The Handmaid's Musical actors on stage

IGNITING THE FIRE


I moved to New York from London in September 2016, where I witnessed how everything in America was changing politically. It was a scary reality to see the way women were treated in a different country. It didn’t necessarily have to translate into actions — it was the way women were being talked about, like they were objects and their bodies were under scrutiny. Everything was ultimately dictated by a man’s opinion.

At the time I came to the city, I was continuing my acting career and going from one audition to another. It was such a tough process. I finally decided that if it wasn’t going to happen, I was going to make it happen. A combination of being someone new in the city pursuing theater and the political climate inspired me to write.

Being a big fan of the book and the TV show The Handmaid’s Tale, I realized I wanted to adapt a musical parody of the story that paralleled with the reality of present day. Though the TV show is about a dystopian America, everything in the book is relevant to something happening at some point in some part of our world.

It almost makes sense to laugh it off, but also create a line of communication where people can be inspired to do something about it. That is why much of the show relies on dark humor and black comedy. In fact, the Little Mermaid’s “Poor Unfortunate Souls” song was the first piece that inspired me to create the show.

I hadn’t ever written a show, but I found comedy to be a way to deal with the most difficult situations. Stress is always handled in a flight or fight mode. I remember when I was growing up my mom told me that “when life throws you lemons, you gotta deal with it because it doesn’t stop.” I don’t know if it’s the healthiest approach, but you need to learn to make the time.

I have been juggling a lot — it came down to time management and priorities. The last three months, I needed to focus on renewing my visa and getting back into the country. The uncertainty of not knowing where I would be was stressful, and my mental being needed to cope with getting back to NYC. In the process, I learned how to delegate and the importance of having a team.

Living in our 20s is an interesting ride. There are always highs and lows, but that’s what makes it even more real. This experience has opened my eyes to the world. We can all get stuck in what we know and what we are comfortable with — it’s rejuvenating creating a space and a voice that can kickstart change.

There is a fire burning inside of me. Maybe it has always been there, but now it’s ignited.

Young woman looking out to the ocean

SEEKING FANCY TROUBLE


The second summer when I was leaving my hometown for college in London, my grandfather, drove me to the airport. He’s quite a character and has a very unique way of speaking, but as we were walking out of the door with my suitcase he tells me to “stay away from fancy troubles.” This piece of advice really struck me.

My grandpa is a very simple man. I know when he says fancy, he doesn’t mean luxurious. He means anything unnecessary. He was telling me to stay away from anything that could take me down the wrong path or anything that would cause trouble.

But, living in London and traveling across Europe, I knew I needed just the right amount of trouble. Being abroad brought out my most unique self and dared me to explore what the world holds. I studied graphic design in college and created a magazine for my final school project which forced me to do some solo traveling and talk to people I otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to speak to.

It was ultimately in my travels that as a graphic designer I was inspired to see my designs come to life and eventually create sunglasses that truly embody the sense of possibility that we all desire. I had no particular goal to design sunglasses. It was random really. A lot of my designs were inspired from travels — whether it was looking at buildings or taking the Eurostar train from Paris to London and looking out the window. One day I was just doodling shades on Illustrator and practicing my skills when I had the urge for them to come to life.

Within 5 weeks, I made it to Italy and visited some factories. It happened very quickly. I finalized some of my designs at two factories in the North and South of Italy. Production took a very long time, but when I actually got the glasses they were very good quality and I got many compliments on the unique designs.

It made me realize that I wanted others to experience this product and the feeling to embrace their own “fancy troubles.” There’s something incredibly rewarding about seeing your designs in a real-life setting. Removed from your computer screen and actually utilized by real people in real life. Taking my sketches and turning them into a tangible, wearable accessory has been exciting and almost surreal, especially when other people wear them.

At first, the fear of the unknown was consuming. I was 22 at the time and I didn’t know what I was doing. I felt the pressure that I needed to be taken seriously. I was worried that my love and excitement for designing would vanish along with moving back to the States. With starting anything, there are always setbacks. There would be days when I would reach out to influencers and I hear nothing or a negative response. It was the faith in my designs and the inspiration that has kept me going.

