Category Archives: Growth

On Blogging – the Courage to Start

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.

The Hesitation

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’?”

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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.

The Learnings

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.

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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…)

Three Quarters In as MBA1

Three quarters of my first year MBA life is wrapping up and I finally can get a breather as I have completed summer internship recruiting! The past six months in business school have been challenging but also exhilarating. Thus, I want to take some time to reflect and share with you what I have learned.

#1 If you know what you want to pursue, go for it relentlessly and find the right resources to make it happen. I did it through changing job internally before business school and finding the right MBA program!

Prior to business school, I was working in corporate finance for a global chemical company. When I was working in the financial planning & analysis role, I realized I wanted to be closer to the customers and have more opportunities to solve problems creatively. When I shared my intention to pursue a business operation role, which would allow me to be a finance business partner to the sales team, some of my coworkers did not understand my motivation – “you are doing so well in this role. Why do you give up the foundations you have built for a role that requires very different skillset?” During my internal job search process, I also could sense concerns that I might not be able to work effectively with sales to instill the financial disciplines needed. Regardless of all these opinions, I held onto the blind faith that I knew about my skills and capabilities better than anyone else and stayed persistent with my pursuit. After killing it at my role and lots of networking, I successfully moved into the role I wanted. Boy, I loved it so much! Although it was not easy at the beginning to build the trust with the sales team who had years of experience selling products, I was able to bring my strengths to the table and eventually become their trusted advisor.

It was in this business operation role that I learned I truly enjoyed working on cross-functional teams and solving different problems. As a result of the job switch, I was encouraged that I can make the best career decision for myself. I then applied to business school to switch functions from finance to strategy and general management. In the Ross MBA program, I prioritized my curriculum and extracurricular to focus more on skills I did not have before. Not having a lot of opportunities to solve ambiguous business problems, I led a team project for the community consulting club and competed in the Amazon case competition. The “hypothesis first” consulting approach also helped me develop a good framework to tackle the problems before digging into the data.

Speaking of business school application, why I picked Ross for my MBA led me to the second reflection #2 personal fit is more important than any ranking. You should always choose based on what matters the most to you and not just rankings. For my MBA application, I interacted with students and alumni from at least half of the top 15 US MBA programs and felt the strongest connection with the Ross community. Ross students are fun, collaborative, and humble. Even though Ross is not the highest ranked MBA program (the program is ranked No.7 this year!), it is exactly what I need due to its reputation as a “career switcher” program. MAP and many action-based learning opportunities will help me convince future recruiters that I have mastered the right skillsets to excel in a position that is very different from the roles I held before MBA. Having gone through the internship recruiting process, I can definitely attest to the commonly shared observation that recruiters care a lot about the function and background that I come from (I have friends in the Top 5 MBA program who struggled with the switch). When I was ready to plan for the long haul and use my MAP (a strategy project with a global tech company) to make the case as a career switcher for full-time recruiting, I received a great offer for a non-finance role with a top Ross on-campus employer! I am so happy that I chose the perfect program to make it happen!

Another example of ranking does not matter as much is choosing which city to live. Minneapolis is repeatedly ranked as the Top 20 Cities for Young Professionals to Live while Houston does not often make the list. However, I still like Houston a little more than Minneapolis for its hospitality and diversity. These factors are what I value and outweigh the rest, but ranking does not take them into account. I always consider that ranking is for the average Joe. It is a good reference, but you need to know what is different between you and Joe.

I reconnected with a few good friends before business school after starting my MBA and they all consistently mentioned that I look even happier than before. I do feel happier, knowing that I am working towards my goals and surrounded by a group of smart and supportive classmates. This is what you get when you are in the right environment and right culture. This is #therossdifference!

To share a bit on my recruiting journey, I present you the final reflection #3 Push your physical and mental capacity and you can be surprised of what you are capable of. I was reading a WSJ article on how the mental state can affect the performance of long-distance runner. As someone who trained diligently for 10ks and half marathon before, I can 100% relate and draw a connection between running and my time as an MBA1. When I was running the 10k or half-marathon race, especially towards the finish line, I would constantly cheer myself up with “You can do this!” “You are stronger than you think!” I did the same as an MBA1. Almost everyone who started the MBA program heard about the three-legged chair – social, academic, and recruiting. Usually, we can only pick two out of the three to focus on but even two can be hard to manage. Thus, whenever I felt I could not take on any more work, I thought about my race moments and pushed through harder. I traded sleep for a couple of extra hours to prepare for interviews, traded in-flight movies for industry knowledge index cards on the flight to consulting interviews, … When the thought of “my MBA life is so stressful and challenging” surfaced, I simply put that idea aside and followed through. After the challenging recruiting season, I am amazed at what my mental and physical capacities are. I feel more confident about what I can handle.

