Welcome to Dialogue, a community for progress

Originally published on Substack here.

Dialogue is a community and newsletter on accelerating technological, industrial and scientific progress. We bring you perspective and insights by builders, investors and policy makers pushing the frontier forward. You can expect:

• Curated reading, market analysis and deep dives
• Latest companies, initiatives we’re paying attention to
• Upcoming events and job opportunities

For Season 1, we dove into America’s workforce shortage.

It’s common knowledge now that one of the core challenges to advancing industrial progress is a shortage of workers. We have over 11 million job openings but only 6 million unemployed workers. This month, we set about to answer one question: how can we reinvigorate our workforce?

We kicked off a workshop series with founders, experts, and policy makers to find ways to combat a multi-decade decline in trade school graduation and the cultural shift away from physical labor. 

Two takeaways:
1. Ford stands as a model for innovating on recruiting and retaining workers — by atomizing the work via the assembly line and paying workers a higher wage, contributing to the rise of the middle class.
2. Automation is good but we still need workers. With workers flocking to Amazon, how can we make industrial work attractive? One idea is to create national heroes out of the real-life marine diesel technicians, solar installers, automotive paint specialists, machinists — all jobs that exist. Industrial work is cool, actually. 

What we’re reading: Recruiting the New Industrial Base / Made in the USA / How Technology Grows

Up next: In the 1970s, America went on a big energy diet and that was bad for industrial progress. Our next series will explore how to create an energy abundant future – maybe then we’ll finally get the flying cars and sci-fi future we were promised. We’re curating a few upcoming events with some exciting partners, so lots more to come.

Minn & Lisa

Thrilled to be joined our community members for Dialogue July 2022

Andrew Brackin — Co-founder & CRO, Vial
Ankur Nagpal — Founder, Teachable
Art Chang — Founder & CEO, Allie
Athena Kan — CEO, Dreambound
Gordon Wintrob — Co-founder & CTO, Newfront
Kirtan Patel — Co-founder & CEO, Sama
Michael Lai — Founder & CEO, Tinycare
Nick deWilde — Co-founder, Invisible College
Nick Perry — Co-founder & CEO, Candid Health
Nitin Gupta — Head of Benchmarking, Pave
Oliver Hsu — Partner, a16z American Dynamism
Sam Steyer — Co-founder & CEO, Greenwork
Sander Daniels — Founder, Groombuggy, Thumbtack
Scott Gorlick — Founder, Angel Investor
Sean Linehan — Co-founder & CEO, Placement
Tade Oyerinde — Founder & CEO Campus

The Dialogue community is a space to generate high-quality ideas, beginning with consuming high quality ideas. Who is the most exceptional person you know? Share this to nominate them and stay up to date with us on Twitter.

Fundraising in a new environment, then and now

This week, I gave a presentation to a group of early-stage founders going through First Round’s Dorm Room Fund Female Founder Track. The goal of the session was to provide tactical guidance around what to expect when fundraising, particular as first time founders.

This post is about raising your early round of funding based on my experience as an investor at On Deck, Bloomberg Beta, Ridge Ventures. There are many helpful fundraising guides already out there, so this post is focused on insights and observations based on recent market shifts.

Fundraising is one of the few one-way doors in a company’s life, so it’s important to prepare well, be ready to eliminate the easy “no” reasons, and commit to making this a core focus for 1-3 months (sometimes longer) when you are ready. I’ve laid out the three critical phases of fundraising, the key questions to address in each, and some pointers on how fundraising in a bear market is different from the bull market of the last few years.

I. Prepare, prepare, prepare

• Why are you The One? An investor needs to believe that your company can return the fund. Many founders need to practice their pitch a hundred+ times. Find a small group of friends, existing investors, advisors to practice and get feedback. You should practically get bored of your pitch but be ready to talk about the company each time as if it’s the first time telling it.

