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From Paper Dolls and Dresses To My Entrepreneurial Runway

Ever since I could remember, I loved expressing my creativity through any medium I could get my hands on. I wrote, drew, painted, sculpted, sewed, and even dabbled in drama. Art and design were always major influences in my upbringing that I still carry with me today in whatever I do — although these days, technology has completely changed the way I flex my creative muscle.

I recall a moment in my early childhood when I would draw and design paper dolls. I drew figures and facial expressions on sheets of paper. I cut, traced and taped the three-dimensional silhouettes and designed custom paper clothing and accessories for my models. Then I would lay them all out on the basement floor in my makeshift studio and solicit sales from my family as they passed by on their way to do laundry. When my shop was quiet, I’d come up for air and pitch people to come check out my studio for the latest styles. There were at least four families living in the house where I grew up— at one point 10 adults and 4 children and we’d always have guests and other extended family over, so there were constant sources for my hustle. I kept my earnings in my makeshift cash register: a Pokemon tin case where I enclosed a paper slip marked “finances” and tallied up my daily sales.

Like many young girls, I too played with dolls. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was also playing entrepreneur.

Far from my paper doll days, but not too far from the tree — I grew into my teens and fell for the world of fashion. I dreamed of designing dresses and womenswear and coming out with my own line. I taught myself to sew, took a fashion class, and learned advanced pattern drafting. Word about my passion for fashion design spread and friends would commission custom dresses from me. On top of all that, I obsessively watched Project Runway seasons and repeat re-runs, while researching the industry and imagining myself designing my very own collections!

In the famous words of Tim Gunn, I thought I’d just make it work.

In high school I got top marks and excelled in both the sciences and arts. This is where the constant tug-of-war between my analytical and creative sides emerged. Would I please my parents and go to med school (heck, at least become a nurse!) or would I purse my dreams to become a starving artist? Okay — nobody plans to become a starving artist exactly, but I was primed to believe that there was no money to be made in the arts.

My runway dreams were officially shot down in my senior year of high school, when I got early acceptance to several top academic universities that I didn’t even want to go to. Raised by immigrant parents and battling Asian guilt, this was the struggle of my young adulthood. You don’t even need a degree to be an artist, but pursuing a degree was a means to conventional success that was sold to me by my parents, teachers, and many others who shaped my early mentality. So I set aside the sewing machine, did it their way and attended the top school of their dreams as long as I got to take a few art classes along the way. In that final hurrah in my senior year of high school, I made my prom dress just like I had always wanted it (with pockets!) and figuratively kept my creative dreams in my own back pocket.

My prom dress ft. pleats, and pockets!

In the words of Tim Gunn, I learned to just “make it work”.

I crafted my own interdisciplinary degree, while taking as many different classes as I could access. Fortunately, I somehow managed to graduate in four years with my fancy piece of paper. Since then, I kept my options open and never pigeon-holed myself into any role, career path, or industry. I’d like to think that I’ve never let go of my creativity, despite having specialized in business operations and finances in the most recent few years of my career path. Somewhere along the way of making it work, I learned to infuse my analytical side with my creative side to get a unique end result.

Thinking back to my paper doll days, I was pretty good with managing my money and keeping track of the coins in my Pokemon tin cash register. In fact, I probably liked it just as much as designing my dolls. Going with the flow got me to realize this knack for financials and managing startup cashflow. I discovered a skillset in translating the business language of complex numbers and accounting in an intuitive way for creative (and often number-phobic) visionaries. I found an interesting way to tell stories with numbers and realized I was really passionate about it and wanted to bring this approach to the masses.

Paper dolls and playing entrepreneur has primed me for the real deal in my journey as I realize I’ve come full circle with my passion and purpose. From dreaming of attending runways in Paris to realizing a knack for empowering entrepreneurs to understand their cash runway*, my early start with paper dolls and dresses were key influences that brought me right on back to the entrepreneurial runway in a way I would have never ever imagined.

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