Last week, we lowly WHO interns had the opportunity to meet Margaret Chan, the Director-General of the WHO. This is a woman who rose to the top after attending medical school in Canada and then solving the bird-flu crisis in Hong Kong.
During the photo, I was close enough to MC to touch her. Forget world-famous actors and heart throb singers - I swoon for successful women. After the photo Margaret led us to one of the meeting rooms where we were allowed to soak up her awesomeness while she gave us life advice.
I often expect important people to be guarded, serious and devoid of personality. Margaret was the exact opposite. She was candid, hilarious and totally ballsy. She openly detailed that the only perk of being DG was that she had a chauffeured Prius and a private bathroom and shower in her office. She exclaimed, “What the HELL is he thinking?” While discussing a scientist who is combining deadly flu strains. She told us a heartwarming tale of her mother’s support for her.
The one thing she advised that stuck out to me most was to follow your heart. She didn’t mean this in the Mulan way where one should do whatever they are most passionate about in order to do the right thing and achieve success. Nope, she meant, literally, follow your heart. In her case, Margaret moved to Canada to be with her high school sweetheart. On a whim, she ended up attending medical school (she had previously been set on a career as a teacher).
I couldn’t tell if she was just being incredibly humble, or if Margaret really had ended up running the WHO just by chance. She seemed to have simply taken a series of positions, done a good job and gotten noticed. I can’t help but hope (doubt) that my path will be this easy.
Anyway, while Margaret’s story was incredible, she didn’t give too much concrete advice. Still, I deeply admire and respect her for being a woman running one of the most important UN organizations. She’s the tiny one at front and center.