The year 2020 hasn’t been a great year. Coronavirus is still here with us. My guy Kanye West did not become the president of the United States. Kobe, Black Panther, and Chuck Yeager died. Australia was ablaze, and Beirut exploded. Personally, the fear of pandemic has rattled me throughout the year. But it was an important year of growing (and aging), so I wanted to document the year 2020 in numbers!

3000 words

I’ve always wanted to speak Spanish fluently because I met so many wonderful people who spoke Spanish. I wanted to connect with them in their “lengua madre.” Despite my sporadic attempts to improve my Spanish, it never improved beyond “Como estas? No tengo dinero pero tengo mucha hambre. Yo quiero una novia pero no tengo dinero.

Then, I stumbled upon a TED video by Chris Lonsdale. In the video (around 14 min), he pointed out that highly frequent words cover most daily expressions in any language. For example, 3000 most frequent words in English cover 98% of daily conversations. Memorizing 3000 Spanish words seemed fairly reachable, so I decided to dooooooooooooo it.

For brute force memorization, I use a Space Repetition Scheduling app called Anki. I downloaded ‘5000 Most Frequent Spanish Words’ deck, and I’ve been memorizing Spanish words every single day for the past 300+ days. As of today, I memorized 2756 words. I can’t wait till termino de memorizar 3000 palabras en español.

348 days of habit building

On my way to work, I listened to a podcast about habits. We all know someone who runs 5 miles every day, reads 20 books every week, has 48 side jobs, and 87 hobbies while raising 531 kids on the side. How can a person do so much with so little time when I am struggling to do the bare minimum? I assumed that there were people out there with super willpower. But the guest on the podcast insisted that the majority of people have more or less the same amounts of willpower, everything boils down to forming a good habit, an automatic behavior that does not require a lot of willpower. Her assertion surprised me, so I tried to build habits using a method outlined in the podcast.

I have been using Loop Habit Tracker to track seven different habits. After 348 days of habit building, I am very pleased that a handful of great habits stuck with me. I plan on “graduating” those habits as I no longer need to track them, and I look forward to building new habits in 2021.

66 books of the Bible

I made a goal to read the Bible everyday and to read it cover-to-cover at least once a year. I used “Read Scripture” to track my goal, and I also created a shortcut on my phone so that the Bible app was one-button away. Thanks to a habit tracker and a simple trick on my phone, I managed to read the Bible ahead of the schedule! I am thankful that God’s words have grounded and guided me throughout this year in the midst of pandemic.

40 days of dry-aging

Cooking has been my second-tier hobby for awhile. Although I enjoy cooking, I never was serious about it. Over the years, I developed a terrible habit of binge watching YouTube cooking channels instead of cooking my own food. This year I decided to take my cooking up a notch. I’ve tried out many new recipes, and the most resource intensive recipe was a 40 day dry-aged steak. To dry-age beef at home, I had to get a special dry-aging bag, a vacuum sealer, and a 20 Lbs. USDA prime chuck eye roll. I let it age for 40 days in my fridge, and the taste was well worth the wait.

Here is a collection of new recipes I’ve tried this year.

21 days of Continuous Glucose Monitoring

My family has a history of type II diabetes. Although my blood sugar level is normal right now, I am likely to develop type II diabetes later in my life. When my company ran a medical study that allowed me to test out a Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) device, I volunteered myself to see what it is like to live with diabetes. I found out that CGM needs to be calibrated every 12 hours, and I had to poke my fingers at least twice a day. Even with a state-of-the-art CGM device, monitoring glucose is not as convenient as I had assumed. After the study, I was more motivated than ever to keep diabetes at bay by eating clean and by adding more muscles.

10 pull ups

Speaking of muscles, I have been training to do 10 strict pull ups in a row. I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I have been working on magic number 10 for 3+ years. My first attempt lasted about 4 months in 2017, and it abruptly ended when I felt a sharp pain on my left shoulder. The pain became so unbearable, and I had no other option but to stop the exercise completely. I had assumed that my ligament, shoulders, and joints were not properly built for 10 pull ups, and I gave up.

At the beginning of the year, I got really uncomfortable that I had given up.

How can I possibly be okay being suck?

Reaching 10 pull ups has been a main fitness goal for the year, and it has given me a lot of motivation to push forward. I started with tons of exercises to strengthen my shoulders first. It was many months of mind numbing resistance band exercises. Once I felt confident with my shoulders, I started to do pull ups again.

After a few months of training, I was finally able to do 10 pull ups! I recorded myself to document the glorious moment. When I watched myself doing pull ups, I realized I did not have a proper form. My arms were not fully extended, and my body swung back and forth. Instead of prematurely celebrating 10 pull ups with a broken form, I decided to start over. I believe I will reach 10 pull ups in the first month of 2021 if I don’t slack off.

The whole experience taught me a valuable lesson of being persistent. If it does not work, learn why it does not work, address the issue, do it again.

