You don’t have to be #1 to win in lifeMar 02, 2023
Find Your Superpower newsletter 003
Read time: 5 minutes
Topics covered: Alternative definitions of success, mental health and burnout, career strategy
When we think of winning, we often think of placing first in some kind of competition or race. But I reject the notion that winning can only be measured on an absolute scale: being the biggest, fastest, most-est, best-est, everything-est.
Today, I am going to share with you three strategies for how we can win on a relative scale. To quote the singer Miley Cyrus:
“I’m happy to be all the things that people need me to be, as long as I’m all the things that I need me to be first.”
I hope that by sharing my career story, I will convince you that there are alternative paths to success. Ganbatte!
Disclaimer: while these strategies work for me, please apply them with caution in your life!
Strategy 1: When your work is also your hobby
I consider it a privilege to be able to work on my hobby of 12 years.
I have dabbled for fun and worked full-time on my science magazine, Asian Scientist Magazine, for 12 consecutive years, since 2011.
That’s an entire Zodiac cycle of 12 years: 1 marriage, 2 babies, 3 jobs and a million cups of coffee later.
My husband and kids have all been co-opted into the hobby at some point, helping me to print labels and pack envelopes, fill goodie bags with magazines, and attend my documentary and book launches.
When my LinkedIn profile triggered the 12th anniversary announcement of my first post on Asian Scientist Magazine, it brought up a tsunami of emotions–good and bad, some pretty intense.
It brought me back to that very moment 12 years ago in Boston, when I bought a domain name for $12.99 and built my very first website.
Over the years, organizations such as the Singapore Economic Development Board and McLaren have given me the opportunity to chronicle my unique journey.
Time really flies when you are working on your hobby.
Strategy 2: Don’t peak too early in your career
In Formula One, it is known that you don’t need to be in pole position (at the front of the pack) to win the race. Consequently, some the fastest drivers who dominate the race don’t always finish first.
When cycling, it is easier to cycle behind someone thanks to a phenomenon called drafting. Drafting creates an area of low pressure, reducing the wind resistance and the amount of energy needed for pedaling.
I have seen others do whatever they can to get promoted quickly, to unlock ambitious raises, to take on a ton of responsibility (including serious ones like P&L, running large teams, reporting directly to global) before they are ready.
Before they are mentally, emotionally and physically ready.
Before they are stable or mature enough in their lives.
Some of these same high flyers go on to burn out in their 20s and 30s, get anxiety attacks and depressive episodes that require medication and even hospitalization, and they end up demotivated and lost for a long time.
Once you burn out, it’s incredibly hard to recover your “mojo.” When you peak too soon, it’s all downhill from there.
It is for the same reason that I declined a job offer to launch the Singapore R&D office of an MNC when I was 28 years old, choosing instead to take a faculty position at a medical school and run a much smaller operation.
I was flown to their HQ where I was offered a five-digit sign-on bonus, a six-digit annual package, annual stock options and business class travel to cities like Paris, Tokyo and Shanghai for work.
I said no, after much consideration.
First, I simply wasn’t mature enough to hire from scratch and lead a team of 20+ pax. Second, I was pregnant and I wanted to enjoy the experience of being a first-time mother.
They upped their offer.
I said no again.
They upped their offer again.
I said no for the third time.
I knew that the right opportunity would come, and when it did, I would be ready for it and be able to define what success looked like on my own terms.
Today, I have two kids and I run a team of 20+ pax at Wildtype Media Group. I guess I peaked 12 years later.
It is never too late.
Strategy 3: To win is to play indefinitely
In an interview with Wired magazine, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was quoted as saying:
“If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people. But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people… Just by lengthening the time horizon, you can engage in endeavors that you could never otherwise pursue.”
I know that many people plan for careers in 3-5 year blocks, and I’m also starting to see Gen-Zs plan in 1-2 year blocks. I understand the logic behind it, but it also means that every pace is quickened, every failure is amplified. There is simply no room for error.
No wonder everyone is burning out.
According to Simon Sinek, when we play an infinite game, winning means to keep playing. It isn’t to “hang in there” in a high intensity role for as long as we can until we burn out.
In an infinite game, our working conditions are sustainable for our mental health and well-being.
In an infinite game, the objective is not to win big—the objective is to keep playing.
As far as I’m concerned, my magazine (and the company I built to support it) exists for only one reason: to support Asian scientists, inventors, engineers, healthcare professionals, educators, students and everyone who loves science and technology.
My goal is to continue pursuing my North Star and mission, which is to make “Asian scientists household names.”
Working on our hobby, only peaking when ready, and playing an infinite game, are my alternative definitions for winning in life.
How about you? I would love to hear your version of #winning.
Thanks for reading issue 003 of my Find Your Superpower newsletter.
See you next week.
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