Her best-selling book marked its 20th anniversary
Her focus is now on self-reflection and peace, going beyond challenge
Joanne Lee, aged 69, has been a role model for women who wish to be successful in different aspects of life - career and romance – since the publication of her first book "Love that arrived at the age of 23 and a successful mid-life career at 49" in 1994. Lee became a million seller and quickly rose to stardom.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the book which portrays her tough yet fruitful journey into love and success. As she entered the second half of her life, however, she started subtracting things, instead of adding them up.
At 69, PR Queen still going strong
Lee paid a visit to Korea. She appeared in the interview, wearing short hair, a yellow jacket, and running shoes. She was full of energy and wonderfully alive for her age. With just one year left before reaching the age 70 when you are free to follow your heart, Lee was still going strong.
"20 years have passed since the book was released. Although, at first, I did not know that the book gained much popularity, I gradually noticed that many people read it. I met my readers on my business trip. Some came to my office, while others phoned me."
Lee has a fabulous employment history from the Westin Chosun Hotel PR manager to the president of the ZONTA Asia and Burson-Marsteller Korea. Indeed, she is a legendary figure in the public relations industry. In 1988, she played an active role in helping Daewoo Electronics set up its factories in Northern Ireland which was suffering from political instability. Also, she played a determinant role in assisting the Korean government import F/A-18 combat jets from the U.S. McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) instead of General Dynamics.
Currently, Lee lives with her eldest daughter who is the vice president of CJ E&M Los Angeles branch office, fueling the Korean Wave as passionately as her mother did. As Lee looks at her daughter trying to keep a balance between work and family, she looked back on the past. Undoubtedly, she has been intensely passionate. She confessed that she does not regret the choices she made. However, she felt sorry that she was not there whenever her family needed her and that she failed to keep her body healthy.
I should have cared for my family and myself more
"After my two daughters got married, I lived alone until recently when I moved into my eldest daughter’s house due to my poor health condition. A 5-year old grandson brings me the greatest joy these days.
While I baby-sit him, the first thought that came to my mind was 'I should have been a better mom for my two daughters.' I think they are doing great, juggling between work and family. But, to be honest, I was too busy to provide sufficient care for them when they were young. Around that time, there were no child care assistance programs or initiatives.
Another thing I regret is that I overworked and stressed my body."
In the early 2000s, she went through medical and surgical therapies for cerebral hemorrhage. Since four years ago, she has had kidney dialysis three times a week.
She said "I felt a sense of failure when doctor recommended that I go on dialysis." She became weak both mentally and physically.
"Every time I was faced with business difficulties, I was in control of the situation. But this time, it was different. Accepting an illness was the toughest part. I stayed in denial because the unimaginable happened to me. Doctor’s recommendation made me feel like a loser. I was depressed for half a year during which I gradually accepted my reality. Now I became more mature."
As she endured hardship, she made a firm resolution to 'slow down' which changed her life 180 degrees. Her focus shifted from taking on the challenge to paying closer attention to herself and achieving peace.
"I was sincerely grateful that the illness gave me the greatest opportunity to change my life," she said with a broad smile.
Success without dignity is meaningless
Lee has embraced dignity throughout her life even when times got tough.
"Dignity can be maintained only when you are confident that what you do is headed in the right direction. Consequently, financial dignity boils down to the controlled use of money you earned. Without dignity, success becomes meaningless." This is what differentiates Lee from her competitors.
She lamented that "Today’s business leaders are too much obsessed with success. People tend to consider themselves successful if they make a lot of money. However, I think true success is defined by your purpose when seeking money and how wisely you spend it."
According to her, genuine success is all about living one’s values. Indeed, she is a living example of achieving success without being controlled by money and things. Her husband, the Rev. Kenneth E. Killoren (Korean name Gil Rohyeon), contributed hugely to her success.
They first met on the Sogang University campus when she was a student majoring in philosophy, while he was the first president of the university. Despite a big age gap of 26 years, they got married. Lee said that he was her "only life coach" and that he had a huge influence on her.
Death is a part of life…Dying well matters
If she were to release a new version of her book "Love that arrived at the age of 23 and a successful mid-life career at 49," Lee said she would add the topic, death. That was an unexpected choice.
"Death is not the end. Rather, it is a new beginning and just a part of life. It is about returning to the starting point. I want to highlight the need to plan dying well. To that end, we have to empty ourselves. I know that it is easier said than done. When I gained fame and success, I was conscious about what other people thought about me. I only began looking within myself after I had a near death experience due to serious illness."
She commented that the sinking of the ferry Sewol showed that a tragedy follows when the society puts excessive emphasis on speed and material success.
"Since the recent ferry disaster broke out, many countermeasures have been put forward. The real issue is not that we did not have enough regulations or laws, but that we did not abide by them properly. Now is the time to keep basic rules. To date, we have focused on speed which resulted in the disaster. We need to slow down, look around us, and develop a greater sense of peace by emptying ourselves."
Everyone wants to achieve success in life. However, craving short-term profits without a sense of dignity do not make people feel full inside. On the contrary, being satisfied with what you have leads to happiness in life. In this context, Lee is a happy and grateful person.