C: One of the things I love about who you are is your humble determination. Since following you from a few years ago, you consistently put out content that strives to uplift others. It’s especially easy to see all that you achieved and the work you’ve done and believe it represents everything about you. You’ve been able to grow your initiatives to impact tens of thousands of lives whether it’s through Boundless Blessing or the Students of LinkedIn community. Or working at companies such as Microsoft, Bloomberg, or Morgan Stanley which many dream of working at. But since chatting with you previously, I know that our definitions of success align with one another and are slightly a tad different than working at a certain company or having a particular title. You define success to be growth.
It’s truly a privilege to be able to have this conversation with you and to chat again because I would love this opportunity to dive into what makes you, you. To really reflect with you on your growth the past few years and to uncover a bit more about things like: what drives you, or what your values are. All of which enables the work that you do and what I believe to be so inherently valuable to you are and your story. So first off, thank you for taking your time to do this with me today.
One of my first questions is that you are so open to helping others and your leadership is truly compassionate. Your tips and advice come from a place of authenticity and empowerment. Where does that come from and what inspires you through your journey to share about it with others? For instance, has there been a particular experience that you’ve had that emphasized for you the importance of storytelling?
B: When it comes to influence, I think of my dad and how he has shown me what it means to lead with compassion. As I was growing up in Germany, I would remember the simple things he would do for others at Christmas or during summer gatherings. And as a professor, he was always engaging with people because community was who he was. But it was also beyond that because across every aspect of his life, he would go above and beyond to help someone else out.
So early on, I realized it wasn’t necessarily because he was well off or that he had a certain position of power to be able to help others or lead but it was because of who he was. Therefore, I learned at an early age what really mattered: to be a genuine person that wants to help another person and not necessarily expect anything in return.
This translated heavily for me as I began college, as I had to realize my status as a freshman didn’t mean that I couldn’t be a public speaker or have my own brand or that I couldn’t do this or couldn’t do that. At that point, I realized okay, I am young or at the least, younger than many professionals that are trying to help…but I have something. I have a power in my voice. I still recognize that I’m not an expert as everything comes with experience. But it was about using the experiences I had obtained up to that point and doing my best to use it to teach it back and share it with others.
C: That’s so inspiring to hear about your dad. Clearly, he’s raised such a brilliant and beautiful young woman who is an extension of what he teaches through compassionate leadership. On the same thread of your story and what it means to you, I understand how powerful stories are and the work you do within personal branding to discover that. One thing I wanted to focus on is the story behind your name. It’s so beautiful and you use it within your personal brand Boundless Blessing. What does your name mean to you and perhaps, what have been some blessings in your life that you have been particularly grateful for and have shaped you are into the person you are today?
B: I remember a few years ago when I first started out on LinkedIn, I made a post about the power of our names and how your name is your anthem. So I put down my first and last name and incorporated it within my brand and on the platform to share with others. The traditional definition of “Blessing” is God’s favour and protection. Again, because I’ve lived my whole life with that name, it’s easy to have it repeated so many times and not really understand or think about it. Some people would question if that really way my name but it was only until a few years ago that I began to understand the power my name has. I came upon a definition recently that states “Blessing is any increase in your life that you did not have to work for.” If you turn it back to how that definition relates to me…I am here on this earth and I am alive and I didn’t necessarily have to work for it. It was because of God’s favour and because of God’s protection. So I feel that both definitions come together.
Adding the Boundless part, I realized that if society was to look at me, it would think that I have been put into many boxes. But I don’t see those boxes as confining me because I am boundless in the sense that I have always challenged assumptions and the status quo. I have always gone above and beyond of what people expect of me, whether it’s as a student or someone who has lived in various countries and trying to assimilate or standout. That is why I put Boundless and Blessing together. I made it so that it isn’t just me who’s boundless but ultimately, everyone else is boundless. My hope is that through my story and seeing how many boxes I was put in, and how I could come of those boxes, it’s like that perhaps if I could do it, then they could too.
C: Thank you for sharing your story behind your name and Boundless Blessing. Our name is our anthem. A lot of literature demonstrates the power behind a name. You talk about using your story to empower others and so given the work you do in empowering others through LinkedIn especially co-founding Students of LinkedIn and running your personal brand Boundless Blessing to inspire others in their own personal and professional development journeys, I would love to hear more about what creating community means for you. Especially, against the context of increasing digitalization through the power of platforms such as LinkedIn and COVID-19, what do you see are your future outlooks on the use of the digital/ tech industry to further community?
B: With everything happening with COVID-19, more companies, organizations, and businesses will realize how important it is to have an online presence. With people talking about the future of work, there was a lot of talk about digital transformation. Previously, companies were thinking about it but at much slower rates. But now, we see that it’s necessary for a company’s survival. Some companies didn’t have the resources to get online or make the necessary investments to build their digital presence but I think on one hand a lot of people are going to have to force themselves to build some sort of digital presence to keep in contact with their consumers and employees. Remote work is a trend that people are talking about too, where jobs that were previously thought not possible to get done remotely are now possible while keeping productivity up. Another thing that I think is important with the trends that COVID-19 is bringing is that even though more companies are going online and ramping up their digital transformation, it’s also demonstrating and emphasizing the power of storytelling. It’s not enough to just be online or to have it as a Plan B. Companies need to also create a ‘genuine’ digital presence online. To create a story behind the brand so that when you come across the brand online or in person, the story that is aligned with the different forms of story telling the company is using. The feeling you get when you have an interaction with that company should be consistent.