It is scary to go into something new with no guarantee that someone will follow your story. For those who are drawn to Fancy Troubles and captivated by the designs and message, I want them to feel confident and ready to take on the world, whatever their path may be.

I believe that the spirit of embarking on adventure and the thrill of excitement is what your 20s are about. The Fancy Troubles wearer doesn’t fit into one box, but the common factor they do share is the love and openness for new experiences — to see the world with not fear, but excitement and bravery through the lenses of stylish sunglasses of course!

Check out Fancy Troubles’ pop-up shop in Nolita from July 17-21 😎 Don’t miss out on exclusive giveaways and the chance to purchase your own pair of shades!

Person reading newspaper

WRITING AWARD-WINNING ‘FAKE NEWS’


Fake News Writer is a YouTube series about a recent college grad, Ethan, who moves to LA in the hopes of being a screenwriter — but the only job he can find is writing Pro-Trump conservative propaganda for a fake news website. Ethan has to hide his work from his extreme liberal roommate who hacks and publicly shames fake news writers.

I wrote this series based on my own experience moving to LA after graduating in screenwriting. While in school, they drill into your head that hardly any of us will actually make it as screenwriters. Or that we will be working as an assistant for years, just for the opportunity for someone to maybe read your script and maybe like it enough to give you a job. Or that won’t happen and it’ll just be a waste of years of your life. It was discouraging. When I graduated I started taking small copywriting jobs that I was able to get with my major. These would pay $5 for 4 hours of work. Then eventually I moved up the ladder and got paid $12 for 4 hours of work. It wasn’t a sustainable way to live.

Then, one day as I was searching on Indeed, I found a posting for a political news writer where you needed to write with whatever biases the company gave you. I thought I could do that. I grew up with both intelligent liberals and conservatives and thought I had the ability to channel both perspectives as needed.

During my job interview, my boss explained to me how he runs a pro-Trump conservative page and the readers are old, fragile people whose emotions I needed to cater to. It was a company that didn’t want to influence politics at all — they ran both liberal and conservation websites and were just profit-driven. They wanted me to study what people clicked on, and write more of that. And so, after I got hired, I would just read a bunch of conservative articles, rewrite them in my own words, and come up with click-driven headlines. I was ashamed of myself the whole time I was working there, but I really wanted to be financially independent. I didn’t want to be dependent on my parents. This job gave me the financial security to live in LA.

From the start, I realized I wanted to write a script from this experience. I thought it was very topical and I had a unique first-hand perspective on how it all worked. I originally began writing it as a movie as I was starting the job — yet I didn’t know what was going to happen next and what my character arc was going to be. Eventually, I realized I could turn the acts into 7-10 minute episodes to capture the character’s day-to-day happenings.

Most of the show was an accurate reality of my job. My boss was a cynical, monotone guy who was just about the business. I never met him in person and don’t think I even knew his real name. When I wrote this show my goal was to make fun of liberals and conservatives evenly; this two-sidedness is something I miss from television and I think it’s what made South Park so successful. In my comedy, I don’t mean to mock specific viewpoints. With liberals, I’m making fun of the overuse of shaming tactics and people who believe that any form of disagreement with them is racism, sexism, bigotry, etc. People feel they can’t express their opinions or even entertain opposing opinions without being shamed. So instead of having conversations, they look for content that agrees with their point of view, fake news writers capitalize on this, and we all get more divided. With conservatives, “With conservatives, I’m making fun of how easy-to-write and disingenuous a lot of their news sources are and the types of people who point out bias in the mainstream media but don’t notice the obvious bias on their own side.

I also wanted to explore the themes of a millennial trying to find their place in the world. Ethan’s journey in the series is about self-worth. For example, before he gets the job, he feels like he can’t talk to women, because he’s a loser who can’t get a job and relies on his parents. He thinks that by taking a job that makes him financially independent, he will be proud of himself and feel like he has value and this will give him confidence. However, when he gets his job writing fake news, this doesn’t work out because he’s so ashamed of what he does.

If you’re looking for some fun, dark humor, check out Fake News Writer on YouTube — they’ve just won the Webby Awards and will be coming out with a Season 2!

