Raising the bar at 30

I went to a rough SoulCycle class a couple weekends ago and not in the “this is good workout” kind of way. The instructor started class by admitting she was going through some rough family issues and caveated that the playlist reflected that. She kicked off class with Aretha Franklin – Respect, and the melodic climax was Zombie by the Cranberries. It was very clear that she was emotionally depleted and showed up the best she could for the riders in class. 

Despite completely hating her playlist, she did have some fire one-liners and one stuck with me: If you only knew the stories of the people riding next to you, you would be in awe of all they have been through and overcome. 

I immediately thought about my 20s: all the roadblocks and subsequent miracles that had to happen for me to have the privilege of sitting on that bike overlooking the New York City skyline that day. As I close this chapter and embark on my 30’s (which btw everyone says is 10x better than your 20s and so far I agree), it’s fitting for me to finally share about those roadblocks, and the pride I have for overcoming them.

#1 Pushing myself out of my comfort zone through travel: 

A couple years back, I asked my parents what they were most proud of that I had done in my life. I expected them to be very Asian and call out something from my 10 years of competitive golf, academics, or career. Their response shocked me. They said they were proud that I took a big risk to go on Remote Year and travel to 42 countries. 

Traveling around the world wasn’t an easy journey. Prior to Remote Year, I had only been out of the US once for work. I made a lot of mistakes traveling internationally and cried all the time in my first 6 months before I got over the hump

Today, I fully enjoy traveling and have visited 53 countries – 53% to my life goal of getting to 100 countries! I am so grateful for my travel experiences, and how they have shaped me and my perspective on life (more on that below). I am even more thankful for Raj S, Coinbase, and Fast – who gave me the opportunity and means to do so.

#2 Creating financial freedom: I’m guilty of following my heart to a fault and making a lot of unconventional financial decisions. It’s not pretty, and I guess I’m finally ready to talk about it. 

‘Warning: the following stories are very intense and could be triggering for some – so buckle up – or skip way to the bottom’ 

I’ll never forget sitting with my dad at the kitchen table and reviewing my top 2 options for college. UT offered me a full-ride and admission to their highly coveted business school honors program. Northwestern offered me standard need-based financial aid and as a liberal arts school, there was no business school opportunity. I knew I was taking the harder path by going to Northwestern  – one where I would graduate with over $200K of student loan debt that I would have to pay for by myself – but my insatiable desire to leave home ultimately won over my logical brain. 

I graduated and took my first job at a 30-person consulting start-up which paid $55K a year – 20% less than the big 4 firms. I remember thinking – “If I can make it to 6-figures by the time that I’m 30, that would be amazing”. Lol. I worked 80 hour weeks non-stop for the first 3 years and was promoted to be the youngest Manager at the company at 25 years old.

As a Manager, I crossed my “goal” of making 6 figures ($100K), but had accumulated around $30K of debt from being underpaid, paying off $25K a year in student loans, and overspending on various early 20’s life thrills living in Chicago and being staffed in NYC and Toronto. When I got into Remote Year, I took out $30K of personal loans to finance the trip. At the time, working remotely and traveling wasn’t a common opportunity, and I treated my year abroad as my “hall pass year” – constantly taking side trips to other countries and trying to absorb as much of the local cultures as I could. I found myself taking another bridge loan of $10K to get me through the last 4 months. 

In my last 2 months of Remote Year, I faced one of the toughest, but most pivotal decisions of my life. I had an opportunity to do project work with Uber, but doing so would likely disqualify me from claiming the foreign income tax exclusion (FEIE). The FEIE allows US citizens to avoid paying federal taxes as long as they stay out of the US for 330 days in a 365 day period (+ some caveats). At the time, I had only spent 7 days in the US during the calendar year and was easily in the clear. Taking this opportunity would require me to travel to San Francisco and lose around $30K in post-tax income. My gut told me to take the opportunity – I believed doing so would set me up better to transition out of consulting and into tech –  and sure enough, taking the project caused me to miss out on qualifying for the exemption by 7 days, but ultimately opened a huge door for me. 

