Vivian’s Continued Success: "Change is Inevitable – So EMBRACE it or you’ll be swallowed by it."

Interviewed by: Carol Chan

This month, I had the privilege of interviewing our recent Rover graduate (now Assistant Advisor), Vivian Chan. Although she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Food, Nutrition and Health (Food Market Analysis, Hons), she currently works at KPMG as a Senior Consultant in Infrastructure Advisory. Her clients are typically government agencies, where she supports long-term, strategic decision making for infrastructure projects and programs, ranging from transportation (road, rail, ports) systems to hospitals and school projects.

Read more about Vivian’s career in her previous blogpost.

Can you tell us about your promotion at KPMG? How is it different from the role you were in before?

When I was a Junior Consultant, my focus was mainly just on delivering quality work. I wanted to make the best graph, write the best report and produce materials that my boss would be confident showing to a client. Now, as a Senior Consultant, I strive to go beyond what the client is looking for. It’s not about showing them fancy math or an extensive spreadsheet. My job is to be able to turn crazy science into a simple and straightforward solution that everyone can understand. The teams I work in are very cross-sectional. Every member is specialized and provides different inputs, perspectives and ways to look at the problem.

You studied Science in university, but you ended up in consulting – something entirely different. Can you tell me about how you gained the experience necessary to work in a different area of study?

When I was at UBC, I dealt mostly with crop science and learning how to develop policies that incentivized expected behaviours. Now, I work with tunnels and bridges and trains that run on a rail. I never had any experience with this – all I knew was I wanted a challenge and to work in an environment of like-minded individuals. I felt the company aligned closely with who I am as a person, and supports both my career and personal development. I enjoy working together with my team to achieve a common goal with extreme passion and determination.

I don’t know if I had appeared to be the prime candidate for my job – especially with no prior business or engineering background. So when my company took the leap of faith to make me an offer, I committed myself to soak up as much knowledge and insights as I could – there isn’t anything that I enjoy more than to hear more senior staff talk about their “war stories”, and to hear about my clients’ daily challenges and wins. While I’m still no expert and still learn a ton of new knowledge everyday, I would say my journey so far has been nothing short of exciting. Along the way, I have also received generous support from my managers and senior peers whom have guided my learning. Mentors and supportive managers are key to career development, especially as you’re settling into a new job and trying to find your way at the same time.

What advice do you have for students who are questioning their area of study?

I would say there are a couple ways of seeing ‘going to school’. Some people go to school for a job and some people go to school with an idea of what they want to do. Others go to school for the experience. I went to school for the experience. I wanted to surround myself with very like-minded individuals and learn ways to approach and solve problems. When I first started university, I was dead set on pursuing a career in Sciences (Doctor, pharmacist…the standard). Eventually, I pursued my degree because I was interested in the topic and I liked the way it taught me to see the world and it taught me to solve problems in the world. My degree aligned with my passion for supporting development projects, and was taught in a way that tried to solve complex problems with simpler solutions. I think that skill has paid off dividends, especially at my job – to think about problems from different perspectives.

If you’re questioning your area of study, ask the question: Do you know what you are in it for? You don’t have to make a choice until you answer that question. Any degree is just as good – it just depends on your angle.

How have your experiences in the 180th Pacific Coast Scout Group helped you in your career?

I was able to hang around a bunch of individuals who are very passionate about a specific topic and also very business minded in trying to achieve these goals and objectives. It allowed me to experience ways in which I could motivate my clients to see their end goal as something achievable and keep them motivated to get to those goals. Working in the public sector and volunteering in with Rover Crew are both very social-oriented services. The Rover Crew is in the business of developing individuals and the public sector provides government services. Sometimes, surprises pop up for my client that might change the direction of the project; the crew is very much the same. It’s my job to keep everyone on track and I learned how to do that from the Rover Crew.

How do you balance volunteering with scouts, work and the different aspects of your life? What are some things you do to stay sane?

I don’t have much of a life outside crew and work. [Haha] No really! I work pretty long hours on most days and do scouts at night and on the weekend. Essentially, I’ve incorporated work and volunteer to be a part of my life – both are things I’m extremely passionate about, so I see value in my contributions to both aspects. Every so often, when nothing seems to go right, I remind myself of all the people I’ve been able to learn from and build relationships which makes the grind a tad more bearable.

Do you have any tips for better time management when you have a million things to do? How do you prevent feeling burnt out, stressed and tired?

Looking for the silver lining among less-desirable situations keeps you from losing site of your passion and goal. Thinking back to the situations where I felt like there was no more fight in me: turning the situation around to see beyond the challenges and counting my blessings puts everything back in perspective. Now, I consciously remind myself that there are always wins somewhere as a result of my actions and that keeps me from burning out. Remind yourself what you are in it for and that keeps the fire burning when the going gets really tough. These are the situations that test whether you’re in your job, degree or whatever pursuit for the right reasons – if you find you can’t dig deep, it might be time to start looking for something that you will dig deep for.

