In September 2016, I was asked to give a presentation to a group of first-year BBA students at my alma mater, and I happily obliged.
I had been invited to join the students for lunch prior to my presentation time slot. I arrived, but because I had yet to present, none of the students knew who I was or why I was there. I was fine with that. I got my food and looked for a seat. There weren’t many available, but I did notice a young Asian gentleman sitting by himself at a table with three chairs.
I approached him and asked, “Hi, do you mind if I join you for lunch?”
He nodded, and I sat down and began making small talk.
He was in his first year and told me he had gone to business school because that’s what his parents had wanted. He told me that he was from China, and began to tell me a little bit about his upbringing. Then he began to ask me questions about my career, and I told him about some of the very unconventional things that I had done that ultimately led me to bigger and better challenges. (The latest of which at the time was deciding to leave Google because I wasn’t happy.)
We finished lunch, and I proceeded into the auditorium to give my presentation. It was an unstructured, “fireside chat” format, and so I hadn’t prepared any formal remarks. I just spoke about my career to date and left the students with some unconventional advice: life is too short not to be happy, so whatever you decide to do, make sure you love it.
At the end of the day, I received a LinkedIn connection request from my lunch buddy, which I accepted. He sent me a few polite emails over the next few months, but in February 2017, he asked if I had time to see him before one of my Monday-night classes.
He said he had a gift he wanted to give to me.
I don’t know why he wanted to give me a gift, but I said I’d be happy to meet with him.
And during the break mid-way through my class, he appeared with a gift in hand.
I asked him how school was going... and he said it wasn’t going that well.
I was surprised at his candour, but even more surprised by the fact that he didn’t seem even remotely upset about it.
He explained that he was likely going to leave the business program at the end of the term, and was thinking about joining an engineering program. He told me that the credits he had completed this year wouldn’t likely transfer and that he would be joining the engineering program as if he had enrolled straight from high-school; as if the past year in business school had never happened.
Then he gave me my gift: it was a stuffed Rooster to celebrate the fact that 2017 was “The Year of the Rooster” in the Chinese calendar. On the Rooster’s chest was a Chinese symbol, which my young friend explained meant “happiness”. He also gave me a card and said it contained the message he had really wanted to say to me.
When I got home that evening, I opened up the card. It was one of those fancy, expensive “Papyrus” cards; thick cardstock with a velvet-like texture and fake jewels on the front. There was a Chinese symbol on the front, which I can only assume corresponded to the English word written beneath it: Gratitude.
The card read as follows:
If I’d say someone who gives me the idea that I should pursue a career that I genuinely like and not follow the “public trend” in business, it would be you.
Thank you for making the speech and from that point, I fight for what I truly believe in school and outside of school, at least I am trying my best to do.
Thank you very much!
I had no idea that my twenty-minute lunch conversation and subsequent hour-long presentation had made such an impact on my young friend, but apparently, it had.
But I think this story does underscore one important truth.
The course of your life can change with a single conversation.
Determine what "success" looks like for you.
Then seek out people who have achieved that success, and listen to what they have to say.
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