At The Spike Lab we work tirelessly to build a team of world-class coaches. This is part of a series of blogs introducing them to you.
Grace is an entrepreneur and educator with deep expertise in adolescent development and business. She has been working with adolescents for over a decade, and is currently working on a start up to support parents of teenagers. Prior to her current start up, Grace started her career at McKinsey before working in venture capital, impact investing, and a number of startups. She loves discussing topics related to mental wellbeing, productivity, and diversity & inclusion. She studied history and economics at Yale, and received her MA in Education and an MBA from Stanford. Grace is originally from Taiwan and currently resides in California with her puppy, Bailey.
1) Why did you become a coach with The Spike Lab?
I’ve engaged with thousands of teens over the past decade through my work as an educator, and it always pained me to watch students pursue goals without purpose or passion. As someone who cares deeply about mental wellbeing, I constantly strive to help my students connect with their own passions and identity in order to unleash their full potential. Sadly, in most tutoring or college admissions processes, students and their families are more focused on winning (or at least surviving) the “rat race” instead of looking to build sustainable skills that will last a lifetime: passion, grit, and self awareness. Interestingly, students who demonstrated these skills actually fared much better in college admissions and beyond, so I was glad to find an organization that is committed to bringing self-development and entrepreneurship to the college preparation process. When I found The Spike Lab earlier this year, I was impressed by the founding team’s vision for helping students become lifelong innovators and their professionalism in executing this vision. The Spike Lab philosophy resonates deeply with my personal mission to expand educational opportunities and help young people thrive, and I couldn’t be more excited to join as a coach!
2) What is your proudest professional achievement?
My proudest professional achievement to date is launching my first start up (featured in Forbes) that received funding and support from Techstars and angel investors in Silicon Valley. This company was my first experience truly building something of my own. Prior to launching it, I had plenty of project launch experiences– from starting a publication with 20K+ readers and creating a new Yale MUN conference for 500+ students in Taiwan (YMUN Taiwan 2014), to leading a seed fund and incubator at McKinsey– but those were always in the context of institutional support. We built our company purely from scratch, from idea to launch, which gave me an opportunity to engage investors, users, and other stakeholders with my vision. Even more importantly, it gave me the opportunity to learn about myself and develop the courage to make hard decisions, including my ultimate departure. I am proud of this achievement both on a professional and personal level, because I was able to be the principled and values-driven entrepreneur I want to be, while being recognized for our success.
3) If you could give one piece of advice to your high school self, what would it be?
Take it from a recovering “overachiever”: you don’t have to do it all! As a first generation (and financial aid) applicant, I had no idea what was required to go to college. I imagined I had to be perfect in every way in order to go to college at all, let alone the Ivy Leagues (which I thought was not meant for people like me). Without more accurate information and coaching from someone with perspective, I pursued this impossible standard through extreme and unhealthy decisions in high school. I slept 3 hours a day, studied while I ate, and denied myself even the smallest pleasures in fear that any moment of relaxation would cause me to miss an opportunity to go to college. I gave up exercise, time with my family, and connection to myself to do everything I thought everyone else wanted from me. This resulted in severe physical and mental health challenges that took me years to address afterwards. Worse yet, since I had spent my entire pre-college life focused on getting into college, I felt lost and burnt-out by the time I finally got there; I looked perfect “on paper”, but my body and mind were in a state of disaster. In retrospect, it’s now clear to me I could have still been a great applicant while living a more balanced life. I could have invested more in nurturing my passions and building my Spikes instead of trying to excel at everything all at once. If I had, I probably would have been much healthier (emotionally and physically) and been more ready to take advantage of all the opportunities college had to offer from the start!
4) How did you choose Yale for undergrad? What about Stanford for your MBA/MA?
In the craziness of college applications, students often forget it’s not just schools that are choosing them, but that they are also choosing a school. Choosing a college is so much more than just looking at rankings. In fact, that’s almost never the way to choose a college. In choosing Yale, I thought about the following (in no particular order) 1) Geography 2) Setting/School size 3) School culture fit 4) Community and 5) Alignment of interests.
On Geography: Growing up in California, I dreamt of living on the East Coast. I craved adventure and the opportunity to experience a place I thought had more historical and cultural significance. That ruled out a lot of excellent schools on the West Coast for me, and Yale was about as “historical” as it got.
On Setting: As an introvert that favored 1:1 interactions, I knew I’d thrive in a smaller, close knit community. For me, this meant I wanted to go to a relatively small and campus-based university (as opposed to large or urban setting schools e.g., NYU). Yale fit my need for a small student body with a closed campus.
On School Culture: I went to an incredibly competitive (and toxic) high school, and I was determined to go to a college that placed cooperation above competition and taught students to explore life with ceaseless curiosity. Beyond visiting campuses (primarily through summer camps), I read the newspapers of undergrads at different universities to understand their interests and spoke with current students about what they did for fun. These data points were far more informative than any formal ranking or pamphlet I had read. My conversations with Yalies left my heart warmed and inspired.
On Community: As a Taiwanese-American immigrant, I wanted a school with strong community cohesion and appreciation for diversity. I looked for schools with good ratios of international / diverse background students and schools that offered ample study abroad experiences that were easily accessible. Beyond national/cultural diversity, I was also looking for diversity of thoughts and passions. I wanted more than just “greek life” for fun; I wanted inspiring conversations and experiences that would broaden my perspective. I have never found a place with more diverse passions and interests than Yale.
Alignment of Interests: In high school, I loved debate, politics, and economics, but I also knew there were many disciplines I wanted to explore further. I wanted a school with flexible academic policies and philosophies that supported me to discover new interests while deepening my existing expertise. I was drawn to universities that made major changes not only possible, but easy. Yale doesn’t require a major declaration until the end of the 3rd year of study, and almost all students graduate in the major of their choice in 4 years. I surprised myself and fell in love with history while at Yale and changed my major 4 times. I did still finish my studies in Economics as originally intended!
In short, Yale checked all the boxes for things that were important to me at the time I was choosing a college. I followed this same process when I thought about graduate school. I chose Stanford because it had what I was looking for along the dimensions discussed above, and it gave me the additional benefit of broadening my network beyond “East Coast” institutions such as Yale and McKinsey.
It’s worth mentioning two things I hadn’t considered back when I was choosing my college: resources available to undergrads and alumni networks. Many universities (even ones with great rankings) dedicate a lot of resources to their graduate programs rather than focusing on the undergraduate experience. Be sure to look into who will be teaching your courses in undergrad (e.g., professors or TAs), what the administration does to support undergrad student life, and interactions between graduates vs undergraduates. Lastly, on the topic of alumni: once you attend a university, you are forever part of that network and community. But not all communities are created equal; some are far more enthusiastic about helping fellow alumni and the school’s affiliates. This has powerful effects for life beyond college that I hadn’t quite considered as a high school student. Thankfully, Yale has one of the most incredible alumni communities I can ask for.
In choosing a school, think first about what you want out of the experience and then identify what you would need to thrive. Go beyond rankings, and look for a place that will truly nurture you to grow into a better version of yourself.