On employee benefits

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The really cool thing about being at a startup as a director is that I get to be involved in some pretty important decisions about how we run the company. July was the month of sorting through some of the benefits side of things – we got the ball rolling with health insurance and 401(k) plans while discussing how to make our pay structure scalable.

As Director of Finance, a lot of what I do ends up blending in to the HR realm — which I’m totally cool with since HR is where I thought I’d be working post-MBA. I have had many lengthy discussions with the Director of Admin, who is in charge of HR and the administrative components, and our Vice President, who oversees various aspects of keeping the business running smoothly (and continually improving it).

I led the way with setting up retirement plans for our employees and it was fascinating to see how our decisions were guided by the culture we have and want. For one, it’s important to us to treat our people well and compensate them for a job well done. So when we were presented with the option to have “golden handcuffs” and only allow full vesting of contributions after 6 years, I balked internally. Six years?! I thought, That’s an awful long time in this day and age of employment.

Upon discussion with the company president, we were in agreement – there was no need for this vesting period. We want people to get their money now and not have this carrot dangling over them. If that’s a key reason for them staying and not much else, it’s not a good reason. They should get the money they put away without these conditions and feel free to leave us if it is no longer a good fit for them.

I’m pleased to be working with people who share a similar philosophy to mine about treating people well and not making them jump through hoops.

On another note, now that I’ve been on this side of the equation, learning what it means to administer a retirement plan, it makes me all the more perplexed as to why my former company never set one up. When I was interviewing, I had asked about it and was told they were going to set it up. After three years there, it was still not on the radar and one of my colleagues who had joined nearly at the beginning told me he had been told the same. It never came to fruition and we would sometimes sarcastically joke about it or roll our eyes over it. I always thought that perhaps it was very costly or a burden to manage, but it doesn’t appear to be either. In fact, it’s far less of an investment in our people than healthcare costs. Now that I have more context around the situation it really doesn’t make sense to me why I never did get that 401(k) I wanted, but I’m happy to be able to offer it to our employees here.

Beyond candidacy

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Dearest blog, how I’ve neglected you. I still think about you all the time, but there is just too much going on for me to give you proper attention. I’ll try to be better now that I’ve graduated.

bright red hair car selfie

I dyed my hair red for graduation.

graduating usc marshall business school wearing all the regalia

I didn’t actually take any photos by myself so I’m just gonna crop out my friends…

2018 usc marshall business school commencement program cover

Commencement time. Here we go.

graduation selfie with dean ellis usc marshall business school

Selfie with the Dean on stage!!

posing on seat made from giant tree trunk

After the ceremony, we went for a celebratory dinner. 🙂

sprinkles mini cupcakes with graduation messaging

The next day we had a BBQ for friends and their families. These were our graduation cupcakes, for our EDM apartment (no not the music – those are our initials!). #roommatesand cupcakes

I can now officially change MBA Candidate to straight up MBA! The dream that formed on the basketball court of my middle school in New York has come to fruition and it’s back to the working world. It will be nice to have more time to get into hobbies, but I’m not looking forward to getting up early and being limited by my work hours. Luckily, I’m working at a family business my best friend runs, so I’m hoping it will be a nice balance of flexibility and blending life with work.

It’s been two and a half weeks and I’m still lingering in limbo. I’m working, but I don’t have to start full-time until July so I want to make the most of June. I want to travel but I also don’t want to plan travel… and so it goes, I just take it day by day. I’ve been posted up at my favorite boba shop in Alhambra and now I’m about to go try this awesome-looking vegan Thai place. Nom!

Our goals in life

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What am I striving for?

For awhile now, I’ve lost a lot of sense of my direction and purpose in life. I’m not sure where I’m trying to go or what I’m trying to do anymore. It’s extremely disorienting and befuddling. Like being washed beneath a wave and not knowing which direction is up…

After months of struggling with this sense of confusion and suffering quite a bit of angst over it, I’m starting to get my bearings a little. But every time I think I’m about to gain footing, I find myself slipping a little. So I’m hesitant. Hesitant to build up my own confidence in myself, because I don’t feel like I know myself anymore.

What is it that shapes our goals in life? As a child, it was easy. There were expectations of me to go through the typical rites of passage: various phases of schooling, graduate, get a diploma, next step, graduate, get a degree, next step, graduate, get a job… and finally, go back to school for the dream that formed on a basketball court back in Henry H. Wells Middle School – that MBA.

And so here I am, finally getting that MBA. Now what? Get that big fancy job, earn some six-figure salary, and start a family? Is that what life is about? Is that what I want? I’m really not sure.

So again, I question: what is it that shapes our goals in life? Now that I’ve been an adult for nearly a decade and a half, I’m finally begun to wonder how much of those goals, those dreams, are mine. Have I truly taken the time to discern what matters to me? Really all of what I expected and wanted has been from external factors. It’s not that I’m not interested in them. But what’s truly inside of me? What would I do if the world weren’t there to push me along?

