Category Archives: Travel

When Life Gives You Lemon…

My 2021 did not end on a high note.

The evening before Xmas Eve, I went bouldering with friends in a gym. I was working on my first yellow boulder problem half way through, when a thought crossed my mind ‘I have not been on the wall for almost a month, do I remember how to fall properly?’. I pushed that thought aside and continued with a couple of moves when I suddenly lost my footing. Rather than lay back to fall on the pad, I vertically slipped off the wall from 6 feet high and landed on my right foot first. I immediately felt some pain and saw my ankle bone dislocated. Sitting up on the pad, I gently touched my ankle bone out of curiosity and it slid back to its place. My friends came to my side and took me to urgent care right away. At urgent care, my ankle swelled up much more and I felt more pain. I got an Xray and the doctor said no fracture and sent me home with an aircast to wear for two weeks.

night of the fall, at urgent care

The following two weeks were the hardest during recovery as it was challenging to go up stairs and moved around the house in general. Fortunately, I had friends who dropped off groceries, picked up prescription, and visited me to have meals with me over the holidays. It happened to be on the snowiest days in the Seattle area. As I looked out the windows, I could see kids playing in the park and how I wished I could go outside for snowshoeing.

Once I was in good enough shape to walk around using my injured foot as well (rather than skipping in my left leg) and the swelling greatly reduced, I started going to PT. I could not do a proper squat because it was really tight around my ankle. It was not easy to accept the new reality that I will not be able to run or hike for a while until I get my full range of motion back in my right ankle. Since I was so active pre-injury, I felt a big part of my identity was lost. I was at a loss about how to fill up my spare time, now that I am not running, hiking, or bouldering. My PT recommended getting a bike to stay fit and use the pedaling motion to increase the blood flow around the ankle to help reduce swelling. Seeing one success story of a local trail runner who had ankle surgery and picked up biking to actively recover, I immediately invested in a road bike.

Boy, I was hooked! The high school commuter Sijie was back! I was once given the compliment that I was unfazed by busy traffic on highway 202 and I credited that to all the years of whizzing through bikes rushing to classes in high school in China. I felt nostalgic just thinking about those days and how the skills developed then became helpful now. I was steadily building on mileage each week, exploring Lake Sammamish loop, Sammamish River Trail to Burke Gilman Trail, and eventually linking them together to do Lake Washington Northern Loop. I not only loved exploring the neighborhood on a bike, which is more efficient than running and still provides me great views of the mountains, but also cherished the company I had. I caught up with friends from running club while biking, visited friends in Seattle, and biked to restaurants and ice cream shops. With my cycling friends, we dreamt up plans to bike on sunrise road in Mt Rainier National Park, to see Washington Pass from Highway 20 before the road opens for cars, and to take a ferry to all the islands and Olympic peninsula. I was feeling hopeful and excited for the summer – biking brought me so much already – I stayed fit, hang out with friends in a different setting, reconnected with a college classmate who was also into biking, and met a coworker who I would never connect with if not for biking! I would be just as happy if I will not be able to run or hike much this summer, because I found a new love!

my favorite mountains!
biking with a friend by Lake Washington

Even though my range of motion is improving, I found it odd that my ankle is still a bit swollen after almost three months. I decided to see a podiatrist and get another X-ray. It was then that I was told that I had a fracture which was not detected in the first one and that I needed to cut back my physical activities significantly – cannot swim or bike much until the checkup in two weeks. At first I panicked again – just wondering what I should do to fill up my time again… Good thing is that my recovery from being at a loss at what I should do with my spare time is much faster this time – I can spend more time reading (since my physical activities were eating into my reading time), I can bake and cook more, I can decorate my new place with paintings and photos, I have time to update my blog, I can learn to be more financially smart, I can host dinner parties with friends and catch up, I can help my friends with their garden projects, etc… Since the initial doctor visit, I did more meal prep than before, baked a matcha cheesecake, got a group together for escape room, and repotted my some of my houseplants before they go through the growth spurts in summer. Fingers crossed that I can heal quickly!

time to repot this moonshine snakeplant
first time baking a cake – matcha basque cheesecake

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!