We are going to take a break from our usual conversations over social justice and identity, and focus on concerns that everyone has navigating though the real world. I hope that this Podcast episode will be of great value, particularly to our younger audience who are going through their own college and post-grad life struggles. Tune in to hear what advice Linh and I have to share for those who are looking to find their own meanings of happiness and success. Topics that we will be covering include choosing your college major, tips on finding the right work culture that fits you, and working with the time you have outside of school and work. Also, don't miss out what juicy things we have to say about living our twenties so far!
Linh Le, Smith College '15, is a close friend of mine. (Jess: aye, she wrote this) Originally from Vietnam, she went to the US when she was 16, and is currently working as a software developer in a financial firm in San Francisco. In college, she majored in Computer Science and minored in East Asian Literature and Languages (which she will tell you has no real value in the real world). When she's not working, she enjoys dancing and learning new things.
DID YOU KNOW that Project Voice was originally an idea conceived back in 2013-2014? Yes, Linh was the person I invited to co-host Project Voice with at that time and that should say a lot. Having conversations with her in the past has greatly inspired and pushed me to grow as a person - more specifically, as a speaker on topics I care about.
TRANSCRIBED BY CLAIRE TRAN
JESSICA NGUYEN, HOST: Today’s podcast is brought to you by Audible. Get a free audiobook download and 30 day free trial at audibletrial.com/projectvoice. Over 180,000 titles to choose from for your iPhone, Android, Kindle or MP3 player.
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NGUYEN: Hi, welcome to Project Voice! This is Jess again. Thank you for tuning in to listen to our latest episode. Here I have a very close friend of mine; her name is Linh. Hey Linh, how’s it going?
LINH LE, INTERVIEWEE: Hi Jess, um (LAUGHS) it’s been okay. Could be better but yeah, I’m doing fine for now.
NGUYEN: Yup, that’s the struggle. I mean, aren’t we all? Aren’t we all in the real world?
LE: Yeah, it is, it is a real world.
NGUYEN: So tell me a little bit about yourself. Why are you here? Just kidding, but yeah, just-
LE: (LAUGHS) I guess, I don’t know; hi everyone, my name is Linh. I was a Smith student, class of 2015. I majored in Computer Science and minored in East Asian Literature and Languages. Right now I’m working as a software developer in a financial services firm in the Bay Area. And I’ve been enjoying it so far.
NGUYEN: Cool, cool. So the reason why I wanted to invite you today is because I just wanted to hold a casual conversation for our younger audience, college students and high school students who are curious to know what it’s like to be in the real world, to work. You know, the nine to five lifestyle. (LAUGHS) And more specifically, even working in corporate. And everybody has their own paths that they’re pursuing and one of them is working in a corporate firm, big or small, (inaudible) that means a little different to everybody. And I want to know what it means to you. What does working in corporate mean to you? What does it entail?
LE: I mean, working in corporate is working in a company, in a big company, probably. There are a lot of images of a corporate workspace as like, a cold place where you are forced to work for long hours. For me, I’ve only worked in one corporation, which is where I’m currently working in, and I would say that I enjoy it so far. I enjoy it a lot. I really like the people. So what I’ve found in my one year and a half of working here is that, for now, two of the most important things for me are the people around me who I work with and the kind of work I’m doing. The people in my team, outside of my team, they are usually, most of them [are] usually very helpful, very nice. Because of our rotation program, I’ve had three managers so far and I have really liked all three of them. I have learned a lot from all three of them. As for the work, I mean I’m still learning a lot. I’m one year out of college, I’m still learning a lot about the technology about how to work with other people, about even presentation skills. How do you talk about what you did in a way that is both honest and impressive to other people? So things like that, right? So it has been a pretty great one year for learning and I know that in the future, in the near future, it will also be a very great opportunity. So that’s how it is to work in my company for me. I have heard negative and positive stories from friends who work in corporate, but I think that's personal experience.
NGUYEN: Yeah, you make a good point there. You hear both sides; some people love working in corporate. Some people find that it's not a good fit for them. Just because it's not a good fit for them doesn't mean that working in corporate is a terrible career decision, life decision.
LE: Right! And one thing to remember is that whatever decisions you're making now, it doesn't determine your career. It doesn't determine your life. Yeah, someone can be working in corporate and they might love it so much but in the next three years or five years, they find that they will be out in the startup world or in nonprofit or other careers. Maybe that's actually your calling. Somebody who doesn't like corporate in the beginning, like I've seen a lot of people who start at startups and then end up in corporate for whatever reason. And I'm sure they have their a reason. It's not a fixed decision; it's going to change your life whatever you decide to do now, but it's not going to change your life forever. You can always redo it.
NGUYEN: You brought up a good point too; like when determining whether a workplace is a good fit for you, whether you'll enjoy it. It's not only the type of work you'll be doing, what field or industry that you're focusing on, but also keep in mind the people that you're surrounding yourself with. So, carefully research who you'll be interacting with day to day in your work life is just as important, too. There are talks about work relationships--
LE: (LAUGHS) Those don’t work.
NGUYEN: Yeah, not the best.
LE: Yeah, I mean, a funny story is so one time - this was the very beginning of my work life. One time I had a stomach ache in the morning, so I had to come in late. So I had a stomach ache but I felt a little bit tired, sleep, and lazy, so after my stomach ache disappeared. I was watching Netflix for like 30 minutes because I didn't want to work then. So, I was late, I don't know, I came in at like 11 or something. And then I told myself, "Okay, Linh, what you did was not good, but you did it. So now you have to cover it. And you have to remember, if you see your manager, you gotta rub your stomach and say, ‘Ahh, it's still hurting.’ Whatever, right? And even when I was taking the elevator up to my floor, I still thinking that. But as my elevator door opened, I don't know why, but my manager, my previous manager, was standing right there. So I saw him for the first time that day. Here's the thing, we had a very good relationship; we were kind of friends in real life too, in outside life, too. The moment I saw him, I just smiled. I had a big smile on my face. And that's when I just completely forgot that I had to pretend I was stomach ache. I just smiled and said hello to him. And until after I did that, I said, "What the frick, Linh? Why did you do that?" But, here's the thing, that's how you know that you like the people you work with, right? That's how you know; they just make you smile. That's just a simple act.
