I recently turned down an offer, and while I know how I feel about it, I’m unsure how to think about it in terms of its impact on my future.
I decided to engage in the interviewing process because a close friend of mine, who had recently left Apple to join this company, recruited me. I love this person and was very excited about the idea of working alongside him. The mission of the company was also intriguing. I am a sucker when it comes to audaciously sounding missions, so when I learned that the company was trying to transform the stagnant telco industry, I was excited.
However, just moments before I was about to meet the CEO for the second time in less than a week, my friend texted me to tell me that he had resigned. At that moment, I was unsure whether I should continue with the interview or not. I thought it would be rational to proceed and get to know the CEO and her team better before making a decision about whether this was the right company for me.
Looking back, I realize I should have stopped right there. My main interest in the job was my friend, and I had minimal enthusiasm for the telco sector. While I respected the company, the thought of the amount of time I would need to invest overwhelmed me. Nevertheless, I continued with the interview, hoping that some aspect of the role would resonate with me. I thought that perhaps receiving a concrete offer would make the opportunity more enticing.
They did present me with an offer, and it was quite generous. However, I felt more trapped than ever. Many people around me believed I should accept it. Some thought that my current entrepreneurial path was not beneficial for my well-being and suggested that the structure of a traditional job could be helpful. They argued that I could always quit if I became unsatisfied.
In the end, it was my Mom and my wife who helped me think through the situation. My Mom has been sick for a while, and I have been spending more time with her, going on short walks and shopping together. During one of our walks, she shared her thoughts on the offer. She said that if I were doing it solely for the money, she would match the offer so that I wouldn’t feel compelled to accept the job just for financial reasons. She advised me that if the job truly excited me, I should go for it. She also emphasized that my current lifestyle was precious because it allowed me to spend time with my kids, my wife, and her.
Later that night, my wife came to talk to me. In her own way, she encouraged me to think it through. At first, she suggested that I should just accept the offer and move forward. But then, almost instantly, she changed her stance and said I should just reject it. My wife is a very logical person and excels at analyzing different scenarios. In her mind, nothing is too good or too bad. Her motto is to “just move forward,” even though she would never say it out loud. To her, actions always prevail, and overthinking is pointless. This made me reflect on how I had made previous career decisions.
Almost all of my career decisions were made quickly because job offers were rare for me. I faced more rejections than actual job offers. Throughout my career, I felt like I had to say yes to any offer I could secure. When I was in my senior year of college, I was the last among my classmates to receive an offer. Most people had offers by November, and everyone had a job by the New Year. I didn’t receive my first and only offer until April of the following year, just two months before graduation.
This trend continued throughout my career. I applied to Nike three times before they finally offered me a six-month contract position. Apple turned me down twice before extending an offer. So whenever I was looking for a job, I felt compelled to say yes to any offer I could get. As a result, I ended up in many jobs that I wasn’t good at. My first job was in consulting, and while it was prestigious, I didn’t love it. However, I believed that I couldn’t say no to such an opportunity. I performed well initially, but I was never highly motivated. Eventually, I was laid off during the dot-com bubble. I felt that even though I was a victim of the deteriorating economy, I hadn’t worked hard enough to make myself indispensable.
The same pattern persisted in my subsequent jobs. It took me six months to find a job after being laid off. I accepted the first offer that came my way, even though I didn’t like the company or the people there. That company eventually went bankrupt within nine months. Then, I accepted a consulting job in Beijing because it was the only opportunity available at the time. I enjoyed my time living in Beijing, but I was coasting in my job. I was also assigned strange tasks, such as helping the son of one of our clients get into a school in the UK or taking the parents of one of our customers on a leisure trip to Cairo and Istanbul. I didn’t feel fulfilled or challenged in that role. Those tasks were clearly problematic but they were considered “client relationship management.” I knew these were wrong but I had to do it, because that’s part of my job. Eventually, I quitted and came back to Hong Kong unemployed.
Then came Nike and Apple. It was similar in the sense that those were the only offers I was able to secure at that time. However, I did really well in these two companies. I think the biggest difference was because those were two brands I absolutely loved. I was so excited I was willing to do anything to stay in those companies. I worked hard, was willing to try things, felt eager to learn and grow, because I loved those two brands. For the first time in my career, I’ve found something worth working for, and I was happy, energized, and ultimately successful.
So as I was sharing this with my wife, I realized I have forgotten the most important lesson I have learned about myself from my career – I should only take roles that I am excited about. I am not the kind of person who can just “have a job.” I tend to do much better for brands I love. And when I looked at the offer, I couldn’t feel any excitement. Specifically, the single biggest source of excitement for this job, from the get go, was the opportunity to work alongside my friend to tackle difficult and interesting problems. But now that he has resigned, there really wasn’t anything left. So while I could still afford to not have a job, I should not put myself in a situation where I will likely not succeed. I turned the offer down.
It’s been a week since I turned them down. I am back on this strange and uncertain path of being a solopreneur. I am disoriented and lost and free and curious. Sometimes I don’t know if this is good for me, but at the same time, I know this is better than feeling stuck in a job I don’t love. I know this is better than having to try to constantly rationalise how I am sacrificing my time and freedom for something I don’t feel excited about.