The Hardest Things Worth Doing

Stop everything you’re doing right now and ask yourself if you’re happy with your life. If not, make your life goal to find out why.

0716_who-would-knowA long road usually isn’t the route that takes the most time, but the one that necessitates the biggest heart. Consider for a moment all the poor souls born with physical or mental ailments; even if they only spend a few moments on this earth, those of us who were fortunate enough to bypass such pain can never really know this sort of struggle.

This could have been reasonably said about the tireless Sophie Yuan, owner of Sophie’s Nail Salon, up until not too long ago. Nobody could outdo her ambition and her incessant work ethic.

“Why do I work hard? First, my uncle was a perfectionist who trained me to also be a perfectionist. Second, in the company I worked for, I always felt like Chinese were the second division of the company… so, I push myself to work the best I can to prove Chinese are reliable,” she said.

Beginning humbly from a struggling home, Ms.Yuan, butted heads early on with her uncle, her principle caregiver. She worked endlessly to find a way out in order to put space between them. At university she majored in English and later began teaching English and Communications at her university. Still not satisfied, she worked on a new plan.

“I always want to run away from my uncle because I was scared of him. So, two years later, I came to Shenzhen on an extended summer holiday to look for a new job. I went to the tallest building in the city and walked floor by floor, knocking on every door to ask if they needed anybody.”

The intense work ethic continued until one day she felt a small bump on her chest. Panicked, she travelled to various hospitals around the area imagining to hear the worst. Surprisingly, she didn’t. Doctor after doctor told her to watch it, but the tumor was benign.

It turned out her persistence and endurance paid off when one company offered her a job as a typist and later, a translator, after learning she could speak English. Some time passed and six months later, she got a new opportunity as a secretary, which allowed her salary to increase almost four times higher than her typing job. This made it obvious to her that the teaching profession was no longer her best course of action and so she went back to her home town to tell the school she was quitting.

“In China, at that time, nobody resigned from a government job because we used to say if you had a job in the government, you had an iron bowl. Iron bowl means it will never break and you will always have a job.”

Going against the direct wishes of her family and friends, she knew that she could achieve more if she took a chance. Staying working as the secretary for some time, she gained business experience, but finally left to pursue a number of other short-term opportunities.

Finally breaking the fragmented employment cycle, Ms. Yuan joined Paramont—a company where she would spend the next 20 years of employment.

“In this company, I felt I found the right company, the right boss and who is always doing things right, with a good reputation. My boss gave me many chances to learn new things.”

At first, she started as a supervisor, but quickly was promoted to manager and continued to climb through the ranks until she reached her eventual role as Senior HR Manager. Of all the Chinese working for the company, she reached the highest position, as Senior HR Manager.

Her journey was almost never smooth, always having to struggle to reach her next big thing, but it did at least have some comical situations where she was able to flex her deep cross-cultural knowledge for the benefit of her company and employees.

“In the beginning, almost every week, many Brazilians came to me saying, ‘Sophie look! They peed on the floor!’ and I felt so ashamed [for the Chinese] and then I decided that I must change that. So I began trainings to teach my employees how to act in the foreign culture.”

The intense work ethic continued until one day she felt a small bump on her chest. Panicked, she travelled to various hospitals around the area imagining to hear the worst. Surprisingly, she didn’t. Doctor after doctor told her to watch it, but the tumor was benign.

Then one night, not long after her original discovery, she was overcome with a sudden burst of pain, so back to the hospital she went. She was diagnosed with breast cancer. After undergoing a painful stream of finally successful treatments, she realized her life and perspective had to change.

“By accident, I later found an old journal where I wrote day after day: ‘I feel tired. I want to have a balanced life.’ I ignored my words and kept doing the same thing. So, after I got cancer, I decided to share and let the people around me know that it’s time to change your life now. Money is not everything.”

Today, Ms. Yuan lives completely differently; she finally found her balance and now loves life because of it. No longer is she ruled by her quick temper and exhaustion. She has time to be with her family, exercise and live healthier.

“I want people to know that cancer is not equal to death,” she tells me, as she shows me two football jerseys hanging on her wall as a constant reminder. Tomorrow is another day, and if we live like Sophie Yuan, it’s going to be a good one.