It goes without saying that the Age of the Pandemic has been difficult for most, bringing with it so many challenges and changes, in a series of shockwaves.
People’s entire careers and livelihoods have been disrupted, and the future of work itself seems to be evolving right before our eyes.
While it might sound like something from a Get Well Soon card, there really are ways to find positivity during times like these, and if you stay alert and motivated, you can emerge from these challenges stronger than ever.
Our guest, Sarah Alfandari, knows all about this.
Alfandari is truly a self-made success, having traversed through an intensely competitive and high-stakes industry to become the CEO of Dalton Investments. Before Dalton, she co-founded Longchamp Asset Management.
At Longchamp, she headed up business development, forming a strategic partnership with Dalton Investments. Alfandari also worked with Morgan Stanley early in her career– an impressive feat on its own.
According to Alfandari, she hadn’t actually planned on becoming a finance executive. Rather, she simply wanted to start her career and work as hard as she could, following the example set by her family when she was growing up.
She also attributes her success to her ability to recognize and capitalize on opportunities as they arise.
“My career has been driven by opportunities, opportunities presented by people I’ve met and projects I’ve worked on. I am certainly a very hard worker and believe that the place I find myself today is the natural result of my experiences over the past ten years and all the time I’ve put into my career.”
Don’t get the wrong impression, though. Alfandari remains adamant about staying grounded and humble, despite her success.
This outlook has also served her well during the ‘uncertain’ times of the past year and a half, and that’s really what we’d like to talk about today: how finding positivity, even in difficult circumstances, can produce incredible benefits and lead to better days in the future.
No matter your career, finding and maintaining motivation is essential if you want to keep your edge and achieve success for years on end.
Motivation is the coal that fuels the fire, and for different people, motivation can come from a variety of places.
Yes, we all want to find success and advance our careers, but more personal sources of motivation can be extremely helpful as well.
Finding those sources can be a journey of its own, but it can also help to hear insights from others, to hear their own stories about what drives them.
Alfandari found these sources of motivation fairly early on, and as she shared with us, they haven’t really changed that much since then.
“I’ve always wanted to make a difference, be recognized for my own merits, and be instrumental in creating something new. I also want to wake up feeling enthusiastic about my day, eager to get to work.”
You don’t need to share these traits, of course, but identifying the goals and concepts that get you fired up to do the best work you can provides an enormous advantage, and you can call up that sense of motivation when you start to get lost in the frustrating minutiae of day-to-day operations.
Knowing what you want and why you want it can also make it much easier to judge your progress over time. If you get the feeling that you’re treading water, then you probably need to make some adjustments.
Finding hope in dark times
In this vein, Alfandari told us the story of an especially difficult time she experienced early last year, right on the cusp of early COVID-19 quarantine measures.
She and her husband were in the process of relocating to a new city, but as this was March of 2020, the process was halted entirely at the worst possible moment.
Suddenly, the excitement of the move turned into serious concern over basic needs like housing and food.
Alfandari and her husband were forced to live in one of the only hotels still open in the area, unable to actively seek permanent housing.
Thankfully, Alfandari was eventually able to complete the move, but she stayed positive throughout, looking for ways around all these problems.
She also noted that she was perhaps better prepared for this difficult transitional period, as this wasn’t her first time going through a disastrous, historic event.
When Alfandari was still working for a French bank in New York, she awoke one Monday morning to hear that Lehmann had collapsed, and with it, the entire financial industry was in danger of collapsing as well.
But even in these moments, Alfandari has found very practical ways to work toward solutions.
“I usually tend to stay very focused when things go sideways. Sticking to my work discipline, values, and role in these times is the easiest way I have found to ignore the noise and concentrate on the things where I can have an impact, rather than try to influence areas that are completely out of my control.”
This perspective and focus seem to have served Alfandari very well, and it certainly holds a lesson for others experiencing tough times.
Letting go of absolutely everything could easily lead to avoidance and procrastination, whereas focusing on your own purview can immediately make large, international crises feel smaller and more manageable.
Earning respect in the workplace
In a perfect world, every professional in every workplace would be respected by everyone else right out of the gate, but sadly that’s just not how most offices work.
Given that finance has, historically, been an incredibly male-dominated industry, we were curious about whether Alfandari had to deal with any sort of prejudice or discrimination when she was getting her career started.
Her answer was both yes and no.
Alfandari explained that, at the start of her career, women were rarely represented in any significant way in specific parts of finance, such as on trading floors and in decision-making roles such as portfolio managers and executive positions.
However, she also wanted to make clear that the situation is improving in dramatic ways, with more women entering many different roles within finance.
“I would say that the challenge for women trying to be respected in finance is really no different than it is for a man. You have to earn respect in any organization, bringing your own skills, perspectives, and sensitivities.”
To put this another way, bringing diversity into the mix is definitely recognized as valuable these days, but each person still needs to prove that they have a lot to offer and that they can be trusted with various responsibilities.
Hopefully, other industries are following a similar path, valuing employees based on merit rather than focusing on identity.
On the same point, Alfandari had some advice specifically for professionals hoping to work their way up in the world of finance:
“Be better, faster, and smarter. There’s no room for mistakes here. Try to be both professional and kind, to yourself and also to the people you work with. If you have skill and insight, people will take notice, and that’s when you can start to advance.”
Before we finish up, we’d just like to sum up some of the key points we’ve talked about here. Of course, the goal of providing all these stories and advice is to remind working professionals that challenges really can be opportunities if you can navigate them rationally, with an eye to the better future you’re creating for yourself.
Going into any career with a strong sense of self makes it easier to trust your own intuition when making decisions both big and small. When you really know who you are and what you’re about, it’s much easier to decide which compromises are acceptable and which are not. You don’t need to abandon who you are to become successful.
As Alfandari reiterated toward the end of our conversation, hard work really does pay off, but it’s going to take time. It’s hard to notice progress from day to day, but people everywhere respect a hard worker, and if you stay diligent, you’re bound to get better at what you do.
Perhaps most importantly, especially given our current worldwide situation, don’t take every setback as an outright loss.
It’s not easy, but you really can find ways to make every challenge a benefit in some way, whether by bolstering your skills or letting it lead you to an important transitional moment in your life.
We hope that anyone out there who is struggling with career challenges can take this advice to heart and find ways to come out on top.
In the meantime, keep working hard and stay on the lookout for those opportunities that just might change your career and life for the better.