Venice 2015

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.

Ethics of Manufacturing Habit-Forming Products

Habits are activities that cause us a little bit of pain when we don’t do them. For example, how many of us check our social media feeds numerous times a day? The very thought of not having access to our phones incites a twinge of discomfort knowing we can’t check our Twitters, Instagrams, Facebook feeds, etc.

Businesses understand that great products inspire habits; in their ability to fulfill a specific need in simple ways, they produce the desire to return and re-engage in a recurring action. Author Nir Eyal builds upon the works of behavioral psychologists like B. F. Skinner and Daniel Kahneman in his book Hooked to suggest four steps in manufacturing habit-forming products:

  1. Trigger – hook the user
  2. Action – engage user with simple calls to action
  3. Variable Reward – encourage recurring use with different levels/types of rewards
  4. Investment – provide room for users to invest their time into your product

Lately, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the fine line between habit and addiction with respect to technology. From the omnipotent tyranny of email to our dependence on social media, there is a question here that the broader technology has failed to address in our dogged quest to build products. At times, the addiction to refreshing my newsfeeds only induces more anxiety, more so than making me feel informed and purposeful. Our habitual usages are measured by the explosion of software as a service applications in last decade. And while they serve as additional proof that technology creates ease and delivers powerful insights, we have yet to discuss the implications of such products. With every new automated feature, obsessive mobile game, and delivery service app, we spend more and more time becoming intimate with our technologies. In which case, what kind of new habits are these products prompting and what, if any, are their societal values?

Although this aspiration will not apply to all technologies, as we continue to iterate and rapidly improve in the coming years, I hope we will give greater consideration to not only creating tools that produce convenience but also in building to promote better habits.

Boarding the Podcast Wagon: 5 Standouts

Media users today face no dearth of avenues for consumption, yet podcasts have recently gained newfound momentum in edging out their visual and analog counterparts in popularity*. What used to be considered an arcane relic of weary radio, podcasts saw their resurgence with the likes of This American Life’s ‘Serial‘, Gimlet Media’s ‘StartUp,’ and WNYC’s ‘Freakonomics.’ Although I got hooked on Serial last fall, my podcast usage waned after the finale because I didn’t have an app that felt functional and provided a great user experience. Recently, a friend’s recommendation for a new podcast app revitalized my interest with the app’s set of content and features. With it, I’ve been listening to several subscriptions during my commutes and down-time, and below are some standouts (with my favourite episodes thus far highlighted):

For the Aspiring Entrepreneur – Re/Code Decode with Kara Swisher

Technology commentator extraordinaire Kara Swisher felt it wasn’t enough to report on the happenings of Silicon Valley at her and co-founder Walt Mossberg’s news site Re/Code, so she recently launched this interview focused podcast. In these episodes, she invites some of the today’s most aspirational technology pundits to share their insights on everything from the state of Internet of Things to diversity in the tech industry.
|| Highlight: Investor Chris Sacca, Smartphone Prices and “Buy” Buttons ||

For the Tech Aficionado – Exponent

I’d like to invite Ben Thompson and James Allworth to dinner (seriously) because it would be a delight to see their insightful conversations unfold in real life and even be a part of it. Their technology and society focused podcast feels more like an intimate conversation between two awesomely geeky forward thinkers of which we listeners get to be flies on the wall.
|| Highlight: Grow Grow Grow Fight Fight Fight ||

For the Music Lover – Song Exploder

Introduced via Roman Mars’s 99% Invisible (another lovely design-centric podcast), Song Exploder invites talented musicians across a spectrum of genres to share the creative process behind one of their songs. Many of the pieces are recognizable, and listening to composers deconstruct their works and tell their stories makes enjoying the final construction at the end even more satisfying.
|| Highlight: Alexandre Desplat – The Imitation Game ||

For the Design Nerd – Dollars to Donuts

Design thinking/User Experience Design/etc. is all the rage as of late, but these are different names for the same creative process that has existed for decades in any product design field. Successful user experience design relies on a deep understanding of your users, their needs, and their challenges. This is where user research comes in. In Dollars to Donuts, you’ll hear from lead user researchers at organizations like Etsy and Citrix describe how they use both quantitative and qualitative data to craft the ideal customer experience.
|| Highlight: Gregg Bernstein of MailChimp ||

For the Storyteller – Strangers

Lea Thau’s first episode begins with an account of a man who was interested in dating her, then not dating her, and ultimately wanting her toddler’s poop. Yes, poop. Now, if that doesn’t pique your interest, the rest of her episodes chronicling the ups and downs of life, the beauty and pitfalls of love, and her ardent appreciation for humanity will entice and beguile your ears.
|| Highlight: David Terry: Jesus ||

With the ubiquity of smart phones, it’s easy to see why podcasts regained their eminence; they’re portable, easy to digest, and often a form of newstertainment. Additionally, their incredibly intimate deliveries provide an audial experience that both teaches and entertains. I’d love to know: what are some other great podcasts you’ve enjoyed?

