Letter to My Younger Self: Kent Wasson, Finance, Shanghai

01 FEB 2023

Kent Wasson, chief administrative officer for China, chief operating officer for the control, finance and operating functions in Asia Pacific, and chief administrative officer for Goldman Sachs Asia Bank Limited, shares advice he would give his younger self.  

Dear younger you,

It may surprise you to hear that after growing up in the Midwest, and attending college in a town of 8,000, you will move to Japan and go on to live and work in two of the three largest cities in the world. You will find many of your best ‘decisions’ in life – where you live, who you marry, and where you work – were not the result of an orchestrated strategy or meticulous planning, but often serendipitous results that emanated from outside of your control.

So I’m not offering answers to decision points you will face, or a time-traveling Delorean complete with a sports almanac from the future (handy though that might seem), but instead have penned this letter with some pieces of advice I’ve picked up over the past 25 years that I hope you will find valuable.

Careers are not ladders. While you will initially expect to climb the corporate ladder with time-boxed milestones, you’ll learn that few careers advance in a straight line. You’ll traverse sideways, in circles, and even diagonally backwards at times, but you will learn from all of these moves. You will experience many unpredictable changes over the years, and your work interests and personal needs will evolve in ways you never anticipated. So rather than chart a line from point A to Z, stay nimble – a career is not a destination.

Pick your majors and minors. As your career progresses, you will need deep competence in specific areas to add differentiated value. While multitasking and getting involved in many projects might seem attractive, it dilutes focus and productivity. For effective time management, and more importantly to make a meaningful impact, invest time in areas where your expertise can be strengthened. Partner with your manager to identify your ’majors’ and ruthlessly prioritize how you allocate time to not be overly distracted by your ‘minors.’

Shadow the leaders you admire. Think of the firm as a large university full of professors teaching leadership skills. Some of the teachers will be truly inspirational, modeling how to manage, lead, and solve problems. Aside from observing and imitating, you can also seek their guidance and advice, and tweak their examples to align with your style. For the ones who don’t inspire you, remember why and remind yourself to not repeat their mistakes once you find yourself in their shoes. 

Run towards problems. When things aren’t going well, it is an opportunity to dive in and understand what can be improved. Rushing into fires isn’t for the fainthearted, but fires need to be extinguished and require speedy and impactful contributions. Even if you can’t fix every issue, you’re bound to learn more by trying than if you avoid tough problems altogether.  

Take ownership of your attitude. The older you become, the more you will question how much control you truly exert over your career and even life... But the thing you can best control is your attitude to the situations in which you find yourself. In every interaction, the attitude you bring to the table is always a choice. There will be what happens, and then there will be how you react to what happens. It is actually your reaction, driven by your attitude, that matters more.