I am scared of competition, and you should too!
I know I have been away for a while. I have been traveling for business (and leisure) in Asia for the past 4 months. I was in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Macau, and multiple places in Mainland China. I met many interesting people, faced many challenging situations, and there are things that I like and not like about this whole experience, which I will gradually share with you later on. I am also in the process of building a brand new website that will EXPAND the topics of my writing, the bandwidth of knowledge that I am sharing, the broader audience I can reach out to, and the ways how I can communicate to each one of you. I look to launch my new website in the near future by which time my wordpress articles will be migrated. So please stay tuned and I would love to celebrate together with you when that becomes official.
But one thing that has been on my mind for the longest time is: Why am I not relocating back to Asia? I had multiple conversations with senior managers from different teams in our Asian offices, and one of the really senior guys gave me this look when I told him I was born and raised up in China, went to college in the US and have been working in NY ever since, and he almost started yelling at me:
What the hell are you still doing in New York?!
The fact is, I have hesitated, hesitated, and hesitated about coming back to Asia. I was weighting my options: Am I going to get paid as much? Is the work going to be as fun? Are people as nice? What are my chances in terms of upward mobility? But there is no doubt that Asia is growing and there are tremendous opportunities for people who are bilingual, with the Asian cultural background, and have received professional training in the US as a fundamental foundation for further career advancement. But then there are other issues: life style, environment, food, health, relationships, family, etc.
A few weeks before the end of my assignment I caught up with a friend whom I have known for years but haven’t got a chance to see each other in person since our sophomore year. She went back to China and started her own business right after college which was recently sold (already!) Probably a typical over-achiever in many people’s eyes, but I have always admired her. Because she is among the very few people in this world who actually knows what she wants and what she is good at. 5 minutes into our conversation, she said, you are not really like what you have portrayed of yourself in your blogs. You are always strong, clear-minded, go-getter type with your writings, but when I see you in person, I feel you are as confused sometimes, and I don’t even see your strong character, YOU ARE ACTUALLY QUITE MILD!
And then she said something that really stuck me.
She said, a few years ago, you were very flexible. You were willing to take risks and you were willing to take chances. That’s how you got to where you are today, isn’t it? But maybe the corporate America has changed you. It has trained you professionally of course, but it has also constrained you and limited you. Now you are so afraid to take a chance and come back to Asia/China and see what you are really capable of. You mentioned that you want to be special and that’s one of the reasons why you want to stay in the US. In my opinion, you are just afraid of competitions. You are weighing your options. That’s the real reason stopping you from coming back for this long.
I was stunned. These words were hard to hear and even harder to accept; and for the longest time I couldn’t really understand that’s who I have become. I thought I have always welcomed challenge and competition and I thought I have always wanted to make myself flexible. But I was very grateful that my friends have said these things to me, because they are true!
And here goes my biggest realization: I have avoided competition my entire life!
– I changed my Chinese name when I was in kindergarten because there were too many people with my same original name.
– I studied Japanese but ended up quitting the specialty class junior year in high school so I can apply to US colleges (but hell yeah I leveraged the whole Japanese experience, I would be stupid if I didn’t)
– While other girls rarely talk to guys at my high school, I talk to the guys, I play basketball with them, and I cheer for them whenever they play against other classes. I still think that’s probably one of the reasons I got so many votes every year for student awards.
– When I was finally looking for jobs in senior year at college I revealed to one of my friends that one of the reasons I didn’t want to choose investment banking was because everyone else was going it.
– In my international team in NY today, I am the only person who can read, write, and speak Chinese professionally (note this is obviously not the only reason why they want to have me on the team, it better not be…)
And what’s the other side of this if I go back to Asia especially if I go to HK? Everybody can speak both Mandarin and English (and Cantonese and other Chinese dialects), every girl is pretty, every person has received some oversea education, and everybody is in finance. Call it fierce competition, but this picture really freaks the hell out of me, and I admit it.
I am scared that I won’t be as recognized at work. I am scared that guys will not be serious about me because there are so many other distractions, and I am scared the most that I would feel I am just “one of them” “one of the crowd” in my little heart. I want to be special. I NEED to be special. At least I know that about myself. At least I am not afraid of the fact that I have a desire to be different.
I still remember one of the lectures I attended at Yale on how human societies have evolved over time. People would think we are converging. But the reality is: people are craving for diversity. That’s why Yale College would never need an incoming freshman class with everyone scoring 2400 in their SATs, and Harvard B-School would never want everyone to have a perfect GMAT score or wearing a hat of the Head of Student Government. That’s why back in the days they wanted to diversify away from all Jewish students. You don’t need to be competitive in everything in order to get into the school you want, or get the dream job you desire, or get the perfect relationship you’ve been longing for years. Instead of spending time on things that you are not that good at to start with (nobody is perfect anyway), why not focus on things you are already good at and make them excellent and even better, PHENOMENAL.
So the conclusion is:
– If other people can do it and they are good, then give them the opportunity. Because even if you don’t, they will end up getting the opportunity anyway, and you will feel frustrated.
– Your job is to find that one thing that you are really good at (no matter how small that thing is but it has to be a nitch) and work on it really hard until one day nobody else can compete with you.
– The result is: you will be very special, very outstanding, you own that thing from beginning to end, and nobody can steal that away from you.
Maybe you don’t realize it or you don’t want to admit, but FEAR is one of the biggest and most important drive for almost everything we do day to day. It is okay to be afraid of competition, because it’s not about winning anyway. It’s about finding something that you can become a leader of. And if you are really smart enough to avoid competition, you will dominant, and people will follow, and people will love you and cheer for you.
And that is how you become successful, eventually.