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I was born and raised in Beijing and spent the first 25 years of my life there before moving to America. My parents are very traditional Chinese parents, and as a girl, they strongly believed I should become some sort of engineer, because that’s what you do in China. So I agreed to it. I chose to become an architect to please them, and I thought I could combine it with art and be in a creative field. I attended Tsinghua University in Beijing as an undergrad for five years. It’s one of the top engineering schools in the world, and I earned my degree. It made my parents very happy and proud. However, I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do.
What I really wanted to do was something that dealt with people, and I quickly found out that starting out as an architect, I wasn’t going to be able to build tall, glamorous buildings, but rather I would often be given a drawing someone doodled on a napkin and handed to me to create something out of nothing. It was all about drawing, and no interaction with people. I knew I had made a mistake, but I didn’t know what else I should do.
When I came to the States, I attended Florida State University, and fell in love with computer science, still going forward with the notion that I was going to become an architect—but I was worried and unhappy with my long-term plans
I spent another three years in college, and while I was still attending school, I started a part-time job for $10 an hour calling people for a financial advisor, and talking to them about their investments. Suddenly, I realized that this was the job for me. I hardly made any money back then, but I was loving it. I had gone to school eight years to study something I had no interest in, and I somehow stumbled upon what I was meant to do.
I’ve had a career in financial services for more than 20 years, and I love it. I love meeting and talking to people about their lives and their investments and encouraging other women to get into financial services because it’s still a male-dominated business. I had no idea when I was planning my life, financial services would be the thing that made me happy. It just wasn’t an option.
Everyone should be able to change their major and their mind if they fall in love with something else.
I have two sons in college and although I guide them, I tell them that it doesn’t matter what they study; everyone should be able to change their major and their mind if they fall in love with something else. One of my sons is studying electrical engineering and the other one is a business major, and I think they both fit what they have chosen, but I want it to be their choice. I don’t want to push them into something that they don’t want to do.
As for my parents, they were devastated when I quit grad school and walked away from being an architect. Being Chinese, traditionally, the only careers worthwhile are academics and science. It took them awhile to come around and realize I made the right decision. I know they are proud of me, but I did go against tradition. Actually, only in the last couple of years did they admit I am successful in my chosen career, but for me, I’ve known it all along.
Photo courtesy of Hong Ogle.
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