If you’re reading this at all, I applaud you and, as always, offer my apologies. I haven’t written anything here – and this is, in a sense, frightening – in over eleven months. Even more troubling is that fact that I didn’t write nearly anything at all (with the exception of academic and professional documents), via any medium, for the entirety of last year. ’13, as would befit the number’s reputation, didn’t treat me kindly: beginning well, it manoeuvred me into apathy and conflict far too quickly. For the first time, I felt my activities to be completely purposeless. There were great things about the year as a whole: I met people I truly love, I discovered whom I need within my life, and I, in delaying “the offer”, refused to succumb to a conventional path that wouldn’t have suited me. I loved my summer, too, given that I spent it teaching the MCAT free of charge, relaxing with friends, and taking classes that I routinely attended. The autumn term, however, was precisely that: a fall. Exhausted from a poorly organized year-and-summer of overloading in preparation for “the offer” (if you don’t know what I’m speaking of, all the better), I launched into another too-ambitious term (i.e., several graduate courses, one in Arabic – a language I’ve never previously learnt), and layered it with so much extra-curricular work (and med. school applications) that I struggled to keep up even in September.
I then had my share of difficult family and friend situations, some financial problems (the teaching assistantship I was to possess wasn’t made a formal position by the department in question), and a few illnesses; this – combined with living away from (albeit near to) my family for the first time – was enough to get me tired. With fatigue, our minds – to put it climatically (in both senses) – experience variably cloudy periods with gusts of despair. Our daily high is minus ten. Then come the scattered flurries of inactivity, which pile up into a soft blanket of unmet goals: so difficult to shovel away, given the lack of sunshine. Let it get to you, and you – like the season – slowly freeze.
I hit absolute zero. My grades survived (I’m surprised, given that I barely managed to contribute reasonably sound work to my courses), but my academic work began to mean nothing, and I ceased assisting people academically, professionally, and emotionally. I spent far less time than I would have liked to with those family members and friends who matter (human and otherwise). The assorted in-person and online study, professional enrichment, and support groups I created fell into inactivity. I stopped tutoring for free, and didn’t participate in anything entrepreneurial. I didn’t expose myself to nature and wildlife; I barely enjoyed the holiday season.
What happens when you hit absolute zero? To be a little too motivational: you crank up the heat, make yourself feel the burn again, and see if you can take it. With this post, I cease complaining, and do precisely that: thaw icy idleness, and proceed with everything I’ve allowed myself to fall behind on. It’s a new year, after all, and as much as that’s an arbitrarily defined change, I like the idea of beginning again.
I’ll make another to-do list, as I did in 2013 (I notice, by the way, that my tone in my post from December 31st, 2012 is considerably more optimistic than my present one – bear with me, please, I’ll be back soon). I am almost deliriously excited about the upcoming months: about resuming my position in my own life. At some point, I’ll compile a list like this summarizing my life goals: I’ve done so informally, but I intend to publish one. For the moment, 2014 will – hopefully – be defined by the following (some are taken from last year):
- Blogging weekly! This year, it happens.
- Reconnecting with all those friends, family members, influences, and coworkers with whom I feel I continue to celebrate the validity of love
- Seriously segmenting casual, professional, and loving relationships: I have never previously formalized this idea. Too often, I find myself believing that an extended tutoring commitment is a friendship, else that an acquaintanceship is a more meaningful connection – I somehow believe that a person is a “close” friend if he or she is dear to me, and projects friendliness in my general direction; too often, this is not the case. This year, as much as I believe I don’t deserve much, I will seek to call “friend” only individuals who have shown themselves to love me. By this, I don’t mean that they have to consistently speak with me, praise me, or otherwise favourably interact with me – I just have to have no doubt, given their actions and words, that I matter to them as much as is possible within the realm of friendship. This sounds ambitious, but I’m incredibly fortunate to have a handful of such people around me; I’ve finally made it clear to myself that I don’t need anyone else! I realize now, actually, that I addressed a portion of this last year: “I’ve recently had experiences with friends who academically idolize me, think me emotionless, or otherwise misinterpret my behaviour and thinking. I would like to limit the time that I spend around these people, else modify the nature of our relationships, regardless of which costs this has for both them and myself. I will have an immense quantity of trouble doing this, but those who do not care about you truly shouldn’t claim themselves to be your close friends.”