Desk with computer

SPEAKING UP THE LADDER


When I graduated three years ago, I think I just didn’t know what kind of roles I really wanted as my first steps.

I’d come to college to study Communications and thought that I was going to work in PR even though I had no idea what that meant. I did an internship in the PR world and that’s when I realized I really couldn’t do PR. I’d also interned in network television and had felt like the TV industry was a little bit too slow-paced for me and more importantly, there just wasn’t the diversity I wanted to see in the industry I chose to work in. I wanted to go into tech — though I’d done internships in the industry, it was hard to break into. I was looking at anything from Sales Coordinator, Marketing Coordinator, to Recruiting Coordinator, and trying to cast a wide net.

It was definitely a hard summer for myself because throughout college, I always made sure that I was working very hard to be at the top no matter what I was doing, whether it was in student activities or at an internship. To be hit with endless rejections throughout summer right after graduation was just a huge reality check for myself, and it honestly forced me to start from square one and reevaluate what I really wanted to do.

Ironically, an opportunity came through NYU by August. An office was looking for marketing and social media help, and so… I don’t want to call it an act of desperation because I was really levelheaded going into it, but I needed to start making an income. I ended up accepting the role and I absolutely did not like my experience there. It was primarily due to a toxic work culture, not being as fast-paced as I wanted it to be, and not feeling challenged in my day-to-day responsibilities. I immediately felt like it wasn’t a good fit, but instead of quitting or not giving them a shot, I did decide to stick around for a whole year. I decided to look at the positives and think about the things that did make me happy in the role.

Despite my negative experiences over that year, I left feeling like I’d learned so much more about myself. I clearly know what I like and don’t like about my work environments and ultimately, it helped me as I interviewed at other places. Even though it was a marketing role, I did find little hidden gems here and there that would help me as I decided to pivot into recruiting.

I always wanted to stay in touch with my university in some capacity. My experience at NYU was incredible, and despite the student loans, to this day I am grateful for the opportunities I was afforded because of my education. That was one of the reasons why I had taken the role at NYU — because I was curious about higher education and wanted to see if that could be a career for myself. I love working with students and with universities.

As I was researching roles for myself, I realized that campus and university recruiting are roles that exist within the greater recruiting umbrella. I realized some of the largest tech companies I’d even interviewed right after graduation had university recruiting roles.

I used my work at NYU to get me to where I am today. I said that I was still responsible for interviewing and hiring interns for the office and that experience made me hungry for a formal recruiting environment.

Two weeks after I finished up at NYU, in August 2017, I started at my current company as a Recruiting Coordinator. In my second time interviewing for these tech companies, I was very laser focused on getting a recruiting coordinator role. That was the biggest difference between 2016 and 2017, that I actually had an idea of what I wanted and where I wanted to be. I interviewed at all the same places, if not more. Ultimately, I chose an opportunity in a mid-sized tech company that aligned best with my interests.

Recruiting coordinator is more of a general role. I wasn’t working directly with university or campus recruiting, but I felt that it was a great role for me to understand the ins and outs of recruiting in a coordinator and support capacity. I was in that role for 10-11 months. Before my one year at my current company, I was given the opportunity to interview for a new role, and I was promoted to University Recruiter.

I laid the groundwork early. Two weeks into my coordinator role, I already had an idea of where I ultimately wanted to be, which was on the campus team. And for context, while I was interviewing for recruiting coordinator roles, I was also interviewing for campus recruiting coordinator roles, because some tech companies will separate those organizations. Obviously, I just took the regular recruiting coordinator position, but during training, I already got coffee with the campus recruiting manager and told her that this was an area of interest to me. I let her know that even though I was so new, I was just so interested and eager to know more, and once I fully ramped up, I wanted to see if there were ways to support the team or assist with side projects here or there. I definitely sounded over eager at the time, because the manager told me to sort of chill and take a step back, and master my day-to-day responsibilities first. Then she told me to reach out after and see what I could do. So listened to her, and I mastered my role in a month — I really owned it, and I loved the position, and I enjoyed the team. I was able to show that I not only mastered the show that I had, but I was hungry for something more. I always made it clear not only to my manager, but to other leads as well, that I was ultimately interested in becoming a campus recruiter. I think that’s why I am where I am today.

