Equilibriums and Unexpectedness

Faye is perhaps the perfect example of someone who has been able to take something they’re passionate about and merge it with something that they’re trying to achieve. As an entrepreneur in Singapore, she spends her time on marketing and communications, coming from a background in Business (Marketing and Management) and eventually a Masters in Environment and Sustainable Development.

Ironically, Faye found that she wasn’t initially a big fan of marketing and business. While she was intrigued by her studies, her internships were proof that she wasn’t meant for that particular kind of “corporate world”. She never thought that she was going to be an entrepreneur, but at the end of her time in London doing her masters, her circumstances lined up. Having lived in London where online gourmet coffee companies were more common, Faye saw the opportunity to bring the industry to Singapore. She mimicked classic entrepreneurial behavior, building on her awareness of the world around her and capitalizing where she saw a hole.

I’ve never really thought about being an entrepreneur either, but the way that Faye conveyed her journey made me rethink my obliviousness. I realized that, at the end of the day, I only have so much time to take advantage of the ideas I have. When I’m young, there’s a lower ‘opportunity cost’ of branching out and trying my own thing.  There’s a small window between studying and starting a job that’s the prime time to do an independent project and pursue whatever I’m thinking about. Like Faye, I feel as though once I start working, I won’t be able to break out of that stability. I don’t think that applies to everyone, but it’s a definite obstacle to not seizing the opportunity.

There’s a lot about being an entrepreneur that I realized I find appealing: the autonomy to make one’s own decisions, the freedom to direct your project in a direction that you want and being able to meet remarkable people who can further your business. Probably the most important thing, however, for me was that it’s hard to be bored doing something you love.

Faye took this to the next level by merging Hook Coffee with her passion for environmental studies. This interest manifested during her time in school and she pursued it by taking sustainability and environmental science electives, but was never able to devote enough time to it because it wasn’t ‘stable enough’. But she used her negotiation skills to convince her parents to let her do her Masters in the thing that she loved. Sometimes we’re constricted by our societal expectations, but she emphasized the importance of trying to break out of those roles. You won’t always succeed but trying is really important.

In fact, Faye definitely benefited from both her degrees and what she does now is an amalgam of them. She has launched a successful startup in Singapore with a great emphasis on environmental stability. They now have ‘sustainable coffees’ through the Direct Trade Movement (check it out), which is way more beneficial to the community members who get 10-15% more than Fair Trade members. She actually had a more personal connection to the cause through her fieldwork on the outskirts of Lima focusing on how to help the local communities overcome their environmental obstacles. She said that being on the ground and seeing how things are so different in developing countries like Peru, especially coming from somewhere like Singapore, reinforced her belief in its importance.

Her choice to become an entrepreneur in Singapore despite its risks was shaped a lot by her experiences. It wasn’t something that she spent her entire life thinking about or working towards. Everything just kind of lined up for her and she took advantage of that to create something that she thought would be profitable. But she was able to make it her own thing by mixing it with something that she loved. What I learned from talking to her was that even though most of us think that being an entrepreneur is risky, sometimes it’s the best way for you to pursue something you love and its benefits can outweigh its costs, if only for a short while. It’s all about opportunity.

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Bee-line

For the first time I met someone who had always had one goal in mind, and wasn’t afraid of it. Vaishali got an engineering degree and followed it up with an MBA, eventually majoring in finance and marketing.

The lack of career options at the time propelled her in a specific direction. She presented her journey as a series of choices. The first was to hold back on her passion for linguistics and follow the appealing logic of the scientific fields. The second was the choice between medicine and engineering: the two primary streams once the sciences had been taken up. She followed through with her intent to pursue electrical engineering, and the latter turned out to be an easy decision to make.

The next decision that she faced was to either enter the international labour force with the first job offer she had gotten, or to continue her studies. Deliberation proved the second option to be more attractive, but further engineering studies was not what she wished to pursue. This final choice pushed her to do finance, a discipline she remains in till this day as the CFO for Johnson & Johnson in the Asia Pacific region.

Unlike some past interviewees, Vaishali didn’t have a specific aspect that ‘drew’ her to her job. Instead it was something that she found that she enjoyed more than the rest while studying. What I found interesting was the way that she saw the ‘system’; as a process of elimination. She said that sometimes, given the vast number of opportunities we have in the modern economy, we have to make hard calls to choose what we want to pursue now, and what we’re willing to save for later.

Her engineering studies didn’t translate as cleanly into her career as she had hoped, but the time she spent there provided her with a specific “way of thinking”. This analytical thought process is difficult to learn, and even more difficult to forget from what I have seen. She had to make the call to abandon that, and abandon her love for languages, in order to pursue something else that she was interested in. However, she was very careful not to eliminate these from her life and eventually she has reincorporated them.