In overcoming fear and the challenge of taking risks and stepping outside your comfort zone, what advice do you have for rovers struggling with these two roadblocks in their personal development?

Ask yourself and answer very very honestly: what’s the worst that can happen?
Especially in the Rover Crew and post-secondary environments, the level of failure and chaos that that will ensue as a result of your actions is probably very limited – if you put it into the grand scheme of things. You might feel like you’re in freefall to failure, but there are lots of safety mechanisms in place that pad the fall. There is no better time than now to try things out. In comparison, your stakes will only get higher when you start working. I took advantage of all the safety nets of the Rover Crew and made sure I worked on a variety of projects, and challenging roles that always had me asking “are you serious?”. I find it refreshing to be faced with a situation that’s daunting. When you’re in that situation, and if your answer to “what’s the worst that can happen” isn’t something actually of life or death, then you should probably just give it a try and see for yourself if it was as bad as you thought it was. Those leaps of faith have landed me in fantastic opportunities, which were all things that I thought at one point in time were never possible for me to achieve.

I think it’s true for a lot of us who read about success stories – they’re inspiring, but we never really think it will happen to us. If we do “dream big”, it is often easy to feel overwhelmed and then discouraged. How do you suggest we can change this mindset? How do you stop negative self-talk and turn anxiety into power?

This is cliche but success is whatever you define it to be. In the words of Albert Einstein, “if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”. I experience some variation that everyday in my line of work, through internal criticism – and it’s humbling, inspiring and scary all at the same time. I often work with team members or clients who have built the most impressive tunnels and bridges in the world, so if I were to peg myself against these people, I would always feel like a failure. You should redefine success for yourself. It doesn’t mean you’re lowering the bar, you’re just setting the bar at the right place.

Can you tell us about a time when you were felt like a complete failure? What are some things you learned about yourself through that ordeal? How did you deal with it?

This may sound arrogant or ignorant, but I don’t know if I’ve ever felt like absolute failure. I’ve felt doomed like in my organic chemistry class, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt like an absolute failure. Don’t get me wrong – I’m extremely hard on myself in regards to how well I perform and I’m critical of my actions and deliverables, but I’ve never felt complete failure. I remember a time when my co-op advisor was looking at my transcript. She said, “Why are your grades so bad? Can you tell me what’s wrong?” I responded by explaining to her, what I believed would be a competitive candidate to represent the UBC Science Co-op program: an individual who is well rounded with an impressive volunteer background; my experiences from growing up in the Scouting program and as a Scout leader meant I had unique stories to tell, that would in turn allow me to develop unique connections and impressions. (I was eventually accepted into the program, so it’s not entirely a bluff). I don’t think anyone can ever “have it all”, there is always something else that counterbalances it. Seeing that trade-off and keeping that angle in mind is important. Even when I look back, I don’t see days of doom except really for organic chemistry.

What advice do you have for rovers who currently answer the question of “What do you want to do with your life?” with “I don’t know.”? How can we turn that into a passionate discussion about how they are working towards a career that is meaningful to them?

Look harder. I’m that kind of person where if I’m not succeeding in something, I believe I will eventually get there if I tried hard enough. I dig deeper to bring out the best that I have; I will try other methods to innovate and get past challenges. All of us are blessed with so many opportunities that others envy; often times it’s not “I don’t know what I want to do”, but “I don’t want to choose what to do”. I believe very much in making the best of everything you’ve been given – so if you’re lost for now, just pick something and go at it with all your might. We’re not getting married to any career or academic decision for a while in our early- to late-20s.

For me, I used to be paralyzed thinking about THE 10-15 year goal. Eventually, I decided to try something new – I stopped thinking so far ahead and focused on the next step. Now, I think about maybe 3 years ahead, but make myself available for whatever surprises lie around the corner. All throughout university, co-op and my current job, change is the only constant in my life. I’ve worked in a pesticide agency, for a technology company for the 2010 olympics, in agricultural policy, in law enforcement, and I’ve also tutored math and english. All the random stuff in my life – changing careers, degrees, cities, co-workers – has conditioned me to expect that change is inevitable – so embrace it, or you’ll be swallowed by it..

Carol Chan

One Response to “Vivian’s Continued Success: "Change is Inevitable – So EMBRACE it or you’ll be swallowed by it."

  • Thomas Lui
    2 years ago

    Hi Sister Vivian Rover,

    I read about your experiences and I was quite touched by it because I thank you for sharing your experiences with us all as your story has related to myself because I was like yourself who is not also very succeeding in anything that I had worked hard in school and I was studying in health filed graduated as Personal Support Worker and Restorative Care and Pallative Care Activation but had a lot of up’s and down though my career path because I was diagnosed with Learning disability and though today I had worked for Costco Wholesale Ware House Retail Company largest store in North American but didn’t get to work for a career that I went to school for and study so hard for it. And so I do feel for you and at least you over come your challenges and you are not along!

    Thomas

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