Sunday, April 21, 2013

Career Counseling

Glenn Close in "Damages": She became wildly successful and incredibly powerful.  However,
she wasn't happy, and people around her kept on getting killed. 
But her suit looks good!

I was seventeen and hanging out with my younger brother and sister, telling jokes and making funny faces.  It was Sunday and we were waiting for our parents to get ready so we could go out for our weekly dim sum brunch.

Maybe dad was feeling touchy.  He saw me fooling around and started to yell.

"WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU?!! My friend's daughter is the same age as you, and she has got a part-time job in an office while studying business in university.   You slob around in jeans and t-shirts, while she looks like an adult and wears a suit and heels!  Why can't you study something more useful and look more grown up?"

Like, WTF?????  I was going to university too (and studying English Literature rather than something "useful" like "Business" or "Accounting") and I worked every Saturday teaching kids in a math tutoring centre.  Somehow, my choice of a major and lack of a professional hair-do, makeup and the "suit and heels" made me a complete loser? 

Nice Chinese "Tiger Parent" career counseling, dad.

I graduated from university, went to law school (not my first choice - but to the Tiger Parents it was their way or the highway), graduated from that - and continued to fail to grow up.  I tried wearing a suit and heels for a while for the first few years of my law job but I gave up.  The suits were too tight and the heels hurt my feet.

Fast forward fifteen years later - I must be the only lawyer within a twenty-five mile radius who wears crocs flats when meeting with clients.  Forget about the matching skirt suits.  I wear jackets - in colours like pink and orange.  And pencil skirts with floral motifs so loud that even Man Yung was worried that people would think that I had worn the skirt to a paintball tournament and forgot to change.

Much to the disappointment of the Tiger Parents, I still don't carry expensive designer handbags, drive fancy cars, have a monster home or whatever material things that people equate with success.  I don't conform to some "VIP Power Professional" ideal, but my clients like me and keep on coming back.  I'm might not be making a ton of money but I do meaningful work every day. 

I met with a headhunter recently.   She wore a matching skirt suit in a dark conservative colour and her hair was really nice.  I didn't want to shock her so I wore a gray pantsuit with a white blouse.  But I wasn't fooling her.  She was worried about me and gave me some advice. 

"You've got to go out there and increase your visibility. Network more.  Why don't you join a professional association?  You will form more connections - even get more clients.  And you should try to write and publish more articles relating to your field.  All of this will look great on your resumé and help you in your career.  Bottom line is this - you are not doing enough to maximize your career potential."

Instead of walking away from that meeting feeling liked a popped balloon, the first thing I did was giggle when I called Man Yung from downtown. 

"No surprises here - I've heard all this advice before.  Looks like there's a lot I have to do to make myself a complete professional success.  The grand prize is that I would make hundreds of thousands more, but I'll have to work 120 hours a week both in and out of the office and never get to see the light of day.  Oh, I'll be able to buy more expensive stuff - but then I'd be too busy to enjoy anything I buy!"

I'm not saying that the advice I got was wrong - it's great career advice, but just not for me.  And was I hallucinating?  I had a feeling while speaking to the headhunter that she admired the way that I was living - and the fact that tango was such a big part of my life.

Looking back at the last fifteen years, there's nothing I would trade for more "success".

Would I trade in my M.A. in English Literature (which I did part-time for five years while working full-time) for a more "Professional" and "Career-Advancing" degree?


Would I trade learning to knit Alice Starmore sweaters, learning Spanish (instead of French or Mandarin, which would have been more "helpful" to my career"), or being a slave to our cats for a chance to "Network" more?


Would I trade any of my tango experiences - all those times I spent dancing, traveling to Argentina, making great tango friends, enhancing my relationship with Man Yung through tango - for a formidable and valuable client roster?


Would I trade in a single word of this very amateur and not-at-all popular non-revenue generating blog for a impressive list of "Professional Publications"?

No.  I'd rather continue my tango blog-equivalent of telling jokes and making funny faces.

As for the trappings of success* - my beat-up old Honda will get me to the milongas.  I don't need an Audi.  I am out of the house dancing so much that even if I had a luxury 5,000 square foot villa I wouldn't have time to invite all the important people of my "Network" to come and admire my crown mouldings anyway.  Designer heels?  I'm not wearing them so that people will be impressed and give me more business.  I'm only wearing them to dance tango!

Maximizing my life potential is more important to me than maximizing my career potential. I can predict that on my deathbed, I won't be lamenting that I should have worked less, and lived more!

*  I can only live this way because my lovely husband Man Yung has the same attitude as me.  If he lived to show off what car he drove, or what house he lives in - then none of this, and no tango, will be possible.  Hurrah for my 110% supportive partner - who is more milonguero than I am!


Christine--RHP said...

good to hear the both of you have your priorities in order. I couldn't agree more.

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Christine,

Thanks for your support!

Irene and Man Yung

jessiechung said...

Dear Irene and Man Yung,

This is a beautiful statement. As I said are a funny and soulful person. Keep it up.


Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Dorian,

Thanks so much for your comment and all the best to you and Jessie! Big hugs!

Irene and Man Yung

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