• What are you raising on — progress, story, team — and what are investors anticipating will happen with this raise? Put differently, what risks have already been de-risked and what risks will you de-risk in the near-term? The very best founders can fundraise in 2 weeks, but this is outlier and often attributable to a track record of success, credibility, network.

• How much do you need to raise and at what price? Cash efficiency is critical today. Your fundraise should afford you at minimum 24 months of runway. You can have a target price in mind, but the market will set the price.

• Who are the natural investors for you? Invest real time to curate your investor CRM — tier your leads, intro paths, backchannels. Qualify EVERYONE. Knowing who you’re targeting, preparing the custom forward intro emails with why you believe they’re a good fit, and ensuring you have as many warm intros are surprisingly important parts of the process. Target 40-50 names on your list and in today’s markets, you may need to talk to 80-100 investors.

What’s changed from then vs now?
• Commitments aren’t dollars in the bank. They won’t create as much fomo and may even have the opposite effect with VCs who are investing with more caution right now.
•  Prices are lower (and likely will be for the next 6-12 months) and ownership expectations are stricter/higher. Be wary of stacking SAFEs at multiple caps for this reason. Treat your round like a priced round and close everyone on the same deal. Anticipate 20% dilution at the seed (up to ~30% for hard tech).

II. Run a tight process

• Who will be your strongest intro paths? Ideally you work with an angel or founder advisor who can champion you. Of course, successful portfolio founders are the strongest intro paths to an investor.

• What are the easy pass reasons? Pre-empt these. You can learn about common hesitations by practicing your pitches with smaller check investors and your “nice to have” investors to get feedback.

• Why is this investor a good fit? While tools like NFX Signal, Crunchbase/Pitchbook, Twitter can help, curating a high quality lead list will take time. Prioritize conversations accordingly, and maintain ball control of your information by keeping investors in each part of the process in similar time frames.

What’s changed from then vs now?
• While tier 1 funds may be moving slower, there are angels and micro-funds that are still investing smaller checks. Have clear next steps at the end of each conversation and follow up appropriately, but responsiveness is your best leading indicator with investors. If it’s not a hell yes, it’s probably a no.
• The bar is higher for diligence. Anticipate deeper founder references for pre-product and more questions around customers and pipeline if you’re post-product.

III. Win and close

• How do I command a higher price? Congratulations on an offer! Momentum is your best leverage. Multiple term sheets from comparable investors are your best bet to increase the price. That said, if your offer is with an investor you trust and respect at reasonable terms, don’t over-optimize. Take the money.

• What allocations make sense for the round relative to what each investor wants? Go back to your smaller check commitments and confirm their desired check size so you can revert with as best as you can accommodate.

• Which angels or small checks do you definitely want on the cap table and why? Founder or operator angels are often the most helpful small checks for their tactical, hands-on support.

What’s changed from then vs now?
• Don’t assume a verbal yes is a done deal until the investment is signed and wired. Ordinarily, an investor would almost never risk the reputation damage of changing terms last minute or reneging on a handshake, but these are uncertain times. Again, if you receive an offer with an investor you trust and respect at reasonable terms, take the money.

The truth is that fundraising for almost everyone is a slog, so prepare well, gather your support network, and don’t cut corners.

Thanks to the Dorm Room Fund team and founders for having me. If you’re an early-stage founder working on frontier tech to transform traditional industries, reach out.

Personalized discovery engines for knowledge

The next massive search engine will be a personalized discovery engine. As we experiment with new platforms like AR/VR and explore new models of engagement in web3, I imagine that the next wave of human-computer interaction will focus more on “pushing” us the right, relevant information versus the user “pulling” for information.

The debate between search and discovery (and sometimes browse) is a tension between two desires: speed to information versus exploration of information. Both aim for knowledge gathering; but while Google search can tell you in .43 seconds that most of you have until April 18th to file your taxes, discovery introduces a serendipity that sends the user down a rabbit hole to find new ideas and the links between them.

