People First! Tian Shi, " How Not To Underestimate Or be Underestimated"

Sit back, and grab a coffee as Morag and Tian Shi talk about how not to underestimate or be underestimated!

Welcome to SkyeTeam's People First! In this series, we explore the people side of successful business and careers. We all have a story to share, a leadership journey that we are experiencing.

We'll be interviewing authors, business leaders, thought leaders, and people like you to uncover the latest ideas, resources, and tools to help you become more effective at work - and in life. As it turns out, the secret is cultivating winning relationships. Business is personal, and relationships matter!

So, sit back, and grab a coffee as Morag and Tian Shi talk about how not to underestimate or be underestimated!

Chapter Layout:
0:00 - Open
0:55 - Origin Story
2:53 - Pivot Point
6:44 - The Book
17:53 - What Are You Taking Away?
18:45 - Contact Info & Wrap


- [Intro] Welcome to SkyeTeam's, People First with Morag Barrett

- So my guest this week on People First is the exceptionally talented Tian Shi who is currently studying at Georgetown University but is also the author of an exceptional book called "Exceptionally Average Through Their Eyes." And I'm looking forward to learning more about the book, the research that you've done with entrepreneurs around the world and your leadership journey, but welcome to People First Tian.

- Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate your time.

- Well, I'm looking forward to this conversation and as with ever with my opening question, it's all about the leadership journeys that we are on, whether it's towards the beginning of our leadership journey as you are role modeling or midstream as I would like to think for myself. So if you flash back to when you were in elementary school, just a wee las and the teacher's going to you Tian what do you want to be when you grow up? What was your answer?

- When I was younger, I definitely loved the community aspect of school. So mentorships, having older friends, having younger friends who share my personal journey and professional journey. So when I was younger I definitely wanted to be a kind of child doctor a biologist because I love interacting with people, I love sciences, I love how people worked and being a doctor sounded cool to me. But as I discovered in high school and my first year as a biology major, I am very bad with needles, very bad with blood and very bad with dissections. So if you stuck me in the operation room, I will be the first one to faint. So that kind of took me off my pre-med track and with my passion education policy and business. And my love for talking to people, I really discovered that maybe, consulting was a way from me because by virtue of going to Georgetown, everyone is in investment banking or management consulting. And in the middle of a pandemic in 2020 staring at a screen for 10 hours, listened to the same people talk about the same things, it was not for me. So I had to pivot again and kind of understand myself, understand my values, understand what I want to do for myself and that's how I came upon entrepreneurship. Which is a place where I can marry my personal passions with my professional aspirations to create meaningful change with my career. So that's how I ended up here at a place that's a very, very different to how I started.

- So it's interesting this is one of the things that fascinates me about the United States of America, the university system here, because it seems like you have much more hybrid degree programs than I certainly recall from the UK where you go and you study finance or you study architecture. So what is it that you are studying now as you've gone through these pivots and decided, okay I'm not going to be doing the gory end of doctoring. So what is the course that you're following right now?

- Right now I'm a biology major studying cognitive science and entrepreneurship. So I wanted to take my niche technical background in biology and apply it to the business end of entrepreneurship. Maybe working on a startup, maybe working at, as an entrepreneur at a large med tech company focused on innovation. So it's more, I want to to use my technical background to benefit society and to bring my niche knowledge to help everyone.

- Okay. It's fascinating. And you've already started 'cause I understand you invented a smart tattoo, now the woman who's finally got tattoos, but not smart tattoos. Tell me about that and what was it, what's the problem you were trying to solve? And what was the solution that you created?

