3 Career Lessons You Missed Out On From the US Elections

By Ruo Mei Chua   •   9 min read

If you are anything like me, you probably woke up hoping this week would be better. And the odds are in your favour – because, admit it, whoever you were rooting for explicitly or implicitly, last week was one heck of a week for most of us.

You see, I went to college in the US at a glorious time when Obama — a relatively young upstart from Illinois — campaigned and won beautifully in 2008, making him the first (half) African-American to do so. His campaign slogan? “Yes We Can”, and yes he did.

When he won against all odds, I knew it even before the official announcement was made on CNN. I still remember walking down the pavement to my friend’s dormitory when shouts of joy punctuated the midnight sky; schoolmates literally took off their shirts, screaming “he won, he won!” while running up and down the streets to proclaim the news. African drums came up and the campus Main Green was instantly transformed into a jubilant street party. We didn’t sleep till past 3am that night – so full were our hearts of hope, of expectation, and of change.

And change it did, just not the way we expected it.

Fast forward to 8 years and two election seasons later, and I’m back home in my native Singapore, watching the voter results stream in with bated breath. I must confess, I hadn’t planned on watching this time round, so disappointed was I with the low-brow media circus it had become. But when November 9th rolled around, I found myself seated before the TV, glued to the screen from 8.30am (GMT+8) to 4.30pm.

I wasn’t prepared for the roil of emotions I would experience. It started with curiosity, which quickly developed into bemusement, then growing trepidation and finally full shock and horror. By the end of it, and for the rest of the week, I would find myself rapid-cycling through Kubler-Ross’ now-famous Five Stages of Grief.

I was heartbroken not because I had a favourite candidate in mind but because this was not the America I knew. In all my 4 years in the U.S., not once did I encounter a racist slur, much less a full-blown attack or anyone yelling at me to “go back where I came from”. Not once. The closest I got to it was when a pair of African-American boys called me “shawty” which I misheard as “shortie” and was fuming until I realised “shawty” meant cute petite girl in American urban-speak. That, laughably, was my closest encounter to ‘racism’. Today, alas, the situation is not quite as laughable.

To set the record straight, I was never “with her” but I was definitely not “with him” — never mind that he is a serial womaniser with no policy substance; his flagrant disregard for human decency, and open incitation of hate, violence and division should be enough to repel most off his vote.

But it wasn’t. And I don’t blame them. Because if our logical premise is that half of America surely can’t all be Nazi-leaning, horn-sprouting, misogynistic ignoramuses, then perhaps it is time to relook our tilted prisms of the world. To really listen to the ‘other’, who has as much a say and a part in shaping our past, present, and future as any of our liberal-leaning friends.

So long prelude aside (thanks for bearing with me), here are 3 observations I concluded from watching the election season unfold, and the aftermath which is still unfolding as we speak.

Here’s what they might mean for you, young adults contemplating your careers, and this rollercoaster-ride of a world:

1. The Sky is Falling. NOT.

Okay, maybe the world is ending as you knew it. But that might not be such a bad thing after all, if it means prying us out of our sheltered cocoons and recognising the world for what it truly is – outside of our Facebook echo chambers and cosy brunch circles.

Career/Life Lesson #1 Don’t be Chicken Little. You are more resilient than you think.

No matter how bad we think it is, and how unbearable, we almost always rebound. Check out how the stock markets reacted. Markets worldwide crashed even before half of the states were called, and then (most) steadily recovered the next day; in fact the Dow Jones Industrial Average, having plunged more than 800pts at one point, closed 1.4pc ahead by the end of the day.

Moral of the story: The world – and you – is more resilient than you think. And yes, knee-jerk reactions are almost always bad. So when you receive a disappointing grade on your paper, or fail to get that coveted job you had always wanted, take time to lick your wounds. But know that things almost aren’t as bad as they seem; in fact, they may even be a blessing in retrospect.

2. The Experts Know Best. Well, Maybe Not Always.

Like me, you may have disagreed with Trump and his crude tactics, but we have to agree on one thing: Trump and his team got it right. And they stuck to their guns.

Waltzing into Election Day, the world of mainstream media, data wonks and expert pollsters all but predicted a sure win for Hillary. Nate Silver’s supposedly objective FiveThirtyEight website put Hillary’s chances of winning at 71.4%, and Newsweek reportedly had to rush to recall 125,000 copies of the presumptively printed ‘Madam President’ special issue.