The Morgan Library & Museum | New York | United States | New York | AFAR
The Morgan Library & Museum in New York

This Internet of the future will feel a lot more like a collaborative library — a place to browse and unearth ideas, publish your thoughts, encounter new opportunities, and make connections across bodies of knowledge. In the early 2000s, I spent most of my days online on Tumblr, WordPress, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Blogger, Blogspot, not always knowing precisely what I was looking for yet coming upon ideas and topics of interest. The Internet was more unruly then, and in the 2010s, we optimized search and layered in social features to support discovery via curation. Nuzzel used your Twitter following to recommend top shared readings while Medium encouraged following new writers by topic. Today, we have no shortage of writers on the web via platforms like Substack, Mirror, Foster, collaborative Roam graphs, and more. They enable us to contribute to our own public and private web, creating unprecedented volumes of observations and thoughts that we can index.

In a world where the Internet will be more decentralized and with more contributors than ever, search results that feed us information will be insufficient. Knowledge is information with context, and “language is humanity’s longest running program.” The latest advances in machine learning — namely transformers and self-supervised learning in natural language processing — will also make it possible to build personalized discovery engines that organize and surface information that is timely, relevant, and impactful. We won’t always have to know what we’re looking for, but akin to meandering around a library, our fellow readers, authors, and knowledge seekers in this new paradigm will point us in the right direction.

Special thanks to @smerity, @jamescham for our many conversations on all things language and discovery

2022: All About Gumption

I love the turn of the new calendar year. As arbitrary as it may be, it offers an opportunity to let go and reset intentions for the year ahead. Each year, I set a core intention:

2018 was a year of Yes — I moved across the country and embraced a new city (SF), new job (hello, venture), many new friends, and a host of new hobbies (hip hop dance, backpacking, skiing). It was at times overwhelming, but it exposed me to so many interesting, smart individuals and pushed me to expand my curiosities.

2019 was a year of No — I learned the hard way the consequences of overextending myself. As someone with chronic people pleasing tendencies, I had to learn — with the help of my fantastic exec coach Gia — to say no, so I could focus more deeply on a select number of priorities, including investing and community building.

2020 was a year of Introspection — This was a tough year for many, and at times, I felt guilty for feeling sad or stifled when I knew so many others were suffering in worse ways. Without the day-to-day distractions outside of work, I sought ways to articulate how I want to live a good life. I leaned on my housemates who became chosen family, and peers in communities like The Grand to find solace from the loneliness and uncertainty.

2021 marked my fourth year in the Bay Area and one for a lot of change. I found myself revisiting my disposition of 2018: saying yes, instead of no and finding ways to exercise agency and increase serendipity. I went nomadic for 5 months, moved into a new home, and left a job and team I adored for an exciting new career opportunity.

As I set my intention for 2022, these are the highlights I’m commemorating to inspire the coming year.

Create vs consume
I got into blogging over a decade ago for two reasons: as a way to connect with others and because I strongly believe that if I’m spending time on a platform, it is more valuable to be an active participant versus passive consumer. In 2021, I started hosting audio-only conversations on Clubhouse — about building startups in “unsexy industries” to how to learn effectively — and co-hosted #thisisnotadvice, a video series about the future of work with my teammate Roy Bahat. Exploring video as a medium led to interviewing technology reporter and author Sarah Frier about her book on Instagram on IG Live. I also experimented with making short form videos and even co-hosted a Clubhouse chat where I got to meet one of my favorite TikTok creators Nick Cho. Testing new platforms helped build new communication approaches and connected me to a wider audience interested in startups, technology, and their impact on culture.

• Embrace the itch to build
Leaving Bloomberg Beta to embark on a new adventure was a tough farewell. Over the course of four years, I fell in love with investing in great founders and had the fortune of incredibly generous mentorship from great colleagues. I had one of the best jobs I could ever imagine doing, but I always had an itch to build. So when I had the opportunity to join Erik Torenberg and David Booth, the co-founders of On Deck, and build a global accelerator to help put 1,000 startups into business, I decided it was the right time to jump into something new and didn’t look back.

