What do you do / does your family do for a living?

I avoid asking that as much as I can. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s a perfectly innocuous question. I’m interested in what people do and their interests / hobbies and views, but sometimes that question bothers me a bit more than it should. I think it’s related to my upbringing. In my experience, the follow up question is usually:

How much do you / does your family earn from it?

Talking about money makes me uncomfortable unless I know that person really well. Even so…it still makes me feel a bit uneasy.

In collectivist (Asian) cultures, there is a heavy emphasis on wealth. Obviously everyone around the world cares about money, because it can get almost everything one wants – from material possession to time and convenience and happiness to a certain extent.

Actually, cross that. One can probably get everything from money. One can buy “love” through old-school ways of meeting gold diggers in real life, or from modern technology through websites like SeekingArrangment for a sugar baby. Or if it’s something more permanent that one seeks (catered to the male gender here) – hello, mail-order brides, or in Taiwan, bridal agencies that fly men to either Indonesia, Russia, Thailand, Ukraine, Vietnam…and allegedly to the notorious DPRK, also known as Democratic People’s Republic of Korea / North Korea to pick out the women of their dreams…for a price. I’m unsure if there are bridal agencies for more countries, but I’m going to assume that the world is anyone’s oyster with enough money…as terrible and sexist as it sounds. Okay. Don’t get me started on this – I’ll rant nonstop, and today I don’t feel like going into this, because I’m trying to talk about career instead of gender equality.

There’s also the existence of dark, or is it deep web or both? Apparently it is possible to hire a hit-man, purchase drugs, fake IDs (passports, to be specific), credit card and personal information, etc. on such websites. I’m not technologically advanced enough to even try (I got confused on the Onion Tor part already), nor am I curious about what these websites have to offer, but they’re interesting yet horrible to read about if you’re into this. My point is: a lot of material possessions or conveniences in life can be bought, the price just needs to be right.

I don’t think a person’s value should be based on his / her background and money. No one could pick that. I don’t judge people based on their physical possessions and how much they have in their bank accounts (nor do I want to know how much they have as well). It seems more than just a bit shallow and inauthentic to do so. I try to look for meaningful relationships at this stage in my life. I want thought provoking conversations, raw feelings, anecdotes, memories, ideas and inspiration from people I care about. That’s not to say I want and search for meaningfulness all the time. I still love talking about junk. I don’t place more worth on my friends who are wealthier than ones who are not as well off (okay, honestly, I can kind of gauge who might be well off, but I don’t know the extent nor do I want to because it’s unrelated to me anyway). I believe that coming from a better background automatically presents more options for anyone, but that’s not quite enough for success. Accomplishment in any industry also takes a lot of hard work / dedication, connections, and sometimes just pure luck.

Note: Luck is a funny thing. It’s something one has absolutely zero control over and can potentially and drastically change the whole situation for better or worse.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way…

What do you do for a living? I genuinely want to know. Instead of following up with the question on how much you make, I want to ask something else. Is this a job that’s related to what you’ve studied at school? Are you interested in this career? Are you doing it out of obligation? Are you doing it for the future and the potential it might bring? There might not be a purpose or a really profound answer to what you are doing now, and that is completely okay. I’ve gone through, and I’m still going through a handful of experiences, because I have no idea what the hell I’m doing and whether my route is correct or not.

I love listening to someone talk about his / her job with focus and intent. It’s a bit ironic, because I don’t ask questions about career a lot. I find it mesmerizing when someone talks about his / her work, especially if that person is into whatever he / she is doing. It sounds super cliched, but there’s always a spark, or an extra speck of life whenever someone talks about his / her profession with zest even though I might not understand that particular industry (if that person starts dissecting things I don’t understand to me, I do not get bothered at all, in fact, I appreciate the gesture very much – please don’t worry about rambling on). It’s quite attractive.

It took me a while to find some sort of direction as to what I think I want to do? I’m still not entirely sure. I majored in psychology, so at the beginning it made a lot of sense for me to apply for internship positions in labs, especially because a lot of my friends were either aiming towards working in specific labs or becoming TAs. Yes, I was a mere sheep then. I followed the herd, and thought I could find some sort of accomplishment, meaning, and belonging through academia related positions.

