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Growing Forward: Integrating My Past and Present

Weichen Gao
Data Science Manager
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers
Riverwoods, IL

Spring Festival Eve Traditions

Spring Festival (Lunar New Year) Eve is my favorite celebration. In preparation for the eve, my mom and I always pick out couplets, poetic lines. The morning of the Eve, my dad and I paste the red couplets on both sides of our door. When my grandma was still alive, all my relatives including uncles, aunts and cousins from across our extended family would come together to celebrate. My grandma was the core to reunite all the families from all over the country.

In those days, after we pasted the couplets, we’d join our other relatives at my grandma’s house for a heavy brunch. Then we’d all work together to prepare the reunion dinner, which was the most meaningful dinner the entire year. When sunset came, we’d light fireworks to scare away evil spirits and bring good luck.

After fireworks, we’d start our dinner with fish, shrimp, pork, beef, chicken and most importantly, dumplings. After dinner, we’d stay up late to watch the Spring Festival Gala on TV. We’d all sit around, with laughter and tears. Some people would play poker or Mahjong for fun. At 12am, we’d all wait for the New Year’s bell to ring and say “Happy New Year” to everyone. The whole night was filled with the sound of fireworks everywhere.

Embracing my identity

Embracing my intersectional identity is layered. Firstly, I believe everyone should be treated fairly in a corporate environment. Secondly, I never hide the uniqueness of my background, but I don’t highlight it in my work unless needed. Thirdly, if possible, I like to share my culture and unique knowledge with everyone who’s interested. Lastly, I fight back to defend my culture if there’s a misunderstanding or discrimination.

Community brings confidence

Being a leader in the Asian Professionals at Discover (APAD) employee resource group (ERG) has positively impacted me in many ways. I’ve learned how to organize events, be a good leader, coordinate volunteers and push myself out of my comfort zone for public speaking. I’ve had the opportunity to know, and work with, senior leaders in the company.

Apart from developing my skills, APAD has also impacted my self-understanding. After I hear from, and work with, people with similar identities as mine, I’ve noticed how I acknowledge my identity more. I feel more empowered to serve my community and share my culture with those who don’t know much about it. I feel more confident sharing the characteristics that culture shapes and help solve the misunderstandings that result from cultural differences.

Getting over past feelings

I never regret anything that’s happened in the past. I believe anything that’s happened in the past was a valuable experience for me. No matter how difficult an experience is in the moment, the sharpness of the feelings will always fade. What I learn from the past is more important than how I felt in the past. This mindset helps me at work, whether I make a mistake, go through a restructuring at work, or have to deal with a tough manager.

When it’s time for growth

The best piece of career advice I got was from one of my mentors in the APAD mentorship program. He’s at the director level. I asked him how he knows when to change roles. He told me that he usually updates his resume every 6 months. If he doesn’t have much to update, then it’s the time to move. I’ve adopted this practice as a way to check that I’m continuously learning and being challenged in my current position.


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