NGUYEN: Yeah, I did work in corporate. I interned for a couple corporate companies and what I find from that experience is that yes, the work is very mentally stimulating and it's interesting. I used to dive into investment banking for a bit as well as wealth management but then I also realized that people are important to their fields and their beliefs, their interests.
LE: Well, I mean if it's something you realize that you don't like, then just what I learned is if you don't like that, write it down so that you know next time that if you find a team that's like that, then you probably wouldn't want to be on that team, right? Just learning from experience.
NGUYEN: Yeah, like if you can't find common ground with your team, then maybe it's not a good fit for you. I wanted to hear your take on the corporate world. What of corporate life makes it so appealing, like why did you choose to pursue it?
LE: Hm... Well, it's hard to say. I had an internship before, back home in Vietnam in my summer of junior year in college. I mean, I enjoyed it, it was a small office. It was a corporate. It was a branch off of the corporation, so I guess it was corporate. I guess what I'm saying is this is my first job, so technically this experience is the only experience I've had. And right now I am still enjoying it. So that's why I probably will be here until I don't enjoy it anymore and maybe that's when I will know what is ideal for me. So right now, I don't know if I can answer your question for you. Again, I will repeat what I like about my current job is the people and the work. Yeah, I get to meet pretty awesome people. I get to do a lot. I get to work on pretty great projects that are challenging for me. I probably will have an answer for you maybe in three years.
NGUYEN: (LAUGHS) I have to interview you again in three years.
LE: (LAUGHS) Yup.
NGUYEN: So okay. Before finding this job, before being offered this job, you probably had to go through many job application processes and interviews. What is your advice for those who are about to graduate, those who are applying for and interviewing other companies? What factors should they consider, take into account?
LE: So, the first thing for interviewing, for me, would be dress for the occasion. And just remember it's always better to dress up than to dress down. And this is especially important when you work in a corporation, right? As you probably can imagine. My company has an informal dress code, but if you're interviewing, it always looks better to wear a suit or if you don't have a suit, at least wear white shirts and work pants. And the second- another advice is to really know the company you're applying for, because here's the thing, companies are people would like to know, I mean it's the same as people, like people like people who are interested in them, right? So companies also like people who know about them, who show that they have done their research. So I think that's very important. Just don't email Google saying, "Hi, I'm very excited to be working at Apple," right? That's not going to fly. Another advice is, well I guess to really prepare. I don't know about other people, but one of my problems is that I usually don't prepare enough. Like a lot of the time I will just do maybe one third of the preparations I need to do and I would jump right into it. So anything, actually. And it has a good side and a bad side. Sometimes I jump in and I just do such a wonderful job, but sometimes I jump in without preparing and you know, everything just falls. So if you are like me, I would tell anyone who's like me to prepare for the interview and have a good resume. And there is a lot of help on the Internet on what is a good resume. But really, the resume is one of the first things anyone ever sees in your application, so it's really important to make a resume.
NGUYEN: Adding to that, how do you find which management style works for you?
LE: So, as a newcomer in the company, we get to rotate around different teams and I have had three managers so far. One of the advice that I have gotten from the senior people is to pay attention to how the manager is and to write down whatever you like about their actions and whatever you don't like about the actions. Like, some people like me. I like to be independent, I don't really want someone who would check on me every day. I don't want someone to keep asking me, "Hey Linh, how's the project going?" every single day. For me, micromanaging like that just kind of shows that they don't trust me enough. I usually would go to them and update them with the status. I would do that every day if needed, if it is an important project. But if it's not, then I would update them with whatever is necessary. They should ask me for updates when necessary, but just not too much. So that's one thing I learned, for example. So just pay attention and write down and just reflect after maybe three months into a team. Just sit down for fifteen minutes and really think what have you liked so far, what have you not liked so far and then write it down. And then six months into a team, and then a year into the team. Do it again and then you probably will have more information. Or sometimes the preferences might even change and that’s totally natural.
NGUYEN: Did you find that your background/upbringing influenced your career decisions?
LE: Yeah! Interesting. I'm a software engineer. Things that actually influenced my hobbies is the fact that my brother was interested in computers when I was way younger, when I was probably in elementary school I would see him dismantling a computer and putting it together and then I would see him being on the computer and using the Internet, this and that. That's how I got to using a computer and when the Internet came, I started making very simple blogs on websites just to share my interests. But that was in like 8th grade I think, and that's how I realized that I really like this feeling. So back then I would just [be] copying and pasting the code and then maybe change it up a little bit, I didn't know anything about HTML or CSS but that's what I was doing back then. And that's when I realized that I really like it. I was doing this thing where I didn't know what it was called and that was the thing that really impacted my decision. The funny thing is now that I am a software engineering, I don't do much front end. It depends on the kind of work I have and I am doing some front end now but I haven't done much front end, which was the thing that [got] me started on software engineering. But yeah, I really actually love the fact that I love doing what I do now to my brother's early hobbies.
NGUYEN: Cool. It was a good indicator of where you wanna go in the future. It's interesting that you followed through your childhood hobbies.
LE: Yeah, it was really weird. In 8th grade, I said that I would want to be a computer scientist. I had no idea what it was, but I thought I could be a scientist, do the stuff of making more science stuff. So that's what I wanted to do. But the thing is, as I got to 12th grade and first year in college- so, in 12th grade I took an engineering class and I kind of like it. For some mysterious reason I completely forgot about my previous dream and I started doing engineering for the first year and a half in college. And then in my sophomore year fall semester, I had to take a computer science class, which is Introduction to Python, and that's when I rediscovered my love for coding. And then I just dropped my previous major and changed another one, which I think was a very good decision. I would definitely not enjoy working as an engineer. A non-engineer who is not a computer engineer, I would not enjoy it. I know that.
NGUYEN: That's nice. I wish I was like you in terms of being more flexible with my academic decisions. I think going to Smith, I was adamant about majoring in economics and I stuck with it all four years. Looking back, if I could go back to college and if I had the opportunity to change my major I'd probably study something else like English.
