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Multitudes Collection

Next Story: Jomilyn


On letting curiosity lead the way

I was born and raised in the Silicon Valley of China, Shenzhen. Despite being surrounded by tech companies, I didn’t view tech as a viable career path because I didn’t see lots of girls in tech growing up but my views were changed later in my life. 

Curiosity was deeply rooted in who I am. As a child I’d often approach strangers and strike up a conversation with them. My curiosity was also paired with a love of creative problem solving, which would manifest in Lego masterpieces and sudoku triumphs when I was younger. As I grew older, I began trying different activities ranging from drama and improv, to ballroom dancing, to track and field. My parents would get frustrated with me and ask why I couldn’t focus on just one thing and do it really well. Their criticism made me feel that my curiosity was a flaw. It didn’t help that there was a lack of diversity in the definition of success in China, and everyone had an immense desire to be the best. The only thing students cared about was getting high marks to get into the best universities and land the best jobs. I found myself wondering, what does it mean to be the best? It seemed like there was only one standard for success and I couldn’t accept that. At age 17, I decided to live in a more open-minded place where people had different versions of success while figuring out what I wanted to be my success story, so I told my parents that I would go abroad to study in Canada by myself. 

I found myself wondering, what does it mean to be the best?

I came to Canada as a high school student and began living with my aunt’s family. I didn’t know much about them before and they were almost strangers to me, so it took some time for me to adapt. Soon enough though, they began suggesting what they considered traditional values and career paths for women, such as nursing or accounting. While they were very supportive of me, they only viewed my potential through the lens of what they expected a woman should do.

Before moving to Canada, I lived in 10 different homes. Between my parents’ divorce and ongoing family drama, I bounced from living with my dad and stepmom, to living with my grandma and eventually boarding school.  I felt like I wasn’t enough to deserve being loved and thought maybe my parents didn’t want me. When I arrived at my aunt’s house, all I wanted to do was to please them. So when they suggested that I should pursue these “girly” career paths, I did.

I decided to major in accounting and financial management because of their encouragement. I excelled in school and eventually went on to have a career in finance, switching between venture capital, private equity, capital markets, and consulting. All of these opportunities were incredibly sought after, but I was utterly unsatisfied. Every day, I went to work and felt like I wasn’t reaching my full potential, since I was just making rich people richer. I wasn’t solving challenging problems and it certainly didn’t pique my curiosity. I kept trying different career paths in finance and no matter what I chose I felt like I didn’t have an impact. 

I began participating in hackathons around that time and it was through this community that I learned about product management. I had never heard of it and was curious to learn more. The speaker told us that “the product manager is the person that gets all of the blame when something goes wrong and doesn’t receive the credit when things go well”. Initially, I was shocked that anyone would want this type of job, but as the speaker went on to explain that product managers are also in charge of identifying user problems and solving them creatively, something clicked. From then on, I decided that I would be a product manager. Instead of waiting for someone to hire me, I figured that I could hire myself by starting a venture, so I began brainstorming potential projects and testing my ideas with others.

Every day, I went to work and felt like I wasn’t reaching my full potential, since I was just making rich people richer.

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, I participated in a hackathon called Pandemic Hack. We were prompted to look into our own lives to identify emerging problems that were blowing up during COVID. Two stats caught our attention. First, the 7% record high unemployment rate had led to significant food insecurity for children and families. Second, 50% of restaurants closed down and their staff lost their jobs, especially minority-owned businesses. Personally, both problems were very close to my heart because food is the love language in the Asian culture, and xenophobia has led to detrimental effects on Asian restaurants. My team pitched the idea of a three-sided marketplace that brought together donors, restaurants and individuals facing food insecurity, ultimately enabling family-owned restaurants to stay in business and helping families put food on the table. We won the competition and went on to fundraise over $25,000 to provide 3,300 free meals to people in need. It was the first time for me to create a product from zero to one that had a real impact on people’s lives. From then on, I knew that product management was what I’d want to do my entire life. 

I’ve since gone on to launch a second startup in climate change called Neutrify to educate users about the sustainability impact of their food, worked at Blackberry in enterprise security, Google X in robotics and now at Microsoft in accessibility and AI. Other people would probably see me as workaholic because the only resting time I have is reserved for sleeping, eating and spending time with my boyfriend. From my perspective, I don’t feel tired because I’m working on something that I’m passionate about. For me, working is like playing. I recharge myself when I’m talking to my team and working towards the same goal, which makes me so excited. I can’t really explain why I work so much, but when you love what you’re doing, you just don’t feel tired. This is so different from working in finance where I often had to stay until midnight to work on acquisition deals. There was so much external pressure to be present and perform in front of your manager. Now my working hours are all internally motivated and a choice that I won’t change.

Looking back, I’ve realized that all of my seemingly random interests when I was younger are what shaped me into who I am today. I used to think that it was a flaw that I didn’t have the ability to be a competitive athlete in track and field, but after exploring 10+ different interests and learning distinct skills from each one of them, I’ve realized that my curiosity is a gift. My inquisitive nature made me a generalist and that means I’m not suited to pursue a PhD because I won’t be as interested in researching one area. However, generalists still have a lot of benefits. I can have smooth conversations with anyone, and have the ability to connect seemingly different topics. All my explorations have also helped me develop a resilient reaction to stress. Between improv, dance performances and track and field, I had to resist my flight impulse in high stress situations and instead do my best and fight for myself. While I unintentionally built this up, all of these experiences have empowered me to speak up for myself and to be fearless when trying something new. 

I can’t really explain why I work so much, but when you love what you’re doing, you just don’t feel tired.

My most important realization is that I don’t need external validation to define my success. My parents likely still don’t understand what I’m doing, which is ok. I don’t expect them to fully comprehend it since it’s so different from what they consider a traditional career path. Five years ago, I would have felt insecure about my family’s expectations of me, but now I know that they’re proud of me, even if what I’m doing is different than what they expected. The personal learning and growth that I get from pursuing this career path is all I need to know that I’m doing what’s best for me.

Thank you for reading this story from the Multitudes Collection.

Our affirmation candles serve as a physical reminder to embrace your power. We donate 10% of revenues from our I Am Multitudes affirmation candle to the Radical Monarchs.