"How did you spend your very first paycheck?" It's not a question you often hear asked to senior executives on podcasts or interviews. Here on LearnLux's Liquid Assets series, however, no topic is taboo. Join us for our next chat with Sam Meraj, Senior Director of Quality, Safety and Reporting @ Walmart.
Carly Joos, Partnerships and Business Development at LearnLux sat down with Sam to enjoy a "liquid asset" and talk through:
- The most interesting thing on her desk (now we want one, too!)
- What her dream retirement looks like
- The advice she'd give to women entering the workforce this year
- If she believes, "money can't buy happiness"
Prefer to watch the interview? Click below to launch the video, or read on for the full Q&A.
Carly: Hi, I'm Carly Joos and I lead partnerships and business development at LearnLux. I'm joined today by Sam Meraj, the Senior Director of Quality Safety and Reporting at Walmart for our Liquid Assets interview series, where we have candid conversations about money and career. So, Sam - thank you so much for joining me today.
Sam: Thank you so much, Carly. It's a pleasure to meet you.
Carly: Geat to meet you as well. And you know, since we call this liquid assets, I have to ask are you drinking anything fun today? What's filling your cup?
Sam: I am drinking some tea. It's pretty amazing. It's Indian tea and it's very aromatic and strong.
Carly: Ooh. I love that. I have a little bit of Chai tea myself, so love the love, the smells and everything coming through. Well, we have some exciting questions for you. So why don't we go ahead and get things started?
Sam: Yes, please. Go ahead.
Carly: Perfect. I'd love to kick this off with more of a fun ice breaker type question. Seeing that we're all working from home and everything, what is one unusual or interesting thing on your desk right now?
What is one unusual or interesting thing on your desk right now?
Sam: Oh, I have it right here. Here is my dumbbell... because you know, one thing that I've learned in working from home is your mental and physical health kind of takes the back seat because you're so focused on work. And one thing that I learned was we can take better care of our customer when we are taking better care of ourselves. So between meetings or whenever I get time, I like to work out a little bit.
Carly: That's amazing. That's so smart. I'll go up and take a little walk around my apartment or something, but I never thought to keep it done dumbbell on my desk. I think that's a life hack I might have to steal.
Sam: That's why I shared it, Carly.
Carly: So shifting gears a little bit into more of those money and career questions, people say that hindsight is everything. So I'd love to look backwards a little bit. The question I have is, if you could go back in time and meet with your 16 year old self what's, one piece of financial guidance that you would share.
If you could go back in time and meet with your 16 year old self what's, one piece of financial guidance that you would share?
Sam: I would tell my 16 year old self to invest in myself. And, and you know, that's a lesson that probably, I have learned a little too late in my life. I won't say too late, but it took me some time to get there because as women, we tend to put our families before us. We tend to put our teams before us. We tend to put everybody else before us, but investing in myself is important for my mental and physical wellbeing.
And, It is important for my career development, because if I have to take that course, I will. If I want to pursue a certification, I will. If I have to invest in a degree, I will. And if I have to invest in things like travel and a better wardrobe for myself or if I want to give myself a little prize, I will do that because that is important for my happiness and my wellbeing.
Carly: So true. I love that. It's so I feel like in order to invest in others, we need to invest in ourselves first.
Carly: Now, another look back question. Maybe a little further down the line from when you were 16. I think something that so many people look forward to is that first paycheck they get from that first job. So I'd love to know once you got that paycheck, what did you do with it? Did you save it? Did you have a specific thing in mind that you wanted to buy with it?
How did you spend your first paycheck from your very first job?
Sam: Carly, I'm a foodie. When I got my first paycheck, I am happy to share that I spent it all on food. I went to all my favorite restaurants that month to eat everywhere that I wanted to eat and I could never afford to. I still look back and I have no regrets.
Carly: That's amazing. That's such a good way to spend it. Do you remember what kind of food you got or what's your favorite food now?
Sam: Now my favorite food is Indian food, Pakistani food. I like more spices, but at that time I remember that I had my first sushi meal, which was a very special meal because I had never had sushi in my life. And I went to my first Lebanese restaurant, which was another delicacy because I had never had it.
Carly: That's definitely a great splurge for that, trying sushi for the first time. I love it. So now present tense. What's one big financial goal that you might be saving up for right now.
What's one big financial goal that you might be saving up for right now?
Sam: Now mantra on saving is that I try to max out my retirement accounts. I don't hope to retire anytime soon, and I hope to keep working, but that is something that I religiously try to max out my retirement accounts.
And that is one advice that I give to my fellow colleagues and young women as well, that save when you can, and again, investing in yourself first, save for your retirement. Then also save for other goals, but maxing out your retirement is an important tool and it's going to, it's going to pay you over time.
Carly: Right! That's a great way to think about it. And I think my next question follows up on that really well; I know you said you're not looking to retire anytime soon, but you have a dream retirement in mind of what you'd like to do once you have all of that free time?
