From the conservative viewpoint of South Korea, Duane represents all and every opposite view of what my culture has taught me throughout life. From the day we met firstly in 2006, he started instilling in me his unconventional wisdom especially about staying out of the comfort zone and eventually he became my inspiration and mentor.
After the encounter, I worked my way to become a business person ditching my 12+ year career as a professional pianist. It was the best decision ever; I now travel at least 10 times a year, meet tons of new and amazing people, and live a life full of happiness and appreciation with constant and exciting adventures. It was Duane who helped me turn my dream into reality.
In 2006 when I accidentally met Duane at my friend’s house in Las Vegas, I was an accomplished pianist, but an unhappy one. Although I had just won a music competition in California for the seventh time and had a $10,000 scholarship, I had no clue what to do in the future. I desperately wanted to run away from music, which controlled my life since I was very young. I had been in a highly competitive performing arts schools in Korea that mandated me to practice 6-7 hours a day without many breaks/vacations from age 11.
As Duane usually does whenever finding a person who does not live their full potential, he started talking to me and gradually breaking my boundaries, showing me possibilities of life that are realized only when getting out of the comfort zone. I devoured his teaching and eventually took a big bet of accepting his outrageous suggestion of traveling alone through his network, a.k.a. the strangers, for a month before my US visa expires.
Only that appalling concept of traveling turned out to be the most exciting thing that happened in my life. I still remember how my heart thumped so badly right before getting off the Greyhound station in Spokane to meet my first host family, Michele and Pete. Crime movies and media about American life I had seen had influenced me to think that this family could turn out something scary at any moment. (As if it will ever be!) All of the six families I met in a month gradually, but definitely, changed my mentality. I learned that openness and honesty, although it may make you feel vulnerable, can connect you with just anyone to live your life richer and fuller.
I enjoyed my travel so much that I instantly dropped my 12+ years of piano skills in Korea and changed my major to business, which allows one to travel the world and meet people. I enjoyed my career throughout Nielsen, Philip Morris, and a startup and now I am back in the US as a student at Kellogg (Northwestern) Business School. In the future, my goal is to be another Duane Ausherman to someone who needs encouragement and support as I did. I know the magic of Duane’s conversations to see through people in need, willingness to encourage them to be their best, and supporting them by connecting people together and how it often changes a life.
After spending a few years working in business, I decided to improve my education by getting an MBA at the Kellogg School of Management, the business school of Northwestern University near Chicago.
It was a three-year program. After my second year, I was able to get an Internship with Cisco for the summer.
At a breakfast for our group of interns, we had a speaker who explained more about Cisco. In the end, he asked if anyone had questions. Duane had taught me to always have three good questions ready. I was the only intern to ask a question.
After our speaker answered my questions, he gave me his card and asked me to come to his office. In that meeting, he offered that I also work with a high-level project for him.
He was so pleased with my work that he asked me to skip the last year of my MBA and go to work for Cisco immediately.
As usual, I asked Duane about this possibility. He explained that if they were that interested to get me to work, they would hold the job for another year. That is exactly what happened.
Cisco has 70,000 employees and hundreds of training programs. I became one of 16 people in the top leadership group at Cisco. The group consists of 12 men and 4 women. I am the only foreigner in the group.
I am quite pleased with the variety of important projects that are assigned to me. I answer to some highly skilled people and am pleased with what I am learning.
I am finally able to do for others what Duane has done for me.
Comment by Vanessa Martinez
I must add a few comments because Ji Young is from a culture that can’t brag about themselves. Cisco has hundreds of training programs. Cisco proudly advertises this top group by showing Ji Young’s abilities as a classical pianist in this video.