One of the most important decisions of my life

Author: Weiting Bollu | September 2022

"The most important career choice you'll make is who you marry." -- Sheryl Sandberg

It was repeated again in Deborah (Deb) Liu's book: Take Back Your Power.

I've reflected on this more than once in the past but today, I am writing it down on paper, digitally.

I met Vishal when I was 16. We were both in 10th grade of high school. We started dating a year later, when I was 17. He's a few months younger than me. At 25, Vishal and I got married. We spent 9 years in the dating space before we actually signed the official papers of 'marriage'.

To some, they probably think this is insane as some marriages occur within a year. To me, it felt like I was really getting to know my best friend because we grew together over the many years. We wanted to make sure we were 110% ready.

When we first started dating, we were young teenagers. As teenagers, we all believe we are super intelligent and make the best decisions ever. I made mistakes but picking my life partner was not one of them. I didn't know how important it was back then but I know now.

Over the next decade, we grew together. I got to witness milestones in Vishal's life as he got to experience mine.

Rewind back many years ago: I watched as Vishal step on stage again and again (like 7 times) to collect all of the academic awards during our high school graduation. I couldn't compare in academics but I took home a slew of my own community engagement awards. Together, we took home half of the awards given that night.

I watched as Vishal entered the University of Waterloo for Software Engineering and I entered York University for the Schulich School of Business's International Business program. I was lost in my first 3 years of university because I did not know what I can do post graduation. I never fit in with the accounting or finance kids. They showed up in suits and went to recruiter networking sessions. It seemed like they all knew exactly what they wanted to do and I was still trying to figure it out. I leaned more towards community, charity, entrepreneurship, and technology.

Vishal had 6 co-op work terms by the time he graduated. During his work terms, he would share many stories of what happened at work, how much he got paid, and what he was learning. I saw him travel to the US to work for large companies. Each time he went, I visited too. I had arms length taste of what it felt like. I couldn't fathom how much Google was paying him at the time to move him to Seattle.

I couldn't believe the world of tech!!!

It was Vishal who opened my eyes to the field of technology and its possibilities. In 4th year of university, Vishal was in a course that required the students to build a software product. They were wondering what to do.

I heard about the course and of course, I had to jumped in. I had an idea (or problem to solve) and I pitched it to his team. It was OKAY'ED by the professor and we started working on it.

Over the course of the next year, we launched the mobile app to students in our high school. Had I known what I know today, we would have done things very differently to get better traction. Needless to say, we didn't continue with the project after the school year ended.

Funny enough, I didn't know what I was doing at the time was 'product management'. I learned about working with engineers, learned some code, built pieces of the front-end, designed mockups in Powerpoint, graphic-designed posters for marketing purposes, trained student ambassadors, and wrote business plans.

The experience here was what led me to secure my first product management role at Bell Canada (one of three largest telecomm providers in Canada) working on the digital consumer self-serve mobile application that touched millions of users. At the time, no other new graduate wanted to touch mobile apps or be a product manager. I was the only one who was interested in "product management". The other grads were interested in analyst or marketing roles offered at Bell Canada.

When I spent a couple of years at Bell, I took a step back to reflect on all of the things I experienced. I took on an analyst role calculating compensation for Bell franchisees, I travelled to the Caribbean to lead renovations projects, and I have built great relationships with every colleague. Vishal was there every step of the way when I evaluated what role to take on at Bell.

One day, we landed on the topic of corporate world not being what I want for the long term. That I should probably explore the startup world if I want to get deeper into tech. It was Vishal who pushed me to seek other opportunities that would challenge me further. "Do it!"

And so I did. I went to a super small startup of 10-people. I took a pay cut to do product management. Vishal reminded me that a pay cut doesn't define me. That this was a stepping stone to what's greater to come. Being at this startup also made me feel like I didn't have the technical capabilities needed to be a great product manager. It was Vishal who kept reinforcing in me that product managers don't need to know how to code. Some of the best product managers don't know how to code but that they know how to rally a team behind their vision.

