TIMSHEL — Or your life is your choice
Author: Huyen Trang, Investment Analyst, Mekong Capital
Dec 8, 2020
There is a project I would like to assign to you if you choose it.
Would you like to take this on?”
I suddenly received an email from Chris, our founder, and partner. I didn’t take much time to accept his invitation and set up a meeting with him to discuss in detail. This was the second meeting between me, the new joiner, and who-occurs-to-me as the most senior person at Mekong Capital.
– “Hello, Chris!” — I tenderly greeted Chris.
– “Hi! So what is the intention of this meeting? And of the assignment?” — Chris asked me right away.
“I got it! This is within my expectation about what he’s going to ask.” — the little voice screamed out inside my head. I robotically repeated Chris’s words about the intention of the assignment by recalling his email. From day one, I was told time after time that everything at Mekong Capital started with the intention and organized around the company’s vision, so I had prepared for this question before the meeting.
– “Okay, is there anything else you are not clear about?” — Chris asked.
Despite having a choice to get clear on the intention and on what the deliverable would look like, I chose to play it safe by replying to Chris:
– “No, I am all clear.”
Walking out of the meeting, I had meetings with Deal Leaders as a part of the assignment. Surprisingly, they all came up with the same question when they met with me: “What’s the intention of the task?” “What was I supposed to help you with?”. I thought for a moment and realized that I couldn’t answer those questions. I could mouth the words from Chris’ original email, but I hadn’t bothered to know what my intention really was.
On one meeting, while I kept starting with “Chris said that…”, the Deal Leader interrupted me:
– “Forget about Chris, what do you think?”
I don’t remember how I managed to answer him, but an uncomfortable feeling had risen inside me.
On another meeting, it took me almost 5 minutes to explain to him what I needed for the assignment. After patiently listening to me, this Deal Leader told me:
– “Trang, it occurs to me that you are unclear about what the outcome looks like, also the intention of the task. I can give you several inputs based on different intentions. However, I would invite you to declare a breakdown and pause what you are doing until you’re clear.”
It was like a bolt of lightning that woke me up when I was half-asleep. I had been too afraid I would say something wrong. I was avoiding being perceived as not smart enough. I took on this project without pausing a moment to ask myself why I would be doing this or how relevant this assignment was to the company or to me.
What a pitfall to jump into!
That evening I emailed to declare a breakdown to Chris. Inside my head, it was totally blank space.
It had been almost three weeks since the day I joined Mekong. I just came to the office every day for training sessions about core values and self-discovery, and here came the first assignment. I was so eager that I finally received a task to get myself out of a space doubting whether I contributed anything here for the organization. But it turned out that I neither owned the intention nor was clear on how the assignment’s outcome would look. How did it happen to me? I was just sitting here and had no clue what to do next.
Minh Giang, Former Partner of Talent and Culture, came across my desk and caught my confusion. She immediately asked:
– “What had been in the way for you to be more actively pulling for the intention of the task?
Wow. I realized that I was holding onto being a very junior employee and a small folk who newly joined the company. I wholeheartedly shared with her:
– “Well, I thought Chris was so hard to understand. Plus, he is always busy. If I asked him too-detailed questions, it would just make me look bad! It’s unnecessary. I can come to my new colleagues to ask later. It’s more comfortable that way than to ask Chris for clarification. It was the story in my head about Chris and I had decided without any hesitance that I could get by with a different way to complete the task.”
Minh Giang patiently listened to me. And then she probed another question:
– “What can you do differently?”
– “Yeah, I need to think about it. I don’t know yet” , I was still not sure about how to move on.
I kept thinking for a while. Looking down, my eyes caught the tattoo “Timshel” on my left wrist, meaning “your life is your choice.” It was my core value, and I remembered how I had been so impressed when from day one when I saw GENESIS as one of Mekong Capital’s core values:
“You are the source of what you choose, what actions you take, what impact you have, and how the world materializes around you. Being the cause in the matter than the effect”.
Like a light-switch flipping on, a new space of opportunity opened up for me. Yes, it was my CHOICE to either be a victim or a creator of my life. I told myself:
– “I chose to let go of my view as being small and avoid looking bad. I chose to let go of my view of ‘There’s something wrong with me’”.
Just as I finished, I felt like there was a field of light and flowers all around me — no more constraint.
I resumed the assignment in a new space. I saw myself asking Chris questions until I was clear and recreating his words from my listening to assure that I knew what I was doing. I became more confident than I could not possibly think of before.
Imagine if I choose to keep being junior and feeling afraid and if I continue to run a made-up story inside my head about Chris, how can I live up to my commitment to deliver the result and be a part of Mekong Capital?
Being the cause in the matter, or being a victim of how things happen, it’s GENESIS, or “Timshel” — “your life is your choice.”
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Mekong Capital makes investments in consumer-driven businesses and adds substantial value to those companies based on its proven framework called Vision Driven Investing. Our investee companies are typically among the fastest-growing companies in Vietnam’s consumer sectors.
In January 2022, Mekong Capital founder Chris Freund published Crab Hotpot, a story about a bunch of crabs who found themselves stuck in a boiling pot. The colorful cover of “Crab Hot Pot,” complete with expressive cartoon crustaceans, looks like a children’s tale at first glance. But as one continues reading, it becomes clear that the work has an important message about organizational transformation, leadership and focusing on a clear vision for the future.