Escape the 9 to 5 (E.01): Background

Mao and Then: Escape the 9 to 5

Welcome to my Escape the 9 to 5 series where I talk about why and how I am planning on leaving my 9 to 5 job to pursue my passions.


The Environment we were raised

Get good grade, go to college, get a 9 to 5 job, buy a house and work till you are 60 70 then you can retire happily after! I am sure many of you have heard something like this before. Believe it or not, the Asian culture is very similar to this if not even more so.

The Asian education system is heavily focused on getting good grades. What’s the purpose of getting good grades? So that you can go to a good college, thus getting a good job.

The downside of Asian education system is not focusing on personal development. I felt institutionalized to Asian school systems where I was basically a test-taking machine. Since we were so busy studying, we weren’t given much if any guidance on choosing your majors in college based on our interests.

The product of such a system is that Asians are lacking creativity and innovation compared to our western counterparts. We weren’t encouraged to challenge the norm and not to mention to pursue our passion. There’s a reason why Asian parents are known to want their kids to be doctors and lawyers (in addition to high salaries).

Luckily I have a mother who respects and supports me to do whatever I want unlike many Asian parents. I randomly chose information system as my major at Renmin University of China because I didn’t know what I wanted. Little did I know that it’s very difficult to change majors in Chinese colleges unlike American universities. I was actually quite shocked to learn that “undecided” major was even an option in the US. Knowing I hated my major so much in Beijing, my mother helped me to transferred to the US, which was a breath of fresh air for me.


My Career Journey

Phase I: I just wanted a job

Like everyone else, you go to college so you can get a job. Graduated with a finance degree, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. But I did know that I wanted a “real job” that pays me okay with job security. (I personally hate that term “real job” as I think every job is respectable whether you are working at a retail store or flipping burgers).

The hunt began. But the problem? I sucked at interviews. For the most part, I just lacked practice and common sense for interviews. For instance, I kept talking about my summer house painting experience when I was interviewing for a banking job. The other time I didn’t even know what the company was most known for because I was so caught up in that particular position.

The best interview you asked? I had already made it to the second round and everything went as well as it could.

“What’s the most recent book(s) you’ve read?” the interviewer asked.

“Hmm, crap…I don’t read books…” Thinking to myself, “but any example would be better than nothing, just think of something.”

“Hmm… I’d have to say my roommate’s GQ!” I answered.

The interviewer just died on the spot. She was laughing so hard that she snorted and kept laughing until the end of the interview. Undoubtedly that I didn’t get the job. GQ was not a good answer…note to self.


Mao and Then: Escape 9 to 5, GQ
I can’t believe I actually took this picture! I guess I loved my morning routine so much I had to take a picture…


Luckily after countless of interviews, I landed a full-time internship with an utility company at their real estate department.


Living the dream

From a broke college student to a corporate 9 to 5 job, man I was living the dream. I enjoyed the people I worked with and I was learning new stuff semi-using things I learned in college. And the best part? I was getting paid! Which means I no longer had to survive on instant noodles and could afford to eat out and hit up all the cool bars.

Quickly I was hired on full-time where I would be commuting to the corporate headquarter in Charlotte, NC half of the time. Hello to racking up airline and hotel points for all-expense-paid-for trips! Not only did I get to try new restaurants every meal, I got to drive new rental cars and stayed at hotels downtown without spending any of my own dime.

To make the best of my business travels, I would take side trips to the Smoky Mountains and the beaches in the Carolinas all the time. Life was good. After all the 9 to 5 life was not that bad!


Mao and Then: Escape 9 to 5, Smoky Mountains
The beautiful Smoky Mountains

Here came the merger and time to go

Couple months in of my work travels, it started to get old. The glamour of spending on corporate dime was no longer new and cool.

What made the matter worse was the company was going through a big merger. You could feel the fears and insecurities in the air. Many people were laid off or had no idea if they were next on the line. Trust me, it wasn’t a fun place to be. I was very sympathetic to many of my coworkers who were this close to retirement and yet they would lose much of their pensions. This was the first time that I learned how businesses worked. The good old days of working for the same company for 30 years then retire happily ever after is very much non-existence anymore.

I wasn’t too concerned for myself. However, I wasn’t doing nor learning much anymore as business activities shut down due to the merger. I knew I had to make a change as I wasn’t progressing much in my career. So I started looking.


Phase II: Time to change a career

This time around, instead of just looking for “a job”, I gave my career path more thought. Again, I still didn’t have any specific jobs in mind, but I knew that I wanted a job that would pay me more while learning new skills.

Thankfully, having worked for over a year, my interviewing skills wasn’t as bad anymore. No more GQ!

I interviewed at many different companies and eventually landed a job in merchandising as an analyst. Since I enjoyed fashion and this is a job that combined my finance background, I thought it was a good fit. The funny part was that the company put me in the women’s intimates department after training. I was one of the only dudes on the team. Who knew I’d be learning so much about bras and panties?


Mao and Then: Escape 9 to 5, bras and panties
Who knew I’d be learning so much about bras and panties?


This job was a lot more fast-paced with a more defined career path. I completed the training, joined the team and did fairly well. However, after a year on the job, I got quite bored. The retail industry had been suffering with decreasing traffic to stores, and the super fast-paced nature of the business was starting to take a toll on me.

I started to doubt this career choice of mine, nor did I see myself climbing this corporate ladder.


Mao and Then: Escape 9 to 5, interview
Doing an interview at my job


During this time, I started learning about the stock market and was completely fascinated by it. In addition, I learned that finance was a career that you could potentially have exponential growth on your income versus working at a larger corporation. After all, wasn’t working all about making that money?

Without knowing much about the industry, I was fortunate enough to land a job at an investment company, which was “Wall Street” enough for me.


Phase III: Let’s try another job

After changing two jobs, I finally found a job that I like more (hint: this is my current job). I learned the ins and outs of how investment companies work and most importantly, how people make money. This company is a smaller company with only about 100 people, which is a breath of fresh air for me as I was used to large corporations. Since the company is smaller, I get to work directly with executives who all have done very well for themselves. I even met a billionaire for a meeting with my bosses.

I have been with this job for three years now, the longest I have ever worked at a company. My boss and all the coworkers treat me good. Even though the company hasn’t really taken off and job security is really not a thing, I am still holding on.

It may seem that I am living the dream again with a job I like and being treated good, so what’s the rush of leaving the 9 to 5?

Over the past several few years as I graduated college and worked at different jobs, I started to learn about myself a lot more. I always say that I am a person who doesn’t know exactly what I want. But I know I am getting closer every time by figuring out the stuff that I don’t want. By changing jobs and taking a leap of faith, I was able to make progress.

As I am discovering about myself more, I realize that the 9 to 5 is no longer for me, and let’s dive into the why in the next post.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *