Category Archives: Personal

Silver Linings

2020 has been the most challenging year for me of all, not only because there are a lot of uncertainty in the world – social injustice, Covid pandemic, and presidential election, but also because I was pushed out of my comfort zone in the midst of all the uncertainties. I went through a challenging job switch when I was so stressed that I cried a lot out of pressure that I wouldn’t be able to deliver on projects, couldn’t fall sleep, or had bad dreams in which I was not prepared for exams or missed a paper deadline. I didn’t travel or meet up with friends much out of fear of contracting Covid. I went through a breakup in November when for the first couple of days I questioned my self-worth and values (luckily, I recovered quickly). My September post was my first attempt to dive into those uncomfortable moments at work and adjusting to a new life. This post is my attempt to see the silver linings – to reflect on obstacles I’ve overcome and to celebrate the wins and newfound strengths.

Win 1: Keep iterating.

This win I have my new job to thank for. I’ve learned a lot about ‘Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good’. In the past, it would take me much longer to make decisions because I would try to optimize to the best I can – fastest way to solve a problem, cheapest way to buy a ticket, best sentence structure, etc. As a result, it was a lot of thinking and not a lot of results. Thanks to this mindset, I’ve learned to be more forgiving towards myself if the outcome is not ideal. As a result, without the pressure to be perfect, I can make decisions and produce results much faster.

Win 2: Look forward and not back.  

My dad used to tell me often ‘Don’t cry over spilled milk’ to comfort me not to feel too upset over something that has already happened and cannot be changed. This saying really struck a chord with me this year as I tried to adapt to unexpected events quickly.

Instead of dwelling in self-blame, regret and unhappiness, I focused on finding a solution:

An important product feature was missed in sprint planning? -> Let’s see if I can talk to anyone to move it up the priority list;

Coming across a bad landlord after the initial screening? -> Forget about the application fees and back to the list of available units to rent.

Having noisy upstairs neighbor? -> Get the landlord and property management team involved as soon as possible.

These events might seem trivial to you, but they all trigger a lot of negative emotions in the past that don’t go away very quickly. This year I realized jumping to problem solving mode will cut the pain significantly and make me a lot happier.  

Win 3: Confidence

I see confidence and fear go hand in hand. The less fear you have, the more confident you will be. It is the fear of rejection, the fear of losing someone, the fear of being seen as incompetent, the fear of failure that give us pauses from pursuing an opportunity and from voicing our true opinions. I came across this quote that I found valuable – ‘all fears are illusion, but you don’t know it until you face it.’ Thus, to develop the confidence, we need to do things that we are afraid to do, so that when looking back, we will think, ‘huh, it’s not as bad as I imagined’. This year, I am proud of myself for taking a risk in a role that I am more excited about without much experience. Though I struggled a lot at the beginning, I can see light at the end of the tunnel. I am proud of myself for taking on challenging hikes and still maintaining an active lifestyle. I am proud of myself for picking myself back up from a breakup and appreciating who I am even more.

A cherry on top is that I am not doing as much comparison of myself to other people anymore. I become even more genuinely happy for others’ accomplishments (hate to admit it, but occasionally I will feel jealous). All this is because I am happy with how much I’ve grown compared to the past self. I’ve found more peace and content.

Win 4: I am more than just work.

I was talking to my good friend E a couple of weeks ago about work stress and she said there was a book called ‘men are like waffles women are like spaghetti’. Putting the book aside, the analogy itself reminded me that I let work completely define who I was as a person. It was because this work identity association, when I was struggling at work in the beginning, I just didn’t feel good about myself overall. Hobbies that used to excite me such as reading and writing was not as appealing anymore. I even mentioned in my previous post that it was because I felt I had no insights to write about when I did not have my act together at work. Now that I am back to consistently running and writing again, I understood that maybe the secret to achieving work-life balance is having passion projects and hobbies that you look forward to outside work, so that work does not consume you and become your default option.

Win 5: All pains are necessary to let growth happen.

When I excitedly shared with my dad my win of ‘don’t cry over spilled milk’ this year, it suddenly dawn on me that he has been telling me since I was in high school. (lol…). The full meaning did not really register until many years later when I experienced a lot of pains/growth. It got me thinking – maybe no matter how many wise lessons other people passed onto me, no matter how many self-help books I read, I will not truly understand the wisdom until I experience the pain myself. In that sense, I should learn to welcome pain, embrace or even celebrate it when it happens, because it was the pain that makes me reflect more and find a way to grow to avoid it the second time. (Regardless, reading the book or talking to others will still help me formulate ideas that I’ve started to see.)

