A Lesson on Being Yourself

the grass is ALWAYS greener on the other side, my friends.

this post is for everyone, but mainly, it's for me. I need to be reminded of this quite often, you know.

in this post i will cover:

  • -the grass being greener on the other side

  • -tradeoffs

  • -being yourself

Also, I just drank vietnamese coffee and now i feel like i need to type furiously or else i have too much energy so I am going to write this entire thing in one go and not go back/edit or reread. so please bear with me on the capitalization and/or spelling and just read on!

when i worked in big 4, i thought that the BEST THING ever would be to work in "industry". Industry just means that you aren't client-facing and you work for the clients. I also felt that if I just made $20K more, I would be way, way happier.

So fast forward a few months and that happened. I was making more working in industry and I was excited!! Sort of. I was excited to do something that was more in line with my goals, but I learned very quickly that there are TRADEOFFS in life in everything you do.

For example, when I worked in Dallas, I had the most chill yet awesomely collaborative environment ever. I was head over heels in love with my badass female boss who to this day I still cherish and keep in touch with. I felt like everyone at work was nice and I felt super confident and happy being my authentic self. Looking back, I really lucked out in my first corporate experience. I could have seen myself going to partner level if not for the CPA/EA requirement (I was not an Accounting student).

But I wanted to move to New York. It was always my dream and I was getting pretty bored in Dallas outside of work. I wasn't growing and even though I spent all my free time either exercising, hanging out with friends, or writing (I wrote a poetry book and collection of short essays about my childhood/thoughts on life), I felt like something was missing. I wasn't inspired.

Once I moved to New York, the tradeoff was HELLO inspiring city, but BYE BYE to inspiring team. All of the really great mentorship I had in Dallas was now gone and replaced by a very work hard/"don't talk to me" type of new manager. She literally worked until 3am or later every single day and even told me that the most satisfaction she received from her day was knowing that she could sleep having given all of her clients great work.

My mind was blown. What?!?!?!??!?!?

This was a huge juxtaposition from my Dallas team that spent a lot of time with their families, on hobbies, on clubs (extracurricular clubs, not dance clubs, and exuded PASSION.

On top of that, everyone on the team was planning to quit or actively (and I mean ACTIVELY) interviewing to leave.

I sat in this makeshift office (sometimes the closet turned into an office with no windows) and did random tax work all day. Needless to say, I got depressed. It was like every ounce of my being was saying....this is not the job for you. This is not the environment you want to be in.

I looked at my coworkers who genuinely liked their jobs and had a great time sitting in that closet and wondered to myself, "What's wrong with me? This is a pretty decent job and honestly, I can't complain about much."

You see, as a child, there are two kinds of hobbies in life.... the kind that will MAKE YOU MONEY and the kind that will MAKE YOU NO MONEY. I was always great at the ones that make you no money. I was naturally great at Literature, English, History — anything with stories, I was fine. I could write 17 page papers in a few hours and still get A's. I didn't need to edit or re-read. It was whatever. I loved doing that kind of stuff.

But physics or any sort of complicated math? Snooze. It wasn't that I couldn't understand. It was that I found no deep connection to it and therefore found it boring. Once I find something boring, it's very very hard for me to put in the time and effort into learning it.

And here I was in this role where it was extremely, extremely boring. I tried my best, but it just wasn't working out. I called my entire team in Dallas and let them know how I felt and to be honest, they supported me 100%. Thank you, family.

Now back to the tradeoff part that I mentioned earlier. Fast forward to my next role at a bulge-bracket bank (I believe that's what you call it — I just call it a bank or financial services firm). The pro about working in consulting/financial services earlier is that your projects CAN CHANGE. Nothing is permanent! You have the illusion that you can always change clients, teams, projects, branches. In industry though, you're set. This is your team and this is your job that you will do every day. There's no illusion of change and there's no deadline or billable hour so you have a lot of time to do whatever you need to do in comparison. Also working for a bank I didn't even have a work laptop.

Being in tax consulting previously, I was kind of silo-ed. I wasn't in a position to be picky with my next role, but I wanted something a bit more creative or could teach me skills that would open up more doors. So I went into Data.

And that was the beginning of the decline.

