When I was in elementary school, I wrote "baker" on worksheets that asked "what do you want to be when you grow up?" It's funny how that statement has come to fruition in a way. Today is my first day as a full time food blogger.
How it Started
The first thing I ever cooked was fried eggs with soy sauce when I was around eight years old. I would cook them with tons of oil until the sides crisped up and the egg whites bubbled to perfection. It was the one thing I knew how to cook when I got hungry while I was home alone.
My parents owned a Chinese buffet and then a Chinese take out restaurant. I grew up going to the restaurant everyday after school to do homework and then eventually started working there in high school. Even though I grew up around food and cooking, my fascination for gastronomy only started in middle school when I was asked to make cookies for a bake sale. We never used our oven at home and like many traditional Asian households, we used the oven to store pots and pans.
I bought rolls of Pillsbury cookie dough, turned on the oven for the first time and placed the freshly baked cookies on top of each other on a plate. The next morning, I had one big cookie. I didn't know you had to let cookies cool first so they all stuck together!
Over the next few years, I started prepping my own salads to bring for school lunch. It was everything short of fancy- Romaine lettuce, chicken, hard boiled egg and Ken's Steak House Lite Caesar Salad Dressing! I also made chicken and broccoli for dinner with the restaurant's heavy wok and started trying new cuisines with my friends.
When I came across a favorite dish, I went home to recreate it- like Olive Garden's Chicken Carbonara or when I made Mango Sticky Rice inspired by Thailand's street food.
College Was Assumed
My dad worked in restaurants before opening up his own business. I don't think my parents opened a restaurant because it was something they were passionate about. Rather, with limited English, owning a restaurant was a means of supporting me and my brother.
My dad practically worked 24/7, if he wasn't sleeping 5-6 hours a day, he would be buying groceries and supplies or prepping food in the early mornings. Our restaurant was closed one day a year, the only day my parents had off, for Thanksgiving.
I was always excited to go with my Dad to Restaurant Depot or Sam's Club and demanded that he tell me when he goes because it was one of the small ways I got to spend time with him. I loved perusing the aisles and seeing all the different produce and supplies in bulk. Perhaps that's why I'm obsessed with Costco today...
Customers frequently asked if I, or my brother, was going to take over the family's business and the answer was always no- my parents never wanted us to. They came to America so their children could have a "better" and less tiring life than they had.
We didn't talk about college- it was kind of assumed that we would be educated and get a corporate 9-5 job, which my parents saw as an easier way of life.
I decided to pursue an Accounting degree in college because I took an accounting class in high school and thought it was interesting. Accounting was also a career path that my parents understood, since they knew other accountants, so I guess I had a small bug in my ear.
While in college, I started a blog on WordPress.com called Bakemesmile and wrote for my college newspaper sharing restaurant reviews and easy dorm room recipes. I posted a few recipes here and there for five years as a fun hobby.
I spent four years in college studying Accounting and taking extra summer classes to ensure I graduated with 150 credits to take the CPA exam. I also did tax and audit internships and received an offer from a big four accounting firm to join them after graduation.
It all seemed great, but looking back at it, I was going through the motions. In my senior year, I failed two accounting classes because I had no interest, put no effort into studying for them and ended up not being able to graduate with my degree.
I regret not changing my career path earlier in the year and I think I prevented myself from doing so. If I decided to change course, that would mean the last three years of time and money were wasted along with an offer to join a "prestigious" organization.
I had to hit a roadblock to force me to take a different direction.
What I Thought Success Meant
I was intrigued by the accounting firm's intern recruitment process and strategy. With my natural curiosity to learn about people, I decided to change my major to Human Resources.
I spent an extra year to take HR classes, interned and got my first job in Talent Acquisition at a NYC women's fashion retailer. I outgrew that role very quickly and received an opportunity to recruit for a kitchen and bathroom fixtures manufacturer. I learned so much and was very invested in my job but at the end of the day I never felt fulfilled. I rarely dreamed about my career path in HR, what's my next opportunity, when's my next promotion to senior recruiter, manager...?
Instead, I dreamed about my next meal, what I'm going to cook this week and my next travel destination. I joked with my friends for years: I wish I could be a food critic; do something in food; be a food blogger.
I still loved trying new foods, experimenting in the kitchen, and gaining inspiration from traveling. However, after landing my first job out of college I stopped posting on the blog.
I used to believe success meant going to college, earning six figures, having a stable job, and moving up within the ranks of a company. While success means something different for everyone, for me, I've come to realize that success in the simplest form means being happy and finding your purpose in life.
The Turning Point
I was content at my job, but within the last year it became a toxic work environment. It forced me to think about doing something else and getting out of the corporate environment. With the encouragement of my husband, I launched Beyondthenoms.com in November 2020.
I spent lunch breaks posting on social media, late nights writing posts, and weekends making recipes. The more I did it, the happier I was and it reminded me how much fun I had creating content.
There were never enough hours in the day to do everything I wanted and I was disappointed when I didn't have time to check off all the recipes I wanted to make that week.
If this past year has taught me anything, it's that life is short. It made me think about what my purpose is.
I was constantly anxious and went back and forth every other day on whether or not to quit my job.
Why would I leave a stable corporate job with benefits?
What if my business fails?
There's so much competition; who would want to follow me?
These were some of the many questions I constantly thought about.
One day at HomeGoods, I quickly passed by a canvas that said: "What if I fail? Oh, but darling, what if you fly?" I instantly teared up.
Over the next couple of months, I realized the following:
- I might be leaving a stable income but I am investing in my future and following my passion. The corporate world will always be there if I decide to go back.
- You can always earn more money but time is something you can never get back.
- I want to be my own boss and have unlimited earning potential.
- Failure is all about perspective, and is inevitable. I am going out of my comfort zone to do something that I don't have all the answers to, challenging myself to grow and will learn along the way. No successful person or business achieved greatness without failure.
- There are millions of bloggers and recipe sources; what differentiates one blog from another is the person behind it! Readers may come for the recipes but they stick around for the creator!
- Many successful bloggers didn't come from culinary backgrounds or know how to blog. They had a passion for sharing their creations and learned along the way. I am smart, I am hardworking and I am creative- I can get a piece of the pie too!
In January 2021 I finally picked a date to quit and felt so much more at ease. I knew if I didn't pick a date, it would never happen.
While I could have worked on my blog part time and waited until I was able to replace my income before quitting, with the distractions at work, I didn't feel that I was able to put my best effort into it.
I wanted to put my heart and soul in this business and grow at a faster rate.
The journey to this decision wasn't an easy one but I believe everything happens for a reason. I am grateful for my friends and family who encouraged me to take this leap of faith. Most of all, I appreciate my husband Trevor for supporting my endeavor by being my web developer and hand model. Last but not least, I am grateful for my fluffy corgi Leo, who has kept me sane.
If you made it this far- thank you! I wanted to write this post as a cathartic writing exercise and something I can look back on. I also wanted to share my story and encourage you to take those first steps to pursue your dreams!