All the wins I described above all started with failures in my mind at the beginning – terrible first year in a new job and lots of unplanned changes that I have little control over (pandemic, working from home, breakup, etc). Once I frame them the other way, I see a lot more successes and person growth. I remain positive and hopeful. 🙂

P.S. I set out to write a few more wins in 2020 on hobbies and friendship, but I will dedicate another post for it. Stay tuned!

Keep Iterating

Adulthood after business school was tough for me. I was hit in the face with everything new – new job, new city, new expectations held for myself, etc… In moments of despair, I wondered to myself, I wish I could have my life back before business school, I was so at ease navigating life back then. I have analyzed what has contributed to such an overwhelming feeling to some challenges, hoping to come up with solutions of how I can overcome it.

New Job

In my old job working as a financial analyst, I can say with confidence whether I can manage it or not before diving into the details. I know who to reach out to, what systems to use, what analysis/approach I need to take. Because the tasks usually come with some repetitions, I can keep perfecting the process. My new job is so different. When I start a project, I don’t know what the process and results can be. My old habit kicked in and I would be trying to come up with the perfect solution on the first go while letting precious time pass. As I learn over time, no one expects you to have the perfect answer – I just need to get it to be ‘good enough’. The mentality is always ‘keep iterating’. The other major challenge is to be comfortable making many decisions on a daily basis, including prioritization. As I juggle multiple projects, I need to come up with a set of work principles on how I approach product development, product design, customers’ requests, etc. I need to develop my own point of view.

New City

Rather than titling my second challenge new city, maybe new life is a better choice. Seattle is the fourth city I’ve lived in, so I was not a rookie to starting all over in a new place. Plus, it has brought me the pleasant surprise of hiking as a newly developed interest than initially expected. Thus, I have no trouble living in this new city. The challenge is more associated with I having doubts and questions on ‘Now that you make your job switch, now what?’

I was asked recently ‘what do you do to relax?’. Because I felt engulfed by the work, nothing seemed to pique my interest (Covid-19 quarantine also didn’t help) and I struggled with coming up with an answer. I recalled my life before the new job and found that I always had goals that I was working towards – promotion, MBA application, 10k/half marathon race, reading goals, etc. I also remembered that writing and mentoring were two things I considered my passion, but have not done any in the past one year. I suspected that a big reason is that I did not feel that I had anything valuable to contribute. I started this blog five years ago with the intention of sharing my learnings, of which professional growth playing a big part. This past one year was hard for me that I did not feel confident writing. What value would I bring if I could not get my own act together?

When I started writing this post, I was reminded of the confidence I once had in taking a risk to switch a role and how I expressed the pride and happiness in my past posts after I successfully navigated the challenges. I remain hopeful that I’ve made the right decision to switch role and industry and even more optimistic that all the stress shall pass and everything will be ok. After all, the process of writing might still have the magic of helping me. It might not all come across in the words, but the process does bring me some assurance and clarity.

I initially planned to document this year of learning and not post on the blog. It failed my old blogging standard that it only described the problem but not the action steps I will take to overcome it. Starting to write again in my opinion is already a good first step. Sharing this post unfinished could be what I consider my action towards developing the ‘keep iterating’ mentality and cut myself some slacks of being a perfectionist. Someday, I will return and finish the rest.  

Summer and Onward

*I wrote most of this post the end of summer but never finished editing. How time flies and I am at the end of fall semester! Regardless, I want to publish it to remember the remarkable summer on the west coast and to motivate myself to keep writing.*

Today marks the end of my four-month summer break. I am sitting in a coffee shop in Ann Arbor reminiscing about my summer days in China, the west coast, Ann Arbor, and Peru. All of sudden, I found myself getting a bit emotional and overwhelmed with happy tears. My experience not only confirmed that I found the right MBA program and on the right track to switch careers (more of that on “Three Quarters In as MBA1”), but also put all the skills I learned at Ross to test. I have gained more certainty in decision-making and more clarity and confidence of what I am capable of.