These are the kinds of questions I’m muddling my way through. I’m glad that I have a bit of an anchor now in my work with a startup, which is at once thrilling and intriguing to me. It’s not at all where I thought my MBA program would lead me, but it’s so much better. I’ve never quite fit the mold and here I get the opportunity to create my own. How incredible is that? All the while I’m learning and growing too.

As I cling to that bit of sanity, I wonder – now what is it exactly that I’m trying to achieve with my life, personally and professionally? It’s a big question to tackle and I’m trying to be ok with having a fuzzy answer. It’s hard because I’ve been driving towards a clear destination on a relatively paved road and suddenly I’ve veered off and I’m not sure I should be on that road. Should I start walking into the field instead? Should I drive onto another road? All I know is that I feel the need to do something; I certainly can’t languish here.

After all this babbling, I’m not sure how much I make sense or how cryptic I might be. I guess this reflects the lack of direction I generally feel in my unpredictable life right now. Everything is up in the air. I wonder what will catch me.

East Asian language similarities

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It’s spring break and after a tough week I just wanted to vegetate last night while cat sitting. I decided to pull up a movie and at first I tried to find Hero (??) on a streaming service for free, but discovered it was only for rent. I think is one of the best I’ve ever seen, with its gorgeous use of colors in storytelling. I was reminded of it because I started watching Avatar the Last Airbender and they take a similar approach for their use of elements.

My next choice was Mao’s Last Dancer, which I’d seen over winter break and loved for the cultural components that I could relate to. Again, I couldn’t find it on the services for free, so then I decided to browse available international titles. I don’t know why, but I was in a foreign film kind of mood. While I meant to find something in Chinese, I eventually came across The Beauty Inside and thought it had an intriguing plot.

How strange it turned out to be to listen to Korean, read English, yet hear some familiar phrases that sounded like Chinese. I’ve never really known much about Korean, so I was surprised at the multiple times I knew some of the words even as I was reading the translated subtitles. I can’t remember all the ones I encountered but I know that 15 was one of the examples.

In contrast to that, I have some experience with Japanese where I can read some of their characters and understand the general meaning, but their words sound nothing like Chinese. What a juxtaposition, to have one language that has similar pronunciation yet completely foreign characters while the other has similar use of characters yet completely foreign pronunciation.

I wonder then what, if any overlap occurs between Korean and Japanese?

Short story

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Well, so much for getting better at blogging. I feel guilty even thinking about it with all the schoolwork, work work, and social activities going on. Instead, let me share a short story I wrote for my Fostering Creativity class (with a few minor edits now that I reread it)…

Our History

I was immediately drawn to her essence. I couldn’t pinpoint what it was about her, but her presence was irresistible. I cut through the crowd to approach her and complimented her hat. It seemed like the least threatening way to strike up a conversation. She’d later tell me that she could see the intensity in my eyes and her curiosity got the better of her.

We quickly became fast friends. Our shared love of culinary delights provided endless nights of bonding. We’d try out new restaurants together, whip out favorite recipes from our family lineage, and hunt down food trucks with voracity. Grocery shopping was never a chore, but an adventure leading to many a tasty meal. Our evenings often ended with cups of tea on the porch as we shared childhood memories and discussed personal philosophies. I was intoxicated.

I learned so much from that woman. She imbued me with a sense of belonging. She was the only true friend I had. I was a country bumpkin, wide-eyed and fascinated with the world. She was a cosmopolitan woman, cultured and sophisticated. We were opposites in so many ways – she taught me to be inquisitive and question everything while I showed her how to be vulnerable and open her heart. Our spirits were wild and free, dancing together in the night sky as the moon smiled upon us. Our worlds would clash from time to time but we respected each other.

And then one night, she was gone.

When they told me, I could feel the blood rush to my face and my hearing begin to fade. I was completely stunned. My best friend, this perfect creature, had been torn away from me. As I stood there in disbelief, I felt completely lost. Who was I without her? How would I ever find another relationship as meaningful again? I walked through the world, numb with grief for months. I barely ate, barely slept. I felt like a stranger in my own skin.

I had nowhere to turn, so I turned inward. With time, I regained my sense of self and began to appreciate all the things she’d taught me about myself. Memories of our time together were the most precious gift I had; I cherished every moment. Bottled up inside me were stories that we had shared, so I started to write. At first it was like reopening a wound, but I needed to let it out. So I kept writing, as a tribute to her and for my own peace of mind. I found that once my thoughts got on paper, they haunted me less and I grew quite fond of them.

These beautiful stories were all I had left of her. I honor her by sharing our stories with you and your support has healed me. I’ve found my calling in life through her spirit.

2018: The Year of Heart

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We humans are funny beings, ascribing arbitrary meaning to dates and seasonal periods. For whatever reason, we chose to celebrate the coming of a year at this time of the winter (I know there’s some convoluted history behind that but let’s not get into it now).

We get all excited about this transition that happens in an instant. Boom, it’s a new year. Out with the old, in with new.

I don’t quite understand the timing of it and its significance has waned for me over the years, but I can appreciate the value in closing a chapter on your life, reviewing what happened in the past revolution around the sun, and anticipating the next one.

