If you’re not happy with your current job, but you don’t know exactly what you would prefer to do instead, what should do do? Bommy Lee, a journalist turned communications head of life sciences venture capital firm Sofinnova, shares her career insights on the power of professional relationships when relaunching your career, the importance of reconsidering your earlier career choices, and why being content with where you are doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll happy with where you’re headed.

Originally from Canada, Bommy is now based in Paris, France. I first crossed paths with Bommy when she spoke on an alumni career panel after a career change workshop I hosted for Executive MBAs at HEC Business School in Paris. I decided to invite her to share her story on the show because I felt like she provided some especially thoughtful perspectives on navigating career changes, and thought you might also enjoy hearing her thoughts and advice on topics related to networking, mindset, and career decisions.

During the Mental Fuel® segment, I’ll also address a listener’s question about how to figure out your next career move when no particular direction jumps out to you.

Key Career Insights

  1. Networking is about building a safety net for the future. Try to make meaningful connections so that if and when the time comes, your network can work for you. Try to go into networking focused on serving and giving rather than taking. Focus on being authentic and useful. Career change is something that’s difficult to do on your own.
  2. Just because you feel content with all the things you currently have in your life, it doesn’t mean you’re necessarily happy with where your life is headed. A job can really define your identity. When you begin to question your career path, it often leads you to also question other parts of your life beyond your career.
  3. Career change can feel very lonely and solitary at times when you struggle to find people around you who truly understand your situation.
  4. There’s a point where you’re willing to leave everything behind because the opportunity ahead is so much great.
  5. Once you realize that the limitations you’re experiencing are actually self-imposed, you’re able to get over those limitations.

Tweetables to Share

Bommy referred to this quote during our conversation that you may find relevant to your own career situation if you’ve been unhappy with your work for a while now:

Listener Challenge

If you know you’re not happy with your current role, but you’re not sure what to do instead, during this episode’s Mental Fuel® segment, my challenge to you, is to force yourself to take some proactive action, which I believe is what leads to opportunity and further illumination.

So whether it’s doing something more reflective like reconnecting with your values or childhood or something more active like doing some information interviews with people in industries you’re considering, I hope you can eventually then take your best guess and what could make you happier.

About Bommy Lee, Head of Communications at Sofinnova Partners

Bommy Lee, Head of Communications at Sofinnova PartnersBommy Lee is the Head of Communications at Sofinnova Partners, where she heads up the global communications strategy for a leading European venture capital firm in life sciences that invests into healthcare and sustainability. Previously, Bommy worked in startups building international brands and communications strategies in the medtech sector. But she started her career 20 years ago as a journalist for the International Herald Tribune. She’s originally from Canada and now based in Paris, France. Follow her on LinkedIn.

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Looking for another podcast with useful advice?

I wanted to mention another podcast to check out. Have you ever wondered how to manage imposter syndrome? Or how to confront a bad manager? If so, be sure to check out the How To! podcast with Amanda Ripley who’s a best-selling author and investigative reporter on the hunt for answers to life’s toughest questions. Each week, listeners reach out with their problems, and Amanda connects them with the perfect experts who offer advice that can be life-changing.

You can even hear my OWN chat with Amanda about how to advance your career by quitting your job in the Nov 16, 2021 episode. Look for How To! from Slate wherever you listen to podcasts.

Interview Segment Music Credits

Music provided by Podington Bear

Birds – Corbyn Kites

Episode Interview Transcript

Teaser (first ~15s): Someone close to me died suddenly and it really affected me. I started thinking about my own existence, and whether I was truly living a life that had meaning. A lot of the time, the answer was no…

Joseph: Good morning, Bommy. Welcome to the Career Relaunch podcast. It is great to have you on the show.

Bommy: [02:16] Thank you for having me, Joseph.

Joseph: What are you focused on right now in your career and your life, amid everything going on?

Bommy: [02:23] Well, I started my current job just over a year ago. At the time, I had just finished my Executive MBA Program and was looking for a change. I had a couple of offers on the table, and one of them, on paper at least, would have been a much bigger leap for me. But, in the end, I decided to go at this one. I have to say it was the best decision of my life.