For my summer project with Amazon, I opted into a role in California rather than in Seattle HQ. I went back and forth on this decision for a while, because the popular opinion is that being in HQ will give me greater networking opportunities, but the Alexa opportunity (my top choice of team) is only available in California for the summer. In the end, my interest in the product convinced me to listen to my heart. After my internship and looking back at this decision, I was reminded of a similar decision I made four years ago, when I fought for a role in Houston with my previous employer. In both circumstances, the popular opinion was to stay in the HQ for more executive exposure and networking opportunities, but I ended up pursuing the growth projects in the satellite office, which turned out to be a great move for me. Taking these chances allowed me see what matters the most to me and when to trust my own decisions.

Amazon is known for living and breathing its 14 leadership principles at work and I experienced them first hand during my internship. Three principles particularly grew on me. Not in the Amazon leadership principle order, they are ownership, customer obsession and bias for action.

  • Ownership. Since intern orientation, taking full ownership of the work was drilled in our head. We were told to be responsible for setting up review meetings, meeting with managers for check-in meetings, and of course owning the whole project. For my project, I was expected to define the problems to analyze, identify contacts and resources on my own, analyze the data, and make recommendations. It was a lot of responsibilities, since this was a brand new initiative and no one, including my manager, knew exactly what resources existed. Even though I was confident with my ability to handle ownership prior to the internship, such scope and ambiguity took me some time to get used to.
  • Customer obsession. I used customer pain points to define project scope and problems and worked backwards to find relevant data to validate. My mentor at Amazon told me lots of senior executives read one- and two-star reviews on Amazon.com to understand customer pain points. Even though reading the reviews can be time-consuming and Amazon also has a tool that uses natural language processing to gauge customer sentiment, directly reading the reviews still is the most tried-and-true method to understand customer experience. Thus, I poured through 500+ customer reviews to determine the key problems to focus on for my project.
  • Bias for action. During my project, even though I do not have perfect data points, I was encouraged to use them to make decision regardless and to highlight the risks involved. I realized that not until we made a decision to execute would we able to collect better data to generate more insights to improve and iterate. Handling the ambiguity and imperfection of data was what I found to be the most challenging part of my internship. One role I held in my past finance life was to make sure the reporting was 100% accurate. Thus, at the beginning of this internship, the old habit of tying the numbers came back to me and I found myself writing down every question I had with the data. Soon after, I realized it would not work when there were so much data to analyze. I then adjusted the course and only focused on information that would make a difference on the decision.

At the end of my internship, I felt grateful for the experience I had at Michigan Ross that prepared me well for the internship – 2nd Year MBA peer coaches and Tech Club education sessions helped me navigate the recruiting process; hands-on learning experience, such as Amazon case competition, Datathon, and Multi-disciplinary Action Project, gave me plenty of opportunities to practice handling ambiguity; and coffee chats with alumni at Amazon gave me pointers and new perspectives to tackle the project.

After wrapping up my internship, four other MBA2 students and I led a 9-day trip to Peru for 13 MBA1 students. I had a blast, not only because the trip was a perfect mix of history, culture, amazing cuisines, and outdoor, but also because I got to know four other trek leaders a lot better and meet 13 amazing first-year students!

I am quite excited about my second year of MBA experience, because there are so many things I look forward to trying! Now that my first semester of second year is wrapping up, my goals for my last semester of school include the following:

  • Take an English class. Quite a few business classes in my first semester of second year helped me get more comfortable with writing. Thus, I want to take an English class that allows me to write as much as possible and branch out of the business school.
  • Meet more MBA classmates outside my section. During my first year, due to the shared core class experience, I met a lot of impressive section mates. For my second year, I would love to branch out more and make new friends!
  • Continue getting some hands-on learning experience. Michigan Ross is known for action based learning and I certainly benefited a lot from them during my first year of MBA. I am quite excited to work on a Living Business Leadership Experience project and participate in the 2019 Datathon!

Two New Habits

When I celebrated my birthday in 2015, I wrote a post to set the goal of living a more intentional life rather than putting on auto-pilot mode and flying through the days. At the time, I made a list of goals I aspired to reach before the next birthday. However, soon afterwards, I started my preparation/application journey to business school and all other things fell off my priority list. Sadly, that year, I did not accomplish much except for “#1 Finish the Aramco Half Marathon under 2 hours” (ended up with 2hrs 5mins, but at least I tried!) and “#6 Do a better job of staying in touch with friends around the world” (I became pretty good at it via texts, phone calls, and cards!). Earlier this year, I had some spare time on hand after internship recruiting. Thus, I decided to revisit some of those goals set in the past. I tried to tackle goal #4 and goal #11. I can tell you after keeping it up for at least a couple of months, I have grown tremendously.

