Three Career Lessons I Wish to Share with my 35-year-old Self

The start-up I worked in had a successful exit. I moved on to a great job, got married, and settled into a new home.

That was me at 35. Life was clicking along. I got the Director title, the six-figure salary, and the platinum frequent flyer status that I didn't even know that I wanted.

I felt more secure, but I was restless. When will I get that corner office? Or that Santa Monica mansion with the perfect sunset view?

Little did I know this path of success was leading me to a divorce a few years on.

By making work my core identity, I forgot to cultivate other parts of life. I learned a lot from my divorce and sometimes I wonder how different life would be if I knew then what I know now.

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

1. We can have it all - but not all at once

 

"Our life comes in segments, and we can have it all if we're not trying to do it all at once" - Madeleine Albright

A young woman approached me at a networking event, wanting to know how to make it in corporate America.

"Oh, I don't have children", I said half-jokingly.

"Great tips!", she responded enthusiastically.

I panicked and went into damage control mode. I was joking.

Or, was I?

When I moved from Asia to the States, I thought that working mothers in the US are either super-women or insane. Where I come from, mothers have an army of help. Parents, relatives, maids from the Philippines.

Here? You are expected to travel frequently, take up overseas assignments -- all with little help. It baffles me. How do people have a two high-flying career family?

Well, they don't, not without a lot of struggles, or some secret sauce.

A husband who stays home. A husband who takes a "lesser" career track. Never have time to take a long shower or volunteer. Or if they do, they feel immensely guilty or extremely sleep deprived.

I did not want to accept that we cannot have it all, and maybe I just need to work harder. Career, family, community, self-development, and self-care -- I want all of it.

We can have it all, just not at the same time. Or we risk losing some along the way.

2. The world will change. You will change . Make space for that.

 

When I was 35, I thought, well, this is the Grace that I am going to be until the day I die.

That thought is comforting, very scary, and very, very untrue.

In Hit Reset: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft's Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talked about the day his oldest son, Zain, was born.

Zain suffered asphyxiation in utero, and he cannot see, communicate, or move his limbs forever.

When I moved beyond 35, I noticed that everyone around me had something "bad" happen to them. Business Failure. Problematic kids. Being fired. Divorce. Cancer.

I thought that money and status can shield me from sufferings in life. I was wrong, and I was grateful for that. Suffering reveals important life lessons. I learned that I have to stop being a control freak and think that I am always right.

Satya is grateful to Zain too. He learned to be deeply emphatic to others, and that helped him to get to the corner office.

I no longer pretend to know what life will bring to me. I learn to make space for that in my heart and in my mind.

3. It is never too late to reinvent yourself

 

"Every Day, you reinvent yourself. But you decide every day: forward or backward" -- James Altucher

I was managing a team of thirteen when I was 35. I loved my team, but it didn't bring me joy.

I struggled. Leading an ever larger team and moving up the ladder. Isn't it what I always wanted?

It was annual performance time, and my boss asked me: "So what do you want to do?"

"I don't want your job. I enjoy working in a highly ambiguous situation, especially at the intersection of supply chain and technology. I want to create a role that will allow me to bring the biggest value to the company".

I was relieved. I was not what I wanted to hear, but it is the truth.

Shortly after that, I moved into an individual contributor role in strategy. Sometimes I do wonder, will my life be different if I took a chance and make a bigger change?

I don't know. What I learn is that reinvention is possible and I will be less timid next time.