Lessons from my Uncle

Almost an entire year has passed since I promised to document my efforts to secure an overseas secondment; and there have been many highs and lows since.

I was told by a friend that this year of my life, this age, is my peak.  It doesn’t feel to be the case.  If anything, I am just beginning.

I had a particularly long and difficult busy season at PwC and was working endless hours, was often ill and suffered terrible sleep patterns.  In the midst of this, I was offered the opportunity to second to San Jose, California for two years.  The application process was straightforward enough, however the extension of an offer was quite a while in the making and somewhere in the limbo of that wait I decided that I did not want to be away from home, from London, for such a lengthy period.

The offer itself was very attractive.  At face value, it was a substantial salary lift.  It was a chance to experience something new; to start afresh.  However, I would be doing it all alone.  I would be without family, friends and above all, without my long term partner of almost six years.  It felt wrong to the core. Needless to say, I declined this offer after much thought and much advice.

The advice I received was interesting.  The general consensus was consistent; that I should continue in my trade for at least one more year.  The advice swayed from warnings against leaving the country; against moving to the US.  The reasons had an interesting range, veering from the hours and expectations demanded of PwC’s US employees; the cultural differences; the length of time. In all, the argument was convincing and I was convinced.

I shared my response to the offer with a US partner who I have become fond of; she is quite inspirational and her one regret is not having completed a tour (i.e. a secondment, overseas or otherwise) at the Senior Associate level.  This insight into her lesson to her younger self, and indeed to me, provoked an intense curiosity in me and so I began to ask my family, my leaders and successful people around me what lesson they would share with themselves.

I start with my Uncle Kwan; he is the second eldest son of six on my paternal side and the only of my father’s generation who attended university.  He worked at my grandparents’ Chinese take away through to graduation in order to finance his studies and in return he became an incredible success, much to the pride of my grandparents.

Uncle Kwan’s lesson to his younger self:

Decide what your goal is and think of it as a final destination

Regardless of whether your ambition is to become a Partner or Director in the corporate world, to become a successful entrepreneur or a dedicated stay at home parent, make this decision and try to stick at it no matter what obstacles fall into your path.  You can take any route, and it is not important how long the journey takes; the key is to know what your focus is and to consistently, tirelessly move in that direction.  In everyone’s career, issues may arise and force you to move off course slightly but if you keep your final destination in mind at all times then you will be able to see the bigger picture and keep moving forward.  Thinking of the bigger picture will give you the stamina to continue on your journey and prevent you from becoming disheartened, even if the route is not as quick as you had hoped.

Over the course of your life, your final destination may not be the same goal you had set at the start of your career, however if you have aimed for the stars then you will likely reach the moon at the very least.

Reflecting on what lessons we would give ourselves two, ten or twenty years back in time is an interesting exercise and your personal lessons may surprise and inspire others.  I dare you to try this exercise today and to share your key lessons @jenniferychan so that we can learn from experience and from others.

Uncle is the Founder and Director of Spinnaker Ltd and retired HSBC Regional Head of Enterprise Server Services (ESS) , Kwan Lun Chan and you can find out more about him on LinkedIn.