2017 is coming to an end and I look back feeling happy, grateful and at peace. 

While 2016 was the year of “sobering up” – a year in which I felt my life and overall drive was decelerating and one that gave me more limitations than opportunities – 2017 for me is the year of realignment. I think throughout my two years at Stanford I kinda lost a bit of myself. Something that was compounded by an unhealthy relationship I was in for the vast majority of this year. But this year, especially the last quarter of it, allowed me to realign myself, to find my voice, and to reconnect with my core and my essence.

Among the highlights of this year for me were definitely graduating from the GSB, the massive career risk I took by joining a Beijing-based company, and allowing myself to fall in love and to follow my heart. There was also the photography work I got to do for major brands like AirBnB, Virgin Mobile, and after many attempts, also Apple. Or my travels that allowed me to see and reconnect with a number of friends all around the world. Maybe on top of it all though was my activism against the travel ban and the Trump administration. 

Thankfully, on the lowlight-side of things, there isn’t much to mention, well, apart from the most obvious thing which was Trump and his stupid travel ban. If anything at all, it was that unhealthy relationship that consumed a lot of my mental energy throughout this year. But in hindsight, I am just happy to have made that experience and to have learned the things I did. Oh, and I gained 2kg over Christmas… that kinda sucks. And I still massively suck at speaking Mandarin which is just a painful daily experience in my current life – and something that makes me feel like a bit of a failure considering how much I love learning languages. 

This was a year with a lot of highs and lows, but thankfully they all ended up teaching me great life lessons.

Realizing how awesome you are and demanding to be treated accordingly

My story: Earlier in 2017, through pure chance, I connected with someone super charming and like-minded. We hit it off so well, that after just a few days, I knew I wanted to meet her in person – even though she lived on the other end of the world. One visit became two, then three then four visits that we did back and forth between the locations we lived (we are talking about 10+ hour flights). We truly fell for each other and were determined to make it work, no matter what. 

Yet as unique as our story was, and as amazing as our connection was, we were simply different people with different needs. She wasn’t able to meet mine, and I wasn’t able to meet hers. Yet we kept trying and trying. And while I don’t blame her for the way she was acting, because I think a lot of it was due to the situation we found ourselves in, the way I was being treated in the end was far from how I deserved to be treated. Yet I kept going with it, obsessed with this idea to make it work, and not realizing how toxic and hurtful things had become. Throughout this all I was slowly losing myself, my self-esteem, and my self-worth. Only until we parted.

The lesson: The truth is that you don’t intentionally or willingly enter a situation in which you allow someone to be mean or ungrateful towards you. You rather unknowingly morph into those situations, step by step, day by day. And only when you are deep in them, you start to realize that something is off. And until that point, you really don’t know how to get out of it quickly or easily – because you are so focused on achieving whatever drove you into that situation in the first place (winning someone’s heart, becoming friends with someone, etc.). 

Looking back, I was just too obsessed with a certain outcome in my personal life and really wanted to give it all and make it possible no matter what. And that zealousness drove me to a place where I had momentarily forgotten my awesomeness (yes, you got that too!) and the way how I deserved to be treated. I kept finding excuses and justifications for the other person’s behavior, by mostly looking to fault myself and by being forgiving forwards them. Only when I let go of the person, with time and distance, I realized what situation I had gotten myself in. What I took away from it this year is how important it is in life to not compromise on your own awesomeness and to let go of people who don’t treat you as you deserve. It’s easily said, but also easily forgotten. 

Opportunities are where others don’t dare to go to

My story: When I graduated from the GSB this year, I wasn’t too excited about my job prospects (which were actually pretty good). I had already worked in Silicon Valley for many years, and while 260 of my class of 400 were going to stay local, many of whom I count as close friends, I just wasn’t pumped about the outlook of continuing my pre-MBA lifestyle and ending up competing for the same jobs as my classmates.

Convinced that China is the new frontier in technology, a perspective I had developed during business school, I was determined to find a Chinese tech company that wanted to expand internationally – and then be the person who would help them do that. So only two weeks after graduation, I packed my bags, bought a round-trip ticket to China, and went there to find a job. 

I took language classes in the morning and helped a friend’s start-up in the afternoon. And during the remainder of the time, I just tried to find companies whom I could help go international. After just six weeks of searching, and a lot of help through my Stanford network, I ended up finding a gig that was exactly what I was looking for – and so much more. I love what I do, I learn a shit ton, and I feel aligned. In the end, the opportunity I got and the level of responsibility I was entrusted with, one that is making me punch above my weight, reflects all that risk I was willing to take, and that is a very satisfying feeling. 

The lessons: When I boarded that flight to China, I didn’t know where I was going – I was going to look for a job in a market where I had no credibility, with limited knowledge, a language I didn’t master, and where I neither had friends nor network. Yet in the end, I was able to find something amazing because I had the courage to take a massive risk and try something that other people were not willing to try. I was willing to leave behind the comfort and safety I had ahead of me and go to a place with absolutely no certainty. But I was determined and I was convinced that I would succeed.

What I learned along this journey is how one can find big opportunities in places where others are not looking. And it’s not that they are not looking because they don’t think there would be any opportunities, but because the search for opportunities in those places is hard, is uncertain, is risky, and uncomfortable. But the reward, if successful, is even bigger. And that’s a lesson that I learned this year and that will most certainly influence all future decisions that I will be making in my life.

Sometimes you don’t choose your fight, but your fight chooses you. 

My story: The days leading up to the travel ban, I had a sense something bad was going to happen. And when the ban was issued, I felt like I got hit with a sledgehammer. The country I call home was degrading and humiliating me as a second-class resident and basically showing me the way out. I waited about a day to think about how I wanted to react to it, but then I decided that if you fuck with me, I’m gonna fuck with you. 

So I went public with my story. And within a few hours, I found myself speaking to all sorts of major news outlets. And before I knew it, I was on the frontline of demonstrations and rallies, chanting, speaking, resisting. I was even asked to co-sign an official lawsuit against the government. Thinks just got crazy and for the weeks that followed, I was fully consumed by what was going on. Yet this wasn’t just a fight limited to two weeks. The travel been was re-issued and re-blocked for the third time just a few days ago, so the fight is not over yet. 

The lesson: This was such a massively turbulent time for me early 2017. I suddenly found myself in a position in which I never wanted to be in. And with the decision to speak up, I had to assume a leadership role I had never been in. I was mobilizing my audiences, I was being vocal, I was public, exposed, vulnerable. It felt difficult, yet it also felt right. Looking back, I did everything right. I fought back and I resisted. 

There were two things that really stuck with me from that time. One is how quickly a situation can change and how you can suddenly find yourself giving 200% of yourself, your time, and your energy. There must have been a turbo switch somewhere in me that the travel ban triggered – because I have no idea how I was able to resist so forcefully and make it through so many sleepless nights in a row (or write a full 10-minute speech just five hours before I was scheduled to talk in front of thousands of people at a rally). As shitty as the situation was, it was amazing to see how it unlocked so much in me. The other thing I learned is that sometimes you don’t choose your fight, but your fight comes and chooses you. And that’s exactly what happened. 

2017, thanks! 2018, bring it on.

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