Finding yourself

Take charge of your career

I’ve really enjoyed presenting to and meeting with new friends in the Chinese Students and Scholars Associations here in Southern California! Thank you to USC and UCLA for welcoming me last week. I am always inspired by the many passionate Chinese students I meet through my speaking engagements.

One of the things I’ve been talking about is the importance of taking charge of your career.

Have you studied your career options?

Recently, a friend exclaimed to me:

“I’m so depressed! I keep interviewing with companies I don’t like!”

Me:  “Well, what kind of companies do you like?”

Him: “Small companies! I’m an entrepreneur at heart!”

Me: “So why don’t you go work for a small company?”

Him: “Because the only companies which come to campus are big companies!”

Let me show you something. (Sex and the City fans, this is Kim Cattrall who plays Samantha; in the TV commercial, she’s saying, “Mmmm, YEAH!”)

Take a good look at this picture. Now are you gonna run out and buy yourself a Nissan Tiida?

I don’t think so! You’re a much savvier consumer than that. If you needed to buy a car, first you’d think about what features are right for you. Do you want a new car or used car?  Coupe or sedan? What type of engine? And so on.

Be a savvy consumer of your career. In considering your options, don’t be overly influenced by which employers happen to advertise on your campus. Don’t be overly influenced by peer pressure. Don’t be overly influenced by the careers of your parents’ friends’ children. Do invest properly in thinking through what you’re looking for in your career, then go out and find the right career for you.

Find a career which uses you fully, and which gives you meaning.

As human beings, to achieve happiness, we need to use our strengths, and we need meaning in our lives. Harvard University professor Tal Ben-Shahar tells how, when he graduated from college, his philosophy professor said this: “Life is short. In choosing a path, make sure you first identify those things that you can do. Out of those, select the ones you want to do. Then, reduce your choice further by zooming in on what you really want to do. Finally, select those things that you really, really want to do – and then do them.”

So, in this diagram, the outer circle captures the possibilities available to you. The innermost circle encompasses your deepest wants and desires:

As far as what you identify in the center of the circles, it doesn’t have to be a JOB. It could be a goal.

Take my life, for example. Over the past 20 years since I graduated from Duke, I’ve had three careers. First, I was a real estate developer. Second, I was a Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles. Third, I’ve been a global recruiter. People sometimes look at my life and say, “Weird!  Three such different jobs!”

But each of these careers has ignited my passion. I’m the type of person who loves learning about new technology and new ideas. I am constantly dreaming about the future.  What gives me meaning is helping people to reach their full potential in the world of the future. And, because life is short, I like my work to be big and meaningful.

As a real estate developer, I worked on creating communities where thousands of people now work, play, and raise their kids. As a Deputy Mayor, I focused on education, helping millions of people gain access to college and improve their skills. As a global recruiter, I now go back to my Chinese roots and am working to help young Chinese throughout the world to achieve their dreams.

You are special and unique. Find a career which suits you.

One thing that constantly amazes me as a recruiter is how special and unique each individual is. Two candidates can have nearly identical resumes, and yet will be completely different when I meet them in person.

What ignites your passion? What is it that you really really want to do? What are the jobs out there that do that?  Would those jobs be a good fit for you? Develop theories and test them. Find people online who are doing those jobs. Read their blogs. Follow their twitter. Study those job posting. Are those the types of tasks and lives you’d like to lead?

Then, find 10 companies expanding in areas which offer those jobs, and target your job search there.

Your chances of getting a job, and being happy and successful in that job, will increase exponentially when you target jobs that really suit you.

If you’re in Southern California, here are my upcoming speaking engagements. If you have the time, I would love to meet you!

  • This Friday March 4, I’ll give a keynote address at the annual Wilbur K. Woo Greater China Business Conference at the UCLA Anderson Graduate School of Management. This conference draws several hundred business people and business students interested in China. The student rate to attend is $50. Learn more here.
  • Next week Thursday March 10, I’ll give a presentation on how to reach your dream career for the CSSA at UC Irvine.  This event is free! Details are here.

I welcome your comments, in Chinese or English, on the Chinese version of this blog post, which is here.