2021 Year Review | Nyla Pirani
This year has been a year of recovery, understanding and exploration. Not just for me, but the entire world. To continue to recover from the global pandemic, we have to understand what’s happening and explore new ways of living.
For me, that meant recovering from feeling trapped throughout the pandemic, understanding who I was and exploring the world. This year was about designing who I want to be and how I can be that person in the world we live in.
Throughout the last few months, I’ve been focused on realigning myself and figuring out what I care most about. I’ll share more about my plans for 2022 are soon. First I want to share some of the core things I’ve been reflecting on this past week.
Lesson #1: Focus on What’s Worth the Struggle
In January I was a marketing intern at Spira working on product development and customer discovery. I launched a 6-week marketing campaign, helped prep for a crowdfunding campaign, learned about social media/email marketing, learnt about what investors are looking for, sent out newsletters to 5K+ people and worked on the operations of product development and sales. My time with Amanda (the director of business development @ Spira and the person I worked very closely with) and the rest of the Spira team was short and sweet. It was packed with knowledge and excitement for the future.
While interning at Spira, I was also assisting Nadim Nasser with running The Knowledge Society (TKS) Foundations program voluntarily and learning about the water crisis in Uganda. I was also still in the TKS Activate program myself and a full-time high school student. This was my first encounter with time constraints.
I struggled to keep my grades up, meet all my personal goals and accomplish the company goals as well.
This was a common theme throughout the year and the question I’ve asked myself the most this year out of any other year was: how should I spend my time?
I asked myself this question when trying to decide if I should continue working for Spira or fully invest in TKS Foundations. I asked myself this question when I was figuring out if I wanted to spend my summer attempting to pilot a solution to period poverty or explore new areas in climate change. I asked myself this question when I ended my time at Climate Crew in September. I asked myself this question in November when I had begun recovering from months of burnout. And I asked myself this question every time I doubted myself and the path that I was on.
Throughout the last year, this question haunted me to the point where I would jump from project to project at lightning speed, or simply work on nothing at all. I was always worried that I wasn’t working on the “right” thing.
I knew that at the end of the day I wanted to help people and make an “impact”, but there were two things I didn’t realize about this.
- The broadness of that statement means it can be done in so many ways. I was fixated on one impact method and assumed it was the only one I could follow.
- I wasn’t going to enjoy 100% of the process. I always put impact and happiness at the same level, so whenever I got unhappy I would switch my project.
You can make an impact through your music or art. You can make an impact through writing and poetry. you can make an impact by starting a company. You can make an impact directly in your communities. But no matter what you’re working on, you won’t be happy about it 100% of the time.
There is a struggle. There is boredom. There are painful long nights.
Those realizations led me to have more of an open mind and shifted the way I thought about my work. The way I now think about it is by asking myself “what am I willing to suffer for?”.
The struggle is inevitable, but what makes struggling worth it?
Maybe it’s producing music that helps people cope with mental health. Maybe it’s starting a group therapy program in your city. maybe It’s working with a lab to create a drug that cures depression.
Whatever it is, make sure it’s worth the struggle.
Lesson #2: Everything is Connected
By March I had learned an immense amount about 3 world problems. The first was the water crisis. The second was open defecation. The third was malnutrition.
Through the help of research papers, meeting people facing this problem and meeting people working on solving this problem (Kristen de Guzman from Thirst Project being one of the most helpful people in this process ❤), not only did I understand what these problems were, who was facing them and where those people were, but what the root cause of these problems was.
Through this, I discovered was that they’re all linked together.
“Open defecation has been reported to not only deteriorate the quality of drinking water but also make the water unfit for drinking purposes.” (Source)
“Open defecation is significantly associated with stunting and underweight among children. … The odds of being stunted is 14 percent higher among the children of those who defecate in open as compared to improved toilet users.” (Source)
Those two quotes alone can begin to show you how these problems are linked together. (Check out my in-depth article on the water crisis to learn more)
This realization was able to expand over many other aspects of my life. Not only could I see interconnections between world problems but within everyday work and life.
For example, in February and April, I was reading a few different books. My top two we’re Sophies World which is a macro view on philosophy and Einstines Dreams which is a collection of stories about time, relativity and physics. Reading these two books simultaneously helped me see the interconnection between physics and philosophy. How society is influenced by time. That nothing can come from nothing.
Throughout these instances of seeing connections between seemingly unrelated things, I discovered the concept of Apophenia.
Apophenia can be seen as a blessing and a curse at the same time. It gives us the ability to explore the world and create new concepts, but it can also be misleading.
Being able to understand how many connections the world has to itself and what some of those connections are helping me better grasp the type of life I want to live, how I want to exist in this world and what’s worth suffering for.
Training this skill in a way that doesn’t lead me down the wrong path is the most important part.
Lesson #3: Teaching Makes You Smarter
From January — June I was the Associate Director of TKS Foundations program. Among many other operations and logistics tasks, this job pretty much entailed teaching young kids about the future of technology and science and helping them create their best selves.
We spent a lot of hours preparing for our weekly sessions, figuring out the best ways to help them grow their understanding of the world and who they wanted to become.
I often underestimated the amount of knowledge I have in specific areas. I lacked confidence in my level of experience and expertise. I never let that hold me back when offering advice to friends or giving feedback to people on the content they produce. But it was always in the back of my mind that I didn’t know “enough”.
