Uncovering the Dots

This was originally posted on my Medium page. While I’m quite loyal to WordPress, I’m testing out several different publishing platforms for a better understanding of each one’s pros and cons (particularly with respect to user experience and engagement). Apologies in advance for anyone who has already read this.

It’s impossible to connect the dots if they have yet to be discovered.

I’ve never been one for Netflix, but over the last few months, I’ve applied the art of binging to podcast listening. There are a plethora of great ones in the audial ether, but a recent episode of Exponent hit home with respect to Ben and James’s notion that maintaining optionality upfront allows the discovery of focus down the road. The reason? While having general direction can be a guiding force, becoming too prematurely focused on an exact plan can blind you from recognizing opportunity when it arises.

Like Ben, I spent the early months of my undergraduate career trying to meticulously plan every class and schedule for the next four years. I took the necessary courses to earn my degree in Cognitive Psychology and Math-Econ, but in the process, I took a slew of courses with no obvious reason that ended up being some of the most impactful. These were often unrelated to my majors and didn’t fulfill any prereqs, but I took them because I wanted exposure to interesting topics and people. In doing so, I experienced incredible discourse in classes like Christian Environmental Ethics, Politics of Whiteness, and James Joyce Literature that directly contributed to a formative and enriching education.

By forgoing micromanagement and focusing on taking engaging, intellectually stimulating courses, I explored new disciplines that allowed me to discover new interests. Takeaways on intersectionality in my political science classes became applicable to perspectives on economic behavior or on human factors. I learned what did and didn’t inspire me largely by stumbling upon a wide array of these topics, and it ultimately helped me make connections that previously were not readily evident.

My early career trajectory reflects the same exploratory strategy, and I’ve prioritized taking on roles that continue to expose me to great teams and new skills that may yield emergent growth opportunities. And over the years, I’ve begun to narrow the aperture. In particular, a recent deep dive into User Experience Design crystallized the niche I had been seeking but couldn’t define. My sales stint at a major retailer and my current role in financial technology had taught me the importance of having functional, usable, and beautiful products, but UX principles taught me how to apply those product attributes around solving user problems.

I’m not sure if I would have come across the concepts of UX Design/Product Thinking had I not been persistent about learning and pursuing my random interests. In which case, I wouldn’t have been able to put a name to what I now feel confident immersing myself into. There is still so much more to learn, but with healthy doses of gumption and curiosity by my side, I can’t wait.

Dear Marissa Mayer and Zachary Bogue

Congratulations to you both on your pregnancy announcement! After the birth of a son, the expectation of not only one girl but two must be exciting its own unique way. For Ms. Mayer, I’m sure the internet is already being inundated with opposing opinions on your intentions to work throughout your pregnancy and return to Yahoo shortly after your children’s births. However my opinions here, for one, do not come from the viewpoint of a working mother, or even from someone who anticipates parenthood any time soon. No, I am writing through the eyes of a Millennial who pays attention to leaders in the workforce, particularly in traditionally male-dominated fields, in hopes that every day we strive closer toward equal opportunities for both men and women.

With the explosion of feminist campaigns in recent years by everyone from Sheryl Sandberg, Chimamanda Nogozi Adichie, Emma Watson to Max Schireson and Aziz Ansari, young, working women like myself have experienced firsthand the changes in attitudes and policies towards women in the workplace. I recall reading Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article while in university and finding myself angry that I agreed with her assertion that ‘women today cannot have it all.‘ For the record, I too, am writing from the perspective and for my own demographic: those of us with higher education, of decent socioeconomic status, and the privilege of having choices about the type and pace of work we do.

So in reading Slaughter’s words and by conceding to the seemingly inescapable fact that women must treat professional and personal/family as mutually exclusive responsibilities, I felt that I was betraying all the hard-ingrained, first-generation credos that propound the merits of hard, honest, gender-agnostic work. It was a terrible injustice: what did the author mean I couldn’t have it all? Up to that point, academia with its rankings, grades, and standardized test scores had provided easy milestones and benchmarks for me to measure myself against my peers both male and female. My immigrant parents had raised me to believe that hard work and commitment trumped all so much so that my being female (and Asian-American) never played any roles in our conversations on success growing up. Therefore, I admittedly took a certain kind of proud pleasure being of two minorities in many of my university classes. Particularly in courses in the hard sciences or upper level economic theory, I misattributed the dearth of female peers to an inability to ‘keep up’ or a lack of ambition.

But in my internship, job search, and work experience, I’ve learned a difficult truth: too many of us are taught a series of half-truths regarding gender equality that convince us young, aspiring women that we can have it all all the while leaving us woefully unprepared for the number of real, systemic issues we’ll face in the professional world.

We are told that unyielding commitment is sufficient, yet more women than men are criticized for an unwillingness to make the ‘right’ sacrifices when we voice concerns about long work-days, all-nighters, and frequent travel. We are told that prioritizing is enough, yet choosing family over career as a priority comes at a much greater cost for women than men. We are told that the workforce will recognize both mothers’ and fathers’ choice to take leave after the birth of a child, yet policy fails to recognize what a Hobson’s choice this presents for most mothers, who biologically respond differently to infants.

These are a few reasons why so few of us reach leadership positions despite the pipeline being rife with talented, capable women. Such societal pressures allow the talent gap and the ambition gap to persist. And while solutions need to and do come from a range of industries, policymakers, and educational institutions, I believe we can also affect change with honest discourse that highlights and celebrates the spectrum of both women and men who are taking it upon themselves to promote feminism (read: equalism).