Be loud is my best advice. In my internship period, at Zumper, I was working on a small team of 7. Up to working on a team of 7 for a company of thousands. Despite the drastic differences in company size, the most important thing I had to do was to not be afraid to speak up when appropriate, especially when it includes advocating, both for yourself and for other people. I think being loud is a really important thing and it’s helped me to be where I am today.

Seats in front of a stage

PAINTING A NEW STORY


Storytelling was my escape, especially growing up in a harsh environment in Houston, Texas. I wasn’t very proud of my circumstances. On a role model level, the men in my life all did things I didn’t stand for or represent. With that, I had always used storytelling as a way to escape to other characters or perspectives. In 6th grade, I realized I wanted to be an actor and from then I saw something that could get me out of my current circumstances. I ran with it through middle school, high school, and college to study drama.

Once I graduated, I realized I was trying too hard to fit into a traditional mold, a cookie-cutter lifestyle that was not designed for me. I needed to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to survive. The only way I thought to thrive and survive, to get through this transition, cope with the 2016 election, and not to conform to the lines of being a starving artist with no back-up plan, was with some spiritual connectedness with my deceased father.

I lost my father when I was 5 years old, but I wasn’t able to properly mourn for him until I was an adult. When I turned 23 and I was reaching 24, it was a scary moment because my father didn’t make it to 24. To give more background, he was a prominent gangster rapper in the Austin, Houston area. I began suddenly inheriting what he left behind for me over the course of the last two and half years. And so when I graduated college, I wrote and performed a one-man autobiographical show called Baba and Me in honor of my father.

I traveled to London, other parts of Europe, Cuba, West Africa, and my hometown with this performance, and spoke to brown and black youth communities similar to what I grew up within. Through this journey, I realized I was no longer ashamed of my background and I could be unapologetically black and authentic. I was finally leading not with my best self, but my whole self.

I’ve always been pro-Black, which means believing in black liberation and going against the stereotypes of the African-American community in the US. Me embracing my full self as well as my other ethnicities has separated me from the construct of Blackness — my mother is French and Native American from her family history, my father African American. For me to address my family history helped me understand myself better and to share the truth of my story.

Even though I’m not an immigrant, I’ve had this mindset of achieving the American Dream since no one was going to hand me an opportunity because of the class and racial gap I grew up in. With me supporting my mother and siblings, trying to pursuing acting was a burden. Thankfully, I’ve been able to use my entrepreneurial and leadership skills to be more confident in journey.

This is the dialogue and narrative I create to many of the youth I mentor and speak to — they need to be proactive in their career journeys because the system is designed to lead them straight into mass incarceration.

In grad school, I decided to research student perspectives on activism, education, and opportunity. I am now applying to residencies to take the project to the next level and reach more students and stakeholders — i.e. principals, parents — to address opportunity gaps in public education. My hope is to create a dialogue and action around this topic.

I’m also working on a recording mixed tape and a performance sponsored by the Houston Arts Alliance to target 15-20 year olds in urban settings to create conversation on gun violence control, specifically in the city of Houston and the state of Texas.

My hope is to to add to the artists from diverse backgrounds who are painting new pictures, and to be a contributor to that table, whether I’m bringing the fried chicken or the silverware to the cookout. I want to play my part in the best way I know how.

If you want to learn more of his work, see Robert’s website!

Audience looking at a stage

SHINING A SPOTLIGHT ON REPRESENTATION


I was born and raised in China, I didn’t go to international school. I applied to schools on my own, took the tests on my own for the American application process. I never dreamed of being accepted of being accepted by NYU, where I’m currently a junior studying Media, Culture, and Communication. Growing up in China, I never realized the importance of race and ethnicity. Everyone around me was just like me. There were few distinguishing features.

In my college applications, I said that I wanted to be an advocate for Chinese culture, especially in media and arts. I feel like there’s so much that comes to mind when you think of Korean or Japanese culture, like K-Pop and anime. But when you mention Chinese culture, people think “Jackie Chan” and that’s it. And that’s not fair. We have so much culture, history, so many amazing bits of arts that people should know about. So that’s what motivated me to come here to the US. To learn more about the media industry.