2017 was a pretty monumental year for me. I’d say the one word I could apply to everything that happened was transformational. I explored what life in NorCal could be like, went on an incredible trip to Israel, got a chance to befriend my new bestie and travel work husband, experienced Taiwan, China, and Japan with classmates, had a fun summer interning at Cisco, lost my way when I didn’t get a return offer, began to question my identity and dreams for the future, struggled to get back into recruiting, began therapy, threw myself into building a tribe of friends, lost connection with Panda, got involved with an incredible startup and found some purpose, had an amazing getaway to Mexico, and came home to VA after a year to turn 32.

The first half of the year was so much fun and wonderful. I was making so much of the MBA experience and having a great time. The second half of the year was full of challenges that I’m still working through. A series of events triggered an identity crisis for me and I found myself drifting aimlessly, listlessly. I was still functioning at the surface level, attending to my duties as a student, eating normally, and enjoying everything I could about the social part of my program. But deep inside, I was often overwhelmed and uncertain. I clung to whatever I could that made me happy or kept me distracted. I spoke to some friends about it and eventually started therapy, but it’s a process I’m still working through.

In light of all of that, I’m looking to 2018 being the year I lead with my heart. I spent too much time caring about what other people would think, how they perceived me, and what the world expects from me. I’m trying to get out of my own head and let me heart guide the way. I want to do what feels right and good. I want to express myself authentically and vulnerably so I attract the right people to my side. I want to figure out what I need to love myself.

I’m really looking forward to two classes I’m signed up to take that I hope will help me on this journey: Fostering Creativity and Leading with Mindfulness and Compassion. It’s been a tough path for me to disassociate myself from others and learn who I am, what I am on my own. I always think in terms of how I relate to others, how they react to me, and what they think of me. So who am I stripped of that? What do I think of myself? Who do I want to be? I’m hoping that a dive into my heart will help me find these answers. It feels incredibly selfish and self-centered, but I guess that’s exactly what I need right now.

Back to blogging

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I’m getting worse with this blogging thing. How did the entire month of November go by without a single post?! Somehow since midterm season, I’ve managed to not post at all. Well, now I’m done with finals and on a vacation so I should have more time over break!

There’s only one more semester left in my MBA and before I know it I’ll be back to the working world, no longer insulated from the realities of life. I’ve existed in this delightful bubble happily and I’m not looking forward to the uncertainties of leaving, but I’m making the most of my time left. It’s bittersweet in so many ways.

For now I’m just gonna enjoy my winter break and the rest of 2017. Here’s to more blogging in 2018! 🙂

Fade

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fade poem

I try to do things for me but I want to do them for you.

So your goals become mine and I forget who I am anymore.

Instant affinity

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Sometimes you meet someone and you’re instantly drawn to them. This has been happening to me a lot lately and I can think of many people over the course of my life like that.

Today I was volunteering at a Special Olympics Volleyball Tournament and met a nice man named Jim. He was helping with ref work because his daughter was volunteering as part of her volleyball team. At first it was a few quick exchanges that were friendly. After a few of those, we found ourselves having a conversation around our involvement in the event and our minimal knowledge of volleyball. We exchanged nice to meet yous and continued with our day, only saying bye when things were wrapping up.

There was a certain sweetenness and beauty to the ephemeral interaction we had. I will always think fondly of it and maybe we’ll encounter each other at another event, but there was no need to stay in touch beyond this. Strange how much peace that brings me.

On the other hand, I met a woman in another graduate program a few weeks ago and we hit it off immediately, after only talking for 2 minutes. We got in touch with each other and grabbed lunch together recently. Somehow I knew just 30 seconds into meeting her that I wanted to be friends and I could tell she felt similarly. How do we make these snap judgments? It’s fascinating to me.

In the microcosm of school, we’re able to get in touch without feeling like it’s creepy, but in the greater world it’s often a lot harder. Somehow people aren’t as comfortable and get spooked if you come on strong. It’s an interesting dynamic to contend with. I’m not sure how I would have reacted if Jim had asked to stay in touch. I certainly would have been open to it, but it may have been too much.

Have you had these kinds of encounters too? What do you think about them?

Value is arbitrary

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I’ve been having some fascinating conversations this week about what makes something valuable. I personally believe that value is a human construct – nothing inherently has value or not, but we assign meaning to each component of our lives. Of course, with people being as different as they are, this means that everything’s value can be interpreted vastly differently.

Granted, it’s not completely arbitrary and certain things are valued for their usefulness. However, we also have such different opinions on how important uses are that the prescribed value of anything could vacillate tremendously. I mean, just look at the stock market and VC funding.

This even extends to less tangible things like relationships and experiences. We each choose to put more or less value on the people in our lives and the activities we choose to do. Someone who sees a relationship as highly valuable will be more willing to invest energy into it. Someone who treasures certain experiences would be willing to spend more time and money on it.

This can be rather tenuous – the moment we change our minds about the worth of something, it shifts our world view. Just like that, we can stop caring and pay absolutely no heed to what was once a priority. We’re really just living in a world where people generally agree to certain standards. But at any point, that could all come crashing down on us if we stop believing in the worth of whatever it is that props it all up.

The world is what we make it to be…

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