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The Long & Short of Life: What I’ve learned in 20 Years at Capital One
By Oz Parvaiz
Oz is an executive at Capital One who has served in product, process and marketing roles across the company. He recently accepted a role to lead Capital One Card’s international operations, and is eager to take the lessons of the last 20 years into his new role, in which he’ll manage more than 4000 Capital One associates.
On June 28, 2019, I celebrated my 20th year anniversary at Capital One. Since June, I’ve been reflecting on the many lessons I’ve learned here at Capital One and throughout my life, both professionally and personally. I recently wrote these lessons down, hoping that it might help someone walking into their first job. Some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years were easier than others and hopefully by sharing the hard ones, you’ll be able to benefit from some of the lessons I learned.
The importance of owning your story
My wife, Adela and I were married in 2003. For our honeymoon we went on a cruise, where we met people from all over the U.S. During conversations with complete strangers, I found that Adela shared our life stories openly—even our fears and our struggles.
As the days and nights went on, these strangers became friends.
A few days into our honeymoon, I asked Adela: “So, we do this? We tell people everything about ourselves?” to which she answered, “Yes.” And then she said something profound for a 26-year-old: “These are our stories. If we don’t own our stories then who will?”
Today, I tell people that I’m happy at work, and it’s mainly because I own and share my stories openly, which has helped me learn about myself and build deep, authentic, life-long friendships.
One of the stories I share often is about meeting and falling in love with a woman who encouraged me to own my story.
Nice guys don’t finish last!
During the first few years of my career, I was often told that I was “too nice” and “wouldn’t succeed” because nice people can’t make “tough decisions, set bold goals, lead people, etc.”
There’s also a lot of cultural baggage that comes with calling a man “too nice.” We even have a phrase in the English language: “Nice guys finish last.”
For a short time early in my career I tried “not to be nice.” I tried to act tough. I tried to make myself into some sort of caricature of what I thought a captain of industry should be. I hurt people’s feelings and I was miserable.
For the first time in my life, I couldn’t sleep at night and even developed stomach pain from how anxious I became by trying to act like someone I wasn’t. Ultimately, I decided that being nice was as much a part of me as the color of my skin and that I wasn’t going to change that part of my personality.
In the end, I’m glad I didn’t change because being nice has helped me build strong relationships over the years. These relationships have yielded egoless problem solving, encouraged the sharing of ideas, created a strong support system and most importantly, nurtured long-lasting friendships.
Today, I believe being nice is my superpower and that nice guys don’t finish last.
Set your goals higher than you can meet them, and then challenge yourself to grow into someone who can
I have had many moments over the last 20 years where I’ve thought my career was going to end. When I was a director, our divisional leaders asked me to reduce process mistakes by 50%. None of our past data showed that the goal was possible, but I reluctantly agreed. As I proceeded toward achieving our goal, I realized that we had to change paradigms and shift cultural expectations. I learned that data is by definition backward looking. Data tells you where you are and where you've been—it will not always tell you where you need to go. One needs experience and intuition to determine a path forward...to imagine futures that no one has imagined before. In the example above, my team met and far exceeded our goal of 50% because we completely reimagined our process for completing the work.
20 years into my career, I now know that all the moments when I thought my career was going to end, were also the same moments in which I’ve grown the most. Sometimes, success comes in disguise and looks like failure. Maybe, we need to push ourselves beyond our limits in order to get better. Similar to running, swimming or any other athletic activity, you have to break past your personal barriers to get to the next level.
Today, I set my personal and professional goals so high that I’m not sure I can meet them. Then I challenge myself to grow into the person who can.
Seek out conflicting advice
My 2 greatest mentors are my parents, who couldn’t be any more different from each other.
I grew up playing cricket and remember my dad always telling me, “You have more time than you think to play that shot.” As I got older, his advice evolved into “life is long, take your time.” My father is an unassuming, quiet man. He exudes calmness.
In contrast, my mom always tells me “Life is short. Time is of the essence. Make the most of every moment in the day.” My mother is dynamic, driven by endless energy. She exudes action.
Today, I wake up every morning wanting to make the most of every moment in the day, while also realizing that I need to be patient. I have more time than I think to play my shots. And if I swing and miss, I remind myself that tomorrow is a new day.
I’ve also internalized that seemingly conflicting advice can lead to positive outcomes. A lot of my successes today come from finding mentors who have different backgrounds, personalities and opinions. Understanding and internalizing different types of advice and embracing diversity of thought forces me to think deeply and gives me the necessary nuanced approach to make complex decisions.
As for my parents, because of my mom, I'm not afraid to take a mighty swing, and because of my dad, I'm not afraid to miss.
Keep an open mind—you might find a job while hanging out in a college cafeteria
I took my LSATs (to go to law school) during my senior year. After taking the exam, I walked to our college cafeteria where I ran into a good friend of mine, Leigh Quarforth, who’d graduated the year before. She told me that she was visiting with her current employer, Capital One. She invited me to join Capital One’s info session.
I walked with her to Capital One’s info session so that I could catch up with Leigh…and because there was free food.
A few minutes into the session, I was in awe of this startup that planned to change banking.
A few days later, I applied for a job expecting Capital One to be a short diversion on my way to law school.
20 years later, I’m still at Capital One because of the people—who are kind, generous, open minded and driven (and Leigh and I—pictured above—still hang out with each other and our families). I’m also keenly aware that I found a fulfilling career mainly because, in my 20s, I was flexible enough to consider all options.
I remind myself all the time to hold onto the naivety of youth. Sometimes, when we are younger, we’re open to more possibilities. After all, I found my first and only job hanging out in a college cafeteria.
The meaning of life is life itself
A few years ago, my wife, Adela and I were at Capital One’s annual holiday party, when my phone rang. One of my best friend Stephen’s wife was on the phone. She told me that Stephen had died of a heart attack. He was in his early 40s.
I had been Stephen’s best man during his wedding. His wife asked me to speak at his service. While I spoke at the service, I cried more than I’ve ever cried in my adult life.
In college, Stephen, who was an artist, had made an abstract painting for me as a graduation gift. A few days after his service, I hung his painting in my office at work. It’s a reminder for me that life is precious.
On tough days, when I’m overwhelmed, when I think that life is going get the better of me, I look at Stephen’s painting and remind myself that, “I am still here.”
Since Stephen died, I’ve stopped wondering “What is the meaning of life?” because I know the answer.
“The meaning of life is life itself.”
As I venture into my 40s, I’m happy to have been given so many opportunities to learn from others, to succeed and fail, to build lifelong relationships. Today, I am happy because I’m surrounded by people I love.
I hope you enjoyed reading my blog and I wish you success in your careers.