C: That was so insightful. I completely agree, technology can no longer be disputed as inevitable, but much more recognition still needs to be made on the overall importance and effectiveness of storytelling behind an organization’s strategy! The next question moves back to the personal as I realized I jumped a question during our conversation. You’ve always been an advocate for students, young professionals, women in tech, and minorities through the work that you do. Given your experience launching initiatives of your own and working across Fortune 500 companies, what are areas that you believe companies need to do more of when it comes to diversity and inclusion? What tips do you have for all of us whether it be students or professionals within our career to actively ensure we are supporting our peers / colleagues in the workplace or classroom?
B: I think when we talk about diversity and inclusion, a lot of people think that there’s two sides to it. Recruitment and retention. Too many organizations, people, and even schools, focus a lot of their efforts on recruitment and bringing people into the organization. This of course is really great but a few years in, a lot of these people leave. I speak to this issue within the context of Drexel University and the Computer Informatics program, as they bring a good amount of students in such as women in tech but by the end of four years, half of them have left. So what happened within that time? Within those four years? And this isn’t just an issue that is confined to my university, I see it across different companies. They’re doing a lot of campaigns and initiatives that are fun and engaging. But they can only happen for so long. It’s the same with big companies such as Google or Microsoft and the articles you see online, where the percentages of women in STEM or African Americans in those fields are very low.
So though people and organizations are saying that they’re doing this or that but there’s a reason why people are not staying. When it comes to feeling included it’s all about culture. Obviously, with Google and Microsoft they’re very well known for their particular culture. However, I think it’s also important to think about culture on a personal level: how are you building culture on your own team or with your colleagues? That plays a big role because at the end of the day, you’re with your team eight to nine hours a day. The culture is there. If you don’t feel comfortable with your team then it’s not going to matter whether you’re working for Google, Microsoft, or Facebook. They have and are known for their great reputations. But in general, people are not always going to stay at a company with a big reputation, they might look for something that feels a lot more comfortable and where they have the ability to change the culture on a smaller level to feel included and safe.
C: That’s so true especially the part where you talk about teams. Teams can really make or break your working experience. You could be working for such a reputable company but if you don’t feel accepted or belonging in your team or from your manager, it can actually destroy what the company stands for. That piece about recruitment and retention, is so important. I think myself included I often think about recruitment but retention really digs into the systemic barriers of an organization or society as a whole that is preventing certain groups or people from having the same opportunities for advancement for instance.
I know I could talk to you on and on! But I want to finish this conversation off with some reflection. Behind every “success” story as we come to know it, the story is synonymous with growth. That means a lot of hard work, disappointment, sacrifice, and as they say blood, sweat, and tears. It can be easy to look at someone who’s accomplished a lot especially at a young age and to see them just for their awards, their metrics, or their jobs. However, I’m sure that amidst this journey that has taught you so much and been so rewarding, it has also been challenging. What was an experience in your life that was particularly challenging, difficult, or disappointing and how were you able to come to terms with acceptance with it, overcome it, or learn from it? And what advice might you have for those who might find themselves in a similar situation?
B: There are two experiences that come to mind that I’ll share. The first is regarding my summer last year. I was interning at Morgan Stanley, working two campus jobs, and taking four classes on top of a four-hour commute. There was just a lot of pressure at that time because I felt like I was spread so thin and doing too many things at once. I didn’t know how to balance it. But it was a privilege to have that job and to be in college. There was a difficult tradeoff. How could I be an intern making the most out of my experience and get my work done? So every day, I had to ask myself how do I prioritize my time and what should I do? Eventually at the end of the summer, I got a return offer and all A’s in my classes. A lot of people asked me how I did it.
Honestly, half of the time I didn’t even know how I got through it. I realized that the power is in my hands and I have that power to make the time work for me. Even now as I’m interning, I’m also taking classes. For me, it’s not seeing myself as a victim of a situation but taking the situation into my control and recognizing the privilege attached to it despite it being such a pressure filled situation. For example, if you’re an international student, you can’t take jobs when you’re in school. So it was about ensuring that I used that recognition of my privilege as fuel to propel me forward, to figure out what I needed to do to get through it. The advice I would have is taking out the victim mentality when looking at a situation such as this because it’s only then that you’re able to start seeing solutions or create solutions for yourself. When you look at your problems through the lens of a victim, it can be disempowering because you either start making excuses or you resort to sulking about the situation.
The second thing, which is an experience not many people know about was that at the beginning of this year, I was dealing with a major health concern and it really put a lot of things into perspective. Going from 2019 to 2020, I had so many plans. Boundless Blessing was going to get big and there was going to be a website. But once I had to focus on my health, it really got me to question what is the most important right now? It made me rethink some of my priorities and reflect on what my priorities were. This really stripped everything away because I used to think that everything was tied to what I did or who I was on LinkedIn. Who was I outside of LinkedIn? Soon after, COVID-19 hit and again many plans changed. I struggled even with taking time off LinkedIn because I was scared that people or my followers would forget about me.
But I’ve grown to understand that I need to first focus on me and truly explore the depths of who I am. To only allow LinkedIn to be an extension of that. For LinkedIn to be an extension of me not the other way around. It’s so important for those who develop their online or personal brand to recognize that the platform is only an extension of who you are and not a portrayal of what or who you should be. At the end of the day when everything is stripped away, when you look at mirror, you’re still you and you know who you are.
To connect with Blessing and follow her empowering content, find her on LinkedIn. In the meantime, to read more inspiring content and advice, check out some of these articles below:
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