Joseph: Can you give us a glimpse into your role at Sofinnova Partners, which is a VC firm in life sciences? What are you focused on there?

Bommy: [02:26] It’s a really exciting time in communications for this sector because finance, in particular, private equity, is not what you would call at the cutting edge of communications. If you can think about one finance company that is doing some groundbreaking things in comms, there aren’t a whole lot that would come to mind. And so, there’s a lot we can do to shift that. I’m heading up the communications team in Sofinnova, and that’s very exciting because I feel like it’s a little bit of a start-up initiative within a larger organization. There’s a lot of possibility and the start-up world is one that I love.

Joseph: It seems like a really exciting space to be in right now, especially when healthcare is so forefront in the news and in our lives at this particular moment. I want to go back in time and talk about your time before you worked in communications out of VC firm in the life sciences there in Paris but before that, can you just also tell me a little bit about where you’re from originally, where your family’s from, your personal background?

Bommy: [03:58] I was born in Canada. My family is Korean Canadian. They immigrated to Canada after the war. We ended up going back to Korea when I was in high school. I finished up my studies there. I went back to Canada to go to journalism school, and then, came to France about 20 years ago, to continue my studies in political science. My parents are in Korea. My brother is in Malaysia, and I have another brother in Canada. It’s a challenge to see each other but we’re very close. That’s been one of the hardest parts about the pandemic is not being able to just get on a plane and see the people you love which, as an expat, you really count on that facility and the possibility of being able to do that at any time.

Joseph: Yeah, that is really tough. I was just talking to my wife this morning about just not knowing exactly when I can go back to the United States, which is where I’m from because I’ve been there over a year and a half now, and there’s a lot of uncertainty around that. Speaking of mobility, you mentioned journalism and how you studied journalism. Can we go back in time a little bit and talk about your time in the world of journalism? And then, we can move forward from there and maybe we could start with your time at the International Herald Tribune.

Bommy: [05:18] At the time, it was called the “International Herald Tribune.” And then, it was rebranded “The International New York Times.” I was there when a lot of those changes were happening. As part of a great team that were spearheading the digital side of journalism. At the time, we were taking the print version of the paper and uploading it onto the website. We were calling it the “website,” the exact copy of the print version that day was our website.

Joseph: Like PDFs or something?

Bommy: [05:50] Almost. Practically, a PDF. Very cut-and-paste kind of job, and very manual. This is early 2000s, Twitter happened. We started seeing the potential of the web. We started seeing that sending reporters and photographers out to these sometimes war zones, very dangerous areas, they were coming back with amazing reporting, photography, and the print format is limited. Whereas, digital, you could make a slideshow with 12 of the best photos. You could have an interview with a reporter about what it was like to be on the scene, and not be limited in space or by deadlines. There was a shift in the industry, and it was very exciting because there was a lot of change going on. In that sense, I was very lucky to be there when that was happening and meeting people who were willing to take that risk and try something new. That was my time with the IHT. Very, very fond memories.

Joseph: I know you said you’re from Canada, and then you moved. It sounds like your first professional experience was in Paris. What was that like for you to make that sort of geographical, and also cultural, change that early on in your career?

Bommy: [07:09] The IHT was my first real professional experience in Paris. It was based in Noisiel Siene, which is just outside of Paris. That was a very expat, American, Anglophone experience. There was a multicultural group, but it was still very North American in its culture. The way we work, we ate at our desks. We learned a lot from our truly French colleagues, who had a different way of working. I didn’t get to experience that fully until I left journalism and joined the start-up world in a French med-tech start-up, specializing in [unintelligible] microscopy. That was really my first French experience in the workplace. That also was quite international, but it’s the first time I was exposed to a lot of different ways of working. It’s a big learning experience for me.

Joseph: How did you end up making that shift from journalism into the world of medical technology? Was that just an interest of yours? Did it sort of opportunistically happen?

