2018 Year-in-Review

2018 came and went in a blur, like the years seem to do more and more so as I get older. The start of a new year usually makes me reflect on what happened the previous year, and to be honest, there were some really sh*tty parts of the year on top of a general feeling of disappointment that, that on first thought, I wanted to crumple it up and throw away the year altogether. But, I’m not going to do that because 2018 taught me a lot, and I’ll probably want to refer to my notes later.

Here are some notable events, new experiences, skills I learned this year, broken down by month:


  • Experienced a government shutdown (PS. I’m writing this during another government shutdown); it was a little chaotic. In the week preceding the shutdown, we had to prepare a Plan A and a Plan B for everything. The first day of the shutdown was the day that my colleague would announce, in Hong Kong, the winner of an Off-Grid Refrigerator Competition that my team had supported. With the shutdown becoming more likely, he debated whether he should travel to Hong Kong in the first place because he didn’t want to travel all the way there (a ~24hr trip) to find out that the government has called for its overseas employees to immediately return home. The preparation for shutdown was more chaotic than the shutdown itself, but hey, I wanted to gain experience and learn what it would be like to work in government. It brought back old memories of the shutdown in South Africa.
  • Learned more about how digital tools can be utilized to improve agricultural outcomes.


  • Learned more about developing a results framework, a theory of change, monitoring & evaluation in a development context. I finalized a results framework and theory of change for the USAID team that supports Scaling Off-Grid Energy (SOGE) Grand Challenge for Development. SOGE aims to accelerate the growth of the off-grid energy market to provide clean, affordable, and modern energy to millions of households and businesses in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Started to learn more about HTML and web design.


  • Fell into the abyss as the rug was pulled out from under me. Okay, that’s dramatic, but it was the biggest challenge of the year. To keep the long story short, my job status became uncertain and as it was being worked out, I had to work off-site without access to the USAID network. It was a big adjustment for me and my teams. Some parts of my job had to be shifted towards other team members, who already have too much on their plates, and the parts of my job that I still could do, I couldn’t do as efficiently. I was given a three month grace period to wait for the issue to resolve itself.
  • March(ed) for Our Lives. I remember the 6 minutes and 20 seconds of silence during Emma Gonzalez’s speech and the heaviness I felt in my chest.


  • Experienced the famous DC cherry blossoms. They were beautiful.
  • Filed my taxes. Even though I made a measly stipend, I still owed California $7 in taxes.
  • Contacted my CA Congressperson for the first time. When I told my US History high school teacher about my less-than-ideal job situation, she suggested that I reach out to my Congressperson and see if he/his office could help me. She had suggested that I simply turn up to his office and request a meeting with him, but I wasn’t brave enough to do that, so I sent an email instead. Surprisingly, they replied to me quickly and started to work on my case. It’s nice to know that some parts of government work well (reminder: shutdown).
  • Started to learn more about distributed ledger technology and how it can be utilized for data management in development contexts.


  • Went on my first work trip with USAID to network with energy nerds working towards universal energy access. With the SOGE/USAID team, I traveled to Lisbon, Portugal to attend the Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) Forum. It was a funny coincidence that the only place I’ve been to in Europe was Portugal, and it was also the destination of my first business trip. We had hosted a workshop on “Blended Finance for SDG7”; we need $32B in private investment and nearly $1B in catalytic grant to achieve SDG7 in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Brushed up on my InDesign skills. I designed the workshop materials. It was quite a stressful experience in the end because the content was received last minute, and there were hiccups with getting clearances, but I’m thankful for the print shop staff who turned it around so quickly.


  • Enjoyed Napa Valley wine at my cousin’s wedding. First destination wedding in my family. It was beautiful. She was beautiful. Some of my cousins drank too much. I definitely ate too much.
  • Reunited with Berkeley. Because my cousin’s wedding was in Napa, I also took the opportunity to visit Berkeley. It had been over 2 years. I saw some of my old friends and colleagues. I walked around the city and ate at all the places I missed (eg. Sliver, Ici’s, Top Dog, Yogurt Park, etc.), but there were a lot of new places too. Walking around campus felt familiar – in a nostalgic way, but also as if it was just yesterday. I miss Berkeley.