The intention for 2022 is to embrace gumption — 2021’s highlights share common themes around experimentation, embracing discomfort, and pushing to reinvent myself. There will be even more of that this year with even more gumption.

This is a note to self to build at high velocity with a spirit of “done, not perfect. ask for feedback,” and January is already off to a roaring start — launched our first ODX cohort with cohort 2 already in the works, building a team, an offsite with founders.

The Books that Stuck with me in 2021

My preferred approach to reading is to take a single topic that interests me and to read a number of different books on it. So this year, I found myself diving deeper into a select number of topics and exchanging my pace of reading for a deeper, more syntopic approach, in the pursuit of uncovering nuances between multiple perspectives and helping me answer some key question on the subject.

So here are the Big Questions I continue to explore and one book from this year that helped me sharpen or otherwise deepen my perspective on the matter.

What happens when we have radically extended life?

Human beings are living longer than ever before. While the U.S. life expectancy decreased last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, our overall life expectancy is nearly twenty more years than the average life expectancy of someone living a century ago. Today’s longevity research enables us to slow down the aging process even further, steering us towards the opportunity to live well above a hundred years. Naturally, who wouldn’t want to? In university, I became fascinated by this growing trend and wanted to understand it from the other side: for those who choose differently, what will it mean to die with dignity? In The Inevitable: Dispatches on the Right to Die, Katie Engelhart deftly explores the idea of autonomy around a life almost finished. She offers a history of the contemporary right-to-die movement and manages to lay out all the arguments for or against a “good death” without bias, without reproach, and with heroic empathy in the human stories behind this choice. It only underscored my own belief that as we are gifted with more time, we will all need to think more intentionally about the ends of our lives.

What kind of relationships will we have with artificial intelligence that’s embedded into our lives?

First of all, Kazuo Ishiguro is hands down one of my favorite authors of all time. His earlier work Never Let Me Go is one of my favorite novels for his characters’ subtly revealed devastation (I won’t spoil any more of it.). In his latest novel Klara and the Sun, he paints a similarly familiar yet dystopian future where intelligent machines play a huge role in our lives. The plot is timely, with children, like Josie, forced to attend school mostly online these past two years. Perhaps they too would have benefited from a companion like Klara to fight loneliness and have an outlet for socialization. The book struck me for Ishiguro’s delicate and haunting writing style just as much as it did for the depiction of a future where our machines go beyond the utilitarian. It makes me wonder, how will our relationships with our machines change in a future where they increasingly fulfill more of our needs ; and how close are we to it?

What is the future of families?

Americans are having less sex than ever before, marrying or cohabitating with partners later in life, and having fewer children. At the same time, women are undergoing egg freezing in record numbers and forgoing the traditional notion of the nuclear family. So this year, I found myself thinking a lot about how community will play an increasingly large role in redefining what family is in the future.

While only tangentially related, I kept coming back to the philosophical underpinnings of Amia Srinivasan’s The Right to Sex which considers the unconscious and conscious factors that contribute to when, how, why, and with whom we pursue physical intimacy. This isn’t a book about sex itself. It’s a book about how feminists have historically reclaimed bodily agency. I didn’t agree with it all; in some ways, it makes a huge miss in distilling sex into something purely rational and denying the role of raw physical desire. But there are lucid moments in it that helped me draw new connections to explain why we are seeing a generation identify as gender fluid, and the omnipotent role of media in learning about intimacy and why platforms like OnlyFans became so popular.

Orienting my reading around Big Questions shaped not just what I read but how I read. These were just three highlights, and 2022 will continue to expand on these and even more Big Questions, including “What is the future of cities in an increasingly remote, decentralized, sustainable world?” “What does a post-college future look like?” “How do we make decisions in an increasingly noisy world?”

If you have recommendations for readings that relate to any of these Big Questions, I welcome them.