Bommy: [08:15] It was very serendipitous in a way. I had been at the Herald Tribune for I think it was 5, 6 years. The digital operations started doing well and they wanted to bring it back to the mothership in New York. I wasn’t ready to leave Paris at the time, so I left. In the meantime, I had my first two daughters. I wasn’t in a hurry to go back into the working world. I wanted to spend some quality time with our new family. I’ve had a couple shifts in my career and in each time, it’s been closely tied to people. People who were willing to take a chance on me, even if I didn’t come from their world and have the usual credentials and people who were leading a vision or mission I believed in and I wanted to be part of. So, when I was on the unemployment list in France, you’re obligated to send out a few CVs a month to show that you’re actively searching to get your benefits. I ended up, not very actively, but I ended up speaking to someone who was looking for an addition to the marketing communications team to help on the digital side. Since I’ve been working on the digital side at the Trib, that’s what got me my foot in. But, it’s a whole new world. I didn’t know start-ups. I’d never worked in a French company before. I didn’t know anything about medicine. I’m not a scientist, so there was a lot of unknowns. But, what motivated me was the person that was hiring me. Their vision, the vision of the company. All of that felt exciting, and we had the potential of helping people to detect cancer more easily, and be alleviated of the anxiety around that, and get a diagnosis much faster, more accurately. That part of it spoke to me. So, I jumped in.

Joseph: You mentioned something there, Bommy, that I think comes up a lot with people when they’re thinking about making a change, which is to pursue roles that, at least on paper, may not seem like they are directly aligned with your background or your skill set. You mentioned that people were willing to give you an opportunity even though you didn’t necessarily come from that specific sector. What was it about your approach or how you went about this, that you felt opened the doors to you with these opportunities that didn’t initially seem like they would be possible or viable?

Bommy: [10:48] I think opportunities are linked to people. If you are able to demonstrate to someone, even though they don’t know whether you’re able to deliver on a certain type of job description, you’re able to demonstrate that you’re able and willing. That you have a background or a track record, not necessarily in the same domain, but transferable skills, that could be valuable to a job. Even though it’s completely a new sector or a new type of role. I think that’s where the key is. That’s also what has given me subsequent opportunities in areas. After that particular role in that start-up, I went on to another start-up that was less in the B2B space, more in the B2C or B2C2B space in diabetes, in novel technology for insulin delivery for type 1 diabetes. That is much more speaking directly to the consumer, to the end-user. I had no experience in retail before. But, the person who gave me that opportunity was also someone I had crossed paths with in the past, and she believed that I could come and do the job. A lot of it has to do with making those connections with people who will open those doors for you. I’m very grateful to them for having given me that chance.

Joseph: Can you just share a glimpse into your approach to networking? It sounds like these people you’ve come across have been quite useful, helpful people in your life. At the same time, I know that some people who are networking or building professional relationships sometimes will tell me, “Well, they’re not really fruitful, or they’re not materializing into anything.” What’s your mindset when you go about connecting with people professionally or just building out your professional network?

Bommy: [12:39] Networking for me is building a safety net for the future. The approach that is very important to take in networking is not that you’re trying to sell yourself or trying to find opportunities for yourself, but that you are trying to be useful to someone and make a meaningful connection. When or if the time comes, because sometimes it never does, it’s an investment. You never know what it’s going to end up being like. If you go into a networking opportunity with the mindset that, “I’m going to try to find a way to be completely authentic, to find people that I connect with naturally and find ways to be useful to that person,” even if it’s a really small thing. Like, “Oh, are you in Paris for the first time? Do you know a good restaurant? Can I make a recommendation?” Just finding connections or common threads that you can connect on. I think it’s all about the human relationship. I’m sure you’ve heard of Adam Grant’s theory on givers and takers. If you go into a simple conversation, you can tell when someone is there because they want something from you. Or, you can tell when they’re just there to have a nice exchange, and that comes across. The best kind of networking is really when you can go into a conversation with a serving mindset, a helpful mindset, a giving mindset, rather than taking.

Joseph: It’s really helpful advice. A good reminder that it’s definitely about relationship building, and it can be better to think about it more long term. You mentioned the experience you had in diabetes management. That was at the Cellnovo Group in Paris. Is that correct?

Bommy: [14:26] Exactly.

Joseph: What was that like for you to work in the space of diabetes management? How did you think your career was going to evolve there and then how did it ultimately evolve?