I have been a long-time admirer of your career path and identify with your dogged work ethic, Ms. Mayer. Your personal commitment to Yahoo is admirable, and despite the backlash against your decision, I commend you for not conforming to a double standard expectation that mothers must take extended maternity leaves while fathers do not. Feminism, at its core, is about equal opportunity for equal choice. And while it is entirely your prerogative not to speak on the topic, I wish you would. I wish you would acknowledge and expound your opinions on the difficulties women face in the workplace. Moreover, I’d also like to hear from your husband Zachary Bogue. We need more men to speak up so we can hear their sides of the story – these issues impact their day-to-days too. Socialized norms and expectations trap men in their own ways, and denying the existence of systemic sexism allows assumptions that men and women must be upheld to different expectations regarding personal responsibilities to continue.

Millennials now make up the majority of our workforce, and despite all the criticism that we’re narcissistic, entitled, and scatterbrained, we’re also some of the most entrepreneurial, creative, and adaptable individuals. So while we’re trailblazing and going on to become the next generation leaders, we still look to today’s leaders to help shape our worldviews. You and your husband are both in positions of immense influence in high impact industries, and young professionals like myself want to hear from such individuals. You may disagree with Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In philosophy or agree with Indra Nooyi’s stance that women having it all is an illusion or have an entirely different perspective unique to you. In any case, we will not know until you contribute to the conversation. And I, for one, want the conversation to be multi-dimensional; to be filled with opposing opinions and demonstrate that it’s not about men vs. women, professional vs. personal, but about finding the balance that is right for each of us.

Finding Patience in the Race to Success

Six months ago, I was on a university weekend getaway weekend aptly titled “Senior Retreat.” The 48-hour escape provided the ideal opportunity for dozens of us seniors to engage in some true introspection. For weeks prior, most of us had been involved in a series of endless quests to fulfill outstanding bucket lists, questionable last minute runs to Mainline bars, and pursuits to satisfy a general need to take advantage of our precious last few months as undergrads. It was undoubtedly exhilarating, but it left me with a nagging need to indulge my inner introvert. The retreat allowed us to momentarily suspend our all too familiar senses of FOMO to instead contemplate the weight of graduation and the inevitable changes that would come with it.

One of the weekend activities had us congregated in a room partitioned into various post-grad dreads. Our conversations rotated around the room with us, ranging from unemployment, moving back in with parents, adjusting to a new city, and the like. Listening to my peers’ worries, I found myself feeling curiously prepared for what lied ahead; I was employed, quite looking forward to being home for the first time since leaving for college, and excited for life in New York City. But of course even my seemingly ideal situation didn’t prepare me for the unexpected. Ironically, the most unprecedented adjustment was a serious need to develop greater patience. 

For those of us lucky enough to receive a college education, all us recent graduates have known nothing but academia for all our lives. These last fifteen odd years provided us with consistent quantitative metrics to assess our progresses and shortcomings. Semester by semester, class after class, and from one professor to the next, we had a trail of breadcrumbs that practically guaranteed our success so long as we fulfilled the necessary expectations. In short, we’ve mastered how to be a student – which is often thought to be a crash course in becoming the ideal employee. But in the professional world, there are neither tests to ace nor classes to pass. Feeling like you’re doing a good job isn’t as clear cut as receiving a 100 on a quiz, and developing a career is a commitment in which doing well or poorly is hazier than earning the “right” grades.

So herein lies the learning curve: managing my expectations and fostering my patience. For a generation who is all about speed and efficiency, we’re accustomed to thinking that everything, even success, can be achieved overnight. Such an idea inspires scores of newly employed post-grads to hop from one career to another, believing that if nothing spectacular happens within the first six to twelve months in a role, it must not be their dream job. I’ll admit on occasion a little voice in my head tells me something similar, but I figure it’s my responsibility to quell that voice and remind myself great advancements come with time.

It’s only been a few weeks of grown-up life in the Big Apple, but I’m learning to find satisfaction in the daily routines and habits as a working professional. Sure there aren’t always midterms and exams to prove to myself that I’m doing well, but if that means trading in multiple choice questions for the freedom to carve out my own success story, I’ll take that in a heartbeat.

Spring Intentions

Today was the first day in a long time that made me feel as though spring is truly on its way. I’ve never really been spring’s biggest fan (blame it on the impending and inevitable three weeks of seasonal allergies), but given the last few months of bitter cold and icy winter, I felt a genuine sense of relief and joy for today’s balmy weather.

Naturally, the transition into spring engenders images of rebirth, rejuvenation, and an overall lightness of being. In an effort to embrace that sense of freshness and novelty, I am focusing on a handful of spring intentions; not so much resolutions, but more everyday decisions I hope to be mindful of.

Connect without reservations
It’s easy to assume that everyone is so busy and lost in their own lifestyles that they can’t possible have time to sit down for tea or grab lunch. It’s even easier to believe that everyone around you is leading a more vibrant, interesting life than yours, which happens to be filled with far too many marathon viewings on Netflix. When everyone starts to feel that way, it makes it hard to reach out and make connections because you already anticipate rejection. Instead, I want to reacquaint myself with old friends, make new ones, and incorporate more meaningful connections often.

Unplug
Last week, I spent a week in Jamaica with some of my closest friends. Considering we were in a different country and that all of our friends were with each other, most of us didn’t have access to texting, checking emails, and using social media. Going a full week without using any web medium was difficult at first, but after a few days, I realized how much more time I had when I wasn’t spending hours on the internet or checking my phone. Obviously being back at school means I need to use my phone and laptop, but I hope to unplug more frequently and reap all its benefits.

Create with my hands
I do my best to get my share of physical activity on a regular basis, but there is something very unique and satisfying about engaging your hands in an activity. Kneading cookie dough, gardening, or even just tossing around a baseball. These activities target your hands and work the intricate muscles within them. Try any one of them; it definitely beats typing away at a keyboard.