KEVIN KWONG

THOUGHTS

Accomplishments & Failures

The context:

Recently, I asked my friends how they've dealt with imposter syndrome and self-doubt when entering interviews, or being in the workplace. In addition to lots of great advice, including this Ted Talk on body language, one of my respected friends suggested I log down my top three accomplishments and failures, as well as how I've progressed beyond them. For the sake of brevity, I'll include just two of each here.

I've always thought that time only measures how long we've been around, but time + reflection + action is the formula for growth. So in addition to interview prep, I want to demonstrate to myself evidence that I've become more than who I was, for the better.

 

Let's start with the bad...

 

1.

 

Who I was:

In 2013, I began my first marketing designer internship in the mobile gaming industry. I was 23-years-old and even though making hundreds of Facebook ads wasn't glamorous, I loved what I did and was just grateful to have my beginnings. I remember going to bed excited for the weekday morning to come, because I had that much enthusiasm for my job and the people I worked with. A new project to create marketing designs for social media influencers had come about, and my boss gave me a lot of freedom and responsibility. I spent hours exploring concepts, iterating on them, refining ideas, and finally coming to a strong visual that pleased both my manager and the influencer we were working with.

The campaign was a triumph with a huge lift in user acquisition. It was so successful that during the next week's 100 person all hands meeting, my boss announced how successful it (read her/him) had been, and was applauded by the C team and everyone else. I was left out entirely.

After that, a rift formed and our relationship, although not perfect before, was never the same thereafter. I regret not having the maturity and courage to confront my manager about what I felt took place. I could have used that as an opportunity to build a stronger, more communicative relationship between us. Also, I made the assumption that s/he hadn't privately spoken of my contributions to the higher-ups. The culture of our team never bounced back.

Who I've become:

I leave my ego out and focus on the overall goal. On teams, no accomplishment solely belongs to one person. I will self-advocate, but I know that there is a time and place. Now, I am someone who fears the lost potential of severed relationships, more than the conversations required to fortify them.

 

2.

 

Who I was:

Teach For America is a nonprofit that conducts a rigorous selection process and throws top college grads into the roughest, most underprivileged communities in America to become full time teachers. Coming out of UC Irivne dedicated to social justice, in 2010, I underwent a 5-week bootcamp, working 100-hour weeks, making lesson plans, teaching sample classes, and learning to become teachers. Going into the school year, the exhaustion never stopped.

I was given a class of 23 2nd graders with various needs. One student, "Shaun" was especially challenging. Shaun came from a single mom household and was one of three brothers. The first day, he emptied my shelves of all their books. He cried often, cursed at other students, and sometimes threw things at me. He was a huge disruption to the rest of the class's learning. I had a principal who would belittle us during faculty meetings, sometimes saying, "You can work hear, or you can work at Walmart." Although the school's counselor was an ally, administrative support was somewhat out of the question. Shaun's mom worked two jobs, and although she was supportive, she also did not know what to do. As a new teacher, I didn't have the solutions.

One day, I attempted a new behavioral management system (there were many) for Shaun which involved a toy car as an extrinsic motivator to behave. When I took the car away, he began screaming, kicking, and thrashing. When I got closer to him, he bit me in the hand hard enough to leave marks. I think this was one of the most awful things for my other students to have seen. I had failed to create a safe environment for learning, and in a city in which the quantity of prisons built are determined by the literacy scores of 3rd grade boys, I felt like my incompetence had doomed these children.

Who I've become:

The year could have ended worse and fortunately my second year of teaching was amazing. Shaun ended up attending another school which was specialized to address his needs. I felt way more confident as an educator. I worked more efficiently, worried less, and was able to diversify my lessons to address more of my students' needs. Although not a wholistic metric for success, our class ended up achieving the highest standardized test scores of the grade.

My experience with Shaun taught me to weather the hardest moments of our lives, because there is always something to gain on the other side. Also, the kid and I ended up loving and understanding one another. By the end of the year, my colleagues would relay that Shaun kept asking where I was, almost panicking, whenever I had a substitute. Now, I am someone who embraces the fires when they hit (and they will), because they only make my skin more fireproof, and allow me to do greater things when I'm called to.

 

And now with the good (that starts off a little sad)...

 

1.

I'd just finished Teach For America and took a wayward step into the world of fashion. I was part of a management in training program for Uniqlo. I spent two months in New York and a month in Tokyo. I wasn't sure about the path I was taking. During one of my shifts, a friend messaged me that our friend had died of cancer. I could barely breathe, took a lunch break, ended up crying in a foreign country's phone booth, and re-evaluated what I wanted to do with my life.

The answer was art. I cut the program short and moved back in with my parents. School seemed expensive and I didn't want to spend the time or money on another degree (mine was in fine art, which wasn't applicable to the industry). Instead, over the course of six months, I locked myself in my room for 50 hours a week and studied youtube tutorials. I painted like crazy and advanced in photoshop. My skills weren't perfect, but they were enough to land me my first industry gig.

I believe that there are resources out there to teach myself anything. I realized how much I love learning and how to build a framework with which to educate myself without a mentor. I try to remind myself of this time, whenever a position or task requires that I know more than I presently do.

2.

This is a weird one, because it doesn't actually end with the company's success.

I was the lead artist at a mobile gaming publishing company. Since we were a small satellite office to a larger overseas one, I was pretty much head of anything creative, including marketing designs, art direction to developers, concept art, and everything in between. I reported to the president, who was incredibly hands off, so I needed to function completely autonomously. 

We had the opportunity to pitch to a major motion picture company, to use their IP for a game which would put us on the map. This was a multi million dollar deal. I had less than three weeks before flying to LA, presenting a deck, and a video which would convince the company to sell us their IP. The video was the most challenging part.

I mapped out what the next few weeks would look like and got to work. I hired a Canadian vendor to help execute the video, wrote the script for the voice actor (which I also chose and hired), storyboarded the trailer, created art for the re-skin of the prototype which would be recorded and shown, and managed multiple freelancers to contribute more art for animations. I was in full blitz mode, planning, conceptualizing, checking in with my team of artists, marketers and engineers, and making big decisions fast.

For a time, I didn't take breaks, worked through Thanksgiving, and could only think of this project. What was most insane was I'd basically never done any of these things before. It was all new to me, but because of the magnitude of the project, how important it was for the company, and being the only artist on the team, I had to get it done. So I did.

The meeting in LA was energizing.  Our team worked up until the last minute, polishing our presentation. We all slept three hours and went in doing pretty well, but in the end, things just fell through for reasons here and there. Even though it didn't work out, my CEO ended up awarding me with a high honor at the annual banquet, and as an employee, I'd grown in ways I couldn't have predicted. Somewhat paradoxically, it's now my expectation to surprise myself, and to have faith that when I need to, I will unearth a synthesis of talents I didn't know were there.

 

What do you think? What are some of your greatest accomplishments and failures?