Despite the cacophony of naysayers and the entire world, it seems, rallying against them, Trump’s team – whether out of ignorance, guts or self-assurance, we’ll never know – stood their ground and went for it anyway.

Career/Life Lesson #2 Decide if the majority should speak for you.

We live in unpredictable times. Save for a few hallowed professions, the iron rice bowl and the proverbial career ten-year-series (past-year papers Singaporeans furiously study to predict upcoming exam questions, and hopefully attain good grades) are gone for good.

At a time when friends and seniors around you may seem to all be gunning for big corporates, hedge funds, equity firms or that cool-sounding startup role – you need to decide if the majority is always right. And if you belong to the majority. If you’re drinking that startup cuppa’ coffee only because everyone else seems to be drinking that, and it’s the ‘in’ thing now, then you have only yourself to blame when the acrid taste comes back to bite you, or cause a stomach upset. Perhaps it’s not coffee you need after all (not that type or brand of coffee, at least) – maybe it’s coke, or tea, or even just good ol’ plain water.

My point is, there is no better and more pressing time than now to get your own priorities straight, and your inner compass pointing true north. Ultimately, the world and your assumptions may fail you – or they may be right for a season. But just as seasons change, and tides ebb, so the world and its trends shift. What will help you stay sane and on-course through it all is your moral compass — what you value, what you stand and fight for, and why you wake up each day to fight after all. If you can answer these questions, and paint for me the impact you would like to have made by the time you stand before your Maker, then, my friend, you have the bigger questions of life answered indeed.

No experts needed. But yourself.

3. Adult-Up & Take Ownership

Whining, fussing and being angsty (online or on the streets) never did help anyone, unless you’re a 3-year-old toddler with weak-kneed parents.

I know this may offend many of my friends, but I have to say it. Spewing hate and angst after the fact does not help matters. Nor does chanting #NotMyPresident and destroying public property.

I would like to quote my brother, who once famously said, “Shit happens, and when it does, you flush it down the toilet bowl.” Not complain about the stink, theorise about why this is happening to you, or wring your hands in despair – even if you weren’t the one who caused the blockage in the first place.

After the event, reactions were loud and immediate on my news feed. Some used humour to paper over their loss, joking it was time to pack their bags and head for Canada; others responded with disbelieving anger and vowed not to take it lying down. Yet others immediately began crying foul and blaming Hillary’s loss on her being a woman. Hillary herself later blamed FBI Director’s James Comey’ revived enquiry into her emails for her election upset.

Eventually, as the dust settled, some friends who were die-hard Hillary supporters emerged bruised and battle-weary, but steely in their resolve to stay, reach out and help those who had been marginalised for too long. Those were the true adults, the real winners in this situation. The ones who looked not for what was wrong, but for what they could do to make right again.

Career/Life Lesson #3 Disruption and change are here to stay. What will you do about it?

Millennials tend to get more than our fair share of media flak. We are seen as the entitled ‘strawberry generation’ who have it easy and broadcast our dissatisfaction at the slightest upset to our plans. But Millennials, or Gen Y, are also on track to becoming the first generation to earn less than their parents did, despite being better educated.

It is easy to bemoan the state of affairs. To blame the government, the economy, and even your fate for being born in these unfortunate times. Again, you are in the driver’s seat- you get to choose. Will you sit there, honking and cussing at the world out there, or will you strap yourself in, clear the windscreen and start searching for alternative routes — trusting that even if the satellite GPS knows not the unchartered territory before you, your internal GPS — the moral compass we spoke of before — will take you through even murky waters.

The Chinese always said, “In danger, there is opportunity (危機) .”

Will you ask, what’s wrong? Or will you instead ask, what can I do to make things right? The choice is yours. Yes You Can.


Postscript: In the end, it’s relationships that matter. So to end off this rather heavy post, enjoy this short clip celebrating the bromance of Obama and Biden.

Ruo Mei Chua

TalentTribe Writer

Ruo Mei is the Founder and Chief Impact Officer of Smiling Up The World (SUTW) Impact Consulting. Through consultative dialogue and training, SUTW hopes to help young adults and corporations alike reframe the stories they tell for greater impact and significance.