Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Growth Diary of a Harvard Alumnus

The diary of a Harvard Alumnus's personal development journey, self-growth, and self-development.

The diary of a Harvard Alumnus's personal development journey, self-growth, and self-development.

Jacqueline Ma is every Asian parents' dream - fluent in Mandarin, a violin player, a star student, salutatorian of her graduating class, and a Harvard alumnus. By age 23, she has had the opportunity to do research in China and has organized a medical volunteer trip to Sri Lanka with some of her fellow Harvard classmates. A lot of people may wonder how she has become so accomplished, intelligent, and driven. Many other people may think, "Damn, how did she get so good at resume building?" But I believe she's more than just her tangible accomplishments; she's a person who has gone through trials and tribulations to feel more comfortable in her own skin, and we shouldn't take that her away from her, which is why I'm going to share her growth diary.

Jackie's Story

When you first meet Jackie, the first thing you might notice is her big smile and calm aura. She's a little shy so she might come off as standoffish initially. But, don't let that stop you from getting to know her. She's actually a very warm, caring, down-to-earth, sensitive person. I've grown up with Jackie; she's my cousin. She was my go-to person when I needed to rant, and sometimes she still is. Growing up, Jackie was a stereotypical nerd - quiet, studious, and obedient. Though she was an intelligent, beautiful person, like most teenagers, she didn't feel comfortable in her own skin and struggled with self-confidence, but that started to change in college.

"Looking back, I realize the times I feel that I’ve grown the most are after I've experienced big challenges."
- Jackie Ma

From September 2012 to May 2016, Jackie called Harvard University her home. Prior to moving in, she didn't know anyone. She was on her own, navigating through a new campus and a new crowd of people. For anyone, that's intimidating. For a shy introvert, that's terrifying. But no one was holding her hand, and she knew that she was going to have to put herself out there. So, that's what she did.

In her sophomore year, Jackie was heavily involved in extracurriculars. She joined a US-China program, volunteered in a hospital and on campus, and participated in school clubs. Not to mention, she was taking organic chemistry - the death of thousands of biology majors. Between the long nights studying, the constant fear of failure in organic chemistry, and all the extracurriculars, Jackie finished strong with A's and B's that year and became more comfortable socializing.

To say the least, it was....challenging, but rewarding. She built confidence. I mean, how could you not? She successfully forced herself to get out of her comfort zone and still managed to get good grades and didn't die. And, more importantly, she learned a lot about herself. She learned how to be independent, how to manage her time, and how to be more comfortable in her own skin.

Though her junior year was calm and chill, her senior year was just as pressuring and stressful as her sophomore year in a different way. Like every other college senior, she struggled to find a job. Application after application, interview after interview, rejection after rejection. After a full year of this, Jackie built a sense of resilience.

Even though she did feel discouraged, she kept going because, well, that's what you do. You have faith in your abilities and qualifications and believe that it will all work out for the best. After all, someone else has to see what makes you stand out eventually. And, that's what happened. As a matter of fact, two employers thought that she would be an excellent fit for their company. In the end, she chose a job in project management for a health tech company.

Although Jackie's transition from school to work was easier than her college transition, she still had another set of challenges ahead of her. She suffered from impostor syndrome. Constant thoughts of, "I don't belong here. I just got out of college. I don't know what I'm doing," lingered in her head. Because she had a mainly academic and research background, she felt unfamiliar with the professional business and work setting. This resulted in her struggle of making connections at work, her fear of talking to clients, and her reluctance to put her opinion out there. She wasn't confident, and her manager could see that.

Together, they worked at building Jackie's confidence in the workplace. Jackie, of course, did most of the heavy lifting, but her manager gave her feedback so Jackie would know where she could improve upon and what she was doing really well. Jackie took a couple leaps of faith herself, like leading meetings, even though she didn’t always feel confident, and taking initiative in her office. She started to fake it till she made it! And her efforts to become more confident paid off because she got promoted! (You go girl!)

In Her Own Words

What were some of the differences between school life and work life?

In school, you’re measured with grades and test scores but that's not how real life is at all. So just trying to navigate the professional world and do a good job felt different because it wasn’t measured in the same way I was used to at school. Another big difference is the sense of community you have in school, when you’re always surrounded by friends and classmates. In work life, you’re working with your team during the day but I find that you have much more time on your own to focus on what you want to do.

What were the biggest lessons you learned?

Taking initiative is something you need to do for yourself. If you want something done, go for it. Don't wait around for someone to give you something if you're not going out and getting it for yourself. I've learned that you need to put yourself out there. Most of the time people are appreciative of it because you're doing something without them having to ask you.

Always be nice to people because you don't know what someone else is going through. It’s simple, just treat others the way you want to be treated. You also never know how it may impact your interactions in the future. I believe in spreading good karma. 

What was something that you learned about yourself?

It’s important for me to have a creative outlet to focus my energies on beyond work. Whether it’s music or art, I enjoy being creative and trying something new. It also helps me to decompress from a stressful day or just take a step away from my professional life. I find that being creative re-energizes me and helps me to better focus at work.

What are you focusing on now in general and in terms of your growth?

I am always looking for opportunities to learn, grow, and develop new skills. I think my next big step is to move somewhere new. I want to feel self-sufficient and continue my personal development, and I feel that staying in my comfort zone of home has caused my growth to stagnate a little bit. I’m ready for my next new challenge and am excited to see where it takes me!

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The diary of a Harvard Alumnus's personal development journey, self-growth, and self-development.

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