Well, first I should talk about what was great. My original manager (the one who hired me) was great. We were a very complementary team. She was technically strong and I was enthusiastic and strong in public speaking/presenting/storytelling. Together we were Batman and Robin. I was pretty happy. She was so sweet and I'm the type of person where when I get along with a manager, she is now my FAMILY. Dude, I will do anything for family.

Anyways, long story short, she lost her visa to stay in America. And that's when all the problems and sh*t show began.

She started managing me from a country that has a time difference of 13 HOURS from NYC. She did her best. I did my best. We eventually found a system that worked through FaceTime and even onboarded a new hire to the team who was really great at coding. Omg, it was great. We felt like a family and she really understood what each of us liked and didn't like and pushed us in that direction. I almost cried in one meeting when she described each of us and she knew us so well!

Okay. So. Then the crazy work politics began.

I'm not sure what the heck was happening in the background but lurking in the weeds was a tiger who was trying to destroy/eat our team. It was actually the most shocking and horrifying experience I have lived through in a corporate setting and was traumatically scarring. I went to therapy; I wrote copious amounts of notes (COPIOUS. As in I could publish a book on all the stuff that happened) and had panic attacks for the first time in my life.

Next to our team (all Asians) was a team of all Caucasians. They were all very similar in that they all had very affluent dads and were all born and raised in NY/NJ. This team's manager was up for promotion against my manager. His team was okay. I wouldn't say they were very strong in anything and to be quite honest, they were of mild intelligence. But nothing against them. From just the people at the bank, I do think immigrants or people of Asian background grow up with a certain type of hunger that pushes them to want to do more, be more, learn more, whereas some of the people who have lived in America for ages in very comfortable lifestyles tend to just coast sometimes because they’ve always had comfort. That was kind of this team, except for the manager who was very HUNGRY for promotion.

He started sabotaging my manager in any way he could. He couldn't attack her technical skills, because she was much stronger in that field, but he could attack her leadership/management skills. And the #1 target and way to do that was to target me.

On the outside, he had the most chill/easy-going persona, but on the inside, he was recording down my every movement. I found this out when my manager called me to let me know that someone had spotted me reading at work and taken a picture and sent it to our Executive Director. My first instinct was this other person on our team who sometimes trolls me for fun, but he swore it wasn't him and that it would be really serious for him to do that. "No, Stephanie, that's not good," he said. "Whoever did that is actually out to get you."

I narrowed it down one by one and then it hit me that it was someone I would have never expected—the chill/casual tall ex-frat guy sitting RIGHT next to me.

It was a bit chilling to realize that all of a sudden a monster is right behind you and has been watching you for a while.

After that, my coworker would let me know that every time he walked behind me, he would stare for a while at my screen to see what I was looking at. Since I had my screen monitored 24/7, I just kept my work up at all times.

Then, he would notice when I was away from my desk. If I was gone for "too long", he would ask my coworker where I was. One day I was with developers working on a digital product downstairs and he got upset that I wasn't at my desk. He wanted me to work at my desk and only my desk.

While this was happening, he also wanted me on his team. And I realize now that he didn't actually want me on his team. What he wanted was for my manager to be team-less and have no direct reports, which is what ended up happening when he had planted enough seeds of "evidence" that she was a bad manager from abroad.

Writing all of this is pretty triggering and brings back a lot of bad feelings again. My blood starts boiling. I am very protective of my team and team members and when I see this kind of injustice occur, I get extremely upset especially when I can't do anything about it.

Once I was on his team, he started attacking my work. This email had a word that would confuse developers or that email could have had more bullets. I had to send him an email for approval before sending out any other emails. Sometimes hours would go by before he approved the email which meant I delayed my response to the teams by hours. I asked the developers if my emails ever confused them and they said "no, not at all." If anything, my emails only confused my manager at best, because he lacked the technical expertise and also didn't really care to learn.