LE: Hm. Well I don't know about your family, but just because you're Vietnamese American, and I'm Vietnamese, I feel like as Asians in general, we do have that pressure of taking some majors, of learning some majors that makes sense financially, right? I don't know if that's the reason that you chose economics.
NGUYEN: Oh, yeah. (LAUGHS)
LE: (LAUGHS) My parents actually wanted me to be a banker because it’s so good. Like being a banker is like such an easy job and you earn decent pay. I know they love me and I love them, but you know it's a generational difference and also the fact that I grew up in Vietnam and technically I left when I was 16 so my thinking is also different. But yeah, I think we've talked before on this, right? You do know that majors can mean while majors definitely help direct some initial career direction, it's not the reason. If you want to be a writer, that's what you're thinking about, right? With the Internet out here, you can start writing Medium or just writing your own blog posts and then somehow manages that. For me, college was not much about the major,; t was more about the experience of going there and being there and meeting friends, meeting you.
LE: Yeah. I don't know, I keep rambling, but I guess my point is what has happened can't be changed, but you can make some good out of it. Your never know right now maybe the jobs you're looking at have nothing to you with economics but they definitely are going to come back useful anytime because if you know how to manage, like how to deal with the market, with money, that's skills that some people don't even have in their lifetime, so it's probably going to come in (use) sometime.
NGUYEN: Yeah. That's something I constantly pound: the message of your major does not really matter. Sorry to say everyone. I mean, okay it really depends on what, who, what kind of career you want to pursue.
LE: So even if you wanted to be a lawyer, right, as far as I know, your major in undergrad doesn't matter. But yeah, that's just a tiny thing.
NGUYEN: Even for being a doctor, too, I know some people who major in English or the arts, and then ended up going to medical school after that and it's not really the major, it's more of the requirements that you have to fulfill that meet med school applications. I guess that applies to other specific grad schools. So don't think too much about the majors. Really look more into the requirements that you need to fulfill.
NGUYEN: In order to be eligible for.
LE: Look at the skills that you have that are marketable. Like for me right now it's coding, but I will be honest with you, I want to have more marketable skills. Look at what you do well and a lot of these things like they can't recognize what they do well because they come so easily to them. But in a lot of cases, whatever they do well is the skills that they can use to find a job. It also depends on how you phrase it.
NGUYEN: Yeah. I'll answer that. Like my advice for those of you who are still struggling over what major to pick in college. It would be to take the classes that you enjoy. Sometimes it's hard to, you know, go with that idea but I do find that if you do take the class that you enjoy that you actually are gaining a lot value out of, personal value out of, then you will not regret your college career. You're not gonna look back and be like, "Oh, I wish I could've taken this course.”
LE: So I'll be realistic here, okay? It is true that there are jobs that are easier to get than other jobs. That's definitely true. And there are also jobs that are easier to get as a fresh college graduate than other jobs. Like right now, software engineers are definitely in demand. Now let's say it's not easy to make when your major is not one of those jobs that are easy to find. But I would say many combined both advice like, combine your parents' advice of ‘well, go look at the jobs that make money!"’and combine your own wants and needs. Maybe you can major, you can double major, you can major and minor, or you can major in something and learn the other thing on the side. I know that a lot of companies would definitely appreciate well-rounded people like that.
NGUYEN: Yeah. Learning on the other side. Like, more specific, joining extracurricular activities. If you don't have the time to invest in an academic context, so you can definitely develop useful skills through your involvement in clubs and organizations in college and high school.
LE: And there are so many online classes right now. It just, there's so many online classes for just anything that you want to learn. It's ridiculous. If you have the Internet, if you have some time, some free time during the day, during the week, it's on you to learn them or not.
NGUYEN: Yeah. It's true. You can purchase a book; you said the Internet can offer so much value now that we have all this technology, why not take advantage of it? Like there are so many apps out there that you can download and learn on your own, like language apps.
LE: Yeah, and the good thing is a lot of it are free. So, again if you have the Internet - maybe you need a laptop or you can use your school's laptop, the public library's laptop, you can learn it.
NGUYEN: Yeah. Don't let your decisions to major or minor or whatever define who you are. Like, don't feel boxed in because you've declared a major or a minor or whatever. I mean, I think this message can even pertain to a bigger picture meaning that don't let your identity be defined by your title or--
LE: Right. The amount of income that you have.
NGUYEN: Yeah. Or your career, position, whatever. Remember that you yourself are the one who matters when it comes to what it means to be you. Like, who you are. Identify yourself.
LE: Yeah and I think that this is something that a lot of us who just started working like, a lot of us need to remember. I guess another danger is that sometimes you focus on the work too much, which is a good thing, right? But if you only do the work that you were given to you, that's when you're letting your work define you. Because that means that you don't have a hobby, you don't have something else for yourself. I kind of made that mistake last year when I was commuting like two hours a day.
NGUYEN: Oh, wow.
LE: Two hours two way to work. I would be so tired by the end of the day that I would just watch Netflix and sleep. That's it, that's just my routine, right? Which in that moment, I felt terrible. I felt horrible. Because I knew I was not doing anything productive with my time but I was so lazy and so tired. I'm just like, fuck everything, I'm gonna do this. But now that I have time to do other things because I'm living closer to my work, it's a lot better. Like, I know I am fulfilling my own needs. I'm learning things I want to learn aside from my work and I'm getting happier. I wasn't happier. I want to be better in my personal life as well as my work life. So really, everybody benefits.
NGUYEN: So true. That's a good leeway of my next question, how do you deal with corporate life 9-5? You've answered a bit already but, going more into details about what your hobbies are, what your interests are, and is it easy finding that balance?
LE: I'll talk about work-life balance first, because it seems like that's going to come up later. First of all, there's no such thing as work-life balance as people believe in it, right? When I talk to people or when I read online, it seems like work-life balance for some people means "I'm going to spend from 9-5, it's only work, and then from 6-9, it's like, family time; it's boyfriend/girlfriend time;it's kids time," whatever. Yeah, it can be like that and it probably should be but here's the truth. There will be times where you are struggling to meet a deadline, you're stressed out, you have too much responsibilities at work and maybe you might go back home 6-9 relax. But that doesn't really mean that you will not be affected. Does that make sense?
