A 15-Year Career Retrospective Introspective
What did you desire for yourself in the past? What did you think and believe in the past that have now become your current reality? What do you believe now? What is your dream for the future? These are some of the questions I answer for myself in this career retrospective introspective episode.
Full Episode Transcript
Hello! Welcome to Episode 46 of Born to Thrive with Jamie Lee.
Another episode, another police siren here in New York City.
Can you hear that? It’s kind of beautiful how well we are taken care of. That’s the thought I have as I hear the police - or the ambulance, I’m not sure - pass by.
It is December. Happy December! It is my birth month and I want to celebrate our struggles.
I want to celebrate all of our frustrations.
I want to celebrate all of our exhaustion, failures, facepalm moments, the moments of despair and just sheer disappointment.
All those moments of self doubt.
All those moments of almost giving up on our dreams, almost giving up on being bolder, braver and better paid because it just felt too hard, it just felt too unlikely, it felt too embarrassing - potentially embarrassing - and just the thought of it was painful.
I want us to celebrate all those moments of pain that we endured to get to where we are today in December 2018.
Because without those moments, we don’t thrive.
It is because of those moments of negative emotion, of almost giving up, of doubting and then overcoming the doubt and the fear and the shame and the guilt that we thrive.
That is why we are born to thrive.
I’ve been mulling on several big questions over the past few days.
A client asked me, “How did you get hired? How did you make your first $60,000-$70,000?”
And Catalyst, which is a leading not-for-profit headquartered here in New York that is all about advancing diversity and inclusion in corporate America for women and minorities, they asked me to come and speak about the unwritten rules of the workplace. That’s a webinar happening next week, December 11th.
And at the same time, I’ve been asking some big questions to myself because tonight I’m gonna be meeting with my Mastermind to talk about our big goals, our Wildly Improbable Goals (WIGs for short) for 2019. Last year we met and set WIGs for 2019 and I shattered through nearly all of them.
So, the net effect here of mulling on these big questions about my past, about my experience in the workplace and also about where I am going in the future, the net effect of all of that is I became retrospective, looking back, but also introspective, looking in.
And so I thought it would be really fun to do this episode and walk you through my career journey and share with you what I see when I look back, retrospectively, and what I see when I look in, introspectively.
What was I thinking and believing then?
And I think that’s really important because when I think about what I was thinking and believing in the past, I see they created the results I have now in my present.
My past thinking created my present results and therefore, in order for me to create new results in the future, I have to have some new thinking.
So I will share with you some of my new thoughts for 2019 and beyond.
But, before we go there, the unwritten rules.
What are the unwritten rules?
Well, when I think about my own career trajectory, there are three things that come to mind.
First is that there are no rules. You gotta throw the rulebook out.
Why? Because everyone’s journey, everyone’s life, everyone’s career trajectory is as unique as their thumbprint. So there is no hard and fast rule about how to do your career.
And so for the person who asked me, “Well, how did you get hired? How did you make money?” I’ll share with you my herstory if you will but I want you to resist the temptation to compare your trajectory to mine because, again, my life is as unique as my thumbprint as your life is as unique as your thumbprint.
And also, when you think about the rules of the workplace or your career rules, I think it’s actually more often the case that the written rules may not apply.
Case in point is yesterday I went to a talk given by another Catalyst researcher, Katherine Giscombe, who is the expert on women of color and their experiences in corporate America.
And she cited this really fascinating research that out of the 15 companies that she studied for her research, 14 out of the 15 said that they have accountability in terms of supporting minority women of color and helping them advance in their companies.
And yet when they asked the actual women of color at these companies, 17%, so that’s more like 1 out of 15 rather than 14 out of 15, I don’t know if the math is correct but when you think about the ratio it’s like the inverse, right?
The majority of the companies that say yes, they have a written standard of upholding diversity and inclusion and having accountability for this and yet most of the people did not actually experience that to be true for them, especially the women of color.
So, yeah. I think the first rule is really that there are no rules.
Having said that, another unwritten rule of the workplace is that you need a future focus.
And this is really interesting because nobody teaches us how to have future focus.
We don’t learn how to have a future focus in school and I think that’s why so many of us struggle with articulating our future potential when it comes to advocating for the value that we bring because it’s hard for us to dream big, to think big, and thereby lead big.
It’s easier for our minds and our brains to think about what we have done in the past and how can we recreate that.
But in leadership and negotiation, it’s about influencing and motivating people to change the status quo and in order to do that, you need to have a big future focus.
