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Balancing the Grind With Jessica Li, Analyst at Morgan Stanley

Jessica Li is an Analyst at Morgan Stanley in their Global Technology Investment Banking Group. She recently graduated from Harvard with a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics, Applied Math and Computer Science.

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1. To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your background and career?

I graduated with high honors from Harvard in May 2019 where I studied economics and computer science.

My senior honors thesis was on Chinese foreign direct investment bargaining through the Global Financial Crisis and was advised by Nobel Laureate, Oliver Hart.

On campus, I was involved primarily in investment management and business groups, including:

  • managing the endowment of Harvard Student Agencies (the world’s largest student run company)
  • serving as Chief Investment Officer of Smart Woman Securities
  • being on the executive board of Harvard Undergraduate Women in Business (the largest undergraduate business group)
  • serving as partner of the Charles River Growth Fund (Harvard’s oldest investment fund)

Off campus, I was very involved in the venture and startup worlds, investing with:

  • Rough Draft Ventures (the student founders arm of General Catalyst)
  • Romulus Capital
  • Global Founders Capital (early investors in Facebook, Slack, and LinkedIn)
  • Female Founders Fund (investors in companies including Rent the Runway, Thrive Global, and WayUp)

I was also an early team member at Luxe (acquired by Volvo), Morning Brew (Forbes 30 U 30), several Harvard Innovation Lab startups, Rialto (early stage startup analytics platform), LiveBetter (mental health tech company from the founder of AppNexus), Allo (Y Combinator W19), and Elpha (Y Combinator W19).

My first 2 summers I spent in public markets, working first at family office Roundview Capital and then managing Northwestern Mutual’s $220Bn portfolio.

Most recently, I was at Morgan Stanley in their Global Technology Investment Banking Group, where I will be returning full time this summer.

2) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

Starting in August (following training in July), I am joining Morgan Stanley’s Global Technology Investment Banking Group full time.

Based on my experience in the group last summer, there is really no typical day, but at a higher level, the job essentially entails completing and presenting analyses to help later stage technology (internet, software, hardware, and semiconductor) companies strategize and execute around capital driven, growth initiatives.

More senior people (executive and managing directors) will typically be the ones meeting and managing relationships with C-suite level employees at these companies.

Analysts, like myself, then collect and analyze the data, formulate creative presentations, iterate, and spearhead and support design and execution processes to help the team at Morgan Stanley and the client company achieve their strategic goals.

3) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?

During work, I stay incredibly organized. I rigorously keep a to do list and schedule these action items into smaller, hourly tasks with concrete deliverables attached to reach larger goals on time, if not early.

I follow a 0 inbox rule and read or schedule responses to each message before placing them into respective folders for better record keeping and subsequent navigation.

I also take organized notes on things I learn from meetings, general tips, or mistakes I have made to ensure that I always have the knowledge, resources, and direction to continuously improve on my work.

When working with others, especially more senior people, it is important to manage expectations: you want to achieve at the highest level possible of course but also need to stay in the realm of practicality and refrain from burning out.

Be transparent about what you have on your plate and if it is too much. If there are competing projects from different senior people, let them know the sum total of the work you have and respectfully ask how they would like you to prioritize.

4) In between your job, life and all your other responsibilities, how do you ensure you find some sort of balance in your life?

Even on the busiest days, I always try to make time to do one thing purely for my own mental and physical well being.

It could be stopping at the gym for an hour after dinner, meditating for a few minutes in the morning before work, cooking a healthy lunch, reading for fun before bed, or exploring a new coffee shop I have always been meaning to try.

The activity can be as short or as long as needed but regardless, always adds more productivity to my day because I return more refreshed, alert, focused, and motivated.

5) What does work life balance mean to you?

I think work life balance can look quite different to different people. Overall, to me, it does not have to mean allocating a strict n% of time to work vs. life but rather doing whatever it is you need to do.

This may vary depending on the day, week, stage of life to feel balanced so that work does not feel like a lung squeezing sprint but rather a comfortable, empowering marathon where you are well paced, trained, and able to be successful.

More practically, to me, this means finding a family at work to make the time spent at work more enjoyable but also building a life outside of work that is my own.

I am very passionate about wellness and love doing yoga, training for races, exploring nature, trying new raw food recipes, reading, and meditating, so I always try to fit in time for these pursuits independent of work itself.

6) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

One of the most important things I discovered more recently (throughout college) was the importance of building an interest driven, rather than strength driven life.

Too often people craft their career, make pivotal decisions, and build their identities around their strengths because doing so seems the most intuitive and comfortable (and frankly satisfyingly ego driving) at the surface level.

But being strength led is especially precarious: once the environment, circumstance, team, task change (which is almost certain even in a short period of time), what you once considered your strengths may no longer be so, and thus your sense of self and direction are completely shattered.

In contrast, being interest driven allows you to derive enjoyment throughout the process, preserve inspiration and motivation throughout challenges, find meaning and happiness in your work (so that it sometimes does not even feel like work), and mentally thrive regardless of ever evolving relative benchmarks.

7) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

One of my favorites is The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down: How to be Calm in a Busy World by Haemin Sunim.

It is well formatted for busy people with bite sized, short poem length artistic words of wisdom to empower you to shift your mindset in small ways daily that quickly add up to a lifestyle shift.

8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

Practicing mindfulness is something I do throughout each day.

When I start to get overwhelmed, stressed, or frustrated, I catch myself, take deep breathes, and focus on counting these breathes and through that, objectively and calmly observing first these breathes and then my broader surrounding (starting with background sounds and sights and then moving to the challenging situation at hand).

In this way, I can shift my mindset on the situation, which in turn, allows me to feel more empowered when faced with obstacles and view them as a creative exercise rather than an insurmountable roadblock.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

I find that too often, people build their lives around societal constructs and expectations.

People think too much and too hard about what others may think of their title, company, role, industry, when in reality, success should be and ultimately is a self-defined term.

What success looks like to your friends, colleagues, family, classmates, neighbors, and maybe even to the seemingly majority of the world does not having bearing on what it should look like for you.

In the end, you are the only one that has to live with your own job and broader decisions, so make sure you are optimizing for yourself, wellbeing, goals, and happiness rather than those of someone else.

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About Author

Balance The Grind gives me a platform to talk to these people about how they're achieving their ideal lifestyle. I'm inspired by the passion, the work ethic, the hustle; and these conversations motivate me to live life the way I want to live it.