He joined every single one of my meetings with product managers — meetings that my previous manager had given me the freedom and responsibility to take over because I had earned her trust. Once he joined, he released me from those projects. The product managers would sometimes try to recreate meetings without him just to add me back in, but it was no use. He strictly told me to add him to every single meeting and I had to obey.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

You know how they say you can't appreciate the sun without rain? That's so true. During this difficult period of my life where a lot of ethics and integrity was questioned, I was slapped hard in the face. I was in this situation because I didn't clearly state what I wanted to myself and because I was too nice to say anything about it. All of my life I wanted to be in the arts and I put myself into some kind of corporate bubble and forced myself to be someone that I wasn't. I was a chameleon and I fit in easily, but I was also an easy target. Not once did I speak up about his bully-ish tactics because I was scared and because I didn't have anyone mentoring me, telling me that I could.

Can I work hard? Yeah. Can I write an email? Duh. Can I learn Excel? Sure. These are all things that are easily teachable and coachable and most people can do these things, which is why there are millions of jobs in the world that are just office-style work.

But at the end of the day, the MOST important thing to me are the people. The people are what inspire me, get me out of bed, get me to do the mundane/routine tasks and other people are what make work meaningful. When I have no team, I have nothing.

What I should have done in college was try to discover and explore. What I should have done when I tried to leave my previous company was ask about the culture. What I should have done was be more specific about what I wanted.

But the thing is that I wouldn't have known. You don't know until you try. You don't know until you gain more experiences. There are a lot of things in life I don't know, but the #1 thing I should be trying to understand is to know myself better. And these past two years have taught me more about myself than ever before.

It's okay to not do what other people are doing. It's okay to be yourself. But you need to know who "yourself" is, before you can be her.

The journey in life continues!

New York: The Ultimate Saleswoman

Something that I struggle with in New York is the idea of not being or doing enough. It’s not that I compare myself to others, but rather, it’s the fact that New York is great at selling you the idea of perfection and “success”. I think New York is the world’s greatest marketer because you really are paying for an experience or feeling whenever you come here.

New York City

The SELL: You are on fire. Your job is rewarding, high-paying, and you work with the brightest and most passionate people out there.

The REALITY: There is some component of your job that you hate and you work with some pretty robotic privileged people. There is no such thing as a free lunch and you pay for everything you get in some way, shape, or form.

The SELL: You have endless energy to work 80 hour weeks, drink 3X a week on rooftop bars, and you’re taxi-ing from Eleven Madison Park to Per Se every weekend in between shopping at Chanel for your parents!

The REALITY: You are pretty tired from working and the idea of going out isn’t fun except for special occasions. It costs $10 to leave your apartment and $20 for a cocktail and $500 later, you have no money.

The SELL: The subway means endless opportunities to travel and hustle about the city!

The REALITY: The next train is 18 minutes away and it’s packed from delays so your nose is now touching someone’s armpit. The last time the NYC Metro was cleaned was in 1828 and your white shoes are now black. Congrats.

The SELL: There are a million people here so you’ll definitely find a significant other fast!

The REALITY: New York is known to be lonely for a reason.

The SELL: You’ll walk a lot and therefore be super skinny!

The REALITY: You’ll walk a lot, but you’ll also drink and eat out a lot.

The SELL: You pay more in rent, but you also get paid more!

The REALITY: Except for people in Finance, this doesn’t really apply. It’s more that some jobs exist here that don’t exist anywhere else. For example, if you want to work at Saks Fifth Avenue, you’re going to be in New York whether you like it or not, but they’re not necessarily going to give you $100,000 just to do entry-level positions to pay your $2,000 Manhattan rent.

The Real SELL that you don’t see: Learning to find a way to YES. You find a way to make it work; to pay rent; to get to your destination when 3/4 of your transportation options are out of the picture. It isn’t all glitz & glam, but that’s kinda what makes this city interesting.

A very personal 1.5 year anecdote to NY

It’s been a short 1.5 years so far since I first officially moved to New York and it’s been an incredible ride. I’ve learned more about who I am and what my values are here more than ever. Such milestones come at steep prices, a price we’re willing to sacrifice, and I think that I can now give a more full,/3D picture of what New York encompasses.

When I first moved here, I was infatuated with a city in all its glory. Like the start of a crush or relationship, my relationship with New York at first meant noticing only the good things about the city. Anything that was bad, I accepted as part of the package and I was absolutely in love with the energy, the fast-paced lifestyle, and endless opportunities of things to do. I went to so many events that fueled my passions related to topics like fashion, art, history, startups, tech, literature, and so on. It seemed like I was meeting lots of people every day and they were so cool! so unique! so different from texas! Although I never talked to most of them again, they all made their marks on me in a little way.