She wanted me to know that it’s ok to sometimes put those aside to achieve your goals, as long as you come back for them. As someone who has really varied interests, that were very similar to her own, this was an interesting take on my own future. Most people tell me to ‘pursue my dreams’ and to ‘seize life while I can’, but I’ve never had anyone tell me that that might not always be the best way. I don’t want to set aside my interest for languages just because I’m also interested in computer science, but I think that that’s a testament to the modern world. I don’t have to do that, but I will have to disregard something. Not everything that we do is useful when we need it to be. Someday we’ll be given the opportunity to use skills that we’d forgotten about or reignite passions that had burned low. She showed me that choices have to be made, but my entire future doesn’t rest on my shoulders right now.

Choices

Life takes its twists and turns, but eventually gets you to where you want to be. That’s what I learned from talking to an alumnus from my own school. He began his post-school life at a university in his home country of Germany, which allowed him to touch back on his roots after studying at UWC, and set the stage for the journey to follow.

Preparation for a career in biological technology was short-lived following the bio-tech crisis in the early 2000s and he was forced to find another path. In order to do this, he returned to his schooling and pursued law instead. What I found particularly interesting about this is that, most of the lawyers that I have come across before have known that they wanted to be lawyers for a very long time, and he was not in the same boat. It was something that came to him along the way and that he developed a passion for, and hearing that it’s not only possible to switch careers but also come to love what you do has really helped me open my mind and shift away from being fixated upon an idea.

However, although he enjoyed his career in law, he began to feel the monotony that many of us are eventually led to and yet are to afraid to escape. He made the leap towards mergers and acquisitions in the insurance industry, surprising himself with his choice and also signaling his third career change thus far. When I asked him, “Why insurance?”, he simply said “Sometimes in order to get to a goal, you have to take intermediate steps”. More than being attracted by the industry, he was interested in the role that he was to play in the company, which, at least for me, is a very different way of looking at things. Having felt limited by the law industry, he wanted to branch out and look at the client-side of the interactions that he had spent so many years partaking in. I for one have really only been privy to a specific viewpoint of what law is like, often embellished and exaggerated by what I’ve seen on television. Yet here was someone who had both lived and loved it, and yet believed that at some point it was to be outgrown.

 

As his stepping stone towards an entrance into the investment banking world, his intermediate job ended up being much more permanent than he had anticipated as a result of the global financial crisis, the second major obstacle in his path that was overcome by nothing more than flexibility and the ability to adjust. It was at this stage that he was given the opportunity to come back to Singapore and do social impact investing. The fourth change, but perhaps the most important one.

UWC has instilled upon us this want to give back to society, but often we are forced to conform to one idea of what repaying our debt is like. his method is somewhat unconventional and is proof that it’s possible to merge our passions with our occupations because they aren’t always synonymous. He, like many of us, questions the impact of pure philanthropy, but is a “big believer in impact capitalism”, such as microfinance. However it seems that the world’s wishes for him and his own were not streamlined for, as a result of his financial background, he was positioned away from the social aspect in this new company and into the financial sector. Despite his initial dislike he came to find that it was actually “phenomenally interesting”, proving that even when life ‘deals you a bad hand’, it’s not necessarily as bad as you might perceive it to be and more importantly, that despite all your planning, sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

What really made his new position more enjoyable was the macroeconomic aspect of it. Being a part of the world’s economy and more importantly “to be participating in India [and Vietnam and Russia] bouncing out of the global financial crisis” and having the impact that they did was something like no other. Even though the journey it took to get to this point was far from being straightforward, each door that shut opened a new one with unanticipated benefits.

However, he still felt a duty to repay his UWC-debt for going to our school was a moulding experience for him. Yet, a fundamental lesson that he learned from going here was to challenge the norm. Our often narrow minded approach to returning what we have reaped from society doesn’t necessarily have to be followed. He believes that when you’re starting your career, you don’t always have the opportunity to pursue your interests. Sometimes there are other things that come before it, and that’s acceptable. In his case, it meant that he practiced technology, law and even finance first before he turned to social work, but for the rest of us it can simply mean that, in order to get to where we want, we might have to see some transitional periods along the way.

 

Some factors required this interviewee to remain anonymous.

Picture This

I was given the opportunity to talk to Mr. Caronna a few weeks ago to recounts his incredible journey. Growing up in a diverse school, not unlike our own, in New Jersey sparked his interest in Asian languages and cultures, and set the foundation for his learning for years to come. It wasn’t something that had jumped out at him, but had rather seeped into his everyday life and become a passion that he continued to explore.

His commitment to it was evident and he learned Japanese independently while at school simply as a hobby that was motivated by his curiosity. This bled through to his college years at the University of Pennsylvania where he was able to further explore his interest in the Asian, especially Japanese region, but was also able to dabble in other areas including Computer Science and Physics, culminating in a degree in East Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. This is what really caught my attention because I for one have not met many people with this background or who have gone into this stream, so I was curious to see what could be done with this. More importantly, this is really similar to what I’m beginning to think about doing: linguistics and computer science, something that he epitomises.