5 blog posts

Although I enjoy writing, I never made much progress on my writings because I was not disciplined. When I decided to track habits, writing was one of my top priorities. I decided to write at least one word a day. Fast forward to today, I’ve managed to post 5 blog posts (including this one) this year. I am happy with the progress I made thus far. My writing is still grossly inadequate, and I cringe quite a bit when I read my own writings. But I will be persistent till I become a great writer.

4 coworkers

My team had only four people this year. A typical team at my company has 10+ people, but my boss wanted to know if a smaller team would be a better fit for the lab. I had three coworkers who think, reason, and work very differently. I wrongly assumed having a small team meant an automatic gain in efficiency. I felt like we were a four headed monster who cannot make a single decision even if our lives depended on it. I quickly beheaded my own head to make it a three headed monster, and I spent most of my energy translating three different heads. I think we all became decent friends at the end. The experience forced me to introspect how I communicate at my work, and I hope I became a better communicator.

2.7 grams

A ping pong ball weighs 2.7 grams, and it became an object of obsession for my wife and me this year. My wife and I had been wanting to find a hobby that both of us can enjoy. We both started to take ping pong lessons, and we find ping pong quite entertaining. It is a lot more demanding and cerebral than I expected; a 20-minutes lesson completely gases me out.

My wife did not like it as much initially, but she enjoys it more than I do now. I am a way better player than my wife, but she is definitely a better trash talker than I am. We fought, argued, and competed over a ping pong match. Learning ping pong together has helped us to bond as we regularly exercised together. I developed a stronger mental fortitude because of my wife’s endless trash talking, but I am not sure how much longer I can handle her verbal abuse.

And One

The government told us not to leave the house, so uh... umm…baby happened. We are expecting a baby boy in May 2021.

I am very thankful for my wife, who is taking the pregnancy like a champ. She still finds ways to take care of others even when she is carrying a life in her belly. I am also thankful that both my wife and the baby are super healthy. I am thankful that the medical system in Korea is still intact and that we can have regular and safe check ups during the pandemic. Below is what I wrote in my journal on my birthday, a month after I found out that my wife was pregnant.

On Aug. 27th, my wife was acting a bit funny. She was not as chatty as she usually was. She was busy doing her own things for the whole night till she asked me to review a new notebook she got from her work. Then, I saw two lines on a pregnancy test taped on the first page of the notebook.

I was surprised. Whoa!
I was thankful for a new life.
I was relieved. My wife and I had been trying for a while.
I felt a sense of accomplishment. I leveled up from a husband to a father.

I sensed added weight on my shoulders. I will have to take care of an infant who can’t really do much other than eating, pooping, crying, breathing, and sleeping.
I was feeling creative thinking about my kid’s name.
I was feeling mischievous as I was brainstorming different ways to troll my future child.
Shortly after, a profound terror overwhelmed me. What if I have a daughter who looks exactly like me?

I was experiencing a wide range of emotions, feelings, and sentiments. As I was staring into a kaleidoscope of emotions, I was having flashbacks of my life as a grad student when I was having a difficult time with anxiety, anger, depression, and suicidal thoughts. (Disclaimer: I had seen a psychologist, but I was never medically diagnosed with depression or anxiety disorder. The doctor thought I exhibited healthy forms of self-mediation. For instance, I would go on a very long bike ride or walk when I was distressed.)

There were times I felt as if there was nothing to live for, nothing to hope for, and nothing worth fighting for. I felt like a colossal failure, and my existence was utterly useless. Fortunately for me, I never thought ending my life was a rational solution. My rational self fought off suicidal thoughts really hard, and it was an exhausting battle. I clung onto one axiom: my life is a gift from the almighty creator, and life is immeasurably precious, valuable, and treasured.

During our second visit to a hospital, I heard heartbeats of my child. The doctor told us that everything was well, and we had nothing to worry about. On the way out of the hospital, I got a text from my pastor that a member of my church had passed away. It was hard to comprehend the sheer contrast of life and death. I was bubbling with excitement for my child, yet I was deeply saddened by the loss of life. In that moment, the axiom never felt truer. Life is a truly precious, valuable, and treasured gift.

The pregnancy seems a lot more taxing for my wife than I expected. I am learning that life is not only a gift, but also a culmination of many people’s hard work and sacrifices. I am thankful that many incredible individuals labored and fought so hard for my life.

Today is my 33rd birthday. Growing up, I didn’t quite understand why people celebrated their birthdays; birthday parties seemed egotistical and shallow. I am starting to think that it is okay to celebrate my birthday. It is the day I received life, the greatest gift I could have received. I would like to celebrate my birthday by giving thanks to God, my family, my parents, and friends. I owe my deepest gratitude.

A special thanks to those who walked by me, who supported me, who loved me unconditionally even when I was not very well in my depressive state.

Uncountably Many reasons to be thankful

Looking back, there are uncountably many reasons to be thankful for; I won’t be able to list them all. I am thankful to be alive and thankful for my wife, family, friends, and everyone who has helped us throughout the year.

A curious person who would like to observe the world