I had never categorized myself as Asian before the US, because it was so instinctual. It was a default. I never had to put that label or hashtag on myself. After starting college here, I met a lot of hyphenate Asians who struggle to learn about their culture and where they come from. I’ve been lucky to not have to go through that. Representation matters so much because you don’t know who you are until you see someone who looks like you. You need a lighthouse to guide you to move forward.

I’m currently working on a Mandarin production of Man of La Mancha as an associate producer, based on the famous Spanish novel Don Quixote. It was a hugely successful musical in China and couldn’t continue due to copyright issues. Our other producer Eva, who worked on the Chinese version for 100+ performances thought, hey, why can’t the show run in NYC? The legal rights company agreed and it’s been a sparkling moment that brought us all together. The show means so much to all our cast members on different levels. 1 out of 6 in our production are Chinese speakers who don’t come from a purely Chinese background or didn’t grow up speaking Chinese.

For many of our actors, this is one of the first musicals they saw in China, and they’re very emotionally invested. So it’s just everyone coming together for a greater cause. Every time I step into the rehearsal room, it’s an emotionally fulfilling moment for me.

I see so much communication during those moments between people from very different backgrounds. Our production members hail from the US, Canada, China, with varying levels of professional training. Helping to build that space for them to talk to each other is so very fulfilling. A conversation we have in real time during rehearsals often is the difference between cultural appreciation vs. appropriation and what it means to tell a Western story with a Chinese cast in a Chinese language. It’s a very open space. People come to this project for different reasons and everyone has valid opinions. We can be frank about what we believe in and what we care about. And we accept each other for those concerns and where we’re coming from.

My director and I have reached an agreement — that before it’s an Eastern or Western story, our story is a good story. It resonates with us on a human level before anything that adds additional layers on it.
Don Quixote sings about “the impossible dream,” about how no matter how far, no matter how many barriers there is in between, we need to hold on to our dreams. There’s obviously so many difficulties for our productions or ones similar to ours and many barriers to cross to have more Asian American representation in the media. There are very few stories that feature us. What it means to tell this story at this time is that we’re able to convey our story on a human level and emphasize what’s more similar and shared amongst people than to emphasize our differences. At the end of the day, we have more similarities than difference, and those similarities connect us.

Man of La Mancha is open for general ticketing mid-April (10th-19th). The show will run at the end of May. If you’re interested, please support the production or spread the word!

Stack of bills and scattered coins on a desk

EARN IT, PLAN IT


After graduating NYU, I stumbled upon a role in consulting for human capital and employee experience. I learned so much about what employers are communicating to their employees today, and also about personal finance. The role really opened my eyes and was the catalyst for how my relationship with money would change — especially as I stepped into the adult world and became financially independent.

In the past, I was always attracted to sales, but now I ask myself, “So what if it’s discounted — do I really need this?” Marie Kondo’s method has been a big influence for me. She talks about how so often we hold onto things because we can’t let go of the monetary value that we paid for them in the first place. But if it’s not adding any value to your current life, don’t force it. Get rid of it if you need to. On the other hand, it’s fine if you want something just because it makes you happy. I love designer handbags and shoes, but I budget for them. If you are the same, then for instance, instead of spending on 10 sale items, use that money for one quality item you’ve been eyeing. Don’t deny yourself anything that you want, just be realistic about your resources!

Of course, in order to be realistic about your resources, or plan for purchases, you have to understand where you are financially. You have to make it easy for yourself to achieve both your short-term goals while contributing to your long-term goals, and make it all automated.
The first way to automate your finances is to get out of debt. If you have student loans, pay those off first.

Then, start saving. If your employer offers a 401K or a contribution plan and a match, make sure you match all of that, because that’s free money they’re giving you. A lot of people think they can’t or shouldn’t contribute too much to their 401K, because their paycheck isn’t that high and they want to have enough for their current lifestyle. But if you’re contributing pre-tax to a 401K, that lowers your taxable income so overall, you’re getting taxed less by the government. For example, if you’re sitting on tax brackets, and starting to earn more in your career as you’re developing, if you’re getting taxed at a higher percentage than you were when you first started your career, a very easy way to lower that tax rate is just to contribute more to your pre-tax accounts like 401K, so your amount of taxable income is a lot lower. You actually save more that way!

