On my first day of high school, my biology teacher started off the class by saying, “If you leave my class, remembering nothing about biology, at least remember this: Knowledge is power”.
At the time, my 14-year-old mind thought, what a bizarre way to start class. However, that is one of the few moments from my high school education that remains implanted in my mind to this day. Over the years, I have modified that piece of advice and reminded myself that while knowledge is power, knowing what I don’t know is even more powerful – self-awareness has enriched my life.
Having been raised in a lower-middle-class family, my biology teacher’s advice resonated quite strongly. Especially, since I had the benefit of learning early on in life that material wealth did not define a person, nor one’s ability to achieve something meaningful with his or her life. While one may face certain limitations due to social or financial constraints, my parents taught us that there was no restriction on what one’s mind can achieve. The question was, how would you focus your mind’s energy – and that is something only you can decide.
When I started my first “real” job as an investment banking analyst, I was quickly confronted by the challenges of working in a high-profile industry dominated by money and power. As a young, vegetarian female of Indian descent, being aware of who I was (for better or for worse) played a crucial role in determining the value I added to my team in various situations, including client dinners at steakhouses with senior businessmen. I endeavored to learn as much as possible about any given topic to ensure that others would define me only by my knowledge.
While I lived through the investment banking tales that talk about working 24/7, the pressures of closing deals and generous paydays, the biggest lesson has been reminding myself why I was there and learning how to not lose myself.
Working in a world filled with Rolex watches and Jimmy Choo shoes, I steadfastly keep the extent of my luxurious purchases to Fossil watches and Nine West shoes. Just to be clear, I fully appreciate the quality of Rolex and Jimmy Choo products. While many of my friends and family have chosen to treat themselves with high-end luxury goods, I do not judge them for choosing to do so. However, self-awareness has helped me realize that material goods do not add to my own personal well-being and happiness. The skills that I develop, the people I meet and the endless opportunity to learn about various businesses all contribute to my ultimate goal of someday making a positive impact, small or big, in this world.
It is almost fifteen years since those steakhouse dinners, and I am now pursuing a career on the buy side in Hong Kong with my eye on the world of impact investing. My reserved character continues to find great reward and immense pleasure in meeting people of diverse skills and cultures. I strive to constantly learn more about the world we live in. I have chosen life experiences to be my greatest source of knowledge.
Self-awareness has taught me to be open to change and accept that there are certain things in life that we cannot control. Self-awareness has enabled me to remain present in today rather than racing against time to reach the next fleeting moment. Self-awareness has led me to my greatest passions in life – photography, yoga, and music. Nothing keeps you more present than capturing an inspiring moment with a camera, breathing deeply in a yoga asana and awakening your soul with a captivating tune.
While self-awareness may require us to identify our shortcomings, it isn’t necessarily an excuse to not challenge ourselves. Self-awareness helps us identify our drawbacks so that we can focus on our strengths to overcome those weaknesses. Only when we are self-aware can we hope to realize our fullest potential, whatever we choose that to be, and make our lives, and of those around us, rich.