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Google VP says this is the best way to build a 'happier, more successful' career

Abraham Gonzalez Fernandez | Moment | Getty Images

Jenny Cheng likens her career to Goldilocks' search for the perfect bowl of porridge: She tried different roles at different companies, but none fit "just right."

Then, a recruiter at Google called her. 

"Google had been talking to me on and off for years, but it was never the right time or quite the right role," says Cheng, who just celebrated one year as the vice president and general manager of Google Wallet. 

She got the call about the open role at Google Wallet in early 2022, about 10 months after leaving her VP role at PayPal, where she worked for four years. 

She had planned to take a year off from work after experiencing "really intense" burnout while managing an international team at home in San Francisco for several months through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Before taking the job at Google, Cheng asked herself two questions to make sure the job aligned with her values and goals: "Is this work I am passionate about?" and "Am I excited to work with this team?" 

The secret to building a "happier, more successful career," Cheng has discovered, can be boiled down to two rules: Find work you're passionate about, and people you like doing it with. 

Photo: Jenny Cheng

'How do you define success?'

The first step to designing your dream career is defining what success and happiness mean to you, Cheng explains: "You have to start there, and get specific."

It's easy to get "caught in the trap" of measuring your success by your job title or reaching a certain threshold, like getting promoted within a year or making $100,000, Cheng adds, but when it comes to defining success, accolades and wealth should have "nothing to do with it." 

"Ultimately, it comes down to finding work that you're passionate about, something that you would actually enjoy spending a lot of your working hours doing and thinking about, whatever that looks like for you," she says. 

Working at Google Wallet combines two of Cheng's passions: building tech products and experimenting with FinTech. 

"I love thinking about FinTech in terms of what we can do to make consumers' lives better," she says. "For better or for worse, FinTech money and payments are really the bloodlines to many things, across businesses and people's lives."

'Find an environment where you can be your whole self'

The most "underrated" element of a successful, fulfilling career is the people you work with, Cheng argues.

"Throughout my career, there have been a number of times where I've been told, 'Oh, you're not a typical executive' because I'm probably a little too laid back," she says. "But I think we're moving into this more authentic culture where you can bring your whole self to work and don't have to fit a certain mold of behavior."

At Google, Cheng often joins meetings about the technical aspects of Google Wallet's products, even though she isn't required to, because she likes learning about the hardware. One of the engineering managers noticed her on the call and offered to answer any questions she had after.

"I never feel judged for not knowing everything, and I think that's lovely and wonderful," she says. 

Finding an environment where you feel supported, your work-life boundaries are respected, and the people are kind, Cheng adds, is "really, really important." 

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