LE: So in those days, your days are probably all for work and I think as long as you don't let it get to you and you let it ruin your relationships, then that's fine. And there will be days where you experience something, like some hardships, some heartbreaks, or just any personal issue, your health issue. If you cannot focus on work, that's fine. It's never 80/20, meaning spending 80 percent of the time here and then 20 percent of the time here during the day. It's mostly like you put your effort in the things that need your attention right now. So that's work-life balance, I'll come back to 9-5. I just want to say that because I feel like my definition of work-life balance is different from other people. Anyway, so 9 to 5, funny thing is that I actually do work 9-5. I will prefer to work even earlier like 8 to maybe 8 to 5. The only problem is right now I'm still not able to wake up that early. But ideally I want to be there from 8 and I have more free time because I'm a morning person. So I find that if I work early and do my own thing and I go to work, then I have more time at work where my mind is completely fresh. S,o one thing to remember is that you're young, right? At least I'm young.
LE: And I'm assuming people listening to this are young, right? Sometimes ,you will need to work hard, like harder than expected, to prove yourself. And that's fine, right? So sometimes it's not going to be 9-5. And even the people, even the most senior people I have seen, some of them don't work 9-5. They have to work more hours, which I do not recommend. I really don't recommend. But just remember that sometimes you have to. Always keep yourself in check: "Hey, okay, I did my work today. But did I do something else that helps with my personal project? Did I do something else that helps with my personal development?" Remember to pay attention to yourself. And now the thing that I use to manage my work life is that I know a lot of people spend an hour and a half, a lot of people will have water cooler conversations, right? Which I used to do this before and it was enjoyable.
NGUYEN: Wait, so like conversations you have by the water cooler?
LE: Right. Just like, hey, I'm going to go get some water, but then when I get some water I see some colleagues, right? And then you go into this 30-minute conversation and then your time pass by. That's what I meant.
NGUYEN: (LAUGHS) I see.
LE: Yeah, so I used to do that, right? I have close friends who are colleagues and I enjoy talking to them during the day. Sometimes when I get stressed out, I used to just walk to their desk and talk and talk. And that's really enjoyable. But what I realized is if I keep doing that, I won't be able to stay really focused at work, I won't be able to deliver my best performance while still restricting my company time to normal hours. Does that make sense? Like the normal number of hours.
LE: Let's say if I had a task that I know I will have to do and will probably take me four hours to do in the afternoon. But because I'm only talking to my coworkers/friends for an hour, it means that I have to stay an hour late. Which, a lot of times I'm not willing to do it. So what I do is sometimes I allow myself to have these conversations but most of the time, I will just really focus on work and then if I need to connect with someone, I either do it outside of work like on the weekends if we are close friends, or I will have coffee with them and really talk to them. So, it's like that way I can design, I can plan my day ahead to know when to do what so that when I'm doing my work, I'm completely focused, but when I'm talking or going for coffee with this person, my attention is also completely 100% on them. That's one thing like, really do what you're doing rather than trying to do multiple things. I am really bad at multitasking and I don't believe in it. I don't think human brains are configured for that. So a second trick I really want to share is to take a nap every day.
LE: College students probably hear this phrase a lot, like, "I went to this class and I went home to take a nap and then went to another class," right? As students, we definitely take naps way more than working professionals.
NGUYEN: Oh, yeah.
LE: Right? Something funny since I'm from Vietnam, I don't know how the culture has changed but when I was there, even like two years ago, napping is still very accepted; lunch naps are still very accepted across the country in Vietnam. And really, I don't know why, but I think when I came to the US and I just heard people say all these things about napping, how naps are overrated or whatever, right? Or naps means your lazy. I stopped napping. And then when I get really tired and can't focus in the afternoon, I started trying to take a nap every day for 20 minutes two months ago. I started late but I started again and this is something I realized I'm never going to stop. Here's the thing. 20 minutes has been proven by science that it's good enough for a power nap. Right? You've probably heard that term before.
LE: And… and it's long enough for your brain to rest and refocus. So when I started doing this, right, it was hard in the beginning. 12:30pm, how the frick am I supposed to fall asleep, right?
LE: But here's the thing: it's just like a muscle. It's just like you train for a marathon. You have to keep doing it so that your brain gets the idea, right? Your brain gets that ‘okay, around 12:30pm I want to get sleepy,’ or "’he moment that I read a book I'm going to get sleepy,’ or something like that, right? It's the same as exercising or anything else, you've got to practice. In the first week or month, it was hard for me to fall asleep. So what I did was just closing my eyes and really try to meditate or just focus on my breath. And eventually I learned to sleep. Still now, there are days when I can't sleep. But even just the act of resting my eyes might make the rest of my day a lot better.
NGUYEN: Oh, wow.
LE: So yeah. I really recommend it. Believe me, 20 minutes, some people might say, "Oh my gosh, I'm not going to spend 20 minutes being lazy." Here's my theory. I would rather waste, in quotes, I would rather “waste,” 20 minutes and be efficient for the next four or five hours than not waste 20 minutes but then let my mind wander for the next five hours because I can't concentrate that much.
NGUYEN: That makes sense. Self-care is very important, I think. Oftentimes we let our work lives take over our health and we forget to keep in mind our basic needs and making sure to invest enough, just enough time to take care of ourselves
NGUYEN: Whether it's sleeping or eating healthy or exercising, self-care is definitely important. Not only for your physical well-being, but also your mental well-being.
LE: Yes. Remember, it's all about priorities, right? I mean I know that I have a pretty good job with pretty good managers so I don't know about other people. Like, they might be afraid that they will get fired if they take a day off because of their health issue or something, right? And so but I'll say most of the time, if you have a decent job, then just remember that you need to have priorities like there needs to be a limit. If you find that you keep canceling your doctor's appointments or you keep canceling going to the gym because you have an issue at work, that means that something needs to be changed. That means you are not putting your health equal or even more than your work. You're putting it after your work and for me, my health should always be the first thing. Doesn't matter; it needs to be the first, like my first priority. Because if I'm not healthy, I can't do anything. There should be things that are non-negotiable. It's hard to do it when you're young but I'm sure I will learn. Now that people will all eventually have to see that you have to have rules for yourself.
