How Startup Institute is Shaping My Path to Self Discovery

One of the most difficult things to do after graduating from college is to figure out what comes next. A daunting task, particularly when you’re only 21 years old. According to my friends, the general consensus is to find a job and work for a few years, then go to business, medical, or law school, depending on your preference. Want to know a secret? I’ll give you three:

  1. I didn’t have any plans to go to graduate school after college.
  2. What I studied in school had absolutely nothing to do with what I wanted to do.
  3. I still had no clue what I wanted to do. No freakin’ clue.

Despite all of this, there were some things I did know: that my time at Tufts University, my amazing alma mater, gave me the ability to form a cohesive argument and back it up, as well as the confidence to take on leadership roles within the community. Most importantly, those four years taught me the importance of being an active citizen and giving back to the community, a fundamental value in any job I would dream of succeeding in.

That being said, I moved to Manhattan the summer after I graduated. I decided to try a few different positions on my journey to self-discovery and a new city was the place to do it. For 6 months, I interned in a variety of industries, including fashion PR, publishing, and non-profit event planning, until my bank account told me it was time to find a real job. Not having gained much insight on where I wanted to be for the rest of my life (or any hard skills really), I simply took the first job that was offered to me at a luxury travel company.

Before I knew it, ten months flew by and I was still exactly where I started. Well, that’s not entirely true: I learned how to work on over ten projects at a time, learned a great deal about the travel and hospitality industry, and had the opportunity to travel to Japan for the first time. However, in the back of my mind there was a fundamental problem that I had been trying to ignore: I wasn’t contributing to my community, and I wasn’t doing something I loved. When I told my boss this, she tried to convince me that I was helping people by “planning their dream vacations.” Yeah, okay.

That was the first sign that I needed to find a new job. All of my past employers showed some degree of care, and I was not convinced that I was being naïve or foolish in thinking that every boss should be like this. With that, I quickly began to realize that I wasn’t surrounded by innovators, or people who wanted to make change. Instead, I was living in a state of apathy; I wasn’t being a leader, and I often saw my ideas turned down because I was “too young.” I was frustrated that I wasn’t being taken seriously, but also angry with myself for allowing this to happen.

Around the same time, my boyfriend had moved from New York City to Boston in order to attend the Startup Institute. Within weeks, he was raving about the program and encouraged me to apply for the spring semester. Initially, I was not convinced that Startup Institute was the right fit for me. I wanted to help people, not join a tech company. However, to get my boyfriend off my back, I agreed to look at the Startup Institute before rejecting it completely.

(At this point, I would like to stop and thank my boyfriend Victor for convincing me to make this amazing life-changing decision. Thanks man!)

What I found was an amazing community in Boston that uses technology as a means to solve every day problems. I was astounded by the hard work and dedication that employees contribute to their company, and the employer’s emphasis on individual growth and learning. As an outsider looking in, I knew I had to be a part of this environment so I buckled down and planned my next move back to Boston.

Now that I’m here, I am taking every opportunity to learn and grow. I feel like a sponge that continues to soak up the knowledge and advice from speakers and instructors. However, the most valuable aspect of Startup Institute is the atmosphere, which is one that fosters innovation. Students at the Startup Institute are amazing; they are constantly striving to improve themselves by helping others. It is not uncommon to see students holding workshops on SEO or web design during lunch, or to see students starting their own companies and projects. This creative energy is unlike any I’ve seen before, and one of the most valuable experiences I’ll have in my life. We’re almost at the end of the program, and I still can’t get enough of it! 

I’m not going to say that I know my life purpose now, because I don’t, but being a student at the Startup Institute has reinvigorated my passion for education and for helping others. I was in a state of confusion, of not knowing what I wanted to do, but also not understanding that there was more out there than what my traditional education could offer. Coming from such a supportive startup family, I can finally go down a path that follows my passions without compromising my personal values.

As the Dillon Tigers say, “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”



Joanie Wang is in the technical marketing track at Startup Institute with a special interest in education, public relations, and program management. She is the co-founder and CMO of Exhubit: a startup born from four students at the Startup Institute. Learn more about her at or follow her at @joanatello