- I, going into my senior year of high school I was fascinated with neuroscience because potentially that could be my major in college, I did not know. So I went to a summer program in Chicago that was focused on neuroscience it was basically a first year college course and I understood the fundamentals of neuroscience, neurons, synapses et cetera. But what really fascinated me was Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease because I knew from my grandparents, in my minimal interaction with my grandparents that it's something that is very pervasive and affects a lot of our older populations. So that really stuck with me and I went to a camp in Boston for a few weeks and it was more of an innovation camp. So little did I know that I might be an entrepreneur one day but 17 year old me was fascinated with Alzheimer's and I kind of backtracked this disease to dopamine because dopamine is something that we've heard about and in our middle school days, in classes everyone needs dopamine to survive. But dopamine is the primary controller of our growth, our emotions. So too much dopamine would result in excessive energy. So for example, ADHD is caused by an excess in dopamine but on the other side of the coin too little dopamine results into depression, other diseases. So there's usually that, U, bell-shaped curve where the perfect amount of dopamine is necessary for the survival and persistence of people. So I developed this bi-layer tattoo that is modeled after an MIT iGEM project, that the first layer the top layer would sit on the top of your skin and the second layer would go into your bloodstream and detect for dopamine metabolites in your blood stream because you really cannot detect with dopamine because your brain wouldn't allow anything to enter and kind of mess with its functionings. And then the bottom layer would detect for the perfect range of dopamine. And it will send high colors to the top layer where a red color were, were mean too little or too much and a green would mean that there's sufficient dopamine in your body. And you, if there's too much dopamine in your body you can get rid of it by exercising or meditating. And just too little dopamine, you can supplement your diet with chocolate, almonds or yogurt. And that is just something that developed when I was maybe 17 years old. I hadn't really put into the lab or tested any of the results, but it's something that I still have on my desktop that I look at day-to-day and just kind of see how I can develop this something, this invention without knowing organic chemistry, biochemistry, all of the hard sciences, but hopefully one day I can carry out and see information.

- I love it. I love the big thinking and I have confidence if it's still on your desktop, that you will get there and it comes back to my book cultivate. And then it's not necessarily that you need to have the understanding in organic chemistry, is going to be finding that right connection. And then together you can transform the idea into maybe a practical solution. But what makes me think is let's talk about your book then. And ironically, given everything that you've just shared, the title that you've chosen is exceptionally average and already that is not two words that I would use to describe you. So tell me about the inspiration behind your book "Exceptionally Average Through Their Eyes."

- Definitely. So kind of going back to high school, I was never the one in front of the podium I was the quiet girl who spent Friday nights and Saturday nights in her bedroom studying. But the transformation that I undergone through high school was phenomenal because if you had told me as a freshman that I will be school president, the captain of the track team, the leader of the school newspaper and yearbook, I would say you're completely kidding me. Please don't tell these lies. But it was something that kind of, I struggled with when I was younger because I will never get the awards, I will never get the recognition, but everyone knew me as an individual who has ambitions and who can stand for her own moral values. So exceptionally average comes from the fact that I have been exploring who I am as a person and how I can achieve great things by being inherently myself and not sticking to the traditional values of oh, I have to be the one raising my hand or I have to be the one in front of a podium addressing everyone.

- So it's about understanding what makes us all uniquely us as individuals and being able to show up at that versus wearing the mask and pretending or trying to fit in elsewhere. And of course you've lived globally. So can you think and share a story from your life about where you've either felt the need to fit in or where you have surprised yourself and others by being you and fitting out is how I'm going to describe it. Standing out, let's go with standing out.

- Of course. So my freshman year, we have these pre-orientation programs for freshmen first year students to kind of show them the University of Georgetown and kind of how everyone fit in. And the program that I chose was leadership and beyond. And it was a very tight knit program with 40 individuals including mentors and mentees. And we go through a seven day program of understanding ourselves, who we are, what we stand for. And how each of us can be leaders in our own ways. And that process, that that week long program was incredibly it still sticks with me. I still think about the times when I was sitting with my 40 peers, looking under the stars and telling our personal stories to, like our defining stories of who we are. And I discovered through that program, that each of us are incredible. Each of us has our own stories and each of us has a potential to achieve great things. We all got to George town in different ways and we bring so many ideas and thoughts and just all of us combined are so different but we all are the same. We're all people. And that really made me realize that I don't really have to fit in because I'm not fitting into anything I have to fit in as a person. And I have to develop my own relationships and cultivate myself so I can be the best, so I can best help others.