The first lab I’ve interned at was a couples lab, and it was basically just data collecting and organizing through questionnaires. I think it was just to help one of the masters or PhD student complete her thesis or something, and it wasn’t really fulfilling to me. The information I’ve gathered through the interviews were interesting though (I think it was something about how couples communicate and the frequency, but my memory is fuzzy now).

The second lab was way more informative. I was a research assistant at NYU’s CHIBPS (Center for Health, Identity, Behavior and Prevention Studies). CHIBPS conduct longitudinal researches that focuses on HIV/AIDS and substance abuse while providing education and awareness. The main subjects in the lab that I interned in were homosexual men. We (my fellow interns and I) mainly had to ask them questions in regards to their sexual history, HIV knowledge, and substance use while educating them about the importance of safe sex. There were also days where we had to screen through participants through structured interviews, as these were paid studies. Other than that, there were a lot of interview transcriptions as well as utilization of SPSS (statistical analysis software). Despite obtaining really valuable experiences from this lab (as well as some sort of courage), something just didn’t feel right for me.

I’ve had a chance to intern in fashion, too. I’ve always had an interest in this industry, in particular how beautiful certain clothes / dresses / shoes / jewelry / handbags are and how one can mix and match to create a sense of individuality and style that’s aesthetically pleasing to the eyes. I think of fashion as an art form that is portable and constantly evolving. The reasoning behind applying for internships in this industry was purely based on passion.

I worked in three different places, which were: Christian Dior, FENDI, and Barneys New York. It still sounds a bit surreal right now. I was literally living in the Devil Wears Prada kind of dream (well, unpaid dream – technically, I had to use university credits in order to work for these places, so I’m actually paying to work…let that sink in a bit), where a million girls would kill to have my job. The lens for the rose-tinted glasses in fashion are strong. It’s an incredibly fascinating industry to work in, but there’s still a lot of unsexy quotidian paperwork that’s necessary to complete for a corporation to operate.

I tackled the human resources department (even though at the time public relations, visual merchandising, customer relationship management, and marketing all sounded much more interesting – I was aware that I’m not going to be able to compete with Parsons, Pratt, FIT, or LIM students for these subjects as they have actual majors catered to these fields). I’ve actually learned a lot in HR, as I looked over hundreds – if not thousands of resumes, figured out how payroll worked, honed my interviewing skills, and made me even more aware that paperwork is extremely important (notice the present tense? If there’s something one should learn before 2018 ends, this should be one of them).

I gained a dose of reality as an international student at the time, too. At first, I wanted to stay in the US and see if I could make a career out of fashion. Apparently, we’re not all that special and different. A lot of people wanted the taste of the American Dream. There was another intern in one of the companies I’ve listed above who asked me if there were any full-time openings for her position. She was graduating after that semester, and wanted to see if she could stay in New York. My manager basically flat out told me that no entry-level employees are worthy enough for the company to pay for their work visas, because they cost thousands of dollars and there’s a lot of paperwork required (she said it in a much nicer way). Fair enough. I couldn’t bear to tell my colleague that, so I just told her that there’s no opening at the moment. (For the curious: I looked her up on LinkedIn and she’s working at the same fashion house in her home country at the moment – I am genuinely happy for her, since it seemed like she was really into working in fashion.)

I was also lucky enough to have either bi-weekly (not twice per week, but every two weeks) or monthly meetings with a professor at NYU who has a PhD in IO (industrial and organizational psychology), and there were a lot of insights and knowledge that were passed onto me that I wouldn’t be aware of if it wasn’t for him. I mentioned my observations and experiences I’ve had during work, and the professor pointed out the reasoning, the why, behind certain phenomena. There were some facets at work that border in the gray area, too. The corporate world is fascinating, and I still have so much to learn more about it, but I believe the most important lesson I’ve gleaned from my fashion internships is despite my love for this industry, I don’t want to work in it anymore.

Passion and love are not enough to make something sustainable; this isn’t exclusively about romantic relationships. It’s for one’s career, too. I can’t just rely on my interest levels for my career. I want to create. I want to make an impact. I want to develop and grow. I want to dominate and make a difference.