Throughout my time at TKS, I spoke to 100+ kids about the struggles they were facing and the projects they were working on. And I was pleasantly surprised by not only how much I was able to help these students but how much I learned about myself and the world in the process.
When these students asked me for advice, they were generally all problems I had encountered myself in the past. So not only was I reliving the experiences I had faced when I was their age (all of 4 years ago), I was also re-reflecting on them from my current and more evolved state of mind.
Placing myself in a role of a mentor in TKS Foundations allowed me to re-visit old lessons and build on top of them. I was able to expand on the advice I gave the students and advance my thinking.
Over those 6 months, this is one of the key things that contributed to my long-term growth.
Lesson #4: Your Environment Creates You
For the first half of 2021, I was doing online school and mainly surrounded myself with family, colleges and the people I had met through TKS.
In the second half of 2021, I was back at in-person school, no longer in TKS or working at a company. I was closely mentoring a bunch of students within TKS but it wasn’t the main focus of my time.
I was no longer actively surrounding myself with young, ambitious and driven people. This combined with other things going on in my life at the time, I lost a lot of the urgency I had to make a difference and I lost excitement for the future.
This made me into a heavily burnt-out person that didn’t enjoy my days as much as I used to. I wasn’t working on anything remotely interesting and the amount I was learning on a day-to-day basis was almost zero. When I finally realized this was becoming a huge problem I wanted to figure out why. The answer what simply that the environment I was in didn’t match up to the goals I wanted to achieve.
I needed to surround myself with people who had urgency, determination, ambition and excitement for the world. I couldn’t continue to be around people who drained all my energy. I needed to rediscover the people and activities that were energizing for me.
The transition between my old state and my new state was difficult. I struggled to redefine the values I cared about and what I wanted to accomplish for myself. It was not a glamorous process and there were a lot of long days spent just thinking about what I truly wanted in life.
It’s still a work in progress, but I’m learning to enjoy the process of creating my perfect environment. I have responsibilities like being at school, but that doesn’t mean I can’t optimize that environment for myself as well.
This is going to be an iterative process that I’ll go through for the rest of my life. But being able to understand the significance of this process in the first place has been incredibly important this year.
Lesson #5: Serendipity and Being an Activator
During the last week of October, I was finishing up my final projects for school before November break and I just started becoming more active on Twitter. A week before that, Ric Burton had fully sponsored a couple of my friends to attend a conference in Lisbon and one of my mentors had posted about the importance of building in public and creating a good brand for yourself. I figured that there was a point to that post, so I got back on Twitter. 3 days later I’m messaging Ric myself getting a fully sponsored trip to NYC.NFT during the exact time I was on November break! This trip was the highlight of the year (check out the trip review here) and the timing worked out perfectly! I met some insanely smart people, made new friends and learnt a lot not only about NFTs but about how the real world works. None of this would’ve happened if I didn’t listen to people telling me to get back on Twitter and to message Ric. This lesson is fairly straightforward. Firstly, increase your chances of serendipity. Produce more content, meet more people, expand your reach of the world. Put yourself in a place to receive incredible opportunities and work hard to earn them. Secondly, don’t wait for someone else to tell you to start a monthly newsletter, write a blog post or research the things you find interesting. Just go out and do it. Being a self-starter in the right place at the right time will change your life.
Massive shoutout to all the incredible people I was able to connect with in NYC. Beyond thankful to have you all in my life 🤍
Looking Into The Future | 2022 Plans
Travelling + Living Abroad ✈️
I’ve been getting back into travelling with NYC.NFT and a trip to Vancouver to visit family and the mountains. Exploring new places and meeting amazing people is incredibly energizing for me. I’m planning to continue travelling for a couple of conferences, hopefully taking a trip to Africa with an Ismaili program called Global Encounters and if all goes well I’ll be moving into one of the United World College schools starting in the fall. There’s a lot of “ifs” in the plans I’m currently making to travel and who knows what will happen with Covid but I’m doing everything in my power to make it happen!
Creating Consistency 💜
Consistency is one of the most basic and underrated parts of life in my opinion. I always voted against consistency because I thought it meant doing the same thing every day. But it’s more about creating structure in your life and building compounding habits. I’m going to work on being consistent with my sleeping habits, reading and writing. Right now I want to get 7–8 hours of sleep daily, read 1–2 books a month and write for myself every week.
Understanding Neurological Causes of Depression 🧠
Over the last few months, I’ve been doing a lot of research and thinking about what I care most about, what I’m willing to struggle for and what’s exciting to me. The common theme I found was within psychedelic research, neuroscience and mental illnesses. Therefore I’m going to be spending the next chunk of my life understanding the science behind depression and how drugs like psychedelics can help treat them.
It’s hard to believe this year is coming to an end in less than 12 hours. I’ve never been a huge fan of the “new year new me” type stuff. But something I want to emphasize more in my life is the importance of valuing the little things. Not everything in life will always go your way. There is so much that can go wrong so quickly. Don’t go into 2022 with the expectation that everything is going to work out exactly the way you want it because that just doesn’t happen. Focus on creating meaningful memories with the people you love, working on creating a better version of yourself and investing time into the things that ultimately fulfill you.
I can’t wait to see what the year brings us. Thank you for following along on my journey. See you in January! 🤍
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I hope you enjoyed this year's review. See you in 2022!
-Nyla Pirani :)