I’ve gotten used to sounding apologetic when I explain to people what I do for a living. After all, I have a Master’s degree in Public Policy from one of the best policy schools in the nation. How could I possibly just be an assistant? I get defensive and feel like I have to justify my decision to take a job that would not impress any of my peers. Since starting, I had feared this job wouldn't allow me to learn any tangible skills, and I would leave it having accomplished nothing.
Was taking this job a mistake?
This fear started to run my life and I spent much of my spare time looking into opportunities for professional development. I figured if I wasn’t getting what I needed from work, I’d go out and find it. It didn’t really matter what exactly I was doing, as long as I thought it would appeal to a future employer. Keep in mind, I’m already part of two amazing organizations: I serve on the board of YNPN-TC and on the Executive Team of the Coalition of Asian American Leaders (CAAL). For some reason, I had it in my head that I needed more, more, more!
I don’t think I’m alone, right? In high school, we were told that we needed to be "well-rounded" in order to be a competitive applicant for college, and in college we were pushed to engage in every opportunity, so we would stand out in the job market.
For many of us this pressure didn't cease when we left academia. In fact, there are books about it! Sheryl Sandberg’s bestseller, “Lean In,” challenges women to tenaciously go after what they want in the workplace, be it a promotion, a raise, or some other benefit. We have to work our tails off to get anywhere. In my case, my endless pursuit of professional development was how I was “leaning in".
Until finally, I reached a turning point.
I was about to apply for another leadership development opportunity and join a giving circle with a small foundation here in the Cities. It would have been an amazing opportunity to learn with a small cohort of people. However, it would mean less energy that I could spend on YNPN-TC or on CAAL, and more importantly, less time I could spend with my boyfriend, my friends and family. This concern prompted me to think about the reasons why I wanted the new position. Was I passionate about resource development or was it just something else to add to my resume?
I realized that I don’t want to be someone who is spread thinly across multiple activities. I want to be someone who is deeply committed to something I love. So I made some changes.
For YNPN, I started volunteering on the Programming Committee and joined the Member Benefits Taskforce, heading up the scholarships team. These positions allow me to dive deeper into my commitment to improving the access to quality professional development opportunities. For CAAL, I’ve made more of an effort to attend Education workgroup meetings. This allows me to surround myself with people who share my passion for improving academic outcomes for Asian American students in Minnesota and who want to help shape a policy agenda that reflects what we want in the future. In retrospect, I didn’t fully appreciate this as a perfect opportunity for professional development.
At work, rather than pine after a new job, I’ve made the effort to be more engaged in one I’ve got. I started to question the extent to which I’ve really poured myself into work. Have I done my best work? Can I do more? I’ve started really evaluating how I do my work. There are ways to make it easier. There are processes that can be improved. This is where I’m putting my energy now and I’m a lot more content because of it.
It is the nature of the nonprofit sector to take on huge missions, to take on hefty tasks. I expect that many of you will experience the same struggles as you continue to tackle the world, always looking to do more. I hope that my story can help some of you to look inward and reaffirm that whatever you’re doing, you’re committed to something you care about. And remember, being a member of YNPN-TC means that whatever you’re doing, you’re not doing it alone.