This year was a great year. That’s not to say it was absent of challenges because I had a lot of them. But this year was beautiful because I took control over my life. I stopping “going with the flow” and “keeping my options open.” Instead, I built a path for myself. But more importantly, I trained myself to make decisions based on firm conviction. I lost friends and upset people along the way but I also strengthened existing relationships (and acquired new ones) and learned what it means to put myself first. Here are eight things that made 2016 such a magnificent year. 

1. Developed conviction for myself
The best advice I got was to stand behind every decision I make with conviction. This came from a designer but I applied it to everything I do in life. This forces me to make decisions on the basis of things that I could firmly defend rather than for the approval of others, something that I have struggled with for a long time. In design, my decisions are rooted in data and research. In life, my decisions are rooted in my happiness and personal growth. I’ve disappointed people in the process but who gets anything done while pleasing everyone? I know that every decision I make isn’t perfect. But I can certainly stand behind each and every one with conviction.

2. Deepened my Buddhist practice
As a practitioner of Nichiren Buddhism, my challenge this year was to break out of my comfort zone and do things that terrified me. I even shared an experience of what that was like at a local Buddhist meeting. Building that confidence to admit the things that scare me and then facing my insecurities head on has been uncomfortable, to say the least. But the purpose of practicing Buddhism is to explore my unbound potential. I’m never satisfied with what I accomplish because it makes me wonder how much more I’m capable of and I go after it. No matter what I face in 2017, I’m not afraid because I will always have “Nam-Myoho-Renge Kyo.”

3. Qualified for the NYC Marathon
For the longest time, I verbalized every excuse as to why I wasn’t ready to run the marathon. That was easier than training for it. But I turned that around. When a family member became paralyzed overnight, I didn’t want to wait a second longer to pursue the marathon because I could lose the ability to perform everyday movements as well. That first training run was brutal – not even 15 minutes in and I almost collapsed. But as of today, I went beyond my requirements and completed twelve races in the span of seven months and have obtain my guaranteed qualifier for the TCS New York City Marathon for November 5, 2017.

4. Maintained an active lifestyle
Training for the marathon is primarily the reason why I work out a lot. But having a purpose doesn’t necessarily equate to effortlessly maintaining an active lifestyle. I work for it. Continuing a sport is exceptionally challenging because no one else will do it for me and if I slack off, my body will directly suffer the consequences. I’m also active because I need to be the best ambassador for kosenrufu (a Buddhist term for global peace). I want to be a key contributor to solving meaningful problems in the world but I can’t do so without taking care of myself in the process. Plus, I love to eat. Being active gives me the freedom to eat six meals a day without the guilt.

5. Built my design career from the ground up
Discovering my passion for design was wonderful but developing the skills needed to excel in the tech industry is a different story. I spent the entirety of 2016 learning user experience (UX) and human-computer interaction on my own and paved a new career path from the ground up. Despite working full-time as a paralegal and actively running, I hustled every day to bring me closer to my dream career. I’m not quite there yet but am profoundly proud of what I got done. And I have the design community to thank because everyone is warm, supportive and willing to share their experiences and resources. It blows my mind how committed designers are and I love being a part of this network.

6. Completed my first design project
As a designer, I need to show my ability to do research, analyze data and solve problems. A lot of people have encouraged me to pursue UX projects to start gaining that experience to build my portfolio so I joined two design mentorship programs to help me throughout the process. As of two weeks ago, I completed my first UX design project with a group and I’m ecstatic about what we produced. It was a challenging process and involved more work than anticipated. And convincing ourselves that the roadblocks we experienced was a manifestation of innovation was difficult. In the end, however, we were incredibly satisfied with the outcome and I’m excited to have my first completed project in my portfolio.

7. Wrote consistently on this blog
I love writing. A friend recommended that I start blogging everything I learn in the process of transitioning into a design career. This was a no-brainer since I love to write but was nervous about not being able to keep it up consistently. Writing is one of the most vulnerable ways to express oneself and I wasn’t courageous enough to do that yet. Nonetheless, I started to write about my experiences of living abroad, my marathon-qualifier journey and, of course, why I love design. After nine months, blogging consistently has significantly helped develop my design career. Putting together case studies for my portfolio involve a lot of writing and having that training through my blog was extremely handy.

8. Kept myself engaged
In terms of general life experiences, I can happily say that this year was by far the most delightful. I tried new things and had a lot of fun throughout the process. Taking online classes and actively reading books stimulated my brain. Participating in meetings, events and workshops helped me socialize in a meaningful way. Developing and adopting new hobbies kept me sane. Traveling to Miami for a bachelorette was a sweet getaway from the hustle of NYC. Finally, attending The Tonight Show and seeing Denzel Washington talk about his childhood librarian and watching the legendary Tony Bennett perform his classic, I Left My Heart in San Francisco was captivating. Enough said.

I enjoy the process of reflecting on my accomplishments for the year because it helps me realize that I do more than I give myself credit for. As humans, we have tendencies to undervalue our own potential and succumb to those negative psychological influences. It’s definitely much harder to keep pushing and growing than accepting complacency and being content with mediocracy. Now that I know what I can accomplish, I need to start rewriting my long-term life goals. It’s been real, 2016 but I’m ready for next year. I invite all of you to stay right here and see what I get done. I won’t disappoint, I promise.

Cheers,

Riri