I’m writing this post in hopes that my former mentees, younger sister, young cousin, some college student or new college grad will stumble upon it, and, hopefully, learn something from my experiences.
I graduated college almost five years ago, right before the stock market crashed. It was a very difficult time, not just for me, but for many people I knew, many who had worked extremely hard their entire lives. Half of my friends ended up going to graduate school, some ended up settling for jobs that weren’t in their field of study, some ended up freelancing/tutoring/teaching English abroad, and some were unemployed for quite some time. Many who accepted offers in investment banking were laid off before they even started working. Having a degree from one of the best universities in the world didn’t mean a damn thing.
So, here’s Lesson #1: Stay humble. No matter what a “rock star” you think you are, or how much you have accomplished up until this point in your life, you still need to prove yourself in the real world. You are not entitled to anything. Anything.
Lesson #2: Learn to negotiate. Before you accept a job offer, do your research on the salary and compensation. Even if you’re offered a salary that is more than you think you deserve, make sure that it is market rate, at the very least. But don’t be afraid to ask for more. Stay humble, but don’t be an effing doormat. And in the case that you end up kicking ass and exceed your (quantifiable) goals, ask for a raise. Spend 3-6 months building your case, demonstrate that you’ve exceeded your goals & ask for a raise. One of my friends did this & got a 40% raise. I’ve also successfully negotiated raises in the past. Don’t think it’s impossible. It is. And don’t think you don’t deserve it, because you deserve to be rewarded for the work that you do.
Lesson #3: Set quantifiable goals. Always quantify your goals, because when you exceed them, there is no argument that you exceeded them. You might be young & naive, you might want to do work that “makes a difference”, but you won’t be rewarded for that work if you can’t quantify it. Unfortunately, this is the sad truth. Also, don’t set goals that are too ambitious, unless you have a direct stake in the success of the company. Nobody cares how ambitious your goals are or how much you achieve if you can’t put a number to it. This is something I still need to work on…
Lesson #4: Advocate for yourself. This is especially important for those who grew up with Asian parents. You’re supposed to be humble, self deprecating. You were taught not to brag about your accomplishments. Your parents did you a disservice. In the real world, you are going to need to advocate for yourself. Take credit for the work that you do. There is nothing more demoralizing than having someone else take credit for your work, especially for work that they don’t know how to do. This has happened to almost every person I know, including me.
Lesson #5: Never stop learning. Never. If you’re lucky enough to work at a company that offers formal training for your job, then great. But most people aren’t that lucky and nobody is responsible for teaching you anything, so take the initiative to learn as much as possible. Read books, read blogs, take classes, attend conferences, join professional organizations, be a network whore (see lesson #8), try to work with people who are smarter than you & who challenge you intellectually. Ask to take on new projects where you can apply your learning. No matter how much of an expert or “guru” you think you are, you can always learn more, or learn to think differently about what you already know.
Lesson #6: Be a leader. Not a boss. I’ve been in positions where I’ve had direct reports, and some of my peers are getting into roles where they’re responsible for managing other employees, so this is especially important. The people are the most important part of any organization, so invest in your people. Make sure your employees are happy and that they feel their jobs are meaningful Provide the resources that your employees need to do their job. Let them take ownership of their work (don’t give responsibility without authority) – you hired them to do a job, so trust them to do their job. Otherwise, you obviously made a shitty hiring decision. Leave your ego at the door. Listen to your employees, be open to their ideas, & provide advice. Help them develop the skills they need to grow professionally. And whatever you do, don’t micromanage. Let them learn to ask questions and figure things out on their own. Give credit where credit is due. Set high expectations.
Lesson #7: Find good managers. In my experience, your job satisfaction depends a whole lot on your manager, so make sure you find one that you get along with. This is more important than the actual work that you or the company you work for. You know that saying, “People don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers”? Well, it’s true. And people will stay loyal to a good manager. Unless the company culture is absolutely toxic or they’re severely under-compensated My best managers have been the “leader” type and not the “boss” type. They were accessible, checked in regularly, gave me the resources I needed to do my job, gave career advice beyond my tenure at their company, let me take ownership of my work, and understood that I was human. They understood that my family & health came first before my job, and they fully respected that.
Lesson 8: Be a network whore. Meet as many people in your industry as possible. Respond to recruiters and hiring managers trying to recruit you, even if you’re not in the market for career change. Answer their phone calls (yes, they’ve called me at work before), and let them buy you coffee or lunch. You may not be ready to make a move now, but you may be ready to make a move a few years down the road, and keeping in touch with your connections will be invaluable when that time comes. It doesn’t matter how hard you work or how much you accomplish if nobody knows who you are or the work that you’ve done.
