On Perspective

Working at an early stage tech startup means that: 1. I work closely with people who have almost diametrically opposite skillsets & training from me and 2. Because of that, I am forced to think through & articulate assumptions in ways I haven't before.

I dug up my law school application essay from a couple years (2014!) ago, because this sort of learning and understanding was what I wanted to refine in law school. Some parts of this may seem cheesy, but I think much of it applies today even outside of the legal world. Here it is in full (along with a gif of me at graduation day) -- and please take it easy on me :)

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I never view the world in black and white. There is always some reasoning behind an event, a thought, or an action that can seem logical to one person but nonsensical to another. Our interpretations and perspectives are very much dependent on our individual, communal, and cultural values.

As a result, it is easy to judge a situation based on one set of values or perspectives. Oftentimes when we think of “conflict”, it is something that seems explicit, with only one side that is clearly “right”. However, conflicts are not always an all or nothing notion. It just requires some understanding and evaluation to reconcile the clashing perspectives, ultimately settling somewhere between black and white.

Sometimes, when I feel that my point of view is being misunderstood, I think it is because there is a lack of understanding from others. After all, we relate to other people based on common experiences.

For example, the simple question of “Where are you from?” often leaves me feeling confused, grasping at a concrete, simple answer. It is difficult to explain to others my upbringing and my background. Born in the U.S., grew up between China and Hong Kong, and then back to the U.S. It seems as simple as that, but also so much more beyond one sentence. I was born in San Francisco, but when I was nine months old my parents and I moved back to China. I grew up in southwestern China—in Yunnan, the agricultural province that shares the Meikong River with Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. I also grew up in Hong Kong—the bustling, urban metropolis. I left China at the age of fifteen to pursue my higher education in the U.S., but I was the only one in my family to come to this country.

My parents are no exception to the thousands of other parents in China. They sent me to the U.S. with the hope that I would work hard and eventually attend a prestigious university and ultimately get a job that would make them proud. However, as I grew older, I also noticed the internal conflicts that my parents struggle with when it comes to wanting what is best for me.

When I told them my intention to go to law school, they were proud. When I told them that I wanted to take some time off before doing so, they were concerned.

Katherine, if you do that, you will be twenty-five years old when you get your JD.
When do you plan to get married? You know you'll be considered a "leftover" once you reach twenty-five, how can you not see that? You should not forget that you are a woman.

It is easy to jump to conclusions and conclude that my parents are prejudiced or
closed-minded. However, I do not believe that they are inherently sexist. I think that they, like many parents in China, are conflicted. My mother fears that my being too educated works against me as a woman, but at the same time she encourages my pursuit of academics to achieve my full potential. Such a contradiction is difficult to explain to an outsider: to someone in the U.S. who grew up with stronger notions of gender equality; to someone who has not had to live with the residual effects of China’s single-child policy; to someone unfamiliar with changing gender dynamics in Chinese society.

Over the years, I have come to reconcile the cultural differences between East and West, using my own understandings to perceive and learn. I am able to empathize with and understand different and sometimes competing perspectives because of my upbringing and background.

There is rarely an absolute right or wrong in an argument or conflict—rather, I believe that the solution likely lies somewhere in between. To an outsider, the legal world is rigid and inflexible. However, my experience so far has shown me that the law is multi-faceted, living, and often subject to various interpretations. I believe that a legal education will allow me to exercise such flexible thinking in decision-making and reaching compromise. The world is not strictly black and white, and neither should our judgment processes be.