It’s a new year — and a time when we promise ourselves that we’ll take action towards our dreams. For real this time. We set hopeful goals and imagine the ideal version of ourselves. This sense of motivation fuels us for a couple of weeks before we revert back to our old selves again.

But we don’t have to stop there.

We can choose to either conform more or become more. I chose to do the latter through monthly projects, because our projects can remake who we are.

While taking some time to reflect on the projects I started a year ago, I’ve realized that they continue to impact my life now, even as 2017 drew to a close. Most of my current habits stem from early 2016, when I made it a goal to dedicate the whole year to gaining skills.

Six months earlier in May 2015, I had just moved across the country to San Francisco for work and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself. Days were spent wandering around in the dating realm and nights were spent wondering how to keep myself busy. Driven by a fear of missing out, I went to countless dinners, meet-ups, etc. I was spending time, but not savoring time.

“Loneliness is a sign you are in desperate need of yourself.” — rupi kaur.

I felt like too much of myself was tied to other people: my friend group was mostly my roommate’s coworkers, my schedules were mostly dictated by people older than me, my identity was mostly hazy.

I wanted a different life. I wanted change. And so I made list of areas I wanted to improve in, and chose one to focus on for each month, dubbing them as monthly challenge projects. And thus, my Year of Progress began.

Challenges I did in 2016

This is how it went and where I am now, looking back on 2017.

January: Start a blog

  • Then (in 2016): I started a blog with my roommates, centered around our new lifestyles and careers in SF. Though it fizzled out after a while, I learned many valuable things like how to set up a website and how much effort it takes to keep a blog up.
  • Now (in 2017): I publish regularly on Medium under my name as well as Life Projects. I’ve also written for personal development publications like The Ascent and EdTech companies like Degreed and Growthx Academy.

February: Host dinner series

  • Then (in 2016): On Sundays, we invited over people who we’d like to get to know better. My roommates and I have gotten closer to about a dozen people this way; one of them I actually started dating after our thoughtful dinner conversations.
  • Now (in 2017): I feel much more confident in hosting intimate dinners and cooking new foods. And I can make a boss red Thai curry.

March: Meet new people

  • Then (in 2016): I made it a goal to go to Salon, a TED talk-esque meetup, every week by myself. It was scary to not know anyone there and every time I went, I would be really anxious beforehand. The consistent practice and incredibly welcoming community definitely made it easier to overcome the fear of meeting people.
  • Now (in 2017): some of my favorite people are from Salon. This year is also the first year that I feel 100 percent at home with my new friends, rather than someone who just moved out to the Bay Area.

April: Exercise every week

  • Then (in 2016): I signed up for a gym membership and went to the weekly group exercise classes. I found those to be much more enjoyable than my arch-nemesis, the treadmill.
  • Now (in 2017): I can do 20 pushups and regularly exercise 3x a week. The motivation is closely tied to the May project below.

May: Try uncomfortable things

  • Then (in 2016): I went to a dancing workshop and felt terrible at it. I was literally going in opposite directions of how the teacher instructed us.
  • Now (in 2017): This marks a year of dancing! I made a documentary video of my progress and just recently got the side splits down. So happy that dance is a huge part of my life now 🙂

June: Document life through videos

  • Then (in 2016): I made my first video of a roadtrip from SF to SD, with Windows Movie Maker, and spent about twenty hours editing the 8 minute video.
  • Now (in 2017): I kept the tradition of monthly videos through a Vimeo channel here, learned Adobe Premiere Pro and worked on inspirational videos with KarenX.

July: Write a book

  • Then (in 2016): I wanted to write a series of actionable stories on how to get a job in Silicon Valley as a nontechnical, and so I interviewed top career DIY-ers at Airbnb, Pinterest, Google, etc. It’s about 70% done and put on pause for now.
  • Now (in 2017): I’ve embraced my love for writing and established a writing habit, averaging about 750 words per day through my personal learning bootcamp. Though unfinished, the book project has helped me significantly in realizing the niche I really enjoy writing in — designing your own careers.

