A Competitor's Dilemma.

by Jennifer Sey

 

I've been advised by the powers that be at work that I need to consider “moving geographies.” What they mean by this is that I need experience in another country, another region of the world, if I am going to ascend the ranks in a global organization.

 

I have extensive experience in the US market. But I have not lived and worked abroad. In today's global marketplace, experience in an “emerging market” such as China, India or Brazil is indispensable. I am only recently in the ranks of junior executives that would need to commit to a major move such as this to make the cross over from “junior” to “senior”. When I was recently confronted with the question – Would you consider moving to Shanghai? - I stopped dead in my tracks because I had to seriously reconsider my general approach to work and life as a whole.

 

Here's what my approach to life has been so far: Go! Keep going and going and going until I can't go anymore. If they say, “Jennifer, you're simply not qualified,” I prove that I am. I set goals that feel somewhat out of reach and then accomplish them. And I set the next one before I've even gotten to the first. If someone suggests, “You're simply not ready!” I use that to spur me forward, to prove them wrong. It lodges itself in my belly and creates a manic energy and drive that makes it impossible for me to give up until I've won, thus dislodging the skepticism (theirs and mine) from my gut. I am competitive. It is blinding. I never question whether or not I want “to win”. I just throw myself headlong into the game. And expect to win eventually, if only by attrition. It is not others I seek to beat; in fact, I rarely consider the others that might be playing. It is only myself I want to trounce.

 

Does this make me crazy? Maybe a little. But only to people who aren't intensely competitive by nature. To those of you out there that are competitive to the core, you understand what I'm talking about. Is it a self-destructive impulse at times? Absolutely. But it is the only way I know how to be. And at 40 years old, I've finally learned to just accept it as a truth about myself. I can't yoga or breathe or therapize my way out of it. And oh how I've tried. Not adhering to it is not being true to myself. And creates more physical discomfort than following the go go go path.

 

So when I am asked by the very most senior executives at my company, “When will you be ready to make the move to another country?” and my gut tells me “Maybe never,” I cause myself serious pause. Because acknowledging that I may never want to move to Hong Kong means I may never want to get to the next level. To go from Vice President to Senior Vice President. It means taking myself out of the game. It means admitting that this is the end of the road for me. It is a white flag of surrender that, to me, has always felt like weakness. I don't view it that way in others, mind you. In others, I view stepping out of the game as having different priorities, as winning by being true to one's own path. Only in myself does it feel like giving up, because it is not the path that feels like mine.

 

vlarson
03.19.09

I think you said it best when you said: "Because I will have followed the path for me, not the one that someone else laid out."

You have to be true to what you want. Some might want to live abroad, you want to keep your family put. There's no "wrong" or "right." There's just your gut saying, "this is what we I for me and my family."

amyjas
03.19.09

This is such a tough one. So many of us spend our 20's & 30's building a name for ourselves and a career, then the kids and the family come. Regardless of who's the main breadwinner, it always, always leaves you questioning what "suffers...." less time with the kids & spouse or less time with the job. Sey really hit on the heart of the question: is it about your dreams and goals or some larger external pressure to achieve (e.g. a boss, a mentor, American society -- go for the American dream to keep the economy going). No one right answer, only following your instincts. This is a good thought provoking essay....

chalkedup
03.13.09

I agree with everyone. In theory (and reality for carmensitaaa and many people i know) it sounds super fun and enriching. but for whatever reason, in my heart of hearts i dont want to. not now anyway. i think i have enough other adventures going on...perhaps. maybe i'll have a change of heart one day. thanks for perspective!

mldashwood
03.13.09

As I get older, I've grown more balsy (or crazy). I want to try new things, step outside my comfort zone, live in foreign lands and expose my kids to new ways of living. My parents were from Argentina, so I spent a great deal of my time in Buenos Aires growing up. I learned a language. I understood poverty. My father had to travel a great deal in his executive gig, so I was pulled out of school for months to experience life outside of America. I saw parts of South America and Europe that will never leave my mind. If I was asked to take a position abroad, I would just make sure I had a contract that would cover me financially if the deal didn't work out and that where I was going was safe for my kids.

neuromum
03.13.09

I agree with carmensitaaa. It could be relaly fun to live abroad for a few years! It could make your family a lot closer, and traveling with kids really let's you learn about a place in a unique way. Plus the kids could learn another language. I am totally TRYING to find a job abroad for this reason. It was interesting reading your article given that you have the opposite point of view.

carmensitaaaa
03.11.09

I think I understand the challenge of rooting up your family and relocate, all for the sake of "moving up." But being an expat in Singapore for almost 4 years now, I can say that there are a lot of positives for moving abroad, not to mention bumping your career to the next level. We really enjoy living overseas and engaging in differnt cultures. I also found it a great experience for my kids - they are growing up in a very global way (maybe of use in their careers later in life?). They picked up Chinese at school and a host of other dialects spoken here, and I think they have friends from almost every corner of the world. At 4 my son has already traveled to 7 differnt countries and know his geography pretty well. Also in Asia, it's A LOT easier and affordable to get domestic help and I find myself in the wonderful position of working part-time with no stress like scheduling nannies or having to do housework. It's really nice that after work I just jump right in to spend time with the kids without worrying about putting dinner on the table or clear out that overflowing laundry basket. In the beginning, it was tough for us to move so far away from family, but I would say it's well worth it. Ad now my in-laws get to come to the tropics to spend quality time with their grandkids during the winter months while everybody got snowed out. It's not 100% rosy and there's definitely trade-offs (e.g. occasional homesickness), but if you are just doing a short stint here it's probabl not bad at all.