Dr. Olivia Wang is a Senior Advancement Officer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the oldest technological institution in the US. She is a member of several Boards and is a published author on topics related to education, culture, diversity, and mindfulness. Dr. Wang holds a MS and a PhD in Psychology in Child Development from The University of Notre Dame. She earned her BA in English Language and Literature from Peking University.
How did you get started in your career?
During my PhD graduate studies, I was offered a position at MIT and around the same time, a position at Fidelity. Fidelity had the edge because the recruiter really understood me. The role was for a PC specialist and Fidelity used several assessments in their recruiting process. The recruiter said to me, “You aced every single one of them, and at your core, you really want to help people.” This was true. The recruiter said 80% of people’s problems have a financial root. She highlighted how the role would allow me to do that. “Do you want to help people? You can start Monday”. I accepted and was on my way. This role also allowed me to see many different paths where having a foundation in financial management could lead, and that also connected to my core interests and values.
Later, as Director of Estate Planning at Fidelity Investments, I was also able to help others in their charitable giving, enabling the lasting impact they wanted to have in the world.
I have always continued to leverage my educational foundation by staying involved in my communities through advocacy, research and leadership.
To what do you credit your success from your background, work, or life experiences?
I have an unusual career track – from education, to financial evaluation and planning, to fundraising for educational and charitable organizations, to writing and publishing. The connecting factor is human relationships and the focus has been on helping an individual or organization to achieve their objectives.
I credit my success to love for others, willingness to listen and understand, objectivity, and mindfulness.
Simply put, I love people and I always stay curious and want to learn about them. I thank all the wonderful people who have shown me a part of their world, through which I continue to learn and grow, and support one another to leave a positive impact on earth.
How do you balance work and life, and what’s behind your philosophy in that regard?
On Sept 11, 2001, I was an operations manager at a large financial firm in Boston, was 4-months pregnant and had just started to show. I was also the Floor Warden for emergency response for our quadrant of about 400 people. Our floors were equipped with TV screens throughout so that reps could monitor the stock market. That morning was one that millions of us will never be able to forget. As the screens showed the burning Twin Towers, the insuppressible howling and cries also came from our corners of the Boston World Trade Center floors. My job as a contingency officer/floor warden was to get everyone out safely, check all floors with other officers and then exit ourselves. Just as we were leaving, a remaining custodian collapsed in front of us. We immediately applied first aid procedures and got him onto the EMS Truck. We were told later that we saved his life that day.
As I was one of the last people to leave the building, I touched my belly. There, a life was growing. And I would become its most important protector. In that moment, my life’s priority changed. Family became number one for me.
In the busy life that ensued, I often asked myself to review my priorities during critical times – may it be an important deadline for a project at work, taking care of a client or family, or an important event or milestone for one of my children. These moments are moments of truth, and we are all entitled to feel however we may feel at that moment. I’ve learned to follow that truth and be at peace.
Through the years of my labor and toil, through the many defining moments of truth, I’ve also learned that I am the most important person. As a giver and contributor, we often neglect ourselves to serve others. But time and experiences, and especially these moments of truth, taught me that only when I am well, when I am most at peace with the universe, can I give my best, to work, to my family and to the world.
What’s a bit of advice you would you give someone regarding work or career?
I would say to embrace discomfort.
This is as much advice for others as a reminder to myself. When discomfort happens in work, career, or life, we are being pushed to the limit. We are on the edge of growth. Insecurity, doubt, and resistance happens naturally at this stage. It can be very frightening and frustrating.
But it is okay. It means we are on the brink of change. Once we accept whatever we are feeling, once we decide to embrace the discomfort, life opens up. We are able to view life as an adventure, the unknown as opportunities. A lot will show up for us then that we may not see otherwise.
We are then empowered to paint the colors of our own choices.