By Selena Woo
When asked what I wanted to do when I was older, I always hesitated. It was never an answer I could articulate very well until recently. I was always envious of people who knew, followed their dreams, and carved a path for themselves. For a lot of my adulthood, I felt like I was spinning my wheels.
My first foray into the financial services industry started with a part-time job at a Credit Union while finishing my studies at the University of Calgary. Upon graduation, I packed my bags, moved to Vancouver, and started as an Assistant to a Financial Planner at a small financial planning firm.
As I approached my early 30’s, I felt stuck in my professional life. I had gotten married and felt torn between wanting to change my career and starting a family. I was losing confidence in myself as I watched my friends, past colleagues, and school peers build successful careers. A turning point for me was being deliberate in changing my mindset. Instead of focusing on what others had that I didn’t, I redirected my focus and began viewing them as my role models; pushing me and inspiring me to reach higher.
Pursuing higher education, again.
The first risk I took in my professional life was to enroll in school almost a decade into my career. As immigrants to Canada, my parents, especially my mom, encouraged my siblings and me to pursue higher education. Even if we don’t need or use it today, it will help pave a better path in the future. She was right.
While studying, I made it my goal was to transition from a supporting role to a lead role, and I knew I needed to get outside my comfort zone and start taking risks for this leap. So, the first phase in my education was earning my Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation, then embarking on the 3-year journey to receiving my Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) certificate.
Choosing to balance three full-time jobs
Two months into the CPA program, I learned I was pregnant with our first child. It wasn’t easy balancing work, school, and pregnancy, but it taught me a lot about my strength and capabilities. I grew tremendously throughout the program, and when I finally walked across the stage at my convocation, our daughter was two years old. My confidence was back and stronger than ever and I was determined to start making headway towards my goal.
Challenging the status quo
After graduation, I read that women typically applied for jobs only when they met 100% of the qualifications versus men who applied for jobs even if they only met 60% of the qualifications. The advocate in me wanted to challenge this status quo. So, I transitioned from a firm focused on high-net-worth private clients to a field of the industry I had no experience with, institutional clients.
Taking the leap
A couple years passed and we had our second child. A headhunter approached me when I returned from maternity leave with an opportunity at Nicola Wealth; a role managing a group of 15 support staff. A voice in my head told me I was not qualified; I only had experience being a leader of five individuals and hesitated to pursue the opportunity. However, I remembered the work I put in to achieve my goal, and I chose to take the risk and go for it. I haven’t looked back since.
There are many different stages in one’s career journey, and it’s different for everyone. Some achieve career milestones early on, and for me, I consider myself a late bloomer in my career. Kids came later in life, so I wasn’t really able to put my foot on the gas pedal and focus on building my career until my early 40’s. Work is a massive part of my life, and I love what I do. Once you find your passion, the wheels stop spinning, and you start driving forward.
The lessons I learned:
- We place too much pressure on ourselves to define a career path. You can pursue higher education, change your direction, and pursue a new career at any age and any point of your life.
- You and your journey are right on time. There is no schedule to feel behind of.
- You do you. Focus on planting your own seeds and watering your own grass.
- You don’t have to choose between wanting a family and a career. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. It won’t be easy, but you can have both and still succeed.
- Don’t feel stuck in your role at work. Change can be scary and immensely difficult. But it is the one constant in life. To make a change, you need to take risks. Tell yourself a different story and change the narrative. Be your own career coach.
- Don’t let your title define you or deflate you. Have confidence in yourself and your abilities.
- Find your cheerleaders. Know who’s in your corner, personally and professionally, and keep your inner circle small.
- Be your own best advocate. Speak up and showcase your work versus. having the mentality of “my work should speak for itself.”
- Pause to celebrate your successes, and don’t be afraid to share them. You’ve earned it.
- Be humble. Remember your journey, and don’t lose sight of the significance of your personal and professional growth.
Selena Woo, CFP, CPA, CMA, is the Vice President, Advisory Services – Associates & Operations. Selena leads the Wealth Planning Associates with purpose and positive intent to embrace a culture of empathy and excellence.