*NoteCheck out this excellent article by @NatalieWires on the rise of podcasts here.

Good Reads (So Far) of 2015

The vast majority of my time spent outside of work is dedicated to reading. Long-form blogs, interviews, conference transcripts, and of course, books. They dominate, and it’s a shame I don’t love e-books as much as hard-copy because my wallet and bookshelf space would definitely benefit from going digital.

Alas, I remain stubbornly loyal to reading my books in hard copy. The start of each month marks another series of good reads, some recommended to me; others revolving around my latest obsession or selected from some bestseller or book award short list.

Of the 25+ books I’ve read so far this year, below are my top 5. They range in genre and topic, but each sparked great conversations and enlightenment for something novel.

  1. Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    Recommended to me by a friend possessing a deep understanding and perspective on intersectionality, racism, and the human experience of being “other”, Americanah is brave and startlingly honest. Adichie uses the protagonist’s experiences as the vehicles by which she weaves some of the most intricate emotions, observations, and indictments of what it means to be a modern citizen in our highly globalized yet still segregated world. I found I could not put it down, and that I identified strongly with some of the protagonist’s experiences with immigration and being a minority. I can’t believe it took me nearly 2 years to discover this book, and for anyone unfamiliar with Adichie, she’s the feminist powerhouse featured in Queen Bey’s song “Flawless“.
  2. Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, Atul Gawande
    A new favourite author of mine, Gawande is an American surgeon who gained popularity with his first book Complications back in 2002. Better is the second of his three major publications, and in it, Gawande again infuses his deep medical knowledge with his knack for storytelling to ponder how physicians, and all us humans, can strive to be better. He attributes exceptional performance down to three components: diligence, doing right, and ingenuity, and manages to distill some of medicine’s most chaotic moments into meaningful narratives while preserving their complexity. In the same way a surgeon has a moral obligation to continuously strive for better provision of health care, I finished this book with a profound sense that all of us can and should indeed strive for betterment.
  3. How to Create the Mind, Ray Kurzweil
    I came across Ray Kurzweil while reading a Bloomberg profile on Bill Maris, the precocious head of Google Ventures, back in the spring. In the article, Maris speaks with calculated fervidness on the prospect of living to the age of 500. To do so, Maris and futurists like Kurzweil portend the “Technological Singularity”, a term coined to describe the moment when computers outpace human abilities, resulting in the capacity for humans to transcend biology using such new technologies. Kurzweil’s seminal work, The Singularity is Near (2005), can do better justice in outlining such predictions, but after slogging through the Singularity, I picked up How to Create the Mind in hopes that a better background in both human and artificial brain functions and limitations would help frame my understanding of all his futuristic ideas. And it did…sort of. Create the Mind is definitely more digestible, and gives you a peek into how our brains can inspire the future’s digital brains.
  4. Remember Me Like This, Bret Anthony Johnston
    I’m weirdly obsessed with reading book reviews. I’m particularly fond of the ones in The New York Times, and I stumbled upon Johnston’s debut novel from reading Eleanor Henderson’s review on it. Reading the synopsis, it would be easy to dismiss Remember Me as another tale on child kidnapping or victimhood. However, the further I got along the book, the clearer it became that this is a story entirely focused on family and the unimaginable lengths we’ll go to protect and accept those we love.
  5. Zero to One, Peter Thiel
    I’d imagine that even if you are not plugged into the start-up or tech world, you know of or have heard of entrepreneur extraordinaire Peter Thiel. At the very least, you’ve heard of his company PayPal (and maybe even of Palantir). Zero to One is 2015’s Lean Startup – a must-read on any budding founders’ and creators’ short list. Truly revolutionary companies and products seeking to shape the future should aim for zero to one growth, and although I was a bit turned off by his disparaging tones on even the semblance of convention, Thiel’s broad concepts on building transformative businesses provided some interesting color on the reasons for their success.