You need to tell us how awesome the future is going to be, this alternative future that your leadership and your ask will make possible.
And finally, the third thing I want to say about unwritten rules is that you have to let your desire guide you towards the career of your dreams.
And remember there are no unwritten rules. You gotta throw the rulebook out. Each career trajectory is going to be unique as your thumbprint and so that means you gotta follow that little tug inside your heart.
You gotta follow that little inkling, that slight suggestion, the hint that you get from you, from that little voice inside you.
So, having said that, I will quickly walk you through my resume.
And in the beginning of my career, when I first graduated from Smith College, wow, nearly fifteen years ago, I didn’t know how to navigate the working world.
I am an immigrant. My parents are immigrants and I watched them work 10, 11 hour days at their store, their gift shop in Queens, for 364 days out of the year and so what I learned from watching them is you just work and work and work and work and somehow that’s how you manage to make the rent, manage to put food on the table, and you just work and work and work and work.
But how to network, how to build a personal brand, no, they didn’t do any of that, so I didn’t learn from the example of my parents. I had to teach myself.
I began by just a lot of trial and error. And last night when I attended this talk about how women of color advance in corporate America, they mentioned that trial and error is not one of the strategies that work, and I thought, “Okay, well, that’s interesting to me because, for me, that’s how I grew my career. That’s how I started my career.
I applied to jobs on Craigslist.
And then the first place that offered me a paying job, I took it. And nearly fifteen years ago, it was with this little internet company called Legal Match. I don’t know, I don’t think they are around anymore and I was basically a sales development representative or a glorified telemarketer.
I would call up law offices and try to pitch them on a subscription to this internet service and I got paid $10 an hour with $20 commission for every appointment booked and I was there for just a few months.
But what I realize when I look back on it now is that I was so hungry to get a job that any job was okay for me because I desired so strongly to move out of my mother’s couch in New Jersey. Yeah. And so the driving belief back then was I must, I will get a job, any job will do. You pay me, I will show up and figure it out because I gotta make some money. I gotta make some money and move out.
When I was very young, I dreamt about living in New York City.
I dreamt about living and working in New York City and I was commuting from New Jersey. Not very far, just a quick bus ride, but still it felt like a different world to be in New Jersey, to be in Manhattan was like night and day. Different energy, right? Different culture, different people, different buildings, different experiences and I so desired to find a job in New York City.
And so that’s exactly what I did. I mean, I was not very picky.
So after a few months at this little internet company where I was calling up law offices as a sales rep, I desired for something better. I desired to find a better job, a job that is more fulfilling, a job that perhaps makes use of my education.
I studied Japanese in college and I studied abroad in Tokyo for my junior year abroad and so I applied through a Japanese temp agency and landed a temp receptionist position at an international organization that was going to build a nuclear power plant in North Korea.
You heard me right.
This organization, in 2005 was going to build a nuclear power plant in North Korea. No, that was actually 2004, I stand corrected.
It was organized like the UN as a conglomerate of international diplomats: Japanese, South Korean, American, European, the EU, and I was so excited when landed this temp job as a receptionist. It was like I won the lottery because I am idealistic, if you can’t tell by now, and it really resonated with my dream and desire to contribute to world peace.
So, the long story short here was that during the Clinton administration, former President Jimmy Carter brokered, negotiated a deal in which the international community will build North Korea a sustainable and renewable source of energy in exchange for their promise to stop building nuclear weapons but we all know what happened to that promise. They broke it.
So by the winter of 2005 after the presidential election when Bush was re-elected, the whole organization came to a screeching halt. Everything just stopped. So my dream job became sort of a nightmare job because every day I would go into the office and sit in icy silence.
I got paid $14 an hour, by the way, so I was starting to make a little bit more money and here I was, it was supposed to have been my dream job but no, it turned out it was not my dream job.
I vividly recall commiserating with my college friend. One day We got together for coffee and we were so miserable at our first jobs out of college. They were so disappointing. The pay was so low. Office culture was so...ugh, just frustrating.
And I recall she and I, we kept telling each other, “You know what? It’s only going to get better. It’s only going to get better from here. It’s only going to get better.” I worked at believing it. I really did.
And guess what? It did.
Over time, It did.
After working at this international organization for six months as a temp receptionist getting paid $14 an hour, I saved $2,000. And I felt like I had a lot of money. $2,000.
I moved out of my mother’s couch. I found a little apartment share in Queens and I quit my temp job. I had $2,000, so I had exactly 4 months’ rent, nothing else.
