I had no good reason to be unhappy in 2021. Flora and I were healthy, our families were safe, we had good jobs, and we were able to live quite freely in terms of going out and domestic travel. Yet I still felt bad almost every day, and the low mood kept me from pursuing things I thought were important. I’ve had years like that before, and I bet more will come. It’s surely more common than social media feeds would have us believe.
Fortunately, unsatisfying times trigger reflection and often lead to inspiration. In 2021, reflection helped me let go of outdated pursuits and uncover an unlikely new professional passion.
But first things first. Flora and I bought a house in Beijing! It's currently a construction site in the boondocks of Beijing's West Fifth Ring Road, not far from the 2022 Winter Olympics ski jump critics laud as a “dystopian hellscape”. Can’t wait. But, seriously, we’re excited to have a place and look forward to filling it with our crap (and a dog or two) in the coming years.
Ironically, we moved to Shenzhen just after signing the papers. Flora landed a Finance Director job opportunity at Walmart China. We couldn’t pass it up, so we packed our things and moved south. We miss Beijing, but there's much to like about Shenzhen. Lots of greenery. Almost no pollution nor traffic. Semi-tropical. An Indian friend laughed recently, "You think that's tropical?" Compared with Philly or Beijing, yes!
All this talk of houses and moving also made me homesick. I need a real cheesesteak. I want to see my grandmothers again. I have a very young niece and toddler nephew whom I’ve barely met. Flora and I half-joke that the next time we see our nephew will be at his wedding. We want Aunt Flora and Uncle Daniel to mean more than occasional video calls and holiday gifts sent by post. So, we’ve decided to visit the U.S. sometime in 2022, even if China’s restrictions don’t let up. Quarantining, paying exorbitant flight costs, and risking COVID all feel worth it at this point.
I kept many good personal habits: eating right, exercising, meditating, plodding along learning guitar. But in public and professional pursuits, 2021 felt listless.
I was holding onto a direction I’d set nearly 10 years ago. Get the MBA. Get the big tech position. Rise up the corporate ladder. 2021 would be the year I got a middle manager job. Thus spoke my dorky life planning spreadsheet. I told my colleagues, friends, and family. Heck, I even wrote about it in last year’s letter. Yet here I am in 2022 with the same job.
I interviewed for about 20 roles that would’ve met the goal. I failed almost all of them and refused the few offers I received. I was sabotaging myself. This gap between what I thought I wanted and what I was actually doing caused most of my unhappiness throughout the year.
Reflection eventually kicked in. Besides making money to pay bills, a major reason I work is to use technology to build positive networks of people. I started thinking, how can I best do more of that over the next 30 years? It’s probably not by putting blinders on to achieve goals from my early twenties. Some deep part of me didn’t want those jobs, it just took a lot of putzing around to realize.
Then towards the end of last year--like a lightning bolt--I was struck by an emerging, crazy, but ultimately inspiring new world of technologies.
In my previous letter, I wrote about games as laboratories for broader technology trends. Blockchain took the gaming world by storm in 2021, but I started the year avoiding it. Headlines lamented wasteful Bitcoin energy consumption and NFT scams; the whole space just seemed like trash.
But over the summer, I took a deeper look and fell down a rabbit hole trying to understand hash functions, consensus protocols, smart contracts, and myriad other concepts. I came away believing this stuff has tremendous potential to build positive networks of people, and the implications go far beyond today’s cryptocurrency ballyhoo. If you have any interest, I’ve summarized my favorite learning resources here.
I found myself working through midnight, unpaid, with no hope of recognition learning about blockchain applications, just as I did learning Chinese so many years ago. I’m convinced it’s something I will be spending decades on. That natural energy doesn’t come around often, so I’m leaning into it.
I’ve taken up several projects at Google engaging the hot topics of web3 and metaverse. And in my spare time, I’ve begun contributing code to some blockchain open source initiatives. It’s thrilling to encounter many colleagues and friends who are thinking deeply about this space, including a Drexel classmate who literally wrote the standard for NFTs (and leads an insightful weekly livestream Q&A).
Whether you’re a “blockchain believer” or you’re certain it’s a big con, I’m curious to hear more perspectives. You’re on this list because I appreciate you in my life, no matter how you feel about this topic and no matter how long since we last spoke. If you’re so inclined, reply about this or anything else on your mind. I read and respond to every message.
2021 was a big year. Not because of any grand achievement, but rather because it reset how I view the coming decades of my life. It allowed Flora and I to establish a long-term base in one of our favorite cities. There’s much to look forward to. And, lord, you know I can’t wait for that cheesesteak.