“I feel a lot. Sometimes it’s horrible, and sometimes it’s awesome.”

I recently stumbled upon an interview with actress Victoria Pedretti by the channel StyleLikeU. Founded by mother-daughter duo, Elisa Goodkind and Lily Mandelbaum, the channel is dedicated to telling stories about self-acceptance, expressing individuality, and empowerment.

In their flagship The What’s Underneath Project, activists, founders, artists, models, and more undress layer by layer as they open up about style, self-image, and identity. It was my first time learning of Victoria Pedretti (and my woefully TV-ignorant eyes didn’t register her as the star of Netflix’s The Haunting), but her 17-minute interview is captivating in how honest she is.

Pop culture and pop psychology made us all too familiar with phrases like radical candor and practicing vulnerability. But their casual use in small talk and office parlance belies the impact of seeing it in action. Identifying what emotions we’re experiencing is a skill to help us make intentional choices on how we respond; not as a crutch or excuse.

The interview moves from what her style says about her to what she is insecure about, and as her hat and jacket are gently set aside, the tenor of the interview shifts. She admits a simple but raw truth — that she wants friends who accept her and worries about being a burden unto others. She holds back tears when she recalls a former partner who created a secure environment for her to experience love, not just know that it existed in the world.

My favorite part is right after her shoes come off, and she’s asked, “When do you feel most beautiful?” The question is asked so earnestly, and instead of giggling it off with a blasé quip, she pauses and looks up. Her eyes glisten with unshed tears, and she offers simple and honest answers: dancing, cooking, engaging in the things that allow herself to embrace herself. With her sweatshirt now placed neatly away, she bares her heart. Feeling a lot can be horrible, painful, lonely, but it can also be a gift and “feel good, when [we] can accept it.”

Here is the link to watch the interview in full.

Taylor Swift, Reclaimed: A masterclass in bringing your community along for the ride

That first snare in “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” hits, and I’m fifteen again. I’m dancing alone in my room, hand curled around an imaginary mic, singing along nostalgic of a love not yet even lost. Taylor Swift was simultaneously best friend, older sister, confidante. I was young, but I believed her; that [we’ll] do things greater than dating the boy on the football team.”

Taylor Swift To Release Rerecorded Version Of "Fearless" Album

And greater things she did indeed. Taylor Swift’s latest album is not just a re-recording of her 2008 studio album “Fearless,” the album that catapulted her to stardom and earned her Album of the Year at the Grammy’s. It is also a triumphant culmination of the last two years of dispute around the issue of master ownership between artist and record labels. “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” is an album proudly written by, produced by, and performed by Taylor Swift.

As one of contemporary music’s most recognizable, popular, and objectively successful artists, Taylor holds a uniquely powerful position, and she has not been shy about using her voice to fight for artists’ rights. When Apple Music launched in 2015 with a three-month free trial, they reversed their payment policy to ensure artists were paid for music streamed during trial periods when Swift refused to allow the company to stream her album “1989” until they did right by artists. In 2019, when Taylor declared her intentions to re-record her earlier albums, she managed to turn the acquisition of a record label into a moral, ethical debate about musicians’ rights to their creations.

The controversy around the acquisition of Taylor’s masters is noteworthy for how it reflects the shift in the power dynamic between artists and record labels. In today’s digital era, record labels are no longer the powerful gatekeepers to distribution that they once were. With social media platforms like Instagram; self-hosting platforms and streaming services like Spotify and Twitch; and new content discovery platforms like TikTok, artists (and creators more broadly) have unparalleled direct relationships with their fans at scale.

Taylor Swift has also always recognized the power of her fans, and she offers a masterclass in how to engage and mobilize a fanbase. She always wanted her creative process to feel special for fans, inviting a select group of her most devoted fans to Secret Sessions in advance of new album launches. As a long-time Tumblr user, I can recall how active Taylor was (and continues to be) with her Tumblr Swiftie community. So when she learned that Scooter Braun acquired Big Machine Records and subsequently acquired the masters to her first six studio albums, she took to Tumblr to express her disappointment. Her (now controversial) plea to fans led to an #IStandWithTaylor Twitter trend where fans came forward to defend artists’ rights to have full ownership and autonomy over their creations.