1.5 years later, though, I have a more realistic grasp of the city and in a weird way, it’s taught me a lot about being grateful and taking the time to appreciate the bare bones of my life. Being in a fast-paced city, I now appreciate the act of slowing down and just relaxing for the first time ever. I understand the concept of “the grass is always greener on the other side” because no matter what you get here, you will always want more and never feel good enough. I think that’s the common trait that bonds New Yorkers — we ask ourselves ‘are we genuinely happy'?’ Are we content? It’s hard to be content in a city where everything is always bigger and better today than it was 5 minutes ago. The city tries very hard to outdo itself in everything and you’re not an exception. We pay $20 for cocktails to live in the greatest city in the world to us and accept that we might have the worst subway system. We feel this void within us day by day that gets pushed away by the distraction of working long hours. It’s a grimey, concrete jungle and the animal kingdom isn’t nice or patient, especially here.

There was an article about how New Yorkers love crying in public. But only because they are never truly in private. You’re either at work, on the subway, on the street, in an Uber, at a restaurant or bar. Most of the time you’re in public. And yet you don’t know most of the people around you. You get used to seeing others as strangers, not as friends. You may meet many new people, but only a handful will click with you enough to remain friends. People come and go; events come and go; winter comes and goes and before you know it, it’s winter again. Eventually after some time, everything becomes the same,…

…except you.

This entire time you’re growing & learning & figuring out who you are again. I’m a firm believer that you change the most in periods of discomfort and every other day I’m in discomfort about something. There’s a reason why NY is in love with CBD oil and will gladly wave $20 in the air for anything that encourages relaxation and calmness. It’s because we really need it. The anxiety of real-life events & growing up is too real.

I wouldn’t say that New York is kind to those who aren’t comparatively wealthy. Some cities are kind and gentle to the ones who don’t have extra spending money. New York is not one of them. They take the $5 you have and tell you, well because you don’t have $10, you can’t have a window. You can’t have a W/D. You can’t have easy subway access on the weekend into Manhattan. Each dollar that you lack is another notch on the suffering scale and the threshold for comfort is pretty high. To buy an apartment in Manhattan you need around, let’s say, $1 million. Even then you are only average at best and still probably not good enough. A realtor won’t be impressed with your $1 million—but you learn that in New York no one will be impressed by anything. You aren’t living to impress.

The biggest takeaway I’ve had from my time here so far is to stand my ground and to never take no for an answer. Being a fairly easy-going, pushover type of person in the past, I learned pretty quickly that if you don’t fight for yourself here, you aren’t getting that window. You won’t make it onto the subway in time for your job and your boss won’t forgive you for being late. Every decision has consequences and you’re the boss of your own life. In the past, I took whatever life gave me and tried to make the most of it. Here you will get thrown with so much sh*t that you have to be more responsible for your journey. It’s up to you to stop hanging out with people who don’t really add inspiration to your life and find those that do or to say no to a job that seems stable and nice, but is toxic and drains the energy out of you. You are never trapped as long as you keep fighting.

Eventually people stop fighting and move back home or move to a calmer, less intense place. For now though, I wouldn’t trade this for any other place in the world. I wanted to move out of Texas to learn about myself & be in situations that I hadn’t been in before. I wanted easy access to great food, shows, events, opportunities. I wanted something more. Someone once told me that you don’t want easy. You want hard difficult things because that’s when you grow the most. We’re all learning together and finding out that the thing that connects humans to each other isn’t the easy stuff, but the messy, difficult things that take who you are and make you better.

The Age of Mediocrity

The Age of Mediocrity

When we were young, we dreamed of being doctors, teachers, Sea World trainers, and astronauts. More likely than not, we didn’t know that the jobs you and I are in even existed. No 4-year-old is going to say “I want to grow up to be a data scientist!” or “I want to go into Private Equity.” We would only learn years later that roles like Account Executive (Sales) or Business Analyst or Consulting are real.