I thought I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. My mom taught me a long word when I was three: pediatrician. I liked saying it out loud, emphasizing each syllable. Pea-dee-ah-tri-shan. My mom had studied pediatrics before immigrating to the United States and, like many daughters, I aspired to be just like her. This goal quickly became my North Star. My parents bought me encyclopedias, which I devoured over and over until the pages were dog-eared. In seventh grade, I won first place in a state science competition. In high school, I aced every test in biology, chemistry, anatomy — I thought I could conquer anything.

What I didn’t realize then was that setting my sights on a goal without thinking critically about it meant limiting my options. When I entered college, I barely glanced at the 100+ page course guidebook and simply enrolled in classes in the pre-med track. It ended up being the hardest academic year of my life; I was flunking tests and not sleeping from all of the stress. What used to come so naturally suddenly felt impossible. Eventually, exhausted, I couldn’t ignore the red flags anymore and had to drop being pre-med. The failure stung. Deeply disappointed in myself, I cried on the phone to my mom, admitting that I had given up. Consumed by self doubt, I closed the door that I thought was meant for me. What could I possibly do next? 

The summer after graduating, while my friends had landed job offers and fellowships and, ugh, that kid won the Rhodes, I still had no answers. Panicking, I applied to every job listing I could. Suddenly, I recognized a name in my search — Flatiron Health. A close friend had interned there for two summers. But being a new grad and having become a plant biologist and president of a burlesque theatre troupe, I was unsurprisingly deeply unqualified for most open roles, save for maybe an entry-level gig on the Office Operations team. I shot my shot and, by some miracle, I was hired.

After stuffing my whole life into a cardboard box, I moved to New York and started at Flatiron’s front desk, knowing truly nothing. Over the first few months, I learned employees’ names, the best way to write down a message with a phone sandwiched between your ear and shoulder, and how to smile and say “Good morning” to people at 9am (actually). Soon enough, as I figured out the ropes, more opportunities started cropping up. I began supporting executives and got scrappy with projects, such as the company’s move from our office in Flatiron to our current headquarters in SoHo. I soon felt like I was growing every day from my work, team, and peers, in ways that I hadn’t even considered in college. 

Around my first anniversary, an opportunity arose to join the Talent Development team. I started thinking. While I loved contributing to the day-to-day differences the Office team made (and continues to make), I wanted to keep broadening my scope. Instead of blindly making choices like before, Flatiron had taught me to do my homework. I met with everyone on and adjacent to the Talent Dev team and asked questions: “What value can I add? How do you define success? What does my runway look like?” The more I learned about the role and its expectations, the more signs pointed towards yes. I craved fresh challenges, different perspectives, and new skills, so I took the plunge.

A year since transitioning teams, my world has only continued to grow. I’m now responsible for introducing employees to Flatiron on their first day and maintaining the entire onboarding curriculum — so I’m not only learning, but also teaching every new face at the company about the work that we do and my own Flatiron experience. I’ve learned to love facilitating courses and helping people find their feet in their first days here. More importantly, I’m tuning into what makes me happy, thinking hard about my options and really listening to myself.

To be honest, I have no clue what the future holds or what my next career step will be. Sometimes I can barely come up with weekend plans, much less see five to ten years out. But since I joined Flatiron, I know that as long as I continue to learn, teach, and grow, it’s okay to not have a North Star.

Talent Development Analyst
Guan Chen is a talent development analyst at Flatiron Health. Prior to joining Flatiron, she graduated Class of 2017 from Harvard University and was president of the world’s oldest drag musical.