This, for me, was the real beginning of his journey. He began in a small, virtually unknown city in Japan as part of the Japan Exchange in Teaching (JET) Program as the mayor’s interpreter and translator. The two years spent teaching children, doing school visits opened the doors for more opportunities in the future and he soon found himself situated at a translation business in Tokyo. This acted as the catalyst for his interest in journalism and is proof that one passion can stem from another and that they can change and evolve over time.

Even though this began as a result of his interest in language, it brought Mr. Caronna back to New York as part of a business magazine while he waited to attend Columbia University’s journalism course, proving that change might not be easy or come quickly, but is definitely possible. Despite moving back home, he didn’t lose his connection to Asia and after graduating he worked in a Japanese newspaper’s New York office. This then propelled him to greater heights and he moved on to write at the Wall Street Journal, which ended up being the turning point for his career once again. While he was there, he took photos for some of his stories, and in doing so discovered his true interest in photojournalism. To pursue it, he took a risk and quite his job at the Journal to take up freelance photography in Hong Kong- a precarious position for anyone, but really difficult to imagine in today’s world.

One thing led to another and Mr. Caronna found himself being requisitioned by the New York Times for what was supposed to be a one-day job. This turned into something bigger, and the next thing he knew, he was in Australia, a testament to the unpredictable nature of his line of work. Eventually, however, he was taken on full-time by Bloomberg News in Tokyo, and primarily covering Business and Politics stories. Two years later he joined Reuters where his focus broadened ranging from sports to natural disaster, and in doing so provided an end to his somewhat sinuous tale.

As someone who is considering journalism and has a passion for linguistics, but was only really aware of text-journalism, it was really interesting to see this completely different facet in the form of photo-journalism. I asked Mr. Caronna, as someone who had done both, why he preferred the latter to which he said that his experiences as a text-journalist were far more removed from the situation on which he was reporting, whereas as a photographer, he was forced to be present in the moment and was always fully involved in every story. He’s felt the blood and sweat of a boxer from the ringside, been in the pit of a Formula One race as the driver’s took their stops and been up close to the Emperor and Empress in the Imperial Palace. These are encounters that most of us would never be able to have, but they don’t come without their pitfalls in the form of strain on family caused by long and unpredictable hours and stories that can stretch on for days and on top of that it’s dangerous. But at the end of it all, that’s what characterises the job and what makes it so spontaneous and exciting.

His seniority as the head of the Global Editing Operation now, has seen a transition from the photography that he used to do as a freelance journalist, to more of a behind-the-scenes editing position, managing a team of 25 people and the massive inflow of photos from across the globe. Although vastly interesting, the job comes burdened with ethical challenges when covering sensitive topics. “Will their coverage reveal the peoples’ identities?” “Will it lead to more abuse?” These are questions that he must consider everyday and as he says, “it’s about balancing peoples’ need to know, and protecting the source who may be in a vulnerable position”. But, for him, this has become the most captivating part of his profession.

Mr. Caronna took a long and winding road to get to where he is now, and for most of us that’s what we can take away from his experience. He, like many of us, didn’t know what he wanted to do until much later in life, but he didn’t box himself in. He used his time in university to study more generally and explore what he enjoyed but what he really gained from the experience were communicative and connective skills that weren’t necessarily taught, but were learned all the same. From translation to text journalism and eventually to photo-journalism, he hasn’t shied away from taking risks in life to pursue his interests and in the end they all paid off because it isn’t always about the end result, but rather about the journey to get there.

 

 

 

 

Welcome

I’ve just entered my Junior year in high school, and I’m being constantly bombarded with questions from friends and family about what I plan on doing in the future. Not just what I plan on studying at university, but even what my career aspirations are. Yet I’m not really sure how to answer either of those questions. I see my friends and peers at school who know exactly what classes to take and have had their futures mapped out since Freshman year and even though I admire them for it, I also feel like that’s way too early. The pressure that’s come down on us over the last few years: to get into great universities, or even to ‘make something of ourselves’, has led my generation to make decisions about our lives way before we really understand what they mean. I know that, in the same way that there are those whose path is an arrow-head, there are people out there that are similarly in limbo: forced to make a decision but lacking the information.

That’s why I have decided to start this blog. As a way to explore different industries and make a more informed decision about my future, but also to, hopefully, help those around me. I plan on interviewing industry leaders and even committing to short internships over the course of the year so that I can get an in-depth perspective into each career. I hope that this process will help make clear the different possible tracks as well as help me choose my path. I want to keep track of the whole journey here both for myself, and for anyone else who is interested. I’m really looking forward to sharing my thoughts with you over the upcoming months!