Goal #4 Write about six books I read on the blog

Before I had to become a fully committed student for all the Chinese test preparation, I loved burying myself in books. When Harry Potter series first came out, I packed the book along with snacks and lunch for a school trip to a zoo. I also remember after school, I would read the Lord of the Rings series in a nearby bookstore for 30 minutes every day before going home. After moving to the States, I got my mind occupied with college, recruiting, work, and other past times, such as TV, Internet, phone, social activities. I fell out of the habit of making time for reading.

Another reason that kept me from reading regularly was that I felt the obligation to read business books, after getting a business degree as an undergrad. I do not associate reading business books with fun, since I have not experienced as much staying up all night reading as with reading fictions. Whenever someone at any social event claimed “I do not read any fictions at all”, I slowly developed the notion that “reading fictions is only your guilty pleasure”. Looking back, how silly of me holding others’ opinion so highly that I abandoned my own interest. Speaking of others’ opinion, I read a blog post from Ellen Chisa on reading that positively influenced me to go back to reading. In her post “How to Read a Lot”, she shared: (1) read what you love (and give up when you don’t); (2) read fiction, as they “can help you develop empathy with a much broader set of people” and “can teach you lessons from the past, and predict the future”. I love Ellen’s writings on tech/product management so much that she is one of my women crushes in tech. If Ellen said reading fictions will help me develop empathy (important quality as a PM), I will buy it! 🙂 In fact, as she said “Fiction is the rare place you can ‘be in someone else’s head.'”, I can relate that strong female characters such as Scarlett O’Hara and Jane Eyre were inspirations to me when I had a setback.

When I I started reading more this February, I decided that rather than writing about books I read, I wanted to focus only on reading regularly, defined as dedicating at least half an hour to reading every day. I tried to read a mix of fiction and non-fictions, selecting books with gripping story lines for both genres. However, to buy books, the dollars will add up. In the past, whenever I had a casual read (books that I will only read once, such as Crazy Rich Asians), I felt guilty of not rereading it later. What’s more, as someone who loves books, you are constantly buying new books before you finish what you have. Thanks to my section mate Jasmine, I found a perfect solution! She told me that Ann Arbor Public Library has an amazing ebook selection, which allows you to borrow online and send the books to your Kindle app. The online audiobook selection is pretty comprehensive too! Thanks to this app, I have already borrowed and read 10 books this year. I highly recommend you checking it out your local library. I no longer need to worry about spending too much money on fun books, or packing away boxes of books every time I move.

Booklist

Some of the books I read this year

Goal #11 Reflect every evening and journal the highlight of each day in a couple of sentences

There were definitely periods in my life that I felt I was so busy doing things every day that I forgot how I spent the time, then all of a sudden, one month flew by! It makes me wonder whether I was devoting time to things that matter to me, or I was simply going through the motion and doing things that others made me do. Thus, I started keeping a daily journal that every evening before going to bed, I would write down my thoughts for the day, in 4-5 sentences. When I started this practice, I set a small goal of consistently doing it for 30 days. In this 30 days, there were a couple of days that I forgot to journal and later on, had a hard time recalling what happened in that day. After 30 days, I found that I could not live without the journal! It was a great way for me to remember every day, to live in the present, and to be more intentional! Prior to this daily reflection, whenever I had highly anticipated events, such as a vacation or a friend coming to visit, I sometimes forgot how to live those days leading up to the event. I always wanted to fast forward to the big day and would not consider the prior days as important. This daily practice taught me to be grounded in every day and be present.

As physicist and writer Alan Lightman was quoted in the TED article “Why we owe it to ourselves to spend quiet time alone every day”, “By not giving ourselves the minutes — or hours — free of devices and distractions, we risk losing our ability to know who we are and what’s important to us”. Know what your priorities are and make time for them. You are never too busy to read or to reflect. Now that we are one week into the second half of 2018, what are your goals for the rest of the year?