Shenzhen and the Humble Cheerleader

I’ve now been in Shenzhen for four years. To mark this milestone, I wanted to share one of my most important learnings during this time. It’s personal, anecdotal, and works for in terms of motivating me to better myself. I hope that you’ll find this interesting, if not helpful.


After university, I was at a crossroads. Either move to the Bay Area, US, and try my hand at a startup, or move to China and be a part of the then nascent smartphone industry.

I ended up picking the latter, eventually finding myself in Shenzhen in late 2012. My impression wasn’t great. Compared to Europe, people were rude, the city less clean, with both food and entertainment options lacking.

Over the past few years, I’ve traveled a lot. In the beginning, I would often look fondly at different cities fantasizing about one day leaving Shenzhen for one of them.

Recently, my view has taken a turn. It began with me noticing that across the street from the office, a modern mall suddenly complete. Then, a new subway line sprung up. In the mall close to where I live, a row of worn down restaurants disappeared within a week, replaced by new and shiny restaurants with better quality food.

Suddenly, Shenzhen now has legitimate cocktail bars. Suddenly, a shiny new office block has replaced an old neighborhood that I hadn’t been to for a year. Suddenly, you could pay anyone (including your taxi driver) with WeChat. Change had happened fast in aggregate, yet easy to miss when looked at individually.

Here’s the scary thought that dawned on me. I always thought of myself being lucky to have had the exposure to learn a lot, in a short amount of time. However, I realize that the improvement pace of Shenzhen, the city that I once looked down upon, has far exceeded that of myself. It left me in the dust and I almost didn’t notice.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s no New York or Tokyo, but it’s pace of improvement far exceeds any city I’ve ever seen.

This example helped me realize how risky it is to underestimate anyone or anything. So I decided to try and embrace the mindset of a Humble Cheerleader. Humble — to keep an open mind because you can’t predict the future. Cheerleader — to notice the positive things, while celebrating and learning from them.

In the future, I’ll be very wary of making the same mistake again. Now, I’ve got some catching up to do.