Lesson 9: Do your due diligence. A wise industry veteran recently advised me to “do your due diligence” on any prospective manager before accepting an offer to work with them. In fact, do your due diligence before making any big life decision. Before making a college decision, a decision to go to graduate school, a decision to undergo treatment for a health problem, a decision to invest a shit ton of time or money into something, etc. It will save a lot of headaches and heartache later. Trust me.
*Lesson #10: Don’t be a afraid to walk away. Early in my career, I chose to make strategic decisions regarding my career. I wanted to work in my chosen field and made many personal & monetary sacrifices to make it happen. I rejected more lucrative opportunities because they weren’t aligned with my interests. Don’t be afraid to do that. You will be happier in the long run.
Also, don’t be afraid to walk away from your job, even if you don’t have a new gig lined up. The company culture at one of my first jobs out of college was absolutely toxic. I survived three rounds of layoffs, and ended up getting a lot of more senior level work dumped on me without being compensated for it. Talented employees were leaving left and right, in the middle of a recession. Management was inaccessible at best, or they were in the “you’re lucky you still have a job” mentality at worst. I had nightmares about work. I had an anxiety attack, which I initially mistook for a heart attack. Eventually, I reached a breaking point and made the decision to walk away without having a gig lined up. Don’t be afraid to walk away.Nothing is worth sacrificing your health for. (Nothing is worth sacrificing your values and integrity for, either.)
*Make sure you’re constantly working to build up your nest egg, so you can do #10.
Cause-washing is trendy these days. With all the newly formed charities and nonprofits out there, how do you decide which ones are worth your money & which aren’t? After all, some organizations are strictly nonprofit for “tax reasons.”
You have a few options:
1. Keep donating to the organizations you know and trust.
2. Start volunteering your time to a worthy cause, instead of just giving money.
3. Use one of the following websites to help you evaluate the legitimacy and effectiveness of charities & nonprofits:
GiveWell- Most websites of this type that I’ve seen give you financial information (e.g. administrative costs & fundraising costs vs. $ put towards cause). GiveWell, however, also focuses on the effectiveness of an organization on the people it serves. They accomplish this through heavy industry research. I also find them to be an extremely transparent organization; they include a page on their website that lists the organization’s shortcomings. Head on over to GiveWell’s website for more information.
Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance – A comprehensive database of charities. They have a ton of great resources for donors in their resource library. BBB Wise Giving Alliance also recently started a project called “Charting Impact”, which provides reports on the goals (what they want to achieve) & effectiveness (what they have already accomplished) of nonprofits & charities. Access BBB for Charities & Donors here.
Any other websites worth considering? List them in the comments.
This question comes up quite frequently in discussions about volunteering and nonprofits, “I want to give back and start volunteering, where do I start?”
Well, it depends.
High School Students
If you’re in high school, you might want to check out community service organizations, like Key Club.Key Club International is one of the largest community service programs for high school students, with over 260,000 members, 5,000 clubs, and represented in over 30 countries. Most clubs are student led, but there is typically a faculty sponsor and/or a Kiwanis sponsor to help guide the students.
I was a member of Key Club throughout high school, and I was involved in all types of service projects including the AIDS Walk, the Rose Parade, and UNICEF. We volunteered during the holidays at shelters, helped build gardens in local elementary schools, tutored elementary school & middle school children, and fundraised for various causes.
Key Club is a great way for high school students to gain exposure to different types of volunteer projects, develop leadership skills, and maybe even find a passion for a specific type of work. It’s also a great way to make friends outside of your school. As President of Key Club my senior year of high school, I spent countless weekends meeting with leaders from other clubs in “the Valley,” several of which ended up as classmates in college and that I still talk to, nearly eight years later.
If you’re school does not have a Key Club, see if there’s an equivalent organization.
College students have a ton of options for volunteering. There’s a Key Club equivalent at universities called Circle K, for those that wish to continue with the organization beyond high school. Other options include:
Greek letter organizations (i.e. fraternities & sororities)
Clubs & Associations – most clubs/associations at universities are involved in some sort of service project. Project SMILE, a tutoring organization I volunteered with in college, was a part of the Asian American Association before it spun off on its own.
If you play a musical instrument, consider volunteering your time to teach young students how to play your musical instrument. Or join a group that gives free concerts around the community (e.g. at retirement homes, schools, etc.)