It’s funny. It’s really funny now but also I’m really inspired. I have a lot of respect for my future self for having so much faith and taking such a risk. I mean, I wouldn’t do that now. I have bigger bills to pay but even if I had just four months of whatever, I don’t know if I could…
Anyway, the point being here, I made my dream come true.
I moved out of my mother’s couch. I was now living in New York City. I did have a job. And now I needed to get a new job and my desire, I had a strong desire to just make it work. And because I saw my parents work really hard and make it work in America, I decided I can do it too.
And so, I just hustled, I went back to Craigslist.
Do people even still do that? I don’t know.
I got a restaurant hostess job and I got paid $12 an hour, so I went back in pay, but that’s okay. And I made it work.
But of course this was a temporary solution because I realized, hey, I’m college-educated, I speak all these languages, I can do better.
And so the belief I had back then when I was doing this hostess job was, hey, this is temporary. This is temporary.
And eventually I got hired by a Korean company as a purchasing assistant and I was buying really fancy things like steel copper plates. And I got paid $30,000 annual salary. And I was driven then by my desire to play to my strengths and I taught myself how to type and write business Korean.
I’m ethnically Korean, I was born in South Korea. I came to the United States after having just learned the Korean alphabet, basically. I was in the second grade and, yeah, I had just learned how to speak, read and write and then I left, so my formal education in Korean is extremely limited.
I’m fluent in American English. I can speak conversational Japanese because I studied it in college and because I got this job at this Korean company, I’m like, okay, I know some Korean. This is my mother tongue, technically. I can do this.
I had the belief that I can do this so I taught myself how to type and I remember I went and got these little stickers for my keyboard so that I knew which alphabet corresponded to which letter in the Korean alphabet and I taught myself.
It took time but I did it and now when I look back, I’m like damn. I’m impressive.
And I also taught myself how to do negotiation with business people.
I taught myself how to do international business negotiations because I was taking the orders from the headquarters in South Korea in Korean. I would then translate that into English. Well, you know, most of it was already in English but I would translate the demands and the asks and the requests and I would convey them, I would communicate them with my American vendors with whom I had a really great rapport and so I learned firsthand how important it is to have good personal, interpersonal relationships.
Catalyst also supports this. It really boils down to the interpersonal relationships that have an outsized impact on your career success.
I didn’t have such a great interpersonal relationship with the Korean people back in Korea because they were so far away and there was a culture gap because, mind you, I’m Korean-American, you know? I’m not really a Korean from Korea if that makes sense to you.
If you’re an immigrant or if you’re intercultural, you would know what I mean, right?
So, I eventually decided that I wanted to move on because I believed that I can earn more money. I was making $30,000. That’s not a lot of money. I also believed that I can enjoy my job more. I believed that I can do it. I was feeling a lot of misery but I also was driven by this belief that I can earn and enjoy my job more.
And so, eventually, I did find a job at an American company as a purchasing agent and I ended up earning $43,000 in annual salary. They first offered me $40,000. I negotiated and I said, “Hey, is there room for more?” and they immediately responded with $3,000 additional dollars, so hey, there’s a salary negotiation tip for you. Just ask them, can you do better? See what happens. And for me that was nearly 10% more in salary.I was super happy about that.
And at this American company where I was working as a purchasing agent, we had a new CEO and the new CEO was very charismatic and he wanted to rally the people. He wanted to really connect with the people.
And so he had every one of us fill out a quick survey and I think he took these from coaches because I realize he asked a coaching question. It said, “What do you really want out of life? What do you really want? What really drives you?”
And I wrote down...I thought really hard about this. How do I answer this question? What do I really want? And I wrote down, “I really desire to grow. I really desire growth as a person, as a professional. Personal development. I really want growth.”
And later on, I found out he gave a town hall address and he was like, “Oh, thank you so much for taking that survey, and I found out” - this is what the CEO said - “I found out, to my relief, that nearly all of you said that your family is the most important thing.”
For me, it wasn’t family. I was a single woman living in an apartment share in Queens at that time. For me it was growth. It still is!
And it’s no wonder now, when I look back, I realize, now I make the connection how I ended up where I am today.
I eventually did make $60,000+ when I got a job as a hedge fund analyst and again, it was through Craigslist. Somebody at my old company when I was a purchasing agent, told me that she posted her resume on Craigslist. I don’t know if people still do this. I wouldn’t advise it, in fact.
