It is my second week at PwC San Jose and my secondment is well and truly underway. If there is one thing that I have learnt in the past few days it is to be brave. Two weeks ago, just after I wrote my last post, the fear hit me. It dawned on me that I was going to a foreign country, a city I had never visited, a city where no one cares about me! I was overcome with fear right up until I left London. I had visions of becoming lost whilst driving to clients; I was scared of being lonely and I was worried about how I would get along with people here.
I arrived last week and it all started quite badly. I had a mammoth wait at immigration in San Francisco Airport and when I arrived at my apartment, the security guard informed me that he had no record of my stay and no keys to give me. Luckily enough, my driver from the airport to apartment was brilliant and gave me great tips of what to do and see in the US, and I used my powers of persuasion to wriggle my way into my apartment. And it is amazing – there is an outdoor pool, a large gym and it is a brand new building!
On my first full day in the city, I met three other secondees (all from South Africa!) and we were given a tour and guided through the process of opening bank accounts, picking up rental cars and applying for social security numbers by a relocation consultant; a retired local.
My family and my other half are very pleased for me and cannot wait to come and visit. Currently, my cousin from LA is in town to visit and give me a tour of nearby city, San Francisco. I have a long list of places that I plan to visit including Yosemite Park, Lake Tahoe and Napa Valley (although the latter is currently on fire and I have been advised to stay away for now..!).
The experience brings me back to a conversation that I had with Asim Siddiqi, Director in Risk Assurance in the South East and St Albans, UK office. Asim is infamous for his brutal honesty and it is a quality in him which I really do admire and value. He has devoted time to talk me through my development and career often, offering candid and objective advice that is hard to come by. Recently, Asim talked to me at length about the importance of trusting your gut. This is a lesson that echoes advice I have received over the years. Most memorably, Stan O’Neal, ex-CEO of Merrill Lynch, told me that when he is making a decision he “start[s] with my intuition or gut but always feel it important to test against hard analysis.” Gut instinct is sited by Entrepreneurial StrengthsFinder as a key trait held by the rare entrepreneur; the Richard Bransons and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world.
When I asked Asim what lessons he would share with his younger self, he rolled off the following:
Knowledge is power
Or rather, understanding is. Asim shared comical stories of attempts that others made to trick him in his early days at PwC, and his successes at tricking unsuspecting juniors. These stories range from sending juniors to inconspicuous sheds in amongst the client site; sending juniors to obtain the revenue cut-off machine; asking first years to count retained earnings and finally to perform stock counts of steps on a staircase. Asim avoided being fooled into ridiculous tasks by questioning absolutely EVERYTHING that didn’t make sense. He relied on his gut and he strongly advises that if you don’t understand something, there is probably a good reason for it!
Success in unexpected places
The most striking lesson that Asim shared is that his own definition of success rests on making a difference in the lives of others; in helping those around him to achieve. I find this admirable, because our modern day markers for success point towards wealth and prestige. Although these markers are certainly appealing, thinking beyond these imply that there is a more meaningful way to seek out contentment from our work!
Life is a pie
Asim once told me that we can think of our life as a pie. Every person has the same number of slices: personal life or “me”, family, other half, work and friends. It is up to the individual to determine how they dedicate their time to each slice of their pie i.e. how big each slice is and there is no right or wrong answer. If the time that is being dedicated to each slice is out of balance, then that person will feel unhappy. This idea helped me immensely after the last busy season and changed my perspective on the ubiquitous concept of “work-life balance”.
Recently, I learned that Asim experienced a difficult episode when he was a manager, and professional psychiatrists taught him the pie analogy. It helped Asim to realise that he had been sacrificing a lot of his personal “me” time to deal with pressures with his family and work pressures. Work seemed to be the only slice that was giving any tangible sense of accomplishment and so he took on increasing amounts of work and started to feel overwhelmed and unable to excel. The only way to resolve the situation was to reach out and talk, acknowledge the slices that were out of sync and re-balance. There will always be times where one of the slices will demand more of your time and the key is to not let things be out of kilter for too long. Mental health is hugely important, especially in this day and age where there are so many competing things for our attention.
This story resonates with me as I embark on my journey and consider how to slice up my pie in a new environment and far away from many of my most important slices. I am very keen to hear how others have transitioned and redesigned their pie under new and uncertain circumstances so that I may draw on your lessons learned!
Please comment and share your advice below or tweet @jenniferychan.