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Dad taught me: Don’t expect success on a silver platter

Money on a silver platter

It was supposed to the best day of my life. But that was not how I felt that day.

I got the acceptance letter to the economics undergraduate program at the London School of Economics. I told all my friends, "Yes! I am going to London!"  

There was just one obstacle standing between me and my dream: Money. I gingerly approached my dad, who was absorbed by the morning paper.

He said: "Have you considered going to the University of Hong Kong? It is a pretty good school, too."

That was not the answer that I imagined. In my alternate universe, he would have tears in his eyes, he would tell me how proud he is, and he would transfer the funds to my account that day. 

I was furious. I ran into my room and slammed the door shut.

Little did I know, this one simple question would set me on a path to greater career success than I could have imagined on that day. That question helped me to uncover the secrets to getting a promotion, being a better leader and winning a negotiation:

1. Success will not be served on a silver platter. You’ve got to work for it. Food. Shelter. Vacation. I took everything my parents gave me for granted. I felt I worked hard and did well in school and, as a result, I am absolutely entitled to an all-expense-paid-for undergraduate experience in London.

My dad taught me that is not the logic of working life. Our bosses won't offer us a promotion just because we work hard.

Marshall Goldsmith, the world's number-one executive coach, reminds us that goal obsession is one of the biggest obstacles holding us back from career success. Being empathetic, respectful and not feeling entitled are the keys to having a successful and fulfilling career.

2. Too much pride stops others from helping you. A few months ago, I told my mother about what that conversation with my father. "You never told me this," she said. "I would have helped you.”

That's right. She could have. But I never ask for help. I had too much pride and couldn't ask for help. There is another word for that: Hubris. 

In a survey by HR consulting firm Heidrick & Struggles, one in five CEOs said they have never doubt themselves. A 2013 study found that overconfident CEOs tend to make risky decisions about merger and acquisitions that end up costing the company a fortune. 

I am glad I learned the lesson about pride when I was still very far away from the corner office. I learned that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Asking for help from the right person with respect and without expectation often deepens a relationship. 

3. Anger can elevate you or destroy you. Your choice. I did not like the feeling of anger searing inside that day. I have a difficult relationship with my anger. I want it to go away.

Anger feels like a red-faced demon, holding a trident, standing in hell and looking at me with an intense focus.  Luckily, I did not initiate a shouting match with my dad that day.

Research by Keith Allred, a former faculty member at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, shows that anger often harms the negotiation process by escalating conflict, biasing perceptions and making impasses more likely.

But over the years, I have started to see my anger that day as been a blessing in disguise. I was so eager to prove my dad wrong. I was eager to show him that a global education is important. I was eager to show him that women can have a great career and not be confined to being a good wife and mother.

I did attend and earned my degree at The London School of Economics. I worked, really, really hard, to get a good job and help other women attain career success on their own terms.

My dad taught me that anger can be my best friend or my worst enemy. It was, and always will be, my choice to make.

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Grace H. Woo is director supply chain strategy at McCormick & Company.

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.