Advice to My 22-Year-Old Self

By David Kong

Tuesday August 25, 2015
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In June of this year, Fortune magazine invited me to write a special blog for its Leadership Insider Network, which asked me to answer an interesting question: “What advice would you give your 22 year old self today?” I enjoyed writing this and wanted to share it here, as well.

Looking back on it now, I accomplished quite a bit when I was 22: I received my bachelor’s degree, completed the management training program with the biggest hotel chain in Hawaii, and began working as an assistant manager for a large hotel in Waikiki. My main focus during my early 20s was to move up the ladder as quickly as possible.

Growing up in Hong Kong and witnessing the work ethic of my parents, I understood the value of hard work. As an immigrant, I recognized that I had to work harder than others to get ahead. So that’s what I did and I enjoyed it, taking on every challenge I could find. But now, nearly 40 years later, I’ve learned many important lessons that I wish I knew back then. I would offer the following advice to myself:

Differentiate yourself

Hard work can contribute to success, but it won’t necessarily result in success. Success is the result of making a service/product, company, and indeed, our very self, stand out in dynamic ways — especially in highly competitive environments. It’s about making what we do special and relevant. So my advice would be to ask yourself the tough questions: Why should the customer buy from me? How would Steve Jobs design my product? Why should my boss promote me?

Treat your career like a marathon, not a sprint

During the start of my career I used to get frustrated and sometimes angry when I would see others with less work ethic or less substance move ahead of me. Knowing what I know now, I am grateful I didn’t get promoted too quickly. I now recognize that my career was a marathon, not a sprint for the following reasons:

•  Running a marathon requires conditioning. Likewise, a successful career requires a solid foundation. I have seen many people put into positions without the appropriate talent or substance needed eventually fail.

•  Preparing for a marathon requires cross training. Similarly, we need to take lateral steps in our career to broaden our horizon

•  We need to pace ourselves in a marathon. Starting out too fast will cause us to burn out. Equally, life isn’t just about work. We need to occasionally ‘stop and smell the roses.’ Without the proper work-life balance, we can never be happy or successful.

Focus on a legacy

When we’re young, especially in our 20s, no one is thinking about retirement. But everyone’s career comes to an end, at some point. So it’s never too early to start focusing on your legacy. We should think about how we want to be remembered not just in our company, or our industry, but in our family and amongst our friends. At each phase of our career (job transitions or promotions), take time to reflect. Am I making a positive and lasting impact on my associates and customers? Did my actions inspire those around me? Am I making a transformational impact on my company, my industry and amongst those I care about? That’s perhaps the most important piece of advice I’d give my 22-year-old self: our career is so much more than destinations — it’s about journeys, and making a truly lasting and positive impact.

This post originally appeared on Fortune.com (http://fortune.com/2015/06/23/david-kong-22-year-old-advice/). Please join the conversation by connecting with me on LinkedIn. Or you can send thoughts directly to itspersonal@bestwestern.com.