Work vs. Life Experience

By Peter Nguyen, CHRP candidate

We have all met people who have travelled the entire world. I remember saying, “I want to be just like them”.

There came a time when I decided that repeating that statement to myself was no longer an option. I went out, accomplished my dream and spent the majority of my 20s traveling overseas, exploring and having fun.

I have many great memories that range from climbing the Great Wall of China to standing under the Sistine Chapel in complete awe of Michelangelo’s work. I had no responsibilities to worry about. I was busy having fun and living the life about which most young people dream.

When my travels came to a close, coming back to reality was another story. There was work to be done—and many of those in my age group had been at it for some time. I decided it was time to finish my degree in human resources management and start my career in the HR profession.  It has not been without challenges.

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Now in my 30s, I often feel I am playing catch-up with my career.  Being on the cusp of GenY, I can sympathize and relate with their struggle to get that much-needed ‘big break’ after graduation.  It took me a full 13 months to secure my first entry-level HR role, but I have learned some invaluable lessons in the process—especially in weighing the value of work and life experience respectively.

In many ways I have been fortunate. A supportive team and work that is challenging and meaningful has given me a great start on the work experience side of things.  It has also opened my eyes as much as my travels.  Since beginning my career-driven journey, I have discovered that many of my ‘senior’ colleagues were actually peers or even younger than me in age.

This realization made me think about where I might be in my career if I simply had finished university and gone straight into the workforce afterwards. After all, the economy was far more an employee’s market 10 years ago and I could have had a decade of work experience.  Without my ‘time off’ for traveling the globe, I could have been a senior HR professional myself, possibly even be a manager.  I started to think that I had made some bad decisions in my 20s.

Then I talked to my co-workers to see what their views were on life vs. work experience.  To say it sparked lively discussion is an understatement. What I discovered is that most often, we crave the path unchosen—regardless of the path we pick.

I discovered that the majority of my coworkers started straight after university/college and were mostly successful in their careers. Conversely, they also felt like they missed out on their 20s and should have spent it seeing the world as I did. Out of it all, we had a good laugh, but were left with a lingering thought of “what if” in the back of our minds after leaving the discussion table.

In opening up that conversation with my colleagues, I was left with a new perspective on my own situation.  Perhaps I did not make the wrong choices in my youth after all.

However, what I do know is that traveling the world does not pay the bills. If anything, it left a hole in my wallet. So what is more important to you—work experience or life experience?

Peter Nguyen is a HR Coordinator at BC Hydro, where he works on multiple projects related to graduate programs. He received his BBA in HR Management from Kwantlen Polytechnic University and is currently a CHRP Candidate. Peter spent the majority of his 20s travelling the world. New to the HR profession, he is always looking for new challenges to expand his portfolio. When not at work, Peter has a passion for physical fitness and baked goods.

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Comments (5)

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  1. Melissa says:

    Great topic Peter.

    Although I have been successful in my HR Career I still believe that living and experiencing life is so important!

    When you are leaving this world would you rather have had one more day at work or wish that you had spent more time seeing the world and your loved ones. I believe the latter would apply for most no matter how successful you are.

  2. Mel says:

    Having read this article by not only from a colleague and friend, I can truly say this rings true with me too. I spent much of early to mid-20’s traveling and now finding I’m playing catch up in working towards a career.

    The difference however though for me personally, is I’m not sure where I ‘fit in’ in terms of my career path so am testing things out. It’s for this reason, I don’t regret deciding to travel as this has given me more life experience than any job would have provided me.

  3. Having worked with you and seeing first-hand what you bring to a job, I sincerely doubt any wrong choices were made in your 20s.

    The path you chose back then helped guide you to who you are now, and that person is accomplished and well respected.

    You’ve now got me thinking about work vs life experience. We’ll have to get together and discuss…you bring the baked goods!

  4. Duncan says:

    Great article, Peter! As a colleague working in the same organization, I can certainly see Peter’s hard work and attitude as a clear reflection on his drive to success. Despite “catching up”, his maturity and focus shines through his work.

  5. Amber says:

    Peter, This is such a great article! Everyone chooses a path in life, and there will always be a time that we wonder “what if?!” You can always work your way up in the professional world, but you can never go back at get that life experience! Embrace what you’ve done & keep being the hard worker that you are! Thanks for Sharing! 🙂

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