As a result of this, “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” feels like a collective win for fans, new and old. Taylor’s re-recordings are an ode to the listeners who have been with her since the beginning. Coincidentally, her re-recordings allow her to introduce many of her most iconic teenage anthems to a new generation of listeners. Moreover, the wistful themes of love and youth throughout “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” may resonate even more with GenZ, who may be one of the loneliest groups yet.

I’ve now listened to all the tracks a few times over, flipping back and forth between the 2008 originals and 2021 re-recordings. The songs remain faithful to their original arrangements, with Taylor even bending her intonations to match how she sang them originally at seventeen. Of course, if you listen carefully, you’ll hear how her voice is deeper, her tone richer, and her delivery wiser. Some of the earnestness in her voice from the 2008 versions is replaced by a cheeky confidence, the kind that comes through knowing it’s a confident, successful, young woman singing the words she wrote when she was just a girl.

I can’t help but sing along. “Fifteen” inspires a desire to relive moments of teenage naivete. “Forever & Always” still captures the pettiness of young heartbreak. “You’re Not Sorry” remains a gut punch. “Mr. Perfectly Fine,” a new track from her vault drops the “casually cruel” zinger we’re familiar with from “All Too Well” two albums later.

One of my favorites on both the 2008 and 2021 albums is “Change.” Listening to the re-recordings, I found myself briefly wishing I were fifteen today and experiencing the old Taylor Swift as the new Taylor Swift. But then again, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss how I can hear that her voice is more defiant than ever when she sings: “And the battle was long, it’s the fight of our lives / But we’ll stand up champions tonight. / It was the night things changed. / Can you see it now?” 2008 Taylor sang that last question with hope in her voice, mustering strength knowing her biggest fights were yet to come. 2021 Taylor sings that line knowing she stands tall even after years of criticism and heartbreak. It’s the rallying cry of an artist who remains at the top of her game and wants to bring us along for the ride, believing in the collective power of her community to continue to defy the odds.

When do I get to be an American?

This week’s shootings in Atlanta are unfortunately the latest in a growing number of violent acts against the Asian American community. These recent events — from the Atlanta shootings to multiple, horrible stories of (elderly) Asian men and women being attacked unprovoked — sting. The victims could have been my parents. They could have been my childhood friends. It could have been me. 

I was born in Seoul and am the proud immigrant daughter of immigrants. My parents moved to the States in their thirties with little money to their names. They had university degrees from prestigious South Korean institutions that held no weight in corporate America, especially with their lack of English skills. We were the first of our families to set out West, and we came in pursuit of the American Dream — that their children will have access to opportunity and a more prosperous life. And we made it. 

My parents are lifelong entrepreneurs, founders of their own small businesses — from an international import/export business to a luxury goods business to brick-and-mortar retail to an e-commerce site. When they immigrated to America, they accepted that they’ll have to pay the cultural and economic price to earn a brighter future for their children. So they tolerated being made fun of for their accents. They bit their tongues when being scammed because they struggled to negotiate in English. They paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes and immigration legal services without benefitting from Social Security, Medicaid, traditional corporate benefits. They swallowed the loneliness that comes from being made to feel different yet rendered invisible. 

I have my father’s insatiable curiosity and penchant for thinking big. I have my mother’s compassion and steady resilience. But we are also not cut from the same cloth. I, alongside millions of Asian Americans in the U.S., see myself as American. Not all of us were born here, but we grew up here. We studied here. We earned jobs here. We build companies here. We contribute to our communities here. We don’t see ourselves any less deserving of the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness afforded to any other American.

