Category Archives: Travel

the Journey of Self – Know the Why

I am dedicating year of 2021 to a year of self-journey, a year of looking inward to understand myself better and to grow. This is part 6 of the series.

After living in Washington for a year, I started hiking more frequently in 2020 summer to appreciate the beautiful state that I live in. To get inspired and find trails, I joined a couple of hiking and mountaineering groups on Facebook. Members of these communities usually posted pictures of their trips and wrote trip reports. For a long time, the postings made me feel so unaccomplished and anxious about what I have done. Others are doing much more impressive things – scrambling on exposed terrain, summiting all the volcanoes in Washington, backcountry skiing, roped climbing, running on trails with high vertical gains, etc., while I am yet to learn the skills to do any of them. My competitiveness got the best of me and I felt frustrated that I couldn’t win. There is an app in the community to register which peaks you have bagged and I developed an unhealthy obsession that I will only go on hikes where there were peaks to conquer. I will not choose lake hikes as a result, no matter how pretty the trails are, because lakes are not considered peaks in the app. I wanted to catch up so badly that being outside is no longer fun. It was all about registering my name under the peaks.

Luckily, going on a backpacking trip with a couple of friends this summer at the alpine lakes reminded me to enjoy the process and take it all in along the journey. In the past, I was usually in a rush – starting from trailhead as early as 7 a.m., taking shorter breaks, having a quick snack at summit, and hurrying back to the car. This time, my friends and I deliberately wanted to do a chill trip and even shortened the stay to 1 night only so that we were not that far from civilization. We took a leisure pace of starting after lunch on the first day, shot plenty of pictures at all the lakes on this trail, watched sunset and looked for shooting stars at night. We even brought swim suits along, but ran out of time. At first I was not used to this leisure pace, always trudging ahead then stopping to wait for my friend to catch up. Then I realized I missed out on the opportunity to catch up with my friends about their work-from-home life, creative endeavors, and recent adventures, so I slowed down and ‘ooh and aah’ together with them whenever we had a beautiful view. ShuMui, who were on this trip with me, wrote a remarkable trip report with pictures taken from the DSLR that she hauled up the trail. After this trip, my heart was so full that I cared a lot less about bagging peaks now and was reminded again why I enjoyed the outdoors.

In addition, I remembered that I have only been in Washington for a little more than two years. I did not learn climb and ski before. I am an average runner and need to put in the work to run faster and get used to the verticals. Despite the two years, my outdoor skills and capabilities have grown significantly, which is worth celebrating! I also realized that everyone has different goals in life. I should not have mistaken others’ goals as mine and gone after them, because we all are making a deliberate choice of what to focus on. Just because others’ goals are visible on social media, it does not mean that I should go after the same ones. The likes and validation received from social media do not mean anything, if I am not content from within. I should develop clarity on what my own plans are and stay focused on them, so that I am not easily distracted by what others have been pursuing.

As a result, I started thinking a lot about the whys behind all the things I do. Why do I hike and backpack? Why do I run? Why do I want to try trail running? Why do I pick up bouldering? Why do I write? Why do I mentor? Why am I working as a product manager? Once I rehash out the whys, I am happier and more satisfied with where I am. It is like having an internal compass, showing me the way, rather than mistaking other directions as my way just because they are big and shiny. I love having this sense of direction. I am no longer comparing myself to others, because I know we all have different goals to work towards. It is a good life as long as I am doing what fulfills me.

Have you thought about your whys?

Bonus: speaking of being on trails, I love this article from guidebook author Craig Romano on sharing what we love about the wilderness with our loved ones. Give it a read! Love this quote!

“The only thing that can be better than sitting on a wild deserted beach, atop a commanding hilltop, or by a sparkling alpine lake is to be there in the company of the people I care for most. All of those beautiful natural landscapes are too life enhancing to be loved alone.”

Craig Romano, ‘LOVE IS IN THE PLEIN AIR’

the Journey of Self – the Mountains

I am dedicating year of 2021 to a year of self-journey, a year of looking inward to understand myself better and to grow. This is part 3 of the series.

