Challenges during my early career development
Building a Career
Getting a late start on my career has created a great deal of pressure for me, but it is also a form of motivation. I have ran into many challenges that I can’t always solve on my own, so I’ve started to look for an outlet where I can meet like-minded people to grow together, and learn from those who have already succeeded in their careers. I am always curious — I want to know if other people have experienced the same challenges and how they overcame them. I believe Medium is a great way to explore new ideas and inspirations, to learn what everyone is doing, what stories they are sharing and how the community is supporting each other. I also believe that writing down my concerns can both help me see my own progress over time, as well as help others who may by in a similar situation.
Struggles and Challenges
I have a good start working as a UI and UX designer in the Bay Area, but what should I do to bring my talents and skills to the next level? What can I do to grow faster? Career development is not as easy as it seems for the successful people we know about. I have faced a number of challenges, including:
- Looking for Mentors
How can I find mentors?
I’ve had this question for a long time. I felt the urgent need to have mentors that I can look up to and learn from, and I wasn’t able to find one. I was unsure why it was so difficult to find mentors, until I attended a social event about women’s leadership in tech. I learned that as individuals, we don’t pick mentors, mentors pick us. Why? Simply because we have to show the value of ourselves being worth their time to mentor us. Never ask the “can you be my mentor?” question.
Sheryl Sandberg says:
“If someone has to ask the question, the answer is probably no. When someone finds the right mentor, it is obvious. The question becomes a statement. Chasing or forcing that connection rarely works.”
- Who can be a mentor to me?
I wanted to look for someone who is 10 steps ahead of me in my field (design), and someone who is energetic (in any field or role) and can inspire me to keep my head up and always move forward. It wasn’t easy to begin with, but over time as I have demonstrated my potential, I am able to reach out to certain people and get good advice and feedback from them.
How can I build a valuable and meaningful network? Everyone tells me to go out and network, and I try! As an event attendee, I always hope to meet cool, talented people at social events. Unfortunately, it is not easy to make friends as adult. The fear of rejection is strong, and it requires encouragement and effort to put myself out there, figuring out what to say to hold a conversation. There is no shortcut except to keep trying. Eventually it became a bit easier after I started to come in prepared, knowing who the speakers are and what questions I can ask, being curious during Q&A panels and making sure to follow up with speakers and panelists afterwards. It doesn’t always secure a connection, but any practice is good, and it boosts my confidence.
I always admire people who are able to flow at events and generate conversation, which often makes me wonder if my stories are just not interesting enough to receive as much attention. One of my personal goals for 2016 is to build up a professional network, so I have been attending social events quite frequently. The more events I go to, the more I recognize the importance of self-promotion — I should not be concerned about my background (as English is my 2nd language), what school I graduated from (not a top school), or what company I work for (a startup); rather, it is more about letting people know how I define myself, what value I can bring to others, and what make me interesting to them.
- Who Do I want to be
When people ask me this question, I cannot give a direct answer right away, and I think that is probably because of self-doubt about whether I am capable of doing what I want to do. What do I want and who do I really want to be? What’s possible? What’s holding me back from making a difference? Do people always have those answers ready?
As I realized don’t have the answer question, I started to ask myself more questions.
Questions I don’t have answers for yet
1. What are the compelling stories about myself?
2. What am I well-known for and good at?
3. What do I offer that’s significantly different from many others?
4. What skills, talents, abilities make me stand out?
Questions I have partial answers ready
5. What life experiences have shaped me in any special ways?
This answer won’t be short: having to work extra-hard to try to find a job and visa sponsorship in the US as a foreign student; the challenges I have faced and still face as a non-native English speaker, especially with public speaking; been looked down upon by certain people because I was an “artist” but not a “lawyer” for instance, and so on. All have shaped me into a stronger person and motivated me to be different and appreciated.
As I am writing, I’ve begun to figure out who I am — I am the daughter of a strong and successful female entrepreneur, who doesn’t have a well-educated background and doesn’t speak any English, but is so smart in many other ways and extremely driven not just stand out among her family, but also make sure her kids get all the education they wanted. I am the daughter of a talented and smart man, who is very humble but dreams of having his talents shine in any possible way he can, and consistently encourages me to keep trying and moving forward. Maybe that’s where I got my self-driven personality from, where I got my talents from; maybe all I need to do is push this question further to discover more about who I want to be.
6. What do I want to get out of social events?
I was asked this question today as I mentioned my concerns about not being good at networking. People go to social events for a purpose; what are my purposes?
I want to make friends who are genuine and care about what I do, and I like the experience and the knowledge that comes from interacting with people. I want to meet people who I can look up to and have conversations with them; I want to learn from them and grow into a better person and inspire others like they do. I want to support those people by providing value to them, too. The list goes on, and so will I!
Steve Jobs said:
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other people’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.
As I finish up this Medium post, I realize I still don’t have all the answers to my questions, but I plan on finding ways to figure them out.
Recently I decided to be part of SGA (Startups Greater Asia), where I will be able to organize events with the goal of building a cross-culture design/business meetup platform. Meanwhile, I need to stay on top of design trends, gain a deep understanding of what the tech industry is doing in design, and how they shape their businesses by integrating design culture. I’ll continue going to social events, stay focused and confident, and build a stronger network. Until I have the answers, I’ll follow my heart in pursuing those answers, and believe in myself!