NGUYEN: Earning money is important, gaining experience as well, but we oftentimes forget that our time and energy are just as precious and we need to figure out what is worth investing in with your time and energy and what isn't. We can't have it all, unfortunately.
LE: Maybe you can if you find that your work is too demanding and your work is taking a toll on your health and then maybe that work's not meant for you. I mean, obviously, there are always compromises you have to do. But again, if you figure out which one is your priority, then I think you will probably find the things that you like. And when you find the things that you actually like and that work for you, then these compromises are okay. Does that make sense? Like these compromises might not even be compromises.
NGUYEN: They end up just benefiting you and that should be the case. For me, that's something, that's an important lesson I've learned recently. So I have a typical 9-5 job but in addition to that, I work as a freelance content creator so I work on projects that interest me but also benefit others. What I've learned from that experience is that I have to constantly remind myself: What am I trying to gain out of this? Am I benefiting out of this? Am I getting the experience that I want to get out of? First thing I wanted these projects to be beneficial for everyone. Your level of engagement or your level of interest in your projects, like, they may differ. Both sides’ willingness to invest in their time and energy can vary, can be different. For example, I may be more willing to invest more time and energy than the person who I'm collaborating with and there's this imbalance in this relationship, in this project and that can be problematic if you find that you're investing too much into it and not getting enough out of it. I would say it's okay if you're investing in this project and you're working very hard, maybe more than the other person but you're getting that experience that you want. Whatever you're trying to obtain from this project, go ahead, but just always making sure that you're doing this for yourself. As an economics major, one of the things I learned is that, it's common knowledge, but everyone is self-interested. That's the reality.
LE: That's right.
NGUYEN: It's great if you want to make an impact on the world and you have good intentions in your work, but at the same time, make sure that you're not sacrificing your health or your time or energy when it's not worth it.
LE: With my mom, because she taught me when I was younger that nothing is more important than my health, that it's better to take days off of school than to go to school sick. Like, that was her policy. So the thing I try to carry back with me as I go into the real world. Sometimes it's hard, but you just have to keep remembering that if I fall in the office, like if I just collapse in the office right now, right? That's going to be even a bigger problem because that means I don't finish this project and I have to be the hospital for days and I will have a new bill to pay. So it's really a lose-lose for anyone, everyone.
NGUYEN: Talking about moms and younger selves, what advice would you give to your college self?
LE: The first one that I can think of is to invest in the things that I like, to learn more things. I didn't do that as much when I was in school. When I look at all the different online classes that I can take, now I just wish that. Aw man, I should've taken all of these back when I was in college so that I will know even more what I like, what I don't like. So, try out different things. Maybe by taking classes, if you were me, so learning different things and you start early; learning different things and learning what you like and what you don't like. It's a way to invest in yourself that's going to pay off somehow. The second one is to know your resources, to be resourceful and to know how to manage your resources. When I became a senior in Smith, I realized that there are all these different financial funds I can apply for that I didn't use before. Charity funds in which they pay for our transportation and everything if you want to go to a different place, a different country to volunteer. I don't remember what it's called, but things like that, right? And that's the one thing that I didn't use. Sometimes I still kind of regret it, but yeah. (LAUGHS) We are lucky to go to a private school who's pretty well funded so I think it's nice to remember that you have the different resources that you should just take advantage of. And similarly, when you work in corporations, there is benefits that come with it that you should definitely take advantage of. Because again, that comes with your job, right? A lot of that is free. Yeah and another thing I would say is to take more classes that you want to take. I was pretty good with that, as in I actually spent the first year and a half taking engineering classes because as an engineering major in Smith, that's like the only major for which you have to start in first year. But then once I switched to computer science, I was able to take sociology, I could dance. I've always taken dance because I love dancing. Then I went to Japan and [took] nothing related to computer science for a year. Now that I look back at it, it was totally a bold move. So that's why I went back to Smith, I had to finish six computer science classes in two semesters. That's why I was unable to pick other classes I wanted to take such as theater, acting, more sociology, or more dancing. So I don't regret that because I got to go to Japan and that was really a very good experience for me, but really if you're in college, the thing is to not just focus on one thing. But to just branch out. Because college is the one time, is your time that you are allowed during college to experience and just don't waste that time.
NGUYEN: I can completely speak to my personal experience when it comes to that. College, don't focus on the economics. I want to stress that as much as possible. Don't invest all of your time in it. I mean, grades are important… um, to a point, you know, don't fail. (LAUGHS)
LE: (LAUGHS) Don't fail, because then, I think at some schools you have to pay to take the class again, right? So that's not going to be fun.
NGUYEN: Yeah, try to diversify your experiences when you're in college. It's supposed to be a time when you can explore. Don't feel pressured to, if your friends feel like they need to go around, don't feel pressured to. I would say I very much enjoyed my college experience. Yeah, I majored in economics but I got to be involved in many different kinds of organizations. VSA, we were both co-presidents.
LE: Oh yeah, whoo!
NGUYEN: Yeah, Vietnamese Students Association. Investment Club, what else? Oh my gosh.
NGUYEN: Oh, yeah. What else? Ummm...
LE: You were lame! You did not dance with me! (LAUGHS)
NGUYEN: (LAUGHS) I dance enough in VSA.
LE: SKDC! Oh, I miss SKDC.
NGUYEN: Some of the other classes like swimming or kickboxing.
LE: If you are able to physically, always take an exercising class in the semester. My adviser in college, he made sure that all his advisees to take at least one exercising class for each semester or else he doesn't let you register, which was always fine by me because I always wanted to take one dance class in a semester. And the thing is, taking physical classes just have you release all of the stress that are in your brain. It helps you declutter.
NGUYEN: Very true, I agree. And if you can't find the opportunities or spaces that fit you and your interests, you can always create them on your own. Like, you can start your own organization or club if you have other people who are interested in the same things as you. Or you can create your own project like I personally did. I had my own fashion blog. (LAUGHS)
LE: (LAUGHS) I really enjoy the fact that you have your own podcast. It's awesome. I'm really proud of you for doing this. It's really good.
