Tomorrow always begins with the chance to create new opportunities.

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a year of change agility and the shattering of consistency. Our daily routines have been uprooted, our professional careers have melted into our personal lives, and we’ve realized that perhaps we don’t have things under control as much as we had thought!

Like so many of you, I came into the new decade with grand plans and dreams. 2020 was supposed to be my year (side note: it actually is the Year of the Rat if you follow the Chinese calendar). I was eager to finally graduate with the Class of 2020, move to a new city, reconnect with my friends in Toronto, and launch my career at Microsoft.

Then a global pandemic called COVID-19 took the world by storm, and nothing was certain anymore. I could neither look forward to seeing my team in the office nor meeting up with my friends on the weekends. As an extrovert who thrives on social interaction and is used to living in a loud and lively household, I became homesick, and the forced isolation took a huge toll on my emotional wellbeing. 

Despite the loneliness that came with quarantine, I’m so grateful for the virtual communities that I became a part of. One of them was the Microsoft Aspire Experience—an amazing two-year experience for new Microsoft university hires from all around the world. The Microsoft Aspire team offered different experiences and programs to engage us both personally and professionally. Through these opportunities, I’ve enjoyed meeting smart and determined peers who welcomed me with bright smiles and openly shared their personal stories.

After I joined Microsoft in January, I was most excited for the Start Strong event because it was our first official introduction to the Microsoft Aspire Experience and a chance to meet other Aspirers around the globe. Coincidentally, Start Strong was set for March—at the peak of the COVID-19 frenzy. We ended up attending the first Virtual Start Strong in May, but it was still a great experience. I was even chosen along with two other Aspirers to speak at a keynote featuring Mariana Atencio, an award-winning journalist. Most recently this fall, I had an opportunity to become an Aspire Pod Lead and facilitate the Virtual Start Strong breakout sessions. I got to meet dozens of new Aspirers who joined the company in July, and these special moments of connection gave me tremendous energy.

Be passionate about the impact that you can make right here and right now.

Jean-Philippe Courtois, EVP of Microsoft Global Sales Marketing & Operations 

Coming to Microsoft was like getting a dose of empowerment on steroids! Many of my peers echoed the same sentiment that joining Microsoft was like drinking from a firehose, and they were right. I had to learn the plethora of acronyms, products, teams, and communities that make up the dynamic world of Microsoft—it was overwhelming, yet exciting.

But what struck me like lightning was the passion that everyone seemed to possess, even during a time of jolting uncertainty. Everyone seemed so incredibly smart, talented, and experienced. It left me paralyzed with a case of the imposter syndrome at the beginning. However, the company’s growth mindset culture had me focusing on getting 1% better every day. 

I realized that it was a waste of energy in thinking that I was not good enough. Instead, I shifted my mindset to think about “what good looks like” (a saying from one of my managers) and what I had to do to get there. As Dr. Julia Glidden, the CVP of Worldwide Public Sector at Microsoft, says, the cure for imposter syndrome is to simply “not feel it, believe that you belong here, and know that you are needed here.”

The future doesn’t belong to the biggest and fastest, but to those who adapt to their environment.

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It’s easy to complain and victimize ourselves in the face of tough circumstances. Ambiguity can be terrifying, but it can also be empowering. As an Aspirer who has heard from dozens of inspiring leaders within my first year at Microsoft, I’ve learned to accept ambiguity for what it is—an opportunity to change and adapt. I’ve come to realize that being present in the here and now is equally as important as planning for the future. Ultimately, showing up as my best self today will prepare myself for a better tomorrow. 

Despite 2020 being the year it was, let’s not settle for doom and gloom. It’s an incredible time for innovation because we’re finally realizing that the world must change. Gone are the days of complacency because we can do so much better, whether it’s in politics, healthcare, or business. We’re finally talking about the importance of mental health and emotional wellbeing, we’re finally acknowledging that we’re not doing enough when it comes to diversity, inclusion, and systemic issues, and we’re finally taking long overdue action to raise our own awareness about these challenges. There’s so much more to be done, but it’s a good thing that we’ve only just started the decade! 

My Top 3 Takeaways From 2020

  1. Find what gives you energy and do more of it 
  2. Tackle imposter syndrome by building up your confidence 
  3. Ambiguity is an opportunity to change and adapt 

Thank you to my mentor, Caroline Cho, for giving me the opportunity to write this Aspire Impact Story!