  • Learned about how mobile technology can help achieve SDG6 (water & sanitation) and SDG7 (energy access) at a GSMA Mobile for Development Utilities workshop in Kigali, Rwanda. Mobile technology has enabled pay-as-you-go business models, which has been a catalyst for off-grid energy access. These companies are providing energy services, but also supporting digital financial inclusion. I learned about GSM-enabled technology, the telecommunications sector, IoT, data practices. I also got the chance to visit companies who are applying some of these technologies in the city.
  • Viewed London from the Eye. From Kigali, I traveled to London to meet my team and the other SOGE Partners for an important strategic meeting I had been preparing for months in advance.
  • Tried to donate my Type O blood. I have been wanting to give blood for many years now; I just never made the time. After returning from Kigali/London, I found out that I would be ineligible for another 12 months because I traveled to Rwanda, a malaria-risk country. I was devastated because I had fully intended to make an appointment prior to the trip, had I mustered up the courage earlier.
  • One year work anniversary at USAID.


  • DIY’ed my cousin’s wedding where there were over 500 people. Another one of my cousins got married, and her entire wedding was DIY. So in the days leading up to the big day, we didn’t sleep as we decorated the gym for the reception, laid down vinyl for the dance floor, assembled all the bouquets and centerpieces, baked desserts, and on. It was really impressive.
  • Sang my heart out at a Sam Smith concert. Sam Smith is so talented and has an amazing voice. Big thanks to my brother-in-law and my sister for the tickets.


  • Returned to LA for the first time in 2018. Family stuff.
  • Panicked because I ran out of time. The three months USAID gave me was thankfully extended to six, but that still wasn’t enough time for my job situation to get resolved. I was very close to being without a job through no fault of my own. It felt so unfair. In order to continue earning a living, I decided to move to a new contract.


  • Moved into a permanent work space. In the prior six months as I was waiting in limbo for my job situation to resolve, I didn’t have a permanent workspace nor the ability to have in-person interactions with my colleagues. I had WeWork access, but every morning, I would have to arrive early and scout out an open area for the day, and it was often quite lonely. The new contract allowed me to continue to the work I had been doing, and while there were some trade-offs and more adjustments, I had my own desk again and people I can see around an office.


  • Returned to Kigali to attend Unlocking Solar Capital. Building/maintaining partnerships and relationships is essential to the work that I do, and a conference is an opportune arena to meet with partners, donors, investors, energy companies, and other development organizations that we engage with on a daily basis. I also learned about market trends and financial analysis reporting to evaluate company health.
  • Released SOGE’s Year-in-Review and video. I had been working on both of these things for months writing, editing, designing, gathering material, etc. and I finally, finally got to release them. I revisited InDesign, but also strengthened my skills in Photoshop and Illustrator.
  • Escaped cold DC weather in Orlando. I visited my aunt, uncle, and cousins for Thanksgiving. I made my sister’s mashed potatoes and creamed corn, and it was the first year that I’ve ever made them without her. Turned out pretty good, if I do say so myself. It was actually pretty chilly on my last two days in Orlando, so I couldn’t totally escape the cold.


  • Visited family in Denver and Los Angeles.
  • Another government shutdown.

In recalling all these events, I am reminded that there there were definitely good moments, and I’m so very thankful for my family and friends who love me and have been supportive. But, if I had to describe 2018 in one word, I would say: survival. Actually, that sounds overly dramatic, I would say: homeostasis. It was a year of trying to maintain a “relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements” because there were big challenges and I just dealt with them as best as I could. I spent a lot of time waiting around and feeling in limbo. Maybe “limbo” is actually the word for the year.

I felt like I wasn’t in control of the circumstances of my life, like I was the ball in a pinball machine, getting knocked around by the levers, pulleys, and buttons.

Though 2018 taught me a lot about resilience and growing up, I don’t want 2019 to be like 2018. I don’t want this to be a resolution or expectation, but an intentionality. In 2019, I want to be more mindful about the things that I do. In 2019, I want to better invest in myself professionally, intellectually, emotionally, physically, financially and constantly be learning and growing. And even though uncontrollable events and variables are a given, in 2019, I want to be a more active participant in creating my own path. Let’s do this.

Over and out.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Loved reading about your eventful year, Catherine — and fondly remembering your visit to Berkeley. Ici closed recently 😢, so I’m glad you had some! I hope your new year is exactly what you wish it to be.

    1. Thanks, Moriah! I hope you’re having a great start to your year as well!

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