Joining us today from San Francisco, CA is Charu Jangid, a full-time professional at LinkedIn who has lived all over the world and travels frequently to this day. In her interview, she discusses her complex identity, her love of solo travel, and how she would address the pressures and noise of climbing the career ladder. We’ll let her take it from here!
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JF: What is your 3-minute autobiography?
CJ: I was born in Oman, which is a country in the Middle East. I lived there for a few years when I was really young until my family moved to the UAE, and then to Canada. When I was 17, I moved to the US and went to college in Philadelphia. Having experienced being a multiple-time immigrant – my parents were Indian, then moved to the Middle East – it was a really interesting upbringing. It was cool because every time we’d move to a new place, I would have the chance to adopt a new identity.
This kind of leads me to always hate the “Where are you from?” question. [Laughs] I always think to myself, “Should I talk about Canada? Should I talk about Dubai? Should I talk about Oman? Should I say that I’m Indian because that’s what people see when they look at me?” It definitely created a lot of crisis for me; I still hate it as a question, but I feel like after having traveled more, I’m a lot more understanding of why people ask it. A lot of times the answers don’t fit their initial assumptions. I’ve gotten a lot better at stitching together that story.
For my parents, moving around so much made them want to just stay in one place. They didn’t really move by choice – they moved based on opportunities. For them, their ideal is just sticking around. My sister and I are the opposite, though. I’m so used to moving around that I start feeling anxious when I’m in one place for too long.
That’s why, after 3 years in SF [where I’m currently based], I’m surprised I’ve stuck around this long. [Laughs] For the first time in my life, it’s a place I could see myself staying a while – although I’d like to move around a bit in the near term.
And then there’s also this project, Silicon Valley Abroad, which I’m working on with Dianna.
JF: Could you tell us a bit more about Silicon Valley Abroad?
CJ: As we were traveling, we noticed that a lot of the people we engage tend to be entrepreneurs. We’ve met a lot of these people at conferences or events that live in other countries now. They are either starting their own companies or initiatives, or doing work in the tech industry. We always end up having fascinating conversations about how they do things and what’s working vs. not working. One goal is to create a platform to formalize that knowledge sharing. When people from here are traveling to other countries, they can be ambassadors of the knowledge they bring, and we’re trying to bring knowledge from other countries back here.
For example, when I was in the Philippines, I talked to a lot of entrepreneurs there and wanted to share their stories in the US. In a lot of other places, entrepreneurship is especially hard and full of obstacles like lack of internet and government regulations. Just seeing how people navigate this crazy complexity requires 10x hustle, and we want to bring that back here to the US.
One of the reasons that Silicon Valley works really well is that there is capital and an amazing support network. Many people have been through the startup process before and share their insight. One of the big things we hear about companies abroad is this lack of mentorship and support ecosystems. They would really benefit from being connected to support systems around the world.
JF: What has been one of the most difficult obstacles you’ve had to overcome in your life?
CJ: There’s a tactical and practical answer, and there’s a more emotional one. I think the tactical and practical one was, as we were moving around a lot, this feeling of not knowing whether any given place would be permanent. We had to figure out a lot of things like visas surrounding the uncertainty of, “What is my future in this country?”
Especially in the Middle East, in Oman, even if you’re born there, they don’t have any kind of naturalization process. If you live in Dubai, there’s really no path to citizenship even if you’ve been there many years. North America is a bit different, because there are paths to legal status. But there were a lot of tactical obstacles to overcome. And we had to keep going through this again and again.
The other one is that I feel a lot of additional parental pressure, especially since we moved so many times. The fact that they did so much to pursue new opportunities at the expense of their own careers to provide for us…. They don’t explicitly say anything, but I know it’s there. It really gets in the way of things like quitting my job to travel or other ideas like that. It’s always a consideration for me – it definitely weighs on you more than if you didn’t have that history.
JF: Was there ever a time where you did something that you thought would go against those expectations, but that they were actually really supportive of?
CJ: Yeah, I think a big one was going to university in the US. There are a lot of great universities in Canada and they help out a lot with lower tuition and scholarships. My parents didn’t even know I was applying to schools in the US – I just told them when I got accepted. I thought it was a great opportunity for me because they have a dual business-engineering program that I wanted to do. Even with financial aid it definitely required a lot of financial support from my parents, so at that time I was skeptical that it would work. However, they acted in a really unexpected way and really supported me in going to the US. It was awesome! But it also kind of feeds into those parental expectations I talked about earlier.
JF: Describe one of your favorite places in the world.
CJ: Lake Atitlan in Guatemala…I want to move there. [Laughs] It’s one of those places that I could see myself going again and again. There are a couple of reasons why. One is that the scenery is absolutely stunning; it’s so beautiful and surrounded by volcanoes. It’s just one of the most gorgeous places I’ve seen. I have visited some pretty epic places in the Canadian Rockies, but there there is something about Atitlan that is so serene and peaceful.