Currently enjoying Oliver Sacks’s Anthropologist on Mars, but I’d love to know: what have been your favourite books of 2015 so far?

A Year in Retrospective

This post has been a long time coming. I recently “celebrated” my first one-year work-versary, and with the completion of my first triathlon, I now actually have time to collect and organize my disparate thoughts.

A little over a year ago, I graduated university and started my first full-time job in New York. Despite having grown up near New York and being familiar with the city, it was thrilling to be a part of a new culture: the post-grad newly employed crowd where the days are long, the nights are longer, and we seem to share the mantra, “work hard, play harder.” The first six months were marked by the steep learning curve that accompanies a new job, outings with old and new friends, and a surprisingly successful hunt for a NYC apartment (thank you, Craigslist – I’m serious).

The latter eight months have not been dramatically different, yet further reflection suggests that I’ve undergone a tremendously different sort of learning curve – one that has contributed to my own self-discovery and development. I’m sure these aren’t profoundly new revelations, but they are the most significant takeaways that I have recognized and hope to build upon as I continue growing, both personally and professionally.

1. Time is the most valuable commodity – Prioritization is key

In a sense, time is the great equalizer. Everyone has the same number of hours in a day to accomplish whatever goals you have. I acquiesce that some of us are privileged with certain affordances that provide us some liberties with respect to time management, but ultimately, I do my best to avoid wasting mine. Whether that means waking up a few hours earlier or choosing one activity over another, certain trade offs are made in the prioritization process. And most of the time, they aren’t sacrifices so long as you can determine that such time is spent doing something meaningful and worthwhile for yourself.

2. Create the social capital you want to be around

We spend a lot of time at work, and then when we’re not at work, we’re trying to catch up with friends or meet new people. Fostering relationships and establishing a network are integral pieces to success so surround yourself with individuals who have aspirational qualities and from whom you’ll learn and be challenged. I am fortunate to be able to call some of the most interesting, intellectual, and engaging people my friends and co-workers. They expose me to new disciplines and hobbies, and we’re able to learn from each other.

In optimizing the social capital around me, I’ve found it also eliminates negativity. Maudlin conversations are rarely constructive or productive. With banalities set aside, we can explore each others’ interests more deeply and derive a greater conversational experience, which in turn, expands our own knowledge bases.

3. Learn to love your own company

It’s easy to get caught up in the constant movement that is New York. There are meetings to attend, people to meet; yet the revolving door of human interaction can be exhausting (or maybe that’s the introvert in me speaking). Similar to unplugging, taking time to be on your own to decompress and clear your head is highly therapeutic. It helps hone in on what you really need/want versus what you think you need/want. I recently took a week long solo trip to Italy and thoroughly enjoyed having the time to answer to no one but myself. There is a distinction between being alone and feeling lonely, and in extinguishing the external din, you’ll find being alone can be incredibly liberating. So don’t fear the occasional dinner alone or solo weekend getaway – you might just find some much needed clarity.

Love in the Time of Technology – Part I

It started as an innocuous curiosity. After having dabbled in a few online dating sites before moving onto the mobile dating landscape, I was itching for a new way to get to know more of New York’s host of colourful characters. Tinder was intimidating, CoffeeMeetsBagel and HowAboutWe had been messy and less appealing user experiences, but I wasn’t yet entirely discouraged.

A friend exclaimed one Friday night that she had a date with a guy she met off Hinge the next evening. I was intrigued. She whipped out her phone, opened the little blue and white icon, and a few seconds later a list of male prospects and their details loaded the screen.

Given that the recommendations are friends of friends within your Facebook network, Hinge felt like Tinder’s distant and less creepy cousin. There wasn’t much to lose, so I signed up that weekend and proceeded to await my first batch of mid-day recommendations.

The first few weeks of use were uneventful. A few right swipes a day with a majority of recommendations getting the nay-say. Details most often included employer, university, height, and some fun preset interests like “beer snob” and “early bird,” all accompanied by a series of profile photos. Some more dedicated individuals populated their ‘About Me’ sections with witty quotes or descriptions of what kinds of relationships they were seeking.

