It’s a joke because nothing I write is ever brief 😉 That’s why I migrated from pen to keyboard! I will split this into two parts for my brain’s sake and for readability; the first part will encompass high school through college, and the second part will be the juicy corporate life that follows.
I’ve worked a total of 13 jobs over the course of the last 12 years. In the most recent 3 roles I earned at least six figures plus benefits; the rest were either retail, contract, or internships. I’ve been laid off once but haven’t taken more than one month in between jobs to regroup. Six months ago, I quit my last role at Instacart and I have not felt this energized and content since 2017. Deleting the “Work” folder on my phone that housed my Slack, LinkedIn, Blind, Okta, and Zoom apps, was one of the most liberating moments of 2022. I even asked Mark to change his Slack notifications from the default tone (I call it the “card shuffle”) because just hearing it raises my heart rate. Now that I have the headspace, I’d like to reflect on the lessons I’ve learned ever since I started working.
I started my first job at the Exploratorium right around my 16th birthday in conjunction with tutoring math and science in my high school library. At the time my main interests were reading, writing, science, psychology, music, boxing, and art. I somehow made the time to do all of these things plus homework, in addition to taking Caltrain from San Mateo to SoMa, then riding the 30 Stockton from depot to terminal at Crissy Field for my 8 hour workday on weekends.
The Exploratorium deepened my love for art & science. Hanging out with scientists and children made me feel “normal”; the museum was a refuge from high school, where I was the nerdy band geek that didn’t fit in with any of the groups. Within the Explainers, everyone was a misfit but nobody cared. We were all there to learn, teach, socialize, and earn some biweekly bread. Robbie Powelson, Tamecia Wakefield, Liana Crouch, Hashim Anderson, Tom Tompkins, & Kiyoshi Okada are the friends I made there that still have a special place in my heart.
My job involved roaming the museum, interacting with visitors & exhibits, dissecting cow eyes, performing magic tricks, facilitating the Tinkering Studio and Drawing Board, the list goes on. We turned on the breakers at 10am and shooed visitors out at 5pm. I would then hang out with our janitor, an elderly Chinese woman who only spoke Cantonese. She would grab the leftover pizza from our cafeteria and wait for me to clock out so we could eat together. I loved my days so much that I endured the 2.5 hours of daily commute and returned a few years later to help with the move to Pier 15. Tom Tompkins helped me with my Rube Goldberg project and took me on as his apprentice in the Machine Shop – follow the link if you’re curious what exhibits I’ve worked on. If you’ve been to the Exploratorium, I’d love to know what your favorite exhibit is! 🙂
College was a rude awakening for me. My naivete led me to enrolling as a biomedical engineering major at UC Davis. I figured that if I went to such an isolated university, I would avoid boredom by powering through the 225 units for my major and be well on my way to making prosthetics for animals. I also worked in a lab within the Food Science department out of personal interest, studying food texture and the effects of food processing on the interactions of its components. I burned out within my first year and dropped out in response to a mental health crisis. Without my museum job or school, I felt purposeless.
I realized after working in a lab that no matter how interesting the topic, I needed more social interaction to be happy in a job. I moved back home and enrolled in a frontend development immersive while working at Uniqlo. My team opened the Hillsdale Mall store and I survived until the holiday season. Working in retail at a highly demanding Japanese fast fashion company deserves its own blog post, but if you are reading this, I plead with you to opt out of fast fashion! I don’t know about you but I don’t want my clothing stained with slave labor. They were sued by a former employee and I received a check as part of the settlement; that was honestly the highlight of my time there.
I got a job as a medical assistant at a private practice after a few months of working at the mall. I enjoyed being able to sit at a desk for most of my day but also having 12-15 somewhat meaningful 1:1 interactions with patients daily. I loved the doctor I worked for. She gave me my first raise ever after 3 months with her full time. I stayed with her as I contemplated being an EMT, but once I saw blood I knew it was not my cup of tea. My mom never wanted me to work in healthcare like her anyway; something about my Myers Briggs.