But I did it and I got a call from this hedge fund that was seeking a qualitative analyst and basically, that’s just a fancy way of saying that they wanted someone to read like two dozen newspapers, research reports, and organize information, just consume a ton of data and digest it and that’s exactly what I did.
And I was making $50,000 annual salary, which I later found out was half of the going market rate but I did earn close to $20,000 in bonus, so that’s how I made my first $70,000. And at that time I had a lot of desire to make money. I still do. I love my desire to make money. My parents taught it to me and I’m really appreciative of that.
But I also was driven by my desire to learn and to work hard and to take a risk. My life partner at that time, I’ll just say my ex-husband at that time, told me not to do this. He told me not to take this risk. He told me not to go for this job.
But I knew that it was worth taking a risk because I can earn more, I can learn more and I can really grow. So now I work as a negotiation and leadership coach, public speaker and I absolutely love what I do and I want to continue to grow personally, professionally, I want to grow my income. I want to become bolder. I want to become braver. I want to become better paid, just as I want to help my clients do the same.
I had a blast from the past this weekend.
As I was mulling over these talking points this weekend, I went to brunch in Manhattan and just, completely coincidentally, my coworker from 12 years ago when I first worked for this Korean company, she came and sat right next to me at this restaurant. Completely out of the blue. Completely at random.
And I found out she is still there. She still works there but she’s been now promoted to senior manager. And it’s really fun to think about, how come she had that trajectory and I have had my own trajectory? And I think it’s because of what we think and believe are so different.
So, what about you? What are you thinking and believing now?
What are you thinking and believing today?
And this is something really important. This is something for you to be really mindful of because what you think and believe, what you desire now will create your future.
What do you want in the future? What do you want your 2019 to be?
How awesome will it be?
Here are some things I believe today:
I believe that the work I do changes lives.
It’s not just about a bigger income. It’s not just about a bigger paycheck. It’s about changing your mindset and when you change your mindset, you change your perspective, you change how you see your world, your world changes.
I believe that I can create my future, not my circumstances.
I believe that all of my failures up to now - and I’ve had many failures, I’ve made tons of mistakes - are as worthy as my achievements. Because my losses are more instructive than my wins.
I believe that my business will grow as I grow as a person, as a professional.
And you know what? I grow.
Like a big, hairy beast.
I just had my seven-month-old nephew come visit me today, earlier today, and every time I see him, he acts differently. He’s now crawling, he’s making funny faces, but it’s just mind-boggling how quickly he is growing. He’s growing like a big, hairy beast and you know what?
So am I.
As a business owner, as an entrepreneur, as a coach, as a person.
Every day I am growing.
I believe that the words I use create my world.
And the best words are the ones that crack me up. And when I was preparing for this, I chuckled, I was like, oh, this is really good! I like this. That’s how I know that I’m using the best words, because they make me laugh.
I believe that every day I am living into the impossible.
What is impossible today will become possible later.
I am quoting my own coach, Brooke Castillo, and when I think about my own life, when I think about the fact that I am an immigrant, I’m from a culture where women don’t have rights. My grandmother, she wiped down the floor with a wet rag and I live a life completely unimaginable to her.
And, by the way, I’m not saying that women in South Korea don’t have rights, I’m saying I come from a past, I come from a different past where the opportunities that I have today to work from home, to talk to people all over the world, to coach scientists and entrepreneurs and executives and engineers and people literally all over the world. I mean, I just coached somebody in Switzerland.
I live a life that was impossible, that was unimaginable for people just a few generations ago.
So, every day the impossible is becoming a possibility. I am living into the impossible every day.
And I believe that my dreams are in the process of coming true, except only always. Except only always.
So it is up to me to dream big and to desire big. What do you desire for your future?
What does that little voice, what does that little inkling say?
Don’t pay so much attention to what society says, what schoolbooks say, what rulebooks say, what parents say, what teachers say, what your bosses say. But listen to that little voice inside of you.
What does it say? What do you desire? What is your dream?
I believe I always get what I want. There’s nothing I truly want that I can’t have.
And I believe that 2018 was a miraculous year. It really was.
It’s incredible that I am now working for myself. My business is growing. My coaching practice is growing. My mastermind is launching. I am speaking at these leadership events and, wow. It’s something that I would have thought - I did think - was impossible in the past, but not only is it possible, it is my reality.
I believe 2019 is going to be even more awesome.
What do you believe? What do you think? What is your trajectory? What is your desire? Who are you becoming?
I will talk to you soon. Have a good one.