I've been participating in quite a few podcasts lately related to career development and how to carve a successful path and I've thus been reflecting on my own journey and wondering what Omar from twenty years ago would think of my life today. Would he be proud of my accomplishments? Would anything I've done or not done surprise him? In what ways have I disappointed him?
Well, this post will explore exactly what he thinks of me today. However, to put this conversation in context, I need to tell you more about twenty-two-year-old me.
At twenty-two, I was still pursuing my MBA at Florida A&M University in the School of Business and Industry. I had recently completed my first real-world work internship at Pfizer Inc as a pharmaceutical sales representative in Detroit, MI for eight months. I was in a serious relationship with my high school sweetheart and working at Zales - The Diamond Store in the Tallahassee Mall. I had yet to travel outside of the US. Oh, and as you can see, I still had my hair!
With that in mind, here are ten questions my younger self would like to know about my life today and my answers:
Q. (Omar 22): What is your career like? Are you happy with where you are?
A. (Omar 42): It's great to chat with you Omar 22. If I recall correctly, at this exact moment you have just been chosen to go on an international marketing internship with Pfizer in Sao Paulo, Brazil that starts at the top of the year. Trust me, this experience is going to be life-changing! And because you had the courage to embark on this adventure at such a young age, I will benefit continuously from a career perspective. You might be surprised to know that I've already lived in Brazil three times. And I've also lived in Turkey and Indonesia for extensive periods as well traveling the world as part of the pharma career you chose. Today, I am a country manager in Brazil with a company called Allergan and am absolutely loving life! I've grown so much through spending over ten years abroad and it's all thanks to you!
Q. (Omar 22): What's the coolest thing you've gotten to do over the past twenty years?
A. (Omar 42): Well, I'm happy to report that we live a pretty cool life! I've traveled to over forty countries all over the world - from Chile to Japan! I've been on safari in Kenya and had the pleasure to meet some world leaders like Colin Powell and celebrities like Denzel Washington. But the coolest thing has to be leading teams for over thirteen years and seeing the impact I've had on their development and success.
Q. (Omar 22): Are you still close with the same people I am close with?
A. (Omar 42): In terms of family, we are all still as united and close as ever and I'm happy to report that today I have a genius 12 year old nephew and two super cute great nieces! I am also still friends with everyone you are with the qualifier that the nature of our relationships has changed over time. Due to my global moves, I'm not in as constant contact with them as you are. However, there is a new technology called social media that allows me to use the web to keep tabs on everyone I care about and maintain some form of contact. But I can and should do better at not only maintaining important friendships but deepening them as well.
Q. (Omar 22): What's been your top accomplishment so far?
A. (Omar 42): Everything I've put my mind to career-wise has happened. From becoming a marketing director before the age of 30 to becoming a senior marketing director before 35 to becoming a country manager before 40 - I've accomplished a significant career progression which I am proud of. I'm also very proud of the outside of the box risks I've taken to live overseas and adapt to new cultures in Brazil, Turkey, and Indonesia. I'm proud of the fact that I started my own publishing company and that I got into the tech space with a start-up for a few years. Another cool accomplishment would have to be becoming a published author of a best selling award winning novel, But my top accomplishment is the growth I've seen from the people with whom I've led, coached, and mentored around the world. I feel that I've helped people achieve success and develop themselves and that is the greatest accomplishment of all.
Q. (Omar 22): What's been your biggest failure?
A. (Omar 42): Nothing you read in the above response has come without it's own share of failure and learnings. My first few years in pharma were not the greatest and one bad manager almost single-handedly derailed my career. Just before becoming a marketing director and before getting promoted to senior marketing director I got married and divorced which was an extremely painful (and costly) lesson. My tech start-up flamed out despite having an amazing product, I lost most of my money I'd invested, and my first year living in Turkey was pretty humbling. My publishing company is not exactly profitable despite publishing 8 books in 9 years and my novel took twelve years to get into the world through a series of setbacks. But my biggest failure came when I was promoted to General Manager of Indonesia where I was asked to execute a series of layoffs in my second week on the job and I didn't have the proper context and didn't push back on the timing or the method of execution which led to continuous struggles for the business for a while thereafter. From that failure, I learned that if I truly want to be a people-oriented leader, I needed to become a truly fantastic business leader so I could anticipate the consequences of financial decisions and do the right thing for the people and the business.
Q. (Omar 22): How happy are you with your lifestyle?
A. (Omar 42): So a few years back I had the opportunity to attend my twenty-year high school reunion back in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Almost everyone there was married with children and they were marveling at how much I've gotten to travel and see the world as much as I was marveling over their home lives and the growth they'd achieved by being parents and spouses. Happy is definitely a relative concept. I am quite content with the space I occupy today. I'm very comfortable and have access to all the things that please me. However, I want my life to mean something for others and when I see that impact happen that's when I'm happiest because I know that the way I live my life is providing a better lifestyle for others.
Q. (Omar 22): What advice would you give me about the road ahead?
A. (Omar 42): Having the benefit of hindsight, I will just tell you to put less pressure on yourself to be perfect. This self-pressure will lead to years of acid reflux and anxiety that I'm managing with daily even though I've become much more mindful about making the most of each day versus being worried about a future that hasn't happened yet. Remember that you have the power to manifest the future you desire through the habits your prioritize daily.
Q. (Omar 22): If you could change any coming decision for me, what would it be?
A. (Omar 42): It would be easy for me to say none, because each decision good or bad has brought you to where I am today. But I would say the one thing I wish I could change about my younger self (you) was the lack of balance and understanding of the importance of working on all aspects of my wellbeing from an early age - physical, mental, spiritual, financial. The longer you put off this work, the longer it takes to receive the significant benefits of a more holistic and healthy approach to living.
Q. (Omar 22): What's the most important book you've read in the past twenty-years and why?
A. (Omar 42): Wow, this is a tough one. I'm constantly reading to expand my horizons and challenge what I think I know. With that being said, I'd say the most impactful book I've read that I still reference today would have to be The Servant by James C. Hunter. This book describes a leader who is having a breakdown and goes to a Benedictine Monastery for answers. There he meets a monk who used to be a Wall-Street trader who reframes everything he knows about being a leader, father, and husband. He teaches the man about servant leadership which is a concept I have looked to embody ever since finishing the book. Servant leadership is easy to conceptually grasp but much harder to execute in reality and it comes down to your level of commtment to the principle of leading with love and not abusing your power.
Q. (Omar 22): What's the most important thing in your life right now?
A. (Omar 42): I would have to say that the most important thing for me today is my life's mission. I am tired and disappointed with the state of leadership and management today because it is forcing good and talented people to check-out and disengage with their lives. I am fully committed to serving leaders around the world and helping them see that there is a better way forward and that we all need to evolve our practices. This is my ikigai or intersection between what I love to do, what I am good at, what I can be paid for, and what the world needs. I am only here because of your amazing journey and the lessons you have taught me and I am forever grateful for the many experiences I have lived through over the past twenty years and very much looking forward to the next twenty!!
Well dear readers, I hope that self-interview was as enlightening for you as it was for me. Sometimes, it's important to take self-inventory of the journey and learnings along the way. I highly recommend it so why don't you take one of the questions above and give your answers to the you of twenty years ago in the comments. Let's spread this introspection around and see what we've collectively learned and how we can each serve and support one another!
Omar L. Harris is Associate Vice-President and Country Manager for Allergan PLC in Brazil. He is the author of Leader Board: The DNA of High-Performance Teams available for purchase in ebook or print on Amazon.com. Please follow him on instagram, twitter, and/or LinkedIn for more information and engagement.