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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

What I Learned About Succeeding in My Career From Battling Illness as a Kid

Bishoy Tadros
Bishoy Tadros

When I was three years old, I was diagnosed with ALL (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia). The odds were against me, and as a result of my diagnosis, my parents had to leave their life in Egypt in order to immigrate to the US and ensure my recovery.

I went through years of chemotherapy and radiation, and on my 13th birthday had to undergo brain surgery. The obstacles I faced as a child were not only medical, but physical, cultural, social, and mental.

At a young age, I developed a mantra of “breaking barriers” (which is not concidentally the name of a fundrasier campaign I ran recently) and little did I know that those barriers would lay the groundwork for how I navigated through my career.

As I look back on my life journey to date—and it is certainly far from over—I can attribute a lot of small victories to the consistent application of three lessons that were instilled in me as a child.

You Have to Have Patience

As a young immigrant child growing up in Long Island and undergoing treatment, there was no hiding that I was different.

I used sports as a way to connect with my peers, but it quickly became clear that although I was able to play, due to the side effects from my treatment, I didn’t have the speed or stamina as some of the other kids.

So as a child, I had to learn in the most painful fashion that you don’t always get the results you want when you want them. You’ll be disappointed, you’ll have to change course, and you’ll have to adjust your timeline.

As an adult, patience guided me under even the most difficult circumstances. I graduated college (in the heart of the financial crisis) without a job. Patience taught me to focus on small wins, and to build up from there.

Instead of focusing on finding my “dream job” right away, my focus was on landing a position that would get me closer to where I wanted to go. I spent three years—which could’ve easily felt like an eternity—taking small steps to position myself for my ideal career—including taking an analytical role on a trading desk at an investment bank, which brought me one step closer to working in sales today.

You Have to Have Perspective to Keep You Grounded

Given the conditions of my childhood, I had to grow up fast and accept my cards as they were dealt. My parents had their hands full with critical decisions around my health as well as our livelihood as a family in a new country.

As a result, I wasn’t completely sheltered from a lot of the realities they faced. If my parents were late to pick me up from school, for example, I knew it was for a good reason.

I learned early on that sacrifices are necessary sometimes to achieve what you really want. Before I landed my current role in finance, I was working at a CPA firm while pursuing my MBA simultaneously. I was taking five classes at a time and juggling 70-hour weeks at the office.

I had to bail on friends frequently and rarely managed a full night’s sleep. I was fully focused on positioning myself for the moment a bank would come ringing; a moment that signified a major step in my career and toward the right job “fit” for me.

You Have to Know What Success Means for You

A defining moment in my life was when I received a positive prognosis after my brain surgery. After 10 years of fighting off side effects and setbacks, I was free to start over; cancer was officially in the past.

I was tried over and over in my childhood, yet I was determined as ever to be successful in what I set out to do. With that said, my vision of success as a child was more concrete; to have a good job and be secure enough financially.

As an adult, I took on a whole new approach when it came to defining success and understanding what it means to me. I’ve learned that it’s not an end game, it’s a journey, one I anticipate will last a lifetime.

In order to continue on the path to “success,” you have to exit your comfort zone, take risks, and prepare yourself for setbacks that’ll require you to get back up and try again.

When I look back at my life in this way, it’s clear that the setbacks I faced as a child certainly didn’t define me, but rather dared me to be a stronger, more driven individual.

At times, you may feel the odds are against you, but you must acknowledge that barriers are meant to be broken. Channeling this mindset will facilitate a comeback that is greater than any setback—and it’ll be one step further on the journey to success.