4 Lessons from a Quarter in New York

tldr; I was kind of dumb before and now am a little less dumb and a little more equipped to be in the world after graduation

Hello hello again dear reader! It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged. Not because I haven’t been up to very much, but because I think I reached a point in my life where I needed to be quiet and listen to the universe for a little bit before I tried to say anything else. Listening has gone well, and I think I’m ready to talk again (with the internet? with the blogosphere? idk)

Anyway, a lot has happened since I last updated this blog, and a LOT has been learned. I’ve been in New York City for the past two and a half months with the Stanford in New York program. As part of the program, I intern at the New York City Commission on Human Rights, which is the branch of city government that enforces anti-discrimination laws, four days a week, and have classes and field trips on Wednesdays.

Now I love my life at Stanford, but New York City has been amazing in helping me gain some perspective and also just get a much needed break from undergrad life. Seriously. My Sundays went from looking like this:

SUNDAY

9-11 SOC paper, ling paper, autobiography reading
11-1 Spoken Word brunch
1-3 SYZ exec meeting
3-5 Stanford Marketing group meeting
5-7 Akasma dance practice
7-8 SYZ house meeting
8-9 Hash
9-11 Finish SOC, law app, siny internship research, do laundry, go to gym if time
(this is copy and pasted from an actual day in winter quarter. sundays suck lol)

to this:

SUNDAY

– pick up oranges and bread
– running in prospect park!
– poke for dinner w Cheng-Hau
(this was two sundays ago. lovely)

I’ve had a lot more time to think about what I want to prioritize in my life, and also a lot more autonomy in deciding how and where I put my time into. I’ve really enjoyed the SINY program because it’s way more chill than being on campus, but also not so chill that I start pulling my hair out from boredom and/or lack of structure. 32 hours of work a week + 13 units of classes + NO EXTRACURRICULARS!?!?! Wonderful.

Outside of work, I’ve spent my time dancing, exercising, exploring the city, meeting up with many, many old friends, writing poetry, and also working on a short film for a competition! In other words, I’ve had a chance to do a trial run of my life after college, and it’s been eye opening on so many different levels. I have a better sense of what type of work I love, what the things I want to prioritize in my life, and where I want to be after college (physically but also spiritually). In an effort to clarify some of the things on my mind, I present to you the following:

4 LESSONS FROM A QUARTER IN NEW YORK

 

Lesson # 1: I can be ambitious and hardworking and successful in industries and jobs that aren’t traditionally prestigious or high power.

The contradiction in my person usually comes down to this: I’m not a very traditional person, but I crave traditional markers of prestige and success. The idea of wearing a suit to work for the rest of my life makes me cringe, but I want the high power hyper-ambitious work (and salaries) associated with those suit wearing jobs. I love being creative and making art, but I don’t like the idea there’s no clear cut pathway (or application) for being a successful artist. I think usually described this to other people as, “my interests don’t match up with my personality.”

Bullshit.

A few weeks ago, I went to this public sector panel hosted by Stanford in New York and the NY Stanford Alumni Association, and got to meet a bunch of people in the public sector who are absolutely phenomenal at what they do. One of the panelists, Jenifer Rajkumar, is this insanely badass human rights lawyer who litigated gender discrimination and sexual harassment cases, and now advises New York State Governor Cuomo on immigration policy issues. I’m pretty sure I audibly gasped while they were reading her bio.

Anyway, during the panel, listening to her talk about how hard she worked to run for public office and to fight for her clients, and WALLOWING in my deep deep admiration for this woman and her abilities, I had a thought: “Wow. This person is really badass…and they do public interest law.”

As I thought more about it, I realized I had this absurd dichotomy in my head that I either had to follow my passions (for art, human rights, social justice, social progress) or follow my ambition, that somehow the two could never align. Which is retrospectively….really, really stupid, but at that moment it was a mindblowing revelation. I could do the things I care about and that doesn’t have to mean giving up the part of me that loves being ambitious and hardworking.

There are hardworking, ambitious people in every realm, not just jobs traditionally associated with power and prestige (looking @ you consulting), and those parts of my personality don’t belong to the…what, 3 industries? that actively recruit on Stanford’s campus and market themselves as prestigious. Lol.

Lesson #2: There are so many things that I enjoy doing and that deeply excite me; I don’t need to settle for doing something I don’t love!

Real talk, fall quarter was tough. I spent all of the first half of junior year (maybe two thirds) feeling like I had no talents, no skills, and no options for future careers. Most of my friends were going through really formalized recruitment processes for their summer internships, and I was panicking because I didn’t even know what industry I wanted to work in, let alone job function.

As a result, I just started randomly mass applying to anything that sounded remotely like something I could do: HR, Marketing, Sales, Inventory Management, and all of these other vaguely business sounding jobs. I think I got into this mindset where I kept telling myself, “Juliana, it’s time to grow up and find a real job. You can’t write poetry and talk about language and identity for the rest of your life.” And for some reason, in that moment, the solution I came up with was applying to work in Human Resources for Dyson. Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking either.

On the contrary, this quarter has really been about re-discovering the things I love to do.  I started dancing again after taking a break, started writing poetry again that wasn’t motivated by “spoken word show is in 2 weeks and you need a piece.” I’ve started working on screenwriting! But even more importantly, this quarter I’ve been able to re-discover the things I love to do, in capacities that make them viable for future full time jobs.

My internship at the Commission on Human Rights has been phenomenal in that I both believe very deeply in the big picture mission, but also really enjoy the day to day work. I spend my days at the Commission writing memos, legal documents, reading cases, thinking and learning about human rights and the relationship between law and protection of identity, and using language to try and create social progress. And I love it, I really really do.

