Mikaela Reyes
Mikaela Reyes

Reflections of the Lost and (Temporarily) Found

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My visa process is underway. The next 2-3 months will decide whether I’ll be staying in Amurrica or be getting kicked out of the country. I have a lot of feelings and thoughts about the whole situation (but let’s save that for another post). Because of the anxiety of my future in 2018, I’ve been feeling a little lost. Indescribably, pathetically and unexpectedly lost. I’ve been feeling waves of it this past year, but as this visa deadline comes closer, the anxiety is gaining speed.

I’m lucky to have indirect mentors helping guide me. I say indirect because I don’t have to call them or see them to seek their advice. Sometimes, all it takes is a blog post.

So, thank you Earl Valencia, for guiding me today. My feeling of lost-ness has pacified (at least for this week!) I also realize, while reading through your blog that we have a lot of similar goals, and I hope to get to your level someday or end up working with you in achieving these shared desires! But for now, here’s my take on the question challenges you posed on your blog.

Describe the personal development work you have previously undertaken in your life and what personal leadership development you are looking for.

Mika is a mentor!

In my 4 years of college, it was difficult seeking technology mentors without being much exposed to tech ecosystems while living in the cold, dark, secluded Connecticut. That didn’t stop me. I knew I wanted to learn more about product, design and tech. I also knew I wanted to be shaped by the mindsets of those in the business and tech ecosystems in the Philippines. I cold emailed more than 300 professionals in the industry, got rejected A LOT, but learned life-changing advice from the few that made every rejection worth it. It’s got me to my fellowships in technology and to a better understanding of where I want to be in the future.

Since then, I’ve made it a personal vow to answer the emails people send me asking for advice. It is my way of giving back to the indirect mentors who have helped me in my journey. Personal leadership development is a two-way street. I learn from the leaders who reply to my cold emails. I learn from the people I choose not to ignore.

My next phase of leadership development involves the following goals: 1) to continue conversations (not networking ploys) with the people I find interesting and want to learn more from; with people who I believe are doing true good in the world and those I want to emulate and follow; 2) to share my insights and conversations to those who will listen, whether it be through my personal blog or through personal engagements; 3) to create a consistent platform in which I am able to interview “successful” Filipinos and share those stories with the world (via my in-the-works podcast show a la Tim Ferris Tribe of Mentors but geared towards Filipinos & emerging markets.)

I continue to be inspired but ultimately, I hope to inspire.

In the context of your current work, what does “leading at the edge” mean to you? Elaborate on two elements of your work life that you feel are at the edge.

One of the social justice leaders at Wesleyan always reminded us to “Lean into discomfort.” I always liked the quote. It pushes boundaries. It reminds you to be brave, but in a gentle, open way.

Leading at the edge” is leaning into the discomfort of leadership, taking that bold risk but never forgetting to step back when necessary. Being a leader is tough work. It takes sacrifice, resilience, constant self-motivation, all while keeping your cool in front of the people you seek to inspire. But you lean into the pain and discomfort anyway in the hopes that you lead a movement for change and impact. However, despite the uncomfortable risks that need to be taken, it’s important to know when to step back. It’s important to set boundaries for when a risk is pushing itself beyond its initial intention, when it starts destroying instead of creating.

Three examples I might think of.

First. I am in Silicon Valley right now, absorbing tech knowledge from the best of the best, but at the cost of the happiness I know is rooted in the Philippines. While I am here, I am learning about all these technologies and living a comfortable life with free food, 100% healthcare, unlimited vacations and all the efficiencies of a first world country. Leaning into the discomfort means making this sacrifice of learning and absorbing. But taking a step back is reminding myself that living here is not so I can stay comfortable and enjoy all the perks, but to eventually take everything I have to create change in markets that need it most.

Tech company perks.

Second. I am working for two startups in product (not the lightest of job functions). I’m building a side project that’s helping me connect with Filipino creators and entrepreneurs. I’m attempting to blog regularly and share my knowledge to whomever will listen. I’m about to embark on studying for the GMATs. I’m leaning into the discomfort and pain of continuous growth and learning so I can one day reap the benefits of my hard work and lead a people. But taking a step back is making sure I don’t overwork myself too much. Leaders need breaks, too. Health (whether mental or physical) is so important. I need to take care of myself before I am able to serve others.

Third. And something less personal, but in a larger scale. Leaning into discomfort is starting a company. Taking a step back is understanding the moral and ethical consequences that company might have in society. Is your tech a $400 juicer that’s serving the upper 1% and ignoring the needs of developing countries who need their hunger problems solved more urgently? Are you creating a company with a culture that attracts only white males and plays into the pathetic cycle of hiring only a certain subset of elites, ignoring those systematically oppressed since the beginning? Are you working for a cause that used to have great intentions, but now have to be flipped around (perhaps now you’re investing in unsafe fossil fuels, or pouring money into wars) at the benefit of more profit?

Leading at the edge reminds us to push boundaries, but you stay at the edge for a reason. Jumping off is stupid.

In the next five years, what are the professional issues you will be working on, and how do you hope to make an impact?

I still have A LOT I need to figure out. Despite having a general northstar, there are many paths to get there. Perhaps some immediate things I’d like to see in the 5-year horizon:

  1. Immerse myself deeply in the problems in the Asian emerging markets space and really think about how I can solve them. Perhaps take action on some of these ideas.
  2. Develop myself as a thought leader in product in the Asian emerging markets space. Also take a stance on how technology should be used for greater good, and not just to augment lives of the upper 1%. Hopefully be able to gain enough product knowledge such that I can share and bounce ideas with our product leaders but also startups hoping to scale
  3. Grow as a woman leader and inspire/mentor other women leaders to push for their dreams

Innovation in the Philippines is rife for growth!

Eventually, I want to get to a place where I can be on a board and advise other companies, pour in money to startups solving real world problems, and be able to enact policies (especially in the Philippines) that cater to these goals. But stepping stones, my dear. I have my northstar guiding me, and I’ll get there eventually.