Working Professionals & Beyond
Volunteer Match – Volunteer March is an organization that helps connect volunteers with nonprofits. They are somewhat of a search engines for volunteers & a recruiting tool for nonprofits, but they do much more. Check it out.
Idealist – According to Idealist website, their mission is to “[connect] people, organizations, and resources to help build a world where all people can live free and dignified lives.” Idealist is similar to Volunteer Match, but they also offer resources & a job search engine for those seeking careers in—or transitioning to—the nonprofit world.
Taproot Organization – Taproot connects business talent with nonprofits. According to their website, “Most organizations tackling social problems don’t have access to the marketing, design, technology, management or strategic planning resources they need to succeed. Without this talent, few are able to have their intended impact on critical issues like the environment, health and education.” Thus, Taproot helps provide much needed talent to nonprofits. If you’re a working professional with at least a few years of experience under your belt, consider pro bono project work through Taproot.
Kids in today’s school system are not being prepared well for tomorrow’s world.
As someone who went from the corporate world and then the government world to the ever-changing online world, I know how the world of yesterday is rapidly becoming irrelevant. I was trained in the newspaper industry, where we all believed we would be relevant forever — and I now believe will go the way of the horse and buggy.
Unfortunately, I was educated in a school system that believed the world in which it existed would remain essentially the same, with minor changes in fashion. We were trained with a skill set that was based on what jobs were most in demand in the 1980s, not what might happen in the 2000s.
And that kinda makes sense, given that no one could really know what life would be like 20 years from now. Imagine the 1980s, when personal computers were still fairly young, when faxes were the cutting-edge communication technology, when the Internet as we now know it was only the dream of sci-fi writers like William Gibson.
We had no idea what the world had in store for us.
And here’s the thing: we still don’t. We never do. We have never been good at predicting the future, and so raising and educating our kids as if we have any idea what the future will hold is not the smartest notion.
How then to prepare our kids for a world that is unpredictable, unknown? By teaching them to adapt, to deal with change, to be prepared for anything by not preparing them for anything specific.
This requires an entirely different approach to child-rearing and education. It means leaving our old ideas at the door, and reinventing everything.
My drop-dead gorgeous wife Eva (yes, I’m a very lucky man) and I are among those already doing this. We homeschool our kids — more accurately, we unschool them. We are teaching them to learn on their own, without us handing knowledge down to them and testing them on that knowledge.
It is, admittedly, a wild frontier, and most of us who are experimenting with unschooling will admit that we don’t have all the answers, that there is no set of “best practices”. But we also know that we are learning along with our kids, and that not knowing can be a good thing — an opportunity to find out, without relying on established methods that might not be optimal.
I won’t go too far into methods here, as I find them to be less important than ideas. Once you have some interesting ideas to test, you can figure out an unlimited amount of methods, and so my dictating methods would be too restrictive.
Instead, let’s look at a good set of essential skills that I believe children should learn, that will best prepare them for any world of the future. I base these on what I have learned in three different industries, especially the world of online entreprenurship, online publishing, online living … and more importantly, what I have learned about learning and working and living in a world that will never stop changing.
1. Asking questions. What we want most for our kids, as learners, is to be able to learn on their own. To teach themselves anything. Because if they can, then we don’t need to teach them everything — whatever they need to learn in the future, they can do on their own. The first step in learning to teach yourself anything is learning to ask questions. Luckily, kids do this naturally — our hope is to simply encourage it. A great way to do this is by modeling it. When you and your child encounter something new, ask questions, and explore the possible answers with your child. When he does ask questions, reward the child instead of punishing him (you might be surprised how many adults discourage questioning).
2. Solving problems. If a child can solve problems, she can do any job. A new job might be intimidating to any of us, but really it’s just another problem to be solved. A new skill, a new environment, a new need … they’re all simply problems to be solved. Teach your child to solve problems by modeling simple problem solving, then allowing her to do some very easy ones on her own. Don’t immediately solve all your child’s problems — let her fiddle with them and try various possible solutions, and reward such efforts. Eventually, your child will develop confidence in her problem-solving abilities, and then there is nothing she can’t do.
3. Tackling projects. As an online entrepreneur, I know that my work is a series of projects, sometimes related, sometimes small and sometimes large (which are usually a group of smaller projects). I also know that there isn’t a project I can’t tackle, because I’ve done so many of them. This post is a project. Writing a book is a project. Selling the book is another project. Work on projects with your kid, letting him see how it’s done by working with you, then letting him do more and more by himself. As he gains confidence, let him tackle more on his own. Soon, his learning will just be a series of projects that he’s excited about.