August: Determine career alternatives

  • Then (in 2016): I was curious about other options that were more than just a job, so I looked into traveling+working like Remote Year, DIY MBAs like No Pay MBA, and even college alternatives like Minerva for inspiration.
  • Now (in 2017): I’m creating my alternative career and personal MBA right now: a career bootcamp that catalyzes the transition into the fields I want to be in — writing and instructional design.

September: Plan for solo travels

  • Then (in 2016): Inspired by an alternative lifestyle, I also wanted to travel experiment with ways I can live my life, as well as bootstrap something from the ground up.
  • Now (in 2017): Ultimately I chose not to embark on a year of traveling, after realizing that I wanted to travel mostly because it felt like a good distraction and excuse to run away from it all. Now I’ve sat with and held my fears close, I’ve been able to merge the two most important things: traveling (Iceland, HK, and Australia are on the list) and maintaining deep connections. I also simulated common travel growth edges in SF, like dealing with uncertainty. For example, I choose to not have a stable place to live for a while, which led to awesome experiences like Airbnb co-hosting for a month.

Oct: Meditate every day

  • Then (in 2016): Getting into a habit of meditating was really helpful, even though I didn’t get to a 30 day meditation streak until half a year later. It opened me to a whole new world of learning about how the mind and body can impact each other with breathing as the link between the two.
  • Now (in 2017): I’ve increasingly realized the importance of mental states and make sure to care for it, especially as internal meditative states translate to external relationships. Writings from Thich Nhat Hanh and Hugh Prather are some of my favorites.

Nov: Take a chance on love

  • Then (in 2016): After my first love and relationship in college, I wasn’t sure if I could feel that way again. It took me about 2 years to move on. In 2016, I started dating again long term, with the dinner series guy, and felt like I could love again. I wanted to be open to it.
  • Now (in 2017): Although we didn’t quite get there — we broke up earlier this year, it was a beautiful relationship. We cared deeply about each other. Though the pain was just as deep, as I am writing this, it feels like I have finally gone through the five stages of grief and have come to peace with it.

Dec: Become closer to parents

  • Then (in 2016): This was actually inspired by him — the importance of family. My family were going on our first cruise and I thought the two weeks together on a ship was a great opportunity for me to get closer to them. At times, it was awkward. At times, it was fun.
  • Now (in 2017): I just told my parents about the alternative lifestyle I wanted to live and they were unexpectedly very supportive. I was shocked. It was really emotional, I felt deeply touched by the level of understanding and trust from them. More warm tears of joy and love.

Looking back on the past two years, the projects I’ve started in 2016 has immensely impacted the habits I’ve incorporated in 2017. Now writing, dancing and videos are a huge part of my life. Now I’m the closest to my ideal career than I’ve ever been: I run an online program called One Month Projects where I help others start and finish meaningful projects in 30 days.

What a difference a year makes.

What a difference a month makes in the long run.

If you also want to make a difference in your life with projects, I created a step by step free checklist on how you can start and follow through on your skill projects — you can get it here.

Originally published at


  • Yunzhe Zhou

    Business + Creative Coach for Asian Americans

    Yunzhe Zhou is the business and creative coach behind She helps Asian Americans leave the 9-5 and gain the confidence and clarity to start their own creative businesses. As a result of working with Yunzhe, her clients from traditional backgrounds such as Fortune 500 and top tech companies have built their own successful paths as writers, artists and entrepreneurs. Yunzhe's work and holistic style of coaching have been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, and other leading publications. She's also the founder of the One Month Projects framework, the ARTS podcast (Asians Redefining Their Success), and loves all things creative: whether it's Zumba dancing, painting or making travel videos. You can follow Yunzhe on LinkedIn where you'll find her talking about career experimentation, life lessons and traveling around the world as a digital nomad.