NGUYEN: Aw, thank you. It's funny because, I would say that it stemmed from a journey or a series of projects that I embarked on for many years. It started from a community newsletter back in my hometown, and then I realized the importance of content creation from there. We're all these individual powerful beings who have this ability to make an impact on our community, on the world through our arts, through our makings and from that, from the newsletter to the fashion blog, which was really fun because as a econ who's taking a lot of more non-creative classes, the blog acted as a creative outlet. And then from there stemmed other projects that involved photography and videography and you know, like, the possibilities are endless. All you need is time, I think. All you need is time and energy and passion. If you're passionate enough to commit yourself to whatever interests you have besides the academics, then definitely go for it. Experiment with it. Spearhead with it. I always encourage my younger peers, including my sister, to not be afraid to initiate something that others haven't done before, because it's important to do what you want. Do what you love.
LE: That's true. One thing that I realized myself is that everything you do is a choice.
NGUYEN: Mm hmm.
LE: Right? Here, I understand that you know like, for example if you have a mental- here's the thing. This is what I learned when I was coping with my own mental health situation, too. It's that it’s not your fault that you have it, but it's on you how you deal with it. Every day, you are making a choice when you wake up. Every day when I get up, I'm waking up by my alarm. I can just stop it and go back to sleep and not show up for class and not show up for work. That's a decision that I make. Instead, if I get up and I go to work, then I made the decision to be there. Some people will say that I have to be there to get money, to pay the bills, but it means that you have made the decision that getting paid is important to you so that's why you have made the decision to get up for work every day. It's really like everything, I mean of course, there are things that other people do that you can't control. But how you deal with it is your choice. It’s hard to accept it sometimes but that's the truth. If you don't take responsibility for your actions, no one else will and shit might happen. You can do what you like, like a lot of times it will look like you can't because there are restrictions, but if you look hard enough, there should be ways.
NGUYEN: Yeah, preach. I would like to echo everything you said.
NGUYEN: (LAUGHS) Happiness is your choice. Only you can make yourself happy. You're the one who's responsible for your happiness.
LE: That's true. Like when you get dumped by a partner, right? A boyfriend, girlfriend, partner. It's reasonable to spend time and breathe the loss, right?
LE: It's reasonable to even be angry. It depends on how the situation was. Actually, even the moment you get dumped, right, how you react to it is all your choice. I don't know why I chose like a personal non-work related experience, but it's just a--
NGUYEN: That's fine. That's a real, that’s a real situation. Right?
LE: Yeah. (LAUGHS) And I think like, as you get older, to have something that you're going to have to experience. Just remember that whatever you're doing is your choice. You can't stop someone from dumping you but you can stop yourself from texting them.
NGUYEN: Yeah. To put it in another context, going off to college, I realized that I have all this time minus time for classes. All this time and it's up to you to figure out what to make of it. Don't sit in your room and watch Netflix.
NGUYEN: As tempting as it is. Oh, yeah. Watch TV shows. Yes, it's great, it can be relaxing sometimes. There are times when you need to challenge yourself and push yourself out of your comfort zone to meet new people, try new things you haven't tried before. That's how you grow and that's how you obtain happiness. That's how you become happy.
LE: You have to decide to be happy.
LE: Before becoming happy. Like, fake it until you make it. It's my life motto. Fake it until you make it. It's so true. I'm serious, that's how I'm going to live it. Talking about promotions, it's the same idea. You know in order to get promoted, you should be doing the work of the position that you want to get rather than your current work. It's all about faking it until you make it.
NGUYEN: Tell yourself that you're going to achieve that goal of yours and you stay committed to it regardless if you will get there.
LE: Don't just blindly follow your passions. Follow it in a smart way. If you want to learn coding for even work or something, you think that you're going to love it. Don't just pick up any coding class. Try to figure out what is the best way you're going to learn it: what kind of coding you want to do? What kinds of languages? Try different things and do what you like but do it consciously. I always go to Google when I have questions. (LAUGHS)
NGUYEN: Yeah. I think it's important to reflect.
LE: Right, reflect, yes.
NGUYEN: Yeah, [reflect] on the journey you're on. Sometimes you want to achieve a goal and along the way you realize that this may not be the goal you want to achieve or the dream that you're trying to obtain. It was a misperception. It turns out that it wasn't really for you. That's why there's such a thing as changing majors. There's such a thing as changing your minds about what career path to take. It's never too late once you acknowledge that there needs to be a change done. You just have to take action on it. I think that's the hardest step. Acknowledging that sometimes what you may think is the decision for you, and sometimes really a good decision or a decision that fits you personally, that speaks to you personally. That was a long one. (LAUGHS) So I guess like, I would like to switch it back to the present now. (LAUGHS) Have us talk a bit more about our 20s. (LAUGHS)
LE: (LAUGHS) Oh, our 20s.
NGUYEN: How does it feel to be in your 20s and how do you deal with the real world now? Yeah, I guess we can both take turns (LAUGHS) talking about this.
LE: Okay. You want to go first or do you want me to go first?
NGUYEN: You definitely, please. (LAUGHS)
LE: (LAUGHS) Well, I'm 23 right, so I'm still in the beginning of the 20s. One of the things that I tell myself constantly is to be patient with myself and to be nice to myself. People, especially women, young women, have a tendency to put too much on themselves, like I have to do this, I have to do that. They judge themselves too much, too often, and just end up overwhelming, pressuring themselves too much. I would say I am kind of like that. I have very, very high standards for myself, especially in the workplace. There will be times when I finish a project and I wasn't happy with it because I knew I didn't give 100% and I was upset. Then I talked to my manager and she said "You did really well. You did much better than I expected a new person would do all these things, right?" Because those things keep happen, I came to realize that when you're new, when you don't know yourself enough, you just have to be patient and really be open with yourself. Be nice to yourself. Don't beat yourself up over it, you know. I kind of beat myself up over not finishing a project which turned out to be a good one. It's important to stay modest. Obviously, it's important to have humility. But again, self-care at the top. Be nice to yourself. And once you are nice to yourself, you are kind to yourself, you can expend the love to other people around you. That sounds cheesy but yeah, that's what it is. What was the question, again? (LAUGHS)
NGUYEN: (LAUGHS) How does it feel to be in your 20s and how do you deal with real world?
