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!