Three Career Lessons I Wish to Share with my 25-year-old Self

Eager to change the world and wonder why everyone around me couldn't see what I see? Why is my boss so stupid?

That was me at 25. I was a bag of contradictions: confident and insecure. Being an adult was less cool than I thought it would be. 

Yes, I had a well-paid job, good friends and opportunities to travel. But I felt miserable inside. I could only see people who get a faster promotion, a bigger paycheck, and had nicer handbags than I do.

My mentor confided in me:

"We are just winging it even at this stage of our career. Nobody has it all figured out."

With that, I hope my mistakes can help you figure your life and career out a little easier.

1. Call her. She wants to be your mentor, stupid.

 

Get a mentor. Everyone told me to do that, and I was desperate and confused.

Is it like dating? 

Should I ask someone I like to be my mentor? Or will it happen when I meet the right person? 

Where is that Mentor Tinder?? 

Years ago, there was a VP that everyone admired. She is smart, down to earth and passionate about helping other women. After 5 weeks of internal struggle, I asked if she can give me 15 minutes of career advice. 

She wrote back immediately. The next day, during her 30-minute transit at Atlanta Airport, she shared her career secret is being part of a close-knitted industry group. She even linked me up with the lady who leads the Southern California Chapter.

She asked me to call her anytime. 

And what did I do?

Nothing. 

She must be just so busy managing a $1.5B business. She must treasure spending more time with her young family. 

Excuses I made up because I was afraid.

Lesson learned. If a potential mentor asked me to reach out, they genuinely want to help. 

They are too busy to just want to be polite.  

2. Follow your passion. Sometimes.

 

Follow your heart. I heard this all the time when I moved to the US. 

Wow, that is so refreshing. My parents told me I should be a banker, not a baker.  

I latched on to the first bank who hired me out of a college and discovered it was a colossal mistake by month six. 

I was miserable. I kept myself sane backpacking across South America, trying out new restaurants, and day-trading to fund these hobbies at night. 

My dream? Writing for Lonely Planet. But then my mom's voice woke me up and I went to graduate school instead. 

And I'm glad I did. 

My 25-year old self couldn't see that what makes me feel alive is not travel and food. It is the exploration, the learning, and the creativity needed to thrive in unexpected situations that makes me feel alive. 

And I found a job in Corporate America that allows me to do that.

 

3. Define what success means to you, or it will be defined for you.

 

Let's play a game. Register the first answer that comes to your heart. Don't resist or argue with yourself. 

Ready?

What does success mean to you?

My answer?

Money. 

I was shocked. I thought I want a fulfilling job that allows me to connect deeply with others.

Don't take me wrong. Money. Fame. Status. These are all worthy definition of success. The problem is what my heart's desire doesn't match to what I was taught success means growing up. 

Money was an all-consuming family focus growing up poor. It didn't matter that I was not poor as a young banker, but I was trapped in the tyranny of my childhood experience. 

So, where to go from here?

I love the Happiness Framework proposed in the book Just Enough: Tools for Creating Success in Your Work and Life by Harvard Business School Professors Howard Stevenson and Laura Nash. 

Happiness = Feeling pleasure about your life, enjoy the daily act of living

Achievement = Accomplished a goal others are striving for

Significance = Impact people that you care about positively

Legacy = Establish ways to help others find their success

I love this model and hope it is useful for you too.