At the Michigan Design and Business Conference this year, the keynote speaker Emily Tsiang from Stanford Life Design Lab shared with us how to “Design Your Life”. All the attendees were required to fill out an odyssey journey on “how might you explore, engage or learn about the multiple great lives within you?”. I wrote down three lives that I want to engage more, as “a creative problem solver”, “a writer”, and “a mentor”. To explore each of these lives in the short-term, I want to understand my strengths more through the summer internship, come back to updating the blog regularly (still want to follow the “once a month update” commitment set in 2017!), and apply to be an MBA peer career coach at Ross.

I know I always have you, my blog readers, to hold me accountable. Thank you as always for being a part of my journey!

P.S. Shown is a picture taken in Horseshoe Bend during my spring break trip. Visits to Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks reminded me how much I love nature and miss spending quality outdoor till my body (especially my legs!) gives out. I can’t wait to hit the trails on the Pacific Northwest this summer! #getoutside

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2017 Blogging Goals

Happy 2017 everyone! This post marks the 20th post (not counting the two “About” pages)! When starting the blog in July 2015, I did not expect to rediscover my interests in writing. I initially only intended to use it as a platform to mentor more international students and share my successes and pitfalls. At the beginning, I had a lot of doubts, because I was not sure what traction my blog would receive and if it would be worth the effort. As I wrote more, I found myself enjoying the process so much that I am now simply writing to stay happy. 🙂 My love for words is getting so strong that I plan to blog with a stronger focus on writing quality in 2017.

Before covering the 2017 blogging goals, I want to do a quick recap of the posts in 2016. A few highlights in 2016 include collaborating with Jessica of Pretty Prints and Paper when we shared each other’s posts that centered on job search and receiving a shout-out from my college professor on Twitter and Linkedin (I follow his Phil’s Career Blog religiously). The most popular post is Podcast and Small Talk, probably because this topic applies to both students and young professionals. In 2017, I hope to include more topics for these audiences. My personal favorites are Networking Hack #2 and FOMO and 20 Slots. Even though neither fares as well in readership, both topics involve important discoveries for me, especially the latter. Maybe I will rewrite them someday using a different approach.

For 2017, I have set three blogging goals, in content, critique, and publishing frequency. First of all, be a better storyteller. In the past, I wrote a lot of practical “how-to” posts on networking, interviewing, and finding job opportunities. They were logical with concrete actions. On a few writings I shared with my friends, one feedback I received is that the words missed some passion. This year, I will write more personal stories that read less like a manual and are more emotionally engaging.

Second, get more writing critique. Whenever I ask someone else to read my writing, I always learn a lot.  Apart from the “emotion” feedback, another feedback is that I often write longer sentences with independent and dependent clauses, making it harder to grasp the ideas. I definitely agree with such observation. I sometimes even catch myself do the same thing when talking and end up losing my train of thought. In 2017, I intend to solicit feedback more frequently and focus on not only content but also sentence structure and grammar. Through Googling, I find that Houston has quite a few writing groups that meet regularly to provide critique. I plan to check out these meetings sometime!

Third, write at least 12 posts. I published 9 posts in 2015 and 10 posts in 2016. I took a writing break from March through May in 2016, partially due to some loss of writing motivation. Fortunately, I found renewed energy after reading Elizabeth Gilbert‘s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, the story and details of which I will share at a post this year. As much as I enjoy blogging, it is only a hobby and I have other competing priorities. As a result, I am changing my publishing commitment from every other week to monthly. So far I am one post behind!

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Thanks to blogging, I have developed the habit of constantly evaluating writing topics, which makes me more self-aware and reflective. I do not think I will have any problem picking 12 topics for 2017, from the growing list of 15+ draft ideas. A lot of the ideas involve personal stories, so it will be a fun challenge to take on this year. In the end, I would like to thank you all for the support you gave me since 2015 summer. Thank you for signing up on email subscriptions. Thank you for sharing my posts with others. Thank you for providing me feedback, leaving comments, and inspiring me with more ideas. I am super excited for 2017!

On Choosing Major and Discovering Passion

In college, I was afraid of picking the wrong major and ending up in a job that I do not enjoy. Putting interest aside, I had an even tougher time when “staying in the US or going back to China” was thrown into the mix. What major I choose could determine how challenging it would be to find a job in the US and get H1B visa sponsorship. Having worked for 4.5 years while still discovering my strengths, weaknesses, and passion, I would like to share with you what I have learned. The article is primarily intended for college students, but might help anyone in pursuit of a fulfilling career.