After Remote Year finished, I found myself in San Francisco – somewhat homeless paying rent to crash on my friend’s couch and underwater in $70K of debt. But again, I refused to go home to Austin to save money or live in any other city. San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities in the world, and I knew something needed to change in order to make the money work, so I asked my consulting firm for a cost of living adjustment. They offered me $125K, but ultimately, I was fortunate to get referred to and land a job offer at Coinbase (thanks to my work at Uber + travel experiences!) which offered me $170K – a 70% pay raise – and equity (little did I know how important this would be). The pay raise covered the increase in apartment costs and put me on more stable financial footing. Even with the raise – I ended up taking out another $40K (co-signed with my dad) to pay off some higher interest debt and pay for expenses related to moving. 

Over the next 3 years, I found myself trapped in a debt snowball. I continued life in “yes mode” and sneakily racked up more debt ($15K-$20K a year) as I continued to pay off my loans from Remote Year, early 20s, and college. In 2019, I took out yet another personal finance loan for $20K to keep myself above water. In 2020, I early withdrew $40K from my 401K to pay off high interest credit card debt. By November, I found myself in another tough financial situation. My company was going to reduce my pay by 10% effective in 2021 for moving to Seattle. I had exactly 2 months to figure out how I was going to make it work, and I knew with a 550 credit score and no retirement funds that I had exhausted nearly all my options. 

I remember one night in November 2020 bawling in bed at my financial situation. At that moment, It became super clear what I truly wanted. All the material things, life experiences, none of that mattered to me. All I wanted was to finally be debt-free, and I set a big hairy audacious goal to do so by the age of 30. Sitting at $100K of debt and 10 months to pay it off, it was the equivalent of a pipe dream. I’m not religious, but I knew that I couldn’t get there by myself. I would need help from the universe, and so I sat in bed with tears streaming down my face and prayed for a way out.

On Dec 15th, the day after I quit my job at Coinbase – they announced their plan to IPO. I had never been through an IPO and thus, had no idea what to expect. I had heard stories of people becoming millionaires from other IPOs, but I thought that wouldn’t happen to me. All I wanted was for the stock to do well enough for me to pay off my debts and start fresh.

On April 14th, the Coinbase stock topped out around $430 per share – 6x more than I expected from my own estimations. I and many of my other friends became multi-millionaires overnight. With the money, I paid off all of my debt and had money left over to buy a home (something I never thought in a million years I’d have the financial means to do). 

Call me whatever you want – irresponsible, addicted, risky etc. It’s probably true, but I don’t care anymore. I stand by my decisions in my 20s and wouldn’t do it any other way. My struggles with money and the way the current financial system works are why I’m so passionate about building the next generation of financial products. 

I share this story because it’s so easy to feel ashamed of having debt. It’s easy to feel you don’t deserve to be loved either because of your debt (not true btw). I want people reading this to know it’s ok to trust your gut. 

My gut knew that my spending was an investment towards my future. Growing up, my parents racked up tens of thousands of dollars of credit card debt to provide me with the opportunity to play golf, and I truly believed most of my spending decisions were in the same category. I want others who feel they are stuck in a constant debt spiral to know they have nothing to be ashamed of and if they work hard and take the right opportunities, there will be a light on the other side of the tunnel.

#3 Finding inner peace with my body and relationship with food

‘Again – Warning: the following stories are very intense and could be triggering for some’

Something most people don’t know about me is that in college I developed a serious eating disorder. My first trimester I gained the freshman 15 which prompted me to begin learning more about nutrition and fitness. I took it way too far and started to restrict myself to 1200-1500 calories a day while playing golf for 5-6 hours a day. By my sophomore year, I found myself 35 pounds lighter and started getting a ton of attention from everyone. I felt a lot of pressure to maintain my new slim physique and began working out 3-4 times a day and only eating “super clean” foods. 

It wasn’t long before my orthorexic, anorexic, and exercise bulimic behaviors spiraled into a binge eating disorder where I’d secretly shovel thousands of calories into my body in a single sitting. One night, frustrated from being trapped in the cycle of binging and purging, I considered taking my life and called the university suicide help line. I thought I was at rock bottom, but I still had more to go.