After completing my immersive, I did a stint in quality assurance. I was excited to dabble in programming and promised that I would get to work on a high impact Salesforce deployment project. What I did not know was that my manager wanted me to click buttons all day, not write any scripts to automate my work, and not interact with engineering whatsoever. My first foray into the corporate world left me utterly bored and disillusioned, and I quit within 6 months. I made a resolution to finish college no matter how difficult or expensive because I did not want to do QA. And I did not have the discipline or mentorship to delve further into my frontend dev knowledge.
Fast forward to my transfer to UC San Diego (Yippee!) following a few quarters at Foothill College. I had failed so many times by then that I knew it was my time to shine. I joined a business organization, got an internship at a startup, and trained boxing every chance I got until I became president of the club. I focused on staying fit because I knew by then how fragile my mind became when I chose to be inactive. Because of my internship, I got to hang out with somewhat responsible adults which balanced out the frat-like partying of college. My phone alerted me 15 minutes before the sunset every day and I diligently jogged to Torrey Pines Gliderport to watch the sky light up. I truly didn’t want this part of my life to end.
Thanks to my ADHD and curious mind, I had worked 8 jobs by my final year of college. I was ready to take a break from work and focus on myself for a few months, so I enrolled to study abroad in Australia at UNSW. My international business program gave me a lot of freedom to do fun things that my engineering program made near impossible. My approved curriculum consisted of Marketing Fundamentals, Organisational Economics, Retirement Saving & Spending, and International Business & Government – all within the UNSW School of Economics. I started daydreaming of surfing and watching kangaroo boxing while snacking on vegemite crackers after class.
I received the shortest and most impactful email of my life two months before my flight to Sydney. “Offer with the New York Times” was the subject, and there were only three sentences in the body with a 212 phone number after the signature. I choked on my tea and my Business Leadership professor gave me the side eye. It had been so long since my 30 minute phone call with an NYT marketing manager, that I had almost forgotten about it. I didn’t even apply to a job – an exec came to speak to my business club (Phi Beta Lambda) 6 months earlier. I don’t even remember his name or the talk, but I shook his hand and slipped him my resume at the end. By then I learned to not get my hopes up about most things but I still continued trying.
I called my mentor Freddy Silva right after class and asked him for his thoughts on choosing to continue with my UNSW study abroad plans, or uprooting myself to NYC. “The Times?! Are you kidding? Australia will always be there, but the Times doesn’t wait for anybody.” I love Freddy for always helping me look at the bigger picture. Sometimes I know what I want but I just need a push to make big decisions like this.
The next two months was a blur. In short, I accepted the offer, withdrew from the UNSW program, found housing in Manhattan, switched to studying law in France for the semester following NYC, took my finals a week early thanks to my amazing professors, and put all my belongings in storage except for one suitcase & backpack. In Chinese, we have an idiom “人山人海” that directly translates to “people mountain people sea”. That’s how I felt upon seeing the hordes of people at JFK and subsequently my one mile walk to the very center of Times Square. I remember collapsing on my couch after orientation, overwhelmed with tasks such as reading Chip Heath’s Made to Stick within week 1. The city and my intern cohort gave me my first taste of imposters syndrome.
“Your grit will take you far in life,” Sam Sifton said with a laugh when I finally sat down in his office in July of 2016. He canceled the 1:1 I scheduled with him 4 times but I kept rescheduling until he conceded. At the time I dreamed of becoming a food critic and eventually an editor like him. I had already met with Tejal Rao, Florence Fabricant, and the elusive Pete Wells by then (there were no pictures of him online and he hated press attention). I stayed in “my lane” consistently working day in and out on the 4 E2E marketing projects my manager gave me, but NYT Cooking was my passion project. Here’s a link to my Qualtrics survey that nobody has bothered taking down yet. Don’t @ me if it is broken 😉 I will leave it at that because I don’t remember if I signed an NDA.
My uncle passed away in the middle of my internship (fuck cancer) and I honestly don’t remember much about what happened in the weeks before I flew to Paris. I do know that I started drinking a lot more but managed to stay high functioning. Between the brilliant friends I worked alongside, the journalists that dedicated their time to mentoring me, and the partying I squeezed in, I reflect very fondly upon my summer in NYC. Sometimes it was growth, sometimes it was a struggle for survival – and so it goes!
See you in part deux 🙂