Bommy: [14:35] It was a very exciting opportunity because I was able to see much more clearly the impact our work was having on people’s lives, on the quality of their life. I was able to meet directly with patients who were using our technology. That’s very motivating. That’s sort of the red thread between what I did in journalism. What I’ve found in healthcare is there’s a public service that you’re contributing to the world. In journalism, that was information so that people could make decisions and run democracies. In healthcare, we’re working on innovative technologies that can help save lives and help people to be happier. I need that kind of deeper purpose, I suppose. That’s what gets me up in the morning, knowing that I am contributing to something that is helping others.

Joseph: The other topic I would like to talk with you about is during your time at Cellnovo, you decided to pursue an executive MBA. Can you just explain to me what was your thinking behind that? How did you come to the decision that you wanted to go back to school? What prompted you to pursue an executive MBA?

Bommy: [15:55] I would have to take you a few years back to when I decided to embark on a career change. I think the first factor was that my youngest daughter finally started sleeping through the night. Until that point, my husband and I have been on survival mode trying to remain relatively functional and coherent. Our lives revolved around the daily routines and needs of our three daughters. It’s completely normal but it’s exhausting. Suddenly, when they were out of diapers, going to school, sleeping regularly, I was able to lift my head and see beyond the fogginess of sleep deprivation. That’s when things started becoming more clear. It’s also when things started hitting me and I realized, “Hmm, not sure I like what I see ahead.” At the same time, there was a second trigger. Someone close to me died suddenly. It was the first time I experienced such a loss, and it affected me. I started thinking about my own existence, and whether I was truly living a life that had meaning. A lot of the time, the answer was no. So, I decided, “I’m going to have to do something about this.” I don’t know what. Looking back at that time, I gravitated towards books about death because it helped me to clarify life, its purpose, my purpose, and how I wanted to write the rest of my story.

That brings me to your question about the MBA. The third thing that happened in this big shift was I enrolled in a part-time executive MBA. I didn’t know at the time exactly what I wanted but my goal was to come out on the other end with more knowledge, more options, and more confidence to be able to change the direction of my career and my life.

Joseph: I had a client of mine just asked me about this topic of going back to school. He’s been working for a while in the corporate world. One of the questions that he has, and one of the hesitations that I often hear come up when people talk about returning to school are things like the opportunity cost of stepping away from work. I know that’s not directly relevant in your case because you’re still working full time when you’re doing an executive MBA. But, how did you think about the trade-offs between just putting your head down, continuing to focus on work, versus adding yet another task on top of your already busy life and pursuing an executive MBA?

Bommy: [18:34] I think it was the realization that I was very unhappy, and that the road ahead was not one that was going to be enough for me. It really was this realization that I was unhappy, that I had done everything I thought I should do to fulfill all the criteria that should lead to a good life. Going to good schools, getting a job, finding a life partner, having kids, giving back to the community, all those things that I thought should make me happy and fulfilled, and then coming to realization that I actually know this was not going to cut it for me. It was really hard when I realized one day that I had no idea how I got here. Everything I had worked towards so diligently might have been for all the wrong reasons. It made me dig very deep into the past, childhood experiences, painful moments that I may have buried or brushed over. I found myself revisiting everything, questioning everything.

Joseph: Was there something in particular that you felt was missing from your career or your life at the time?

Bommy: [19:53] I think, at the time, it wasn’t that anything was missing. But, when I looked ahead at the trajectory of my life, I didn’t like where it was leading.

One of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou is when she said, “If the world puts you on a road you do not like, if you look ahead and you don’t like what you see, you don’t like the destination you’re being led to, then you need to step off that road and build a new path.” You might not know where that path is going, but the first step really is to take that leap and say, “Okay. I’m going into the unknown.” If I weigh all of those risks and uncertainties, it’s still worth it. It may not work out. But, in the end, it’s worth doing something that’s very scary and uncertain than to know that I will be stuck on a path that seems pretty clear in terms of what those limitations will be.

Joseph: What was it about where that road was leading you that made you feel like you were traveling in the wrong direction?