Then, I moved to another firm to start managing a small team of product designers and product managers at a relatively young age compared to peers. Within a year, I got laid off due to the company's financial reassessment. I remember the feeling of disappointment I felt in myself. Vishal gave me a big hug while I ugly cried. During my cry, he couldn't help but laugh because he saw this as a small blip in my journey and it wasn't going to define me or stop what's to come.

We decided to travel South America and Europe for 5-months after that instead of me jumping back into the workplace right away. Vishal was working remotely during this time so it didn't impact his work at all. Meanwhile, I continued my coding journey during this travel time. During this time, I also thought about starting my own company. The thing was, I didn't have a problem I was passionate to solve yet so I didn't want to start my own company arbitrarily.

When I felt I was mentally and emotionally ready to get back in the workplace, I started interviewing. Vishal had a great friend who was working at Assurance. They referred me to the recruiting team. I landed the job.

When I landed the job, I couldn't believe it. It was for a US company and they'd paid so much more for talent than product management firms in Canada. Vishal assured me that I was worth it. Over the few years at Assurance, I grew rather quickly from Product Manager --> Senior Product Manager --> Lead Product Manager. With that, also came with salary increases and increased responsibilities. From "I can't believe I've been hired" to "Damn, I'm good and I am kicking butt every single day", I have learned to take back my power and build confidence in myself again.

He is without a doubt, my biggest and loudest cheerleader.

Now, that's only from a career perspective. From a personal perspective, we've learned to work together as a team to overcome obstacles. Like the death of loved ones, people questioning our interracial relationship, or losing friendships from our younger days. We know that mental health is of utmost importance so ensuring we are mentally well is top of mind - so we always make sure each other is OK when these obstacles arise.

Vishal and I try to take time to make intentional decisions about our shared responsibilities. Big decisions like planning a wedding in 1.5 months, starting a family, and where to invest money are decisions made together. Smaller decisions like cooking, mowing the lawn, watering the grass, taking out the garbage, doing laundry, paying the bills, shopping for groceries, shopping for household items, cleaning, taking baby Kian out on walks, bathing baby Kian, all have its own specific swim lane of ownership. Occasionally, we do some of these together. To share the mental load frees time up for me to think about important things in life or at work. That way, I don't need to do a 'second shift' (i.e. work after work) as many women in the world have to do.

We have shared goals like travelling to 30 countries before reach a certain age, being CEOs/Founders of our own companies one day, reaching financial independence way before 60, and bringing 2 little ones into this world. We celebrate the smallest wins to appreciate one another.

For example: a great stock purchase, a non-paying tenant's eviction, a big product launch at work, a direct report getting promoted, a partnership passion project launch, or the completion of a great book. These tiny moments accumulate to something bigger that can't be explained in writing - it's like curating culture at the workplace but in a marriage relationship.

Of course, this doesn't mean that there aren't moments where I feel frustrated. In fact, I end up venting to, or taking it out at, Vishal. What's great about Vishal is that he is extremely logical and calm, so he will talk me through what's making me angry.

We aren't perfect at this "adulting" thing but we are definitely getting better. Picking our life partner is something I never thought about back when I was 16 years old. I just knew Vishal had good grades, better than me, and I wanted to know who he was. As I see all the great women around me succeed in their endeavours, the backing of a partner is a big contributor to their success.

The confidence in myself that I have built over the years is in large part because I have a partner who understands what I want in my life and supports what I want. In return, I do my part in being a great partner by supporting Vishal.

I had a solid foundation because I always believed in myself - I mean, sometimes wavering in my path but never losing direction completely. Meeting Vishal and growing together helped me build that foundation even more.

I do believe it is one of the best decisions I've made in my life to date. We've got many years left to go in this world and there's so much in this world left to explore.

How about you? Let me know your thoughts!