LE: Oh, yeah. So being in my 20s, I'm lost. I'm going to tell you, I am lost. I am just fucking lost. I like what I'm doing now, but I still haven't found what I am super passionate about. I mean, I know that I might not need to. Some people want to have a passion. But some people want to have passions. And I think I'm the second type who have multiple passions and I want to try to find a way in which I can use all of them for myself. But that's not the point. It's okay to be lost. I'm lost in my work life. I'm kind of lost right now in my personal life. That is fine. I can't tell you how to get out of, getting lost because I'm still lost but just, you know. The 20s. The 20s are kind of weird, because that's when you're done being a teenager, you know? You're done with all those high school dramas and then, that's when you start to get out in the real world. But you're not a real adult yet. I mean, it depends on like, what kind of life you have, you know, but at least in my situation where once I got out of college, I got a job and I work, I pay for my own bills and everything, then what I can say is even though I'm doing all these adult things, I'm still shaping myself. I'm still developing myself. And that's definitely important to remember that the 20s- I think are a critical point for you to learn your stuff. I have a lot of coworkers who are in their 30s and that's what they talk about all the time, here's how it's going to go down. So, really take advantage of your 20s. Do as much of the things that you want to do. Sorry, it's about my life, right? My 20s?
NGUYEN: Yeah, it is. (LAUGHS)
LE: It's hard.
NGUYEN: (SIGHS) Yeah...
LE: It's hard when you are a big child. If that makes sense, like you're not an adult yet, but you're not a teenager. You're just a big teenager, or whatever term you'd use. It's hard. Um. What I do is that I try to give other women positive new things whenever they come, relationships, work problems, family problems. For the last thing about my 20s, I'm starting to really, I mean I already know, I'm starting to realize that family is very important. I have an uncle who is 31 and he said- he told me one time that when you reach 30, you're going to realize that too, that your family is- you love your family so much. In most cases, right? Even your family fucks up, you will still love them and you will want to spend time with them while you can. That's one thing that I realized but I'm also trying to work on. I don't want to forget my family because of work or because of boyfriend or because of something, right? Which is a mistake that I have made and we can make when we're young. Yeah, it's lost.
NGUYEN: One word to define your 20s: lost. (LAUGHS)
LE: It's true. You read about all these millionaires who have made millions and millions when they turn 25. I mean, that's rare. If you can do that, that's totally cool. That's good for you. But it's okay to be lost. It's okay to not know what you want to do, you know? Just do your thing.
NGUYEN: Yeah. My favorite quote is: "Not all who wander are lost." I try to keep it on my life, maybe we're all just wandering. (LAUGHS)
LE: Yeah, I mean maybe wandering, that's because you don't actually like it.
NGUYEN: Okay, it does get better as you get older. If you believe in that, it does, I think.
LE: I don't know if it gets better, but I will say that if you can learn from your past, then the way you deal with things will be better. You will grow into a better person. These are bigger things are better but at least you will grow into a better person and that's the important thing.
NGUYEN: Yeah, that's what I meant. You know, your 20s are not your perfect years, definitely not. It's supposed to be where you should be free to fuck up as much as you want. Therefore, it's better to make mistakes now than in your 30s or your 40s.
LE: That's what I was saying before, right? Like sometimes I make all these stupid mistakes and I just beat myself about it. But then I keep telling myself. At least I'm making the mistake now. At least, it wasn't a critical time. At least, I still can make up for it. That's just practice for the future when you really need to be a grown up or you really need to be calm or whatever.
NGUYEN: Yeah, your 20s, you covered many good points there. My take on my 20s, let's see.. Yeah, I am floating along, too, in every aspect of my life, really. And that's okay, I've actually come to accept it and come to embrace that constant change. What I've noticed recently is that there are ups and downs happening on this roller coaster ride that I didn't really ask to go on. Ha. Was not aware that I was on it until I graduated. Ha. It's a ride that I will be on for a while and it is okay. You're supposed to experience changes because that's how you're growing, again. Self-growth should always be your… should always be what you keep in mind. What are you doing in order to better yourself, in order to grow as a person? I think that's what it is. It's not about the stagnancy obviously. It's about being flexible and comfortable with change. I think over time, the more experience you have, the more comfortable you are with these changes. If we don't have growth, we're dead. I think I got this from, what I like to do personally is one, seek those who are older than me who have more experience than me, and that's probably why we come to appreciate our parents more the older we are because we finally understand what they’ve had to go through. It's very comforting to hear it from someone who knows what it's like growing up. Second, if you don't have people like that around, then sometimes it's just better to seek out a book or a podcast, right? I'm a huge podcast fan. Hence this series. I like the Quarter Life Crisis podcast; that's definitely a title that speaks to us. What you're doing, it's fine if you don't know where you're going. It's good that you are aware and accept that you are lost. I could honestly go on and on about this but you hear it from everyone. It's nice to know that everybody is going through the same obstacles, the same questions. My advice to others besides being flexible to change is to be curious about the world. Just being open to knowledge and pursing to whatever piques your interest because that is the beauty of life, especially at this time of age where technology allows you to gain access to so much information out there that it is an overload. It's overwhelming but at the same time, if you have multiple interests, it's definitely an advantage for you to have. Technology, that is. Being curious. Because it's not, you know, a lot of us feel like we have to change ourselves for one or two interests because of the time or energy you have, but in reality, having multiple interests is a norm. It's being a human. How you explore.
LE: Yeah. Just as long as you make sure that they are the things that you are really interested in. And… here's the thing. If you're planning to make money from it, then also make sure that it can be profitable. I have made decisions to stop certain interests, you know? Like playing ukulele. I have tried for a year or so to start playing the ukulele and whenever I try, I would just stop doing it because I was bored or whatever. And finally I said, "Okay, you know what Linh? It is certain that although you like the idea of playing music, you don't like playing ukulele, so just stop it. Stop wasting your time and do other hobbies." I think it's like as long as you can pinpoint exactly what makes you happy, it's okay to do multiple things. You don't have to be like other people to focus on only one thing and master it. You can do multiple things and you never know your background in these things can help you one day. Yeah. Can I add one thing?
