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Grace Ueng: The circle of life

Editor’s Note: Grace Ueng is the founder of , a noted leadership coaching and management consulting firm, and an expert on wellbeing and performance science. Grace writes a for WRAL TechWire.

Last year, a private equity firm engaged me to share my at their annual meeting. They provided the location where I would be speaking: 1271 Avenue of the Americas in New York City.

Little did they know the significance of that address and wow, was I surprised last Monday, when checking in with security for my run through, I was told to go to the 30th floor. The same floor too? I had truly gone full circle.

Grace Ueng in New York City

A return to the Time & Life Building

Thirty-six years earlier, I had moved from Boston to New York City to pursue my passion for publishing and accepted a role at Sports Illustrated. I made the short commute each morning from my apartment in Chelsea to the iconic Time & Life Building in Rockefeller Center.

By day I would work in the consumer marketing (then known as “circulation”) of Sports Illustrated and by night I would freelance write, learn from real reporters and actors in my journalism and film classes, and take in movies and off-Broadway shows.

Trying new things

I had left a coveted management consulting role at Bain & Company to try out this “daring” life in the big city.  My risk was somewhat low as I had been granted a deferred admittance to Harvard Business School after first getting some real world experience.  So I was giving myself the chance to try something a bit off the traditional b-school path.

I invited the staffers from editorial to lunch. During the rest of the day, we were separated (“church and state”)  to maintain journalistic integrity. I was fascinated with the reporting by sports and business journalists alike.  I remember asking Patricia Sellers from Fortune to lunch; she later went on to run the publication’s “Most Powerful Women Summit.”

In the late 1980s, at the time of our meal, she had just written a surprisingly accurate account of the behind the scenes at Bain. Given how secretive the consulting world was back then (and still is now),  I was impressed by her research and reporting prowess.

I had concentrated in marketing at MIT Sloan and loved my day job, but while in high school, I had attended Governor’s Honors in English and I realized in my move to the Big Apple that my secret passion just might be to write and be a reporter.

I soon became involved in the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) and together, we started a fledgling newspaper called The New Asian Times. My AAJA colleagues patiently tried to teach me how to “craft the nut” and gave me a chance to write. My first attempt was writing a co-bylined prescient cover story on Asian quotas at schools such as University of California Berkeley.

Go make the news!

Through a friend in AAJA, I scored a meeting with Evelyn Benjamin, the deputy chief of reporters of Fortune.  I humbly told her how I loved reading her publication and that I wanted to be a researcher and reporter on her team.  Knowing that I had a deferred admission to Harvard, she promptly ordered me out of her office saying “go make the news, don’t write about it, go to business school!”

Sigh, I guess it was not meant to be, I thought.

Writing full circle

Fifteen years later,  I would start to be asked to contribute to various business publications.  Then two years ago, Rick Smith, founder of WRAL TechWire asked me to  write a weekly column. Today marks my 90th!

Maybe Eveie Benjamin was right in the order she prescribed for me.

Consulting full circle

I would go full circle yet another time and have my own management consulting firm and utilize the skills I developed decades earlier while at Bain. Little did I know the grueling long nights and weekends of work at Two Copley Place in Boston would pay off later.

Speaking, Piano, Friends full circle

I am going full circle in other areas too!

From speaking at my MIT graduation decades ago to now speaking to large groups as a core offering of my company, I love this work more than ever as helping others maintain their wellbeing, thereby enhancing their performance is my passion.

From learning piano as a little girl to restarting a couple of years ago, I seek to remain close to and honor the memory of my mom, my first teacher. This time around, I am intrinsically motivated, and therefore enjoying much more and therefore progressing at a more rapid pace.

I had reunions while in NYC with a couple of dear college friends. When we are together, it is like no time has passed. We pick up right from where we last left each other. Enjoying our time together, laughing, and remembering happy memories.

The circle of life

This last week, I kept thinking, I can’t wait to write my next weekly column, to share with my readers how so much of my life has gone full circle. I thought that there might be a song written about this phenomenon. Indeed, there is!

“Circle of Life”
by Carmen Twille and Lebo M from The Lion King

From the day we arrive on the planet
And, blinking, step into the sun
There’s more to see than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done
There’s far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
But the sun rolling high
Through the sapphire sky
Keeps great and small on the endless round
It’s the circle of life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
‘Til we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the circle, the circle of life

Linear versus circular doing and thinking

While linear thinking can be good at times, thinking and doing in circles is complex but rewarding.  So much of life — and the elements (e.g. water) that we count on to live — operates in a cycle or complete circle in order to continue giving.

What circles of life are you experiencing this year? Be open, and you will find them!

About Grace Ueng

A management consultant, leadership coach and human performance expert with , Grace has been covered in The Wall Street Journal, Inc., and MIT Technology Review.  Leaders call her when seeking a strategic review of their business, when going through a pivot point, or when they’d like to have a thinking partner to hold them accountable to stretch goals.