Picking One Major/Job Does Not Restrict You from Exploring Other Interests

I struggled with deciding on my major, mainly because I am naturally curious about many different subjects – I love the talent focus of HR, excel in the analytical side of finance, get intrigued by the creative energy from marketing, and always enjoy reading insights shared by the psychologists. With the H1B complication, I even contemplated the accounting major, since public accounting firms then were usually generous with visa sponsorship. I was overwhelmed.

I remember talking to Irene, the co-founder of STLF and a Bush Foundation Fellow, and she shared that in college she had planned to graduate with major in marketing and minor in both supply chain and entrepreneurship. However, she felt a lot less freedom fulfilling all the different requirements of majors and minors than taking the classes that she was truly interested. Thus, she gave up the minors. Even though major(s) and minor(s) could demonstrate the commitment to a particular field, taking classes I love outside the business school and doing part-time internships matter more than what show up on transcript, I had one major (finance). Nevertheless, till this day, I am still learning about other disciplines either at work or outside work. I serve on marketing committees at employee resource groups, develop training programs for new hires, mentor college students, and read psychology books (the Heath Brothers and Dan Ariely all make great authors). I do not let the finance major define my interests. As a bonus, I rediscovered my passion to write, since blogging became a great avenue to help more international students.

Make the Call and Don’t Punish Yourself Later

Before deciding on finance, I seriously debated accounting because I wanted to stay in the US after graduation. At the time, I liked finance a bit more and had a neutral feeling towards accounting. An important factor was that it was easier to find jobs in the US with degrees in accounting than in finance. Then the questions I had to answer are:

  • US or home?
  • Am I willing to go back home when I can’t find finance job in the US?
  • Am I willing to take a less desirable job so I could stay in the US?

In the end, I favored interests, because I could not see myself spending another year studying accounting to receive 150 credits (Most public accounting firms require 150 credits to sit for the CPA exams). I thought if I could not find a job in the US, I would be happier doing something I enjoy in China. Fortunately, I was able to find a finance position in the US.

Had I decided staying in the US was more important and looked for a job in public accounting, I might not be as fortunate in hindsight. Soon after my graduation, the US immigration services started the lottery system to decide who could receive visa. A couple of public accounting firms stopped providing sponsorship due to the risks that new international new hires may not be able to stay. Regardless, if I ended up being the unlucky one, I would remind myself what I prioritized to make the decisions. I would not punish myself for the change of events because lottery and sponsorship were factors that I could not possibly predict.

Research and Start Somewhere

What worked incredibly well for me in the interest search process is learning from people in the fields that I am interested in and getting hands-on experience, the latter of which helps me reflect on my likes and dislikes.

Here are my suggestions:

  • Use all the resources. In my previous post, I discussed the importance of standing upon the shoulders of giants instead of uncovering everything on your own. It makes better use of your time and allows you to experience more.
    • College career center should be your first stop
      • I always recommend Future Fright Week workshops to any Carlson student. The workshops do a fantastic job highlighting different career paths of the majors.
      • Reach out alumni for coffee and job shadowing opportunities (I have written a post on informational interviews).
      • If you are thinking about returning home after graduation, this interview might give you some ideas. This is featured on the International Careers facebook page which includes interviews with several other international alums.
      • University of Minnesota Alumni webinars are great for college graduates and could serve as good guidance for current students as well.
    • The Internet is a gold mine. You could find a lot of relevant articles by googling. The resources are particularly abundant if you are interested in consulting and investment banking.
  • Start small with projects/internship to explore your interests. Even taking on a leadership position in a student club will shed some light.
  • Understand your strengths, weaknesses, and values. Even though I was skeptical about leadership training, thinking it was just theoretical and fluffy, I embraced the concept and actively participated in LeaderShape and First Year Leadership Institute. The experience allows me to reflect on my values and receive feedback from a close-knit community. 7+ years later, I still hold all those learnings to heart and highly recommend them.
  • Develop a routine to keep track. Whether they are follow-up actions from a networking conversation, articles on industry trends, a great story for future interview questions, find a way to record them. My friend Jess, a passionate educator and talented handlettering artist @prettyprintsandpaper, shared her method of using bullet journal to capture her findings and stay organized. I really like “Bullet Journal for Career Planning” and “Bullet Journal for Job Interviews”. These two articles not only have enlightening content, but also are fun to read because her handletterings are so pleasing to the eyes!  bullet-journal-career-job-search-1                                          (Image courtesy of PrettyPrintsAndPaper)

If you are not 100% happy with what you do, do not stop exploring. I have faith that diligent research, experimental projects, and self-reflection will eventually allow you to connect all the dots.