It’s 4 AM in Austin, and I’m flying somewhere in the sky on my way to Abu Dhabi, UAE. My final destination is Lahore, Pakistan.
Being on a flight to Pakistan – where I’ll be for the next two and a half weeks – is just another random happenstance in my life of crazy happenstances that I never could have predicted. Never ever.
This year for me was filled with such huge and unexpected milestones.
First off, I BOUGHT A HOUSE, with the help of my parents, as an investment property and am now adulting level 1000. I made my own amortization schedule in Google Sheets and have a Home Depot credit card. I learned how to do home renovations and build furniture. I have reminders on my gCal to replace A/C filters and collect rent from my roomies (who are amazing). I’m adulting so hard right now.
I semi-impulsively adopted another kitten. His name is Rogue. he’s quite a handful but cuddles me every morning and brings me a lot of joy in addition to Rumi.
I’m building my first company, collective blue, that supports and promotes diverse creators – especially people of color – through digital storytelling and event production. It’s been a grind. Our early team disbanded with a lot of love and grace, and now it’s my best friend Regine and myself. It took us a long time to figure out the “how” of our mission, and we’re only beginning to ramp up. I have no idea what the future holds, but I’m proud of the work that we’re doing and want to continue doing it for the foreseeable future. This year, collective blue produced two major music and art showcases (the second one being AVO: Soul Train Edition), a secret pop-up party during SXSW, and launched a new event series called ego never – Adulting Sucks was our first event. We’ve also amplified the authentic voices of creators in Austin, especially those of color, through photo series and interviews. Here are some of my favorite visuals.
Maybe as the CEO I should have a clearer vision for the company, like a 5-year plan or roadmap, but I don’t. I’m just going to let "do good work” and “build community” serve as my North Star for now...
I’m been working hard on my skills as a videographer and photographer and am proud of the progress I’ve made. I learned so much in the last year about seeing light, and I’m excited to keep working on my craft. The fact that my work from a year ago is kind of embarrassing and cringe-y means I’m making progress. (You can follow me on Instagram to check out my work. The slide show below has some of my favorites.)
I’m growing in my self-awareness – one can only hope that this never changes. I’m much better at practicing self-care: staying calm and grounded in moments of stress, knowing when I just need to take a walk (I’ve been taking lots of walks) or box and pound the shit out of something, and, most importantly, opening up to others for help instead of withdrawing inward. I’m learning to ask for and accept love and support from my community better than I’ve ever been able to do.
These last two months alone have been insane. This has been the most intense and overwhelming season of my life yet. So many bad things and so many good things have happened, and I feel like I’ve been moving through life at 150 mph. I’ve been spending this season hustling my ass off, crying, laughing, wracking my brain around my next moves in life, and practicing radical self-care. The metaphor that I’m telling everyone is that I’m in Mario Kart, and I just hit the rainbow accelerator track. I know that I’ll be ok as long as I stay calm, trust in myself, and trust that life will unfold the way its meant to. I think things will calm down in December. I hope and plan to be intentional about carving out some calm for myself soon. I can’t sustain this pace and recognize that there’s a time for sprints and a time for rest.
The main impetus for this insane season was that my day job, which once brought me so much joy and fulfillment, had become something toxic that severely dimmed my light. Stress from that situation sat like an elephant on my chest 24/7 and consumed my well-being. The most important thing now is that I’m out of there and back into the light of freedom and possibility.
Mixed in with the badness of this season was also so much goodness.
A lot of amazing new people were folded into my life, and my current relationships have strengthened and deepened with time and more vulnerability on my end.
I led my first 3 Day Startup program outside of Austin at Clarkson University in upstate New York and loved the experience. I also led a 3DS DivInc program focused on women and minorities. I’m so proud of that cohort – they were the best group that I’ve led to date – and was honored to be a part of that experience. (Thanks Shayna for being a boss and bringing that program to life.)
I was able to go back to both New York City and West Texas (Fort Davis, Marfa, and Terlingua) to recharge and get creatively re-inspired.
I’ve been asked to speak on more panels about my experiences as an entrepreneur (thanks Un.Incubator and Bravely), and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to open up and speak my voice. I’m owning my voice more and beginning to lean into the fullness of who I am. When it comes to the imposter syndrome now, I’m used to it popping up its ugly head and me quickly beating it down like a game of Whack-a-Mole. I just refocus on the actions that I need to take which, in the end, ultimately negate the imposter syndrome because real-world actions matter more than intangible musings.
A new major surprise to everyone including myself is that I’m starting a second company (one LLC for each year out of college??) with my family. Food has always been a huge passion of mine, and The New Appetite originally started out as food and travel blog. I’ve talked about starting a Vietnamese food truck a few years from now once I got tired of tech. Well I’m starting a catering company now called Lemongrass. Literally, two days before my last day at work, a friend called me out of the blue and asked if I would cater a 50-person event in a week, remembering when I half-jokingly / half-seriously threw out the idea of catering an event for him a couple months ago. My family and I said yes, and it was an insane hustle, but we’re so grateful for the opportunity. The brunch we catered was one of several pop-up events that the Downtown Austin Alliance hosted to gather input from different groups about the future of downtown. Each attendee received a wooden block, called a vision board, to decorate, and all of these blocks will be used to create a huge community table in Republic Square. It was such a cool and unique experience to be a part of. (Here’s a video of the full event. Note my amazing little brother, Donny, introduces the dessert at 1:01:40.)
I also turned 24 smack dab in the middle of all of this craziness. I’M ONLY 24 GEEZ. As I get older, I’m realizing how much time I still have left. Such an interesting paradox. Even amidst all of the insanity, I reflected on what I would wish for on my birthday, and the answer was... nothing. I have everything I need. I don’t really need anything material, and the things that truly matter and that I actually need to stay grounded in the constant flux of life – like resiliency and compassion – are already in my possession. Still being cultivated, of course, but already in my possession.
There’s this Buddhist analogy that I love and recently shared with a friend. The analogy is that our mind is like a shallow pond, and all the answers that we need are at the bottom of this pond. But we tend to act like children splashing the surface of the pond, distorting the answers below. Once we work on self-awareness and peace with oneself, however, we can see to the bottom and recognize that the answers we seek are already within us. One of those answers for me, that has increasingly become my mantra, is do what brings me joy. It sounds so simple, but simple is never easy, right?
Also what am I doing in Pakistan? Good question. I’ll be leading a 3 Day Startup program in collaboration with Plan9, the largest government incubator in the country that’s doing amazing work pushing for entrepreneurship and a new freelance economy. I’ll also be part of a government delegation called ATX+PAK with the goal of promoting business and cultural exchange. I’m grateful that during pivotal moments in my life, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel and escape to gain persecutive. The world has demanded so much from me as of late, and I’m excited to have some space to self-reflect and reconnect with myself internally and get my thoughts and emotions organized.
Something that I’m going to mull over during my time in Pakistan is the idea of "lifestyle design” – which I have a strong feeling will be the theme of the next chapter of my life. Maybe this a trendy buzzword in my community right now… but I want to think about how I can create systems and processes that allow me to do what brings me joy – as a creative, as an entrepreneur, as a human being. I’ve always messed with this in a personal level, but the professional / financial sustainability part is a whole other challenge.
That’s it for now. Nina out.
P.S. I keep visually updating The New Appetite to better reflect how I’ve changed and evolved. This is going to keep happening.