- Teaching my grandmother something new every week: Those of you who know my Babi are aware of the fact that she is my best friend, and that she and I have thought alike for as long as I can remember. Though she is frightfully, intuitively intelligent and inquisitive (she readily commands concepts in such specialized fields as quantum field theory if I phrase them properly), though she was hailed as an excellent accountant when she worked, and though she always wanted to travel to Canada to pursue her life, she has only completed high school – because of the Second World War, her plans for the future didn’t proceed as she would’ve liked. I nevertheless always see within her a desire to learn about everything around her; she has frequently told me – to my utter surprise, but sheer pleasure – that I and our conversations about people, academics, and the universe at large have made her the happiest she has ever been. She is my biggest influence, has loved me more than she has loved anyone else in her life, and is one of the people I love most. Because of all this, I want to do my very best to, in turn, give her what little I can, exposing her to some of the greatest ideas, texts, and questions I’ve come across in my limited explorations. This is the most ambitious of my yearly goals, given that I feel myself thoroughly unqualified for the task, but in pursuit of this, I will work hard
- Taking care of family and friends: Among other things, I intend to teach my best friend’s sister English, aid friends’ parents in settling into Canadian life via job-searching and visits to interesting places, come home to spontaneously help my mother with her chores, visit my cousin at her exhausting day job, take my family out for dinner, and treat good friends to nice surprises when finances permit
- Doing something necessary as often as I can: Generic, I’ll admit, but this isn’t put forth for warmth and fuzziness. I’ll say – perhaps a little too confidently – that I tend to empathize effortlessly with people when it comes to vital issues; in those instants, I almost always act, often without really thinking, in a way that I think is right. I was once, for example, faced with a man who was clearly without a home on the TTC; he shuffled past me as I was about to eat my Subway, stopped to look at me slowly, and, while he, bending into a slight bow, formed a gap between two long fingers to hesitantly gesture that he’d like a small piece of my sandwich, if I could allow it, he inadvertently smacked his lips. When I realized what he wanted, my hand moved to give it to him. No decision-making was involved, no consideration of the situation at hand: his open palm and water mouth were specification enough. He took the mere combination of sauce, bread, and veggies from me disbelievingly. I don’t think this indicates that I am noble, intrinsically good, or a complete moron. People frequently, I think, consider too many trivialities of situations: whether or not the person before them is addicted to illicit substances, whether half or a quarter of a sandwich is really more appropriate, whether or not the individual seated next to them on the subway is eyeing them oddly. This year, I’ve had the opportunity to avoid stigmatizing interactions: I’ve stroked the hands of, spoken reassuring medical facts to, received fatherly kisses from, and held the crying form of a poet I met on a bus whose thirteen-year-old daughter suffered an unprecedented diabetic attack. I’ve spent half an hour or more in conversation with interesting people who live on the street corners near my new residence, one of whom misses his cat like no other human I know. I’ve built trust with casual acquaintances by lending an ear when the going got tough, either academically or interpersonally. I walked two older women home and lent shelter and blankets during the ice storm. None of this may be “good” or “right” or anything else, but I feel compelled to do it all again, and more – I didn’t ever previously seek out these situations, but this year, I intend to find more need and address it