Another way to help you save is if you go to specialty doctors like dermatologists, gynecologists, and you need extra funds for the co-pays, tests, treatments, etc — why not contribute to a FSA (flexible spending account)? Again, when you add in pre-tax dollars, it lowers your taxable income and it lowers your expenses pre-tax. That’s money that you’re already going to spend anyway. This way, with some simple planning, tax won’t take a cut, so you end up with more money to spend on those health services! You basically get a chunk taken out every month from your paycheck (pre-tax), but you have access to the full-year funds to that FSA account at the beginning of the year. But do plan accordingly, because if you don’t use it by the end of the year, you lose it!

My other tip is, depending on where you are in your life savings, know what benefits or tools can take the burden off of your out-of-pocket costs. For example, if you’re thinking about buying a home, legal insurance your company offers may actually get you access to a free real estate attorney, so you don’t have to be spending your day-to-day funds on it.

A lot of companies don’t know how to communicate all this legal jargon to their employees — it’s part of the reason I had a job. It’s hard, for millennials especially, to wade through the jargon. What helps is finding if your employer has a hotline or chatbot and ask the agents. You can also google the benefits — there’s tons of articles online. For example, 401ks are still confusing to me, so I’ll find 401k calculators online that tell me “if you contribute this much, it will impact your take-home pay this much.” There are a ton of resources out there, you just have to take the first step to find them.

Finances and money are a taboo topic. A lot of people don’t openly talk about their salary and part of the reason is you may have friends making a lot more or a lot less, so it’s hard to bridge that gap. As long as you have a few friends that you can talk to openly about your salary and general finances, you’re in a good place. It’s not anything to be embarrassed about. It’s good to share so you can empower each other to ask for more money, or just benchmark in general. The other key is not letting other people influence your own spending. You may have friends who are very frivolous or have different starting points. Know what’s realistic for you and budget accordingly. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else — everyone’s financial situation and lifestyle are different.

Half of all Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck. The city is expensive, especially when you’re in your 20s, but once you take that step to get educated on your finances, set goals to pay off your loans, or automate your savings, pat yourself on the back. What you have left to spend at the end of the month, even if it’s not much, it’s yours and yours only!

Stack of Polaroid pictures on top of a map

WHICH COAST, BEST COAST?


I moved to New York six-and-a-half years ago from San Jose, California and studied Media, Culture and Communication at New York University.
When I first moved out here, I thought I was going back to California immediately after graduation. But as the date approached, I realized I never really lived here, moreso studied here. As a student, I had an entirely different state of mind. Priorities were already set for me — studying, doing my homework, and meeting academic deadlines. There was also this endless pressure from my peers and the city around work. We were told that we go to college just to get a job, and it felt reckless to have worked so hard toward building a career here to just leave the city right after senior year.

While in college, I also constantly considered how much my education costed and was intentional in making the most of it, including getting involved in student government and doing internships. Then there were people I was meeting through my major, from other colleges around New York and all these connections stemming from my time at NYU made me realize I wanted to stay in touch with my college as much as possible.
Ultimately, I wanted to know what it would be like to live here, and decided to stay. I ended up going into the tech industry, and one of the unintentional upsides was that it did keep me in touch with San Francisco. My first internship was a startup in San Francisco called Zumper, and was able to live at home that summer and commute into their offices as one of the company’s first ever interns in a hybrid sales and marketing role.

I now work as a New York-based recruiter at a tech company. When I first started here, all but two members of the recruiting team and talent sit in SF. I was the only recruiting coordinator in New York, there were a lot of things against me from the professional ladder angle, so I just worked extra hard to be visible. Eventually, members of the SF team, whether managers or heads of recruiting, couldn’t forget who I was and that offered me the opportunity to interview for my second role.

