I just finished my Summer Internship at Unilever Philippines.
The tasks given to me were far from what I saw on movies – photocopying documents, preparing coffee or filing papers. The projects assigned to me had “real” business impact. If they had told me from the start what the workload was, I would’ve never thought that I could accomplish them.
The fact that they gave me projects with such magnitude, signals the trust and confidence they have for their employees.
This on top of the perks I would get – a laptop, a cellphone, a good salary and (saving the best for last) a car, convinced me to work here once I graduate next year.
9 years later…
I just finished my international stint in Unilever Cambodia.
I never had the inkling that this will be my last work with Unilever when I started my international assignment a year ago. But that’s life. I need to make bitter-sweet decisions that’ll bring me closer to my purpose.
I surrendered my company ID. I walked out of the doors of the company that provided me a home for almost a third of my life.
With a heart filled with gratitude and a life filled with amazing stories, I dedicate this time to reflect on the key lessons I learned from my 9-years of adventure with U.
We are capable more than our perceived limit.
Moments of panic. Feeling overwhelmed every time I get assigned a new role.
May 2009 – Fresh out of college, I was assigned to replace 2 Senior Key Account Managers (KAM) who were awarded Best KAM (amongst hundreds) by their customers.
May 2012 – 3 years Junior KAM, I was assigned in a team tasked to rebuild the business of our #1 customer.
April 2016 – 7 years Field Sales practitioner, I was assigned to Cambodia and set-up their Trade Marketing – Modern Trade Team.
Why am I being given such responsibility? Do I even deserve these positions? I wondered, every time, if they are making a wrong decision.
I felt incompetent because I didn’t have the knowledge nor the skills needed for the role. Can I really handle this?
On my most recent assignment, I told my fiancé a few days before flying out to Cambodia, “I wish I didn’t accept this assignment”.
It was too much for me to handle – a new role, a new team, a different environment. I wanted to back out of it.
Thankfully, I didn’t.
Have I quit, I wouldn’t have had the most transformative year of my life. I wouldn’t have learned new skills – cooking, yoga, writing, painting. I wouldn’t have enjoyed the 19 holidays that allowed me to travel and be with myself. I wouldn’t have met amazing people who opened my eyes to the possibilities of life, people who inspired me to dream big, and people who helped me live a life of purpose.
I have proven myself wrong 4 times in a span of 9 years – from completing my projects as an intern in 2007 to accomplishing my assignment in Cambodia.
These experiences have taught me to Embrace challenges because I can achieve more that what I think I can.
It is normal to feel overwhelmed, inadequate and clueless in the face of enormous tasks, responsibilities and dreams. What’s important is how we react to these emotions and realities. Do we back out? Do we do nothing?
Or do we embrace them?
“I don’t like surprises” Martha, my line manager, told me on my 1st day at work.
“Don’t be afraid to ask.” She told me the story of a problem, that blew out of proportion, because one executive acted based on a wrong assumption rather than asking.
It has since then became a habit for me to ask whenever there was something unclear, no matter how small it could be. And it worked! For years, this allowed me to avoid surprising Martha with problems.
5 years later…
During my annual Personal Development Discussion with Ruby, my then manager for a year, gave me a feedback that I have to express my opinions and ask questions.
I was surprised my her feedback. I thought I have already cultivated the habit of asking questions. It worked with Martha. _Why is she telling me to ask more of them?_
I kept asking Ruby to clarify what she meant. Every time, she explained it in a different way hoping that I would finally understand.
But no, I did not.
After almost 2 years, I had to move to a new role under a new manager. Still, I struggled to understand what she meant by express my opinions and ask questions.
My new role was completely foreign to me. I, a 7-year Field Sales practitioner in the Philippines, was asked to set-up the Trade Marketing – Modern Trade Team in Cambodia.
Being in a new role and a new country forced me to learn everything from scratch. I needed to know the objective, the business context, the market environment and the culture. I needed to understand the shoppers, consumers, retailers, market trends and processes. I needed to learn how to land my projects.
In a few weeks, I gathered tons of information.
I noticed that the more information I got, the more I wanted to understand. The more I wanted to understand, the more questions I asked. The more questions I asked, the more answers I got. The more answers I got, the more I understood. This would not only repeat the cycle of asking more questions but also helped clarify my opinions. The clearer my opinions were, the more I progressed with my projects.
It was only then, that I understood what Ruby meant. She was asking me to be curious in which the by-products are question and opinions.
Rather than being busy thinking of a smart-sounding opinion or question to say, this perspective shifted my focus on understanding the core of the situation or task at hand.
It is from this curiosity – the genuine desire to understand, know and learn, where opinions and questions naturally arise.
Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers -Voltaire (writer, philosopher)
To Embrace Challenges and to Be Curious are just 2 of the many valuable life-lessons I learned from the past 9 years.
And I would not have these, if not for the people who have been part of my journey in this company. They are the people who believed in me, who trusted me with enormous responsibilities, and who provided me a helping hand all the way.
To the management team, my line managers, team mates, officemates, suppliers, customers and business partners, Thank you.
I am truly grateful that this journey happened.
I will forever treasure the relationship we have built together. I will keep it. Continue to learn from it. And share it with others.
This is not a good bye but just a thank you.
Thank you for allowing me to be part of your lives.
Thank you for shaping my life.
*names of people in this article have been altered