From Vancouver to Toronto and Back: More Than Just a Professional Path
November 28, 2022
I will never forget the summer I moved to downtown Toronto. I remember standing at the Yonge and Dundas double pedestrian crossing wide-eyed and feeling out of place. It was a cinematic moment; everyone around me walked by briskly, purpose-driven, a walk associated with those living in the big city.
To this day, I still get sentimental at this memory since it marks the beginning of my professional journey. I am humbled by the fact that I can look back at this chapter of my life and share my reflections with others in the industry.
This is a story of two cities, Toronto and Vancouver, seen from the lens of my professional journey and life transitions. I hope that my story resonates with other women in commercial real estate, in Toronto, Vancouver and beyond. If anything, there is really one underlying message that I want to convey—we are all carving our own paths forward.
My family immigrated to Metro Vancouver from South Korea when I was a young child. Perhaps it is because of this intercontinental move during my childhood years that the experience of moving between places seemed more normal to me than most people. Leaving home to seek professional opportunities did not come as a difficult decision to me. Moving to Toronto was an exciting opportunity with great potential for professional growth. And I was right, it was one of the best decisions I have made.
Toronto gave me a footing in the development industry. From the onset, I sought different roles with the goal of building a well-rounded perspective of the industry, from policy to implementation. This was a personal choice, but one that was feasible in a region like Toronto because of the variety of opportunities available for early career professionals. Prior to development, I worked at a crown corporation, a consulting firm, and municipal and provincial governments. The diversity of these experiences proved to be valuable later on in my career.
Transitioning into development was a turning point for my personal and professional growth. Development projects are often contentious and my introduction to them was no exception. I dove right into the deep end, trying to keep up with all the multi-faceted moving parts of the process, all the while figuring out how to approach building working relationships with the municipality and consultants. I found complex problem-solving that required a big-picture view intriguing and exciting.
The challenges were in part learning to do the work but mostly they were about overcoming self-doubt. I became acutely aware that I was the youngest and the only woman of a visible minority group in the room. I was intimidated but could not accept giving up. Imposter syndrome was a large part of what drove me to work hard to prove myself. In time, the significance of looking different faded. Nonetheless, I recognize that this experience is common for women in our industry. It is certainly not easy, but I do believe that in overcoming a challenge like this, you draw out hidden strengths and become resilient in the process. Having gone through an experience like this, you will be able to identify it in others and champion them.
I cannot say that I did this alone. I navigated these professional challenges with the support of my mentor. Particularly as a young professional who was far away from home, this relationship meant a lot to me. Mentorship empowered me to curb self-doubt and recognize overlooked achievements. Self-doubt is an inevitable growing pain that does not discriminate against good intentions of wanting to do well. That is why I think mentorship matters and I hope to be able to have a similar positive impact on others one day.
Coming Back Home to Vancouver
Several months into the pandemic, I had a saddening realization that my family was on the opposite side of the country and it was uncertain when I would be able to see them again. Like before, it was not a difficult decision; I decided to move back to Vancouver to be closer to my family. The decision was bittersweet. I was not prepared for the number of goodbyes that followed. It made me realize that I had really built a life in Toronto however precarious it may have seemed.
A decision rooted in prioritizing family turned out unexpectedly to be a great career move. Shortly after deciding to move back to Vancouver, I joined Create Properties where I continued my path in development. I was pleasantly surprised to find projects that embodied what I always wanted, building forward-thinking urban communities.
I am currently overseeing two transit-oriented urban village master plan developments totalling over 33 acres in Metro Vancouver. Our projects are in the early planning stages and I am excited to see them unfold and share more as they advance through the process. Serendipitously, I had driven by the project sites a few years ago thinking it would be a great location for development, with its proximity to rapid transit and parks. Little did I know that I would be here today.
Outside of work, I am one of the Co-Chairs of WLI BC. This is my second year as part of the WLI BC committee and I became Co-Chair this summer. Our WLI chapter is newer than that of Toronto, having started three years ago. We have a wonderful group of women representing both public and private sectors of the industry and we hope to increase our presence in Metro Vancouver while championing women in commercial real estate in the coming years. To date, we have nominated three outstanding leaders, featured local high-profile women in leadership of different backgrounds through a spotlight series, and held various workshops and panels covering relevant industry issues. We have also partnered with the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) to connect students with industry professionals. We are looking at ways to diversify our contents through events, blog posts (like this) and a podcast.
Looking back, this was more than a professional path. I am grateful for all the opportunities I have had and the people I connected with along the way. As my story continues, I carry forward with me fond memories and all that I learned.
Thank you for reading! Please feel free to connect with me on Linkedin, I would love to chat.