- That is just so inspiring to hear. You say that and at such a critical point in your career because I can tell you being a few years ahead on that journey, the imposter syndrome, that plagues all of us at different times can be debilitating or cause us to run below the radar versus stand up and shine. So I love the fact that you are embracing that uniqueness in you, because that just means as you continue to build on it so much that you're going to be able to achieve. So tell me about the book then the research that you've done and the interviews that you've conducted to put together the insights in "Exceptionally Average Through Their Eyes."

- So I started off with my book writing process in late May, early June. I kind of went through the ideation phase which I spoke about on how I can develop a book based on exceptionally average based on my own experiences and my desire to explore a future career in entrepreneurship. So I would spend my mornings interviewing the possible people for my book. I would spend the afternoons writing up a transcript and writing their stories into a story that will fit into my book. And I spent the nights just kind of scouring the internet looking at entrepreneurs who may fit the criteria of coming from unconventional backgrounds achieving great things. So that process lasted three months from the beginning of quarantine to end the quarantine where I started my school year. And then in September, three months after I started the book writing process I had my initial manuscript finished. And that was when I started on the initial editing phase. And then in October, I started the marketing phase where I filmed my video my promotional video, and then started my presale campaign and just kind of establishing my beta reader audience and an audience who may be interested in reading my book. And then in November, I started reaching back out to everyone who I'd interviewed and kind of sharing their stories and sharing the insights I'd found. And I discovered that I was tackling too much when somebody asked me the question, what is your book about? I paused, listed out five different things.

- Okay.

- Heard myself and I thought I need to narrow the scope down.

- All right so I'm going to stop you then. So tell me what's your book about, and if I'm, when I read it, when we all read it, 'cause it's coming out soon, what are we going to take away from it? So tell us about what the book's about.

- "Exceptionally Average" is about how we can combine our personal passions with our professional aspirations to create meaningful careers to innovation. So being an entrepreneur doesn't mean being someone who it ends up is being someone who's different and being someone who stands for their own beliefs follows their passions and follows what they find most meaningful. And they can create change by being intrinsically themselves.

- So you mentioned earlier, something about was it unusual backgrounds

- unconventional backgrounds yes.

- So tell me more about what you mean by that. And then share a couple of nuggets, a couple of the interviews that really stand out for you who were they and what were their stories? So tell us about the, the unusual background please.

- Of course. So entrepreneurship, when I was younger I always thought, Oh, it's about Elon Musk. And it's about Bill Gates, where you can hit the jackpot and you make a billion dollars in your first year and become worldwide world renowned, all of that. But these men doesn't capture the spectrum or diversity or the capabilities of entrepreneurs in our everyday lives because an entrepreneur may mean a mom and pop shop down the street where you get your groceries, or maybe your uncle who has his own company. So I want to capture the diversity and the ability that anyone could be an entrepreneur. So I looked at individuals who were not really born into money, minority groups and people who had many difficulties when becoming or building their own brands. So people who are women, people of color, minorities, immigrants, high school dropouts, and college dropouts. So individuals within the larger society who doesn't have that societal definition of, Oh they're going to be successful. And I kind of capture their stories in my book trying to show that anyone can be a leader and anyone could be an entrepreneur and have somebody that the, my readers can relate to.

- So I love that because that brings the title alive. What you're talking about here is that through biases, through just lack of knowledge, it's the people that others might glance at and assume are exceptionally average or are not going to amount to much. But in reality is because they've stepped into their own truth, they found their passion, their talent they've exceeded everybody's expectations and demonstrated success in different ways. That's wonderful. So tell us about a couple of the interviews the characters you've met

- Of course and the stories that they shared.