- Doing my best to clear others of too-harsh judgements: I’ve had the misfortune of witnessing a little too much judgemental behaviour on the part of both friends and strangers this year. Watching two girls, trendily dressed, sniggering at a middle-aged woman with a distinct sense of style on the subway; hearing TTC-goers bitterly yell curses at a group of young men and women who, dressed in bright colors and laughing happily, infuriated everyone simply by singing a [very nicely harmonized] rendition of “Come Together” a bit too loudly; overhearing family members derogatorily discussing people of differing sexual orientations; reading comments from the misinformed masses proclaiming that all Muslims seek to kill and should be put to death; listening to friends condescend those from schools other than the University of Toronto, narrow-mindedly proclaiming it to be the best and most difficult university in existence while investing very little effort into succeeding at the school, and knowing nothing about other institutions; all this is just too much. I hope to, through reasoned argumentation, gently remedy such situations when they arise in future
- Taking the time to learn: When I was young, I would spend hours just reading, practicing, and otherwise interacting with academic material. At present, I no longer do this; this year, I intend to make the time to have at least one longer, seven-hour “exploratory” session per week, and to explore academics every day for at least some time. Specifically, I intend to broadly examine one field I haven’t had much exposure to every week or so, spend two hours per day on Wikipedia, re-memorize dictionaries, read journals daily, participate in online courses, consult documentaries, and work towards certifications
- Participating in interesting contests and assessments: MBA exams, the BAR, the USMLE, the Putnam, IPSC, hackathons, and the Titan Test, among others
- Reading and understanding the Qur’an, the Torah, and the Bible (in that order), among others: The goal for this year is really to begin. I’m not religious, though I respect all forms of faith; I would like to be able to justify my current agnostic leanings, else embrace what I find to be truth; religion is one method of approaching truth that I haven’t previously explored. I intend to first annotate each text with my own observations, and then re-examine it in scientific, historical, and philosophical contexts
- Auditing U. of T. courses across all my interests: I have made a spreadsheet containing all U. of T. courses that I’ve categorized under such headings as “Law”, “Health”, “Multiculturalism & Diversity”, “Language & Society”. I intend to acquire syllabi for and potentially audit some courses that I feel would enhance my perspective
- Embracing U. of T.: I haven’t been formally involved within the University to too great an extent; I intend to remedy this via entering, creating, and leading student groups, including those concerning student politics, orchestras, vocals, equality, health, and university academics. I also intend to make better use of all the facilities that U. of T. has to offer (e.g., its libraries)
- Exploring Toronto: I’ve lived in the city my whole life, but I haven’t seen all that it has to offer. This year, I intend to scour its restaurants, parks, Winterlicious, libraries, book stores, musical events, and all manner of other good things
- Independently funding my education and living expenses: Quite simply, I don’t want my parents paying for my education. My scholarship takes care of that at present, but I now live alone; I want to be able to continue paying for my rent, food, and all other necessities entirely without my parents’ assistance. I will ensure, of course, that I don’t neglect other responsibilities in trying to achieve this; attaining financial independence would be optimal, as I really hated being an expense (if not a burden) in past years
- Continually finding ways of reinventing, standardizing, and documenting my tutoring strategies: Particularly, I’d like to create standardized lesson plans, find new ways of presenting content (e.g., YouTube videos, mind-mapping, group tutoring methods), and learn to more comprehensively psychologically profile my students. My goal in tutoring has always been to have my students enjoy their interactions with the subject at hand. I want to ensure that I deliver
