It has been a month since it was announced that I was selected for Forbes 30 under 30, and I’d like to write a short blog about what has happened and how I feel.
I first heard of this Forbes list when I moved to California from Texas in 2016 after I graduated college. I was an intern at a scientific startup, which was a part of an accelerator program at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. I remember seeing on the news that the founders of several other startups in the cohort got on this Forbes list. I admired them at a distance, and hoped I would one day get on it myself. But I was also realistic: what were the chances that I get into a great graduate program, meet an amazing and supportive advisor, do the kind of research with commercialization potential, publish well, build a startup company, and then get selected by Forbes? After all, each of these prerequisites is a low-chance event individually, and even if I can achieve all of that, only 4-5% of the nominees get selected by Forbes each year. Therefore, when I got the news a month ago, I could not believe that all the stars had miraculously aligned, and that it had indeed happened to me.
People say that success takes a combination of hard work and luck, and I second that. I am lucky that my advisor is so supportive of my entrepreneurial endeavors, especially after hearing quite a few nightmarish stories from friends who had to deal with abusive advisors. But I have also worked hard to get here. In a LinkedIn post (https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:7003764413170151424/), I wrote briefly about some of the hardships I overcame during my early years in the US, including escaping an abusive household and surviving homelessness. I have always been a private person; I have never previously published anything personal, not here nor on LinkedIn or anywhere, so that LinkedIn post was very terrifying. But looking back, it was the right thing to do.
100+ strangers commented on that post, and many more reached out to me via private messages. It was really emotional for me when people shared with me their own struggles, they told me that I inspired them to work hard, and that I gave them the strength they needed to overcome their adversities. I was, and still am, uncomfortable with being called an “inspiration”, but it warms my heart and gives me a sense of purpose knowing that I had positively impacted others. I told them I’m there if they ever need help, and it inspired me to create a peer support group on Slack (https://join.slack.com/t/womenandimmig-rim9771/shared_invite/zt-1ltdcvfog-tzro7YtZBB8hXDonigzPkg). It is a community for people who have overcome hardships and those who are currently going through rough patches, to come together and share resources, and build new connections. If you are reading this post and think you could benefit from this group, please feel free to join.
I was also surprised by how many people told me that my story resonated with them, even the ones whose path looked nothing like mine. All these years, I have been treading my path in academia alone, and I have never met anyone who struggled like I did. All my colleagues seemed to be from well-to-do families; they have parents who are academics or academically inclined. I remember reading many grad school essays where people talked about their parents cultivating their interest in science from a young age. I also remember how one physics professor from college, whose wife was also a physics professor, liked to show off photos of their son posing with Nobel Laureates, and bragged about how he was doing research even as a high schooler. I felt like an imposter and felt embarrassed to be among them, since I didn’t have the early start like they did. But in the last month, many people reached out to me and told me about the various struggles they faced: immigration, financial hardships, navigating abusive households/ relationships, dropping out of school to take care of sick parents, etc. It made me feel more accepted and less alone. I can’t help but marvel at how the power of being vulnerable and sharing our different life experiences can bring people together.
I am really grateful to be given the Forbes platform and an opportunity to share my story. 10 years ago, I was homeless in the middle of nowhere in Texas, I had no idea how my future would unfold. But with the sheer determination to make something out of myself, I fought an uphill battle to become the person I am today. Looking back, I think I would’ve loved to have a mentor to show me the path, or a role model that I could look up to when I was lost and helpless; maybe now I can be that person for others.