Growing up in NYC was amazing… guess I didn’t realize how amazing it was at the time. Having emigrated from Korea at the age of six, New York was my adopted homeland. My parents were very focused on giving my siblings and I a good education so academic excellence was everything. They came from war, poverty, and had little education so the opportunities of America were not just a commercial banner, but a life-long necessity that they traveled so far for. Growing up with an extended family, I had the love of my grandmother, aunts, and cousins. I didn’t rely solely on the support of my parents, my confidence came from the unconditional love my grandmother had given to me who had raised me since birth. Though I didn’t get to see her daily as a teenager, I visited her every weekend out in Queens where my aunts and cousins lived.
I was a hard worker and excelled in school. I felt that the more I succeeded, the happier my parents would be… I learned later in my life that this was not good conditioning for me. I also grew up with the bells of Wall Street and news of what company had been taken over or what was going on in the economy. Around me was the excitement of the stock market and the ever-growing financial world. There was a fascination and love for all of this but I didn’t really understand what it was all about…
I attended a selective high school which, though public, you could only be admitted through an exam process. Here, I studied math and science with the best and brightest from the NY area. 99% of the graduates attended college and 35% attended Ivy Leagues. Working hard in this environment was meaningful but competition was of the highest degree. Though my aspiration was to attend a university in New Haven, I was rejected and had to go to a school that wasn’t my #1 choice. I was devastated. It felt as if my life was over and that all my hard work meant nothing. I was ashamed and thought I was a failure.
Reluctantly, I headed to Philadelphia and basically hated my four years there. I fought liking it and really didn’t try to fit in nor make friends. I just couldn’t wait to get out. Though I enjoyed thoroughly what I was studying, finance – what I had grown up being fascinated about – my preconceived notion of wanting to be somewhere else held me back.
It was only years later that I was thankful for my rejection to my dream school because it had led me to something I am passionate about. To this day, I know that the jobs and experiences that have come my way came because of what had happened. Even when my path didn’t point in the direction I wanted to explore, by following my passion, I have had amazing opportunities and met the smartest people in the business. So many times, we feel like life isn’t fair or wonder why we didn’t we get what we want. However, I feel there is a greater plan that we just can’t see (at the time). If we continue to be fascinated by what we are doing, work hard, be kind, honest, fair and do it with a HAPPY DISPOSITION, it will all go the way it should.
There is a sense of accomplishment today because of the support and love that have always surrounded me: great extended family, amazing friends, fun colleagues. We think happiness equates to financial wealth but studies have shown that it is having people around us that makes us happiest.
Good luck to all of you as you enter the most amazing phase in your lives, a time when you get to test everything that you (think you) know. Remember that life won’t always give you what you want, but it will always give you what you need. Though we may not see the reasons right away, making “mistakes” or not getting our way will make us so much stronger, more colorful, and help us become who we really are meant to be. Take a deep breath and jump right in, even with all the ups and downs, it will be a wondrous journey! And try to do it with a smile!!! Life isn’t just defined by our achievements but how we deal with failures. Take time to build interpersonal relationships. Work hard at your job but also work hard at being the best sister, brother, son, daughter, mother, father, aunt, uncle and friend you can be. BREATHE and SMILE, you are alive today!