- Improving my focus, scheduling, and organizational skills: Find ways to manage time that I haven’t previously considered, learn to better schedule my sleeping, find natural ways to stay awake and better my focus, develop a better shorthand system, ensure that I file important documents daily, keep everything written down. I’ve a hectic term ahead of me, and I need to streamline my actions
- Better employing the technology at my disposal: I code frequently and am generally aware of what machines can do, but I haven’t optimized my life in the context of technology. The potential of Evernote, Facebook, WordPress, my S3, and my new T440s remains far too unexplored for comfort
- Upkeeping a 4.0 GPA: Albeit that this doesn’t in any way signal anything about intelligence or capability, retaining such an average does take a certain form of intellectual determination. And excess work can’t injure a person, if carefully and meaningfully mediated
- Actively running study groups for all of my university classes: I want to try to get people engaged in material using a wide variety of approaches. I hope to run weekly or twice-weekly review sessions, personally tutor some students, post interesting related content to all of these groups, and get people interacting with one another
- Taking a field course: I have always enjoyed field biology, and want to see how it’s practiced in formalized research groups. If I thoroughly enjoy it, I may choose to lend ecology a greater portion of my focus, as pursuing it was – and remains – my childhood dream. I would like to travel to Peru, or even to examine parts of Ontario in more detail. I am now also considering the Environmental Biology minor, which would take me to the National University of Singapore next year
- Further honestly contemplating which field I wish to dedicate myself to: I have always wandered between the sciences and the humanities, and though that research offer looms, I’m as yet uncertain as to whether I wish to specialize in physics, biology, English literature, or something entirely different. I’m quite certain that I will never be certain, but at least temporary decisions should be made
- Spending time daily engaging with my cat, my fish, and the dog I walk (Meowsee, Checkers, Joker, Leopard, Skunky, Specter, Tony, and Endy respectively): These are the creatures that, in addition to some friends and family, make my life worth living. I have not spent enough time with them in the last semester, but I fully intend to do so hereafter
- Revising my entrepreneurial involvements: Whilst I love my entrepreneurial work, I’d like to further specialize within entrepreneurship, and dedicate more time to those pursuits that I find most worthwhile. This will mean vacating administrative roles and taking on advisory capacities in several initiatives that I run
- Writing the MCAT, the LSAT (again), the GMAT, the SAT (again, possibly), more SAT IIs and APs, the GRE, another few GRE Subject Tests, and the MAT: I’ve taken some of these tests, but need to take the LSAT again should I wish to apply to law school (mine will expire by the time I apply), and the SAT again for work purposes (some employers would like to see more recent stats)
- Routinely attending conferences and similar academic events, as well as concerts
- Spending more time revitalizing AMLOC: AMLOC is a 400-person-strong applications- and enrichment-related group that I run via Facebook. I want to frequently add people to it, run some intragroup networking exercises, and continue to try to have people care about the information they’re gaining by providing them with connections, ideas, and opportunities.
- Routinely engaging in some form of athletics: Looks like this may well be tae-kwondo!
- Perfecting several compositions, of both jazz and classical genres: I want to learn the last two movements of Haydn’s Concerto per il Clarino, Hob.: VII e, 1 (Trumpet Concerto in E flat major) well, and continue to learn Liszt’s TÉs, “Autumn Leaves”, Arabesque No. 1,
- Revising my physical appearance: I’d like to find clothing for certain inevitable occasions which I can feel thoroughly comfortable wearing. I don’t currently enjoy my physical appearance, and I don’t think that I will ever be able to, but I hope to at least find items that I can like wearing.