Bommy: [21:04] In France, especially in the working world, there is still an expectation that you are able to do a certain job because you went to the right schools, and you had the right credentials to be able to do it. My role at Cellnovo was taking me more into an area that I felt I didn’t have that knowledge or the credentials for into the business side, rather than the communications and the digital side. It was a public company, we were dealing with investors, we were having to put out quarterly reports. I wasn’t feeling like I had enough knowledge to be able to translate the meaning of our quarterly reports to the investors, if I were to get a question, for example. There were areas like that where I felt that, “Okay. I’ve done everything I can to learn on the job from the people who are very happy to help me.” But, I’ve come to a point where I need to accelerate. If I continue trying to learn on my own, I’m only going to get so far, and I want to be farther. I don’t want to be limited because of this. That was one of the main driving factors for going back to business school. To a school that is recognized in France, one that has a very good network. To be able to get not only the benefits of everything that comes with going to a recognized reputed school, but also to have a more formal understanding, the structures and the theory behind everything that I was trying to apply my day-to-day job.

Joseph: You go to HEC Paris Business School. What then happens as a result of that, or in parallel, to doing your executive MBA as you thought about your next move in your career?

Bommy: [23:02] I went into the MBA thinking, “Okay. I’m going to get a degree, get the knowledge I need, and come out on the other end with more career options.” What ended up happening was that, when you’re not happy with one aspect of your life, then often it’s linked to a lot of other things. I didn’t realize how deeply that impacted all of my other life decisions. I suppose a job really can define an identity and once you start digging into the whys and hows of that identity, you realize that it’s closely linked to other life decisions.

Professional questioning, that was one part of it. But, I met a lot of people who were going through similar challenges, and we really connected because you end up questioning a lot of different parts of your life and feeling very alone at times. There were some solitary moments for me where I felt that I didn’t know if I could talk to anybody. I didn’t know who might understand around me. Being able to connect with others in that MBA program, my peers, my colleagues, who were in a similar stage of their professional lives, and we’re also going through the emotions of that change. It was very comforting to know that I wasn’t alone.

Joseph: It can be a very lonely, solitary journey when you are revisiting your past, and your history, and a lot of stuff. I’ve been there myself. A lot of stuff comes up, and you kind of realize these things you’ve been carrying around for quite a long time, and that can be a lot to handle.

Before we talk about some of the lessons you’ve learned along the way in your transitions, how did you then discover the opportunity at Sofinnova, and what prompted you to move there?

Bommy: [25:12] It was a result of a connection that I had made through HEC. My advisor for my Capstone project, which is the end of the year business thesis. He was someone who helped me a lot along the way. When I was finishing up my degree, the company, Cellnovo, we weren’t able to raise enough capital to continue operations, and we started shutting things down. It’s a very difficult time. What ended up happening was I graduated, June 13th, a few days before we officially closed the company. I felt a huge emptiness and I didn’t know what to do.

My advisor helped in a lot of ways. He helped me to get through that. He was someone who helped me on the content of that paper but also tried to help me find that next step. He introduced me to the former chairman of Sofinnova Partners, and said, “Look. You never know. He’s part of the network. He knows a lot of people.” One of my ex-colleagues found out I had met with him, and later told me, “You know you’ve just met the godfather of biotech investing in France.” He’s a really big guy! And, I thought, “Wow! Really? He didn’t come off as he was.” I just had such a good connection with Henri. We sat down for coffee. That’s all we did, and we just talked. It was such a good conversation. I think this is where you know going back to networking. If you go in just with no expectations, just with the right mindset, then magic can happen. And, that’s exactly what happened. He ended up introducing me to the current chairman. We had a few conversations there. At the beginning, it was just talk of a few consulting gigs and seemed exciting. One thing led to the next. All of a sudden, they were saying, “Well, we might have enough here for a full-time job. What do you think?” That’s how it happened.

Joseph: The last thing I want to talk with you about, Bommy, is just some of the lessons you’ve learned along the way of your very interesting career change journey that has been filled with some pretty major transitions. You and I first crossed paths when you served on an alumni panel at HEC Paris Business School. After a talk I gave there about career change a couple of weeks ago, one of the things that you said that stuck out to me, and kind of prompted me to want to get you on the show was, when you were discussing transitions and when you mentioned you’re motivated because you’re willing to leave something behind to pursue something greater. What did you mean by that?