It can be hard being in a remote role, working in one time zone, on one coast, when company headquarters and the majority of your team are all the way across the country, but I realized that in tech specifically, SF provided me with a direct look into tech, but New York is where I get to see tech’s impact on other industries. Being very vocal about the benefit of keeping me in New York while also working hard helped me land a role where I got to be connected to my two favorite cities.

I’m also lucky enough that both roles I’ve had at my current company have afforded me the opportunity to travel between SF and New York several times a year, which has allowed me to keep up with my friends and family still living in the Bay Area, all while never having to give up living in New York. It’s really the best of both worlds.

Student behind a stack of books

MEET ME AT THE END OF THE APP


I always have a plan A, B, and C. It’s the perfectionist in me. But none of my plans worked post-graduation.

I hated my job to say the least. I wasn’t happy with what I was doing day-to-day and the work was overwhelming. It felt like being a cog in a machine.

It wasn’t long until I decided I wanted to pursue grad school. Yet, I never expected the process of applying to be emotionally draining. I was constantly dealing with rejection and looking for motivation to start the whole process over.

It was time-consuming but also soul searching. Some of my application essays were asking a lot from me. “How have the influences in your life shaped you? How will you pursue your life’s calling?” These were such tough questions since I was still figuring out what I really wanted to do.

I spent an entire summer reflecting, reading my childhood journals, and talking to friends and family to finally put pen to paper. But, crafting my overall story informed me how to then tackle all my general applications. It gave me the confidence to believe in what I was pursuing. I had finally discovered what the world is asking from me rather than what I think I wanted from it.

Surprisingly, the application process helped me not become attached to a particular school or career, but trust the universe will decide what is best for me and my path. The essay that was the easiest to write was the one that worked out. I left no thought in trying to craft a masterpiece and wrote from my heart. I put my most authentic self to paper and came to find the answer of who I was and what I wanted in life.

I felt liberated from caring what my parents wanted or what I thought I needed to do. What mattered most was finding the story of who I was NOW, rather than the future I was forcing happen. Having the time and space to reflect helped me embrace the plan I never imagined exist.

I’ll be starting grad school part-time in the spring and continuing to work full-time. I’m really excited to kick start this next chapter but I’m mostly relieved and grateful to discover the voice I had held within.

Alphabet blocks

SPOKEN WORD OF SPIRITUALITY


I graduated in May 2018. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to look for a job. It’s hard, but I can’t spend all my time looking for jobs — there’s only so much time I can dedicate to applying and meeting with people.

In the meantime, I’ve decided to make myself as productive as possible, so I decided to learn Persian. Yeah, I could have spent this time learning hard skills to become a better data scientist, but that didn’t interest me as much as learning Persian. I love it. Also, you never know how applicable learning a language can be in this political climate. I just never expected it to open up a window to my spirituality.

I took Persian for a year and a half in my undergrad, but I realized I wasn’t comfortable reading or speaking it. So, I spent time taking Persian lessons, learning vocabulary and trying to decipher BBC articles written in Persian. Actually, one of my biggest accomplishments was being able to read an article without using Google Translate.

I also started reading Urdu poetry and literature — I’ve been interested in studying it more in depth and learning Persian has given me that edge. Even though they’re two distinct languages, so many of the formal words both languages overlap since Persian was used in the Indian subcontinent hundreds of years ago. So, in a way, understanding Persian helped me learn the literature of my country, Pakistan.

Some of my favorite works are by Pakistani academic Allama Iqbal and Persian poet Saadi of Shiraz, but what stands out to me right now is Al-Ghazi (Abu al-Ghazi Bahadur, 1603-1663, a military ruler and scholar), who wrote in both Arabic and Persian. He wrote about attaining connection with the divine and how he was able to do it. It made me become more curious about the big questions in life, and led me to spending more time wondering how to use the wisdom he was passing down.

This was during a time in my life where I really didn’t have any level of spirituality, but when I began reading Al-Ghazi, I realized there were powers beyond me guiding my life, no matter how hard I’m trying. If my methods weren’t working that’s okay too. There’s a reason and I’ll be taken care of. It brought me peace, and I ended up being a lot less anxious about my job search.