Before I started hiking in Washington, I knew I would enjoy the nature and outdoors because I loved running outside and was ready to put in the hard work in endurance. I thought hiking would be one of the excursions I do every once in a while (aka, a few times in the summer). Thanks to the good company and mentors on the trail and the stay-at home order of Covid-19, I turned to the outdoors a lot and became hooked, to the extent I would call a slight obsession (another thing I noticed on this self-awareness journey). I would spend hours poring over trip reports, mapping out new hiking routes, and dreaming about my own adventures after being inspired by pictures posted on Facebook and Instagram. I have fallen in love with the craggy mountains and the sparkling blue alpine lakes.

This winter (starting from November 2020) marks my second winter on the trails. I’ve explored some new ones and returned to a few old gems. Stepping on the same trails the second time helps me see the two distinct stages I move through in hiking.

The first stage of my hiking was very ‘peak driven’. Since I usually took on somewhat strenuous hikes and sometimes went with folks more fit than me, there was pressure to move at a faster pace. Thus, forget about ‘it is the journey that matters not the destination’, the only thing I could think about was to keep myself moving to get the peak. I would set a rule to myself that I could only break every 30 minutes for water and huff and puff up the entire time. As a result, some of the memories before reaching the summit were blurry to me. With the Hoh River trail to see blue glacier last summer, I relied on the pictures taken to remember the glories of the glacier rather from my memory bank, as I was exhausted and distracted in dreaming about the Mountain House dinner that I would eat at camp rather than basking in the awe of the glacier.

Luckily, as I built on my fitness level, I slowly moved to the second stage of actually enjoying the adventure outside. This became especially clear as I set foot on the Kachess Beacon trail earlier this month. A lot of the memories from a year ago came back to me – of how I was scared of falling on the trail in the treeline, of how awkward I felt using the trekking poles to keep my balance while ascending in snowshoes, of how uncomfortable I was descending from the ridge line. This time it was totally different. Instead of feeling sketched out and uncertain, I supported my friend’s suggestion of taking the shorter and steeper route up the ridge line and was breaking trails ahead in snowshoes (my snowshoes had superior grip than his, lol). Despite the hard climb, we were laughing and joking the entire way and occasionally stopped for pictures. In the end, I even climbed up the beacon for views of surrounding peaks, which was another thing I was afraid to do last time.  Oh what a long way I have came since the first ascent! As I looked back, what I loved about this second time was that I was able to enjoy solitude (did not see a single soul until 1 mile away from the trailhead), to experience the road less traveled, and to have the privilege to be the first to connect with the mountains and nature on that sunny day. My curiosity and adventure tank were full. I was at my happiest.

Heading to the beacon on untouched snow!

Will there be more stages for me and what would they be? Yes and I am starting to notice the theme emerging. Third stage is to to enjoy the journey more than just focusing on the destination on new adventures (not just trails that I have completed previously). Fourth stage is to share the joy of getting outside with others. This process of looking inward to my own development in hiking will help me tremendously to get to those stages. A stronger sense of how I get to who I am today allows me to be more compassionate towards both myself and others. Whenever I feel defeated that I cannot keep up with others, I will tell myself that practice makes perfect and it always take time to build up the fitness. I will remind myself to stop and take in the view around me more often even though I might be super focused on mustering my physical and mental toughness for the summit. Whenever I take my friends on an adventure that is a bit outside their comfort zone, I will remember to slow down for them and not be too pushy, because everyone is developing at their own pace. I will also not turn down requests to go on easier hikes or hikes that I have already completed, because I will still experience something new and it’s rewarding to go through the journey from the friends’ eyes and enjoy their company. 

My big hiking goals this year are to complete the day through-hike at the Enchantments and backpack in the High Divide/7 Lakes Basin in the Olympic Peninsula. Now that I said ‘practice makes perfect’, be right back as I will be going out for more hilly runs to be prepared. 🙂

P.S. In my last post, I promised for a breakdown of the self-compassion podcast. It is still on my topic list. At least I was learning to practice that more in this post.

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!

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

IMG_1399