I kept my own profile to a minimum. I was curious, but preferred to maintain a more laissez faire approach to my mobile dating activities. From time to time, I’d respond to a handful of conversations initiated by mutual matches, but most of the conversations fell flat. A match meant both parties had mutually identified the other as attractive and interesting enough for a deeper perusal. The problem was that once a conversation began, an incompatible conversational aptitude made it quickly evident that nothing would come of the match.

While some people were truly trying to find their partners in a city that can be overwhelming for whom bars and small-talk are less comfortable, my use remained primarily tangential. Of course, that changed when I agreed to take one virtual conversation into reality.

Pieces of Home

The very first one I can remember was white. It was followed by a quintessential red one, a metallic one tarnished with age, and then a wooden one that always leaked after a fresh rain fall. My latest one is also white, weathered from its years in the throes of nature.

A new mailbox always signaled a new set of neighbours and friends. With each change of zip code, a host of novelties surely followed. My nomadic childhood instilled a knack for assimilating seamlessly into shifting environments. And while adaptation to transition became second-nature, lapses out of my comfort zone were always triggered by a singular question that, ironically, was a constant across every new environment in which I found myself.

“Where are you from?”

It’s an innocuous question provided in an assortment of iterations that challenges us to define home. Being the new kid in town, if I answered with New Jersey, there was always a follow up, “Right, but where are you from from?,” with the expectation that I would answer with my birthplace Seoul, South Korea. Neither of these answers are untrue, but I have rarely attributed home to any one physical location solely by virtue of it being my birthplace or my post’s return address.

Home is reminiscent of ancestry, of family, of a childhood brick house, or perhaps of our first campus dorm room. Even more so, it is evocative of familiarity, of safety, and of solace. Home, for me, is less a physical construct and more an emotional attachment;  a sense of belonging and worthiness, without the need for justification or validation. With such liberty, I am able to discover a little piece of home at every turn, from the most ephemeral to the most enduring.

Home lingers in the comfortable silence of an aimless drive with my younger sister in the passenger seat, or in the unbridled enthusiasm emanating from the voice of a distant friend over the phone. I’ve found it while learning of the dramatic childhood travails of a chess-playing Englishman, or while counting stars lying on the speckled shores of Cádiz, Spain. It’s where I can get lost in the adventures of a lightning scarred wizard and his best friends. Where I fell in love with a logophile with a kindred love for obscure, extraordinary words; who embodies the warmth of sun in wintertime.

Home is where I feel most free; where I am allowed to love and be loved purely and ceaselessly. It is the reason why the colours of the mailboxes have always been and remain irrelevant. 

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.

An Acute Precipice

It’s been over a week since my undergraduate career came to close, but the tears I expected have yet to find me. They were absent during Senior Week, Commencement, and even when I moved out of my house. Granted I’m not one prone to tears, but I thought the goodbye’s and see you later’s with friends would leave me with a lump in my throat and terrible disquiet.

Then I spent the week after commencement surrounded by friends, hanging out at the beach, and the idea of no longer being a college kid could not have felt more removed. Being in each others’ company, laughing at old memories and inside jokes, I never felt more alive and content. When I finally left for home, I was worried of crashing from this high and of being swallowed by the anxiety that nothing would ever be the same. Instead I’ve been home, and in lieu of any tears, I’m keenly aware of the state of limbo in which I find myself.

My diploma definitively tells me that I’ve completed one integral chapter of my life, but my mind and heart still crave the closeness and sense of home uniquely provided during my college career. I know I am prepared to take on the adult world with ferocity, but I have moments of crippling doubt that I am not ready. I know that the friends who matter will remain by our sides regardless of distance or time, but the fear that we will all drift apart come busy work schedules and real-world responsibilities exists. And I know that the best years of our lives are yet to come, but I dread that growing up means losing my youthful spontaneity and sense of adventure. The dichotomy between what I know to be true and my irrational future concerns leaves me on an acute precipice off which I am not ready to leap…not just yet at least.

With every end there is a new beginning, but no one ever talks about the brief moment in between; where you are supposed to and allowed to grieve for the finality of one stage before the next follows. Without a doubt I am incredibly excited for the future in all its novelty and uncertainty, but for the time being I remain in limbo. I don’t want to rush into the future headfirst without allowing myself the proper reflection for what has been and what is to come. I don’t want to be on this precipice for long but I will remain here long enough to find closure before stepping into uncharted waters. In doing so, I am finding comfort in celebrating the old and embracing the new at my own pace.