HR & Culture / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Ming Chen, Chief Culture Officer at EF Education First

Ming Chen is the Chief Culture Officer at EF Education First, an international education company that specializes in language training, educational travel, academic degree programs, and cultural exchange.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

My honorific is EF’s Chief Culture Officer. EF Education First, a great education and travel company, recruited me directly from business school.

Since then, I have helped build our multinational, multicultural organization which is found at all corners of the world. We help people learn a language, travel abroad and along the way, discover something about themselves and about different cultures. It’s been very rewarding.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

Every day I begin with a run. I am a compulsive and inveterate marathoner so I usually run 5 miles (8 kilometers) before heading into the office with an iced coffee in hand. I work with a team of talented creatives, designers and videographers and producers.

We kick off with a team meeting and then will break into different units to work on our projects whether that’s a recruiting campaign, marketing advertising campaign, rebranding a product line or educational videos for the Beijing Winter Olympic Games (EF is the Official Language Training Partner).

What makes working fun is that it’s always something different and it’s putting ideas into action. I think having highly tangible results that you can look at, and point to, is very fulfilling.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

Yes, since the start of COVID-19 and being based in Hong Kong, we have gone on a rotational basis into the office and are quite flexible about working from home. It’s a strange time and while I personally prefer to see people, it is very much accepted that this may not be possible or wise.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

I think the dichotomy of work-life balance is a myth and does not help people- particularly women- make the most informed choices. I believe that there is only one thing we can individually control: what we do with our time.

We can’t control the weather, the world, or the decisions of other people, but we can absolutely control what we choose to spend our time on. I always emphasize that time is the currency of decision-making.

Instead of ‘balance’, I would ask people to think in terms of trade offs. A tradeoff is a situational decision which involves diminishing or losing one quality, quantity, or property of a set or design in return for gains in other aspects.

In simple terms, a tradeoff is where one thing increases, and another must decrease. This is a fancy way of thinking about what the tradeoffs are when you choose to do one thing versus another with your time.

I have viewed my professional and personal life through this lens of tradeoffs- Do I sleep in or do I go running? Do I choose to work at EF or do I choose to do something else with my time?

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

Obviously, travel has been severely curtailed because of the pandemic. This is one of the biggest consequences of the pandemic. I used to travel at least twice a month but now that is pretty much at zero.

I’ve taken to listening more to audiobooks, most recently listening to the investment classic Where Are All The Customers’ Yachts? or A Good Hard Look at Wall Street by Fred Schwed Jr. and My Year Abroad by the talented Chang Rae Lee.

I have also continued old favorite habits which include running, doing virtual races with my running partners, and watching and rewatching Agatha Christie’s movies with my kids.

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

I am big into historical fiction, one of my favorites is The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baron Orczy. I have also really enjoyed the authoritative and best-selling book Raising Global Teens by Dr Anisha Abraham.

And, in a shameless plug for my own creative venture, Escape: One Day We Had to Run which is about real episodes of flights to freedom which I co-authored with my identical twin sister. It is being published by Lantana Publishing and out on May 4th.

Podcasts that I listen to regularly are: Ear Hustle, made by prisoners and ex-prisoners in San Quentin; How I Built This with Guy Raz; Being Patient by Deborah Kan. I highly recommend which is a brain health newsletter and site created by former Wall Street Journal reporter Deborah Kan.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

Does iced coffee count?

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

Well, I would like to know about Dr. Jill Biden, First Lady, and Roger Federer.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

As Teddy Roosevelt is credited for saying, “Comparison is the theft of joy.” Good to keep that in mind.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.