While I was working non-stop in consulting, I turned to prescription amphetamines to take away my appetite and keep me awake. I burned out from exercising and started vomiting to purge the calories. It got to the point where I no longer got any high from the drugs and was simply taking them to prevent the withdrawal symptoms and keep myself functioning.

One of the greatest unseen gifts of Remote Year was it forced me to heal myself. We started the year in Southeast Asia where amphetamines are illegal even if they are prescribed by a doctor. I basically had to go cold turkey which was extremely difficult working the night shift for 4 months, but I’m proud to say I did it. 

Further, traveling forced me to stop feeling guilty about what I ate. I began to see food as more than calories, but a way to bring people from completely different walks of life together. Despite healing my relationship with food, I still wasn’t at peace with the way my body was changing as I introduced these foreign foods into my diet. My bulimia went from a once a week thing to an every meal activity. I was living with other people and held immense shame keeping my behavior a secret. 

Finally, one day, I broke and finally hit rock bottom in Lisbon – 6 months into Remote Year. I remember throwing up and spending the rest of the day in bed missing out on the day’s activities with the rest of the group. I thought to myself, “I didn’t send myself this far away and take a break from my career to be laying in bed dead and unable to experience anything. I’m so sick of cleaning up vomit from our shared bathroom and hiding it from everyone. I’m sure they’ve figured it out by now. Further, I need to stop or I’m going to rupture something and end up in the hospital in a foreign country.” 

From that moment onward, I quit and have never turned back since. I am grateful for the tribulations I’ve been through as they have given me the compassion to help others. In 2019, I completed training to be a suicide help line volunteer in order to help other’s struggling with suicide and mental health issues.

On turning 30 in NYC

Fast forward back to that Sunday on my spin bike, I came to accept the ugly truth: if you’re not a hot mess in your 20’s, you might be doing it wrong? I’m proud of all my imperfections as they give me strength to know I can get through anything. 

Being in NYC now is hard. It’s just like when I moved to San Francisco after Remote Year, and frankly didn’t like it. Most days I feel very alone even though I know I have a good support system here – my best friend Sarah, Fast coworkers, and new and old friends i’ve met who live in the city. Despite the challenges of adjusting here and being basically homeless again while I wait for my home purchase application to be approved – I know I’m in the right place.

With that, I’ve also been reflecting on what I want for my new 30 year old life in NYC:

#1 Say “Must” More

I am chill and understanding to a fault – perhaps because the rigidity of my past still haunts me. Despite my fears, I think that I need to significantly raise my standards and step one is reintroducing the word “must” back into my vocabulary. 

#2 Say “No” More

If my 20s were my “Yes” years, I want my 30s to be my “No” years. I’ve experienced so much that I finally feel comfortable having strong opinions on what I like and what I don’t like. Saying “No” takes the power back from FOMO and my vices and creates space to say “Yes” for the things that actually matter.

#3 Trust more, never settle

One of my favorite influencers – Bridget – just got engaged to her dream man – Mike. She is 38 years old and went through a bunch of toxic relationships before she met Mike. Her story of raising her “bar” and not settling is truly inspiring. Further, I can’t unsee Tinx’s “box theory” and how I’m the shining example of how women mess up by forcing every man into the “marry box” even though they don’t belong there. I reflect back on the cringe-worthy things I’ve done in my 20s to “make a guy like me” or “make me like someone” I didn’t, and I want exactly none of that for my 30s. 

#4 Get lit in a different way

A big part of why i’m moving to NYC is I feel dead inside. One of my first mentors said my most unique and important quality was “my fire”. He was referring to my drive and unwavering ability to do big things and get shit done in areas where others would give up. I’ll never forget that, and I often wake-up and think – what the fuck happened and where did that girl go? On one hand, perhaps it’s temporary, i’m living a more sustainable life, or I’ve learned how to be more efficient, but my gut is telling me it hates being on cruise control. I have an amazing job that I am grateful for and things going on. I feel busy, but I don’t feel alive, and I’m sorting through that.

So ya, thank you so much for listening. It means more to me than you will ever know. 

I’m finally free – debt-free, drug-free, disorder-free – and today, publishing this post – secret-free – and it’s amazing. 

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a parting thought:

I love that I go here now, and I love this for us.

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