In addition, I just got back from spending this past weekend in LA, where I was working on filming a short film I had written that was selected as a finalist in the AT&T Create-a-thon contest. The weekend inadvertently turned into a crash course on the entertainment industry and making it as a screenwriter, thanks to our crazy experienced contacts and cast, and I think it was the first time I’ve ever felt that screenwriting could be a viable career path for me, and one that I would genuinely want to pursue. Asian American Hollywood was SUPER woke which I was not expecting, but all of the people we worked with had so much to say about diversity and representation on and behind the screen and it was just…super cool.

An impossibly intangible dream of doing creative writing for a living suddenly felt real and breathing, as I met with people who have sat in the writer’s room of TV shows I loved and listened to my actors rehearse lines from a film I had dreamed up and then written.

Point is, why the hell was I wasting my time going after jobs in functions and industries I couldn’t care less about, when there was already SO MUCH that I did care about?! I don’t really know, but it’s been so affirming to be reminded that there are things I like to do, I’m not too bad at doing them, and to discover I might actually be able to do them for a living one day.

Obviously, I say all this coming from a place of privilege, where I go to a school with the resources to develop my passions and help me pursue them, and I also have yet to take into account financial considerations and paying off the monster that is my undergraduate student loans, but my point is:

Life is too short, and the work day is too long, for me to spend my life doing HR for a vacuum company.

Lesson #3: The power of connections, both old and new

Networks matter. I think networks is kind of a gross word and weird way to describe human relationships, but networks really, really matter.

I don’t know what it is about New York City, but I can’t seem to stop running into people I know. On the street, at a festival, in restaurants, one time I got home from dance class and a friend from Stanford messaged me and asked if I was walking down 8th Avenue earlier that day (I was). I think in the past, I used to assume people wouldn’t want to see me (not me specifically, but like an acquaintance), and I wouldn’t try to reach out. This also usually wasn’t very hard to do, since people didn’t come often to Stanford, and even if they did I would almost never have free time to spontaneously spend.

This quarter, I’ve been trying to be more open to just saying yes, and asking people out for coffee, even if we weren’t close in the past. When you’re in a new place, even a connection like “we went to elementary school together” is enough to warrant some sort of interaction. I made an effort to try and be open and willing, and it’s worked out great! I’ve hung out with older alumni from Stanford, friends from high school, friends from elementary school, people that I haven’t seen in years (a decade in some cases!), but knew at some point in my life. And for the most part, every one of those interactions has been really positive. I’ve gotten to socialize, and also see more of the city as a result.

But beyond just filling a social calendar, NETWORKS REALLY MATTER. Putting together the cast and crew for my short film was a mess. I was in New York City, my filmmaking partner was near Oakland, our network was primarily at Stanford, and the film competition was happening in LA. The only reason anything worked out was because some really kind, more experienced people, both based in LA and not, reached out and offered their help and resources. We did our casting by asking friends from high school to post on LA casting pages, and a member of our main cast was even someone that I knew in high school! We ended up bringing one of my friends from my freshman dorm to LA to do cinematography for us, and relied on countless others for advice, fundraising, and general support.

Lesson #4: There are so, so many different ways for me to live a fulfilling life. I can trust myself to find ways to be happy in any environment. I can and should take risks.

I like to start things early. Whether it’s homework assignments, planning for grad school, or even reading a restaurant menu online three hours before going to the place, I feel happiest and calmest when I have a strong sense of what to expect.

This is usually a pretty good trait to have, because it means I plan well and never turn in homework late, but it also means I’m really not open to spontaneity or serendipity.

Before this quarter, my plan for post-college was very…safe. It wasn’t a bad plan, but it was very much the path of least resistance and the path that is conducive to the most long term planning. I would get a stable high paying job in the Bay, probably doing non-tech at a tech company, pay off my student loans within two years, marry my long term partner at some point, save up for a down payment and get a house, and get settled into stable late-adulthood life as soon as possible.

Coming to New York, and being put in a new environment with new work and new friends, has been terrifying, but it’s also helped me realize I’m good at adapting. I’m in a new space, but I’ve found ways to spend my time enjoyably and find people I like and do the things I love and find new things and places that I love. There are so, so many different ways for my life to feel full and for me to feel happy.

The life I have at Stanford is one iteration of my life in which I feel happy and fulfilled. That being said, it’s not the only one, and my main goal after college shouldn’t just be to preserve as many aspects from my life at Stanford as possible. I’m not saying I won’t or I shouldn’t, but there are other options!!!

Other mini-thoughts:

  • Asian American Hollywood seems super woke which I kind of love? Our cast for Many Names was SO COOL and had so much to say about API representation in entertainment and I just got super excited to have people to talk about these issues with.
  • So I get to work with really badass lawyers fighting for human rights. My job is super cool. That being said….public interest law does NOT pay well, and a lot of the attorneys I’ve spoken to here have spouses who work in big law or some other corporate job, and who have said without that other big-money paycheck it wouldn’t be possible for them to be at CCHR and live in New York City….that was honestly a huge reality check lol.

 

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

It’s a little funny, because despite all the learning and growing I’ve done this quarter….I still really don’t know what I’m doing with the rest of my life.

My internship has reassured me that I’m interested in working in law, and my time in LA made a distant dream of screenwriting feel way more tangible. I know I still might want to get a PhD, and part of me is still considering doing consulting or trying to work for some sort of big company. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to stay in the Bay Area after college, but beyond that I don’t know if I want to be in LA or NYC or somewhere else. In other words, I have 100% no idea where I’m going to be or what I’m going to be doing a year from now!!!

Despite all the uncertainty, what’s reassuring is, I feel like I have passion again. My dilemma has gone from feeling “I’m not good at anything and can’t find anything I can do,” to “there’s too much I want to do and not enough time,” and that makes a world of difference. Life is good. I’m happy.

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