4. Finding passion. What drives me is not goals, not discipline, not external motivation, not reward … but passion. When I’m so excited that I can’t stop thinking about something, I will inevitably dive into it fully committed, and most times I’ll complete the project and love doing it. Help your kid find things she’s passionate about — it’s a matter of trying a bunch of things, finding ones that excite her the most, helping her really enjoy them. Don’t discourage any interest — encourage them. Don’t suck the fun out of them either — make them rewarding.
5. Independence. Kids should be taught to increasingly stand on their own. A little at a time, of course. Slowly encourage them to do things on their own. Teach them how to do it, model it, help them do it, help less, then let them make their own mistakes. Give them confidence in themselves by letting them have a bunch of successes, and letting them solve the failures. Once they learn to be independent, they learn that they don’t need a teacher, a parent, or a boss to tell them what to do. They can manage themselves, and be free, and figure out the direction they need to take on their own.
6. Being happy on their own. Too many of us parents coddle our kids, keeping them on a leash, making them rely on our presence for happiness. When the kid grows up, he doesn’t know how to be happy. He must immediately attach to a girlfriend or friends. Failing that, they find happiness in other external things — shopping, food, video games, the Internet. But if a child learns from an early age that he canbe happy by himself, playing and reading and imagining, he has one of the most valuable skills there is. Allow your kids to be alone from an early age. Give them privacy, have times (such as the evening) when parents and kids have alone time.
7. Compassion. One of the most essential skills ever. We need this to work well with others, to care for people other than ourselves, to be happy by making others happy. Modeling compassion is the key. Be compassionate to your child at all times, and to others. Show them empathy by asking how they think others might feel, and thinking aloud about how you think others might feel. Demonstrate at every opportunity how to ease the suffering of others when you’re able, how to make others happier with small kindnesses, how that can make you happier in return.
8. Tolerance. Too often we grow up in an insulated area, where people are mostly alike (at least in appearance), and when we come into contact with people who are different, it can be uncomfortable, shocking, fear-inducing. Expose your kids to people of all kinds, from different races to different sexuality to different mental conditions. Show them that not only is it OK to be different, but that differences should be celebrated, and that variety is what makes life so beautiful.
9. Dealing with change. I believe this will be one of the most essential skills as our kids grow up, as the world is always changing and being able to accept the change, to deal with the change, to navigate the flow of change, will be a competitive advantage. This is a skill I’m still learning myself, but I find that it helps me tremendously, especially compared to those who resist and fear change, who set goals and plans and try to rigidly adhere to them as I adapt to the changing landscape. Rigidity is less helpful in a changing environment than flexibility, fluidity, flow. Again, modeling this skill for your child at every opportunity is important, and showing them that changes are OK, that you can adapt, that you can embrace new opportunities that weren’t there before, should be a priority. Life is an adventure, and things will go wrong, turn out differently than you expected, and break whatever plans you made — and that’s part of the excitement of it all.
We can’t give our children a set of data to learn, a career to prepare for, when we don’t know what the future will bring. But we can prepare them to adapt to anything, to learn anything, to solve anything, and in about 20 years, to thank us for it.
I just added a couple of new projects to the portfolio section of my website under “Web Design,” featuring a couple of websites that I built for my HTML/CSS for Web Design class at UCLA (Fall 2011). Check them out:
“The world faces a clear choice. If we invest relatively modest amounts, many more poor farmers will be able to feed their families. If we don’t, one in seven people will continue living needlessly on the edge of starvation. My annual letter this year is an argument for making the choice to keep on helping extremely poor people build self-sufficiency.” Read on…
I can’t wait to see this. One young student summed it up quite nicely, “There is no appreciation for women intellectuals in the media.” And it’s true. There isn’t. In the media, we see women valued for their beauty & their youth, which is fleeting. We get reality TV shows like The Real Housewives.. (of whatever) & Keeping Up with the Kardashians, and the women on these shows are narcissistic, and quite frankly, not that smart. They are preoccupied with shopping, socializing, instigating drama, and a whole lot of nothing. We can do better than that. Much better.
“MissRepresentation.org believes that all people should be equally represented in our media, that our voices should be heard and that we should all be valued for our talents, capacity as leaders, and ability to contribute to the world at large.” Hop on over to MissRepresentation.org for more info!
