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.

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.