Top 8 Things I learned in 2010 (Part I)

IT WAS QUIET IN THE OFFICE for the past two weeks, so I took the opportunity to strategize my plan for the next year and I took the initiative to talk to a few senior managers to understand opportunities, direction of the business and the team, and to ask for advice on where I should be headed with my career going forward. In the mean time, I spent a great deal of time contemplating on the bygone year, and here are a few thoughts I’d like to share with you.

1. The best conversations happen in the ladies’ room

Well I am not sure what’s going on in the men’s room I don’t typically spend a lot of time there, but I would imagine talking in the men’s room to be quite awkward and embarrassing. It’s surprisingly not the case in the ladies’ room. In fact, many of the most important conversations I ever had throughout the year all happened in this seemingly constraint space, including how to get onto the women network events committee, who to talk to for international travel visa arrangement, which MD is going to be out for how long so I should schedule my meetings early, and etc.

I guess one of the reasons is some of the days people are honestly that busy so the only time they have slightly some freedom to take a breeze is when they go to the bathroom. And I’m not sure if it happened to you too, but a lot of times I feel I keep bumping into the same person once I run into her once in the bathroom. At actually the line I’ve used the most was: “hey I’ve seen you around on the floor, but my name is D, which group are you in again?”

This is probably not a perfect comparison but the only time I went to a strip club I remember reading the following lines on the back of their bathroom door (where the dancers change clothes): “Always smile when you walk around in the room, because you never know what new opportunities it will bring to you.” Well, let’s just say I’m pretty sure this applies to many other aspects of life too.

2. Get out of your comfort zone and for a good reason

I also realized that 2010 is a year when many changes happened to my friends. Some decided to relocate from New York to Hong Kong, some decided to transfer groups within the same firm, some decided to move to an entirely different career direction, and some decided to get into a relationship (marriage) or get out of one.

This is probably typical for people our age. But if you ask why they decide to do this now? I get one universal answer: if I don’t go back to school now I feel I will never be able to; if I don’t go back to Hong Kong now I’m afraid it’s going to be too late; if I don’t get out of my finance job and start this non-profit organization I feel I will never be able to have the gut to do this again. It surprised me but every single answer was driven by fear, and then regret. Life is short and there is a clock clicking. Sometimes I wonder if we only have the first 30 years of our lives where we could really try something audacious. Is this really the case?

I was doing this presentation skills training and I was put on camera which was a dreadful experience. But in retrospect I was happy that I managed to get out of my comfort zone to truly realize what I am capable of. It could be dramatic changes like a career shift; it could also be something as small as saying hi to a secret crush or finally apologizing to an old friend. And I hope when you do get out of your comfort zone, it was not driven by fear but by your heart, and the curiosity of what you are capable of.

3. “I don’t know” is not an appropriate answer, ever

Especially in a professional environment. Why? Because you want to be professional which means knowledgeable, resourceful, and all other similar things you can think of. But what do you do when you simply “really don’t know” the answer to the question and you are put on the hot seat where you simply “have to” give an answer.

First of all, be honest, because you definitely do not want to say something you are uncertain about to embarrass yourself.

Second, “I don’t know” should never be an answer by itself; it should ALWAYS lead to something else. For example, you could say something like: I don’t have the answer to your exact question, but what I can share with you is that we are having internal discussions next week and we will get back to you with more clarifications right after.

4. Your friend does not come to you ONLY for a favor or to complain

I didn’t realize this was an issue until recently my girlfriend came to me because she didn’t know how to get rid of an unwanted relationship: she had no idea since when she became a mentor of some other girl and all the other girl does is to pick her brain, abuse her time, and to complain about her own life. When my girlfriend wants to talk to her for a change, she’s never available, she doesn’t pick up her phones, she’s late to meetings, and she never gives heads up for anything.

I was irritated. I couldn’t imagine dealing with such a inappreciative and inconsiderate person, and I asked my friend, when she wants to complain to you about her boyfriend for 2 hours on the phone, why can’t you simply say: hey I’m busy with something else let’s talk another time; or, I have a early meeting tomorrow but I have 15 minutes, what’s up? Why can’t you take better control of your own time, and more importantly, life?!

My lovely girlfriend said, well I just can’t do it, I’m too nice. Oh no, my heart sank.

You don’t want to be nice in this case, at least not to the degree that other people will take advantage of you. Nobody else is responsible for your own misery if you didn’t set clear boundaries and stick with it yourself. And I really don’t know, my dear Ivy Leaguer friend, why do you even think this is a friendship at all? Friendship is a two-way street to the least and I see no single sign of this being a two-way street. And I don’t know why you are confused, frustrated, irritated and feeling burdened yourself for someone you can’t even call a friend?!

To be continued…

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