LE: When you were mentioning the hardships. So I used to think- I consider myself and my friends told me, too, that I'm a pretty strong person, right? And I used to think that I am strong despite whatever happened to me in the past, for whatever problem happen in the past I rose above it and I became strong. But here's the thing, what I realized is I am strong because of what happened to me in the past. And that's how it's going to continue to be later on. Like if you don't have any hardships in life ever, you're going to be, I don't know. It's good to not know the pain in life. There are pains that I wouldn't wish on anyone else in life. But at the same time, if you don't go through the hardships, you probably wouldn't grow into a better person, which is what you were saying. Just wanted to share my personal thoughts.
NGUYEN: No, I'm on the same page as you. You need hardships to appreciate the blessings in your life. Be happier in parts of your life.
LE: That's true.
NGUYEN: Yeah. Happiness is without sadness.
LE: How would you know which one is sadness and which one is happiness if you don't know sadness, right? How do you know what is happiness? Sometimes I wonder what if there is a way to learn about these things without having to experience the bad things. What I do is I try to learn about things; I try to read about things to prevent them from happening or to get ready so when they happen, I know what to do. So like that's my preventative measures.
NGUYEN: I think I share the same mentality as you, trying to prepare myself in case of unexpected bad situations come up but you can never be prepared. We're all human, we have emotions. What I learned from this year, one of the biggest lessons I have learned, which I've addressed in my previous podcast, I think one of them would be like, your sadness is valid. You know? All your low points. I've learned to really see through, to be comfortable with my vulnerabilities and to be comfortable sharing them with others and some things I thought I had a good grasp on. Yes, I'm a strong independent woman, graduated from Smith; Smith has prepared me well. It was not the case at all. The real world really hit a lot of soft spots. I had come to really face them, be honest with myself for the first time. Even it's the truth or not. The ones I want to hear, the ones I want to acknowledge, but they're a part of me. And if I don't like it, I can always change it. Again, the first step is to acknowledge the truth. Find your truth. (LAUGHS)
LE: Here's the thing. You can't help how you feel, right? You might feel angry. You might feel petty. You might feel whatever, any of these feelings that are usually considered bad. You can't help feeling it. So what I learned is if I've already feeling bad, I'm already feeling jealousy, I'm already feeling angry, whatever, right? Why would I feel bad about feeling bad? Because that means now I have two layers of negative feelings.
NGUYEN: Mm hm.
LE: That's going to be even harder to stop myself from thinking those things, right? Like "Oh, I'm so mad at my partner for doing something," and then, "Oh, I feel bad for feeling bad." It's like, why are you apologizing for your feelings? No matter how ugly they are, that's who you are. It's better to notice your feelings, to understand yourself better than to try to suppress it. It's something that I'm trying and I've been trying to learn to do and I'm still not there yet but eventually.
NGUYEN: Yeah, that's something I'm trying to learn to do myself, too.
NGUYEN: One day we just accept them and we can't deal with everything.
LE: The faster you accept something, the faster you get to deal with it. So you don't waste the time in between of you feeling bad, you whatever.
LE: You don't waste that time. Again, time is valuable. When you feel bad about all these things, you are doing yourself a disservice because if you're lowering your self esteem, you're probably not thinking of your health. All these negative things that will have permanent effects on you. My mantra is to accept things and then deal with it.
NGUYEN: Yes. (LAUGHS)
LE: (LAUGHS) There are things that might be hard to accept, right? So, it's okay that it takes time to accept them. But just remember that the goal is to accept them because only when you accept something, can you proceed in the best way.
NGUYEN: Mm hmm. I want to snap to that. You are speaking to me right now, Linh. (LAUGHS) If I could describe 2016, because to me that is the biggest lesson I learned.
LE: It's hard!
NGUYEN: Yeah, it is.
LE: It's harder to accept the truth. Sometimes it's easier to just like, talking yourself down, it's easier to do all those things, right? Than accepting the truth. But accepting the truth is what helps.
NGUYEN: Find your truth, people, again. Find it. (BOTH LAUGH) So I think that was actually a list of excellent takeaways that we hope our listeners will gain.
LE: I don’t remember what I said. (LAUGHS)
NGUYEN: (LAUGHS) There’s just so much. It’s packed. I think we’ve gone an hour on this interview, which is great. This could be a special on the podcast series for anyone who either really wants words of advice or wants a motivating reminder for them. Honestly, I think I’d like to end this podcast episode with an offer for our audience. So if any of you have questions, I know that like, with every episode before I’ve always asked for your feedback but now if you have questions that you want us to answer one-on-one by email or on the podcast, please, please let us know. Yeah. We’d be happy to answer them or I’d be happy to invite other people to answer them. There’s so much to talk about as you can tell (LAUGHS). Yeah, please email us at email@example.com if you have any questions. And just wanted to thank you, Linh, for taking your time out tonight to talk to me and this is great. This is definitely different from the episodes we’ve had before, issues we’ve covered that pertain specifically to Asian American women. Our issues don’t just have to relate to our identity specifically, but maybe sometimes we just wantproblems we deal with day to day, problems we deal as normal human beings living in this kind of society to be answered. It doesn’t always have to be something that’s social justice-related or injustices that we face, but more real world problems.
LE: Social justice is important but think about this. How can you help other people when you can’t even help yourself?
NGUYEN: Hmm. Yeah.
LE: That’s just my thought. That’s what I live by. It’s not about being selfish; I’m not always “me, me, me, me, me.” But we talked about this before, like for example, if something’s taking too much of your time, you’re not taking care of yourself, whatever, then you just have to make the decision.
NGUYEN: Yeah. Alright. Thank you so much Linh. Thank you everybody out there who is tuning in to listen to our special today. We hope you gain a lot from this and we hope this is healing for you as well as for us. Just keep on living. See you next time. Bye!
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