If instead I aim to have the same exact internships and experiences as others, that will only cause my ideas to become similar to everyone else’s. I want to become someone who stands away from the crowd, not just a member of it.

As for what my career holds for me in the future, I have no idea where I will end up. Possibly in a traditional Software Engineering role, or maybe not even in a CS job. Because the possibilities are endless, I want to spend the rest of my college career to experience as many different tech roles as I can, in order to determine what I truly enjoy doing and where I find myself making the most impact on this world. I want to change my goal from being an employee at a great company, to possibly starting the next great company.

2020 allowed me to gain a greater sense of identity

Being forced to live in quarantine meant spending a lot of time with ourselves. As someone who is naturally introverted, that wasn’t very difficult for me to do. What was hard was not being able to see my friends at all, or only having to communicate over text or FaceTime. This caused a lot of my friendships from high school to dwindle, as we were no longer forced to see each other every day and didn’t have any similar classes or teachers to converse about.

Even starting college virtually was an isolating experience. Though I was able to forge some friendships through Zoom meetings or Instagram, I find it bizarre how I still have not been able to meet my college friends in person yet. There are so many dimensions to people that I haven’t been able to see, simply because we are currently only bound by our similar classes or majors.

However, I was able to make some unlikely friendships through joining clubs, specifically one called CHAARG. CHAARG is a movement that inspires women to view fitness as something that can and should be fun, and encourages us to prioritize our health, not the way our bodies should look in order to please society. Through this organization, I was able to attend Zoom workout sessions that were led by trainers and filled with CHAARG members from all across the country. I was also able to become part of weekly small group workout sessions, where we would usually end up chatting more than sweating. Though this club was definitely not one I planned to join, I really am grateful that I did because it not only provided me with a community of fitness fanatics, but also the motivation I needed to exercise between classes.

Quarantine truly helped me view fitness and health in a different light than I originally saw it in. Though in the beginning of quarantine I was more obsessed with the way my body looked than how it felt, causing me to over-exercise and restrict, I was able to change my purpose behind exercising as 2020 wrapped up. I began watching inspirational YouTubers such as Linda Sun and surrounded my social media with great influencers, all of which taught me that I should not be exercising with only the motive of having a flat stomach or skinnier arms.

Every workout video that I start should be a challenge that I have overcame by the time the video ends. Every meal that I eat should fulfill a purpose — to energize me, or to fulfill a craving, or to make me smile. I should not be stuffing myself with food simply because I am watching a movie and it keeps me distracted. I should not have to choose between studying or exercise, because both are essential parts of my life.

My health is something that I need to prioritize and not take for granted, because it is my energy that will help me reach my goals and my happiness.

Beyond my physical identity, 2020 also helped me gain the confidence and sense of identity that I needed. Without having to walk through the judgmental halls of high school anymore, I no longer had any role that I felt like I had to keep living. I didn’t have to be the smart, shy and nerdy girl anymore. I could be anyone that I wanted to be. With the start of the virtual college semester, I found myself being more engaging and outspoken than I ever had been in high school. I was often the only one speaking up when others had their cameras and mics turned off. I attended office hours and forged friendships with professors and peers, as well as asked any questions that I had without the fear of looking stupid.

I was also able to regain my love for my hobbies and spent time partaking in activities that brought me joy. For instance, I finally started writing again and instead of just reading articles on Medium, I started publishing my own. I also became a writer for one of my school’s clubs, which meant that instead of total strangers, my peers would be able to read my writing. Though that should cause me to feel afraid of showing my vulnerabilities to the world, I decided instead to view this as an opportunity to feel stronger, instead of cowering away because of possible judgement. I was also able to spend more time reading again, getting closer to my family, and connecting to my religion and spirituality more.

2020 changed me for the better

Though I think no one could have predicted that 2020 would end up looking like that, I don’t think that I regret the year at all. I think this year of being in quarantine allowed me to understand who I am and what I want my life to look like. It showed me who truly belongs in my life, and who I should not waste my energy on. It allowed me to prioritize what truly matters in life — my health, my family and friends, and my education.

Though I am privileged to say this has been an impactful year for me, I hope that I can continue growing just as I have done during 2020. With each day, I aim to become just 1% closer to the person that I dream of being.

A recording of my encounters with tech, culture, and growing up.

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