5 Steps on How I Learned to Invest in Myself: An Open Letter to My Sister

By: Jennifer Guo

Dear Jackie,

As you enter adulthood, you may feel that mom and dad are out of touch and that it is hard to open up to friends about questions you may not be able to articulate. I have been there, my peers have been there, and many more successful women and men have been there before us. From our collective experiences, I curated a list of learnings that will help you define your career and life, take ownership over your successes and failures, and to have faith in the choices that you make.

Step 1: Do away with preconceived notions of success.

We live in a world where select professions are regarded with greater esteem than others, such as lawyers, doctors, and engineers. These professions are worthy ambitions to strive for, but we do not nearly give enough encouragement or applaud unconventional careers or nonlinear career paths. When we pursue paths that are off the beaten road, we are training ourselves to be creative about crafting the direction and blueprint of our future.

Bottom line? Do not be discouraged by anyone from what your gut feeling is telling you. Do not feel less than, when your career takes you down a path that is undefined by society.

Are you pushing yourself to be innovative and creative? Are you still learning and challenging yourself in what you are doing? Does it energize you, in a way that fuels you to take your work to the next level? The answers to these questions are how your career should be valued and how you should define your successes.

Step 2: Step outside your comfort zone.

Mom and dad are from a generation that was rife with economic and political instability. It conditioned them to avoid risk taking, to play it safe, and to follow rules. In turn, we were taught to set our sights on attaining job stability, predictability, and cautioned against biting off more than we can chew.

The irony of it is that the sacrifices they made are what affords us the privilege to try our hand at things we do not know if we can succeed at. We are afforded the luxury to be brave about taking on the unknown because we can fail and be okay.

The world is your oyster. You have won the lottery. Now, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to not be limited by doing only what you know.

Practice stepping outside your comfort zone and try things you are genuinely afraid of. I promise that you will find you are capable of so much more than you thought you could be.

Step 3. Own the F-word.

Failure is the dirty F-word that no one talks about at the dinner table. We pretend it is a thing that does not happen, when it is a natural part of being human. We associate it with deep feelings of shame and regret when the truth is, failure is your friend. It is an opportunity to learn and to become better.

Perfection is overrated. Marie Forleo, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, and most importantly one of my #womancrushwednesdays once said, “Strive not to be perfect, but to have progress.”

There is an effortless way to think about this. I learned it from bestselling author Seth Godin. When you fall on your face, he said, instead of thinking, “oh shit”, think, “oh, that’s interesting.” And instantaneously, your failures become a launching pad, not an impediment. Allow your mistakes to be your teacher, instead of skeletons in your closet. When you own your failures, they will cause your successes.

I will wrap up this takeaway with a soundbite from award-winning chef Jody Adams, who said, “there are no bumps in the road, there is just the road!”

You see, we just need that millimeter of adjustment in thinking.

Step 4: Give yourself the gift of self-validation.

Throughout your life, your friends, your family, your mentors, and your peers, will all at one point be convinced that they know more about your happiness than you do. The hardest will be when someone who you respect and admire deeply, have doubts about your pursuits. When this happens, you will question if you are in over your head. I am here to tell you, that there is only one way to find out for sure, and that is to take a chance on yourself.

One of my favourite Instagram posts from the media empire Influencive, goes like this: “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”

The only validation that will build you up, is the kind that strengthens your self-reliance. And that kind of validation can only come from you. So have faith. And carry on.

Step 5: Think larger than life.

Lastly, but most importantly, aim to live larger than your own life. Some folks choose only to live in their own microcosm, without a care to the whole ecosystem that is the rest of the world. But it matters that we choose to live our lives in an impactful way.

Underlining everything you do, you must think about what you are offering the world. Are you bettering your community? Are you playing a helping part in advancing society? We are all beneficiaries of the world, and we owe it to this blue planet to be a good human.

With love,

Your sister


Jennifer Guo leads a rising career in public health. Her special interests include health economics and its application in translating biotech innovations from the bench to the bedside. She will be starting her PhD in Health Economics with the Institute for Health Policy, Management, and Evaluation (IHPME) at the University of Toronto. Outside work, she is mentor to upper year and graduate students at her alma maters, and is a volunteer with LeanInCanada, the national Canadian chapter of LeanIn.Org that is empowering women to build purposeful and fulfilling careers.

Ellevate Network is a global women’s network: the essential resource for professional women who create, inspire and lead. Together, we #InvestInWomen.

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