When I was a kid I loved to read. During the years where I was home-schooled, it wasn't unusual for my parents to take me to the library and let me wander around for a couple hours. As I got older, reading books shifted to reading news articles and consuming social media to the point where, embarrassingly enough, I hadn't picked up a full book and read it all the way through in several years. When I talked to my dad about how I thought it was important to practice reading and to treat it like going to the gym, he underscored that it was also important to practice writing. So, here is my "writing gym" where I am trying to get some reps in for my writing muscles. If you have any feedback, please let me know!
Growing through Pivots
Social / Civic Entrepreneurship
The Theory of the Conscious Guess
Wanting to be Heard
Consumer Surplus Pricing
Project Based Networking
"You should write a book." It's not something a lot of 20-year-olds hear - and probably for good reason. Most 20-somethings don't really know enough about anything to be able to create a compelling multi-hundred page piece of writing. But that didn't dissuade my college professor in my sophomore year from standing in front of the class and telling us exactly that. His thesis was pretty simple: even though we weren't exactly experts, we could interview several of them and compile their wisdom in one convenient source. Our value add to the readers was effective synthesis and analysis of experts' knowledge following our interviews with them. It capitalized on the one resource that we had in spades as students - free time. That and the unique access that students can have to very "important" people - when you email someone and say: "I'm a college kid writing a book, and would like to interview you as an expert in the field," it opens a surprising number of doors. People like to feel like they're helping students, but they also like the idea that the networking call that they're taking is more than just throwing advice at a kid and hoping that they actually find it useful.
The value to us as writers was two-fold: at the end of the project, you're left with an actual product that you created and a new network of experts that you (hopefully) admire, learned from, and built a connection with.
I've taken that idea and applied it to many different projects in my life. When I knew I wanted to learn more about Asian American political organizing, I started a weekly discussion group and used it as a tool to invite speakers who were established professionals in the space. That grew into Young Asian Pacific American Leaders and led to me moderating a conversation with two of my heroes - Representatives Young Kim and Michelle Steel. This was also part of the impetus behind the Korean American Student Internships Database which I worked on in the Spring of 2019. I had created this resource originally to help with my own internship hunt, but realized that once I had a job - why not share it? When I sought to expand it, I was able to speak with a ton of great business leaders and mentors who helped me collect more resources to add and ultimately share with Korean college students. This was the seed that then grew into the National Korean Student Alliance - which is a project I'm still working on to this day!
The beauty of project based networking is that you not only get the chance to engage with leaders and experts you might not have had access to otherwise, you're also left with something you created that hopefully brings value into the world. Whether that's a book, a discussion group, a blog, a podcast, or anything else, it feels good to go out and create. In a time where we are obsessed with consumption, including of our mentors' time - to create sets you apart, and provides fulfillment. Additionally, the creation can continue to live on and have value long after you first finished it. I know of friends who still make some money from their books off of Amazon sales, or who used it to gain entry into an industry that became an important part of their career. Folks I met through YAPAL have gone on to become close personal friends. The NKSA is still working to help Korean college students (and giving me more writing fodder as we struggle to build an effective and meaningfully impactful organization).
I never ended up publishing my manuscript - it wasn't of a quality that I felt comfortable publicly releasing and attaching my name to, especially because it was political in nature (and probably a little immature to be honest). My college friends to this day like to jokingly ask "Has your book come out yet?" I'm happy to grin and bear it, because while I didn't end that class with a book, I did leave with a tool that I still use to create and to learn from and engage with important people in my life.
We all have role models in our lives. For many it’s an older family member, former boss, or professor. These role models often have proven their credibility because of the success they’ve found in their personal or professional lives. But, due to the nature of having proven their success, they are often much older. They were in school or applied for their first job years, if not decades, ago.
We should embrace looking for peer role models. In the traditional mentorship model, we are often told to look for someone who has found success and is in their mid- to late-career and to ask them to take us under their wing. One issue with this framework is that these workers might not know the best tips and tricks to help you navigate the unique intricacies of the modern job market. Peer mentors can serve as a great supplement to mentor relationships you have already developed.
I remember at one point in my sophomore year I noticed that some of my friends were finding great professional and academic success while I was struggling. I was networking, pursuing internships, and working hard at school, but these folks seemed to be gliding through all of these and effortlessly crushing the game. Obviously, part of this is the duck effect, where someone appears calm and composed on the surface but in reality is treading incredibly hard underwater to keep moving forward. But, another part was that these friends had positive habits and professional strategies that helped them be competent, reliable, and hard-working. I decided that these peers were at a place I wanted to be and so I began looking at the habits that seemed to help, and began copying them.
The clearest example that comes to mind is one friend who I had great respect for. While the rest of us looked like partying 20-year-olds (which we were), he was helping run a company and took great care and interest in his family. I noticed he carried around a notebook with him everywhere, and often jotted down thoughts and notes as we were in club meetings or conversations together. My thought process was simple - this guy is killing it, it seems that carrying a notebook is a habit that helps him pursue success, I want to be more like him, I should get a notebook. From that point on I carried a notebook with me and began noting things down and keeping track of my to-dos and thoughts. It helped me get more organized and put me on a path towards building a more efficient and healthy lifestyle. It goes to show how sometimes you have no idea how a little habit can have big impacts.
There is a famous saying: “You become the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” As someone who has been blessed with incredible friends, many of whom have found success in both their personal and professional lives, I’d like to think that this is true. I was lucky that within the first week of college I met a great group of guys who joined the "International Relations Club". These guys have landed positions at elite consulting and banking firms, prestigious roles in the public sector and nonprofit spaces, with another heading off to law school, all immediately after graduating. Another group of friends have found great success in the political space, with several holding government appointments or founding rapidly growing nonprofits. We met at conferences, leadership programs, and informal networking events over the years, but were drawn together by our shared professional interests and the simple fact that we got along as friends.
Each person within these groups of friends has provided invaluable insight to me at one point or another, whether that was teaching me how to send out a cold email, helping edit my grad school applications, or showing me the ropes of starting a nonprofit. Unlike a more traditional mentor where I was concerned about wasting their time with simplistic questions, my buddy and I could edit each others emails, resumes, or essays for hours without having to worry about taking up the other’s time - if we weren’t working we’d probably end up watching a TV show or going out for drinks together. Additionally, my friends could provide greater insight as to what professor to take, or which job applications to keep an eye out for, because they were going through the same process I was. While I could turn to a more traditional mentor for broader career advice and insight, it was my friends who
Too often we leave our friendships totally up to chance. Surround yourself with hard-working, intelligent, driven people and you will find yourself becoming better in all that you do. Iron sharpens iron. And don't be afraid to ask your friends for help - they might share a little habit that could have a big impact on your life.