The other cool thing about it is the other towns surrounding the lake. You can go from places that are boisterous and noisy and lively to very sleepy towns, and just walking through the towns is such an interesting experience. There are lots of tourists, but there’s a pretty good balance between locals and tourists. I pretty much spent entire daysjust looking at the lake, lying by the water, and kayaking. I also hiked some volcanoes! You can go as hard or as chill as you want – it’s definitely a lifestyle and I could definitely see myself there, living it.
JF: How do you think traveling has transformed the way you think and live?
CJ: I’ve primarily traveled solo
, and haven’t traveled in groups a lot. I think one of the most amazing things about traveling solo is that it gives you such a massive sense of agency and control. Weirdly, it makes me more confident and self-assured as a person.
When I’m traveling solo, I try to stay in places where I’m most likely to meet people. It helps me be more out there and has helped me reaffirm my identity, partly because I’ve had to tell my story to so many people. Explaining where I’m from has given me a better sense of where I fit in the greater picture of the world.
It has also given me the confidence to want to try things. Sometimes we have fears that aren’t grounded in reality, and I think [traveling has helped that]. Having the mentality of “figuring it out” is really helpful.
JF: How has traveling helped you in your career, especially when you’re around ambitious people all the time?
CJ: In my work at LinkedIn, and a lot of companies around here, we’re building products for everyone, not just people in the US. Strangely enough, you don’t actually see a lot of these teams interacting with or understanding the audiences outside of the US. It’s definitely disproportionate – these companies are building products for everyone but don’t have a good understanding of what those people [outside of the US] want or need. Traveling a lot and learning about different cultures helps me be better at my job and serve a wider audience.
The other piece is storytelling. Whether it’s pitching a product or trying to get funding for something, you have to get people to buy into the story you’re telling. You hear a lot of inspiring stories when you travel, whether about people or places or history. In some ways, it makes me a better storyteller, which is a big part of convincing people to do things.
JF: What’s something (a fear, or a worry) you think many people have on their minds but are afraid to talk about?
CJ: I think people are afraid to show you who they truly are – and I’m definitely guilty of that myself. Admitting that you haven’t figured it out isn’t failure. People get stressed about appearances, especially the appearance of having it all together. Part of it is exacerbated by social media and an age where people tend to share their professional and personal milestones. It’s fine to say, “I don’t know what I’m doing yet.”
A lot of people ask things like, “Where do you want to be in 5 years?” And I can answer that for today, but it might change tomorrow or in a while from now. Even though we’re young and we’re supposed to be exploring, there’s not a lot of acceptance of the uncertainty. There’s a very competitive pressure of appearing to have everything together.
JF: People tend to put up appearances and stay in unfavorable situations because they feel like they have to. What do you think the remedy is for that?
CJ: In places like Australia, it’s just expected that you’ll take a gap year between big milestones. It would be so amazing if, in the US, it would be more accepted for people to take a break. Whether people want to take time to travel or try out a new product…I don’t think there’s a lot of tolerance for that here. In SF, more and more people are taking breaks between jobs, and it’s becoming expected now. But I think a lot of times, people don’t have the space to explore or try out different things.
Another big piece of this is companies not penalizing people for it. If we could get that culture of being more normal to take time off to explore would be really awesome. And I think the way to make it happen is for all of us to just do it!
JF: What’s the best advice you ever received? From whom?
CJ: There’s a lot of FOMO because everyone’s always aware of what everyone else is doing. It’s natural to ask yourself things like, “Should I move to Egypt? Should I do that?”
A manager gave me some advice to set up decision points for when you’re going to reevaluate. Whether it’s every 6 months, or every year…that’s when you’re going to truly evaluate what you should be doing. The only caveat to that is when an amazing opportunity comes up out of nowhere. But in general, to reduce the feeling of stress and inadequacy, it helps to have a mental model of considering other options during set times.
There’s a lot of noise, and the noise is about fads and what’s hot right now. So it really helps to have some core values and reevaluate your situation periodically.
JF: What legacy do you hope to leave behind one day?
CJ: I’m going to be honest – I feel like I went through a massive phase of thinking about how the universe is going to end and nothing really matters. [Laughs] So there’s been a pretty long period of time where I’ve thought about what’s truly lasting. I never thought of the answer to this question because I didn’t think it would actually last.
One of the big things that I’ve realized since then is that even if the world were to end in 5 years, what we do in this 5 years matters. Having lived through these experiences is worth it, even if it is temporary. At the end of life, maybe its not as much about impact, but I will have wanted to experience a lot of things. Whether it’s helping people, or just being outdoors or being with family… I feel like I would have thought that I lived a good life if I thought I had experienced a lot. Even if the impact doesn’t last forever.
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Special thanks to Charu for sharing her story today! If you have or know someone who has an interesting story to tell, go here to find out how you can be featured on our site and share your story with over 12,000 monthly readers.
All photos (with the exception of Lake Atitlan) were provided by Charu.