Follow your values to reach your dreams
Rebecca Hwang, 32, a Korean-Argentine, was named one of the Young Global Leaders of 2012 by the World Economic Forum earlier this month. Her nickname is “genius girl,” and it is well deserved. She is the owner and co-founder of YouNoodle, which links promising venture companies with talent and offers support programs. She also launched a program with the Small and Medium Business Administration for Koreans planning to start new businesses.
It is not rare for a second-generation Korean immigrant like Hwang with a degree from a prestigious U.S. college to be successful. But what is so captivating about her is her values and bold pioneering spirit. She believes that economic growth and creation of jobs through entrepreneurship is the key to social development. She follows two guidelines in her life: Do not sacrifice today for tomorrow and overcome your fear by conquering it. She said she started skydiving because she was afraid of heights.
Hwang’s family moved to Buenos Aires when she was six. When they arrived, the economic and social atmosphere was unstable, and she recalls that the price of goods would double from the morning to the afternoon of the same day. When she was 12, she mastered basic English by herself by listening to tapes. At 15, she decided she wanted to become a scientist like Marie Curie. In 1998, she was admitted to MIT on a full scholarship. She said it was the first time she ever saw her father crying.
Hwang received her master’s degree in chemistry at MIT. She then worked on the waterworks in developing countries, flying to India and Nicaragua for research and meetings with officials. During this time, she realized that a more comprehensive solution was necessary to solve the water problem, so she got involved in the venture industry upon receiving her PhD in environmental studies at Stanford.
While exchanging e-mails with her, I was struck not just by her talent, but also her passion. She has had clear reasons for each choice she has made. She never hesitated to take a risk for her dreams. In the process, she has turned her weaknesses into strengths and made failure a foundation for success. Her passionate mindset stands in contrast to many young Koreans who are less than enthusiastic about work or study. Not everyone can go to MIT or Stanford. But we can all think about the true purpose of what we do or study. Hwang has taught me about the beauty of a life led not by money or honor, but values.
by Lee Na-ree
* The author is an editorial writer of the Joongang Ilbo.