If your Asian friends haven’t publicly shared their reactions to the recent acts against the Asian American community, it may be that they are still processing. Asians are not a monolith. There are 21+ million Asians in the U.S., and different ethnic groups have their own unique cultural values and individual priorities. There are many of us who have had our own privileges, and we may be unpacking our own frustrations towards a society that encourages meritocracy yet doles punishment for not neatly fitting into preconceived expectations or threaten existing hierarchies.

Ultimately, the United States is beautiful because we embrace a kaleidoscope of cultures and backgrounds. I hope we can look to the ties that bind us together and work toward defending what makes this country and we Americans special in our values and ambitions.

What is your “loathe language?”

In 1992, anthropologist and philosopher Dr. Gary Chapman published a book called The Five Love Languages, describing a framework for how we communicate love with our partners, be they romantic or platonic. All of us can give and receive love in all five ways, but most of us tend to have a primary way we express and understand love. Being able to communicate what is our dominant love language can often resolve miscommunications between two people who don’t share the same love language.

Now here’s something new (thanks to #therapytok): Our self destructive tendencies are often the converse of our love language. Think about what kinds of self destructive behavior you engage in, and then consider your love language.

My primary love language is quality time: time that is set aside for paying full and undivided attention to a person or topic, often in the physical presence of each other. My self destructive behavior is self-isolation, which is the exact opposite of how I experience love.

Some examples of how your love language may relate to a particular self destructive behavior:

Words of affirmation ➡️ negative self talk
Acts of service ➡️ avoiding self care
Physical touch ➡️ not eating or overeating
Gift giving ➡️ intentionally buying things harmful for us or impulse shopping

It’s perfectly human to feel blue, stressed, scared, etc. What’s important is how we react and take care of ourselves. So if you know how you experience love, next time you’re down, will you show yourself the same care in your own love language?

Get out of your own way

I started writing here in undergrad, after years of trying and running multiple sites across Xanga, Blogspot, Blogger, Tumblr, you name it. So this is my home for all my musings on various intellectual pursuits, commentary on society’s relationship to technology, and my ongoing exploration of personal and professional identity. Occasionally when I sit to write, I’ll scroll through the scores of drafts I have from the last eight years of writing here.

Here’s a quote from an old draft on vices from 2013: “What I know is that I am a people pleaser by nature, and that…has proven to be both a blessing and a vice. [It’s] inspired me to develop empathy and compassion…[but it can also drive me to fulfill a] sycophantic need to please others [at the expense] of my own happiness.” This got me thinking about how my relationship to others have evolved since then. More importantly, it highlighted how much I’ve changed over the years.

The reality is that no one is paying attention to me as much as I think. I used to ruminate for hours after feeling like I interjected at the wrong time in a conversation or wished I had said something smarter, more clever, more memorable. Those scenes would loop over and over in my head, and the reality was that barely anyone would have noticed nor have perceived it as big of an issue as I did in my mind. This encourages me to focus my attention onto a more productive activity.

As I grow in my personal and professional life, I occasionally fall into the trap of (over) worrying about what others may think of me. The goal is for those I respect and admire to feel the same about me. So as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gained stronger conviction in my decisions and committed to doing right by me over what is expected. So after a decade of my life competing and dedicating myself to the violin, I decided to put it down to pursue a other academic interests. After spending my formative early twenties in New York, I decided to leave the city of my dreams and the place I still consider home for San Francisco, despite many question marks from well intended friends and family members. I remember being worried that I would let people down because I wouldn’t be able to see them as often or just be there for them. It felt selfish. But of course, each was the right decision for the goal at the time.

So if I could go back in time, I’d remind myself this: “Get out of your own way, and stop worrying about what others may or may not think. Frankly, no one is paying attention to you as much as you think. Embrace that freedom, and use the knowledge to pursue what you want and not what you believe others want of you. Your life will be richer for it.” I’m a constant work in progress but skimming an old draft written by past me was a sweet way to reflect and quietly celebrate growth.