Olivia. Early Life Experiences and Career Milestones and Roadblocks

posted October 7th, 2009 by Janet Graham - Leave a Comment

Early Life Experiences


I asked Olivia to tell me about the experiences in her early life which she believes had the greatest impact on her work life and career. She said when she was growing up she had a job from the time she was 13, working in a grocery store.  Her mum worked part time outside the house which Olivia says was unusual at the time. Olivia says she was always pretty independent, hated baby sitting and needed her own money. She says her mum had a job at the IGA part time and so she took a job there too. 


Olivia says growing up her family lived in the west end of Toronto and they were a typical middle class family.  She says her parents were from the prairies and had a strong Puritan work ethic.  Her mum was the hardest worker. She remarked again that when she was growing up her mum had a job out of the home and how unusual it was at the time. Olivia thinks that’s where her own strong work ethic came from, her parents.  She says today her mum is 80 and runs the church food bank. She says: “She doesn’t stop.  She’s a worker bee which I think she instilled in me from an early age. I worked when I started at the grocery store on Thursday nights and Saturdays and then every summer from the time I was 13 all the way through high school.  I always had my own money and was very independent. I liked the independence that money gave me. I never really wanted to be dependent on other people.  I really did see work as a way to being my own person and I was never very traditional in terms of the girls’ thing at school. I disliked high school.  I really felt like a bit of a fish out of water there and so it wasn’t that I loved working but I did love the financial independence that it gave me”. 


She says these were some of the formative things she remembers. She did well at school.  She says:” My mum always laughs because my sister was a very good student and did very well at school. My marks were always good but mum said you never worried about anything and you never seemed to work very hard.” She says she just wanted out of high school.  She remembers switching schools because by the time she got to grade 12 she just wanted high school to be over with. She went to summer school at the end of grade 12, and switched boroughs which she says was challenging and went to a school that had a semester system for grade 13 so she could finish in half a year and work so she would have more money when she was at university. She can remember at that time wanting to have financial independence.


I asked Olivia whether she enjoyed university and she said she loved it. I asked her what made university different from high school. She said she met people like herself and all of a sudden she grew up. She says she didn’t go to a very good high school and she didn’t really get involved in any extracurricular activities, however, at university she started playing sports and getting involved. She says she was a bit of a reprobate in high school. She tells people she got everything out of her system in high school, all the crazy nonsense, so by the time she got to university she was done with all that. She began to participate in athletics, playing squash and running and she met a group of people that she identified with.  For Olivia, university was like a whole new world.


Career Milestones and Roadblocks


I asked Olivia about the milestones and roadblocks which stand out in her career when she looks back and what she learned from them. She says she went to the University of Western Ontario and ended up in Business School… sort of by accident.  She went to university planning to study art and english. Actually, she says, “I wanted to be a painter.  I wanted to go to art school and my dad encouraged me go to university.  I went to Western and ended up in Business School as a result of other friends going. So I graduated from Ivy. I did love finance but when I graduated there was a recession and there were no finance jobs for undergrads because the undergrad program didn’t carry the sway that it has now.  You had to have an MBA to get any of the interesting finance jobs.  There were only jobs in accounting”. 


She says she thinks one of the milestones in her career was graduating in a recession, having to take a CA job because her dad said it would be safe and secure. There were no other jobs and she said: “Okay, I hate accounting dad, I can’t even balance my cheque book, but okay, and so I went and joined a CA firm. I had to take a tax course over the summer at U of T.   I started my job in September and by the end of the month I knew it was a disaster but it took me a month to get up the nerve to tell my dad that I hated it because I’d borrowed some money from him to buy my first car. In November, I finally went to him and I said, dad, you know I’d rather be a bartender than do this.  I just can’t do this job”.  She says this was a man who had worked for the same company for 35 years of his life and his daughter had just graduated and quit her first job three months after completing university and he was great.  He said: “Listen, if you hate it that much, don’t do it.” 


Olivia says that was a milestone, having the courage to leave something that she didn’t like.  She says as she looks back it didn’t seem courageous at the time, it was just her way to say “I’m not doing this” and off she went.  She says there have been a few of those milestones over her career, when something wasn’t right and she knew it. She says she is not a quitter but if something was a really bad fit she wasn’t afraid to leave it and move on.  She did it when she left the CA firm and she did it at a securities firm later on in her career and she says: “it’s clear who I am”.


She was at this firm in the mid-80s that didn’t work for her. She says it was a real male bastion and she disliked it for a bunch of cultural reasons, so she just quit. That was it.  They asked her what she was going to do and she said she had no idea but she was not working there any more.


Olivia ended up going to another securities firm and working there. She went through the market crash with them by which time, she had moved to Vancouver. As a result of the crash, they fired almost everyone at the firm but they wouldn’t fire Olivia, so she sued them for constructive dismissal. She says: “I just wanted a package like everyone else and they wouldn’t fire me”. 


Olivia wondered whether the stories she was telling me represented milestones; she says they were just things she went through but she felt she always dealt with things on her own terms and they always ended up being better after she did. She says they were always something you could take on, if you weren’t afraid. She says: “I think if you’re not afraid of the consequences or putting yourself out there, good things happen.  I’d hate to think I had lived in fear or to ensure my security”. In her mind, the circumstances and how she handled them created the milestones in her career. 


I asked Olivia about the roadblocks she had experienced and what she had learned from them and she said she can’t think of many roadblocks.  When things weren’t right for her… she just moved or went around them, so she couldn’t think of any real roadblocks.  Obviously, courage provides a different perspective!!!


What Strikes Me?


How early in our lives our personality and character are in evidence, in this case a strong work ethic and drive for financial independence and independence in general


The circumstances which makes us blossom and those that hold us back and our awareness of them at the time


The impact of happenstance


How parents influence our choices, our careers and our lives, directly and indirectly and sometimes surprise us


The significance of having the courage to leave something which doesn’t work or doesn’t fit or doesn’t feel right and the impact of staying in the same circumstances



What Strikes You?



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