Hey! It’s been a while. And what a year it’s been!
It’s been such a big year. I don’t even know where to start. I know I’ve been away from this blog for over half a year, and it kind of feels like I haven’t seen a good friend in a while. There’s so much to catch up on, and I don’t even know where to begin. I have so much I want to say, yet I don’t know if I can express it all in words, or if I can even recall it all.
Here is a run-down of the “sections” my 2017 was kind of split into:
Wow, co-op was so fun. It was so nice having a life outside of work! I feel like I blogged a good amount throughout my co-op term in Waterloo, so there isn’t too much new content to share on this front. I’m still very thankful for the friends I met, the lessons and skills I learned, and the things I made while in Ontario, and I’m excited for my next co-op term.
Building a Robot
I built an autonomous robot!—at least, part of one. In a team of four, I built an autonomous robot for ENPH 253, a summer course that was probably the best course I’ve ever taken. I had no idea how this robot would be made. I had some rudimentary knowledge of how to analyze a basic circuit and a bending beam, but I definitely didn’t have the skillset to actually build something. Luckily for me—and something I didn’t realize—was that that very feeling was one of the key reasons behind having a robot-building course like 253. Why would “Introduction to Instrument Design” be designed for experienced instrument designers? (that is the name of the course; we did not make musical instruments. if we did, i would love to build a piano!) And so, I soldered (decently, I think), CAD modelled (poorly, I’m certain), and coded (no idea how this went), all with the help of my instructors and peers. By the end of the summer, my team had a robot that could complete the entire competition course on its own. It decided to do so right before and right after the competition, but it’s okay……………..it’s fine……………….
I feel like I write about my general feeling of incompetence a lot, but it was and continues to be a very real thing for me. I really started from the bottom for this course—I didn’t know what heat shrink was, I forgot to slide heat shrink on and had to remake cables several times, I melted components, my team’s robot was almost set on fire again (the first fire was caused by a problem with our microcontroller!!) because I didn’t know how to use a multimeter, and more. But there were also successes. I made things work! The peak detector circuit I made was reliable throughout the course (yay!). I was able to put together a central power supply for other circuits to connect to. I remembered to turn on the soldering fan most of the time. Little things.
I need to remember that I shouldn’t just write myself off all the time before I even get started. Sometimes, I try writing with my left hand. It looks like how I wrote when I was five years old—and this makes sense. That’s how my right hand wrote when I was five, but over time, with a lot of practice, my writing got better (or more standard, I guess). Similarly—of course I wasn’t able to build a robot before the summer. When had I ever tried? I shouldn’t have let that scare me as much as it did. In addition to that, I am surrounded by very competent people in my program, who DO have experience with robot-building, and other engineering things. It’s hard to self-validate my identity as an engineer when I seem way less engineer-y than everyone around me. But that doesn’t mean I’m a fraud. It doesn’t mean I’m bad, I’m any less—I’m fine. And I have to keep going.
So, I learned a lot about robot-building, and I also learned that I shouldn’t say I can’t do things until I actually try them. If I still can’t do them, that’s fine—but at least I then know there is some truth in those feelings.
Being In Actual School Again
My last “real” school term was Sept-Dec 2016. This really wasn’t that long ago, but it sure felt like it!
I struggled to find meaning this term. I take pride in the work I do, and I feel like my work conveys who I am as a person. This is good, in that I try my best in the things I do—my work is an extension of me, so why would I want it to be an extension of the bad parts of me? This is also bad—I get attached to my work, I start placing self-worth into the things I do, and I feel like I’m a worse version of myself when I’m not actively “doing good in the world”, by my own standards.
I like being busy, and I like being excited about the things I’m working on. However, I find that it’s a tricky balance between this buzz and the burnout that so often comes along for the ride. This balance is one I definitely haven’t found yet—surprise, surprise! I don’t really have good insight to give here—just that I seem to ALWAYS be figuring out who I am, what I want to do, and how to get there without burning out all the time.
I recently read through my journal, and it sure seems like I have the same revelations over and over again. I like to do things! But how many things? Why am I doing so much? Why am I doing so little? What do I want to contribute to this world? I want to be happy. I know what makes me happy. Why am I not happy? Big, recurring, never-implemented, but genius-at-the-time idea: wake up at 6am every day to exercise, meditate, and journal! Apparently, I think I’m discovering new things about myself all the time, when many of them really aren’t that new to my sense of self-awareness. I don’t really know what to do about this. Reflect? Try to goal-set every day? Type out my goals in a spreadsheet and make some cells turn red if the goals within the past few months have too much in common with each other? I’ll try to be more aware of this (ha) in the coming year, and see if it does me any good.
I also did a lot of new things this term! Rain-activated public art, two hackathons (one in Waterloo, ON, and one in Princeton, NJ), and a small talks event for my program—things that I’d never even have imagined before this year. This was all very exciting and unexpected, and it showed me the fun in having flex time in my schedule. I want to keep doing little personal projects in the coming year, because they really help me with feeling grounded, and give me things to look forward to and be excited for amid midterms and assignments.
2017’s been exciting. I lived away from home for a term. I built a robot. I missed a bit of school to travel for a couple weekends. I started a bunch of projects—some of which came to life, and some of which didn’t, and that’s okay. I learned a lot about web development, soldering, and math proofs. I got through Electricity and Magnetism and Introduction to Quantum Mechanics. I learned a lot, and I grew a lot. It’s hard for me to see all of it sometimes. It’s like that thing where not all energy is actually usable energy—but it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
I’m not sure how much of what I’m learning is “usable”, in the sense that it relates directly to what I want to do professionally in the future. I spend a lot of time thinking about things I could do that bring all of my experiences together. Design + lettering + blogging + physics + math + electrical + mechanical + ECON 101 + something I did two years ago = the perfect thing for me to pursue? I’m not sure. I don’t think everything I do has to be useful, though it often feels like it’d be more strategic for my future if that were the case. I think the biggest thing about this “wasted” learning, though, is that when I don’t use the things I learn, it doesn’t feel like I’m growing. I have to trust that I am. I have to trust that I’m building up my experiences, learning how to think and learn, and that it’s okay for my life to contain what it does. So, here’s to a year of growing into my experiences, gathering experiences without worrying about their long-term worth, and reminding myself that things I learn aren’t a “waste”. (exception: the “things” I learn by scrolling through social media for HOURS. like, ok. sure. but not the amount of content that i’m consuming on instagram/reddit/facebook/twitter/LINKEDIN on a daily basis!!!!)
Thanks for reading! Another, final note for this post: I think it may be time for me to move on from this blog to a new platform. I’ll let you know if I stay here, and I’ll share the new address if I move. Thank you for following along—it’s been a great 2.5 years here, and I’m looking forward to more. See you in 2018!