- Visiting or revisiting the following restaurants: Gryfe’s Bagels, Sansotei Ramen, Okonomi House, Manpuku Japanese, Khao San Road, Scaramouche, Canoe, Guu Izakaya, Zucca Trattoria, Pastis, Karine’s Vegetarian, Grand Electric, an amazing food truck, Solo Sushi Ya, Wow! Sushi, Zen Japanese, Buca, K & K Specialty, assorted Pacific mall locations, the restaurants surrounding 半亩园, Ici Bistro, Estiatorio VOLOS, Japango, Korean Village Restaurant, Sukho Thai, Sotto Sotto, Mengrai Gourmet Thai, Trimurti Indian Cuisine, Black Hoof, Fabarnak, Splendido, Ruby Watchco, Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu, Seor Ak San, Latinada Tapas Restaurant, Jean’s Vegetarian Kitchen, Sidecar, Polka, Fabian’s Café, Sidecar, The Stockyards, Banh Mi Boys, Pho Tien Thanh, Hibiscus, Jule’s Bistro, Lola’s Kitchen, Sneaky Dee’s, The Hogtown Vegan, Southern Accent Restaurant, Junction Eatery, Black Camel, Smoke’s, Adega Restaurante, Pizzeria Libretto, Yuzu, Guu SakaBar, Etsu, XFY, Gio Rana’s Really Really Nice Restaurant, Chococrêpe, the small Vietnamese place near my home, The Salad House, Magic Oven, Cheesewerks, Lamesa Filipino Kitchen, Scheffler’s Delicatessen, Caplansky’s Delicatessen, Delux, Hair of the Dog, Crêpes à GoGo, Keriwa Cafe, The Burger’s Priest, Sin and Redemption, The Monk’s Table, Café Polonez, Rio 40 Restaurant, WaffleBar, Barque Smokehouse, Chako Barbecue Izakaya, Chatime, El Almacen Yerba Mate Café, David’s Teas, One Hour Cafeteria, Life is Sweet, Bakerbots Baking, T&T Supermarket, St. Lawrence Market, Fratelli’s, La Palette, Bonjour Brioche, Velouté Bistro, Asian Legend, Sakura, Hashimoto, Sushi Kaji, Lai Wah Heen, Enoteca Sociale, Lee, Ursa, Actinolite, Local Kitchen & Wine Bar, Modus Ristorante, 7 Numbers, Nota Bene, Chiado, Bymark, Mandalay, Grand Chinese Restaurant, Golden Turtle, Celestin, Origin, Frida, La Palette, Ba Shu Ren Jia, Tofu Village, Pizza Pide, Obika Mozzarella Bar, and more.
- Furthering and making more official my language qualifications: Placement tests, standardized subject-specific language testing, short-term programs, anything. I’ve spent an abundance of time learning approximately fourteen languages, nine of them relatively well, so I want to attempt to formalize my studies.
- During the summer, light-sheeting daily, visiting the cottage, and interacting with flora and fauna!
- Reminding myself of my sources of motivation: I’ve currently a folder marked “Happiness” on my desktop, haha. I want to fill it with good things, and continually visit it, else create a book with its contents that I may carry around.
- Completing assorted small projects, many of which have previously been described here: Improving U. of T. first years’ experiences with ROSI, writing a detailed guidebook to first year, creating an audio-modulated SSTC, the area theorem problem, founding the U. of T. Foreign Languages and Computer Clubs, assorted Spivak and Milnor solution manuals, A Non-Science Major’s Introduction to QFT, da Vinci backwards script, Lewin lines, Greek tutoring, the Chinese project, analyzing attributive adjective ordering via some computer science, rereading 四大名著, a page-by-page analysis of Heart of Darkness, the first of a set of texts geared at explaining fundamental concepts of English grammar in the readers’ languages, log everything that I observe and describe it all strictly scientifically, and more
- Attempting to acquire more research internships: I may be heading to CERN and San Francisco later this year, but I’m interested in exploring my options
- Working towards the Rhodes, the Thiel (potentially), and Top 20 Under 20
- Seeking employment under one or more of the following: Next Step Test Prep., Oxford Seminars, the Oxford University Press, Microsoft, CERN, NEMALOAD, the ROM, Khan Academy, Sunnybrook, Sick Kids, et cetera
- Revitalizing and founding two charities: Teach Me Free (formerly Top Tutors), which will seek to provide online and in-person education free of charge in a range of innovative ways, and a new initiative I’ve in mind that will seek to expose young children to the wonders of the natural world through university-student-guided field trips through parks and green spaces in the Toronto area
- Founding, with my best friend, a business geared at offering low-cost MCAT prep., academic advising, tutoring, and more via video in a range of languages and teaching styles (nebulous, but will define itself soon)
And that, for now, is all! You can expect to hear from me tomorrow: despite my having lacked productivity in 2013, I was not entirely devoid of thoughts; I have things I want to address. Happy 2014!