‘Oh no’ I thought. The call that I knew would come sooner or later was about to take place. No, it’ wasn’t the dreaded call about a sick relative or a death in the family, but to me, it was equally emotionally charged.
But before I share the conversation that took place on that call, I first have to go back in time about 15 months before that.
At the time I was working for a US department store chain as part of the product development team with headquarters in California. I was single and eager to start my new adventure working in an international buying office assisting the team source and manufacture apparel for the various men’s, women’s and children’s divisions of the department store.
It was Valentine’s Day when I arrived in Hong Kong for my first ever overseas position. There I was to help in a merchandising role and work on the occasional project that would immerse me more into the world of product sourcing and increase my knowledge of how factories work.
The hours in the office were long as we struggled to staff up following the ‘brain drain’ of Hong Kong at that time. During that period the challenge was to keep things moving along smoothly, so the opportunity to do the ‘extra projects’ or expand my knowledge was fairly non-existent.
Still I loved the work and I absolutely loved being in Hong Kong. In fact, three months into my stay I found myself praying that I would get to stay for the full term of the assignment which was approximately two years.
There is a special kind of magic about Hong Kong. I loved the hustle and bustle of a city that never sleeps; the pungent and sometimes invasive smells on the city streets; the unusual sights and sounds of an ancient way of life going on in the back alleys just meters away from the high fashion metropolitan city of Central; and the instant camaraderie within the expat community which gave you a sense of family.
I was enjoying my life meeting new people, experiencing different nationalities and cultures, and traveling throughout the region. Life was good.
Then one day when I was in the office, the call came. It was my US based boss. Before I even said hello, I knew what was coming. It was the call to say that the position was coming to an end and that it was time to return to California.
But, the call came with a twist. The Vice President of the company who happened to oversee the Product Development department (and my immediate boss) had given my boss a message to pass onto me, one that I was not expecting.
Throughout my stay in Hong Kong, the VP had visited the office 3-4 times and we would have some time together for a catch up. It was a result of these meetings that led to the special message.
During the call, my boss told me that the position in Hong Kong was coming to an end and it was time to return to California. However, the VP shared that he knew how much I really enjoyed Hong Kong. The special message from the VP was to let me know that if I wanted to stay in Hong Kong, they would support that decision with no hard feelings. The arrangement would be that the company would grant me some time to look for another job while I was still under their employment and once that time was up, I was on my own. If I chose to stay in Hong Kong and wasn’t able to find work and needed to fly home, it would be my responsibility to get home. I was to give three days to think about it and give them my decision.
I swallowed hard, thanked my boss and asked her to thank the VP and hung up the phone.
Oh my god. I was about to make the scariest decision of my life. What the hell am I going to do?
Immediately the internal battle began. My mind was saying ‘don’t do it; that staying would ruin the opportunity for the next person because I had quit after receiving such a wonderful opportunity; especially since I was the first person the company sent to live and work overseas. It was also too great of a risk. It would be career suicide if it doesn’t work out. Hong Kong was an expensive city and not the place to be if you have no income.
At the same time my heart was saying ‘Go for it!’ “You know you love it here. You’re meant to be here! There is something you’re meant to do, even if you don’t know what that something is. There is more for you to learn, more for you to see and do. Yes, it’s a huge risk, but you’re meant to stay”. I thought to myself, this generous offer that came from the VP (and I’m sure had to be cleared by the CEO as well) was a sign.
The internal battle didn’t last long. I took a deep breath and with my heart racing, I made the decision. I’m staying!
Within minutes I became a crazy woman on a mission. I hadn’t even told my company yet, but I immediately got busy. I rang a good friend who was in corporate world and asked her if I could meet with her to help me with my resume later that night. I started to scour the paper for job openings in my line of work.
Three days later I called the company with my decision. I managed to negotiate another 6 weeks with the company and payment on my apartment for an additional month.
Resumes went out, my suits were ready, my shoes were polished waiting for the big interview. I saw myself as a tightrope walker who needed to get from one side of the rope to the other, only there was no safety net. I had to make it to the other side. I had to make this work.
Just 4 days shy of my six-week grace period I landed a new job earning almost 50% more than I was earning with my existing company. In addition, I was able to find a roommate to share the expense of my apartment.
That decision to stay changed my life for ever. I stayed with the new company for just over two years, then I started my first business while living in Hong Kong. I met my future husband while on a vacation, but who turned out to live around the corner from me in Hong Kong. Subsequently we moved to Singapore where we’ve made it our home.
That all happened over 20 years ago, and I’ve been living an amazing life. I followed my heart and made the right decision for me.
So, if you are mid-career, what’s the next big decision in your life? When it comes to your livelihood and lifestyle, hopefully you will be in charge 100% of the way vs. someone or a company telling you what to do.