One thing I love about working in the marketing world is that there’s never a shortage of things to learn or a shortage of content to learn from. The real difficulty comes from figuring out the useful stuff, from the not-so-useful stuff. With a bajillion blogs out there, which ones are a must-add to your Google Reader?
Occam’s Razor by Avinash Kaushik – You cannot work in online marketing without understanding Web Analytics. Avinash, the king of all analysis ninjas, writes what I consider the most practical blog in the world of digital marketing. Whether you specialize in email marketing or social media or search (or all of them), Avinash explains how to set up web analytics, create reports that are actually useful (yes, “visitors” to your website & “pageviews” are actually useless metrics, reporting squirrels), how to figure out which KPIs matter to your business & the metrics with which to measure success. So for example, if you do “social media” stuff for your job, and one of your strategies is to “engage with influencers,” and you’ve managed to get your webinar mentioned in a few blogs, you’d probably want to know which of those blogs was successful in driving not just traffic, but conversions. You can do that easily if you’ve properly set up your tracking & goals, and next time, you’ll know which bloggers to reach out to again. Also, you will never again report numbers in aggregate & you will fall asleep thinking about segmenting data.
Web Strategist by Jeremiah Owyang – Jeremiah is an industry analyst and according to his blog, he strives to “deliver insight on disruptive technologies and their impact on how companies communicate with their customers.” This is a great blog for anyone looking for research and insight into the digital marketing industry. He mostly writes about social media. I found some of the research he conducted particularly useful when I was helping my company develop a corporate social media strategy (see: How Corporations Should Prioritize Social Business Budgets) or when I was evaluating social media management systems (see: The State and Future of the Social Media Management Space) I like reading research about the industry, because it provides benchmarks for my own work
The SEOmoz Blog – Just like you can’t work in online marketing without understanding web analytics, you REALLY cannot work in online marketing without understanding search engines, how to optimize your website for quality search traffic, etc. SEOmoz provides practical information (e.g. “how-to” not just “what-to-do”) for search marketing pros. One of my favorite things about Rand Fishkin and his team at SEOmoz is that they conduct experiments and tests ALL THE TIME. We all know that Google’s algorithm is top secret, but thanks to SEOmoz’s Search Engine Ranking Factors Survey results, we have a pretty good idea of what the Google bots like to crawl and spit up in the SERPs. Also, did you know that social media impacts search?
I have a couple more to add to this list, but one thing to keep in mind that it doesn’t matter what you do if you don’t have the content to drive your marketing efforts. What are you trying to communicate about your brand? Craft a story that will resonate with your audience. What’s the best way to deliver that message? Answer those questions first, and then worry about the other stuff. Invest in a good writer.
I am also in the process of creating a book list, which will come out at the end of the year, since I still have a few books that I started but have not finished reading.
Add your favorite blogs or websites in the comments below.
In 1776, the United States declared independence from Great Britain. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The “truths” he refers to are our natural and legal rights, our human rights (defined as “basic rights and freedoms that all people are entitled to regardless of nationality, sex, national or ethnic origin, race, religion, language”).
Maybe he should have written, “all those in the human race are created equal.” Maybe he shouldn’t have left so much up to interpretation. Maybe, just maybe, we would be living in a different world today.
That was 1776.
In the last 235 years of American history when was there ever a period where we WEREN’T fighting for equality?
In 1864, we added the 13th Amendment to the Bill of Rights and abolished slavery.
In 1868, we added the 14th Amendment and declared every “man” born in the United States a citizen.
In 1870, we added the 15th Amendment to extend voting rights to all “citizens.” One man = one vote.
In 1920, 144 years after Thomas Jefferson wrote those infamous words, we added the 19th Amendment to the Bill of Rights, allowing women the right to vote.
If our leaders followed the constitution, we never should have needed to vote for these rights. The constitution makes it clear that rights cannot be taken away from a minority by a majority.
Some have called the fight for marriage equality the “civil rights test of our generation.” I would have to agree with this statement. There are lots of things I know we will accomplish during my lifetime, and I know that achieving marriage equality will be one of them. Maybe next, we can tackle gender equality and then racial equality. The latter two probably will not happen in my lifetime.
One day, I would like to get married. And one day, I would like to have children. I don’t ever want to have that difficult conversation with my children on why, because of some inherent difference, they don’t have the same rights or opportunities as other children. I don’t want them to grow up in a world where they don’t have the freedom to pursue happiness, whatever that might mean to them.
Will there ever be a day where we won’t need to fight for equal rights?