reflecting on a dinner for one 🍽️

There’s something about treating yourself to a fancy dinner for one that gets you into an introspective state. Last month while stuck in Austin, TX for a day longer than expected, I had a pretty memorable meal at Arlo Grey a-la my fav Kristin Kish, while listening to a podcast with my other fav, Eric Kim, that made me reflect on my journey so far.

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We all have unique journeys through the world: whether you think you’re on a typical career/life path or if, you’re like me, and truly embrace and believe you’re some special f*cking butterfly charting your own course with an ego to match.

Kristen and Eric remain as influences that I never really sought out. As a foodie, I naturally followed their paths over the last few years, and while I can’t relate to their culinary journeys directly (not being anywhere close to their industry), it made me think about embracing your inner self and finding the sweet spot of where your personal and professional life collide. It made me think about why I do what I do in those 40 hours a week.

OMG I knowww, cheesy right? 😱 But hear me out.

Disclaimer though: I am not trying to preach that your personal and professional lives should intermingle in any way, and am very much in touch with work-life integration. I just think that, in a creative field like cooking or design, that naturally the two speak to one another.

Below is the first page in the portfolio that I present in job interviews, networking conversations, etc. etc. Wherever I show it — I use it as my current line in the sand.

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And I always preface this slide by sharing my crazy zig-zagging journey between the world of theme parks, corporate workplace strategy, financial services, and big tech. BUT, as much as I can communicate the thread of how I moved from one place to another, I’ve always had this underlying thought: WHY DID I MAKE THOSE SHIFTS?! And what, in my “purpose in this world”, or whatever ikigai statement we want to use, is really acting as my driver in my career.

There’s something about how the motivations of Kristen and Eric’s culinary work both represent a true confluence of their up-bringing, their values, and their interpretation of the world as it is today.

For Kristen, the meal — a “mix of dishes influenced by French and Italian traditions, as well as Kish’s nostalgia for meals from her Midwest upbringing” — was so perfectly executed to represent her mixed upbringing, her training, and life learnings. But most importantly, the family-style nature of the dishes and menu also hit home on the influences of Asian culture. It plays within the boxes of “fine dining”, but breaks free in a way that’s her own.

For Eric, his journey as a recipe developer (not a chef) translates his background in journalism with a passion for taking his Korean-American family traditions and making it accessible to everyone (in probably the most sincere and humble way possible). His sheet pan bibimbap remains a staple in my day-to-day meal prep.

There’s one thing that I really took away from thinking about them and their journeys: who you are today, represents where you came from. Who you are becoming, represents what you will see tomorrow. Embrace both these things to the fullest.

What this thought means for me.

To circle back to the way I introduce myself to my professional network, I’ve never really planned where I’m heading, and rolled with the opportunities to filling in my knowledge gaps to deliver on my purpose in creating holistic experiences for people to connect.

From my past, I always bring a few things:

  1. The joy of making (as a process), inherently embeds joy in the impact of what you make. We might not be at the end, but the journey can always be wonderful.
  2. Curiosity drives my growth and enables my connections. My parents fed this as a kid, and now on my own, it’s up to me to continue to be curious to further my growth. Because…
  3. There’s always more to learn. There’s always another angle to explore.

The process, the curiosity, the exploration: it’s helped fill out the venn diagram of “brand experience design”, but also builds on what I’ve learned from all the industries I’ve been blessed to work in. Theme parks taught me about going beyond function to access designing for happiness and joy. Workplace design taught me about the intangibles of how we collaborate, and brought a new dimension to how I uniquely approach “Service Design”. And now, working in a big bank AND a big tech company — two opposite ends of the spectrum — I’ve learned about how to practice design in two organizationally differing structures.

Who you are today, represents where you came from. Who you are becoming, represents what you will see tomorrow.

This is mostly a reminder for me to celebrate all the small experiences I’ve had, as building blocks to where I’m going. And to see any hurdles ahead as an opportunity to learn, be curious, and explore a new angle. All it took a dinner for one, and two influential queer Asians in the world, to get this cemented in my brain.

Published: @August 7, 2022

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