I don’t think I’m someone who’s able to sit down and do office work for a huge chunk of my career. Ironically, the position I currently have right now under my parents’ company more or less requires my undivided attention in front of the computer most of the time. However, my other job that I’m very into right now gives me a lot more leeway. I still need to spend some time doing essential paperwork (and by essential, I really mean it – I’ll explain later), but I still have the flexibility to travel and be physically involved and engaged with certain events and exhibitions.

I want to be able to have enough freedom for my ideal job. By this, I mean that I’m not specifically confined to a certain schedule every single day. Obviously there’s routine and monotony in all sorts of jobs, but I refuse to let my skills and assets get wasted on less suitable work. I’m so far away from being an expert right now. I have so much more to learn. There’s way too much room for improvement. I’m less than confident with my abilities right now, but at least I have my stubbornness and interest that forces me to propel forward and to take unknown paths that could potentially mean failure. I have been defeated before, and the prospect of inadequacy frighten me, because I want to thrive. I’m still working on it.

There’s no such thing as meaningless work in my opinion, because every step of the process is important. There is, however, a big issue when it comes to whether or not one is compatible with the work he / she is doing. That is what I mean by wasting my skills and assets. If I know I’m better at x than y, then why should I expend more time than necessary on y than x? I’m not saying that I’m totally avoiding tasks I dislike or am not good at doing. I’m required to complete them for the whole process to run. I’m not even guaranteed that the business will run smoothly. I import food and wine from Europe (that’s my job that’s irrelevant to my parents’ business, even though I rely on them financially to take off). Initially, I didn’t even have the thought or desire to import anything from abroad. Funny how sometimes life just works in really unexpected ways, huh?

I was (and probably still am, but just accustomed to it) extremely stressed when I started the food import business. It came out of nowhere, actually. My mom and brother met Portuguese government officials promoting their goods in Taiwan at a food fair. They struck up a conversation with my brother, because he was wearing the Portugal national football team jersey that day. I’m not really sure how the conversation went, because I was still in New York back then. Not long after I moved back to Taiwan, there was a huge food scandal that’s particularly related to oil. Long story short, that prompted my mom to import a full container of olive oil from a factory owned by the regional agriculture commission from Portugal.

How much olive oil can you put in a full container (40′)? Oh, only 17,640 bottles of olive oil (750 ml each).

What made this extra fun was that my parents’ business has absolutely nothing to do with the food business in Taiwan. We were the end consumers, so any connections within the industry or whatsoever were non-existent. Unsurprisingly, my parents’ aspirations of selling all of the olive oil within the appropriate expiration date (note: oil doesn’t expire, it turns rancid, especially after constant exposure to sunlight and heat, but that takes a couple of years) took a nosedive.

I decided to give my parents’ mistake a shot. I did research, asked questions on e-commerce forums, posted on auction websites in the hopes that people might give the product a try, met up and collaborated with celebrity writers to gain brand popularity and recognition (and failed miserably), and I started working with a marketing company. I was a clueless bundle of mess, and throughout this process I’ve learned that I actually enjoy working with food, so I desperately wanted this work. I discovered something that I’m passionate about from a disastrous, unprofitable miscalculation. It is the definition of a beautiful accident in a way.

There were a lot of arguments and disagreements with my parents, but I believe that this business is worth the struggle. I actually really hate arguing and try to avoid it as much as I could, since I’m a firm believer on talking things out rationally. I don’t think I’ll work for my parents’ company permanently (and I actually had the courage to say that to my father in person – I didn’t think that I have it in me, but I surprise and impress myself at times), so I’ve always been angst when it comes to finding something that suits me. I’ve managed to create some small victories despite the big failures that I’ve experienced. I badgered and then wagered the entire future of this career to my parents. If I couldn’t succeed in selling out my second shipment within a certain period of time (this time I was the one who controlled the quantity, so I only bought a total of four pallets – 3,360 bottles…I had to start small), I will give up for good.

My parents took up my bet, and I suppose it’s because they (partially) don’t think I could do it. They also know how obstinate I am, so in order to let me really give up on something, the thought or action will have to come from me. I try to be a woman of my words, so when I say or promise something, I do my best to achieve it.