Bommy: [28:10] This is definitely one of the big lessons that I took away from this experience. You just need to embrace the pain. This is the quote that we talked about from the Japanese American writer, Haruki Murakami, who says, “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is a choice,” and it’s true. When you decide to make that leap into the unknown, it’s an opportunity for growth. That growth comes with pain, and the struggle is all part of it. Keeping that in mind, and the fact that it’s not necessarily about the finish line but the journey, puts things into a completely different perspective. That, for me, was one of the things that was the key takeaways.

The other thing is that there’s a point where you’re willing to leave everything behind because the opportunity to pursue something bigger is that much more important. Career change is a team sport. Yes, the decision and the courage need to start with you. Yes, you do have to do the hard work. But, there are so many people who help me along the way and in a million ways, whether they know it or not. There was a turning point for me when I realized that if I was going to continue along this path, I would be unhappy. If I was unhappy it would impact the people that I loved the most. So, I had to make the leap because it was the chance to become a person that I want to be for my daughters, for my husband, for my parents, for my brothers, my friends. That risk was worth it because the potential endpoint was that much greater.

Joseph: You mentioned there “embrace the pain.” What was most painful for you about making your career moves?

Bommy: [30:1] Again, back to the idea that “career change is a team sport.” Maybe “sport” is too light a word because there are a lot of dark moments: doubt, frustration, and confusion, and anger. The point is that the hardest thing is taking that leap. It’s very scary. It’s something that took me a lot of time to decide to actually do. When I did it, I was very glad. The other big lesson for me in this was that it’s only when I recognized that my limitations were self-imposed, that I was able to go beyond them. That change of perspective was key to opening so many more doors to new possibilities.

Joseph: The final question for you here is around that idea of introspection. Having pulled off multiple transitions that seem, to me at least, to be pretty difficult to pull off. What have you learned about yourself along the way?

Bommy: [31:18] I can’t do everything on my own. I need to ask for help. What is difficult for me is I’m very independent, very self-reliance. Having to ask for help has always felt like a weakness but the incredible thing that happened was when I realized that I couldn’t get through this on my own. When I started reaching out to people, it just started coming from everywhere. My mentors, my coaches, my HEC colleagues, my husband, my family, everyone was there to help me get through this. It was great to see that I had all these people to help me along.

Joseph: Can you tell me a little bit more about what’s next for you? What are your hopes as you look ahead in your career, Bommy?

Bommy: [32:10] The way I’ve been thinking about my next steps are in the context of how I would like my life to fall from this point. I’ve been thinking a lot about the past. In the first part of our lives, we receive and take from our parents, our teachers, our communities. We choose a lifestyle and career. We feed ourselves of knowledge and experience. What I’d like to do now is to shift into what I think should be the logical next step, which when we have received so much in life, then we should give using the knowledge and experience that we’ve gained to empower and help others, which you are an expert at, in helping people to do this transition. I would love to go more in that direction. I’m really grateful for this opportunity to share my experience with you. I hope it will help others who might be going through similar struggles.

Joseph: Thank you so much, Bommy, for telling me more about your shift from journalism to the world of communications, and then also spending your time in the healthcare sector. How you manage to connect with people during those important transitions in your career, and also the importance of ensuring that your career aligns with the kind of life you want, not only for yourself but also for the people around you. So, best of luck with your current role and all your future endeavors.

Bommy: [33:38] Thank you, Joseph. It’s been a pleasure.

Joseph: I hope you heard some useful insights from Bommy about re-evaluating your career direction, the trade-offs of staying put versus trying something new and why your professional network can play a key role in your career pivot.


About Joseph Liu

Joseph Liu is dedicated to helping people relaunch their careers and do more meaningful work. As a public speaker, career consultant, and host of the Career Relaunch® podcast, he shares insights from his decade of experience relaunching global consumer brands to help professionals to more effectively market their personal brands.

About Joseph Liu

Joseph Liu helps aspiring professionals relaunch their careers to do work that matters. As a keynote speaker, career & personal branding consultant, and host of the Career Relaunch podcast, his passion is helping people gain the clarity, confidence, and courage to pursue truly meaningful careers. Having gone through three major career changes himself, he now shares insights from building & relaunching global consumer brands to empower professionals and business owners to build & relaunch their personal brands.