If you asked the 10-year-old me what I would like to be growing up, I would tell you I would like to be a YA novelist. When I was 11, I published a couple of articles in the student section of Nanjing local newspaper, from which I received my first paycheck. The one I was most proud of was narrating a school event as a news reporter.
Then Backstreet Boys came along and soon took away all my attention. Gone were the days when I read novels. Instead, I spent most of my spare time learning English, so I could keep up with Backstreet Boys! One thing led to another – I studied the lyrics, I loved learning English, I started reading the Harry Potter series in English, I watched Friends, then one day I was studying at University of Minnesota!
At this point, you might be thinking – naturally you are writing a blog now, because you used to enjoy it as a kid. The truth is the idea of blogging was so intimidating that I had been sitting on it for two years until starting it in late summer of 2015. It was not my interest in writing that motivated me to start, but my passion in mentoring. It was blogging that helped me regain the interest in writing.
How the blogging idea came about
I am always passionate about helping others grow. Thus, after graduating from University of Minnesota, as an international alumna, I am committed to helping my fellow international students succeed. I never turned down any invitation to speak at career workshops or to mentor students one-on-one. I shared both my past student experience and my Ecolab recruiter perspective. I was honest with my experience – the good, the bad, and the ugly, hoping to let students take comfort in knowing they were not the only one who went through the struggle and to motivate that eventually they would be ok. However, repeatedly answering similar questions from the students neither allowed me to cover all ideas nor made efficient use of my time. Thus, I wanted to start a mentoring blog to scale up, covering more topics and expanding the audience beyond my current network.
It was not easy to leap from idea to execution. As I tended to “go big or go home”, all the possible scenarios that could hinder immediate success held me back:
I worried about the depth of my idea and quality of my writing, “Am I good enough to teach others how to find a job? I don’t work in the most sought-after jobs such as banking or consulting after all” “What if my ideas are too similar to those of the established websites to grant traction?” “What if I could not write convincingly in my second language, English?”
I worried about how others would receive my blog, “What if no one reads my blog?” “Leaving the safety net of my network, what would those who I have never met think about my blog?”
I worried about my willpower to keep writing, “What if I could not keep writing and became that person ‘who gave up midway’?”
I was shooting for the moon, which at the time meant hundreds of subscribers overnight. I was hesitant to commit to blogging, knowing that the odds of me getting that many subscribers was extremely slim. I wanted perfection and did not want to fail. It was not until I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic”, one year after I started blogging, that I realized that even established author like her had anxiety on this creative process. Her acknowledgement of those fears in the book made me feel more comfortable. By the way, I highly recommend this book if you are considering taking up a creative job/interest.
The Turning Point
Due to the fears, I debated many times for two years. However, a couple of events happened in the summer of 2015 that pushed me to jump in. It started with me feeling stuck at work. The group I was in went through critical leadership changes, leading me to conclude the career acceleration I worked so hard to pursue would be delayed. After all, there were factors I could not control. Then I stumbled across an article called “Warren Buffett’s ‘20 Slot’ Rule”. It describes that if we were only allowed to make 20 financial investments in a lifetime (“20 slots”), we would be forced to think more thoroughly and end up making better decisions. The philosophy is to direct all the energy and attention to fewer tasks and focusing on mastering them.
The article was a trigger for me to reflect what my “20 slots” are. I realized two things. One, mentoring is definitely among the “20 slots”. I remembered that during my first year in the US, I was so passionate about leading the undergraduate mentoring program that I ran for the program coordinator and gave a speech to a room full of strangers. I lost the election, but looking back, I am still in awe of the motivation and courage of my younger self. Two, I used to commit a lot time to career, is it worth it? Since I was not 100% satisfied with the role, why don’t I shift some of my attention to other priorities that will make me happy?
Recognizing mentoring as a top priority, I knew blogging was the right way to continue. To ease the nerves, I stopped holding myself to perfection and focused on making an impact one reader at a time. I told myself the blog might never achieve the scale that I wanted, but if I keep writing, the number of readers who will benefit from my blog will be greater than the number of students I spoke to in previous workshops.
Once starting the blog, I relished the process of untangling all my thoughts and finding the right words to express myself. Nearly three years in with 20+ posts published, I grew so much thanks to the blog that it is one of the defining moments of my 20s.
I feel liberated, for the “big hairy monster” I imagined is not that bad after all. I received quite a few emails from students I have never met before, thanking me for the insights shared in the post. The readers’ outpouring support let me see that even though I may not be 100% satisfied with my work, it is still a valuable contribution. Done is better than perfect. As a result, I have developed the optimism that whatever the situation is and whatever the challenges there might be, I always have the power to make a difference, even if it is just making a dent. What’s more, such realization gives me more confidence to embrace the unknown and try things that I don’t think I am 100% ready for. Since then, I participated in the Houston Hackathon and competed in quite a few MBA case competitions, reaping much learning and gaining many valuable connections along the way.
In addition, motivated to be the best writer I could for my readers, I am writing more logically and succinctly. The growth mindset becomes clearer to me that as long as I am committed, my abilities can be developed and the result will evolve in my favor. I am also excited to pick up my interest of writing again. Never had I expected to reconsider the dream of the ten-year old self, but I will keep writing and keep that dream alive. Thanks to this dream, I am very optimistic that I can outlast some blogs in quantity and quality because I truly love writing.
Apart from overcoming fear of imperfection and becoming a better writer, there are other benefits picked up along this journey. First of all, I am able to keep my network informed, whether they are in Minnesota, Texas, China, or spread out around the world. One of my MBA classes “Managing Organization” mentioned that you need to dedicate time to maintaining your growing network, especially those with whom you no longer frequently interact. I am glad the blog serves a great platform. Second, I am more grounded with my values and what matters the most to me. When it comes to making decisions, I have a better idea of how to prioritize. Last but not lease, I see building the blog similar to owning a product. The process of relating to target readers, thinking about product roadmap of the blog, and finding creative tactics to promote my blog gets me excited and eventually leads me down the path of making a career switch to tech and product management.
I hope by sharing with you my story, you will know that you are not the only one who might have things you are afraid to give a shot, due to fear, perfectionism, high expectation, etc. Trust me, once you climb over this mountain, you will discover a brand new land of possibilities.
The picture was taken at my recent trip at Yading Nature Reserve of Sichuan. At an altitude of 15,700 feet, the 10km trail was quite a strenuous hike (started the climb from 13,500 feet). If you don’t pace yourself, you are at risk of altitude sickness. As one saying usually goes, “The best view comes after the hardest climb!” (P.S. Truth be told, this picture does not do the beauty justice…)