The second shipment arrived towards beginning / mid June 2017, close to when I had my debut exhibition in the food industry. I managed to persuade the Portuguese government to collaborate with me in order to sign up for a national pavilion booth at the Taipei Food Fair last year (requires non-Taiwanese citizen to fill out the application form). I’m really proud of this, even though it meant lots of coordination (back and forth communication with the government representatives, booth designer, exhibition contractor, olive oil manufacturer representative, and winery owners) and planning beforehand. I was pushed towards the edge at the time, but I can look back right now and said that I’ve done a good enough job for a first timer. There’s a lot of room for improvement, and I will implement them for the next time, but I’ve managed to do it.

My second batch of product sold out within two and a half months.

Holy shit.

Two and a half months. 

It’s still hard to wrap my head around this…fact? It’s a fact. I managed to make a dent in what was once a smooth surface. I’ve…made a difference? I’ve created a brand. A small and relatively unknown brand that’s sprouting. It’s growing under my own terms. I’ve had people tell me that I should just change the labels for the original batch of products, because the oil doesn’t go bad, and doing so could salvage some of the monetary loss. Technically, I could, and probably would get away with it, but it goes against my values and beliefs. There’s nothing that’s spoiled, yes, but there’s a layer of deceit if I do that.

In case anyone is curious, I think we probably sold only about 1,000 – 2,000 bottles of oil out of 17,640 bottles. My mother “sold” four pallets, so 3,360 bottles to my uncle, which leaves us with…12,280 bottles. Other than using it for cooking, I’ve discussed with my brother and father and reached a mutual decision that we should donate most of these to various charities, schools, orphanages, and any NGOs in need of supplies. (Unfortunately, my mother would never agree to this gesture, and as much as we hate hiding things from her, it was necessary to do at the moment.)

Prior to donating, I personally called or met up with representatives separately to explain to them about the expiration date, and if this were unacceptable to them, that’s okay, too, but it was fair and responsible to let them know beforehand. We’re not aiding people with spoiled products. They’re still in perfectly good condition. We, or I just didn’t want to be another fraud. There’s a lot of them out there already. I’m educating people (one step at a time!) to become more aware of food labeling, and how the expiration date doesn’t necessarily mean anything. I’ve even contacted the FDA in Taiwan before, and their representative said that the regulations for requiring expiration dates on certain products should be banned, too. For instance, I think there’s an expiration date on salt over here. Yes, salt.

It’s my startup, and I want to be absolutely honest and comfortable with it from the beginning. I don’t want to be dishonest. Sure, I’m losing a lot of money from that mistake, but I’m not drowning in debt from it. In fact, my family and I are actually doing some good with it. We’re not wasting resources, and we’re helping out others. It’s pretty wholesome. I wasn’t the one who decided on the purchase quantity (in fact, I actually advised my mom that she shouldn’t buy that much at once). It sounds very first world and spoiled, but I’m very fortunate to be able to extract such a valuable experience from this error alone. If I were to commit to this long-term, I do it my way. I take full responsibility, especially because I am selling my products (olive oil and wine) to each individual end customer.

I think I’m so far from success right now. In fact, I don’t even know what that even means. I’m unsure about my end game. I have ideas popping up that I have yet to execute and materialize because I’m not as developed yet, but instead of considering them as fantasies, I actually know that I can achieve them if I do set my mind to them (I’d like to re-read this post if I were to ever import chocolate one day. I’m serious.). I’ve taken a fair amount of chances with a lot of help from my parents – can’t deny that. I’ve also been hindered because of them, too. However, I believe that there’s something emerging from the small uphills I’ve encountered. All that matters is that it’s meaningful to me.

I’m constructing my path step by step, and if this isn’t fulfilling and meaningful, then I don’t know what is anymore. I don’t even care if it fits the conventional definition of a fulfilling career or not. I’m carving my way and as long as I think I’m going towards the right direction (while making profit, obviously), I’m pretty much set.

I hope you feel the same way about what you’re doing, or what you’re planning to do and enjoy the hell out of the ride.

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