Describe your dream retirement.
Sam: I would love to be on a beach. And I'll tell you that I would like to continue working as long as I can. I would totally work in a way where it contributes to the world, like writing books or teaching or taking like a backseat and a more relaxed job or a more relaxed task, but yeah, somewhere on a beach, give me some palm trees, give me some good food and that's my dream retirement.
Carly: That sounds perfect. I want that right now. (laughs)
Sam: Yeah. Especially in the pandemic. Absolutely.
Carly: Amazing. So now, shifting gears again, to talk a little bit more about your career, you've had some amazing experiences throughout your career, having your background in medicine and public health, and now your current role at Walmart.
But what I'd love to know is if you weren't doing this, your specific role right now, what other roles do you think you would have? I know you mentioned maybe being a teacher or something down the road would be a dream. Is that kind of what you'd love to be doing right now as well?
If you weren't Senior Director of Quality, Safety and Reporting at Walmart, what other career path would you pursue?
Sam: Actually, I have taught along with working at Walmart or previously my job, when I was at the health department, I used to teach in an MPH program and I did that for eight years.
I have had many different jobs, even outside of medicine and science. I was a radio jockey at one point. And I worked in media quite a bit. It is very hard for me to imagine not doing public health or not being in healthcare, because that is what my passion is.
I think if I was not in my current role, I would be pursuing something else but within healthcare.
Carly: Yeah, that makes sense. You are impacting people's lives every day with the work you do. So that's really inspiring and, and thank you for, for everything you're doing as well. Another career question is, what advice do you have for women who might be entering the workforce in 2021, whether they're changing careers or coming right out of college, what do you think is one piece of advice that they would benefit from.
What advice do you have for women who might be entering the workforce in 2021?
Sam: I would say one common mistake that I see young women making is, don't underestimate yourself. You are worth more than you think, you're capable of more than you think. Always keep challenging yourself, reinventing yourself, and don't underestimate your abilities. If there's a new skill set that you think you don't have today, but you would like to have go pursue it, go pursue your dream, apply for that dream job and, and don't underestimate yourself.
Carly: Yeah. That ties back to what you were saying before, about how when you want to improve your skillset, you take a course on it or taking that time to really learn and pursue what you're passionate about. That's so important to share, and for women to pursue it, to achieve their dreams. Well, I think we have a few minutes left, so I have a few more fun questions that I'd love to ask if that's okay.
Sam: Fire away!
Carly: Amazing. Okay. First one, thinking back to money; True or false: money can't buy happiness.
True or false: money can't buy happiness.
Sam: Money can't buy happiness. It can't make you happy. It's not the sole factor that's going to make you happy, but it is easier to be happy with money than it is to be without money, which is why I would say we always have to negotiate our salary. It's not all that you work for, but it is important part of what you work for.
Carly: Very true. Next question. What has been your favorite work from home purchase so far aside from the dumbbell?
What has been your favorite work from home purchase so far?
Sam: My favorite work from home purchase is actually my elliptical. Being in an office you get to walk around quite a lot. During the initial days of work from home, I felt like I was not taking care of myself. So it makes me feel a lot better. It gives me those endorphins that get me going and I am in an upbeat mood throughout the day. So that's really my favorite purchase during this pandemic.
Carly: I love that. I found the same thing. When I started working from home, I had to force myself to wake up in the morning and do the same walk that I would do for my commute, just to make sure I was getting that activity. I like the idea idea of the elliptical for the colder weather.
Sam: One other purchase that I would like to mention. I did buy my first puppy! Because I don't think of him as a thing. More so a member of the family. But really that has brought a lot of excitement to my family.
Carly: Oh, wow. That's really exciting. Okay. Last question, and honor of International Women's Day and Women's History Month, who is one woman who has inspired you in your career?
Who is one woman who has inspired you in your career?
Sam: That's a very hard question. That is very hard for me to say, to pick out one woman that, that I would say has inspired me. But I'll tell you that I still read back on the story of Florence Nightingale. When I was a little girl and I used to think about healthcare, that was a story that I would read again, and again and again, because you know, the spirit of helping human beings, I think it impacted me at a deeper level. And I would see it in that one woman that impacted me at a very young age and brought me to the field where I am.
Carly: Yeah. That's amazing. She's definitely a woman I think we can all look up to and admire. So I love that answer.
Great. Well, those are all of the questions that I have. Thank you again, Sam for allowing us to shine light on your amazing career, your guidance for other women and during the workforce. I think you have some amazing insights and experiences that I love being able to highlight.
Sam: Thank you so much, Carly. It's a pleasure to speak with you and thank you so much for the opportunity.
Carly: Thank you as well. And everyone stay tuned for our next episode of Liquid Assets. We're excited to see you then.
Thank you, Jen for helping smash the sigmas around money and career! For more interviews in the Liquid Assets series, click here.