- My, this whole book writing process really opened so many doors to me and gave me the ability to talk to some really incredible people. So my, the interview, like one of my first interviews was with a recent Georgetown grad. He comes from DC. He, his father was shot dead when he was nine years old he became homeless with a single mother at 11, and he managed to get a full scholarship to Georgetown university but he was battling depression. He was battling trauma associated his father's death. He was battling anxiety, but he found that the best way to find himself is to lose himself in the service of others. So his senior year of college after being suspended for some incidents early on, he founded a company that is helping to lift 500 families out of poverty in DC. And he's very recently elected in the Forbes 30 under 30 entrepreneurs class for social impact in this year. So he has truly embodied being on social entrepreneur and using his personal experiences to give back to the people who have helped him become the person that he is today. And then another person and not necessarily interviewed but research to kind of glean his story. His name is Sharrock Frepom. He was born in Ghana and he comes from a family where nobody graduated high school. So one day he was out playing in the river with his friends running away from school and he caught a very infectious disease and he has to be taken to the hospital or he would lose both of his legs. So in order to pay for transportation to the hospital, the closest hospital which was five away by truck his father and mother forfeited their entire cocoa farm for a week to pay for a truck to take him to the hospital. And by a stroke of luck he was able to keep both of his legs and sitting there in the hospital room, looking at the ceiling he realized that my parents should not have been trapped in the cycle of poverty in Ghana where the cocoa industry is billions of dollars. He vowed to himself that he would help as many people as he can escape the situation from a village that's trapped in poverty and a village with no healthcare system. So he returned home, worked as hard as he could and got a full scholarship to University of Pennsylvania where he studied environmental science, architecture and I think it was biology. And he returned back to his rural village in Ghana to create the first farm for profit organization with a local hospital. So that farmers, cocoa farmers in Ghana are able to reap the benefits of the cocoa farms without having all of their profits being taken away by large corporations that run the industry which is around $2 billion in the country. So that's another story that I kind of discovered in my book and it really shows how he uses passion, he uses experiences and how he brought back his intellect and ambition and talent back to his home community to benefit as many people as he could.

- Wonderful. So how has the research and the writing process impacted you? What are you taking away from this?

- Well, by virtue of writing this in the middle of a pandemic I was kind of struggling with my own uncertainties but seeing how these incredible people can achieve such great things was truly inspirational for me because a few months ago I did find myself kind of escaping my day to day realities of oh, am I going to see my friends, is like am I never going to see my international friends again, the whole culture of, the just escaping my mental anxiety by just focusing on a certain project. So it really showed me how my ambition and determination can lead to such a great project that can benefit so many people but it also showed me incredible people that, incredible things that people are doing and it motivates me to do better and to kind of push myself so I can achieve my full potential.

- So Tian thank you so much for sharing your journey and a little bit but more about the book. Where can people learn more about you and obviously get their hands on the book?

- Of course. So I have a website called "Exceptionally Average" that I'll be sending over to Morag and I have a pre-sell campaign that I can also send where you can pre-order a copy of my book. Then kind of help me in this publishing process. And you will get early access to a manuscript. And be mentioned in the acknowledgment section of my book.

- Okay. Well, I wish you every continued success. We'll make sure all of that information is in the show notes. And I look forward to continuing to follow your leadership journey. Thank you Tian.

- Thank you so much for having me.

- [Presenter] Thank you so much for joining Morag today. If you enjoyed the show, please like, and subscribe so you don't miss a thing. If you learned something worth sharing, share it. Cultivate your relationships today when you don't need anything before you need something. Be sure to follow SkyeTeam and Morag on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And if you have any ideas about topics we should tackle interviews, we should do or if you yourself would like to be on the show drop us a line at That's S-K-Y-E Thanks again for joining us today and remember businesses personal and relationships matter. We are your allies.

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